My lack of posting recently is not due to neglect, but an inspiration spree that’s lead me to write 15,000 words of a YA novel in the past four days. I plan on finishing the first draft this month and going from there. I’ve already picked out my dream publishing company I’d like to submit to (as well as a million backups), and I’ve been searching for literary agents. Here’s a basic synopsis (no spoilers):
Malcolm Jones is a sixteen-year-old boy who lives with his family in MA; his Mom, his alcoholic, mega-jerk Dad, and Annie- A.K.A Brat Kid. His older brother, Jackson, is serving in the army. Malcolm hasn’t seen him in almost a year. When Malcolm’s Mom divorces his father, she gets full custody of the kids. Annie, Malcolm, and Mrs. Jones move in with Mal’s recently widowed grandmother in Kentucky, and soon afterward Malcolm learns that Jackson was killed in Afghanistan. With all of this going on, Malcolm becomes unresponsive and spends most of his time in his room. He finally agrees to see a therapist- Dr. Samuel Waterman (nicknamed Superman)- who has him keep a log about his life. Malcolm addresses the entries to Jackson, recording everything that happens as he begins to fall in love with both country life and his neighbor, the bright and adventurous Isabel Monroe.
That was a bit longer than I thought it would be… I better work on a shorter synopsis. Oh, well. For now, here’s your sneak peek of what will (hopefully) become a bestseller before next year, which will make me the youngest bestselling author! Yippee! (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)
People say that life is full of opportunities. That it’s a gift. A temporary one, obviously, that we inherit from past generations and use only until it’s time to hand it off to the younger idiots, who will most likely screw up without our sage guidance. I’ve never heard anyone say the last part, but it’s clearly true.
Here are three things about life that I’ve learned during my sixteen years of existence:
- You can’t keep completely unfair things from happening.
- Only ten percent of the people you meet will actually like you for who you are, and that’s only if they try to get to know you (which they usually don’t).
- To be blunt and sum up this short list, life sucks.
This is what I’m thinking about instead of Judge Leroy Johnson’s rambling on about custody and legal agreements with my parents because, let’s face it: Two hours in a courtroom with your bratty little sister isn’t the most entertaining thing in the world, especially when you didn’t get a chance to use the bathroom before you rushed out the door because your mom wrote the time down wrong.
Annie tugs on my tie and tries to whisper something to me, but I push her hand away. She growls in that insolent, I-get-whatever-I-want-because-I’m-an-eight-year-old-diva way, and I roll my eyes. “What the heck do you want?”
Annie’s pale blonde hair falls in front of her eyes as she turns to point at the judge conversing with our parents. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”
I can’t help snickering. “I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
Annie glares at me, so I shrug. “It’s boring legal stuff. They’re just discussing right now.”
“Discussing what?” Annie’s usually bright brown eyes are hard and calculating.
“You know what,” I mumble. “We’ve been over this.”
Annie turns so she’s fully facing me, the glare intact again. “No, no one’s told me anything. You and Mom and Dad are just acting weird. It’s like you don’t want me to get upset, so you pretend everything is okay, even though it isn’t. It’s obvious.”
“You’re lucky Mom and Dad protect you the way they do. As for me, I don’t tell you things because you don’t need to know,” I say flatly. “You talk too much as it is.”
Annie huffs. “You’re the biggest jerk ever. You’re even worse than Toby Jacobs,” she adds. “He calls people names and sticks his tongue out at the teacher when she isn’t looking, and sometimes he even picks his nose.” She shivers in disgust.
“Every eight year old picks their nose,” I mutter tiredly.
I roll my eyes. “Whatever you say.”
“I don’t! I swear, I don’t,” Annie says defensively.
“You know what, Annie? I really don’t care.” I turn my back to her and stare at the fire exit on the opposite side of the room. It’d be so easy to jump out of this uncomfortable fold-up chair and take off. Of course, then there would be the question of where would I go?
I must start to doze off because after what seem to be a few moments Mom’s shaking my shoulder, and the hearing is over. She doesn’t say anything until we’re in the car- just her, Annie and I- and I don’t push her to. She doesn’t start driving, doesn’t even put the key in the ignition. A few lifetimes go by before she speaks, and her voice is quiet.
“I have full custody,” she tells me.
This was to be unexpected. It’s not like the judge would let our dad have custody- even weekends, probably- at least not until he gets his act together. Dad is an alcoholic, and he hasn’t kept a job for more than a few months at a time since I was Annie’s age. It’s no wonder that Mom finally decided to get divorced, but it still hurts. It’s not like I’d admit it out loud, but it feels like I’m carrying bricks in my stomach.
“So Dad’s moving out?”
She doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Then, “No, Malcolm. We’re moving out.”
I feel like my wind’s been knocked out. I can’t force my mouth shut, I sit there gaping at her like an idiot for the next thirty seconds.
Only Annie finds her voice. “Where are we going to go?” She sounds excited, and I feel even angrier at her than I did before.
“That isn’t fair,” I begin, but then I remember my first rule of life. “I mean, you got custody, you should get the house too, right?”
“I chose to let your father keep the house.”
I’m dumbfounded. Utterly, painfully dumbfounded. “What… why?” I manage to sputter.
Mom takes a deep breath. “Why don’t we talk about this at home?”
“Why don’t we talk about this now?” I demand.
Mom is rubbing her temples with her fingertips the way she always does when she’s under a lot of stress. “Malcolm, this is hard on all of us. You need to think of people other than yourself.”
Annie would usually stick her tongue out at me, but when I look over she’s sitting quietly with her hands folded in her lap and staring out the window.
I turn from her back to Mom’s eyes in the visor, so tired and doleful. “I’m sorry,” I mumble after a moment. “I just want to know what’s going on.”
“And you will,” Mom assures me. “Just as soon as we get home. I think what we all need is a cold glass of lemonade.”
I sit back in my seat. “That sounds good,” I say with forced calm. I’m the man of the family now. I know that making things hard on Mom is completely unfair to her, and unlike my life, that’s something that I can control.
. . .
Annie and Mom sit on the couch in the living room- our living room, the one we shouldn’t be moving out of just because my dad is a mega jerk- and I sit in an armchair across from them.
“So what’s the deal?” I blurt out, because God didn’t bless me with the gift of patience.
“Your grandmother’s been going through a hard time since Grandpa passed away last year. She’s lonely,” Mom begins, and right away I know where this is going. She continues, though, because my mouth is frozen and I can’t will myself to interrupt her. “That job offer I got last month… the pay is good, and it’s in the town right next to your grandmother’s-“
Now I do speak up. “Mom, you want to move to Kentucky? Don’t you think it’s a little… I don’t know, extreme? And do I look like I should be living in the country?” I don’t know what about me looks non-country-ish, but I say it anyway. “None of us are meant for that kind of life. It just isn’t for us.”
Mom smiles. “You’re forgetting that I grew up in Kentucky.”
“I’m not forgetting. You live here in Massachusetts now, don’t you? You could’ve stayed in the country if you wanted to, but you didn’t.”
Mom’s eyes are distant. “I left to be with your father.” She frowns. “I shouldn’t have left… I see that now. And here’s the perfect opportunity to go back.”
“But what about school?” I mumble hopelessly, even though we both know that, one, I don’t care one bit about school, and two, the school year will be over in less than three weeks anyway.
Mom doesn’t bother responding. Instead she turns to Annie, a small smile on her face. “What do you think about this, Annie?”
Annie contemplates for a moment. “Can I get a pony?”
Mom laughs, and that settles it. We’re going to Kentucky to move in with our widowed grandmother who I haven’t seen in five years, and my life is almost certainly over.
. . .
We pack for the rest of the afternoon. Dad’s staying in a hotel for the next few days to give us time to move out, and Mom wants to be gone by tomorrow afternoon. I’m alone in my room stuffing everything into bags and boxes and anything else I can find to carry it all in. Not that there’s much. Other than my laptop, basketball and Michael Jordan posters, I wouldn’t mind leaving it all here. Of course, I’ll need my clothes and shoes as well.
Annie, on the other hand, seems to have packed up her whole room. Her clothes, her stuffed animals, her blankets and pillows, toys, costumes, her rock collection- yep, her whole room. I wouldn’t be surprised if she smuggled her furniture into those bags, too.
“The moving truck will be here to get our stuff tomorrow,” Mom tells us, her face hidden by the giant box she’s carrying. “For now we’ll put everything in the entryway.”
I feel a pang of sorrow at the thought of the entryway that’s greeted me every time I’ve walked into this house for the past five years. I guess it’s an exitway, now.
Sleep is impossible tonight. Whenever I start to drift off I’m startled awake by my thoughts. I’m afraid of what the future holds, and I’m also tormented by the present. I want to go back instead of going forward, back to the easy days of childhood. All I had to worry about was having an empty water gun when I was facing my best friends, but that problem had an easy solution. Now I’m fighting on the battlefield they call life, and I’m holding an unfamiliar gun in my hands. I’m unprepared for this; no one taught me how to shoot. I know how to aim at my targets, but sometimes it’s hard to tell who the friend is and who the enemy is.
When I finally do fall asleep, I dream about a war.
I’m fighting beside my older brother, Jackson, who’s deployed in Afghanistan. His uniform is torn and dirty, and his eyes have dark circles under them. He orders for me to duck behind a rock, and I do as he says. I expect him to follow, but he stands with his feet planted on the earth and raises his gun toward our enemies.
I suck in a deep breath as a gunshot rings out, my hands flying to my ears at the deafening sound. When I look back to Jackson, I realize that he’s fallen to the ground. Dark crimson blood is running from a wound at his side, and he clutches it tightly. He moans in agony, and suddenly I don’t care about hiding. All that matters is keeping Jackson alive, and if I can’t do that at least I can be with him when he dies. No one should ever die alone. Not good people, not bad people, and especially not Jackson.
My brother grips my hand tightly, his gray eyes full of pain that I wish I could take from him. It hurts more to see someone you love suffering than it does for you to endure the agony yourself.
“Listen, Malcolm,” he says slowly, his words catching in shallow gasps.
“I’m listening,” I assure him, my eyes stinging. I barely notice the bullets that tear through the air around us.
“You need to be there for Mom and Annie,” Jackson continues, his eyes not leaving mine. “I love them so much, and so do you, even if you forget it sometimes. I know you’re upset, but you have to remember… you’re all they have. And you can keep them safe.”
“I don’t know if I can,” I mumble, and I can’t stop the tears from coming, now. I feel a sharp wave of pain fall over me as I crash forward, a bullet having burrowed itself into my side.
“Life will keep coming at you, Mal. It’ll seem hopeless. Whatever happens, you need to stick through it. You need to fight back.”
Another bullet, searing pain in my arm.
“Fight back,” Jackson repeats.
And then I’m awake, sitting straight up in my bed and gasping as if there’s no oxygen left in the room. Mom’s standing in the doorway, her eyebrows drawn together in concern.
“Are you okay, honey?”
I try to make my breaths even and force a smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a weird dream. What time is it?”
“Almost ten,” she says with a smile. “The moving truck should be here soon!”