Lux Ruby Lawson was not having it. Not today, of all days.
But Simone Harding hadn’t gotten the message. She was trying Lux’s patience, the way she always did, and Lux didn’t know how much longer she could listen to Simone’s loud, whiny voice.
“She thinks she’s so cute,” Lux heard Simone say. “Just because she’s the new girl. Well, I’ve been at this school and on this team since we were freshmen. I’ve paid my dues. And I’m not going to let some nobody who came out of nowhere try to take this away from me.”
Simone was the speed jumper on their school’s double Dutch team—one of the most coveted positions. Lux had tried out for the team that day, along with about a dozen other girls, but she didn’t actually care what position she got. She just needed something that would keep her out of trouble. Something to do—besides cranking her music as loud as she could stand it. Or taking photos of random people on the street to keep from being so pissed off all the time. (Pissed had been her default setting ever since her dad left.)
And after the last . . . incident, her mom had warned her. If she messed up again, she’d have to go live with the dad who’d walked out on her. Lux couldn’t let that happen.
This was her final chance to make things right.
But Simone kept talking crap about her—she’d been tormenting Lux since Lux started at this school last semester. To make matters worse, Lux’s dad had called that morning. He told her she had a new baby sister, Lillia Rose—a sibling she hadn’t asked for and didn’t want. A daughter he’d chosen to stay with when it seemed so easy for him to leave her. Lillia felt like Lux’s replacement, no matter what anyone said.
And Simone still wouldn’t shut the hell up.
Lux turned to look at the girl she had hated almost instantly.
Simone was tall, thin, and brown-skinned, with waist-length braid extensions, and Lux had been wanting to yank the fake hair from her scalp for months. On Lux’s very first day, Simone had tried her—walking up to her in the hall and making fun of the shirt she had on. Lux resisted the urge to grab her then. She couldn’t start a fight on her first day. For most of the fall, Lux kept to herself and kept her distance, but now that winter had arrived, her patience was wearing thin.
Though Lux had moved away from Simone and her friends in the gym so she wouldn’t hear whatever they were saying about her now, soon the coach called them all together again.
“Okay,” the coach started. “I’d like to see Aisha, Penelope, Tamika, and Lux back here for practice tomorrow. Thanks to everyone else for coming out.”
Simone glared. But Lux grinned. She couldn’t help it if she was good—better than Simone, even—and the coach saw her potential.
But back in the locker room, things went wrong . . . fast.
Simone stepped right into Lux’s face the second the coach left. “You think you’re such hot shit, don’t you?”
Lux stayed calm at first. She shook her head and turned away from Simone, even as Simone’s friends egged her on. Everyone knew that Lux had transferred here because she’d gotten kicked out of her last school for fighting, and she’d heard that Simone and her friends were dying to see if she could live up to her reputation.
Lux wouldn’t give them what they wanted. She opened her locker like Simone wasn’t even there. But then her phone chimed, and she saw another picture of Lillia. The newborn had the same rich dark skin as Lux, the same thick black hair. She looked soft and new and not yet ruined. And just as Lux hit the power button on her phone, Simone grabbed her wrist and spun Lux around to face her again. Lux’s phone hit the floor and the screen cracked.
“I’m talking to you,” Simone snapped.
And that was all Lux could take. Chapter 2
The sound a fist makes when it’s hitting a nose is horrible.
It sounds like . . . a wet kind of crunch.
It reminded Lux of the sound her mouth made as she bit into one of her favorite snacks, Cool Ranch Doritos.
But in that moment, as Lux’s closed fist slammed into Simone’s nose, Lux could only think about shutting Simone up.
Simone’s body smacked the floor with more force than Lux’s phone had. And before Lux knew it, she’d climbed on top of her and began pounding her fists into the other girl’s face and chest and stomach.
“Holy—!” someone shouted.
Simone reached for Lux’s thick twists, grabbed a few of them, and pulled, yanking Lux’s head painfully forward. Lux thought, Oh no this girl didn’t
. A second later she thought, I should have done that first
. But she wasn’t worried. Like jumping double Dutch, fighting was something Lux did well.
“Oh my God!” someone else said. Girls from every part of the locker room had shoved into the aisle where Lux and Simone were rolling around on the floor.
Lux grabbed Simone’s hair right back, ignoring the sting of her own screaming scalp. She punched Simone again, so hard her knuckles cracked.
“Jesus!” said another voice. Then, “Luxy, no!” That
voice Lux recognized. It belonged to Danika, the only girl who had been kind to her when she came to this school at the start of fall semester. The two grew closer after Lux had protected Danika from a group of bullies back in November—Lux told the girls who were tormenting Danika that if they kept it up, they’d have to deal with her. And when Danika found Lux crying in the bathroom right after she’d found out her dad’s new wife was pregnant, she’d stayed with her and handed her fistfuls of crumpled toilet tissue until she’d calmed down.
But none of that mattered now.
Lux looked up at Danika, intent on telling her not to worry about coming to her rescue, but in that one distracted second, Simone shoved Lux so hard, she fell backward. Her head hit the row of lockers behind them.
That’s when Lux noticed the phones. Almost every girl in the locker room had been taking photos of her, videos of them. And Lux knew that they would be shared again and again for hundreds of other eyes to see. Normally, Lux loved cameras—they were one of her most favorite things. But she hated everything about this. Simone scrambled up and away from her.
“You’re a psychopath!” Simone shouted. Her nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. Droplets of blood were falling onto her shirt. One of Simone’s friends grabbed her arm to hold her back.
“She’s not worth it, S,” the friend said, then she hissed in Lux’s direction, “This isn’t over.” Lux felt pretty sure this girl, Bree, only made empty threats—Lux had seen her acting like Simone’s bodyguard more than once. But the look in Bree’s eyes still gave Lux goose bumps. She could imagine Simone, Bree, and the rest of them cornering her. But Lux knew they didn’t have the nerve to do anything else now, not with so many people watching.
The coach ran in, but by then everything had ended. Bree was still holding Simone back, and Lux still sat on the concrete floor, but they were both refusing to speak.
“Luxy,” Danika said again, softly, from somewhere behind her. Lux felt Danika touch her shoulder, but she pushed her sort-of friend’s hand away.
“Just leave me alone,” Lux said to her. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a friendship that felt anywhere close to real.
“Get changed and get to class,” Coach said to all the other girls. And this is how Lux knew Danika didn’t really care: She seemed to hesitate for a second, but she left with everyone else.
Lux picked up her ruined phone and saw that her nail polish was chipped, too. She glared at Simone and smoothed down her hair.
“You two,” Coach continued, pointing to Lux and Simone, “come with me.” Chaoter 3
“Expelled,” Principal Bower said.
The word rang through Lux’s brain like an alarm she couldn’t shut off.
“Expelled,” her mother repeated, and it sounded like acceptance more than shock. After all, this had already happened to Lux twice in the year since her dad had packed up, left, and started his new family. She’d always had a short temper, but in the last ten months it had gotten so much worse.
Principal Bower nodded. “We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to fighting,” he said. He slid a thin blue booklet across the table, flipped it open, and pointed to something he’d highlighted about halfway down the page. “It’s outlined clearly in our student handbook, and all students are required to sign the last page upon enrollment.” He flipped to the back and pointed to Lux’s signature—two loopy L
s with a scribble between them. She’d barely read the booklet before signing it on her third day at this school just a few months ago. Principal Bower looked sternly over his glasses at Lux and then her mother.
“You could say it’s our version of a contract,” he said. “And I’ve seen enough of the altercation on the phones of various students, as well as speaking with a few of the kids who were in the locker room. Lux threw the first punch.”
Genevieve Lawson sighed. “I can’t believe this,” she said. “Again, Lux?” When Lux just kept staring at her chipped manicure, Genevieve grabbed her daughter’s chin and turned her head hard to face her. “I’m done, okay? I told you that you had one more chance, and you blew it.”
Lux flared her nostrils and crossed her arms. Then she uncrossed them when her mother gave her the look
. “Yeah,” Lux said. “I know.” Her mother dropped her hand from Lux’s face, and Lux stared through the dirty window behind Principal Bower’s head at the busy Brooklyn sidewalk. The two adults kept talking, and Lux wished she could go outside with her camera.
“Let’s go,” Genevieve said, and by the sound of her voice, Lux knew she’d be getting an earful in the car. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Bower.”
As they stood to leave, Lux’s phone chimed. Another text from her father. So when do you want to come visit your new baby sister?
Little did he know she’d soon be coming to stay.
Copyright © 2020 by Ashwin Writing LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.