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.

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.

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.

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.

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,

“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,

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”
“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.
            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.
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.
* *

* *

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 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:

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:

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

Ready for Chapter Three? Click here.

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

Want to talk about what you've read so far with your fellow readers? Join our first Twitter chat on Thursday Sept 21 5:30-6:00pm PST/8:30-9:00pm EST with the hashtag #QAAFDB

Don't miss a chapter – you can sign up to follow this blog and get e-mailed every post! Just enter your email address at the top of the left column.

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


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

To Clifton's request (that blogger somehow ate), if you'd like to share these chapters, here's a short link:
long link:
Thanks for spreading the word!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Clifton's comment rescued:

Hey Lee, can you set up a quick link so we can post the weekly chapters on social media (Twitter, FB, etc.)?

Good luck, I'm so excited for you!

– Clifton Tibbetts, blog comment, September 15, 2017 8:21 AM

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Early Buzz:

"Can't wait to read the rest!"

– Melissa, on Facebook, Friday September 15, 2017 1:39 PM

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

My first blurbs (for the full novel) are in! Here's the first one:

"This one should get people talking! I hope this book, which shines some much-needed light on a fascinating bit of history, finds the large audience it deserves.”

– Brent Hartinger, author of 12 novels, including the groundbreaking gay teen Geography Club

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Another blurb for the full novel! (This one made me tear up)

“This powerful novel combines raw emotion with detailed historical evidence. Readers will be drawn into Wyatt's story as he struggles with being true to himself, and come out the other side questioning who writes the history we learn. It belongs in every library that serves teens. Speaking truth to power, indeed.”

– Yapha Mason, School Librarian and two-time Newbery Award judge

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Another blurb for the full novel!

“Lincoln, gay? I’m 94-years old and it had never occurred to me. But as I read along with Wyatt, I had a flash of instant recognition of the truth… Lincoln’s unhappy marriage, unhappy wife, his constraint. Hopefully young people who struggle with their own truth will no longer need to struggle. The truth is the truth, and Lee’s book will help them find it.

– Godeane Eagle

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Another blurb for the full novel!

"This novel shines with quirky brilliance! As a fan of YA fiction I found Wind's ability to intertwine historical facts through a relatable story of a teenager trying to make his way refreshing and addictive. Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill is engaging, heartfelt, and superb. You won't want to put it down."

– Cindy Maloney

Julie Hedlund said...

Lee, this story is riveting. It will be difficult to wait from week to week for the next chapters to be released. I too hope the book finds a wide audience, as it deserves. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Early Buzz:

"Share it with friends, family, siblings, children, students ... voracious readers, readers not-yet-voracious but soon-to-be ..."

- Heidi, on Facebook, Friday September 15, 2017 1:00 PM

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Early Buzz

"Love it! Got sucked in easily. Want to read the whole thing in one sitting."

– David, on Facebook, Friday September 15, 2017 at 6:26 AM

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Early Buzz

" I <3 the opening chapters...can't wait until next FRIDAY again!"

– Angela, on Facebook, Saturday September 16, 2017 at 8:01 AM

David LaRochelle said...

Congratulations, Lee! I hope your story reaches a million readers!