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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Excerpt from STRAYS by Jennifer Caloyeras

It's my pleasure to welcome Jennifer Caloyeras, author of Strays (published by Ashland Creek Press in May) back to WOA. Today, Jennifer shares the following excerpt from Chapter 5 of Strays (with permission of the publisher). ~ Sheila 

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody has a problem controlling her temper, but then, she has a lot to be angry about. Dead mother. Workaholic father. Dumped by her boyfriend. Failing English. 
When a note in Iris's journal is mistaken as a threat against her English teacher, she finds herself in trouble not only with school authorities but with the law. 
In addition to summer school, dog-phobic Iris is sentenced to an entire summer of community service, rehabilitating troubled dogs. Iris believes she is nothing like Roman, the three-legged pit bull who is struggling to overcome his own dark past, not to mention the other humans in the program. But when Roman's life is on the line, Iris learns that counting on the help of others may be the only way to save him.
In this scene, Iris meets Roman for the first time.

Apparently my time in court had been more exhausting than I had realized—it was way past noon when I finally opened my eyes. Luckily summer school didn’t start until the next week.
Was it all a dream, or had I really been assigned to community service work involving dogs? I forced myself out of bed and listened to Mr. Spencer’s chipper voice on the machine again. To my major disappointment, it wasn’t all a bad dream.
It was my reality.
There was hardly any coffee left in the pot (it was as though Dad were trying to punish me by finishing it all himself). I grabbed a pair of dirty jeans off the floor and threw on a sweatshirt. The dogs wouldn’t care about my appearance. If I could just explain to whomever was in charge that I was absolutely the wrong person for this job, maybe they’d let me do office work or something in order to fulfill my community service requirement.
At Zachary’s, my favorite breakfast spot on Pacific Avenue, I ordered their largest to-go cup of coffee. Even though the brew was better at Pergolesi, there was no way I was going to risk running into Ashley there. So much for my summer of free coffee.
I had the fortunate talent of being able to ride a bike one-handed so that my other hand could be free to swat at mosquitoes, gesticulate at bad drivers, or drink a cup of coffee.
Picking up speed down toward Ocean Avenue, I took a right, pedaling fast past families of bikers on vacation.
“Slow down!” a protective dad yelled.
But this was my bike lane. I couldn’t help but count the number of dogs I passed as I zoomed by. Ten, eleven, twelve...ugh. They were everywhere. Ubiquitous, as Mrs. Schneider would say. (There were a few things I learned in school that year; for some reason, vocab stuck.)
When I got to Natural Bridges State Beach, I locked my bike to a stop sign post and raced full speed ahead to the community center. Why couldn’t this gig have been somewhere private where we wouldn’t be susceptible to public scrutiny? Would everyone who walked past know we were convicts? Or would they just think we were training our pets? If they made us wear fluorescent orange uniforms like those guys who picked up trash on the side of the road I would be so mortified. My palms started to sweat when I saw a circle of teens holding leashes attached to various-sized dogs. I recognized only one of the figures, standing there with a German shepherd. It was Hoodie Boy from school—part of that group that was always getting into trouble. I had now sunk to his level. His sweatshirt, as usual, was still drawn tightly around his face. I was so embarrassed to know someone there.
I slowed down my frantic pace, now trying to take as long as possible to avoid having to participate.
“You must be Iris!” a guy shouted from across the grass. “Come on over!” He waved me toward him. Everyone stared. I suddenly became self-conscious about everything: my hair, my walk, my choice of clothing. Were my arms swinging too much? Too little? I put my
head down so my hair covered my face. I didn’t want anyone to be able to “read me.”
“We were just getting acquainted. I’m Kevin.” He put his hand out. I had no choice but to shake it.
Kevin was not what I expected a dog rehabilitator to look like. He resembled a surfer more than anything else: long blond hair, super-tanned physique.
“Since you’re late...”
“It wasn’t my fault,” I lied, ready to make up some excuse about my dad losing my bike-lock key.
“Everyone got a chance to choose their dogs already,” Kevin said.
“Hey, I didn’t get a choice!” said a huge, towering boy in an oversized plaid jacket and baggy pants that made him look even bigger.
“Randy, you did have a choice,” said Kevin.
“Yeah, between the Chihuahua and the peg leg. Lesser of two evils,” said Randy.
At the end of Randy’s red leash was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen—even worse than the dog I’d had to watch at the beach a few weeks earlier. The Chihuahua’s fur was tattered, and it had an exaggerated underbite.
A girl with wild hair laughed at Randy. “You two are like yin and yang.”
They all laughed.
I took stock of my surroundings. Two girls. Two guys. And me. That made five of us suffering through the same summer stint. What had each of them done to land themselves here? And were they wondering the same about me?
“Let’s go around and introduce ourselves,” said Kevin.          
“Again?” complained Hoodie Boy. It was the first time I had actually heard him speak.
“I’m Kevin, your fearless leader. I’m here to help you train your
dog. But more on that later. As you know, you all are now members of the most coveted community service gig out there. We like to keep the group small so you get a chance to really bond with your animal.”
Was this guy for real? I’d rather bond with a snake...a slug...a tarantula.
“I’m Randy, and I hope I don’t fall on my dog because it won’t survive.” The Chihuahua yapped away.
“Do you remember your dog’s name?” asked Kevin. “Tinkerbelle,” he said. “This is so ridiculous.”
At least I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Next to Randy was a girl with a funky haircut: her brown hair
long in front and short in back, with pink highlights. She wore a big army-green shirt that looked like it had gotten into a fight with a pair of scissors and lost. A quote on a patch sewn to her knee read, Property is theft.
“I’m Talbot, and this dog here is Garrett. He’s part Doberman, part retriever.” The dog licked her face, and I could feel myself start to have a panic attack. “And all love.”
“Shelley,” said the quiet brunette. “Bruce,” she added as she looked down at the bulldog licking itself at her feet.
Last but not least was Hoodie Boy. His legs were tangled up in his dog’s leash. “The dog is named Persia. German shepherd, right?”
Kevin nodded.
“And I’m Oak and I really don’t want to be here.”
For some reason I was taken aback to learn that Hoodie Boy
actually had a real name other than what the girls and I had been calling him for so long.
The girls. I wondered what Ashley and Sierra were doing at this very moment. I was jealous of their freedom to have a summer break. “No one wants to be here,” said Randy, as though reading my mind.
“I think it’s fun!” said Talbot, leaning down to kiss her dog.
So gross.
The long silence made me fidgety. What were we supposed to
do now?
“Hello?” said Talbot.
Was she talking to me?
“It’s your turn,” said Kevin, gesturing toward me.
Before I could get my name out, Hoodie Boy said, “That’s Iris.”
I couldn’t believe that he knew my name. Then I remembered that Kevin had called it out when I’d first arrived; also, word had probably spread about what I’d done at school. Most likely Oak had already shared my crime with the entire group.
“Yeah, I’m Iris, and I don’t have a dog. Which is totally fine by me.”
“Oh yes, you do,” said Randy. “You have my sloppy seconds.” Everyone laughed but me.
“Let me run and get him,” said Kevin, and he took off toward
the community building. He emerged moments later, dog on leash. “Iris, this is Roman. He is a pit bull.”
My heart raced. The week before, I had watched a show called World’s Most Dangerous Pets. And pit bulls were number one on the list, which, after what happened to my mom, didn’t surprise me in the least. They were killing machines. And when they weren’t killing people, surely they were thinking about killing them.
The compact brown dog on the other end of Kevin’s leash looked like a bicep with legs and had an expression on his face like he was hungry. For flesh. Kevin extended the leash out toward me, but when I reached for it, my hands shook so badly I had to put them back at my side.

Jennifer Caloyeras is a novelist and short fiction writer living in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. In English from the University of California at Santa Cruz, an M.A. in English Literature from California State University Los Angeles and an M.F.A. in creative writing through the University of British Columbia.            

Her short stories have been published in Monday Night Literary, Wilde Magazine, Storm Cellar and Booth. She has been a college instructor, elementary school teacher and camp counselor. She is the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger and the Larchmont Ledger.

Links of interest: 
·         Jennifer's website.
·         Strays on Amazon.
·         Twitter - @JenCaloyeras
·         Facebook fan page.
·         Instagram - Jennifercaloyeras
·         Goodreads page.

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