© TJ Klune 2012. If you want to share this, just ask for permission, capiche?
Hey Gang! How’re you? I hope all is well.
Below, you’ll find the last BOATK short before the release of the sequel, Who We Are, in April (don’t have a specific date yet.) This short was written as a thank you to those who voted for the Kid in the GR M/M Awards and got him named Best Secondary Character of 2011 by quite a large margin (as well as a slew of other awards—you guys are seriously epic, you know that?). It’s a rad feeling to know that you all love him almost as much as I do. You should know that he still talks to me, though he’s a bit quieter now that I’m working on the Burn sequel. But he’s always there, at the back of my head, ever my damnable conscience. He’s biding his time, for sure, until it’s his turn again. Then he won’t shut up until the story is told. Not that I mind, of course, in the slightest.
The short below is a bridge between BOATK and its sequel, Who We Are. In this story, you will meet a new character who plays an important role in WWA. This fifteen year old is introduced to Bear part way through the new book, which is the first time you see him in the novel (which I released a few months back as a look into the WIP progress that was WWA--it's somewhere here on my blog, for those wanting to find it). It’s never really explained how the Kid and this new guy meet, only because the story is again told from Bear’s point of view, and by then, the new guy and Ty’s friendship is a few days old. In prepping to write this short, I got to thinking about this. Just how did they meet? What was the Kid doing? Why would he have felt the need to talk to an older boy who was a stranger, especially when this is only a couple of weeks after his mother had returned? I decided to go back and show this introduction between the Kid and his new friend, so you can see how they meet, to show how important it is for the Kid, and that while he may be the smartest nine-year-old eco-terrorist in training on the planet, he’s still only nine. He may be the Kid, but he’s still a kid.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it. Only three more months until the sequel!!
You ready to meet Dominic?
Word Of The Day
A BOATK Short
By TJ Klune
He’s a big kid, much to my dismay.
Bear’s always told me that being a vegetarian is stunting my growth, and even if I thought that was true (which it’s not—Bear’s always saying stuff like that because he’s jealous of how awesome I am and nervous about his immortal soul), I still don’t think I could eat a baby cow to become taller. Try to think of that the next time you stuff your face with a hamburger: that cow was somebody’s mother or father. It’s easier to not eat meat when you anthropomorphize that which you are putting in your mouth. Besides, Bear’s short and he’s a carnivore of the highest order. I love him, but my big brother can be full of crap sometimes. He’s special that way.
I’m only a few houses down from the Green Monstrosity, after having followed a line of ants for the last half hour (did you know that some species can carry up to fifty times their body weight? That’s like me picking up a car) when I feel eyes on me from somewhere. I try to ignore the feeling because I’ve got things to do, big things, and I don’t want to be interrupted by some nosy neighbor we have yet to meet because we’re too busy actually living our lives for once. But that boring sensation doesn’t go away and I give in, maybe out of curiosity, or maybe to just glare at whoever is interrupting my expedition. For all I know, these ants would have lead me to some secret underground ant colony where I would have made the find of a life time by discovering a new species that would forever be known as Tysonious McKennnicus. That alone would have been my ticket into the Ivy League of my choice and cemented my future as the world’s leading vegetarian authority on this rare find. But no. Not going to happen. Now I have to deal with some lookey-loo who’s probably wondering why I’ve been staring at the sidewalk for the last thirty minutes, oblivious to their impending doom at interrupting my scientific endeavor that would have changed the face of myrmecology (the study of ants, duh) forever. I swear to God if I end up having to go to Arizona State because they’re the only school that’ll accept me, there’s going to be hell to pay. I refuse to go to a college who’s only milestone is having the world’s longest keg stand at a party thrown by the fraternity Notta Hava Fuchure just because I couldn’t complete my destined quest.
I’m gonna have to make it rain all up in here.
(Man. I really need to stop watching Maury Povich with Bear. It’s destroying my vocabulary.)
I look up and for a moment, I don’t see anyone. I think maybe I’ve made a mistake and can get back to the ants when a movement catches the corner of my eye across the street. I look over and see him.
He’s huge. Damn you genetics!
Some older boy is standing on the other side of the street, his shaggy dark hair falling around his face. He’s got big shoulders hidden under a plaid button down shirt, the sleeves rolled up showing black hair on his arms. His eyebrows are epic, kinda bushy and I know, I just know, he can do that thing that Otter can and arch one so it makes him look like a dastardly villain. I can’t do that and it sucks. He can’t be much more than fourteen or fifteen years old, but he looks like he’s been injected with bovine growth hormone, given his size. I almost want to run across the street and ask him if he’s been trapped at some secret government animal testing facility that has been administering new serums on cattle to make their cutlets bigger and jucier, only to let him know that I could rescue him and take him to a farm where he can live out the rest of his days with a salt lick and all the grass he can eat. But Bear said I shouldn’t talk to strangers because they would be scared of me. I always thought I was supposed to be afraid of them, but Bear said I would just end up talking them to death and that any nefarious purpose they might have had would become moot.
When Bear McKenna accuses you of talking too much, you know you have a problem.
So I wait and watch. So does he. He looks away for a moment, down the road, and then stares at his feet, which he shuffles back and forth, kicking a rock and a leaf. He’s trying not to look at me but I catch him peeking from the hair that has fallen around his eyes. What a weirdo. I’m not going to have a staring contest across the street. I am not even wearing my special Staring Contest Gloves, so… you know. There’s that.
I sigh and look back down at the sidewalk, trying to collect my thoughts, wondering if Otter or Bear will build me a mantle where I could put my first Pulitzer, next to my Lifetime PETA Awesome Award For Services To The Greater Good Of Our Animal Companions (this may not have been invented yet, but don’t worry; I’ve written PETA like four times asking for such an award to be brought into existence, and to let me be the first recipient of the prestigious LPAAFSTTGGOOAC. My last letter ended up being fourteen pages. Single spaced. With size ten Cordia font. I haven’t heard back yet. The “P” in PETA doesn’t stand for punctual, after all). I don’t think it would be too presumptuous for me to ask for at least a shelf. I could start there before eventually asking them to move out of the Green Monstrosity and just letting me use it for a trophy house. Heck, by then, Otter and Bear will be married and I’ll be super famous and will buy them a house in some country that actually likes gay people. United States of America? More like United States of Extraordinary Injustice Against Certain Segments Of the Population All Because Rednecks Are Scared Of Butt Sex..
I let this distract me for a few minutes as I find the specific ant I’ve been following (I’ve named him Helmholtz Watson after my favorite character in Brave New World). He’s carrying a crumb of something that’s twice as big as he is and it’s cool because it’s like Helmholtz doesn’t have any awareness of anything except moving from point A to point—
I’m still being watched.
“Well, Helmholtz,” I mutter, resigned, “looks like you’re on your own for a bit. Don’t worry about waiting for me. I’ll catch up. Tell the ant queen I’m still going to discover the crap out of her.”
Helmholtz doesn’t respond. But then I don’t expect him to; he’s an ant, after all.
I look back up as my future scurries away from me and see the strange boy has moved slightly down his side of the street, like he’s following me. Once he sees me watching him again, he looks at everything but me. A master of subtlety he is not. But that’s okay; according to the guys in my life, I fall into that same category. But at least I give it some panache. This guy couldn’t be more obvious if he had a big neon sign blinking above his head that flashed I’M STALKING YOU, BOY GENIUS. I feel nervous, if only for a moment, remembering back to a couple of weeks ago, when we sat in the attorney’s office (okay, but for real: how cool is it that I have an attorney? I’ve gone Hollywood!) and Erica asked us if we had seen anyone following us, or noticed anyone we hadn’t seen before. Well here’s someone following me. Here’s someone I haven’t seen before. Oh, calm down, I chide myself. What’s she going to do, jump out and snatch me while I’m distracted by her weirdo accomplice across the street? Get real.
Get real. Right? But no. No. Not right. Real was Mom showing up out of the blue. Real was the look on her face when I opened the door, like for that one tiny split second, she didn’t recognize me. Real was that dawning comprehension. Real was the way my hands started to shake. She didn’t look like I remembered, not like that picture I have of me and her from when I was just a little kid that I hide from Bear in the bottom of my drawer. Then, she was smiling, or at least as much as she could smile. Then, she looked happy, or at least as much as she could be happy. That was real. Or so I thought. In the end, it showed how much I didn’t understand how real things could be. Real was the real smile I saw on her face once recognition sunk in. That was real. I don’t stop myself from looking over my shoulder, and I don’t miss the relief coursing through me when I see Julie McKenna isn’t hiding in the hydrangeas.
Oh crap. I gotta stop it. Pretty soon, I’ll starting thinking of oceans and earthquakes and I’ll be forever trapped in my head like some people I know.
Only one way to deal with this: like a man.
“Hey!” I say loudly, trying to make my voice as strong as it can be. It doesn’t help that puberty is still a pipe dream a few years away (oh, joy, let me tell you how I can’t wait for that; I’ll start growing hair in weird places and probably want to smoke, flip up my collar and put my ball cap on backwards and say things like “Right on, dude. It’s time to par-tay.” Ugh. Adolescence is the bane of my existence). “Hey!” I say again, knowing repetition is needed when dealing with big galoots.
He looks down at his feet. God, he is so frustrating.
I take a deep breath and square my shoulders. My head is held high as I step off the curb and cross the street, trying to keep myself from running. I’m intimidating. I’m smooth. I’m a badass. I trip over my own feet. I stumble. I catch myself before I fall. I blush. I walk a little bit slower. My head is still held high. I’m still a badass. Kind of.
Bovine Boy hears my approach and glances up at me before looking down at the ground again, his arms behind him like he’s in the military or something. His shoelace on his left foot is untied, the plastic tip missing on one side, the end frazzled. It looks like he’s drawn little stars on the whites of his shell tops with a sharpie. That’s kind of neat, I guess. If you like that sort of thing. I wonder if Bear would let me do that. Is that what big kids do? Draw on their shoes? I can’t make very good stars, but I can write the Greek alphabet. From memory. That’s not something I brag about because people tend to look at me funny when I tell them. Bear says it’s just because their jealous. I hope he’s right, otherwise my life is going to be one awkward moment after another. I know too much about nothing.
I stand in front of the other guy, and I think this may have been a mistake, because he looked a little smaller from all the way across the two lane road. I wonder if this has to do with faulty depth perception, but before I can even begin to diagnose myself with some ocular disease, the big kid grunts. Like a gorilla.
I can’t help it: I laugh.
I don’t mean too, it just kinda comes out on its own. I smoosh my hands against my mouth to block the sound, but this causes me to snort, and snot comes out of my nose. I try to cover it up and jerk my left hand up, but it bounces off my nose and I poke myself in the eye. My eyes water as I hiss and knuckle my eyeball, but I’ve still got snot on my hand and gets all up in there, making it burn even more. Ow. I want to turn and run, but I’m temporarily blinded by my own devices and I know, I just know, that this big kid is probably some popular jock and I am forever going to be stuck with the nick-name Booger Eye Snot Face. I ask God quietly if he wouldn’t mind opening the ground beneath my feet and allow me to fall down a chasm to save me from myself. The ground doesn’t open. I’m still laughing, but it’s that high-pitched thing I do when I find something really funny. I hate that laugh. It always sounds like a clan of female hyenas all going into labor at the same time. Yip! Yip! Ayyyyyyyy! Yip! Yip! Ayyyyyyyy!
The other kid doesn’t say anything
Right. Aw. Kward.
He allows me the honor of death by mortification for a few moments more, but then I feel a gigantic hand pull my own away from my eyes, and another hand grips my chin. Something presses gently against my eye lid. It feels like a shirt. It rubs softly, getting all my grossness out. He brings it lower and brushes the tears from my cheek, wipes the snot from my nose. I crack open my right eye. My chin is still in his hand. There’s a look of concentration on his face as he finishes using the tail of his shirt and drops it back down. He inspects me for a moment more to make sure it’s good, and then he lets me go and takes a step back. But his blue eyes never leave mine, even as he towers over me, twice my size.
Focus, McKenna. Remember, he could be a spy.
“Why were you watching me?” I ask him, unsure of what else to say.
He doesn’t do anything for a moment. Then he shrugs.
Annoying. “You know,” I tell him, “when someone asks you a question, it’s rude not to answer.”
He shuffles his feet and looks down.
Dammit. Now I feel bad. “Okay, I didn’t mean you’re rude. I’m just saying, societal norms dictate that when a question is asked, a response should be given.” I try not to think of him as a gorilla again, because he already has a lot of my boogers on his shirt. A man can only take so many boogers before he walks away. Wait. Why do I care if he walks away? He’s probably a traitor. One of those lackey red shirts you always seen in stupid movies where the main bad guy needs hired muscle. Bear doesn’t let me watch too many movies like that, because he says that my maturing brain doesn’t need outside influences of gratuitous violence. I told him my brain was already more mature than his. He told me I was grounded. I told him he was grounded. Then he gave me soy ice cream and we watched a show on the History channel about World War II. That was a good day.
I sigh, only because the big kid hasn’t said anything yet. “I do like hearing myself talk,” I say, “only because I have a lot of neat things to say, but eventually the conversation will run out in like four or five years and then where will we be?”
Wonder of all wonders, he cracks a little smile. I don’t blame him. I am pretty funny. I see the in and I take it. “My name is Tyson James McKenna. I live with my brother Bear and his partner Otter. I know, I know. Who has names like that, right? Well, before we go any further, you should know that everyone calls me the Kid. Kind of like Billy and the. But without that part. Just the Kid. I don’t even really know how that started happening, I guess it just did. I don’t know if it was Bear, or my mom that started it, but I guess it stuck. I was the one that started calling Bear “Bear”, ‘cause that’s not his real name. His real name is Derrick, and when you meet him… well, I guess if you want to meet him, you’ll see he looks nothing like a bear. It’s something of a misnomer. I just learned that word yesterday. Misnomer. It means “a use of a wrong or inappropriate name.” I learned it from the word of the day calendar Bear bought me for my Christmas. I have been just waiting for a chance to use it, so thank you for letting me try it out on you. It’s a great sounding word, don’t you think? Mis. No. Mer. I like words. Inevitable. That’s a good one, ‘cause it just rolls off the tongue. You can say it, if you want.” I stop. Nothing. “Okay, maybe not right now. Later, though? You can say it with me. If you don’t know what it means, I’ll tell you. You just need to ask. Do you live around here? I do. I live in that green house back there. We call it the Green Monstrosity because the color makes you want to punch a baby in the face. Okay, not really. I would never punch a baby in the face. That’s just something Otter said once and I just died. It was sooo funny. Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you! Otter’s real name is Oliver. Another misnomer. Ha, ha! Sweet! I got to use it twice in one day! Man, that’s awesome. Anyways, Otter’s my brother partner. Do you know what that means?”
He’s watching me now. He shrugs again. Maybe that’s Bovine Boy for “keep talking. You’re way cool.”
“It means that my brother and him love each other and that’s okay, because who really cares if someone is gay, or straight, or whatever Bear is? I know I sure don’t. But then I never understood why people are homophobic. Who cares what two guys or two ladies do in the bedroom, right? It’s not like anyone wants to see what those jerks do in their bedroom, you know? But, it’s okay, I guess. For now. This whole past summer was this whole big… thing, but we all got over it and now we live together in the Green Monstrosity and it’s the best time ever. Do you live around here? I already asked you that. You know, you could jump in here anytime, really. How old are you? I’m nine, going on forty. That’s what my brother says. You should know he thinks he’s hysterical. Which he’s not. Do you live with your parents? It’s okay if you don’t. I don’t, so we’d have that in common, which would be rad. I don’t want to talk about my mom right now, though.” Oh crap. I should have asked already. “You don’t know her, do you?” I say quietly, not sure I want the answer.
His eyes widen, but he quickly shakes his head. I believe him. I don’t know why.
“Whew!” I say, relieved. “That’s a load off. Do you eat meat? I guess it’s okay if you do. You should know that I’m a staunch vegetarian. That’s another word I learned: staunch. It means “faithful” and “loyal.” That’s another great word, huh? Loyal. So if you eat meat, I won’t mind. Heck, I might even be able to convince you to come back from the Dark Side. Do you like Star Wars? I do. Bear and Otter and me had this marathon one time and we watched all six in one day and Bear made me spicy edamame and it was sooo good and that was another good day. I wish light sabers were real. Do you like to read? What’s your favorite book? I can’t pick just one, ‘cause I like them all. Wow, you sure don’t talk much do you?” Oh, crap. “Can you talk? I feel bad now ‘cause maybe you can’t talk. Were you in an accident? Or were you born that way? I wonder if that’s genetic. Or is it—
“I don’t live with my parents,” he says quietly as he watches me. His voice sounds broken, like he’s gargling gravel, like he’s not use to speaking and it’s hoarse from disuse. But I am so happy that he can talk and that he’s talking to me, that I don’t give it another thought. Maybe that’s just how he’s supposed to sound. “I live with fosters,” he rumbles.
“Oh. Oh. Like not your real parents, but people who watch you anyways? You don’t have to tell me why, if you don’t want too. Maybe later, huh? Then I can tell you about my… mom.” That word hurts more than I thought they would and my voice catches on it and almost breaks, but I push through it, blinking back the burn in my eyes. No. Not here. Not now. I don’t want to get in the bathtub today. There will be no earthquakes. So what if I’m still scared. So what if I worry that she’ll come back again and I’ll have to go away with her. So what if I’m worried that Bear is going to leave me too now that he has Otter, because now that he’s found himself, he won’t need me anymore. So what. Who cares. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t need the damn bathtub. I’ve been doing so good, dammit. I don’t need this. I don’t want this.
I hope he doesn’t notice my mini freak out, but he does. Of course he does. I am a little surprised when he reaches up and drops a hand on my shoulder, patting me twice before dropping his arm. I feel better almost right way. Weird. Whatever. He’s really cool.
“What were you doing over there?” he grumbles at me, pointing across the street.
I grin. “Following Helmholtz Watson as he carried a crumb back to the queen where I would have made the discovery of a life time and had my name emblazed in the annals of ant culture.” I groan inwardly as realize what I’ve just said. Crap, could I sound like any more of a freak? I blush and it’s my turn to look down as I shuffle my feet. “Just watching some ants,” I mutter.
“Can I watch with you?” he asks.
I look up at him, suspicious. “Are you making fun of me?”
His eyes widen and he shakes his head. “No.”
He seems sincere. “You’re not gonna get made fun of for hanging out with some little kid? Even though I’m not. I’m practically ten. Well, in another nine months.”
He shrugs. “I don’t care. I’m bigger than everyone. No one makes fun of me.”
I sigh. “I wish I could be big. That would be so cool.” I grab his arm and start pulling him across the street. I glance back over my shoulder and see he’s watching my hand on his arm. “Do you like ants?” I ask him. “I do, because the colonies they make are just fascinating, and I hope that we can find out where….” I stop and turn around. He watches me. Still. “You never told me your name,” I remind him.
He looks down the road, towards what, I don’t know. “Dominic,” he says.
“Dominic,” I say. “That’s a good name. So, ants! Have you read Brave New World? That’s where Helmholtz comes from. It’s kind of a dense read, but I have it and I can loan it to you, if you want to read it. Oh! Or you could get your own copy and we can read it at the same time and I can help you with the parts that confused me at first. Is that okay? I don’t want you to have to do anything you don’t want to do. That’s not how friendships work. And we’re friends now, right?” We reach the sidewalk and I look up at him again.
He smiles quietly. “We’re friends,” he says, his voice soft and broken. “It’s inevitable.”
I grin. “I really like that word.”