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Thursday, 27 April 2017

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Bullied
Author: J.D. Jacobs
Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 300

Book Description:
Narrated by Fear.

When tragedy destroys Ricey Kennedy’s family, Fear is never far behind. Forced to leave everything she’s ever known and move to New York, Ricey thinks life can’t get any worse. But then she meets Katrina, the high school’s mean girl. Day after day Ricey suffers the humiliating onslaught from the smooth-tongued bully, and it doesn’t take long before her self esteem is crushed into nothingness.

Struggling through life, romance is the last thing on Ricey’s mind when she meets the cute Tom Wilson. But Tom is determined to show Ricey that she could have a real chance at a new life and love, if only she can face her biggest fear of all . . .​

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EXCERPT

Fear is the enemy, whispering poisonous thoughts into your mind, body, and soul.
Fear is your best friend, pushing you to achieve your greatest potential.
Everyone is afraid of something. The only question is: what do you do with your fear?



Prologue

I have a vast array of temperatures in my arsenal, but I tend to lean towards the bitter arctic. No one ever screamed from a lukewarm shudder, and I always say that blistering heat is best suited for Despair. No, there is nothing like sub-zero temperatures to send shivers down the spine and a heart sinking into cold fear.

Humans can be funny creatures. They’d rather speed though a pedestrian zone, one hand on their cell, one eye on the road, than look into the jaws of a slobbering bulldog. It doesn’t matter which one is more likely to kill them. Imagined fear is as real as a boa constrictor coiling itself around the neck. Feelings take precedence over logic. I suppose that’s why so many people are afraid of their own feelings.

The problem is that people think I’m something to run away from. I’m not. I’m something to triumph over. But they come up with a million and one reasons not to tackle me head on. They may be able to pull the wool over their eyes, but they certainly don’t fool me. I see right through them. They procrastinate because they fear they will fail. They choose not to succeed for fear of making a mistake, or worse, being judged by others. They let Guilt, Worry, Blame, and Shame overcome them because most of all, they are afraid of themselves.

I’ve got a bad reputation — scary and mean — but it’s all hype. I’m simply an agent. In reality you have much to thank me for (though I rarely receive any thanks). If you were merely curious about the smoldering flames licking the thick trunk of a tree, then perhaps you would stand there, eyes agog, watching the blue-orange blaze burst into a forest fire. But I am there. Pumping adrenaline through your body, whipping your heart rate into an urgent race, puffing air into your lungs, sewing goose bumps onto your arms. Then you’ll run. Trust me, you’ll run.

But I don’t just save lives — I make lives. I get you to move. I slam you up against that wall, make you stare it in the face, and hope that you will start to scale it.

I could arguably be declared one of the most powerful forces in the universe, though there are always the fuzzy ones who go for Love. We’re actually pretty equal in terms of ability, though you won’t hear me admitting that too often. Diametrically opposed, you might say. Love pulls close. Fear pushes away. But my power lies only in the mind. You could be rid of me any time you want. It’s you that lets me in, invites me to put my feet up, stay for a while. I suppose it’s easier to live with me than to face me head-on.

Not that all humans are like that. There are strong ones among them, ones born with a sword in their hands and fire in their hearts, just waiting to take me on. But it’s not these people that I admire the most. Their courage in the face of fear is a gift; they didn’t break their backs in their collision with me. No, it is the weaklings. The ones who quiver and shake in fear of me, desperate to bury their heads in the sand until the storm is over. But instead of hiding, they brandish their tiny, little penknives and charge. Nobody, not even Fear, can take their dreams away from them. It is then that I catch a spark of a person’s worth. For they are not really weaklings at all. They are the bravest of the brave.

I meet a lot of people in my line of work. Everyone is afraid of something. It’s what they do with it that makes or breaks them. I wish they could understand that running away is just not the smart option. Trust me, I’m much quicker. So take this tip from someone older and much wiser: do not try to sneak past me; I cannot be tricked. Do not try to flee; there’s no escaping me. The surest way to put me behind you is to look me in the eye and walk straight through me.

The story that I am about to tell you is just a glimpse — a tiny glimpse into the people I bump lives with. The ones who overcame the fear that threatened to break them, and the ones who were broken because they didn’t.


Chapter One

Madison flung open the door to Ricey’s bedroom.

“Did no one teach you how to knock?” Ricey’s muffled voice called out from inside her closet.

“What are you doing?”

“It’s called packing.” Ricey emerged, dumping a pile of winter clothes onto her bed. “You know, the thing you do before you move from one location to another.”

“You can’t pack. We need to fight! We can’t let him do this to us!”

Ricey rolled her eyes at her kid sister’s drama. “You’ve been fighting ever since Dad told us. All it’s done is given us a big headache.”

“Well, at least it’s better than acting like I couldn’t care less!”

“I care.” Ricey shoved a knitted cardigan into an overstuffed box. “But it’s a done deal. The house is sold.”

“So we’ll buy a new one.”

“Yeah, Dad sold the house just for the fun of it,” said Ricey, inspecting a pair of rather-worn-looking Converses. “We’re broke, if you haven’t noticed.” She crammed them into the box.

“You’re lying!” Madison practically stomped her feet.

“What planet have you been living on this year? Have you not seen the medical bills all over the kitchen table? Cancer’s not free, you know.”

“So he’ll put more hours into the business. What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is that he barely worked while mom was sick, and all his clients left him.”

Madison sagged against the door, and Ricey felt the familiar pangs of guilt worming their way in. Madison was only fourteen, and even though Ricey was just two years older, she felt like Life had taken its great giant paintbrush, dipped it in a huge pot of Grief, and smeared her with invisible wrinkles overnight. Madison, on the other hand, looked like she’d fallen headfirst into the painter’s pallet.

Ricey, who had been tying her long brown hair back in the same practical ponytail she’d been wearing since she was six, only ever changing the ponytail holder when the one preceding it had snapped, whose only attempt at makeup was the dab of Vaseline she used when her lips were chapped, watched Madison barreling headlong into teen turf in horror.

Madison was everything Ricey was not. Ricey had the brains; Madison took the looks. Ricey went through books the way an alcoholic might go through liquor — thoroughly. And with the same enthusiasm, Madison went through fashion fads. It didn’t matter how outlandish, if the celebs were wearing it, so was she.

At that moment, Madison was wrapped in a humongous blanket scarf, which made her look like a walking duvet cover, sporting her latest discovery — gold-rimmed, round wire glasses that aged her about fifty years. Considering Madison didn’t even need glasses, Ricey couldn’t fathom why on earth she would want to wear them. They certainly didn’t look good. Her hair, originally brown like Ricey’s, had been sprouting highlights ever since their mom’s diagnosis, so that by the time she died, just one year ago, Madison was officially blonde. Now, it was propped up, fountain-like, on the very top of her head, like a pineapple tree was growing out of her scalp. Her face was permanently plastered in thick, cakey foundation that stopped exactly at her jaw line. And her eyebrows had been tweezed within an inch of their life, the overall look resulting in a rather stunned Umpa Lumpa.

When Ricey had mentioned that eyebrows were actually supposed to be equal, Madison had narrowed those uber-thin, lopsided brows at her and said, with all the self-assurance of a teenage drama queen, “You don’t expect me to take makeup advice from you, do you? You wouldn’t know makeup if it hit you in the face.” 

“It looks like it hit you in the face.”

Madison had rolled her dark eyes, one hand on hip the way she’d no doubt seen in the movies, flipped her bleached hair out of her face — something that she’d taken to doing several times per minute — and said in all seriousness, “You know, you wouldn’t be so bad if you wore makeup and, like, threw out all your clothes. You might actually look pretty.”

She strutted over to Ricey in dangerously pointy high heels that, for some reason, she felt the inexplicable urge to change into as soon as she came home from school, and plucked Ricey’s thick black glasses off her face.

“What do you think you’re doing?” said Ricey, trying to grab her glasses back in the blur.

“Brown eyes aren’t so bad. They’ve definitely got potential.”

You have brown eyes, you idiot!”

“Mine are almost black, actually, and that’s, like, the rarest eye color ever.”

Almost black is not black. And it’s probably all that eyeliner seeping into your eyes.”

“Whatever. Don’t say I didn’t try,” said Madison in a voice proclaiming knowledge far beyond her years as she teetered absurdly out of the room.

But none of that mattered, Ricey told herself, biting back the instinctive urge to boss Madison out of her room and pack. Madison needed her, whether she knew it or not. Ricey dropped the brown sweater on the bed and went to put her arm around Madison. “We’re leaving in three days, Madi. The fight’s over. If you want your stuff when we get to Queens, you kinda have to pack it.”

Madison jerked Ricey’s arm away and clomped out of the room, slamming the door as loudly as she could behind her.

Ricey sighed and turned back to her own packing, her heart lurching at the sight of her wall-to-wall bookcase filled with every book she’d ever read arranged alphabetically according to author, period, and genre. Nearly all of them would have to go. The new apartment was about the size of their bathroom. The downstairs one. As representative of her high-school book club, she’d often harped on about the importance of owning a wide variety of books. The bitter taste of eating her own words made her feel sick, like something was fermenting inside her mouth. Sure, she’d have her Kindle, but she doubted she’d use it much; reading just wasn’t the same if you couldn’t rip it to literary shreds in an organized group setting.

Just then, Charlie inched his way out of his own room, buckling under the weight of a big box, the contents of which looked like they were about to spill over at any moment. Dust and bits of loose tape peppered his dark hair. He looked nothing like the strong, upbeat father he once was. Two burned-out clumps of coal lingered in the place where his eyes should have been, sunken in a tired face crisscrossed with worry lines.



“She’s still mad?”

“More like volcanic.”

“Maybe I’ll just go in and have a quick word with her,” he said, lowering the box with a dull thump.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” said Ricey, but he was already doing his rat-a-tat ring-knocking thing on her door.

“What?”

“It’s me, honey,” said Charlie, opening the door and stepping in.

“Unless you’re telling me we’re staying, you can go away.”

“Don’t use that tone with me.”

“I’ll use whatever tone I like. You don’t care about me; why should I care about you!”

“Madison, of course I care. That’s why I’m doing this — for us. For you.”

“For me? You’re making us leave here and sending me to some stupid school in New York where I won’t know anybody. Gee, thanks, Dad. Thanks a lot.”

“The Academy for Girls is not a stupid school, Madison. It has an excellent reputation, and you’re lucky I was able to get you both in on scholarships.”

Lucky? Mom dies and now I have to lose my home as well as all my friends! How did I not see it before? You’re right. I am lucky!” she said, shooting him a look of pure hatred.

“OK, well perhaps that wasn’t the finest choice of words. I know it’s a little scary and new.”

There was a loud snort from inside the room. Charlie valiantly pushed on, “The apartment’s smaller than we’re used to, but it’s fully furnished, which is the main thing. OK, so it’s a little damp, but the landlord said he’ll fix that.” He was rambling now. “We’ll manage though, right?”

Ricey could practically see his desperate eyes from the back of his head.

“We have each other. We have to make the best of it. It’s what your mother would want.”

“Just get out!” Madison screeched, flinging herself onto the bed in the most melodramatic way possible and yanking the pillow over her head.

Charlie turned to Ricey. “Well,” he said, pulling the door closed, “that didn’t exactly go as planned. I tried to get a job,” he said pleadingly, scratching the week’s worth of stubble on his face. “There’s nothing for me here. You know that, right?”

Ricey gave a half nod. She didn’t know. Not really. How could there be no jobs in the whole of Maryland? Baltimore? Not even DC? Not one measly job anywhere near enough to commute? It didn’t make sense. Why did they have to move to New York? Why did they have to leave everything? It wasn’t fair! But she swallowed the knife that had taken to lodging itself in her throat. She couldn’t let herself have a meltdown. She had to keep it together. Keep this family together. What was left of it.

“This opportunity,” he went on, “it could save us. Get us out of debt.”

Her head gave another reluctant bob, not that her dad was paying attention. He was staring at some spot on the wall behind her.

“We’ve had good times here, haven’t we?” He ran his fingers along the intricate moldings. “It was your mother’s pride and joy, this house,” he said in a far-off voice. “Seventeen years.” Charlie heaved up the box in a tight grasp. He didn’t notice the old radio alarm clock fall out. “Not so easy to pack up seventeen years’ worth of life,” he said to himself, heading towards the stairs, oblivious to the broken electric shaver and empty aerosol can spilling out onto the soft carpet. “Not without Hannah.” His voice trailed down the stairs, leaving Ricey behind to pick up the pieces.

***

Before Sickness and Death yawned their doors wide open for me, Ricey and I had little to do with each other. Fear was something that cropped up on occasion — like when she was little and someone forgot to switch on her Winnie the Pooh nightlight. Fear was something that happened, and then left. Now it was something that was. Something that could penetrate. Something that could stay. Always lurking. Waiting to strike.

She was right, of course.

The little girl who was scared of the dark was really just afraid of the unknown. And now she was back there, crying for her mommy to turn on the nightlight. Only there was no mommy. And there was no nightlight. Ricey stood alone in the pitch black of the unknown. And that’s one scary place to be.

I make sure of that.



About the Author
J.D. Jacobs is a playwright, songwriter, and author. Her debut young adult novel, Bullied, brings us face to face with the psychological warfare of bullying, along with a profound message about the power of change.

Bullied is the first in The Academy Series. J.D would love to hear from you, get in touch at: thebulliedbook@gmail.com.

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