In my opinion, loneliness is a state when we can no longer distract ourselves with the details of the lives of others. It is a time when we are given no choice but to look at ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and imperfections. It is a time when we often analyze and compare our fragmented lives to the people who seem to have it together. Over-analysis often leads to self-rejection, self-loathing and the desire to be anything other than who we are. When we grow to accept loneliness for what it really is, we finally see that we're not necessarily who we want to be, but who we need to be... ourselves.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
As the times get increasingly challenging it can be difficult to travel the path to our dreams. I've recently hit a few bumps in the road of my own, once again coming face-to-face with the reality that no one is exempt from a bad day. Instead of wallowing in the potholes of my despair, as I often did, I was compelled to contemplate the situation and figure out a way to use it to somehow build my strength and integrity.
In life, pressure inevitably facilitates change. Someone once highlighted the fact that pressure is responsible for the formation of the diamond, one of the world's strongest, most precious gems. It takes strength to endure life's changes, but it's always worth it when we successfully weather the storms of adversity. We must not forget that laughter, like time, can eventually heal--if we allow it--and that it's okay to do so. Too often we surrender to the suffocating grip of sadness and depression, fearing we're unable to overcome it.
Everyone who falls into the depths of melancholy has the ability to come out of it. Sometimes we simply forget and need a little boost--a reminder. When we keep our heads down too long, it's easy to lose sight of our goals and dreams. The best way to deal with our challenges is to accept them for what they are and motivate ourselves to overcome them to the best of our ability. Sure, it's always easier said than done--as I mentioned earlier, I, too, have my challenges--but success is possible. Chasing one's dream isn't easy, but the biggest restriction in our paths are our own limitations.
Monday, June 15, 2009
After several weeks of painstaking preparation, the big day finally arrived ─ the day of my very first book signing! I spent most of it packing up last minute items after getting a facial, manicure and makeup application. Max's brother and father presented me with beautiful flowers before driving me to Barnes & Noble. During the entire ride, I had brief, repeated panic sessions, wondering: Did I forget the pens? Oh, they're right here. Did I forget my brochures? No, they're in the trunk. Before I knew it, it was nearly 6:30 PM ─ the time I had hoped to begin my setup ─ and we were over ten blocks away from the venue. The anxiety continued to build a bit, but slowly subsided when we finally arrived. Upon entering Barnes & Noble, I saw the large poster-sized copy of my book cover in the window. I was taken aback when I saw it. It was like one of those moments one would have when seeing a long lost friend or relative. I was totally amazed to see multiple displays with Camileon at the registers as well as signs with my photo posted throughout the store, announcing the event. Peaches, the Community Relations Manager, was kind enough to give me a few as keepsakes.
Upon entering the event area, I was instantly blown away with how well the event space was set up. I hardly had to do anything at all! I didn't even use the candy dish or table cloth I had brought. Since my event was scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM, I had about fifteen minutes to setup. I was surprised to see three people already seated for the event. They immediately began asking questions after I introduced myself. I guess I may have overindulged a bit, because Peaches politely pulled me aside and said not to do excessive Q & A before the event started. She had a valid point.
Shortly after 7:00 PM, I immediately began to wonder... Where's my family? Where's Max?! Slowly but surely, the seats began to fill and the rest of my loved ones finally arrived. Jenya ─ the great photographer who worked with me to produce the cover ─ also arrived. As I sat there before the growing audience of family, friends and readers, I was filled with an incredible feeling that almost defies description. I realized, at that moment, I was in a place between who I was and who I am becoming. I also realized that although my path seemed incredibly lonely, I wasn't always alone. My biggest surprise came when my high school principal, Ms. Duncan, arrived with my high school teacher, Ms. Kaplan. The former was totally unexpected, but very welcome. I hadn't seen her in twelve years and I am touched to know that I left a positive memorable impression.
After Peaches introduced me, I approached the microphone and addressed the audience. I was slightly jittery on the inside and it probably resonated in my voice at times in the beginning, but it was more from excitement than nerves. I was truly elated and I instantly knew that moment would be one of the defining moments and a highlight, not only in my career, but in my life. I briefly explained how Camileon came to be and some of the emotions that motivated me to write the story. I then read the first two pages of Camileon before segueing into a Q & A session. The audience had some excellent questions! I was asked about my writing process, if my life experiences directly inspired some of the scenes in Camileon, how long did it take me to write the story, etc. Also, readers of Camileon voiced their praise for my work, all the while trying to pin me down on a release date for the sequel. Don't worry. I'm working hard to make that happen soon! I was rendered speechless when my family, former colleagues, teacher and principal expressed how proud they are of me and my accomplishments.
Soon after that, came the signing. I was touched that the first two books I signed that evening were those of Ms. Duncan and Ms. Kaplan. I met some really interesting people, some of whom are fellow alumni of my college. I truly regret not putting out a guest book for the attendees to sign. I guess that's a lesson learned for my next event. Funny thing is, I had a guest book, but got so caught up in signing copies of Camileon, taking photographs and talking to readers that it totally slipped my mind. All in all it was a fantastic event! Peaches, the Community Relations Manager, mentioned that she set up 40 chairs for the event. All of them were filled and people were standing in the back of the event space by the time I started reading from Camileon. She estimated the attendee count at around 45 people. Peaches commended me on a job well done. I truly am honored and grateful that she gave me the opportunity to present at the store. The day of my first book signing is a day I won't forget for as long as I live. To everyone who attended to show their support ─ and to those who wanted to attend, but couldn't ─ I extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation!
Over the past several months I have received messages from aspiring authors seeking my advice as they embark on their journeys into the world of publishing. My schedule doesn't always allow me to respond to such inquiries at length, but I'd still like to help. Therefore, I am writing this blog to answer some of the questions I've been asked so far. I am by no means an expert in the publishing industry and I am still learning each day while attempting to make myself known. At times it's a daunting task since the road is a lonely one to travel, but I am determined to meet my goal.
Attention to detail is extremely important if you want your craft to be taken seriously. In the literary world, many authors have become entangled in situations that could have easily been avoided if they had taken the extra time to check their spelling and grammar. It's often the simplest words that get us into trouble--for example, using 'they're' when 'their' should have been utilized. It happens to the best of us--especially when we're really flowing with the creative rhythm of our tales. Another common mistake is using words out of context. As authors, our vocabulary is constantly expanding. It's the tool of our trade and we have to make sure it's in the best condition possible, so it's worth it to become best friends with the thesaurus and dictionary. Also, it's always good to have an extra pair of trusted eyes to help you proofread your work. You'd figure the more you look at your own work, the more likely you are to catch those sneaky errors. In fact, the contrary is true.
There's a common misconception that becoming an author will instantly earn you fame and fortune. On the contrary, it entails a lot of hard work with little financial gain--especially for those whom are self-published--at least in the beginning. However, if you truly love what you do, it will all be worth it. Setbacks will likely occur during your journey and it's understandable to become frustrated, upset and impatient. But it's crucial that you remain professional in your correspondence to the agents and literary representatives you come into contact with. People talk and word will likely spread to others in the publishing industry if you are rude or belligerent. Keep in mind, this is a business and rejection needn't be taken personally. Seeking an agent is in many ways like seeking a job--you submit your resume and if you're the right person for the position, they select you, if not, you move on to the next possible employer. If at some point you realize you're receiving nothing but unfavorable feedback, at some point you may need to reevaluate and rework your query letter, manuscript or both. However, there are cases where the author's work is fine, but the agent just isn't comfortable or enthused enough to offer representation.
I am most often asked how I got started. After a lengthy uphill battle submitting my query letters to various agents (all of whom rejected my novel) I decided to look into other options--in this case, self-publishing. I just want to emphasize the 'self' in self-publishing since the author does pretty much everything on their own--especially if they're working with a limited budget. The first thing I did after deciding to self-publish was copyright my work. It sounds a bit intimidating, but it can be done online through the U.S. Copyright Office website ( http://www.copyright.gov/ ) for a low fee of about $45. I consider it a worthy investment. The process takes several months, but it won't hinder you from proceeding with your self-publishing endeavors while the application is pending.
The best advice I can offer is to maintain your focus and harness your skills while learning as much as you possibly can. Before you decide to self-publish, really consider how much commitment it will take since you will most likely have to act as your own publicist, manager, secretary, agent, graphic designer (in some instances), etc. It's a demanding challenge that requires sacrifice--mainly money, time and sleep--as well as dedication. I believe the best thing for a new author to do is try their very best to find an agent before diving into the abyss of self-publishing. If you still decide to self-publish, make sure you thoroughly research the different companies that are out there. What may work for one author may not necessarily work for another--not to mention there are a lot of scam artists out there. When researching these companies, check their reputation with the Better Business Bureau and do an online search for independent reviews of the companies you're considering. Also, look at some of the titles they have already published and check their availability. Are their books only available through the self-publishing company, or are they also available through Barnes & Noble and/or Amazon? In addition, check how their books are priced. Even the most avid readers will not want to pay obscene amounts of money for books--especially in this tough economy.
Be sure to ask all your questions upfront and find out exactly what is--and is not--included in the price before signing with the company. This will be an optimal time to see how their customer service operates. If they are pushy from the get go, chances are they will be for the duration of the relationship. Most importantly, take time to really think about everything before making your decision. You've worked long and hard on your story, so give it the consideration it deserves since you'll be entrusting your work to someone other than yourself.
I still hold out hope in getting an agent to represent me--hopefully for my second book, which is currently underway. Try not to get discouraged. Some--if not most--authors work for years before they finally get their big break if ever. I've barely begun to make a dent, but I know if I keep trying, I'll get my big break too.
Here are a some resources you may find helpful:
Best of luck!
Author of Camileon
Seven years later...
Camile's struggle to belong continued into her twenty-third year. Up to that point, she threw herself into her studies and worked hard to achieve a Bachelors Degree in Interior Design. During her college years, she managed to make a few friends. However, each friendship failed, fading almost as quickly as they began. The same was true for Camile's romantic relationships. In nearly all her interpersonal encounters—whether social or professional—she was often ignored. On many occasions, people wouldn't even notice whether or not she was present until she was practically in their face. The fact that she had a diminutive voice didn't help matters much since people were prone to speak over her.
She also faced adversity in many of the jobs she held, none of which made her happy or quenched her desire to make a significant contribution to society. Camile was also bitter that she had spent four years in college to obtain a degree for a career that seemed unattainable. She worked insane hours as a sales clerk in a department store, a job she worked full time since her early college years. At times, it was an extremely demanding job carrying with it, unwarranted stress levels. She contemplated quitting, but she needed the job in order to pay her rent and to keep up with her student loans.
Deep in her heart, she felt that there was more to life than stressing over things that in her opinion—other than financially—would make little or no difference in the end. As she witnessed people younger than her advancing in their lives and careers, she couldn't help but feel envious. Especially since she felt that her own life was being squandered. She often worried about the path on which her life was headed. What did it all mean? What was the point to her existence if no one knew she was even there? Was she more than the sum of her rare, fleeting friendships and failed relationships? Was there anything more for her than unresolved questions about her family and the endless string of unfulfilling, unsuccessful jobs? Her life's purpose was something she always looked for and yet it constantly eluded her. Camile hungered for stability and thirsted to belong. She desired that someday the overwhelming emptiness she felt inside would finally be filled.
Camile lived in a small Brooklyn apartment, approximately seven miles away from her mother. It was located in a relatively boisterous neighborhood. Everything from small bodegas to public transportation was easily accessible. For the most part, the area was fairly tame, but in recent months there had been a rise in crime. The most recent offenses included a couple of robberies and vandalism inspired by racial intolerance.
Her apartment was modest in size, but she used her interior design skills to make it a home. The style of her furniture was functional and elegant. Since her salary was meager, she purchased most of the furnishings at bargain prices from warehouse-type stores. The entire apartment—excluding the kitchen—was painted in a flat shade of pale green. She found the color soothing and relaxing. In the short corridor just inside the entrance there was an oval pewter mirror hanging on the wall. It was about a foot and a half in size and was framed with intricate floral scrollwork. There was a matching shelf just below it on which she usually tossed her keys and mail.
To the right of the corridor was one of her favorite rooms, the kitchen. She loved to cook, whenever she had the time and energy. Her culinary skills contributed to the few extra pounds recently added to her frame. The kitchen housed refurbished stainless steel appliances, which contrasted with the white Formica tiled floor. The cabinets were off-white with stainless steel handles.
The living room was to the left of the corridor and had slightly more personality than the kitchen. Medium plush grey carpet complimented the jade-colored walls. In one of the corners was a black, four panel screen that separated Camile's computer workstation from the rest of the room. She enjoyed the freedom of having a lot of space in her living quarters. It eliminated the feeling of disorderliness and chaos—at least at home.
The seating arrangement consisted of a comfortable black sofa and matching loveseat, both of which had simple contours. A rectangular coffee table added a modern accent to the room. It had a clear glass surface with a beveled edge that glistened when it caught the light. The table's glass base had a smoky grey color which almost matched the carpet perfectly. It gave the table's surface the illusion of floating at knee level. There were also two small matching side tables that were located on each side of the loveseat. Each side table supported an eccentric lamp. A medium flat screen TV was mounted to the wall at a point where it was visible from nearly every angle of the room.
Camile didn't find it necessary to decorate her place with many elaborate accessories since she spent most of her time alone or working. However, prior to moving into her own place, she made herself a copy of the photo Kylie kept of her and her father, Zephyr. It was framed and prominently displayed on the coffee table. She often looked at the photo during times of despair or when she contemplated her life. It seemed a form of meditation for her. She felt strangely at peace whenever she looked at the unusual tree in the photo's backdrop. She had seen many trees with pretty flowers and leaves, but not to that extreme. The petals were deep red in color and glistened with a lively iridescence.
Seven years had elapsed since the strange situation occurred with Barry. Throughout those years, her mother continually dodged Camile's many questions regarding Zephyr and her childhood. It was an evasion that angered and frightened Camile. She wondered why her mother was so determined to keep things so secret. As she prepared herself for her next visit with Kylie, she realized that she'd been too passive about the situation over the years. That day Camile decided not to relent until she finally got some answers.
The late afternoon train was overcrowded as usual. A slightly nauseating and pungent smell wafted through the air. A group of rowdy teenagers pushed their way up and down the packed cars. A few of them were using some of the foulest language Camile had ever heard. It was clear that most of the passengers were annoyed with being subjected to such verbal pollution. However, they kept their opinions to themselves since they'd likely run the risk of getting knifed if they did otherwise. Camile's heart sank when she realized that she had eight remaining stops before she would reach her mother's neighborhood. When the train pulled into the next station, a group of holiday shoppers bustled onto the train, overstuffed bags in tow.
There was a sudden rush of commotion after a woman screamed. An elderly woman sitting across from Camile was being mugged by two large teen thugs. They each held a gun and demanded that the woman give them her money and jewelry. All the other passengers fled except for Camile and a businessman in his late forties. He took a shaky step toward the assailants, but ran off after one of the gangsters growled while waving the gun at him. Fearfully, Camile watched as the terrified woman tried to remove her necklace. However, the woman's hands trembled, hindering her attempt to undo the clasp.
"Come on! You're takin' too long, you ol' fart!" One of the muggers shouted as he ripped the necklace from the woman's neck.
At that moment, Camile had a sudden, inexplicable impulse to rise from her seat. Both thugs nearly jumped out of their skin, evidently surprised at the abrupt movement.
"Where the hell did she come from?!" One thug yelled to the other. His face contorted with intense fear and confusion.
"I dunno!" The other replied. "All the other punks ran away except for this ol' prune!"
He quickly pointed the gun at Camile and before she could react, he repeatedly pulled the trigger. Her heart skipped a beat before she realized that the gun hadn't gone off. The other thug also tried to shoot, but with the same result. Terrified, Camile could barely breathe as she stared at the thugs with wide eyes. Suddenly, their guns shifted to take aim at their own faces. Stricken with immense horror, they dropped their weapons to the ground.
"Yo, son! How da hell did she do that? This is some freaky shit! Let's roll up outta here!" one of them yelled.
The thugs ran out the car and directly into the path of two police officers who were called to the scene. Camile retrieved the necklace one of the hoodlums had dropped while fleeing. She proceeded to hand it to the old woman, but paused when she felt something brush against her right shoulder. Still agitated from all the excitement, she flinched before whipping her head around to see who was there. However, she saw no one else in the subway car other than the elderly woman. Camile stared at the empty space beside her and thought she was hallucinating, but couldn't shake the feeling of how real the sensation was.
"Miss, here's your necklace." Camile said tremulously while returning the item to its owner.
The old woman's eyes widened with immense fear as she sank deeper into her seat.
"Who are you? Where did you come from?" The woman asked faintly as she trained her teary gaze on Camile.
"I'm Camile. I was here the whole time. Didn't you see me sitting across from you?"
The old woman shook her head vigorously while regarding Camile with a fearful expression.
"No. You… you just came out of nowhere, right after they snatched my necklace! Are you an angel or something? Is it… my time to go?" The woman asked nervously.
All sound seemed to fade as Camile tried her best to make sense of what had just occurred. She figured she was very lucky the guns had malfunctioned, but couldn't understand why the assailants suddenly turned the guns on themselves. Even more bizarre was the fact that they thought she had something to do with it. By the time she arrived at her mother's house, she convinced herself that the woman was senile and that the brutes were on some serious drugs. It was the only rational explanation she could devise for all of them thinking that she had materialized out of thin air.
Be sure to visit www.camileon-thebook.com
Camile dreaded the prospect of attending classes on Monday. Not because of the tough lessons and endless note taking, but due to the constant ridicule and torment she knew she would endure from her classmates. After she showered and dressed, she stared at her reflection in the mirror. She almost seemed hypnotized by her own gloomy eyes. They possessed the ominous intensity of a storm cloud, threatening torrential precipitation at any moment. Camile rubbed her hands over her face, which was flawless—much to the vexation of her female peers who were often plagued with pimples. As usual, she wore her thick, but semi-tamed shoulder-length hair back in a ponytail.
"Camile! Come get your breakfast, you don't want to be late for school!" Kylie called from the kitchen.
"Yes I do. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have to go at all!" Camile glumly muttered to herself.
She grabbed her school books and stuffed them into her bag as she headed off to join her mother in the kitchen. As she ate her breakfast, Camile noticed that Kylie looked much better than she did over the weekend. Her silky hair flowed freely and caught the morning sunlight. The silver streak in the front gleamed.
"Mom, you make the best pancakes in the world!" Camile said between bites.
"I guess the old lady's still got it!" Kylie joked as she flipped her hair.
"Mom, you're not old! You'll never be old!"
"Well, I wouldn't go that far, Camile. Anyway, getting old sure beats the alternative." Kylie chuckled.
"Alright, enough stalling. Off you go! You're already running late."
"Do I really have to—?"
"Yes, you really have to go. Don't let a few bullies get in the way of your education. You're stronger than you give yourself credit for, so stop being your own worse enemy. You can handle anything that comes your way. You just have to believe it in here and here." Kylie said as she pointed to Camile's head and heart respectively.
"Alright, alright." Camile sighed. "Love you, Mom."
"Love you too, baby." Kylie kissed her on the cheek and saw her out the door.
When Camile arrived at school, she noticed something seemed different, but wasn't exactly sure what. Usually when she went to her homeroom class the other students would point, laugh and even throw paper at her. That day was the complete opposite of the norm. There wasn't a peep out of anyone in the room once she entered. Camile received terrified glances from some of her classmates as she walked to her seat. Others avoided eye contact altogether as they nervously gazed into their books, out the window or at the empty blackboard in front of the room.
Camile grew increasingly curious about the strange behavior they were exhibiting. After getting settled at her desk she noticed that her teacher, Ms. Hawkins, was not yet in class. It was very unusual since Ms. Hawkins always had perfect attendance. Even more unusual was the fact that Barry Collins—who also had perfect attendance—was also absent. Although it was highly unusual, Camile was not concerned. In fact, she looked forward to a day without having to deal with Barry's antics.
Ms. Hawkins suddenly entered the room. She was accompanied by the principal, a police chief and a police officer. The quartet looked comically mismatched. Ms. Hawkins was a short, dark-skinned, petite woman. Her looks were average, but she was often mistaken for a student. She appeared to be quite young and had a trendy sense of style. Many of the students would often tell her that she was much too cool to be a teacher. Some of the girls even tried to duplicate her layered, shoulder-length haircut—without much success—and in many cases, the results were downright dreadful.
Principal Turner—who stood next to Ms. Hawkins—was a well-dressed, short, stocky fellow with classic male pattern baldness. The students often joked that the only thing shinier than his shoes was the top of his head. His eyes and cheeks had a permanent droopy appearance, which caused him to bear an uncanny resemblance to a bulldog. He always wore a grim, serious expression which never seemed to change—not even when he laughed! It really freaked the students out since it was impossible to gauge his mood.
After Ms. Hawkins placed her bag on the desk, Principal Turner nodded, prompting her to begin. She adjusted her glasses and cleared her throat before she spoke.
"Good morning." She greeted in a harried voice. "As you may already know there's an urgent matter at hand. Therefore, your full cooperation will be appreciated. For those of you who are unaware of the situation, Barry Collins never made it home on Friday. He's been reported missing. Chief Roberts and Officer Harris are here to interview all of his classmates, friends…" Her glance shifted to Camile before saying the words: "…and acquaintances."
Something in the way Ms. Hawkins looked at Camile seemed to cast an air of suspicion. This made Camile extremely uncomfortable. The fleeting look was borderline accusatory, but no one else took notice. Instead, the entire class stared at the chief as he stepped forward. He was a burly man—apparently in his early-forties—who stood 6' 2". His weight was approximately two-hundred sixty pounds. He wore a crisp white shirt, which was a stark contrast to his deep pink complexion. His hair and thick mustache were red as flame which intensified his vibrant blue eyes. The color alone made it seem as if they were capable of burning a hole into one's thoughts. Chief Robert's overall appearance was very intimidating to say the least.
"I am confident that the participation of everyone in the school will help the investigators find Barry as soon as possible." Ms. Hawkins continued as she turned to the chief. "Mr. Roberts, how would you like to proceed?"
"Well, we can simply talk to the students in the same order as they're listed on your roster." His deep voice boomed. His voice startled some of the students and caused them to sit up at attention. Under alternative circumstances, Camile might have found it amusing.
As the names were announced in alphabetical order, the students were individually summoned for inquiry. Ms. Hawkins routed the students to the office to be interviewed. Camile's heart pounded, but she didn't understand why she felt so nervous. She knew she had nothing to do with Barry's disappearance. However, her awareness of that fact couldn't tame the uneasy feeling that gripped her. She felt the eyes of her fellow classmates burning into her back, which didn't help matters much. It wasn't long before over half the students were done with questioning. However, they didn't return to the classroom. In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation, they were separated until all students had been examined.
In the meantime, Officer Harris was left to supervise the students. He was a tall, handsome lean man with a chiseled jaw line, dazzling bright green eyes and strong features. His dark hair was smoothed back and his fair skin contrasted against his crisp blue-black uniform. The boys in the classroom were annoyed to see the girls all but swoon over the officer, who told funny stories in an attempt to lighten the serious mood.
"…so that's when I said 'I think you fellas need to pick a new spot to hang out.'" He joked.
The girls broke out in hysterical laughter. The boys groaned and sucked their teeth, clearly expressing their jealousy.
"Oh please! That's so corny!" One boy disgustedly muttered under his breath.
When Ms. Hawkins reentered the room, everything grew silent.
"Camile, you're up next." She announced.
Camile stood up and realized that her legs felt about as stable as rubber bands. She met Ms. Hawkins at the door and was escorted out of the classroom. As they stepped out into the hall, Camile heard voices coming from inside the classroom.
"She's a witch! She made him disappear!" Someone shouted.
"Shh!" Another voice hissed. "Do you want that freak to get you next?"
Other voices joined in and immediately built up to an unintelligible rumble.
"Alright, that's quite enough!" Officer Harris scolded.
The voices grew faint as Camile and Ms. Hawkins made their way down the hall. However, the painful words resonated in Camile's head as she sighed. The stinging sensation in her eyes felt all too familiar.
No! She thought angrily to herself. Stop it! Stop being so weak all the time!
Much to Camile's amazement, she successfully fought back the tears.
"Camile, I need to ask you something." Ms. Hawkins said as she suddenly came to a halt.
"Yeah?" Camile asked nervously as she stopped and turned to face her.
"I know that you and Barry weren't on the best of terms. In fact, I know that he was downright cruel to you—"
"That's putting it mildly!" Camile interrupted before she realized how rude it was. "Sorry."
"I just need to know, when you told him to disappear on Friday, what exactly did you—?"
"Camile you don't have to answer that!" A voice urgently called from the main staircase.
Camile and Ms. Hawkins turned around to see Kylie approaching them.
"Mom?!" Camile asked in horror. "What are you doing here?!"
Kylie walked over and put an arm around her shoulders.
"I found out about Barry. It was on the news. I just knew that you would be subject to questioning, which will be fine in the presence of our lawyer." Kylie said as she looked at Ms. Hawkins.
"Ms. Leon," Ms. Hawkins said quietly with an easy smile. "I think you're overreacting. No one in this school is being formally accused of anything at this point. This process is just to gather information that may lead to Barry's whereabouts. My duty is to—"
"Think what you must Ms. Hawkins." Kylie sternly interrupted. "With all due respect, I understand that your duty is to the school and I know you'll do what you must. But I'm sure you'll understand that my duty is to my daughter and I'll do everything in my power to protect her. I won't stand by while you prepare her to go before a lynch mob." She said as she stared Ms. Hawkins in the eye.
At that moment, Kylie was joined by a middle-aged man, carrying a small black briefcase. He wore a sharply pressed, navy blue pinstriped suit that flattered his medium-built frame. His hair was somewhat spiky and silver in color. It enhanced the intensity of his electric blue eyes, which sparkled like Topaz gems.
"This is my lawyer, Travis D'Arby." Kylie introduced. A note of defiance was present in her voice.
"Mom, you already have a lawyer?! Won't this make me look guilty?" Camile whispered in Kylie's ear, but the question went ignored.
Ms. Hawkins' face wore an odd expression that gave the impression that she already knew the lawyer. However, her words contradicted the possibility of that theory.
"Uh, pleased to meet you sir." Ms. Hawkins said as she nervously shook his hand. "Well, I guess we should get started. The chief is waiting in the principal's office."
Once the questioning was over, Camile and her mother were told to contact the chief's office if they heard, saw or remembered anything that might be helpful to the case. Kylie then offered to take Camile straight home but she declined.
"Mom, if I leave school early there'll just be rumors that I got arrested or that I felt guilty or something. It's tempting for me to go home right now, but if staying means I'll have a chance to get through this with at least a little dignity, I'm going to try." Camile said. Her mother regarded her with pride and amazement before tightly embracing her.
"I hope someday you'll see just how truly special and powerful you really are. Camile, I love you so much. No matter what happens, always remember that I love you." Kylie softly whispered.
"Mom, you're starting to scare me." Camile replied with concern. Ignoring the comment, Kylie continued hugging her.
During the entire week of school, the other students continued to ostracize Camile even more than usual. No one dared look in her direction much less speak to her. However, some were brazen enough to call her names like 'murderer' and 'witch' behind her back. Oddly enough, the thing that bothered Camile the most wasn't the behavior of her fellow students, but the behavior of her teachers, especially that of Ms. Hawkins. Ever since Barry's disappearance, Ms. Hawkins would stare at Camile in the most peculiar way. It was almost hauntingly disturbing.
The case of Barry's disappearance progressed with very few developments and several students—including Camile—were contacted for second and third rounds of questioning. By the end of the week, Camile was exhausted and sick of being called dastardly names by her peers. As much as she couldn't stand him, she wanted Barry to be found more than anything. She could cope with another two years of being bullied, but not a lifetime of being called a murderer when she knew she wasn't one.
Camile was in the middle of a boring chapter about the industrial revolution in her history book when she heard a series of gasps throughout the classroom. She raised her head to see none other than Barry standing in the doorway.
"Barry! Oh my God! Are you alright?" Ms. Hawkins asked as she ran over to him.
Looking dazed as he staggered into the room, Barry nodded in response to the question. He was wearing the same sweater and jeans he wore a week earlier. However, they were torn, tattered and scorched in some areas. His hair was disheveled and dirty. A crowd instantly gathered around him, erupting with jubilant cheers. Once they caught a whiff of the stench that wafted from his body, they immediately backed away.
"Phew! He smells like dog shit!" One girl exclaimed.
"Everyone, quiet!" Ms. Hawkins ordered. "Barry, where have you been? Were you kidnapped? What happened to you?"
As if on cue, everyone looked at Camile, who remained at her desk.
"It was… it was—" Barry said slowly, clearly disoriented.
"Rebecca, get the nurse! Tell her we need an ambulance!" Ms. Hawkins urgently instructed one of the girls.
"It was beautiful! That's all I can remember!" Barry said before he fainted. Everyone in the classroom looked at one another with puzzlement.
It was later discovered that Barry had apparently been struck by lightning during the rainstorm a week earlier. He recalled cutting across the school's football field on his way home. He also remembered playing with his ball, repeatedly tossing it in the air and catching it. According to Barry, he had nearly cleared the field when an intense flash of light streamed down upon him from the sky. The next thing he knew, he was back in class with no recollection of any events that had taken place after he'd been struck. After a thorough series of tests, he was granted a clean bill of health and released from the hospital within days. Although everyone was happy about his return, many questions remained. Where had he been for a whole week and how did he survive? Investigators desperately tried to find answers, but without Barry's memory or sufficient clues, the investigation reached an impasse.
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