Finding Laila: Some Changes are Necessary

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

FINDING LAILA

 

by
T.K. Rapp

 

©
Copyright
Notice

This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places,
or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. This book contains material
protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any
unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage
and retrieval system without express written permission from the author, T.K.
Rapp.

 

This book is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This book may not be resold or given away to other people. If
you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for
your use only, then you should return it to the seller and purchase your own
copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

 

Cover Design by T.K. Rapp & Amy Queau

Edited by Amy Jackson

Cover Image Courtesy ~ Nosnibor137/Bigstock.com

 
Copyright © 2014 T.K. Rapp

All rights reserved.

 

Dedication

 

For Gidget and Peese ~ my
angels, my world, my dream.

Never stop questioning,
growing, and loving because that’s the only way you’ll ever learn.

 

“The problem I have with haters is that they see
my glory,

but
they don’t know my
story…”

~ Maya Angelou

Table
of Contents

Prologue

Chapter
1 ~ Finding Strength

Chapter
2 ~ Finding Misfits

Chapter
3 ~ Finding a Voice

Chapter 4 ~ Finding Art

Chapter
5 ~ Finding Truth

Chapter
6 ~ Finding Support

Chapter
7 ~ Finding History

Chapter
8 ~ Finding Compromise

Chapter
9 ~ Finding Rumors

Chapter
10 ~ Finding Bailey

Chapter
11 ~ Finding Futures

Chapter
12 ~ Finding the Exit

Chapter
13 ~ Finding Courage

Chapter
14 ~ Finding Surprises

Chapter
15 ~ Finding Space

Chapter
16 ~ Finding Words

Chapter
17 ~ Finding Direction

Chapter
18 ~ Finding Allies

Chapter
19 ~ Finding Braxton

Chapter
20 ~ Finding Resolutions

Chapter
21 ~ Finding Battles

Chapter
22 ~ Finding Partners

Chapter
23 ~ Finding Arguments

Chapter
24 ~ Finding Fun

Chapter
25 ~ Finding Baylor

Chapter
26 ~ Finding Prom

Chapter
27 ~ Finding Caroline

Chapter
28 ~ Finding Acceptance

Chapter
29 ~ Finding Honors

Chapter
30 ~ Finding Changes

Chapter
31 ~ Finding Aliens

Chapter
32 ~ Finding California

Chapter
33 ~ Finding Andie

Chapter
34 ~ Finding Home

Chapter
35 ~ Finding Laila

Epilogue

Prologue

July 2002

“We’re
here, Laila,” Mom said as she turned around to look at me, her eyes shining
with excitement.

Even
being five years old, I knew she was hoping I’d be excited as they were about
the new house, but all I could do was stare at the unfamiliar building, because
that’s all it was to me.

I
looked at the numbers over the door:
982
.

Mom
had made me repeat our new address over and over. She even turned it into a
song to help me remember. I had a moment in the car alone and whispered the
song to myself.

“982
Cedar Lane, that’s where you go to escape the rain
.”

It
was quite possibly the worst rhyme she’d ever made, but Mom always worried
about something happening to me so she made me sing it until I knew it by
heart.

Dad
got out, walked around the front of the car, and waited until Mom joined him,
both wearing eager smiles. When I didn’t get out, they came to my door and
helped me climb out.

A
huge moving truck was already parked on the street in the front of our new
two-story brick house. It was nicer than our old house in Dallas, but that was
home; this new place—wasn’t.

“I
know it’s not the same, honey, but you’re going to love it here,” Mom said as
her smile faded when she saw my mopey expression.

“But
I don’t have my bed and my yellow room,” I whispered, trying hard to be a big
girl.

“You’ll
have to go inside and see for yourself,” Mom sang as she smiled at my dad and
winked.

“Is
my new room yellow, too?” I could hear the hope in my voice.

“It
sure is, Laila. Or we can paint it any other color you want,” Dad said.

“I
don’t like it here,” I sulked.

“How
do you know? You haven’t given it a chance. Besides, we already talked about
this, Laila.” Dad squatted in front of me and brushed my hair out of my face.
“Daddy’s work needed him to go somewhere else. I miss home, too, but you’re
going to love it here. I promise.”

He
was still in front of me until one of the movers called out to him, but he
waved him off and pulled me into a big hug.

“I’m
going to make sure this place is perfect for you, angel. Okay?”

I
nodded my head into his shoulder, and when he pulled away, his eyes met mine to
make sure I was okay.

Dad
had the biggest smile and pulled me in one last time to blow a loud kiss on my
neck, making me laugh.

“That’s
my girl,” he said.

He
kissed my head when he stood up and reached for Mom’s hand as they walked away
to talk to the two men. I was left standing alone staring at a house that
didn’t feel like home.

I
could feel the tears welling and I wanted so much to climb into the car and never
come out again. I was about to do exactly that when I heard some kids laughing
a few houses over. I looked up and watched intently.

Four
boys were running around, jumping over flowerbeds and rolling around like
something was attacking them. I stood there and watched with fascination as
they laughed and continued playing, oblivious to my intrusion.

“Base!”
yelled one with blond, messy hair. His T-shirt was covered in dirt and he
crossed his arms as if his single word was final.

“No
way! I tagged you first,” a short one with black hair argued. His hair was the
darkest shade I had ever seen and he looked a little scary for some reason.
Maybe it was the command in his voice.

“You
always say that, Cole,” another boy, taller than the others, protested. He seemed
to be the authority figure of the group.

I
continued to watch everyone as they stopped and looked at the taller boy while
he tried to sort everything out.

“Ask
her, she was watching,” responded a scrawny one with glasses too big for his
face and hair much too long.

I
looked around, eager to see who
she
was. Maybe
she
would be my new
friend. I turned to look and saw no one else, but the little one was pointing
directly at me.

“Hey
you!” called out the little one with glasses. “Did he touch base?”

I
looked at them, stunned that they were talking to me. I was also somewhat
intimidated as they walked toward me to wait for my answer.

I’d
had one friend at our old house, but we didn’t play all the time and I had
never
played with boys before.

“No?”

“See,”
the one with black hair said triumphantly. “She’s on my team.”

“You
want a girl on your team?” the first blond boy scoffed.

“What?
It’s not like she’s a real girl. She’s not even wearing a dress,” the
black-haired boy said and pointed at me.

“I
hate dresses,” I said firmly. “And I’m super fast.”

“I’m
Joey Parker, III,” the one with glasses said. “What’s your name?”

“I’m
Laila,” I answered, giving him a questioning look. “The third what?”

He
laughed and explained that he was the third Joey Parker in his family. I had no
idea what it meant, but I didn’t want them to think I was a dumb girl.

“That’s
Haden,” Joey pointed at the boy with jet-black hair. “And that’s Braxton,” he
said as he pointed to the tallest boy who everyone seemed to listen to.

“I’m
Cole,” said the blond one. “And you’re wrong—I was safe.”

“I
am not,” I argued. “You were running and I saw him touch you before you touched
the tree. He even jumped over that flower over there.”

Cole
looked at me, narrowed his eyes, and crossed his arms, clearly angry with me.
“She can’t play with us.”

“We
have to vote,” Braxton said as the others nodded. “Raise your hand if you want
Laila to play with us.”

Three
of the boys raised their hands and looked at Cole, who still had his arms
crossed.

“Fine,”
he gave in and glared in my direction. “But if she starts crying, I’m not going
to play anymore.”

“Good,
because if
you
cry, I’m going to
leave,” I said to Cole and stuck my tongue out for good measure.

The
other boys laughed and pushed at him until he finally gave up and ran off with
Braxton.

Haden
walked over to me and told me the rules of the game, but made sure to keep me
out of Cole’s path. “I won’t let him get you.”

“I’m
not scared of him,” I said with a little more strength than five-year-old me
actually felt.

“Good,”
he said before running off behind a tree and squatting. It was my signal to
move into my spot, but I glanced back at Mom to see if she was still outside.
She wore a big smile and walked over to my dad, hugging him tight as she
pointed in my direction. For some reason, they liked seeing me in the other
yard, playing with kids, and I liked to make them happy.

I
was about to wave back when I heard one of the boys yell while Joey grabbed my
hand.

“C’mon,
you have to hide,” he said, dragging me to a spot behind a trashcan. “Cole
wants to get you out. He’s a jerk-face.”

My
hand covered my mouth in shock. “You said a bad word!”

“Jerk
isn’t a bad word, especially if you’re talking about Cole.”

I
couldn’t help but laugh and tried the word on for size. “Yeah, he’s an idiot
jerk-face.”

Joey
started laughing with me and agreed.

And
this began my unbreakable bond with Joey, who would become my best friend, and
my complicated, and at times, intense relationship with the Cedar Lane boys.
What I didn't know then, in the blissful ignorance of youth, was how much those
boys would come to mean to me. And how much everything can change in a year.

Chapter 1 ~ Finding Strength

Present
Day

Laila
Nixon is a slut.

“Well
that’s original,” I mutter to myself while washing my hands. I’m used to the
blasphemous bathroom graffiti bearing my name, so I only roll my eyes, barely
acknowledging it.

This
has always been a perk of being one of the guys. Joey, Cole, Haden, and Braxton
are the only people who know me and everyone else has filled in their own ideas
of who I am. Laila Nixon is a Mad Lib for anyone looking to get a jab.

Guys
think I’m easy, so they’re always trying to get me to go out with them. And
girls, well, they think the same thing, but they go the extra mile to humiliate
me in hopes of dating one of my friends.

Funny
thing is, I’m not what any of them think I am. I study hard and make good
grades. I’m on the swim team and we might even make it to state this year. I
volunteer at local nursing homes and help my parents with my little sister.

But
for whatever reason, I guess the jerks can sleep better at night thinking about
me what they will. The ones who know me, truly know me, they’re the only ones I
care about.

That
doesn’t mean I don’t put people in their place when the time warrants it.

I
pull out a brush and run it through my wavy, light brown hair in a hurry.
There’s only seven minutes between classes, though I find myself loitering in
the nasty restroom, the smell of stale urine and hairspray heavy in the air. I
pull out a tube of lip-gloss and apply it to give me a little color.

I
don’t usually wear makeup, but after reading in a magazine that purple is a
complementary color to green eyes, like mine, I did some experimenting. A touch
of mascara, soft black eyeliner, and a hint of blush and the look
was
complete. I thought I did a decent job, considering it’s
not part of my daily regime.

The
first morning I went downstairs after trying out the new look, Mom was stunned,
but said nothing. However, the guys weren’t as relenting—asking me what
guy I was trying to impress. Despite my protestations, they kept up their
ribbing all the way to school.

I
suppose they’ve gotten used to it now, because they rarely say anything.

Staring
at my reflection, there are a few things I note:

1. I’m not comfortable in
makeup.

2. I really need a haircut.

3. I don’t give a crap
about any of it.

I
close my messenger bag and sling it on my shoulder before walking toward the
door.

“Excuse
me,” I say when a gaggle of girls push past me as I try to get out.

I
hear them behind me laughing and whispering, but when I turn to face them, they
quickly turn away. I give them a final glare before leaving the room.

“Laila!
Hold up,” Joey yells from across the hall. He is probably the loudest person I
know. It’s ironic considering that the booming voice doesn’t fit his
personality or appearance. You wouldn’t look at Joey Parker and think
“loudmouth.” But he’s the guy that doesn’t understand the meaning of the word
“quiet.”

“What’s
up?” I ask, waiting for him to catch up.

“It’s
about tonight.” He scrunches up his face making me laugh.

“Lemme
guess, you’re canceling again?” I cock my head to the side and give him the
look that tells him I already know everything. I’m starting to get used to
being relegated to second-string status now that my best friend has gotten
himself a girlfriend. It hurt at first because I was used to having Joey’s
undivided attention, but I also know how much having a girlfriend means to him.
So I didn’t hold it against him, even if it still stung a bit.

“I’m
sorry, Lai. But Bailey wants me to come over after school and we haven’t seen
each other much all week.”

I
roll my eyes but give him a smile all the same. “So help me, Parker, if you
aren’t there tonight, I’m going to—”

“Hey!”
He interrupts me and throws his hands in the air. “I’ll be there, just not in
time to go over that paper you wanted me to look at.”

“If
I end up failing, I’m blaming you.”

He
throws his arm around my shoulder as we continue walking toward the classroom.
“I’ll sit next to you and let you look at my paper. How’s that?”

“I
doubt you’re going to get a good grade. You seem to be majoring in
Baileynomics
,” I tease. I nudge my elbow into his side and
laugh at the scowl he gives me.

It’s
the first month of senior year, and my boy has finally managed to get a girl.

Took him long enough
, I think not unkindly.

I
don’t know much about Bailey, other than we’ve grown up in the same town since
she moved here in sixth grade. We’ve had classes together over the years, but
she’s always kept to the other princesses—a.k.a. the girls whose parents
buy them anything and everything.

She
had called Joey this summer to help tutor her in math, at her mother’s
insistence, and surprisingly they hit it off. I hate to admit I thought she
would pretend not to know him once school started. But to my surprise, and her
credit, she did the exact opposite.

He
hasn’t brought her around to hang out with the gang yet, but it’s only a matter
of time. It would be nice to have some estrogen around for a change.

We
take our seats in Mr. Tredway’s class and wait for the pudgy man to start the
lesson.

He
looks up at the clock and shakes his head. “I guess the bell’s not going to
ring today—” he starts when the bell interrupts.

There
are a few snickers from the class, but I don’t think he hears them—or the
bell, for that matter—as he glances at his phone for the fifth time since
we walked in.

“All
right, take out a pencil. Pop quiz.” He smiles his gnarled, yellow-toothed
grin.
Seriously, does the man brush his
teeth?

I
shake my head and meet Joey’s eyes with a smirk. He lifts his hand and makes a
brushing teeth motion with his hand. I cover my mouth so I won’t laugh aloud.

Mr.
Tredway walks around and places a paper on each desk. As he passes, his body
odor lingers behind him. It’s the same mixture it is every day - coffee and
bacon with a hint of old musky cologne. Joey coughs out loud, and a few other
guys do the same, causing me to laugh.

Mr.
Tredway turns around and looks right at me. “Ms. Nixon, did you have something
to say?”

Of course he calls me out.
I can’t sneeze without the man thinking
I’m being disrespectful—all because of Cole.

Mr.
Tredway has had it out for me since the second day of school. I was running
late that day because Cole wouldn’t give me my binder for the class. He thought
it would be funny to watch me get frazzled. I snatched my things from his hand
and ran quickly into the room and collided with Mr. Tredway’s backside. The
worst part was that I fell to the ground and my papers went everywhere.

The
portly teacher bent down to help me pick up my things and found a sketch that
Cole had drawn during lunch the day before. It was not a favorable likeness of
Mr. Tredway, and the caption “he’s
gonna
blow” was
less so.

Mr.
Tredway handed the paper to me and gave me a frown before returning to his roll
sheet. I knew he thought it belonged to me and I never argued that it didn’t.

Joey
stares staunchly at his paper while I give him the evil eye before looking back
to the teacher. “No, sir.”

“If
you have something to say, let’s hear it,” he demands and crosses his arms like
he’s challenging me.

“Dammit,”
I hear Joey mutter under his breath.

I
groan to myself, annoyed that I am put on the spot, but the word vomit is
coming and I know I can’t stop it. “Considering that we have only watched you
check your phone every ten seconds since day one, I’m just curious as to why
we’re being quizzed when we’ve learned nothing so far.”

“You
have your textbook,” he argues.

“You’re
right—and we’ve read what, a chapter, right?

“I
gave you an assignment. Did you not do it?”

“Of
course I did, but you haven’t handed them back to us, so how do we know the
correct answers? I mean
,
have we learned anything in
here?” I find I’m unable to stop the vicious flow of words from my mouth. I’ve
always spoken too soon when I feel things are unfair—voicing much more
opinion than necessary.

“Shut.
Up. Nixon,” Joey hisses under his breath, silencing me for the moment.

“Would
you like to repeat that, perhaps with the principal?” Mr. Tredway threatens.

“Which
part? The one about you on your phone?” I ask innocently. But I can’t help it.
Call it my natural foot-to-mouth complex, but my filter has been failing
lately. I don’t know how to censor myself in a way that makes me likable to the
norm. I’ve been the kind of girl who speaks first and thinks later. It gets me
into trouble at times.

Mr.
Tredway glares at me as he resumes passing out the tests, but I know he’s still
aware of my presence. I immediately regret the lack of brain-to-mouth filter I
succumbed to, but the man gives me a hard time every time I walk in. I’m not
sure what I did to make him hate me so much, but I also know I’m not helping my
cause. I can hear Joey stifling his laughter and I reach over to push at him
when the teacher catches me.

“Out!”
he yells, causing me to jump in my seat.

All
eyes are focused on Mr. Tredway before they make their way to me, but his eyes
remain locked on mine. “Get out, Ms. Nixon! I will not tolerate cheating in my
class.”

“But
I wasn’t cheating,” I argue.

“Out!”
He points toward the
exit
as his face turns red. He
looks like he’s about to keel over from a damn stroke at any minute. And I’ll
be damned if I’m performing CPR! I’m not getting anywhere near his hygienically
impaired mouth.

“Sir,
she wasn’t cheating,” Joey tries to defend me.

“Mr.
Parker, you need to mind your business,” the worked-up teacher commands.

“It’s
cool, Joey,” I acquiesce as I pick up my backpack and walk toward the front of the
room. Tredway looks at me and extends his hand for the test but I walk past
without a word.

I
start to leave the room but I hear Joey behind me: “Come on.” Before I realize
what’s going on, he pushes me through the door. “Let’s go talk to Mrs. Jackson.”

The
door slams shut behind us and I spin around to face my friend, who is doing
something sweet but totally unnecessary. “Get back in there,” I demand.
“Everything will be fine. It’s all that Casanova hair gel you put in this
morning,” I laugh, rustling his hair as we make our way to the principal’s
office. I then sober and look at my friend. “Joey, I appreciate it, but I don’t
need you to stick up for me.”

“You
couldn’t let it go, could you?” he admonishes, ignoring my protesting.

“Don’t
start.” I shake my head and continue walking.

“All
I’m saying is, you know how he is. If you just keep your mouth shut, you’ll
pass without even trying. This class should be a cakewalk for you, Lai!”

“I
don’t want to fail, but if I’m going to sit in there for forty-five minutes
every day, the least he can do is teach.”

Joey
reaches for the doorknob to the principal’s office, pulls it open for me and
follows after I walk through.

“Behave,”
he warns good-naturedly before going inside. We both acknowledge the secretary,
Mrs. Cruso, who is looking at us expectantly.

“Mr.
Tredway sent me,” I say to her.

“I
know, he called down here to let me know,” Mrs. Cruso says sourly. She folds
her arms over her chest and regards me with a look I am used to seeing on an
adult’s face when I act out: displeasure. “What happened?”

“He
said that I was cheating,” I explain through gritted teeth.

“And
were you?”

“No
ma’am,” I furrow my brow, annoyed by the question. “He wouldn’t let me
explain.”

“Well,
you’ll have a chance to talk to Mrs. Jackson when she gets back.” She looks at
Joey and she
tsks
loudly. “And what are you doing here? Please don’t tell me you were helping her
cheat.”

“I
walked out because she was unfairly targeted. Mr. Tredway doesn’t like Laila.
Everyone knows that,” Joey tells her truthfully.

“I’m
pretty sure Laila can take of herself. If I were you, I’d get my butt back to
class and take that test,” she says. “Am I right, Laila?”

“Absolutely,”
I agree. “I already told him the same thing.”

“Looks
like Laila doesn’t need your help—head on back to class. You can see your
girlfriend later.” She writes something down on slip of paper and hands it to
him. Mrs. Cruso then turns to me and waves me toward a chair. “Take a seat,
Laila. Mrs. Jackson will be here in a few minutes.”

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