Central Park Story Book Four–Sample Chapter:

 

September 15th

 

7:45 a.m.

Ms. Hackett rushed into morning assembly like an executioner late for an execution. When she saw me seated in the front row, she grinned like I was the victim she had in mind.

What could she be up to now?

“My dear upper school students,” she announced, “it gives me great pleasure to inform you that the competition my predecessor, Mr. Honey, began on how to improve our school is officially reopened.”

Alarms immediately went off in my head. Why would she announce the competition at the start of the school year instead of in the dead of winter when everyone would be bored out of their minds?

Devon turned in the seat in front of me.

“She’s going to get you yet, Middleton!” he snickered.

When I saw Ms. Hackett wink at Devon and Devon wink back, I realized he was right; she was setting me up for a fall.

“In order to avoid the kind of disruptions that took place in last year’s competition,” Ms. Hackett continued with her announcement, “there will be a limit of only one idea per student, so I suggest you make it the most stimulating one possible.”

She must have assumed I’d say something totally incriminating if I was forced to make only one suggestion instead of eight like I’d done in the previous year’s competition, (not a bad assumption, I had to admit), and that Devon would twist it in a way she could more easily expel me.

No problem. I’m not volunteering.

“Furthermore, the faculty has decided it won’t be voluntary,” Ms. Hackett added. “Everyone is asked to form into teams and work on their idea together.”

I watched her shuffle through some papers on the podium, probably containing more detailed instructions from Mr. Honey on how to proceed.

After setting the competition for that Friday and announcing we would be going in alphabetical order according to first names, not last, (another dead giveaway, since my name would be closer to the top), she rang the bell for morning classes.

3:30 p.m.

As soon as classes were over, I joined Ashley for a walk in the park.

She’d asked her driver to meet us on the other side of the Mall, but it was clear a walk in the park on a beautiful afternoon wasn’t the only thing she had in mind. She was dead set on showing off her custom-made dress made to look like falling autumn leaves.

“So, are you going to use one of those points you and Devon put together for last year’s competition, this time around?” I asked, unable to erase the evil eye Ms. Hackett had given me in morning assembly.

“Those were Devon’s points, not mine,” Ashley replied as she started across the sidewalk. “You know as well as I do I wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

That had been one of the darker moments in our history together, meaning her and Devon’s attempt to make a fool of me in the previous year’s competition. Knowing she wasn’t an active accomplice went a long way toward healing an old and festering wound.

“That’s not to say I didn’t rework them till they sounded perfect,” Ashley added as she paraded into the park, “but the only one worth saving was about including an extra vacation day at the end of each semester.” She reached for my hand and gave it a squeeze. “But why are we talking about improving the school? Aren’t things perfect the way they are?”

Marveling at how love can make one overlook even the worst things in life, like smushing one’s boyfriend, I shook my head in disbelief.

“The only thing that would make things perfect as far as I’m concerned would be to tear CPS to the ground and put Ms. Hackett on unemployment.”

Ashley let go of my hand like she was tossing away a candy wrapper.

“And leave me with no one to smush?!” she exclaimed. “How could you be so insensitive?!”

I stared back in shock.

I’d never considered smushing people to be a requirement on Ashley’s part. I’d only considered it an evil pastime that allowed her to torture people she barely knew. Maybe I was being insensitive and I ought to take her needs more into consideration. Still, I couldn’t get around the fact that school was such a total waste of time, and decided to hold my ground.

“There will always be tons of people for you to smush, Ash,” I replied. “I don’t see what that has to do with going to school. Even if CPS got torn down tomorrow, I’m sure someone would think of something better to put in its place.”

Ashley’s eyes widened as if she’d seen the statue of the Angel of the Waters rise from the Bethesda Fountain and fly in our direction.

“Why didn’t I think of that myself?!” she exclaimed. “Daddy could tear it down and build an academy of fashion design—maybe even call it the ‘Ashley Ferguson Academy of Fashion Design’.” She stopped to look me in the eye. “What do you think? Is it too preppy-sounding? Or should we call it the ‘A. G. Ferguson Institute of Fashion Technology’?”

I was about to suggest ‘The Ashley Ferguson Academy of Smushing People’ might be more appropriate but decided to hold back so she wouldn’t smush me on the spot.

“I’m glad you finally see my point,” I said.

“See it?!” Ashley laughed. “Why, it’s the best idea that’s ever come out of your mouth!” She gave me a kiss. “Here I was thinking you were being your usual insensitive self. Just wait till I tell Daddy your idea!” Her expression suddenly turned serious. “But this won’t go over very well with the rest of the board, especially Mr. Green who’s chairman. He’ll think it’s nothing short of revolutionary.” Her forehead gathered in thought. “At the very least, I’ll need to design a uniform you can wear that will make them take you seriously. After all, very revolutionary leader has had a uniform of their own, and some of them have even survived without bullet holes.” She looked me over as if she was taking my measurements and allowing room for bullet holes. “No, I can’t let you go around wearing some plain-looking army fatigues, not if you’re going to promote my new academy of fashion design. If you’re going to be a revolutionary leader, you’ve got to have some style!”

Given how conservative Ashley was, (on a scale of one to ten, I’d put her at eleven), I dismissed what she said as a result of her still being in love with me, at least until I saw her stop and stare at something she considered even more enticing than me: a fashion shoot a few yards ahead of us.

Ashley took the whole thing in even before I even knew what it was, and I could tell by the way her lips curled down that she wasn’t pleased with what she saw.

“Just look at the dress that woman is wearing!” she exclaimed. “Why, it’s a disgrace to see anyone posing in such tasteless rags.” She held me back as if I was planning to chase them out of the park. “Wait, Christopher! I have a better idea!”

She marched between the photographer and the model and struck the sort of contorted poses you’d expect to see on the covers of expensive fashion magazines.

“Excuse me, miss!” The photographer tried waving her off. “Would you mind standing aside? As you can see, we’re in the middle of a photo shoot!”

Ashley glared at the man as if he’d told her that her dress was on inside out and her shoes were sticking out of her ears.

“You’re asking me to step aside?!” she exclaimed. “What about her?!” She pointed at the model, who looked totally confused. “You think you can sell those rags she’s wearing over a custom-made dress designed by Nicole Richie? Are you trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes?!” She stormed off, leaving the photographer, his model, and everyone else who had stopped to watch, in total silence.

“I think it’s high time you went ahead with that incredible idea of yours, Christopher,” she said as she joined me again. “The fashion industry has clearly lost its compass, and I need to have a heart-to-heart talk with Daddy about how to correct it!”

I followed her to her limo, praying I wouldn’t have to stand in front of the school and talk about creating an academy of fashion design in her name.

“Wouldn’t you rather have that extra vacation day at the end of each semester?” I asked hopefully. “Wouldn’t that be easier than ripping down an entire school?”

“No,” she frowned as she waited for her driver to open the door. “I see your point. We need to start again from scratch, or nothing is ever going to change!” She gave me a goodbye kiss and jumped inside of the limo. “In fact, I’m going home to start designing your new uniform right this second!”

 

(end of the sample)