Note: The following is a character sketch/opening sequence I wrote for a project I’ve been occasionally working on. It’s a contemporary YA fantasy very very loosely based on “The Princess and the Frog” (the fairy tale, not the Disney version), and I’m calling it Baubles at the moment. As always, with works in progress, pretty much everything is subject to change.
Shiny is bad. This is my mantra—I don’t like shiny, shiny is bad—but even as I lie to myself, I know it won’t work. I can feel the pressure building. It’s been coming on for the past few days, and while I try to convince myself that this time I can ignore it, my control is slipping.
Everywhere I look, things sparkle. It’s like the hallways of my high school were made to torture me, and not just in the usual school sort of way. Huge windows let in sunlight that seems to reflect off every single surface. There’s Lisa Emerson’s new diamond earrings, the latest gift from her richy-rich parents. There’s a guy with a Texas-sized belt buckle that screams, “Stare at me!” There’s even Boozy Benny sneaking his metallic “water bottle” into his locker with a furtive glance.
Of course, it’s not just shiny that’s the problem. Other objects catch my eye—the bright red scarf hanging from a girl’s coat pocket, the occasional paperback peeping out of a partially zipped backpack. But it’s the glisten, the shimmer, the gleam that’s hardest to resist.
“Hey, Si-Wai,” a voice calls. I turn my head. I know my mom would be annoyed at the ultra-Americanized way he says my name, “See Why,” without a whiff of what Mom calls “the melody of Mandarin.” But honestly, Dad was born in the States, Mom is about as white as they come, and the only time I feel Chinese is when I eat with chopsticks. Dad and I even joke that we don’t see why Mom cares so much when neither of us—the ones with the actual Chinese blood—do.
Plus, right now I’m just grateful for anything to distract me.
“Hey, Kent. How’s it going?”
He’s walking next to me now down the hall toward our next classes. He’s also fishing through the junk in his backpack. I try to ignore the luster of the fancy Cross pen he’s carrying. “Did you get the math homework last night?”
Good old Kent, no small talk for him. “Yup. You have problems?”
He pulls out a paper and thrusts it at me. “I don’t get how we were supposed to do number five.”
I glance at it. I resist calling him a moron. I also resist the pull of that pen. We spend the next minute or two with him trying to wheedle an answer out of me while I explain the problem.
“But what’s the answer?” he finally begs.
“Figure it out yourself.”
He scowls and flips me off as he runs down the hall to catch his next class on time. But just like clockwork, he’ll be back tomorrow.
Now that he’s gone, there’s nothing to distract me—not that math and Kent were sufficiently distracting in the first place. Not even the knowledge that the bell’s going to ring soon is enough to keep me from scanning the students ahead of me as I walk. Just as I’m hoping nothing will catch my eye, I see it.
A little dangling keychain, no keys attached, about the size and shape of a golf ball. It’s hanging from the zipper pull of a girl’s faded blue backpack. It’s clear, with faceted sides, and the facets catch the light from the windows. I can’t even blink, I’m so mesmerized by it. It is perfect, right down to the convenient carabiner latch that hooks it to the zipper.
This will be ridiculously easy.
I speed up, just enough to pull even with her back, then stumble a bit and brush against her. She turns, and I mumble a “sorry” but don’t make eye contact. The classic klutz-in-a-hurry posture. My hand curls around the ball as I pass her. By the time she notices the keychain is missing, she will have forgotten me. She’ll probably assume the latch was faulty.
I turn down the final corridor to my class, no longer caring if I’m a little bit late. A feeling of release floods through me, and I close my eyes for a moment, reveling in the rush of pleasure.
The guilt will come soon enough.
I sneak a glance at the ball in my possession. Even in the hollow of my hand, it feels like it gives off rainbows. Shiny is bad, I remind myself, and it begins to sink in. At least this bauble is clearly cheap, probably some dollar store purchase, hopefully without any sentimental value. Regardless, I’ll make sure it gets to the Lost and Found box in the school office later today, so if the girl thinks to look, she might even get it back. No harm done. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Because otherwise all I can tell myself is that I’m a thief. That it’s not shiny that’s bad.