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Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, Chapter 1

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

By Amy Kaufman Burk



Caroline Black worked her way to the front row. She chose the center seat, and clasped her hands on the battered wood. Trying to contain her nerves, she studied the scarred surface. Daisy and Nick Forever. Jack Daniels for President. Daisy and Todd Forever. Algebra Sucks. Daisy and Larry Forever. Several hearts with initials. A large hand, loosely fisted, exceptional detail, middle finger extended. Caroline swallowed dryly, appalled that so many kids had carved up school property, but more appalled by her own admiration: the fuck-you artist is talented with a knife.

“Is this desk taken?”

Caroline looked up and shook her head. The girl smiled shyly, and slid into the next seat.

“I’m Kayla Davidson. I’m new.”

“I’m Caroline Black. I’m new, too.”

They shook hands.

“I’m from Massachusetts,” Kayla offered.

“I’m from Laurel Academy,” Caroline answered.

Kayla raised an eyebrow. “Is that a sovereign nation?”

The bell blared, and thirty kids scrambled for their seats. Ten quiet seconds, then conversations resumed: summer jobs, hairstyles, outfits, girls hugging, boys giving each other high fives, a few couples kissing passionately. A tall, skinny, blond boy jogged to the front.

“Teacher’s late. Shut up and listen. Behind the gym, after school. Mexican, cheap. Hawaiian, top quality.”

Caroline and Kayla exchanged looks of utter incomprehension. The room filled with hisses, boos, and scattered applause. The boy bowed.

“Most of you know me from ninth grade, and I expect your vote for class president. But I see two mysterious ladies. I’m Kurt Christianson.” He lifted Caroline’s hand to his lips, then reached for Kayla.

“No, thank you,” she murmured, withdrawing her clenched fist. “But a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Ah,” Kurt leaped back, “a shy damsel!” The class burst into laughter, which immediately hushed as the teacher walked in.

“Hello, Sir,” Kurt bowed again. “I was just leading the class in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

“How patriotic.” The man pointed to Kurt’s empty seat. “I’m Mr. Cohen. Welcome to Hollywood High School. This is Honors Sophomore English. Anybody think they’re in the wrong class?” Two boys and a girl raised their hands, and Mr. Cohen motioned them to the front. “The rest of you, fill out these information cards for the administration.” He handed a stack to Kayla. “Take one and pass it on.”

“I need a pencil,” called a boy from the third row.

“Here,” a girl with brown braids handed him a shiny new pencil, perfectly sharpened.

“Thanks,” he smiled.

“Grow up,” she shot him a withering look, and turned her back.

“What’s the date?” asked a girl from the left. Caroline glanced over. In spite of the ninety-degree heat, the girl wore a thick black turtleneck and tight black jeans, along with black lipstick, black eye shadow and long black hair.

“September 4,” a boy with light brown dreadlocks down his back.

“I mean the year,” the girl cracked her gum.

“What are you, stupid?” Dreadlocks smirked.

“No, moron, I’m a poetry aficionado. I’m organizing Poetry Night. I’ll recite Sylvia Plath, and you can recite the calendar.” She blew an impressive bubble, which exploded in her face.

“Both of you, lose the gum and the attitude.” Mr. Cohen spoke evenly.

“1973, and nice shot.” Kurt grinned as the girl fired her gum into the trash can. “Want to see a movie on Saturday?” She flipped him the bird, and the class laughed.

I can’t believe…in front of a teacher! Caroline’s green eyes darted from student to student, gauging the classroom. Her hair hung loose down her back, catching the light, turning from wheat to gold to blonde. She moved her head slightly, scanning each person, a two-second emotional x-ray. Edgystaccatoangrylive wire…she landed on Kayla…scared like me…and Mr. Cohen…calm, in absolute control. Caroline’s anxiety dropped a few notches.

“What’s your name?” Mr. Cohen zeroed in on Kurt to begin roll call.

“Kurt Christianson.”

“And you?” nodding at Brown Braids.

“Sharon Greenberg.”

“You?” he glanced at Dreadlocks.

“Kevin Sherwood. People call me Dreads.”

“Dreads it is.” Mr. Cohen checked off his name, and looked at the girl in black.


The class broke into laughter. “Her name’s Andrea Krause.” “She only wore blue in ninth grade.” “She changes her name every summer.” “Last year she was Picasso.”

“Settle down.” Mr. Cohen didn’t yell, but the room was instantly under his control. “How is it you all know this girl’s name?” He pointed at Pencil Boy.

“We’ve all been in school together since kindergarten. Except for the two girls in front. And for the roster, I’m Mort Holloway.”

“Glad to meet you, Mort.” Mr. Cohen turned to Poetry Girl. “How’d you pick the name Elvia?”

The kids snickered, and she glowered.

Mr. Cohen looked over the group. “It’s her name. Her choice. Everyone will call her Elvia.” He addressed the girl. “You don’t have to answer my question.”

“It’s okay,” she shrugged. “Elvia is a combination of Sylvia and Emily, for Plath and Dickinson. And my blue period is over, so Picasso doesn’t work anymore.”

Dreads raised his hand. “I have an announcement. Presto placed seventh in the state surfing competition.”

“Presto…” Mr. Cohen scanned his class list.

“Egbert Petrovich.” A short, muscular boy with a spectacular tan spoke up.

“You prefer Presto,” Mr. Cohen made a note.

“Wouldn’t you prefer Presto if you were named Egbert?”

Mr. Cohen laughed. “Point taken. Congratulations, Presto. Take a bow.”

The boy jumped up and raised his fists, as though acknowledging a crowd at the beach. The kids laughed.

“Really mature,” Sharon muttered, tossing her braids.

Mr. Cohen finished roll call and collected the information cards. “Last chance to speak up. Anyone else think they’re in the wrong class?” He paused, then wrote on the board: The nondescript man turned out to be a lion in the classroom. “Let’s start with everyone’s favorite: grammar.” He paused, and the kids waited. “Ladies and gentlemen, get it out of your systems. Let’s hear some objections.” The room filled with hisses and boos, while Caroline and Kayla exchanged a mortified glance. “Excellent,” said Mr. Cohen, to an immediate silence. “Now, who can find the adjective?”

“I think I’m in the wrong class,” Kayla whispered to Caroline.

“I think I’m in the wrong galaxy.”


*Click on the link to buy Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, to read reviews, to  check out the next few chapters. 




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Tightwire, First Chapter

Dear Readers,

Tightwire, my second novel, is available on Amazon (link below). This is the first chapter. Thanks so much for taking a look!



First Session July 8, 1982

Collier Z. Tratner sat alone in the waiting room, a picture of calm. Six-one, blue eyes, brown curls to his shoulders, strikingly handsome in his jeans and T-shirt. He looked like he’d never had a mentally unsound moment in his life. Caroline Black introduced herself, and waited to see if he’d initiate a handshake. He didn’t. With a curious grace, not quite an athlete and not quite a dancer, he followed her to the office. He took in the windowless cubicle, the tattered lime carpet, the metal furniture. Two posters hung on the scarred stucco walls: Van Gogh’s white roses, and Monet’s water lilies. Caroline’s failed attempt to create a soothing ambiance.

“I almost didn’t show up,” Collier began impassively. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“Well, um, since you’re here, I mean, the next fifty minutes are yours, so you might as well tell me, what brings you here?”

“Already answered. I don’t have a clue.” He watched her carefully. “Am I your first patient?”

“I…what makes you ask?”

“It’s okay,” he nodded coolly. “I’ve never done therapy before either.” To her horror, Caroline blushed, and he grinned. “Relax, Doctor, we’ll just figure this out together.”

“Actually, it’s my legal and ethical obligation to inform you, I haven’t received my Ph.D. I’ve just completed my dissertation, but I won’t be awarded my degree until next July. I’m not a doctor yet.”

“What manual are you reciting from? And more to the point, why didn’t they give you the doctorate? Something wrong with your research? You’ve finished your dissertation, ready to publish, but…wait…hold on…I get it. You have to finish this year of seeing patients. Then they’ll give you walking papers.” She nodded. “So, this–” Collier gestured around the room, “Oasis Psych Clinic, San Francisco County Hospital. This is your last requirement. Then you’re free.”

“That’s how my program works. But truthfully, for me, the dissertation was the requirement. This–” she copied his gesture, “is what I want to do. But I’m still a pre-doctoral intern.”

“So you’re a partial doctor. I’ll call you ‘Doc.’”

She stiffened. Is it okay to acknowledge a joke?  

“Look,” he continued, “I think we’ve got an obstacle to overcome. I’ve traveled all over the world. I’m fluent in French, Spanish, German and Italian. You clearly speak Textbook, but do you speak English?”

He raised an eyebrow, and before she could rustle up neutrality, she began to laugh softly. “How’d you learn to read people so well?”

“Good question. A necessity for survival. This’ll entail a history lesson.” His voice turned sing-song, lulling. “It’s twelve midnight, 1961. Twenty-one years ago. Los Angeles. Hollywood Boulevard. A studio apartment with cold water and a colony of roaches. My mom woke up with contractions. She called my dad, who was pouring drinks at a sleazy bar three streets over. He said he’d meet her at the hospital. Those were his last words to her. I was born fourteen hours later. I’ve never met my father, and my mother never saw him again.” Collier’s speech had become a boring lecture, cultivated to snuff out any interest from his listeners. “He didn’t want a long-term deal with Mom, didn’t want a kid, she refused an abortion, and here I am. End of story.”

“That explains everything except the past twenty-one years.”

He grinned in surprise. “Good, Doc. You’re not as uptight as I first thought.” No pause. “How old are you?”

She stifled the urge to stammer. Thou shalt not answer a patient’s questions. The Psychoanalytic Manifesto. Collier looked her over. Five-four, dark blonde, one-hundred-twelve, no make-up. Long navy skirt, matching jacket with red piping, cream blouse, knee-high boots, no jewelry. Warm clothes for a San Francisco summer. She’d been called pretty by some, beautiful by others, but to the majority she skimmed by unnoticed. Everyone agreed there was absolutely no flash to her presentation.

Now Collier peered at her, not liking what he saw. “Are your eyes blue? No, they’re green.” He relaxed back in his chair. “I’d say twenty-four years, one month, four days.”  

Wrong, five days. Caroline acknowledged his victory with a nod. “You’d rather talk about me than anything that’s happened since you were born.”

“You’re smart,” Collier frowned. “I’m not sure I like that.”

“Why not?”

“I like to be the smartest.”


“It’s safest that way.”

“If I’m smart, I’m dangerous?”

He crossed his legs, outwardly composed. A sexual aura stirred. Sexual, seductive, unreachable. “You want my story?”


“What do you want? The outline? The first chapter? The whole book so you can tag it, file it in its proper section?”

“I can’t file it until I know whether it’s biography or fiction.”

“The story is fact. My who-gives-a-damn attitude is pure fiction. By the way, your office is awful. Uglier than the last E.R. I visited.”

“Why’d you go to an emergency room?”

“The metal furniture’s a homey touch. Just dial 1-800-HIDEOUS, emergency decorator fashion police.” Caroline held her smile in check, and Collier’s voice turned quiet. “I think the last time was a mild concussion. I’ve had three fractured wrists, a busted nose, two broken ankles, a dislocated shoulder, countless sprained fingers. I might have missed a few, but that’s the general idea.”

“That’s a lot of injuries.”

“Comes with the territory.”

“What territory is that?”

He cocked his head, measuring her. “I get it. You’re asking about child abuse.”

“Actually, I was asking about broken bones.” She steeled herself. “Should I ask about child abuse?”

“I’m not sure,” a dense sadness permeated the office. “But the broken bones are a different issue. The breaks, the fractures, the languages I speak. I was born into the circus. I’ve done the trapeze and the highwire since I was a kid. Falls are a given. I’ve performed, and I’ve fallen all over the world. Anywhere there’s a Club Med. Mom’s a clown, a unicyclist and a contortionist. She’s at Club Med in San Diego, as we speak.”

The circus, ultrahazardous activity? Caroline shook her head slightly, loosening the image of poodles trotting, horses prancing. “Where do you fit into that picture now?”

“In my book, I’m emancipated. In theirs, I’m AWOL.”

AWOL? You ran away from the circus? “Who’s ‘they’?” she asked.

“Mom, and the group we work with. The Club Med Circus Team. Mom and I flew into San Francisco a week ago, to interview a few potential new members. I met this guy in a bar, and he offered me a job at this restaurant he owns in North Beach. Nice part of San Francisco. One of his waiters just quit. Trattoria Anesta. Upscale Italian. Expensive place. Good tips. I’ve only worked there two days, and I’ve opened a bank account. I’m staying at the YMCA. I’ll get an apartment in a few weeks.”

“And the abuse?”

“None of your fucking business.”

Fucking. So it’s sexual, whatever it is. Collier was suddenly breathing hard. Caroline put up her hands, a clear message that she wouldn’t force him to talk. His breathing slowed. Finally, he looked at her curiously.

“You didn’t have a coronary when I said ‘fuck.’”

“No, I didn’t,” she answered evenly.

“Why not? You reek of proper manners, etiquette, crisp navy and tailored.”

“Are you looking for ways to startle me? So I can’t think clearly because I’m too jumpy?”

He nodded, sheepish and impressed. “I guess that’s right.”

“You can just tell me to back off. I’ll listen. Much more straightforward.”

“I’m not a straightforward person.”

“Okay, I’ll remember that.”

Collier glared, suddenly ferocious. “I don’t give a shit if you remember or not. I never said I’m coming back for a second session. You’re obviously a rookie.” Caroline blushed. “Your office sucks. Your waiting room is enough to send Mickey Mouse into a suicidal depression. You could at least have some music for us while we sit in those grey plastic chairs.”

“What song would you choose?” Caroline heard herself ask, both shaken and fascinated by his tantrum.

“That’s easy,” he smiled, as the rage switched off completely. “Tight Rope. Leon Russell. My favorite song.”

“Okay,” she glanced at the clock, “we’ve got a few minutes left. Where do you want to go from here?”

“I’m not making any promises. You’re on probation. Not hired. Do you read me?”

“Loud and clear. You need to figure out if I’m ‘too blind to see.’ Then you’ll decide.” Caroline willed herself to hold his eyes, amazed at how professional she sounded.

“That’s right.” He studied her. “You know the song.” She nodded. “Maybe you’re not a complete loser.”

“I expect that’ll remain an open question for you.” He chuckled, and Caroline allowed herself a small smile. “How about Tuesdays at eleven.”

“One session at a time.” A hard stare, then he stretched. “Are we done for today? You never asked me where I got my name. What the Z stands for. Most people, that’s their first question.”

“Want to tell me?”

“Tratner’s my mother’s last name. Collier’s my dad’s. Z is for Zeus, Mom’s miniature poodle. I’m named after my father, my mother, and her pet.” Now on his feet, firing words down at her. “And no, I don’t give a damn! And no, it doesn’t mean shit! And no, it’s not up for analysis! So leave it alone! Off limits!”

Caroline nodded, rose slowly.

“So, I’ll see you next week. I…why are you staring at me?” She shook her head, palms up. He rolled his eyes. “Order rescinded. It’s not off limits.”

“You just told me why you showed up for this appointment.”

“Brilliant, and why’s that?”

“You’re here to find yourself in the mix of other people’s names.”

He didn’t move for several seconds, standing sculpted, in control of every muscle. “Not just people’s names. There’s even a canine in the cocktail. I’m quite a mongrel.” She waited for him to continue, but instead, he dug into his backpack for a handful of something. He lobbed it onto her desk: an unopened pack of Marlboros. “You can have these.” She looked up at him, and he shrugged. “I gave up smoking a few months ago. I brought them in case I needed to piss you off.” They grinned, and he held up a hand to halt her speech. “I know, your training manual says never accept a gift from a patient. It won’t happen again. But do me a favor and toss the cigarettes. They cause cancer.”

She weighed the pack, then took aim. Bank shot into the trash.

“Thanks,” he said softly.

“Next week, then,” Caroline answered.

He opened the door, then turned back, hand outstretched. They shook.


Tightwire is available on Amazon. You can follow Caroline through her first year as a psych intern, and Collier’s first year of therapy. If you want to read about Caroline Black in high school, check out my first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon


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Tightwire, by Amy Kaufman Burk

Tightwire, by Amy Kaufman Burk

This is the cover of my second novel, which will be available soon!

Tightwire Book Cover

The story follows Caroline Black (from Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable) into her first year as a psychology intern, working with her first patient.

The title looks off balance, on a tightrope.

The letters form a word, but they don’t match each other, and they don’t fit together.

The color might be the blue in someone’s eyes, or water, or sky.

There’s no safety net.


Amy’s Author Page On Amazon


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Tightwire Description

Tightwire, my second novel, will be available for the December holidays. I loved the process of writing the story, and I’m so excited to launch the book. Here’s the description:

Tightwire, the second novel from author Amy Kaufman Burk (Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable), follows the determined and multifaceted Caroline Black into her rookie year as a psychology intern. Her first patient, Collier Z. Tratner, is stormy, seductive, complex and brilliant. Tightwire tracks one year of their therapy, as Caroline helps Collier confront a troubled past filled with secrets that haunt him. Watching Collier grow motivates Caroline to learn from her own mistakes and confront her own troubled past. Through their commitment to working together, Caroline and Collier deeply influence each other.

In Tightwire, Amy Kaufman Burk continues to explore the LGBTQIA themes of her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. As Collier builds a new life for himself, he questions his own sexual identity. He develops his first close friendship with a man, who is gay. He finds role-model parents in a lesbian couple with two children.

Tightwire explores the empowerment of healthy sex and sexuality, and the complicated layers of hurtful sex. As Collier gains new perspective, he discovers his own capacity to heal emotionally, including sexually.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon


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