Teaser Thursday- Where No One Knows

“You okay?”

I hadn’t even heard the waitress walk over to me. Or sensed her. If I was going to take care of myself, I had to pay more attention. I forced a smile and turned away from the window. “Yeah. Just really hungry. And thinking too much.”

“It happens.” She set down a huge glass of cola and a wrapped straw. “I figured you’d probably want this while you’re waiting for your food. So you’re stopping off the bus. Where are you heading to?”

“East.” The word popped out without me even thinking about it, and right away I knew it was the right answer. I’d already come east from home to this place. West would either take me home or to California. I couldn’t go to the first and had no interest in the second.

“You have family back east?” she asked.

“Hey, Sadie, more coffee,” one of the guys at the counter called.

I bristled a little. He could have at least been polite to her.

Sadie didn’t seem to mind. “Be right there, Jimmy. Hold your grapefruit.”

The guy laughed, and so did most of the other people at the counter. Sadie shrugged at me. “Sorry. Have to go to work. God forbid these guys don’t get their caffeine. I’ll be back in a few with your food.”

“No problem.” I was glad she’d been distracted. It saved me from figuring out how to avoid answering her question.

My stomach growled so loudly everyone else must have heard it. The little packets of jam on the table looked pretty darn good, and I picked one up. It would have been better than no food at all.

Before I could open it, Sadie set a plate in front of me and smiled, then walked away. The burger smelled way better than jam, and I had to force myself not to wolf the whole thing down.

I took my time eating, partly because I didn’t want to make myself sick by chowing down too fast and partly because the sooner I finished, the sooner I’d have to go back to the motel. My stuff was there. I’d barely been able to get it out of my mother’s house, and I wasn’t about to lose it now because of some creep with grabby hands. Before I went back, though, I had to make sure I was calm enough not to burn the place to the ground.

Sadie started toward my table a couple of times. Each time, someone at the counter or one of the other booths called to her to bring them something before she had a chance to say anything to me. The constant interruptions would have been funny if I hadn’t wondered whether I made them happen somehow. I’d done it before. Wanted someone to do something, or not to do something, so bad I could almost taste it, and then it occurred. I hoped I hadn’t really made them do anything. I didn’t want to have power over anyone. Too many people with power abused it.

I finally finished eating. When I stood up, Sadie came over. “I’ll take care of the plates and stuff, hon. You should get out of here. Your food’s covered.”

“I have money.”

“You need to go.”

I looked into her eyes to argue again, and an invisible force shoved me into her head. Suddenly I saw what she saw. Someone was hunting for me. More than one person. They weren’t close yet, but the longer I stayed in town, the more likely they’d find me. And the longer I stayed in the diner, the more likely someone would remember me and be able to tell my pursuers where I was.

My heart pounded. The people’s faces weren’t visible in the image I picked up from Sadie. I had a pretty good idea, though. Gene and his buddies must have decided on the eye-for-an-eye option after all.

They wouldn’t give up until they found me. Which meant I wouldn’t be safe anywhere. The farther I went from home, the less chance they’d succeed, but I would never be completely safe.

Teaser Thursday- Where No One Knows

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Brent’s friend, Shad, had long blond bangs hanging over one eye. The rest of his hair was spiky and blue.

He didn’t talk much as he drove through Denver to the highway. My bags were in the backseat of his little two-door hatchback car. I’d refused to let him put them in the trunk in case I had to get out of the car fast. I wasn’t about to leave everything I owned behind.

“How far east?” he asked once we’d merged into light traffic on the highway.

It was almost ten o’clock now. Everything that had happened had taken a lot less time than I’d believed.

“As far as you can take me.” I wasn’t sure I should tell him I was heading to Chicago. Of course, I wouldn’t be staying there, so even if he passed the information along, I’d probably be safe.

“I can take you all the way to the freaking Atlantic if you want.” He glanced at me. “Brent didn’t tell you much about me, huh?”

“Only that you’re his friend and he trusts you.” My instincts told me to trust Brent, and if Brent trusted this guy, so did I.

“I’m out of work, and I don’t have anything better to do with my time than drive east.”

He made a weird sound. It might have been a laugh. I couldn’t tell for sure.

“Seriously, Brent said you had to go east, but you hadn’t told him where. Do you have a plan?”

I didn’t answer right away. I hadn’t listened to my senses about staying in Denver when I’d first arrived, and look what had happened. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. If I had to take extra time to check in with my instincts, I would.

I didn’t pick up anything off about Shad. He was a little weird and definitely not the kind of person my mother and Gene would have approved of, but he didn’t have any bad intentions. I’d be safe enough with him, and it wouldn’t hurt anything to tell him where I was going.

“Chicago,” I said. “It won’t be the last stop, but it’s as far as I’m going for now. Once I’m there, I’ll have to think some things through.”

“I can take you there,” he said. “As long as you pay double gas money and food.”

“Double?” I didn’t like the sound of that. I had no intention of giving away all my cash.

“There and back,” he said. “I can take you all the way to Chicago if you want, and you’ll be paying for stuff along the way, right? After I drop you off, I have to get back to Denver somehow. You don’t drive, do you?”

“No. Why?” When I’d turned sixteen, I’d been expecting to get my learner’s permit, but Gene had informed me I wouldn’t be driving until I turned eighteen. I was pretty sure he’d planned to tell me I wouldn’t be allowed to drive at all. The women who belonged to our church weren’t supposed to drive, but Mom did because she’d refused to give up her car and license. It was one of the very few things I’d seen her stand up to Gene about.

Apparently Gene had assumed Mom would stand up to him about me driving too, because he hadn’t reminded me of the prohibition against driving. He just hadn’t been willing to let me drive while I was underage.

Teaser Thursday- Where No One Knows

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I took out my phone and dialed the number Shad recited. “It’s ringing.”

Before I completely finished the last word, a male voice answered. “Yes?”

“Westerly,” Shad said, raising his voice so the other guy would hear him.

“Hello, Kellan,” the guy said. “And Shad.”

“Um, hi,” I said. Obviously Shad had given some kind of code word. This group thing was more organized than I’d realized.

“Tell him,” Shad said.

“Who am I talking to?” I wasn’t sure if I was asking Shad or the guy on the phone.

“My name is Royce,” the guy said. “I’m a friend of Shad’s, as you probably guessed. You wouldn’t have called if everything was going smoothly, so why don’t you tell me what’s happened?”

“My name’s on the news.” My voice broke. Too much was going on, and I just plain didn’t know how to cope with it anymore. “Did you hear about the kids? The ones at the hotel?”

“Shad told me.” Royce sounded sympathetic. “It might have been better for you if you hadn’t intervened, but you did the right thing. You saved their lives, and now we’re working on yours. Okay?”

“Okay.” My life might be in danger. Hearing someone else talk about saving my life made the risk seem way more real.

“Where are you now?”

“You don’t know?” If he was part of the group Shad had mentioned, which seemed like a pretty sure thing, he should know everything.

“I can tell the future, not the present,” he said. “I can say you’ll be safe until you reach Boston, but you might encounter some bumps along the way. Let’s figure out how to minimize those. Where are you?”

“Hang on. There’s a sign coming up.” I didn’t even know which state we were in, let alone which city all the traffic around us was heading for. That was what I got for falling asleep. “Um, I think we’re just about at Des Moines.”

“About another hour or so, we’ll be there,” Shad said. “The sign says sixty miles.”

I hadn’t paid attention to the whole sign, just the city name. If I was going to help these guys help me, I probably ought to pay more attention. “Okay, so we’re about an hour outside Des Moines.”

“I can hear Shad.” Royce sounded amused. “Cell phones don’t exactly lend themselves to private conversations.”

“Neither does talking to someone with better-than-average hearing,” Shad said.

He didn’t sound amused. In fact, he sounded a little ticked off. Did he and Royce not get along?

“Kellan, does your phone accept text messages?” Royce asked.

“I don’t know.” I looked at Shad. If he was going to keep interrupting anyway, he might as well help me with this question.

“It should,” Shad said. “Even the prepaid ones do. It just uses more of the minutes than a phone call would. We can add more minutes to it.”

“Not a good idea,” Royce said. “They might be able to trace him that way. Kellan, your phone should have a speaker button. Put me on speaker, because I want to be sure Shad hears me correctly.”

I found the button and pressed it. Shad glared at the phone, his mouth in a thin line. His eyes narrowed when Royce spoke again. “Shad, are you listening?”

“I am.” Not only was he angry, his voice was starting to sound a little like it had when we’d encountered Ian.

“Calm down. I know I’m the last person you want to hear, but I’m catching calls today, and this is to help Kellan.”

Shad took in a breath and held it for a couple of seconds, then let it out very slowly. When he spoke again, his voice was almost normal. “Go ahead.”

The Story Behind Where No One Knows

My newest YA novel Where No One Knows released on Thursday from Harmony Ink Press. I say “newest,” but actually, this novel was published before, in 2013 by Musa Publishing. In 2015, Musa sadly had to close its doors, and the rights to the novel were returned to me. I thought the story seemed like a good fit for Harmony Ink, and fortunately for me, they agreed and were willing to re-release it.

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I wrote the novel originally because of a challenge I received in fall 2012. I was at the GayRomLit convention, which that year was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My Featherweight Press editor was also there, and was talking with someone from Musa about possibly taking on an editor role there. In the course of the conversation, he mentioned my books.

The woman to whom he was speaking had just started a new imprint at Musa, aimed at publishing LGBTA+ young adult fiction. My editor introduced us, and the woman asked whether I would be able to write a novel with a transgender main character. I said of course I could, not actually knowing whether or not I would be able to. This is the danger of issuing writing challenges to me…

A few months prior to that, I was on a bus from Philadelphia back home to Boston when the phrase “In the United States, you can go almost anywhere by bus if you have enough money” floated through my brain, along with the mental image of someone running away from home–or maybe running away *to* home. I’d stored that snippet in my memory, knowing it belonged to a story somewhere. When I was asked to write a novel with a transgender main character, I knew I’d found the story in which that snippet belonged.

And so I created Kellan McKee, a transgender boy whose family had accepted that he was transgender, but couldn’t accept his psychic powers. Forced out of his home, underage and with no ID, Kellan had to travel by bus to find a new, hopefully safe, place to live. It took a bit longer to figure out exactly what Kellan had done to cause his parents to kick him out, but the answer came soon enough.

Although Where No One Knows didn’t find as much of an audience through Musa as I’d hoped, those who read it liked it. I’m hoping more readers will find–and enjoy–the novel now that it’s available from Harmony Ink.

Release Day Teaser- Where No One Knows

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When I’d walked out of my house with my backpack and suitcase—despite being upset about having to leave—I’d considered it kind of an adventure. I’d be able to travel. See the country, which was something I wouldn’t have had a chance to do otherwise. Gene and his church believed people should stay close to home and family, and traveling opened you up to being tempted. Same with the Internet, cell phones, and even TV. We’d had a TV because Mom had refused to give it up, but Gene monitored everything we watched.

I’d believed I would be able to see places and things I’d never even thought of before. The idea of being on the road had been exciting. I knew I’d have to be careful about who saw me and who I talked to, but I figured I’d still be able to enjoy traveling.

Now I found nothing enjoyable about it. I had nowhere safe to go. Some people who saw me would immediately think of me as prey. Others would see me as a girl, which might be the same thing.

When I reached my final destination, I would be safe. I knew it as strongly as I knew I was a guy. But I didn’t know where it was or when I’d get there.

“You’re zoning out on me,” Brent said. “Where did you come from today?”

“Some little town near Albuquerque.” I didn’t name the town because I couldn’t remember it.

“And you’re heading east. Do you even know where you’re going exactly?”

“Yes.” At least partway.

“And you aren’t going to tell me?”

“No. Sorry.”

He nodded. “I understand. Sort of. You don’t believe you can trust anyone, and I’m not going to try to make you trust me. You must trust me some, anyway, or you wouldn’t have asked me for help.”

“I trust you conditionally,” I said. “The condition is you don’t mess me over.”

“I won’t.” The corners of his mouth quirked. “I don’t think I’ve heard it phrased quite that way. Screw me over is more common.”

I shrugged. “Religious family. I learned to watch what I said.”

“The bus you need doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning,” he said. “And you think you should get out of here tonight. Right? I want to make sure I understand this.”

“Before there are too many questions from the police and the media,” I said. “No reporters have tried to talk to me so far, because I don’t think they realize I’m the guy who helped those kids, but it’s a matter of time before someone figures it out.”

“The police probably want you to stay to answer more questions.” He peered through the peephole in the door. “If it’s anything like on TV, they told you to stay in the area in case they need to talk to you again.”

“Or testify against the mother.” My chest tightened. He sounded as if he didn’t plan to help me after all. He wouldn’t go against the police to help some kid he didn’t even know. I couldn’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to either.

“How scary are the people you’re trying to avoid?”

I didn’t have a clue how to answer. If someone met Gene and his friends, they wouldn’t seem scary at all. They came across as good Christian men who served others and took care of their families.

Only the women and kids in the church knew how strict they were. How dangerous ignoring the church’s teachings or the rules the men made could be. We were supposed to respect and obey the men the same way we respected and obeyed God. If we went against the men, it was nearly as big a sin—and deserving of nearly as much punishment—as going against God. And that did make them kind of scary.

Pronoun Problems

I had a dispute with my husband over the weekend about pronouns. My older offspring is agender, meaning they identify as neither male nor female, and as you can tell from the beginning of this sentence, they use “they/them” pronouns.

My husband has an issue with this. Not because he isn’t okay with my offspring being agender, but because he gets stuck on the fact that in school, we’re taught that “they” and “them” are plural pronouns, and he can’t wrap his head around the idea of using those pronouns for an individual. Individuals are singular, not plural.

I can understand the problem. When he and I were growing up, people didn’t talk about being transgender, agender, etc. People were male or female. Occasionally the news would report about someone who had undergone gender reassignment surgery, but that was about it. Everyone was either “he” or “she.”

I’m glad that isn’t the case any longer. People are more free now to identify as they choose to identify. But it does cause some issues with pronouns, at least in the English language. English doesn’t include any standard-use gender neutral pronouns that apply to humans, and I haven’t met anyone who accepts being called “it.”

The good thing about language is that it evolves. People have introduced attempts to create gender neutral pronouns. “They” and “them” are becoming accepted usage as singular pronouns for individuals who don’t identify as a binary gender, or for individuals whose gender is unknown. Someday soon, we will have words to use to accurately describe and discuss each other, and I think that will be awesome.

It just might not be so easy to convince my husband to let go of his high school grammar classes.