Friday, September 22, 2017

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter Three

In Chapters One and Two, we met closeted and bullied Wyatt, and his best friend, Mackenzie. When Wyatt's nemesis – Jonathon – is about to clobber him, Mackenzie saves the day... But in a way that makes things even MORE complicated.

Want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapters One and Two.

To read about why I'm serializing my entire YA novel for free on this blog, click here.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Three!




Chapter 3
Monday January 5


That’s what I get for never telling her. And now I can’t. She’ll hate me.

            School was out and Wyatt was running, cutting the back way to avoid Mackenzie. And Jonathon. Well, everyone.
            He turned at the far side of the gym and raced past their School Rock, its foot-high purple and gold letters shouting,

GO FIGHTING SOLDIERS!

            Sprinting along the edge of the field, he passed the faculty parking lot to get to the chain link fence. There was a gap at the bottom, blocked by an old log, but there was enough room for Wyatt – and the occasional soccer ball – to scoot through. He’d been sent to get enough of them during P.E.
            Nearly empty backpack in his hand, he slid through the gap. He shouldered the bag and noticed, on the ridge across from him, a family of tourists posing in front of the Log Cabin that was supposed to be like the one Lincoln had been born in. They were so happy to be in Lincolnville. Everyone was. Everyone but him.
            He dashed down the ravine to the trail along the stream, and ran.
            Where Jenson’s Stream widened out to the ford, he jumped across the flat concrete stones that made a path, and kept going on the other side. It was just him and the rushing water, his heartbeat, lungs, and the rhythm of his feet pushing him away from school as fast as they could go.
            Twenty minutes later, his side cramped and Wyatt stumbled to a sweaty stop. He dropped his backpack and let the cold afternoon water run through his fingers, on its way to Corvallis. And Portland. And then, the ocean, and maybe… San Francisco. Or L.A.
            But me? I’m stuck here.
            He wiped his hands on his jeans, got out his phone and pulled up the photo of his soldier. Wyatt imagined him saying, Hey there, again, Wyatt. Fancy meeting you in a place like this. He knew it was corny. Stupid. But it made him feel better, anyway.
            Not for the first time, Wyatt wished his soldier was real. That he could tell him about Mackenzie, those weird kisses and what a disaster everything was.
            The day came crashing in on him – early wake-up, getting ambushed, sore muscles, clueless Mr. Guzman announcing his ‘A’ and Jonathon’s ‘D’ – and because of that, Jonathon almost pounding him and then that kiss – both kisses… Ugh!
            He kicked a fist-sized rock into the current and it splashed water back onto him. Great. Now he was wet, too.
            Everything ached as he lay out on a boulder that edged the stream. His shoulders protested as he lifted his phone – which hardly weighed anything – above him, but Wyatt didn’t care. He focused on his soldier.
The guy was staring right at the camera, kind of smiling, like he and whoever had taken the picture shared some secret. His coat was way too big, and the forage cap on his head – the same kind they sold in the B&B and that looked so awkward on their plastic military mannequin, whether it was dressed in Union Blues or Confederate Butternut Gray – looked pretty cool on him. There was another young guy behind him, holding a sword, all check this out, and Wyatt wondered if they were friends.
            He figured his soldier was only a little older than he was – you could tell he wasn’t shaving yet. Well, okay, Wyatt knew he was a lot older – the Civil War was like 150 years ago. Who was he? Who was he staring at like that? What was his secret?
            All Wyatt could do was look at him, across time, and imagine he was just dressed up for the re-enactments. That he was some teenager from another town, and he was going to lay back right here next to him. And they’d get to listen to the stream together. And talk, about the stuff Wyatt couldn’t tell anybody. And Wyatt imagined, in that tightly locked secret place in his heart, that maybe that smile – like some guy version of the Mona Lisa – might be the way he’d get looked at some day.
            Somewhere in the trees above them, a bird wheezed like it had just swallowed a kazoo. Cooper’s Hawk, Wyatt guessed. He closed his eyes and breathed in the mossy wet, letting it fill up every part of him.
            His soldier was crazy cute. Wyatt could imagine wanting to kiss him. The corners of his mouth tugged up at the idea.
            But Mackenzie? A tremor went through him, and it had nothing to do with his clammy T-shirt or the clouds stealing the last warmth of daylight.
Wyatt lurched up to sitting, the muscle-knot under his ribs clenching tight.
            It was all impossible. He wanted to want to kiss her. But he didn’t want to.
            He couldn’t be himself, either – not till he was hundreds of miles away at some college. He’d go to some big city where no one knew him and no one would care about what he did or who he was… or who he wanted to kiss.
            Until then, he just had to survive. Fit in, somehow.
Bulk up? He imagined working out every day at lunch, and feeling this sore all the time. How would he ever get as strong or as big as Jonathon, who was a high school Hulk? It would take him forever to even try. And he needed a way to get through tomorrow.
Maybe, if it helped him not bleed into the water like shark food, maybe… Plan B? He could have a girlfriend, instantly. He kind of already did.
Wyatt struggled to stand, rubbing at the cramp just now easing in his side. But not telling Mackenzie…
She was going to hate him, sooner or later, no matter what he did. He had three-and-a-half more years in Lincolnville before he was free. He’d rather she hated him later.
I have a girlfriend.
He tried saying it out loud, but it came out as a question. “I have a girlfriend?”

* *

Tuesday January 6

            “So this is just like the room where Lincoln lived in Springfield, Illinois, from 1837 to 1841, when he was 28 to 32 years old.” It was the final minutes of Wyatt’s tour, and the Lincoln Room at the top of the stairs was crowded with second graders. He pointed out the furniture: the low antique dresser; the rocking chair that was just like the one that had ended up at the White House; the oval mirror with candlesticks and a little shelf for shaving things at the exact height Abe shaved; the could have been there china water pitcher and basin.
            “And this is Lincoln’s cherry/pine rope bed.” Wyatt walked over to their Bed & Breakfast’s shrine, the actual bed Abraham Lincoln had slept in. The kids crowded closer, red velvet ropes on brass posts holding them back. The bed was just a little bigger than his own twin bed one more flight up, but Abe’s had polished wood balls at the corners, an old green and blue quilt at the foot, and was made up with Wyatt’s great-grandmother’s linens from Italy. Once a month, Wyatt put a dent in the pillow with a spaghetti squash to make it seem like maybe Abe himself had just gotten up. Over Winter Break, he’d even yanked a couple of hairs from wax-Lincoln’s head and put them on the pillow. Mackenzie had given him a hard time about how it was starting to feel like lying, but he told her museums were kind of like theater, and he was just helping set the stage.
            He couldn’t tell whether any of the kids noticed the hairs on the pillow or not, but they were in awe in the presence of a real piece of history. Wyatt’s dad had bought the Lincoln bed at auction years ago and that’s how they ended up in Lincolnville, right before third grade. His folks had taken over the “Lincolnville Civil War Bed & Breakfast” and renamed it “The Lincoln Slept Here Bed & Breakfast.” He’d been assigned a desk next to Mackenzie. They’d bonded over her never teasing him for being new, and him never teasing her for having a mom who was sometimes around but most of the time, not. They’d studied together, and listened to each other… and been friends ever since.
            Behind the field trip teachers in the doorway, Mackenzie waved to get his attention.
            And now she’s my girlfriend…
            Shaking it off, he jumped back into the tour, lifting the mattress edge so everyone could see the ropes underneath. “Even though it’s never used, every six months we have to tighten the rope grid so it doesn’t get saggy. Tight ropes made the bed more comfortable, which, we used to tell people, is where they got the expression, sleep tight.”
            Oh!s travelled the room like applause.  
            “But, turns out that’s not really true.” Wyatt glanced at Mackenzie – correcting their mistake had been her first addition to the tour. “People didn’t start saying sleep tight until a generation later, when rope beds weren’t even that popular anymore. The Oxford English Dictionary says ‘tight’ used to mean ‘soundly’ or ‘well.’ Sleep well – sleep tight. History can surprise you, sometimes.”
            Mackenzie winked at him, then spun her pointer fingers around each other: wrap it up.
But once the tour was gone, they’d be alone.
            “Can we touch it?” A girl asked.
            He took the chance to stall. “Just the wood parts.” Avoiding eye contact with Mackenzie, he unhooked the velvet rope closest to the bed and stepped aside. Forty-three pairs of hands darted out to rub the wood smooth, like the bed of the most admired president in history was somehow good luck.
            “Excuse me. Sorry…” Mackenzie got past the teachers and tiptoed to Wyatt’s side. He tried to drift away but she took his hand. Clearing her throat, she announced, “this way to the souvenir shop and the end of the tour!” And pulling Wyatt with her, she teetered out of the room.
            Wyatt checked to see if she’d hurt her foot.  Since when does she wear high heels?

* *

            “Pishhu!”
“Pa-pa-pa-pow!”
            “Pishhu!”
            The sound effects for the rifle pens were more Sci-Fi than Civil War, but they were the last two kids. Their teacher checked the time on her cell. “If you’re going to buy those, you need to do it now.”
            Wyatt knew better than to waste a bag or receipt that he’d just have to pick up from the parking lot gravel later and handed the first kid his change. As he paid for his, the second boy asked, “Were there really eight-year old soldiers?”
            “They were mostly drummers, but, yeah.” Wyatt had told them about Edward Black, 21st Indiana Volunteer Regiment. There was a portrait of him in what used to be the dining room, part of this new display on child soldiers his dad had been working on forever.
            “Lucky!” The first boy said, and the second nodded like one of their bobble-head plastic Lincolns.
            Lucky? Wyatt didn’t think so. Edward Black died at 18. Of ‘Soldier’s Heart,’ what they called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder back then. Who wanted to fight a war and be so freaked out by it all that it killed you, before you even got to live your life? And that was if you survived in the first place. “I’d hate to be a soldier,” Wyatt told them.
            “Pffft!” The second kid spit-taked air, like that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.
            The first kid targeted Wyatt with his new gun. “Pishhu! Pishhu!”
            Baby sharks.
            “All right, you two. That’s enough. Everyone’s waiting.” Their teacher steered them outside.
            “Thanks for visiting!” Mackenzie waved from the front porch as the stragglers joined the rest of their class on the bus. Next they’d go to Jennie’s family’s put-on-a-Civil-War-costume-and-have-your-old-time-photo-taken store.
            Mackenzie closed the front door and headed back to where Wyatt stood in their Lincoln and Civil War Memorabilia Alcove. They were alone.
            Yikes.
            “Hey…”
            Wyatt got very busy at the register. She stood right next to him, waiting.
            “You’re really good with kids,” Mackenzie said, balancing a stuffed bear on one of the little speakers by the reception computer.
            Wyatt shrugged, spotting the mess of rifle pens. Typical. They had to examine every one before deciding. He scooped them up and started sorting, Richmond Carbines in the Jefferson Davis: President of the Confederacy mug, Springfield Rifles in the Abraham Lincoln: President of the Union.
            Mackenzie pulled her matching pink argyle wallet from her backpack and grabbed a ten-dollar bill. She put it on the glass counter in front of him.
            “What’s that for?” Wyatt risked a quick glance at her.
            She snuggled two grapefruit-sized Give-a-Lincoln-Get-a-Lincoln $4.99 teddy bears to her chin. “I can’t decide between the blue one or the gray one, so I’m going to get both.”
            Wyatt was out of pens to sort. “You don’t have to pay for those.” He bent down to straighten the line of infantry soldiers on the Civil War Chess Set.
            “It’s your family business. I’m not going to steal them!”
            “You’re my girlfriend, aren’t you? Just take ‘em.”
            Wyatt stood, and it took everything he had to not look at his soldier in the display case against the sitting room wall. Before he could figure out something else to do, Mackenzie wrapped her arms around him. “Honeybear!”
            “Honeybear?”
            Her shirt was silky, and he searched for an excuse to slip away.
            She nodded, “sometimes you’re like a growly bear on the outside, but in there…” She touched his chest through his T-shirt. “You are so sweet.” She tilted her lips down to his, going for kiss number three.
            Oddly purple-red lips closing in, Wyatt thought fast. He grabbed a loose bear and with a lip-smack sound effect, pressed its nose to Mackenzie’s cheek instead. He broke free and acted like he was being all funny and playful.
            Something cracked inside Mackenzie’s face, and her hand flew up to cover her mouth. “Are my braces that horrible?”
            “No! It’s not…” Wyatt stopped. He had no idea what to say. “Mom!”
            Wyatt’s mom, still in work clothes, walked in from the kitchen corridor holding a folding plastic ‘Rails Realty’ sign. It was broken. “I finally got Kelly to let your father make one of these out of wood, so they’ll last. If she likes it, it will be some extra money…”
            Mackenzie whispered, like she was trying to believe it, “You knew she was coming home now?”
            Wyatt took the excuse. “I thought, maybe…”
            His mom stashed the sign behind the reception counter and focused on them. “Mackenzie, you’re looking beautiful!”
            “Hi, Liz.” Mackenzie said.
            Wyatt’s mom came over and hugged her. Then, instead of letting go, she held Mackenzie out at arm’s length, staring at her like Mackenzie hadn’t spent the last seven years hanging out there practically every day. His mom repeated the compliment, “Just… beautiful.”
            That got Mackenzie blushing, which always showed off her freckles, which she hated. Actually, where are her freckles?
            “Don’t you think so?” Wyatt’s mom turned to him and Wyatt startled. He didn’t want Mackenzie to catch him staring at her. That would send the wrong… Oh, man. He didn’t even know anymore.
            “Yeah, sure.” He rubbed at a spot of ink on his hand.
            “Sweetie,” Wyatt’s mom gave him a quick kiss on the head. “I still have a few calls to make for the parade, and your dad’s too busy cooking… I noticed the breakfast buffet never got put away. How about you pitch in, and then you two can set the table for dinner?”
            More chores. Great. But to avoid the lecture, Wyatt just said, “Sure.” And tossed Mackenzie a ‘you in?’ look.
            Lipstick. And no freckles.
            “I’d love to.” Mackenzie tossed a flowy, big-hair curl over her shoulder, all game. Wyatt pushed down this queasy feeling that he wasn’t going to listen to. He just had to make sure they didn’t spend any more time alone together.
           
* *

            “Honestly Mr. Yarrow, I would never have guessed it’s rabbit!” Mackenzie gushed about the meal Wyatt’s dad was trying out since there were no guests eating with them at the big table in the kitchen tonight. Weekly Civil War-Era meals was the next big thing that was supposed to get money finally pouring in.
            Wyatt eyed the dandelion greens and pieces of slimy-looking meat on his plate. His mom was going to need to keep her job for the Mayor. Another thing for Jonathon to lord over him, like because Wyatt’s mom worked for his mom, it made them Jonathon’s family’s servants or something.
            The bottle in his hand made a plastic farting sound as he coated his rabbit salad and heap of turnip-potato pie in an oozing blanket of red.
            “Ketchup? Really?” Wyatt’s dad bookmarked the 19th century cookbook he’d been reading and decided to pay attention to actual living people.
            “Gregory…” Wyatt’s mom started.
            “He hasn’t even tried it!” Wyatt’s dad shook his head. “It’s supposed to be period food.”
            Wyatt held out the family-size bottle, label facing his dad. He pointed to the small red print below ‘Heinz,’ and read it out loud. “Established 1869.”
            “Really?” It was like Mackenzie was interested in everything today. She reached for the ketchup bottle with matching red nail polish. Nail polish, too?
            Wyatt’s mom patted his dad’s hand. “It’s delicious.” She turned to Wyatt, “So, how was your day?”
            “Fine.” Wyatt poked in vain for something else on his plate.
            “Anything new to share?” His mom asked.
            “Nope.” Wyatt answered, wondering if he just cut it up and moved it around on his plate, and then volunteered to do dishes, he could get away without eating it.
            “That’s funny,” His mom said nonchalantly, “because when I was updating the Mayor’s status earlier, I noticed Mackenzie’s profile says she’s now in a relationship.”
            Wyatt kept his eyes on his plate. Don’t tell them. Don’t tell them. He tried to send the thought to Mackenzie – maybe they did have some kind of E.S.P.
“You didn’t tell them?” She asked Wyatt, totally telling them.
Wyatt’s mom shrieked and leapt out of her chair to squeeze them both into a giant hug. “Why didn’t you tell us? Mackenzie Miller! Oh my gosh – what’s your middle name? I don’t know your middle name!”
“Liz.” His dad said, and Wyatt’s mom released her death-grip on them.
“Okay, okay! But you can’t blame a mother for being excited about her little boy growing up and finding love.”
            Wyatt could feel the hole he was in getting deeper and deeper. He managed to lift his lips apart and show his teeth, just like a real smile.
            His dad picked up his wine glass in a toast. “That makes this your first official meal as Wyatt’s girlfriend!”
            “Guys!” Wyatt squirmed. Do all parents do this?
            “And now that you’re dating, we need to make sure you’re respecting each other. I won’t be a grandfather before I’m fifty.”
            “Gregory!” Wyatt’s mom sounded shocked. “They’re only in ninth grade.”
            “I remember being a teenager. And we have a double responsibility here.” Wyatt’s dad pointed at him and Mackenzie. “No more alone time in either of your bedrooms, understood?”
            Wyatt felt like he’d just been handed a late Christmas present.
            He nodded, quick.
            Wyatt’s dad sipped his wine. “Mackenzie, now that you’re even more a member of our family,”
Mackenzie made a little squeaking noise. Wyatt didn’t look at her, cause he didn’t want to embarrass her. But anytime Wyatt complained, Mackenzie told him how great his family was and how he needed to appreciate his parents more. How ‘you don’t know how important it is until you lose it.’ And he never knew what to say. And now, she was thinking his dad and mom could be like her dad and mom, too, so she’d have three parents instead of just one. And it was all built on a lie. He felt like pond scum, if pond scum could feel bad about itself.
His dad continued, looking at Mackenzie in a way that felt parental, “…why don’t you choose our Sunday movie this week?”
            Wyatt couldn’t believe his dad was giving it to Mackenzie. “It was my turn!”
            “Sweetie,” his mom scolded. “It’s a lovely idea of your father’s. Be gracious.”
            “Sorry.” Wyatt said, but he wasn’t. Even pond scum had stuff it looked forward to. “I’ve… just been waiting to see the new Bond movie since Thanksgiving, and it’s finally out on DVD, and it’s my week!”
            His mom ignored him. “Tell us, Mackenzie. What movie would you like us all to watch?”
            Wyatt slumped back and stared at the floor under the table. Pink leopard-print high heels kicked off, Mackenzie’s bare feet were crossed at the ankles. What was going on?
            “I’ve always tried to get Wyatt to watch Little House on the Prairie with me. Maybe this would be a good chance?
            “Ughhh!” Wyatt rolled his head and eyes all the way back. Something kicked his leg. “Ow!” Bending forward to rub his shin, he was pretty sure he heard Mackenzie smother a laugh.      He glared at his dad, who shifted into lecture-mode. “Being in a relationship means some give and take. Little House on the Prairie sounds perfect, Mackenzie. And we can all watch the new double-o-six movie next week. Agreed?”
            “It’s double-o-seven.” Wyatt pouted. Like his dad even cared. If it wasn’t about the Civil War, he was just going to sit there and read an auction catalog no matter what they watched.
            His mom leaned towards his dad. “We’re supposed to let them sort it out.”
            His dad shrugged. “Why, when it’s so simple?”
            “Young love is never simple,” Wyatt’s mom said. “Remember?” His parents got all mushy and Wyatt paid attention to the food he wasn’t eating.
            Mackenzie chimed in, “How about we watch Wyatt’s movie this week, and next week we can watch Little House?
            Wyatt looked at her. Thanks, he mouthed silently.
            Mackenzie locked eyes with him, all intense, all I’ll-sacrifice-my-happiness-for-yours, and suddenly, Wyatt got it. The makeup. The big hair. The heels. It was all for him!
            And he didn’t want it. Any of it.
He looked away.
            “See? They worked it out.” Wyatt’s mom said, kissing his dad’s hand.
            It’s like I’m being tortured.
             Wyatt survived the rest of dinner, and even managed a couple of bites of cinnamon, apple and raisin dessert until his dad launched into one of his footnote monologues. It was the kind of thing guests found charming for a weekend stay, but they didn’t have to live with it full-time. It was all about how he was sorry it was Braeburn apples instead of the York Imperial or Ben Davis varieties they would have made it with back in 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, since this was Gettysburg Fruitcake.
            And all Wyatt could think about was Jonathon hearing that and telling everyone Wyatt was the Gettysburg Fruitcake. But he wouldn’t, now that Wyatt had a girlfriend. Right?
            He dropped his spoon to the plate, appetite gone.
            Wyatt’s mom brought up junior prom – two years away – and how now she would volunteer to chaperone. How am I going to keep this up for that long?
            Then they were talking outfits, and how Mackenzie didn’t even have one for the Purple and Gold Pep Rally in two weeks.
            “What I’m really not sure about are the shoes,” Mackenzie said. “These gave me blisters, and I nearly twisted my ankle, twice.”
            “You need to start with kitten heels.” Wyatt’s mom told her. “Maybe I have something… I’m a size eight, what size are you?”
            “But, I wear a size eight!” Mackenzie’s words came out in a giggle.
            Before Wyatt knew it, with his mom in the lead, Mackenzie was pulling him along to his parents’ bedroom. “Come on, Honeybear!”
            Wyatt stalled out in the doorway, watching his mom throw open her shoe wardrobe. Mackenzie acted like a starving person at a buffet, touching and oohing and ahhing over each shoe. She didn’t have a mom to do this with since hers was – well, no one knew where her mom was – so Wyatt figured it was a big deal.
            “Here, try this one!” Wyatt’s mom held out a pair of low heels whose shifting purple-blue colors reminded Wyatt of iridescent butterfly wings.
            Carefully, Mackenzie slipped on the left shoe. “It fits!” She said, all Cinderella.
            Wyatt’s mom came up behind Mackenzie and studied her reflection in the Ikea standing mirror. “Beautiful. And you don’t have to wait for the Pep Rally.” Wyatt’s mom was all Fairy Godmother. “You can borrow any pair you want, anytime.”
            Mackenzie gulped air, and Wyatt could barely make out her whispered, “Gaia. My mom gave me a totally embarrassing hippie middle name.”
Wyatt’s mom moved to face Mackenzie. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing.” She tucked a loose strand of hair gently behind Mackenzie’s ear. “Mackenzie Gaia Miller, you are a lovely young woman. I couldn’t be happier… for all of us.”
Wyatt was out of there. He couldn’t be the Prince in this fairy tale. He just couldn't.


* *


* *

Chapter Three Endnotes 


Wyatt tells the visiting students about the Civil War child soldier Edward Black. You can find out more in this “The Boys of War” opinion piece in the October 4, 2011 New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/the-boys-of-war/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 There’s additional info (and a painting) of Edward Black, “who was 8 years old when he became a drummer for the 21st Indiana Volunteer Regiment…” in this online slide show: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/10/05/opinion/disunion-children-4.html 

* *

Want to know why I'm serializing my entire YA novel for free right here on this blog? Click here.

Ready for Chapter Four? It will be posted on September 29, 2017.

Thoughts? Reactions? #queerasafivedollarbill fan art? Share them in comments!

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Thanks for being part of my community, and for being one of my READERS!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Backstagers: A Transgender-Inclusive (And Young) High School Comic Series



The Backstagers written by: James Tynion IV, art by: Rian Sygh

When Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, he's taken in by the only ones who don't treat him like a new kid, the lowly stage crew known as the Backstagers. Not only does he gain great, lifetime friends, Jory is also introduced to an entire magical world that lives beyond the curtain. With the unpredictable twists and turns of the underground world, the Backstagers venture into the unknown, determined to put together the best play their high school has ever seen.
Midway through this comic, one of the characters is revealed to be a transgender boy. Thanks to Brigid Alverson's and their Just Another Day in an LGBTQ Comic article in School Library Journal for the heads-up on this one.

Add your review of "The Backstagers" in comments!


Monday, September 18, 2017

Reading Without Walls - A Nation-Wide Program Celebrating Reading and Diversity

Gene Luen Yang, our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, teamed up with the Children's Book Council, Every Child a Reader, Library of Congress, and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group to put together this program, Reading Without Walls.



Reading Without Walls "asks our young people to explore the world through books. Specifically, it challengers readers to do one of the following:

1. Read a book about a character who doesn't look like you or live like you.

2. Read a book about a topic you don't know much about.

3. Read a book in a format that you don't normally read for fun. This can be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, or an audiobook."

As Gene says, "Let's all read without walls and see what happens. I bet it'll be something amazing!"

You can find out more here.

And while they launched back in April, it's really something for any month, any moment. Maybe especially this moment right now, whenever you're reading this. And I love the graphic – In our world with too many walls (and talk of more on the way) it's great how books are visualized as the way to not just see over the walls, but climb over the walls.

Thanks Gene.

Now let's all get reading!
Lee

Friday, September 15, 2017

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill Kickoff: Chapters One & Two

It's my 10-year blogging anniversary, and kicking off the sharing of Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill is the perfect way to celebrate! To read about why I'm serializing my entire YA novel for free on this blog, click here.

Thoughts? Reactions? #QueerAsAFiveDollarBill fan art? Share them in comments!

Okay community, here we go!




Chapter One
Monday January 5

            It’s funny that they called the Civil War civil, because there’s not much polite about trying to kill the people you don’t like. Following that same logic, Wyatt figured he should call Lincolnville High School Civil High – because 9th grade was a war, too. Every day.
            But he wasn’t due back in battle for a few hours – it was still a reassuring black outside. And he told himself, for the millionth time, that he wasn’t going to give Jonathon the power to ruin stuff outside of school, when he wasn’t even around. It didn’t really work.
            A thin stream of cold coffee pooled onto his sock and Wyatt jerked the sodden paper back over the bin. He swore under his breath, working the wet sock off with one hand and tossing it to the needs-to-get-washed pile by his desk.
            He studied the dripping paper. It was ready. He grabbed the red long-reach lighter from the living room fireplace to singe an edge of this sixteenth Emancipation Proclamation. The wet paper took a few seconds to catch. Once it was on fire, he quick-snuffed it out in the coffee so it didn’t burn too far.
            Two more sides had gotten crisped when the pocket of the thrift-store, fake-shearling cowboy coat he was wearing vibrated. Wyatt fumbled for the phone. Having his new cell (even his mom’s four-year-old hand-me-down) so he could get a call without waking up the whole Bed and Breakfast rocked.
            “Hey, handsome. Good morning!” Mackenzie.
            Plugging in the headphone jack, he fit the plastic bud in his ear. “I’m so glad it’s you.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth he realized how ridiculous he sounded – they both knew no one else would be calling him. He pushed the thought away as he burned the final edge. “Can you get online? I uploaded the new video last night.”
            “Just two more emails to delete…” Mackenzie said.  “How’s it going?”
            “Sucks. I’m not even going to get my run in because of this stupid antiquing.” The last bit of flame sizzled out in the coffee and Wyatt swapped the wet sheet for the dry one in the microwave on his bedroom floor. 48 seconds. Start. The laser-printed, coffee-aged, fire-singed paper rotated on the plate inside. Predictably, the cracked-glass ceiling light dimmed as the microwave hogged the power on that circuit. It would dim in the third-floor bathroom too, but Wyatt hadn’t heard any guests up yet. Just his dad, in the attic above the part of Wyatt’s room that wasn’t the tower. He’d gotten Wyatt up at 4:30 a.m. to do this stupid antiquing job, while he headed up to re-seal the dormers for the storm on its way.
Even with the people-height windows open, the smell of burned paper and coffee surrounded Wyatt, hanging in the cold air between all the furniture that didn’t match their B&B’s 1830s-1860s thing. The good news was that Wyatt’s 2000s black wood bed, no-style pressboard wardrobe and 1940s gunmetal navy-surplus desk were such a period mash-up that his dad wouldn’t let any guests see it. So Wyatt didn’t need to keep it neat.
But even when the windows were closed, guests used to complain that sleeping in the Tower Room was like sleeping outside. New windows cost too much, so Wyatt got one of the nicest rooms in their Queen Anne Victorian. He just had to wear a lot of layers, camping-style. He liked camping.
He pulled on a dry sock, reasoning that all white sweat-socks matched – even if one was cleaner than the other – and headed over to the clunky laptop that wouldn't work unless it was plugged in. He’d already cued up the video, waiting for her call. Mackenzie was clicking at the keys of her pretty much new laptop that she took notes on in class. He pictured her sitting at the kitchen counter in her dad’s condo, Monday morning oatmeal in a bowl beside her.
            The dingy white microwave beeped but Wyatt ignored it and the lights surging back to full strength. There was plenty of time to finish them before school – Mackenzie had finally called, and he was bursting to share.
            “Okay,” Mackenzie said. “I’m there.”
            Wyatt gave her the count-down so they could watch it simultaneously, “Three, two, one… play!”
Internet Video: Crazy History, episode 3: Do Svidaniya, Lincoln!”

Wyatt has tousled hair, and wears jeans and a green waffle-knit shirt. He waves as he talks to the camera.

Wyatt
Hey everyone. Wyatt here at the Lincoln Slept Here B&B with another episode of Crazy History! Check out a five-dollar bill.

The face of the bill fills the screen.

Wyatt
See that eagle with the ribbon in its beak there? That’s the seal of The United States. The ribbon says E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin or something for One, Out Of Many. And next to that eagle is President Abraham Lincoln.

The bill moves away and Wyatt stuffs it in his pocket. He’s standing in a converted sitting room that now exhibits Civil War artifacts.

Wyatt
After George Washington, Abe’s like the most famous President we’ve ever had, right? So what would you say if you found out that at one point he thought about moving to Russia?

His eyes glint, all this-is-a-good-one.

Wyatt
Check out what he wrote in a letter five years before he became President:

Wyatt flips open a leather-bound book to a marked passage,

Wyatt
“As a nation, we began by declaring that all men are created equal. We now practically read it all men are created equal, except Negroes. When the Know-Nothings get control–”

He glances up to explain,

Wyatt
The ‘Know-Nothings’ were a political party back then – and yeah, they actually called themselves that!

With a shake of his head at how whack-a-doodle that was, he resumes reading.

Wyatt
“When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics. When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance–”

Wyatt stops there, shutting the book with an amazed look.

Wyatt
Imagine if Abe hadn’t become President, and instead moved to Russia! Do svidaniya, Lincoln! – That’s Russian for ‘see you later.’

Wyatt grabs the tripod and keeps talking. The image is jerky as he shoots himself walking through the displays, past a Fort Sumter cannonball on a pedestal, and towards a green velvet curtain.

Wyatt
If Abe had gone to Russia, what would America look like today? What would Russia look like? How about the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?

He starts to blush but we cut to a photo of a bikini-clad model with huge breasts standing on a glacier with penguins behind her. She doesn’t seem cold. We hear him say,

Wyatt (voice-over)
Okay, that probably wouldn’t change.

We cut back to Wyatt – not blushing anymore – as he rounds the curtain to reveal a life-sized Abraham Lincoln wax figure complete with a seven-inch tall black stovepipe hat. Wax-Lincoln’s right hand is out as if to shake hands. Wyatt stands next to him.

Wyatt
Crazy to think how much this one guy did. Became President. Freed the slaves. And saved the Union. Keeping us One, Out Of Many.

Wyatt puts his hand up on wax-Lincoln’s shoulder.

Wyatt
Glad you stayed in the U.S.A., Abe. More cool – and crazy – history next time. On…

The words flash on the screen as Wyatt says them, his voice echoing over action-movie music.

Wyatt (voice-over)
Craaa-zy History!
           
“The swimsuit issue? Really?” Mackenzie sounded pissed, and the theme music hadn’t even stopped playing yet.
            Wyatt hated that she didn’t like it, and almost wished he hadn’t put that part in. But Jonathon had been giving him such a hard time all December about being a ‘history fairy,’ he had to do something. He heard himself get defensive. “You wouldn’t understand. Guys like that.”
He hoped he sounded gruff enough.
            “I understand that it’s objectifying. And insulting. And ridiculous! Don’t guys know about hypothermia?”
            Wyatt knew she was right, but he couldn’t say it. It was up for debate which were faker: the model’s breasts or the Antarctica she was supposed to be standing in. He’d just wanted Mackenzie to tell him the video was great. Of the probably only ten people who’d see it, she was the only one he wasn’t related to.
            “I’m sorry,” she said, and he figured she knew him well enough to know his silence wasn’t happy. “I just… think it would be better without the Testosterone Cave-Man moment. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to like it, but you don’t need to be that kind of guy.”
            Or maybe, Wyatt remembered with a pang, his best friend – okay, his only friend –  didn’t know him at all. He decided to cut his losses. “Let’s just go back to the list.” Closing his laptop, he returned to the makeshift assembly line laid out on the skinny wood floor planks. He grabbed the seventeenth copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and slid it into the plastic tub of yesterday’s cold coffee.
            “Fine…” At least she didn’t sound quite so annoyed with him anymore. Mackenzie had found this old slang website, and at her insistence they’d been working through it over the past few days. She was hoping to find more of her own ‘touches’ to add to Wyatt’s family’s tours of their exhibit rooms. Wyatt’s tours, if they were after school. Another one of his mom’s your-father’s-working-around-the-clock-and-I’m-killing-myself-for-the-Mayor-so-the-least-you-can-do-is-pitch-in chores.
            “See if you can guess this one.” Mackenzie giggled, like she already knew how many clowns were about to come out of the circus-car. “Queer as a three-dollar bill!”
            Wyatt’s whole face flushed hot as he lifted the paper and let the coffee pour off, back into the bin. “I don’t know!” His voice sounded all pinched, and he told himself to calm down. At school he’d have to worry about Jonathon seeing him turn bright red and shouting something like, Look! It’s the blushing bride! just to get everyone to laugh at him, but it wasn’t like Mackenzie could see him.
            And he told himself queer must have meant something else back then.
            He blew out a steadying breath, willing the color to seep back inside so he could fade from pomegranate-red back to pale-Wyatt-in-January. It was like his skin was some boy-litmus test for embarrassment, and he failed every time.
            She rolled the words on her tongue, “Queer as a three-dollar bill…” like she was seeing how it would sound in one of their tours. She’d never get him to say it. “Give up, Studly?”
            Studly? That was Mackenzie, trying to build him up. She knew how much he didn’t want to go to school today, the first day back after Winter break. They’d be getting their first semester History finals returned. For two weeks in December, Jonathon had kept threatening he’d kill him if Wyatt ruined the curve for him and the other guys on the Freshman basketball team. Half of them were on the edge of academic disqualification – though, how hard was it to know the U.S. Presidents in order when they were the street names in your town, all the way through the second Bush? And after all they’d done to make his life miserable, Wyatt was supposed to care? To spite him, Wyatt had aced it.
            What was he thinking?
            They weren’t getting their grades until third period, but Wyatt would still have to deal with Jonathon in P.E. before that. Everyone else thought P.E. was short for Physical Education, but Jonathon seemed to be working on the theory that it stood for Popular Embarrassment, as in: The more he embarrassed Wyatt, the more popular Jonathon got.
            Wyatt grimaced. He was so dead. “Okay, Trivia Goddess. What’s the… three-dollar bill thing mean?”
            Mackenzie swallowed some oatmeal. “It says, older term to describe something extremely unexpected, odd or rare.”
            Like me in Lincolnville, he thought.
            Mackenzie finished, “That’s because they never made a three-dollar bill.”
            Nope. Wyatt mused as he clicked the lighter to burn the first edge. Not even here in crazy Oregon.
            “Hmm. Can’t see where we can use that one.” Mackenzie said, like she was crossing queer as a three-dollar bill off a mental list. “Your dad wants everything to be just what you’d expect if you visited Lincoln by time machine. No surprises. Everything ‘authentic.’”
            Wyatt knew she was making air quotes, and he knew they were aimed at what he was doing. But people liked fake. They’d much rather buy a Gettysburg Address, or an Emancipation Proclamation, or even a President Abraham Lincoln Timeline that looked real and old, even if they knew it wasn’t, than a boring copy they could just print off the internet themselves.
            “Yup.” He agreed fast, to change the subject. “What’s the next one that grabs you?” Swapping the papers in the microwave, he hit start and ran downstairs to get the envelopes.
            “Oh my gosh – fart catcher!” Mackenzie laughed, and this time, Wyatt let himself laugh, too. He whipped around the second-floor landing post and remembered to be quiet on the stairs down to the entryway. His parents’ room was right off the kitchen, and he wanted this antiquing chore done before his mom got a chance to lecture him about time management skills – and how he didn’t have any.
            “Got a guess?” Mackenzie asked. He heard her rinsing her bowl and putting it in their actual dishwasher. Wyatt’s dad was all concerned with anachronisms and keeping the illusion that they were offering a real Civil-War-Era Experience. He’d drawn the modern line right after a refrigerator and Wyatt’s mom’s beloved coffee machine. But if they could do those, along with indoor plumbing and electric fake-gas lights, Wyatt didn’t see why they couldn’t have a dishwasher. But he wasn’t in charge. Clearly.
            He took a stab at ‘fart catcher’ as he headed over to reception. “What they called those old hoop skirts?”
            Mackenzie gave a fake-offended gasp before trying on an even faker Southern accent. “Dear sir, that is not the answer. I’ll have you know real ladies do not expel gas in the coarse manner you suggest.”
            Wyatt laid on the accent himself, feeling his face finally cooling down. “I’m sure they don’t, Ma’am… But how would anyone know when you’re wearing all them skirts?”
            They both snorted a laugh as Wyatt pulled out the clear plastic bin of office supplies, searching for the pale green envelopes.
            Fart catcher:” Mackenzie read, “A valet or footman, from walking so close behind their mistress or master.”
            “That’s ridiculous,” Wyatt said. “And funny.”
            “I wonder where we can use it in the tour?”
            “Not sure,” Wyatt mumbled, rifling through the box. Mackenzie would re-write the whole tour if he let her. She’d probably grow up to tell the President what to say – be the Presidential speech-writer. Forget that – she’d probably be President herself.
            Not Wyatt. Maybe he’d be a park ranger, or a wildlife photographer, and finally get to spend every day outside. Trees, animals, birds. Rivers like Jenson’s Stream. He could do all these videos of wildlife, and maybe add in some cool or crazy history angle… Who was he kidding? He knew he’d have to end up in some big city, somewhere far away from all that. But anywhere sounded better than the shark-infested waters of Civil High.
            Outside the night was softening to a Union blue. Too soon! Wyatt forced himself to focus: envelopes.
            “I’d love to, but I don’t see how we can use fart-catcher,” Mackenzie said. “Let’s move on.”
            There they were. Wyatt counted out twenty ‘Genuine Reproduction Antiqued Emancipation Proclamation!’ envelopes and shoved the box back in its spot under the sideboard.
            Mackenzie’s voice was light, “Okay, I’m covering the definition column and I’m going to try and guess this one, too: Can’t see a hole in a ladder…”
            She started tossing out possibilities. Wyatt stood to head back upstairs when he saw his soldier – smiling out at him from this giant poster-sized Civil War photo, behind their collection of Confederate and Union firearms in the six-foot glass display case.
            Wyatt stopped.
            His soldier was standing in a group of eleven Civil War soldiers. Everyone else was holding a rifle, bayonet or sword, but his hands were empty. Some of the guys seemed proud, others excited, a few were grim. But his soldier just looked sweet. Like he wanted to say, Hey Wyatt. Good to see you. Always good to see you.
            What if his soldier came to life, and was right here? Standing in front of him? He couldn’t just lock eyes with the guy forever… What could he say back? What would he say?
            Hey… I’ve been wondering. Wyatt could feel his cheeks heat up again. What’s your name?
            “Wyatt!” Mackenzie’s raised voice through the earbud slapped him back to reality. She’d been talking, but he hadn’t heard any of it. “Can’t see a hole in a ladder?”
            What was he doing? He needed to focus. He couldn’t slip up and maybe say something that would blow up his whole life! Not with Mackenzie. Not here. Not anywhere in Lincolnville, Oregon. Population: 5,817 closed minds. Plus one Wyatt Yarrow.
            “Sorry, no idea. What’s it mean?” He jogged back up the stairs as Mackenzie read them that Can’t see a hole in a ladder is what they used to call drunk people. There was an awkward silence, which Wyatt figured was because of that whole thing with Mackenzie’s dad three years ago. But her dad didn’t drink anymore, something he told them three times a week when he dropped Mackenzie off for Tuesday and Thursday dinners and Sunday afternoon ‘homework club’ as Wyatt’s mom put it, while he drove the forty-five minutes into Corvallis for his AA meetings.
            Wyatt wasn’t sure what to say, so he stayed quiet. He passed their Lincoln Room and was halfway to the third floor when Mackenzie asked, “Don’t we need to get going?”
            He pulled the phone out of his coat pocket to check the time. 6:52? Homeroom started in eighteen minutes, and P.E. was right after that! He still had to make his own lunch…
            “I gotta run,” Wyatt told her as he hustled into his room.
            “You nervous?” She asked.
            Her question slowed him down like he was suddenly under water. Was it that obvious?
            I know how great you are,” Mackenzie said. “Just be yourself, and other people will start to see it, too.”
            Sure… except, being yourself only worked if you were like everyone else to start with. Wyatt fought his way back to the surface, and started folding finished Emancipation Proclamations in thirds, stuffing envelopes fast. They looked perfect. After four years of doing them, he’d finally gotten the recipe down. But seventeen would have to be enough.
            Mackenzie said, “I should go. My dad wants to drive me, to remind all those hormonal teenage boys – his words, not mine – that he’s with the police force.” Wyatt could almost hear her eye-roll. Her dad was their town’s parking enforcement officer. “Can you believe that?”
            Wyatt wasn’t sure what he wasn’t supposed to believe. There were worse things than not having any chores and getting driven to school.
            The sky was lighter now, nearly a Confederate gray – he was racing daybreak and the first bell. Move, he told himself as he kept folding and stuffing. A gust of air brought the smell of outdoors. Fresh, green. He’d be out in it soon.
            After a moment Mackenzie said, “I’ll see you in History. Good luck with P.E.”
            “See you. And… thanks.” Wyatt hung up. He needed the luck. Because his life was so queer as a three-dollar bill.

* *

Lincolnville, Oregon Streetlamp Banner:

Celebrate Feb 14!
Abe and Mary: A Great Love
Parade 9 a.m. Union Square






Chapter 2
Monday January 5

            Exactly four minutes after everyone should have already been out in the gym, Wyatt raced into the locker room. He stopped in his tracks. The Freshman basketball team guys were still there, gathered around Jonathon, who stood next to a stack of twelve shoeboxes. They were all already in their ‘Fighting Soldiers’ P.E. uniform T-shirts and black shorts. And anyone else who might have been a buffer between him and these guys was already in the gym, playing badminton.
His stalling had backfired. Big time.
Wyatt stood there, trying to figure out how to not be seen. He’d have to go through them to change… Maybe he could just go back to the gym and say he forgot his P.E. uniform at home and take the two-point grade hit? Except… he was holding the drawstring bag with his change of clothes. That wouldn’t work.
            “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
            “These suck.”
            “I’m not wearing them.”
Hold on. Wyatt realized what he was hearing – Jonathon was being attacked by his own pack of sharks! This was maybe too good to miss.
            “Pink?” Charlie razzed Jonathon.
            “Will you all just shut up?”
Wyatt could have sworn there was a hint of panic in Jonathon’s voice.
What was going on?
Jonathon was holding one of the shoes – purple, gold and white. And then Wyatt saw it: the entire sole of the sneaker was neon pink. “It… just means we’ll be crushing the sissies with every step!”
            Jonathon looked over and saw Wyatt. He kind of smiled, and Wyatt wasn’t sure what that was about. Was Jonathon maybe getting how sucky it was to be on the receiving end of all that crap? Should he smile back?
            Suddenly, Jonathon lunged over the bench. He knocked Wyatt’s feet out from under him and pinned him flat-out on his back. Pain shot Wyatt’s butt, shoulder, and the back of his head when he smacked the floor, lightning smashing together inside him, every nerve overloading and the whole system threatening blackout. He was staring at the fluorescent tube lights, and like a fish on land, couldn’t seem to get his lungs to work. His eyes prickled with tears but he wouldn’t allow the rain. He couldn’t. No, dammit. Hail, maybe. But no rain. Not in front of them.
            Shoe in his hand, Jonathon squished the pink rubber into Wyatt’s cheek, forcing his face down into the floor. “Like I’m crushing Little Miss Yarrow here!”
            They laughed. Every one of them. And Wyatt saw something else. From Miguel Abelardo – who they called ‘Lardo,’ even though he was skinnier than Wyatt – to Jonathan’s right-hand shark Charlie, they were all really glad they weren’t him.
            He wished he wasn’t himself, too.
            Under the grit and dirt his nose was shoved into, Wyatt figured whatever they cleaned the floor with must be pretty toxic because his eyes started to fog up.
            “Come on, Ladies… Let’s go!” Coach Rails wandered into the locker room at just that moment. He gaped at them.
            Wyatt managed to swallow the storm cloud in his throat. It was over, at least.
Jonathon quickly got up off Wyatt, saying, “No homo, man.” so his dad wouldn’t dare think he was on top of Wyatt because he liked him.
Wyatt sat up, his ears so hot he guessed they were the color of the sneaker soles. Staring at the small rip in his own sneaker, he waited in the silence for Coach Rails to say something. But no one said anything.
Finally, Jonathon shouted to the other guys, “All right, bitches. Team Spirit! Everyone wears them!” and started tossing out sneaker boxes.
“What are you waiting for, you bunch of fags?” Coach Rails barked. “Get your shoes on and get out there! I want five laps around the track. All of you. For being late.”
Groans.
“You want me to make it ten?” Coach Rails threatened.
That quieted them down.
Wyatt almost smiled. At least Jonathon was getting punished, even if it was hidden inside the whole team getting penalized. And if he kept still, maybe no one would notice him there on the floor. He’d wait for them to clear out and then change in peace.
“That means you, too, Yarrow!” Coach Rails snapped at him.
What? Wyatt looked at him in disbelief. Coach Rails scratched at the beard he was growing out to be Lincoln in their town’s Lincoln’s Birthday/Valentine’s Day parade in just over a month. Like last year, he’d be a too short country-western-singing Abe, next to his wife the Mayor’s too thin and tall real-estate-selling Mary – but it was like no one in their town cared about the terrible casting. As Wyatt’s mom kept saying, it was the Mayor’s parade, and everyone else was just invited to it.
-->
“Get changed. Get out there. And give me five laps.” Coach Rails lowered his eyebrows at him. “No one with four healthy limbs gets a pass in life – or my P.E. class.”

Freshmen History First Term Final – Selected Grades

Miguel Abelardo    C
Charlie Anderson    D
Mackenzie Miller    A+
Jonathon Rails    D
Jennie Woo    B
Wyatt Yarrow    A

            Sharks ahead. By the lockers.
            Wyatt stopped walking, pretending he just got a text. His arms felt raw from his first-ever lunchtime workout that he’d snuck in instead of eating, but he was so over being Jonathon-meat that he was going to deal with it. And he’d needed some plan, because from the moment that substitute read their History final grades out loud, Jonathon and his sharks had been out for blood.
At least they hadn’t seen him yet.
            Sneakers and macho body sprays blurred by the chipped phone casing as he strategized for the second time that day how to get past them. He’d escaped after History – one advantage of going to the weight room off the gym was that it had been the last place Jonathon would have expected him to go – but now Wyatt only had three minutes to the bell. There was no time to go around the whole building before Algebra. And there was a sandwich waiting for him twenty feet down that hall to the corner and eight feet to the right.
            Jonathon tossed a textbook to the floor of his locker. BAM! “You’re such a girl, Anderson.”
            Charlie was right behind Jonathon and made a sarcastic kissy sound back.
            Fart-catcher! Charlie was Jonathon’s fart-catcher! Wyatt couldn’t wait to tell Mackenzie he’d found a place to use it. That was, if he survived the next three minutes.
            He placed each foot carefully forward to move with the crowd. To seem busy and blend in even more, he was tapping out the longest fake text message ever. If Mackenzie’s dad let her have her phone on at school, Wyatt would be texting:
                        GET ME OUT OF HERE!
and he’d fill the screen with a million exclamation points. As it was, his thumbs were flying at random.
            “You’re so gay.” Jonathon hurled the words at Charlie.
            “Takes one to know one!” Charlie shoved Tai to agree, “Right?”
            Tai’s laugh died like a hiccup when he saw Jonathon’s watch-who-you’re-making-fun-of glare.
            He was almost past them…
            “Yo! Fruitcake!” Jonathon shouted at him.
            Wyatt didn’t stop.
            “Don’t walk away from me, I’m talking to you!”
            The entire hallway stared.
            Every capillary on Wyatt’s face and ears popped red heat, betraying him.
No…!
            He pocketed the phone before anyone could notice he wasn’t actually texting anybody and make fun of him for that, too. He tried to push through the get-to-your-locker-before-fifth-period surge, but it was like every kid in their whole town was in that hallway and Wyatt was the only one going upstream.
            All of a sudden, Jonathon was blocking his path. “How dumb are you?”
Wyatt considered explaining that including David Rice Atchison as President number 11.5 (in between James Polk and Zachary Taylor) wasn’t really a mistake, and that he’d wanted to talk to Mrs. Elliot about the ‘President for a Day’ article he’d read – since she’d marked it wrong – but then she was gone on maternity leave and he wasn’t sure about that substitute, Mr. Guzman… But then he noticed that Jonathon’s biceps were bigger than his own calves and kept his mouth shut.
            Jonathon’s Abercrombie & Fitch-model face got all snarly. “We talked about this. What were you thinking, pulling a ninety-eight percent?”    
            Wyatt jerked back as spittle landed on his dark blue T-shirt. He imagined it burning through like acid, and wished he was one of those superheroes with armor.
Jonathon was up in Wyatt’s face. “You killed the curve. So now,” Wyatt didn’t want to flinch, but he also didn’t want to get punched by that fist. “I’m either going to have to kick your a–”
There you are!” With a flash of a Harvard sweatshirt, Mackenzie grabbed Wyatt like a lifeguard saving a drowner. Before he could say anything, she’d squished her lips into his.
Wyatt clamped his mouth shut and fell back, pinned between his best friend’s lips and the cold wall of lockers. Through his green canvas bag, books cut into his stomach and the scent of fake strawberries overpowered his nose.
It was genius. Jonathon stood there like a squirrel in the road, not sure what to do.
Ha!
Wyatt didn’t want to get caught looking at Jonathon, so he shifted his eyes to Mackenzie. Up close, he noticed her eyebrows were brown and didn’t really match her waist-long copper-red hair. Huh.
Kids hooted at them. Wyatt hadn’t even made it through the first day of the Spring semester, but between Jonathon’s second shark attack and Mackenzie’s lip lock, he was the big show at Civil High.
“Check out the lovebirds!” someone yelled.
“Big deal.” Another girl sounded bored and slammed her locker shut.
One-one thousand. Two one-thousand. How long was Mackenzie going to make this last? The sharks were whispering to each other.
Someone else said, real loud, “Is he keeping his eyes open? Freak.”
Wyatt shut them.
But then all he could feel was Mackenzie’s lip gloss sticking to his lips like half-dry, half-wet Elmer’s glue. His first kiss…
It doesn’t count.
It doesn’t.
This is what it must be like to kiss your sister.
            Mackenzie let out a sigh, little notes falling. Like she was part of some big finale, with birds and chipmunks and little people… Wyatt tried to not snort in her face, but she was going for the Oscar.
            He kicked himself mentally – if the sharks were watching, he needed to play along! He’d been standing stock-still, like wax-Lincoln downstairs in the B&B. He lifted his free hand to Mackenzie’s shoulder. Ow. The back of his arm burned. Muscle Targeted: Triceps.
            What next? Should he move his hand to her back? Touch her braid? He wasn’t sure, but he had to do something. Cautiously, he cupped his hand around her neck. It was warm.
            Mackenzie noticed. She leaned into him a little, and then after another moment, broke away. Wyatt took a breath.
            She whispered down to him. “They still watching?”
            Wyatt checked. The pink-soled sharks had moved ten feet along the hallway and only one of them was still staring: Jonathon. His eyes were narrowed slits, but his mouth was… closed. Without thinking, Wyatt had the back of his hand up to wipe the kiss off his lips – but he caught himself and scratched his jaw instead. Wondering if he had just climbed up the food chain a bit, he gave Mackenzie a tiny dip of his head.
            Mackenzie said, loud enough for their audience to hear, “Come on, boyfriend!” She squeezed Wyatt’s arm and he winced, but fast-turned it into a toothy smile. Holding hands, they headed up the hallway and turned the corner.
            All clear.
            They pressed flat against the wall, side-by-side. Mouth open wide, Wyatt laughed silently.
            “You were amazing!” He whispered to her.
            “I was, wasn’t I?” Mackenzie’s eyes sparkled.
            Wyatt nodded. “Like Mother Teresa, saving the day with Plan B!”
“If Plan A was getting punched, that’s not much of a plan.”
Wyatt counted down five lockers and dropped the dead weight of his backpack. He rubbed at the ache in his shoulder. “My Plan A sucked. But Plan B rocked. Did you see his face?”
Mackenzie stayed close as Wyatt spun his combination lock. He was so excited, he was babbling. “It’s like we have E.S.P. or something. I mean, I was fake-texting you and then… pow! There you were!” He got it open. The swimsuit model floating on the inside of his locker door hovered in the specially modified Air Force plane. Wyatt reminded himself to not laugh at how ridiculous she looked in the photo, bikini top not up to the zero-gravity challenge of her breasts. He starting dumping stuff out of his backpack. They needed to design a zero-gravity backpack.
“I knew something was wrong when you were missing at lunch.” Mackenzie blushed, Wyatt thought with a flash of jealousy, like a regular person: the slightest pink behind her sprinkle of freckles. “You were awesome, too.”
            Wyatt shrugged. It was really all her.
            “Wyatt… You know, Plan B has sort of been on my mind for a long time. And, how to make it our Plan A....” She leaned in as Wyatt grabbed his turkey sandwich out of its bag. He was starving.
            “Huh?” He turned and her lips were on his again. Mackenzie’s face pressed in. This kiss was different. Softer. Not for anyone else to see.
            Wyatt froze.
            The pretend one didn’t count, but he didn’t want this to be his first kiss, either.
            Not a girl. And not Mackenzie!
            One one-thousand. Two–
             She pulled back, her face all dreamy satisfaction. “I guess we’ll just have to thank Jonathon for the push.”
            Thank Jonathon?
            She saw his confused look. “I wasn’t sure how to change tracks from friends to… more. But I knew we’d be great together.”
Mackenzie put her hand on Wyatt’s chest. His heart was pounding.
“It’s nice, kissing you. Don’t you think?”
            “Uh…” He glanced around. Nearly everyone was already in class. The bell was going to ring any second – he hoped. The swimsuit model hovered next to him, all flirty, with nail-polished fingers by her lipstick-shellacked mouth. You’re what got me into this mess, he thought at her.
            Mackenzie’s eyes followed Wyatt’s to the floating swimsuit model, then flicked down to her own oversized Harvard sweatshirt and four-leaf clover leggings. She pulled her braid around to the front and smoothed it. She nodded like he’d made a great point. “It’ll probably be better without an audience.”
            “Yeah!” Wyatt heard himself say, juggling his Algebra book and sandwich. “That’ll… definitely help.” What was he saying? He stuffed a bite of sandwich in his mouth to shut himself up.
            “Three is supposed to be a magic number...” Mackenzie looked at him, all smiles. “We’ll save our third kiss for when it’s just you and me. Sound like a plan?”
            He forced the dry bread and meat down his throat so he could talk. “It’s… a plan.” He managed, and palmed his locker shut.
            He hadn’t meant to agree to it, but the echo of his words sure sounded like he had. What he’d meant was that it was a plan, but not his plan.
            Oh my gosh. It’s her plan.
            “See you, boyfriend.” With a wink, Mackenzie two-stepped away, like the hall speakers were playing dance music only she could hear.
            The start-of-class bell rang.
            Wyatt bonked his forehead against his locker. Resting there, he told himself, Mental note: Never be alone with Mackenzie, ever again.
* *


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Chapter One Endnotes


The Lincoln quote Wyatt uses in his video is from a letter Abe wrote Joshua Fry Speed on August 24, 1855. That’s more than thirteen years after their flurry of correspondence surrounding Joshua’s marriage to Fanny in February 1842. You can find the letter on pages 64-67 of Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Most Intimate Friend by Robert L. Kincaid, Department of Lincolniana, Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, Tennessee 1943. (Yes, that’s the book Wyatt gets for his book report later… Hey, I’m an author and I liked how it foreshadowed Wyatt’s discovery to come!) The full quote is:
            I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

That same letter is also online at http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/speed.htm and on page 323 of Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 2, Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, 1953, which is where I imagine Wyatt found it.

Lincoln’s most famous statement about “all men are created equal” may be from his 1863 “Gettysburg Address,” which opens with these famous words: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal.’” You can see the actual handwritten speech at the National Archives website, here: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=36#

In that Gettysburg Address, Lincoln quotes “All men are created equal” from the founding document of the United States of America, our Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” You can read a transcript of the Declaration of Independence online here: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html



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