For today's sample, I'm going back to one of the first young adult books I wrote that still holds a special place in my heart. No, it doesn't have vampires, werewolves, ghosts, sword fights, zombies or other popular reads of today. It's simply a young guy trying to get through the toughest time in his life the best way he can.
Payton's attitude and perspective of the world is very different from a lot of young people out there today. He surrounds himself with positive energy, avoids people and situations that would potentially drag him down, focuses on what's truly important in his life and, in dark times, turns to the one thing that has always brought him comfort: music.
This book is only available in Kindle form for now, but for those more into contemporary, clean reading, this one packs a powerful punch between its covers. And its message is clear:
"To every kid out there who just needed someone to listen and believe in them. Hold on to what makes you, YOU!"
“We’re almost there,” Liam finally said. “Not the prettiest area but there’s some great restaurants and stuff around here.”
Payton looked around. 'Not the prettiest area' was probably the most ginormous understatement ever. It was a slum. Most of the buildings were run down, homeless guys were passed out on the street and he even saw a few young girls hanging out in front of a run-down hotel. He was sure they weren’t there for the 'All You Can Eat Earlybird Breakfast'—not alone anyway.
One of the girls looked about his age. He stared at her. She looked just like Alicia Silverstone but with darker hair.
The truck slowed down, then stopped. “We’re here,” Liam said, opening his door. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Payton asked, pulling up his sweatshirt hood. “There’s nothing around here but drunks, hookers and gross, greasy spoons I’d never set foot in if you paid me to. I’m tired of the ‘cloak and dagger’ thing, okay? Just tell me what’s going on.”
Liam got out of the truck, then waved Payton to follow him. “It’ll all be clear in a while. I promise.”
From a dude who’d left him behind.
Payton inhaled, then blew out sharply. It smelled like pee. No, wait. Worse than that. It was more like a litter box that hadn’t been changed in months. The sausages in his stomach churned. He slammed the truck door, then froze. His mouth hung open.
“Holy crap!” he shouted, causing a stir among the street-sleepers. Payton stared across the street at the one beautifully constructed and kept-up building for blocks: The Alberta Prep School of the Arts.
It was a high school for gifted students excelling in the areas of music, fine arts and vocal abilities. The intent of the school was to provide a safe haven for students whose academic capabilities were far beyond that of their peers and who also possessed some sort of artistic ability. Essentially, it gave these students a place to be who they are without being lost within the regular curriculum. There…there they could shine without being considered “weird,” “different,” or being isolated in other ways.
And Payton had wanted to go there for years.
He placed his palms on his head. “I can’t frickin’ believe this! I totally forgot this place was here.You know, I told Grandpa that I wanted to come here, but he said it was way too expensive. Plus, not only do you have to apply to get in here, you have to try out.You know…perform.”
“Yea, that’s what I heard, too,” Liam said, smiling. “C’mon. Wanna check it out?”
Liam nodded. “Let’s go. We’re here.”
“Frickin’ A!” Payton shouted, then quickly composed himself. “Oh…sorry…”
“No worries,” Liam laughed. “C’mon.”
They ran across the street narrowly escaping the city bus zooming around the bend. Guess the bus drivers didn’t like the area either. They walked up the narrow sidewalk to the main doors.The campus stuck out like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a tutu from the rest of the area.
The college looked just like one of those ivy-leagued schools down in the States with its brick-and-‑mortar structure and massive Elm trees draping over park benches scattered around the campus. It was early but kids sat in small groups on the perfectly mowed, lush green grass or smoking at the doors and sucking back their coffee before morning classes. Payton was in awe.
He loved it.
Liam pulled open one of the heavy, wooden double doors, letting Payton go in first. The young man pulled his hood off and soaked in the atmosphere. There were three floors, including the basement. On the inside everything was the same brick, mortar and wood construction. The wood was a beautiful mahogany color and…shiny…as though it had only just been painted. He closed his eyes. His nose caught a whiff of turpentine and oil paints. A choir warmed up with a jazzier version of a familiar church hymn he remembered singing as a boy. An orchestra tuned its strings, brass and woodwinds not too far from where they stood. And over it all…a piano…a grand, he was sure…enticing him with its gorgeous, deep tones. Right there…in that moment…he felt more at home than he had in a long time.
Payton opened his eyes to see a man in a dark suit and multi-colored tie, smiling at him. Heat radiated from his neck up to his cheeks, wondering exactly how long the guy had been standing there.
“Payton, this is Dean Fenehey,” Liam said, shaking the man’s hand. “Dean, this is…my son, Payton. We came to check the place out.”
The Dean held out his hand. Payton paused, then gripped the man’s hand.
“Son, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Would you like the grand or short-cut tour?”
“Oh wow,” Payton said, his eyes widening. “Definitely the grand.”
Normally, he would have been suspicious of why the Dean of the school met them at the doors. It was almost like he knew they’d be there.The thought didn’t stay in his head long—he was too excited.
The tour started on the second floor where the classrooms were. Not very fun, except that there were rooms called, “Script Writing”, “Novel Writing”, and other forms of writing. That was pretty cool. In the basement was a full theatre and artist’s studio. There were also classrooms for acting and costume/set design and a full dance studio. The artist’s studio had every art supply one could imagine, with classrooms for clay, painting and sculpture. He noticed a small changing room for models and wondered whether they did nudes. He made a mental note check back some other time when class was going on. On the main floor was his element: music.
There were classrooms for theory, instrument and vocal. There was also a full-scale opera stage where the school put on operas, symphonies and other performances. Payton thought the coolest thing was how they sold tickets to their performances to help raise money for the school. They even put on art shows and Broadway-type musicals.
The Dean led Payton into the opera hall. “Your Dad told me you are a bit of a pianist.”
Payton resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I guess you could say that.”
“Well, we haven’t moved the piano back to the music room yet since our recital last night,” the Dean said, nodding toward the stage. “Would you like to have a go?”
Payton’s gaze switched to the stage where a full black-lacquered grand piano sat. Its lid opened towards him, exposing its gorgeous strings…beckoning him. It had been days since his fingers last caressed the keys of a piano. There was nothing that would have made him happier or given him more inner peace at that moment than to play his music.
He didn’t answer the dean. He just walked down the stairs to the stage. A spotlight still shone on the piano. It didn’t even matter to him that the leather seat was hot from the lights. He sat down, pushed the seat back to account for his long legs and positioned his hands over the keys. He closed his eyes.
He played Chopin’s Nocturne—one of his favorites. He’d learned it completely by ear, listening to his mother play it. She’d played the piece with such emotion, it pained his heart. He wished the music flowed half as beautifully from his own fingers as it had through hers.
As a young boy, he liked lying under the piano bench while his Mom practiced. When she’d gotten really into her playing, the bench shook in time with her hands flying across the keyboard and her tiny feet pumping the pedals. Being only five feet tall, she’d often had to sit right on the edge of the piano seat so the pedals wouldn’t snap back up.
When Payton struck the last chord, the notes lingered high above the auditorium stage, echoing for several seconds. Then, silence. Payton removed his glasses and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, then heard…applause? It wasn’t just his dad and the dean. He put his glasses back on and squinted, trying to block the glare from the lights with his hand.
A small group of students had sat down in the first couple of rows while he’d been playing. He was embarrassed at first, but when he stood, the students rose, cheering, “Bravo! Awesome!”
He fidgeted for a few seconds, then shot a peace sign and walked off the stage. Walking back up to where his dad and the dean stood, he saw that girl again…the one that looked like Alicia Silverstone. He got a closer look at her.
Even in the dim light, he saw her face perfectly. Her hair was all one length and ebony. It draped around her shoulders, hugging her gorgeous oval-shaped face. Her dark emerald eyes were highlighted with perfectly sculpted eyebrows and long eyelashes—the same darkness as her hair. Her creamy skin looked like the sun had never touched it. Her pink, plump lips stretched into a half-smile when she noticed him staring at her. She gave him a thumbs-up.
He just hoped his mouth wasn’t open.