by H.A. Levigne
It's tough to be the new guy at school. It's even tougher to be the new guy from another country. Alejandro Hidalgo has a chance to play soccer at Bayview for a whole year. But not everyone wants him on the team. His host family is a little strange, too. Alejandro doesn't know where to turn for help. And when he is accused of a crime he didn't commit, he has to find a way to clear his namefast.
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This book is part of the Bayview High series.
To read a sample chapter of Striking Distance, click here. Enjoy!
Other Tea Leaf Press books by H.A. Levigne:
The Big Split
Alejandro Hidalgo Perez had never been good at waiting for anything. Especially now. He had been crammed into a tiny seat on a plane for four hours. All he had eaten was terrible airplane food. Now, he stood at the end of a long, long line in the Port Catherine Airport. He glanced at his watch. 10:20 p.m. His luggage was lost. He'd been waiting for over two hours to make a claim for it. He was tired, hungry, and thousands of miles from home. Could things get any worse?
The line inched slowly forward. It seemed to take forever. Finally it was Alejandro's turn. A woman with blond hair pulled back in a tight ponytail sat behind the desk. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Sí. Um, I mean, yes. My luggage is missing," Alejandro said.
"Have you filled out the forms?" she asked.
Alejandro handed them to her. She looked them over quickly. Then she said, "You're a student? From Mexico City?"
"Yes," he said.
She nodded. "That explains your accent. What school are you going to?"
"I'm going to Bayview High," he said.
"Are you on a foreign exchange?" she asked.
"No. Well, yes, it's kind of like an exchange. I mean, I'll be going to school here for a year. Mostly I'm here to play soccer," Alejandro explained.
"Oh, I see. You must be really good, coming all this way just to play soccer." The clerk
turned back to her computer. She tapped away on the keyboard for a minute. "We'll need a telephone number where you can be reached, Al-Ale-jan-"
"It's Ah-lee-han-dro," he said. He said it as slowly and clearly as possible. It wasn't the first time he'd had to explain how to say his name. He was sure it wouldn't be the last. "The 'J' is like an 'H.' Like in jalapeño."
"Oh," she said. "What is the phone number? We'll contact you if your luggage arrives."
Alejandro dug in his pocket. He had a piece of paper with the phone number of his host family. My stuff had better arrive, he thought. His entire life was in that luggage. All his clothes, most of his CDs, and his favorite soccer cleats and jersey. His signed ball from Jared Borgetti was missing, too.
Finally, the clerk gave him a copy of his luggage claim. "Good luck! Enjoy your stay in Port Catherine!" she said.
"Thanks," Alejandro said. He grabbed his backpack and walked toward the exit doors. It was time to meet his host family, the Fletchers.
He had to go through one final security check. Then he entered a big room full of waiting people. He scanned the anxious faces in the crowd. How am I supposed to find them? I don't even know what they look like. His head was pounding and all he wanted to do was lie down and sleep. Or maybe eat first, and then sleep.
Then he spotted a huge sign that read "ALEJANDRO HIDALGO PEREZ." A woman with short, curly blond hair was holding it high in the air. A large, beefy police officer stood next to her.
No one said anything about the cops picking me up, he thought. As he got closer to them, the blonde woman took a step toward him and smiled. The cop didn't. Alejandro tried to smile back, in spite of his headache.
"Alejandro...?" the blonde woman said.
"Sí...yes. I'm Alejandro," he said, holding out his hand.
All of a sudden, the woman threw her arms around him in a big hug. "¡Hola! Cómo estás?" she said slowly. She gave a giggle. "Did I say that right? It's so nice to finally meet you! I'm Judy Fletcher." She let go of him and stood back, beaming. "You're very tall! You look just like your picture. Doesn't he, Frank?" she said to the big policeman standing next to her.
So that's why the cop is here, Alejandro thought. He's one of my host parents.
Frank Fletcher stepped forward and shook Alejandro's hand. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows. He had a tattoo on one hairy arm. "Hi," he said in a voice as rough as sandpaper. "Your flight was late. We've been waiting for a while."
They all walked outside toward the parking garage. On the way, Alejandro explained about the lost luggage. It didn't take long to reach the Fletchers' car. It took even less time to toss Alejandro's one small backpack inside. "I do hope they find your luggage, dear," said Mrs. Fletcher. "Was there anything important in it?"
Just everything I own, Alejandro thought to himself. Out loud, he said, "All my clothes and some CDs. And my soccer stuff." It was going to be a real pain to get all new stuff. As for the signed ball from Jared Borgetti, well, he could kiss that good-bye. He'd never get it back. Alejandro leaned his head back against the seat. He tried not to think about it.
A while later, he jerked his head upright. He checked his watch and saw that it was almost midnight. I must have fallen asleep, he thought as he looked out the window. I hope I didn't snore or drool. The car pulled up in front of a small brick house. A light shone over the front steps and down the sloping lawn.
"Here we are...home sweet home," said Mrs. Fletcher cheerily. Alejandro grabbed his backpack and got out of the car. He followed the Fletchers up the driveway.
Mrs. Fletcher unlocked the door and went inside. Mr. Fletcher put a hand on Alejandro's arm. "Wait a minute," he said. "I want to show you something."
"Ohokay," Alejandro said, surprised.
Mr. Fletcher led Alejandro around to the back of the house. The backyard was completely dark. Alejandro could hardly see where he was going. What are we doing out here? he wondered.
Mr. Fletcher's voice came out of the darkness, low and gruff. "Over here."
Alejandro's eyes began to adjust to the darkness. He saw Mr. Fletcher's large outline next to a tool shed. A stack of flowerpots leaned against the side of the shed. A garden hose was coiled neatly on a hanging bracket.
Mr. Fletcher bent down. "Look," he said, pointing at the wall of the tool shed.
Alejandro looked. "UmI can't really see anything," he said. This is a little weird...
"Look down here," Mr. Fletcher said. He pointed right under the bracket that held the garden hose.
Alejandro crouched down and looked closely. A key hung from a small nail hidden behind the hose.
"That's in case you forget your house key," said Mr. Fletcher. He straightened up. "Make sure you put it back if you have to use it. Doesn't do any good if you leave it in the house."
"Okay, thanks," Alejandro said. Why couldn't that wait until tomorrow, in the daylight? he thought, following Mr. Fletcher into the house.
Inside, it was dark and warm. The house smelled faintly of cooked food.
"Are you hungry, dear?" Mrs. Fletcher asked. She walked through the living room, turning on lights on her way to the kitchen. "I can make some sandwiches."
"Yes, please. That would be great," said Alejandro. He stood near the front door, looking around. The living room was small but tidy. A sofa sat against one wall. All the cushions on it were lined up like soldiers in a row. Mr. Fletcher sat down in a well-worn armchair and propped his feet on a footstool. He let out a heavy sigh and turned on the TV. He hardly even glanced
Alejandro decided to go and find Mrs. Fletcher. She seemed to be the friendlier of the two parents. He found her in the kitchen. She was pulling things from the cupboards.
"Would you like a tuna sandwich?" she asked. "Do you eat tuna in Mexico?"
"Yes," Alejandro replied with a grin. "In Spanish, it's called atún."
Mrs. Fletcher looked relieved. "Oh, good. I'll just get it ready and then I'll go and get some extra blankets for you."
Alejandro sat alone at the kitchen table and ate his sandwich. He could hear the television in the living room. It was kind of weird, sitting there by himself while Mr. Fletcher watched TV. He was a guest in the Fletchers' house. Why didn't Mr. Fletcher come in and talk to him? Maybe I should just go and sit in there with him, he thought. He tried to hurry and finish his sandwich. Mrs. Fletcher was back before he finished rinsing his plate in the sink.
"Well, thank you for cleaning up!" she said with a big smile. "I wish I could get my son to do that. But you know what they sayboys will be boys. Your room is all ready for you, dear." She walked down the hallway and Alejandro followed her.
They stopped at a closed door. "This is our daughter Katie's room. She's away at college until next year. You can sleep in here," she said. She turned the doorknob and led the way in.
It was pink. The whole room, from the curtains to the carpet, was very, very pink.
Alejandro tried to hide his horror, but Mrs. Fletcher must have noticed. "We were going to put you downstairs," she said quickly, "in the basement. Jasonthat's our sonhis room is downstairs, too. But we've had a leak in the basement. We've had so much rain lately. The floor is still wet in the spare bedroom down there. Frank was going to get it ready in time for you, but he has been working nights. I hope you don't mind staying in here."
"No, it's fine," Alejandro said. "Thank you, Mrs. Fletcher."
"Not at all, dear. We're happy to have you." Mrs. Fletcher patted his arm and beamed at him. "The bathroom is just down the hall on the left. Good night!" she said as she closed the door behind her.
Alejandro dropped his backpack on the bed and looked around. Once you got past the pink, it looked a lot like his sister's room. The bed was covered with a lacy pink bedspread. At least half of the bed was covered with little pink pillows and stuffed animals.
Alejandro opened the closet and peered inside. Only a few coats hung inside. Most of the closet was filled with boxes. They were all labeled "Photo Albums" and "Christmas Decorations." It looked like the Fletchers were using the space for storage. They hadn't bothered to make any room for Alejandro's clothes. Good thing I don't actually have any clothes right now, Alejandro thought. He shook his head as he slid the doors shut.
A chest of drawers with a mirror stood against one wall. Pictures were taped all over the mirror. Alejandro took a closer look. There was a picture of a smiling blonde girl wearing a prom dress. She was standing next to a tall guy with glasses. Someone had written "Katie and Ryan 4-EVER" on it.
On the opposite wall, Alejandro saw rows of shelves. They held a huge collection of glass globes filled with water. They were all different shapes and sizes. Each one held tiny objects inside. They were filled with little houses, people, teddy bears, and other things.
There were more globes sitting on top of the chest of drawers and the table beside the bed. Alejandro picked one up. Tiny bits of white swirled slowly around the scene inside the globe.
He remembered seeing one in a gift shop once. He had been on holiday in Vermont with his parents. It was a snow globe. The white bits were supposed to look like snow. He shook it, causing a small blizzard to spin inside the globe.
I guess I'll see real snow this year, he thought, watching the snowy flakes whirl around. Cool.
He suddenly thought of the reason he was in Port Catherine. On Monday he would be starting the new school year at Bayview High. New teachers, new friends, and a new soccer team. He wondered what it was going to be
like. There was nothing he liked better than a challenge.
Carefully, he put the globe back and got ready for bed. He took all the little pink pillows and stuffed toys off the bed. Where are these things supposed to go? he thought. He was too tired to think. He tossed them all on the floor next to the bed. A moment later, he collapsed on the bed. His last thought as he dropped off to sleep was, This bed is way too short for me. He fell asleep seconds later with his feet hanging off the end of the mattress.
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