A while ago I posted this section of my book and have re-written it to try and dig out the exposition and attach a couple of hooks. I've gone over and over it and would really appreciate some external feedback! Don't water down your critique, I'm a big girl and can absolutely deal with it. My goal is to make it better and get it published - not boost my ego
The novel is light SF but doesn't really collide with that genre until the end of the first chapter - another 2000 words from this excerpt.
Alexis wants Mr Cross.
Sash shaves his back.
I traced my fingers across the glitter nail-polish messages, grinning. A decade’s worth of high-school gossip was scratched, painted and cut into the wood of this most holy of lunch tables. If Alexis or her minions caught me sitting here, they’d disinfect the seat. Unpopularity is absolutely contagious.
Today, though, it was six am and the hair-straightener brigade were asleep in their mansions. I was wrapped in two layers of puke-colored fleece, waiting for the rest of my bio class. I had two hours on a bus to endure before being dumped at the beach - my least favorite place on the planet. Now seemed as good a time as any to catch up on gossip.
A shadow cut across the table. “Ellie? Oh my god.”
I looked up from a comment on a dodgy nosejob and squinted into the sunrise. Andy Jackson glared down at me from behind a pair of yellow women's sunglasses. Andy was a celebrated member of the gossip table, and I’d just read more than I ever wanted to know about his anatomy. He lowered himself into the seat opposite me. “You know Alexis will eat you alive if she finds out you’re sitting here."
“Pffft, she’d never eat me. Too many calories."
Andy didn’t smile. “You’re totally dead. Hey, speaking of dead, the homework you did for me sucked.”
Great. A customer complaint, my favorite way to start the day.
Andy pulled a stack of pink papers from his bag. He leaned towards me, whispering conspiratorially. “I got an F.”
“I see that,” I replied in a clearly non-whispering voice. “The, uh, enormous red letter on the front is a bit of a giveaway.”
Andy scowled. “Drake knew I didn't write it, which means you messed up. I want a refund.”
Oh, jeese. It was early. I was tired. I wasn’t ready to deal with this level of stupidity.
I crossed my elbows on the table, sighing. “You see how the paper is pink, Andy?”
“You see how the writing is purple, and there are little flowers in the margin?”
Andy looked confused. This was one of his staple expressions. I rubbed my forehead, wincing. This sort of thing didn't usually need explaining.
“You're meant to copy it out in your own handwriting, genius, that's why I put it on such pretty paper. I didn't think anyone would actually hand that in.”
Andy‘s cheeks reddened. “But you didn't tell me that.”
“No refunds,” I said, pushing the papers into his hands. “If you have a problem you can bring it up with the principal. I bet he’d love hearing about our little arrangement.”
Andy paused, glaring, then snatched the papers from the table. “It's... it’s a stupid story anyway.”
I wanted to say How else could I make it look like you wrote it?, but didn’t feel like getting my bag peed on. Instead, I shrugged. My apologetic smile didn’t feel very convincing.
Andy leaned forward, his face close enough that I could see veins tracing across his eyes like scarlet spiderwebs. “There’s one about you,” he said, pointing at the messages on the table. “In pen on the right.” He stood and stormed off, papers in hand.
I frowned and shuffled to the edge of the table, searching for my name. He was probably bluffing. I hadn’t dated since I was four, and certainly hadn’t undergone questionable teen surgery. The only two people who knew enough to embarrass me were banned from this table as well. If I’d made it on to the holy grail of local gossip, I was pretty sure I’d know about it. I scoured the overlapping layers of marker and polish for anything remotely connected to me, then froze.
Scrawled in black pen in the corner of the table, I spotted my name. A wave of anger coursed through me.
I stood quickly, slung my bag across my shoulder and marched to the car-park. Half the class stood about half-asleep, and I pulled up my hood to hide from them.
Nobody could see me like this. Nobody would understand.
I turned around the back of the math building and slumped against the wall. Two words, written in black. Two words were all it took to make my hands shake, to make me double over, fighting for control. I breathed slowly, eyes closed until my focus returned.
Nothing in high-school is sacred. No life-changing moment is yours alone to cherish or regret. Everything is passed around, cheapened and twisted into something whispered over lunch. Something scrawled on Alexis’s table. Something you have to face, every day, whether you’re ready to or not.
If I found out who wrote it I’d gladly kill them. Tie them to the table and burn the lot.