Chapter 1: What Happened Here
Long before the banalities of social media, there was a time and a place where no one had heard of a cell phone or alone text messaging. There was no Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter. There was none of this “reality” television everyone was harping about nowadays. Cartoons were only for children; there was none of this “cartoons for adults” crap. It was a while before the PG-13 rating was implemented in movie theaters.
In short, this was the year 1988.
13-year-old Josie Tremlett-Kahn sat at her desk in the back of the art classroom at Montagne Beach Middle School. The moderately sized middle school was located in the city of Montagne Beach. The city was several miles from Cannery Row in Monterey Bay, California. The school had an ultra-modern look. Yet, it was notorious for its bad reputation, as the school took in children the other schools didn’t want. The students the school accepted were those who messed up in other schools.
For that reason, many students attending Montage Beach Middle School would quit school before completing the eighth grade. They would rather be uneducated than attend a school with a bad reputation. Most of those who quit school worked at Cannery Row in the shops and restaurants that lined the famous landmark. Cannery Row was one the biggest fisheries in the world until the fishing industry collapsed during the 1950s. The canneries that once lined the street shut down in the 1970s. The famous Californian author John Steinbeck made Cannery Row famous by publishing a novel appropriately titled “Cannery Row” in 1945. The book was made into a movie in 1982.
As for the city of Montagne Beach, the moderately sized town was located close to the Pacific Coast and had a charming atmosphere. It was well known for the nearby military base (Fort Ord), its summer festivals (which celebrated the city’s colorful history), and its diverse population. Also, a strange incident took place during the 1880s that the locals don’t want to talk about.
But that’s not this story.
Anyway, Josie (as Josephine preferred to be known) was described as a witty comedian, with fair skin, dark brown hair, and sharp green eyes. She wore an outfit consisting of a housecoat that should have been thrown out. Underneath the housecoat was an orange blouse, a pair of baggy green pants, and a pair of sandals. She smirked as she watched the other students walk past her, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. None of their parents allowed them to wear clothes that came from the thrift stores. In fact, Josie ignored the rude comments about her choice of clothing or called the offending person out on their decision to dress like everyone else. (She never liked to conform to other people’s standards.)
Josie didn’t believe in conformity; she knew conformity caused a person to lose his or her personality. She smirked as she saw her classmates walking around the school wearing t-shirts with pictures of Disney characters or musicians on the front. She wasn’t interested in the pop culture of the day, despite some people who tried (and failed) to get her interested in various movies or musicians. No matter how often her mother tried to get her to “wear something decent instead of those trashy clothes you like so much”, Josie refused to wear clothes that were “conforming”. She liked wearing weird clothes, no matter how tattered and strange they were. The other students were convinced that something was wrong with her and made fun of her. In fact, none of them tried to get to know her. Josie didn’t mind, as she refused to talk to the students unless a teacher prompted her first.
Mrs. Evelyn Bean, who taught the art class, glared at her students, saying, “Get in your seats now!” As the 30 children scurried to find their seats, she said, “I’ve been looking at your work for a week, and it’s pathetic!”
“Why?” said Robert Whitaker.
“None of you put any effort into your work,” said Mrs. Bean. “Your work is done carelessly, you’re passing notes instead of paying attention to the lessons, and I know some of you would rather draw animated cartoon characters instead of doing the assignment.”
At once, the class protested, either by blaming other students or making excuses. Josie rolled her eyes as she watched her classmates being reduced to being whiny preschoolers. She put her head on her desk, then reached into her bookbag and pulled out her new Walkman, intending to drown herself in Prince’s “Purple Rain” soundtrack and ignore her less than intelligent classmates who could care less that they were about to fail art class.
As the teacher continued to scold the class over their poor work, Josie covered her ears. She turned up the volume on her Walkman, but she couldn’t completely drown her teacher’s lecture, especially when the teacher pointed HER out as the leading example for what she expected her students to be. As far as Mrs. Bean knew, Josie always turned in her homework on time, paid attention in class, and never passed a note to anyone. Yet, that didn’t mean Josie was proud of doing what she was supposed to do.
Far from it.
Josie sighed as she heard the teacher’s praises through her headphones; those flowery words made her sick. She frowned as a boy sitting beside her made rude gestures and mimicked the teacher’s voice. Mrs. Bean noticed him and said, “Is there anything you want to add, Mr. Burke?”
The boy said nothing, but he glared at his classmates. Mrs. Bean said, “Seth, I asked you a question. I expect that question to be answered.”
“Why should I answer your stupid question?” said the boy. “It’s obvious that Miss Goody Two-Shoes here doesn’t act her age, let alone function like a normal student. Something is wrong with her if she gets good grades and never passes notes.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Bean. “For that, you have just earned yourself a ticket to detention this afternoon!”
“You must be kidding,” said Mario Cline. “You can’t deal with Seth like that! He’ll call you a racist because you’re White! Come on now!”
“I don’t care if he calls me racist,” said Mrs. Bean. “He will do as I say, when I say it. Right now, he’s getting detention for interrupting class.” To Kari Glass and Meagan Strickland, she said, “I saw you two passing that note; hand it over.”
She snatched the note and read it, which made the class laugh. The note was about Reginald Ross, who no one liked because he always did his homework and never misbehaved. Everyone glared at Kari and Megan and cursed them out, leaving Josie free to speak to the boy who berated her for being the perfect student.
“Hey you,” said the boy as Josie turned around and glared at him. He had dark brown skin, dark brown hair, and dark brown eyes. He wore a pastel orange suit with light green accents and a pair of sandals. “Aren’t you the weird girl?” he said, hoping to get Josie’s attention. She had sat by this boy for almost a whole year and she hadn’t noticed him, since she didn’t know who he was.
Until now, that was.
“Depends on what you’re talking about,” Josie said as she stared at the boy. “Who are you, anyway?” she asked. “I know you sit next to me in this class, but I don’t know who you are. The funny thing is I don’t know half the students who go to this school, and those who I do know aren’t worth knowing. Anyway, who are you and what is your name?”
“My name is Seth Burke,” said Seth as he stared at Josie. Josie frowned as she thought Seth Burke? Now who on earth would give him a weird name like that? Surely his parents should be arrested for giving their son a bad name! No kid on this planet was allowed to have a weird name as Seth Burke. “And what is your name?” Seth said to her.
“Josephine Tremlett-Kahn,” said Josie, “and don’t you dare be forgetting the Josie part. I won’t have anyone calling me Josephine, and that includes you.”
For most of her school life, Josie had fought against teachers and students who didn’t call her Josie. Some of the students called her ”Joey" or ”Jojo“, two nicknames she didn’t like. Some teachers (particularly those who taught Spanish) called her ”Josefina“, the Spanish variation of ”Josephine“. Josie had to remind everyone that she wasn’t Hispanic. Her mother was Irish and her father was Iranian, which did NOT translate to her being Hispanic or Latino.
“Figures,” said Seth as he continued to stare at Josie. “And what’s up with your outfit?”
“Oh yeah,” Josie said as she fumbled with her housecoat. “I’m into African-Americans. We stole them from Africa and treated them like filth. Shame on the White man, if you should care to ask my opinion on the matter.”
“What are you talking about?” Seth frowned as he stared at her.
“Don’t you know anything?” Josie laughed at him. “What? You live in a closet or something crazy like that?”
“No,” said Seth. “In fact, I don’t even live with my parents.”
“Really?” Josie gasped, wondering how and why Seth wasn’t living with his parents. As far as she knew, her classmates lived with both their mothers and fathers. Many of them had brothers and sisters, as she had. But why Seth wasn’t living with his parents was a huge mystery that no one had been able to solve.
But Josie was going to solve that problem, whether they wanted her to or not.
“Seth?” Josie said. Seth stared at her. “Come to my house, OK? After school?”
Seth frowned, not knowing what to do. As far as he knew, no one invited him over to their house before. Also, no one spoke to him unless it was a teacher; even so, those moments when a teacher (or another adult) spoke to him were rare. Most kids thought Seth wasn’t worth associating with. In fact, they went out of their way to avoid him or prevented other people from speaking to him. All the same, to have Josie talking to him and actually WANTING to get along with him was something he didn’t understand.
At least, until Friday January 8, 1988.
Josie said to Seth, “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go while no one’s looking.” Seth stared at her for a minute; Josie wanted him to ditch class? He had never ditched class before; the thought of him leaving class terrified him more than dealing with people who didn’t want him in their class.
But Josie was insisting (she could be persuasive when she needed to get out of a particularly boring class) and she wasn’t about to spend another second in the room. Before he knew it, they slipped out the door as the chaos of art class had reached its crescendo.
As they left the classroom, neither Seth nor Josie realized that this was the beginning of a beautiful (but controversial) friendship…