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I spent my life in trouble. When your mother leaves you at age 12, your dad is a serious drug addict and you have an older sibling in prison for theft, there’s many problematic things that could happen. I like to believe I was never born into this family, that I come from a completely, ordinary family with healthy parents and good-hearted siblings. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose our heritage. I am a Trouble and there is nothing I can do. All you need to know is my last name to figure out our status among the neighborhood. I have short shaggy hair, pale gray eyes and an uncontrollable, tormenting life.


“Justin! School!” my dad calls. I groan as I climb out of bed and trudge down the hall. I sit down at the table and spy my dad sneaking into the bathroom. I hear the toilet flush, which is supposed to make me believe he used it. I know better, he went to take his disgusting drugs. I bite down on some severely burnt toast just as he comes back in.

Grabbing my backpack I hurry out the door, right when the bus pulls in. I climb on and am suddenly transported to another world. Filled with gossip, pain, popularity and terribly, expensive clothing. Being the new kid is hard, especially if you try not to be the dork. Every time we moved I’ve had to merge into the unnoticed category, with the nerds, geeks and overall… LOSERS. My heart pounds as I grab the seat closest to the bus driver. A hand grabs my shoulder from behind and I barely manage to close my mouth before shrieking. I silently turn around to find a set of 2 huge front teeth, right in front of me.

“Name’s Rhondi! New? What grade? Your teeth are so small!” the teeth seem to say before I get the chance to look up at the owner. The girl had curly, red hair like “Annie”, alabaster skin and pastel blue eyes. She was probably 12 or 13, but her shortness made her seem only 5 or 6.

    “Justin Trouble, I’m in 7th and I think my teeth are fine,” I reply annoyed by the girl’s somewhat rude question.

    “Sensitive? Sorry, most kids like my unusual questions. They make them laugh,” Rhondi replies quietly. I suddenly feel bad for her and offer her one of my lollipops. Rhondi’s eyes immediately lit up after she noticed the free cherry sucker. She continued her frequent questions.

    “Just-in-Trouble, is that a nickname? Are you always in trouble? Mine is a nickname too, my real name is Rhonda Isopolos the 5th. Everyone calls me Rhondi,” she says loudly.

    “No, it is not a nickname, it’s my actual name. I would prefer if you didn’t spread it around,” I reply quickly as I notice some heads turn in my direction. Rhondi didn’t notice and says my name is absolutely wonderful. By now, everyone on the bus had grown strangely quiet. They were staring at the two of us.

    “What’s the weenie’s name?” asked a boy from the back. Rhondi responded quite efficiently before I could stand up for myself,

    “Be quiet, jerk!”.

The bus driver yells at us and manages to silence the kids until we arrived. Rhondi and I hopped off the bus and walked into the school.

    “You go here?” I asked.

    “Of course,” Rhondi says. I follow her to the auditorium for the “Opening” ceremony. I squeeze into the back row between Rhondi and a tall, blonde girl reading “The Giver”. I looked at the basketball court and saw a very strict-looking woman glaring at me. I scrunch down in my seat as she turns to talk to another teacher.

“Where are you from Justin?” the girl asks without looking up from her book. Thoroughly surprised by the fact that she knew my name, but intrigued, I answer her simple question.

“Chicago,” I say. She acknowledged with a single nod. I was about to continue the awkward conversation when the strict-looking teacher began to speak into the bullhorn.

“I, Principal Isopolos the 4th, hereby welcome you to Quarrelton middle-school.” the woman says. The introduction was followed by a standing ovation with tons of applause.  

Isopolos...Rhondi! I almost shouted. Principal Isopolos was Rhondi’s mom! I gulped (loudly, I will admit) and the girl looked up from her book, giving me a concerned, sideways glance.

“At Quarrelton, we discourage tardiness, frown upon hooliganism and disintegrate bullies. Detention is an obstacle that all of you with have to be acquainted with. Trouble is not an exceptional trait at Quarrelton,” Principal Isopolos continued, pacing on the court. I tuned out the rest as I replayed her warning in my mind. Trouble was frequent for me and I was already jinxed from the very beginning. I was doomed.


“Are you alright?” Rhondi asked after the assembly finished and we were dismissed for a free period. We stumbled through the mob, trying to find our way to the library. I wasn’t sure, I was trembling and felt terribly queasy.

“Who was that girl sitting next to us on the bleachers?” I asked Rhondi, figuring she would know. Rhondi scrunched up her nose in disgust, she closely resembled a wrinkly elephant.

“Olivia Hartford. The professional “Know-it-All” at Quarrelton. Always gets good grades, never gets in trouble and not surprisingly has zero friends. Zilch. Zip. Nada,” Rhondi said stressing the zero and skipping into the library. We headed to the beanbags in the back corner and grabbed a stack of HISTORY ALIVE! books from the closet bookshelf. Coincidentally, as I was sitting down, Olivia came waltzing through the aisle with an enormous tower of textbooks. Rhondi, walking backwards, crashed into Olivia, sending textbooks everywhere.

“Sorry, ex-excuse me.” Olivia quickly stuttered gathering the textbooks and hurrying to one of the study rooms.

“You should really be more careful Rhondi!” I said as she plopped onto the yellow beanbag.

“Lighten up Justin! She shouldn’t be carrying so many books anyway.” Rhondi replied casually opening a book and settling comfortably into the beanbag.

“Why do you care about Olivia anyway? Since that assembly you’ve been acting really strange. Do you like Olivia?” Rhondi asked suspiciously. I flopped around, surprised by the question. I couldn’t tell Rhondi I was acting strange because I constantly got in trouble. I also couldn’t tell her I liked Olivia. Starting a relationship on the first day is one of my Top Ten Don’ts.



1. Be a weenie

2. Say stupid stuff

3. Act nerdy

4. Start a relationship

5. Become a teacher’s pet

6. Get called on

7. Get bullied

8. Do well

9. Get in trouble

10. Befriend a nerd


I made the list in 2nd grade so it’s pretty cheesy, but it helped me survive elementary school and I hope it helps me survive middle. I stared at Olivia in her transparent cubicle. I didn’t notice before how her white hair flowed perfectly down her back or how she wore a white, flowing blouse. Rhondi repeated her question.

    “Do you like Olivia?” she said, purposely saying it louder than before.

    “Are you kidding? No, no way. It’s not like her white hair resembles the color of the first snow or that her white blouse looks super clean or anything,” I rambled before managing to stop myself from giving away more information. Rhondi burst out laughing. I realized my entire face had turned to a dark, cherry red. A girl from behind us shouted out the news to the 17 kids that happened to be in the library. The students, mostly made of graduating 8th graders, burst into laughter as well. The librarian marched over to the gossiping-girl and firmly asked her to leave, She giggled as she walked out. Suddenly, a boy marched in, at least 5 foot,  he had red, spiky hair and wore a Barcelona MESSI jersey. He had a posse of 3 boys that followed him wherever he went.

    “Are you the dweeb that keeps eyeing Olly?” he said.

    “Olly?” I asked trying not to laugh. The boy glared at his posse as they snickered at my joke.

    “Olivia Hartford, Olly, is my nerd of a sister. No  dweeb like you will talk to her. Capiche?” the boy said sternly, only an inch from my face. I understood that this matter would simply have to wait for another time to discuss with the pretentious boy. I nodded in resignation and relaxed back into the beanbag. The boy stomped out of the library with his posse, who were now a greater distance away.

    I turned to Rhondi who sat with her mouth wide open.

    “You talked to Brent Hartford! You are my idol!” she squeaked, flinging her arms around me and for a minute or two, not letting go. I shrugged her off and asked if we could finally start studying. After the commotion, we only had about 15 minutes left in our free period. Supposedly still in shock and dreaming about hot-shot Brent, she didn’t reply. I briefly glanced at Olivia, still in her cubicle. She now had a slight smile on her face. I felt my heart beat and let out a deep breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.


    After our two classes with Mr. Huyo and Ms. Fletcher, Rhondi and I headed to the cafeteria. I wanted to sit with Olivia, but was surprised to find her absent. The lunch from lunch-lady Yolanda, was awful. Chicken ravioli with canned green beans and a side of raw broccoli, what could be worse? Rhondi and I sat at table #4 with Holly, Mark and Anthony who were all in Ms. Fletcher’s English class.

    “I heard you like Olivia,” Holly said casually, exactly when I had bitten into a portion of the raw broccoli. I immediately spit it out, accidentally, all over Rhondi.

    “Watch it!” she screamed, wiping mushy broccoli bits off her Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt.

    “I take it back, you really like Olivia!” Holly says giggling. I wince and try to laugh without having my face turn to a dark cherry again.

    “Where is Olivia?” I ask. Mark and Anthony shrug as Taylor comes over to talk with Holly. I silently eat what's left of the grotesque meal as Rhondi moves to avoid more flying vegetables.

After lunch I head to the library for a study block. Olivia has yet to vacate the cubicle. “Does she ever leave?” I think to myself. I saunter over and try to use a cool accent to sway her.

“Olly! Didn’t expect to see you here. What you doing?” I say 80’s style.

“Cut the act and come in Justin,” Olivia says with annoyance in her tone. I ask why she skipped lunch.

“If I spend break eating, I’ll never get this paper done!” she says.

“Why don’t you take a break?” I ask quietly, worried she’d get angry. I was right.

“BREAK?! Are you kidding? There’s only 7 hours of school, 3 hours of homework, extracurriculars for 4 and sleeping for 6. Plus anxiety for 4! When is there time for a break?” Olivia yells. I try to back out of the room but bump into a 5 foot boy wearing a MESSI jersey. Brent.

“You little twerp! I told you not to talk to Olly!” he says, taking a swing at my face, but misses.

“Brent! I can handle myself. I don’t need you protecting me!” Olivia says marching straight up to Brent and pushing him out of the cubicle. She slams the door shut and hops back into the swivel chair. I stand for a while, silently. “Why are you still here?” Olivia asks.

“I-I--” I stutter. Olivia nods as I stumble out, dumbfounded. Rhondi and I meet at the gym for dodge-ball. Both Hartfords manage to hit me twice with the big, red ball.

After school I walk home and open the door to find my dad sitting at the table, crying.

“Ron, he’s been released,” he mumbles. Ron Trouble, my brother, a thief, has been set free. He’s finally coming home.

I never thought I would see my brother again. After the trials and the 15-year sentence, I didn’t have any hope. He was my best friend. We used to throw baseballs in the backyard and go to movies.

Then, we went to the State Bank. On that dreadful day, he was making a withdrawal. I didn’t know his “withdrawal” was robbing a vault though. I remember him saying, “Run Justin! Run! Get out of here!” He had two bulging bags in his hands and his voice was shaky. Red and blue sirens sounded, the police took him, handcuffed him. Binding him from movement and from me.


We arrive at the prison at exactly 7:21 p.m. We walk through the doors, ask for Ron Trouble and are led down the network of corridors. At cell No. 425 I peer through the iron bars. On the cot of bent wires, he sat. He wasn’t moving, stiff and seemed completely lifeless. They unlocked his cell and led him out. Down the hallways to the door. We exited the prison and were out in the open air. Ron raced across the parking lot, passed the cars and leaped into the dark woods. Before my dad could stop me I ran too. I passed the cars and sprinted into the woods after him. I could barely see the faintest glint of orange from his prison uniform. I wouldn't lose him again, I couldn’t.

Eventually I lost him, he was too far ahead. I slowed to a walking speed and wept.

Suddenly, I saw smoke. I ran. I came to a small clearing in the woods. In the middle was a roaring fire. The sparks floated upward, gently brushing the overhead pines.

“You’re faster than I remember,” came a voice from behind. Startled, I slowly turned. Ron was carrying firewood and grinning. I relaxed.

“I guess so, you’ve a got a nice fire going,” I say. Ron adds some kindling and we both sit near the flames, watching the embers glisten against the darkness. In the distance a loon wailed, filling the unpleasant silence. “Are you still into baseball? Maybe we could start throwing baseballs in the backyard-” I began.

“I’m not going home Justin. I’m staying here,” he replied looking into the coals.

“You can’t!” I yell.

“Why not?! I have nothing to go back to.”

“Me! You have me! Have you even thought about how life was for me after you left? Dealing with dad? This is a crime you have to repay. By coming home. You have to promise that you’ll try to live. If not for yourself then for me!” I plead.

“Am I worth that much to you?” Ron asked, tears streaming down his face.

“Yes,” I whimper. He hugs me and for a moment the loon stills. The trees and wind halt their movement. We smother the flames and walk hand in hand, back to dad.

On the way back he lectures us about sticking together, but dad eventually sees our reformed bond and silences. Ron has his arm around me and a slight grin on his face. It lifted my spirits, through the roof of the car and into the cosmos.

School was easier to bear, the following day. Rhondi and I sat on the swings during recess. Olivia walked over and asked Rhondi for some privacy. Rhondi replied with a “Hmph” and stomped off to the soccer field.

“She doesn’t like me, does she?” Olivia asks sadly.

“Rhondi’s just sensitive,” I reply, motioning to the available swing.

“I’m sorry Justin, I shouldn’t have been so mean to you. Brent’s been really hard to handle.” Olivia explained sitting on the rusted seat.

“Don’t worry about it! I‘m a dweeb. I should’ve just let you study. I’m sorry Olivia,” I say.

“No you’re not a dweeb, You’re the nicest guy I know, you convinced me to take a break from academics! That’s a tough thing to do. One thing you are is a good friend,” Olivia says blushing. “By the way, it’s Olly. Brent calls me Olly and you should too. ”

We swing back and forth, holding hands and smiling until recess ends. I head to class with Olivia on my shoulder and her phone number in my head.


~5 months later~


Rhondi was quite upset about my new girlfriend. I bought her a ginormous bag full of cherry suckers and she soon forgave me. Ron called up some of his old band members and “The Thieves” were back! (Ron’s still trying to change the name).

Dad’s slowly reducing the amount of drugs he’s consuming. The doctors are trying to prescribe a dose a day. Principal Isopolos awarded me the “DETENTION FREE” trophy. Olivia and I are the only holders of the title since Quarrelton opened.

Knock-knock. Ron, Olivia and I are going to the Yankees baseball game today. I open the door. Her snowy, white hair was pulled into a high ponytail and she wore a “New York Yankees” baseball cap. She looked beautiful.

“Are you ready to go?”  she asked.

“Absolutely!” I reply. We walk out and spot Ron coming around to the front yard. He has his lucky Babe Ruth baseball.

“I thought we might want the Great Bambino by our side,” he says. Olivia, Ron and I stroll down the sidewalk. I wave at Mrs. Trufer, our neighbor, who’s watering her lawn. Ever since I received the award from Principal Isopolos the neighbors started disregarding  my last name, started treating me like the a regular kid, a good kid. She waves back and cheers,


I smile and grab Olivia’s hand. We turn left onto Main St. and I can see the crowd piling into the gigantic stadium. The Yankees win, 4-1.

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