Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chapter 9 - Rachel

I (Allison) am a grade eight student in the Challenge program at Calvin Park Public School. I wrote this story for a project called Challenge for Change which is meant to raise awareness for a global issue. My story is about two girls, one wealthy and one poor, who meet at a homeless shelter. Will their different backgrounds keep them apart, or bring them together?


After much debating and thinking, Milli and I finally come up with a plan. We will sell books at Milli’s school. Fortunately, Milli has plenty.

She digs out a huge, dusty box of books from a tight corner of her room. I gape at the piles of books – all my old favorites. Classics such as Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, newer books like the Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events series, ten-year-old stories by Beverly Cleary and R.L. Stine – they’re all there. It reminds me of "the good old days" when I would hide beneath the covers late at night, weaving a flashlight across the pages of a dog-eared paperback. I reach into the box, like I’m plunging my hand into a treasure trove, and pull out Kristy’s Big Day by Ann M. Martin. Instantly I am lost in the pages.

Milli tugs on my shoulder playfully. "C’mon, Rachel. I want to be ready for the fundraiser before a week from Tuesday."

"Can’t I just finish this book first?" I mutter.

Milli rolls her eyes. "Is a book more important than our job?"

"Well, then, you try reading one then." I pick up a Nancy Drew and toss it at Milli. Within seconds she is lying on the floor, eyes glued to the pages like an invisible force is connecting them.

"Let’s get started, Milli," I tell her.

"Hey! I’m only on page three!" Milli protests. Then she realizes what’s just happened and bursts into laughter. "Sorry, Rachel. I guess we’ve both forgotten what it feels like to read."

"That’s okay," I grin. "But can I keep this book?"

"Sure – as long as I can keep my good ol’ Nancy Drew." Milli hugs the book tightly to herself.

We manage to pry ourselves away from the books long enough to sort through the books. We make two piles – one for sellable books and one for those with missing pages, stained pages or falling-off covers (and our keepsakes, or course). There are less damaged books than at first appear, and we have a good fifty books ready to be sold. That may not get us loaded with money, but if we sell them all, we’ll have improved our profits.

The next day, at noon, I climb up the steps of Milli’s school, hearing my footsteps reverberate off the stone. Milli’s school is a fancy private school in the rich end of town. Though I took care to put on my best clothes, I still feel out of place in this place with the high ceilings and polished floors.

Despite that, the school’s secretary welcomes me warmly. "Pleased to meet you, Rachel," she says, extending her perfectly manicured hand to shake mine. I nervously grab it, surprised that such a wealthy woman even acknowledges my existence. "It’s admirable that you and Milli are fundraising for such a good cause."

"Th-thank you," I stammer. Her friendliness almost makes me more self-conscious. I straighten out my blouse and hope that I look half-presentable, that she’s not secretly thinking, "That girl is dirty."

Then Milli rounds the corner, wearing a navy sweater and white pleated shirt. Probably a school uniform – all the kids streaming through the hallways are wearing navy and white. She hugs me, smiling. "Hey, Rach. Our stand’s just around the corner."

I follow her to a table next to the school’s back door. "I placed it here so everyone will see it as they head out for recess," she explains.

"That’s a good idea," I say. I glance around the table. "Do we have room for any more books?"

"Yeah, I think we can fit a few more," Milli replies. "Why?"

Grinning, I tip out the contents of my bag. Twenty books spill out onto the table.

Milli picks up one and inspects the cover. "Choose Your Own Adventure? Journey Under the Sea? Where’d you get those?"

"A neighbour lent them to me. They always were my favourite series. I loved them because instead of reading straight text, you got to choose what happened. When we lost our house, I couldn’t bear to part with them."

"But you’re parting with them now?" Milli says. "You’re really generous."

That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make – those books were practically my life. After we became homeless, I’d spent hours poring over them, getting lost in their multiple storylines, imagining a world where I had more control over what happened than I did in real life. I didn’t know what I’d do without them. But I did it anyway – for our fundraiser, for my family, for all the people who had to face the same circumstances us and even worse ones.

And it pays off – our business is booming. Many of the kids haven’t even heard of the older books before, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. The girls love the Babysitters Club books, while the boys are interested in the exciting adventure books. One teacher buys half of the Choose Your Own Adventure books in one swoop, saying he remembers them from when he was a kid (the books are quite old).

The only ones who aren’t interested are Brianna and Jenna, who saunter by with a crowd of other pretty, well-dressed girls. They barely glance at us, except for Jenna, who loudly whispers to Brianna, "Is our ex-BFF hanging out with it again?"

Milli rolls her eyes. "I can’t believe I used to be friends with them."

I can’t believe it, either. That same girl who, apparently, used to sit on the steps and gossip about people who weren’t "cool enough" is now selling old books to raise funds to rebuild a homeless shelter.

By the time all the students have filed back in from recess, the table of books is completely empty, and the money bowl is full. Even the old grade 12 biology textbook that Milli’s dad kept around, which Milli swore would never sell, has sold to the school genius. It’s a job well done.

I’m smiling as I help Milli carry the table through the halls of the school and out the door. Sure, I know we’re not even close to raising the amount of money needed. But this is a start, and as that quote by Lao-tzu goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I’m sure that with lots of hard work and determination, and luck like we had today, we’ll be able to achieve our goal.

Keep checking in - my final wrap-up with Chapter 10 is on its way!

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