Part of my homework for this week was to write a “two page” character intro for an engaging Middle Grade character. I dislike “pages” as a measure of length when I’m writing, since I don’t use Word and see no reason to change that, but that translates to roughly 500 words. Of course, I wrote one and wasn’t satisfied, so now I have two that I’m not totally satisfied with. I feel like they do a better job of introducing conflict and drama than they do of introducing a particular character, if only because I have little tolerance for writing an opening scene that doesn’t start something.
In any case, here’s two Middle Grade scenes presented back-to-back, with no real relation between the two. Oh, yes, and one of them is actually about Jerome from my Elven Progenitors setting. Enjoy!
Norman is following us home from school again. That always makes me nervous. We’re trying to ignore him, only turning around sometimes to keep an eye on him and make sure he isn’t going to try anything funny. Last time he caught up with us, he pulled Jen to the ground and told us that he had a gun in his pocket. He dragged her back around behind the church one block from school, where the cars driving by couldn’t see as well, while we yelled at him to stop.
Jen is talking loudly about how her older brother has his license now. She says that next week he’ll drive her to school in the mornings instead of her having to walk. She’s looking back more than any of the rest of us.
I wish Norman would leave us alone. My lunchbox is big and bulky, and I adjust my grip. I wrap my fingers around the solid handle like Nick’s brother showed me he does for Tae Kwon Do. Mom always offers to give me the lighter, newer one and take this one with her to work instead, but I can’t use the new one as a weapon. It’s made of cloth, while this one is actually a cooler. Even though this one is heavy and awkward, I feel better knowing that I can club someone with it if I have to. I laugh at Josh’s joke, then glance back. Norman has disappeared.
“Guys,” they look at me, “Norman’s gone.” They start smiling. Josh and Jen and Derek and Jen’s annoying little brother Caleb. Caleb is in second grade, but he tries to act like he’s a lot older than that because he gets to walk home with us.
“George,” Jen nudges me in the shoulder, “want to come play Smash Bros?”
Do I ever. “Can we? Will your mom be there?”
She shakes her head, braids swinging by her chin. “Nope, she gets home at 4:30 today.” She looks at Josh and Derek, “You want to play?”
They say yes, obviously.
“I get Yoshi!” Caleb yells, bouncing on his toes.
“No, you play lookout,” Jen frowns at her little brother.
“I play Yoshi or I tell Mom you were playing instead of doing your homework!” Caleb crosses his arms in front of his backpack straps. Jen’s face is thunderous.
“Caleb,” Derek buts in, “you can play Yoshi for a bit, but only if you watch for your mom when we tell you.” Caleb looks reluctant, but nods.
We’re relaxing and starting to talk about who we’re going to play, when I see someone step out around the corner of the block ahead of us, twenty feet away. It’s Norman, with his thick glasses and that stupid mean grin on his face, one hand shoved deep in the pocket of the green military jacket he wears even though it’s a nice day out. He must have circled ahead. The laughter dies off like someone cut the power cord.
Jerome pressed up against the windowsill, watching the house’s front gates. The clatter of carriages passing by was muted by the trees that screened the estate’s walls, but he could catch a glimpse of the carriages as they crossed past the gate and its footmen. He desperately wished that he could be out on one of them, holding the reins as they drove down to the docks. He could drive loads from his family’s warehouses down to the ships, carry freshly delivered cargo back, go anywhere about town… he could be the first to see his father’s ship coming back in, tying up alongside the wharves on the river. Instead he heard his little sister crying in her crib, and the slow tread of his tutor coming down the hall to check on him. He snuck back across the room to his desk and smiled as he inked his pen. Madame Marissa should really get softer soles, or slippers to wear inside, if she didn’t want him to know where she was all the time.
He scribbled answers to the arithmetic as his door creaked open. He was hard at work, certainly not goofing off or staring into the distance. He hid his smile. The boots came closer and Madame Marissa paused, looking over his shoulder.
“Jerome.” Her voice was stern.
“Yes madame?” Jerome looked up, smiling sweetly.
“Your division is a farce.” Her finger indicated his answer for 156 over 4. “Do it again.”
Jerome sighed and wrote down a new answer.
“Are you wasting my time?” His tutor’s tone of voice held a note of danger in it now. He blanched. “Do it again. Use the scrap paper, and,” her finger thumped his desk with each word, “Show. Your. Work.”
Jerome grit his teeth and set to it while Madame Marissa investigated his other progress.
“Jerome, all this ink is fresh,” Madame Marissa accused, “there’s no scratch paper at all.” His tutor glared down at him. “Have you been loafing about again?”
Outside, the clatter of a carriage grew louder and louder. “No?” Jerome looked longingly at the window. What if it was his father? His tutor saw through his lie instantly.
“Young man,” she grabbed his papers, “you are going to see your mother.” She strode from the room and Jerome lurched after her with a stab of terror. Mom was deadly serious about his schoolwork. All adults were, even Uncle Perkins.
The trip was a short one, down to the first floor entryway where his mother was receiving an elegant figure dressed entirely in black. Jerome stumbled to a stop as he saw his mother’s expression. Even his tutor faltered as she saw what followed the man in black.
Jerome could see tears pouring down his mother’s face, though she still seemed stern. She stared at the coffin borne by six house footmen, and pulled Jerome in to hold onto her skirts while the elegant man offered a card.
“My condolences on your husband’s death, mistress.”