Teaser- A Perfectly Nice Guy

From a work in progress. Susurrus: Season of Tides (C)2017 Evil Overlord Games. Used by permission.

I went upstairs to my room. The house only had three bedrooms, but Mom and Dad had converted the attic into a room for me when Kendrick was born. I was eleven then and didn’t want to share with a baby, and my parents didn’t want Kendrick sharing with Donovan even though she was only three and he was a baby. So I’d ended up in the attic, which was fine with me even though in the summer it could be a furnace. I had privacy, and that mattered more than staying cool. At least Dad had put in an air conditioner.

My laptop was on my bed where I’d left it. I opened it and refreshed the browser, which was already on the game forums. I’d been playing before school, even though I wasn’t supposed to be online in the mornings. What my parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

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Susurrus wasn’t one of the usual types of online RPGs. Instead of choosing a character and running around bashing things, players chose a character and read things, and clicked on links that led to more things. It was kind of like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books the town library had, which I’d read as a kid, except in the game, other people were making choices that might affect yours.

No one knew I was a gamer. Like acting in community theater, it was a way-too-geeky thing that wouldn’t have gone over well in Dayfield. Some of my friends did Dungeons and Dragons, and a couple even did ren faires and that kind of thing, and they got hassled for it on a regular basis. They got hassled for being theater nerds too, which was why I’d never joined the school drama club. I liked keeping some things in my life separate.

The little envelope icon near the top of the page had a “1” beside it. Someone had messaged me, and that someone was almost definitely Corriman. No one else would have.

I clicked the envelope and read his message. Liked what you said about the mage alphabet. They should use your idea.

I couldn’t help smiling. He liked something I’d said. My idea about using the mage alphabet for graffiti to keep the city under control was probably a crappy one, and probably something the game writers had already considered. If the city was under control, there wouldn’t be much point to the game anyway. But it didn’t matter whether it was a good idea or not. Corriman liked it.

We’d been talking back and forth on forum posts since March, and after a couple weeks he’d also started messaging me privately. I felt like I knew him as well as my real-life friends. I didn’t, of course. All I really knew about him was his screen name and that his primary character in the game was a werewolf. Which meant having a crush on him was probably pretty stupid, but I felt how I felt. I just wished I had the guts to ask if he felt the same.

They probably wouldn’t use a player’s ideas, I typed. But thanks. Maybe I’ll just write a fan fic or something with the idea.

I read that a couple of times. I had never written a fan fic in my life. I didn’t write anything if I could help it. But Corriman didn’t know that, and he didn’t have to. I sent the message.

A new one from him showed up within minutes. This takes too long. Can I text you? Or message you on Facebook or something?

He wants to message me? Awesome! I started to type my phone number, then deleted it. Texting or instant messaging with Corriman would be awesome, unless he turned out not to be who I thought he was. That was the downside of only knowing him in the game. He might be a seventeen-year-old guy like he claimed, or he might be some elderly creeper who liked flirting with boys. Or he might be a serial killer.

Okay, the last one was definitely my imagination running away with me. But it still didn’t hurt to be cautious. I’d like that, but how do I know you aren’t going to stalk me or something? LOL. I was serious, but maybe the “LOL” would make it sound less offensive.

Teaser Thursday- Work Boots and Tees

I wasn’t thrilled about going to group again. When I walked in, Dane didn’t look too impressed either. He covered it with a smile pretty fast, though. “Good morning, Jim. How are you today?”

I pretended not to notice he chanted it like my kindergarten teacher always had. “Good.”

“This morning, I’d like you to answer a couple of questions again.” He glanced at his clipboard. “You’ll be seeing Dr. Hernandez before break. After break, I’ll ask you to participate in the discussion. Is that okay?”

“Sure.” I didn’t exactly have a choice.

“Cool. Have a seat.”

I took the same chair as the day before and ignored everyone else in the room.

I only had to sit through about fifteen minutes of group before Dr. Hernandez came to get me. “How’s group going?” he asked as we walked to his office.

“Dane isn’t my biggest fan,” I said. “He decided to talk directly to me so I’d participate. He said he was only going to ask me one question, but after I answered, he kept asking me stuff.”

“He told me. He was hoping to have more of a discussion.” Dr. Hernandez glanced at me. “You don’t have to participate. We don’t force people to do things around here, for the most part, unless it’s a safety or health issue. But it’s going to help you if you are willing to speak up at least a little.”

“I did,” I said. “I answered him. He didn’t believe I don’t have any hobbies. That isn’t my problem.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“He said he’s going to ask more than one question today.” I rolled my eyes. “I feel like a little kid. Do what the teacher says or stand in the corner.”

Dr. Hernandez chuckled. “I understand. Unfortunately, around here, sometimes we have to do it that way.” He stopped in front of his door. “Delia called and said she’s running a few minutes late. Before she gets here, I have something to ask you.”

That didn’t sound good. “Okay.”

We went inside and sat down. “What do you want to know?” I asked.

“The man you told me about yesterday. Can you give me his name?”

My mouth went dry, and I started coughing. I hadn’t said his name in ten years, and I really didn’t want to start now. Dr. Hernandez didn’t need to know it.

It took me a few seconds to be able to speak. “Why? I said I don’t want to report him.”

“I’m not going to,” he said. “I’d like to check into something. Besides, names have power. That’s something you usually only hear in fantasy stories, but it can be true in real life. If you turn someone into a monster in your mind, sometimes saying their name makes them seem more human. When someone hurts you, they take away your power. If you see them as just another person, you can take your power back.”

I thought about it. My mother’s boyfriend had definitely taken away my power. And for ten years, he’d been a monster as far as I was concerned. Even though what Dr. Hernandez said sounded kind of stupid, maybe he had a point. It was worth a try.

“Pete Foster,” I said.

As soon as I said the name, the room spun. Something roared in my ears, and everything in front of me turned gray. I tried to breathe, but his face was right in front of mine, and the oxygen couldn’t get through.

“You’re safe. He isn’t here.”

Dr. Hernandez’s voice barely cut through the noise. I reached for the voice and tried to believe what the doctor said. I’m safe here. He isn’t here. He can’t hurt me.

“Try to breathe slowly,” Dr. Hernandez said. “In and out. Look around. Tell me what you see.”

I sucked in some air that actually made it to my lungs, then turned my head. “Your desk is messy.”

He laughed. “Yes, I’m not good about cleaning it. What else?”

“You don’t have a window.”

“Tell me what you do see.”

“Your chair. My chair.” I blinked a couple of times and focused on him. “You spilled something on your shirt.”

“When coffee attacks,” he said. “How do you feel?”

The room wasn’t gray anymore, and it was holding still. My lungs were working. Best of all, his face was gone. “Better.”

“Good. I’m sorry that was so difficult for you.” He scribbled something in my folder. “If you struggle like that again, the technique I just used is called grounding. You look at your surroundings and say what you see, smell, and so on. It’s best if you can say it out loud, because sometimes the sound of your own voice helps too, but thinking about it will work. I’m going to tell Delia about it as well, so she can help you if you need.”

“Thanks.” I definitely wouldn’t say anything out loud if I had to use the technique, but it had helped.

Release Week Teaser- Dolphins in the Mud

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Cece sat down on the floor, hugged her dolphin, and started rocking. I hadn’t even been sure how much she’d noticed about what was going on. Obviously she had realized Mom wasn’t there, and it bothered her. She just didn’t know how to say how she felt.

“Chris, is your dad around?” Kadie asked softly.

“He’s at work,” I replied. “You can try calling him, but he doesn’t usually have much time to talk.”

“Okay, then can you tell us a little about what’s going on with your mother?” Nina asked. “We shouldn’t even be here without one of your parents.”

“Didn’t Dad call you?” I went over to them so we wouldn’t bother Cece with the conversation. “He said he would call you and tell you what was going on.”

“I didn’t get a call from him.” Kadie looked at Nina, who shook her head. “When did he say he was going to call?”

“Last night,” I replied. “I gave him the cell numbers Mom wrote down, and he said he’d take care of it.” I should have figured he wouldn’t. He’d had too many things going on at once. He probably hadn’t even remembered I’d mentioned the therapists.

That wasn’t an excuse, though. Once again, I had to be responsible for something my parents should have done.

I glared at Cece, who of course didn’t notice since she was still rocking and staring out—or at—the window. None of this was her fault, anyway. She couldn’t help the way she was, and she definitely couldn’t help how our parents were. Maybe if Cece hadn’t had autism Mom would have stuck around, but Cece couldn’t do anything about that. Mom didn’t know how to handle a kid who needed as much as Cece did. Cece couldn’t help needing so much, though. And Mom had had alternatives.

I sighed. “Dad needs to step it up.”

“Your father’s doing his best,” Jillian said. “This isn’t easy for him.”

“It isn’t easy for me either!” I shouted.

The women jumped. Cece didn’t even move.

Words started pouring out of me, and I didn’t bother trying to stop them. “Listen. You don’t know how much I’ve been doing around here. Every day, Mom would take off for a few hours. I don’t know where she went. She said she was running errands. She told me not to tell Dad, because she didn’t want him to get mad at her for leaving me alone with Cece. So I was already doing that. Then I come home Monday and find Cece still sitting in her school van, waiting for someone to come for her, and the driver almost didn’t even let me have her. Then I had to—”

I stopped. All of them were staring at me like I’d gone nuts or something. Maybe I had. After everything that had happened the past few days, maybe going nuts was the sanest way to deal.

“I’ve been doing a lot for a long time,” I said, trying to keep my voice down.

“Your father didn’t know your mother was leaving you alone with Cecelia?” Kadie asked.

I shook my head. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t think Mom will be back.” I glanced over at Cece. She was still staring out the window, so I hoped she hadn’t heard me.

“It does matter,” Nina said. “You shouldn’t have been put in that position.”

“Watching Cece isn’t a big deal.” I was starting to feel really uncomfortable now, like I’d done something wrong by tattling on Mom and by doing what she’d told me to do. Plus Kadie and Nina made it sound like I wasn’t capable of taking care of my sister. Obviously I was, since I’d done okay so far.

“That isn’t the point,” Kadie said. “We’ll talk to your father about it later. Do you think he’ll be home soon?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know I’m tired of having to do everything, so I hope he is.” I looked at Jillian. “No offense. You’re helping a lot right now, but you weren’t around before.”

“I would have been if I’d known,” she said quietly.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Mom wouldn’t have let Jillian help. She hated letting anyone other than me know she couldn’t handle Cece. The only reason she said anything to me was because she figured I wouldn’t tell anyone else.

Or maybe because she didn’t have anyone else to talk to. She could have made friends with Jillian and some of the other women in the neighborhood if she’d wanted to, but she hadn’t bothered trying. She shouldn’t have been leaning on me, but maybe she hadn’t known what else to do.

Seeking Help

Welcome to release week for Dolphins in the Mud!

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Needing help can be difficult to accept, especially when it’s something that people assume everyone can do, or that someone should be able to handle. Often that leads to someone being unwilling to ask, and trying to do more than they’re able. Sometimes that can have devastating results.

We live in a world where to some extent community is valued, and we’re told we can rely on our friends and family. At the same time, some things are simply not talked about. If you need help moving to a new home, you probably won’t have too much difficulty finding people. But if you need help dealing with a mental illness, or with a child’s needs, you won’t necessarily get the results you hope for.

In Dolphins in the Mud, both the main character’s mother and his new friend Noah Silver need help, and neither is able to ask for it. Chris’s mother is overwhelmed by taking care of her nine-year-old autistic daughter Cece. In the town where they previously lived, she had a support system that gave her some respite, but since they moved, she has isolated herself from neighbors and refuses to admit to anyone that she can’t quite handle Cece alone. Even her husband is unaware of how badly she needs help, and since he has a four-hour round-trip commute to his full-time job, he isn’t around to give her any assistance.

Meanwhile, Noah is coping with untreated bipolar disorder. Although he has been diagnosed, his parents won’t allow him to be put on medication. They try to keep everyone from finding out that their son has a mental illness. He does have a therapist, but the therapist only sees Noah occasionally, and Noah generally refuses to speak to him. Noah won’t admit, and sometimes doesn’t recognize, that he needs more help than his parents are giving him.

In Chris’s mother’s case, her refusal to ask for help is equal parts pride and shame. She is too proud to let on that she can’t be the perfect mother, and she’s ashamed of how ineffective she feels in dealing with Cece. After all, aren’t mothers supposed to be able to take care of their children no matter what? This refusal, though, leads to her making choices that disrupt the entire family, and ultimately abandoning her husband and children altogether.

With Noah, his inability to get the help he needs for his mental illness nearly results in tragedy. As he becomes more deeply and unhealthily entwined with Chris, his need to hold onto the one person he trusts results in his taking drastic action when his father threatens to stop letting Chris and Noah see each other.

Through all of this, Chris, too, isn’t asking for the help he needs. He doesn’t feel equipped to take care of Cece as much as his mother demands, but he won’t talk to his father or any of the neighbors about it. He knows he definitely can’t handle Noah’s clinginess or needs, but doesn’t know who to talk to about it, other than Noah’s father. And Mr. Silver has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to hear about Noah’s struggles.

Ultimately, Chris is the only one who does ask for help. He speaks up for himself and Cece when their mother abandons them. Although he lashes out in anger, he does make it clear to his father and some of their neighbors that he and Cece both need more help than anyone is giving them. And as Chris and his father become closer, his father is the one Chris turns to for help in dealing with Noah’s illness and the impact it has on their friendship.

Asking for help isn’t easy, and when you’re afraid of what other people will think, it’s even more difficult. But it is important to do.

Teaser Thursday- Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

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I definitely wasn’t up for discussing coming out anymore, so I joined Guillermo and Chastaine kneeling at the coffee table and started trying to design a card for Natalia. I wanted to do something in her favorite color, but I didn’t know what it was. I pretty much didn’t know anything about her.

I didn’t like that. If she hadn’t told me about what happened to her, I probably wouldn’t have talked to her at all. I was trying to be her friend, but it was mostly because of what she’d told me. That kind of sucked. She was a nice person, and I wished I’d talked to her more in the past. But the kids in Mr. Houseman’s class had mostly been in a separate classroom since elementary school and only joined the rest of us for things like art, gym, and lunch, and I didn’t really know any of them.

I wished I could do something about that, but right then, I had way too many other things on my mind. I knew Mr. Houseman chose a few seniors every year to mentor his students, so maybe I would talk to him about doing that next year. By then, the rest of the crap in my life might have let up a little.

When Aunt Imogen got home, Chastaine and Guillermo left. I wanted to leave too. Aunt Imogen wasn’t a big fan of company after work, especially if she’d had a stressful day. But I didn’t want to wait too long to talk to her about Chastaine and me. That would have only given me more time to get anxious about it.

She kicked off her boots at the door and sat on the armchair beside the couch. “Are you staying for supper, Holly?”

“It’s up to you.” I hesitated. Now that she was there, I had no clue how to bring up what I needed to talk about.

Evan took over, because he was Evan and that was how he did things. “I told you Holly wants to talk to you about something.”

“Yes, and that’s why I asked about supper. If you two are hungry, we can eat while we talk.”

“I’m not hungry,” I said. I kind of was. My headache was worse, I was dizzy, and my stomach kept growling. But I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat even if I wanted to. And I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to.

“Okay, well, I am.” She leaned back. “I’m happy to help with whatever’s going on, Holly, but I’m tired and hungry, and that’s going to make me a little cranky.”

“So let’s make this fast,” Evan said. “Mom, Holly needs help figuring out how to talk to her parents about something.”

“Okay.” Aunt Imogen looked at me. “What’s going on?”

“I have a girlfriend.” There wasn’t any way to ease into that information, so blurting it out seemed like the best way to start. Even though as soon as I said it, I wished I could take it back.

Aunt Imogen’s expression didn’t change a bit. “As in you’re dating a girl?”

“Yeah.” I stared at her. Even though she accepted Evan, I’d expected her to kind of flip out on me. Or at least react somehow.

“I thought you had a boyfriend,” she said.

“They were faking it.” Evan touched a finger to his lips. “Sorry. Not my story to tell.”

I was kind of relieved he’d interrupted. “What he said. Nathan and I weren’t really going out. It was a cover.” I decided not to tell her Nathan was gay. Even though I was pissed at him for throwing me under the bus, that didn’t give me the right to out him.

“I see.” Aunt Imogen held up her hand, exactly the way Mom did when she wanted me to be quiet while she processed something. The same way I did, for that matter. “Okay. You’re dating a girl, but everyone believes you’re dating a boy.”

“Not anymore,” I said. “He got mad because people were saying I was cheating on him with my girlfriend. They didn’t know the truth, but they assumed. He kept going off about how people would think he was gay if they knew I was, so I told him to tell everyone he broke up with me. Except I guess he said I was the one who broke up with him, which is just giving everyone more reason to think my girlfriend and I are a couple. I mean, we are, but it isn’t like we wanted everyone to know.”

“Some people can’t handle their own lives,” Evan muttered.

“Do you want to tell your parents because you’re ready to, or because you’re afraid they’re going to find out from someone else?” Aunt Imogen asked.

“The second one.” I sighed. “Everyone talks to everyone in this town. You know that. Someone’s going to say something in front of their parents, and their parents will know mine, or it’ll go through a few other people first. But they’ll hear about it one way or another.”

“Parents are usually a few steps behind the grapevine, but most things get out eventually,” Evan said. “I agree with Holly. They’re going to hear about it sooner or later, so it’s probably best if they hear it from her first.”

“I agree too,” Aunt Imogen said. “Holly, first things first. I want to make sure you understand this isn’t a bad thing. No matter what anyone says. You’re who you are, and if you’re brave enough to be that person, that’s good.”

“Thanks.” I wasn’t sure I completely believed her, but it was nice to hear anyway.

Teaser Thursday- High Heels and Lipstick

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“The attorney called,” Dad said.

Mom shot him a death glare. Obviously she’d been trying to ease into that little piece of news.

My heart stopped, and oxygen didn’t seem to exist. For a few seconds, I was afraid I would vomit all over the linguine. I hadn’t even wanted to press charges against Jim. It was my word against his, and I’d had sex with him enough times that no one would believe I hadn’t wanted it. Or they wouldn’t care. Some people believed if a girl said yes once, it was a permanent yes. Girls didn’t have the right to change their minds.

I’d gone through with reporting him partly because of Maryellen. If Jim had only done it to me, I probably would have let it go. But if he’d done it to Maryellen too, he might not stop there. That possibility was what had finally pushed me into going to the police.

The way Dad was looking at me, I couldn’t guess whether the news was good or bad. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

“Go ahead.” I took a deep breath.

“I wanted you to eat before we talked about this.” Mom glared at Dad again, then tried to smile at me. She totally failed. “There won’t be a trial. You won’t have to sit in court and talk about yourself or anything you’ve done.”

“I shouldn’t have had to anyway. I’m not the one who did anything wrong.” I stared at the food in front of me. My stupid stomach rolled too badly for me to even think about eating. I needed more information. Not having a trial might mean they’d decided he was innocent. Or they were dropping the charges. I couldn’t get the words together to ask.

“You know how those trials go,” Mom said. “They always ask what the girl was wearing or how many people she’s slept with. They try to make it the girl’s fault. You might have had to tell everyone….”

She trailed off and clasped her hands together. Her face was red. She couldn’t say I might have had to tell people I’d had sex with Jim and other guys before. Or that the day he did it, I’d been wearing a tiny little bikini. My parents hadn’t found out about my sex life until I reported Jim. Now they tried to pretend I was still a virgin.

I didn’t want to deal with the judgment and bullshit. At least anger cleared my brain enough for me to ask the question I needed to ask. “What did they say?” I demanded. “I won’t have to testify. Why?”

“He admitted what he did,” Dad said. “Pled guilty. He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but the fact that he already has a record doesn’t look good for him, from what I was told.”

“He didn’t have a record when he did it.” I couldn’t process what Dad had said. Jim had pled guilty. Why? After all the things he’d done, he’d decided to admit to the worst thing possible. It made no sense.

Besides, one of the lawyers we’d talked to had told me the fact that Jim had been sentenced for beating up Evan Granger wouldn’t count against him when it came to what he’d done to Maryellen and me. Dad must have been wrong.

“He was on probation when you reported it,” Dad said. “I don’t have all the information, Chastaine. It was a short phone call to let us know you won’t have to go to court. They’ll call us after the judge signs off on his sentence. He’s not in jail or anything right now. They released him to his father. But he can’t come anywhere near you. The judge ordered him to stay away.”

It took a minute to sink in. I wouldn’t have to sit in court and tell people what Jim had done to me. I’d already told way too many people, so not having to go through it again wasn’t a bad thing. And Maryellen had barely been able to get a single sentence out about what he’d done to her before she completely broke down. I’d had to take her to the nurse because she started crying so hard she couldn’t breathe.

That was all I wanted to focus on. We wouldn’t have to talk about it again, at least not to strangers.

Teaser Thursday- Shoulder Pads and Flannel

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“Your mother’s brother Tomas,” he said, then stopped.

Even on edge about what Papi might say, I couldn’t help smiling a little. I loved Uncle Tomas. He was a lot younger than my mother. He’d only been about ten when I was born. When Mami had brought me to visit her parents, Uncle Tomas had always let me play in his room, even though I usually broke things.

When I was eleven, he’d moved to Las Vegas, and I’d only seen him twice since. He didn’t come back east even for holidays, and we couldn’t afford to go see him. The day he’d moved, we’d helped him load his car. He’d handed me a shoe box and told me not to open it until I got home.

I still had the seventy-dollar set of watercolor pencils he’d put in that box. They were in the corner of my room with the sketchbooks I’d bought over the past few years.

“Tomas likes men,” Papi said. “That’s why he left. His mother didn’t mind. He was her baby, so anything he did was okay with her. His father, different story.”

I nodded, staying quiet because I had no idea what to say. I’d sort of recognized Tomas was different from the rest of the men in my parents’ families, but I hadn’t caught on that he was gay. By the time he’d left, I had realized I liked boys, and now I wished I’d kept in touch with Tomas. Having someone who understood would have been awesome.

“Your grandpa didn’t want a gay son,” Papi said.

“So he made Tomas leave?” I clenched the fist Papi couldn’t see because it was under my leg. Grandpa—my mother’s parents insisted their children and grandchildren use only English around them—didn’t take much crap, but he loved his family. I couldn’t imagine him throwing someone away.

Now I had more reason than ever to make sure no one found out I was gay. Even if by some miracle Papi accepted it, Grandpa wouldn’t. And I had no idea about the rest of my family.

“He didn’t make Tomas leave exactly.” Papi sighed. He looked tired. “He made it impossible for Tomas to stay. Called him horrible names. Tomas waited until he was an adult to tell the truth because he knew how his father would react. He had work ready for him in Las Vegas, and when his father did exactly what Tomas had expected, Tomas left.”

“That sucks.” I glanced at him. He was studying the art supplies on my bookcase.

I held my breath. Liking to draw didn’t mean someone was gay. Being friends with a guy who dressed like a girl sometimes didn’t make someone gay either. But the way the conversation was going, I was afraid Papi would put pieces together and come to the right conclusion.

“Family is family, always.” It was one of Papi’s favorite sayings. “Your uncle doesn’t see his father at all. He hardly sees his mother and the rest of the family. It isn’t right. He should want his family, and they should welcome him with open arms.”

“It was partly their choice,” I said. “Grandma could have defended Tomas.”

“She did. He was her baby.”

She hadn’t done a very good job of defending him, or he wouldn’t have moved across the country. I kept that to myself. We didn’t say anything against our family, not ever. Especially not our grandparents.

“Your friend Evan’s parents don’t mind him?” Now he looked at me with a pleading expression.

Begging me not to say I wasn’t like Tomas and Evan. At least that was how I took it.

Teaser Thursday- Nail Polish and Feathers

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Holly gathered her stuff together and left without spilling any more info to Mom. I walked her outside. As soon as we were out of Mom’s sight, Holly whirled around and snapped, “Why didn’t you tell her?”

“Tell her what?” I backed up a step. “Seriously, what’s your issue?”

“You didn’t tell her anything!” She put her hands on her hips and glared up at me. I was almost a foot taller than she was, even if I was shorter than a lot of the guys at school. “You didn’t tell her about Moe.” She ticked that off on one finger. “You didn’t tell her about them chasing you before lunch. You didn’t even tell them about the fight with Ray; I told her that.”

“She’s my mother,” I said with exaggerated patience. “I don’t have to tell her everything. And in case you don’t get it, you don’t have to tell your parents everything about me, either.” Holly got along great with her parents, especially her mother, and she really did tell them everything. She couldn’t—or refused to—understand why I didn’t blurt out everything in my life to my mother.

It was really pretty simple. Mom didn’t need to hear it all. She had her own crap to deal with, including my father when he started trouble because of me. I could have added to the stress by telling her how bad the bullying really was and that I might have a boyfriend. I could even have told her about the makeup and how I wanted to be a drag queen. But doing that would just make things harder for her. She tried to hide it from me, but I knew things were already hard enough.

“I’m not going to tell them about Moe or the makeup,” Holly said. “Someone has to do something about Frankel and those guys. They’re getting worse, Evan. They don’t usually attack you in the hall. They say shit, but they’re usually too worried about getting kicked off the team to actually do anything. Doesn’t it worry you that they did something this time?”

“It worries me more that you don’t understand that I can’t just tattle on them every time they do something.” I kicked a piece of loose concrete at the edge of the walkway. “What do you think will happen if I tell on them, Holly? You think the school’s going to say, ‘Oh, poor Evan shouldn’t have to deal with that, so leave our school, you big bad bullies’?”

My voice grew louder, but I didn’t care. Holly drove me nuts when she refused to understand why I had to keep my mouth shut. “I’ll tell you what they’re going to say. It’ll be, ‘Evan, we’re sorry you can’t get along with your classmates. We’ve spoken to Mr. Frankel and Mr. Ferreira, and they said you must have heard them wrong. It’s your word against theirs, and since they’re the star athletes and you’re just the weird gay kid who likes to wear flamboyant clothes, and they outnumber you, we believe them.’”

By now I was shouting, and Holly just stood there staring at me. So did Mrs. Hamel from her second-floor porch across the street. Probably my mother was at our window staring at me too; I didn’t bother checking.

“I’m sorry, Evan,” Holly said in a quiet little voice. “Calm down, okay? You’re right, and that’s what really sucks. School’s supposed to be safe, and for you it isn’t. And it shouldn’t matter if you wear guys’ clothes or women’s or some of each. You’re supposed to be safe.”

“Yeah, well, how’s that fantasyland working for you?” I turned away, because now that I’d let all that out, my eyes were getting wet. Holly wouldn’t think any less of me if I cried, but I would.

Rejection

Recently, I got a rejection on another novel. This would have been the re-release of one of my past novels, one that I rather like and would love to see get a new life with a different publisher.

Rejection happens when you’re an author. It’s a normal thing. When I first started writing, I got a bit spoiled because I pretty much never received a rejection on anything. That wasn’t so much because I was an amazing writer whose stuff blew people out of the water, though I suppose that might have been the case with some things. Mostly, however, my stuff didn’t get rejected because some of the publishers I worked with didn’t always expect great quality. If the idea was good, they accepted it.

That isn’t anything against those publishers. If it weren’t for them, I might not have started getting published in YA at all. But it is a facet of working with small, digital-first presses.

This novel was my second to be rejected by the same publisher this year. When the first one was rejected, after I’d taken time to revise it according to feedback they’d given me the first time I submitted it, it hit hard. I thought I’d done a good job, but they pinpointed some of the same problems as the first time. I almost didn’t send them anything else.

But this time, the rejection didn’t matter so much. It was partly about the story, though one of the biggest things they didn’t like was something the original publisher and some reviewers praised me for when it was published several years ago. Mostly, though, it was about the genre. This one, like the one that was rejected earlier this year, is paranormal, and the publisher wants more contemporary fiction at this point.

It’s hard to take that personally. It just means I need to work on something different for a while, and that isn’t a bad thing. I enjoy writing paranormal and urban fantasy, but I can deal with writing contemporary. Meanwhile, now I have one book I might self-publish, and another I can submit elsewhere or to an agent, once I polish it a bit more.

Teaser Thursday- Midnight Chat

A message popped up at the bottom of the screen. Quickly, I got up to read over Rob’s shoulder.

You’re in for it Monday, freak. I hope you’re ready.

Rob made a strangled sound and looked up at me, ghost-white. “See? You see, Mira? I’m never going to be safe anywhere!”

“Easy.” I touched his shoulder and hoped he wouldn’t notice my hand was shaking. “Someone’s just being a dickhead, that’s all. It’s okay. They’re just trying to scare you.”

“No. You’re wrong.” He stared at the screen again. He was trembling and breathing the way he had in the office when he found out the police were arresting Craig and Seth. “This isn’t the first one. That’s why I wanted to check.”

“What do you mean? The first what?” I read the message again. I didn’t recognize the name on it. “Who is that?”

He shrugged. “The profile is blank. I get notifications on my phone when someone messages me on here. No one ever does, but this morning, someone did. The same person as this. I deleted that one. It said something about I’d better hire a bodyguard.”

He shoved the wheeled chair away from the desk and spun to face me. “They’re out to get me. All of them. If I go to school Monday…. Hell, I probably won’t even make it to school. They’ll ambush me on the way or something. You’d better not meet me, because they’ll attack you too.”

“I’m not going to let you deal with them alone. If someone really is planning something, I’ll be with you.” My heart pounded. Despite Ms. Cramer’s warnings, I hadn’t actually believed there would be any fallout from the arrests. But it sounded as if someone planned to seriously hurt Rob. “We have to tell someone about this, Rob.”

“Who?” He narrowed his eyes. “No one’s going to care. We don’t even know who sent the message. If we tell anyone about it, they’ll say it’s someone playing a joke or something.”

“Dad wouldn’t.” I didn’t know what Dad would be able to do, but he could at least help us figure out how to handle it.

“Don’t tell your father.” He sighed. “Don’t tell anyone. There’s no point. It’s just another case of me whining, right?”

“No!” I knelt in front of him so I could look him in the eyes. “This is real. You aren’t whining. You have every reason to be worried, and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“You’re the only one.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to die on Monday. That’s it.”

“Stop saying that!” I sat back on my heels and looked at my laptop again. There had to be some way to help Rob. Something I could do to make people leave him alone, or something I could say to convince the school and his parents to protect him. He didn’t deserve to be this afraid all the time. I hated the people who knew about it and didn’t do a damn thing to help him.

“It is what it is.” Without looking, he reached behind him and closed the laptop. “I don’t want to think about it anymore. It doesn’t matter. None of this is going to matter.”

“It does matter. You should be able to feel safe.” His deadened tone and blank expression scared me again. Not to mention his talk about dying. He might not mean someone else would kill him. Maybe he was planning to take care of it himself.

I had to talk to Dad, even if Rob didn’t want me to. If Rob was serious about wanting to die, I needed someone to help me help him. And I couldn’t protect him by myself either.

“Don’t worry about it.” He stood. “And don’t tell your dad or anyone else. Promise. Otherwise I won’t be able to trust you, and then I won’t have anyone. I need to trust you, Mira.”

“I….” I couldn’t say much to that. He was right. I was his best friend. If I went behind his back, even if I only talked to Dad, I wouldn’t be any better than Talia. “Okay. I promise not to say anything if you promise you won’t hurt yourself.”

“I promise I won’t if I can avoid it.”

That wasn’t good enough. He might decide he couldn’t avoid it. But before I could argue with him, he opened the door. “I think I’m ready to go home now. Thanks for letting me come over.”

“I thought your stepmother was picking you up.” I couldn’t let him leave yet. I had to calm him down first.

He shrugged again. “I’ll call her on the way home. Talk to you soon.”

And then he walked away.