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A Boy Like You (Like Us Book 1)

By:Ginger Scott

Prologue


I'm not sure which one of us invented the races-Taryn or me. But we run  them together. They are ours. When the bell sounds at 3:20 every  afternoon, there's a sprint to the wooden gate in the alley leading to  my back yard.

My house is the perfect place for them. I live on the last street, in  the last neighborhood, before the rows of corn and cotton begin. My yard  is at least twice the size of most of the others in south Bakersfield.  It also slopes up maybe eight feet at the end. Daddy says they built the  berm to keep the dirt from the farms out of our neighborhood.

I think they built it for racing.

It's hot outside, but I know that won't slow anyone down. I bet we'll  have more kids at my house today than we've had all year; maybe even the  entire third grade will come. It's the final week of school-only two  days left. Everyone in Bakersfield is ready for summer. The pools don't  open until next week, though, which is why our races have become so  popular.

"Are you going to run home? Or did you bring your bike today?" Taryn whispers behind me. Her desk touches the back of my chair.

"Brought my bike. I'll beat everyone there and get the coffee can and  tickets ready," I whisper over my shoulder, ignoring the suspicious  glare from Mrs. Grandel. I raise my book on my desk, propping it on its  spine so I can watch our teacher and look like I'm reading. "Do you have  the trophies ready for tomorrow?"

"Yeah. They're drying in the garage," Taryn says, a little too loudly.

"Ladies? Something wrong? Or do you think you can manage to give me five  minutes of learning before you completely shut those brains off?" Mrs.  Grandel doesn't have to stand; her voice is loud enough from her chair  to make her point, even when her back is to us.

"Yes, ma'am," Taryn answers for us. I cough out a short laugh at my best friend's formal response. Ma'am-ha!

"Josselyn Winters, you could stand to learn a thing or two about respect  from Taryn. I wouldn't think her proper answer is as funny as you seem  to," she says, bothering to put her own reading down on her desk and  turn her body to point her eyes right at me. I don't like being  embarrassed in class. Everyone is looking at me, including Christopher,  the weird kid. My cheeks feel hot as I cross my legs and slide them  underneath my seat, shrinking a little. I lean my head to the side, just  enough to catch Christopher peeking at me over his book. I scrunch my  lips up at him, squinting my eyes, and he looks away quickly.

Good.

Luckily, the bell sounds just as my eyes fall to my desk, and I jerk  back to life, springing to my feet, shoving my book in the small cubby  under my desktop. Backpack slung over one shoulder, I sprint through the  classroom door, down the hall and around the gated fence where the  bikes are stored. I didn't even bother to lock mine this morning,  instead just twisting the chain around my wheel to make it look like I  had. I wanted to make sure I had time before the others showed up, and  my padlock is old-the combination part is really rusty, and it usually  takes me four or five tries to pull it loose.

With two hands, I push my bike forward, kicking with one foot as I do,  the other planted on the outside pedal. I scooter my way through the  main entrance of the school, and as soon as my tire hits the road, I  sling my other leg over and begin to pedal fast, not sitting once. I cut  through the alley, slowing slightly to make sure I can twist and turn  my tires through the bits of glass people throw out here. I flick open  the clasp on the gate, pushing my bike through with me, then dumping it  on its side in the corner of my yard.

I rush through the sliding door, yelling a quick "Hello" to my mom as I  run through the kitchen to my room. I exchange my school bag for the can  and tickets then sprint again to the backyard, this time smiling at my  mom and stopping for a quick hug and a kiss. She laughs at me and tells  me to have fun, shutting the sliding glass door behind me.

I pull the small plastic bag from the can, opening one end a little to  let the powdered chalk I'd spent the night grinding up from my box spill  out in an even line. Then I walk slowly around my yard, beginning at  the gate, curving up along the hill, then back down the other side until  I connect the oval. There's enough left for me to be able to touch up  the track tomorrow.

When I step through the gate, I see Taryn rounding the alleyway, her  dark hair pulled tightly under a jeweled band and her feather earrings  blowing along her skin with her fast walk. She doesn't look like she  should be fast, but she is. She fools everyone at the races, especially  the boys. A line of kids trails her, some cutting others off. Our  regulars all hold their arms out stiffly, not letting anyone pass. They  know better.         

     



 

Everyone stops at the gate, and I hand the roll of tickets to Taryn,  pulling the lid off the coffee can and hugging it in front of my body.

"Okay, racers. We've decided to hold a tournament. Everyone who gets a  ticket will be in the race today. Tomorrow will be the championship … for  trophies! If you don't get a ticket, then you can sit at the top of the  berm and watch. Stand still, and I'll walk down the line."

Taryn rips a ticket off for her and me first, and I stuff mine in my  back pocket so I don't lose it, following behind her as she hands out  tickets. The kids in the front are the same ones who have been with us  since the beginning, since we started the races last summer: the Marley  twins-who usually win-Taryn's cousin Emily, and Noah Santos, the boy who  kissed me in kindergarten and then got me sent home for the day for  punching a boy in the face.

The weird kid is here too. Christopher has gone to my school since the  middle of last year. He's a foster kid, and he's living with the  Woodmansees. They have a lot of kids-twelve, counting Christopher-and  half of them are foster. That's not what makes him weird, though.

He wears the same brown, corduroy pants every day, and by Fridays, you  can tell they haven't been washed. His hair is a dull brown, and it's a  little longer than most of the boys in our class, and it curls up on the  ends, resting on his neck. It's always sweaty. He also hums while he  eats, and he sits alone at a table near the trashcan and exit for the  cafeteria. When kids walk up to throw away their things, he hums louder,  but never looks up. I tried sitting with him a few times last year,  because Taryn dared me. The first time I sat at the table with him, he  stopped humming completely. He also stopped breathing. When he passed  out, I screamed for the teacher on duty. When the paramedics came to  check him out, Mrs. Woodmansee showed up too. She just took him home. He  was out of school for the rest of the month.

Today is the first time he's shown up for our races, and it surprises  me. I can tell Taryn's noticed him, because she glances at the small  roll of tickets in her hand and then back up at the line-there's enough  for him to make it into the race. Our race. She stops a few kids short  of where he is and turns to face me, her expression giving me all I need  to know.

"Just let him have one," I shrug and whisper, leaning into her enough that the other kids can't hear.

She takes a deep breath, then looks down at the five tickets left in her  hand, her fingers slowly clasping around them, folding them into her  palm.

"He'll ruin it," she sighs.

Her head moves up, her eyes trained on my hands, and then there's a  flash of an idea that crosses her face, her eyebrows raising. "Give me  the can," she says, reaching for it and tugging it quickly.

My brow pinches, but I give into her easily. While I've always been the  fearless one with the muscle, Taryn has always been the one with the  ideas. I let her lead often, and I let her lead now.

With the can in her hands, she spins around, tearing apart the last five  tickets and putting them inside before holding the can above her head  and backing away from the line a few steps.

"We have five tickets left. Five golden tickets," she says.

"They don't look gold," Conner Marley, one of the twins, says from behind her. She glares at him and growls through her teeth.

"Shut up, Conner! I know they're not really gold. I meant it like as in  special, okay?" she scolds him, her long, dark ponytail slapping against  her shoulders as she turns to face the rest of the line. Conner mimics  her behind her back. It makes me laugh.

"These are the last tickets into the tournament. To get one, all you  have to do is answer a trivia question correctly. Are you ready?" she  shouts.

A few of the kids yell yes, but most of them just blink and stare at  her, waiting with nerves in their bellies, their hands twisting in front  of them, not sure if they should just shout answers out or raise their  hands. Taryn steps on top of a jagged wooden crate that has lived in my  alley for almost a year, and everyone quiets down when she does.  Somehow, the extra foot of height has given her authority.

"Question one: What is my favorite color?"

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