By Toby Neal
You could WIN a free e-copy of Somewhere in the City, Book 2 in this series. Find out how at the end of the excerpt.
I never expected a spelling bee to be the apogee of my life, but the night of July thirtieth, 1983, turned out to be exactly that. I was one of two finalists competing for a major college scholarship, and I needed to win or I was going to be stuck on our tiny island of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands, cleaning hotel rooms.
Blinded by hot stage lights, I clutched the old wooden podium and stood listening to my competition recite, “Succedaneum.” Thank God they didn’t also require a definition. Sweat prickled under my armpits.
My competition, a tall gangly boy with thick glasses and an accent that marked him as from the nearby French Antilles, made it through. Modest applause followed his effort.
“Antediluvian,” the proctor said. Oh, this felt like cheating because I knew it so well. My parents had come to St. Thomas to do religious work, stayed on past their allotted stint, and made a niche on the island managing vacation rental homes for off-islanders.
“Antediluvian,” I stated. “Of, or pertaining to the period preceding the Great Flood referred to in the Bible. A-n-t-e-d-i-l-u-v-i-a-n.”
More applause than the other kid got. I was showing off a bit, but I was tired of proving that red hair and big boobs meant bimbo. All I had to do now to prove that to the world was get off this rock, go to college, and become a lawyer in the big city.
“Xanthosis,” the proctor said to the gangly boy. The kid’s Adam’s apple worked as he blinked behind his glasses. I could tell it was over.
“Xanthosis,” the kid repeated. “Z-a-n-t-h-o-s-i-s.”
The buzzer marked his shame, and sympathetic clapping escorted him off the stage. I felt bad for him, but he was younger and there would be other chances. This was it for me, and if I could get this word right, I’d win a golden ticket out of here. And oh, how badly I needed to get out of this palm-tree studded, nowhere paradise. There was nothing for me here—except my family, of course.
“Pococurante,” the proctor said to me.
The lights blinded me. I clung to the podium and I shut my eyes. I could feel the prickle of sweat under my arms penetrating the green fabric of the dress Mom had told me to wear to enhance the color of my eyes. I tried not to hyperventilate. I pictured myself as the lawyer I hoped to be, making a confident plea to a jury.
I knew what this word meant, but I wasn’t sure of the spelling. I sucked in a breath, blew it out, and went for it.
“Pococurante,” I said. “To be indifferent to something. And I am certainly not p-o-c-o-c-u-r-a-n-t-e to winning this scholarship. I want it more than anything.”
Huge applause broke out as a bell marked the end of the competition. My dad ran to the front of the stage and I hopped off and into his arms.
“I did it!”
“I never had a doubt, Ruby,” he exclaimed, blue eyes extra-bright with excitement. “You’re going to get your dream, girl!”
Mom, Pearl, and Jade were right behind him, and we mass-hugged in the narrow area in front of the battered wooden stage. I had the best, most loving family: Mom, sturdy and tall with her auburn hair and hazel eyes; ten-year-old Jade, who shared my green eyes but had Mom’s hair, and Pearl who had Dad’s blue eyes and curly blonde hair, already so beautiful at fourteen that she should wear a bag on her head.
Yes, this was the night I found out for sure I’d to be able to go to Northeastern University, where I’ve already been accepted. With this win, I’d be leaving in two weeks.
“Got a nice dinner planned,” Mom said. “Lobster and fish. Hope you don’t mind we invited company on your special night—he brought the main dish.”
“Who is it?” I frowned a little. Mom and Dad were hospitable to a fault, always inviting ex-pats or the transient workers they hired for cleaning and yard work over for meals.
“New yard and coconut trimming guy.” Dad hefted Jade up like she was two, and headed for the door. “Sailor. Seems to have some ocean skills.” Dad liked guys with ocean skills. I usually found them not that bright.
Mom winked. “I think you’ll like this one, Ruby.”
“Hah. I’m out of here,” I snorted. Mom knew how focused I was, so she liked to tease that I was going to fall in love, marry a local, and end up staying on Saint Thomas.
About Somewhere on St. Thomas
***FINALIST: Reader’s Choice Award, The Romance Reviews***
Redheaded spelling champion Ruby Michaels meets the wrong man on the eve of her departure from St. Thomas for college—and fireworks ensue. “I wasn’t going to be derailed by anyone—no matter how handsome and interesting,” she vowed. But some promises are made to be broken.
“Toby Neal introduces Caribbean island girl, Ruby Day Michaels, a modern-day young woman who will capture your heart. Ruby is sure to delight readers who love a smart, delightful heroine who is not afraid to speak her mind.” Eden Baylee, author
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About the author
Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawai’i and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. Toby enjoys outdoor activities including bodyboarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking as well as writing. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the Lei Crime Series.
And follow her on Twitter @tobywneal.