Speed of Life

Speed of Life

by J.M. Kelly

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Twins Crystal and Amber have the same goal: to be the first in their family to graduate high school and make something of their lives. When one gets pregnant during their junior year, they promise to raise the baby together. It’s not easy, but between their after-school jobs, they’re scraping by.
     Crystal’s grades catch the attention of the new guidance counselor, who tells her about a college that offers a degree in automotive restoration, perfect for the car buff she is. When she secretly applies—and gets in—new opportunities threaten their once-certain plans, and Crystal must make a choice: follow her dreams or stay behind and honor the promise she made to her sister.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544868212
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 10/11/2016
Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 5 MB
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

J. M. Kelly was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and now lives in British Columbia, Canada. When she’s not working on her novels, she writes nonfiction articles, plays, and sketch comedy, and teaches writing to both kids and adults.
J.M. Kelly loves the rain, which is good because she was born and raised in Portland. She spent her childhood with her nose in a book, often in the backseat of whatever old car her dad had at the time. She's worked as an actress, a Minor League Baseball souvenir hawker, Snow White at birthday parties, and various other not-so-odd jobs. Now she mostly writes novels, but she still dabbles in sketch comedy, nonfiction articles, and teaching writing to both kids and adults. She wrote and starred in a full-length play, along with her husband and his guitar.

Read an Excerpt


“Take her.”
     “Hold her for a minute.”
     “I don’t want to.”
     “She needs you.”
     “Please, find her a family. They said there’s lots of people waiting.”
     “But she’s yours.”
     “I don’t want her.”
     “You will when you’re feeling better.”
     “I never wanted her. Please let me sleep. Don’t do this to me. Please? Please? If you love me . . .”
     “We’re keeping her because I love you. So you don’t hate us both later.”
     “I want to sleep.”
     In the silence the blackness comes again. And then . . . relentlessly . . . “I’ll help you. We’ll raise her together. Fifty-fifty. Just like always.”
     “If I say yes, will you let me sleep?”
     “For a while.”
     “Okay. Yes.”


I push a button on the iron and a little cloud of steam poofs out, sending up a whiff of clean-laundry smell, temporarily blocking the kitchen’s usual odors—​stale coffee, dirty diapers, and the sour tang of empty beer cans. As I press my work shirt, Amber squeezes between me and the archway, heading through the living room to our bedroom. She’s got her long hair in a bushy ponytail, and it brushes my face as she goes by, almost making me sneeze.
     “What time will you be done tonight?” I ask her.
     “It’ll be at least eleven,” she answers. The dump we live in’s so small I can hear her in the other room.
     “I’ll be there by quarter after,” I say. “If you’re not finished, I’ll help.”
     “Cool. Thanks. Can I wear your old jeans?”
     “Yeah, sure.”
     You hear about sisters swapping clothes all the time, but we don’t do it very much. Amber’s job is hot and sweaty, though, and most of my stuff’s grease-stained from working on cars, so my jeans are perfect for her to wear to work because they’re crappy already. Usually she dresses to show off her body, and I use clothes to hide mine. Not that I’m a dog or anything. Guys think Amber’s a babe—​small, decent boobs, sexy red curls—​which technically means I could be hot too, since we’re identical twins. But I’m not interested in dressing to impress—​not in this lifetime, thanks.
     I hear Mom’s bedroom door open, and then the bathroom one closes. The toilet flushes a minute later, and she comes schlumping down the short hallway, her slippers slapping on the bare plywood floor.
     “Oh, good,” she says, seeing the ironing board. “Can you do my uniform, too?”
     I’m already late. Plus, Mom’s shirt is . . . well . . . huge, and it takes forever to iron. I don’t know why she bothers. She works the graveyard shift. No one cares. “Sorry, can’t do it,” I say. “I’m supposed to start at five. But I’ll leave the ironing board up.”
     She doesn’t answer, just picks up the pot with the dregs of the coffee I made before school, which means it’s about ten hours old, and sniffs, trying to decide whether to reheat it or not. In the end, she tosses the leftovers into the sink. That’s probably why the drain’s always clogged. The box of filters is empty, and she scoops the last of the Folgers into a used one. I make a mental note to get both after school tomorrow.
     Amber comes back into the kitchen, lugging Natalie in the car seat we got from our cousin. My sister’s wearing my oldest jeans and a sweatshirt I don’t recognize, probably from a guy she doesn’t remember. “Crystal? Can we get a ride all the way to work?” she asks.
     Amber washes dishes at a tavern called the Glass Slipper, and tonight I’m supposed to drop her off at the bus because I start work earlier than her. But I know it’s a pain in the ass when she has to take Natalie along, and Amber pays half the car insurance. It will mean I’ll be fifteen minutes late, but it’s not like I’m gonna get fired or anything.
     “If you’re ready to go right now,” I say.
     “I just have to find Nat’s diaper bag.”
     “Couch,” Mom mumbles, spluttering coffee cake all over her crossword.
     “Hey, Am?” I say as she goes to get it. “I put the dog in the car after school ’cause it was raining so hard. Can you get him chained up while I change?”
     “If you bring Natalie with you.”
     “There’s pizza,” my stepdad, Gil, says as I go through the living room. He’s spread out on the couch, a case of beer next to him and a pipe in his hand.
     Gil works at Big Apple Pizza when he can drag his ass in there. Either way, he still gets paid because he kind of owns the place. He and his brother inherited it a few years ago, and he signed over his share in exchange for a weekly paycheck, whether he shows up or not. I think sometimes his brother pays him to stay away.
     “It’s better to lose my money once a week instead of all at once,” Gil always says with a laugh.
     Sound logic if you’re him. In the bedroom, I hurriedly take off my flannel and put on my gray work pants and blue striped uniform shirt. Our room used to be a single-car garage until Gil padlocked the overhead door shut so we (Amber) couldn’t sneak out at night. Then he cut a hole in the living room wall and built a weird little connecting hallway out of found plywood between the living room and the side door of the garage. There’s no insulation or windows, so it’s freezing in the winter and stifling in the summer, but we have a room of our own now. At least until Natalie came along four and a half months ago. Now the three of us are crammed in here together. But it’s still better than the pull-out couch in the living room, which is where me and Amber used to sleep.
     The landlord had been royally pissed when he’d come around to collect the late rent, but Gil, always a charmer, pointed out that the house was now a two-bedroom and offered him twenty bucks a month more, which he took without another word.
     Usually I go out the front instead of the side door when Mom’s in the kitchen—​in case she asks me for money for bingo—​but I want the pizza, plus I have to grab the baby, so I take my chances. Mom’s abandoned the crossword and is doing a word-search puzzle while eating a flattened jelly doughnut she brought home from work. She doesn’t even look up when I come through.
     I swing Natalie off the table in her carrier, making her squeal, which is a new thing for her. I can’t help smiling. I’ll take that high-pitched happy scream over whimpering and crying any day. The pizza box is open and there’re only two slices left, so I grab the whole thing and go.
     When I get outside, Amber’s hooking Bonehead to his chain. “I’m gonna give this slice of pepperoni to the dog unless you want to pick off the meat,” I say. “We can share the cheese one.”
     “That’s okay, you eat it. I’ll get something at work.”
     She takes the baby from me, and I toss the dog the pepperoni pizza. He swallows it whole. “Don’t choke,” I tell him. “I need you.” I nudge him affectionately with my foot because I don’t want dog smell all over my hands while I eat, and he whimpers at being left behind.
     While Amber buckles Natalie into the back seat, I slide in on the driver’s side, and when I switch on the ignition, the radio blasts, making me jump. Amber laughs and Nat starts crying. I turn the knob down a couple notches. “Are you ever gonna get tired of that joke?” I ask her.
     “Probably not,” she says.
     About the twentieth time she did it, I considered disconnecting the after-market stereo I installed back when we had spare cash, before Natalie, but having music is too good, so I left it. On our way to the Glass Slipper, I eat while I drive, and Amber winds her long red curls up into a tight knot on the top of her head. Kitchen regulations. No one there cares that she’s breaking the law by working for cash, but the cook’s a freak for hygiene. At least at the gas station I can get away with a ponytail under my baseball cap.
     “Do you see my hat in the back?”
     Amber leans over the seat, digging through Bonehead’s blankets. “Here it is. I think the dog might’ve chewed on it a little.”
     While I’m stopped at a light, I pull on the mangled black hat. In white letters, it says Jimmy’s Gas and Auto Repair in fancy script, and I tug at the brim, trying to make it look more presentable. Tonight I’ll be working the lottery counter when I’m not pumping gas, so I have to face the public. Jimmy usually only lets me work in the repair shop on the weekends, and today’s Wednesday. Three more days before I get to do the good stuff.
     I drop off Amber and Natalie, and as soon as I pull out onto Eighty-Second Avenue, I hit the gas hard, feeling the power of the motor. It keeps surging, which reminds me I need to ask Jimmy about it. I don’t get very far before I come to a red light, and I sit there, revving the engine, listening. Next to me, some guys in a souped-up rice burner are blasting rap music and checking out my car. The Mustang doesn’t look like much yet. It’s coated with primer instead of painted, and I still need to do some body work, but under the hood is a V8 that will leave them in the dust.
     When the light changes, I floor it, shooting off down the street in a squeal of burning rubber. Not so good for my tires, but it’s worth it because the dudes in the other car are eating my exhaust. Unfortunately, before I can really get going, I’m already at Jimmy’s.
     From the street, it looks like any other gas station/convenience store—​brightly lit with Coke and beer ads in the windows, a couple of pumps out front, a place to get air and propane, and there’s even an old phone booth that actually works over by the three customer parking spots. The real magic happens in the restoration shop behind the station. I pull into the parking lot and drive around back.
     On a separate lot is Jimmy’s four-bay workshop. There’s no sign announcing this—​we don’t want to advertise what we’re doing back here, because some of the cars we fix are worth a fortune. The people who need a stellar car guy already know Jimmy and where to find him. The shop’s got a small parking lot with razor wire, and for years there was a watch dog, but it died of old age and Jimmy’s wife talked him into an alarm to replace it. An alarm doesn’t eat or rack up bills at the vet.
     I always park behind the gas station, but tonight there’s a 1971 red Chevelle SS taking up two spots, one of which is my usual one. Jimmy must’ve had some overflow and couldn’t get it in the shop. I’d be pissed if it were my car. The gas station parking lot isn’t safe overnight—​guys in this neighborhood will steal anything not locked up. I back into my second-favorite spot, by the dumpster, and hop out.
     “I’m here, I’m here,” I tell Rosa, who’s running the register tonight. “Sorry I’m late. I had to take Amber to work.”
     She waves me off without saying anything, but I can tell she’s annoyed. Her drawn-on eyebrows are all wrinkled. It’s getting close to the cut-off time for tonight’s big draw, so there’s a line of the eternally hopeful and always broke wanting lottery tickets. Because I wasn’t here, Rosa had to juggle the gas customers and the lottery regulars, so she’s probably been hearing some bitching. I punch in and get my ass over to the counter.
     When we finally have a lull, Rosa tells me that Jimmy wants to see me in the office. Probably because it was ten minutes after five when I got here, but whatever. I’ve worked here since I was fourteen, and about the only thing that would get me fired is if I stole something, which I’d never do and Jimmy knows it. He’s had four years to cut me loose for coming in late and he hasn’t done it yet, so I doubt it’s gonna happen tonight. He does like to give me a hard time, though.
     I stick my head out the door and yell at Raul, who’s on the pumps, “Boss wants to talk to me. Can you cover lottery if Rosa gets busy?”
     “Sí,” he says. “But hurry up.”
     When I squeeze past Rosa to get to the office, she offers me a piece of gum, her way of saying sorry for being short with me earlier. I take it and pop it in my mouth. “Thanks.”
     Jimmy’s door is partly open and he’s on the phone, so I hang around in the hallway until he’s ready. The schedule’s on a clipboard above the time clock, and I flip through it to see if maybe I’ve got extra garage work next week. At first I think I must be seeing stuff, or not seeing stuff, because after my name, the schedule only shows two shifts. What the hell? Oregon’s one of the only states where you can’t fill your own tank, so I’m always guaranteed at least three nights working the pumps, plus a day or two in the bays helping Jimmy on the weekends. According to this, I’m not even scheduled to work this Sunday. That can’t be right. Almost every Sunday for the past year Jimmy’s had me in for training in the body shop. It’s the perfect time, because the shop is technically closed, so no one pokes a head in to check up on the cars.
     Jimmy hangs up and calls to me. “Crystal, come on in.” I step into the office. He’s behind his desk, which is buried under paperwork and coffee cups. “Late again, huh?”
     “I had to drop off Amber.”
     He nods and then looks over to the corner. “I want you to meet my nephew.” There’s a guy, maybe about my age, leaning against the wall. He was standing there so still, I hadn’t even noticed him, and I startle a little.
     “Uh, hi. I’m Crystal.”
     “I’ve heard a lot about you.” He steps forward and holds out his hand like he wants to shake. Mine are grease-stained. When you work on a car, no matter how much Goop or Lava soap you use when you wash up, you can never get the black out of the creases in your knuckles or from under your nails. Out of habit, I wipe them on my pants first, but that doesn’t change anything, so I wave his hand off, laughing a little, embarrassed. He grabs my hand anyway. He’s dressed in brand-new jeans and a white polo shirt, and when he takes my hand, I can feel his skin is soft and smooth, just like him.
     “David,” he says.
     “My sister’s kid,” Jimmy explains. “They moved here from Seattle last week.”
     “Cool,” I say. “What school are you going to?”
     “Jesuit High.”
     Figures—​it’s obvious he’s a private-school kid. I don’t know why I asked.
     Jimmy comes around his desk and puts his arm around David’s shoulder, which is a big stretch. David’s gotta be at least six feet tall and Jimmy’s lucky if he’s five foot five—​he’s barely taller than me. As he stands there with his light gray eyes and silver hair, he looks like he couldn’t possibly be related to David, who towers over him, his hair shimmery blond, his skin tan and golden from the sun.
     “Did you see David’s ride?” Jimmy asks. His phone rings again, and he goes to answer it.
     “Not sure,” I say.
     David smiles. “Red Chevelle?”
     “That’s your car?” My chin practically hits the linoleum.
     “Yep,” he says. “Restored it myself.”
     I raise my eyebrows, and David sees the skepticism right away. I mean, the guy can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen, and without looking under the hood, I can tell that that car’s worth at least thirty-five thousand. If the engine’s as nice as the body, probably a lot more. Somebody bought him that car, and I’d put money on it being restored before he got it. He’s way too clean and preppy to have fixed it up himself.
     “I had it painted in a shop,” he says. “But I did a little of the body work with Uncle Jimmy’s help when I came to visit last year.”
     News to me. I was here all last summer and I don’t remember him. I smile, but it’s as fake as this guy’s résumé. He’s a total poseur, which doesn’t really surprise me much, since he has girly hands. Also, he took up two parking spaces. I mean, yeah, you do that at the mall, but not at a garage where space is limited. I see guys like him at car shows all the time. Mommy and Daddy buy them fifty-thousand-dollar cars, they fix one thing on it—​change the air filter, or check their own oil, or something piddling like that—​and suddenly they’ve restored the whole damn car.
     “That’s an amazing piece of machinery,” I say, to be polite. After all, he’s Jimmy’s nephew. I’m actually pretty happy when Rosa yells that she needs me. “I gotta go.”
     “See you around, Crystal.”
     “Uh, sure.” That’s not very likely. We definitely ride in different circles.
     It’s not until the end of the night when I’m getting ready to punch out, and I’m whining to Rosa about not having my regular shifts next week, that she sets me straight.
     “You know why, right?”
     “Because I was late again?”
     She shakes her head. Her eyes are made up with heavy blue eye shadow, making her look like a cartoon character.
     “What, then?”
     She gives me a knowing look. “David.”
     “What about him?” I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.
     “Jimmy gave him your shifts. You and Raul have to train him.”
     “No way.”
     She nods, all eight of her gold earrings bouncing up and down.
     “No fucking way,” I say louder.
     I am so pissed, I make the eleven-minute drive to the Glass Slipper in six flat.

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