I’ve been twiddling my thumbs this week, waiting for the beta-readers to finish their beta-reading so I can get back to the revisions on the book. In the meantime, a new story bloomed and I dove in head-first, hoping it would keep me from obsessively checking my e-mail, awaiting feedback. That said, here’s a sneak peak at the new project, tentatively titled “Dancing The Macarena With Jesus“. It is, of course, a super-rough draft so please keep that in mind as you go.
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“Is he asleep?”
I put down Jane Austin, grab the lower bar of the top bunk and swing up from beneath it. My best friend Lex has his face buried into the pillow and his shoulders rise and fall rhythmically.
I swing around towards my dads, huddled in the doorway, and give them the thumbs-up.
“We’re having popcorn with John Stewart” my dad Gage says, “Do you want to join us?”
It’s a silly question. Of course I do. Up after ten on a school-night is something that’s rarely allowed. It’s been that kind of week though, where things are so horrible that all the little rules just fall away.
On my way into the living room, I pass the big window that looks out on the grape arbor which separates our house from Lex’s. The windows on the other side of the arbor are unusually dark. Lex’s mom Anita always leaves on a light near the stained glass window so the fat grapes and flighty birds give off a cozy glow. I wish one of my dads would go next door and switch that light on so I could at least pretend for the moment that everything was ok.
She’s been gone for three days now and I keep expecting her to show up at the front door or toss one of the pebbles from her garden at my window to let Lex know it’s time to go home. But she’s not coming back. It was an aneurysm, some kind of big bubble that just burst in her brain. She was right there in her office when it happened.
My dad Gage works at the university too and he was one of the first people they called. He came and got Lex and I out of school. We didn’t get to see her though. They’d already taken her body away. We’ll get to see her at the funeral on Monday but that’s it. She’s never coming home to turn on the light for the stained-glass birds and me.
“Come on Molly,” my dad Javier pushes me past the window and towards the couch. The Daily Show has already started, but Gage turns the sound off when Javier and I sit down.
“You think you’re ready to go back to school tomorrow?” he asks.
“No way. Lex needs me here.” I say.
“Javi is going to be here all day and you’ve got a math test. I know it’s rough and we’re all grieving, but I have to go back to work tomorrow and I think you should do the same.”
“Your dad’s right Mol, you can’t afford to get behind. Especially if you intend to help Lex catch up.”
“Little by little we’ve got to get back to normal.” Gage says.
Nothing is normal.
And it’s not ever going to be.
The only good thing about going back to school tomorrow is that I’ll get to see Tony Martinez. I feel bad as soon as that thought comes to me, ’cause nothing should feel good right now. Still, I’ve missed sitting next to him in second and fourth period, missed how he always smiles and then lowers his eyes when he walks past our table in the cafeteria and most of all, missed that last moment of the day when we bump into one another in the crush of people trying to cram everything they can into their lockers before they make a dash for the front doors.
Our cat Fishface comes nosing around the edge of the couch and I reach down to scoop her up, grabbing her too quickly which results in clawing and hissing.
“You gotta go slow with her.” my dad Javier says, taking the cat from me and placing her gently in his lap.
She’s been blind for a couple of years now and we’re pretty sure she’s deaf too. Lex and I did a bunch of experiments to test her hearing last week, not the least of which was holding her under the piano and pounding on the keys. She was pissed about being held in one place, but the sound didn’t seem to faze her.
The sound in the television is back up now and both my dads are laughing.
John Stewart is interviewing one of those Rock Star scientists, Neil-something. I dig into the popcorn, which my dad Greg makes with real butter and brewer’s yeast instead of salt. Best popcorn ever.
When I get back to the bedroom, Lex is awake, his head lolling over the side of the bunk. Even after I turn out the light, I can see him, a dark shadow against the white sheets.
“I’ve got to go to school tomorrow.” I tell him, “but J-Dad will be here all day.”
“He doesn’t have to stay home for me.” Lex says.
“He wants to. You know how he gets. And anyway, Miss Lena will be all excited to take over choir practice. She’d swoop in on J-Dad’s job in a minute of the Good Rev. would let her.”
“If only she wasn’t tone-deaf.” Lex says, and I swear he laughs. It’s the first time in days that he’s done so.
We’re quiet for a bit, but still both awake in the darkness.
“Are you excited to see your grandma?” I ask.
“I haven’t seen her since I was ten. She doesn’t even know me. On the phone last nigh, she called me Tenesha like five times..”
“Your mom never told her?”
“I don’t think so. Last year, when she was talking about taking that trip to Atlanta, she said she was going to write Grandma Chavonne a letter, explaining everything. But then we didn’t end up going so I don’t think she sent it.”
“Do you want to come downstairs?” I ask.
“Ok” he says, and he rolls off the top bunk legs first, while I scoot back against the wall. We stare up at the underside of the bottom bunk. It’s too dark to see the crayon graffiti we’ve been doodling up there for the last ten years, but the little stars that were leftover from the glow-in-the-dark solar system on Lex’s bedroom ceiling are tacked up under the bunk at awkward intervals and they give off a comforting glow.
There’s this thing I should tell you about Lex. I don’t usually feel like it’s my place to say so and really it’s nobody’s business, but Lex is technically a girl. In his head and in his heart, and to anyone who knows him well, he’s a boy. Even in kindergarten, Mrs. Tobin had to keep pulling him out of the Boys line and making him stand with the girls. For me, it was never really a big deal, but some people don’t understand. I hate the idea that his grandmother, who is about to be his guardian, might be one of those people.
FishFace jumps up onto the bed and snuggles between us. I pet her slow so she doesn’t hiss at me. Lex turns onto his side, away from me and he starts to snore. Not loud, just enough that I know he’s asleep. Before I drift off, I remember to say my prayers.
“Dear God, I’m mad right now and I don’t really want to talk to you. I’m sorry if that’s sacrilegious, but I always try to be honest . Maybe tomorrow you could help me be a little less mad? That’s it for now. Amen.”