Central Park Story Book Three–Sample Chapter:

 

September 1st

6:00 a.m.

I KNEW SOMETHING was wrong the minute I crawled out of bed.

It wasn’t that my alarm clock was lying in pieces on the floor—I admit I threw it—or that I had to go to school that morning. It was the note I found sitting on my dresser:

‘MEET ME AT THE BETHESDA TERRACE AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS. THE GENIUS LOCI,’ it read.

“What does that crazy giant want with me now?!” I muttered as I felt my way into the bathroom.

Ripping the note in two, I tossed the pieces into the wastebasket and gazed in the mirror, running my hands over the top of my head.

Yes, I’d done almost everything I’d planned to do after turning seventeen, shaving my head being top on my list. Now, the only thing left was to tell two people—one that I loved and the other that I hated—what I thought of them.

Since I’d already told Jennifer how much I loved her that magical night at the fountain, I decided it was time to tell Mme Jardin, my buxom French teacher, about the secret crush I’d had on her since the start of freshman year. Oh, and then there was telling Devon how much I despised him.

I figured I’d take care of that particular item on my list the second I saw him step out of his limo that morning.

I felt underneath my chin where the stubble was already longer than the rest of my hair, and wondered how long it would take for Jennifer to notice.

We’d agreed to meet at the Women’s Gate and then head to our first day of school, but I wanted to arrive early and surprise her not only with my special-ops commando haircut but with the fact that I could be there on time.

After getting dressed and throwing on my spanking-new jacket, (I’d grown to just over six feet tall that summer), I was almost out the door when I spotted a second note stuck in the zipper of my backpack:

‘IT’S IMPORTANT, SO DON’T THINK YOU CAN RIP THIS ONE UP TOO!’

I ripped it in even smaller pieces than the first note. Storming into the bathroom, I flushed them down the toilet.

After looking around the room to be sure there weren’t any more obnoxious notes lying on my desk or taped to the back of my door, I marched into the kitchen.

The clock above the stove read a quarter past six, so I grabbed a bagel and headed for the street.

6:20 a.m.

The sky was the deepest shade of blue I’d ever seen, and the park looked so invitingly green it made my heart skip a beat, yet seeing so many students walking along the sidewalks as if they were marching to a funeral, I felt an unmistakable heaviness descend.

Starting another year of school was the pits, and it was hardly a wonder I kept discovering new ways to get myself booted out so I could put an end to my misery.

I continued past the 107th Infantry Regiment Memorial, steering clear of the arcade where the Genius Loci lived.

As I cut toward the Promenade and passed the statue of Fitz-Greene Halleck, I saw him raise his book of poetry and recite the following:

 

The world is bright before thee.

Its summer flowers are thine,

Its calm, blue sky is o’er thee,

Thy bosom pleasure’s shrine;

And thine the sunbeam given

To nature’s morning hour,

Pure, warm, as when from heaven

It burst on Eden’s bower.

 

“That’s easy for you to say since you don’t have to go to school this morning,” I said sullenly.

He lowered his book to his lap.

“The adventures of summer never end for a poet, my dear boy,” he replied.

“Nor does the promise of the lost Eden,” added Sir Scott from several yards away.

I noticed how much heavier Sir Scott looked than the previous spring—probably from eating too much popcorn left lying around in the park. Even his nose looked several sizes too small for his body.

Maybe he could switch noses with Halleck, or have Patricia Melbourne’s father, one of the best plastic surgeons in the city, fix it like he did with the noses of my classmates.

“Well, I’m no poet,” I said, “so the only adventure I have planned is meeting Jennifer on time.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that.” Sir Scott shook his head dismissively.

“What do you mean?” I stared back.

He pointed to a piece of paper lying on the pavement in front of me.

I leaned over to grab it.

“‘IT’S URGENT, SO DON’T RIP THIS ONE UP TOO!’” I read its message out loud.

As I crushed it in my fist and opened my backpack to toss it inside, several more pieces of paper flew out, all of them with the word ‘URGENT!’ written across the top.

I waved a handful of them at Sir Scott.

“Is this what you meant?!” I exclaimed.

He nodded back.

“So, what does he want with me now?!” I fumed.

“I have no idea,” he replied, “though you can be fairly certain it has nothing to do with switching my nose for Halleck’s.”

I turned to Halleck, who immediately stopped scribbling in his notebook.

“If you’re asking me what I think,” he said, “I think it has to do with that flood you conjured up last spring.”

“The one I stopped?” I asked indignantly.

“You hardly stopped anything,” he replied. “You merely slowed it down a tad.”

I marched ahead, unwilling to be late meeting Jennifer over some minor technicality.

“Like your Aunt B said,” Christopher Columbus lowered his flag to block the path, “it takes a very brave soul to head in a new direction.” He planted his foot on the globe beside him. “I ought to know since it was I who sailed west when everyone else sailed east.”

His words reminded me of something Aunt B had told me as we traveled out west that summer, visiting many of the parks and places my great-great-great-grandfather, Frederick Law Olmsted, had designed.

“It takes a very brave soul to head in a new direction,” she had said. “That’s why I wanted you to see everything your great-grandfather accomplished during his lifetime.” She winked. “Otherwise, once you’re back in the city, I daresay you won’t have a spare minute to think about it.”

“How did you know what Aunt B told me?” I looked up at Columbus and then noticed he was back to being frozen.

Shaking my head, I turned to go, only this time I discovered my sneakers wouldn’t move.

Maybe someone had spilled some glue on the pavement, yet no matter how hard I tugged and pulled, I couldn’t get them to budge.

I checked the time.

It was past 6:30, and I could imagine Jennifer tapping her feet impatiently, wondering where I was. At the same time, Columbus’s words about heading in a new direction kept ringing annoyingly in my ears.

I sat down on the pavement and sighed.

Maybe I’d been a bit hasty in ripping up those notes and should have listened to what the Genius Loci wanted to tell me. Besides, it might not be as urgent as he made it out to be and I could go back to doing what I liked, namely, playing video games and eating triple-fudge chocolate ice cream till late at night.

“Okay,” I glanced up at Columbus, “I guess I won’t be meeting Jennifer on time. In fact, I imagine she’ll be ticked off that I’m late. But I’ll go and listen to what the Genius Loci has to say.”

The second the words left my mouth, I felt my sneakers move.

(end of sample chapter)