With the release of my fourth novel on the horizon, I thought I would give a short refresher of the three published novels I already have out there in the universe. What better time for a Goodreads Giveaway! (-:
BURN BABY hits bookstore shelves December 11th. Stay tuned for book cover reveal and blog tour, etc. As my publisher is arranging all of that, I do not yet have the details.
I can tell you a bit about the Burn Baby story. Here’s the cover blurb:
Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley—the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.
The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.
How did BURN BABY come to be? Of course it was a Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. I wrote it over the course of 72-hours during the 2012 Muskoka Novel Marathon. Then I edited it for about six months, prior to giving it to my agent Stacey Donaghy. Stacey found a home for it almost immediately at Curiosity Quills, who also took my 2010 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, Half Dead & Fully Broken (which will release in January, 2015). Voila!
Now, on to my three published novels. (-:
SUMMER ON FIRE was released in 2011. It’s young adult. It has received some phenomenal reviews which completely blew me away. I thought it was time for Goodreads to give away another copy. So, you can head over to Goodreads right now and enter. It’s easy-peasy. CLICK on the cover below and you will be taken to the contest at Goodreads:
Simply click on the ENTER TO WIN button and follow the instructions. This contest is open to USA and CANADIAN residents.
Here’s the cover blurb for SUMMER ON FIRE:
Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell-the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.
Several of the reviews have likened SUMMER ON FIRE to the movie STAND BY ME, which I take as the ultimate compliment…as it is one of my favourite coming-of-age movies.
Why I have your attention, here’s the cover blurbs for the other two novels currently available:
Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him.
One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him.
If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.
In the midst of absence, death, and insanity, Tobias longs to make his family whole again.
With a mostly absent father, a deceased older sister, a younger sister on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up quickly. Though he tries to be a surrogate parent to his sister, their broken mother, Maggie, takes up a lot of his time. Annabel falls to the wayside and becomes a ghost in their chaotic existence.
When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family became so shattered. Be careful what you wish for. When his world begins to collapse from the weight of unburied secrets, he focuses on a stranger from his parents’ past. Only by eliminating the past, he believes, can he make his family whole again.
If you made it this far, leave a comment and you will be entered to win an ebook of your choosing from the three novels currently available. In the comment, mention which title you’d like to win. You will be entered. Another easy contest. (-:
Thanks for stopping by!
When I first discovered Matthew Quick, I was at an interesting crossroads in my own writing journey. I had written a couple novels for adults and I was pondering writing for the young adult market. For some reason, I got it in my head that I couldn’t do both. One could either be an adult author OR a young adult author. I don’t know why I thought this, but I did. I’ve made it a point throughout my writing journey to always remind myself that THERE ARE NO RULES. There are guidelines, there is good advice and there is bad advice…but there are no steadfast rules. Writing is what you want it to be.
And yet, here I was…trying to make this decision. And while on the fence, I really sweated about it. I loved the darker issues I could explore writing contemporary adult novels, but I also loved the idea of exploring dark issues in a teenager setting…the coming of age in the high school environment novel. I was weighing the pros and cons of the two markets, because, as I said, I thought it had to be EITHER OR.
Enter Matthew Quick. No…I’m not going to be so bold as to call him my savior, or anything as nutty as that. I’m just gonna say that he reminded me of my own first rule of the Writer Club. The first rule of Writer Club is that there are no rules in Writer Club. He didn’t do this right away, mind you. At the time, I was mass-consuming YA novels…as part of my research in the market. Well, that’s what I was telling myself. Truth be told, I LOVE reading YA. But I was reading solely YA to get a feel for the landscape of the market. I was dissecting books for themes, formula, what-have-you.
I picked up BOY21 for several reasons. Because it seemed to have strong male and female ‘leads’. Because it was sportscentric. Because the blurb really caught my fancy. Sometimes, I’ll admit right here and now, I am sold by a cover. Or, at least, I am gripped by the cover and moved to learn more about a book. BOY21 had an awesome cover. Anyway, I picked it up and I read it. And I fell in love with it.
You know when you discover a novelist and then check out there other books and get excited because you get to spend more time with them? Well, immediately after I finished BOY21 I searched to find out what other Matthew Quick offerings there were on tap at the Kindle store.
HOLD THE PHONE!
The Silver Linings Playbook. Can it be? A contemporary ADULT novel?! Oh my God! He writes for adults AND young adults! YES!
Okay, so Matthew Quick may not be the first author in the history of authorship to do this. But he was the author I discovered doing it when I needed the permission to do it myself. When I needed to realize that it could actually be done. And not only was he writing for both markets, but it would seem he wrote quirky characters. I wrote quirky characters, too. I immediately purchased The Silver Linings Playbook. And I devoured it. And I thought it was a masterpiece!
Click on the book covers to read my reviews of these two Matthew Quick novels:
I later went through Quick’s full catalogue and loved all his books. I eagerly await his forthcoming THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW! I have it pre-ordered. And on February 11th, when I wake up, it will have been magically delivered to my Kindle! I know what I’ll be reading that day!
Click on the book cover below to read the synopsis of Quick’s latest offering:
Okay, so on the surface this post may seem like a commercial for Matthew Quick’s books. But I swear to you, the whole purpose of the post is to tell writers to keep reminding themselves of the fluidity of the rules they should live by. When you find yourself questioning whether or not you can do something, DO IT. Try it, anyway. Don’t listen to people who say do this, don’t do that. I was very close to saying goodbye to one of the markets in question, even though I loved both! It was through my discovery of Matthew Quick’s novels that I found the permission to carry on carrying on. Because I saw that he accomplished writing for both adults and young adults, I knew that I could take the same path. And I did. And I for one am extremely grateful for Matthew Quick.
But seriously, check out his books. You’ll love them! (-:
MALESURVIVOR.ORG – Remember the name. This is an organization dedicated to helping male victims of childhood sexual abuse. You can read all about them at their website: MALE SURVIVOR The organization hosts Weekends of Recovery for survivors. I’ve been to two of these weekends. They can not only change the lives of survivors, but they can also SAVE the lives of survivors. Every male survivor of childhood sexual abuse would be helped by attending these weekends. Not all survivors have the funds to attend. Male Survivor has created a scholarship fund to help these survivors: WEEKEND OF RECOVERY SCHOLARSHIP FUND. This fund helps male survivors of sexual abuse who could not otherwise afford to go to a WEEKEND OF RECOVERY retreat.
These weekends are designed to help male survivors of sexual abuse along on their road to recovery. A team of trained therapists (who donate their time to the cause) facilitate the retreats and the weekends are highly successful in giving participants the tools they require to not only recover from the trauma, but to move from survivor to thriver in their healing journey.
It doesn’t matter which of my 3 novels you purchase during this scholarship fund drive…all of my royalties will go to Male Survivor. You can purchase the book(s) anywhere, too. (THIS FUNDRAISER APPLIES TO ALL MY BOOKS PURCHASED ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD)
Here are some of the places you can purchase the books:
The publisher of Summer of Fire
These are just a few of the online shops in which the books can be purchased. If you do happen to make a purchase, I want to thank you so much in advance. The funds collected are going to a most worthy and important cause. These weekends can literally save lives. I hate to think that there are people out there who cannot afford to benefit from such life-saving, life-changing assistance.
A quick description of the books:
SUMMER ON FIRE: Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell-the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.
SEBASTIAN’S POET: Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him. One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him. If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.
THE REASONS: With a mostly absent father, a deceased older sister, a younger sister on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up quickly. Though he tries to be a surrogate parent to his sister, their broken mother, Maggie, takes up a lot of his time. Annabel falls to the wayside and becomes a ghost in their chaotic existence. When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family became so shattered. Be careful what you wish for. When his world begins to collapse from the weight of unburied secrets, he focuses on a stranger from his parents’ past. Only by eliminating the past, he believes, can he make his family whole again.
REMEMBER THE DATES!
NOVEMBER 1 – 30, 2013.
100% of my royalties from sales during the month of NOVEMBER go to the WEEKENDS OF RECOVERY SCHOLARSHIP FUND!
PS: If you are in the Toronto (GTA) area, please see THIS POST for area resources for victims. Thank you.
Just a quick post to let you know there are 2 signed print copies of Sebastian’s Poet up for grabs at Goodreads. See the end of this post for the link. In the meantime, I’m sharing CHAPTER ONE of Sebastian’s Poet here. I hope you enjoy.
SEBASTIAN’S POET – Chapter One – The Poet
I first met the poet in 1973. I was a child, cleaning up after one of my father’s infamous parties. I can still recall that encounter. I found the poet passed out on our living room couch. He was sprawled in such a way I had to move his arms to clear the mess on the coffee table. His hand was resting inside the detritus of an overflowing ashtray. Putting my collection of beer bottles down on the table, I tried to move his hand without waking him.
His dark face was serene, almost angelic in sleep. It could have been chiseled out of stone. There was something achingly familiar about the poet. I found myself compelled to stop what I was doing and examine the landscape of this familiarity. I could not place it…but something drew me to him. I sat on the edge of the coffee table and stared into his sleeping face, mesmerized.
He had a large, aquiline nose and jet-black hair. His ample mouth was open while he slept, and a tiny trickle of drool ran down the side of his face.
I watched his breathing, listening to the in-out rhythm of his sleep song. Then I noticed the record album on the table beside me. The poet’s face looked back at me from the cover. A close-up of the same face that lay in slumber on my father’s tattered sofa — a sofa that had been temporary residence to many vagabonds and drunks in the past. On the album cover, however, his eyes were fully open — great dark orbs that pulled you so far in you were afraid you would never be released. And in his face, I also saw incredible sadness and vulnerability. Something I could immediately relate to.
The picture pulled me in with painful longing. I looked at a complete stranger and thought, I wish you were my father. The poet wasn’t the first one to be treated to this wish — I was constantly fantasizing about having any father other than the one I was stuck with — but he would be the last.
As I bounced back and forth between the picture and the man in repose on the couch, I went into one of my famous zoning out moments. I concentrated so hard on him that I lost touch with everything else around me. It took me a moment to realize he was actually awake and meeting my gaze. The picture had become the man.
I quickly turned back to the album cover and read his name in the bottom left corner. His photo was so large I had to squint to make out the name. Or maybe it was just his sense of presence? Maybe his face had a habit of overwhelming everything in its proximity?
“Why is your name Teal?” I asked, to bridge the space between us and break the morning-after silence of the sleeping house.
“Because Green would have been stupid,” he said in a deep and gravelly voice that made the air between us tremble. He took another glance at me before rolling onto his side and showing me the back of his head. But just before he turned away I saw a look on his face — like this was a comeback he used often, one that made everybody laugh.
I didn’t laugh. As much as I was drawn to the man, I had already learned by then to keep a comfortable distance between myself and the people who floated through the vast wreck that was my father’s life. To laugh too early would have been giving in too easily. They had to earn that kind of familiarity.
It took only a moment for him to roll back around and face me, expectantly too. Since he was a person whose face adorned album covers, I supposed he felt it my duty to at least chuckle at his attempt at humour. We stared at each other for a moment, gauging one another’s stubbornness.
“Hmph?” he said. “Who are you, anyway? Who is this baby with the wounded wings I see before me?” Not waiting for an answer, he slowly rose to a sitting position on the couch. “Teal Landen.”
He extended his hand, like I was a real person and not just some runnynosed kid. I was too surprised not to take it.
We shook. And we continued to shake.
“This is the part where you tell me your name,” he suggested. “So we can stop shaking each other silly.”
I tried to clear my head of fog. “Oh. Sorry. Sebastian. Sebastian Nelson.”
He released my hand from his monstrous grip. “Tom’s your old man? Wow. Nice to meet you, Sebby. How about you make me some coffee? Do you know how to do that?”
I tried my best to look offended at his suggestion I wouldn’t know how to do something so trivial, but I found his personality as infectious as his face.
“Black? Or cream and sugar?”
“How about black with sugar? Two,” he replied as his hand blindly searched the floor beside the couch for his abandoned t-shirt.
“I’ll be right back.”
“You do that. I’ll be right where I am now, holding down this here couch,” he said as he looked around at the dishevelled state of the living room and pulled the t-shirt over his head. Perhaps he was trying to remember how he had gotten there. Or more likely, just how many of the empty beer bottles in his periphery could be directly attributed to him.
As I walked into the kitchen, he let out a series of coughs that convinced me he was responsible for filling the ashtray his hand had earlier been resting in.
A few minutes later, with a hot cup of coffee in my hand, I returned to the living room to find Teal doing his best in his hung-over state to make things right. He had a neat pile of beer bottles on one corner of the coffee table. He gingerly attempted to balance three ashtrays in his shaking hands.
“I could really use that java.” He coughed. “This man is too old to play these silly games any longer. Remember when to quit the party, Seb. Bow out gracefully while you’re still young.”
I set the coffee on the end table and managed to take the pyramid of ashtrays from him before any real damage occurred. Instead of refusing my help, he reached for the coffee and allowed himself to fall back into the cushions of the couch.
“You shouldn’t be cleaning up after your old man’s messes,” he said with little to no conviction. “That’s not right. How old are you, Sebby? Seven?”
“I’ll be nine in December,” I said with enough force to push him further into the dilapidated cushions. “I know how to clean up a little mess. Besides, somebody has to do it. My brother is going to be coming down here any minute. He’d get into everything.”
“Two kids, eh?” he said. He groaned and let out a long sigh, clearly feeling gypped for choosing the wrong house to crash in the night before. “And how old is your little brother?”
“He’s four. But he’s not so little. Almost five.”
“This four-year-old — does he happen to do a lot of screaming early in the morning? Running around, bouncing off walls kind of thing?”
I headed toward the kitchen to empty the ashtrays. “Lots. My dad says he’s like an elephant on an airplane.” Teal closed his eyes and took a long pull from his steaming cup.
“Listen kid,” he said from the living room while I tried to make the kitchen look more or less like a kitchen. “Why don’t you just tell your old man I had to split? I got this session thing later today and I have to get some sleep or I’m gonna die. The last thing I need right now is a Mexican jumping bean almost-five-year-old going crazy in my space.
“Besides,” he continued, now standing in the kitchen doorway, coffee in one hand and an empty beer bottle on each of the four fingers of his other hand. “I’m not even sure if he knows I crashed. I don’t remember a thing after I got here.”
I stopped cleaning the counter for a moment. “My father’s not here. He left for work before I got up.”
“He leaves you here alone, man?” Teal said as he plopped the four beer bottles into the empty Molson Export case on the kitchen floor. “That’s not cool, Sebastian.”
“He does it all the time, Mr. — ”
“Hey. No. Not the mister thing, little man. I’m Teal. There’s no age constraints with this guy.” He pointed to his chest. “I don’t go by mister, so you can forget it. My daddy was the mister in my family. Now that he’s gone, there’re no misters left. Call me Teal. Your old man can’t be leaving you here alone. You’re eight — ”
“Almost nine,” I quickly corrected. “It’s not really all the time. He mostly doesn’t work. He’s just been working some the past few weeks.”
“Yeah. I guess I should have known that. Studio, right? Session work? Well.” He glanced around the wasted kitchen then looked to the door with longing. Turning back, he looked me in the eye. One more sad look at the front door and it was obvious he wanted to run. But he just shrugged. The sigh that escaped him told me he would stay.
Not that it would have mattered. I was already pretty much on my own when it came to Renee, my younger brother. Had Teal known the truth, he would have realized my father’s presence was more hindrance than help. Even at his best, my father never made much of a parental figure. By the day the poet had pulled up on our party-contaminated communal sofa, my father was just about the farthest he had ever been from his best — if there ever was such a thing.
“Well what, Teal?” I said, more to test the feel of calling an adult by his first name than for any other reason.
“Well, what do you wanna do?” he asked. It was a strange question coming from a rumpled semi-famous stranger, who, moments before, had seemed only to want to escape the morning-after ensnarement in which he had found himself.
“I’m cleaning the house,” I said. “And after that, I’m going to make Renee his breakfast.”
“Who’s Ren — ”
“My brother,” I interrupted.
“Right. The four-year-old. Wow. This is some heavy shit. You ever feel like you fell down the rabbit hole, Sebby?”
“Never mind. I’m going to make breakfast for the both of you.”
Before I had a chance to protest, he started to move around the kitchen like he knew exactly where everything was. It freaked me out. A lot of people went through that old house, but I got to recognize their faces. This was the poet’s first visit. Goose bumps bloomed on my arms as I watched him. Time stopped. My world went slow-motion on me as I took him in.
The way he moved, too. It was an extremely familiar dance he made from the fridge to the stove to the cupboard. He had a precise synchronicity of movement I recognized, but I couldn’t place where I knew it from.
It was comforting to see an adult move with so much determination. The ones who normally crashed through our house were drunk and disorderly. For the first time in forever I felt like I could sit down and let somebody else take care of business. I sat at the kitchen table and watched Teal while I dreamily traced the many circled design on the table’s surface with my finger.
“How do you like your eggs?” Teal asked as he cracked four of them into the cast iron frying pan that had magically appeared on the front burner. He began to beat them vigorously with a fork.
“But you’re already mixing them scrambled?” I asked, smiling.
“Yeah, I just like to ask so it appears like I know what I’m doing. It’s the only kind I know how to make.” He walked toward the fridge. “Hey. Do you have any buttermilk? It’s so much better than milk in scrambled.”
“I don’t even know if we have milk. Dad didn’t give me any money this week.”
He stopped and looked at me. A troubled expression washed over his face.
He did his best to make it disappear before I caught it, but I saw it. I never miss those looks. It was a mix of disgust and pity. I could read him loud and clear.
He did not approve of my father’s parenting skills. He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a pile of crumpled bills. Tossing them on the table in front of me, he went back to the stove, removed the frying pan from the burner and turned the flame off.
“How about you run to the corner and grab some milk — and buttermilk if they have it — and I’ll wait here. I’m sure I saw a store down there somewhere last night. Oh, and while you’re at it, get some orange juice. I bet Renee would be happy to see a tall, cold glass of orange juice when he finally gets down here.”
I grabbed the money and put it in my pocket. “Okay, but you have to watch for him if he comes down before I get back. He gets into everything, Teal. I mean everything.” I walked to the side door and left him to the solitude of the kitchen.
The corner store was only three houses down from ours. The only tell-tale indications that it was more than just another house were the sign above the eaves and the glowing Coke machine on the front porch. The Coke machine was empty. You actually had to go inside to buy a Coke. Mr. Clarke didn’t trust anyone enough to keep the machine loaded.
The Clarkes had run the store since before I could remember. They were always happier when I came in without my brother. Renee never got out of there without knocking something over or causing some sort of disturbance that weakened the already frail, elderly Clarkes. When I went there without Renee, Mrs. Clarke always slipped me something on the sly so Mr. Clarke wouldn’t see her doing it. It was my reward for showing up alone.
“And where’s Renee this morning, Sebastian?” Mrs. Clarke said when I walked into the store. “Don’t tell me your father is home again. Lose another job, did he?” She said this with much scorn, making sure, once again, I knew exactly how she felt about my father.
“No, Mrs. Clarke. He’s gone to work. His friend is home with Renee.”
“Well, good,” she said. “No need of you dragging that poor little boy from pillar to post and back, him getting into everything and causing such a stir.”
Her skin was losing its noble fight with gravity, pooling at every dip and dive of her heavy frame. Mrs. Clarke was as big as a house, but sinking with age like a mansion in ruin. I always imagined I would come into the store one day to find a pile of old bones in the spot behind the counter.
Renee and I were afraid of Mrs. Clarke. She was harmless, just a miserable old woman who had no time for rambunctious children. That was the word she used for Renee: rambunctious. She said it so many times in his presence that he cringed in anticipation every time he walked into the store. His loathing of the word didn’t stop him from living up to its meaning, though. Renee just couldn’t help himself. He left a trail of destruction behind him after each visit.
I placed a carton of buttermilk on the counter beside the bottle of orange juice I had just deposited there.
“What’s this, Sebastian?” she said with surprise. “I don’t recall you ever buying — ”
“Teal asked for it. For scrambled eggs,” I said.
“Teal is a colour, my child,” she said as she rang up my things. “Have yourself some Bottle Caps, Sebastian. They’re your favourite, aren’t they?” Mr. Clarke was nowhere to be seen, so there was no need to be surreptitious.
“Thank you, Mrs. Clarke.” I grabbed the package of Bottle Caps before she had time to change her mind. I think Mrs. Clarke might have secretly liked me a little bit. God knows I was there often enough. We never really did groceries in our house. It was more about picking up a couple things at the corner store, just enough to get by on a daily basis. I never knew when my father was going to have money, and he wouldn’t let me walk all the way to Cirone’s Grocery by myself.
Just before the door closed behind me, Mrs. Clarke mumbled, “What kind of a name is Teal?”
I had pondered that myself in the time between reading Teal’s name off the album cover and saying it aloud to its owner. Since mulling it over, though, I came to the conclusion his was the perfect kind of name. Better than my name, that’s for sure. Almost all the kids at school made fun of mine, and not very many of them could even pronounce Sebastian. Renee, back then, managed only Bashtin, so that was the name I answered to most. Outside school, I spent most of my waking life with Renee.
I heard them laughing before I even got back to the house. A pang of jealousy shot through me before I had a chance to squash it. The second thought that came to mind, though, was why shouldn’t Renee get to have Teal too? In the five minutes I’d known the man, I liked him more than I had ever liked any other human being. The excitement of his newness put him miles above my father, which, admittedly, was not much of a feat.
I walked into the kitchen in time to see Teal swinging Renee like an airplane in his outstretched arms. Renee’s thick black hair blew out behind him, and his head was a mere inch from brushing the ceiling.
“Careful, Teal!” I said. “He’s the only Renee we’ve got. You can’t break him on us.” Renee squealed with pleasure.
“Hey, Bashtin!” Renee said, giggling. “You see Teal flying me?” I didn’t like how comfortable he was with Teal already. Given the assortment of strangers who wandered in and out of our lives, though, it didn’t surprise me.
“Yes, Renee,” I said. “But you better come down from there now. You have to get dressed before breakfast.”
His laughter stopped. “But Renee don’t like breakfess. I wanna fly, Bash. Teal’ll fly me first.” All the while, Teal continued to fly him around the room. I was amazed he didn’t fall flat on his face. I don’t know what I missed while I was gone to the store, but I had a feeling the flying was Teal’s way of distracting Renee from being his normal boisterous self.
“Come on down now, Renee. I need your help, big boy,” I scolded. I looked directly at Teal as I spoke. He pouted just as much as Renee. But he managed to make the landing as enjoyable as the flight. Renee went giggling up the stairs to get dressed while Teal went back to the stove and returned the eggs to the burner. Turning the burner on, he took a step back as the bluish flame beneath the pan popped into life.
“Were you always a party pooper, Mr. Sebby?” Teal asked, as he gestured for me to bring him the buttermilk. I handed it to him, and he pried it open and poured some into the pan, whisking the congealing eggs up into something closely resembling scrambled.
“Renee would have let you do that for hours. But I know what’s best for him. He should only get excitement in small quantities.” I began to set the table.
“Small quantities of excitement! Whoa. That’s harsh. How old did you say you were? You are way too old, man.”
“I’m almost nine,” I said defensively.
“Oh yeah. How could I forget? There are a lot of almosts around this here house, Sebby. I’d say your father is almost a father. Renee is almost five. You’re almost a kid, but almost an old man. You have to let your hair down, little man.”
He kept whisking those eggs like he wasn’t quite sure they were dead. He was a hundred percent right: I didn’t do the kid thing. He made me feel like a kid, though, so his words didn’t make sense.
“You don’t get it, do you?” he asked, stopping his massacre on the eggs just long enough to stare me down. “Sebby. You should have come in here hollering that you wanted a turn. You’re eight, for Christ’s sake! What has your father done to you?”
It was my first uncomfortable moment with the poet, but not my last. He had the ability to make people re-examine themselves. Even though I was only eight, he was able to make me question myself. Perhaps especially because I was eight. I shrugged. I had no defence, really. I had stopped being a kid long before Teal woke up on our couch. But somehow I was okay with being the grown up. I hadn’t really thought about my lost childhood. It just sort of happened.
Somebody had to keep our house moving. If I stopped doing things, everything would grind to a halt and what little semblance of normalcy we had left would instantly evaporate.
He acknowledged my shrug with one of his own, moved to the bread box and hauled out the half loaf of bread he found inside. He put two slices into the toaster. I felt the vibes coming off of him, those thinking vibes people get when they’re deep in thought and your brain feels all icy and fuzzy at the same time — like when you eat ice cream too fast.
He looked at his watch, his eyebrows arching in concentration.
“You know what? I should call off the studio thing today. I have this hangover and it feels like it’s going to be an all day thing.” He held his temples and watched the toaster with exaggerated intensity. “The last thing I need is to surround myself with loud music and even louder musicians. Why don’t we take Renee to the beach after breakfast?”
I looked at him like he had suddenly sprouted a third eye. Who was this man who thought he owed us his time? Usually when the strangers woke up around our house they couldn’t get out fast enough. And here was a man making breakfast for us — buying breakfast for us — and offering to take us to the beach?
As much as I felt myself being taken in by his charms, there was also a feeling that things weren’t quite right. Fighting with this was the familiarity I felt when he started working his way around the kitchen. Not for the first time I wished we could go back in time and he could miraculously become my real father.
But it was wrong to feel that way. He was just a guy, a drunk who happened to wake up on my couch.
“Shouldn’t you be going?” I suggested. “My father will be home at lunch. He’s gonna wonder what you’re still doing here, Teal. He usually — ”
“Oh, to hell with your father. I can deal with him. I’ve known him long enough to know how he shuffles his cards, little man. You leave that to me.”
For someone who claimed to know my father well, he had appeared pretty shocked to find out the man had children. Nonetheless, I wanted to take the gamble.
“We eatin’ eggs, Bashtin?” Renee asked as he bounded into the kitchen, nearly knocking over the cup of orange juice I had poured out for him.
“Yeah, Ren,” I said. “Teal wants to take us to the beach after. You have to eat all your breakfast, though.” I had given in that easily. Telling Renee about the beach had instantly solidified my decision.
“I’m eatin’, Bash. I will. And in the beach we can splash?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Renee.” Teal laughed. “But maybe we can fly like airplanes again, eh? If it’s okay with Sebby, that is.” He turned and batted his eyelids exaggeratedly in my direction. The orange juice almost went over again, as Renee twirled around to see if I’d agree.
“Yes, Renee. But you have to eat your breakfast.”
“Good deal!” Teal brought the eggs and toast to the table and started divvying them out between the three plates I had set out.
“Yeah. Good deal,” Renee chimed.
And that was how Teal Landen seamlessly wormed his way into our lives. A stranger from one of my father’s all-night parties who had found himself accidentally abandoned to our living room sofa. And, as he was perhaps just as broken as we had been at the time, he decided to stay. Not that he moved in. It was never as official as that. But he never quite left, either. He became as permanent a fixture around our house as beer, women, and loud music. And somehow his presence made all the rest seem just a little more tolerable than it
had been without him.
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