Alice doesn’t like noise, smells or strangers. She does like rules. Lots of rules. Nobody at her new school knows she is autistic, and soon Alice finds herself in trouble because the rules here are different. When she meets Megan in detention, she doesn’t know what to make of her. Megan doesn’t smell, she’s not terribly noisy, and she’s not exactly a stranger. But is she a friend? Megan seems fearless to Alice; but also angry or maybe sad. Alice isn’t sure which. When Megan decides to run away, Alice decides that Megan is her friend and that she needs to help her, no matter how many rules she has to break or how bad it makes her feel.
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O R C A B O O K P U B L I S H E R S
Copyright © 2016 Kathleen Cherry
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Cherry Kathleen, 1964–, author Everyday hero / Kathleen Cherry.
Issued in print and electronic formats.ISBN 978-1-4598-0982-6 (pbk.).—ISBN 978-1-4598-0983-3 (pdf).—ISBN 978-1-4598-0984-0 (epub)
I. Title.PS8605.H4648E94 2016 jC813'.6 C2015-904500-2C2015-904501-0
First published in the United States, 2016Library of Congress Control Number: 2015946189
Summary: When a new friend challenges Alice, who has Asperger Syndrome, to step outside her comfort zone, Alice decides to revise her rules in this novel for middle readers.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover design by Rachel Page Cover photo by EyeEm Author photo by Propel the Mood Photography
ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERSwww.orcabook.com
19 18 17 16 • 4 3 2 1
To every child who has ever felt different. Individual differences are what make people special and provide us with unique strengths.
If my mother hadn’t decided to be a sandwich, I would not have had nine detentions in January.
If I hadn’t had nine detentions in January, I would not have met Megan.
If I hadn’t met Megan, I would not have been a hero.
To be accurate, my father said that my mother was part of the “sandwich generation.” A generation means all the people born and living for a period of approximately thirty years. A sandwich means two slices of bread with a filling (such as meat, fish, cheese, peanut butter) between them.
I like to define words. I once tried to memorize all the definitions in Webster’s New World Dictionary. I stopped at mineralize.
I asked Dad what this meant. About Mom being a sandwich, not mineralize. He said it meant that she had to look after her child, me, as well as my grandparents. She is the filling, we are the bread. Truthfully, I am not really a child, being thirteen years, four months and seventeen days old at the time of writing.
Today is April 23.
There is something else you need to know about me. I have Asperger Syndrome, so looking after me is harder than looking after the typical teenager. Asperger Syndrome is on the autism spectrum, but people who have it usually function better than most autistic individuals.
Dad and I arrived in Kitimat on January 2 at 7:37 PM. We moved from Vancouver because Dad got a job. Mom stayed in Vancouver to help my grandparents. My grandma had had a stroke, which Dad said was bad timing.
I started school in Kitimat on January 4.
I got my first detention on January 6 when I sat on the stairs at the north end of the school. I like stairs. Sitting on the stairs is not against the rules.
Except I was supposed to be in gym class.
This was my first detention. There were only three of us in room 131: Ms. Lawrence, Megan and me. Megan wore black and sat at the back of the class in the second desk from the window.
(I knew she was called Megan because Ms. Lawrence looked at her and said,“Here again, Megan?” Then she sighed with a big wheezing whoosh.)
After that, no one said anything.
I didn’t say anything. Megan didn’t say anything. Ms. Lawrence didn’t say anything. I wished I could go to detention instead of school.
Usually I achieve good grades in school. I love math and science, and I like English and social studies. I write well. My special-education teacher said that people with Asperger Syndrome can be authors. Some people say that James Joyce, Lewis Carroll and George Orwell were autistic.
I am less competent at speaking though. Thousands of words flood my brain like slippery minnows (this is a simile), and I can’t find the right words in the right order.
This means I’m usually silent in class.
Dad once told me that students with Asperger’s are often perfect students. I think this might be true except for the head banging. Plus I used to circle the flagpole at my old school. And I like to sit in corners with the walls pressing against me.
By the way, having Asperger Syndrome does not mean I can calculate sums, like 431 divided by 92 and multiplied by 5, which is 23.42391304347 8260869565217391304. (I only know this because I used a calculator.) People who can do that are sometimes called savants. I am not a savant.
On January 8, I got my second detention. I left the change room before gym even started. I left because the change room stank—of wet socks, sweat, antiperspirant, hair gel, hair spray, perfume, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, sunscreen and Febreze.
I don’t like smells. They make me want to wriggle out of my skin. Or bang my head. Or curl up in a corner.
So I left. At my elementary school, this was not against the rules, but middle school is different.
Still, I like detention better than the change room, so I was not upset when I walked into room 131 again.
Ms. Lawrence sat at her desk. She wore a sweatshirt patterned with flowers.
“Another detention?” she said.
Before I could answer, I heard the heavy, rhythmic clunk…clunk…clunk of footsteps approaching.
“Not again,” Ms. Lawrence muttered, looking toward the door.
Megan was tall. She wore black high-heeled boots, a jean jacket, a black T-shirt with a silver skull on it, and metal chains slung around her neck, waist and wrists. Her long black hair was streaked with purple. She had a silver ring through her bottom lip.
When she entered, everything in the room seemed smaller.
Ms. Lawrence pushed her hand through her short gray hair. “How long do you have to stay this time, Megan?”
“Dunno. Beils sent me.”
“You’re not on his list. He must have forgotten. I will go and ask Mr. Beils.” Ms. Lawrence emphasized the word Mister. Then she stood and hurried out of the classroom.
“Whatever.” Megan shrugged, and the chains jangled as she walked down the aisle of desks toward me.
I am very observant. Sometimes that is a problem. There are so many things to notice—colors, noises, smells, sounds…
And I can’t focus on only one thing and ignore another. I cannot notice the skeleton drawn in red ballpoint on the left sleeve of her jean jacket without seeing also the purple bruise under her left eye, the rip in her shirt and the four silver rings on her left hand. I couldn’t see her right hand.
“What are you looking at?” Megan asked, running the words together so they sounded like whatchalookingat.
“You,” I said.
Another thing I should tell you: I can’t lie. It’s not that I don’t want to lie. I’m just no good at it.
“I don’t want any punk kid looking at me.” Megan leaned over my desk.
This made sense. I don’t like people looking at me either.
“And this is my place,” she added, putting her face close to mine.
Her breath didn’t smell.
I looked at the desktop. At my school last year, we wrote our names on laminated yellow cards and placed them on the left-hand corner of our desks.
I couldn’t see any laminated yellow cards in room 131.
“What are you doing?” Megan asked, the words again strung together.
“Looking for your name on a laminated yellow card.”
“You trying to be funny?” She leaned closer to me, her fingers gripping the desktop. Her nail polish was black and chipped.
“No,” I said, because that is another thing about me: I don’t understand jokes, so I never try to be funny.
“You looking for a fight?”
“No,” I said again.
Megan’s hands balled into fists. Now that I could see her right hand, I noticed that she had a thumb ring shaped like a skull.
I looked up to see if I could identify her expression. But I am not good at understanding faces, even though my teacher last year gave me a special feelings chart.
“Just keep out of my face!” Megan turned and walked out of the room with heavy, clunking footsteps, not even waiting for Ms. Lawrence to come back.
So I counted dictionaries in the bookcase—fifteen. I like the number three and multiples of three. I like counting. I’d counted the dictionaries three times before Ms. Lawrence finally came back.
“You’re still here?” Her eyebrows rose, disappearing under her bangs.
“Sorry, there was a problem I had to deal with in the girls’ washroom. Anyhow, you can go now, um”—she looked at her paper—“Alice.”
I stood, swinging my backpack onto my shoulders. It thumped against my spine. I walked into the hall, which was quiet, the dimness broken only by bright rectangles of light at the front entrance.
I went to the outside door and exited into the heavy, damp grayness of a north-coast afternoon. The streetlights shone into the parking lot, and two red taillights disappeared around the corner and onto the main road.
At first I didn’t recognize their importance. I did not question why the yard was empty. Or realize that the dimness spoke of late, late afternoon.
Sweat prickled under my arms. My throat tightened. My breath quickened. I tasted vomit in the back of my throat. I hate vomit—its smell, its taste, its texture.
I rocked on my heels. “One…two…three,” I muttered. Counting usually calms me.
“OMG. Are you, like, talking to yourself?”
Megan was leaning against the wall of the school, chewing gum.
I didn’t answer because I do not like questions.
“Are you, like, deaf as well?”
I shook my head.
“So can you hear? Can you, like, talk too?”
I counted the cars still parked in the teachers’ parking lot—nine. Good.
“When did you get here?” Megan asked.
I looked at my watch. “Four minutes ago.”
She laughed. “OMG. You are, like, seriously wacked.”
I counted the cars again. Nine is a good number because it is divisible by three.
I counted the nine cars nine times. Nine times nine is eighty-one.
Another bus arrived. I squinted in the bright light of its headlights. It stopped with a whine of brakes. The door opened. The yellow glare of its interior lights flooded outward. The sign above the windshield read City Center.
That’s how I knew it wasn’t my bus. I take the After-School Special, and the sign above the windshield always reads After-School Special.
Megan pushed past me, stepping onto the bus, her chains rattling.
The bus driver leaned forward in his chair. “Coming?”
I am not supposed to talk to strangers. It is a rule. I like rules.
“What bus do you want?” he asked.
I did not say anything because he was a stranger, and I am not supposed to talk to strangers.
“If you missed the After-School Special, this one takes the same route. I’ll even change the sign, if you’d like.” He stood, reaching over his steering wheel to a small silver knob.
He turned it, and it made a whining eek… eek…eek. He had patches of perspiration under his arm. I do not like perspiration. I do not like noises like eek…eek…eek.
The words City Center disappeared.
That’s when it all—the bus, the road, the eeks, the lights, Megan’s questions—became too much, too big, too bright. I needed to hide, to curl myself into a corner. I wanted to bang my head and feel the rhythmic thump…thump…thump.
So I ran.
I ran down the slick, grassy slope beside the school. I ran across the spongy wood-chip track and through the squelching sodden grass of the school field.
I stopped only when I hit the prickly leaves of the evergreen bushes at the field’s outer perimeter. Sweat soaked my T-shirt. I could smell it. Desperately I tugged off my backpack, throwing it to the ground. I yanked off my jacket. I pulled off my hoodie and flung myself onto the grass. It felt cool and wet against my skin. The air smelled of damp cedar chips mixed with moss.
I breathed, filling my belly with air. I squeezed my eyelids shut. I counted the thundering thumps of my heart. And breathed again.
When I opened my eyes, the sky was a black blanket patterned with stars. At first I liked lying in the darkness and counting stars, but after a while my teeth started to chatter.
I sat up and put on my hoodie and jacket. I wondered what I should do next. If I am lost, I am supposed to phone my father on my cell phone. I am only supposed to do this in an emergency, and on this occasion I wasn’t really lost. I knew I was sitting at the north end of the Mount Elizabeth Middle School track.
Then I remembered that lost also means unable to find one’s way home, and in this sense I was lost, because I did not know my way home. So I phoned Dad.
He came, although it was the middle of his shift. At least, he said it was the middle, but this was not strictly accurate. His day shift goes from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. According to my watch, it was 6:00 PM. Therefore, he was technically five-sixths of the way through his shift.
Dad drives a 1995 blue two-door Ford Explorer with a gearshift and squeaky suspension. I heard the vehicle coming even before I saw the headlights’ twin glare.
It stopped, and I opened the door and got in. The interior smelled of the aluminum smelter where Dad works, a mix of chemicals, heat, dirt and sweat.
“Here.” Dad flipped open the glove box with one hand and pulled out a paper mask, the kind doctors and nurses wear. I pushed it against my face. It tickled but blocked out the other smells so that I could detect only the slight dusty smell of paper.
“I can’t blow too many shifts, so for goodness’ sake, don’t let this happen again,” Dad said, accelerating and shifting gears.
Blow means send forth a strong current of air.
“You understand?” he asked.
“Blow means send forth a strong current of air,” I said.
Dad muttered, “It also means when I leave in the middle of my shift.”
I explained that 6:00 PM wasn’t the middle of his shift. Dad’s cheek twitched visibly as we passed under the light of the sixth streetlamp.
“Just catch the bus,” he said.
At home, Dad asked me why my jacket was wet and covered in mud. I said I’d rolled in the field.
“Why?” he asked.
I shrugged. It was too hard to explain, too hard to find the words, too hard—
I felt my body sway, rocking backward and forward.
“Jeez, it’s okay. Forget I asked. I’ll wash your clothes.”
Dad showered downstairs, because I do not like the smelter smell of heat and chemicals. Then he made dinner. Dad says it is hard to cook for me because most foods involve smells, and I do not like smells. I cannot eat fish or onions or eggs or cauliflower or bacon. He made plain macaroni. I like plain macaroni.
After dinner I went into my room, which measures ten feet by twelve feet. I opened the music box I got for my fifth birthday. The outside is white and painted with pink and blue flowers. Inside, it is lined with pink velvet and has three tiny ballerinas.
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