October 2020's donation goal has been met. Thank you for your support!
close
Hello! Thank you for using yiff.party!

We hope you enjoy using it. yiff.party operates on a non-profit basis, and as such, all the server expenses are paid by our users. We don't want to run ads or infect you with crypto miners. We depend on users like you to keep the site running, and to preserve years and terabytes of amazing content—some of which is no longer available from its original creators!

Because of the nature of the site, many users are reluctant to donate. That's OK! yiff.party was created so everyone can enjoy the content we host without any restrictions or paywalls. But if you value the service we provide, and are able to, we—and our users—would be tremendously grateful if you considered making a donation.

Donation progress for October 2020

So far, approximately $400.00 has been raised out of our target of $400.00. We're about 100% of the way there! Please note: this tracker is updated manually—don't worry if your donation doesn't show up immediately!

yiff.party's server costs are due on the last day of each month. So, we need to meet this goal before 31 October!

How to donate?

At this time, yiff.party can only accept donations in numerous cryptocurrencies. Please select a currency below to display the relevant donation address.

Bitcoin (BTC)
Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
Ethereum (ETH)
Ethereum Classic (ETC)
Litecoin (LTC)
Why can't I donate through other means (eg. PayPal)?

Due to the nature of sites like yiff.party, it is very difficult to find payment processors who will accept clients like us. If we were to accept donations via PayPal, it wouldn't take more than a day for someone to submit an abuse report and get our account frozen. Until a viable way of accepting monetary donations becomes available, cryptocurrency will remain the only option.

There are many resources available on how to purchase crypto. For Bitcoin, check out bitcoin.org's page on buying Bitcoin for a list of methods. For beginner Bitcoin users, yiff.party recommends using an escrow service such as LocalBitcoins.

close
Enjoying toddaldrington's content?

Creators like toddaldrington work hard to produce the content you are viewing on yiff.party for free. If you like what you see, consider supporting toddaldrington on Patreon to encourage them to create more great content!

The Electric Snep (Chapter Six) 2020-10-17T20:26:45+00:00

When will this all be a distant memory?

Most of my conscious moments in the hospital were spent thinking it, trying to break out of the endless loop of knowing I should never have been admitted yet fighting to live now that I had been. I couldn’t waste this. Once I walked out of here I could afford the luxury of debating how right any of this was. If I’d taken the place of someone more deserving, I owed it to them.

I couldn’t think of a name for that person, or come up with any idea about who they might have been. So I called them Constance. Not a unisex name but it felt like it could have been. It was the name of a white Fender Strat Tony owned, named because after he bought it at around my age, his playing became more constant just because he couldn’t wait to play her. Or maybe him. Tony said he was never really sure if guitars were always girls. Perhaps Constance was nonbinary.

The day he picked me up from the hospital because Dad was working and Mom was isolating, I told him Constance had probably saved my life. Or at least the thought of them.

Tony had a look he sometimes gave me that I was pretty sure I also gave to Finn most of the time. ‘Okay, I think I get it. But go on. How?’

I explained it.

Tony tried not to laugh and failed. ‘Constance though? She’s not even the best guitar I own. Why not Rosie?’

Rosie was a 1967 Gibson Les Paul Standard, red and yellow sunburst, worth about ten grand because she was the real deal from the decade and not a re-issue.

‘Because she’s got a fretboard like a baseball bat and weighs so much that one tour with her with give me arthritis in my shoulder even at my age?’

‘Why d’you think she always sits on my lap?’

We laughed and didn’t talk for a moment afterwards. I sipped the coffee he’d brought me. I still couldn’t taste a thing but the zip from the caffeine and whatever syrup he’d got me was good enough.

‘You always questioned why it was you in the world and not somebody else even before all this happened,’ Tony said. ‘You never said it out loud but I just kinda know. Everybody gets “why me? Why am I here?” Or at least they do if they hang about with people like me long enough.’

‘I’m starting to hate big questions, T. There any way to just switch them off?’

‘When you’re fully recovered we could do some acid again.’

‘I’m being serious.’ A moment passed. ‘Okay, so were you?’

‘There aren’t many easy ways of switching your head off, kiddo. But okay, you want serious? How about the blues? That helps sort most heads out even if it’s sometimes temporary. Why don’t you write an album?’

‘I’ve been trying. I like When Will this all be Distant Memory? as a title.’

‘Yeah, I like that too.’ He put the key in the Buick’s ignition.

‘Tony, I think Dad did something.’

I told him the story.

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘That sounds like Gary alright.’

‘So what now?’ I said. ‘Do I ask him? What he did to get me into that hospital?’

‘You’re asking the wrong question, kiddo,’ Tony said, looking out of the windshield. ‘It’s not whether you should ask him. It’s whether you can live with the truth if he tells you. If you think he committed blackmail to save your life, could you live with it if he told you it was true? What’s your conscience gonna let you do? Keep the crime covered because it saved your ass or make the kind of testimony that puts his in prison next to people he helped put there?’

‘Christ, Tony,’ I said after the most painful silence of my life. ‘Why did you have to put it like that?’

‘Your dad’s world is a long way from perfect; we’ve both always known it. How far into that world do you really want to get? Coz here’s what I’m thinking: if he had something on Doc Collins, it’s because his world wasn’t perfect either. The way was probably just as long, maybe longer.’

‘Was?’

‘Ah, fuck,’ Tony muttered. ‘Okay, nothing for it. Doc Collins died yesterday. He came down with the virus about a week after he saw you. Do not go thinking it was your fault. He saw loads of people like you every day; that’s one hell of a viral load.’

I wanted to just cry, but it didn’t happen, like my body was so dehydrated tears were impossible. ‘Should you even be around me?’

‘Don’t panic, kiddo. I’ve had it. I was asymptomatic. I got the antibodies test three days ago so I can have students in my home again. Except I’m not. It’s all online now. Except for you. And I’ve gotta stop calling you that; you’re a man now, right?’ He patted my shoulder. ‘Happy birthday for last week. You got the pic I sent?’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘Why don’t you come meet her? She needs a name too.’

‘Spirit.’

I expected ‘You haven’t even met this lady yet, and she is a lady, this one, and a fine one.’ Instead:

‘Spirit…yeah, I like that. Very stallion-esque.’ For a moment, Tony drifted off into the kind of daydream where I figured he was probably imagining himself riding a big black horse across some sunset plains. ‘Al, there’s another way of thinking about all this. You wanna hear it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Okay. You were always somebody who wanted to give the world something, one day. Here’s the thing about a lot of musicians who “make it.” Something often happened to them that made them want to give that thing just a little bit more than other people. Maybe this is your thing.’

‘Survivors guilt. Gee that’s original.’

‘Before you think any more about asking you dad anything, there’s also this. Do I think Gary’s capable of doing what you said? Yeah, I know he is. But here’s something else I know. He’s not always as in control as he likes to make out. So here’s what I can already believe just as easily. Maybe all he did once he shut those doors was get on his knees to Doc Collins and beg. If you ask him about this, he might not tell you just because he never wants you to know that all he could do was that.’

‘What’d be so wrong about telling me he did that?’

‘This is Gary, kiddo. Try everything.’

‘Tony, what’s being a man supposed to feel like? Because I don’t feel any different. I might as well still be “kid” to everyone. I still want things to be as simple as sneaking around putting shit in mom’s fancy casserole and making her yell fuck on a livestream and laughing till I’m nearly sick. Why can’t that just be my day? I’d settle for that forever. Dad’s always on about this dumb fear that I’m gonna end up being a checkout boy forever. Would that really be so awful if life could just be simple?’

Tony shrugged. ‘You got me. I dunno. Most of adult life is faking it. I’d kill to be allowed in the ball pit at Chuck e Cheese again.’

‘Then let’s go there,’ I said. ‘Ball pit. Why the hell not?’

‘Because if I take you anywhere but my place we could both end up accused of mass murder?’

‘Oh yeah.’

‘Tell you what we can do though.’ He unlocked his door. ‘Get out with me for a second.’

I did. ‘Sure we’re not breaking our isolation bubble right here? Okay, what are we doing?’

‘We’re just gonna have a great big kid kinda hug.’

What? I didn’t have time to say it before he was doing it, and I was hugging him back, and I really didn’t want to let go. I wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep standing up right here, hugging my uncle. So much for the dehydration. Now it was going to pour out of my eyeballs like a soda machine with some kid overfilling the cup.

Only when I opened my eyes and we parted did I realise I wasn’t the one crying. The relieved sighs weren’t mine.

‘Holy shit, T!’

‘Yeah, sorry.’ Tony wiped his face.

‘You okay?’

‘Yeah, just gimme a minute.’

‘Man, I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I wasn’t thinking. I was the one who nearly died but you’re the one who kept waiting to hear it had happened and they wouldn’t even let you in if you had to say goodbye. Right?’

‘I’m over it already,’ Tony said. ‘Okay, mostly.’ He forced a smile. ‘Until you had to remind me that I’d rather not have grown up to know how to deal with that kind of shit either.’ He sighed, and looked like he might be as done already as he said. ‘Okay, here’s a better answer to what being a man’s like. I’m just gonna say it. Whatever Gary did to get you in there and get your life saved, I don’t care. Because he was right. Because I didn’t have to do that goodbye where I wasn’t there. You understand? And if you really did take someone’s place, I’m fine with that. Your Dad did whatever he had to for you, but he also did it for me. So that goodbye didn’t have to happen.’

‘You think he thought of you?’

‘He’s a decent brother. And sometimes he’s a complete shit. That’s kinda what being a man is sometimes: learning to deal with a conflict like that. This time, I’m just gonna let the decent brother side of that win. And that’s why we should both do ourselves a favour and never ask him those questions we were both talking about earlier.’

No way was I arguing. I imagined Tony saying that goodbye, where the crying didn’t stop like it had now, and maybe never stopped again until he drank himself to death, or let himself lose the control he always seemed to have over his bohemian lifestyle until some other part of it finished him. I wasn’t so sure Dad had thought of the same thing when he shut those doors in our house, but at least he probably had afterwards, while justifying whatever he’d done.

For a moment, it was enough. The world was so right, we might as well have gone to Chuck e and just charged headfirst into the ball pit.

‘Al.’

‘Yeah?’

‘I never got my supergroup or my world tour. I got to be a local hero, and a music teacher, and that’s fine. That’s probably better. But maybe you’ll get yours. I’d kinda like to see that if it turns out that’s the way for you. We’ve done this one before, right? The conversation about when an artist dies and everyone asks “what else might we have got if they’d lived?”

I remembered the exact conversation. ‘That’s also why someone who kills one ends up with a pretty goddamn long prison sentence.’

‘Really? You had to remember that part and go there right now? My point was we get the answer to that question with you this time.’

Yeah. I got to live. Because music. I knew I had to be kind to him and not tell him he was on the verge of reversing that perfect world all over again, like the kid in the ball pit who hid, leapt up and scared the shit out of someone.

‘You realise for the rest of my life I might end up putting “For Constance” in the sleeve of every record I ever make?’

Tony smiled. ‘Well why the not, if that’s what you think’s true about it?’

* * *

I played Black Magic Woman on Constance first, then Tony and I made Any Time She Goes Away last ten minutes with guitar solos. Then Never Going Back by Fleetwood Mac. Then I had to have Never Trust a Woman who Wears her Pants too Tight by The Grateful Dead, just because I wanted to sing Bob Weir’s Come tomorrow, I’m gonna get my pay….and I’m gonna leave this fuckin’ town.’

After that I had to dig the vinyl out and play the album that version came from: Nightfall of Diamonds, recorded in New Jersey in 1989.

I jammed along with Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again once I remembered ‘Can this really be the end?’ Had it actually gone through my head in the hospital? It felt spookily like a real memory even though I knew I might have invented it. Nobody remembered their hypoxia hallucinations like they were the same as an acid flashback.

‘Hey T, you got a joint rolled?’

‘No fucking way; your lungs just went through a viral cheese grater and you wanna smoke?’ Tony shook his head and laughed. ‘If you need to get high that bad, I’ll make brownies. But maybe leave it a couple of days?’

‘Yeah, okay, actually, good plan. A vodka martini then? It was my birthday and we missed it, and you’re gonna make me listen to the Dead sober? Come on, don’t be responsible.’

‘One,’ Tony said, looking like he needed it as much for himself, and probably a couple more after I’d passed out.

It hit me as fast and hard as I’d expected, and needed. Being intoxicated brought its own kind of clarity, and as as I feel asleep to Dark Star and then partially woke up to catch a few lines of Uncle John’s band, I knew my own uncle was right: it was better never to ask my father those questions. Long before the home run talk that I wouldn’t get for another three months, I’d already had the winner one, and the survivor, and the one about how he didn’t have time for naval gazing or depression or any combination of the two.

I wasn’t going to ask those questions because I knew goddamn well my father had gotten on his knees to no-one, and never would.

flag
The Electric Snep - Chapter Five 2020-10-10T17:07:48+00:00

Two days after the pandemic officially ended, I hit a home run, winning the game for the high school team. Or what was left of them. My father sat me down for a burger and looked like he had pride in his eyes. And hope. I killed them both. I didn’t mean to, I just did.

‘You want a beer?’ he asked.

‘I don’t drink, Dad.’ Not strictly true. I drank wine at Tony’s sometimes. Always white, never red. Or vodka, with coke and a lime. This was Dad though. Wine wasn’t for men and vodka wasn’t for kids.

‘Well, maybe you should start.’

That I hadn’t expected. I’d celebrated my eighteenth birthday lucky enough to have oxygen. They wouldn’t let Tony in to visit, only Mom and Dad, so I got an e-card from him saying ‘I had to un-wrap this for you’ with him holding a beautiful Martín acoustic guitar. A ‘mere snip for a snep’ at three thousand bucks. I got a nice flashback of ‘Gary, my man, trust me, I’ve been teaching kids for thirty years; I know when a kid’s going to stick with something and when he ain’t’ after Tony had bought me the Les Paul for my tenth. I’d stuck with it for eight more years and here was my reward.

That I never should have been alive to see, let alone play.

My best attempt at shaking those thoughts again now was: ‘I started baseball, Dad. One thing at a time, maybe?’

‘Yeah, told you that was a good idea, didn’t I? You’re good.’

I liked baseball. Even Tony had told me that total immersion in guitars and music wasn’t healthy for anyone, and he was right. He went running mostly, and I figured he still smoked weed with complete impunity thanks to giving his lungs a different kind of workout, so I stuck with baseball and track running after that pre-teenage promise to Dad. I felt healthy. I was quite good. I liked the smell of hot baseball fields in the summer and the thump of a hard hit ball into a mit, a sound no percussion instrument ever made, and it was too bad I couldn’t use it in a song somewhere. The crack of a good hit, the ball sailing after the power in my arms drove it skywards, it was almost the same kind of magic as a guitar solo, my heart always pounding into action before the rest of me chased after the magic, like it could never be caught, but that only meant you had to go again to see if you could next time. Forever.

I wasn’t scholarship material though. Not even close. That home run to me was a memory for a box, when I might need to get it out later. Not a stepping stone.

‘Alex, why can’t I persuade you to go college?’

‘Dad, we’ve been through this. But okay. One more time. I’m an average kid. This whole thing,’ I looked behind me to the field where my ball had gone out of the park. ‘That was my best game ever. There wasn’t a scout in sight. There won’t be at any game I play. I’m not getting sponsored through college on baseball, Dad. I tried. You know I tried like I promised to.’

‘I know,’ Dad said, and for once he looked like he believed me. ‘But there’s more than one way to college money.’

‘I don’t want a student loan. Starting any career paying half your salary into some debt pot? Who does want that? I’m amazed anybody does it.’

‘It’s the system we have,’ Dad said. ‘It’s not going to change because one defiant snow leopard doesn’t go to college.’

‘I’m not trying to change the system, I’m just not joining it.’

‘Tony went to college. Tony has a college education in everything he’s ever taught you.’

Wasn’t that just the beautiful truth? ‘I don’t want to be a music teacher,’ I said. ‘At least not yet. I want a band.’

Dad nodded. ‘Yep. So here’s another thing we’ve been through. All the people you’ve hung about with who’re in bands, what living do you think they make off it? There’s a reason they’re working days jobs along side it. All I’m trying to get you to think about is why not work a job that’s got a college degree behind it? You know I’ve got nothing against a garbage man or a window cleaner, or a checkout boy. We need those people. The whole pandemic thing, it reminded me of that just like it did most other people. But this is the one time in your life where you get to choose what you want to be. Why choose a dead end for maybe the rest of your life? Because that’s just as painful as paying off a loan. And you don’t have to go to college to end up in debt. Sometimes you just need a salary that’s not enough to live off.’

‘I’m good with money, Dad. I can live within whatever my means are. I’m not going to end up one of those people you evicted from their houses during lockdown.’

‘You’re still on that one,’ he said, with little more than a flick of his tail. That was as close as I’d come to a pass for having hit the home run. ‘What do I have to do to convince you that I genuinely didn’t enjoy doing any of that?’

‘It’s not about whether you enjoy something Dad. Don’t you think there’s anything wrong with the world where half the hard working people you just talked about can’t make ends meet to the point where you’re putting them on the street?’

‘By the time I make that call, Alex, it’s because all the chances there were are gone. There’s nothing I can do about that. Who survives in this world and who doesn’t isn’t my call to make. Sometimes it’s my responsibility but mostly, it can’t be. God’s the only one responsible for everyone and he doesn’t show us much about how he works.’

‘No, he just shows us how he said “the hell with responsibility” a long time ago.’

‘So we take it for ourselves. This is what I’m trying to get through to you, Alex. I want you to survive in this world, and you’re the one who’s got to take responsibility for it. Like take the opportunities you’re lucky enough to have. Okay, let’s do some honesty here. I know what you say behind my back. I know you think all I ever wanted from you was to follow me into law enforcement. And that I’m disappointed because you’d rather be a musician. Yes, I wanted that. No, I’m not disappointed. You think I don’t realise that I don’t always get what I want? I don’t gotta tell you how many times in my life I’ve learned that lesson, do I?’

I didn’t want to answer that and get yet another story from Dad’s career that he’d never realised might have totally different moral to it than the one he told it for.

‘This is who I’ve raised,’ he said. ‘I am proud of him. I want to be prouder. I want to go to his college graduation, get that photo taken that all parents hope they’ll put on a wall one day. I want to know that my son’s going to be a survivor because there’s always a job out there for someone who can prove they know music. Because life’s just like a court room: it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove you know. You list a CV full of great performances? That’s great for you. You put a college degree on there? That’s great for the person who’s gonna shake your hand and give you a salary.’

‘Dad, look, I’m not gonna tell you you’re wrong. All this? It makes sense to me. It is sensible. But do you know what the biggest fact about college drop-outs is? Two thirds of them say they only went because they were pushed into it by their family when their heart wasn’t in it.’

‘I hear you on that,’ Dad said. ‘You might not think I do, but I do. It’s just that I think your heart’s not in the whole idea of college because you haven’t fully thought about it yet. All these social media things your mother’s into, when you log into those things too and get all the stories about people drowning in student debt and people who say they got unfairly kicked out of their homes by someone like me, you don’t get the full story, because it’s not a balanced picture of the world. People love negativity. They love the attention of it. Do you ever tune in to anyone who says “I went to college and it worked out great”? I’d bet not. Because that’s not the voices these things love to amplify.’

‘You seem happy enough to let Mom keep her part in it all.’

My father took a searching look at me. ‘Okay. Now listen. Right now, today, I’m looking at a winner. You don’t hit a run like that unless you know how to win and you want you. I’m also looking at a survivor. So okay, you want to be treated like a man because you are one now? Fine. Let’s have a conversation I’m going to trust you not to repeat. I’m not sure what’s happening with your mother at the moment. I’m not happy about what she’s doing. And I know you never failed to notice how I was never that happy about her starting that whole thing in the first place. It was the give part of our marriage. Lately, I’m wishing I never gave her that.’

I stirred the straw around in my glass of coke. ‘A lot of it was good, before. I liked it once. Or at least it made me laugh.’

‘Which you don’t do a lot of lately, I notice.’

‘Well hell, maybe I just grew up like you were always telling me.’

My father looked at the donut that had been in front of him for the last quarter hour like he’d lost his appetite. ‘The things she did when you were sick upset me. Through that whole mess, not just with you, with all of it, she wasn’t the woman I married anymore. I already had this conversation with her. More than once. I think things are going to be okay. It’s just made me realise that everything she does feeds a world that’s maybe even more dangerous than the one I go out there to deal with every day.’

So many times, I would have called a talk like this part of his calculating manipulation of me. Maybe the worst part of this was that I felt like this was all just genuine, spontaneous venting. The kind I just let fly myself half the time.

Oh God, was I actually like him somehow?

‘I hear you more than you think, Alex.’

‘So Mom did keep filming me while I was sick. To get her click numbers up with the sympathy card.’

‘She did it to me too when I was. And when she caught the goddamn thing and got no symptoms at all, guess how much she said about it or filmed herself doing anything.’

‘So I didn’t just imagine that.’ Like you said I did.

‘There were times when you thought she was there but she wasn’t,’ Dad said. ‘But no, you were right about some of it. I told her to stop. Some of it still got out there. I made her take it down. She lied about it to begin with when she said she had.’

‘So then what did you do?’

My father closed his mouth a little too tightly, then after a moment said ‘I broke into her account and deleted it myself. She didn’t do it again after that.’

It was too easy to imagine.

‘Don’t be conflicted about that,’ he said. ‘I did it for you more than anyone.’

‘Thanks,’ I said. It felt pretty black to actually mean that. I was trying to re-live my home run again to shut it out, like a memory equivalent of taping over an old 8-track, but the sound I didn’t want still got through on playback.

‘Don’t mention it.’

‘Dad, how come I’m still alive? You wanna give me a conversation I really can’t repeat, why don’t we talk about that?’

‘Because I don’t have any answers for you. You were in God’s hands and he decided he still wanted you here. What am I going to do, argue with that? Why are you so unhappy to still be alive?’

‘That’s not what this is, Dad. I’m happy I’m still alive. But what price did it come at?’

Dad let a slow breath out through his nose. ‘I refer people to mental health counsellors because I’m no good at giving advice on things like survivor’s guilt. If you need one, we can make that happen. But for the record, I know that when you’ve got a head full of shit like this, it’s Tony you go to. That’s fine. It’s good. He’s the one who’s good with big questions. I got used to survivor’s guilt a long time ago. Welcome to your first ride on the train. It’s shit. That’s why it fills your head with shit.’

‘Tony doesn’t have the answers either, Dad. Except one: talk to you about it. So why’s he saying that?’ Tony hadn’t said that, it’s just what I knew he either would say or somehow decide not to. It was like Dad knew it, the way he fixed me like some kind of criminal he was going to indulge in the game a little.

‘Okay then,’ he said. ‘Give it to me straight then. Why do you think I can give you answers?’

‘Here’s another thing I didn’t hallucinate,’ I said. ‘I was too sick for you to just take into a hospital. Even you couldn’t break a quarantine rule unless they told you to bring me in. I was in a queue. I was never getting close to the front. That’s why at least I was going to die at home in my own bed. Then the doctor comes. How many people get a home visit even when there’s not a pandemic going on?’

‘Doc Collins was a close friend of mine for years,’ Dad said. ‘I asked him if he’d come look at you before it even got serious. He didn’t get time until it did because a lot of his friends were asking for that, in his own time, and he went to all of them. And that’s a lot of friends.’

‘And now he’s dead. Because he attended people like me when it wasn’t even his responsibility to do it.’

‘Trust someone who’s in a line of work where your life’s on the line a lot,’ Dad said. ‘You do what’s right at the time. Sometimes, I wonder if that means I’m not going home to you again. Maybe that thought’s why I always do, somehow. Doc Collins, God bless him, he got what we all hope we never get. He wouldn’t want you to feel bad for the rest of the life you’ve still got because of that.’

‘I remember him being in my room,’ I said, like I was well and truly on a shrinks couch now, knowing the man I was talking to wasn’t going to get close to curing me, but what the hell. ‘Know what I really remember? When he had his stethoscope on me, the look on his face said “This kid’s dead.” ’

‘I remember helping you sit up,’ Dad said. ‘The look I saw was “I’m going to do everything I can to save this kid no matter what.” I’ve seen a lot of desperate looks on people in some pretty bad situations, Alex. Trust the one who wasn’t sick to know what that look was.’

‘So that’s why the hospital took me. Because that’s what that look meant.’

‘The doc called them, told them your situation, the ambulance came for you. Right decisions.’

‘He was downstairs with you for a while until they came for me. What did you talk about?’

‘Your chances.’ Dad picked up his donut and took a bite. ‘Here’s what I came to realise about your mother. Doc Collins told us straight up that he thought your chances weren’t good. That was the right thing. Honesty. Your mother’s reaction to facing losing a son was to do what she did. I don’t know if she was trying to pretend it couldn’t happen or somehow thought a million promises of thoughts and prayers through Twitter would move the world to save you. I put myself in her shoes, later, when it was over. Her behaviour upset me, but I understood it.’

‘So the Doc said that to you. Both of you. But not the hospital?’

‘He gave them a medically accurate description of your condition.’

‘But he didn’t say I was likely to die.’

‘That was their call to make as much as his.’

‘How many litres of oxygen did they use on me?’

‘I don’t know,’ Dad said. ‘It never occurred to me to ask. Why would you or I need to know that?’

‘Because there was little chance of me living but they gave it to me anyway.’

‘Doc Collins was wrong,’ Dad said. ‘You’re living proof. They did that because their prognosis didn’t concur with his. It was the right decision. The best thing you can do is live with it. Your team got to have your home run today. The world still gets to have your music. You get to be alive to decide what future you want. If that’s worth a little oxygen, fair price. Tell yourself that every day and eventually all this will go away. These feelings. Maybe Tony was right, I was the right person to talk to.’

The right person who I knew wouldn’t tell me the truth, no matter what he said about being a man.

‘Okay, Dad. That’s all I needed. I won’t bring it up again.’

‘Don’t worry about it. Sometimes we have to talk about difficult things.’

Yeah, didn’t we.

‘Gary, Lexi, I’m deeply sorry, I really am, but I can’t tell a hospital where there’s already beds lined up in corridors to admit Alex when there’s so little chance. The best I can offer at this stage is to help make his last day or two painless.’

My lungs wouldn’t breathe and my body wouldn’t move, but there was nothing wrong with my hearing. That was why the next thing I heard doors shutting as my father ushered Frank Collins into the kitchen, the one room in the house that he’d long since known I could hear little more than a murmur from when all the doors were shut.

Old friends indeed. What did you have on him, Dad? What did you play the lottery with, hoping he’d see enough infected patients to make sure he never got to tell the world about you when this was over?

Who am I supposed to feel like I owe any record I ever make for the rest of my life to?

‘Alex, look at me.’

I looked.

‘This is meant to be a day when you’re flying high on a win. Don’t let going unhappy places in your head ruin it for you. I love you and I want you to be happy. So take what I’m going to tell you now as friendly advice that I trust you not to pull like a weapon one day because you know it’s true.’

Now I was interested.

‘Max Landry wishes he had your life,’ Dad said.

‘What’s he got to do with anything right now?’

Dad laughed. ‘Oh don’t play innocent. I know you loathe him. Over the years, I’ve come to blame you for it less and less. The man’s secretly a mess. Because he never sorts his head out like I’ve just helped you sort yours. I know you’re working in his store and it’s not just for money to buy the guitars you dream about all the time. It’s a game of pretending you don’t think Max is a crappy person. You got a taste for it when he made you Employee of the Month, and that’s why he did it: because he knows what you think, and now he’s playing the game too.’

Oh great. Something Dad actually was speaking the truth about. How did he even know about most of this? He was never around me and Max. He didn’t even shop at that store, or as much as come in for a coffee now and then. Mercifully, that meant he never did the ‘Hey kid, and hey everyone else, my kid works here’ show.

‘Save it,’ Dad said, still grinning all over his face as he held up a hand, knowing I was going to deny it all. ‘If your mom acted a little out of sorts during the pandemic then I know you think Max was a full on grade A asshole. And you’re not wrong exactly. The number of complaints I got about his store? What was I, head office? I didn’t need to be sorting out places refusing to make masks mandatory. Or putting up signs saying “You can’t catch what’s not real.” ’

‘Even me nearly dying didn’t change anything. I was half expecting to come back and get “Why did you use a fake virus as an excuse to skip work?” ’

‘Because he knows the things he said were nonsense, and that his customers believe it and that’s why they’re shopping with instead of the other places they coulda chosen. Freedom to be an asshole with no sense of responsibility sells, Alex. That’s the truth.’

‘Well shit, Dad. Is this us agreeing one something being wrong with the world?’

‘I was saving it for a rainy day,’ Dad said. ‘Thought you’d kinda like it on a sunny home-run kinda day instead.’

‘I almost want that beer now, actually.’

Here’s why I brought it up though. Do you wanna be stuck in places like that, playing those sorts of games with those sorts of assholes for the rest of your life?’

I sighed, like I’d once thought my lungs would never let me again, and let myself have the eye-roll too. ‘Fucking hell, Dad.’

‘Alright, you get one free “sass-pass.” ’ That was a phrase of Mom’s ripped straight from Instagram that he’d always hated. ‘But just consider that question plenty before you decide whether your heart’s in the whole college thing or not.’

At least, I thought, the whole college thing was a feasible way out of still living in the town where I felt someone else should have been living instead of me.

* * *

On my last day in the hospital, Finn came to see me.

‘How did you get in here?’ I said, half in disapproval. ‘They wouldn’t even let Tony in; they’ve practically got snipers on the doors here.’

‘Not for me,’ Finn said, wagging his tail like there was everything to like about being in a hospital during a pandemic. About normal behaviour for him. ‘Look.’ He held up his arm that had a bandage around it.

‘The hell?’ I said. ‘They’ve started blood donation again?’

‘They have if you’re me,’ Finn said. ‘I can’t catch it. I’m totally immune. They want my blood bigtime. Antibody tests for a vaccine or something. And Mom and Dad can’t stop me signing up as a guinea pig when they make one coz y’know, eighteen now. And yeah, happy birthday for two weeks ago.’

‘Thanks. You get me anything?’

‘I’ve got no money, Schaeff. But it doesn’t matter.’ He sat on the bed. ‘What do you really want that’s not just something material? Besides, I saw the guitar Tony got you already. What else could anybody get you after that?’

‘Seriously, you think that’s all there is to me? Music?’

‘I know what else there is to you.’

I supressed a shudder. ‘Finn, how do they know you can’t catch it?’

‘Who’s they? The doctors?’

‘Well yeah, who else? Okay, how did you know you can’t catch it?’

He laughed. ‘Schaeff, really, how do you think I knew?’

My fur rose a little. ‘Did you tell them?’

‘Nobody who’s gonna say. Doctors are bound by that whole confidence thing, right? Relax. Nobody knows we kissed apart from you, me and a couple of people I told because after you went down I needed to get a test and I told them the truth. And maybe a couple of people in the hospital after that when they realised my blood had magic stuff in it.’

‘Not my parents?’

‘Chill, all they know is that I spent a lot of time around you doing music in my room. Same thing I told mine.’

I leaned back into my pillow and let out the kind of sigh that I knew would set me coughing my lungs up my throat. Somehow, it didn’t quite happen. Just a tickle that was gone shortly after. Coughing was why I didn’t notice Finn had taken both my hands in both of his.

‘Shaeff.’

‘Yeah?’

‘I love you.’

Now I noticed. He wasn’t wagging his tail anymore. He was scared and inwardly bouncing off the walls of this small hospital room all at once. There was nothing I could do except hope and pray he was telling the truth about being immune as I let what had happened right before I’d gone down sick happen again.

‘Finn,’ I said after our mouths parted, ‘I don’t know if this is me.’

Mirth danced in his eyes as he laughed. ‘Well you sure as fuck didn’t wanna not kiss me. That was before you nearly died. Seriously, don’t even do that again, just to start with.’

‘And just to finish with?’

‘You’re lucky you’re still here. So, right now, answer me one question.’

‘What?’

‘Who are you?’

We’d done this routine a few times before, until right before our first kiss, when I’d answered with that, knowing it was the answer he’d wanted for at least a year. Now I was just going to give him the same response he always smiled at instead.

‘I’m the electric snep.’

‘Yeah, and who else?’

‘Finn, look, I told you, I don’t know if this is me. Who you think I’m going to suddenly become because of the whole “every day is a gift” thing. It is. So can you just let me receive it one step at a time?’

The way he sat back on the bed and put a hand on my thigh was all too rehearsed. He wasn’t going to push me. He wasn’t going to outwardly look disappointed either. He was just going to give me that same child-like optimism that seemed borrowed from a time when he thought the world was limitless and nothing could ever be wrong with it. ‘I’m right here, Schaeff. Whenever the step you don’t think you wanna make feels like the right one. But seriously, whatever you think about how you survived, who else gets me like you do? I’ve got other friends. None of them are you. I need you alive.’

‘Whatever I think about…what’s there to think about like that?’

‘I dunno.’

‘Finn. Seriously. What happened?’

‘Nothing happened. It just took a hell of a lot of effort to save you, and I know you. You’re gonna start thinking it might have been better used on someone else. Fuck everyone else, coz it wasn’t. So don’t go thinking it would have been, okay?’

‘Holy shit, that’s ruthless. And coming from you?’

‘Survival’s a messy business, Schaeff. Shit though, I’m telling this to a sheriff’s kid? Why do I think I need to go doing that?’

‘Just take one little piece of advice if you don’t listen to anything else I say. Don’t get used to getting all touchy with me in front of other people. Because any minute now Mom or Dad or both’s gonna come through that door and see you with your hands on me.’

‘And see that you’ve got a boner.’

‘That’s just the dream you woke me up from.’

‘Schaeff, lie to your parents if you’ve got to but why lie to yourself? After we finish high school, run away with me. We can both be who we really are once we leave this fucking town. You always talked about it anyway, joining some band and just running away. Take me for the ride. Might be useful seeing as I can play stuff. How many bassists are you gonna find in a world where everybody wants to be The Electric Whatever-their-species-is?’

‘You’re wasted on a bass, I keep telling you for Chrissake, you’re a pianist.’

‘What does it matter what either of us are?’

‘Alright, if it’ll shut you up, I promise you when I run I’ll take you with me. But I meant what I said. I’m not your boyfriend and I don’t know if I’m gay. I actually don’t think I am. You just…make odd things happen. Maybe it’s bi-curious at best. But can you just not tell me I know before I know? You’re not inside my head.’

‘What I wouldn’t give.’

‘You’re not in love with me, Finn. You’re obsessed with me and you wish I was as gay as you know you are. And I’m sorry me almost dying was fucked up for you. But it doesn’t mean your dreams all magically come true now that I’m still here and you’ve got magic blood.’

‘See? Who else would have said something like that?’

I had to get him off this. ‘I heard something,’ I said. ‘From Mom. Apparently Night’s Dawn are still in town because they got stuck here after lockdown hit. They were still here after the gig we went to. Is that true?’

‘As the sun rises in the east, fuck yeah it’s true! Who do you think I’ve been hanging out with all the time once we got let out? I took them cookies. Then I took then a whole takeaway. They let me jam. We kept jamming after that. And I showed them a few old videos of you. Remember, November Rain at the school music festival?’

I smiled. ‘And Crucifix Kiss. They like it?’

‘They’d never heard of the Manics. They had to download Generation Terrorists and they liked your version better.’

‘You’re making that up.’

‘Cross my heart and hope you can’t catch that shit twice, I’m honestly not. When they get back on tour they need a permanent guitar tech. You thinking what I’m thinking?’

I was. Until I found out that they’d left town the same day I left the hospital.

Besides, I had high school to finish, and that meant I had baseball to play.

And a wolf to make sure I never let myself kiss again.

And Max Landry. I still had him to fuck with. For everything.

flag
The Electric Snep - Chapter Four 2020-10-04T16:03:38+00:00

Author's Intro

My break from writing new material for the last couple of weeks was a good thing, and after deciding to go back to work today I got what I needed: some life back into this story and some of my enthusiasm for it along with that.

Back when I wrote some extra material during lockdown, and during Gone Day Part II, I inserted a line here and there that left open the possibility for linking this book into the Todd and Colton world, something I originally wasn't going to do. To get the creative juices flowing again, I decided to follow my nose into that idea. If you've read the chapters that precede this one and you've also read the final Todd and Colton book, and have a very good memory for small and seemingly insignificant details, you may have already spotted what I've done.

I'll say this for any super-fans before I get their hopes up too much though: none of my 'regular' cast so far are going to appear in this. I need new characters and entirely new plotlines and drama in this one. It was originally designed to be a break from all my other material, after all. At the moment I don't think I'm going to change my mind about that and surprise anyone. But this is me, so never say never.


* * *


CH4


It doesn’t take me long to figure out what Mary Lou’s doing. The silence is her waiting for me to talk. Half an hour into the ride to Colorado (the first bus we could discreetly get on, with her buying the tickets so nobody would see me close up), I give her what she wants.

‘I accused my dad of murder.’

Not only does she know she’s won, but it’s like she’s now looking forward to reaching Cedar Rapids. ‘Okay. Did you have proof?’

‘I thought I had it. At the time.’

‘Do you think he did it?’

It takes me a minute to realise why the two questions are different. ‘The look he gave me when I said it? Yeah, right then, I did. That was the real proof, the kind you can’t admit in court but it doesn’t matter, coz you just know.’

‘Now you’re not so sure?’

‘I don’t know what to believe anymore. What does it matter? If it was true? He doesn’t want me back there. If it wasn’t? Even less.’

‘Could you just try saying you’re sorry?’

‘I don’t know if I want to. Or if I am. Or if it makes me a bad person.’

‘How many times have I got to tell you, Shaeff? You’re not a bad person. You’ve got family issues. Welcome to the club. Membership sucks, but guess what? Just about everyone who’s alive is a member.’

‘Family issues.’ I look out the window for a moment, as if the roll of pine trees out of Cali is going to give me some kind of answer. ‘You know what I told Darnell Rayne this morning?’

‘Who?’

‘Azorín’s crew manager. Lion. The one who talked me into stealing the stage last night. I told him my uncle was there. In the audience.’

‘Tony? The uncle who taught you to play? He track you down at last and come all the way out here to see a show you didn’t even know you were going to do?’

‘Oh he knew. He’s been here the whole time. He can pretty well go where he wants nowadays. It might as well have been him who told me to do it.’

Mary-Lou looks baffled for a minute, then right as she’s about to ask more questions, she stops. ‘Oooooh.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Shit. Okay. Your dad killed your uncle. His brother?’

‘Yeah. Tony was Dad’s brother. But it’s like I said: I don’t know anymore. You get it now? It’s one thing to accuse someone of murder. I’m probably not the first by a long way. Dad was a cop before he was a sheriff. Did I think he was capable of killing someone? Yeah. I know he has. We talked about it once. When he wanted to be frank, he was frank. All he ever wanted was for me to follow in his footsteps. He always thought he wasn’t pretending about what his job was, but all cops pretend, don’t they? When you’re a kid and your dad tells you what the difference between killing someone and murder is, you don’t wanna believe he’s ever done the second. Until the day I told him I knew he had, and it was his brother.’

‘So why did you believe it so hard right then?’

‘Because I was the reason he did it. Dad wanted to raise a cop. Another sheriff. Or a sports star, maybe. Not who you know I am. Not who Tony mentored me to be.’

It was all the more uncomfortable for how Mary-Lou looked sad instead of shocked. ‘Your dad killed his own brother for encouraging his son to be a musician?’

‘What if my dad was actually innocent? What if what I said that night made him feel like you look right now?’

‘You said you had proof,’ Mary-Lou says, as if clinical, detective thinking will snap her out of whatever emotions I’ve raised in her. ‘Walk me through it.’

‘Tony was into recreational drugs. Everyone knew it. They never solved the case, they just passed it off as drug related after everything they found when they searched his house. Dad let the rest of his team do it all because of the “emotional connection” but they did it like he wanted. Dad and I weren’t getting on even before Tony died. I started getting ideas. So I played a game. I made it look like I was trying to get me and Dad back on track by taking an interest in his job. To get in his office. The time and date Tony got killed? I found out Dad was doing an eviction. That was his alibi. Except that when I found the person he evicted at her mom’s place, she told me she never saw him that day. She saw his deputy.’

She takes it all in. ‘So where did he tell you he went if he didn’t kill Tony? You hit him with all this, right?’

‘Yeah. Right at the worst possible time. He didn’t say. That was the last night he spoke to me. He looked like he was going to murder me, then he just walked out the door. Then Mom didn’t talk to me either. She was already plenty pissed off before I dropped the murder thing. I confronted Dad because it was like I wanted to die.’

‘Why?’

‘Come on. You should know this one. Your Dad disowns you? Okay, sorry, not exactly what happened with yours. But your mom? That’s when you know you’re really fucked. Mom’s the one you go running to when Dad’s made you cry, right? Not this time. I almost went running to Dad. Maybe I should have. I almost thought he got it. At least he wasn’t shocked. Disappointed, yeah. Disgusted? Double. But he might have talked her down this time.’

‘Over what? What was your mom so angry about?’

She already knows. She’s only asking so I can say it doesn’t matter. At least for now. Because a whole load of people in this bus are trying to pretend they’re not listening.

One of them’s just changed her seat and probably thinks I haven’t noticed.

‘Take a wild guess,’ I say to Mary-Lou. ‘Just keep it up here.’ I tap my head.

‘Hi there.’ The dog who’s just moved her seat now switches to the empty one next to us and sits with her legs out in the aisle. ‘Sorry, I know this is really none of my business, but if this is what I think it might be, my mom once didn’t take that kinda thing very well either. And listen, it’s a really small world if I’m right about this. I was in a class with this guy once, back when I lived in Phoenix. He told this story about how he used to live in Cedar Rapids until this sheriff made his dad take him out of town. There was some sort of incident at his school, and this guy, he had mental health issues. Schizophrenia or something. It was a “not in my town” thing. Would that have been your dad, the sheriff?’

‘I don’t recall anything,’ I say. It’s true, nothing comes to mind. ‘Sounds enough like Dad though. His idea of good mental health was always “man up.” If that didn’t work, that was a person you didn’t want in your life because you couldn’t rely on them. How’s this guy now?’

‘Oh, he’s at Harvard; I think he’s learning to be a doctor or something. And his boyfriend’s the brother of some sports star.’

‘Nice. A soul Dad didn’t crush.’

‘Hoped that would make you smile.’ The dog is a labrador, golden, about my age, and she looks like she’ll be bouncing off seats if she tries to sit still on this bus for too long. ‘I’m Elenor. Like the car from Gone in Sixty Seconds. Same spelling.’

‘Alex.’ I shake her hand. So does Mary-Lou, who just had to mention the pandemic this morning. Now I’m feeling like it’s odd to shake hands all over again. ‘Like…I dunno, the guitarist from Rush I guess. Same spelling too.’

‘Yeah, you don’t get many Alexes who play the guitar,’ she says. ‘It’s all Jimmy’s and Erics and Steves mostly, isn’t it?’

‘Oh, you know them?’

‘I had a guitar-obsessed boyfriend in college. He dumped me for the music.’

‘Sounds like he was an idiot.’

‘Oh stop already, he was smart. I’m not girlfriend material for a guy who’s afraid of breaking bones. I’m a ski instructor.’

‘Who’s in Cali where there’s no snow.’

‘Duh,’ Mary-Lou says. ‘Ever heard of a vacation?’

‘Visiting a friend,’ Elenor says. ‘Then back to Colorado where there is snow and my next job’s waiting for me. But hey, let’s keep doing you for a second, because I’ve got one little bit of advice before I shut up and go back to my seat. If the last time your mom talked to you was the same day she found out about stuff you probably both weren’t ready to have out in the open yet, chances are she doesn’t hate you. She never had a chance to talk it out, so maybe it’s better late than never.’

I sigh and look at the roof of the bus. ‘You seem like a nice person,’ I say. ‘So thanks. For your advice. But look. I ran off with a touring band. If I’d done that before it all happened, legal adult at eighteen or not, Mom and Dad would have run after me. But this was after. There are reasons they didn’t do that. They don’t want to know me.’

‘Then how come you’re going back if you’re so certain this can’t be fixed?’

‘I’m going back for my friend. Finn.’

‘Ah. Gotcha.’

‘You’re probably in the ball park,’ I say. ‘But you’ve not caught me out. Believe me, it’s messier than a guess could tell you.’

Mary-Lou’s back in the zone now I’ve said Finn’s name. I don’t think she’s heard it before. ‘So he was your boyfriend?’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I wouldn’t let him be. He was something else.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like a partner in crime.’

‘Oooooh. Your community service. Come on. What did you two do?’

‘You’re going to tell me I’m making it up as soon as you hear it.’

‘Try us,’ Mary-Lou says.

Us? Oh great. She’s looking at Elenor as though she should think more than just twice about going back to her seat.

‘Okay, but here’s what you’ve got to understand first. And I’m being serious.’ I look at Elenor. ‘You’re getting off at Colorado. That’s good.’ Now Mary-Lou. ‘If you’re not doing the smart thing and deciding to take a spur of the moment skiing holiday with our new friend, here’s what you need to know. There’s a man in Cedar Rapids who wants me even more dead than my parents and Finn do. It’s not just how I screwed him over. It’s last night. I wrote a song about it. Years ago. Right when I first got on the road.’ I look at Elenor. ‘I stole a stage last night. It should have belonged to Eric Garcia Azorín. Your ex tell you who he is?’

Elenor’s ears are up. ‘You’re kidding, right?’

‘Apparently a lot of people are hearing about my set. I ruled. Like I didn’t know I really could. That’s why I couldn’t help myself. I sang that song last night. About how I still think what I did was funny. That’s how I got through five hundred hours picking litter under bridges for it. It was all worth it. I still don’t regret it.’

‘His name wasn’t in the song though, right?’ Mary-Lou says, evidently combing her memory of last night for one. ‘This isn’t like a full­-on public fight that’s that ugly yet, is it?’

‘That doesn’t matter,’ I say. ‘He’s going to know who that song was about. Because he probably has been looking for me. Or just waiting for some clue about where I am to magically drop. So he can get back to trying to ruin my life. Over what happened.’

‘Alright, spill,’ Mary-Lou says. ‘Who is he?’

‘Max Landry. He was my godfather.’

flag
The Electric Snep - Chapter Three 2020-09-04T15:35:08+00:00

Author's Intro

Here we are returning to this story again, after a six month hiatus where Gone Day Part 2 took over and just wouldn't let me work on anything else. I think this is what author's sometimes mean by 'The story writes you.'

But anyway, it took me a while to get back into the groove with this one. I'll admit it: as cool as it is to imagine a snep playing a mean guitar, I've struggled to like Alex Schaeffer as a character so far. But maybe liking him's not the point, and I think I'm going to grow to. I think he's the kind of character I want to just smack because he can't seem to sort his life out, and the reasons he can't quite do it get so drip-fed that I fear some readers won't really get into this either. But it's a first draft, and one good thing about it is that (maybe because of all of the above) is feels nothing like the Todd and Colton books.

It's a first draft too, and while I'm playing around with it, it's basically a free look at what I'm like as a writer, and maybe an insight into part of my process. I don't quite know in what order to reveal everything I've got in my head about Alex's story, so structurally it's going to be a bit of a brain dump first time around, like loads of mini-stories and each week you get a different one. Somehow, they all fit together.

One brainwave I did get is that if I'm calling this my 'Lockdown book' then perhaps it might actually add something if it mirrored a little bit of real life from this year. What if these characters at some point also got subject to a pandemic and a lockdown? With the story I had in mind, I realised such a situation might be a very good catalyst for why certain things end(ed) up happening. I've tried it out in today's sketch, and I'm going with it.

Let's get on with it though...

One last thing: I've not written a book or story in the present tense for a good four years. The narrative style in this one is that the present is literally written in the present, and the flashbacks are written as past. Occasionally you may have to forgive how I've accidentally lapsed into the wrong tense.


* * *

CH3


The Night Water Rising tourbus is here, complete with evening oasis mural now painted on the side.

Urgh, fuck, that’s all I need. The Red Whisky tour ended in me covered in bruises, but that was just a rehearsal for almost getting shot. That’s how Night Water Rising ended. Ethan Kelbury the lynx is not going to want to see me again.

‘You never leave your band.’ I don’t know how many times he parroted that one, but I bet he even applies it to the guy who nearly broke all his fingers. That was the last night I saw him.

Fraser Crosse was nuts. I’ve never bought the idea that all drummers are batshit, but I’ve always secret thought there was a little something about bats. Especially ones that spent their life pretending to cope with how their wings got wrecked in a childhood accident. The extra dexterity with his arms allowed Fraser Crosse to be a drummer. You really don’t get many bats who drum, because the wings just get in the way. Fraser’s wings were so torn up by whatever happened (he’d never tell anyone how he became a grounded bat, and god help you if you called him that) that he’d mostly had them removed, save for the tell-tale flaps that some surgeon had neatened up. His temper got in his way instead, and not just at a drum kit. Drugs didn’t help much. Pick the right ones, they sometimes can. Fraser picked speed. When the band got big enough for the world to bring it to them, he chose meth. He was on a combination of them the night he fell out with Ethan and decided he was going to break all Ethan’s fingers with a clawhammer.

It was a clumsy, drug-impaired fight. Ethan wasn’t just going to let himself be held down on a kitchen table, and Fraser’s first three blows only put holes in wood. The fourth smashed the middle finger on Ethan’s pick hand good.

That was when I fired the warning shot that smashed the kitchen light. It worked. Everything stopped.

Fraser’s brain didn’t though. Despite everything, it just rode this as another wave in the storm.

‘Oooooohohoho! What are you gonna do that with, cat boy? You’re not gonna shoot me.’ He took a step closer with every word. ‘Come on then, do it. Think you’ll get off on self defence?’

Like an idiot, I just went with the first thing I could think of. ‘My dad was a sheriff and I’ve been a dead-eye shot since I was seven years old and I could take your head off from a hundred yards.’

‘Yeah? Well you’ve got three and you’re still not going to do it.’ His hand twitched. I knew he was going to grab the gun right from me. How many yards he had wouldn’t matter.

The sound of a shotgun barrel snapping shut behind him was all that stopped it. He turned. There was Mary-Lou, with the barrel just inches from his head.

Fraser went quiet this time, and he’d gone limp.

‘Get out. You’re off the tour and you’re out of the fucking band.’

He wasn’t going to argue with that look. I’d met enough criminals to fancy that I knew the look of someone capable, but whatever Mary-Lou was promising Fraser, this was the night I knew that nothing I told her about my own past would have shocked her, and definitely not surprised her. And that she probably wanted my story because as long as I was telling it, she wasn’t telling hers.

‘You okay?’ She said, once we were alone in the kitchen, and I realised that Ethan’s whimpering and crying had stopped. He’d passed out from the pain, and probably the shock, his hand buried in an ice bucket.

‘He knew I wouldn’t do it,’ I said, unloading the gun. ‘How do people always know?’ Not that I had any real experience. That’s just what Dad had told me, around the same time he actually had taught me shooting at sixteen, not seven. People always knew if you picked up a gun but weren’t prepared to use it. Probably why I’d never pulled one on him.

‘The same way they always know if you’ve killed someone before,’ Mary-Lou said, kneeling down by Ethan and putting a finger to his neck. ‘Ah, shit. Okay. Go get Dex, tell him to bring some Narcan in here.’

Turned out that after rushing for the ice bucket, Ethan had panicked, grabbed a bottle of Vicodin from his pocket and simply chucked a load back like water. He legitimately did need them, usually, for a spine injury he got in the same car crash that killed his mom.

Night Water Rising were the band who knew how to write songs about pain and get on the road to try and escape from it all at once. I should have felt right at home crewing for them. Instead I ran away after the sleepless night I spent half of wishing I’d blown Fraser’s head off and the other half feeling terrible about myself for even having gone for a gun. It wasn’t even mine. It was the tourbus driver’s, who threatened to bust my nose with the handle if I ever touched it again.

So before I ran off, I stole it again and left him a note that said ‘Next time, at least threaten to shoot me.’ I threw it off a bridge a few miles down the road before hitching a ride with some sports fans on their way to see the Golden State Peregrines playing away in Detroit.

I never got to hear Mary Lou’s story because that was what really made me run: I didn’t want to know why a woman I’d spent half a tour making love to suddenly looked that like. Whatever was behind the look that made someone as keyed up and nasty as Fraser just stop, I knew I’d handle even worse than I’d handled that night.

‘Well, hey there.’

Okay, I can do this now. After all, I was about to go home.

Rehearsal.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the sheriff’s daughter.’ Mary-Lou says.

‘What?’

‘Come on, you played that song last night, didn’t you? “I went down to Texas…busted jail and I’m gone for good. Well the sheriff he couldn’t catch me…but his little girl was sure she would.” I just caught you, Dylan Highwood. Who told his audience last night that his real name’s Alex Schaeffer. And that he’s wanted in more states than he probably knows about.’

‘So come get me,’ I say, repeating myself from last night before I’d launched into that old number. Grateful Dead was the first version I’d ever heard. Last night I played a version where I sounded more like Azorín and a lot more like Uncle Tony once had when he taught me some blues tricks with that as our backing track. I’ve still got no idea who the original writer was.

‘My real daddy was a sheriff, Schaeff,’ Mary-Lou says. ‘Just like yours. And the answer to that question you never dared ask? It was my step-daddy.’

‘What was?’

‘The man I killed. After he abused my mom. You were trying not to ask me after I said it that night and you ran so you didn’t have to keep trying. My daddy was killed in the line of action and my mom re-married to the guy who most of the town thought did it. That’s why I never even stood a trial, let alone did time. It wasn’t just saving her life. And the dumb bitch still doesn’t speak to me because she won’t forgive me. You once asked me why I didn’t become a counsellor. It’s because you can’t figure people out, Schaeff. People are just a fucking mess, plain and simple. Unless they learn to keep it together.’

No mistaking who that last part was aimed at. ‘I’m sorry, okay? I should have stayed.’

‘Don’t be dumb. That was never the band for you. And I only ended up with Ethan because you were so goddamn cagey all the time that I was never going to get your story.’

‘I’m a coward, okay? Unless I’m on a stage, I’m running. That’s me. That’s why I should have stayed with Night Water.’

‘Really. Well, you just left the and came here airport and that means you’re getting on a bus. Where you going this time?’

‘Home.’

‘I thought so. Give me five minutes to get my suitcase. I’m coming with you.’

Ooooooh no. She’s already walking away and I can’t think of any to stop her. All I can do is stand, wait, and plan as best I can. She gets back in just under three.

‘You do not wanna get dragged into this,’ I say. ‘You just really don’t. I might not have been through what you did, but I’m still going home to a mess. And probably a jail cell after I’ve not dealt with it.’

‘You already told me that. What advantage have you got doing that alone?’

‘What about your tour?’

‘I finished with Ethan two nights ago. They’ve got one more date. Tonight they’re playing the stage you were on last night. Pretty big boots to fill. You’re going viral, by the way.’ She held up an iPhone.

‘I know what going viral is, Mary-Lou. Remember my mom?’

‘Oh, you just made her out to be a virus herself. I’m guessing she’s not even half your problem. Come on. Whatever you’re going back to, why not take the person you’ve seen scare the shit out of somebody scary?’

‘Because I don’t want you to kill anybody for me.’

‘Oh come on. You see a gun around here?’

‘Where did you get that shotgun that night?’

‘I snatched it from that redneck drum-tech. He got it out after he heard the first few hammer smashes and thought they were gunshots. I knew he wasn’t going to use it either.’

‘Would you really have shot Fraser?’

‘I don’t know. Does it matter? I saved your sorry ass from getting shot. And Ethan’s fingers. He was lucky, the break healed well enough.’

I sighed, not quite knowing why I was still standing here.

‘You knew he tried to kill himself, don’t you? Fraser.’

‘No. How would I have known? I kind of bailed on that tour so I didn’t have to know about Fraser ever again.’

‘He took an OD and threw himself off a bridge. They found him alive and apparently his family came to the hospital afterwards. That’s the last I heard about him. It was a few days after I stuck that gun in his face. I don’t think I’d have done it. But maybe sometimes it’s worse if someone just thinks you want them dead.’

‘I’m sorry I didn’t stay, okay? I didn’t know how to handle any of that shit. You scared me more than him.’

‘Why do you think I’m here to say sorry too, Schaeff? Can we just stop talking and have a hug?’

I knew it was a good idea, but I was doing it before I knew that. The smell of her was warm and cosy, like a straw barn in the summer, or maybe a warm forest floor like where Finn and I wrote that song about someone leaving a snep.

‘You remember when most of us thought a hug was something we were never going to have again once? At least not without a whole load of people looking at you like you’d just committed murder.’

‘You mean the pandemic? Lockdown? Yeah. Strange it feels like ages ago now. It was only three years ago.’

‘You did get your shot every year even though you were on tour, right?’

I wish I could fake forgetting, and have a good laugh at her killer face coming out in disapproval of me again, but I can’t. ‘I’m not likely to forget, Mary-Lou. I caught the fucking thing six months after the pandemic started. I nearly died. The hospital didn’t think I’d live. And the truth is, I don’t think they were going to admit me. There were limited places. If someone didn’t stand much chance…hell, if I’d been a doctor, I don’t think I’d have admitted me.’

‘Jesus, Schaeff, you’d have been a kid. Or at least a teenager.’

‘Eighteen.’

‘That’s kid enough even if you’re a legal adult. If you’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you, you’re still a kid. You don’t refuse treatment.’

‘You don’t when your boss is scared of the kid’s father.’

Mary-Lou looked at me for a moment, then around herself. ‘Really?’

‘I don’t know if it’s true. It’s just what my dad told me’s true. I only got my life saved because of him. That’s how he thought he could get me to do whatever he wanted.’

‘He told you he bullied some doctor into making him treat you when they were going to refuse it?’

‘No. He implied it. He’s far too smart to actually say it. Especially when he knows his kid would like nothing more than dirt on him and has a smartphone in his pocket. But that’s my dad. That’s some idea of who you’re dealing with if you come back to Cedar Rapids with me.’

Mary-Lou looked around herself, like some defeated poker player who knew it was all cards down time even if she lost. ‘I’ve got nowhere to go, Schaeff. So can I just come with you, even if you haven’t either?’

If I’m not careful, I’m going to just crack like I nearly did in front of Darnell this morning. ‘Course you can.’

Mary-Lou takes a deep breath like she’s trying to stop herself from doing the same. ‘Okay then. Remember how you said “Come get me” last night?’

I’m about to smile, and follow up with some innuendo, but then I catch her real meaning. ‘Oh shit. I don’t wanna look round, do I?’

‘Three cop cars just pulled up and I bet there’s more coming. Relax, they’re going into the airport. But I think we’d better get on a bus and do it fast. Without looking like we’re try’n’a do it fast.’

flag
What I'm going to do next (Spoiler: there's a snep involved) 2020-07-06T22:02:27+00:00

You guys are kind of paying for my thoughts, so here’s today's main one: what happens after the Todd and Colton books are finished?

Here’s an answer: I’m leaning towards putting this page on a kind of hiatus. Before you all say anything, allow me to explain.

Because of this covid-19 shit, my day job is under threat of redundancy at the moment. I won’t know until the end of July what my future is. I knew this a month ago and haven’t really said anything, because I can’t do much about it and until I get the news it might as well be business as usual. All things considered, without boring you all with the fine details, I’ve reason to believe I’ve got a good chance of surviving this, so I might as well assume things are going to go well until I know otherwise.

What this whole situation has made me do though is ask myself what I can do if the worst happens. I’ll be honest: I don’t want to do any of the plans I’ve come up with. What I’d prefer to do is work for myself. But doing what? Surely not this whole game, writing furry books full time?

Well, in a word, no. Even if I threw myself at trying to make a go of that, it takes far more time to make day-job money from writing than I have at my disposal. However, I’m faced with the reality that full-time jobs are going to be in very short supply anyway, because nationwide job losses mean there will be more people looking for work than there are positions to be filled, even in minimum wage jobs. By default, I’m probably going to have to find ways of making money for myself anyway. I’ll admit, that’s actually kind of an exciting idea, because let’s face it, I already know a little bit about how to do that.

The success of the Todd Aldrington books compared to my real name ones has brought home to me that I can turn a skill I have into money on the side. Good news on that front then: I’ve basically got another three books in the bank with that whole series which might just double that money eventually, if my sell-through from the first three stays good. With White Christmas already heading towards the last stages before publication, the two Gone Day books just need the same re-working, polishing and final consideration before they could go out too. In the meantime, I could be writing more books…

Like The Electric Snep. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

I mentioned in another update that the whole idea behind that book was born out of the fact that I play the electric guitar, have done so for nearly 23 years, and the idea of a snep virtuoso playing the guitar just occurred to me out of seemingly nowhere. As did the thought that I could teach people to play online myself, and The Electric Snep actually sounded like a good Patreon page as well…

You can see where I’m going with this already. If I lose my day-job, now might be the perfect time to try this idea out. I’ve already got the right kind of gear, so in terms of start-up costs, in theory I’ve got none at all. Thanks to the time I’ve spent with my current employer, they’ll have to give me redundancy for 3.3 months if they want me gone. Plus if they announce this at the end of July, there has to be a 45 day consultation period about the company’s plans (during which I might still save my job if I say/do the right things.) So that’s at least another two months full pay before that 3.3 kicks in. That’s enough time to find some part time work, get another Todd Aldrington book launched with some savings (some of which come from this very page), and then take on the task of figuring out what The Electric Snep guitar lessons page might be like, then making some material, then getting the word out.

Let’s not get carried away though. I might not have to action this plan in such a quick and drastic way. Say my current prediction comes good: I still have a day job, and everything’s the same as it is right now. Then what do I want?

I’ll be honest: I’ve decided that after Gone Day part II is done (which should be within the next 4 weeks), I want to cut back on time spent being Todd Aldrington the author. It’s time to try making money with a different skill. It’s not going to be easy, but it does mean I get to spend more time playing guitar, which is the other thing that got me through the last three months along with writing the furry books. I’ve spent today largely writing down ideas for how to start the Electric Snep stuff off, and I’m already realising I won’t get time to do both that and write books at my current rate.

But here’s the thing: when I said I’d put this page on a sort of hiatus, here’s what I meant: I’m not going to kill it dead, because I can make time to write still, non-patron readers who buy White Christmas might still want early access to books 5 and 6 after it, and here’s the even bigger thing: I need to write the Electric Snep book, and your continued contributions to my funds will be appreciated while I do it.

Here’s why I need to keep writing and get at least one more book done: there are loads of sites on how to play guitar out there. Some of them made by far more qualified and experienced people than me, who really know how to teach the instrument and how to market what they do. I need a unique selling point. Being a furry who plays guitar? That’s out there too. But how many sites are there that have a book named after them? If The Electric Snep is both a fictional character and a real person with a fursona (or maybe even just a cartoon character that non-furries might find appealingly bonkers, because let’s face it there are some complete characters in the music world who’ve done weirder things than this, and who gives a fuck what you’re into when you can play a mean guitar)…well, I’ve never seen that before.

I know, this all sounds a gleefully nuts. But fuck it, with the way the world is lately, I’ve realised life’s too short not to embrace that side of myself. You lot have all read a load of the sorts of things I imagine, so you know I’m a little on the quirky/eccentric/batshit side of the life spectrum anyway. In times when the news is constantly shit and loads of people are depressed (and I’ve certainly had those days lately too) I’m thinking of all this and daring to believe that my ‘best life’ and better times aren’t all that far away after all. My idea situation: my day job stays, I finish Gone Day pt 2 in my spare time, write Electric Snep the novel after that and take more time over setting up and establishing Electric Snep the real person and guitar tutor. But who knows. Tough times making me do it all faster while I stack shelves in a supermarket or make coffee in Starbucks to make sure I can pay my rent might not be so terrible.

You know what I’m going to have to ask now though, don’t you: do any of you play? Have you thought of starting?

-T.

flag
Comments (3)
user avatar
User #734962 - 6 Jul 20 22:08
I myself haven’t ever considered picking up an instrument, mostly dude to the fact that my job completely decimates my free time. However, this whole Electric Snep plan you got sounds completely bonkers in all the right ways. Full support!
user avatar
User #9232419 - 7 Jul 20 01:07
I learned how to play electronic keyboard at a young age, but I completely gave it up after passing grade 7 exam and I haven’t touched it in 15 years. Then in quarantine, I realized I had completely forgotten how to play the keyboard, and my $2000+ keyboard wouldn’t turn on :(
user avatar
User #583768 - 6 Jul 20 22:44
Dude, hopefully you won't have any issues with work, but I'm glad you're thinking ahead regardless. I, myself, have always wanted to learn an instrument, but I don't have the patience for it. I've been on and off trying to learn Japanese and I just don't have the discipline to keep myself to a schedule and keep at things. But through everything, I'll be here supporting you in some form or another. <3
Gone Day Part 2 - Chapter Ten (Post 2) 2020-06-27T15:03:05+00:00

Author's intro


This second post got way longer than I expected, and a-la White Christmas I've done the technique of using small tangent-stories to help explore what's happening in the present. Bringing Colton back has not proven as simple to navigate as I thought, and I've even gone as far as to tell one person that I don't think the ending I had planned for this book entirely fits anymore as a result of my recent thinking, so I'm well and truly into uncharted waters now, with scenes not playing out at all how I'd anticipated.

I wanted to post this last night but just had this nagging feeling it wasn't ready. Another few hours today and I got my lightbulb moment where the different perspectives finally began to make a measure of sense. Here's 10,000 words, and once I've taken a screen break and eaten something other than donuts and coffee, I can't wait to write more!


* * *


‘I’m so sorry,’ Arlanda said, after finding me at the airport arrivals lounge just over an hour after I landed. ‘Traffic was complete hell. You must be exhausted.’

‘Actually, I’m okay,’ I said, pretending she was wrong. Exhaustion was going to make no difference. I was going to look at whatever bed was waiting for me and only be able to dream of sleeping in it, with everything going through my head. Even getting drunk might not do it. ‘Actually, if I find I can’t sleep…I don’t quite know what I’m going to do. But if you find I’ve gone for a walk, don’t panic.’

‘I thought as much. If you really need them, Destry has some pretty wicked sleeping pills for when his anxiety acts up. Normally I wouldn’t encourage sharing medication, but I think you’re a fair exception.’

‘Not gonna argue with that.’

‘Are you okay though?’ Arlanda said, putting her hands on my shoulders. ‘Is it good to be home or is everything a little bit confusing right now?’

‘It’s…you know why I don’t care how late the traffic made you? I’ve been sitting there for an hour wondering why I don’t want a cigarette. I even looked at the display at the store over there, and I didn’t buy a pack. I’ve never known what healthy lungs felt like as Colton. I’ve forgotten the craving. Like totally. I still like the smell. But I’ve sat there for an hour not wanting to smoke. Yeah. It’s weird. It’s like I’m not me. But I am. And okay. There’s something I think you should know.’

I told her about how Vera had tried to get me to sit at a piano and play for the last three days, and I’d refused, not knowing what it might do to me if I found I could do what I’d been dreaming of during the year before my gone day.

‘You do it when you’re ready,’ Arlanda said. ‘If that turns out to be never, then it’s never. I’d rather have you as Colton than a prodigy at the piano any day. If you have to ignore the piano in my house, do it. Trust Vera not to understand anything whatsoever in a delicate situation.’

‘She understood more than you think,’ I said. ‘Besides, she’s secretly too wrapped up in herself to care. She just played in public for the first time in a decade and found out she’s still got it. Actually, she was on fire. Everyone’s saying it. Who else could go straight back in and play the Ossia cadenza from Rach’s third?’

‘I’ll admit I’ve never been able to perform it,’ Arlanda said. ‘Destry probably could though. He’s been on a mission with the world’s most difficult pieces for the last two years. He’s far better at any of them than I am. Ever since he got diagnosed he’s been looking to channel it.’

‘Diagnosed?’

Arlanda smiled. ‘I know you once told him he had “Aspie” written all over him. I always told him the same. So did his mother. He always refused to see a psychiatrist until after college. He won’t admit it, but I think it was Todd who talked him into it. He asked me to go with him. It was pretty well textbook from there.’

‘Really? Todd got him to do that?’

‘Destry sometimes mentions one of Todd’s brothers. Felix. The one you said the same thing about, but you never expected Todd to tell you the family already knew.’

‘Shit, yeah, that was our first date. I always was a presumptive asshole.’

‘Who has a habit of being right. They don’t call it Asperger’s anymore, it’s “high functioning autism” now. That’s all Destry needed to hear. He always wanted to be high functioning and never realised he actually was. He thought everyone could pick up an instrument as quickly and effortlessly as he did and everyone else practiced without noticing hours go like he does. Why are we talking about this? We should be doing you right now. When you get to our house, there’s a brand new set of pyjamas and a towel and some shower stuff waiting for you. I sent Destry out. And I told him to remember to make sure he got PJ’s suitable for a fox because your tail’s differently positioned above your butt. But don’t be surprised if he’s also as desperate to get you on a piano as Vera was. Or if you have to try getting comfortable in otter PJ’s. The boy’s a phenomenal pianist and hopeless and most everything else.’

‘Actually he’s a pretty good dancer,’ I said.

‘Especially on MDMA, apparently. I found out about that too. Guilty conscience. I’ve told him if he still has Todd’s number he’d better not call it.’

Shit, I really hadn’t thought of that. Destry had been a quiet one, as in ‘it’s always the quiet ones.’ He’d learned how to talk, from the sounds of it.

‘Colton, I think I’d better prepare you for something. Before Destry sits there squirming about it trying to keep his mouth shut and then the guilt eats him and he just says it.’

I laughed, already one step ahead. ‘Oh, seriously? He hooked up with Todd?’

‘Yes. After you left, Todd had sympathy sex with several of his gay friends and Destry was one of them. Honestly, when that boy confesses something to me, I get everything. He even told me Todd had a medical fetish. Destry let him hear his heartbeat with a stethoscope you once bought him.’

‘Oh Todd.’ I shook my head. ‘He always did like otters. I once told him he should have just made Destry happy on their first “date.” The one where he had a piano lesson with you first and the two of them went out and ate lobster on my credit card afterwards.’

‘I heard about that too.’

‘Did Destry like Todd when they did it?’

‘Enough that they did it several times. I’m glad it didn’t go anywhere else. Todd would have been an awful match for him for anything serious.’

‘Does he have anyone now?’

Arlanda shook her head. ‘Destry doesn’t get the give-take side of being with someone long term. He dates almost every weekend and mostly turns down second dates believing he’ll end up rejected if he doesn’t reject first.’

‘Oh, that issue. Let me take him out this weekend. I can tell him a thing or two about giving your life a chance.’

‘I was afraid you might say that,’ Arlanda said. ‘Not before you’ve slept though. Is it good to be home?’

For the first time, I realised I could smell New York again and not just the smoking lounge and the airport bars and the lingering sent of airplane seats and air.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Actually, it is.’

* * *

I crashed as soon as I hit the bed, with enough of Arlanda’s chicken pie and potatoes and salad in my stomach that the food coma compounded it. I just about remembered to put the pyjamas on out of courtesy, because before and after Todd I’d never worn them (and wasn’t sure quite how I knew about the after part of it). At least Destry had remembered to shop in the fox section.

When I woke up, it was nearly 9AM and strangely nobody seemed to be awake yet. So I decided I’d wake them up, starting their day with a piece of music for the evening.

I still had Chopin’s first Nocturne from memory. And the 14th. Then I found Arlanda’s book of all 21 of them on the shelf and started going through the 3rd. Then the fearsome one in D-flat major that Vera had played her orchestra on with.

‘Well, you certainly weren’t sight-reading like that when I last saw you,’ Arlanda said, emerging from the hallway in her dressing gown. ‘And I’m not sensing a relapse to Jeremy here either.’

I’d told her just enough over dinner to fill her in on how I’d apparently spent the last three years. I’d gone to the piano now because I’d woken up with one clear thought: if I could still do this, then I wasn’t entirely missing those years. I actually had something to show for having been Jeremy.

‘Chopin, huh?’ Arlanda said. ‘Have you tried the sonatas yet?’

‘I could use a little breakfast first,’ I said. ‘Don’t suppose you’ve got a waffle iron, do you?’

* * *

While Arlanda made us breakfast, Destry was recognisably still Destry and looked at the waffle iron as though it was going to produce something poisonous and then told us both there was enough sugar on our plates to sustain most people for two days. I knew how to put paid to it quickly enough:

‘I still remember those cookies Todd brought home with him after your first date,’ I said. ‘Did you put a diabetes warning on the box for him?’

‘Todd needed a high calorie diet.’

‘What makes you think I don’t? Why don’t you come for a run through New York with me and see what I can burn off?’ That had always shut him up. Sure enough:

‘What do I always say when you say this? I’m on otter. You try running with a tail like this weighing your butt down. We’re not built for running.’

‘Trick Dixon does a twenty minute Parkrun.’

‘Trick Dixon is a sex-athlete.’

‘He eats waffles for breakfast too and still keeps the tone though.’

‘Who’s Trick Dixon?’ Arlanda said.

‘Lately,’ Destry said, with a insuppressible grin on his face, ‘he’s Todd’s boyfriend.’

‘I wouldn’t lay bets on how real that all got,’ I said. ‘Looked like a front to me.’

Arlanda, as I’d expected, didn’t really follow sports or their news, so I filled her in on Todd’s latest.

‘I see,’ she said, and started to clear our plates. ‘So this is the biggest reason you wanted someplace quiet to go.’

‘So what do I do?’ I looked at Destry, whose tail had hit the floor knowing what I might say next. Go on, you’re the expert in boyfriend stealing. ‘Do I go and try stealing him back? Because I don’t think I can tell him I’m back and not end up doing it anyway. What the hell’s the right thing to do?’

‘Go get him back,’ Destry said. ‘Todd with a dog? He’s only with that guy because…yeah, you can guess.’

‘Because it’s a good match of one person’s fetish to another’s expertise?’ I said. ‘Yeah, it probably started with something like that. Todd wouldn’t have made it more than fun if it hadn’t become something else.’

‘Who cares?’ Destry said. ‘You asked him to marry you. He said yes. You got further. You already said it, you could get him back just by calling him up and telling him you’re here again. That’s why.’

Arlanda regarded her nephew as though about to tell him not to be so blunt or tactless, then she gave me a resigned look. ‘Yeah, he’s not exactly wrong. Maybe a straight answer’s better right now and that’s mine too.’

Destry licked a finger and made a hissing sound as he held it up, his grin even wider.

‘Alright, score one for you,’ I said. ‘Now we need to talk about your love life. What’s this I’ve been hearing about dates who call but you never call back?’

‘Oh, gimme a break. Most of them are idiots.’

‘So number one, not all of them are, and number two, so was Todd sometimes. I can’t remember which culture has the proverb about he who sets ridiculously high standards winds up dying alone, but y’know. Call back, for Christ’s sake. You’re a health-freakish otter who plays the piano like a demi-God and just tells it like it is. According to movie culture, you’re probably supposed to be the one nobody calls back, but hey look, real life, people are interested in you.’

‘None of them are Todd.’

Oh God. Still the unrequited crush? ‘Okay, I don’t know how serious you are, I never know how serious you are, but if that really is more than a conversation ender, now might be the time to tell you that you two were never compatible for more than just a nice date and hot sex. If you want to date a raccoon who plays sports and you want a famous one to try, I can ask Todd who he knows.’

‘You’d have to talk to him again first. And why not?’

‘Why not what?’

‘Why wasn’t I compatible?’

‘Ah, shit, you’re really asking?’

‘Yeah. I asked him and all he said was that he wasn’t ready for another relationship. That was just an easy get-out.’

‘You’re too much like his kid brother.’

‘What?’

‘Don’t hold it against him, he probably didn’t realise that’s what it was. Just that there was something telling him not to go there. And okay, bombshell, have you actually dated another otter yet? Because the obsession with stripy tails might actually be holding you back from finding someone you’ve got more than just a quirky attraction to.’

Destry looked at Arlanda for help.

‘See? What did I tell you?’ was all she said as she poured us both more coffee.

‘God, you really are back,’ Destry said.

‘You’d better believe it,’ I said.

* * *

Mom called just after mid-day.

‘The wedding’s on,’ she said. ‘We managed to get our guy back. It was the good kind of cold feet. It wasn’t about how much he loved Courtney, it was a commitment fear thing. Syl’s an adventure leader, he works all round the globe, and he’s already seen most of it and still can’t get enough. Courtney always told him she wasn’t talking about a settle down and have kids kind of marriage, that’s not her working life either, but he just lost his shit this week. Not enough sleep and a little too much dope and alcohol to help him cope.’

‘My kinda guy. So can I come?’

‘Well, here’s the thing. Courtney knew something was up with me too and because I was so relieved we got her man back in the game, I spilled. She knows you’re back.’

‘Really?’ It was probably better that Mom had done this for me. ‘Can I talk to her?’

‘She’s getting married in three hours, there isn’t time. And I don’t think that’s the best idea when her nerves are already high anyway. But I re-arranged the seating plan so I can put a laptop on a front row chair next to me and your father. Best I can do. Are you in?’

Like I had a choice after she’d already made a small change that was really a big deal. ‘Yeah. Skype or Zoom?’

‘Telegram.’

‘Alright, you got it. Will she really not talk to me? Can’t I just get ten seconds to say good luck with you holding the phone?’

‘Col, just trust me. There’s losing a brother. Then there’s having one come back when you’re already emotional enough. Then there’s losing a twin and having all that happen. Don’t ask me why that makes it different, I just know it does. Do this your sister’s way. She asked for you to be a laptop on a seat even though I said maybe we should just go with you sitting out. Then she begged. I went with it because when she’s up there, she probably won’t notice you’re there. Let her have her wedding as uncomplicated as it can be. Then she can deal with whatever emotions talking to you again brings.’

‘She’s going to get drunk later and call me.’

‘Then that’s her choice,’ Mom said, and I could see the shrug behind those words all the way from New York. ‘But if that happens, its her who calls you. Do not get tempted to break the ice and call first. You can watch her ceremony but after that I’m cutting you off. You’re not coming to the reception and do not even think about catching a surprise flight and showing up.’

‘I’m too tired for another flight today.’

‘Good. Three PM, you’ll get a video request from me. Be sober.’

‘Mom.’

‘Yeah?’

‘What’s Coutrney’s new surname going to be?’

Mom sighed. ‘You had to ask. She wanted to stay the same, then she decided for Syl she’d take his. Esposito.’

‘Courtney Esposito. I like it. Italian, huh? I can just hear him and Obie’s bromance conversation right now.’

‘Funny, I imagined those two in a room together too as soon as I met him. Syl has a slightly complicated relationship with his family, and that whole thing’s not been helped by how he doesn’t buy into the whole woman taking a man’s name thing. A couple of months ago he told her he wants her name. He’d rather be a Vincent.’

I laughed before I could help it. ‘Does he want to join the dark side or is the power seducing him?’

‘Oh, he wants the lightening from the finger tips and everything.’ I heard a click and a rush of breath.

‘Mom, seriously. You’re smoking?’

‘Shut the fuck up, I just saved my daughter’s marriage before it even started. Besides, you’re gonna go sit on the skate ramp near our old house later and you’re gonna buy a pack of those Reds you always liked on the way there. After it’s hit you that you should have been married before your sister was.’

That’s why you wanted me to sit this out?’

‘If you don’t answer the call I won’t hold it against you,’ she said. ‘Just think about it. I know what Todd’s current situation is, and you know what yours is, and it’s going to hit you what you really lost as soon as you see it happening for someone else.’

‘Mom, I don’t think Todd was ready. I think he said yes because he knew I wanted it. I think he proposed the way he did to cover that up. He knew what I wanted, but him? I don’t think he knew what he wanted out of life. I think he would have got the life he’s got now even if I’d never got the gone day, and I think our plan might have changed. I don’t know if I’d know how to be married to who Todd is now. I never wanted to be famous. I never imagined myself with anyone who was. Look at what he’s done lately. He wants his love life in the spotlight. Do you think that’s me?’

Mom didn’t say anything for a moment. ‘If you need to talk about this Col, we’re going to have to do it later. I’ve got to go and make sure your father’s sorted for this. See you at three.’

‘Mom, do one thing for me.’

‘What?’

‘Remind her about Aunt Saffa’s wedding when she cut my fur. If her nerves are high, that’ll chill her out. I bet she’s forgotten.’

‘Oh, she hasn’t. It was one of the first things she thought of after I told her you’ll be here.’

Was that a slip? ‘You told her that? So there’s really no option for me to back out, is there?’

‘I’ve gotta go, Col.’

That memory made me hang up with a smile. Saffa wasn’t a blood relation aunt, she was a friend of Mom’s who pestered her for months to make her mine and Courtney’s godmother, and eventually my mostly atheist parents caved in, on the grounds that it was a good idea to nominate someone to raise us both if anything should happen to them. Saffron ‘Saffa’ Melrose was a woman who’d never wanted to get married until someone asked her and she unexpectedly realised that the right man was asking. She was still with her husband Tom now, and they both doubtless remembered one nine year old fox with a fur-style so short he looked more like a dog.

I could still hear my mother’s voice now, looking at what Courtney had done to me (and indeed I’d let her do) the day before Saffa’s wedding.

‘You cut your brother’s fur? Oh my GOD! We’ve got Saffa’s wedding tomorrow!’

‘Oh come on Mom, it looks kinda cool. Rough and messy is the new neat.’

‘Colton, you look terrible, and I am not having you out in public at someone’s wedding looking like this. Oh, for God’s sake…I’m calling Althea, I’m going to have to pay her double time to sort this mess out for you out of hours if she’s already fully booked. Courtney, what the hell possessed you?’

My sister, instead of putting on a hang-dog face and starting to cry, had pissed herself laughing. What had possessed her was knowing this was the night before a wedding, and if she got it all wrong it would be funny watching our mother have a meltdown about it.

To get my fur presentably even, Mom’s stylist Althea had taken it down so short that my ringbearer’s suit no longer fitted like it was supposed to, and neither her nor my mother realised that would happen. Too late to change the suit. I might as well have worn baggy skate clothes as I held that ring on a pillow.

I couldn’t remember that whole summer five years ago thanks to enough dope and booze to match whatever Sylvester had done this week, but I wondered if I’d ever told Akio that story and had him draw that. It was certainly a memory that saved my mental health. On my hospital bed three years after it, I’d fallen asleep a few times hearing ‘You cut your brother’s fur? Oh my God!’ inside my head, and managed to smile.

* * *

I watched the service in the quiet of the guest room, with the mute on at my end so as not to fill the room with the faint sound of one of Arlanda’s beginner students murdering nursery rhymes.

Courtney video called me a few hours later, the music of her wedding reception behind her in the distance, surprisingly sober, and wedding dress aside she looked like a teenager who’d snuck out of an adults’ party to find a place to smoke.

‘Hey, dickbrain,’ she said, after staring for a moment. ‘Nice fucking timing.’

‘Hey, Mrs Esposito. Congratulations.’

‘Don’t. I actually think he’s right. I’d rather he became a Vincent. It’s just going to antagonise an already awkward family thing.’

Anything was better than talking about myself. ‘Gonna fill me in?’

‘Well, they’re kind of all divided. Half of them are Mormons, the other half are into weird shit like scientology. His parents? Oh, they picked the real jackpot. They’re both federal agents. It’s a disappointed in the renegade son thing and a family pariah thing. Syl became a Buddhist while travelling in Asia. The typical American kind who doesn’t take it too seriously and really just wants to say “I go to a church but I don’t believe in God”.’

‘That’s all it is?’

‘Oh, and he got busted in Thailand when he was eighteen with a kilo of heroin in a suitcase, stuffed inside a tourist figurine. Didn’t help that he got high right before trying to board the plane too, just to get the guts up to do the smuggling. He got home without the death penalty because mom and dad pulled some strings, and after it they thought they could make him do anything they wanted. Guess how well that worked out.’

I laughed. ‘You’ve married a drug lord.’

‘I’ve married a guy who did something stupid with some friends once. They were just trying to get money to keep travelling because nobody’s parents would give them any more. He’s a good guy and he’s who I want. Took a fair bit of convincing with Mom and Dad too. You never got this problem. Mom loved Todd. She barely even met Syl for a year of trying because he’d always pick up some job and run off at the last minute. That’s how his kind of work works.’

‘Yeah, those damn cartels, always calling at the last minute.’

‘Oh, you’re funny. Shall I go get him? He’s dying to meet you. The fox who got arrested for GTA at his senior prom. After threatening to kill the guy he proposed to four years later.’

I shrugged. ‘Fair. You might work this out tomorrow when the day’s not all about you, but I’ve kinda got a different problem in that whole department now.’

‘Oh, I worked that out already. Your solution’s simple. Get on a flight to San Fran and go after him. I saw him last Christmas. He looked like he’d been living life on the edge for years, right up until he came into our house and said hello. Even without you there. He should be in our family, Col. I don’t know who this dog he’s with is, but he is not the one for Todd. Trust me.’

‘What makes you so sure?’

‘I knew about Todd’s plan to bring you back before Mom did. He read that letter you sent him as Jeremy in your bedroom with the door shut. Then he called that snow leopard Vera. Right after he opened your wardrobe and put his nose in half your clothes. And I bet that dog Charlie whoever he is doesn’t know a goddamn thing about it.’

‘You listened in on someone else’s phone call through a door. Well, nice to know a lot can change in three years but you haven’t.’

‘Todd’s victory speech after that game. You know what I spent the whole of it waiting for?’

‘What?’

‘ “Charlie, will you marry me?” ’

‘Oh fuck off. In front of a stadium full of people? On live TV with half the nation watching? That’s not Todd.’

‘No, thankfully it wasn’t. In public. What do you think’s going through his head in private right now? You know this is how athletes do this whole thing. “I’ll marry you when I’ve won a ring, medal, world cup title, you name it, there’s always something bigger than their love life. Todd’s got his thing. So what now?’

‘You said Charlie’s not the one.’

‘Duh, I know that. Do you think Todd does? Everything I listened in on was just another form of denial. He probably did the same sort of thing about being gay once. Do what I told you do to after the prom: get your ass around to his house before it’s too late. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got two special agents to go and emotionally bribe.’

‘Shit, they’re there?’

‘Of course they are, and they think the whole passive-aggressive act’s working. Not on me it ain’t. I told my husband to invite them so I can work my whole routine and say it even works on feds. Later, fox-pants.’

How did she know Todd had once taken to calling me that? I couldn’t recall he’d ever done it in front of her. Pants really were an odd thing, if you thought about it. There was actually somebody whose job it was to decide which species got their tiny silhouette head printed on the labels that advised who a particular pair should be suitable for. Many a time clothes shopping as a child I’d heard my mother lamenting: ‘How is any fox supposed to wear that?’

I was wasting time, sitting here with my tail in my lap and contemplating fashion. The only way I was going to work anything out was by going for a walk. It was time to prove my mother wrong and go to the skate park, sit on the half-pipe not smoking, and make a decision.

I told Arlanda I’d buy myself dinner out and left my bag with the laptop behind, just to make sure I didn’t walk all the way to the airport and board a flight to San Fran.

* * *

What I did instead was make it to my old neighbourhood on the bus before I knew the ball just had to start rolling. So I made the call.

‘Hello?’

‘Hey, Obie. It’s Colton.’

‘What?’

‘Yeah, hi. It’s me. I’m back.’

‘Is this some kind of sick joke?’

‘Before you hang up, just listen. When we were both eighteen, you called me and asked me to come to New York, to work out what happened when we were twelve. When I asked how you got my number, you said you had to dig out your first cell to get it, and you called it hoping I hadn’t changed it. I thought you were one of Todd’s friends, calling me because he wasn’t answering his phone. And you said “I could call him, but I wouldn’t get who I really wanted.” ’

That did it, just like I knew it would. There were only two people who knew exactly what got said on that phone call. Now the line was silent, and I was enjoying myself.

‘Holy shit,’ Obie whispered. ‘C?’

‘Yeah. Hey, panda-face. Is now a good time or are you busy?’

‘Oh my God.’

‘Okay, before you go from being shell shocked to wanting to scream to the whole of the Apple that I’m back, here’s how we’re gonna do this. We’re gonna have a weird, awkward talk for a few minutes, then we’re gonna agree a time and a place and we’re gonna meet, and until we get to that, you’ve got to keep this quiet. You can tell Heidi but do not call anybody else. Especially not somebody who knows Todd.’

‘How did this happen? Just like that?’

‘It’s a long, long story, Obes. We need to meet up so I can tell you. So where are we getting a cup of warm piss? Same place as before?’

‘Wait, are you actually in New York?’

What had given it away? Nothing for it then. ‘Yeah.’

‘Where are you right now?’

I turned the corner and saw it again. ‘The skate park near my old house where it happened.’

‘I’m coming. I’m out the door right now.’

‘Slow down, Obie.’

‘Why shouldn’t I come? You are okay, right?’

‘I’m fine. I just want to take this slowly.’

‘Oh come on, C? What’s the point in that?’ I heard a door shut. ‘When I made that call six years ago you were here the same afternoon. You don’t believe in wasting time.’

‘Where do you live now?’

‘I’ve still got Sal’s place. I can be in Brooklyn with you in half an hour. Get this, I can drive now.’

‘Sal’s place? Really? Our student apartment? With your married wife?’

‘I was gonna move, but have you seen Manhattan prices that aren’t family rates?’

‘Come on. You’re a working man now. A hydrological engineer too.’

‘I can see you mocking me, C. Without the fucking video. And I’m an intern. Who feels exhausted every day because he knows nothing and he’s surrounded by Harvard bigshots.’

‘Who probably go home to their fancy pads and cry with homesickness at least once a week wishing they were a certain panda from New York. Who actually knows how to like living here.’

‘Sal dropped our rent because of player three.’

‘Player three?’

‘Uh-huh.’

It took me a moment. ‘Oooooooh shit! Congratulations! Obie, the panda-making machine.’

‘Don’t, C. I know I’m supposed to think it’s wonderful. Here’s me right now: I’m barely making enough money to keep living here and Heidi’s firm still won’t make her a partner. Mom’s been sick, she had a tumour taken out of her spine right after Christmas and she hasn’t been able to work since. She had to totally learn to walk again. Me and Heidi are supporting her right now too. And Heidi doesn’t know the only reason we can afford all her baby check-ups from now on is because Teej bought our insurance for us. My boss made me see a doctor last week after I had a dizzy spell, and my blood pressure’s right up there, so now they want to test me for the same heart condition Sal’s got. I don’t know how Teej always liked his own heartbeat so much, I’m scared of mine. What if my kid’s got this shit too?’

‘I thought you said you already got tested for it years ago,’ I remembered out loud. ‘After your whole body went weird during one of your throat surgeries.’

‘I was a kid then. Apparently it doesn’t always show up until you’re older.’

‘But if you’ve got it, you’re not dead. Sal manages it, right? And he’s your uncle and not your father, and your dad doesn’t have it.’

‘Can I please just come and meet you? I’ve been praying for one sane person to be in my life lately and it’s like it just got answered.’

‘Alright. I’ll wait here. Hurry up though, my stomach’s growling.’

‘Don’t even. I’ve been good about watching my weight ever since finals. Now I’ve got a wife who’s got a craving for fucking Krispy Kreme all the time, because I said yes to starting a family.’

I heard an engine start. ‘If you’re driving, hang up. We’ll talk when you get here.’

* * *

I knew the difference between Obie crying with sadness and Obie crying with joy, but regardless, his face was still so wet by the time he reached me that I knew he must have had to pull over at least once on the way here. He wordlessly hugged me, feeling a good ten pounds lighter than he had last time we’d done this.

‘Really, Obes? I made you cry?’

‘No shit, C, it’s like you’re back from the fucking dead! I never thought I was ever going to talk to you again, let alone see you.’

‘Yeah, sorry about that. My brain sucks.’

‘You missed my wedding, you dick.’

‘I’m sure you’ll bore me to death with the video sometime.’

‘We didn’t make one.’

‘You’ll bore me with a story then. I’ve already seen the photos. The Waterfront, huh? No wonder you’ve been broke ever since.’

‘Teej paid.’

‘I guessed that.’

‘Can we sit down, C? How about right up there, where you were? Does anybody even use this place as a skate park anymore? Every time I pass it it’s empty.’

We climbed up onto the half pipe and sat with our legs over the edge. The last time I’d been here, when I’d proposed to Todd, nobody was using it to skate either, like it had some sort of curse on it ever since my near death here.

‘You got any cigarettes?’ Obie said.

‘Oh, that’s a good idea when you’ve got BP issues already, isn’t it? No, I haven’t. I quit. I dunno why, but my brain’s just telling me to stay quit. I don’t actually think I’d like it anymore if I went and got a pack.’

‘Not vaping either?’

‘No.’

‘You sure you’re you again?’

‘Well that’s just it, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way of telling what happens to me from now on. Apart from just live my life and see what I get this time around. I don’t know how long I’m back for. I don’t know if it’s just like it was before with the blank days or if something different’s going to happen this time. So what am I supposed to do about Todd? Everyone I’ve asked told me to go get him back before it’s too late. I think it already is. As soon as I tell him the truth. That I don’t have a goddamn clue about anything. How am I supposed to do this without risking making both our lives worse?’

Obie’s face was dry now, and resolute. ‘You can’t. You’ve just gotta go see him. What happens happens.’

He was right, and I’d already known it before I asked. ‘You’ve seen him lately, right? The pool party. I still can’t believe he’s living in Akio’s house. When I saw those pictures on your Assbook page I felt totally jealous. How is he? Courtney’s convinced he can’t possibly be happy with Charlie. What do you think?’

The life was back in Obie’s eyes. ‘Oh. Here it is. I knew it!’

‘Here’s what?’

‘I’m supposed to make you feel better by saying I think Todd’s secretly dying inside and you’re supposed to run right back and save him from everything. Sorry, C. That ain’t what’s happening.’

‘I didn’t think so.’

Obie let me think on it for a moment, then shifted a little closer to me. ‘But I’ll tell you what I did see. And it’s got me wondering.’

‘Oh?’

‘That dog barely said hello to me all through that party. I didn’t see him say it to any of Teej’s old friends. He stuck to a couple of guys from the team and Trick, and that whole thing looked awkward as fuck. Literally. Teej is fucking Trick, I’d bet money on it. They both had it written all over them. I don’t know if the dog knew. But that party right there? That was a good room, and labrador-boy made zip-all fucking effort to work it. And it didn’t look like he liked it much when Teej did. And I don’t know if there’s anything to it, but Charlie-boy seemed awful close to that superstar coyote. What’s his name?’

‘Trey Hoffman?’

‘Yeah.’

Now the wheels in my head were turning. ‘That guy is definitely not gay, and I’ve never even met him.’

‘I heard a whisper he’s secretly an ace, but nobody really knows, and I can’t remember who said that. It might even have been long-ears himself. But maybe Courtney’s onto something. I don’t know what makes that relationship work. Now before we do Todd, you. Spill. How did this happen? How the fuck are we sitting right here again?’

I told him everything. Including how Charlie Fairbrother apparently knew nothing.

‘Ooooh boy oh boy,’ Obie said. ‘Yeah. Good one. Jesus, Teej. How many lovers do you really want? You know what I really think though? I think he just wants one.’

I looked at him. ‘If I go to San Fran, whether it’s tomorrow or months away, you’d better be right.’

‘So what if I’m not? What ever stopped you from causing chaos in other people’s lives before? Besides, go to your parents first.’

‘Rich coming from you.’

‘They were both at my wedding. You might be surprised.’

‘Yeah. Sorry about your mom.’

‘Ah come on, what is she, dead? She’s recovering. It’s just taken a little more time than we all thought. And you can imagine her when she can’t work, and she can’t get around her own kitchen at home either. No matter how many times I remind her that she took care of me when I was sick at least a hundred times, she hates having me do stuff for her. And since I got a job she seems to hate not having me there all the time. I still love her, but the woman’s a fucking headache. Even Heidi finally admitted she thinks so too.’

‘Your Dad?’

‘Dad? Oh, get this: he actually went to anger management classes outside of prison. I don’t spend a lot of time around him, but he only got fired from one job in the last three years or so. I guess that’s progress. He can still cook though. The guys he’s working with right now seem to like him. They say he’s got an edge when it comes to how quickly he can get all the food out to tables.’

‘See? Things can turn out alright even for him.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Okay.’

‘You’ve always been a bit of a worrier, Obes. Even before what happened with me added to your angst. Remember college too? You got the two-one, didn’t you? And I’ll tell you something else: they’re only testing you again for reassurance and they probably know it’s a negative. Your kid will probably be fine too. But for God’s sake tell your wife what’s happening.’

‘Sure, C. Sorry you’re puking every morning, sweetheart, but my health sucks too you know. Please worry about me too, as well as there being practically no maternity pay in a few months time.’

‘Even you’ve got more tact than that.’

‘She doesn’t seem to think so lately.’

‘No?’

‘I dunno what’s happened. She’s snippy all the time. I can’t do anything right. She’s at her parents’ place right now in Queens “clearing out her old junk from the attic.” Yeah, sure, that’s why she went there. You know what we were fighting about, the day before? What colour to paint the fucking bathroom. Apparently my choice makes her feel nauseous just looking at the test stripe on the wall.’

‘Or that’s the smell of the paint, and if you did the bathroom before she got back and you did her choice instead? Solved.’

‘We’ve barely been married a year, C. Am I already looking at a stay-together-for-the-kid marriage? It’s like the last nice thing we ever did together was our honeymoon in Rome.’

‘Oh, come on. There was nothing else since then you both liked about being together?’

‘There’s never any time for anything. We only went to Teej’s game because her parents put their feet down with her and told her to get away for a few days. After I told her I’d go alone and she got all pissy and went to them to whine about it. Now she thinks her parents care more about me than her. Both our lives, it’s all work, work, work. To pay off fucking people who are all just paying off other fucking people. What’s marriage meant to be, C? A lifetime of surviving that and believing it’s easier to do it together?’

‘You wouldn’t have spent so much time and effort finding somebody to love if you were the type who could face the world alone.’

‘Yeah, I know. But what world, C? New York isn’t the world. Yeah, it’s my home. But I don’t just want to know home all my life. Look at what a money-pit this place is. Look what it did to my parents, trying to keep up with it. I wanted to move. She didn’t. I took the internship here for her. Not for me. When she said she wanted a family, I said let’s do it because I hoped she’d realise the best way to give our kids a better life’s to get out of this place.’

In less than half an hour, Obie had surprised me all over again. ‘And go where?’

‘Cedar Rapids always looked nice.’

‘Iowa? Really?’

‘Scott Harrison moved there. He’s been living his best life ever since. I’ve got to go to his wedding next year. If I’m allowed to go anywhere by then, or save enough for a plane ticket. I’ve tried talking to her about nice places. When I was job hunting, Teej offered to fly me anywhere I wanted if I got an interview. I did get some. And I didn’t go, because Heidi’s got this romantic idea of the New York dream that’s probably never gonna come true.’

‘Or maybe it will. And I’m pretty sure you had that dream once. What happened to it?’

‘I woke up.’

There was probably nothing I could say that was going to knock him out of this. All I could do was try something simple. I put my arm around him and hugged him into the side of me. ‘You’re going to be alright, Obie. Everybody hits this place sometimes. If I don’t get Todd back, I’m pretty damn sure I’m going to hit it again. But I’ll be alright too. New York’s my home, remember? Along with everything that sucks about it. Maybe I’ll come back here soon and we’ll be warm piss buddies again.’

‘C, you really don’t know how wrong that sounds on every level, do you?’ Obie said, the side of his head against my shoulder. ‘Thank God you’re here again.’

‘You’ve become a gym addict, haven’t you?’ I said. ‘I’m not hugging a ball of pudge this time.’

‘You know why Heidi first sat down by me and asked if I wanted a coffee?’

‘Why?’

‘Because I was a ball of pudge. She had a thing for slightly chubby guys. She said chubby was cute. I never felt so appreciated the first time she ever got me naked. I felt special. Then I did what that dumbass polar bear Conway said and started exercise. Then I found I liked being fit. Then I ate a little less dessert every week. Now I’ve got a gym addict’s body and my wife doesn’t want to fuck me anymore, let alone look at me naked.’

‘Here’s an idea, Obes. Before you get so desperate that you shut your eyes and ask for a hand-job. Why don’t you talk about this with, I dunno, your wife? Who probably doesn’t want sex lately because, y’know, pregnant? With the kid she’s probably hyper-careful about because she knows how much it means to her husband, who stayed in New York for her. Because trust me, she knows that too. And she’d probably still love you to death even if she came home to find you’d painted the bathroom puke-green.’

Obie laughed. ‘I wanted it light brown. She wants it blue.’

‘So paint it fucking blue. Then make her that meal you had Todd make for me once and get an honest talk going about how things are at the moment. And besides, if her parents made her go to a basketball game with you, what do you think they’re doing right now, telling her to get a divorce? Come on, the only thing more expensive than living in New York is getting divorced in it.’

‘If I end up doing that too I’m gonna remind you you joked about it.’

‘What are you gonna call your kid?’

‘We’ve not even talked about it yet. If it’s a boy? I was kinda thinking of Colton.’

‘Colton Calabrese? You wanna fuck this kid’s life up with literally the first thing you ever give him? And you know there’s only one Colton in your life anyway. Come on, seriously, pick an Italian name. One that works with Calabrese. And if it’s a girl?’

‘Roseanna.’

‘Your ex who got an abortion. That won’t make Heidi’s fur stand on end, will it?’

Obie laughed. ‘I dunno, C. But you know why I don’t have an Italian first name? Because Mom wanted me to fit in as an American too. I know that sounds dumb but I kinda think she had a point. Why not have a name that shows you’re from two cultures? I really don’t know. Its like you said. It’s the first thing you give your kid, a name. What if I get that wrong?’

‘Obie, have you ever in your life asked yourself what happens if you get something right?’

‘Yeah. Right before I called you again six years ago.’

‘Call your kid August.’

Now he sat up and looked at me. ‘What? Why?’

‘That’s the month you made that call.’

Obie looked around the park for a moment. ‘August Calabrese. Actually, that’s not bad. That’s a boy’s name though. What if I have a daughter? Augustine’s too churchy.’

‘Autumn?’

‘Yeah, actually, I like that.’

‘Ask Heidi if she does. Good icebreaker.’

‘I asked Teej to be godfather.’

‘What? I thought you always said you never believed in any of that.’

‘Neither did your parents. You had aunt Saffa didn’t you? It’s the same. God forbid, something ever happened, Teej has got money and my kid wouldn’t end up in a foster home. And he just about believes in something higher up enough to take it seriously. So it’ll shut my asshole parents up about the whole thing even though he’s not catholic.’

‘Did he agree to this already?’

‘Not exactly but I’m working on it. Come on, don’t tell me I’m wrong. If I fuck everything else up, at least that kid can say their godfather’s Todd Aldrington.’

Todd being known to the world was still arresting thought to me. ‘How famous exactly is Todd over here now?’

‘Quite a few people who don’t really follow basketball know who he is. You seen his Reebok commercial yet? Or that Gatorade one him and Hoffman did together? Sales of fruit punch flavour apparently went through the roof right after the playoffs because they bought prime spots for it after the Peregrines won. Hoffman said apparently E.A Sports want Teej as a playable character in their next release and they just offered well into seven figures.’

‘Oh brother. So as soon as I so much as get on the highway for San Fran now I’m a gold digger as well as a home wrecker.’

‘Yyyyup. Except you’ll be flying there.’

‘I need to take my time with this. A road trip’s not a bad way to…’ I stopped, because Obie was now giving me an awkward look, and what he’d just said suddenly became uncomfortably odd.

‘Oh,’ he said, looking at the sky. ‘You don’t know that yet. Shit. Okay.’

‘Know what?’

‘You…well, you kind of lost your licence. While you were “gone.” Or Jeremy. Or whatever you’re calling it now. Guess you really did forget most of it.’

‘Oh God. What the fuck did I do? Was it a DUI? Is that why Mom didn’t tell me already? Or does she not even know?’

‘Oh she knows alright. She bailed you out.’

‘I went to fucking jail?’

Obie looked like he’d wet his pants and was squirming in it. ‘Uuuuuuh, yeaaah. See, it went like this. Teej thought that if he bought that Shelby car from your road trip from Trick Dixon it might help with your memory. He wanted to try repeating the road trip. Then Trick got it kinda wrong and had the car driven all the way here. So Teej took you out in it anyway, and when it was your turn to drive and you hit the open freeway, well…you kind of went nuts. As in Teej actually pissed his pants kinda nuts.’

‘Urgh, fuck. And I got hauled in for a speeding offence? Mom had to pay bail money to get me out of jail for that?

‘Errrm, well, no.’

‘Then what?’ I went cold, my fur prickling. ‘Obie, what did I do?’

‘Thanks to Todd and his agent talking to the DA, officially you did nothing apart from the speeding. You got released without charge in the end. But…you’ve gotta understand, this was at the end of Todd’s rookie year with the Foresters, and he’d just won Rookie of the Year, and he’d done a few commercials by the too. So, when they pulled you and the cops saw the state of him and he found it hard to talk to them because he was basically having a panic attack…yyeeeah, you’ve guessed it, right?’

Fuck, seriously? I got arrested for kidnap?’

‘With style. You ’napped a famous racc, C!’

‘This is not funny, Obie.’

‘Oh, come on. It kind of is.’

‘For you, who doesn’t have to make up for this even though it wasn’t really him who did it. Urrrrgh, what the fuck! Okay, how long after that did I walk out on him?’

‘Couple of months. I think he was relieved. Alright, serious head on, because it got out on the police scanners, the news got hold of it and it kind of got made a bit of a deal out of, just for a couple of days. Teej gave a public statement on CNN saying he wasn’t really kidnapped, it was just an ex boyfriend having a little fun who didn’t realise a joke wasn’t a joke anymore and then there was this whole speech on how he didn’t condone dangerous driving and didn’t expect the law to go easy just because it was a friend of his, blah blah blah. So you lost your licence, and you were smart enough to plead no contest so you didn’t do jail time.’

‘How fast was I going?’

‘They only caught you because Teej somehow begged you to slow down.’

‘How fast?’

‘One forty.’

I couldn’t speak. It was a miracle I hadn’t killed anyone.

‘Sorry, C. Someone had to tell you. Your mom probably just knew you wouldn’t be able to hire a car yet once you found you didn’t have your old licence in your wallet and she was saving that one for face to face. No big deal now though, you only got a two year ban and it would have been over a month ago. You could re-take your test tomorrow if you’ve gotta.’

‘I’ll do it in Phoenix,’ I said, looking down the street. ‘The roads there are easier.’

‘C, look at me.’

I turned back to Obie.

‘It wasn’t you who did that.’

‘What else did Jeremy do that I don’t know about, Obie? Was I abusive to Todd? Did I hit him? Did I do anything worse?’

‘No. He would have told me.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because I asked him. Heidi and I both did, and so did your mom, and we were all of us taking-no-shit asking. It was never like that. You just scared him shitless once, and it wasn’t you. Jeremy actually did say sorry and try to make up for it. But it wasn’t over because of that. You weren’t attracted to him anymore and you never wanted to do any of the stuff you did together on any level. The deal was always that you’d try and stay together for a year. That year just didn’t work.’

‘Alright. Thanks for telling me this. Mom’s gonna eat shit for not telling me this right from the start. If she had, I would have known what to do all along.’

‘What’s that?’

‘I’ve gotta tell Todd I’m back. Then I’ve got to tell him I know why I can’t be with him again.’

‘C, come on.’

‘I’m serious, Obie. Imagine you were him, looking at what you’re looking at right now. Even if on some level you still loved me, would you want to go back, knowing that someday you might end up going through all that again? I’m never going to have the stability he needs to keep the life he’s made for himself on the right track. And don’t tell me Charlie’s not the one either, because even if you’re right, even if everybody is, it doesn’t matter. Let him end that too and keep going until he finds the one. It’s not me.’

Now who’s having a serious conversation with the wrong person?’

‘Maybe it’s not a two way conversation at all,’ I said. ‘I owe it to him to tell him I’m back and not hide. Then I’ve got to tell him that him and me can’t happen again. For both our sakes. Except I’m going to tell him it’s for mine. That I need time to see who me’s actually going to be. Maybe I actually do.’

‘Answer me one thing, C. Say Todd finds that person you’re talking about. You know you’d invite you to his wedding, even if you ended up saying you couldn’t go. But say you did go. You’re watching him walk down the aisle with somebody else. Are you sure you’re still going to think you did the right thing, letting him go?’

‘That’s a hypothetical, Obie. How the fuck should I know what I’d feel like? I don’t even know how to feel about being alive and back right now.’

‘Why don’t you start feeling like it’s a good thing? Everybody else does. Or you know they’re going to.’

Out of all the right things he could have said, I knew that topped them. I really hadn’t thought about many other people except Todd.

‘What happened to your idea about getting some food?’ Obie said. ‘How about we go get a filth burger each? A real widow-maker, dripping in cheese and bacon and guac with onion rings and ranch sauce? Your holiday in Paris is over. Why don’t you come back to America like an American?’

‘You know what?’ I said. ‘That’s a good idea.’

* * *

We picked a place called Uncle John’s, and the burgers were so loaded even Obie couldn’t finish his, or the supersized ice cream milkshakes.

‘I keep thinking about something,’ I said, determined not to get back to Todd, or anything concerning my love life. ‘I got an internship once. Mechanical engineering at Ford. Any idea what happened with that?’

‘Yeah,’ Obie said. ‘You had to call them up and explain your circumstances. After Teej told you about it because you didn’t remember it, or any of your degree. He helped you. Apparently it was a weird phone call and the guy from HR had never heard a story like it. I think Teej did most of it because you just couldn’t get through to the guy. But yeah, they must have just given it to someone else.’

I’d already guessed as much, and didn’t really need to bother asking at all. ‘At least I never moved to Michigan. That was what I called a trade-off.’

‘Yeah, I never saw that as you either. I was already telling you you should have held off on accepting to see if Chevvy picked you up.’

‘They’re in Detroit too, panda-pee.’

‘Oh. Well waaah waaah waaah then, the car industry just didn’t pick a city you liked. Least you could go anywhere for a job. You going after that again?’

‘It’s like I only did my finals last week. I can remember what was on all the exams. And how to answer. Three years of nothing and then that all comes back. So why did Jeremy forget the whole degree that would have had me in a good career by now but I got his piano shit?’

‘What am I, a brain surgeon? I dunno.’

‘If that had just happened, I might not have turned into a monster.’

‘You weren’t a monster, C. There were just big differences. So you got with the wrong woman. Until then you really weren’t doing that badly. You might have picked a better way to tell Teej you’d had enough than scaring the living fuck out of him, but Jeremy really wasn’t that awful. So I wasn’t friends with him, I just couldn’t be because I wanted you back too badly, but what does that matter? He was okay. The piano thing might have worked out pretty well if only that bad news panda-fox hadn’t got involved. Even I tried to tell you she was dangerous.’

‘Then why didn’t I listen?’

‘Because you thought you were in love, dummy. Or you were just desperate for love. And it was your life. How was anybody else supposed to stop you doing what you wanted?’

‘Alright, I get it. Let’s not get back onto that whole train. I need a job. I need to get going again. But would anyone ever hire me? As soon as I explained everything about my whole situation?’

‘That’s why you don’t. You just put in an application, turn up and do the interview, do the tests, do whatever, and they take you or they don’t because of what they see. They don’t need to see everything.’

‘When you’re designing something that somebody’s going to trust their life to one day, and you don’t tell your employer you’ve got a brain issue that not even the experts understand, that’ll get you fired just as fast as punching your boss.’

‘So don’t do cars. You didn’t spend the whole of your degree just studying mechanics.’

‘Any engineering’s a responsibility, Obes. Get your job wrong? That’s the big apple underwater.’

‘Actually, the first thing you learn is that it’d be pretty damn hard to flood an entire city like this out by accident.’

‘You get my point. I’ve got a mental disability. That makes me harder to employ, and less likely to get a job, and you know it’s true. It’s wrong, but it’s true. I got the Ford internship because I disclosed everything but there was all the evidence there that it was under control. Whatever happened before, my brain seemed to have fixed itself. Then look what happened.’

‘Alright, C. Here’s an idea. See a doctor. If you get referred for a brain scan or any kind of investigative stuff, swallow how much you hated all that shit twelve years ago and let them do it again. Let them do a conclusion and then you’ve got some brain specialist with a hundred letters after his name who can write a letter to your employer confirming you’re perfectly safe. It might take a while, see if the blank thing ever happens again, the migraines, whatever else you had. Until then? I dunno, get a grocery job, work in a bar again, work at Starbucks. It ain’t beneath anyone just to take it steady and do simple work.’

I shrugged. ‘Yeah. Actually, simple might be okay.’

Obie wiped his mouth with a napkin and looked at me for a moment. ‘Alright. I’m just gonna say it.’

‘What?’

‘I think you should try and get Teej back. I don’t think there’s somebody else he’d rather find out there. I think there’s just you. And if you do that, you won’t have to worry about anything else no matter what happens. Make a new agreement about how you’re going to manage the unexpected. So you had one before, and it didn’t quite work out. Make a new video that explains all that. Make one where you talk to Jeremy this time. You know who he is now. Both of you could set up for him happening again. Except I don’t think he will. You had a second life changing accident. How many people are really that unlucky that they get a third?’

I told myself I wouldn’t have met with him if I hadn’t counted on his honesty, as I mentally grit my teeth. ‘Right,’ I said. ‘All life’s problems are solved when you’ve either got rich or bagged a loaded husband.’

Obie smirked. ‘One upon a time, C, he found it a bit of a trial being with you, knowing how rich you were. Go return the favour.’

‘It’s not the same this time.’

‘Isn’t it?’

‘I inherited a million. I took care of it as best I knew how. I made mostly good decisions, I’ve still got just over half of it. It is what it is. But I’m never getting it again. At least not until my parents are gone and I could be retired before that happens. I always knew I’d have to work for myself one day. That was fine. I did all the right stuff to make it happen. But Todd? He’s getting lifetime money and beyond now.’

‘Good!’ Obie said, looking so fired up now I was already imagining him staying up all night and painting the entire bathroom. ‘So he needs to be with someone who knows what it’s like to feel limitless but know that you’re not. You stayed grounded despite all that money. Most people don’t. Especially not celebrities who’re constantly surrounded in other celebrities, who can earn a million a week and still go bankrupt and act like it’s a rite of passage.’

‘That’s why the smart ones hire accountants and financial advisors. Most of them don’t marry them, let alone sleep with them.’

‘C, seriously, listen to your BFF here. If Teej carries on searching for love, who do you think’s going to be searching for him? The real gold-diggers. So he’s not going to be able to date on Craigslist like everyone else. Who’s allowed to get near him then? People his agent vets. Or other high flyers like him. Or people who only connect to that world of big money and high pressure and then retirement before you’re even mid thirties. He’s rich, he’s influential, and worst of all, he’s attractive. Rich and attractive people never know who they can really trust. Why do you think celebrities are either divorced or fucked up or both, and constantly? Now, tell me who the one fucking person is on this earth who he could trust to go through a life like that with him.’

I sighed, my hands on my ears. ‘Obie, look, it’s not that-’

‘You know I’m right, C. And you’re going to say it. Who’s that person?’

I looked at the remains of my burger, my brain now as stuffed as my stomach.

‘Don’t look at your food, C. Look at me.’

Nothing for it. I looked.

‘Who’s that person?’

‘Me.’

‘Who did Teej make an international-level plan to bring back that was so elaborate and smart that he even hid it from his current partner?’

‘Me.’

‘And who’s gonna be the dumbest fox on the entire planet if he doesn’t go to San Fran and do what Todd Aldrington’s probably spent the last three years praying for?’

I let out the longest sigh of my life. ‘Me.’

Obie took his keys out. ‘Am I taking you back to the Murphys’ place or the airport?’


Follow this link to Chapter Eleven

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #734962 - 27 Jun 20 15:44
Obie’s blunt honesty is my favorite trait about him, and god knows Colton needed it.
On Vacation 2020-06-14T20:49:24+00:00

Just an update to say I'm taking some time for myself this week, and probably next week too. I've got two weeks paid leave from the day job, which are well needed as I've been working for most of the UK lockdown and writing like fury for the last several weeks. I'm not going to deny it, I'm burned out. Although tonight I'm actually not feeling like that, because I feel like I've got a chance to actually rest, and I'm taking it.

Knowing me, there's only so much R&R I can do before the writing becomes the R&R, especially as now I'm basically winding the Todd and Colton series down to its ending from here. So I might have another update this week, or I might not. Let's just say I'm leaving myself the option of not, depending on what I feel like. This is a good time to read books by other people, play music and video games, and just generally do cooking and housework and stuff that really doesn't require me to think much. I saw my parents today for the first time in three months, which was the best thing I could have done. I've ditched social media for the moment as well, although it's my birthday on Friday so I know I won't be able to resist my balloon day.

In other news, I've been in touch with John N. this week about the cover for White Christmas, and I should hopefully get it by the end of July-ish, although I've said I'll be flexible-ish, as Emily isn't going to be editing for me until September. I'm hoping for an October time release. I expect what I'll do is release the ebook at $6.99 but you guys can have the heads up, I'll probably drop to $5.99 for a December promo. God knows what I'm going to have to do with the paperback on this one. At 155,000 words that's a paperback of a good 600 pages which will be more expensive to print-on-demand, and I might have to make it a bit of a loss leader to get people to buy it, but we'll just see. (TBH I don't make a lot of money on paperbacks anyway, as only a select few fans buy them.)

See you on the other side, -T.

flag
Comments (2)
user avatar
User #583768 - 14 Jun 20 21:53
Take it easy Todd. Rest up and feel better soon. And also happy birthday!! Hope you have a good one. ❤️
user avatar
User #734962 - 15 Jun 20 00:12
“Winding down the Todd and Colton series” ... *sad noises* But definitely enjoy your break dude, and I don’t blame you for ditching social media for a bit. It’s become quite the shit shown on Twitter.
I support Black Lives Matter 2020-06-03T10:13:46+00:00

I felt it was important to make a statement on this, as I’m currently very active in producing and posting fictional content on this account, but am still very aware of what is going on in the real world and why it is important to say that I stand with Black Lives Matter, and that real change is needed in society to oppose racism and the unlawful killing of people of colour.

I have friends in real life who are people of colour, and always have had, from a very early age. We talk about the sorts of things that are happening in the world right now, because it’s important. I’m well aware that as a white British male, I am in a privileged position that really shouldn’t exist, and my understanding of race issues is actually very limited despite welcoming diversity into my life as much as I can, but I make an effort with this issue, and it starts with talking about things that are uncomfortable, not looking away, and more important than talking, listening.

I do get this sort of thing wrong sometimes. As someone who writes about social and political issues, in furry fiction or other fiction, it's inevitable that sometimes I've misunderstood issues, or things people have said, or even upset people when I've got it right. I do the best I can to learn and grow, and although I don't consider myself the bravest of people I do have an outlet for saying things that come with a risk, and I'm happy to take that risk now. This issue affects us all, and we need to speak up.

And we need to listen. We need to make sure that people in positions of power listen too.

People are angry at the moment. They are right to be. I hope this is the tipping point where finally the world collectively makes the changes that are needed to stop racism and the murder of people of colour, and make sure the justice system and authorities no longer allow people to get away with any of it. Like many people I don’t have all the answers about how we’re supposed to do that, but we need to listen to the people who do, who are affected by this in every aspect of their life, and are speaking out about it right now.

Thanks for reading.

- T.

flag
This week's update 2020-05-13T16:36:06+00:00

Hi everyone,

I hope that wherever you are you’re coping okay with the lockdown or other protective measures that might be in place. The British government look set to fuck everything up by relaxing the lockdown too soon, but thankfully my employer is being a bit more sensible and I don’t think I’m going to get compromised by this.

I’m kind of sticking to my own personal lockdown, which is to say I’m pretending the rules haven’t been relaxed. My work allows for social distancing, we’re not un-furloughing the entire team too soon, and apart from going out to exercise and grocery shop, and go to work on allocated days, I’ve largely done (and enjoyed) the lockdown-life spent at home. I know it’s not so easy for a lot of people, but I can’t deny it: my life-skills and preferred way of life have equipped me pretty well to keep my mental health intact. I’m hoping that if you’re not quite so fortunate then at least what I offer here might be helping you get through on some level.

It’s true that even though I’ve been out running, lockdown has wrecked my fitness, despite me only having had one sneaky cigarette since it began (a rough-tasting roll-up cadged from a housemate…can you even get those nice soothing Marlboro Greens in England anymore? Reds would probably make me puke these days), and even though I like a drink most nights I’m used to that and I’m not getting hangovers – it’s just lying on my bed or sitting at my desk more that’s reduced my get-up-and-go, despite having a physical job. It never really hit me how much I move about outside of work and running until I stopped doing it. I’ve started upping my exercise levels again this week to make up for it, as part of the break I’ve been having from writing. It’s no good being AthleteRaccoon in name only (for those who know my by that handle – a mirror of how I made Todd a jock character.)

Anyway, I started Gone Day Part 2 again this morning, and after a good session of 5000 words, I’ve decided I’m going to work on it for another week or so before posting, simply because I know what I’m going for, but it’s quite tricky to deliver at the right pacing, and I need another 20K or so to know I haven’t written myself into a hole. Let’s just say that the introduction of Trick into this story was a lightbulb moment I hadn’t anticipated when I started writing it. The new angles his role’s given me are worth exploring and experimenting with before I decide to lock it down. Little preview: I decided it would work well dramatically if Trey Hoffman really doesn’t like him, and what he ends up saying to Todd is part of what strains their working relationship as we move into play-off time.

I’m planning a great big coming together of major events. The question is, how much build-up do I have? I feel like cutting straight to it, but it doesn’t feel quite right to jump time as quickly as I am, so I’m choosing whether or not to draw things out with some detail for two or three chapters and build the suspense or just cut to it. I wanted to post another update today, but I just can’t. Tempting as it is, I need more time.

Something tells me I’m not going to be able to work on Electric Snep until I’ve at least gotten to the big event chapter of GD pt 2 and nailed it, so let’s not worry about my free lockdown book too much for another couple of weeks. Nobody’s written to me begging for more yet, so I’m letting it go quiet but I haven’t abandoned it by any means. I’ve been playing more guitar myself lately and Alex’s story is still in my head. But let’s face it: once I end the Todd and Colton series, it’s like I’m free to explore anything I damn well want, including perhaps ending my real-name series too, which will only take about another 80k to do. (Has anyone read any of it, by the way?)

That’s me this week. I’ll probably see you this time next.

-T.

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #734962 - 14 May 20 01:35
Good to hear from you! I haven’t had the chance myself to read your “real name” book because of my overbearing work schedule right now, but I’d love to give it a read in the future. Good to see you’re surviving these times well, however.
'Electricity' - a short story / excerpt from California Otters 2020-05-08T18:40:41+00:00

Thanks to having gone back to my day job five weeks ago, I haven’t been able to keep up with my free story The Electric Snep as much as I would have liked while writing Gone Day as well. This month’s free lockdown-offering is therefore one from the vault: it’s my favourite part of my great big Patreon-only novel California Otters. 8000 words from my mammoth 197,000 script, which I re-read for my own enjoyment a couple of weeks ago, and realised could work as a standalone story.

Cali Otters is the story of Trick, Dolphin, Sandy and Echo – four otters who go to California chasing the movie-star life, and are prepared to start in ‘adult entertainment’ if that’s what it takes. (Spoiler – that is what it takes.)

In ‘Electricity’, the spotlight is on the fourth otter, Echo - a trip back in time to how his time in Cali began with meeting a sugar-daddy husky, Elliot ‘Mr B’ Burkowski – a retired billionaire. So far, Echo has worked as his housekeeper and Mr B appears to prefer women, but Echo has long hoped there might be something different under his surface. Today is Echo’s 19th birthday, and he’s about to find out the truth about what kind of companion Mr B really wants him to be.

Content

Unlike my two other recent free offerings, ‘Under the Bed’ and ‘Taking the Collar Off’, this story is VERY NSFW and is for 18+ only (like the whole of California Otters, basically.)

* * *

Electricity

On the night Mr B asked Echo if he’d ever had a dangerous idea, Echo’s house duties were done and he was looking at the drinks shelf in the kitchen. Mr B had been unusually quiet and reclusive for the last couple of weeks, but tonight he came into the kitchen looking intent on having a long night somewhere. Echo knew how to warm him up.

‘You want a cocktail, Mr B? How about a nitro-mojito? Or how about a surfin’ kahuna? I got that banana and coconut rum Dany was talking about the other week.’

‘I’m going to be driving tonight,’ Mr B said. ‘Hopefully. But you go ahead.’

Echo mixed a pina colada without the cream and charged it with a shot of Absolut Red Label. ‘I cleaned the fleet this morning. The Maserati Quatroporte’s first in line, just how you like it. Where are you going?’

‘The Wagyu Grill.’

‘Oooo,’ Echo said, flicking his tail a little. Mr B was getting his wallet out tonight then. Not that he’d notice a bill like that even touch his assets. ‘Business or pleasure? You want anything ready for when you get in?’

‘Just out for dinner.’

‘With friends?’

‘With you. If you’re agreeable.’

Echo set his drink down before he could drop it. ‘What?’

‘I’m asking you if you’d like to go out for dinner with me.’

‘Well, yeah, but…why?’

‘Because I want to. Because it’s your birthday and you thought you could keep it quiet.’

‘Aw, shucks.’ Echo shuffled his feet, wrapping his tail around his right leg. ‘Every birthday I’ve ever had’s been shit. Nineteen’s not a milestone. I know you could give me a great one, but are you sure about this?’

‘Do I ever ask for anything unless I’m completely sure? I’ve noticed you never leave the house anymore either.’

‘Because I never want to,’ Echo said. ‘And it’s fine. I’ve got everything I want right here and I’m never bored. What’s out there for me besides an expensive steak? Not that I wanna say no exactly; I don’t wanna be rude, but dinner with your houseboy?’

‘I’ve told you before, you’re not my houseboy. You’re a companion like all the rest.’

‘All the rest who aren’t here. You haven’t had anyone around for nearly three weeks. I know it’s not exactly my business, but what gives?’

‘Their time here came to an end,’ Mr B said. ‘For the right reasons.’ He sat down at the bar that formed the centrepiece of the kitchen. ‘Dany’s the only one I think you really miss, and she graduated law school and now she’s completely independent. Her request. She’ll call, when she’s finished setting up her new home in Santa Barbara. You already knew all that though.’

‘I’m not a companion like the rest though. Am I?’

‘You misunderstand what I mean by “like the rest.” What I meant is that you’re equal to all of them even if there’s a slight pay difference. What you mean is that you don’t fuck me.’

Echo smiled. Mr B hardly ever said fuck, and it was always amusing rather than grating when he did. Echo sipped his drink and gently wrapped his tail around the front of his legs again, leaning against the sideboard. ‘I can if you want.’

‘I want dinner. I can pay you extra for having it with me if that’s what it takes, but I’d hoped you might do it just because you wanted to. I understand your life feels complete. That’s fine. But I’d feel better if you convinced me you’re not really agoraphobic.’

Echo laughed. ‘I’m not agoraphobic, Mr B. I just have high standards. You meet them. The world out there doesn’t.’

‘Flatterer. How do you know? When was the last time you went out there and tried living in it? You barely even spend your salary. Let me do some flattery then: you’re the only person I’ve had here for years who wasn’t greedy. You don’t care about the money like the others do. Even Dany. I love her to bits, but I know exactly who I love. Greed turns me on. So does humility. Among other reasons, I asked you to live here because I thought you’d give the place a little balance. You’ve excelled at it. So-’

‘So let me buy dinner. That’s my condition. We go to the Wagyu, I pay. It’s not like I can’t. I’d take out some cash and splash it if I was hiding any down these speedos.’ He tucked his thumbs in them.

Come on. Ask me to take them off. We can do dinner after you’ve had virgin otter butthole. You want to flatter me, appreciate my body. Like you always try to pretend you don’t want to.

‘Very well, Echo. You pay.’ Mr B sat forward, his elbows on the table. ‘That is a nice pose. Have you ever considered modelling? Swimwear, perhaps? I can ask the right people.’

‘What do I need a job for?’ Echo’s heart sank. ‘Are you letting me go? Is that what this dinner is? You don’t want an agoraphobic otter who doesn’t know how to be greedy?’

‘Not at all. I’m just thinking about your horizons a little. Call me a good manager, if you like.’

You know what I secretly think, Mr B? Behind this nice and polite act, you were probably once a total bastard to work for. Or with. My father was right about one thing: people like you were responsible for fucking this country’s finances right up. Too bad his next step was thinking the military should run everything, right down to the president himself. ‘I don’t want to be a model, Mr B. If there’s anything…alright, you know why I’m saving my money? Acting. I want to make it. I’ve gotta get enough pay to live off for a few years while nowhere will hire me apart from dumb commercials.’

‘Well, why didn’t you say so?’ Mr B sat back now, and looked at him with a warm smile and the kind of calm that said he already had several plans, and they’d all be good ones. ‘Forget the Quatroporte. Let’s get the Ferrari out and go show it off to the strip, get Wagyu, and talk about Echo Pendryl’s name on the top of a movie poster. Or would you rather be a director? Or producer?’

‘Producer? Hah!’ Echo drained his glass and set it down. ‘What does a producer even do? They’ve got the biggest bullshit job there is. All they are is a paycheque. And if that’s what you’re going to tell me I’ve got you for, great: you’re the producer who’s smart enough never to call himself a producer. Or try acting like what he thinks it should be.’

A moment later, Echo got one of those moments he’d seen in many movies, where the silence had the last person who spoke asking themselves what the fuck they’d just said, only this time it wasn’t reacting to the horror of the scene companion. It was wondering why the said companion was looking at them with what appeared to be total comprehension, with maybe a little awe mixed in. Whatever it was, Echo had never seen Mr B look alive with deep thoughts like this. He’d seen him switch on a brain that he knew didn’t belong to a hedge fund manager, or a billionaire, or anything else he knew the guy was. It was almost like Mr B had spent his life wanting to indulge the something else that was behind looks like this, and maybe, right now, Echo had sparked it.

With a dumb couple of lines about producers?

‘Echo,’ he said, ‘you’re the one smart person I’ve had here for years.’

‘Oh now you’re just milking it. Dany was law school smart. I’m never that smart.’

‘Dany was smart enough to read law, yes. Smart enough to be a very good lawyer. Successful. Rich. Survive in the world kind of smart? Yes. Never get stamped on smart? Most likely, that too. And beneath all that, there’s one reality: she hasn’t been smart enough figure out that the world doesn’t need more lawyers. She will, one day. I really hope I’m still here to help her pick the pieces up when she gets to that one.’

Echo’s eyes had grown wide through every slow word. ‘Did you tell her this?’

‘Of course not, it’s her journey. Shattering the great crystal boat she loves isn’t my way. You, though: you won’t get yours shattered. Even your father failed to do that. You ran away to stop his abuse because you’d already had enough of it and then you saw worse coming. One step ahead. Probably many. Now, let’s get the car out. One thing though. I’ll drive you a bargain. You can pay for dinner tonight as long as you let me return to one little conversation we had before. You know which one I mean.’

Echo walked slowly to the bar and put his hands on the back of one of the chairs. ‘Make it worth my while. Then you’ve got a deal.’

‘Oh,’ Mr B said. ‘Your while? That, young man, I can pleasantly guarantee.’

* * *

Echo hadn’t expected to feel like he was going out with a celebrity, but he’d expected people to know who Mr B was, or at least that he was a high roller, and make eyes at how he was eating dinner in a fancy place with a barely legal otter. Even if the looks all said ‘There he goes again’ rather than ‘Look, new scandal!’ Yet people seemed to ignore them, almost as if they could be father and son despite the species difference. The thought amused him.

Mr B probably thought he was smiling at the steak, which was every bit as succulent as promised and filled Echo’s mouth with a taste that even put freshly caught fish to shame. This was like beef could come from the sea and was practically still alive with freshness, salt, and the charcoal taste of barbeque with vanilla and cinnamon. Echo had never drunk red wine before, but with the steak he liked it, guessing Mr B had probably picked a sweeter one, rich with blackcurrant tones and the smell of summer trees, because it would be easy for him to drink. Even the vegetables looked indulgent, garnished with leaves, cheese and saffron.

Mr B finished the last mouthful, leaving his plate almost dishwasher spotless, then dabbed his mouth with a napkin delicately in a way that made Echo think of the famous human playing a cannibal in that Silence movie, or whatever it was called. ‘So, Echo. Have you ever had a dangerous idea?’

Echo knew what he was really asking. ‘Oh yeah.’

‘Why don’t you tell me about the one that led to that conversation I mentioned earlier? I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. I even did a little research. Most psychologists and people who’ve been where you obviously have agree with you: your life really does flash before your eyes when you die, or think you’re dying, and it really doesn’t happen in chronological order like the movies show. So, here’s a little amateur psychology of my own: you spoke up when you heard me and Dany ruminating out loud about what happens when you die because there’s a story you want to tell, and you tried to dare yourself, right then, but you couldn’t. So, how did you nearly die? You said it was on your birthday. So today is your near-death day too.’

Echo smiled. ‘Uh-huh.’

‘Tell me, was it really a birthday present to yourself?’ Mr B picked up his wine glass and swirled it around, took a taste, then set it down and poured more wine into Echo’s. ‘A great gamble for that high or seeing the flash? Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad back then if you hadn’t woken up?’

‘I never wanted to die. I wanted to see what Dad did afterwards. If he actually cared. He didn’t. He didn’t visit me in the hospital. My sister did. Mom did. Dad didn’t want them to. He just said it was my own fault for being that stupid. He didn’t even think I might have been suicidal. That was the real test. There was no concern there. No love.’ Echo forced as ruthless a smile as he could, and right then felt like he could have gone into any business meeting the likes of which Mr B always had, and gotten anything he wanted. ‘But I did get a pretty kick-ass flash. I woke up knowing I had stuff to live for. Despite everything, my flash was pretty intense.’

‘I think you’re intense, Echo. In a very quiet way. That’s why I’m fascinated by you. Most intense people are flamboyant. You’re quiet, but behind those eyes there’s a totally unique understanding of the world. Most people get a life changing epiphany after a near death experience. I think whatever you got, you feel like it was deeper. You don’t have to be scared of it. You know what else I see?’

Echo shook his head, a flattered, glowing smile on his face, and for the first time since he’d known Elliot Burkowski, he felt like his happiness hadn’t been complete until this moment. ‘What?’

‘I see your name on all sorts of posters, just like you want. I see a title. “Echo the Electric Otter.” ’

Echo’s heart jolted inside him, but he kept sitting still, holding his wine glass, willing himself not to shake with nerves. ‘Why do you see that?’

‘Call me a detective who solved the case of Echo Pendryl. Your mystery fetish.’ Mr B took a sip of his drink that said the truth was just as delicious, and expensive. ‘It’s electrocution, isn’t it? You never wanted me to know in case I wanted to try it, because Dany told you I have a pacemaker. She never told me. I spent weeks contemplating what it must be. The only thing I got out of Dany was that it wasn’t drowning. That was my best guess. Echo the Drowning Otter. So what was higher? What would most likely kill me if I ever tried it on you?’

Echo stared down at the table, his breath caught in his throat. Dany. Dany had told him. That total –

‘Echo, look at me.’

After a moment, Echo managed to look up, and saw the same kind eyes he’d seen on his first night, staring into his scared ones.

‘Before you do that shy look that I love and tell me this is too public a place, look around this room. You’re probably the most normal person in it. Trust me to know the kinds of people who come here. All of them have fears, just like you.’

‘Err…’ Echo found his voice, perhaps only thanks to having paid attention in drama classes, to all the scenes where a distraction was needed. ‘Waiter!’ The weasel who’d been looking after them all night was ready before he’d said the world. ‘Can we have another bottle of this please? Actually, no, sorry, could you bring us both a double Bulleit Bourbon each? Oh, wait, do you have Maker’s Mark instead?’

‘Yes, we do sir. Right away. Would you like a dessert menu as well?’

‘Oh yes, yes I would.’

Echo stared at Elliot Burkowski like he meant real business this time. ‘On my birthday four years ago…’ he looked at his watch. ‘Well, shit. It’s almost right on the hour. Seven PM. I took a shower and then shoved my wet tail into a socket. Zap, motherfucker. I’m telling you, I don’t think I ever really passed out. My flash, that gave me all my most intense memories and right at the top of them all was finally doing that. I kept living what was meant to be my final moment alive, over, over, over. I woke up with a raging hard-on. Nearly two days later. I just lay there, imagining how they’d had to keep zapping me with the defib paddles to start my heart again. How the sheer power of what’s behind a socket can kill you and save you. It’s an obsession. Ever since I found out what static shock was. We went on this field trip to a farm once in 3rd grade. I was the kid who touched the electric fence on purpose. Then I did it again. And again. I had to ride the bus home with my bag in my lap. Every time I ever saw a movie where someone gets whacked that way, look out downtown.’ Echo laughed. ‘Echo the Electric Otter. I like that. But I don’t wanna die, Mr B. I can’t just stick my tail into sockets all the time. All I can do’s imagine it. But I always want to do it. It’s just not fair though. I never told you because I never wanted you to worry about how tempted I’d get. Eventually the worry would get too much and you’d fire me.’

‘So that somebody else could worry about you instead? Not my way, Echo. And I’ve never worried about it, since I worked it out. However tempting it gets, a sound state of mind over-rules it.’

‘Until maybe I get drunk. Or high; God help me if I ever tried that.’

‘I think you’d be fine,’ Mr B said. ‘I think as fantasies go, that’s a rather exciting one. And I did a little reading up on it, just because I get the feeling you were afraid to. There are actually safe levels of electricity that people can tolerate. Why else is a Taser legal for police use? In fact,’ he said, turning to the weasel who had brought their drinks. ‘Could we have the surprise now please?’

‘Oh, Mr B,’ Echo said, now almost feeling like he could wet his pants in both excitement and embarrassment. ‘You didn’t.

Mr B’s present, brought out by the weasel waiter, was indeed a gold-plated Taser. The same one that would kill the gift giver a few years later, but all either of them knew that night was that Echo Pendryl had never received such a mind-blowing or thoughtful gift in his life.

‘I left out the batteries,’ Mr B said. ‘Just in case temptation was a little too much in a public place.’

Echo looked at it and thought Mr B had definitely done the right thing. His heart was racing, and he breathed slowly for calm as he held it, and tried to remember where he was. Still nobody seemed to be looking, as if this was nothing compared to what this supposedly sophisticated place had seen within its walls. Echo held it under his chin and mimed being electrocuted. ‘Zzzzzzssshht! Zappy otter!’ He tried to puff his fur up, wishing for once that he was a cat, remembering how puffed up he’d still been when he’d woken up in the hospital. It had taken days to go down. Mr B was obviously imagining him looking like that. He thought of the doctor who had said ‘I’d say you’re seriously lucky, Echo. I think you need to see a counsellor about this.’ Echo had already knew the way out of that one: ‘Does my insurance cover that?’

‘Zappy otter,’ Mr B said. ‘That sounds like a pretty good bedroom battle cry.’

Yeah. Wanna hear me say it for real later? ‘Mr B, this is the only good birthday I ever had. Besides the socket selfie-present. You maybe wanna…you know.’

‘I can’t be the one who does that to you, Echo. It really wouldn’t be my thing, and you wouldn’t enjoy it knowing I was reluctant. You need someone who’ll like that.’

‘Would there be anyone?’

‘You might be surprised. Even if they’re not so easy to find, I think you ought to find someone so you’re a little less lonely. Would you like me to have another otter come and live with us? Another young man you might become good friends with?’

‘You don’t have to do that.’

Have to’s got nothing to do with it.’

‘I usually think about older men. And not older otters. Maybe you were right. I should go out more. I can find that for myself.’

‘Very well then. But keep imagining that poster. It’s like I said, there are people out there who I know would go wild for Echo the Electric Otter.’

‘Is that your dangerous idea? Me in a kinky porn film with a circus kinda title, getting my rocks off while some crackhead dom goes to town on me with this thing?’

‘I suppose that was one thought I had,’ Mr B said. ‘But no. My dangerous idea is a lot worse than that. Mine means a complete re-think of everything to do with what money is. I think you’re going to like it. Perhaps even as much as electricity.’

Echo sat there looking at him, as though a real, genuine leader and thinker and not just another crackpot guru or evangelist was saying words like that. Suddenly, it seemed to Echo that a man who understood and even tried to nurture a fetish as nuts as electric shock couldn’t be insane. Not when he got it like he did.

‘So,’ Mr B said. ‘Shall we have dessert before I tell you?’

* * *

Echo had sometimes seen Elliot Burkowsky do this odd thing where he blew cigar smoke into a half-full wine glass, usually red wine, presumably because the smoke changed the taste of it. When he did it this evening, Echo saw purpose in his eyes, like there was about to be a big reveal about what it meant.

Gattaca,’ Mr B said. ‘Did you ever see that film?’

Echo shook his head.

‘It’s what one of the characters does as a demonstration of what Saturn’s moon Titan looks like. Me, I like doing it because I think of it as the world. Smoke, mirrors and intoxicants. What do you suppose would happen if we stopped staring into mirrors, got our heads clear and then the smoke cleared too?’

‘Well…honestly, how the fuck should I know?’

‘What would you do if you became president? First thing. Go.’

At least that was easy. ‘Pull us out of every war we’re involved in with no answers given about why and then cut the defence budget by at least fifty percent. Fuck it, seventy. Just to piss my dad off and everyone like him. Then I’d make every corporation pay US taxes regardless of where their head office was. Might take a few treaty changes, but hell, you can make that happen when you just took a big step towards world peace that nobody ever dared take.’

Mr B smiled, cigar still in hand. ‘Very good. A little hard to work that in practice, but a nice ideological start.’

‘Go on then, what have you got that’s bigger? No, let me guess. Open all the borders. No more immigration control.’

‘Actually, I wouldn’t do that. In the long run, I wouldn’t have to. A world with no states and no borders comes later. Once we’ve fixed one big problem first. Inequality.’ Mr B surrounded his head in smoke. ‘Go on, say it. I can tell you’re dying to.’

Echo grinned and tipped his head. ‘Rich coming from a one percenter.’

‘Do you know why I’m not constantly surrounded in other people with my wealth, Echo?’

Echo shook his head.

‘Because I’m hated by most of them. For changing my mind about everything I think money is and what we should do with it.’

‘But you haven’t given it all away.’

‘Of course I haven’t. What would be the use in that when I could spend it wisely instead?’

Echo felt a jolt of excitement. ‘President,’ he said. ‘I should have guessed. You’re going to run? Have you ever even held public office before?’

Mr B shook his head. ‘I’m seventy three, Echo. The world doesn’t need another dinosaur like me keeping policies pre-historic. No, I’m not going to run, and I’ve never held office. I’m going to back Kalifa Sawahla. She’s a wolf. I think you’ll like her when you meet her next week. She’s coming to stay for a couple of days to talk about her campaign with me.’

‘I know who she is,’ Echo said. ‘Lawyer. Just like Dany. Except Dany’s not a hot tip for attorney general in only her late thirties.’

‘And Kali does get what I told you earlier: the world doesn’t need more lawyers. It never needed hedge fund managers in the first place. Capitalism simply justified them, like it justified all the same greed and inequality I once gave talks promoting, that were more like sermons. I’ve spent my life that way. I’m a very selfish dog, Echo. It’s just how I am. I enjoyed it. I’d do it again, and I’m not entirely sorry for it either. But it’s never too late to accept that because of people like me, the world simply doesn’t work the way it should. I’d go out in search of billions again, but I’d do it with a different head on. One where I don’t spend my whole life believing that anyone who’s not me is poor because it’s their fault for not becoming me instead.’

‘What changed your mind?’

Mr B said nothing, and just smiled.

‘Me?’ Echo’s limbs were all so light he felt like might just float off. ‘I changed your entire outlook on life? What the hell did I ever do?’

‘You passed a test I never knew I set up. It really was a kind of interview, the party that brought you to me. I was looking for one who stood out, maybe the one who wanted it the most. You were the former. I think some of the others wanted to work for me more, but you were the one who knew that not playing the game the same way would get you noticed. Then I got the moment where it all changed. I saw how overwhelmed it made you. When I asked Dany to look after you that night, I knew you needed someone there, but what I really needed was the reverse. A night alone, knowing I wasn’t going to sleep and I wouldn’t want to either. I had too much to think about.’

‘Why?’

‘Because that was when I realised I’d chosen the person who needed what I could offer the most. I don’t think I ever made a decision based on what someone or something else needed since I was a child. If I did, I couldn’t think of it. But what I’d just done? I felt like a good person. That was when I knew I hadn’t felt like that for decades. Most people re-think their lives when they screw up. I did it when I actually did something nice. When I felt like all the things I’d done that were kind were really just pretend kindness, ways to make myself feel better. When I took you in, we both felt like the world was a better place. And I know part of you is wondering whether or not you should buy a single word of this.’

‘I know you’re sincere,’ Echo said, knowing deep down that Mr B was right: he suspected something of an act about this, even though knowing he’d had such a profound effect on someone else suddenly seemed like a better birthday present than a taser. ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me this before?’

‘Because getting to my age and then realising you could have spent your entire life as a better person isn’t exactly good conversation for someone you’ve just given a whole new lease of happiness.’

Now Echo bought it, and sat there dumbstruck.

‘I knew it wasn’t too late to do more of the same thing I’d just done for you,’ Mr B said. ‘But I had to think big. Bigger than just taking someone broke and homeless and giving them a job. I suppose it’s a bit like your electricity: the higher you up the voltage, the greater the rewards.’

Echo laughed. ‘Yeah. Until you die.’

‘Exactly. And I have the perfect way to kill the old Elliot Burkowsky. The selfish dog. That one who’d do it all again unless something far better came along. Or maybe there was a way to justify having all the money I spent my life snatching and hoarding. A way that was going to bring out the same sort of disgust in most of my one percent peers that you fear people will give you for being Echo the Electric Otter, whose favourite thing is sticking his wet tail in wall sockets.’

‘I don’t care about that anymore,’ Echo said, his brain now a whirlwind of inspiration. ‘First thing tomorrow I’m setting up a dating profile and I’m putting my fetishes on it.’

‘Hmm, yes, dating. I did suggest you get out more. But perhaps cool your head a little, the same way I did. Take a deep breath. Have a go with that taser on yourself and get some energy out of your system. Then maybe the smoke and mirrors and intoxicants will clear.’ He blew smoke into his wine again.

Echo took a moment to think, then picked up the taser and pressed it over his heart. ‘I might need a safety-buddy. What if I can’t flick the off switch while I’m zapping myself?’

‘I’ll advertise for a new companion. Would you like another otter?’

It was as good as he’d get. ‘Yeah. Let’s choose one together. A brave one who’d do that. Maybe one who knows good BDSM.’

‘Oh, that too?’

‘Always fancied giving it a try. It’d work well with electricity.’ Echo put his hands in his lap, knowing they were trembling. ‘I always wanted to try shocking someone else. I always wanted to shock a snep. I had this classmate who was one. It was my favourite fantasy. Hey, you know what? I always liked wolves too. How about Kalifa Sawahla? Would she safety for me? Would it risk her campaign? What if that made her like it more?’

‘Are you brave enough to ask her?’

Echo shrugged. ‘Maybe it wouldn’t be fair.’

‘We’ll find you a brave snep, then. Just remember, I’ve never called an ambulance for a companion and I’d rather not start.’

Damn, Echo thought, knowing that was the right approach but knowing that thought made it all the more hot to imagine. ‘You never answered your own question though. What would you do if you were president? Okay, no, better, what’s Kali going to do?’

‘What I did for you, just on a national scale. I pay you a thousand dollars per week. If I were president, I’d pay that to every US citizen as soon as they turned eighteen. That’s what Kali’s campaign will promise. Every since adult with US citizenship gets the automatic right to an income. Regardless of who they are.’

Echo’s jaw nearly hit the table. ‘Every single person in this country? Fifty thousand bucks per year? You can’t be fucking serious! Where would it all come from? That’s over three hundred million of us, all getting fifty K? That’s…’

‘Fifteen trillion dollars. I know. Which is why we may have to be a little more realistic and maybe drop it to twenty thousand per year. Just to start things off. Before we try answering your question about where it would all come from, answer a better one: where would it all go? Where would it have gone for you, Echo? How might your father have treated you differently if he knew that you automatically had a way of defying his orders, of not doing what he planned for your life? What if everyone like you had that power, the ones who’d never have managed to run like you did? What if none of us needed to work awful jobs that the world doesn’t need in order to survive? What would we do instead? Maybe that’s the world where we’d all get to fullfill our dreams. Someone like you can rent a home and eat while they audition for their first movie. Someone like me goes out to make a fortune, but now it doesn’t have to happen through a system where a small number have it all while everyone else has nothing or fights their way through hell just to avoid poverty. Imagine we all got rid of this ridiculous mentality where the more we work ourselves to death the higher our self-worth is supposed to become and the more we deserve. I think the world we all deserve is where freedom actually means freedom and hope actually means hope.’

‘Is that Kali’s campaign speech already?’

‘It could be part of it. Did you like it?’

Realising he was holding the taser, Echo put it down, feeling like his insides had taken something better than a shock. ‘Mr B…do you actually think something like that could ever be possible?’

‘Every century has impossible concepts that the ones after them make possible,’ Mr B said. ‘I think it will take Kali many rounds before she secures the candidacy. If she doesn’t, hopefully someone else will take her promises up who can do it. I doubt I’ll live to see.’ He extinguished his cigar. ‘But I think you’ve got a chance of seeing it. Maybe you could even do it.’

‘Me as a politician? Don’t be soft.’

‘A kinky otter with a bold vision who’s recognisable because he started as a Hollywood name. Doesn’t that already sound better than what we’ve got now?’

* * *

Back at home, Echo changed back into speedos out of habit, but this time determined he was finally going to ask the question that would either make his birthday a wonderful one or destroy everything this evening had already brought him. This, he thought, was what becoming an actor really was: pushing your luck. Saying ‘I deserve this’ and then saying that maybe you deserved a little more. Just because you wanted it.

‘Mr B, why is it you like me in speedos as my uniform?’

‘It’s a natural look for you. Otters in clothes is only for modesty’s sake outside of the home, isn’t it? You’re naturally suited to living in aquatic houses.’

‘I’d like to buy one, one day.’ Echo filled the tea pot and put the lid back on. He turned around and leant on the bar. ‘Mr B, are you lonely? I mean without Dany. Without a companion at all.’

‘I have a companion here.’

‘Yeah.’ Echo slid one foot slightly back, slowly, and extended his lean a little. ‘You know what I think, Mr B? I think this is a natural look for me because you naturally want to look at me like this. I think there’s plenty else we could naturally be doing. You wouldn’t have to pay me for it like the others. Not when you’re going to pay the whole world my salary one day.’

Mr B sat down on a barstool, like someone holding an audition. ‘Dany told me even though all she did was cuddle you, there’s something pretty impressive under those speedos.’

Echo tipped his chin up a little and smiled. ‘Yeah. She noticed.’

‘May I see?’

Echo hooked his thumbs into his speedo elastic. ‘Would you like me to take these off, Mr B?’

‘Yes, Echo, I would.’

Echo slid them one-handed, stepping out of them so they slid off him elegantly. He set them down on a stool and stood there, Mr B staring at his semi and nodding very slightly, a smile on his face and a kind of fascinated intensity behind his eyes. Echo knew what he liked, a pose struck slightly to the side. Not an obvious catwalk style pose, more like a surfer’s when he didn’t know the camera was watching, only the ocean, like his moves should impress it more than a person.

‘Mmm,’ Mr B said. ‘Would you run a hand down your tail for me?’

Echo lifted his tail slowly and slid his right hand down, taking a slow deep breath as more blood filled his manhood. ‘Like that?’

‘That’s nice,’ Mr B said. ‘You really do have an impressive package. Why don’t you turn around and let me see your butt? You can lower your tail. Let’s be elegant. Mmm, that’s it.’

Echo laughed and looked over his shoulder, fascinated by how Mr B seemed to like the view of him from behind more. His pupils had dilated, and he’d sat up as if paying attention, his tail gently swishing from side to side. ‘Sure you don’t want to see my hole, Mr B? I can do that elegantly too.’

‘I’m enjoying you just like this. You’re beautiful, Echo. You’re the most beautiful young man I’ve ever seen like this.’

‘Have you seen a guy like this before?’

‘Of course.’

Still looking over his shoulder, Echo smirked. ‘Have you done it with a guy before, Mr B?’

‘Many.’

‘Damn. I wish you’d lied to me and told me this is the first time you got curious.’

‘Would you like something else for your birthday, Echo? Would you like it if I lifted your tail and did more than just see your hole??’

Echo faked a shocked face. ‘Mr B! Shame on you for being so naughty with an otter!’

‘Dany said you like a scratch.’ Mr B got up and walked slowly across to him. Echo switched to looking over his other shoulder, his neck relaxing a little. ‘How about your back first? May I?’ Echo knew he didn’t have to say yes. Mr B’s fingers didn’t just rub his back, they danced down it, sending a great euphoric sigh rushing out of his lungs.

‘You have lovely soft fur, Echo. How does it feel to have someone appreciate it?’

‘It feels…’ It felt like a great big sigh was enough to express it. Mr B was digging in deeper now, scratching at the soft spots at the top of Echo’s back, below his arms. Echo went fully hard, gasped, then let out a groan of pleasure that echoed around the kitchen.

‘Turn around for me, Echo. Let me show you who taught Dany how to treat an otter right. Mmmm. Let’s start here.’

‘My belly button?’ Echo laughed, and tipped his head back. ‘What so…eeep! Urrrrgh! Mr B, you’re pressing my belly button?’

‘Dany and I called it the Teddy Bear Noise game. Like pressing a teddy bear with a squeaker. I like the way you squeak, Echo. Would you do it again?’

Echo nodded, laughed, and saw how Mr B’s fascinated eyes looked intoxicated-fascinated now. ‘You really like my belly button, huh Mr B?’

Mr B poked it a little with each finger, one by one, then rubbed Echo’s belly. ‘It’s an odd quirk. Do you mind?’

‘Why don’t you put your nose against it and sniff?’

Mr B’s eyes went wide with the kind of pleasure Echo had never seen him exhibit before. He wondered how many times he’d done this with people behind closed doors. The husky put his nose against Echo’s belly button, closed his eyes and breathed deeply, for at least a minute. Echo took hold of his ears and then rubbed behind his head.

‘Echo…’ Mr B kept repeating. ‘Oh wow.’ He stopped and looked up after another minute. ‘I’m sorry. I was the one giving you pleasure.’ He rubbed Echo’s belly again, then began scratching up his sides with the other hand.

Echo laughed like he was being tickled and sighed like he was being massaged all at once, not knowing how such a noise was coming out of him. He squeaked, purred and breathed in right to his toes as Mr B stroked his hands up fast to scratch under his chin. Then one hand was rubbing his stomach again, scratching, combing through his fur. Echo thumped his right foot against the floor repeatedly, his butthole feeling tight and his head light with the rush of too much oxygen.

‘Ooooh, Mr B, you’re so kind to an otter!’

‘I know, Echo. I know. Now, would you like to be a good boy for me and let me lift that tail?’

‘Anything for you, Mr B.’

‘May I have that feel I was talking about?’

‘You really wanna feel how tight my hole is? I think you’re about to get your finger stuck. Go on, lift my tail, Mr B. You gonna be gentle?’

‘The gentlest.’

Echo felt Mr B’s fingers rub around inside his buttcheeks and around his hole, and gave a purr that was more like a half growl. ‘You’re a very naughty dog, Mr B.’

‘And you, my boy, are a very tight otter.’

‘Nobody’s been there before.’

‘I know. You told me.’

‘Gonna be my first?’

‘Yes, Echo, I’d like to take your innocence.’ Mr B poked a little deeper. ‘Would you like that?’

Echo breathed harder. ‘Mr B….I really need you to make me come because I am aching down there.’

‘Me too, Echo.’ Mr B slid his fingers out gently and let Echo’s tail down. ‘Shall we go into your room or mine?’

‘Yours. Yours looks out at the pool.’

The moonlight danced on the pool water as Echo got onto the bed front-down, just like Mr B asked. He wriggled himself into the same sideways pose Mr B liked, looking over his shoulder, his tail relaxed between his legs, waiting for Mr B to lift it.

‘I had a test two weeks ago,’ Mr B said, ‘And I’ve had no-one else since. Would you like me to wear a condom anyway?’

Echo shook his head and licked his lips.

‘May I put one on you? It saves cleaning the bed later.’

Echo rolled over. Mr B knelt on the bed in front of him and slid it on, pinching the rubber tip like he had indeed done this many times on someone else. Echo exhaled a deep breath through his nose. Mr B stroked a finger up Echo’s muzzle, then between his eyes. ‘There. Roll over again for me, there’s a good boy.’ He stroked down Echo’s back, the other hand holding his tail. Echo, looking over his shoulder, gave a growl of satisfaction.

‘Mr B, you’re a very hard dog right now. Are you going to knot with me?’

‘Oh, goodness yes. Are you ready? Purr for me, Echo. Just for a minute. Nice deep purr. Let’s rub your back again.’ Mr B did it, Echo drawing the most satisfied breaths of his life. ‘Are you hard enough down there yourself? Ready to enjoy this?’

‘Yes! Yes! Be a naughty dog with me, Mr B!’

Mr B lifted Echo’s tail again. ‘Alright Echo, take a nice deep breath. Here we go. Hold…hold…that’s it…good…’

The thickness of Mr B’s cock slid between Echo’s cheeks an into his hole, and his whole brain lit up like a super-highway. He imagined sticking his tail in the socket again, the shock that had thrown him across the room, and felt like Mr B had thrown him miles. Mr B went a little deeper.

‘Relax, Echo, relax. Keep holding.’

Desperate to sigh, Echo closed his eyes and focused on feeling loose. Mr B slid in a littler further, then a little more.

‘…and let go! Good boy.’

Echo exhaled, came, and kept coming until he was almost asleep and still emptying, Mr B’s wetness inside him strange and warm all at once. His heart had never known such joy. Mr B finally lay still after gently thrusting, panting and wagging his tail, still inside Echo with the two of them rolled onto their sides.

‘Are you alright lying there, Echo? This will take a couple of minutes and then I’ll be able to slide out nice and easily. Do you like the knot?’

‘It’s nice. Keep it there.’

‘Try to relax your backside and don’t squeeze too tight. There, that’s better. Have you ever come like that, Echo?’

‘Maybe once. The morning after…you know.’

‘Would you like it if I got the taser and put some batteries in it?’

Echo’s heart quickened a little, then he felt too sleepy to play the game. ‘You can’t. It’s too dangerous. Besides, with you doing me, I don’t need electricity. Not when you do it like that. You were…kind. Yeah, you’re a kind dog, Mr B. Not a selfish one. Not to me.’

‘I wonder who else would remember me like that.’

Echo laughed. ‘You just fucked a virgin otter and you want to talk about the time after you’re dead? Come on, Mr B, don’t ruin it.

‘I’m sorry.’ Mr B said, hugging Echo a little tighter. ‘Will you be a teddy bear for me again?’ He ran his hands down to Echo’s stomach.

‘You’re my vewy vewy best friend, Mr B,’ Echo said, in the silliest voice he could come up with. ‘Will you be my friend fowwwwever?’

‘Mmmm. Yes, I’d like that, Echo. Friends forever. With benefits?’

‘Sure, Mr B, you can put extra stuffing in me fowever.’

Elliot Burkowsky gave a satisfied sigh. ‘Okay, nice and relaxed, out we come. There. Would you like me to clean you up or do you want to shower on your own?’

I could just not shower at all, Echo thought, then remembered how much Mr B liked cleanliness and hardly ever smelt like a dog. He did tonight though. Whatever that fuck had sparked inside his brain, his chemicals had flowed so hard they were filling Echo’s nose like there was no other smell in the world. ‘I’d like to shower together, Mr B. I can be a wet teddy for you too.’

‘No more teddy bear for tonight. Too much of a good thing. Just be Echo for me.’

Echo rolled over to face him, then kissed him lightly on the mouth. Then kissed him again, this time with his tongue touching Mr B’s. He wasn’t sure how long it went on for, but when they parted, he wondered if he’d ever want to be with anyone else. ‘Mr B, I’m not sure I really know who Echo is. Apart from the electric otter. He wants to be an actor. He wants to be kind. Like his father wasn’t. He wants to make the world better. Apart from that…I don’t know.’

‘All that’s not enough?’

‘Well, yeah, sure it’s good, but there’s got to be more.’

‘Well, don’t forget he’s gay.’

Echo propped his head on his hand, elbow bent. ‘Are you gay, Mr B? Or bi? Or have you just never really been sure?’

‘I’ve liked both since I was very young,’ Mr B said. ‘Publicly I’m straight. Because I’m selfish and a bit of a coward. I built my whole life around an image that wasn’t entirely true. Not from now on though. Will you date me again? Will you think about being with me?’

‘Like being in a relationship?’

‘I think I’d like you as more than a companion, Echo.’

Echo’s eyes went saucer-wide. ‘Marry you? Is that what you’re asking.’

‘No, it would be a little too soon if that’s what I was thinking of. I was wondering about something better.’

‘Like…woah, seriously? An heir?’

Mr B smiled and wagged his tail.

‘You want me to inherit your estate? All of it? Don’t you already have two daughters?’

‘Yes, and you’ve never met them for a very good reason. Let’s not talk about them on such a wonderful night, shall we? I know I just gave you a lot to get your head around. That’s why I don’t need an answer. Not right now. Maybe not ever. One thing at a time. Why don’t we start with that shower?’

flag
Gone Day (Part 2) - Chapter One 2020-05-03T11:44:32+00:00

Author's Intro

So here we go, the final book in the series!

Actually, there's not much more to say than that...let's just go!


* * *

Gone Day Part 2

Chapter One


December


Jeremy

‘I’m only a gifted musician because of an accident.’

That was the first thing Renee read, the night I left my thought-book open on the coffee table, and she finally dared look.

‘I used to be a fox called Colton.’

She was the one who encouraged me to accept it. The trouble was (and I already knew it before we had the argument) that she believed accepting was the stage before forgetting.

Then I combined the two thoughts:

‘I feel like I shouldn’t be who I am.’

That was when Renee came into the bedroom looking like she’d just caught me having an affair. ‘Jeremy. Really. What the fuck?’

‘You’re not supposed to be reading that.’

‘You never leave it open; you wanted me to read it.’ She threw the book down on the dressing table. ‘You went to counselling to get over this, not indulge in it.’

Of all the nights, she had to pick one where I was giving a performance at the college. ‘I went to counselling to sort my head out. That’s a thought book, and that’s what I was fucking thinking, Renee. Thinking. Not indulging. Probably not doing anything else you’re about to accuse me of.’ I finished brushing my fur in the mirror and did up my cravat. ‘Where are my cigarettes?’

She flashed me an even more venomous look. ‘Do not tell me you started again.’ That was the look that said she still missed it herself, nearly a year after our quit-buddies pact.

‘When you get all like this,’ I said, ‘you make me want to do worse than give myself cancer.’

She sighed hard through her teeth. ‘You’ve been watching that raccoon again. Obsessively.’

‘Oh, Jesus Christ, really? Right now, you’re doing this one again? I’ve got a performance in an hour and you’re doing this?’

‘You’re not nervous about your performance, Jeremy. You know all your pieces blindfolded. That’s why you’ve spent this week watching basketball instead.’

‘How many times do we have to go through this? I watch basketball because I like it. I’m an American, that’s what we’re supposed to do: watch sports and drink beer and stuff pretzels. That’s the sport I like. Most of the games I watch don’t have anything to do with Todd Aldrington.’

‘That’s why you’re recording interviews with him?’

‘That game against Charlotte was epic. I wanted to see what Hoffman said about it on ESPN and I didn’t know Todd was going to be on it. You deleted it, didn’t you? Very mature, Renee. You don’t have any issues of your own at all, do you?’

‘I didn’t delete it, Jeremy. I watched it. Let’s put it on right now, shall we?’

‘Put on what you like. I’m going out, before you make me late.’

What made me late was when I walked through the front room to find that she had the recorded interview on pause. Todd was looking at the screen as if looking right at me. Renee unpaused it, and I found out he was.

‘Yeah, thanks Dan, I’d like to say a special thank you on my Mom’s behalf. Most people know I’ve got an ex called Colton. Something happened in my family this week where an old conversation she had with him made a massive difference at a really important time. I don’t know where Colton is right now, but she asked me to thank him, so Colton if you’re watching this, thank you; I hope somehow you know what I’m talking about. It was something you said to her in the garage at my house in Phoenix, three Christmases ago, about her letting go of the rules and letting my brother sleep on the couch. If you’re watching this, Mom would love to get a call from you so she can thank you herself. And maybe remind you if you don’t remember.’

Renee switched the TV off as Dan Kosorovski took the spotlight back.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘So yet again, it’s not really me you’re pissed off with.’

‘You told him not to interfere,’ she said, standing there with the remote pointed at me like a gun.

‘It was a thank you request from him mom.’

‘It was a baited hook.’

‘But I’m not a fish, and that’s why this makes no difference to anything.’

‘He’s never going to go away, Jeremy. You need to lay down the law with him again. For real this time.’

‘What do you want me to do, send him a fucking letter bomb? Because that’s the look on your face right now, and it’s over nothing, Renee. Not a goddamn thing. I already broke up with him and left to come here with you. I left him a letter that probably tore him apart, because you told me to “lay down the law.” His mom wanted to get a message to me, okay? Not him.’

‘That was just his excuse. Write to him again and lay it down a second time.’

‘Let me lay it down with you, Renee, right now: I’m not doing anything about this because you’re being stupid, and I don’t have time for this shit tonight. Are you coming to hear me play nocturnes at the college or not?’

‘Forget it! Your music’s boring me to death lately. You’ve played nothing but Chopin for the last three fucking months. I’ve got work to do.’

‘Bitch!’ I said under my breath, snatching my coat from the rack and heading out into Paris. By the time I reached the hall, I only just made it on time and only avoided a stern lecture from Maurice, the curator of tonight’s festivities, because he was sympathetic to performer’s nerves.

I took a seat in the green room next to Antoine, an otter who played the cello and piano, and tonight was my co-star on the latter.

‘Can we swap pieces?’ I said.

Porqui?

‘Because you’re playing the c-sharp minor nocturne,’ I said. ‘The one that’s supposed to represent a murder on the streets of Paris after dark.’

‘Ah, mon Cherie, your woman has given you the fire again!’ He laughed. ‘It is a muse, monsieur Vincent.’ He always pronounced my surname van-sont, because he knew I found it beautiful hearing him speak English with his French accent. If I’d still been as gay as Todd Aldrington always told me I used to be, I’d probably have been in love with Antoine Lechatellier by now. I was going to listen to him play Chopin’s nocturnes the way I wished I could tonight. He had the fearsome one in d-flat major at his fingertips, and the murder in Paris one which was almost as tough. Mine were easier, as long as I didn’t fall over my own fingers during the scale run in the f-minor one.

Vera Telford always had a soft spot for that one. It was going to hard to resit trying her pace for the middle section, which always made me fuck it up, but when I performed it that night, I did dare try it a little bit faster, just to clear my head of Renee, and know Maurice was going to tell me his heart had been in his mouth afterwards.

It was too bad Edvard Grieg had only ever written one nocturne, because it was at least as good as all Chopin’s twenty-two. I played it as my encore piece before Antoine ended the evening on the momentous d-flat one, twinkling through it’s impossible scale run before hammering its momentous climax out into the hall.

I should have brought my book with so me, so I could have written down: ‘I’ve paid huge prices to be who and where I am. On concert nights, I feel like it was worth it for the music.’

I knew what Renee was afraid of every time she got that upset with me: the rest of the time, I still wasn’t quite sure about that price.

* * *

I got in and smelt chicken casserole cooking. Renee had wine on the table, a glass of it ready for me, her own in her hand.

‘I’m sorry I read your thought-book,’ she said. ‘And that I didn’t come to your evening. I haven’t really done any work tonight at all.’

‘I’m sorry I shouted,’ I said.

‘You didn’t. That’s how I knew I’d been an idiot.’

‘You weren’t completely,’ I said, taking my glass from her. ‘You were right about Todd. That was a fish. He said his mom wanted a call from me because he knew I’d never call him. Unless maybe I got into some searching conversation, asking what that message was really about.’

‘You don’t remember?’

‘Of course I don’t remember. I lost an entire engineering degree from my head, Renee. And my childhood, and my teenage, and my first three adult years. I’m not going to remember some conversation about Felix Aldrington sleeping on a couch.’

Renee sipped her wine, an uneasy look on her face. ‘That interview went out after you were already feeling bad about yourself. Feeling like you weren’t the right person.’

‘It’s an intrusive thought I get,’ I said. ‘It’s not me wanting to be Colton again. There’s a reason I keep that book to myself, Renee. I left it open by accident. But hey, you said sorry. Why don’t we talk about something else? Will it help if I say I’ll write to Todd and ask him not to do something like that again?’

Renee gave me a kiss that tasted heavily of red wine, salt and root vegetables. ‘I am with a nice fox, who’s talented and musical, and I’m sorry I didn’t come to hear him tonight.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ I said. ‘It was just the fire. My f-minor nocturne burned because you gave it to me.’

‘That would have been far more romantic en Francais. You talk it more with that cello playing otter than you do with me.’

I put my glass on the table so I could put both hands behind her head. ‘Because he doesn’t correct my grammar in every conversation, that’s why.’ She put hers on my back, just inches from my butt, and we carried on kissing surrounded in the smell of late dinner.

‘Colton Vincent died in New York, Renee,’ I said. ‘It was an awful thing and it tore people apart, but it happened. I’m Jeremy now. I moved here with you because I deserve to have a good life, and I want it with you, and I don’t want it interfered with by people who still wish I wasn’t who I am. I’ll write to Todd and tell him that.’

Renee brushed the fur between my ears back. ‘Tres bien.’

‘If Chopin’s c-minor nocturne is a murder on the streets of Paris, I wonder he would have written about the murder of Colton in New York. Because it was murder. Duane West killed Colton. It’s too bad he didn’t live to see who was born in his place. There should be music about that. I’ve been trying to write it. For my composing project at the college.’

‘Really? Can I hear it?’

‘When it’s finished. You’re not going to tell me that’s a bad idea?’

‘Why would I? That music comes from Jeremy, not the ghost of Colton.’

Renee really could cook, and this dinner smelt as delicious as it always did. The smart thing to do was tell her that I sometimes wondered if I had any idea where music really came from, and that was the beauty of it. Where it came from and where it could take you both had such unexplainable possibilities. Vera Telford had called that the spiritual side of music. I didn’t have a name for it, nor did I want it explained.

It was midnight before we went to bed. Far too late considering we both had things to do the next morning. As we were snuggling up together, I thought of Renee’s odd look earlier. She was breathing the way she always did when trying to will herself into relaxation.

‘Jeremy, will you tell me something?’

‘What?’

‘When you talked about what Todd said on the TV earlier. He said it was about his brother sleeping on the couch. He has several brothers, doesn’t he?’

‘Three. Why?’

‘How did you know which one he was talking about?’

‘I don’t.’

‘You said it was Felix.’

‘That was just the first name I thought of. And I don’t remember the other two. After Colton died I barely saw Todd’s family again. He didn’t want them to meet Jeremy. Their loss.’

That killed the thought for her; she was asleep within a minute. I was awake for another half an hour, thinking about how on the first day I met Todd’s family, I got all their names mostly by listening to Joanne tell them off. I wasn’t sure for what, or where we’d been, or what we’d been doing, but that voice was in my head. So was my own, because to remember them in case I visited Todd again, I’d kept saying them to myself, like a stuck record, for the rest of that day.

Joanne, Oran, Alfie, Rocco, Todd, Lucy, Drusilla, Felix, Beatrix, Zelda.

I fell asleep to my brain on repeat again. I still had all their faces. Before I fell asleep, I had a breakfast table and the smell of waffles cooking.

Thank God I’d never written in my thought-book that I’d fallen asleep to this every night for the last year.

* * *

The mistake I made was writing the letter to Todd after I called my mother.

I went to an international pay phone and fed it plenty of change in advance, even though what I expected was that I’d decide this was a mistake too, hang up, and get most of it back. I managed not to hang up after my mother said hello three times, then didn’t hang up herself.

‘Colton?’ she said. ‘Is that you?’

My hand hovered over the wall, the phone in it, then I brought it back to my face. ‘I’m not Colton anymore, Mom. Could you call me Jeremy? I went with my middle name so at least you’d feel like you can call me a name you chose.’

‘If you were that considerate about my feelings, Jeremy, why haven’t you called me for an entire year?’

‘Because it’s Colton you want to talk to, and I got fed up of trying to tell you he’s not here anymore. If you want to talk, this is the wall you’ve got to break down, Mom. Be honest with me. You can say you still love me all you want, but it’s because you think Colton’s still there. You don’t like who I am now and you don’t want to love that person either.’

The line stayed silent again.

‘Alright,’ She said. ‘No. I don’t like you. I don’t love you either. You think either of things was easy when I raised a child for twenty-one years only to have someone else replace him? Walking around your house looking like him?’

‘Well hey, I removed the last problem for you, didn’t I?’

‘I was trying,’ my mother said. ‘What chance did you give me to try? Besides none. You fucked off to France with that girl and you didn’t think about anyone but yourself. You probably still don’t.’

‘I made this phone call, didn’t I?’ My hackles were up so hard I was a puff-ball under my tight-fitting clothes, and already sweating despite the winter cold. ‘I stuck with every plan in Todd Aldrington’s fucking video collection, didn’t I? We agreed a year. I went past that. I did everything he could name to try and become Colton again. Nothing worked. You want to call me selfish? Fine. Call me that. I’ll call you the one who just needs to get over this shit. It’s been long enough, Mom. Somebody’s got to tell you this. I’m sorry it hurts, but it’s not going to get any easier if we just keep pretending that someday the past’s coming back.’

My mother sighed through her teeth. I suspected she was crying. ‘How easy do you think it’s going to be getting to know you over a phoneline?’

She had a point. ‘You want a video call next time? We can do that.’

‘I want you to come home.’

‘And do what? I’ve built myself a life here.’

‘You’re a student there. Nobody builds their life as a student.’

‘I don’t get the feeling you said that when I lived in New York with the raccoon.’

‘There are loads of music colleges in the States, Colton.’

‘You called me Colton again.’

‘Calling you the name I raised you with isn’t just some fucking switch I can turn off,’ my mother snapped. ‘Fine, Jeremy, you want me to treat you like a person? Try being one. You’re not the only one who’s walked an emotional tightrope for the last two years because somebody changed.’

‘Alright, I’m sorry. But I’m not coming back to the States, Mom. I feel at home here. I like it. It’s the life I want. Yeah, there are music colleges where you are, but none of them are this one. Didn’t you always wish I’d learned an instrument instead of skating anyway?’

‘How do you remember that?’

‘I don’t know, it was in one of Todd’s videos, probably. Or you told me. Or maybe Vera Telford did. But it’s true, isn’t it?’

‘What I wanted never did matter much to you, did it? You went out of your way to prove nobody could stop you doing anything, so I didn’t try. I let you make your own mistakes. Most teenagers would have given their balls to have me as a parent. I never told you when to go to bed. I never told you to do your homework, I never grounded you when I knew you were out fucking anyone vaguely attracted to you, and I never told you what you were supposed to do with your life. I even let you smoke in our house.’

‘I quit, by the way.’

‘Did you?’ She sounded genuinely surprised. ‘How long?’

‘A year.’

‘Why didn’t you ever do that as Colton?’

‘Colton never really wanted to. Why didn’t you ever do it if you were that concerned about my health?’

‘What incentive did you give me when you never looked after it yourself? Besides, I’d challenge anyone to have raised Colton without having taken up worse.’

‘Was he really that great then, Mom?’

‘Yes. So he drove me to my vices. I never really cared. I’d tell you you’ve got one hell of a pair of boots to fill, but you don’t care about that, do you? If you want to be accepted without me measuring you up against him all the time, it’s going to take a long time. And it’s going to be harder if we’re an ocean apart.’

‘You and Dad are millionaires,’ I said. ‘You can’t buy a ticket to come to Paris for a couple of weeks? Come on, everyone wants to see Paris at least once before their time’s up.’

‘I want at least one conversation that’s nicer than this one before I’ll consider doing that. Why did you call me out of the blue, Jeremy? You could have sent an email or a text and broken the ice the easy way. You want something, don’t you? What changed?’

I thought about it, my original plan for this talk barely with me anymore, but just enough of it was. ‘Alright, yeah. Better or worse, you’re maybe the one person I can completely trust with this. I want to send you a load of my money, so you can hold it for me.’

‘You called me because of money?’

‘We need to talk, Mom. But yeah, that was my ice-breaker.’

She paused for a moment. ‘Why do you want me holding your money?’

‘Because I don’t know what to do with it. That’s not a safe situation, is it? I can’t make up my mind whether to put it in long term savings or invest it, and even if I did, what do I know how to invest in? It’s burning a hole in me. I just want it safe.’

‘How much are we talking about?’

‘Six hundred thousand.’

‘You’ve got that much left?’

‘Colton didn’t spend money like you thought. He bought his friend Obie’s college, that was one k gone. Another one was his own. Another fifty he enjoyed his life at college for a few years. I kept another hundred to do this college with and live on. Apart from that, Todd kept me for the time we were together after the gone day. The rest of that money sitting there? I feel like it’s dangerous. And what incentive do I have to earn my own while I’ve got it?’

‘Okay,’ my mother said. ‘Have you still got my bank details?’

‘Yeah?’

‘For an amount that large, you want to set up an insured transfer with the bank, so it goes through instantly and if anything goes wrong it’s covered. Do you remember how to do that?’

‘Yeah, sure. I did it when I transferred Obie his college fund.’

The line was silent again for a moment.

‘Right,’ my mother said. ‘Okay then. Seeing as you seem to love France so much, I take it that means you’ve made some effort learning French. Do you speak it well enough to make it clear what you want, when you go to the bank?’

‘Yeah. I’m actually not bad.’

‘You did French at Sekada. You chose to do it. It was an extra-curricular.’

‘Well, I don’t remember. Colton chose that.’

‘You splitting hairs every time I refer to something you did when you were Colton is going to get incredibly tiresome if you do it every time we talk. If I’m going to call you Jeremy, meet me halfway and at least accept that you were once Colton. And sometimes he’s going to be in the room.’

‘Alright, I guess that’s fair.’

‘And tell me one thing. When you moved over there, you had the bank do an insured transfer of all your funds to your new bank account in France, right?’

‘Yeah.’

‘So why didn’t you think of that first, when I asked if you remembered how to do it?’

‘I don’t know, Mom.’

‘You’ve got more memory of Colton than you’re letting anyone believe, don’t you?’

‘I really don’t, Mom. This is half the reason I don’t call. Things I say are going to make you believe I do. Get your hopes up. I thought of Obie because I would have done that transfer like that. It doesn’t mean I’ve got any memory of doing it. I don’t remember growing up with Obie either, or that whole thing where I choked him, or how he called me when we were eighteen and I went to New York to sort that whole thing out. If I had memories of Colton, it wouldn’t be dumb things like how I transferred money once.’

‘Tell me one more thing and I promise I’ll try not to bring this up again.’

I stifled a sigh. We’d made it this far. It was starting to feel like routine already. ‘Alright, go on.’

‘Colton had a fear of being gone. Every day might be the last day he got to spend as him. Is that secretly your fear too? That’s you’ll wake up one day and you won’t be Jeremy?’

I should have figured she’d ask it. I’d never taken enough time to indulge myself in that question, and what I’d just discovered was that I knew the answer.

‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m not scared of that. Sounds to me like it’s about time I could say that. I don’t want to be Colton again because it means I’m free. The worst already happened. Now it can’t happen again.’ My change was a fair way from running out, but I realised she didn’t know that. ‘I’m nearly out of quarters, Mom.’

‘I thought it was euros there.’

‘Whatever it is. I’m kinda glad we talked.’

‘One more thing, Jeremy. You know why I’m glad I’m going to hold your money?’

‘Why?’

‘Because I don’t trust that woman you’re with.’

‘Oh boy. Can we just save “Mom doesn’t like my girlfriend” for the next call?’

‘She won your heart by accepting that you were Jeremy and not Colton anymore,’ Mom said. ‘Before anyone else accepted it. She did it pretty goddamn quickly. You’re telling me you don’t find that just a little bit too convenient?’

‘I found the person I needed in my life the most. When is that not convenient?’

She sighed. ‘You’re more like Colton than you realise. You once told me Renee won a lawsuit against an employer who fired her in New York. Species discrimination. I’ve got to wonder, Jeremy, whether that’s what she really got fired for.’

‘She won in court, didn’t she?’

‘I might have raised Colton and not you, but I still don’t believe you’re that naïve about this country’s justice system. Sometimes, I don’t blame you for packing up and choosing a whole different place to live. I occasionally dream of it. Call me when you’re ready to transfer the money.’

She hung up. I put the phone down and left the box without collecting my change.

* * *

I wrote the letter to Todd that evening and ran it past Renee, guessing correctly what came the next day: I woke up feeling like I’d got it wrong.

‘You got it right,’ Renee said. ‘You gave him concessions and you told him why it was a good thing for him that you left, not just for you. It’s done. Move on from it. You told him you want your sense of worth as you, so what are you doing lately?’

What did it take to live a life you’d one day be proud of? I constantly asked myself, and I found the answer in sharing music with people. Vera Telford might have done it out of her overtly religious reasons, and partly because she had a natural talent that would have been wasted otherwise, but wasn’t that what I had? That part of the letter was the one I got right.

I wanted to be famous, one day. The music would tell the world the best things about me. The stuff that would appear on a Wikipedia page or maybe even in a music magazine or a newspaper? I got that right too: people were going to know about how I’d been Colton once.

‘Renne,’ I said, after one of our love making sessions where we had to catch our breath for five minutes afterwards. ‘Are you okay with me acknowledging I was Colton once?’

Most people would have thought post-coital bliss was the worst time to bring up someone you used to be. What I’d come to notice about Renee was that she actually gave the best takes on my whole situation after sex had cooled the fires down and levelled her head.

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ she said. ‘Nobody got to good mental health by denying the past.’

Or dwelling on it, I thought, knowing I’d asked her right now because she wouldn’t say it.

‘When you’re touring the world one day,’ she said, ‘even the people who wish you were Colton will stop wishing it. But he did take up the piano for you.’

That was an odd thought: Colton taking up the piano for the sake of one day becoming Jeremy anyway, as if that would have become his stage name if he’d lived.

‘Can I ask you something about your past, Renee?’

‘If you like.’

‘That lawsuit you won, against the bar in New York. Yeah, I believe you, it sure sounded like discrimination to me. But there’s just one thing I can’t help but think. When you’re on those days when you end up saying sorry by making me casserole and lighting dinner candles and pouring me wine. Do you think they also fired you just because you were a pain in the ass?’

Renee laughed and rolled over. ‘Of course they did. I was a pain in the ass because I wouldn’t put up with their crap.’

‘Well sure. But was there ever a side of it where they weren’t putting up with yours?’

Renne rolled back towards me and pulled herself up onto all fours, pining my hands down lightly. ‘Let me get this straight. Are you asking me if my lawsuit was…’

‘A little bit too convenient? It certainly paid your way through NYU.’

She touched her nose to mine, licked my lips, and gave a wry smile. ‘I took what was rightfully mine. That’s the world, Jeremy. You get given nothing. You’re entitled to nothing. Unless you’re prepared to say so.’

I was hard again. The intense, musky smell that came from the scent glands in her hands, the feel of her bushy tail as I ran it through my hands, and the sight of that fighting smile, they did all the things to me that none of Todd’s kinks or the videos of Colton talking about sex ever brought out in me.

‘I guess that means you’re entitled to me,’ I said. ‘Shouldn’t we…’

‘There’s no need,’ Renee said, lowering herself down on me and letting my cock slide inside her. ‘You think I want your cubs yet? My memory never lets me forget anything.’

I laughed. ‘When can we talk about the yet part?’

‘When I say you’re entitled to.’

* * *

Renee ran a chain of shops selling antique furniture. Her English degree from NYU was for her love of classical literature, her love of a classic look around the home and how to sell it to people was mostly from her father. The business side (the side she credited with having nearly ended her life before it began, after her Amelie Calvert was lucky to escape the burning towers on 9-11) was her mother’s.

I waited until Renee was knee-deep in the day’s business before I went to the bank, explained what I wanted and messaged my mother telling her to check the account.

Renee never asked me how much money I had. She had plenty of her own, and told me to save mine for my future in the music business. She’d keep me, run the home, give me an enjoyment allowance for college every week (which was more than enough) and I didn’t have to worry about anything.

All the same, I knew the smart thing to do was never tell her what I’d just done.

I took a walk along the riverside with a portion of tourist-style chips hand, thinking of that dumb lyric from Abba’s song about remembering a last summer: ‘Walks along the Seine, laughing in the rain…our last summer…I can still recall…’

Watching to boats, my inner mix tape switched to the Beethoven’s Tempest, third movement, the one that always made me imagine a stormy crossing in an old-style boat from the 1800’s in a full on oceanic storm. At the end, I always felt like the composer’s protagonist made it to shore.

That and I remembered once asking Vera Telford for a private performance of that third movement. It was my favourite piece, because when Vera Telford had introduced me to the concept of ‘pure music’ – those small moments in music where what you’re hearing touches some profound place inside of you that takes all thoughts apart from the music away from you, I told her The Tempest was the piece that was all pure, not just a few moments of it.

‘There’s no need to exaggerate your passions, Mr Vincent,’ she’d said, as if watching a drama student who’d just delivered an over-acted rendition of a famous Shakespeare speech. ‘But very good. We have something to aim for. Someday you will perform that like you want to hear it performed.’

The sky should have been darkening right now. Instead it was a perfect winter’s day with brisk air, but no wind and now clouds. These boats weren’t facing a stormy crossing.

I was contemplating whether that performance was one of Jeremy’s memories or Colton’s. When I tried to place it in time, I couldn’t.

When Renee asked me how my day off had been, I was keeping this part to myself.

I did the same thing two weeks in January, when Todd sent me a reply to my letter.

* * *

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for your letter. You predicted me pretty well; I did exactly what you said: got pissed off, got a little drunk, then hugged my secret boyfriend and mostly just filed it under things I’ve come to accept. Here’s something you might like: my secret person really isn’t so secret anymore. Go get yourself a celebrity gossip magazine, film or sports. There’s loads of pics of me and Trick Dixon holding hands and kissing now. You remember Trick, don’t you? I doubt even you could have forgotten watching Dictator Envy.

Anyway, I think email coms are better for us right now, and here’s something I need to talk to you about. Akio’s daughter Kaede sold her restaurant and decided to give the art business a shot. She’s starting out displaying Kio’s pictures, and she wants to start taking the gallery worldwide. Kio knew a lot of people in Paris from his days travelling Europe before he met Deke, and quite a few of them are still with us, so she wants to add Paris to the tour. Here’s the thing though: some of those pictures are of you.

I know, right? Just hear me out, like I did for you when I read your letter: you said you were more open to accepting you were once Colton, and I know that’s who those pictures are of. You don’t have to go see the gallery when it’s open, but Kaede really wants to display some of those paintings. Kio’s paintings tell stories, and the one she wants to tell is mine. Kio drew loads of pictures of me in the days before I was famous, and Colton was part of those days. We really need him in that gallery, but legally we need your consent for the displays.

We consulted a lawyer who said that for the consent to be completely legally binding, we’d need you to look at the pictures to know what we were displaying. You don’t have to go to the gallery, but would you allow me to send you photos of what we want to display?

I put the letter down, unfinished. For the first time in a year, I wanted a cigarette.

It was just like Renee had said: my music would be enough for people to forget I was Colton once. So what harm would it do to display pictures of me as him to bunch of people who probably didn’t care who I was, just so long as they were looking at fancy art and it was really just about Todd? I had said I’d make peace with my old life. It wouldn’t be any good not to back that up now.

At the moment, it’s really just an idea. It’s going to take us a while to choose what to display because Kio just drew so damn much. We could be talking months before we’ve got this off the ground as a business anyway, but it would be nice to know we’ve got you on board. Let me know how you feel about this.

Just be prepared though: if you say no, you know I’m going to try and persuade you. Part of me actually hopes you make me come to Paris to do it. I’ve heard the French love their basketball, and after so many hours of hearing you murder a piano back in New York, I’m really curious to come to one of your concerts. Can you play that Beethoven piece you never shut up about yet?

Regards, Todd.

PS: Colton wasn’t an SJW in the sense that you meant it. When I go into activism at college, he was a complete pain in the ass about it for a while. Colton’s idea of social justice was mostly to take care of those who mattered to you but let other people worry about big politics-style pictures. It got me thinking it’s about time I thought big again. Colton would probably have done what my team-mates are about to and told me being an openly gay pro sportsman is enough support for other people who grew up like I did.

It isn’t. Watch this space.

Holy shit on a stick. Todd Aldrington coming here? Right now? With how Renee felt about him? And God help me, I remembered who Trick Dixon was all too vividly. What if he brought him here? There was only one thing I could do about this. It only took me half a minute:

‘Hi Todd,

Sure thing about the gallery idea. Send me what you’ve got as soon as you decide what you’re doing. Do me a favour though: if you have to come to Paris, don’t do it for me yet. Let’s just get used to being back on communicating terms. Seriously, put anything you like in that gallery, but consider this my terms: give me space and don’t ask me to host you yet. Not ready for that. Anything Kio’s got of me, knock yourself out. I don’t even mind if there are nudes. I look awesome nude! Use anything you want from Colton’s life, just do me one favour…

Now I took a pause, still wanting to smoke, and knowing the only way to shake the craving was to go with that thought:

…if you can, make some of that gallery about Colton’s old life too. Then maybe say who he is now. Would you mind doing a little publicity for me? By then I might have a few concerts lined up. Put a leaflet in the gallery perhaps?

I hit send.

I sure as shit wasn’t telling Renee about this. I’d make sure they put the gallery in a part of town she never went to. I already had an idea about where. That could wait until Todd got caught by how unexpectedly compliant he’d been, then I could use the new diplomacy to ask for more terms.

I walked along the Seine again not really knowing what song was in my head. Just that there was a thrill there that seemed better than Beethoven’s storm-crossing.

I didn’t come home until dinner time, my legs worn out and my mind oddly at rest, with no music in it at all. Instead of launching into demands to know where I’d been all day, Renee was pouring wine, the candles already lit, and the place smelling of casserole.

Before I could ask what she was saying sorry for this time, she asked me to marry her.

Follow this link to Chapter Two

flag
Comments (3)
user avatar
User #734962 - 3 May 20 17:32
Oh Jesus I wasn’t expecting to be reading from Jeremys perspective. That hit like a ton of bricks. Oh man this is gonna be a rollercoaster
user avatar
toddaldrington - 3 May 20 18:45
Looks like I made the right choice to switch to book 2 before bringing him in. I was originally going to do it much earlier in the first, but by accident I think I've ended up with a better structure.
user avatar
User #734962 - 3 May 20 18:49
I whole heartedly agree. After reading so much from Todd’s perspective, it brings a fresh new take on Gone Day that I honestly wasn’t expecting. Suddenly, we have a counter balance and it’s already sending me reeling. Very good structure indeed.
Taking the Collar Off (Part 2 of 2) 2020-04-13T17:20:48+00:00

One week later, there was nobody from school in the waiting room. It was mostly a bunch of retired people or younger parents with kids. When my name got called, nobody noticed that Dad followed me to the room where the nurse took my temperature and checked my weight and got me to stick arm in the blood pressure machine, noticing on my paperwork that I had to keep my sleeve rolled down.

Dr Comfrey’s office was too much to take in at once as I waited. I got up onto the bed and tried anyway, my eyes refusing to settle on anything, my tail wagging but my body twitching. I did the arm-rubbing thing and tried a couple of calming breaths.

‘A little nervous there, dog?’ Dad said, putting a hand on my arm for calm.

‘I’m cool, dad. I can do this. But yeah, I got the trembles.’ There was no point hiding them. ‘I’m not scared. It’s excitement trembles, and nerves, and…’ I took a deep breath. ‘Wooooah, yeah.’

‘You’ll be fine,’ Dad said, rubbing my back through my t-shirt, because I’d requested to keep all my clothes on. ‘And I’ll be right here.’ This was a mental health review anyway, for God’s sake. New Patient exam could be just about mental health; it was supposed to be, wasn’t it? Someone like me couldn’t worry about physical until they had mental in check.

Dad had been right. I was sixteen and I still needed a parent to do to the doctor? I should be past this by now, but here he was holding my hand while I wriggled about on my butt and trembled a little, and I knew what was coming.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Sorry I tried to make you come on your own. You weren’t ready yet.’

God, did I look that awful? ‘Yeah Dad, I know. I think she’s coming, you can let go now okay?’

‘I wish I still had your hearing,’ Dad said.

Dr Comfrey opened the door. I already knew she was an otter from her picture on the surgery’s website, but what I hadn’t known was that for a playful species she had the most amazing calm.

‘Kayden,’ she said. ‘Hi there, I’m Alison Comfrey, I’m a primary care doctor here at the centre.’ She looked at Dad. ‘Mr Prescott? Hi, nice to meet you too.’

‘Call me Douglas,’ Dad said. ‘And don’t worry, I’m not the overly concerned parent type, I’m just here because Kayden asked for it.’

‘That’s fine,’ Dr Comfrey said. ‘I read your special request sheet, that’s all fine; we’ll do this one step at a time, okay?’

‘Sure.’ I liked this otter already. ‘I did my blood pressure on the way in,’ I handed her the piece of paper. ‘I had to do it through my sleeve though.’

‘That’s okay, the machine’s designed to be able to do it through t-shirt for patients who need to. Good reading. Are you okay about physical contact while I examine you?’

‘Yeah, I’m not touch-phobic and I don’t bite, you can touch this dog.’

She laughed and got a torch and a tongue stick out. ‘Okay, let’s do throat, eyes and ears. Open wide and stick your tongue out a little bit for me. That’s good, okay.’ She felt around my throat glands and got me to swallow. ‘Perfect. Okay, bright light in each eye for a moment. That’s all good.’ She clicked the ear-piece onto her otoscope. ‘Turn your head slightly to the right for me. Excellent. Now the left. Great. Okay, hop down off the bed and let’s sit down with your Dad and talk for a bit.’

‘Hey doc, you know my friend Felix, right? Aldrington? He’s the one with the touch issues. He recommended I chose you for my PCP. And Dr Wilson for everything else.’

‘Ah, did he now. That makes sense.’

‘Dad knows Felix is my boyfriend,’ I said. ‘Yeah, I’ve been living in this town two weeks and I’ve got a boyfriend. Fe said I could tell you if I had to. And that we’ve…y’know.’

The day after our first kiss, I’d taken my collar off and put it on Felix. The effect had been nothing short of spectacular for both of us. I hadn’t felt gross or ashamed of myself this time. I was probably never going to feel like that again. Just so long as I kept some semblance of control on my mental health and my brain with it.

‘My boy’s a little ahead of his years, Dr Comfrey,’ Dad said. ‘We’ve talked about this a lot. There are rules, but I’m fine about how he’s gay, and I’m happy he’s with Felix and I know things happen. Just like things happened when we lived in Iowa. When he’s out of my sight I can’t exactly stop him, can I? It’s no use being mad about it, is it?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘You can just say you know I’ve had sex, Dad. And I know what you’re thinking, Doc. Felix’s mom, right? She’d go mental.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Dr Comfrey said. ‘You and Felix are both protected by patient confidentiality even if it’s just one of you telling me this. Quick question then, as it’s part of your check-up: are you and Felix using condoms or other protection?’

‘Yeah, we’re safe. I wear the condom. Felix would too if he ever wanted to switch.’ I wagged my tail.

Dad gave me an awkward look. ‘And now my son tells me he’s a top. The things you really want to know as a parent.’

‘You know worse about me, Dad.’

‘Well, we’re ticking positive boxes on sexual health right here,’ Dr Comfrey said, literally ticking several on her pad. ‘So, I’m happy to refer you to Dr Wilson for your psychiatric treatment here, and he can review your medication as well, but is there anything you feel we need to review before that, before I approve your repeat prescription? How’s everything working at the moment?’

‘I had a bit of a crash when we moved here,’ I said. ‘I picked up though. Meeting Felix at school helped. I…yeah, I told Dad, I felt suicidal on my first day. I was gonna do it again and then I met Fe and I didn’t and I started upping my meds to try and stop the feelings and it whacked me right up to being totally nuts.’

Okay, so I’d messed about with my dosage after Fe told me he wanted to see a manic day, and I’d known how to tip my own balance after experiments I’d done before. That was probably why I’d done the collar thing with Felix, wagged my tail at the whole episode like crazy and then barely slept for two nights afterwards. Perhaps best not to drop that entire story.

‘Dad made me just take a normal dose and I’m okay since then. Little bit excited all the time, like that’s why I got the trembles soon as I came in here, but I think it’s good.’

‘Do you keep the number of any suicide prevention lines in your phone?’ Dr Comfrey asked.

‘And written down on some paper in my wallet,’ I said. ‘And…yeah, okay. I…’ I took a deep breath and sighed. ‘It was stupid, but I cut the ‘Talk’ number one into my left arm. Back when I was doing that. Dad remembers it because I kinda showed him after I’d done it and he held a towel on it while Mom drove me to the hospital and it kinda makes me feel ashamed of myself.’ Just like I did after being that stupid after Felix expressly told me not to do what I’d done. Even he didn’t know I’d taken his innocence in that state, he’d probably just guessed it but not asked. Now I felt a spiral coming on.

‘Just one of those things that happened,’ Dad said, putting a hand on my shoulder. ‘You don’t have to hang your head. Come on, lift your chin up, you were having a good day. Let’s keep it going.’

‘And just remember, I don’t judge you for anything you tell me,’ Dr Comfrey said. ‘It’s simply part of your treatment.’

I looked up and forced a smile. ‘Least I can’t go anywhere without the number, right? I think that actually helped. I remember it without looking now.’

‘How long’s it been since you last self-harmed?’ Dr Comfrey said.

‘Nearly a year,’ I said. ‘That behaviour therapy, the CBT? It’s been working. And I showed Felix all my scars and I managed not to panic or be ashamed or anything.’

‘Good,’ Dr Comfrey said, making some notes on the computer.

‘Don’t forget about your medication concern,’ Dad said.

‘Oh, that’s not a concern, I’m fine,’ I said.

‘It was last week and it will be again if you don’t talk about it,’ Dad said.

‘It’s silly worrying about it, Dad.’

Dad managed not to sigh, but he knew what to do, just like he always did: take over from me. ‘Kayden was reading about how some people with Bipolar have a shorter life on average because of the medication, and the lithium and stabilisers that are apparently linked to it are on his meds list and supposedly cause heart conditions.’

‘After decades, Dad. Maybe one day I could stop taking so much and I won’t get there.’

‘It’s true that people with bipolar disorder statistically have double the risk of coronary heart disease,’ Dr Comfrey said, ‘but a lot of evidence points to lifestyle and other underlying conditions being as much of a factor as long term medication, and possibly even more so. A good approach is that we monitor your health to check for the signs of anything else, and it’s my job to keep an eye on what gets discovered about medicines before we review them.’

‘See?’ I said. ‘Told you it was nothing. But okay. I’ll tell her.’ I looked at Dr Comfrey. ‘When I think about going off my meds, it’s sometimes because I worry about them helping with my brain but wrecking everything else.’

‘Understandable,’ Dr Comfrey said, taking her stethoscope from around her neck. ‘How about we take a listen to your heart and lungs and check everything’s okay there at the moment?’

‘Okay, sure,’ I said, getting to my feet, trying to hide the trembles coming back a little.

‘Now don’t worry,’ Dr Comfrey said, clipping the metal frame of the stethoscope around her neck. ‘There are different ways we can do this. I can listen through your T-shirt if need be although the sound is never as clear. A better option is if you can pull it up for me, or we can leave it like it is and maybe you’re okay with me putting my hand up it. Or option three, if you feel like you’re ready, you can take it off.’

‘Errr…’ I shifted my feet, then hopped from one to the other, then felt like running on the spot, but managed not to. ‘Okay, give me a minute. Bit of decision paralysis.’

Dad stood close to me and touched my arm. ‘Why don’t you be brave, dog?’

‘Errr…really?’

‘Remember when we did this years ago, how I talked you into being brave whenever the doctor listened to your chest as a pup? Come on, it’s just like being a pup again, before you had all the scars. Let’s be brave and take this off, shall we? Pretend this is just like it used to be.’

I felt so silly, thinking of it like that, but it worked. ‘Yeah, okay. You gonna help me? Arms up?’

‘Hold on,’ Dad said. ‘You have a collar nowadays, remember? Unclip it. And here, take your necklace off. I’m sure God won’t mind for a few minutes, will he?’

I was going to let him make fun this time. And see how I felt a little better rubbing the little cross between my thumb and fingers before I gave it to him with my collar.

‘Arms up then, dog,’ Dad said, and I raised them, and he helped pull my t-shirt off me.

I stood there bare on top and grinning like an idiot, or maybe the pup who knew he was going to get his lollypop at the end of it. ‘Oh, look at me, silly dog. I’ve got the trembles again and I’m not even scared of this. I got this.’ I forced my tail from between my legs and upright. ‘See? Wagging tail!’

‘Well done, Kayden,’ Dr Comfrey said, putting her stethoscope in her ears, and putting a hand on my shoulder. ‘Let’s take a listen.’ She pressed the cold metal against the left of my chest. ‘Just relax and breathe normally.’

‘My heart must be pounding like crazy right now,’ I said.

‘Shhh,’ Dad said. ‘Keep quiet for a minute, dog. Talk with the tail.’ He’d not said that to me for a very long time either.

‘Oh, it’s okay Douglas, Kayden’s got a really strong heartbeat and I can hear just fine. And his nerves are calming down a little now. Tell you what, Kayden, why don’t you take some deep breaths for me first? That might help a little.’ She stood in front of me and listened on my right. ‘Okay, in through your nose and out through your mouth for me.’

I drew a deep breath down through my nose and sighed it out. It felt awesome. I took another, and another, as Dr Comfrey listened all over my chest and back, filling the room with the sound of my breathing and concentrating on it and the coldness of the stethoscope on each place. I’d soon forgotten about the scars I was supposed to be hiding on my arms, and the ones on my chest itself. Dr Comfrey asked me to cough and listened to it in a couple of places on my back before returning to my heart again, listening right over the scar I’d told Felix about.

She listened to my heart in one place for what felt like ages, until I realised it was a minute and she’d been timing it on her watch to get my resting heartrate in BPM. ‘Very good, Kayden, seventy per minute. If you weren’t still a little excited I think it would be somewhere around sixty, maybe fifty-five. You’re a fit boy.’

‘Well, he sure does do a lot of spots,’ Dad said.

‘I’d guessed as much,’ Dr Comfrey said, listening in a few other places, before clicking something on the stethoscope and listening for a moment with the opposite side of it. ‘You’ve got a perfect heart there, Kayden.’ She took her stethoscope out of her ears and wrapped it back around her neck, then looked between me and Dad. ‘Is there any heart disease history in your family?’

‘I’ve got nothing, nor do my parents. His Mom’s folks? I don’t think so either.’

‘Your lungs are perfectly clear too, am I right in guessing you don’t have asthma or any other breathing conditions?’

‘No, I got nothing,’ I said.

‘I don’t think you’ll need to worry about medication affecting your cardio health for a very long time,’ Comfrey said. ‘Now, how do you feel about me taking a closer look at those scars you have? If I’ve already had a good look it might make things a little more relaxed next time I see you.’

‘Yeah, sure,’ still feeling conscious of how bare my fur was. I brushed a hand over where she’d last held her stethoscope on me, listening to the life force I hadn’t ended with a blade. ‘I nearly killed myself in a pretty horrendous way, doc. More than once. I’ve been a complete mess and I’ve put my whole family through hell, and lately it’s not been much better. But I want to get better. Because I found somebody to love, and I…’ I looked at Dad, and he smiled, and I knew he got it: I didn’t want him to suffer anymore either, like he’d told me in the car.

I wasn’t going to tear up. I was caught somewhere inside the same purgatory I’d always bestowed on that car, as if this whole day was deciding how I was going to feel about life from now on. It would never be as simple as that, but for a moment, I felt like old guilt and shame and hidden secrets were giving way to something new.

‘It’s alright,’ Dr Comfrey said. ‘After what you’ve been through, it’s understandable that you’d feel the need to hide everything I’m looking at, and feel overwhelming guilt, and a whole sea of other feelings all at once. But you’ve just taken a very brave step today and you should be proud of yourself.’

‘Errrr, yeah, thanks. Can I put my t-shirt back on now?’

‘Of course.’ Dad passed it to me and I put it back on and I sat down on the bed, realising my legs and feet were feeling a little light beneath me.

‘Mental health hasn’t been so kind to you these last few years, has it?’ Dr Comfrey said. ‘But physically you’re in perfect shape, and that’s a good sign because that will help with getting you to a more stable place with treating the former. I get the feeling you’re a very bright boy, Kayden, with a lot going for him.’

‘Oh stop it,’ I said. ‘I’m glowing under this coat!’

‘And new reasons to stay with a treatment plan and keep from going back to the things you were doing before.’

‘Well, yeah. If they last.’

‘Let’s get your prescription renewed and your counselling scheduled. Take this new life you’re building one step at a time, and we’ll do what we can here to help make things work for you.’

* * *

The chemist next door surprised me: I picked up and paid for my own prescription without getting that look I always did back in Iowa that said ‘You poor boy, if you make it another year you deserve a medal.’

I said thanks, and walked out feeling like I wanted to make it another year.

* * *

Dad and I stood in the parking lot looking at each other like two strangers who weren’t sure what would happen if they got in the car with each other.

‘Name something you wanna do,’ Dad said. ‘Anything. And we’ll do it. As long as it’s not too nuts.’

‘Alright,’ I said. ‘Give me that driving lesson in The Beast.’

‘You got it,’ Dad said, then looked around himself. ‘Okay. You got it if you promise to do what I say when I say it. And we’re going to drive about for a few minutes and find a quieter parking lot.’

We found one. I got behind the wheel, and felt like I finally knew why this car had the price tag it did (which Dad had never paid, because he’d been gifted it for having helped design most of what was under the hood) and why Dad always said it was something to be feared as much as admired and appreciated.

‘Actually, Dad, can we just get a cup of coffee? There’s a Starbucks right there. Good choice of parking lot.’

‘Oh, come on. A Ferrari’s giving you the trembles more than a doctor and her stethoscope?’

I shrugged, took the keys out and dropped them into his lap. He caught them before they reached it. ‘I just want a cup of coffee.’ I got out and walked. He followed me.

‘You mean you want what’s actually a vanilla milkshake that’s half ice with two shots of espresso and you kids think that makes it a cup of coffee.’

‘Yeah. Get your wallet out. I want some of those caramel cookies as well. And one of those cheese panini things, with extra cheese.’

‘So, let me get this straight,’ he said, with the kind of smile reserved for kids who still can’t outsmart a parent. ‘You’re worried about long term medication affecting your body but diabetes and high cholesterol don’t factor into your choices at all?’

‘Teenager, Dad. It’s just another word for bombproof.’

Dad got an Americano for himself, and an avocado and tomato salad sandwich. He tried a sip of my drink once we were sitting by the window. ‘Yyyyuck! That is not a cup of coffee, dog. Next time I go to Italy, you should come and try coffee there.

‘You don’t work for Ferrari anymore.’

‘Where are Maserati from, you “bright boy”?’

‘Oh yeah.’ I did already know that.

We sat there and ate in mostly silence. Or maybe just talking with the tails. He said I’d been wagging mine so much for the last hour that my tailbone should have dislocated by now.

‘Are we gonna talk to each other about anything real then?’ I said. ‘Or just sit here like two dumbstruck philosophers who finally got the answer to what life’s about and naval gaze all day?’

Dad looked like he’d been trying to gear up for saying something profound or amazing, but he just didn’t have it. ‘Comfrey was better with you than that wolf back in Iowa ever was. When did he ever think about any part of you apart from your brain?’

‘I dunno,’ I said. ‘I always thought that guy was a bit of a dick though. He was just a gateway to more medication that I had to answer questions to open. Even if he was the one who finally convinced you and Mom that I actually was a manic depressive.’

‘I don’t think he would have done that if you hadn’t already diagnosed yourself,’ Dad said. ‘You really are a bright boy. Willoughby had to hear you say it before he realised it fitted everything about you. You ever thought of being a doctor yourself?’

‘Have I what? Oh, come on, Dad. How would I ever cope with that?’

‘If you stick to treatment and become more stable as you start your adult years, there shouldn’t be any limit to what you can achieve if you want to. Come on, I know you’ve already looked at a whole bunch of lists of famous people who have what you’ve got. And hey, if you’ve been through a bunch of awful stuff then a patient who’s doing the same will trust you. You’re as acutely aware of other people’s emotions as you are of your own. And you can be the guy who can think like Comfrey did. Willoughby only checked your breathing if you were already coughing. Comfrey did it to get you to take your shirt off, because it was a confidence and trust thing, and it helped reassure you about your fears. Let’s fast forward ten years and imagine you’re just out of med school. That’s the sort of thing you’d think of. What if this awful thing you’re always fighting turned into something that gives you that extra window into how to care for others?’

Kayden Prescott, MD. It seemed like such an impossible thing, as I imagined that graduation, thought about how I might be remembering when my father had said what he’d just said, and then just felt tired thinking about the years I had ahead of me if I tried to go down that path. ‘Did all those car companies hire you as an engineer or a motivational speaker?’ I said. ‘And I’m loving the parental pressure, by the way. “Be a high flyer on more than just your mania, my son.” ’

‘You can be whatever you want, Kayden. It’s just a thought.’

‘Thanks for that thing about remembering when I was a pup. I was happy when I was a pup. Before it all just stopped one day and everything else started.’

‘Yeah. For a moment, I saw that boy again.’

‘He’s right here, Dad. You didn’t leave him in Comfrey’s office, and if you want to spend the afternoon with him, now’s your chance. This isn’t gonna last and I don’t quite know where it’s coming from, but take it while you can get it. I’ll do the same.’

‘You know what, though?’ Dad said. ‘I’ve already been seeing him again. Ever since you came home that day and said you’d met Felix.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘But about that. I’ve got a problem, Dad. It’s called Joanne Aldrington. Because she does not like me. She doesn’t want me with Felix, and I can feel her searching for a way to stop it all every time she’s in the room with me.’

‘It may interest you to know,’ Dad said, ‘but I’m slightly further ahead on this one than you think. We’ve only been here two weeks and already I’ve heard a lot about this woman. That’s why I took the liberty of setting up a meeting with her. Yesterday, when I got my fur trimmed in preparation for tomorrow’s conference call with head office.’

‘Oh hell, Dad. You went to her salon?’

‘Kelpies have “lovely smooth fur” and it was a “pleasure” working on a chief executive who left a generous tip. Now, here’s what you need to know. There’s nothing that woman loves more than her own children, and she’s formidable, and she’s got plenty of life experience and knows how to weather a storm. She’s just never experienced or weathered anyone like you yet. She’s a natural conservative who’s fortunately liberal about sexuality, however, she’s a little concerned for her high-functioning-autistic son who’s smart as a college professor but vulnerable as a washed up child actor, and he’s just met a dog who’s clung onto life by the skin of his teeth and sort of shows it by trying not to show it. So. What she needs to see more of is the happy and more stable boy who’s been coming back out to play a whole lot more since we moved here. How you do that’s easy: we book you a time to get your fur dressed up, and you make the effort to talk to her without Felix there. That’s what I think she needs. To get to know you without a distraction. And you coming across as wanting to be in the same room as her. Reach out the hand. She’ll take it.’

‘You…like…reconned Fe’s mom for me?’

‘Yeah. And before you ask, no, my tip wasn’t so generous that I look like I’m trying to buy your way into this for you. It was twenty percent instead of ten.’

‘Which was a still a bucketload considering how styled you are right now.’

‘Money won’t end this issue in the same way that being with Felix won’t end all yours,’ Dad said. ‘But we just work with every advantage we’ve got, don’t we?’

He had me. I had no smart answer to that. ‘There’s another thing though, Dad. Remember how I said I didn’t smoke or drink or do drugs? Well, for Joanne, I do something ten times worse than all of it. I skate.’

‘Ah.’

‘Yeah. “Ah.” Your recon didn’t pick that one up, did it? Fe told me the deal. Her brother broke his neck was and was lucky not end up para. Or quadra. Todd had this boyfriend for a while who had a brain injury skating as a kid and had memory issues. Fe started skating behind her back about six months ago, when he had this exchange partner from Japan around. Now I’ve showed up and I can actually skate. She doesn’t know about Fe but she knows about me. I might as well have plague and I’m about to spread it.’

‘Take a break from it. Encourage Felix to do the same. If you want to play this big, get Felix to agree to confess his secret to his mother and then tell her you’re the one who got him to stop, because you started re-thinking your life. It does play well next to your new found interest in church every Sunday.’

‘You can’t be…actually serious.’

‘Kayden. There’s a skate ramp and looking cool, then there’s the person who makes you want to turn your life around. Which is more important to you?’

I knew where this had come from. In Dad’s life, there had been the marriage to the woman he loved, who tried her hardest but just couldn’t cope with having a constantly unstable son, and then there was the son himself.

‘Yeah, Dad. I get it.’

‘Is he worth it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then this conversation has an obvious conclusion, doesn’t it?’

‘That boy you liked seeing again? He was always a skater.’

‘Well, maybe now he’s taking up something different. He always liked singing, too. Why don’t you try music lessons again?’

‘Ugh, the piano again? Dad, I never liked it.’

‘I’m just saying, there are options.’

‘Take a break from having the plague,’ I said. ‘Like I can just choose to be an asymptomatic carrier.’

‘You just got told you have perfect physical health. Use it. Take Felix running. Do something Joanne would approve of. If this were you, Kayden, I wouldn’t want a boyfriend who looked dangerous for you either. Thankfully that’s not what I’m looking at, but if I was? What if I saw someone who encouraged you to steal knives again? Or who wanted you to play about with your dosages because he liked your manic side more? Or gave you ideas about self-medicating with the wrong things? I wouldn’t be so different from Joanne either.’

‘But Dad, I’m not that person to Felix. Why would I want to do stuff that would hurt him? I wouldn’t force him to skate to be my friend. He was already doing it before me. He wears the safety gear and he doesn’t try crazy things he’s not capable of yet. I’d be the guy who made sure that’s how he kept it.’

‘I know. But it will take time before Joanne does. Here’s another thing I got from my salon visit: I never mentioned your name once, but she did, and she talked about you with more detail than I think she realises she has in her head. I think she might have used a little Google-fu to research you. I know that doesn’t sound nice, but she’s done it because her heart is in protecting Felix. What you need to guide her towards is realising you’re actually very good protection for him yourself.’

That was going to take one hell of a lot of work. I would pay the price of not being a skater anymore. I’d woken up feeling a little high with nerves this morning, and now this whole episode made me feel like I was heading for the mania for a few weeks, or at least a subdued version of it because the meds were kicking in. I went in my bag for the latest prescription and dosed up on everything with a swig of not-coffee. It tasted great.

‘Okay,’ I said slapping my hands onto my knees. ‘What the hell. We’ve had Comfrey listening to my chest, now how about Joanne doing a full coat-style on me with my shirt off?’

‘That could go either way,’ Dad said. ‘If you’re ready to do it, be prepared that her reaction to your scars might definitely not be the same as Comfrey’s. She might have Googled you but it doesn’t mean she knows the extent of it, and that’s if she’s picked up on your issues and didn’t stop at reading about what happened at your last school.’

‘Would that stuff be out there? Someone would actually have told the world I made a death threat once?’

‘Your mother worked pretty hard to get a lot of stuff taken down about you, but that’s maybe the problem. Some people when they’re told not to shame or persecute someone just want to do it more. Before you do it, I suggest you don’t go looking. Stay on this wave you’re on right now. If people find out, show them who you are now.

I looked out of the window. ‘Why does anyone ever want to be a better person, Dad? When all they ever get is judged for the stuff that’s in the past? Like they’re not capable of changing anything, really.’

‘Because sometimes the judgement changes,’ Dad said. ‘Some people are capable of changing their mind about a person. Believe me, I know that. Hey, look at me for a second and not The Beast or what’s outside.’

I looked.

‘I have been a racist dog sometimes,’ Dad said. ‘I call it a heavy level of species pride, but there’s a fine line sometimes. I’ve judged people based on them not being a dog. I’ve chosen who I wanted in teams and for other things based on who was a dog and who wasn’t. You asked whether those companies hired me as an engineer or a motivator. It was both, really, but to begin with, I believed one thing: they hired me because I was the brightest there was, and I was the brightest their was because I was a dog. That was all complete nonsense, but I believed it well enough back then. And when I was your age, I didn’t have your empathy. I was bi, promiscuous and a cheater, and a liar. That carried on well into my graduate years too.’

‘Really?’

‘Oh yeah. I’ve been judged for my past by a lot of people. You could probably try googling me, but you might not find a name, just posts by people talking about the ex who destroyed their trust in people. Or the manager who gave them the lousy tasks because a dog had to have the better ones.’

‘I can’t imagine it.’

‘Because once you and your sisters were around I realised I had a different example to set. Then after a while, I realised I didn’t just want to change things about myself because of you. I wanted to keep them like they were now because it was better. Some people never stop seeing you as old you, but after a while they don’t matter. And I’ll tell you something else.’

‘Yeah, what’s that?’

‘If there really is someone or something up there like you choose to believe,’ Dad flicked his eyes to the sky. ‘Then I used to feel like, sometimes, maybe having a bipolar son was my punishment for having made other people’s lives worse. But you’re not a punishment, Kayden. You’re a gift I’m glad I was given.’

I glowed. ‘Uuuuuhhh, Daaaad! Public place right here.’

Dad shrugged. ‘Parent, son. It’s just another word for constant embarrassment.’

‘Yeah, wait for the next time I get to embarrass you.

‘Let me save you the trouble. I once got bullied at school too. By otters.’

I laughed. ‘What? You?

‘I tried out for the school swimming team. I got in, and I raced, and I’ve got medals. I did that all, even though it meant putting up with Eddie Thomas and his three friends, who wanted to make out that I never achieved anything in my life. Bunch of assholes. And his girlfriend was a bitch too. I never made a death threat, but once or twice I felt like it. I don’t know where he is now, but I sometimes still have that fantasy where he’s sitting in a doorway in a piss-soaked bag and I’m the one who surprises him by being him a sandwich and some coffee.’

When I thought about it, I realised we had never had otters as friends of our family, and in many subtle ways I could only just pick out of my memory, Dad had always seemed to steer me away from them. Back in the present, I realised what this really was.

‘Ah,’ I said, taking a satisfied drink of not-coffee.

‘Yeah,’ Dad said. ‘I’m sure Robert Hudson is a very good doctor too, but thank you for choosing Comfrey. I told you people could let the past go once they see the right things.’

I couldn’t help it, I grinned, then laughed. ‘My dad,’ I said. ‘The racist dog. Who saw the light when an otter got his messed up son half naked.’

‘Yes, alright, very funny.’ Dad was smiling about it.

‘Oh, hey, man, I forgot, I’ve not called and talked to Sam in two weeks.’ I got my phone out and called his room at the home. No answer. He sometimes took a while to come to the phone, since his legs had become worse starting about six months ago. I dialled again. Still nothing. It was mid afternoon and he was probably still trying to go for his same walk, just taking twice as long about it. ‘I’ll call the main desk and leave him a message,’ I said, and did it. ‘Hey, can I leave a message for Sam Gerrard please? Room one-oh-one.’ He’d explained to me why he liked having that number, and told me to go read a book by some human called Orwell.

‘Who’s calling, please?’

‘Kayden Prescott.’

The line went so quiet I thought for a moment we’d been cut off. ‘Mr Prescott, we were going to call you later today at Sam’s request. He said you live in Phoenix now. I’m sorry to have to tell you this on the phone, but Sam passed away just a few hours ago.’

The coffee house around me was already as quiet as the parking lot outside, and now it seemed even quieter. That quiet was the sound of one thought: all the times I’d thought about dying or attempted to kill myself, I couldn’t help but think I wouldn’t have gotten that far if only I’d experienced receiving the news of someone’s death myself. I looked at my father, and didn’t start tearing up, because it suddenly all felt worse than tears would allow for.

‘Oh. Right. Okay. Thanks for telling me.’

‘Mr Prescott, I’m sorry this is difficult news to take in, but there’s something I need to ask if you might give me, or call me back with. Sam made a special request with us. When he died, he wanted you to have his collection of war medals. He put it in his will, so legally they’re yours, but he said he’s got a daughter who’s going to clear his room out and he was concerned about them disappearing, you understand? So I need to make them disappear to the right place today, if I can. I need your address.’

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘You got a pen there? It’s…Dad, what’s our address? Here, speakerphone.’

Dad couldn’t quite take it in, but after a moment of wondering what was happening, he clocked it and he was right there, giving the address I’d have known on any other day, because I’d memorised it before we’d even arrived.

‘Sam said he wanted me to tell you something,’ the nurse said. ‘He said “Tell him if he ever starts thinking about hanging his collar up for good again that he needs to stop it, because I didn’t give these medals to a cowardly dog.” And he said there was a question you once asked him. Where he gave you a typical answer. He said the one he should have given was yes. But he said don’t worry, because he didn’t waste any opportunities when he was younger. He said…’ some papers rustling in the backgound, probably this nurse finding notes. ‘He said there was this day he found you wearing the wrong collar, and he’d felt like people had put that on him for years too, because of his issues. But he said he never let it matter what other people thought.’

Now I realised the voice on the end of the phone was slightly shaky. ‘Tell him that…ah, shit.’

‘It’s alright, we’re all still processing it. That message makes sense to you?’

‘Yeah. A lot of it.’

‘Good. Well, I’ll get that package sent to you. I hope you have a good day despite this, Mr Prescott. Bye now.’

I rang off.

‘I’m sorry,’ Dad said. ‘When did it happen?’

‘Few hours ago.’

‘He left you his medals?’

‘Yeah’ I tried to remember the stories he’d told me about how he’d gotten each one, but part of me just wanted to shut them out, knowing I wouldn’t get any more of them. ‘Dad, when you offered to stop the move and said we could just keep living…’ I cut myself off. ‘Ah, forget it.’

Dad waited for a moment and watched me staring into the remains of my drink, until he moved around from opposite to be next to me.

‘Kayden, he didn’t die of loneliness because you left. He was eighty years old and he’d been an alcoholic for probably at least twenty of them. He died because it was his time. But look. The home started finding him other people to keep him company when they realised how he was responding to you. Yeah, I thought the guy was pretty off the wall, but why do you think I let you keep going to him?’

‘Isn’t it just like him to ruin a nice day for someone?’ I said. ‘When he was really off on one sometimes, I used to tell him that. He could make even me more depressed about the world. And happier about it all at once.’

Dad put a hand on my shoulder. ‘Wasn’t bad advice he gave you about not hanging up your collar though, was it?’

‘I’m done with all that, Dad. For real this time.’

‘What was the question you asked him? The one he finally said yes to.’

‘Oh come on, Dad. I think you know. And if you don’t, then it’s still just between me and him.’

My phone pinged a text through from Felix. ‘How did it go?’

‘Meet me at the skate park and I’ll tell you. Bring your gear.’

Dad sighed. ‘Kayden.’

‘Once more won’t hurt anyone,’ I said. ‘And I wanna show up in a Ferarri. And what have we got right here?’ I tipped my head at The Beast. ‘Let’s go. You’ve got something new to teach me.’


Afterword

I did this in the paperback and ebook editions of Out on the Highway, and when I told a couple I’m friends with who both work in healthcare that I’d done this in a book, they said that if it helps just one person then it was completely worth doing, so here it is again:

If you are (or have been) affected by Kayden’s issues, or anything similar, the number he talks about in this story in the USA is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you live in the UK, a similar number for ‘Samaritans’ is 116 123. In Canada, you can call a prevention line on 1-833-456-4566. In Australia, the number for Lifeline is 13-11-14. That covers most of my usual readership demographic, but if you’re not in any of those countries then rest assured there are help services out there for you as well. If you found this page, the chances are that you know how to use a search engine. If you need to then please do it. Your life is important. Keep hold of it!

-Todd Aldrington, April 2020.


flag
Taking the Collar Off (Part 1 of 2) 2020-04-13T17:19:08+00:00

Welcome to my 2nd short story in the space of a month! This one’s a little longer, hence I’ve split it into two posts of roughly 8000 words each. If you want something little shorter (and a LOT more light hearted), you can always read ‘Under the Bed’ first, with characters from the same series.

'Taking the Collar Off' is a story about the value of looking after people who need that extra helping hand. While writing Gone Day part 1, the 5th book in my Todd and Colton series, I create Kayden Prescott as a minor character – a very smart kelpie-labrador cross, but with major mental health issues to battle with. Deciding to explore his story a little more on the side and be a bit of a smartass, I realised that a certain chapter of Akio’s House re-written with Kayden and his father instead of Todd and his mother would be an interesting exercise, so I did it, and then realised that for this to work as a fully explored story, a first-time reader would need a little more intro into who Kayden is.

That was a week ago. The story I’ve ended up with, after more redrafts and obsession over the details than usual, is edgier and darker than I’d originally bargained for even with a character like Kayden, but ultimately it feels very ‘on brand’ for a Todd Aldrington story.

New readers need not have read any of my other stuff to follow this story. This story spoils extremely little of the main series. The only thing you get here is that at the start of the Todd and Colton books, Felix (Todd’s brother) is ten years old. This story takes place when he’s fifteen, and certain questions about him that come up in the first couple of books have been answered, but honestly I think reading this story first might actually add to your enjoyment of the rest of the series, if I manage to hook you. Knowing who Felix becomes as he gets to the middle of adolescence might actually make reading the scenes where he’s a child a whole lot more intriguing.

Regulars/Patrons: if you’re not quite up to date with the latest posts in the series, don’t worry, this doesn’t spoil Gone Day. If you’ve read Akio’s House, you’ll hopefully enjoy seeing how I’ve inverted roles, motivations, and tipped a hat to the original scene that the second post of this is based on. I realised this idea worked when I thought of how Todd and Kayden are the same age when they get this day that slightly changes their perspective on life in general, yet who they are and their reasons and reactions are completely different.

Content Warning

Nothing happens ‘live’ in the present section of the narrative, but this story contains descriptions of self harm and attempted suicide from the main character’s past.

* * *


Taking the Collar Off


Every time I got into Dad’s car it reminded me of how him being rich would never buy me my way out of having a brain wired to send me between Heaven and Hell constantly.

Whenever I sat in church, I felt like I already knew what it was to experience both. God might help me out sometime, if I believed enough. Rejecting Satan had become such a matter of routine that I was kicking his butt on a regular basis.

Getting into this car was like a sobering form of purgatory.

* * *

When we moved to Phoenix, Dad drove us both a long way in The Beast. It was better than flying. We had a last stop off at my favourite view over Cedar Rapids (the one that reminded me that sometimes I did experience real happiness) before we left Iowa for good, and that’s when he’d told me what I kept reminding myself of every morning now:

‘Look, Kayden, I know I can’t possibly understand what you go through, because you’re right every time you tell me I’ve never been there. But here’s where I go every day: I’m a father, and watching my son suffer constantly is horrible for me. When you’re hurting, so am I. It’s just in a different way. So we need to try and help each other out a little bit more. This move is for both of us. We’re wiping the board clean of stuff we…alright, it’s not forgetting, but can we forgive each other and try to be buddies again?’

‘We’re moving because everyone thinks either hates me or thinks I’m a psychopath.’

‘Well, I don’t. Alexa doesn’t either. Neither does your mother. We’ll work on things with your sisters, but they don’t hate you either. Things are just a little strained right now. When you’ve got things under more control like we talked about, we can sort that. And listen. You know I’d spend all the money I ever had if it could buy a cure for you, but it can’t, so I can’t. But will you help me do the best I can do for you?’

‘Why didn’t you just have me committed?’

‘Because it would have broken my heart, Kayden. And in the long run I think it would probably have killed you. I know you’ve done horrible things to yourself, and your thoughts take you horrible places, but why would I have wanted to add to that by putting you in one? I want you to live with me and Alexa and I want things to get better.’

I looked at him, started crying, and hugged him the best I could over the centre console of his Ferrari.

If you were going to hug in a car while sobbing, I thought, it might as well be a good one. With the badge that always reminded me of the hellishly long hours Dad had worked for them as their chief mechanical engineer while also having to raise a dog like me, with the kind of unlimited chaos I had inside my brain that he probably wished he could bundle inside a combustion engine, spark up and just let go. That was my favourite way of dumping my brain ever since all this hit me at the start of my teenage: imagining I was a car with a speedometer and rev counter that never maxed out, and I had an infinite track to burn myself out on.

‘Kayden,’ he said. ‘If you really don’t want to do this move, I can still stop this. We can keep living here.’

Are you kidding? I can’t wait to leave this fucking place. ‘No. It’s okay. Let’s move. You were right; it’s a good idea.’

If I didn’t like Phoenix, or feel any better, I could always make the hurting stop. For both of us. I didn’t want myself committed either. That’s why I’d finish the job this time. A brand new place to do it would give me less reason to stop and think about it.

‘Dad,’ I said. ‘Can we drive to Phoenix instead of getting on a plane?’

‘In this?’

‘Yeah.’

Dad looked at me for a moment, obviously trying to assess whether I was having the sort of day where I made the crazy, impulsive choices and let the mania take them wherever they wanted. I wasn’t on mania right now. I was on just about getting out of bed and getting dressed every day.

‘Sure we can,’ he said. ‘I’ll cancel the flight.’ He got his phone out. ‘It’s a long way to Phoenix though, dog. You got enough meds to cover a fortnight?’

‘I’ve got enough for two months,’ I said. ‘You made sure of it last week.’

‘Then let’s go home and pack the last bags and get on the road,’ Dad said. ‘I’ll ask if Alexa can still take the flight and be there when the removal company arrive. You and I can take our time about this and have some us time. I didn’t want to trust a delivery company with The Beast anyway. They can move the Quatroporte, but not our Beast.’

‘Hey Dad,’ I said as he pulled away from our view slowly, just to give me a little more time with it. ‘You did remember it’s my birthday this weekend, right?’ I wagged my tail, which as usual the passenger seat was set up for, letting it poke out between the back-rest and the butt cushion.

My father rolled his eyes. ‘Yes, I got you your learner’s permit sorted for you. No, I am not giving you your first lesson in The Beast while we’re on the road. When we get settled into Phoenix and we see how stable you keep things, then we’ll talk about what your first car’s going to be.’

I sighed. ‘Alright.’ He was right. You didn’t give a soon-to-be sixteen year old with little fear of death and two failed suicide attempts under his belt a Ferrari and an open highway to the west as a birthday present. Not to mention the spiral that had led to this whole move had started with a death threat.

‘Chevvy’s are good,’ Dad said. ‘You remember how you said you always wanted that number plate rim that says ‘Shhh! On a quiet night, you can hear a Ford rust’?

I remembered. I wasn’t smiling about it though. ‘Dad, does Mom want me out of the way because I’ve got BPD or because I’m gay?’

‘It’s neither, Kayden. Your mom just needs a break.’

‘The death threat thing finished her off with me, didn’t it?’

‘You didn’t threaten to kill her,’ Dad said. ‘She understood how angry you were at those boys, because she was just as angry herself. Just a little bit more knowledgeable about how you deal with bullying and she wished you’d told her before you did what you did. But let’s not go through that again.’

Dad didn’t want to go through it again because he didn’t want to believe I was capable of killing anyone. I didn’t want to either, but when I thought about those few hours, I still wondered.

* * *

I still couldn’t decide what the most humiliating part had been. There was losing the fight with Billy Aikman the wolf and his football playing friends on the field, where I’d just been running after school, minding my own business. After I lost, then puked up after the gut-punch Billy had driven into me, all five of them bundled me behind the bleachers and crushed me into the dirt so hard I could barely breathe. They strapped a muzzle on me so tight I couldn’t open my mouth, then they took off my collar and put a new one on me, so tight that it choked me. They tied my hands together and walked away laughing as I tried to scramble up with just my feet.

A stranger saved my life. It wasn’t the first time.

‘Hold on there son, let’s get you out of this, old Sam’s got you. Stay still, soldier! You hear me?’

Why I obeyed despite never having been to a war like I’d later found out my saviour had, I still couldn’t tell anyone.

(I was going to miss the old guy after we’d moved. I’d visited him in the old folks home every week since we met, just a block away from where he’d come to my rescue with the knife he carried.)

He cut me out of the hand-tie, then the muzzle, then I snatched the collar off myself and took my first proper breath for five minutes, and used it to roar.

Old Sam, he’d been to Vietnam, and one kid roaring wasn’t sending him running.

I couldn’t remember him getting me to the bench, but I remembered crying, gasping and when I could see again, I looked at the collar, still in my hand, and the tag they’d put on it: ‘Undesirable dog.’

‘Who did this to you, son?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said, throwing the collar away.

‘Why? Because you believe what was on that tag’s that’s true? Listen, dog. I see you running these streets all the time. You tried out for the core tomorrow? You’d be pretty goddamn desirable to them. How old are you, eighteen?’

‘Fifteen. You think I should join the marines? I couldn’t even get out of a fucking muzzle.’

‘Only because nobody’s shown you how yet. These boys who bully you, I know they couldn’t join up. They might think they could, but it’s always the bullies who don’t make it. You wanna make it, you gotta be a man. Men look after each other. Bullies don’t. Let me tell you something kid: one day, people like you always learn how to show people like that who’s boss.’

‘I can’t join the marines, mister. I’m mentally unstable and they bully me because I’m a faggot.’

‘Boy, you watch your mouth about yourself. I’ve known plenty of people with head issues, and some of them liked other guys, and I fought for all of them. None of this “don’t ask” horseshit. Men are men. You go thinking less of yourself when the enemy’s out to get you, he’s gonna get you.’

I might have been angry, and humiliated, and had a tear-stained face, but at least it wasn’t looking at the ground now. It was looking at Sam, the coyote in his late seventies, and I knew exactly what to do.

‘That’s a cool looking knife,’ I said, looking at the handle that was still poking out of his pocket. ‘Do you close-carry too?’

‘You bet your bare ass I do,’ he said, showing me the piece strapped under his jacket. ‘Cops ain’t gonna get there in time. When you’re old enough, learn how to shoot and arm yourself. Those boys wouldn’t argue with that.’

Aikman and his friends certainly wouldn’t argue with a gun stuck in their face, but I didn’t need to wait another three years to buy one. I was already armed to the teeth, with weapons I’d only ever turned on myself, and I wasn’t going to have to actually turn one on Aikman at all. One video would be all it took and he’d shit himself. If what people said about bullies was true: that there was always someone bullying them. I could make myself that person too easily.

I made the video as soon as I got home. I showered, got changed, and filmed myself sharpening the best knife in my collection. That was all the time it took for Aikman to accept my friend request on Facebook, probably waiting to see what pathetic fightback I’d come up with. When I video called him, he didn’t think it looked so pathetic when he saw that best knife. It was the kind of thing a slaughter house manager looked at and shivered. I was so good that I’d stolen it from a weapon store with proper security – the kind of guard who would have kicked Aikman’s ass, and I’d beat him.

‘You think I’m an undesirable dog, Billy? Fine. That’s what I’ll be. If you and your dumb friends come to school tomorrow, I’m gonna kill you all.’ I drew the blade across my throat, probably less than a centimetre of space between the edge and my carotid.

It only took me seconds after hanging up to realise what I’d just done. Billy Aikman would have been recording the call, just to play back for his own amusement again and again. Now he was going to play it to his parents, who’d play it to the police.

At least I made it through dinner before the call came at the door, and Dad opened it to the snep sheriff. ‘Mr Prescott, could I talk to you and your son for a moment please?’ He played Dad the copy of my call.

My life was as good as over.

There wouldn’t be a charge. Not even after I let Dad and the sheriff search my room, then confessed to how I’d stolen the knife. Sheriff Shaeffer actually had learned about what Billy Aikman had done to me, because Aikman had confessed it to him. Of course, Billy had done it knowing a full and tearful confession would buy him out of any trouble later. That and he probably knew Sheriff Shaeffer didn’t like gay guys, and that was why he didn’t speak to his own son, so bullying a faggot was okay as long as publicly you cried with remorse, and you’d been the victim of a death threat.

I wanted him dead even more. The other four? I regretted threatening them. Not Billy though. I might not have wanted to end up in prison for murder, but I wanted him dead. I probably still did.

It wasn’t going to happen though, because I couldn’t go back to my high school until I’d been cleared by a psychiatrist. That was the real plan: Shaeffer was betting on me getting committed. He’d probably heard about my two suicide attempts, and everything else about me, and this was going to be the nail in my coffin. Two weeks suspension on mental health grounds, and my counsellor had already been informed, and I was on curfew. No leaving the house until it was time for my appointment.

I socked it to Shaeffer, and all the others secretly wishing for the same thing: I came back. If Billy could act, then so could I. Even during the crash from mania to depression where Dad had to practically haul me out of bed by telling me that unless I attended this appointment and took my meds as usual, I was heading for an institution and no amount of love from the family would stop it from happening. Then of course, there was his equivalent of Billy’s gut-punch:

‘Kayden, do not make me sign the papers to get you committed myself.’

That got me out of bed. My psychiatrist, bless him, had MD and PhD after his name, and he was still the dumbest bag of fuck on the planet. The remorse show I put on for him, along with everything else that was real enough, worked so well it was like he was a glove puppet with my hand up his ass.

I went back to school. It didn’t work out. But at least before they kicked me out for good, I took down someone bigger than Aikman.

* * *

I couldn’t blame Old Sam for it. I was responsible for my own actions. But I’ll admit it: part of my actions was listening to him perhaps a little too much. He went for long walks every day because the home he was in let him come and go as he pleased. That was his sober time. Every evening he drank whisky like it was water, and somehow still got up barely showing any sign of it the next day. He always offered me drinks, but I said my meds didn’t allow for it and I didn’t like the taste anyway.

On the way to Phoenix, I thought about the best thing he said to me a lot.

‘You know what, boy? I don’t know why they wouldn’t take someone with bipolar, because God knows the service are pretty fucking good at giving people a whole lot worse.’

No shit. I was probably visiting him because enough hours in therapy waiting rooms had taught me how to smell PTSD on someone. Or maybe Gulf War syndrome. He’d gone to Nam as a grunt at eighteen and Gulf War One as an officer after he’d stayed in and worked his way up, trying to see out the rest of his working life with a good pension to follow. Thank you for your service, old coyote. Here’s a retirement home to die in surrounded by the kids you never had (or maybe never had time for) and half a bottle of scotch a day to make it at least bearable. And a young boy you took a shine to who’s just going to move away and not visit anymore.

‘But it don’t matter. Because you don’t have to be a soldier to fight. The rest of your life? It might just be a pretty tough one. But when that kid Aikman hit you, you’re the one who threatened bigger. Okay, so I don’t want you in prison for murder, and it wasn’t “cool”, but has he touched you since? Maybe you should’a just knocked his teeth out with that skateboard I see you ridin’. Then he’d know next time you’re killin’ him, and you wouldn’t’a had ta’ have said it. Whatever, I think you’re the guy who gets up and fights no matter what gets thrown at him. You’re a soldier to me any day of the week.’

Yeah, I was a soldier inside my own brain alright. The road trip to Phoenix that I’d asked for was because I decided I owed it to the old guy to fight for another couple of weeks rather than just one day. The road trip was the time I needed to decide whether or not it was time to take off my collar and hang up my dog-tags for good.

‘You’ll write, won’t you? When you get yourself a boyfriend in Phoenix, I want to meet him on one of those video call things.’ He smirked at me and raised a glass.

‘Sam, can I ask you something personal?’

‘What?’

‘Are you gay?’

He looked straight at me, and gave a half smile. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell, soldier.’

‘Yes sir.’ I hoped he wouldn’t think I was making fun of him when I saluted, but his smiled widened into a full one, and he did it back and laughed.

* * *

‘Kayden, tell me something,’ Dad said, near the end of that last ride back to our house to pack the final boxes. ‘Do you still think that I don’t like that you’re gay? It’s not your mother you were talking about, I can tell. It’s me. Even though I already told you I’m bisexual and I secretly had boyfriends when I was your age. Just because I eventually felt more comfortable with a woman for my long term partner doesn’t mean I wish you were attracted to women too.’

‘I don’t like that I’m gay, Dad,’ I said. ‘I think it’s gross. Doing what I did with Cory? Gross. Telling you and Mom about it? Gross. Everything else? It’s god-awful, Dad, and I hate it more than myself. And I don’t need to know about how you were once doing it too.’

He pulled up at a traffic light. ‘Come on now. Let’s not leave Cedar Rapids with you feeling down and ashamed of yourself.’ He tucked my under the chin with two fingers. ‘Come on. Lift this up.’

I managed to, but I couldn’t smile.

‘Listen to me. You are not going to get bullied at your new high school like last time. We’re going to make sure of it. I did a little research into schools in Phoenix after I took the new job. You know why I picked our new house so you could go to Sekada?’

‘I dunno, Dad, they painted it a nice colour?’

‘Their track record with LGBT kids. Anyone messes with you for being out? They’re gone. Because you know who went there?’

‘Oh here we go, some famous gay guy.’

‘Todd Aldrington. You know who he is?’

‘I don’t follow basketball.’

‘Nice try playing hard-ball right there, but fail.’ Dad smiled. ‘You don’t become the sport’s biggest gay rights advocate without visiting your old high school to make sure they’re taking care of people like they once did for you. They were good before Aldrington went there and they’re even better now. You’ll be fine. And that’s if you want to be out. Nobody knows you there. Clean start, remember?’

‘You think my coming out was a mistake.’

‘I think that old soldier you keep visiting’s off his head about a lot of things, but he was right about your bravery. No, I don’t think it was a mistake. I think everyone else’s reaction to it was theirs.’

My clean start was probably going to start and end in no more pain for either of us, but I was at least curious enough to know what it was like before I took care of things.

‘Hey Dad, you think I’m gonna not get expelled from my new school either?’

‘Well, dog, that depends on you, doesn’t it?’

No kidding. It wouldn’t happen. All part of the plan. The plan would make sure a lot of things never happened again.

Until I met Todd ‘the three point raccoon’ Aldrington’s younger brother, and he changed it all.

* * *

Felix’s science partner had been suspended after some fight, and as luck would have it there was a new kid in the class that day to even the numbers out.

‘Hi, I’m Felix.’ He beckoned me in, and that’s when I saw the rainbow bracelet on his wrist, next to the one I googled shortly afterwards – the autistic pride symbol. He whispered ‘And I love your collar. Blue and white on a kelprador? Mmm-mmmm!

I was so blown away I barely heard the kindergarten impression: ‘Feeelix liiiikes Kaaaaydeeen!’ chanted over and over again. They probably hadn’t even heard what he’d whispered, just seen the massive grin on his face.

‘That’s enough now, you lot!’ Mrs Sharp the ferret said. ‘Come on, set up, we’re doing the electrolysis practical today and you all know what you need. Get on with it.’

‘You know how to do science?’ Felix said.

Well of course I did, but it didn’t spark my temper up the way he said it. ‘Yeah, I’ve already done this. How did you know I was a kelprador?’

‘Duh, because you’ve got a kelpie’s markings and a labrador’s ears? Yours fold down.’ He folded his own raccoon ears over and laughed at himself. ‘A kelpie’s a pointy eared pupper. Pointy eared puppers are the bad boys who stay up every night listening to rap music and doing the alcohol.’ He tipped his head at two g-sheps, identical twins, and whispered again. ‘That’s Brad and Chad. Watch them fuck this experiment up totally. I bet you know science though.’

‘Hey, is it true your brother’s-’

‘Woah, woah! What are you doing, dog? Copper sulphate solution’s deadly poisonous! Put the fucking gloves on! And your goggles. Man, Sharp would have gone nuts if she’d seen that.’

I’d promised Dad and Alexa that as part of this new move, I’d clean up my own potty mouth. It would be easy to do as long as I could just listen to Felix cursing, because in his voice it rang better than any rapper, or heavy metal lyric.

‘Do you really like my collar?’ I said as I snapped on the latex gloves.

‘It’s cute,’ Felix said. ‘I like dogs, and you’re cute. And I’d love to…okay, sorry, you’re new and I’m over-excited. I’m not exactly “out” but everybody knows it anyway, and I’m proud of it, but I sometimes make other people feel uncomfortable. Apparently I’ve got the social skills of a piranha. If I’m being a jerk, tell me to get fucked, okay? I’m used to it. ’

That was the last thing I was ever going to do to him. What I did instead was impress him with how right we got our experiment and how I laid out the results in the same way he did. Turned out he wasn’t really watching that much at all though, he was watching me.

‘I know what you’re thinking,’ he said. ‘I’m not a tanuki. I’m a western blue racc, I just like styling up like a dog. My mom hates it.’ He smirked. ‘Maybe I should get a collar too. She’d go nuts.’ He’d been looking at mine all lesson.

I watched him go through the next lesson’s math problems like a T-rex devouring a meal but only imagining it rather than doing it, and when I looked at his book I realised that he was doing stuff way more advanced than anyone else. Wow, was this actually college level math problems? None of the notation made any sense to me whatsoever, and I was used to being top of my class back in Iowa.

‘Hey, could you help me with…’

‘Hold up, dog. Sorry. Zone.’

Felix stayed in that zone for another half an hour. He chewed the end of his pen a lot. Only when the bell went did his self-hypnosis end.

‘Ooooh shit! Sorry, you wanted my help with this? Okay.’ He found the problem I’d been stuck with and skipped, and scribbled it out in his own book. ‘Okay, look. Here, here, and here. It’s a trick question. You take the trick out by balancing the equation. One, two, three. Now you can do it. But don’t do it like this, this is the crappy sophomore way. Use calculus, like a pro. I’m gonna show you. You take the…’

‘Felix, you’re going to make you both late for gym.’

‘Urrrrgh.’ Felix rolled his eyes and stuffed his books away. ‘Fucking gym,’ he muttered as we got into the hallway. ‘Hate its ass. I’ve got extra library time after school. Stick around. I’ll show you then.’

Gym on first day. Great. At least Dad had been right: Sekada high was a school built on a certain amount of empathy. That’s why Mr Daniels did what the substitute gym teacher back in Iowa hadn’t done, and let me do sports in a long sleeved t-shirt, and get changed in the bathroom with the door locked tight behind me. He probably knew the deal: “You ain’t special and you’re doing gym dressed like everyone else” had seen me hit that substitute dog right where a guy didn’t want. Then I did his nose too, and kept doing it.

My expulsion crime had gone down in that place’s history. I’d gotten away with a death threat, but nobody got away with making sure their gym teacher wouldn’t get a boner for a month.

Daniels wasn’t bothered by me though. He was the same guy Felix’s brother had apparently once called Coach D, a polar bear who was ex marines. I figured Sam would have liked him.

Coach D took one look at the fitness scores I’d brought with me from my old place and made me a dodgeball captain, after telling everyone not to question why I had to have sleeves. They soon forgot the question though, when I picked Felix for my team first.

‘You lot, put a goddamn lid on it,’ Coach D said. ‘He wants Aldrington, he’s got him. It’s about time one of you hotheads picked him first.’

‘You wanna lose, dog?’ A snep called Arfan said.

‘Yeah, snepper,’ I said. ‘That’s why I’m picking you next.’

We won. Then I kicked Arfan’s ass at a track mile and a half in 8:58 to his 9:45. He hated it. Felix stared at it all, as he just jogged so he could watch me. (It was actually true what Sam had said – part of the fitness test for the marines was a mile and half in under ten minutes.)

When we got Felix’s his extra library time, he didn’t want it. He said he always caught the bus home, but if he didn’t catch it today, would I walk home with him?

By the time I got to my own home that day, my plan for ending my pain was completely and totally different.

That was when I went to my room, brought down the bag I’d used to hide the secret I’d kept from Dad, and made my confession.

‘Dad, I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I lied to you about something. This.’ I showed him, then I told him what I’d been planning to do, and why I wasn’t going to do it. He stared at me, shocked despite all the times he’d seen similar from me before, but probably not angry because he’d read exactly what I’d wanted him to: I wasn’t hanging my head this time. I was holding it up.

‘I’m not going to kill myself, Dad,’ I said. ‘I’m throwing all this away and you’re going to watch me do it this time. Because I met Felix. And tomorrow I’m going to tell him I want him to be my boyfriend.’

‘Holy shit,’ Dad said, staring into the bag. ‘You moved here with this? How did Shaeffer never find it in your room before?’

‘Because he was a dumbass.’

Dad he put his hands on my shoulders. ‘Okay, this is a good thing happening right here. But slow down, Kayden. You’ve known this boy Felix for…how many hours, exactly? He might not react to this how you think. But okay. Let’s ride your wave. We’re going to the recycling centre right now and we’re going to get rid of this little collection of yours once and for all.’

‘I’m sorry I lied about this, Dad.’

‘And I’m already forgiving you.’ He picked up the bag, not wanting to leave me alone with it. ‘I’ll get the car out. And while we’re out, let’s drop in at the local med centre and get registered and make you an appointment.’

‘Can we wait one more day?’ I said once we’d been to the tip and I’d chucked my guilty secret, bag and all, into a skip. We were back in the car again and heading back for the city. ‘Felix has therapy too. I want whoever he goes to.’

‘What does he have it for? You asked already, didn’t you?’

‘Asperger’s with borderline OCD.’

‘Then his needs are different to yours and perhaps you need a different doctor.’ He’d put the name of the local med centre into his sat-nav and we were only two blocks away.

‘Dad, will you just let me wait one more day?’ I said. ‘Alright. I don’t wanna do this today. I’m not doing this today. I don’t want to think about going to see a different doctor and getting a new patient exam and having to explain how fucked up I am, okay?’

‘Kayden, watch your mouth. We’re going and we need to do this, and it’s important. You can’t avoid it and you’re not avoiding it. Don’t make me regret that I wasn’t angry with you for lying to me about before.’

I bit back the hell I was going to unleash on him only because I knew he was right. I’d thrown a cluster f-bomb and worse at both my parents before, and it always did make me feel like I at least got what I was feeling out of my system. But I wasn’t ruining today. Even if Dad was about to.

‘Alright,’ he said, shutting the car door instead of getting out. ‘I’m sorry. You want one more day and you want to ask who your new friend goes to? You got it. Oh God, look, you’re shaking. Let’s get out of here.’

I hadn’t realised I was, or that I was hunched up in my seat like it was the closest I could get to a foetal position without showing any fear, and I’d shown it anyway. ‘It’s just the side effects, Dad,’ I said. ‘And I was trying to avoid the red mist again. I’m fine.’

‘You sure?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, knowing what would pull me out of the zone. ‘And get this. Felix is Todd Aldrington’s brother.’

‘Oh,’ Dad said. ‘Really?’

‘Yeah?’

‘You want a raccoon to be your boyfriend?’

‘Well, yeah. What’s wrong with that?’

‘Nothing, I guess I just never imagined interspecies attraction being something you’d have, that’s all. It’s not wrong, it’s just a surprise.’

‘There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Dad. Why don’t you try this one: I want to go to church this Sunday.’

‘You want to do what?’

‘I believe in God. I always have. I don’t quite get yours and mom’s complete refusal of the whole idea. Fresh start, right? So I want to go to church now. And I want to get a necklace with a cross on it and I want to wear it.’

Dad went quiet for a moment, until we reached some lights. ‘Alright, you got it. That’s what you want? You’re old enough to choose for yourself. Do you want a ride there? Already looked up a church you want to go to? Bet you have, haven’t you? And this isn’t the only thing you’ve got for me tonight, is it? Would this be a conversation that’s better had over…oh, there we go, right there, look at that place! Wanna eat there?’

‘Fudruckers,’ I said, looking at the blue and yellow burger joint. ‘Yeah, Felix said it’s the best burger joint in Arizona. And he says the name sounds like fuck-rudders and it makes him think of otters. Felix curses like a gangster, Dad. You’re gonna love him.’ And he was right: I did have something bigger for him. ‘Dad, I think I’m in love.’

I had to hand it to him, I was trying to make him screech the beast to a halt with a stamp on the break pedal as he chose a parking space, but he brought the car to a smooth stop, turned the engine off and looked at me.

‘In the space of one day at a brand new high school? You’re in love. Actual stomach churning, spine tingling, don’t know what to do with your feelings love. With a raccoon.’

‘Yeah. It’s saved my life already, hasn’t it?’

It was the sobering thought that I’d known was playing on his mind, but hearing it spoken made my father look like he might either cry tears of relief or just sit here gazing out of the windscreen for an hour.

‘Then I’d better hear all about this boy, hadn’t I?’ he said. ‘Let’s go get burgers and unlimited soda refills; we’re gonna be here a while, aren’t we?’

* * *

It was another week before Felix invited me into his house. I’d done exactly what I’d promised Dad during that talk over burgers and just taken a big step back from it all. I’d walked Felix home every day, and now he wanted me to come in and play video games with him.

We never ended up playing them. I got the story of how his mom had finally agreed to let him have a TV and X-Box One in his room, after Todd had bought them for him, then a run-down of every game he’d ever clocked and when, then I suggested we actually switched everything on and played instead of talking about it. That’s when he finally stopped biting his tongue.

‘Can I ask you something?’

‘Is it about why I always wear sleeves? Come on. You already know.’

‘No I don’t,’ he said, and the way he looked at me, I suddenly believed he really didn’t. Or that he’d guessed but knew a wrong guess could upset me.

‘Stuff I feel bad about,’ I said. ‘I just don’t want anyone to see.’

‘Alright,’ Felix said. ‘Your business. Sorry.’ He went to turn the console on. I stopped him, with a hand around his arm, forgetting his touch-phobia thing that I’d been so careful of before, but before I could apologise a dozen times over, I realised he was just looking at me, and he was completely relaxed about this, and I wasn’t gripping him tight at all, just touching him lightly.

‘Do you want to see?’ I said. ‘Like really want to see? I’ve never talked to anyone about it before. Not anyone who wasn’t a counsellor. It’s dumb isn’t it, hiding?’

‘No it’s not. I don’t want to see if you don’t want me to. But if you tell me what it is I promise I won’t laugh or make fun.’

I got out my phone and loaded up an old photo of the collection I’d thrown away with Dad watching: eight different kinds of knives, all stolen from the shops that would never have served me, lined up on my desk. ‘Don’t worry,’ I told him as he saw and his eyes widened a little. ‘I got rid of them all. I stopped a year ago, but I kept the knives. Until yesterday. I used to cut myself. I’ve got scars all over my arms. I’ve…’ I took a slow, calming breath. ‘I’ve…got one right over my heart. From this one time when I took that long one in the photo and I just thought…what if I…’

Shit, I was holding my hands out like I was gripping the handle, and about to drive it through myself and then pull it out. I’d thought about it many times, and once almost done it, then just slashed at myself instead. At least I hadn’t told him it was what I was going to do after school, on the day when I’d walked him home instead.

‘Kayden.’

He brought me back to the room. He was holding my hands in his, so that I wasn’t holding an invisible knife anymore.

‘It’s alright. Do you just wanna go outside and go for another walk? We don’t have to do gaming. And we don’t have to talk about difficult stuff. But…I’ve just gotta know one thing.’

‘Yeah, what’s that?’

‘Why?’

‘Why did I think about dying like that?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Bipolar type one. Rapid cycling.’

Felix took it in for a moment, still holding my hands. ‘You okay right now?’

I squeezed his hands. ‘Yeah. I am right now.’

‘What does it feel like, having that?’

‘Sometimes, like I wanna stab my own heart through, because somehow it might be less painful. It’s like that and then it’s the reverse. I get days when I feel like that, sometimes months, then it’s the reverse. I get this massive emotional connection to the world and I wonder why I ever wanted to be dead. Sometimes I don’t want to sleep for weeks. I’ve been in hospital with exhaustion before. And after the two times when I tried to die a different way. But I don’t want things like that any more. I came here and I met you and I started taking my meds like I’m supposed to.’

Felix hadn’t looked surprised when I’d told him about any of this, but he did now, almost letting my hands go, then tightening his hold on them. ‘You want to be alive and on your meds because you met me?’

‘Yeah. And I’m sorry.’

‘For what, for God’s sake?’

‘Telling you that. Now if I go and do something stupid again or I don’t come to school because I can’t get out of bed or just…anything, you’re going to think it’s either your fault or you want drop everything until you’ve helped somehow. All the friends I ever had just walked away because knowing me was like waiting for a speeding train to come off its tracks. Nobody can ever take not being the one who can’t do anything to stop it. I’m the worst person you could possibly be friends with. ’

‘Kayden, that is a total fucking crock.’

‘Which part?’

Felix let go of my hands, and stood there as resolute as a soldier on parade. Or maybe the drill sergeant running the show. ‘Show me.’

‘What?’

‘Take your shirt off and show me everything. I do want to see. And I want to be your friend. If you’re a speeding train then I don’t just want a ride, I want the front seat. Look at me. I’m useless with people. But not with you. I saved your life just by existing? What does it matter to me what’s under that shirt then? Those scars tell a story and I want to read it. I want to understand. And I just want to see a gorgeous dog shirtless.’

For at least a minute, I couldn’t speak. ‘You won’t think I’m gorgeous if you see this.’

‘Yes I will. If beauty’s about looks then I sure don’t have any.’

‘Now who’s talking a complete crock?’

‘Come on. Show me.’

My heart thudded, like it hadn’t since I’d held that knife point first over it. ‘You asked for this, Fe. If you run…’

‘I’m not going to run. I can’t even run from a dodgeball.’

I slowly took my shirt off for him and stood there, a battle-scarred mess in all my glory, a slight breeze blowing through the open window. Felix just looked, then he took both my arms lightly and turned them upward to see all the rest. Both of them were laddered with the streaks, all scarred over and healed, the fur that grew around them white and clumpy, betraying each one of them. Felix brushed my fur backwards up my arms, looking at the scar tissue underneath, until he got to the one I knew would stop him.

‘Is that the…’

‘Yeah. You know it?’

‘I’ve never…yeah, I know it though.’ He looked at the scar, then the white fur that spelled out the same thing, just about readable if you looked close up like he was, the breath from his nose on my arm. ‘I’ve never needed it. My Dad sometimes reminds me of it, in case that changes one day and there’s nobody else around.’

‘So does mine. Figured I probably shouldn’t be without it. Nobody would give me a tattoo yet so I did my own version.’

‘How long did it take to heal?’

‘About three weeks after the stitches.’

The only thing that hadn’t healed was the inside of me, until maybe right at this moment, with the person I’d fallen in love with looking at me, and somehow my heartrate had slowed and I wasn’t panicking. I closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, it was because Felix was holding my wrists, like he was taking my pulse. He thumbed over the scars he’d found there.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It took a massive transfusion and O.R surgery to save me after that one. It was late at night. I hadn’t gotten out of the bath. Mom and Dad smashed the door in when they realised why. For the three months after, I wished they hadn’t. That was my first time. My second was on the roof of the hospital. A nurse caught me before I could jump. She tackled me right to the ground. She only just crept up while someone else managed to keep me talking.’

‘If there was something you had to fail at then I’m glad it was that,’ Felix said. ‘You’re alive. And beautiful. Look at this gorgeous dog, right here. This is an athlete’s body.’

I took a deep breath in and flexed my chest muscles. ‘Yeah. I know. Like your older brother’s got.’

‘Ugh, you had to mention him right now?’

‘I’ve got his poster,’ I said. ‘But I like looking at you more.’

Felix looked staggered. ‘Do you?’

‘Yeah.’

He moved his thumbs from my pulse points and held my hands again. Our foreheads touched, then our noses, then his lips against mine. We kissed twice, my tail wagging before I knew I was doing it and my heart picking up with joy this time.

‘Fe, I think I l-’

A door opened downstairs. Felix lurched around to see his bedroom door open. I grabbed my shirt and pulled it on inside out, then even faster, I pulled it off again, turned it the right way, and snatched it on over myself. In the time it took me to do it, Felix had turned his console and the TV on. He went to bang the door shut. I just stopped him in time. He looked at me, again me touching him having only the right effect and nodded. We sat down. Assassins Creed loaded up.

‘Hello there,’ Joanne Aldrington said a minute or so later. ‘I don’t think we’ve met before. I presume you’re Kayden. Felix hasn’t stopped talking about you all week.’

‘Errr, yeah, hi Mrs A. He’s told me about you a lot too.’

‘Mrs A. It’s been a while since anyone called me that. And I’ve no doubt he has.’

Felix might have called me all the superlative names under the sun, but Joanne Aldrington didn’t like the look of anything about me. She insisted I stayed for dinner, and it was a painful hour of me covering up all the reasons I’d moved to Phoenix with just saying it was about Dad’s job and Alexa wanting a new life. I pretended to miss a bunch of friends who didn’t exist. I even made a couple of names up. I told her about Sam, and she didn’t like the sound of him either, or even that I’d been spending my own time visiting a lonely senior. When she asked me about my hobbies, Felix didn’t have time to stop me, and I told her my favourite one wasn’t running, it was skating.

If a blue raccoon could have turned white, Joanne Aldrington would have done it right then. She turned her back just long enough while clearing the plates for Felix to give me his panic stare, mouth ‘No!’ and swipe both his hands in the universal sign language for ‘Shut the fuck up!’ and I just clocked it in time: his mother didn’t know he went to the skate park. She confirmed it during the lecture I got about her brother’s skating accident back when he was my age.

By the time Dad came to pick me up, I had never been so glad to leave a place. I’d even gotten odd looks from Joanne when I’d politely declined her dessert because I simply didn’t like peaches. Even the smell of Felix eating them right next to made me feel grim. I thought I’d managed to hide it, but it was like she’d sensed it on me anyway, along with everything else. I might as well have been bleeding through the whiteness of my t-shirt, every scar on me re-opened.

It was worth it though. Because in the ten minutes before dinner, Felix had gotten up while I was immersed in the game, shut his bedroom door and then calmly sat down next to me.

The call came for dinner a moment later, and apparently guests had to help set the table.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘So much for our first ki-’

Felix cut me off with our real first kiss, where after the initial surprise I just shut my eyes and let it happen, and I wouldn’t have cared if his mother had opened the door right then and caught us at it. When we opened our eyes again, we were still touching heads and gazing into each other. Felix put his hands on the back of my head. ‘You like me, huh?’ he said.

‘Yeah. Can we play games around here again sometime?’

‘After school tomorrow, dog. You want to?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, tail wagging and vitals racing. ‘You like my collar, don’tcha? You ever tried a dog’s collar on you before?’

Felix’s eyes went wild. ‘Tomorrow,’ he said, barely containing himself. ‘We’ve got a table to set.’

Yeah, it had to end in peaches, and me feeling like I was bleeding, but it was all so worth it just to be here with him. When Dad picked me up, I left knowing that as soon as the door was shut behind me, a conversation was going to start with ‘Felix, can we have a word please?’ She’d probably even somehow heard him tell me that he couldn’t wait to see me on a “connection to the world” day, even though that did not mean he wanted me to stop taking the meds so he could see it.

(I did that a few days later.)

He’d see it, alright. If this crazy raccoon stayed with me, he’d for sure and certain see it all. I left his house actually wondering if he’d handle it just as well as he’d done everything this afternoon.

‘Oh yeah,’ I said on the door step. ‘Keep meaning to ask. I need a prescription review. Just something I’ve got that needs keeping an eye on. Know a good doctor?’

‘Yes,’ Joanne said before Felix could. ‘Go down to the Suntrust medical centre and ask for Dr Comfrey. She’s good. Goodnight, Kayden.’

I told Dad everything in the car. ‘So, I think I’ve got a boyfriend. And there’s disapproving mom issues right here that you don’t even get in a teen sitcom.’

‘Okay, we’ve got this,’ Dad said. ‘Seeing as you already ate dinner, is this a late opening coffee house job?’

We found one, and Dad suggested what I was half hoping for and half dreading. ‘Shall we invite Fe and his parents around for dinner?’

‘Actually, Dad, I don’t wanna worry about this right now after all,’ I said, knowing the perfect get-out already. ‘One thing at a time. I’ve only got a week’s worth of meds left until I’m walking on the ceiling or crashing through the floor.’ I called up the Suntrust centre and found Dr Comfrey. Cool, she was an otter. I’d half expected Joanne Aldrington to have deliberately suggested I see a cat of some sort, out of some false belief that dogs and cats always set each other off. I didn’t mind cats really, but the smell of them was distracting, and this was something that would need all the focus I had. Otters were good. They were so obsessed with water they just smelt of chlorine or salt or just nothing, from always being so clean. ‘Would you make me an appointment?’

‘You’re sixteen, Kayden, and I’m not your P.A. Make it yourself.’

‘Where was this the other week when you were going to do it for me? And you know the drill anyway, Dad. You’re better at explaining my problems to new people than I am, and I want you to come with me.’

‘Isn’t it perhaps time you got used to going to the doctor on your own? I was a teenager once. There will be things you get asked that you might not want to answer honestly in front of me. If I don’t go with you, you can be honest.’

‘Things like what, Dad? I quit my knife collecting habit, and the cutting, I didn’t replace it with smoking or drugs, I don’t like alcohol and I’m not into anything extreme or embarrassing. I just have a boyfriend. And nothing’s even happened. Okay, yet. I know you’re not stupid, Dad. But look, it’s like you’re the one who’s embarrassed about taking me.’

‘I’m not embarrassed,’ Dad said. ‘But listen. You’re the one who said you showed Felix everything. Maybe you’ve got less fear than you think.’

‘You know that’s not the same, Dad. Don’t go thinking you’re taking me shopping to buy short sleeved skating shirts again. I’m not there yet. Maybe I won’t ever be. Come on, you understood about the church thing. Can you just help here too?’

‘Alright,’ Dad said, although he looked desperate to argue instead. ‘But you can change your mind between now and then. And you can still make your own appointment, and fill out the special considerations section yourself. And just think, what if someone from school’s in the waiting room? Hey, look here, Dr Hudson’s a wolf, and he’s got an understanding sort of face. Why don’t you see him instead?’

‘Dad. We’re not doing this today, are we?’

‘Doing what?’

‘Is this going to be an issue, Dad? With me and Felix? Because he’s not a dog or a canid?’

‘Kayden, we’ve been through this enough times. I’m not a racist dog. I’m just a little more outwardly species proud than most dogs of your generation. I was raised a little differently and this is one of those things that makes me different. Not prejudiced. It’s not an issue with Felix, and if you want to see an otter as your doctor, you go ahead. I was only thinking you were used to a wolf with Dr Willoughby back in Iowa, so a little familiarity might help. And okay, I know Robert Hudson because he plays golf and I met him last week. I was about to register us all with him. But you know what? It’s okay. It’s your health, you choose who you want.’

‘I’m choosing Comfrey,’ I said. ‘And anyone from school who’s in the waiting room can do what they’re already doing and mind their own business.’


Follow this link to Part 2

flag
'Under the Bed' - a short story with Todd and Colton 2020-04-04T13:10:09+00:00

Inspiration for this one just came to me out of nowhere. I was going to put this in Gone Day part 1, and then realised it was going to go on for too long, and I didn't want this with the character set-up I have in that book. So here's an exceptionally rare thing for me to write: a standalone short story of less than 4000 words, and I'm making it public just because the laughs I'm hoping this might get are well needed with the way the world is right now.


(This story is pretty much SFW, JUST SO LONG AS, like it is with my day job, the odd naughty word and the odd sex joke are passable as long as you're with right right colleagues.)

I also wrote this this morning, and can't wait to share, so if you find a typo or a spelling mistake in it, well done. You are a good English teacher. (Seriously, you can let me know if you like. I don't bite.)


If you're completely new and you found this from a tweet/retweet/something else: Hi! This is actually a pretty good intro to my two main characters and the sort of style I write with. You can pretty well run with who's who but here's a quick lowdown just to help:

Todd is a raccoon and Colton is a fox. Both are twenty years old, have been in a relationship for two years, go to college in New York, and are visiting Todd's family for Christmas. Todd's brother Alfie is absent because he's in hospital after an 'accident', and Colton is trying to liven things up around the place as their guest.

Todd is from a big family, and my cast of characters in the series this is set in is even larger, so here's a quick glossary to help you:

Aldrington Family

Joanne and Oran are Todd's parents.

His brothers and sisters are:

Alfie (23)

Rocco (22)

Lucy (17)

Dru (15)

Felix (12)

Beatrix (9)

Zelda (7)

Todd's nephew Freddy (5) is Alfie's son.

Hank and Mary, briefly mentioned later, are Oran's parents (who he doesn't speak to)

Others mentioned in this story

Obie - Todd and Colton's flatmate in New York (is also Colton's friend since childhood)

Chantelle - Colton's mom

Oz (short for Austin) - Todd's highschool friend

* * *

FINALLY: an acknowledgement is due to MitchRandom, whose comic Webcanids is referenced in something Felix says in this story. I made a pledge on his Patreon this morning because I've got a really good feeling that his stuff is going to end up liked by a LOT of people out there...I've always liked this sort of humour, and foxes, and he's just got both of them nailed.

***


Under the Bed - A story with Todd and Colton


I went downstairs in my dressing gown knowing I was the last up. This morning I had what I called a ‘reverse hangover’ – what you get when after weeks of drinking on most nights you decide to give your body a rest, you sleep like a rock, and your head is even thicker for it in the morning than usual. Being home in Phoenix for Christmas after two and a half years of college in New York, I felt like my body needed a break in more ways than just that.

What the hell kind of breakfast was cooking down here? I should have been following my nose to waffles, sausages and bacon, or at least porridge if we were on a cheap breakfast day. We were due one, but I knew two things: Colton had added money to my family’s shopping budget this Christmas, and he’d gotten up already and done what I knew secretly made my mom feather-spitting jealous: got my entire family to production-line making breakfast in the kitchen with very little argument. Only this morning…

‘Oh God,’ I said to Dad, who was keeping away from the kitchen. ‘He’s teaching them to make Obie’s kedgeree recipe. Bleeerrgh, I told them both I can’t bear that stuff. He’s been planning this since I said that.’

‘I know,’ Dru said. I hadn’t noticed her in the living room with Freddy. ‘Fish for breakfast? Barf! Didn’t you say Obie was a red panda? I thought they were all vegetarian and healthy plant food and shit. I think Colton said he’s making me and you bacon sandwiches.’

‘Hey Uncle Todd, watch this!’ Freddy said, and proceeded to catch raisins in his mouth as Dru flicked them across the room for him. At least my sister was smiling this morning.

‘Drusilla, what have I told you about not encouraging him to play with food?’ Mom was out of the kitchen now.

‘Jeez, Mom, can I breathe in this house? Would that be okay today?’

‘Let them have their fun, Joanne,’ Dad said. ‘His Dad’s in the hospital, I don’t think playing with raisins is exactly the biggest problem for him at the moment.’

Dru put her ‘Eat shit’ smirk on.

‘I smelled what you were doing when I opened the window this morning, young lady. The day I catch you, it’s no more allowance ever.’

Dru gave her the ‘that all you got?’ shrug. She’d be sixteen in a few months and get a job anyway, ergo losing it regardless. ‘Well, you ain’t gonna, coz I don’t smoke, and that smell was coz the fox does.’

‘Yes,’ Mom said. ‘Of course it was.’

Now Dru looked at Dad, and I got it: Dad had sneaked a breakfast cigarette that morning with my boyfriend before Mom was awake, Dru had been the one who caught him, and now she had the power.

It didn’t matter a good goddamn, I thought. You never win an argument with your mother. Especially not if she’s Joanne Aldrington. You may think you have. You may get ‘Enjoy your moment, young man,’ or ‘young lady’ look, but our mom was Vegas: the house always won.

Colton, my beautiful full-winter-coated russet-red fox was spending his Christmas in a household of ten raccoons, and put up with the usual fox jokes all through breakfast, then Felix added to the repertoire, just like I’d been waiting for since he’d told me he’d seen this on the internet:

‘Hey C,’ he said, copying what he’d heard Obie call Colton during a phone call. ‘Foxes are from Mars. You know why? They’re the same colour as the martian soil, they travel by night like UFO’s, and they’re fluent in Martianese.’ Felix put his head back and gave the most horrendous impression of an animal-fox’s bark-chatter.

‘Felix,’ Dru said, ‘You sound like a dolphin. And do not make that noise ever again. Next time I won’t stick up for you when Beatrix is messing with your OCD.’

Colton was laughing at it. Beatrix was still sulking after Dru had had a go at her this morning for moving the dishes and cutlery about on the table so Felix would keep putting them back exactly how he’d arranged them the first time. Much to Mom’s delight, table setting like this had become a daily ritual to him, even though the family had to watch him circle it at least a dozen times to get it right. It seemed harmless at first, but the more Mom had watched his behaviour in general, the more she’d realised this actually was symptomatic of OCD, to go with his Asperger’s. After a long consultation, Dr Comfrey had agreed on ‘borderline and we’ll monitor.’ Beatrix didn’t quite get why messing with it wasn’t funny yet. Until this morning, when Mom had taken Dru’s side.

I’d never seen that before, in all my life. Mom’s only concession was ‘You didn’t have to swear at her, Dru.’

Back to the room now, and Mom was on it: ‘Felix, I think we’ve had enough of the fox jokes. Colton is a guest in this house and we all need to remember our manners.’

‘It’s cool, Joanne,’ Colton said. ‘Raccoons are from…okay, there isn’t a stripy planet, is there? Felix, what was that sci-fi film with the robot that cleans an entire planet covered in trash? That’s where raccoons are from!’

‘Uuuuuh,’ I put my hands on my head.

‘Wall-E!’ Freddy yelled. ‘Hey, let’s watch it!’ He’d watched it yesterday. And the day before.

‘No more TV today, young man,’ Joanne said. ‘You’re coming with us shopping. We’re all going to the mall as a family. Apart from Todd and Colton who did their shopping yesterday.’

Dru started grinning.

‘Do not, Drusilla.’

I couldn’t help but laugh. Dru had read it my way too: Todd and Colton are going to stay home so they can fuck without the family here. Nice one, Mom. Except she had covered it pretty well, and probably hadn’t even thought about it.

‘I’m staying,’ Zelda said. ‘Our car makes me barf up. Colton can babysit me.’ In other words, she wanted to watch Colton storm the Expert levels on Super Monkeyball again.

‘You are not,’ Mom said. ‘You can ride in Rocco’s car.’

Now the room went quiet, realising what I just had. ‘Where is Rocco?’

‘Oh for crying out loud,’ Mom said, as much at herself as the rest of us. ‘None of you told him to come in for breakfast?’ She sighed. ‘He’s fixing the car, it wouldn’t start again.’

My mechanic brother came in right on cue, his hands covered in oil. ‘Mom, I keep telling you, you’ve got to change that carburettor and get a new fuel filter, I can’t keep unclogging all the shit out of…oh. Well, great. Thanks, everybody. There anything left?’

Thankfully there was, and just as thankfully this was a laughing matter nowadays. Ever since Mom had finally relaxed her dumb rule about how you had to sit at the table for every meal even if you weren’t eating, with only a sick note exempting you, half our family made a joke out of seeing who could hide, let the meal start, then walk in and do Rocco’s routine. This morning, it was real.

Now though, Mom went one better: we all had to keep sitting at the table while Rocco ate. So everyone had seconds even if they didn’t want to eat it, just to make it less awkward for all concerned.

I decided that just for cooking that smelly, sickly smoked haddock kedgeree recipe I hated, Colton could wash up the entire table and kitchen with me while everyone else got dressed and ready for the car. His hands covered in bubbles, he asked me maybe the oddest question I’d ever heard from him.

‘Hey, are you okay if I go under your bed in a minute? There nothing under there you don’t want me to find?’

‘Errr…what do you wanna do that for?’

‘I think my lighter went under there. Musta come out of my pocket as I was putting my jeans on your chair last night.’

‘Mom keeps one in here for lighting the gas range,’ I said. ‘Borrow that one if you wanna go smoke.’

‘So there is something under your bed you don’t want me to see. Is it your collection of naked raccoon firemen or my Christmas present?’

‘First, your Christmas present is wrapped already and it’s under the tree already. Second, it was swimmers I used to collect pics of, not firemen. And I liked otters. And half the porn I ever had had Trick and Dolphin in it and you’ve seen it already because you’ve got it all and then some.’

‘Cool,’ he said, drying the last plate and putting it back in the cupboard. ‘I’ll go search then. I really like that lighter.’

I followed him back up the stairs. ‘Nice to know you attach real sentimental value to such a wholesome keepsake, fox.’

‘Whaaaat? I promised you I’d go to just the vape pen in the New Year, didn’t I? And that lighter’s really special to me - it was the first thing I ever stole from my mom’s handbag! If you’d ever had the balls to do that you’d understand.’

‘Colton. If anyone so much as looks like they’re thinking of putting a hand in Mom’s bag, it’s no allowance for the entire house. One in, all in.’

‘Just like she does if someone wedges a door handle shut with a chair?’

‘The very same. Alfie stole cash from her purse once. I remember it. I seriously thought she was gonna belt him. She only didn’t because Dad told her to go cool off and he’d punish Alfie. You know how Dad was brought up. He’s got a berserk button for people who smack kids now he’s got his own and he’s never doing what his Dad did, that’s why it all got so scary. Nobody stole from her bag after that. Even if they weren’t alive to see that day.’

‘Yeah, yeah, okay, stealing from your Mom’s not cool. That’s why my mom punished me too when she found I had her zippo. A year later.’

‘She made you smoke your first cigarette with it and you puked?’ That would be just like Chantelle, only to have her punishment guiltily backfire on her probably not long after when Colton found he liked smoking.

‘Nah. She just told me how disappointed she was in me and then told me I could keep it. Just to remind me how shitty I’d been every time I looked at it.’

‘Hell,’ I said. ‘She was good.’

‘Yeah, you’re telling me.’ He got on all fours and started to crawl under my bed. I couldn’t miss the chance. I playfully smacked his butt, and took hold of his tail right by the bone, stopping him from moving.

‘Yeah yeah raccoon, you can jerk my tail till I get hard in a minute, can I get my lighter first? Just so I can light up after I’m done stuffing your butt?’

I let him go. ‘It’s my turn for top. And if you smoke in this house Mom will launch you the length of the street.’ Just to help him out even less, I climbed onto the bed and lay there. ‘The heating sure is on in this place, fox,’ I said. ‘I think I’m gonna take my shirt and pants off.’ I did it, squirming about on the bed as much as I could so the frame creaked.

‘Will you quit doing that? You’re the one who said you were amazed this thing can still hold a mattress up!’

‘I was kidding, it’s perfectly good. It’s made of cedar. My grandfather likes carpentry, he made this for me when I was a kid. He used cedar because apparently termites hate it.’

‘Isn’t that moths?’

‘Colton, we’re having a conversation while you’re under my bed.’

‘And?’

‘You found the swimwear catalogues, didn’t you?’

‘You realise your Mom probably already found those when you moved out and rolled her eyes before she binned the lot? You got one of Oz in speedos anywhere?’

‘Actually I do,’ I said, pretending I did. Oz wasn’t on the swimming team at Sekada High. ‘And get this. That was our last year in Sekada and that means he was eighteen when I took it coz his birthday’s in September. You can find it? Go ahead. Legal wolf pic right there.’

‘Nice try, trash boy. I wanted a pic of Oz like that I shoulda got it when he was asleep on the sun lounger at my pool party that time, and we…got it! How did it bounce that far?’

‘Good. Now get out of there and come let me fuck you while you pretend I’m Oz.’

‘Wait a minute, what’s that?’ He was almost out from under the bed, apart from his head. He rolled over, then him obviously fumbling around with his phone to change where the light was aimed. ‘Aaaaaahahaha! Todd, have you seen what’s written right here?’

‘Oh, God. Do I want to?’

Colton pulled himself out, to find me in my underpants, and that just made him grin even wider, his laughter even more silly now. ‘Just get down there and look. I’ll bet you anything it was Alfie who did that, and all these years you never saw.’

‘Give me that.’ I took his phone off him, the light still on, and poked my head under enough to see. ‘Oh for Christ’s sake,’ I said when I read it.

It wasn’t just written onto a slat of my bed’s frame, ruining what my grandfather had once so lovingly crafted. Alfie had scratched it there, probably with a pen knife. I got back up, a deadpan look on my face even though I did want to smile, remembering the whole episode that had led to this, a good fifteen years later.

‘Yeah, fox. Go on then, laugh. “Todd is a bin rat.” Hilarious.’

Just as I’d figured, Colton hearing it spoken by my voice just intensified the whole thing. He clutched his sides laughing, probably imaging what he’d already guessed correctly: a six year old Alfie giving me jealous brotherly hate looks as Mom put all her interest into reading me a story or playing some game with me and enjoying my joyous kid laughter while Alfie stood there hating it so much, and then going up to my room and scratching this into my bed. Forever. So there.

Alfie, who had recently used all the curse words under the sun for everyone and everything while he lay on his hospital bed, recovering from the bullet his soon-to-be ex wife had given him for Christmas, had once only been able to come up with “Todd is a bin rat” for how mad he was at the entire world.

Colton kept trying to say it, unable thanks to the laughter, and when he finally got a hold of himself and saw me fake-glaring at him, a hand on my hip, he said what I’d been waiting for: ‘All the things I ever called you at school back when I tried to pretend I hated you…goddamn, all along your big brother was the master! I really never thought of that one, and I am so disappointed in myself.’ He shook off as he stopped laughing. Then grinned again, brushed his own tail and said ‘Wanna get fucky with the fox, bin rat?’ and got going again.

Enough was enough. I was going to imitate his piano teacher from New York, who actually wasn’t from New York – she was a straight talking, no-nonsense British snow leopard called Vera, and if she’d been here, her disapproving look would have been far too real. ‘Mr Vincent, you are a very immature fox,’ I said.

‘Well Mrs Telford you’re a very stuffy old snepper, but who’s the strength to change either of us?’ He put his lighter back in the bag he’d packed, and got out what I was half hoping he’d forgotten to bring – our favourite kink toy, or rather his more than mine, just begging for someone like Felix to spot after we left it lying around and say ‘What do you guys do with that?

‘Go on then,’ Colton said, holding it. ‘What’s the story? Why’s Todd a bin rat?’

Okay then. It actually was quite amusing. ‘Rocco’s only a year younger than Alfie, so Alfie never had any memory of what living in a house with a baby was like with him. Then he started remembering stuff, and I was born, and oh shit. The noise, the diapers, the mess, and the worst part? Mom’s attention not being on him so much anymore. And it lasted past the baby stage. “Mooom, will you make him shut up? Mooom, will you get him out of my room? Moooom, why did we need another baby in the first place?” Then at last he got to “Mooom, I hate him!” and that was it. Boom, allowance gone bye-bye.’

‘Always the allowance with that woman.’ Colton rolled his eyes.

‘Oh, and she took a bunch of his toys away and gave them to me. I got his toy cars, and when he went “That all you got?” with his arms folded, I got Mr Fluffle Bear.’

‘Uh-oh.’

‘Yeah, look out. He stole a magic marker from his teacher’s desk and brought it home and wrote “Todd is a bin rat” on the fridge door. Now, here we go: my grandma was staying here helping Mom out at the time, and she saw it first. She was old school and she didn’t care what my Dad would think, she whacked Alfie on the ass with her shoe. When he whined to Mom about it, she actually took his side, but she still made him scrub the fridge for hours with a can of white sprit from the garage until the words were gone. He threw up from the smell of it and she still made him keep going.’

‘And of course that just made him want to keep writing “Todd is a bin rat” on everything.’

‘Bingo. He started doing it in places that took her weeks to find. She just made him clean it off every time and said the whole thing would keep repeating until he realised what a stupid boy he was being. I’ve gotta give it to Mom, she knew all the ways to get magic marker out of everything. She even marched Alfie into school one morning when she realised where he’d been getting them from and made him apologise in front of his whole class for stealing from Mrs Hilderbrandt’s desk.’

‘Niiiiice.’

‘That under there,’ I pointed at the bed. ‘That’s Alfie when he just had to win. He figured scratching it into stuff was worse. He ruined a dining table doing it. Then he went for one last go with the magic marker. He pulled my shirt up when I was asleep and wrote it on me. On my stomach where I’m white, so it was easier to see. Plus he used a blue marker this time.

Colton laughed again. ‘Oh this has gotta be good. What did he get for that? Not like he could lose his allowance until the table was paid off.’

‘Oh, Mom had the big guns already. The table? He got threatened with a whole summer at Hank and Mary’s.’

Colton actually hadn’t heard their first names before, but this was a golden time to do it. ‘Woah, that’s your Dad’s parents right? The cotton farmers from Alabama?’

‘Alfie stopped after that.’

‘No shit.’ About to take off his own shirt, and probably wondering if there was a magic marker around he could threaten me with, Colton realised I wasn’t done yet. ‘Wait…’ he pulled his shirt back down. ‘If that was what he got for the table, what the hell did she do for him drawing on his little brother? And how did she get that magic marker out when it was your fur?’

‘She didn’t; she had to make my stomach fur white. She brought this peroxide home from her salon, then she realised you’re not supposed to use it on a toddler, so she had to keep using play fur-paint on me every day until it grew out enough for her to trim it off me. And Alfie? Man, he still thinks she can’t come up with worse. That’s when he gets home from school one day, and she puts on this little smile and says “I’ve decided you can have your allowance back. But I think the first thing you’re gonna want to do is save up for some new clothes. Because I’m not buying them for you this year.” ’

I let Colton take this in for a moment.

‘Oh! She didn’t!’

‘She did. She got his entire set of t-shirts and jumpers out and wrote ‘Alfie is a bin rat’ on all of them, in the kind of letters you can’t miss. Not “I’m”, she used “Alfie.” There was another Alfie at the school, two years older and a golden boy who everyone loved. And until he could afford to replace his own clothes on three bucks savings a week, our Alfie was going to school wearing that on him.

‘God-damn, now I know why you never stole from your mom. I think I got off light.’

Way light,’ I said, taking our toy from him. ‘And if you call me a bin rat while you’re having sex with me, I’m gonna strap this muzzle on you so tight that it’ll lock your fox mouth shut for a week.’


***

If you liked this story, be sure to check out how it all began, with Chasing Colton's Tail, and the other books in the series.

I also have a new book I'm serialising for free, The Electric Snep, although Todd and Colton don't appear in that one, it's in a different world completely.

If you especially like what you've found here, a pledge here on Patreon will get you access to my regular updates and first chapters of each book ($2), serialised versions of 2 (at this time of writing) unpublished novels, my latest W.I.P ($10) and there's even a $15 tip jar if you just can't get enough.

All support is appreciated and you will have HOURS of reading to keep you busy.

flag
The Electric Snep - Chapter Two 2020-03-29T16:11:50+00:00

Mary-Lou, a vixen from Austin Texas, told me one night in the tour bus, ‘I bet you were a nice kid once, Dylan. You can always tell. What’s your favourite memory, from growing up?’

Yeah, I was a nice kid once. I was Alex Schaeffer once. ‘If I told you that…’

‘What, I’d know how to find out who you really are? Come on. I know your name isn’t really Dylan Highwood. How did you come up with it anyway? Bob Dylan, Highway 51 Revisited and…I dunno, you “got wood” down there? That what people tell you?’

I laughed. It was the first time I’d genuinely done that for a couple of weeks. ‘All wrong. But from now on that’s how I came up with it.’

‘Can I get in your bunk with you?’

I stared at her. Mary-Lou was Avery’s groupie, nobody else’s. I’d been staring at her ever since she got on stage during a tour-crew only party with him and did the meanest version of “Where have all the Cowboys Gone?” I ever heard. She dressed like a cowgirl, talked like one, and she could ride a horse. So Avery always said. He was the front man of the country-rock band from Texas and she was his lady, and they were back in their home state, and I was going to get killed if I let this happen.

‘Don’t you worry,’ she said, getting in before I could give her an answer. ‘Avery asked me to cheer you up. He don’t care how. His guitars are always so perfect for the stage when you’re around. We can’t have you all down now, can we?’

She was such a strongly scented vixen that it would have felt like a full on invasion of space if she didn’t have such soft eyes, and an accent I’d have died for, and she’d tried to cover her musky smell with a shower and some orange blossom perfume. She’d probably noticed I liked eating oranges.

‘Do you purr, Dylan?’

My heart thudded. For a moment, I wasn’t here in my bunk with her. I wasn’t anywhere, except for wherever we all go when we try to pretend something hasn’t set us off and everything’s normal. ‘Errr, well, yeah. Cat, right?’

‘I’ve heard every cat has a unique purr. I’d really like to hear yours. You got a favourite place that makes you do it? Come on, put down that song you’re writing and talk to Mary-Lou.’

If I sent her back to Avery with a story about how I didn’t want to be helped, I’d probably get kicked off the tour, perfect tech or not. ‘You don’t have to make me purr. I had a girlfriend back home for years. She wore purring out for me.’

‘Sure. You can wear purring out for a cat. Your drain ’em until there’s nothing left in ’em.’

‘Do you know how horrendous that sounds?’

‘Do you know how priceless the look on your face is?’

‘We can just talk.’

‘Honey, it’s pretty hard to do that when you won’t answer my questions.’

‘Alright. My back. I like having someone’s hands under my back-fur.’

‘No, not what makes you purr, silly. What’s your favourite memory? It’s always a kid memory. I don’t care how many times I’ve heard musicians say it was their greatest performance night. Somewhere in there, there’s a kid who held a guitar for the first time.’

‘Yeah, that’s up there.’ I described the day Tony showed me all his guitars. When I kept staring at the blue PRS Custom 24, he said ‘Yeah, that one cost five thousand dollars. I think we’ll wait a while before you can hold that one. Here, why don’t you try this one? This one’s called a Les Paul. He was a real person; he designed this shape.’ I loved it. It probably weighed half as much as I did, aged six, but I felt like a rock star. Tony said: ‘You wanna learn how to play it?’ I nodded, probably looking more like a dog saying yes to a steak. ‘Well, we’re gonna have to get you a guitar that’s the right size for your fingers first. Try this one. This was my first guitar when I was a cub.’

‘Nice,’ Mary-Lou said. ‘But you know what? I’m calling your bluff, snow leopard. That ain’t your favourite memory. No disrespect to your cool uncle or anything. What does he think now, d’ya suppose? That cub grew up to go tour with a real band. Does he know you’re here, calling yourself Dylan and crewing for Red Whisky?’

She wished she hadn’t said it just as quickly as I wished I hadn’t told her the memory. I’d even said Tony’s name, instead of inventing one for him. Was that his power in my head or Mary-Lou’s? ‘Could we just not talk about my family?’

For a moment, all the coming on strong charm dropped from her. ‘I’m sorry. Okay, that’s no problem. But listen, Dylan, I’ve been a few places in this life. Sure, my life’s mostly failed auditions and bands that didn’t get signed and fucking some guys who did so I can travel. But I know about a few things. Like what it’s like not having nice parents. And the people who were nice just one day disappearing. If you ever do wanna talk, I’m good for it.’

‘I did have nice parents,’ I said. ‘Once. Then a lot just changed.’ I decided I was just going to say what was needed to wrap this up with as little talk as possible. ‘Yeah, Tony knows I’m here. He’s pleased. I bet he’s pissed at my parents though. And me. For other things. When I see him again I’m getting one hella hard telling off. But what was I gonna do? Mom and Dad threw me out. More I think about it, the more I think I probably deserved it.’

‘Oookay. I thought so.’ She sat up, using my shoulder and keeping her hand on it.

‘Thought what?’

‘That you don’t like yourself much. So you bury that in how you like music. Touring. Guitars. The life. It’s not working so well these last couple of weeks, is it?’

‘If you wanted to become a therapist,’ I said, ‘then why didn’t you?’

‘I did. I just don’t have any pieces of paper or letters after my name. Come on, snow leopard. Your usual mojo ain’t there because your stuff’s not working. Try mine. That kid in your favourite memory, who you once were. Did you like being him?’

She was right to call my bluff. The guitar memory really wasn’t my favourite. I did like being who I was in the real favourite. ‘Alright, Mary-Lou who’s making my bunk smell like fox. You win. As long as you promise you won’t look up what you’re gonna want to when I tell you this.’

‘No problem,’ she said. ‘After this, I’m gonna rub your back.’

* * *

My mother always said her choices in life were simple. She didn’t want to go to college, let alone get on a plane to another part of the country. She wanted to live in Cedar Rapids forever, marry a good man, have a nice home and put all her time and effort into keeping it nice. Then fill it with cubs.

She had one cub, in the end: me.

When she had the ‘difficult conversation’ with my father that started with ‘Gary, I cannot go through that again,’ and then talked about how painful giving birth to me was, both physically and emotionally (it was an ‘unexpectedly complicated birth’ and I’d only just made it), my father gave her the comforting arms around her and told her it was okay. Confession time for him: tolerating the noise, the mess and the diapers was actually wearing him out, after only six months. He loved his cub, but one was fine. I was going to be their special boy. He loved his wife, who was giving him the perfect home and taking care of everything his twelve hour days and never being off-call didn’t leave him time for. If there was anything she wanted, just ask, and he’d make it come true for her.

She told him she really didn’t want anything except her home and family. When she changed her mind about that eight years later, it was the perfect timing, because the golden age of the internet had arrived: YouTube, Facebook, and the platforms that turned anyone on the street into a celebrity. Or, as my mom preferred to call it, not a celebrity but an ‘influencer.’

Lexi Shaeffer, nae Katzenberg, had always fancied herself as a good cook. The more her husband was able to come back from any work related mood as soon as he tasted her dinners every evening, the more she knew it. Her dinner parties because the talk of our street. She started doing cooking lessons for the local womens' club as soon as I was old enough for school and the empty house all day told her she needed to get out. As soon as Lexi Schaeffer heard about YouTube, because her club had bought a camera and were going to have a page there, she borrowed it and took it home with one mission: to show the world what she could do. She was having her own page.

She wasn’t a celebrity chef and didn’t want to be. She was going to be an ‘influencer,’ for moms like her. This was the satisfaction of domestic bliss, on screen with her in charge of it, and right at the centre of it was her cooking.

Gary Shaeffer was fine with it. As long as she made sure she never revealed anything about the house that might be a security risk. He was even happy for her to say her husband was the Linn County deputy sheriff. His boss, who he was already gunning to replace one day, loved Lexi’s channel. His own wife was cooking the same stuff now too. She was a success, and Gary was happy for her. But there was one more rule, and here was the one that made her remind him of that ‘whatever you want I’ll make it come true’ thing.

‘Lexi, I’m sorry, but Alex can’t be in your videos.’

‘Cooking with kids is the rage, Gary. Look at how adorable ours is.’

I was seven years old when I secretly heard that. It made me want to wretch. I was glad I wasn’t in her videos. I was happy enough that my father had talked sense into her about not putting pictures of me on Facebook or any kind of media at all, right from the day I was born. The rest of that conversation was the same thing it had always been:

‘Lexi, I spend most of my day dealing with criminals. I don’t want my son all over the internet for them to find as a target. It’s for all our safety. We can’t compromise that just to get you more viewers. Look at how well you’re doing already. You don’t need our son to be part of your brand. And before you ask, I said no to Tony about this too. He wanted to make a guitar lesson video with Alex and I said no.’

That’s what started it all: I hadn’t actually known about Tony asking for that. I’d always taken my father’s talks about my safety relating to who he was seriously, out of that respect a lot of kids have. That’s where I lost just ever such a slight amount of it. That’s when I wondered if I wanted to get in Mom’s videos somehow. So I nagged her. Every time it was the same:

‘Alex, your father and I made an agreement. I’m sorry, but that’s it.’

I’d fold my arms in that ‘Mom, this sucks ass’ way that I’d learned from the kids at school. Who were all over YouTube doing cool stuff with their parents. Sports, mostly. Even throwing a baseball with Dad wasn’t allowed on there, because my house and my parents just suddenly sucked.

We’d had the conversation about swearing too. More than once. Mostly after my mother had told my father off for saying ‘the f-word’ in front of me, then telling me never to copy my father’s example. I was actually a bit of a golden boy about it. I even told on Finn for swearing behind our teacher’s back once, and our friendship was on the rocks for a week until I brought him some of Mom’s brownies into school. Even Finn’s hardass parents let him film himself playing the piano and YouTube it. I asked him to teach me piano a week after the swearing thing, and he said yes, filmed it, and then his mom made him delete it, because ‘You know the rules about Alex. We’ve been through this, Finn, haven’t we?’

That night I said on my bed and just said it loud and proud. ‘Fuck Mom and Dad!’

Man, that felt good.

So did the plan I had for showing them I could say it without saying it.

When I told Mom what livestreaming was, she was already one step ahead of her cool kid, who she was buying another skate top and pair of jeans he’d outgrow within a year. It was like she was fitting me out in the costume department for my first live appearance, because I had already planned it. I let her build up her live audience for three weeks after that, deciding I wanted to make sure people saw this.

It was a Friday. Spring break. She was teaching her fellow stay-at-home-moms how to cook the perfect chorizo and butter bean casserole, with tomato sauce, seasonal veg and red wine. She thought I was in my room listening to music. I was in the corridor outside the kitchen. On the cabinet covered in family photos, I’d line up a bottle of tobacco sauce, some salt, a tin of molasses, some wintergreen flavoured candy, a tube of garlic paste, and a packet of banana and strawberry hundreds and thousands, for shaking over ice cream.

Mom loved monologuing. Today she was comparing versions of this recipe, and explaining what she’d done to make it hers, right down to how thinly she sliced the garlic, how the herbs were from her own garden, where to buy the freshest veg, holding up three different types of chorizo and explaining why she chose it.

All the while she was oblivious to the comments. I’d borrowed Finn’s phone, because I wasn’t allowed one, and he was tuned in on his computer at home. (Only because he’d have cracked up laughing and given this away if he were here.) After my first trip to the stove behind Mom’s back, to add the tobacco, someone posted ‘Uh-oh! Look out!’

Mom didn’t notice. I geared up and waited. She started talking about which wine to drink with the dish.

‘Hey Lexi, cub alert! (I don’t think she’s reading!)’ The salt went in.

She was even onto the best type of dishes to set the table with now.

‘Can he do it again?’ The garlic paste.

Here came Mom on potatoes. Fries vs mash vs jackets vs…what the fuck was dolphin-wah?

‘Oh boy, he GOIN FOR IT!’ The wintergreen, which I held up, along with a finger to my lips. I stirred the pan this time, just to hide it under the mixture.

‘You GO Lexi’s cub!’ / ‘Seriously, she’s not reading the comments?’ / ‘Something tells me this boy’s going to be with no dinner later.’ The banana and strawbs.

I didn’t look before going in with the rest, only just making it out of the kitchen in time.

‘OMFG here comes the tasting spoon!’ That was Finn.

As mom held the spoon up, I could hear the laugh-track playing behind this, like some sit-com where the audience were half hysterical before the punchline already. I had my hands to my mouth, playing ‘I am the One and Only’ inside my head to try and concentrate on not laughing. She dipped the spoon in and held it for a moment, letting it cool. It wasn’t just an ordinary spoon, it was a serving spoon, fully loaded.

‘Now, remember, always taste the casserole before you add any more salt or pepper.’

My song was in danger of not working, fast. I switched to Jim Morrison half yelling ‘Let me sleep in niiiiight, in yooooour, soooouuul kitcheeeeen!’

She sipped at the spoon. She tasted.

‘Pfffft! EEEEUUUURGH! What the fuck?! Oh my GOD! she dropped the spoon in the pan, threw the door to the glass cuboard open, turned the tap on full and showered it everywhere as she filled up. She only got halfway before she threw it down her throat like a drunken Friday night barfly. ‘What in the name of everything holy?’

Now she heard it, and she saw me: pissing my pants laughing, standing in the kitchen doorway. She looked at me, looked at the camera, and then saw my extra ingredients, as I emptied the pockets I’d filled with them to distract myself while Jim Morrison played in my head.

Alex?’

Now she was looking at the comments, scrolling all the way back through them. I managed to suck down enough deep breaths not to make myself sick. I was crying with it all now, holding onto the kitchen surface where she’d lovingly prepared what I’d ruined.

I later saw that someone had posted ‘Don’t punish him, will you? He’s adorable, and my whole family are scream-laughing right now!’ That someone was a celebrity chef called Antonia Fanucci, who owned a chain of restaurants on the west coast. My mom didn’t know it, but she was about to go viral.

She was also laughing in disbelief, looking at the mess in her kitchen.

‘Alex Brandon Shaeffer, you wicked cub!’

Now she realised this might just be gold. She was pointing the camera right at me, then she joined me on it. ‘You put all this in my casserole without me seeing it? I don’t believe it! How did you do that?’

‘I’m….sorry Mom! Oooooh man that was funny!

‘Well, you can just help me make it again, young man. And stop laughing, you’re going to make yourself sick in our kitchen. On live TV. Just calm down and breathe, will you?’ She was laughing herself now. ‘Okay, that was funny. What exactly have we got here? Oh man, wintergreen candy and banana ice cream topper? And Tobasco? Molasses? Oh that is just gross! I hate wintergreen.

‘Hey, Mom.’

‘Yes, you horrible boy, what is it? What else was in that? You did not spit in it, did you?’

Better. ‘You said the f-word.’

‘What?’

‘Right after you tasted it.’

‘Oh my God!’ Mom put her hands to her mouth. ‘Okay, everyone, I am so sorry! We’ll get that edited out later.’

‘It’s fine and dandy, Mrs Shaeffer, you’re not a parent until one of your kids drives to you cussin’!’

‘Oh. Well, actually, you’re right, SarahLynn-fifty-six. Alex here is my only cub, and he drives me nuts, but I love him dearly. He’s my little snow-angel.’

‘Mooooom! Okay, joke's over.’

‘Oh, now, you’re not going anywhere!’ She grabbed my hood. ‘You always wanted to be in these videos, didn’t you? Well, now you are. Sit your butt down right there.’ She neatened up my face fur and brushed my ears back. I sighed and rolled my eyes. ‘Okay, everyone, this is Alex Brandon Schaeffer, he’s eight years old, and as you’ve already seen he’s a menace. He’s supposed to be in his room practicing guitar right now. Well, too bad, his guitars are going in the attic for a week for making me say that word on a family friendly show. And he’s gonna make that casserole with me again. Starting right now. He’s going to wash his hands and then put an apron on and we’re going to wash a fresh load of vegetables. And when he’s father gets home, there’s going to be hell.’

I grinned. I knew exactly what she meant. I wasn’t getting hell.

‘Wow,’ she said looking at the screen. ‘Alex, look here. This is how many people are watching you right now. Seriously, will you be on your best behaviour this time? Come on, show everyone how nice you actually are. Pinky?’

That was one hell of a number. I can’t remember it now, but I remember looking and thinking it was close to the number of people who’d once watched Led Zeppelin at that legendary Madison Square Garden concert.

Too bad they had no songs about cooking. I pinky-promised, then I sang ‘Good Times Bad Times’ while we prepped the veg. I washed and peeled, Mom used the knife. ‘Alex’s fingers are too valuable for this,’ she said. ‘Musicians don’t do sharp knives. Especially not this sharp.’

A monologue followed about knife brands and how to sharpen her favourite, Global - a Japanese steel. Twenty degrees.

I was on a video at last. I really hadn’t planned for this. I’d actually banked on getting grounded for life and knowing I’d still think it was worth it.

What I really thought of for the rest of the day was Finn’s comment: ‘Hey Schaeff, you’re a snow angel! Hah Hah!’

‘Hey Finn,’ I said. ‘You’re a bag of mange.’

‘Alex,’ my mother said. ‘Be nice.’

Finn actually had had a mange problem before, but he didn’t care. He posted ‘ =P At least I’m not getting spanked later when Daddy comes home.’

‘Urgh, okay,’ Mom said. ‘Serious time. Alex’s father will not spank him, Finn, because we don’t believe in treating him like an animal as punishment for something. I think his allowance is probably gone with his guitars, but that’s it.’

Someone posted ‘Isn’t Mr S a sheriff? Maybe Alex’s punishment should be go and work with him for a day.’

When my father came home that evening, the casserole was waiting, along with a perfectly set and gleaming table for three, and the camera had stopped rolling. He had that calm and collected look about him that told me this was going down.

‘Well, look at this,’ he said. ‘Isn’t this nice to come home to?’

‘Would you like something to drink?’ Mom said. 'Some wine? A beer?'

‘Lexi, could we talk in the living room please?’ He looked at me and gave me a smile I didn’t like at all. ‘You can take your seat at the table and wait there for us.’

My father should really have invested in thicker doors for our home. I didn’t have to move from my seat. Perhaps he simply never thought that an eight year old snow leopard’s hearing was up there with the most acutely tuned in the world. Tony said it was what gave me such good ‘relative pitch’ when tuning up. I was using it for something better this time.

‘Lexi, I thought we were perfectly clear on how I feel about this.’

‘Gary, my man, just listen for a minute.’ That was Tony’s line, but when Mom said I always knew Dad would actually do it. ‘Do you know why he did that prank? It’s not just because it was funny. It’s because he wanted to be part of what I do.’

‘I know, Lexi, I already realise that, but - ’

‘Shhh-sh-sh-sh. Just hear me out. Gary, this matters to him. Your father never stopped you from doing anything you wanted to do because of who he was.’

‘It’s a different world we’re living in, Lexi. You know it is. We’re not as safe anymore.’

‘Gary, this entire city knows you, not just who you are. Just like they knew your father. That means the whole of Cedar Rapids knows that Sheriff Shaeffer has a kid. We all want to protect our kids, whether we’re law enforcement or not. But if you let yourself get this worried about someone maybe targeting him because of who you are, you’ll never let him do anything, no matter how old he is. And besides, anyone who’d be that nasty would find out where you live and what your son looks like without needing a video to do it. When we decided to have a family, we knew what that meant for us. Life’s got risk. And look, it means something to me to have Alex do things with me. Remember how you said you’d make things come true for me? I lived that dream today, Gary. Our eight year old pranked me, and it was the funniest thing ever, and I got to share it. Come on. Please? Let’s not punish him. Let’s have a nice dinner and you can talk to him about internet safety afterwards. Because if he can get on a camera without me seeing it six times in ten minutes then he’s gonna get on one behind your back too. Admit it. You can’t hide our son away from the world. He’s going to show it what he can do, and he’s going to want to do it more if you don’t let him.’

Amen to that. Why couldn’t I have somehow livestreamed this? A long silence was happening.

‘Alright,’ my father said. ‘Just you, and just the cooking. Not Tony and the guitar things. This is parents only and he’d better stick to that. Just the cooking. We’re not filming Alex’s whole life to show off online. It’s awful how parents are doing that with their children. Our child is not a brand or an advertisement.’

‘I’d never do that to him. When did I say I would? All I want is the cooking videos. And maybe he can play some guitar with me filming it?’

‘Yes, alright, that’s fine too.’

He’d cave on Tony eventually. Right then I knew it.

* * *

I trusted Mary-Lou without being exactly sure why. I showed her the video, still out there. To this day, it had more likes, views and shares than anything else my mother had ever done.

‘She loves you, your mom,’ she said, after she’d watched it.

‘She did,’ I said. ‘Once.’

‘She does. Whatever happened, you don’t destroy that. Not when you’re a mother.’

I looked at her for a moment, and knew that if I wasn’t going to talk much about who Alex Shaeffer was, I definitely couldn’t ask her if she was one, or maybe once had been. She was old enough, a good five or six years older than me for sure.

‘So you’re really Alex Schaeffer. I like that more than Dylan Highwood.’

‘You cannot tell the rest of the crew. If you call me that name…actually don’t get used to calling me that.’

‘What happened, Schaeff? Why do you think the Mom who went through all that with you doesn’t love you no more?’

I was getting tired of this, even though Mary-Lou’s comforting hands all over me were exciting, and the memory had made me feel better, for all of the ten minutes I’d taken to tell her the story. I’d fallen asleep thinking about it loads of times on this tour, and I was back to where I always was: awake to the reality that I wasn’t that cub any more, I didn’t make people laugh like that now, nor did I do it myself, and I was never going back to the house where that memory had once been really happening.

I unbuttoned the cowboy style Levi’s shirt I’d been wearing all tour by two buttons, and took out my cross on the chain. ‘You believe?’ I asked her.

‘Well sure, there ain’t nobody where I come from who don’t believe in the good Lord.’ She said it like she knew that wasn’t true, but like it felt true enough for her. ‘Sure, I believe he’s there. Maybe not who we always think he is and we don’t really know how he works, but yeah. Hell, there I was thinking you were about to take that shirt off for me, and all you wanted to show me was your faith.’ She tickled my chest. ‘But this is good. You’re talking. Now let me guess: Mom and Dad get a little too religious for you? You tell them you didn’t believe no more?’

‘You asked me if I purred,’ I said. ‘Yeah. I do. One day, I purred for the wrong person. That’s what we fought about. That’s as much as I’m telling you about it.’

‘Oooooh. Okay. Who was she?’

‘What did I just say?’

‘Okay. We’re back to the wall. Why don’t you take that shirt off?’

‘Because you’re not going to fuck my secrets out of me.’

‘Maybe I just wanna plain old fuck you, Schaeff.’

It would have done no use to tell her to stop calling me that. I didn’t want to get rid of her either. I wanted to fuck. I just wasn’t sure who I’d be thinking about. For a moment, I weighed up whether or not I should just tell her that, and decided no. I’d hurt enough people. Instead, I unbuttoned the rest of my shirt and told her I wanted to leave my cross around my neck. Was that okay?

‘Oh, I like that,’ she said, stopping me before I could take my unbuttoned shirt off. ‘Would you like to touch me, Shaeff? Come on, don’t be shy.’ She took my hands and guided them up her own shirt. She wasn’t wearing a bra. I’d always suspected she never did. ‘Oooooh, your hands are cold! Mmmm, that tickles!’ She shivered slightly, shook her coat and laughed.

‘Sorry.’

‘No, that’s nice, warm them up right there.’ She put her arms over her shirt, trapping my hands against her breasts. I felt her heart pick up. I laughed awkwardly and she touched my face with both hands. ‘Who’s a fine snow leopard? Who wants to see if he can purr for Mary-Lou, huh? Mmm, yeah, let’s do that back. Where’s the sweet spot?’

‘Between my shoulder bl…’ she’d already found it. ‘Ooooohohoho, yeah.’ I slid my hands from her breasts to her back, putting my forehead against hers. My purr went deeper with every breath as she rubbed, my cock stiff inside my pants, and when she stopped it was to shift up closer to me. ‘Hello down there! Gonna let Mary-Lou see who’s a big cat?’

I gave a long purr, and right at the end of it I nodded, and gave her a pleasured ‘Maaaaow!’

‘Oooooh, that’s cute, do that again!’ She rubbed my back again, and I purred and mowed and combined the two, my pants now wet and my limbs trembling a little. She slid her hands into my pants and I struggled not to come. She stroked my tip between her fingers, pinched it, and listened to me purr. ‘Okay, hold up, you are a big cat, and we’re gonna need some big safety right there.’ She took out the condoms in her pocket and chose one that smelt like fresh forest as she put it on me. She lay me back on my bunk, slid her own pants of and guided me into her as she sat forward, her legs spread over my hips. I came inside her within seconds, trying to wait and let her ride me until I got deep enough to make her come, but I didn’t. ‘There he goes! You enjoy that now, snowy. Yowl for Mary-Lou!’

Wow, did I. Thank God we had this trailer to ourselves. The noises I always made when I came like this were just beyond silly. But so good. So much fun. I’d not done it like this since…

Not thinking about that. Not right now.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, still taking pleasurable deep breaths. ‘I was no good. Not for you.’

‘Oh don’t worry about little old me. I’ll show you what does it for Mary-Lou next time.’

‘There’s going to be a next time?’

‘I’m bored with Avery. He’s obsessed with making me come. I wanted to see someone else enjoy himself. Someone who actually needed to get off.’

‘Errr…thanks?’

‘No problem. But Schaeff, let’s be honest. You’re a guy who likes other guys. I mean, I don’t think you’re gay, coz you sure just enjoyed me, but you’re definitely bi. Or maybe your pan. But whatever you are, your wrong person back home was a guy.’

'How many times, Mary-Lou? I don’t want to talk about home. Will you just shut up about it? I just had hot sex with you and then you fucking ruined it.’

‘Okay. Well, I’ll just go have a cigarette outside. Goodnight, Shaeff.’

Mary-Lou didn’t smoke. She started to get her clothes on.

‘Wait, I’m sorry, okay? Don’t go. I could use company tonight. You did cheer me up. But I just…don’t want to talk about certain stuff. What I did back home was disgusting. You’re right. I don’t like myself. But maybe I was just starting to. With you here.’

She stopped getting dressed again, her legs over the edge of my bunk, and her hand on my stomach. ‘It’s not disgusting that you were with another guy, Schaeff.’

‘I don’t want to do this whole deep searching thing right now,’ I said. ‘I just wanna go to sleep.’

‘Okay. Let’s sleep. Hell, we’ve got a day off tomorrow. No show. Let’s sleep in.

I fell asleep cuddled up to Mary-Lou, and her odd unfamiliar scent. To distract myself from it, I let myself think about what she’d asked me when she first got into my bunk. I just wasn’t hearing her voice in my head.

* * *

‘Hey Shaeff, it’s true all cats can purr, right?’

‘Yeah, so what?’

‘So do you purr?’

‘Finn, why the hell would you ask me that, “do I purr”?’

‘I mean do you purr when you think about Bonnie?’

It made sense. For a moment, I’d forgotten how to ‘talk Finn.’ That’s what I’d come to call strange conversations with him. It was like he did have his own language. We were fifteen years old and I’d thought I’d mastered it. Now this.

‘Yeah, okay. But I don’t think. Yeah, I purr, but it’s when she’s doing stuff.’

‘Did you guys fuck yet?’

‘Yeah. Last weekend.’

Finn laughed. ‘Bet that made you purr, huh?’

‘Yeah. It did.’

‘Hey Shaeff.’

‘What?’

‘Your mom’s a MILF. Did she ever make you purr?’

I sat up from the long grass in the woods where we were lying down. We came here to write songs sometimes, because it cleared our heads of all the noise, so we could just think about music, without that distracting us either. Today, neither of us could be bothered. It was like we both just wanted to nap. I was awake now though.

‘Finn, you are just being gross right now. I did not need to know that you wanted to fuck my mom. And no, she did not make me purr. Ever. It’s like…Finn, are you…do you want to hear me purr? You’re not trying to tell me something, are you?’

‘What? No. Aw, come on, Schaeff, no! Why did you have to take it like that? I’m just trying to understand something, that’s all. Mom’s always telling me be careful around you because I don’t understand cats. So I asked you something about cats. That’s it.’

‘Your mom said that about me?’

‘Come on, you’re not surprised are you? My mom’s a headcase. Or did you miss that somehow? Yours is cool. Okay, I’m sorry I told you I thought she’s hot. I don’t really wanna fuck your mom, it’s just an expression. And no, I don’t wanna hear your purr.’

Not ‘you,’ I realised. ‘Your.’

‘Well, good,’ I said.

‘Sorry if I weirded you out.’

‘It’s cool. You always weird me out. You’re weird. But weird-good. Quirky.’

Finn liked that word. He wagged his tail. ‘Hey, I got it, song about a snep who can’t purr because someone left him.’

Okay, that was a cool idea. ‘We need the blues for this one.’

Finn’s eyes lit up. ‘Okay! We doing blues in E or A?’

‘G. I’ve been practicing Bonamassa recently; he likes that key.’

Finn sang the key note. We didn’t have a guitar with us, but he had perfect pitch. It never failed.

Six years later I was falling asleep to our song.

* * *

When I woke up it was because, as things turned out, Avery had had no idea that Mary-Lou had gone to my trailer last night at all.

Let’s keep it sweet: I got away without any broken bones. Just bruises. And I was fired. Just as well there were two other tour busses in town.

That was the day I met Darnell Rayne, when he pulled me off Avery as I was about to pound his head into the dust, as though it were really my father’s, and I’d really have stood a chance.

It was good, in hindsight: Avery never did anything to me except welcome me into his crew. Then pull my headfirst out of my bunk when he found me with his woman.

Fair enough.

It was a fight I didn’t really deserve to win. Darnell saved me from winning it.

What I couldn’t believe, even when I think about it now, and all the reasons she later gave, is that Mary-Lou Chamberlin went with me.

She was the one who introduced me to the man who’d seal my future, a living legend and the guy who’d been on my wall since Uncle Tony first told me his name: Eric García Azorín.

Thinking of it now, one little bit of perspective amuses me: Eric Clapton once met George Harrison, and then later, he stole his hero’s woman. I was the guitarist who had to steal someone’s woman to meet their hero.

Alex Brandon Shaeffer, you wicked cub!

Rehearsal, Mom. Rehearsal.


flag
The Electric Snep - Chapter One 2020-03-22T16:58:24+00:00

Cedar Rapids - PAST


‘When I play guitar, I feel like God exists.’

For a long time it was true. When I got just short of my thirteenth birthday, I told Mom I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I’d dug out that old school essay and realised what I should have all along: God was an idea created to explain what we couldn’t find an explanation for. That feeling I got from playing, I no longer wanted it explained.

‘Well, okay then,’ Mom said. ‘You’re old enough to make up your own mind. Can we talk for a minute though?’

Those two sentences next to each other summed her up so perfectly from that day onward. They always had, I realised all the way through that talk, long before she'd ever said them. Had I lost my faith or was I just not sure? Did I want to talk to the pastor on my own about it? Was I just feeling down about life?

‘I can’t stand church music, Mom. I’ve always hated it. I just shudder inside every time that organ starts up, I hate the sound of that thing.’

‘You don’t when it’s on a Deep Purple song,’ Mom said, fixing me with that look that said I’d never in all my life outsmart her.

‘Maybe it’s because they don’t play lame churchy crap.’

‘What about that song Hallelujah?

‘Pretty sure that one was ironic.’

Now we exchanged that look to say that at least we were smiling about this.

‘You don’t have to give a reason, Alex,’ Mom said, rubbing my head in that way I was starting to hate more than hymns. ‘But you already know what your father’s going to say.’

I already knew what I was going to say back. Sure enough, that dinner time, Mom told him I had something to say about Church, so I did, and here it was:

My father tipped his chin up slightly, in that way I’d always imagined he reserved for someone he’d just busted who wouldn’t give up their partners in crime. ‘Fine then.’ It so wasn’t. ‘But if you’re not going to church then you’re not just lying in bed and doing what we all know boys do at your age.’

‘Can I get a girlfriend instead then?’

My father set his cutlery down and calmly sipped his bottle of PBR. ‘You can do some community volunteering.’

‘Cool. I’ll go volunteer at the guitar shop on Cedar Creek Boulevard.’

‘That’s not what I meant,’ my father said. ‘And they wouldn’t take volunteers anyway.’

‘Bet they would if Uncle Tony asked.’

My Mom gave that smile that had always softened my father’s heart. By now, I knew it meant she was going to ‘give it to him good’ later once they both thought I was asleep. My own smiled widened as I thought of how I’d told Finn about how my mom called sex that, and he said ‘My parents just say they’re gonna fuck. Don’t yours?’

‘Let him try it, Gary,’ Mom said. ‘Wouldn’t hurt. We’ve got a thriving musical scene right here in Cedar Rapids, don’t we? So I guess that does make those customers in that store the local community. Why doesn’t Alex learn to set those guitars up as well as play them?’

‘Because Tony’s already teaching him that.’

‘Well, you went through police training once. Then you took your new skills out onto the street.’

‘Alright, fine. Tomorrow’s Saturday and I’ve got the morning off. I’ll drive him there and we’ll ask.’

‘Let Tony do it.’ That twinkle in her eye told me one day I’d probably be a man as helpless for a woman as my father was. I couldn’t wait.

The next day, breakfast started with ‘Dad, are you limping?’

‘Old injury,’ he said. ‘You know the one I mean.’

I knew alright. I’d only heard the story half a dozen times: my father was almost killed in the line of duty a year after I was born. Eight gunshot wounds to the chest while he and the cops brought in a drug dealer – a weasel known as Oklahoma Slim. When my father went down the steps after being shot, he shattered his right hip and had a replacement. Nobody would know it considering how athletic my father was. There was nothing he hated more than the stereotype of the fat sheriff. I wondered if he had a reputation in his office for bedroom athletics too. He probably used the old injury story with his staff, and none of them bought it.

‘You’re going over to Uncle Max’s after school tonight, aren’t you?’

‘And I just can’t wait.’

‘Watch the attitude, young man.’

Max Landry wasn’t really my uncle. I hated how Dad used that title for him, like Max could ever be anything like Tony, his real brother, my real uncle, and the guy who once took the only picture of me as a cub that I didn’t cringe at: me holding his red Fender Stratocaster, which was only just shorter in length than me. Max never had anything that cool. He was Dad’s best friend from school, a tiger, the local supermarket manager, and my godfather. Which meant I was getting one of those talks where he thought my whole life was his business as soon as I was doing the slightest thing that meant I wasn’t a good Christian. Or even a good boy.

About a month ago, we’d had a garden party, and when I knew I could get away with it, I beckoned Uncle Tony in for a whisper, tipped my head towards Max and said ‘That guy’s a grade A asshole.’

‘Tell me about it,’ Tony said. ‘You know what he does with his Sunday staff? He tells them they can only use going to church as a reason not to attend work once a month. How many services do you think he misses for work? You know Diego, from El Paso? He fired him for legit going off sick with flu and then taking a personal day because his kids caught it. At least he said it was about attendance. Really it was about not talking Ingles tan bueno como Espanyol. Entiendes?

‘Lo entiendo perfecto, Tio.’

‘The customers loved that guy. Max didn’t because Diego made sure his staff got breaks. Max fired him because he knew he wanted to become the union rep, and he’d have been good.’

Hijo de puta.’

‘Yeah. Tell me about it.’ Tony leaned in a little closer. ‘That hijo ever says or does anything out of line, you come and tell me. Not your dad. You just talk to Uncle Tony. You know why Max hasn’t come near me all day?’

‘Because he’s always that rude to you?’

‘Oh, you noticed? Nah. It’s weil er zu viel Angst hat.’

Yeah, I could believe it. Because he was too scared.

While my father was training to be a cop, twenty years before I was born, Uncle Tony was travelling around Europe with a backpack and a guitar. He spoke decent Spanish, French, German and Italian to boot, and more than that, he spent that time learning the most important language in the world: music. And how to survive on the street if you were temporarily out of money. He could have owned Max in a fight. Size and strength wouldn’t have mattered.

Turned out I could own Max with words, that day he decided to do what Mom hadn’t, and tell me I was in danger of going to hell. Except I had to hand it to him, he was cleverer than coming straight out with it like some street corner preacher. He had a customer service voice and manner that he never seemed to quite slip out of even when talking to those he ‘considered family.’ He kept using that phrase on me. Then it became about how his daughters had started listening to ‘that music of mine’ that he didn’t like, and it was upsetting his eight year old son Benji (who bless him was on course to become the wimpiest tiger in history with the pampering he always got from both his parents.)

‘Your cousins are going down a path I don’t like, Alex, and I’m concerned about you as well. For your wellbeing. I’d like you to come in and talk to Pastor Kaepernick about this.’

I’d had enough. ‘First, they’re not my cousins. Second, I never liked your goody-two-shoes daughters and your wet blanket son until they started listening to that music and actually started acting like people towards me. Third, you’re not my goddamn uncle, and last, why are you such a dick to the guy who actually is?’

Max didn’t bristle up. He had that situational calm of a guy who’d had hundreds of customers kick off with attitude. Mostly younger ones who he wouldn’t serve alcohol to without an ID even though they were obviously twenty-one. I got the ‘No ID, No Service’ posture, and then look that already promised me he’d call the cops if need be. Only he had a direct line to the sheriff, and he’d pull it for sure.

‘Alex, your uncle is an atheist.’

‘Well it’s better than being a pendejo.’ I loved the Spanish word for asshole even more than the English. ‘I’m out of here. I’m going to his place.’

‘No you’re not!’ Now he raised his voice. ‘You’re in my care right now, and you’ll sit there and you’ll listen to me, or there will be consequences.’

‘Oh, consequences? Go on, name them. What are you going to do? Fire me? Oh yeah, that’s right, I don’t work for you. So excuse me while I go shit my pants with fear over your consequences.’

On my way down his drive, I pulled my best ever teenager’s so-there, one week before I technically was one: I pulled the cross on the necklace from around my neck and threw it back towards the house.

I rode my bike to Tony’s and Kayleigh let me in. This was another thing about Tony – he was banging a different woman almost every month, and he never minded his latest girlfriend meeting me or being in the house when I was, but Kayleigh had been living here for six months already, and I’d never been so glad to see her. I told her what was going on lately. She told me she’d seen things get even wilder back in Tennessee with her own family when it came to people coming out that they were having doubts about God.

‘You’re you, cub-snep,’ she said, while she chucked ice and grape soda into a glass for me. ‘Sounds like you just made up your own mind.’

‘I’m a little bit old to be cub-snep, Kayleigh.’

‘Sorry. I’ll drop that, it’s cool.’ Kayleigh was a ‘regular’ leopard who didn’t mind being called that (it was a no-no with most other leopards), and she always called Uncle Tony ‘snep’, and I was ‘cub-snep,’ as if she realised how a lot of the time, new people always thought I was Tony’s kid.

‘My friend Finn started calling me Shaeff,’ I said.

‘Shaeff,’ she said. ‘I like that. You know what I think of, when you and Tony are jamming in here? I think ‘Tony and Alex Schaeffer – The Electric Sneps.’

Damn, I love that. But I think things are gonna get pretty electric in my house later.’

Or rather the electricity was getting turned off on my life altogether. By the time Tony drove me home at 7 after he’d fed me pizza, Dad had taken all my guitars and my gear and locked it all in the evidence room at his office. One month. Any indiscretions would get another month added to it. And we were going to have another talk.

Thankfully, Tony was going to have one with my father. If my mother could work magic on Gary Schaeffer with the promise of sex, my uncle’s equivalent of cracking the shell was the man-to-man brotherhood style of talking, the kind that always told me my father had probably never had an argument with Tony that he didn’t lose, and as always it started the same way.

‘Gary, seriously, what the fuck?’

Tony said it knowing I was still halfway up the stairs after my father had sent me to bed, and I didn’t need to listen to much of the rest. But I reached the landing and stood there anyway, just out of sight.

I’m raising that kid, Tony. Do not interfere with this. If you wanted to raise kids of your own, you could have done it years ago. Your life choices do not mean you get to pretend you’re raising mine.’

‘Gary, my man, get your head out your ass and stop pretending you think that’s what I’m trying to do. You can raise your kid all you want, but you can’t make his choices for him. That’s what this is about.’

‘You think I don’t know that kid can make choices? He sure made one today. It had consequences. That’s it. No more talk about it.’

‘Gary, why do you think your kid comes to me to talk about the stuff in life that matters and not you? He’s growing up to be someone you didn’t quite want your son to be, and you’re making him know that. And blaming me. Blame me all you want, I’ve not cared what you thought of me ever since I went to Europe. But how well do you think you’re gonna raise that kid if every difficult situation ends in you being the sheriff instead of his father?’

‘Christ, Tony, every time I punish the kid you have to pull this one.’

‘I’ve never pulled this before, and you know I haven’t. You’re raising a boy, Gary. A great boy. And it’s as though you don’t even like him.’

Now it wasn’t just the old routine. Mom had come out to tell me to get off the landing and into my room, but now she wasn’t saying anything. Just standing next to me.

‘Anthony,’ my father said, ‘That’s just…did you really just say that? Just leave, would you? Get out of my house.’

‘Sending me away isn’t going to change much, Gary. But okay. I won’t be here telling you the truth and you can choose not hear it.’

A moment of silence, and Tony unlocking the front door.

‘Did Alex tell you he thinks I don’t like him?’

‘What have I always told you, little brother? You don’t always have to hear it in words. Oh yeah, and one more thing. If you’re so precious about raising your own son, why are you practically letting that pussy-licker Landry do it?’

I covered my mouth, trying not to snigger, knowing I was going to shriek-laugh. Tony swore it was true: Max’s favourite secret thing was oral sex with his wife, and he’d had that secret since high school. (‘Wonder what God thinks of that,’ Tony would always say.) And there was the rub:

‘Max is a decent man, Tony. I know he’s a little bit full-on with the godfather thing, I’m always telling him to tone it down a little bit. He’s not raising Alex. I’ve told him that too. And if you still need to deal with how he supposedly stole the only woman you ever loved and then married her, that’s your issue. Not anyone else’s.’

‘Althea? Oh, she was a pain in the ass. I was never supposed to be with her. But I always warned her, Max is a money-obsessed control freak who never broke a rule in his life. Even you don’t trust someone who never broke a rule. Not completely. You’re not a real person unless you’ve said fuck it once and meant it. I was only bummed out that Althea became that stupid that she can’t see it anymore.’

Mom and I exchanged blown-away looks for a moment.

‘That’s a blues record I need to make one day right there.’

‘Go to bed, Alex,’ she said, in that way that I knew meant she was only pretending to be stern.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘You’ll suggest Dad does the same with you, right?’

* * *

Two days later, Dad knocked on my door, and when I opened it, my guitars and amps were back, set out in a row on the landing.

‘We’re going out for lunch and we’re going to have a talk,’ he said. ‘Except you’re not doing much of the talking. When it’s your turn to talk I’ll tell you. We’re both going to be civil. You want to be treated like an adult, you’re going to learn how to act like one. Starting right now. Get dressed and brush your face. Once we’ve had lunch, we’ll see if you’re ready for this peace offering.’

He picked Fudruckers, the burger joint. We at least had one thing in common: we both thought it was the best in town. We both chose rare meat and swiss cheese instead of American. I chose regular coke and he didn’t mention the sugar content this time. As usual, he reminded a newbie behind the counter that sheriff paid like a regular customer, and discounts were for veterans only.

‘That’s no problem.’ The vixen rang it through. ‘Thank you for your service, sheriff.’

He tipped an imaginary hat, because he was in plain clothes, and the vixen had only known who he was because her colleagues had whispered, in the way that people always thought didn’t make it obvious what they were saying.

‘Let’s not let it get cold,’ Dad said, after I sat there for a moment wondering if there was any point in eating before he got this speech over with. We ate in mostly silence, save for him asking if I wanted a refill of coke halfway through.

‘What Tony said last night upset me,’ he said. ‘Because I do like you. Even if you might not think I show it sometimes.’

I thought about telling him I’d never said I thought he didn’t, or actually thought it, but I thought about the black Gibson Les Paul Custom Tony had gifted me one birthday ago, and my ESP MH1000, and the acoustic Epiphone with the bright tobacco burst finish and the pearloid scratch guard, and kept my mouth shut.

Dad sighed. ‘It’s okay, you can talk to me. I was just being a hardass earlier. Did you tell Tony you thought I didn’t like you?’

‘I never said that. Neither did Tony.’

‘I know. I was awake early this morning thinking about it. Look, I know we love each other, and that we both try to get along when we don’t agree, and that I’m tough. Because I want life to turn out to be great for you, and I’ve got to guide you towards it, and I can only do that the way I know how. And I know you’ve got a better relationship with Uncle Tony than you do with me. Because he gets the stuff I don’t, and you like his interests more than mine. You always did. I’ve got no problem with your music, I like your music. Hey, I like music as much as Tony does. You remember how I used to take you for a ride-along and we’d listen to Metallica?’

I smiled. ‘I still think the black album isn’t their best stuff.’

‘Well, whatever their best stuff is, I like Metallica better when you’re playing it. I don’t have to tell you I think you’re good. You know I think you’re good. Even though I’m your father and I’m a pain in the ass about rules. But we have gotta have them, you understand? So I’m giving you your music back, but you’ve got be a bit more polite to people from now on. And you’re writing an apology to Max. And before you say anything, once you’ve written that apology I’m telling him that we’re taking a break from the godfather thing. You don’t have to go to his place after school anymore. You can go to Tony’s every day if he’ll take you.’

The reason this was blowing my mind, I knew, as I suddenly felt hungry enough for hugest dessert ice cream of my life, was that it was way too good to be true.

‘Thanks,’ I said.

My father nodded. ‘Alright. Conditions.’

Jesus, Dad. It’s not like I full-on told Max to get fucked, is it? ‘We didn’t already just have them?’

‘One, you start doing some sports. At least try out for a team.’

I sighed through my nostrils before I could help myself. ‘Seriously?’

‘You’re a snow leopard. We’re built and wired for sports and we do sports. I’m not saying you can’t do your music too, but I want you to try keeping fit and go to some practices, and try out for a team. We’re only talking a couple of nights a week.’

‘Doing what? Baseball?’

‘Baseball would be fine. But it’s up to you. But I want to see effort, Alex. You understand? Not just turning up because I said so.’

God, I wished I owned some vintage guitars too. ‘Okay. Effort. You got it. I’ll do baseball.’

‘If that’s your choice then try track running too. They go well together.’

‘Alright.’

‘And while we’re on our species, and the politeness thing, your mother doesn’t like the word “snep.” Stop calling us that in front of her. I don’t mind it because in my kind of work it’s a term of comradeship. But your mother’s never been a cop, and she’s a proud woman. She’s proud of you a lot. So don’t upset her with that, okay?’

Can I not be proud of myself? For being a snep who doesn’t conform to the sports stereotype? ‘Okay. Sure. You got it.’

‘Okay then. Two. I’d like you to keep coming to church. I don’t mind you believing whatever you want to believe, but even if you think there might not be a God, there’s some good teachings in the Christian bible and I want you to keep an open mind. I know what Tony says about it all, but at least he’s informed in some way because he went to church once too and he knows a bit about to opposing argument. So here.’ He got out my cross-chain, obviously rescued by Max. ‘I’m not going to make you wear this, but I want you to keep it even if you don’t. Show a little more respect than just throwing it away when you don’t agree with someone. Got it?’

I took it back, deciding that was easy enough, because I had felt like a jerk for that one. I put it on. I realised I’d missed the feel of it against the top of my chest. ‘Yeah. Sorry about that, Dad.’

‘It’s okay. We all lose our rag sometimes. Now, listen. Three. And we’ve got to be frank about three. I’m not blind about who my brother is, or a lot of the things I know he does. We never talk about it for a reason. If he never mentions drugs to me, never gives me any hint there are any in his house, or that he goes to see people who’ve got them, then I don’t have probable cause. I’m not in a position, you understand? But if I ever end up in that position, then Tony’s just the same as anyone else and there are things I might have to do. You understand? So here’s three: don’t ever get involved in that part of your uncle’s life. I know you love him, and if he’s got any sense, he’ll never even mention this sort of thing to you either. Truth is, Alex, that if you’re this important to him, maybe he’ll stop that side of himself from now on. And let me be absolutely clear, I do not want you telling him to do that. This isn’t manipulation, emotional blackmail isn’t how I do things. At least not with my own son. You understand why we’re talking about this, don’t you?’

Yeah. Just like I understood it when Tony talked to me about drugs. Open mind and other side of the argument indeed.

‘Aren’t they going to legalise marijuana eventually anyway?’

‘You might not believe it, but I’m one of those ex-cops who’s actually open to the idea. The war on drugs was never totally winnable, Alex. You’ve probably already read that guy who says…ah, shit. Did Tony already talk about this with you?’

‘Only a little. And he told me I wasn’t ready to try it yet, and there was no way he was talking about what he does with the sheriff’s kid. Just like everyone else who ever even slightly broke the law. Or think they might have. People treat me like I’m a snitch, Dad.’

My father became a little steely-eyed. ‘If you’re being picked on because of what I do for this county then I want to know who’s doing it.’

‘It’s not getting picked on, Dad. I’m not being bullied. It’s just what people seem to think about me. That I’m being raised to be a copy of you. I’m not. People act like they know me because I’m the sheriff’s kid. Or it’s like they don’t want to know me because it’s too risky.’

Dad gave me the kindest smile he ever managed. ‘I was the sheriff’s kid once too, remember? It’ll pass. Don’t let it bother you. It’s part of how you grow a skin. If people don’t like you because of me, it says more about them than it does about you.’

‘Sure, I guess.’

‘So, do you accept the terms of our peace offering?’

‘I want my guitars back, don’t I?’ I offered him a hand, before he could do it. His eyes widened a little in surprise, then he shook it.

‘Alright. Friends again?’

‘Sure, Dad.’

He took a moment, tidied up his napkin and the empty burger basket, then said. ‘Alex, can I ask you something a little bit personal?’

‘Yeah, if you want.’

‘When you made that smart little line at me the other night about getting a girlfriend, was there a girl you were thinking about?’

It was too late not to hunch up a little and shift my feet. ‘Errr…why d’you want to know, Dad? Could we maybe not have that conversation right now? I think that’s one for at home.’

My father smiled, and playfully batted me on the arm. ‘I’m not going to do the embarrassing parent thing right here,’ he said. ‘Besides, your mother already had that talk with you a long time ago. You’re smart. I think you’ll be okay with all that. Go on though, who is she?’

‘Bonnie Sumak.’

‘Ooooohoho! A leopard then. Isn’t she a little older than you though? No, that’s okay, she’s fifteen. That’s fine. Well, good for you. And just in case you hadn’t already realised, girls go for a young snow leopard who plays baseball. Trust me.’

‘I haven’t even talked to her yet. And she doesn’t like jocks. She’s a drummer. She likes Cannibal Corpse and Meshuggah and Sepultura. And Metallica. Sometimes. Apparently. She had some guy offer to take her out for coffee, and she went, and afterwards she told him if he wanted to take her out, next time don’t offer her liquid that’s like ass-water. He actually didn’t notice she wasn’t drinking it.’

My father rolled his eyes. ‘Why don’t you ask her if you can “hang out” then? Hang out and listen to those bands. I’ve never heard of them and they sound awful, but if that’s what a lady likes, why not?’

‘Are you really encouraging your twelve year old son to start dating? You?’

‘Not dating. Not anything else either. Just make friends and get used to talking to girls.’

As if I wasn’t already used to it. This whole thing was getting weirder and weirder.

Until I clocked it. Then my father made as much sense as he always did.

‘Dad…never mind. Nothing.’

‘No, go on. What’s on your mind.’

‘You…don’t think I’m gay, do you?’

‘No, I don’t think you’re gay.’

Or you don’t now. ‘Then why did you ask me all that? You didn’t really want to know who I fancied, did you? You just wanted to know if it was a girl.’

No plain clothes could have stopped my father from looking like the sheriff right then. Another session with someone at the interrogation table, and playing the game meant admitting they’d got the measure of what he was doing. ‘Okay, you’ve got me,’ he said, his hands on the table. ‘I did wonder. Every parent wonders. But the truth is, Alex, I didn’t wonder about this because of you.’

‘Then who? You’re not going to tell me you think Tony’s secretly a … are you?’

My father laughed. ‘No, Tony’s as straight as anyone I ever knew.’

‘Then it was someone else?’

‘Can I trust you to be grown up about this if I tell you what I was thinking?’

I felt like I was growing up pretty fast already, in the space of thirty seconds. ‘Yeah, I can be a grown up, Dad. Just hit me with it. Why did you think I might have been gay?’

‘I don’t, Alex. But I think your best friend might be. Finn, the wolf. He’s a nice boy, don’t get me wrong. I like him. He’s perfectly welcome in our home. But there are just…things, that I notice about him.’

I might have been shocked if I hadn’t been so amused. ‘Oh, come on Dad. Seriously? Yeah, Finn’s quirky. Hell, he’s just plain odd to a lot of people, and obsessive, and yeah, I don’t care what that psychiatrist he saw said, if he doesn’t have Asperger’s then he’s got something that makes him…I dunno, overly friendly and a little bit hyper and a bit of a handful sometimes?’

That thing isn’t that he’s gay. Is it?

‘And a child prodigy, Dad. Come on, that’s special. Who else can play the piano like he can at twelve? And the bass. He almost got into a music school already.’

Finn had told his parents he didn’t want to go, because he wanted to graduate from our high school like his friend did. When he told me, he said he wanted to graduate with me.

‘Is this about that thing where he dressed up as a girl at school once?’ I said. ‘That was a stunt, it was a social studies assignment about how people react to what's different, and he got…like he always gets when he’s trying to be the smartest person. I actually asked him if he was trans, or genderqueer. He said no, he’s a guy. With a sense of humour. He said dressing up was kinda fun, but he’s a guy. And I don’t think he’s gay. Actually, he likes Bonnie too. He told me.’

‘I could be wrong, Alex.’ Now my father put his hands up. ‘And I’m not concerned. Except that you’re right: Finn is quite an oddball, and a handful. If he ever had feelings for you that were more than just friendship, have you thought about how you might have to handle it?’

Now I was dumbstruck.

‘Because I just have a feeling, Alex. It might be nothing. But I’ve saved lives on the basis of feelings before. I wouldn’t want you to feel like you had to do something you didn’t want to because your odd best friend made you feel like you did. You understand? Finn’s fine. But I’m just a little bit cautious about him. Of course you can still be friends with him. I just want you to be careful. That goes for all you friends. You like girls. You just said so. It would be okay to remind them of that if you ever had to.’

‘It’s fine, Dad. Really. I’m never going to have to do that with Finn. Or anyone. People know I like girls. You wanna see my pinned tweet?’

Whether my father wanted to or not, I was showing it to him.

Perks of dating me: (1) Am snepper. (2) Really, you wanted something else? Okay, no problem, I play the geee-tar! There was a movie of me copying the guitar solo from November Rain by GnR to go with it.

My father gave a deep sigh. ‘When did you start using Twitter? You’re not supposed to be using that until you’re thirteen. At least.’

‘One more week, Dad. Is there much point in making me take it down now?’

‘Change it to say ‘snow leopard’ and I’ll forget I ever saw it. Nice job pretending to be Slash though. You’re not secretly smoking, are you?’

I opened my mouth and stuck a finger half way in, pretending to wretch. ‘Gross.’

My father looked relieved. ‘But Alex, that will never a million years get a girl to like you. So you can play. Big deal. What does she get out of that? Listening to you thinking you’re brilliant all day? That’s a bum deal. I think maybe we should add another term to your three. Gentleman’s agreement rather than a real term: perhaps you should learn to be a little modest. Even if there aren’t so many teens who could play November Rain like that.’

‘Tony said it’ll only sound good once I’ve learned to play my own version. Like me.’

‘Yeah, I bet he did. Come on, let’s go. We’ve got some baseball gear to go shopping for.’

* * *

Airport, San Francisco - PRESENT

Dad bought me the best baseball in the shop that day. I still have it. Now I’m having to leave it behind, because I’ve just realised they’ll never let me take it onto the plane with me, even in my hand luggage. Nothing I could use as a weapon. Like I’d suddenly become Bullseye from Daredevil.

If I wanted to do that, if I could, then I’d save it from when I got back to Cedar Rapids and had a chance to do what I’d come to imagine some nights where I sat and tossed that ball into the air on my bunk the in the tour bus. I’d remember that day, that talk, and think about how much I wanted to aim between my father’s eyes and pitch it as hard as I fucking could.

Not to kill the guy. Just to show him what attitude really was when I felt it. For everything that day might have turned me into, if all the time on the road hadn’t made me realise I should have run away from home right then, aged twelve.

You’d never have had Tony’s lessons then. No Tony, no Alex the Electric Snep.

I can’t lose the ball though. Even though he bought it for me, I can’t throw it away. Just like I still have the cross around my neck. There’s no way I can quickly mail it to myself from the airport either, and regardless, if I never get back to Cedar, I don’t want to imagine it sitting on a porch somewhere, or worse, Mom and Dad getting their hands on it. I’m two people away from being at the ticket sales stand, and I’m going to walk. I take the ball out of my pocket as I leave the airport, and mini-pitch it from hand to hand, and smile.

Fuck it, I’m taking a bus back to Cedar. I hate planes anyway.

flag
'A Decision' - Update for Patrons before I go public with this 2020-03-22T14:51:15+00:00

Hey everyone, it's the raccoon again!

I hope this finds you all well and in some way keeping positive. I've been thinking all week about what makes good business sense and what makes good human sense when it comes to this page, and how the relationship I have with you guys works for both of us. Let's cut to it, and just speak my mind. I'm going to do it in headings, starting with

If anyone needs to delete their pledge, I understand

It likely goes without saying that if you're desperate, you'd cancel your pledge, and this has happened to a number of Patrons over the last two years. I've always been understanding and I take it as it comes, but I feel like I need to say this.

These are difficult times for many of us financially, and if you need every penny you have, please do not feel that you have to support me. I've just been talking to my family and saying that at the moment I'm still getting full pay and my job is probably safe for the time being, and not only that, I'm actually able to go to work as normal (I work outdoors, social distancing is easy, and I'm also picking up those in other departments who can't do their normal job but still need to get paid and keep themselves active).

I'm not talking too loudly about that online because it would seem a little tactless when many of us are in quite the reverse position, and I'm only saying it here for one simple reason: people are reaching out to support artists and creators at this time who are experiencing financial hardship, but I need to put my hand up and say that I'm not one of those in really desperate times.

However, here's the flip-side to the coin:

If you do continue your pledge, I will happily accept it

I recognise that you are here because you value what I do enough to pay me to do it, and on some level, supporting me might be something that makes you feel good during difficult times, regardless of what my personal situation is. Not to mention you want stuff to read! In the same way that I'm not sending back the money I'm making from ebook sales, I'm happy to accept Patreon funds. It might be worth saying that the next thing I buy with them will be the cover art for the next book, so these funds do help more than one creator.

That's the air clear. Now let's really talk:

I'm going to do something bold, starting today:

Creators are giving lots to the community at the moment, in times of need. I've seen free ebooks pop up everywhere, and I debated making Chasing Colton's Tail free or maybe 0.99c, but then realised it could be seen as a bit of a disguised money-grab - usually when authors do this, its a promo tool to hook people on book one and then 'clean up' on sales of the rest of the series. Nothing wrong with that, except perhaps when it's in times like this, and you're looking generous but really you're an opportunist.

It hit me this morning, as I was trying to get my latest creation, The Electric Snep, to grow some legs. I had a great session today, lying on my bed with the laptop in the early hours of Sunday morning (yes, I'm not re-wording that now I've written it... make the jokes, at least you're probably smiling right now). That's when I decided:

I'm going set all post of The Electric Snep to 'Public' and give it away for free

It's a standalone story, not available in ebook yet, and is a first draft and perhaps a bit of a risk anyway, but the name of the game is to get reading material into the hands of people who need it at a time when money is difficult for a lot of us.

The one thing that made me go 'Time Out' on this one was the thought that I'd already started that story off on the usual proviso that it would be a reward for the $10 patrons as usual. What I'm hoping is that you'll understand my need to change my mind. If I'm being a snep, I've got to be one with a big soft heart underneath him. That's just me. These are the times to be generous where you can, and I'm doing it.

Also, you guys at $10 and above still have Gone Day, which I'm going to keep going as well. I've more time to write now that certain other things in my life are cancelled for the time being, and this should be easy enough for me to do.

PLUS think of it this way: If you do have to delete your pledge because of your financial situation, then as long as you have computer access or the like, you will still be able to get the sort of material you enjoy from me at no additional cost.

I'm happy to say that I'm in 'Yeah, I've got something here' mode with Electric Snep at the moment. Okay, I started writing because I got that feeling weeks ago, but now I have a full chapter of brain-dumped stuff that actually turned out fine on first go (which I wasn't expecting), and it feels great. Part of this book is about the restorative power of being a creative person, and I feel like it's more than appropriate to pass that feeling on for free at the moment.

One thing I'll quickly mention at this point is that when I update the story shortly, I'm going to change what was 'Chapter One' to 'Prologue' and then do a new chapter one with today's material, because it feels like it makes more sense with the time structure I've chosen.

Happy reading!

-T.

flag
Comments (3)
user avatar
User #3662198 - 22 Mar 20 19:41
I'm perfectly okay with you sharing this, and agree with your decision to do something to provide a bit of joy to those that need it. To echo Broadpaw, I'm here because I enjoy your work (furry and nonfurry alike), and want to support your efforts, not because of some exclusivity. That said, I would love to see your work get more exposure, and your audience grow, so if this ends up doing a bit of both, I'm all for it.
user avatar
toddaldrington - 22 Mar 20 20:08
That's actually reminded me, as you were one of my 'original' readers all the way from SoFurry with Todd's Senior Prom, maybe I should get Electric Snep up on there as well, or at least the first couple of chapters.
user avatar
User #203481 - 22 Mar 20 15:18
I'll keep this quick- I'm not pledging what I si because of the perks - it's to help you make more material. AI I care not at all ahstvtiu make public or private, just that you're able to continue this (hopefully being doing what you love). 'Nuff said?
'What can I do?' - An update with a theme 2020-03-16T16:14:20+00:00

First off, I’m just going to share a link that might be useful if you're struggling with what's happening in the world right now:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51873799

That’s the first article I’ve come across that I think gives useful advice about mental health and not just about the virus itself. Here’s why I feel the need to write this into my weekly update:

At the moment I’m as healthy as usual and so are all the people around me. I was lucky enough to be able to drive to my mom’s house yesterday to see her on her birthday with no complications. I even checked to make sure she wanted to have visitors at the moment (she has underlying health conditions) and she said ‘Of course I am.’ There’s a reassuring calm going on in England at the moment, despite what’s in the news. Yet secretly, I’ll admit I’m a little bit worried about what’s going to happen to the world. This is going to affect us all, whether we get the virus ourselves or not, and behind the usual humour in my house, the reassurances from the organisation I do my day job for that this storm can be ridden out, and seeing people generally sticking together and helping each other out, the dark side of human nature is coming out in response to this as well, and it’s all over the news. It’s all a little bit hard to collect in my head.

Just when it already felt difficult to escape from the shit that’s going on in the world on any given day, we get what’s happening right now. Wherever you live, whatever your circumstances are, the pandemic will be affecting you. Back to the question I started with: what can I do?

What I’m doing right now is, for what it may be worth, reminding you all that I’m thinking of you. I don’t know any of you IRL, yet the more advice I read about how to self-isolate, the more it occurs to me that those of us with online connections actually can in some ways rely on people we only know on the Internet to help us get through this. If any of us do have to shut ourselves off for a period of time because of this, the advice is to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and sometimes a text conversation with someone online, whoever they may be to you, can make a big difference.

You guys are here because you read my books, and part of this post is to thank you again for doing so, because what I did for my mental health today at a slightly trying time was put pen to paper with Gone Day Part 1, and I’m looking forward to sharing another post of it with you soon. I was glad I left a particular scene where I did – I was just gearing up for Todd and his new boyfriend to find yet another creative use for Todd’s cardio-fetish (if you’ve read far enough in that you know who the boyfriend is, it was beyond inevitable that this scene was going to happen, but just as a teaser, it’s probably not quite done from the angle you may have expected). I needed to write something that hot, and to get Todd to a good place once the sex was over, to make myself a little more optimistic, and perhaps more importantly, get that long-held scene done so that I can move the book on and just get on with things.

Being a writer at a time like this has one very big advantage: I already know how to be on my own and keeping my brain occupied. I can sit for entire days and go for an 8,000 word day if I want, or I can take breaks to read other people’s books or play guitar or watch Netflix. I know how to work a room when I’m alone, and if I’ve got you guys here to receive this stuff when I do it, it’s even more incentive to keep making it happen. Yeah, I get some money from you all every month, but now more than ever I remember that having you guys here is more valuable than just getting a cheque. I can’t deliver groceries for any of you if you get stuck indoors, but at least I can keep delivering something to save you from boredom, should you need it.

Hopefully none of us will get sick though. This week you can expect another Gone Day post (although I’ll be honest, it won’t be today – I’m written out for today, and the said chapter is at least a good two hour session away from completion) and I’m planning on starting off the trivia page for Out on the Highway as well.

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #203481 - 16 Mar 20 17:45
I'm honestly not sure what the situation is in the UK - living in the US has been... interesting enough. They say we're about 10 days behind Italy in the spread of Covid 19, but that's actually a positive- we're taking steps to slow the spread, so we're having a better time of it that way. Our federal government is floundering badly with our moron of a president, but the local level governments (state governors and city mayors, etc) have been responding well. So we'll be ok (everyone will, big picture wise) because it seems we won't overload our hospital. But something I've come to understand is this - we're all going to get this bug eventually. It's hyper contagious compared to other viruses of it's type. But from what I've read, as everyone continues large scale testing, the mortality rate keeps dropping. There are a lot of people who are asymptomatic (showing no to very mild symptoms). What this means is that this isn't some deadly super bug that you have to avoid at all costs - just a rough flu (if you end up with severe symptoms) that you might need treatment for. Avoiding it right now is ideal because of the initial unchecked spread, but within a couple weeks we'll have this thing to a manageable point and know where it is and who's most at risk. We'll have testing available everywhere to confirm if someone needs it. We might even come up with a more effective treatment (though it's a flu - I'm not familiar with treatments for viral infections, only bacterial). But this isn't something to panic about - the more we learn the better, and this is turning out to be nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Kind of like a warning drill, or a practice run - we'll take lessons away from this that will help in the future. Especially us here in the US... we're having lots of learning moments here... but like everyone else taking basic precautions, we'll be ok. Don't touch your face, wash your hands thoroughly, and often, and stay (physically) away from others about 2 arms length if possible. This slows the spread, and that's what's needed. That and basic treatment when you do eventually get it if you show the harsher symptoms. Carry on. :)
The Electric Snep - Prologue 2020-03-14T19:49:51+00:00

(*** Patrons who read this last week - a few minor details have been changed or edited.***)


Author's Intro


Okay, here we go, the first furry writing I've done in the last two years that isn't in any way connected to the Todd and Colton world.

* * *

The Electric Snep is the story of Alex Schaeffer - a snow leopard of 22 years who plays the guitar, and has just finished three years of touring the USA with whatever bands would hire him as a tech. Last night he finished it was something unexpected and special. This morning, he's faced with going home to Iowa and facing the problems he ran away on a tour bus to escape from. There's a sheriff back home who has a bone to pick with him. It doesn't help that the sheriff is also his father, and if his father doesn't put him in prison, his former best friend Finn, a wolf, might just still be angry enough to put Alex in his grave.

This book is the story of how Alex got to this point, and what he's going to do about it.


* * *

I feel a standalone novella/novel coming on here rather than a series, and this is the kind of first draft I feel like I had with 'Todd's Senior Prom' where I'm playing with ideas and one day it might be something a lot better, but that's the whole idea behind this page: to see what people think.

I realised recently that I underestimate my Bojack Horseman influence in the furry writing, and one of the big things it gave me for the T&C books is also repeated here: a kind of parallel world where humans and their culture and everything that comes with it (like bands and music) exists, but we've got furs thrown into the mix and they're just unexplainably there, and mostly running the story.

As usual, just roll with it. It's just Todd's imagination.


Additional, after deciding to make this story free

Patrons, there's another post for you guys explaining what's happened here.

If you're new, welcome. That little bit of info above is really all you need to dive right in. This story is something I'm doing to help me through very uncertain times. Hopefully it will help you through them too.

Couple of other things I'd better tell you:

- All my stories contain very strong language, sex scenes and some violence. I'm not quite sure how much of each this one will have yet, but I don't think it's going to need specific content warnings. (The only story I have on here that did need them on two chapters was California Otters, and I don't think I'm gearing up for anything quite that hard-hitting or heavy on adult content this time around)

- 'The Electric Snep' began as a concept, after I told an online friend about how I had an idea about one day giving online guitar lessons under a snow leopard fursona. The Twitter account @electricsnep belongs to me, but I haven't done much with it yet. I'm kind of sometimes posting on there with snippets of the character from this story (such as his 'dating profile') but mostly I'm planning on being more myself on there. This story is part of a project which might grow longer legs, or it might not. We'll just see. (But I can play guitar, and if you'd be at all interested in my original idea, do drop me a line. I can't make promises, but it would be nice to hear from you.)

- Just in case any of you have ever caught snippets of my tweeting about another character I created, Echo the Electric Otter, don't be scared off by them! Echo was responsible for a lot of very mature content in Cali Otters, but this is a whole new world unconnected to my others, so Echo isn't in this story, and nor are any of the bonkers stunts he does. 'Electric' in this book is purely to do with guitars and amplifiers, not tasers and powerlines!

Anyway, happy reading. Catch a snep!


- Todd Aldrington, March 2020.



* * *

Prologue

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2020 - (PAST)


Don’t report me missing, I’ve just gone on tour.

Don’t panic either; this isn’t a cryptic suicide note. Go check: my guitars are gone. I wouldn’t throw myself off a bridge with them. That would be such a waste.

I’ll send a post card occasionally to let you know I’m alive, but don’t try using them to track me down. You raised me smarter than that. Growing up in our house was excellent practice for being in the spotlight and knowing how to disappear all at once. At least you gave me good life skills. I still love you both, but I sure as hell can’t live with you, and let’s face it, I’m a pain in the ass. When you’re done crying about this, you’ll know I’m right.

Then again, you’re not going to cry, are you? You’re just going to be major-league, hit -it-out-of-the-ballpark pissed off. Sorry the baseball thing never worked out, but I did keep my promise, Dad: I tried out. Guess not all sneps are good at it after all.

Admit it: I’m not the son you both wanted. I was never going to be, and I was never going to try to be. But now that I think about it, you did once buy me a ball and a mit for my birthday. I did throw it, and I caught it a few times too, but it just didn’t light me up like a power chord does. A home run can’t compete with a guitar solo. This is who I am. Sorry about that. Please try to be happy for me though. Keep doing what you do. I’ll do the same.

I was always going to go on tour. You probably knew it before I did. Remember how I showed you that photo of the graffiti on the wall at school? After that music festival? I still don’t know who did it. They could have written ‘Shaeffer is God’ like people tend to do for guitarists, but instead they wrote ‘Schaeffer is The Electric Snep.’ God could kiss my ass, because that felt so much better, and as soon as you saw that pic, and my grinning face, you both just mentally said ‘Oh shit.’

You can say something worse this time. I’ll forgive you. The bus is waiting. I’ve got to go.

- Alex.

P.S: Tell the lawyers I accept everything and I’ll be in touch. And if anyone wants to hunt me down over the ‘one more hour’ thing, they’re welcome to try. It’ll make a good song one day.


* * *


San Francisco, California, 2023 - (PRESENT)


This is the kind of roadside café that smells of smoke and coffee because nobody’s going to tell the roadies what the law is. The law comes in on the bus around here. The rich smell of bacon eggs and sausages almost overpowers it anyway. Somewhere behind it there’s mesquite and orange tree, and hot sand. This is the smell of the morning after on the west coast. When someone like me sits at a table not looking like they want to order, the staff wait until we do. If they’re patient, they get a generous tip. Especially when a tour’s just finished its last night.

This would have been my worst hangover ever if I’d been drinking. Instead I stayed sober and I feel even worse. I went to bed high on stage-exit relief instead of weed, and woke up with the kind of crash life only gives you after the greatest natural high of your life.

For the last three years my life’s been about the ultimate pursuit of music. That and finding ways of never going back to Cedar Rapids, or near it. Des Moines made my fur stand on end. I expected to see people I knew in the audience even though I was only the guy back stage, making sure Azorín’s guitars were set up to deliver the ultimate performance, but just being back in Iowa made me feel like I’d mainlined two litres of coffee and chased it with Red Bull, but I got through that.

Last night in San Fran, it was like I had my own inbuilt defibrillator, and it shocked me so hard that it was like it was skipping its preliminary caution-kick and going straight for acting like the paddles in the emergency room, and somehow I was still standing. I was happening.

All through the night, just one coherent thought stayed with me: I should not have been on this stage. Ignoring it was the most killer feeling I’d ever had rush through my veins, and the more the audience wanted me there, the longer I stayed, the better I played, and the more I knew the fallout tomorrow was going to be like running from a hornet swarm.

I only slept after last night’s show through a combination of disbelief and exhaustion. In my head, I was walking all the world’s streets at once and feeling invincible. This morning, I’ve got the crash, and boy, it’s a motherfucker. I’m not running from the hornets. I’m sitting here and letting them sting me to death.

‘There you are.’

Darnell Rayne’s found me, and he is looking hungover, but Darnell knows how to do that, because hungover is kind of his sober whenever he doesn’t need to stay sharp to manage the road crew. He sees I haven’t ordered any coffee yet, asks the waitress for two cups and lights a cigarette. When I first met him, someone on his last crew told me how he set his mane on fire one night while lighting up and was too drunk to notice until one of the groupies plastered him with a powder extinguisher, and all he said afterwards was ‘Huh? It fuckin’ snows in Phoenix?’

Darnell Rayne, the lion with the singed mane. I’ve never smoked, but I’ve got admit it, the pack he always has with the American flag and the golden eagle on it does give have a style. If someone’s going to have vices, they might as well look stylish. Killing yourself the American way.

I’m looking at the smartphone copy of the letter I left my parents, still thinking it was better than the real suicide note I almost wrote instead, and I know why I don’t judge Darnell for being a pack a day smoker, or any other of his atrocious health habits. Sometimes we kill ourselves just to stay alive.

‘What’s up, kid?’ Darnell says. ‘This is not how you’re supposed to look after the greatest night of your life. Because last night? It happened. You happened. When you went out there I didn’t know whether to cheer or whether to pray, and I haven’t been to church in thirty fuckin’ years. Ho-ly shit. Where did you suddenly come from like that?’

‘I really wish I knew, Darnell.’

‘Come on, you do know. And I know what this is. The tour’s over. This is the Back to Reality blues. I know you were writing a song called that. Now you can really write it. Look at you. Your tail’s drooping over that seat, you’re staring at your fuckin’ coffee like it’s a lake of tar and you’re thinkin’ of throwing yourself in, and any minute now, you’re gonna start crying. Gets us all on our first tour. Except most of us just do half a year. You’ve done three since you saw your own bed.’

I force myself to look up from my coffee. ‘I told you already, Darnell, I don’t have my own bed. I’ve got nowhere to go. If I don’t find another crew to sign up with and go somewhere, I’m going to a park bench with the blanket from my bunk in the tour bus and I’m sleeping there. Nowhere to put my guitars. If they’re still even in that trailer.’

Darnell laughs. ‘Of course they’re still in the trailer, kid. You’re not going to be homeless. Go see Cristabelle. She’s got a home with her grandparents in Tucson; she’ll take you there.’

I sigh. ‘You know what, D? I was a great fuck for her. She loved it. So did I. And then you know what she said?’ I shake my head. ‘She thinks I’m gay. She’s not going to take me anywhere unless I tell her it’s true.’

I watch Darnell slurp his coffee, take a drag so long I’m amazed it doesn’t scorch his throat raw, and then look me in the eye. ‘Come on, kid. You are gay. Or at least you’re not straight, whatever you are.’

This is why this morning’s worse than any hangover. The tour really is over. There’s no crew I can ligg with this time, not even one bus ride to the next place where I can ligg with another, and keep repeating until I find the one who actually need a guitar tech and not just the guy with a head for dope who can play as well as set up. I’m finished. End of the road. Now I’m going to start crying. So this might as well happen. I’m looking at my coffee again, and if anyone can be the first to hear it, Darnell can.

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘I know.’

‘See, it ain’t so hard is it?’ He stubbs his cigarette. ‘Last night you were invincible, this morning you feel like you’re being gutted from the inside out. But we’re all running from something, kid. I’ve gotta go home today too, and I don’t feel like I’ve got anywhere to go either.’

‘Where are you from?’

‘Seattle. Don’t believe what you hear about it. The music scene died just like Cobain, Cornell and Stayley, and the coffee’s a load of shit. True what they say about the rain though.’

‘Eddie Vedder’s still alive. You ever seen Pearl Jam?’

‘I crewed for them twenty years ago, you dumbass. And fourteen years ago too. Riot Act. Life Wasted. They were good times. Believe me, I know Eddie’s alive. You want some breakfast, kid? Coz I’m ordering a lion’s breakfast for you as well, and if this is the last time we see each other then you bet your ass you’re eating it.’

I shrug, and think about taking one of his cigarettes as he orders.

‘Why do you think it matters who you are, kid? We’re two decades in to the twentieth century; even old timers like me have gotten woke already. You think I’ve never seen a gay guy who doesn’t like that he’s gay before? You’ll figure this out. You’ve actually got time to do it now.’

‘You really think it’s all that simple, don’t you?’

‘I think we’ve got one more day for you to tell me what’s so complicated about it.’

‘If I go back to Cedar Rapids, I’m probably going to prison.’

Darnell smiles. ‘Rock and roll, kid. Most of us in this business have seen four walls made of bars sometime. Besides, I already guessed that. You don’t ask for your wages in cash unless you’re really off the grid. And a guy like me doesn’t tell them to pay someone else’s salary to them and then kick you back the cash and take a chance on the IRS never noticing unless he understands what running away really is.’

‘I already said thanks for that a thousand times, D,’ I say. ‘But thanks. Again.’

‘What did you do, Shaeff? Was it serious?’

He still doesn’t ask that like he cares, and I’m still not telling him even if I maybe owe it to him. Besides, he’s probably Googled it.

‘Okay, I’m playing the guessing game then. Let’s go big guns first then. Did you kill somebody?’

I can’t help but smile as I shake my head. For the first time all day, I’m not forcing it.

‘Did you do something naughty without someone’s consent? Actually, forget that, Cristabelle told me you practically wanted a signed contract before you’d even let her get in bed with you. Alright, did you steal from someone?’

Now I really can’t help but smile.

‘Oookay, we’re in the park and we’re playin’ ball. Did you use a piece? Was it a liquor store or did you go all the way to a bank and do “Hi, I’d like to make a withdrawal…put the fuckin’ money in the bag, bitch!”?’

‘I ruined my best friend’s life with what I did. What I got him involved in. And then there’s the rest. I went to my court appearance. I got my record. I did my community service. Well, okay, most of it. They’re still gonna pick me up for the hours I owe. Just for a start.’

‘How many did you skip?’

‘One.’

Darnell Rayne, for the first time I think I’ve ever seen, looks surprised. ‘One?’

At least now I feel like drinking some coffee. ‘My handler was the bitch. I would have shot her. She docked me an hour for “lack of effort” because I made a phone call. To my lawyer, for Christ’s sake. And like the other four hundred and ninety-nine hours didn’t count.’

‘Five hundred hours for a first offence? It was your first, right?’

I take a long, deep breath through my nostrils. ‘My dad was the Linn County sheriff. Probably still is, the boots he knows how to lick to get elected. He was never gonna pull strings for me. He did the reverse.’

Darnell laughed with his head back. ‘I knew it. I always knew your dad was a cop or a marine or some hard-ass. You’ve got him written all over you.’

‘D,’ I said, ‘I love you. For everything you’ve done for me. But don’t ever say that again, okay?’

‘It’s a compliment, you dumb ounce. He’s written all over you but not for any of the reasons he would have wanted. I figured your healthy contempt for anyone in authority came from how you grew up to hate it. “Bootlicker to a shitkicker,” right? Now I know where you got that phrase from.’

‘Aren’t you just ready for psychiatry school today. Woke and educated.’

‘And cheering you up. Come on, eat this.’ The food was here. ‘If you’re going to be homeless you’d better get used to not passing up a chance to eat. And if you’re gonna go home and face having ruined someone’s life, probably not a good idea to do it hungry.’

I force down a mouthful of fried egg, bacon and mushroom with another slug of coffee. ‘If I were him, I’d want me dead, D. I actually think he might kill me if I ever go back.’

‘Your old man or your friend?’

‘Finn. My friend. And I’ve gotta ask, did you really never Google this? Not even once, after I told you what my real name is?’

‘I mind my own business, Shaeff. Why do you think I always call you “kid”? Force of habit, so nobody else Googled you. Pretty useful that it was always “Go ask the snep” whenever someone wanted their gear fixed.’

‘Finn was the first person who ever called me Schaeff. He had the whole school doing it within a month. Mom and Dad didn’t like it.’

‘What did you do to this guy?’

‘It’s between me and him. Okay, it will be. If I can make myself go back.’

Darnell shrugs. ‘If you don’t go back, what’s gonna happen to your guitars? You can’t exactly keep them safe while you’re sleeping on a park bench.’

I ignore him for a while, and finish as much of my breakfast as I can. ‘D, can I tell you something? I think you’re the only person I’ve ever known who’d get something like this. You promise me you’ll at least try?’

‘Sure, kid. You as good as came out to me, what else you got?’

I look up from my plate and my eyes meet Darnell's. ‘My uncle was in the audience last night.’

What he’s doing right now as he meets my stare back is obvious: filling in the blanks. He doesn’t quite get it, he just knows there’s something to get, and the longer the silence lasts the more I know he’s at least trying to fulfil the promise he didn’t quite make. He should be lighting another cigarette. Instead I can see him thinking.

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I get it, kid. I believe you. Did he like what he saw? Did he smile?’

Oh shit, I’m crying. I nod.

‘He say anything to you afterwards?’

This time I shake. That’s the worst part. Tony didn’t stick around. He was gone right after the show.

‘Okay.’ Darnell leaves a little of his breakfast still on his plate, and sets his cutlery to finished. ‘What do you think he would have said?’

‘He would have told me it’s time to go home,’ I say. ‘He’s right, D. I’m exhausted. If I really wanted to carry this on, I could find another crew. I could make the effort. San Fran’s got it all. But I’m finished. As soon as I saw him there, I knew it. I got all I was ever chasing last night. There’s nothing else left.’

‘Oh, sure there is. But first, yeah, maybe you’re going home. Think about what I said though. Maybe a few days in Tucson with Cristabelle would help you prepare. Not like you can’t afford a flight or two. Here.’ He takes out an envelope and slides my usual cash. ‘I meant what we always agreed. That’s your little something to live on, as usual. It’s about time you got back on the grid and I can transfer all the rest of your pay to a real bank account. Along with interest it’s built up. Not like I need it.’

‘Come with me,’ I say. ‘You wanna avoid Seattle and its shit coffee? Cedar Rapids do a good cup.’

Darnell shakes his head. ‘Time for you to go drink a cup on your own, kid.’

I sigh. ‘You’d better stay in touch, D. When I’m done with all this, who am I going to go to? I need another tour. I need it all again. I can do time if I’ve got to. Just so long as I know somebody’s waiting for me when I get out. With a bottle of Absolut, a joint and a ticket to somewhere. And a guitar to tune.’

‘You’re not a tech anymore, Shaeff. Just wait. You’ll see. You even tuned in to the internet this morning? Azorín can’t believe it.’

‘Is he pissed I played a whole set on his stage? That I used some of his songs?’

‘Not what I’d call it, exactly. But if I were you, I’d get out of here before he can get his zombie ass out of his trailer again. Wherever you go, run for it and let me talk to him until he knows how to play this right. I can take care of it. I took care of you this far, didn’t I?’

‘Maybe I should go see him myself and explain. No more running. Uncle Tony showed up last night to tell me I’ve run out of road.’

‘Yeah, maybe you have. But go see your friend first. He’s more important than some fuck like Azorín.’ Darnell lights another USA Gold. ‘You know what, Schaeff? I don’t think you’re afraid of going home because your friend will kill you. I think you’re afraid of going there because he won’t.

Maybe he’s got me. But I’m not going to tell him that. At least I’m sitting up straight and my tail isn’t drooping now.

‘Go get your reckoning day, kid,’ Darnell says, leaving more than enough tip on the table with the notes he throws down. ‘I’ll drop you a line when I’m out on the road next. If you can beat me to it, get a band together, get some songs down and call some of the people you’ve spent the last three years making friends with. By the way, always wanted to tell you, I fucking love that album title you told Cristabelle about. Write it. You know my number. Give me a call when you’re done.’

It’s already written, but I’m not telling him that either. Not yet. First, I need to not be in prison, or dead, or even more gone from the grid than I already am.

I pick up Darnell’s notes, stuff them in my back pocket, take a few of mine from the envelope and put them down instead.

Time to go home.

Follow this link to Chapter One

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #203481 - 18 Mar 20 07:05
Well, I can see how this one can turn into something not small... gonna be interesting. :)
‘Freedom’ – this week’s update 2020-03-02T21:39:15+00:00


I went back to the day job today after a week off, which ended in a long road-trip to see two friends of mine. We attended a ‘milestone’ Parkrun (the first ever to happen on February 29th, and there won’t be another one until 2048, when I’ll be 64 years old), drank copious amounts of vodka, watched Final Space and Agretsuko together (me finally passing those two awesome shows on to someone else) and generally laughing at my furriness. These two have two young kids, and I even got one of them laughing at ‘What noise does an otter make?’ and then doing the squeak so this 18 month old could copy it.

After breaking the back to work blues for a day, which actually wasn’t so hard, I did the grocery shopping and a couple of chores, and then thought about whether or not to do any writing. Only then did it actually hit me just how much freedom I’ve given myself, now that Cali Otters is done.

So what should I do with it? Well, first off, you guessed it, I didn’t end up writing any fiction this evening, and now I’m writing this, and I’m doing it partly to think out loud, and partly to let you guys know where I think this is going next.

After the initial 50,000 word sprint last November, I got to a surprising conclusion: Gone Day was actually going to be quite a tricky story to write. Those initial ideas were hot, and I knew there was half a book in them, and it all emptied out in a flash, and then I came to a scene that forced me to slow down. So much so that I went back to White Christmas, Cali Otters and Destroyer, and there I stayed until last week.

I had a re-read of the first couple of chapters during my time off last week, and got back to that long scene I couldn’t quite finish. Let’s just say my decision to upgrade one character from a minor role to a major one was just what this book needed, but now I have to make things go somewhere, create the usual roller-coaster, and then end up at the conclusion (or rather cliffhanger) I’m determined to have at the end of Part 1. And I’m still not quite sure how.

What I do know is that it will be next week before I have another post of it ready, thanks to having gone back into a chaotic week that I know’s going to leave me wiped out by Friday night, and I’ve just arranged to go to my first ever fur-meet on Saturday, and let’s face it, I’m probably going to return from it drunk, and I can’t write as well after one too many as I used to be able to. Around my late 20s I just lost that gift. But at least I do know what the next couple of chapters look like.

The big thing that I learned from Cali Otters is that a side project is actually a really good thing. If Gone Day Part 1 gives me trouble (and I think it actually might, and I might end up trying stuff out and binning it), then I need something fresh to rely on to keep things moving on this page. Plus, I’ll admit it, a standalone book can be a very useful promotional tool.

What I’m getting at is that I’d really like to try the Electric Snep idea out (mentioned a couple of updates ago), and after taking a few days off writing, I can still feel it burning a hole in me. I think it will be a nice straightforward 50-70,000 word story, the same sort of thing I started Todd and Colton with, but with a catch: writing about music is something I have always found a major pain in the ass to get right, to the point where I’ve actually avoided guitarists as main characters and not gotten too deep into my own obsession with music. Todd being a singer and Colton taking up the piano in White Christmas allowed windows into that side of my world, but a guitarist as an MC is a serious risk for me. Which I’m just going to take, because Alex Shaeffer’s story is one that I just feel like I need to tell (yes, I’ve got a surname for Alex now, and I rather like it, the more I imagine it, and his friends calling him ‘Shaef’.)

I also need to get out of the Todd and Colton universe with the next new project. Cali Otters was a side project where I could link characters and plotlines if I wanted to (and I did), but after thinking long and hard, I decided that I was going to start Electric Snep in a new world where Todd and Colton don’t exist. I actually did have a future-idea in mind where Alex was (perhaps) Felix Aldrington’s boyfriend, at about the same time as Gone Day Part Two would end, because of one other idea that I always had in mind for a sketch with Felix, but after careful consideration I’ve abandoned that link and settled for Alex being independent of all previous characters and plotlines.

I need to get going with all this, but I don’t know when it’s going to be. The next couple of days at work are probably not going to put me in a writing frame of mind by the end of the day, but hopefully by this time next week I’ll have a post ready with something.

-T.

flag
Inside the Author's World - 'How it Started' and some trivia behind 'Chasing Colton's Tail' 2020-02-27T23:26:06+00:00

I posted about this idea last night, and I've had a lot of fun today getting it started off. I actually realised that having a flick through all the books so far to pick out the parts with interesting background behind them was in fact a good way to refresh my memory of my whole series while gearing up to write the two books that finish it off. So here's the first part, about how I got started, and about Chasing Colton's Tail.

In accordance with my tier descriptions, I'm posting these under $2 as it comes under 'Patreon exclusive blog posts' even though the stories they're about start at $10 and above. $2 patrons do often buy the ebooks after all, and this is for those who want to know a little more and show some support while they do so.

These thoughts of mine don't quite flow in paragraph format when I cut them down as short as I can so I don't ramble too much, so I've gone for bullet points. Hope it doesn't grate on anyone too much. This kind of post is really designed for you to dip in and out of.

SPOILER WARNING:

Inevitably, these posts contain spoilers, and are designed for those who have already read the books. As it stands right now, I can safely say all patrons on here have read the first book...and frankly I'd be surprised to sign up anyone who hadn't, but when I make more of these and link them together, don't follow the links unless you've read the book in question. I'm doing it book-by-book and splitting the posts so that no one (in theory) can accidentally spoil anything for themselves while scrolling to get to the book they want to know about.

* * *

How it all started

- Writing stories was an intense fascination of mine from the very first lesson at school where I got asked to write one. Probably because I loved reading, and reading was the first thing a teacher ever told me I was good at. I never grew out of it. While it’s true I look back on A-level English and remember how it killed my liking of English as an academic subject, the one good part of it was that I learned a lot about writing. Even if I earned my living off some regular day job someday, and I was now picking German and Spanish for my degree subject instead of English, I was going to be a writer of some kind.

- My first ‘furry crush’ was Sonic the Hedgehog. There, I said it. Although I’d never have called it that as a kid, playing the games and reading the comics. He was just the first anthropomorphic character I remembered considering intensely cool to the point where I wished I could have created him myself. I never quite grew out of that. Only when I got to 21 years old did it ever occur to me ‘What if I wrote a story with Sonic?’

- Of course, my next question was ‘I’m just too old for that, aren’t I?’ My response: ‘Hell no, that’s not the issue, all you have to do is make Sonic older.’ Or more accurately, give him adult characteristics and adult issues to work out. Write Sonic-fiction for a mature audience. But still have him smashing machines up and going at the speed of sound, obviously.

- What resulted was a 5 year long obsession that I don’t even admit the extent of to most furries. Seriously, I must have written about 1,000,000 words for the stories that resulted from that one idea. One of them got to a truly epic 360,000 words. (By comparison: California Otters, my longest furry story so far, is 197,000) No, you’re not getting your hands on them. When I think of all that now, I just cringe at most of it. Those stories are on a CD I keep for my eyes only, and even I’ve not looked at them for about ten years now. But one fact remains: I’m the writer I am now because once upon a time, I poured out all that crap, and that’s how I basically self-taught myself novel writing, and developed the kind of staying power needed to do it. And when I posted it online and got a handful of readers who liked what I was doing, I actually felt one of the biggest rewards of my life.

- The obsession eventually wore off. Instead of writing what was half fanfiction and half original world/character building (I added loads of my own characters to the Sonic world) I began to realise that I might actually know enough about how to write that I should start doing something original. Some sci-fi maybe, as that’s what I was reading now. Long story short, I did that. My real-name books became the result. I self-published my first one six years later, at age 31. (And yes, if you’ve looked at my real-name books, starting with the Sonic stuff is exactly how I ended up with a main character called Shadow. It’s my favourite homage to my daft beginnings.)

- I never thought I’d write anything with anthro characters again. I had this odd quirk of frequently comparing human characters to animals, but loads of authors do that. But I’d always admitted it: furries seemed like a good bunch, and something about dressing up like a sports mascot actually did kind of appeal to me. Plus, and get this, one of the people I met online through posting the Sonic stories and kept in touch with had since then become one. I actually looked at this guy’s twitter feed and thought ‘Who am I kidding? It’s time I got into this too after years of lurking around furry social media.’ At around the same time…

- My first inspiration for the character who became Todd Aldrington was created after I watched Agretsuko season 1 and thought ‘Who would be ideal boyfriend material for her?’ Rather than think of a red panda, I thought of a raccoon because they’re vaguely similar and had been my favourite animal for years. A raccoon who sang metal was born. Turning him gay instead of finding him a girlfriend was simply down to one thing: if I was going to write my first romance novel, let’s face it, it was never going to be a straight romance. Nor was it actually going to be anything like Agretsuko in any way. I already had a furry writing style from way back when I first started writing, and knowing what I’d leaned from (by then) 14 years of constantly honing a craft, I was going to tap it again and see what happened this time with a brand new original character. I was going back to anthros… I do admit, the thing I missed about them most was all the creative uses I could find for a tail.

- I’m still not sure why I called him Todd. I didn’t even like the name, and I already had one character called that in the real-name books. (I later came to like it as the character grew on me more and more). What I can tell you is that Aldrington is the name of a train station on a route I used to travel all the time (it’s in Sussex, where I went to uni). I don’t quite know why it came into my head while trying to come up with a character name, or how I combined it with Todd. I just did, and it sounded right. Now that I think about it, I realise that I’ve never actually (to my knowledge) met anyone called Todd, so it’s a name that to me is a completely open book and not coloured in any way by a real person, so perhaps subconsciously that’s why I found it a good choice.

- The decision to make Todd a basketball player was down to how I once played it as a kid and followed the NBA from an early age, and how when I decided to make a furry Twitter account with a ’sona I thought AthleteRaccoon was a good handle.

- One user on the FurAffinity message board pointed out that the stereotype with raccoons is that they’re kind of ‘lazy and pudgy’ and the idea of an athletic one subverting this idea was interesting. I added this idea to CCT with Todd and Rocco’s ‘scout motto:’ ‘We’re lazy, we’re pudgy, we grow up to be….’ It actually took me a while to come up with ‘Truckers’ as the choice that felt like it fitted, and that’s how Oran became one.

- The original premise for my first story with Todd was that he was a closeted gay ‘jock’ – an idea I undoubtedly amplified after reading Kyell Gold’s Dev and Lee books (discovered after a reader of ‘Todd’s Senior Prom’ on SoFurry gave me the author’s name) – who comes out at his prom night after the unbearable experience of attending it with a ‘popular’ girl who was really a bit of a bitch and using him for some reason I had yet to decide. (Only later did I decide that he didn’t come out during the prom after all, because something else big happened instead.)

- When I wrote the scene where Courtney Vincent basically blackmails Todd into going to senior prom with her, the original method was that she threatened to out him if he said no to her. I made her a fox because such behaviour seemed typical of a wily, ruthless species. Somewhere along the line, I came up with the idea that she knew about Todd’s secret because she had a twin brother who was his secret crush, and she’d noticed how Todd behaved around him. It took me an hour long run to come up with a bad-boy American-typical modern name for her twin, and right at the end of my run, ‘Colton’ just hit me out of nowhere. (Later I remembered I first saw the name in a story I read on LitReactor many years ago when I workshopped with other writers there.) My (so it now seems it turned out) most popular character in all my writing so far was born.

- The first writing I ever did with Todd, before trying out the idea that became CCT, was a sketch based on a self-decided writing prompt that I knew would probably form part of the back-story/background for two characters: ‘Todd’s mom was a helicopter parent and a constant embarrassment to him right up to his coming-of-age. What’s the worst thing she ever did to him? Go.’ I shelved the little sketch and one brave idea that came into it that I knew was going to turn out to be significant - let’s return to this later, and for now just say that after writing Chasing Colton I planned to revisit it and work it into Highway, but because of how things turned out I didn’t come back to it again until Akio’s House.

Chasing Colton’s Tail

- Todd’s impossible 3 point shot at the start of the book is based on a similar play I saw on TV in the early 90’s. It was by a point guard called Dana Barros, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers, and to this day it’s the most brilliant 3 point shot I’ve ever seen.

-Additional: I’m delighted to say I just managed to find footage of it, and don’t know why I never searched before. When I described the same thing with Todd, my memory let me down, because I forgot that what made it so impossible wasn’t just the distance and the shot coming straight off a sudden pass, it was that Barros was in the air and jumping sideways when he made it. I think I actually need to re-write the opening of CCT to mirror it more accurately. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IH6brYRT4Y (It’s Number 8 on there)

- Todd’s ‘BFF’ Devin Calsagi is named after two people, Devin Townsend (a heavy-metal singer) and Joe Calzaghe (a professional boxer). I spelled Devin’s surname ‘Calsagi’ because I wrongly guessed the spelling, then looked it up, and when I tried the correct spelling I found ‘Calsagi’ was easier to type quickly, so I kept it. Why a hyena? Honestly, I think I was going for Haida from Agretsuko ‘gone to the dark side’.

- To lampshade this, I swear I stole Oz’s line ‘The hyena moping again?’ from an Agretsuko episode, although I can’t for the life of me find it. I wonder if that was a case of me having had a few drinks and feeling like I was stealing a line because it seemed to fit, but really I thought of it all by myself.

- Sekada High, the high school Todd and Co go to, is named after a singer, John Sekada, who had a one-hit-wonder with a song called ‘Just Another Day’ in the 90’s. (Yes, I like that song.) I had it on in the car a lot at the time, and thought of it when trying to come up with a school name that just sounded good.

- Sekada High’s basketball coach, ‘Coach D’, is named after the fictional character Tony “Coach D” D’Amoto played Al Pacino in the film Any Given Sunday, who like the polar bear, was ex-military. (This idea’s later lampshaded again with Harry ‘Coach W’ Wasowski in White Christmas and Gone Day pt 1)

- Austin ‘Oz’ Hudson was originally designed as the overly-religious friend who’s a great guy but a pain in the ass, and might not be so great after the whole coming out thing. Plus I kinda liked the ‘obsessively Christian but sleeps with loads of different women’ idea, and the idea that women were attracted to him for his trust-fund-boy money, good looks and rich family made him comedically shallow, a deliberately on my part to make him the character people just rolled their eyes at all the time. When I made him a more balanced and sympathetic character instead, and Todd’s gay-supportive straight friend instead later on, it was to remind myself (and hopefully the reader) that not all massively religious Americans are homophobes.

- Courtney Vincent was originally loosely based on a character called Feng from the Wes Craven movie ‘My Soul to Take’ and named after Courtney Cox, who plays Gail Weathers (another character who rubbed off on Courtney’s personality) in another Wes Craven movie, Scream (my favourite horror film of all time). Thinking about it, I can just hear the line ‘Todd, you are asking a question you really do not want the answer to’ in the Gail Weathers voice.

- Alfie Aldrington was named to create a ‘subversion of name-stereotyping’ (as I’ve come to call it.) In England, Alfie is generally a name associated with well behaved and endearing boys who do well in school, get good grades and grow up to get ‘good’ jobs. Now that I remember it, I went to college with a guy who named his pet tortoise Alfie after a fictional one in a Roald Dahl book. Nice, right? I wanted a demonic bad-boy Alfie whose parents despair over him instead.

- You probably guessed this one, but the prom scene where Todd does the Foo Fighters set-list, was written to their music. ‘Cheer Up Boys’ the song Todd aims at Colton with the dedication, is my personal favourite, just as Colton later reveals it to be his. ‘Resolve’ is a close second, and is the penultimate song on the list because the lyric ‘A little bit of resolve is what I need now, pin me down, show me how’ is a deliberate prefigure of the reconciliation scene to come. That little guitar outro Dave G does in the real version gives me a little shiver of pleasure every time I hear it. The Sky is a Neighbourhood is actually an unlikely encore song to follow it, but when I tried it out I really liked it as the ending, for some reason I’m not quite sure about. Possibly because one of my best friends hates that song, and what Todd’s just done is about to royally piss his BFF off.

I have all the albums on CD, but I used Spotify so I could mix and match a playlist to help me choose the order of his setlist. If you’re a subscriber, check it out: spotify:playlist:4xO0SlYxj5YzJzRNS8F9ef (that opens the app and not a web page.)

- The Shelby Mustang Todd borrows and Colton steals is a make of car I’m continually coming back to ever since I saw Gone in Sixty Seconds with the mustang chase. That was also the year I started driving myself, aged 17. (More on this to come on the OoTH page.)

- I’m not sure which came first, the choice of name or the realisation why I chose it, but Cassano being a grizzled lion who’s a little battered but still ‘got it’ for some reason makes me think of Joe Walsh (the guitarist from The Eagles, who coincidentally performs with the Foo Fighters on their track ‘Outside’ which I added to Todd’s prom setlist), which is perhaps why I gave him Joe as his first name. I still imagine ‘You know the deal, raccoon, don’t you fuckin scratch her’ in Joe Walsh’s interview-voice.

- For those who have ever been curious, NO, I cannot do Todd’s 5k run time myself. When I’m as fit as I ever get, I can do 5k in about 20 minutes, which really isn’t bad, but part of the inspiration for Todd as a character was looking at all the people who finish Parkrun ahead of me and wishing I could get that kind of time. I sometimes volunteer at Parkrun as a pace-setter, and usually do 25 minutes, encouraging anyone who has Colton’s sort of time to chase for their PB.

- Todd’s brother Rocco is not exactly named after the character from Rocco’s Modern Life, and there’s no comparison between them as characters, but I think that’s the first time I ever heard the name, and probably what put it in my head.

- When I needed a name for Rocco’s car mechanic workplace, I picked ‘Joe’s Garage’ after the Frank Zappa album of the same name.

- Rocco’s line ‘He [Alfie] forgot to pain a raincoat on the dog before it had its dip in the river’ is one I came up with years ago and had been saving for exactly the right place. I’ve used it a couple of times in real life conversations, and it always goes down a storm if pulled at the right time.

- The idea about Colton trying out for an airforce pilot came from how I once tried taking that test, in my early twenties. Unlike Colton, I failed it miserably.

- Joanne Aldrington’s repeated variations on ‘You are never taking up skating, young man’ is based on my own mother saying exactly this. The thing about the brother’s accident is fictional, and my mom only has sisters – what made my mom so averse to skating in real life was when my cousin knocked his front teeth out after coming off one. (Later on, he came off it again and nearly broke his jaw this time, and even my aunt said ‘He is NEVER having his skateboard again.’)

- Additional: since writing so much with Colton, I’ve actually started wearing skate clothes myself after finding a very good skate shop in the city I live in, and going in to browse it for ‘Colton-inspiration’. When I told my mom about this, while wearing a Vans t-shirt and Levi’s, I was actually disappointed that despite being 36 years old now, I didn’t get ‘You are not thinking of taking up skating, are you?’

- Todd’s nickname ‘Deacon Blue’ wasn’t originally in the first draft of CCT and added after OotH, (To keep this spoiler free I’ll do the details on how I came up with the idea on the OotH page.)

- All writers have that ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ moment with a book after it’s edited and published and in unchangeable paperback format, and my one little improvement I would have loved to have made with CCT in hindsight is that when Todd reveals his cardio-fetish to Colton, cementing a good deal of the trust between them, I later came to realise that it’s never mentioned in the book at all before that, or even hinted at. I’ve been told I’m a writer quite good at doing pre-figures, hints and a making little things into big plot-twists in this sort of way, and every time I read that scene I think ‘Why did I never think of going back and adding a hint for this one?’ Especially as Todd is an athletic character who’s heartbeat could be mentioned in loads of places, or maybe there’s some fantasy involving Colton he could have mentioned like this. Looking at the scene in the fur salon where Todd says ‘You want my shirt off? We’re doing my whole coat? It’s going to be under a suit all night.’ I really feel like I missed the chance for a line like ‘Taking my shirt off on request was a bit of an odd thing for me anyway, but the last thing I could do was explain that one right now.’

Or maybe I could even have had Oz brushing a hand over Todd’s chest in a non-flirting way when he says that ‘Is there anything else you want from Him today?’ as if to ask what Todd’s heart desires. Forbidden pleasure at work. Wouldn’t that have spurred Todd on during his special day and made him want to run away all at once?

- In the diner scene before Colton steals the car, the advice Todd recalls from Rocco: ‘…don’t get angry. Get personal.’ is a line I paraphrased from Altered Carbon (the book version) where Takeshi is planning to hit some people back for a hit on him.

- Felix Aldrington having Asperger’s was a nod to how my mother, in one conversation about mental health and the social anxiety I sometimes got, once I asked me whether I thought I was slightly on that spectrum myself. Odd that she never asked me that until I was in my early 30s as I was a slightly unusual kid – the ‘basically nice, and bright, but damn exhausting to manage sometimes’ kind, as my school reports sometimes said, but I kind of get it – I think it was party ‘Yeah he’s a challenge but really he’s just a normal kid,’ and really I think I basically was. I’ve never asked professional advice about it since she finally said that to me, and I don’t think I actually do have it, but I’m well aware that sometimes I do exhibit some of the behaviours of it. I think it’s just part of me being a ‘character’, as I often get called, but I did research it and explore it and consider whether I should ask a doctor about it once upon a time, and Felix is a character partly born out of the reading I did about it. Without mentioning Felix, or even my fiction writing at all, I once shared all of the above in a course about autism awareness that I attended for work, when we talked about how some adults become aware of ‘on the spectrum’ behaviours and realise that some people who don’t appear to have autism or a diagnosed behaviour ‘disorder’ sometimes have them.

- Additional: Felix’s big obsession, something Aspergers kids often get, started with dropping things out of windows to watch them fall to the ground at different speeds, and later developed into an obsession with gravity, once he knew what it was (this doesn’t get revealed until OotH). Mine, at an early age, was drawing owls. (I don’t think she’d ever have said this even in private, but it does amuse me imagining my Year 1&2 teacher saying ‘If that child brings me one more fucking owl picture I swear I’m gonna just flip my lid’) In fact, mine was that I liked being a bird as much as drawing them. I was an owl in a fancy dress competition at age 5…and I won! Maybe that’s what started it.

- Additional: my other thing was that after birds, I found I liked ‘being’ an animal in general. All kids do that in playground games, just about, but when I think about how it felt to me even now, I think it’s no wonder I eventually became a furry.

- Even further additional: Oz Hudson being an arctic wolf was partly inspired by how I was one in a school play at age 8. Again, Mom made my suit, just like she did with the owl. When I first explained what furry writing was and that I was doing it (she’s also a retired English teacher who encouraged the writing hobby from an early age) I remembered to credit her with having technically made my first ever fursuit, although I was talking about the wolf. Until right now, I’d actually forgotten about the owl.

- Let’s stay on Felix for a moment. The story of his epic tantrum over waffle making in the penultimate chapter basically always felt like me writing about myself, even though I never did this for real, and my family never had a waffle iron until I bought one as an adult. That scene was, though, just exemplary of what I used to get like when I really lost my shit with something.

- The most amusing change my editor Emily has ever made in one of my books came in this one: the dessert that Todd’s mom serves in Chapter Seven (‘It’s banana and honey cake with ice cream. And you’re eating it.’) was originally ‘banana and honey sponge with treacle and custard.’ (Anyone who read ‘Todd’s Senior Prom’ on SoFurry manage to spot the change on their own? Give yourself a medal.) The change was made because, and I knew this but just didn’t think of it, the Americans really don’t have hot pouring-custard with desserts, nor, apparently, do they have golden syrup over there (which is what we brits often mean when we say ‘treacle’ and it’s in a dessert-related context, even though technically treacle is something else completely…I think in the USA you call it ‘molasses’). What made me think of this dessert is that we used to make it in a kitchen I worked in, because it was easy to make a big gastronome of it to serve lots of people (IE 8 kids and 2 adults in Todd’s house).

- In the chapter where Colton makes his confession to Todd and ends it in ‘I act tough, Todd, but I’m not. I’m terrified.’ This closing line is copied from a Pixar film. I’m not going to say which one in case you haven’t seen it, but even though it’s two completely different sorts of characters, I sometimes wonder when I read that scene if really that one line had me gearing up for this whole story a very long time ago, long before I knew who to populate it with and who said my copy of that line to who. It was a moment that I absolutely loved when I saw this film at the cinema, and I knew the kinds of characters I was good at creating could plug right in to a scene like that one. The concluding line was used as a lampshade. The setting the original line is said in is, like where Todd chose to take Colton, a barn. (I think. I need to dig the Blueray out again, but there is definitely a barn scene in that film.)

- Colton’s line ‘Oh yeah, naked fox right here. Take your best look, boys. Made in fuckin’ New York City.’ was partly inspired by a scene from the TV series Peaky Blinders where two characters get a strip-search before being allowed entry to a place, and one them says ‘There you go, girls. Made in fuckin’ Birmingham.’

- The test Joanne gives Todd and Colton in the penultimate chapter (answering a question together on the count of three) was an idea taken from an episode of Game of Thrones where the question was ‘What’s his name?’

- Nobody seems to have noticed, but in the penultimate chapter, I got Zelda and Beatrix the wrong way around, referring to Beatrix as Todd’s ‘five year old sister’ and therefore the youngest in the family, when in every other book Zelda is named as the youngest, and should have been the one given the line ‘You can’t be Todd’s friend…you’re a fox!’ You guessed it, she’s named after the video game series. Beatrix is named after ‘The Bride’ from Kill Bill, and co-incidentally, not long after I came up with the Aldrington family, a friend of mine (who will probably never read any of my books) chose the name for his daughter.

- Another ‘Felix is kind of me’ moment comes shortly after where Colton gives him table setting duties and Oran intervenes, due to an obviously fear of him breaking all the china. I once rocked at breaking china, and glass, partly by trying to carry too much but mostly by just being a hurricane. Or maybe a raccoon in a china shop. (Yet despite this I only seemed to do it at home. My mom still tells me how terrible I was when she took me into shops with breakable stuff, and I always love reminding her how despite constantly disobeying ‘Don’t touch’, I never once actually broke anything in public.

- Then there’s Felix pointing out embarrassing stuff the he should just keep quiet about. Me as a kid again. (But it does seem that all kids do this. I often like those moments where my friends’ kids do it, and I have to really try not to just laugh when they’re being told off.)

- Todd’s thing with Rocco, ‘Can you keep a secret? ... Good, so can I.’ was a copy of a slick move/line used by Adora-Belle at the start of Making Money by Terry Pratchett. (I never actually got into that book, but at least the first ten pages gave me that.)

- The reference to Colton being a messy eater in the final chapter was another Agretsuko steal, from her date with Resasuke.

- Colton dressing like a cowboy in the final scene mirrors a phase that I went through. I once saw a cowboy shirt in a store window in Tucson while visiting my grandparents, and I just had to buy it. Thus began a phase that lasted a few years where I really liked American-west shirts, and although I never wore a hat in public in the UK (I later found out there actually IS a convention for UK cowboys where they DO go the whole way with the dressing up), I also owned a proper cowboy hat to go with them, and a couple of bandanas. But I’ve never ridden a horse. No fucking way are you getting me up on one of those. At the time of writing CCT I actually lived with two people who owned and rode several horses. I politely declined when they offered me a go at it.

- If you don’t try any of the other songs I reference in these books, please check out ‘Muzzle’ by The Smashing Pumpkins, which Colton names as his favourite song ever and puts on the juke box in Argles. (It’s my own second favourite, behind The Rain Song by Led Zeppelin) Not only does it have a very furry appropriate title (there is actually, genuinely a picture of a dog next to its lyrics inside the CD inlay, and the album it’s from? Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Spelled just like that) but you’ll guess why I had to have that song in that scene as soon as you get to ‘And everything I ever said, and everything I ever did was gone.’

- Come to think, you’ve got to try a Deacon Blue song too, just for the sake of it. I would have picked ‘Loaded’ for that scene, as that’s Colton, but ‘Dignity’ just seemed more appropriate for the atmosphere of that bar during that scene, even though the lyrics don’t link at all. (It’s also true what Todd says about them later, the guy really doesn’t have a great voice, but some of the songs are good.) In fact, now that I’ve got that album cued up on Spotify, I’ve just realised there’s a bar scene in Gone Day pt 1 that’s just crying out for ‘Ragman’.

- Colton’s line in the final chapter, ‘Maybe you and I could kick more ass together than we could on our own.’ comes from…you guessed it, Agretsuko strikes my brain again. That one was Mr Ton: ‘That’s why we go to work isn’t it? To kick more ass together than we could on our own.’

- Colton’s choice of safety word for him and Todd, ‘Oranges’, came into my head because my favourite smell from all my trips to Arizona was the orange trees in my grandparents back garden. It’s not connected in any way, but what the hell: one of my favourite memories is sitting in their garden with that smell everywhere, listening to ‘Appetite for Destruction’ by GnR for the first time, on a discman when I was 16, and hearing that incredible guitar solo on Sweet Child of Mine for the first time.

- A happy coincidence involving ‘Oranges’ as Colton’s choice is that I read a book recently (Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber) in which the author compares BDSM to the reader’s working life, and asks the question of what would be the equivalent of using a safety word with your boss, and throughout his discussion on safety-equivalents, used ‘Orange’ as his example. ‘What is the equivalent of saying ‘Orange’ to your boss?’ (The answer Graeber offers to this question is connected to a concept called Universal Wage, which became my inspiration behind Elliot ‘Mr B’ Burkowsky and the ideas he captivates Echo with in California Otters.)

- Phoenix, where the book takes place, was where my great uncle Jack lived. I’ve been there twice yet never been into the heart of the city itself, only the outskirts where his house was.

- Additional: (Forgive me a long anecdote but I think you’ll all like this). I use the past tense for good old Jack but I don’t actually know whether he’s still alive or not, I just doubt it. When my father told me he had a Facebook account, I found it and sent a friend request, and never got a reply, then remembered that if he were alive he’d be 93 now, and when I saw him last (in his late 70’s) he wasn’t in great health. What I did smile at though, was when I went through his Friends List and discovered he actually has a relative called Todd, who has his surname. A quick look at his feed and I found out he was a Christian pastor in South America a long time ago. I can’t work out how they’re related – Jack had two sons but neither of them were called that, but he also had two brothers (who I never met) as well as his sister, who was my grandmother, so there are quite a few possibilities. Let’s just say I didn’t send a friend request as this guy would likely have no idea who I am. Shame, though. Explaining this one could have been fun. Man of the church from the USA meets very distantly related gay furry from England who unknowingly gave a character the same first name as him. The thought does intrigue me.

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #9232419 - 28 Feb 20 00:49
Very informative! Had you not told me, I would have missed every song reference. I remember you mentioned that your dad thinks "Todd Aldrington" sounds American. But when I first saw the surname "Aldrington" my immediate thought was, is that a British surname? For someone who speakes English as a second language and has little knowledge of English-language surnames, I've come to realize it was because of Paddington Bear.
Late February Update + 'Trivia Page' idea 2020-02-26T21:48:07+00:00

Cali Otters is finally finished! And even though I thoroughly enjoyed finishing it, I've got to admit, I've not written 25,000 words in 3 days for a long time...in fact I'm not sure I've ever pulled such a marathon. My record in 1 day is just over 13,000 words, set when finishing my real name book Deception Crossing in 2017 (driven by sheer desperation to be honest - that book was goddamn hard to get right and I was desperate to have it over and done with after nearly 2 years of fighting with it), but I don't think I've ever kept momentum going over 3 days like this before. Last November I also did 50k in 13 days to complete NaNoWriMo in record time (for me) but just think - if I kept last weekend's workrate up, I would have done that 50 in 6 days.

That's knackering. Although it's not so much in a physical sense - it's when you bury yourself that deep in a story for that many hours each day, and indulge a little in the booze and coffee while you're doing it, the story has a way of not leaving you alone even when you take a forced break. No kidding, I took a walk down to the supermarket, bought groceries, walked back, and it took an hour, and all the while I was still writing the book in my head. I was actually whispering lines of it to myself as I walked up and down the aisles. (I'm well aware that I talk to myself a LOT, especially when writing-head is on, but I just can't stop doing it. Perhaps it's just part of my process and you know what they say about a system: don't change it if it works.)

That zone is both a great place and one I'm wary of. Last November I was in it for an entire week's holiday from work (which I'm currently on now) and I went back to work the following week feeling emotionally fucked. My boss asked me if I was okay and I actually started crying. Writing Gone Day Pt 1 that fast and hard triggered my depression again, and that great big feeling of 'What else am I doing in life besides shutting myself away and writing?'

That actually hasn't happened this time, and it won't either when I go back on Monday. One, I know the warning signs. Two, I feel totally different this time thanks to the victory of having finished a book instead of just writing 50k of it. Three: even with Trick and Co chucking back copious amounts of booze page after page (Trick's love of the Talisker brand of scotches does indeed mirror my own), I've been a little more careful about my own intake. Finally: I made myself take a day off from writing today. Okay, I'm writing now, but not a book.

What I'll admit I did do today was go get some lunch in Ikea, take my Kindle intent on reading Kyell Gold's latest, and wound up reading the first chapter of Gone Day 1 again instead. I really didn't feel so burnt out after 3 days of hardcore writing that I could no longer stand my own stuff, and not only that, I really wanted my head back in that book.

I was gearing up to have a go at The Electric Snep idea, mentioned a couple of updates ago, and I've had some pretty good ideas for it, and I have a feeling it will be mercifully shorter than Cali Otters and White Christmas and the length I think Gone Day might come out at. I've even got a killer opening line for it, perhaps even my best opening yet. But right now I really want to pick up where I left off with Todd and his date with [spoilercovered]. Where does it go? I'm thinking of two things: an Agretsuko-style karaoke bar in San Fran, and the line 'They still send me a birthday cake every year. I'd hate to go home and cut it all alone when the clock strikes midnight.'

But maybe I won't start writing for a week or so. I do want a bit of a holiday and I'm away seeing some friends this weekend. (Ones who actually know about this part of my life, but I think I might leave the laptop at home.)

What I am thinking of doing (and in fact I'm going to start making notes in a minute) is finally getting round to doing something I want to do every time I read through my own books for fact-checking and reminders: write a Patreon-exclusive post that details where certain snippets and ideas came from.

Case in point, I talked to one reader lately about how I came up with Echo from Cali Otters, only to be reminded I already posted about that somewhere on here. I'm sure that's not the only time I've repeated myself. I think it's time there was a post dedicated to the trivia behind these books. If only because readers DO make guesses about where ideas came from, based on hints that writers don't always consciously realise they put in, and sometimes it's nice for a reader to hear whether they're right or completely wrong in their hunches.

Obviously such a trivia page will inevitably contain spoilers, so I'm going to set it out book by book and you can just take a look at the ones you've read. Perhaps just to make it safer, I'll make a post for each book so you can only click on the ones you've read and not accidentally see something when scrolling

flag
Todd's Library: A Guide to this Patreon Page 2020-02-11T16:24:52+00:00

Hello everyone,

Now that Patreon have a pinned posts option, it makes sense to have a guide to my ever-increasing stories and chapters right at the top.

This is for new patrons and veterans alike. Rather than use the 'Published Posts' page which (1) takes ages to load and (2) takes a lot of scrolling to find the older posts when you want them, I recommend you bookmark this page.

(Consider this 'Under Construction' for the moment, as I need to do a bit of an inventory, and it's a bit of a mind-numbing task, so I'm going to do it in short bursts over the next couple of weeks.)


Todd and Colton Novels


Chasing Colton's Tail(Todd and Colton #1)

Out on the Highway (Todd and Colton #2)

Akio's House with 'Return to New York' (Todd and Colton #3)

White Christmas (Todd and Colton #4) - refined version of this book, currently in progress in preparation for ebook launch in late 2020

($2 Patrons can also read White Christmas Draft 1 posted at the $2 tier as an old promotion in December 2018 and early 2019, although there's more material in the $10 version, which is Draft 2, and it's a lot more polished with timeline errors corrected)

Gone Day (Part 1)(Todd and Colton #5) (This is currently a work in progess)



Other Books and Stories

California Otters - a spin off, featuring two characters who make their first appearance in Out on the Highway. Recommended: read this after Out on the Highway, Akio's House, or White Christmas, which have teasers but no spoilers. Gone Day Part 1 contains major spoilers for this book.)

This book is definitely NOT for the prudish or faint-hearted! It contains heavier adult-content than the Todd and Colton books and two chapters have a content warning preceding them)

Todd's Cooking Lesson - a scene from White Christmas that I really like, but it got in the way of the chapter flow and didn't make the final cut. Instead I made it it's own short story, made it longer and split it into a few parts.

Destroyer - a short spin-off from the T&C books - takes place after White Christmas so don't read it until you've finished that one.


Significant 'blog' posts, updates and general stuff from the author himself


(To be compliled)

flag
Comments (2)
user avatar
toddaldrington - 1 Mar 20 21:36
Yeah, the tags system is good. So far I've only used it for intro 'read first' sorts of posts, but I can definitely find a way of making them work for every story.
user avatar
User #203481 - 1 Mar 20 21:28
Just sroping by and checking this out, and I thought I'd mention one more thing that might help you organize - tags. You can tag each story with something unique to it, and then we can just hit that tag and pull up everything you've tagged with it. One nice list with only the story we're looking for. :) I follow several artists/writers that have several threads going each, and the tags are what make it manageable. For example, now that White Christmas is complete again, I'm going to reread it. If you tag each post with something WC oriented, I could just click the tag and have the whole list of them come up uninterrupted. :) Something I'm noticing that might help you stay more organized (or really, help us more easily locate what we're looking for). Cheers!
February 1st Update 2020-02-01T17:03:21+00:00

Dry January is over, and although I’ve enjoyed a break from drinking, it’s Saturday night and I’m chilling down a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc already.

I’ve finished White Christmas Draft 2 now, but just to not overwhelm everyone with too much material for one week, tonight I’ve posted 3 chapters with the last 4 to come over the next fortnight.

Here’s the exciting thing about tonight’s posts though: Chapter 18 is brand new material, not seen in the first draft. There was something I thought was missing, and one character who exited too soon, so I had to write an extra 4000 words to put that right. It’s a nice little scene, and I think I’ll probably spend a lot of time tweaking it before the final book goes to my editor.

For the next two weeks I imagine I’ll be spending most of my free time coding the ebook to send to John for the cover ideas. I’ve tried to get California Otters going again this week…in fact, technically I’ve succeeded as I wrote 3500 words or so, but I don’t have a completed chapter to share yet. If you have been following the story though: I guarantee the next one I post will give you a ‘Holy shit’ moment, and from there onwards I just keep piling them on until the story ends.

I’ve been mulling over where Gone Day Part 1 is going next as well, and I’m pretty sure that after I’ve done C.O I’ll be able to hammer out the next couple of chapters before I get to the wall I know I’m going to hit unless I can make up my mind what to do to get me from where I left off in November to [major spoiler cover].

Oh yeah, and Patreon are now making the first 140 characters of any text post a public preview, and I can't disable that. Part of me doesn't care, part of me says that nobody gets a preview of my chapters if they don't pay to be here. Sounds a little petty, but something about the whole new thing just irks the shit out of me. So if I'm still in belligerent asshole mode next time to come to post, I might just cut and paste 'Ifyouwantapreviewjoinyourassup' over and over again at the start of every chapter post from now on. Just for fun.


-T.

flag
'The Electric Snep' (an idea I fancy sharing) 2020-01-23T18:44:11+00:00

I’ve had one of those days where I was reminded that I’m constantly at the mercy of other people’s crap decisions. And that I love writing and self publishing because it seems to be the one thing I have that’s immune to other people stepping in and fucking everything up.

I’m almost done revising White Christmas, and then the mission is going to be to get Cali Otters finished. I’ll confess, I’m not in the mood for that book at the moment, but if there’s one golden rule of novel writing it’s ‘Finish your shit.’ And that book’s long over-due its climax and ending.

I’ll confess though, there’s an idea burning a hole in my head that I’ve had for a while now, and half the reason I want to get to the end of Cali Otters is so that I might try it out. I need something fun to happen today, so rather than put pen to paper with a brand new idea and starting with a rant and risking getting stuck in that place before C.O gets its finish, I’ll just share the concept.

Some of you who’ve followed me on social media might have picked up that I play guitar. (That’s if Todd’s references to guitarists Alfie plays along with didn’t give you that idea as well.) A while back, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I’m on a mission to take some graded guitar exams this year, and long term plan, I wonder if I could one day make some extra pocket money as a music teacher. Lately, with the unexpected success I’ve had from becoming a writer who turned his talents furry, I wondered if the novelty of a furry guitar playing Patreon or the like might appeal to people.

An idea hit me one day out of nowhere: ‘The Electric Snep.’

I’m not sure if I thought it would be cool to see a snow leopard character with a guitar, or if Vera’s son Sam in White Christmas got me to thinking up that one, but when I told my friend this he liked it so much that I went and registered @electricsnep as a Twitter account just to make sure I got it before anyone else could think of it. (You can follow it if you like, but it’s got no concept art or content at the moment, and I plan on mostly following guitar heroes and bands on it.) I also own electricsnep@gmail.com now too.

No, I’m not trying to get students before I’ve even got this idea off the ground. It’s VERY long term. Right now I’ve got my hands full enough with being Todd Aldrington, and practicing guitar IRL to get my Grade 6 hopefully this year. Why I’m sharing this with you guys is…

I also thought The Electric Snep would be a pretty kick-ass book title. So who’s the ’sona behind this and what am I going to write about?

To be honest, I think I’m going to have a hard time deciding. There’s one thing I’ve picked already: my snep is called Alex. I did sit there thinking ‘What’s a good name for a snep?’ and thought of that, realised I’d already called Vera Telford’s late snep husband in White Christmas that, and then thought ‘Yeah, but I can say it’s after Alex Lifeson.’ (Guitarist. Anyone a Rush fan? Seriously, that guy can PLAY. I spent the latter half of my teenage trying to copy half the stuff he’s ever recorded.)

Creating new characters and working out who they are depends a lot on my mood, and today I wanted Alex to run away from home at 18 to be a roadie for a band out of pure, world-hating, bone-aching nihilism. I thought of an amusing prank-against-shitty-employer scene that I’d had earmarked in my head for Felix Aldrington one day, and wondered if Alex should have that idea instead, and the resulting fallout and how his family react to it kick the whole story of his runaway life off.

Okay, the obvious question, seeing as this is going to be one of my books: will he be gay? If he is I think I might be going for a ‘trying not to be and will he eventually accept it?’ angle, but I wonder if he could be straight and a gay friend has unrequited love for him. Or maybe he’s got no clue before he hits the road and it could end up in an ‘I always thought I was straight, then I went on tour with THAT band…’

I think this idea has potential. I could also do with more to add to the Todd Aldrington brand than one series of books, too. If there are two incarnations of Electric Snep, where one of them’s a book and the other’s me one day playing guitar to a camera and explaining how I do it, then it could just be brilliant.

My late music teacher, who partly inspired Vera Telford, will be staggered by every idea I’m cooking up right now if she’s somehow watching from somewhere (she was very Christian, I’m an atheist who does sometimes let a little bit of ‘What if I’m somehow wrong?’ in.) Bless her, I think there was a lot about me that she simply didn’t have a clue about. Maybe I kind of hope there isn’t an afterlife where people can look down on us so she never has to see me going ‘That’s a hot snep getting his thing on while his guitar gently weeps…’

-T.

flag
Comments (2)
user avatar
User #734962 - 24 Jan 20 02:50
This idea of yours...I love it.
user avatar
User #9232419 - 25 Jan 20 02:46
Maybe because I’m reading a super hero story recently, I thought you were going to write a super hero story when I saw the title.
Housekeeping (This week's update) 2020-01-12T19:48:22+00:00

As you can see, it’s all about White Christmas draft 2 lately. I’m getting new material down, re-working some sections and there’s been a little re-structuring. The chapters now start in different places from about 10 onwards, and I feel like I’ve got a bit of an issue with some chapters being 12,000 words long while others are only 4 or 5, but I’m not sure I’m going to worry too much about that. By the time I get to the ebook I might do some more tweaking to see if I can even things out, but if I can’t I doubt it’s any big deal.

Todd and Colton fighting with each other has proven more difficult than I expected. I keep getting that feeling that the more mature characters they were by the end of Akio’s House are now behaving like kids sometimes. Yeah, adults do that sometimes, but there’s only so much I can blame on having amped up their stress levels before it all seems a little silly. Then I hit the reverse effect: are they just a little bit too nasty to each other in places?

Writer’s problems. The important thing is that work’s being done and this story is happening.

One thing I did think during the first draft, and shelved until the second because I wasn’t sure how to change it, was that Vera Telford was gone from the book too soon. We got her letter to Colton, then she didn’t appear in person again. This afternoon, I got a sudden inspiration about what the last scene with her in White Christmas should look like. Knowing where I’m going with Gone Day now, I think that scene could be a stellar pre-figure, and a nice little moment in itself. Won’t spoil…it will be up within the next couple of weeks.

Regarding the title of this post, I’m about to have a bit of a re-shuffle on here. Patreon has finally given me a pinned posts option…actually that happened a couple of months ago I think, I just haven’t done anything with it yet. So I’m going to make one and put the links to every story in there, like I’ve currently got on my main page in the intro section.

The question is also whether I go through and put a link to every single chapter of every story in there, like the contents page of an ebook. I think for the moment I won’t do that, on the grounds that I’ve heard a lot of readers don’t use contents pages in ebooks at all, and even if you have that favourite chapter that you read over and over, the chances are you’ve already bookmarked it.

While we’re on my content, have any of you ever watched any of the livestreams? I don’t do them very often, and it seems when I do I don’t get much audience, but if you’d still like to see one now and again, let me know. At the moment I do it through Twitter but I can always consider how to get something directly onto here.

-T.

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #734962 - 12 Jan 20 20:51
Good to hear that White Christmas is plowing forward. I’ve fallen a bit behind on my reading but I’m trying to get myself caught back up. I can tell you now though that the second draft is definitely ahead of the first in terms of flow. As far as streams go, I’d love to be able to view one, but my schedule is pretty crammed and I’m often in bed pretty early. If you do another stream, I’ll try to make sure I make it.
A New Year's Message to you all 2019-12-31T17:54:51+00:00

Last year, I told my parents about the whole furry thing. Yesterday I went one better: loud and proud, I told them what my pen-name is. It went something like this:

Me: (Mentions he just got paid by Amazon)

Dad: Well, very good. And maybe one day you’ll tell us what you’re writing.

Me: You know what I write. I write science fiction and furry books.

Dad: Ah yes, that's for little furries?

Me: No Dad, for adults. Do you really still want to know my pen-name?

Mum: No, it’s okay, we don’t need to.

Dad: Yeah, actually I want to.

Me: Todd Aldrington.

Dad: (thinks for a moment) Wow, that sounds American.

I actually couldn’t have been more pleased with that response. I told him it was supposed to, and omitted that Aldrington is actually small town in Sussex (England) with a train station on a route I used to travel all the time. I told him my books are set in Phoenix, or at least that’s where they start. And God help him if he actually read one, because gay romance for furries really wasn’t something I imagined he wanted to add to his book shelf.

There you have it. It’s nice to have their interest, even if that’s where it stops. If I get a sale on Amazon.co.uk over the next few days, I’ll probably cringe a little, resist asking Dad if he remembered the name, and then hope it’s my mum who’s not-so-secretly reading them instead. I have a feeling she’d like Todd’s mom, Joanne. Dad would probably just complain about the language, even though he’d be letting himself in for me quoting some fabulous examples of him having Colton moments.

The one part I sort of hope one day either of them might get to read is all the stuff with Vera Telford in White Christmas. They’d recognise instantly that’s she’s a alternative-world version of my childhood/teenage music teacher, with some of the slightly more idiosyncratic things about her amplified and then turned to the dark side, like there was another world where the real person might have become someone different, given the right circumstances. (Yeah, I started watching The Man in the High Castle around the same time as I started writing White Christmas).

That whole thing started as me remembering the real life person (who I absolutely loved) and wondering how she might have handled having someone like Colton as a student. Losing her husband in a tragic way never broke my real-life teacher. I changed the circumstances and the story and plugged in ‘What if it had?’ Then I added the religion element as a kind of petty revenge for a long conversation where me and the real life teacher came close to falling out bigtime over the existence of God (I’m still an atheist eighteen years later. I still think her “proof” was completely flawed, even if I came to understand why she clearly believed in it.)

One thing remains: my real life teacher departed the world in 2008, at the age of 86, but I still can’t help but think: what would she have made of this book? Of this part of my life in general? She knew a great deal about life, and always laughed at how people thought certain things would shock her that simply didn’t.

Pretty sure she wouldn’t have known quite what to make of either the book or me as her student if she’d ever seen it though. I often think there was a lot she didn't know about who I really was outside of her lessons, and the person who left certain behaviours and thoughts outside her house, but looking back on it now it’s easy to say that I definitely didn’t know as much about myself then either. I’m half tempted to do an ‘In Memorium’ dedication in the ebook version next year, except that I probably won’t because the reasons for doing it would feel wrong to me as soon as I did. But we’ll see. I’ll wrestle with the idea a little more.

It’s an amusing thought to end the year on, and hopefully a fun bit of trivia for you guys.

This is a thanks for your support thread, and it feels like it should be a ‘Whatever you do, do it loud and proud’ thread, but it’s quite the reverse: I get the need for keeping things very hush-hush sometimes. Sometimes the people closest to us really don’t get things about us like we (sometimes) wish they would. We all try to avoid over-sharing (or at least while we’re sober) and right now I’m thinking of Oran’s ‘just keep it quiet, whatever it is you two do’ line about Todd and Colton sleeping together in his house for the first time.

Supportive people sometimes don’t quite get you, but they don’t always need to, as long as they’re there. 2019 was a year where I probably became more acutely aware than ever before of how I’m lucky enough to have supportive people around me. You guys are part of that. You pay to be here every month, you tell me what you like about my books, and you count for a lot even though you don’t “know” me.

It’s a funny thought: the people who do “know” me in an everyday real-life sense of it usually don’t “know” Todd Aldrington.

Happy New Year, and may your 2020 be….furry.

-T.

flag
The rest of December 2019-12-16T19:00:27+00:00

There are two weeks left in December. Here's what I'm going to do:

As of Saturday this week, I'm calling in vacation time for 9 days. What you all know this means in practice is that I often end up working on stories anyway and there might be a post, but if I feel I need to just not look at anything effort-related, there's my get out of jail clause. There will probably be a Merry Christmas post on the 25th, but that's all you can count on.

Part of the reason I'm allowing myself a break for the last week of 2019 is that I need a little time to think about where Gone Day is going. I've now used up all the reserve posts from last month's NaNoWriMo event and I'm back to posting as I go, and I've not hit a wall so much as a point where I need to experiment a little without the pressure of having to post every week.

With that in mind, I'm going to keep the White Christmas redraft ticking over while I take my thinking time over Gone Day. That will actually help. For the next 5 days, that's what I'm going to work on, simply because it's nice and easy, now that I have a clearer idea of what this story's about and what I need to make the reader aware of at an early stage. I've reached Chapter 4, and realised that's where I started to fudge details and delivered a big reveal at the wrong time in draft 1, so I'm going for a complete blank-page redraft with no cut and paste. That'll at least take me to Friday night.

In a few minutes I'm going to do a double post tonight, of redraft chapters 2 and 3. They were fairly easy to edit, with a few subtle differences added. In Chapter 3, I'll also post a little bit about how something I went to 6 months ago gave me the most unexpected inspiration for one scene's redraft...and it really worked!

One thing I can't make up my mind about at the moment is California Otters. I'm dying to write the ending, in fact I haven't looked forward to writing an ending like this in years, but the two chapters that come before it are mega-harsh, the kind of thing I feel like I don't quite want to touch during Christmas when I actually do find myself wanting light-hearted entertainment instead, but after all the harshness comes an ending I think I might actually find quite cathartic, and I could really do with that and a little ray of hope for the world right now.

So just tell me, how many of you have reached the last post I made? If people are sitting eagerly waiting for it, that might just tip me out of the doubt and make me get on with it.

-T.

flag
Raising a glass....
Raising a glass....more_vert
2019-12-09T20:10:21+00:00
Post file flag
Raising a glass.... 2019-12-09T20:10:21+00:00close

Thought I'd share this just for the sake of it. I ordered these paperbacks to sign and send to a long standing online friend who I've known since I was 21, along with a personal copy of OotH and Akio's House for myself, and looking at them on my desk tonight I just thought 'Y'know, I've worked really bloody hard to do all this...I'm going down the bottle shop and getting my favourite whisky.' Seriously, there's nothing as good as Bulleit. Apart from maybe the books next to it. (Yeah, I said it. And remember how Obie puts a bottle in the fridge for Todd and Colton's dinner-date at home in White Christmas?)

Here's to the future!

(and YES there will be a a Gone Day post tonight.)


Media (1)


IMG_20431.JPG (2.6MiB)

Comments (4)
user avatar
User #203481 - 10 Dec 19 05:28
'Grats on the accomplishment. Seeing your hard work like that had to feel good, so enjoy it. Also, I just got Akio's House, and I'm looking forward to reading the finished product (read the draft here), but I want to ask - why the bias? On every cover we get to see Todd's awesome paws, but never Colton's. I mean, if memory serves, isn't he the one who like having his paws inspected/played with? Why don't we ever get to see his paws? Bias, bias I say! Todd's paws are awesome, but Foxy paws deserve some love too... :p Have fun.
user avatar
toddaldrington - 10 Dec 19 22:13
It does occur to me now that I COULD have asked for Colton to be barefoot on the Akio's House cover and it would have fitted pretty well...but as if to remove the 'bias', they will both be in shoes on the White Christmas cover because I want a snow scene for that one and I think Todd's barefoot thing would get a little chilly in New York.
user avatar
User #203481 - 11 Dec 19 01:42
*debates sending pics of his own pawprints in snow* You're killing me smalls! But I understand, I'm just being whiny. :) The trick to barefooting in the snow is twofold - first, you need to already be adapted for several months. Your feet change a bit, and you circulation increases. Second thing is you have to be smart - limit exposure based on your experience and the feedback from your body - it will tell you when you've had enough. For instance, as long as it's not wet somehow, as long as it's above 20⁰F I can walk without issue, though standing gets cold. Circulation is the key. And if it's wet/snowy/slushy/whatever then you only get a short amount of time before all the heat is sucked out of you. That said, I've gone an entire winter without shoes except 3 times in Colorado. Walked to my car back and forth, etc. It's all about being smart and knowing your limits. :) And oh yeah, furries with actual paws should be slightly better adapted, though again, intelligent limits apply. ;)
user avatar
User #734962 - 9 Dec 19 20:41
Cheers m8! :)
White Christmas Draft 2 - Chapter 1 2019-12-08T15:15:46+00:00

Season's greetings! Here's a free chapter of Todd and Colton Book 4 on its second round. I only usually need 2 drafts with these books, so what goes here will be pretty much the final version, the odd bit of editing aside. This first post is public, and the rest will be posted at the $10 level.

To those who read the first draft, some of this is recognisably cut, pasted and then edited, while other parts are brand new material. If you have a good memory for the first draft, reading this new one will give you a pretty in-depth insight into my process for creating a long and more complex novel.

Just remember not to spoil anything in the comments! If you're desperate to tell me you've spotted a major foreshadow or a clever line or worked out a puzzle, use a PM or keep it spoiler free.

For those who are new to this book:

If you've just finished book 3, Akio's House with Return to New York, you're in the right place. This picks up Todd and Colton's story 2 years on from Book 3, when they're about to start their 3rd year at college. This story is twice as long as Highway and Akio's, but here's one big difference: after it worked so well having Colton narrate RtnY, I decided to have them share the narrative in this book, alternating between the two of them.

White Christmas is divided into three parts: 1 starts the story off, Christmas in the present, 2 goes back in time and tells the story of what's happened in year leading up to it, and 3 then returns to the present to conclude the ongoing conflict from 1.

If you're completely new and you've wandered in here either by chance or because you've heard of my stuff and you're curious, you might find it a little bit hard to know who's who in this series if you start with this free sample, yet I think it's safe to say there are actually no major spoilers for the rest of the series to be found here. If you're prepared to go with the flow to see if you like my style, dig in.

Todd

Until the night I had to do it, I’d never asked if you could call 911 for someone two thousand miles away.

It was snowing so hard outside that even New York was going to go into shutdown. That was fine by me, as long as Colton made it home from Vera Telford’s house. It was tiring just thinking about how her relationship with Colton had almost taken him and me onto the rocks, but it was a good kind of tired. We’d sorted that all out. At least for now.

Three nights ago, I’d spent an evening in her company and found I actually could tolerate her, and there was something to like about her. More importantly, I hadn’t lost Colton over that whole episode, or anyone else. God knew I’d been close.

We’d saved our relationship. I’d saved a few friendships too. Now Colton and I deserved to spend Christmas together in New York, and just do the long distance thing with both our families. This year belonged to us. Colton and I were going to go and visit my teammate Connor Gilmour in the hospital, and then go and have drinks and food with Destry Murphy and his aunt, Arlanda. Tomorrow, we’d finally get to meet Obie’s new girlfriend, Heidi, who he was clearly besotted with.

That was if Colton got back from Vera Telford’s before the snow got too intense. If she were here right now, I’d crack another snow leopard joke for sure, just like I had two nights ago when I’d met her and her son Sam.

‘Hey, is it true what they say about sneps? When they wake up to a white Christmas, they go “Oh my God, snow! Snow!”’ Sitting in a chair at a fancy dining table, I’d done such a good impression of a snep running out of a door that Sam Telford had laughed like you weren’t supposed to in a place like that. Then I did the falling backwards into the snow with my arms out. ‘Bffffff! Shhhhh!’ I flapped my arms. ‘ “Hey Mom, look! I’m making a snep-angel!” ’

Vera Telford pursed her lips, folded her arms and then rolled her eyes, and just as I started to think I’d probably ruined the whole evening and Colton was going to yell at me bigtime, she smiled.

‘Mr Aldrington, where do you get such ideas about us?’

‘Come on, Mom,’ Sam said. ‘That was exactly me as a kid. Dad did it too, remember?’

Oh boy. Even slightly drunk (and still getting the stink-eye from Colton for having turned up for this after the team had rinsed two Long Islands and a wine chaser down me) I knew that the mention of Vera’s late husband Alex, Sam’s father, could ruin this evening even faster than my mouth. At least I was drinking water and trying to sober up a little.

‘What are you going to order, Sam?’ I said. ‘Seeing as my fox keeps telling me how much he likes spending his money, I think I’m going for fillet steak.’

‘I’m paying, Mr Aldrington,’ Vera said. ‘But do go ahead.’

‘Actually, do they do pizza in this place?’

‘Todd,’ Colton said, ‘does this place look like it serves pizza?’ His face said he might just kill me later. The jazz band were setting up, while a dapper coyote played the piano. We were all wearing suits. I’d gotten away without a tie. Not even for graduation was I ever going to get to eat in a place like this again.

I ordered the steak. An hour later, some of the finest musicians I was every likely to hear played. Alfie would have been jealous of the guitarist, a porcupine who played jazz versions of Beatles songs and a mean slide, and chords I wasn’t sure I’d ever heard. The singers were a cross between soul and jazz, huskies mainly. My one saving grace that evening was that I shut my mouth and learned to enjoy jazz.

By the end of the night, I dared think Vera Telford actually did approve of me as Colton’s boyfriend, even if she was probably a long way from actually liking me.

I couldn’t bear the thought of Colton having to spend the night at her house though, even though he’d probably have loved it, and Vera’s son Sam would help keep things in a vaguely sane level. Every time I thought about her, I had to remind myself that I’d promised I’d never be the boyfriend who hated it when my loved one spent time with other people. Nothing sucked as much as being with someone like that. I knew that because I’d seen it from Alfie and all his girlfriends.

He was calling me right now. I picked up. ‘Alfie! Hey, been a while. Wait till you hear about this place I went the other ni-’

‘Bro, Jesus, thank God someone picked up, I’m about ready to smash the fucking house up. You’re not gonna believe what that bitch has done. I’m gonna kill her. I mean it. She’s fucking dead.

Oh boy. ‘Alright, slow down and just cool it off for a second. That’s what you called me for, right? Someone to talk to so you can calm down?’

‘Mom and Dad won’t pick up. I’m telling you bro, nobody gives a shit about me in our fucking family apart from you. I hate Christmas so fucking much. She cheated, bro. She’s been fucking some douchebag called Zack who I don’t even know. For six months!

‘Who, Roxie?’

‘No, my other fucking wife. Yes, Roxie. I’m finished with her this time. That is it.

I’d heard that at least a dozen times, probably more.

‘I’m gonna kill that cheating whore. She comes back in this house, she’s fucking dead.’

That one was new.

‘Okay, Alfie, listen to me. Our family do care about you and nobody wants you to do something stupid, like get yourself put in prison for the rest of your life. So just calm down. You’re angry and you’re hurting and I get it, but you’re about to lose it and this time you’re going to regret it forever. I want you cool and I want you calm and I want it right now.’

I’d heard a variation on that last part from three different basketball coaches, and they were all yelling at me to use it right now, and it had better work.

‘She’s not getting a fucking cent out of that divorce,’ Alfie said. ‘I’m telling you now. Fuck the whole women taking over the world thing, coz whores sure as shit don’t take over mine. She’s not getting to see the kid. She’s not getting money, she’s not getting shit, except for a sleeping bag and a pillow and she can go sleep in a fucking dumpster!’ He’d worked himself up to shouting again.

Somewhere in the background, my five year old nephew was crying.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘At least you’re thinking now. Here’s what you’re going to do. Take Freddy to Mom and Dad’s, and the drive can cool you off and then you can call a lawyer. You want to end this, do it like that. Not with a gun.’

‘She’s probably calling one right now, I already kicked her whore ass out. She’s not sleeping under any roof I paid for again. And if her stupid parents think they’re starting shit with me again I’ll fucking cap them both too, the mood I’m in right now.’

So he’d kicked her out and not killer her already. It gave me some hope that this was just one of his usual displays.

‘Stop it, Alfie. Don’t make me put Colton on the phone to talk you out of this.’ Colton probably couldn’t have done it. I only thought of it because they were two people so equally matched in fire and rage when they lost it that part of me had always wanted to see them square off against each other. The sensible part of me was glad it never had, because Alfie would probably have won. He always had to have the last say, even if it was beating someone into the ground. Or firing a bullet.

‘Todd, how do you and the fox do it?’ my brother said, after sighing. ‘How did you get it so right when you met him? You two always had the whole we love each other and we’ve got this deep connection thing going on. Everybody else loves you being together as much as you do. You even got Dad to accept it, for Chrissake. Why could I never get what you’ve got, just with a woman? Why couldn’t I get a woman who just got the way I am?’

I was just going to say what had come into my head instantly. Even if Alfie exploded on me and hung up, maybe he’d direct his rage at me now instead of strangling his wife.

‘Alfie, she does get you. All the time. That’s the problem. She was never meant to end up with you because you don’t get her. You got her as a prom date and there’s where it should have stopped. It wasn’t her fault you got her pregnant and you’ve always known the truth: you should have just paid child support and never married her. Even Mom said so.’

‘Oooooh no! Don’t you fucking start with this shit! I called you because-’

‘Alfie, shut up for two seconds, for once in your life.’ I could never have done this in person. But hell, that’s what being in New York on a cell was for. ‘You’re not easy to live with, and this is why. You don’t listen to anyone. You don’t compromise. There’s only room in the relationship for how you want everything. She cheated behind your back because she was probably scared of telling you she’d had enough. I’m sorry if that’s how it is, but that’s how it is. I don’t blame her. So what are you going to do, get yourself mad at me until you want me dead too?’

Scared? For Chrissake, Todd, I never touched her. Not once. Sure, I shouted, I shouted plenty. But hit a woman? You actually think I’d do that?’

‘Is threatening to kill one somehow better? Because at least you didn’t hit her?’

‘Oh, what clever thing are you gonna try next then? That you wouldn’t be angry? What if your fox did this to you, huh?’

‘I’ve been plenty angry with him this last year, Alfie. I’m amazed we’re still together. But we didn’t sort anything out with fists or a gun. We talked. Okay, sometimes we shouted. Yeah, we shouted plenty too. But afterwards, we talked. You wanna know how we do it? That’s all it is.’

‘Bro, I never tried to scare her. I never wanted that. I don’t really want her dead. You do know that right? I know I sometimes act like I’m a psycho, but I’m not one. You know that, right?’

‘That’s what I always tell myself, Alfie. But look, you never learned to control your temper even if you only hit guys. You’re Colton if he’d never met me. Except he couldn’t have shot me and neither can you, no matter how pissed I can make you. So just cool off until you can treat Roxy like she’s family too. Because she is. And you’ve never made her feel that way.’

The other thing he had in common with Colton was after he’d worked himself up enough, he’d crash. The only difference was that Colton usually took a few hours or a day for him to do it. Alfie could do it on cue, with the right words. I’d found them. I hadn’t expected to, but there it was.

Merry Christmas, older brother who probably now wished Mom had never given birth to me.

‘Yeah,’ he said. Then there was a long silence. ‘Don’t I fucking know it every day I wake up. So what do you want me to do, Todd? You were always the smart one. What am I supposed to do?’

‘What I said. Take Freddy to Mom and Dad’s and try and explain to him what’s happening once you’ve cooled off about it. Then you can file for divorce and maybe if you’re lucky agree joint custody, and by the end of it you’ll both be happier raccoons.’

‘Oh yeah, like I’m going to get a fucking fairy-tale ending like that. I never got shit, from anyone. People have always hated me. More than I hate fucking Christmas. You know what Dad told me one year? He made you and Rocco because he knew his first one came out wrong.’

‘You and Dad both shouted a lot of nasty things you didn’t mean at each other when you were angry. And usually both drunk. You’re as bad as each other. And you think that’s the worst he can do? You should have been there when I came out.’

‘Oh shut up about that again, that ended just fine for you. You get the fairytale ending.’

‘Yeah, and it’s because I’m a fairy. Of course it is. Listen, Alfie, bottom line, however this turns out it’s better than the ending you might have had if you hadn’t called me.’

‘Can I come and spend Christmas with you?’ he said. ‘How about it? Why don’t I just leave this fucking stupid town and never come back? Think you could put up with me for a couple of weeks until I can find a job in New York? Fresh start? Maybe all the shit I ever did in my life won’t matter anymore if I get it right next time. Just like Dad managed to.’

Holy shit, a flight of fancy? Alfie didn’t do this. Especially not an idea that actually might be good. Regardless, I knew I couldn’t have him here. I didn’t want him to keep thinking about this. The only good relationship I was ever going to have with him was an arm’s length one. Or two and a half thousand miles.

It ended up not mattering. My sister in law saved me from not knowing what to say.

A door opened in the background. ‘Oh, look who’s home. Here we go.’

‘Don’t talk to her right now. Just take Freddy and get-’

‘Alfie, I am not going to be your victim anymore.’ Roxy’s voice.

Alfie laughed. ‘Oh, this is sweet, this is just too sweet! The fuck are you gonna do with that? I bet you didn’t even take off the safe-’

Roxy Aldrington had taken the safety off. She’d probably never put it on after loading up.

The perfect happy couple, her favourite thing with Alfie (maybe even the only thing they both liked) was going to the firing range together. I imagined that it probably made them feel like Bonnie and Clyde.

I wasn’t imagining anything when I heard the shot though. I felt like I’d been shot myself.

‘Alfie?’ I said. ‘Alfie? Talk to me!’

Instead of him talking, I got Freddy’s crying again, intensified to something between a wale and a shriek. Then Roxy’s matched it.

I didn’t think after that, I just hung up and wondered how the fuck you dialled 911 for a different state, two and a half thousand miles away. Could you even do it? I’d never had to think of it.

I called home.

‘Yyyy’ello, this is the Aldringtons’.’ Beatrix, my seven year old sister. Oh, great.

‘Zelda, it’s Todd. Put Mom or Dad on, right now, it’s an emergency.’

‘Oh hey! Felix, it’s Todd! Felix wants to talk to you.’

‘No! Beatrix, listen to me-’

‘Hey, Todd! Thank God you called, I’ve got this evil homework problem. My teacher’s been setting me college grade stuff already but I can’t do this one. How much do you know about-’

‘Felix, I need you to do something and I need you to do it right now. This is an emergency and I’m not joking. Can you listen?’

Nothing. Shit, I’d probably scared him frozen. He’d never heard my voice sound like this. Anything like this to a kid with Asperger’s would take a freeze-frame moment to process. Time I didn’t have.

‘Get Mom or Dad, Felix. Now. Please? Are they there?’

‘Dad, can you talk to Todd? Something’s wrong.’

Nothing again for a moment. Then: ‘Hey, Todd, I’ve got my hands full but you’re on speakerphone. Something wrong? I can call you back in a few minutes.’

Oh God, just no. I could hear the entire rest of the family, and they were going to hear this. No time. Just do it. ‘Dad, I need you to hang up and call 911. Tell the cops to get over to Alfie’s place and send an ambulance.’

‘What the hell? What’s happened?’

‘He called me, shouting about Roxy and she came home. There was a bang. I think she shot him. You’ve got to believe me and just do this, no questions.’

Everyone went silent. I’d never heard my family do it so quickly. Some china smashed in the background. I heard a whimpering noise from Mom I’d never heard before. She might as well have been there in front of me, her hands to her mouth and her eyes already filling.

‘Alright,’ Dad said. ‘I’ve got this. I’ll call you back.’

I sat down on my bed, realising my legs weren’t going to support me for much longer. It was too late already. Fucking Zelda, fucking Felix and his fucking homework, the seconds that might have counted were gone and my brother was dead.

I didn’t notice Obie was in the doorway.

Obie always had something to say, and the smart mouth with the New York Italian accent to go with it. He was nothing like a gangster, he just talked like one, but right now he looked like he’d seen his first real crime and gone just as weak at the knees I was. Right now, he had nothing to say. Colton once told me that even if the surgery Obie had once had on his throat had failed to restore his voice, he’d have found it anyway. Sure enough:

‘Holy shit, Teej!’

He’d started off calling me T.J, giving the ‘jay’ more accent as if to make it T.J.A, all my initials. Then he’d decided ‘Teej’ was even more down with the kids. I’d let it stick. Colton never called me it. He’d always said it was dumb, just like Obie calling him ‘C’, but it was love-and-affection dumb.

He sat down next to me. ‘What do you need? Shall I call C?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, not knowing what good it would do, just that I really wanted Colton there right now.

‘Hey C, can you break up with Mrs Telford tonight? The raccoon’s having some pretty serious family drama right here, something about his brother getting shot. Alfie?’ he looked at me and I nodded, feeling sick. ‘Yeah, Alfie. Can you come home? I think you might be putting this one on a flight back to Phoenix tonight.’ Obie held out the phone to me.

‘Hey, fox.’

‘I’m on my way right now,’ Colton said. ‘What happened?’

‘I…I can’t talk right now. Just get here.’

‘Okay. Hang in there.’

I rang off.

‘Okay,’ Obie said. ‘You need a glass of water?’

‘Tea,’ I said, not knowing why.

‘Okay, tea. You got it.’

‘Obie…if he dies…’ my eyes were so wet I couldn’t see.

‘Hey,’ Obie said, rubbing a hand down my back. ‘Don’t think like that yet. It might not happen. You got 911 called and they’re gonna get there. Everything might be okay. Just sit tight. Let’s get that tea.’

* * *

An hour later, Dad hadn’t called me and Colton still wasn’t home.

My fox was probably spending the night in Vera Telford’s house. It was enough to make me feel like I loathed her all over again. If I could get on a plane alone tonight then that plane certainly wasn’t taking off, and my brother was probably dead by now anyway. There was nothing for it than to sit and drink tea with Obie and wait for the phone to ring.

This shouldn’t have been Obie, here for me, I knew. I’d nearly fucked that whole friendship up this year too, yet here he was, and there was nobody I’d rather have if I couldn’t have Colton.

God, wasn’t that true. The things I knew about this red panda. Any other night, it would have put a smile on my face and we might have gotten drunk together, or maybe even just drank tea and talked about serious things in his life. Like his mother. He was going to go and see her, and actually talk to her for the first time in two years. He might have been doing it tonight if it wasn’t for this.

The phone rang. Number withheld. I answered.

‘Hello Todd, I’m Charles Fairbrother, I’m a doctor at Phoenix General. Your family have asked if you can catch a flight home tonight. Your father says he can send money if you need it.’

None of them could manage a phone call, so a doctor was doing it instead. My heart sank. Plunged. Dad was offering money? No. Mom managed the money. If Mom couldn’t come to the phone…

Don’t go there yet. Just like Obie said.

‘I’ve got money,’ I said. Even as a college student on a scholarship, I probably had more to spare than my parents did. ‘There’s snow coming into New York right now, I don’t think I can even reach the airport.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Just tell me, is my brother dead?’

‘No,’ Dr Fairbrother said. He sounded like a dog, probably a shepherd or a retriever. ‘We’ve done what we can, but we’re not sure if it will see him through the night. At best I’d give it fifty-fifty. The bullet missed his heart but only just. It destroyed one of the main arterial connections close to it. When he reached the hospital it was only just in time for us to operate. We resuscitated Alfie twice during the surgery. I’m sorry to have to tell you all this over the phone. But perhaps you should know, you got your family to call the ambulance quickly and that’s probably what’s given him a chance.’

I heard the door downstairs go and Colton swearing about snow.

‘It was his wife,’ I said. ‘Did she get arrested?’

‘She’s sedated here in the hospital, under police guard.’

‘Good.’ I managed not to add that if Alfie died, it would take me the same self control I’d brought out in him for me not to kill her myself. I wished I could tell him I understood what it was like to be that angry now. I might not have been, if it weren’t for the snow pouring down outside my window. Maybe the weather would make sure I spent Christmas here with Colton and Obie, but I’d spend the whole time guilty and worrying, and feeling worse that they couldn’t cheer me up.

‘Tell my parents I’ll do what I can,’ I said, and hung up.

He wasn’t going to make it. It was just like in basketball: 50-50 was the most dangerous odds to go into a game with, because that level of doubt meant too much pressure. Believing you were going to win? Easy if you didn’t get too cocky. Believing you were going to lose? It meant you had nothing to lose if you went for risky plays and it might just turn your odds around. Either-or? Bad mindset. Alfie’s body was surely no different, not knowing whether to give up or fight. Giving up was easier. Just for once in his life, Alfie was going to make something easy for himself.

Except all that was bullshit thinking. Life or death wasn’t sports. Alfie would fight. Alfie always fought everyone and everything.

Colton looked like he knew it, and was just as ready to fight his way onto a plane with me. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘I already got us both a flight. Get your coat on and stuff some clothes in a bag, they can still take off in this. Trust me.’

* * *

I trusted him, and as usual he wasn’t always right. We wound up sleeping in the airport, our flight postponed until the next morning. A text message from Rocco woke me up. He’s awake. Rough as shit but he’s talking and he’s got a pulse. Get home when you can. He said to tell you that you were right, whatever that means.

About which part? The fairytale ending? Neither of them were going to be better raccoons now. Roxy had ruined her life and his. If she wasn’t looking at attempted murder then it was going to be something similar, maybe with diminished responsibility.

Unless she fought it. She and Alfie had one thing in common besides guns: they always wanted to win a fight. I thought about how she’d told him she wasn’t going to be his victim. I’d always known Alfie was no saint. He might not have hit her, but abuse wasn’t always hitting someone. Had it actually gone that far that he’d been bullying and threatening her? I didn’t want to, but I believed it might be true. She’d probably try and prove it even if it wasn’t, just to get off. This was going to be messier than any divorce.

Especially if Alfie didn’t have insurance, which he probably didn’t. He’d never afford a premium on his money. He smoked and drank like a soldier and did work that was just as dangerous, working security on the doors of clubs in the parts of Phoenix that most people with sense didn’t go to. He probably should have gotten shot years ago.

I was glad I wasn’t my parents right now, telling a five year old grandson that his father was lucky to be alive and his mother was maybe one step short of getting sectioned.

Colton had read my text over my left shoulder, his hand on my right. ‘You okay?’

‘Sometimes I think I hate Alfie,’ I said. ‘For being who he is. He’d say he can’t help it, but he could. Maybe this was the best thing for him. If he doesn’t turn some things around after this...’ then maybe we should all just let him go? I didn’t know. ‘I told him he was what you might have been if you’d never met me. Sorry. I don’t really know that either, but...just, I thought it and I thought it might shut him up so he’d listen to me. He was about to. Maybe I could’ve gotten through to him. Now it’s like I was talking down the wrong person.’

‘You couldn’t have done any more than you already did. He’s alive and awake. That means you can try again later. They’re delaying us another four hours. You still want to go or shall we just go home?’

‘Are the tickets refundable?’

‘That doesn’t matter.’

That meant no. ‘Let’s go to Phoenix. You want some breakfast? That bar over there smells damn good.’

‘Now you’re talking. Let’s stay in Phoenix and spend Christmas with your folks. Think nearly losing a son will make your Dad soft enough that he can tolerate me sleeping with his favourite one under his roof?’

‘How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not his favourite.’

‘Whatever, Deacon Blue.’

‘You of all people know that’s not what that nickname means. Dad hasn’t called me that since I found out what it really meant.’ It was a homage to his brother, Deke, who was a southern raccoon. I was a blue one, yet still bared a striking resemblance to my late uncle. Deacon Blue was the name of a band from England my father liked. Deke in Blue was me. Ever since I’d heard Deke’s life and death story, and how my father had hidden his existence from the whole family for years, that nickname for me had died a natural death, as if my father had finally made peace with how his brother had died of AIDS and I’d grown up to be as gay as Deke had been, just more fortunate and a maybe a little more sensible. I didn’t want to focus on all the vibes that came with my late uncle right now.

‘What about your family, fox?’

‘Don’t go there, Todd. I’m not welcome at Christmas, remember?’

This one went back to the Christmas the year before we’d gotten together. Colton had been on his worst behaviour for a couple of years already, and the Christmas just after he turned eighteen had been the stamp on the ice that had finally cracked it. His father had pinned him to a wall and told him that he wasn’t spending another Christmas in their home, no matter what. Colton hadn’t fought back only thanks to being stinking drunk. Even though he’d turned things around, Colton still acted like that order still stood. He didn’t talk to his parents much every Christmas, didn’t send gifts and told them not to send him any. Like he needed one last dose Bad Colton still being allowed to surface, one last moment of “Too late to take that back,” just to make them feel bad about it. Every year I allowed myself to try this, just once:

‘I really don’t think they meant what got said that year, Colton. Even if they did, they were saying that to who you used to be. Not the fox we all know now.’ This year, I had a little nitro for the engine. ‘If Vera Telford can repair family relations at Christmas, what’s your excuse?’

‘It’s not just that one Christmas, raccoon. I never had a happy Christmas with my own family. Every year ended in some sort of row, and it wasn’t just my fault. My mom’s parents died right before Christmas, and my Dad’s parents? Don’t get me started on those two loathsome fucks. Even Dad’s stopped talking to them now. I go there this year, it’ll be the year he reaches out to them. Last time we were all together? You know what happened. And I’m not proud of it. I’m just not sorry either.’

‘Vera disowned her gay son. All you did was go into your grandparents room stinking drunk and piss on them while they were asleep.’

Colton hardened his stare, as if to tell me if I played the game this way, I’d lose. ‘When my grandmother woke up screaming, I managed to piss right in her nasty little mouth.’

I didn’t look around to see which tables in the breakfast bar were now giving us both disgusted looks. ‘So your dad no longer talks to them? But he’s still mad at you for giving them what they probably deserved? That’s not the toughest convo you ever had with your old man by a long way.’

‘I don’t want it this year, Todd. Can you just drop it? And quit with the whole Mrs Telford comparison already; it’s a totally different issue to my family and you know it is.’

‘Okay, I’ll drop it,’ I said with my hands up. ‘But let’s talk about my family then. Dad does the best he can about accepting that we’re together. I don’t know how this whole thing with Alfie’s affected him already. If this kind of stress makes the wrong side of Dad come out, do you really want your first Christmas with my family? If we get on that plane and you’ve made your mind up you’re not talking to yours, that’s your situation.’

He looked like it hadn’t occurred to him at all. All he’d been thinking about was being there for me, no matter what. Now the reality sobered him more than his morning coffee.

‘God forbid,’ I said, ‘if Alfie doesn’t make it through this even after waking up today, and we all know that could happen, then you’re going to be staying with my family for the first time ever when everybody’s cut up. Especially Dad. You and yours have got nothing on him and Alfie. So listen, here’s your get-out-of-jail card: don’t worry about me and go spend Christmas with Obie. Hell, call Vera again if Obie’s too wrapped up in love. Call…ooooooh fuck, we stood Destry up last night!’ I snatched my phone out. ‘We never even sent a text. Or did you?’

Colton clearly hadn’t. ‘Relax,’ he said. ‘Your brother got shot last night. And the snow would have stopped us getting that far out into the burbs anyway. He probably knew we weren’t coming for hours before we should have rung the bell.’

‘He’ll be really upset,’ I said. ‘You know how much effort he would have put in to making us food. Arlanda probably had the pissiest, sulkiest otter on the planet to deal with last night.’

‘Good. That means you don’t have to deal with him. Put your phone away, I’ve got this. If I’m the messenger he’ll think you’re so upset you can’t even send a text. That’ll keep him away and not asking when you’re back in New York every few hours.’

‘Don’t make fun. Christmas is crappy for him every year too. We had one job to do last night: make it a little less crappy.’

Colton ignored me and rapidly fired off a text. ‘Done. I copied Arlanda in too.’ He smirked. ‘Y’know, when it comes to Destry, if you really wanted to give him a happy Christmas then I still think you should have - ’

‘Colton,’ I held up a warning finger. ‘Do not.

‘Alright,’ he said, raising his coffee like it was a drink. I clinked mine against it. ‘Maybe next year we’ll get our own Christmas in NY together. Oh hey, look.’ He grinned at his phone again, then looked around himself like a schoolboy making sure his teacher wasn’t coming. ‘Remember that thing we ordered last week?’

I remembered alright. ‘It didn’t just arrive, did it?’

‘FedEx in New York never failed in a blizzard.’

‘Goddamn it,’ I said. ‘Guess we’ll have to wait until the new year to enjoy it.’

‘I could get Obie to open it for us. He just signed for it, after all.’

Nice try. ‘He wouldn’t be at all surprised, fox.’

I’d won. Colton looked stunned, and sat back. ‘What kind of talk did you have with him that afternoon?’

‘The kind where you probably make a friend for life.’

‘Yeah,’ Colton said. ‘No kidding.’

I thought about our house with Obie, and the other people who were here in New York, then about my family back in Phoenix. ‘Why don’t we both go home?’ I said. ‘I’ll just call my folks and say…fuck it, how about I just say that none of us really owe Alfie anything? So I’m not coming. When he wakes up and hears something like that, maybe it’s the tough love he needs. People won’t be there for him forever if he doesn’t stop shoving them away when they try to give him good advice. He was always going to get shot by somebody. So now it’s happened, we’re supposed to go give love and sympathy? That’s not going to fix him. It’s not just his wife’s fault my Christmas just got trashed before it started. Why don’t I just not go, and not drag you along for all the misery either? Oh come on, don’t look at me like that. Just say it then: this is too much Bad Todd. This is where I started when I got it wrong with Obie.’

‘No, I get it,’ Colton said. ‘You’re mad at somebody you love and you’re mad because it’s wrecked your plans with someone else you love. But it hasn’t. I don’t mind. You wanna be mad with Alfie? Let’s go see him together. And the others too. If your family can’t have me, I’ll try doing the thing with mine. It’ll probably be okay. Or it’ll be messy. But come on. If we’re going to have another explosive Christmas, let’s go have it together.’

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #203481 - 10 Dec 19 11:51
Yep, definitely rereading this. It's been months since I read the first draft, and I can still feel/tell the difference. Gotta go back and freshen the memory of the draft, to compare the rewrite to. :)
White Christmas promo 2019 + This Patreon page in 2020 2019-12-08T11:04:52+00:00

I’m making this post public as it’s the kind of promotion that applies to would-be patrons as well as current ones.

At the moment I’m caught between three different books: White Christmas (Todd and Colton #4), California Otters (a side project with Trick and Dolphin) and Gone Day Part 1 (Todd and Colton #5). Forming an exact plan for when everything is going to be completed is no easy task when your process is as spontaneous as mine. Every time I let people know what I’m going to do, I seem to promise a different thing.

The thing is though, I get the feeling you guys are used to it, and really, so am I. Without going into too much detail about my life outside of this, my day job is very much like this too. Go with the flow. The most sensible strategy for this page is to admit that that’s what it is: a dumping ground for the chaos in my head that a few of my fans don't mind paying for.

If you buy one of the paperbacks or ebooks, you get an ordered, polished and final product. If you sign up on here, you get all the chaos that leads to that.

A couple of times this year, I’ve given serious thought to whether or not to keep this page going into 2020. This morning, awake early for breakfast, TV and now some writing while still in my PJ’s at 10:40AM, I’m in the right place to make this decision: I’m keeping it going.

What I’m going to stop doing is promising things in an exact order. This morning, I feel like saying that for the rest of the Christmas season, my head is going to be in re-drafting White Christmas, continuing with a little bit of Gone Day, and using the festive atmosphere to get that little short story ‘Destroyer’ with Obie narrating finished too. Not to mention I still have that deleted scene from Return to New York where Oz answers Colton’s question about forgiveness still to do.

See how carried away I can get? And I know damn well I could wake up tomorrow, go through the day at work, and then decide ‘I really want to write California Otters this evening.’

From now on we’re going with the flow. Your $10 will get you at least one post of random chaos per week. Maybe a little more seeing as I’m lucky enough not to work a customer facing day job and have time off over Christmas that I’m going to need to fill.

Seeing as I already have some material pre-written though, I can tell you what the rest of December will pretty much look like. So, to business:

‘White Christmas’ Promotion

Last year, I ran a promotion where the first two parts of White Christmas were posted at the $2 tier. Little did I know how epic that story was going to become. I kept it quiet, but I ended up posting the entire thing at $2, deciding I could use it again in 2019. So there it is: you can sign up at $2 to read Todd and Colton #4 draft 1 if you want to. BUT THERE’S A CATCH:

I really like that book, upon reading it through again for my redraft, but I know it could be several times better. Especially now that I’ve got my teeth into Gone Day and know that one character is a lot more significant than I originally intended for him to be. The infamous snow leopard Mrs Telford was gone from the book too soon, and it seems odd to me that despite plenty of arguing and their relationship being tested, Todd and Colton really shouldn’t have gotten through part 2 of that story without an epic row. (If you read draft 1 already, I think you know where it’s going to go.)

So, as I’m redrafting, it’s only fair I share the refined and improved version with the $10 patrons this time. You can read the raw version for $2 if you’ve already spent too much money on Christmas already or know you’re going to, or you can pay a little more and get the better quality, and it will be spread over the coming weeks and months. The choice is entirely yours.

I’d be silly not to give a free sample though, so soon I’m going to post the first chapter of the new White Christmas draft as a public post, so anyone who’s just finished Akio’s House and RtnY can take a look.

Those who are already signed up rest assured, you’re going to get another Gone Day Part 1 post this week, and probably one per week right up to Christmas, providing I can get this wretched first date scene between Todd and [spoiler cover] right…I don’t know why it’s so damn hard, but every time I sit down to work on it, garbage just seems to come out because I get stuck. And for those who think I’ve just landed a major spoiler because Todd’s left Colton or vica versa, remember they have a semi-open relationship, and it’s just like this page: it’s somewhat unpredictable.

-T.

flag
Comments (2)
user avatar
toddaldrington - 8 Dec 19 14:51
Your wish is my command then, I'm going to post it now
user avatar
User #734962 - 8 Dec 19 14:29
Very happy to hear that you are continuing this page. Honestly, it's the best Patreon page I've ever given to. Most authors will promise in depth looks into the writing and deleted scenes, etc, and just not deliver on it, but you have. I like the feel of it being a "dumping ground." Everything feels genuine and fresh, no matter if it goes through revisions or not. I can't wait to reread the newest version of White Christmas!
Update + Akio’s House is back from my editor 2019-11-18T18:31:21+00:00

Akio’s House came back on Friday, and I spent the weekend reading Emily’s edits – perfect as usual. I’ve got today and Tuesday off work after doing the weekend, and I’m determined to allow myself a break and do other things besides write, but after that I’m going to get around to writing the HTML code to make the ebook. Official launch date is still December 14th but you guys will have your copy before then.

What’s Coming Next

Having won NaNoWriMo with the first 50,000 words of Gone Day part one, I’ll make a confession here: I’m a little bit stuck with it. I’ve pretty well emptied what was in my head out of it, and where Todd currently is in life after that, I’m not quite sure what book I want to write. It might sound strange, but I know how Part 1 ends, the question is WHEN do I make that cliffhanger ending happen, and what does Todd do until the big event that it hinges around?

All the possible answers I have to that question mean I need to do some thinking and definitely need to do some research. I’ll keep it spoiler free, but the good news is I’m happy to share everything I’ve worked on over the last eighteen days at the usual one chapter per week rate, until I run out of material. You guys have had about half of it so far, so that’ll take us into December, possibly a little further if I ever work out the wretched date scene I’m having real trouble with and finish it off.

This wasn’t quite how I planned it, because I wanted to deliver and serialise the whole book as I wrote draft 1, but here’s why I’m going to change the game a little:

Long story short, I’m working too far ahead of myself now. I need to get Cali Otters finished and White Christmas re-drafted, and while I’m doing that, I’ll make up my mind about how Gone Day Pt 1 gets to its end. I need to get previous stuff finished before I go any further with the new. NaNo was good and everything, but now that I’ve put the brakes on I’ve realised that I’ve got so many projects on the go that I’m losing control of all of them. Posting the rest of Gone Day pt 1 (so far) so that you guys get some material for your money will hopefully buy me the time I need to do a little catching up.

White Christmas will actually be quite fun to tinker with now that we’re getting into the festive season again, and now that I know that Charlie will have such a significant part in Todd’s future I can colour the redraft in all sorts of ways. The same applies to a good deal of that story, in fact. Getting ahead of myself has allowed me to re-think what’s important in W.C and what I can afford to cut, as well as what to draw out, knowing where it’s all heading.

-T.

flag
Comments (1)
user avatar
User #734962 - 18 Nov 19 23:10
I've just begun re-reading from the very beginning to make sure I'm completely refreshed as Gone Day is released, so it's perfect timing for Akio's house to be finalized soon. Thanks for working so hard for us!
I WON! (Mid November update) 2019-11-14T18:33:33+00:00

Brag time, just because I was too tired to do this last night...

I won NaNoWriMo last night, with Gone Day (Part 1) now over the 50,000 word barrier. Todd's first date with someone other than Colton got me over the final hurdle, in just 13 days! That's officially the fastest National Novel Writing Month I've ever done, beating my 2014 record of 17 days (that was the book that became Fighter's Mark, for those of you who follow my real-name books as well.)

Return to New York made up some of last year's NaNo wordcount, which I listed on the official side The Crystal Ship (another real name book) with Stories on the Side. I enjoyed writing RtNY a lot more. So yeah, I've got NaNo to thank for being my excuse to amp up the productivity a little bit.

What's cooler about this brag right now is that I've completed the hat-trick of wins I was after, having done 2017, 18 and 19.

Talk about a mixed bag of emotions. Anyone who follows my Twitter feed might have noticed that I had a really shit depression day on Monday. Four days on, I've picked myself back up to good places so quickly, and it wasn't just the NaNo win, it was two good days at work, plus an acceptance that it doesn't matter if I don't (at the moment) have a special person in my life that a lot of my characters have.

Take it from me, writing fiction can fuck with your head despite constantly reminding yourself that what you're working on isn't real. The ideas that form it are real enough. Yeah, I think riding the emotional roller coaster that was writing Gone Day actually triggered my depression big time. Maybe that's why I was self-medicating and getting constantly tanked up on booze all through my week off work. Yeah, I can still write under influence. But was being THAT prone to crying at my own work and waking up feeling awful with both a hangover and depression really worth it?

Actually yeah, it kinda was. I don't advocate damaging your health for art, and one of the things I've decided is that I need to get back to taking better care of myself. I needed that week to sort a whole load of shit in my head out and then come back stronger. Going back to work has got me back to just drinking tea in the evenings and cleared out my head. I actually really enjoyed last week, riding that sea of waves and then crashing back down only to get up again. Monday was like my complete crash. Now I've got a sensible, clear head on again and I feel great. I'm no longer crying at the slightest thing to touch on my sensitive side or feeling like a shitty person with low self esteem. Writing seems to have the power to take me both places.

So yeah. I won. In more than one sense of it.

So, to business:

I'm aware that I still owe some $15 patrons my real name books. I'm going to get on this tonight. Starbucks closes in about 10 minutes, so I'll need to wrap this up and walk home and sort it there.

Akio's House will hopefully be coming back to me in a few days time from my editor and I'll code the ebook as soon as I get it.

Now that I can slow down on Gone Day a little bit, I'll keep writing it until the end of the month to see how far I get.

After a recent conversation with John who draws my covers, I need to get White Christmas to him so he can read it before drawing one, which means I'm going to have to get to compiling a second draft and self-editing it a lot sooner than I thought. When I get to December, that's what I'll be working on and I might share some re-drafting or bounce ideas off of you guys. It actually makes sense to be working on that script again in the run-up to the Christmas season.

Somewhere along the line, I really want to finish Cali Otters before the year's out. I might make that the writing that occupies my Christmas break.

Okay, they're about to chuck my ass out of this place so I'll talk some more later and maybe get another chapter of Gone Day Part 1 up.

-T.

flag
Comments (2)
user avatar
User #734962 - 14 Nov 19 19:32
Glad to hear you're doing better and a big congrats on the victory as well!
user avatar
User #965073 - 14 Nov 19 19:33
Congratulations! You definitely deserve it!
Gone Day (Part One) - Chapter One (Post I) 2019-11-04T21:41:41+00:00

Author's Intro

Okay, here we go at last...the final book in the Todd and Colton Series! Or penultimate, if you like, because splitting this into Part I and 2 was the right thing to do. I felt it on instinct, and now that the writing's underway I'm sure of it.

Let's put it this way: Chapter One is 13,500 words long already and not yet finished, so allow me to explain the slightly weird title: when I eventually publish this as an ebook/paperback, I'm already certain that I want to start with one very long chapter. But I don't want to beat you all over the head with huge amounts of wordcount while I serialise it, so I'm going to split the long chapter here into 'Posts.' This is the first.

The structure of this book is my most experimental yet. It's a bit like White Christmas, with a hell of a lot more teasers and flashbacking. But we're starting in the present, around 3 years on from the end of White Christmas.

Believe me, a LOT has happened. I love this book already, and I'll admit, it's because I'm enjoying writing this chapter and realising how much my slight-of-hand is going to seriously fuck with you guys - the readers, and your emotions. Yeah, I'm that sort of guy. How do you think I create those sides of Todd, Colton and Obie in the first place?

This book is a roller coaster. Buckle up. Here we go!


* * *

Chapter One

‘It should have been me.’

I’d been thinking that a lot for the last two years. Today, I was determined not to think about it for more than five minutes. I knew that as soon as I walked into the hall, saw the chairs set out, the decorated table at the front, and the aisle that Heidi Corello was going to walk down to become Heidi Calabrese, it was just going to hit me, and there was nothing for it but to just ride it out.

Standing inside this long hall with it’s leather-padded dining chairs, stripy blue and white awnings outside the windows, flags around the ceiling, and varnished wood floors between the tables decked out in white and silver, I knew this room in The Water Club at Kips Bay, New York, felt exactly like it was supposed to: it put you on a boat even though it wasn’t a boat. It looked out at the New York skyline that was still glowing with the last of the sunrise. The sky was virtually cloudless. There was a slight breeze coming through the open windows that were more like big doors. It smelt of salt water, gull feathers and ice-cream cones, with a hint of the booze of old parties teasing my nose behind it.

I’d done the first part of my job: this setting was as perfect as Obie had wanted, and it was all decked out hours ahead of time, right down to the names at the tables and the centre-pieces: Obie had chosen famous New York land-marks. Heidi had put a figure of a cartoon character by each one.

‘It’s beautiful, Teej.’ Obie gave me a great big embracing hug.

That was the second part of my job done: Obie was here. Not trapped in an elevator in the Hilton, because that happened to one of his friends on his wedding day, so Obie had made us walk down eight flights of stairs. That amused me. As did how unfit his whole family were. Obie though, hell, I’d been impressed with how much he wanted to hit the gym in the two weeks I’d spent with him before this. It wasn’t just because of me being here. To begin with I’d thought it was, but I soon realised I was wrong. Obie even looked fit.

‘Careful with that hug, Obes. You’ll ruin your styling.’

‘I’m shitting bricks, Teej. The styling won’t cover that up. I need a drink. You think we could raid the bar? Make me one of those Long Island iced teas you used to do? Y’know, we’re not actually far from Long Island.’

‘I know, Obie.’

‘Does anyone smoke around here? I need something before I just start hopping about.’

‘If you kiss Heidi at the end of that aisle tasting of either, she will eat you alive. And not in a consummating your marriage sort of way.’

‘Yeah, I know.’ He actually was shifting from foot to foot like he needed to pee. ‘Okay, Mom and Sal are here, I’m gonna help go get the cake in.’

‘Don’t drop it, will you?’

‘Says the guy who dropped a three point shot in the quarter finals.’

Yeah, Obie. We can laugh about that now. Just you wait until later.

At least I’d managed to eat a decent breakfast and my stomach felt calm enough. Obie’s butterflies almost threw his up. Mine were coming back for a second shot already. To calm them, I thought about how I’d argued with my mother over a wedding which wasn’t even mine.

* * *

Heidi soon-to-be Calabrese liked sailing. She wanted to pay to have this on a yacht. After a year of trying to get Obie to grow ‘sea legs’ (‘For God’s sake, Heidi, you’re not marrying an otter!’ was what he finally said), she resigned herself to the fact that he quite likely wouldn’t, and she’d rather not kiss her groom with his mouth tasting of mouthwash to cover up the puke. So she tried to find available waterfront locations. Everything in New York was too expensive for a lawyer who wasn’t a partner. Heidi didn’t like debt. Nor did she like the tradition that the bride’s family paid for everything. Her parents were nagging her about it. She’d grown up poor in Queens. Why couldn’t they understand that she didn’t want tens of thousands on credit cards because of tradition?

Or that one of Obie’s rich friends had offered to pay for everything. Because Obie was there for him at the absolute worst time of his life. There was one hell of a story behind it. They listened. They still wanted to pay with family money. God, they were stubborn people, even compared to Obie’s parents. I asked my mother’s advice on what I could do.

Christ, I wished I hadn’t. She told me to respect the traditions of someone else’s family. I got the whole lecture on work-for-yourself economics that a republican head of the World Bank would have been proud of. Then I got the one about how just because I was loaded now didn’t mean I could act like all my friends should want my money.

Years ago, in a conversation where my mother had actually understood me, she’d once given me what I called The Off-Switch: the right to tell her when she was just being a pain in my ass. I wasn’t about to press it this time so much as stamp on it hard. Until my father did it for me.

‘Jesus, Joanne, give it a fucking rest, will you? I’m sick of hearing all this shit. Our son’s rich now. Deal with it. Like let him buy us a new goddamn car so I don’t have to retire and keep fixing that POS in the garage all the time. If you can’t do that then just tell him he’s doing something nice when he spends cash on other people. Not everybody wants to be a goddamn martyr because Fox News told them to.’

Boom. Thank god, there it finally was: the start of the row I’d seen this coming since I first had offered to buy them a car, then a holiday, then a house. I couldn’t even get through with the ‘You did work for this money, Mom. You raised me. Are you going to tell me it was easy?’

Dad could get through though. All he had to do was remind her she’d married a hard-ass who was her equal. Just about.

There was a family meeting. Several. I didn’t attend any of them, because I was sick of my family and had the option of getting on a plane and going back to work. All because of a conversation about a wedding which wasn’t mine.

Obie thought the whole story was funny as hell, of course. What blew me away was that by the time I told him about it, he’d already convinced Heidi’s parents to have some money from him, Heidi and me.

‘Jeez, Obes, when you lost your pudgy centre you actually grew people skills instead?’

‘Har har, Teej. I grew years of memories growing up with parents as poor as hers who rang up that kind of debt out of pride, then we all know what they did to try and fix that little problem. I’m the guy who let a fox pay for his future. I know how to swallow pride. That’s all it took. I said all that. Okay, I said a two hour version of that and I was the most charming RP I could be.’

Well, goddamn. ‘How much money do you need?’

We were in Starbucks near Manhattan Bridge. Obie put a brochure in front of me. ‘She wants this place. We went there last week. She says she only liked it, but I saw her eyes. Then I saw the cheque we’d have to write. That’s why she only liked it. She’s got a pride thing too, Teej; she won’t admit it. That’s why I’m asking. I already love you forever. I don’t know what I can offer to do if you’ll do this. I just promise I’ll do something.

‘You’ve already done more than enough.’ I got my phone out and loaded up my bank app. ‘If it wasn’t for you, I think I’d actually be dead. I’m not kidding. I’d certainly never be who I am now. Besides,’ I showed him my balance. ‘What the fuck am I gonna do with that? My Mom won’t even let me buy her a new dish rack.’

Obie whistled. He genuinely hadn’t known the scale of it. Perhaps he hadn’t wanted to. ‘Rookie of the Year.’

‘You know how much you win for Rookie of the Year? Nothing. That’s a pride thing.’ I transferred him thirty thousand dollars. ‘That was advertising. So was most of the rest. I think I just at least bought a little of my soul back.’ I sent him a text: ‘Nike are negotiating with my agent to make me their public face. It’ll probably happen. I think their kit’s shit. I want Reebok.’

‘Teej!’ Obie said. ‘That’s an explosive text that could ruin your career!’

I shrugged. ‘So leak it when we next have a bust up like that old one in O’Connell’s.’

He laughed.

‘Besides, it wouldn’t wreck my career. I’d just get ‘Unmanageable’ stamped on my head. It’d go away as soon as Golden State get a playoffs title again.’

Now he looked like he’d heard hot news. ‘You’re officially transferring?’

‘Keep up, I signed last week. ESPN broke it. The Peregrines paid a fortune for me.’

‘What’s it actually like, being worth that much money?’

‘You mean what does it feel like?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I don’t feel any different. I’ve been told that’s good.’

‘It probably is.’

‘It is until you sound like an asshole because you’re rich, loads of people have got nothing, and you’re supposedly acting like it’s nothing. Every time I talk somewhere it’s about “public face.” I really like that joke about how editors sometimes miss how someone’s skipped an l in that word. I think of it as pubic face and I just laugh at it all.’

Obie smiled. ‘That’s a me-line.’

‘I think you actually did give me that one when you were drunk one night, rambling on like you do. But let’s face it, you look at one in the mirror every morning.’

‘Fuck you, bandit-face.’

‘Fuck you too, Panda-Pee. Hey, your mom told me you actually did pee your pants on a school trip once. So that’s why that song fired you up so bad that night.’

‘Ugh, she told you about that? She’s such a fucking bore. Hey, you know what? I still go drinking with Conway and Stevenson. And Alvarez. Brett’s managing a book store downtown, Connor’s training as air traffic control, Diego’s a programmer for Apple. All still in NY. I’m going to ask them all to be ushers.’

‘I know, Obes. I do talk to people. The team don’t keep me locked in a Faraday Cage between games.’

‘What’s a Faraday Cage?’

‘You graduated in engineering? With an upper second?’

Obie loved being reminded of how he’d done it, once believing it was impossible that he’d even get a pass. ‘Anyone else would have just gone with “locked in a hotel with their phone on flight mode.” ’

I sent him another text. ‘I fucked Connor once. Several times actually. He was the bottomer every time.’

Obie sniggered, then put his hand to his mouth, then just laughed in the kind of way that turns heads. ‘I knew it! He always denies it.’

‘I told him to.’

‘A lion!’ ‘You’ve actually topped a lion. He admitted you once gave him a hand-job on a hospital bed. Like that was enough to make me shut up.’

Thinking of that memory brought me down from the laughter. I was following a thought-pattern I’d had to train myself to follow now, where I let myself accept that a particular memory was a good one, and that I was allowed to have it, and didn’t have to push it away like it didn’t exist. Actually, that morning was one of my favourites. Obie could tell I was thinking about it, and knew why I’d gone quiet but kept smiling.

That, of course, was when he hit me with it.

‘Will you be my best man, Teej?’

* * *

I’d set a time limit for my slightly pitiful brooding: five minutes. That was it. My allocated time for thinking about how I should have seen a room like this at least two years before Obie and Heidi. Never mind that technically he’d gotten engaged before I had. There wasn’t that much in it. Maybe three days at the most.

Sal was at the hands-on-shoulders stage of being Obie’s uncle this morning. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t get why someone would get so nervous about just saying the ‘I do’ that they’d been gearing up for for three years already. He’d graduated with a grade he never believed he could get, for God’s sake, and he still thought everything in his life was destined to go wrong?

God, I fancied him so hard, still. I wished he actually had done all the exercise to impress me. Looking back at all the time I’d known him, I felt like my track record of falling for jerks fitted all the more perfectly. I loved all his quirks. I wished I could be around him all the time, not just two weeks before sending him off on the honeymoon with the woman I desperately wanted not to realise how jealous I was.

I was going to have to stay sober for this party. Thank God I’d picked the two perfect people to keep me that way. Or shove me into a cab and take no shit if I disobeyed myself. Here they were, right one cue.

‘Hey, TJ.’

Luna-Faye was a perfect five minutes ahead of the hour as usual. She said she’d learned it in the air-force when she’d been a training instructor. How she’d gone from that to being a sports agent was a story she’d drip-fed me whenever we actually met and sat down for a drink in person. She reminded me so much of Tigress from Kung-Fu Panda, right down to the pattern of her stripes, that I always wanted to ask if she’d teach me to fight like that, but alas, her sports obsession was the same as mine: basketball. That’s why she was an agent to at least half a dozen players.

She’d always played well, but she said what she really got off on (her choice of words) was seeing the whole thing at once, reading it, ten guys you had to keep track of at once. She hadn’t made the grade for pilot, but when she took in the speed and chaos of a basketball court, she fancied there were better things than flying a plane. Why hadn’t she gone for coaching? Apparently it had come down to a talk with a career coach before her service ended, and she’d said ‘Andy, just answer me one question: where’s the fucking money?’

Every meeting she had with me, I fancied most of the looks she gave me were really her aiming that question at me, even when we talked about stuff that was seemingly nothing to do with it.

If I had a look that always said something in return, then right now it was saying ‘Your screw-up at the start of all this is still funny.’

‘Hey, big brother. Get this down you.’ Lucy was here now, pressing a Starbucks cup into my hand. What was it Obie always called it? Warm piss in a green and white cup. What was it he’d once said to…

No. Bad idea. Not going there today. That thing about allowing myself to have fond memories could do one.

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘Now, remember, you are not my PA,’ I looked at her, then Luna-Faye. ‘And you are not my bodyguard.’

You’re my anchors. The pair of you.

There were at least a dozen clients Luna-Faye could have been around today, warning vultures off. Her being here made it feel like this was my event. That’s why I’d told her not to come. Until she’d met Obie two months ago, and he’d been one stage short of falling in love with her within five minutes, and invited her independently.

He wasn’t fucking with me. Of course not. Not Obie. That was why I’d included a line about it in the best man speech. Because, of course, he hadn’t picked me for that and practically got on his knees and begged when I said I couldn’t do it, to fuck with me either.

‘You got bricks in your pants yet?’ Luna asked. (She actually hated her full name, and always cut the double part out.) ‘Or are you gonna run out of here faster than you can get back on D when they start to drop?’

‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘I popped a couple of Xanax back at the hotel. Any advice on how to clear the pee test this month?’

‘See,’ Lucy said, ‘this is why I’m picking up the spare invite to sit next to him instead of our older brother.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, knowing I was creating a distraction within several others, but needing it more than anything like Xanax. ‘How is Alfie?’

‘Good. He got his full licence six months ago. They already like him so much he’s probably got a shoe-in to replace Dad if he retires anytime soon. He won’t though. No matter how much Mom tells him she wouldn’t mind if he did.’

‘Nice. Should I talk to him when I get back to Phoenix?’

‘Don’t worry, I’ve got this one.’

I wasn’t entirely clueless about what had happened in our family, but I couldn’t blame her for assuming I might be. Until the Minnesota Foresters had crashed out of the playoffs three weeks ago, I’d been clueless about everything except the game. For so many months I barely kept track of the date. Luna and the team were my calendar, and a number and month never seemed to get mentioned.

‘Rocco proposed to Cynthia yet?’

‘Cynthia’s now Tana. Right species though.’

‘Another otter? Well, I’m shocked. Felix’s leg out of plaster yet?’

‘Next week, they think.’

Felix, in the hell-phase of his teenage already, had secretly taken up skating. Maybe Mom was slipping, because none of the rest of us could have lasted six months before she knew about it. How had she not seen it coming? The Japanese exchange student we’d had in our house was practically a pro-skater at fifteen already, the moves he could pull. I’d never seen anything like it. I’d never gotten to meet him, but I’d seen the footage, and I’d heard the rest on a voice-call: ‘Todd, y’know…’ Felix was scratching behind his head and looking so embarrassed it reminded me of what I’d imagined I’d once looked like when Mom had gone with me to a physical. ‘I think he likes me.’

That had been a pretty long call. A good one. I ended it as perfectly as I could have: ‘Whatever you’re doing to impress, just make sure you wear the safety gear. I know we’re both thinking it. You don’t want to end up like…well, you know what you don’t want to end up like. Especially as you know what it cost.’

Felix, who took everything literally, actually seemed to have learned reading between lines that night. His face said it all. He was going to wear the gear for sure.

Didn’t stop the shattered bone though. But it could have been worse. I spent a good half an hour using that to talk Mom down after it all went to the fan and I got the phone-call asking why the fuck I never told her (she actually did say the F-word. Several times.)

‘Okay, this right here,’ Luna said, ‘this is good. You’re staying loose. This is how you work the room. Remember what I always told you? You’re better at it than you think. You don’t even really have to do it, but do it anyway.’

‘What did I always tell you?’ I said. ‘This is Obie’s day. Take your head out of me being the star for once.’ Coz the fucking money’s not here, Luna. You can get back to that when I actually AM the star of a show again. Just cut me a break today.

‘TJ, come on, we went through this with Obie. He didn’t just ask you to be his best man because you’re his best friend. He did it because his wedding’s going to be something to remember, and you’re going to make that happen as much as he is.’

‘Half the people who are here right now probably don’t know anything about me,’ I said. ‘And the half who haven’t arrived won’t either.’

‘First, you’re probably wrong about that. Second, if you’re right, then by the end of this evening you’re going to have made damn sure they all do.’

‘If you wanted a client who’d actually take your bait and be the self-important asshole, there were probably at least four other events you could have gone to this weekend.’

I knew it was all play. So did Lucy when Luna said ‘Is he like this at home?’

‘Worse,’ Lucy said. ‘Although I’ll give it to him, his advice is probably why our little brother’s not dead.’

‘He told you what I said? What I told him to do?’

‘Yeah, and you were right: he understood it all. He told us a lot when he woke up from the surgery,’ Lucy said. ‘I think that’s one for you and me, without your flea.’

I couldn’t remember where my sister had picked up that term for ‘agent’, but Luna had liked it so much she’d started calling herself that, ever since she’d met Lucy for the first time at one of my games six months ago. My flea. Yeah, she really did make me itch sometimes.

Luna’s phone rang. ‘Chantelle’s on. What do I tell her? Am I signing this off? Everything to your liking?’

‘It’d be a little late if it wasn’t.’ My liking wasn’t what mattered, but it was still an easy answer: this was exactly what Heidi and Obie had wanted. We were finally here. One way or another, I’d delivered what I’d promised: this day was set up, now all we had to do was do it. The rest of it was down to Obie and Heidi. Looking at this room was supposed to make me relax.

That was the last thing I felt. I didn’t know if it was excitement or nerves or both. I was supposed to be capable of handling a feeling like this for a living. Half of keeping your head in a game was dealing with this kind of feeling.

Was this why I missed the shot that would have won us a place in the semi-finals? Because I’d been here and not stopped feeling like this?

I was thinking about that game on my eighteenth birthday again. If I could change time so I’d missed that three-pointer and the trade-off was that I made the one last month, I’d probably still do it. Or at least that was what I’d been waking up thinking ever since. Usually I knew how stupid it was once I’d had coffee. Today though, I needed to shake it. Badly. I couldn’t.

To snap myself back to the room, I looked at Luna and thought about how this had started a year ago, when I’d called and said that trying to plan Obie’s wedding from a hotel in a different state and city every few days was already doing my head in. Just take a cut of my pay, I said, and hire someone for me. If it came to it, go as high as fifty grand. Just get this off my back; it was fucking up my game.

A few days later, she flew to Seattle to catch up with me over coffee. ‘I found someone, and trust me, we want to go with her. Aren’t you from Phoenix originally? Cool, so’s she. Take a look at her web page, I’d know she was worth a cool few million even if Janey my PA didn’t tell me. She did Janey’s wedding, and oh…my…God. You bring her in, your friend’s going to love you forever. Chantelle Vincent. Call her. Never mind that she’s in Phoenix and your friend’s getting married in New York, she’ll go anywhere and she’ll plan anything. If you really want to go to fifty large, it’ll be dynamite; she can make magic happen with half that.’

Christ, it had to be, didn’t it?

‘Yeah, okay, cool, I asked you to get someone and you got someone good. I’ll…get in touch.’

‘Right on.’ She got it, just as she was going to launch into something probably unrelated. ‘Ooooooh shit, I’m an idiot. Fuck, I’m sorry. How did I even…okay, I’m a bad flea.’

‘Hey, don’t go saying that,’ I said. ‘This is good. Chantelle always loved me. She still does. She always loved Obie too. This won’t even take five minutes. It’ll be the best wedding she ever planned for any client ever. She might not even charge me. But let me argue about that. And she knows NYC like it’s still her hometown. She’s probably done a hundred weddings at the Water Club.’

‘Nice cover, TJ. But really. Let me find someone else. If this was cool with you, you’d have called her yourself already.’

‘You wanna know why I didn’t?’

‘Why?’

‘Because I didn’t even remember that’s what she did for a living. I didn’t even think of her.’

Luna believed me. She was looking at me like that was a good thing. For a while, I actually thought it was. I should have called Chantelle, just minutes after Obie first begged me into this. Or I should have told him to call her himself. He’d have pulled something like that on me, and never let it go until I did it.

I was kind to Luna: I still hadn’t admitted that I’d lied. I still thought she probably didn’t know. She was back in the room, holding her phone out to me. ‘She wants to talk to you.’

Okay. I could do this today. Luna had even mouthed ‘Yes!’ at me, like my mother had done so many times. If they’d ever met, I’d have wondered if she’d learned it from her.

‘Chantelle.’

‘Morning, Todd. Let’s skip dumb questions. Just give me your nerves, on a scale of one to ten.’

‘My agent’s acting like I’m about to have a panic attack,’ I said. ‘I’m fine. I’m nowhere near that. You should see Obie. I practically had to force-feed him his breakfast, telling him if he fainted before he got to “I do” then what kind of wedding was it going to be then?’ I’d walked to the doors without really knowing I was doing it. ‘Do you remember me on prom night all those years ago?’

‘Vividly.’

‘I’m about there somewhere.’

‘Was that door shutting you going outside?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Good, you read my mind. Seeing as you’re a sensible boy and you don’t smoke, have you at least got some coffee?’

‘I’m on decaf nowadays. Dietician said so.’

‘Good enough. Okay. Take a nice deep breath.’

She surely knew what effect a line like that often had on me. I did feel good. So good that I did it a couple more times and gave myself a semi. I let myself think about Obie. I let myself think about Oz too. I still wondered if his work placement really had him working Saturdays. What I’d heard in his voice the day he’d turned down the invite Lucy had filled was that he didn’t want anyone taking a picture of us and the world thinking he was my new boyfriend.

I told myself not to be such an asshole. The last time I’d seen Oz was at the funeral; he’d had his arm around me continually handing me tissues because my two handkerchiefs were already wringing wet. He hadn’t cared who’d seen that.

‘Good boy,’ Chantelle said. ‘Feeling better?’

I couldn’t resist. ‘Yes, Dr Vincent.’

‘Cool beans. Luna-Faye showed me your speech; it’s perfect. It’s so perfect I’m sorry I can’t be there, but you know, I think a little bit of distance is still better with this.’

‘Are you still okay with me not having Obie’s parents you planned this?’

‘Yep.’

‘And keeping it as a bombshell in case Angelo’s a complete prick at some point?’

‘Sweetie, you can hit that man any way you like. My advice though, let Obie do it and then you don’t have to worry about “pubic face.” You’ve even got me calling it that now. So, he’s there then? Angelo.’

‘Obie caved. I think it was actually Heidi who talked him into it, not Maria.’

The strange thing was, Obie’s father didn’t live up to anything I’d expected. I’d met him for the first time yesterday, and it was the same as usual: I wondered how any of the stories could be true. That’s how he’d probably got away with most things he’d ever done, until Obie effectively put him in prison with the evidence of the fraud he’d committed against the Vincent family.

‘I’m actually glad,’ Chantelle said. ‘So, are Obie’s divorced parents acting like they’re still married for the sake of this?’

‘I’ve only seen it from a distance but that’s what it looks like.’

‘Perfect, that’ll see them both through this on good behaviour.’

‘Obie got them together last night, and his uncle Sal. He told them if anyone ruins this for him with any of their drama, he’ll stop the band, get a microphone and roast them all like deep fried calamari. Everyone’ll remember the Obie Calabrese show.’

‘Atta boy,’ Chantelle said.

‘Leash,’ I said. ‘Tight.’

Chantelle laughed. ‘I remember all that too.’ She took a deep breath of her own. ‘It’s really good to talk to you again, Todd. You know, I’m always telling you that you can call my personal number, not just the business one. Maybe it’s time I said that actually I’d like you to. I understand if you don’t want to come to the house. I don’t think I’d want to either. I thought about selling the place for a while. Michael talked me out of it. Talking’s good. If you’re in Phoenix sometime, why don’t we get a drink together?’

‘I’d like that,’ I said. This was good: I actually meant that. I felt it. ‘Chantelle, I was wondering…well…nah, never mind. It’s nothing.’

Chantelle laughed, more faintly this time. ‘That sounds like a whole lot of nothing, Todd. Wedding first though. Then we’ll get together and talk about nothing.’

‘Good idea.’

‘I’ve just got to tell you one thing,’ she said. I heard the familiar click of a lighter, and her exhaling through her teeth. ‘I haven’t given up hope. If you ever feel like you have, you can always tell me.’

After buoying me up to go back in the room and make this wedding rock, she was doing this now? It was good, I realised. I needed to go here for a moment or two. ‘I haven’t given up hope,’ I said. ‘Actually, I’m a pretty long way off on giving up on anything. I feel good right now. It’s just…I’m a little bit more realistic about what I hope for. Right now, I’m…’

Oh damn.

Finish your thought.

‘I’m hoping for a great wedding,’ I said.

‘Go make it happen,’ she said. ‘I love you, Todd Aldrington. Don’t forget that. See you soon.’ She rang off.

Yeah, I thought. I know. But the great wedding you’d hoped for’s never happening now.

Forget all that. This one right here IS happening. Right now.

Follow this link to Chapter 1 Post 2

flag
Comments (3)
user avatar
User #203481 - 10 Dec 19 11:21
Dammit... I know myself. I'm not reading this until the first draft is complete. I read the preface and I know better - for my own good I'm going to have to wait until I can binge the whole thing at once. Also, 3 years from the end of WC? That's quite a jump. Life has been stupidly hectic for me since I finished that, so maybe I should reread it...
user avatar
User #734962 - 4 Nov 19 22:38
Oh God... I thought I was prepared for this, but I definitely wasn't. I think the term "roller-coaster" is a severe understatement.
user avatar
toddaldrington - 4 Nov 19 23:05
Now I'm even more certain that I'm doing my job right!
Happy November Everyone! (Update) 2019-11-02T19:52:29+00:00

So, I’ve left California Otters on a cliffhanger for the moment, and started writing Gone Day Part 1 for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). On Day 2, I’m over 2000 words ahead, with my count at 5,368.

I hope to have a first chapter ready to post next week. It’s going well. Today’s wordcount was largely me editing, adding and drawing out ideas after the massive brain-dump I did last night to kick things off. I’ve never started a book with this sort of scene before (I’m keeping this spoiler free for those of you yet to read White Christmas) and the amount of re-ordering I’ve had to do with a scene this big and complex is already twisting my brain a little.

However, and this is a big however: I’ve got a real feeling about this project. Let me elaborate.

One of the favourite author interview questions is ‘Which out of all your books is your favourite?’ Out of everything I’ve published so far, I’m going with with a real-name book on this one: Ghost of the Navigator. If any of you have read it, you'll know what a wild ride it is. Let’s cut the story short, and just say that back when I wrote that one, severe depression aside, I had that buzz where I knew that if I could nail this book, it would be my finest achievement to date as a writer. I nailed it, and then some. When I look back on that book, I see an extraordinary achievement by my own criteria. Never mind whether anyone else thinks it’s any good, it was enough that I wrote it, and that I surpassed what I’d thought it could be.

That’s the feeling I’ve got about Gone Day. I’ve not felt like this about a writing project for about three years. Out on the Highway probably scores a close second to GotN, but even that one didn't give me the tingle I've got about Gone Day. I started writing it last night, and oh my God. It was just there. Everything I’d hoped would come out of my head and just write itself was there, while I sat in a café in Ikea sucking down coffee and listening to Spotify. I had another one of those moments where a playlist just landed the perfect song at the perfect time, for my mood and the mood on the page. I’m now completely in love with ‘Edge of Seventeen’ by Stevie Nicks. It’s great to be back in that zone.

Of course, by talking about this, I’m really raising reader expectations, and thinking ‘What if I’m keyed up for what’s going to turn out to just be complete dreck?’ But that’s the writer’s insecurities for you.

It’s at least nice to think that I’m effectively being paid to do this now, because you guys are here on my Patreon ready to receive the ramblings of my mind while I do a first draft. With Ghost, it was like that acronym Obie teaches Todd in White Christmas: YOYO – You’re On Your Own. I’m not anymore. I look at this whole thing, and realise how far I’ve come. It’s a nice thought.

Not to mention I’ve come up with some neat ideas that will really fuck with the reader’s predictions and emotions on this one. The title alone is probably enough. Believe me, we’re going on a rollercoaster.

A question for you guys then: where are you up to with all the work I’ve posted on here? Now that I have more than just a handful of patrons, I feel like I’ve lost my handle on who’s gotten how far. I’m going to throw this one out there, not out of expectation that you guys read my stuff ASAP to catch up, but just to get an idea of who might be expecting what. I already established a couple of weeks ago that my current work-rate is good for most of you, and not saturating you in stuff you don’t get time to read, but I’m interested in who’s still further back on the timeline, just so I don’t accidently spoil stuff or get too far ahead of myself.

I’ve now got a week of vacation from my day job to look forward to, which I’m dedicating to writing and chilling out, reading other peoples’ books and watching some TV to inspire me (my hero Stephen King can fuck off on this one: I’m not blowing up my TV, as he advises in On Writing – my TV keeps me going in all sorts of ways.) After all, Amazon just released the final series of Mr Robot, and I’ve still got a whole backlog of ‘want to watch’ films to catch up on, and music to geek out over, and guitars to play, and all my other hobbies. It’s like they all really just feed into one big thing: keeping the books coming.

I’ll share this for the first time as well: when I’m done with Todd and Colton, I already have the makings of a new, completely unrelated furry book to try out. Rest assured, I’m not drying up any time soon.

-T.

flag
Comments (2)
user avatar
User #4302195 - 2 Nov 19 20:35
Personally, I'm fully caught up :P I'm happy to hear that you're excited for Gone Day, makes me more eager to see what happens!
user avatar
User #734962 - 2 Nov 19 21:56
So far I've read everything up to the last two parts of "Cooking Lesson", and I have yet to start "California Otters." I can't praise white Christmas enough, however. I have never been so absolutely engrossed in two characters before, and it excites me so much that their story is continuing. So happy to be able to support your passion!
Cover Reveal for Akio's House
Cover Reveal for Akio's Housemore_vert
2019-10-27T19:26:56+00:00
Post file flag
Cover Reveal for Akio's House 2019-10-27T19:26:56+00:00close

Here it is! Another awesome cover from John Nunnemacher at Coonerarts!

So, to business - I'm just dying to put the pre-order for this book up this evening, but I'm going to cool the jets because I know that's really not a good idea - I've had a few Sunday evening drinks already and I need to write a blurb for it. I'm going to at least have a shot at drafting it before I go and binge-watch Bojack Horsemen season 6 (my plan before my iPhone pinged me the email saying the cover was in) but I think it's best I sleep on it.

Official release date: I'm going to go for Tuesday December 10th. The book goes to my editor Emily on November 9th, and she'll usually turn it around in about 7-10 days, so that will give me chance to code the ebook in HTML, do the PDF for the paperback format and drum up a little social media publicity.

Oh yeah, and while putting the finishing touches on this book, I noticed one line which, knowing where this series has ended up as I'm about to write the final book, seems hella loaded with foreshadowing, and I know at the time of writing I never intended for that. It will be interesting to see if any of you correctly guess it if you do another read of this once I send you all out the free copy.

-T.


Media (1)


cover-akioshouse-screen.jpg (571.1KiB)

Comments (2)
user avatar
User #734962 - 27 Oct 19 21:14
Literally just finished this an hour ago and I'm reeling from the last few chapters. Such an amazing story, and a fitting cover if I may say so. And season 6 of Bojack Horseman is also amazing.
user avatar
User #17156780 - 27 Oct 19 21:10
That looks amazing! they always make you the best covers. i look forward to this books release
'System Reset' - This week's update + a question for all of you 2019-10-21T16:12:37+00:00

This week's update has a title because of last night. This is a story you can all laugh at. Surprisingly enough, so am I.

A week ago I let my laptop do the latest Windows update. It took ages. Every since it did it, the system just hadn't been quite right. Usable, but slow and clicking on stuff wasn't working. Some screens seemed to go into auto-scroll when I hadn't selected it. The title screen where I put my password in didn't let me mouse click to do it, so I had to hit enter. At that stage it was just annoying.

At that stage, I also wondered if it was the mouse running out of battery, but thought I'd let it run down completely if it was.

Last night, the whole thing just went haywire. Even though I run an anti-virus program, a firewall and Windows Defender to boot, I wondered if something had gotten in that had been progressively ripping the heart out of my computer for the last week. I tried to run a full scan and it was just so slow I was certain it was stuck.

Fuck it, I thought. Full system reset time.

Everything was backed up to Cloud and last week I'd also emailed myself a copy of all my writing from the last five years, just to make a backup of a backup.

I managed to coax the machine through the steps. It took about twenty minutes of constant repeat clicking to get it to the final warning 'Are You Sure?' thing.

That's when I remembered (bear in mind I'd had a few drinks because I'd been on duty at work all weekend and was looking forward to Monday off) that I'd never checked it wasn't just the mouse not responding rather than the system. That's when I changed the mouse battery. Then instead of wiping the whole comp I did a hard-reset and booted back up.

The whole system was still completely fucked. Another twenty minutes, back to the 'Are You Sure?' screen, and this time I clicked yes, thinking 'FUCK yes because this had better work or the thing's going....back to the store tomorrow' (I bought it in February; thank god for the manufacturer's guarantee meaning that I actually DID have something to lose if I threw the thing out of the window.)

It was midnight. I'd done no writing at all thanks to this happening. I nuked the system, and decided to put my head down, thinking it probably would take hours to do, as promised.

I woke up an hour later, and somehow it had already gotten back to the 'Ready' screen I first saw eight months ago. I should have just put the lid down. Instead, I got up, went downstairs and got milk and banana bread, and decided to get as far as I could with starting over. An hour later, I had my furry desktop background back, MS Office installed, and my books downloaded from the cloud. Good enough. I turned off and went to bed.

Woke up at 8AM. Good enough sleep but I was pissed off still - my plan had been to go to bed at normal hours, wake up at work-o'clock even though I was on day off, get breakfast and be writing by 7AM. All writers have the routines they like best, and that's mine. I'm an early bird. Instead, I was having to do the rest of my reset, because I couldn't concentrate on writing a story until my house was in order.

And the system still had the same problems. This just couldn't be fucking happening. Everything had gone well for the first hour last night. Even with virtually NOTHING on there to take up RAM or disk space, the thing was running like an asthmatic tortoise. Okay. Fine. At least I was going to get a new computer today.

For a moment, I even wondered if I should look at how much money I stood to make off Amazon and Patreon combined if all went well for another few months, and consider combining the refund I was going to get with another £500 on my credit card and buying the iMac I've been wanting all year. I could even write it off as a business expense when I do my tax return.

And then it somehow hit me. What if it wasn't the computer that was broken, but the mouse? I'd tried the battery change. Somehow I'd never thought about all the times the thing got dropped in coffee shops or while packing a weekend bag. Why had I simply never thought to disconnect it completely and try using the touch-pad?

As soon as I did that, guess what happened.

I didn't buy an iMac this afternoon. I bought a new mouse. For £20. I paid cash.

And the funny thing was, I actually didn't feel like the dumbest fuck on the planet about it all. Doing a complete reset on a cluttered system has a way of de-cluttering my head, I've discovered.

Yes, I'm the muppet who reset his entire computer because of a faulty mouse, but the fact is, it had been running slowly for weeks. There was a bunch of annoying stuff that Microsoft added every time Windows updated that just wouldn't seem to let me uninstall it no matter what I did.

And let's get this rant over with: just FUCK Macafee Antivirus. I don't think even a baby screams as much as that software. You don't update it every five minutes, you get the land of pop-ups telling you 'Go sit on the naughty step until you feel like updating'. You disable it and just run it manually once a week? You still get the popups, telling you that you practically deserve a lynch mob descending on you for choosing not to have a PC so sanitised you might as well have cleaned it in a bucket of bleach. You run it as normal? This time the tortoise that your laptop becomes has got asthma and Lou Gherig's disease.

So no, I'm not re-installing Macafee even though I've got another four months of free use left. I had the same experience with it five years ago when I bought my last laptop, and I only took the free copy this time because the poor kid in the store clearly had to 'sell' it to me to tick boxes on his performance review (been there myself; sympathy cost me nothing...but why the fuck didn't I just bin it?)

But there we go, a bunch of housekeeping that got sort-of forced on me but I'm glad I did it, and my new mouse actually feels nicer in my hand. (That's my third one in two years, and I bought a Rapoo this time, because my brand loyalty to Logitech has also gone 'Bye bye bye!')

So, let's get to an update. I missed my Ideal Write-in this morning, and this afternoon I can't get in the mood. So I'm typing this instead, and then I'm gonna go do my laundry, have dinner, get on the wine again, and read someone else's book.

Because trying to deliver the rest of Cali Otters in 10 days is a fool's mission. By my estimation, I need about another 30,000 words to finish it. I can do that in 10 days easily when I've got a fast-burner story on the go. (Out on the Highway's first draft was 85K in 3 weeks) Cali Otters in NOT a fast-burner, and even though I've enjoyed my accelerated work-rate for these last few weeks after setting myself a deadline, I'm kind of heading for burn-out if I force myself to keep working like this.

The system reset was the time-out I needed. You guys don't want me burnt out, and I certainly don't want it. Going into NaNoWriMo in November already feeling knackered is NOT a good idea, especially as I'm choosing to write the most important book of the Todd and Colton series so far (IE the final book, and the ending IS always more important than the start once you have fans behind you).

So the plan is the same, except you won't get the ending of Cali Otters by the end of October. I'm going to finish it in November or maybe closer to December, depending on how well I get on with Gone Day once I go for the 50K November challenge. You'll at least get within 2-3 chapters of CA's ending by the 31st, because I AM going to pick it up again tomorrow at 7AM-ish. I'll just go back to the workrate I promised when you signed up - usually a chapter per week of new material, sometimes more if it happens.

Which brings me to the question I talked about in the title: is this a good posting rate for you guys? Please do comment, as it helps me revise the plan if need be. Patreon has been an experiment since I launched it, and looking at what other authors do I've sometimes thought that $10 a month for my current workrate is a little steep, and yet people seem prepared to pay it and nobody's ever complained I don't write enough. I've never asked until now, but a little market research never hurt.

I feel like if I had to guess, then a weekly update would suit most people because I know full well that my stories are not the only thing in your lives. You read stuff by other people, watch netflix, do family stuff, go to work, all the usual, and the reverse-concern I sometimes have during really productive times is 'Am I flooding people with so much so fast that they're gonna un-pledge because they can't keep up?' I've done that myself even with authors I really like - I get so behind with a series that I just let it slip away from me and pick something else up, and it's not because I don't get time to read, it that some authors are just workaholics, and more so since self publishing came along and we started running our own businesses.

Help me out here. Share some perspective/thoughts.

This update's gotten too long. Moral of the story....err....don't do what I just did? Or maybe a mistake can actually be your best friend sometimes.


flag
Comments (4)
user avatar
User #24396066 - 21 Oct 19 16:44
For your posting rate, it's at a good pace. It keeps me interested and gives me something to look forward to each week.
user avatar
User #4302195 - 21 Oct 19 16:18
I can completely relate on the computer front, they can be rough to work with sometimes :p As far as your posting rate goes, I'm rather happy about it. You post at a good rate and it sounds as though you use your free time to do it so you've found a good balance in your own life for it.
user avatar
toddaldrington - 21 Oct 19 16:24
Yeah, technically I do all of this stuff in my free time, and since I started making fair money off Patreon and royalties combined I've started to get that 'Do I work hard enough for what I'm getting?' voice. I probably should just ignore it and think 'If I wasn't worth it then people wouldn't subscribe/buy the books.'
user avatar
User #4302195 - 21 Oct 19 16:27
I think that's a smart way of looking at it. I mean, I'm here because I enjoy your stories quite a bit! You're basically my only subscription on Patreon. But if you're enjoying making them and other people are willing to spend money on it then that really comes down to them. Personally I'd love to be where you are now :P Maybe one day~
Sketch reveal for Akio's House cover + Update
Sketch reveal for Akio's House cover + Updatemore_vert
2019-10-15T18:01:12+00:00
Post file flag
Sketch reveal for Akio's House cover + Update 2019-10-15T18:01:12+00:00close

Pretty cool, huh? John gave me four potential designs as very rough sketches, and this is the one I picked. He’s currently getting the painting and shading done, and as soon as the finished thing is in, the book goes on pre-order for a December release.


Update

I thought I'd better make a post today as it's been 7 days since my last chapter post. I'd like to be able to post a new one but I just haven't quite got there this week. The good news is that I should have it by the end of tomorrow I hope. If you’re up to date with California Otters you’ll know I’ve just killed a major cast member off but you don’t know how yet, just that they’re dead…stay tuned, I plan to write a LOT with my day off tomorrow, just because I can.

An explanation then: my Hell Week at work is over! The second week in October is always like this in my day job, because that’s when we make 3000 liters of cider and have a festival at the end to celebrate it…which I have to help run, and I’m also in charge of the cider making end and running that team. Yesterday we packed the festival down and dealt with the aftermath.

While all this chaos was going on (basically 9 days straight of working 10-11 hour days) I managed to write a few hundred words of the next chapter down, and somewhere amongst all that I managed to sell my car and buy a new one that got delivered this afternoon. And I’m now so fucking tired I don’t dare go out and enjoy it on the road this evening, so that can wait until tomorrow and I’m going for a drink instead.

-T.


Media (1)


cover-Akioshouse-ruff02.png (216.0KiB)

The importance of nostalgia 2019-09-25T17:26:12+00:00

A few months ago, while going through my parents’ loft, I found a camping tent I hadn’t used for over twenty years.

I remembered really wanting to go camping as a kid, but my family didn’t have a tent. So deep was my longing that I saved my pocket money (‘allowance’) for week after week to buy the cheapest one in my local store. On the day before my 11th birthday, in June 1994, I paid £22 for the tent I’d just dug out of a corner.

At age 36, I’m working as a ranger for a pretty well known organisation, and we’re about to have a regional conference with 250 of us attending, involving two days camping. Was I dusting that tent off and taking it out again? Damn right I was! I could only hope it hadn’t been nibbled by mice.

Or still had some pathogens lingering in it. The last time this tent saw active service was on a cycling trip to the north of France in 1995. Quite a few kids got sick on that trip. Not me. I was a fitness machine. (Okay I’ll admit it, it didn’t last: whatever the virus was that went around, that motherfucker got me about a week after I got back. I was still that age that my mom was holding a bucket for me to puke into, and she’d put me in her bed, possibly so she only had to descend one flight of stairs with that bucket instead of two.)

It was a sunny day when I pitched the tent for the first time in 24 years. (Yeah, go on, make the joke.) I figured it might need re-proofing, but what was the point when there was no rain forecast all week? When I put it up, I found sweet wrappers shoved inside the inside pocket covered in French writing. The first thing I got was an unsurprising image of 12 year old me lying in there late at night snarfing down these fruit flavoured chewies. I actually did remember that the cherry one had been my favourite. The tent still smelt the same. There was even a little dead grass on the inside of it that had made it back all the way from France.

The second thing I got was the realisation that 12 year old me had so neatly wrapped and packed this at the end of that trip and made it so easy for 36-me to put up. Was I really this meticulous even back then? I’ve had it said about me that I can organise a trip well, and do an organised pack, and here I was thanking myself for my own organisation twenty four years later.

I didn’t feel old. I felt happy. And maybe there was a little bit of ‘I was destined to end up in an outdoor line of work from an early age’ mixed in there as well.

How does this apply to everything you guys on here know me for? When I try to connect it, here’s the first thought that comes through: I could never have written about two eighteen year old gay guys back when I actually was eighteen. At least, not like I do now. I’m not sure I truly knew I wasn’t straight until my mid twenties, even thought I’d had all the signs. Everything that goes into these stories now has the benefit of hindsight. Getting older does have its advantages.

Here’s the second thought: writing stories is actually like a diary, even if it’s directly me writing about me. Let’s fast-forward another 24 years: I’ll be 60. Will reading Chasing Colton’s Tail again at that age have a similar sort of nostalgia to unwrapping at 36 a tent that 12 year old me once packed? It’s a bit of an mismatched comparison, I know, but I think you get what I mean: the power of connecting to the past will be there, albeit in a different sort of way.

Third thought: I’m not really bothered about imagining time like that. It feels like it went by so fast, when I think about that camping trip in France and then I only have to open my eyes and I’m on the North Devon Coast and I’ve got a salaried job and I’m old enough to go hit the bar like everyone else in the campsite is doing. It really didn’t go by that fast. A hell of a lot went into those 24 years, and when I read my own writing, I’m reminded of a great deal of it.

Fourth thought: and this is perhaps the one that will grab your interest the most: fast-forward 24 years with Todd and Colton. They’ll both be 32, not so far from where I am now. What are they doing? Are they still together? How are they different from those characters you already know?

Nope, not gonna tell you! Because to be honest, it’s just like my own life: I don’t know yet, and whatever I’m imagining will probably be nothing like what ends up happening.

flag
Away for this week 2019-09-15T17:57:24+00:00

It's been a productive weekend, and I've left another chapter of Cali Otters for y'all, but it's going to be a week until I get any more content up. I'm going to a 3 day conference for work this week (which in my day job means camping out in the sticks with not so much as smartphone reception, let alone functioning internet) and I won't be taking my laptop. As soon as I get back from that it's my turn for weekend duty and there's no chance of skiving off in my office to sneakily write another chapter because I've got events on all weekend. Realistically it's going to be Monday-week before I get chance to write again.

Still, that will either give you guys chance to catch up or you can just enjoy someone else's content this week. Creators are always told they need to keep the stuff coming so fans don't get bored, but short breaks do help to make sure that the reverse doesn't happen (I've heard many popular writers talk about how even the most dedicated fans can become tired of their heroes sometimes because there's just too much stuff to keep up with...it does happen!)

Anyway, latest news on the Book 3 release timeline is that John has come back to me about the cover and if things go to plan we should have it wrapped up by the end of October. I've booked a slot with Emily again to get the book edited in early November, and seeing as this is book number 8 and she's never let me down yet, I'm basically willing to set up a pre-order for a December release as soon as I get the cover.

-T.

flag
Livestream this evening at 7PM BST 2019-09-14T08:44:43+00:00

Hi everyone,

It's the weekend! Been working on Cali Otters this morning, and thought this evening I'd try something new: I'm going to livestream myself on my twitter/periscope feed @athleteraccoon reading the first chapter of Chasing Colton's Tail. Might even do the second if there's time!

Hope to see some of you there.

flag
Livestream today at 4PM BST 2019-09-08T12:40:37+00:00

Hi everyone,

If you get this in time, I'm doing a Twitter stream on @athleteraccoon this afternoon at 4PM my time (England). Topics will be the latest release, the upcoming release of Book 3, and then 'Clothes characters wear.'

If you miss it and you're curious, I leave stream videos up afterwards.

-T.

flag
Destroyer (Part 1) 2019-08-31T10:56:11+00:00

Author's Intro


Welcome to the first story to be posted at the $5 tier (first post at $2 as a teaser). This is a spin-off from ideas that started in White Christmas, but what I'm going for is a story where you can easily piece together enough about who's who and the backstory to follow it. I'm going to have to do a little editing for clarity on the material I've already written, but I think this little teaser is clear enough.

For those who have read everything that's gone before, the timescale of this one is that it takes place during Todd and Colton's 2nd Christmas in New York (although they're not in this story much). Just to orientate you, this 2nd Christmas is the one that forms the part of White Christmas's 'Part II', where the backstory with Vera and the Todd-Obie fall-out happens. Although it's not really detailed in White Christmas, after the last chapter of Part II, Todd goes back to Phoenix to spend Christmas with his family, and Colton stays in New York.

Following on from the end of the Todd-Obie part of that story, Destroyer is what Obie gets up to during that Christmas.

One thing I've had to change in the details already: in White Christmas, Obie has a certain life-changing decision during the 3rd Christmas in New York (the one that forms Part I and III of WC) During the writing of this, I decided that for dramatic purposes, I should make that happen to him during the 2nd Christmas instead. You'll know what I mean when you get there.


Enjoy, -T.


* * *

Chapter One

Obie

Knocking on Mom’s door on Christmas eve was going to be a mistake, but it was about time I made it anyway. Walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator that looked like I’d get stuck in it, I added ‘How can you afford to live in Brooklyn?’ to the list of questions I just wasn’t going to ask. The place wasn’t the Ritz but it wasn’t a crack den. She was living okay. No questions needed.

She could barely afford to raise me in the Bronx though. Now with Dad in prison and her lucky not to be, her job running the kitchen wouldn’t be enough for this, even if it was a place called Caravaggio’s and man could she still cook. What had she done, actually managed to hide some of Dad’s fraud money as well as convince a judge she knew nothing about it? Who else was she hiding that sort of thing for?

I’d asked questions that started fights all my life. It wasn’t always on purpose, but that was me. Not today though. Today just had to be civil. That was all either of us needed. I’d even bought her a blue and white vase for Christmas, and some flowers to go in it. If she wanted to think they were really an apology, I was just going to have to let her.

If she ever opened the door. I was knocking for a third time already.

‘Alright, alright! Lo giuro! Why don’t you just leave it on the doorstep?’

‘Because I’m not a delivery boy,’ I said. ‘Like you always told me I’d be if I didn’t stay in school.’

That shut her up already. It would probably be the last time today. The door slowly opened. The smile she had on was only mildly venomous, but it was enough. I wasn’t a delivery boy, but I could have been the snot-nosed kid from her kitchen who she caught trying to cook something when he should have been washing pans.

‘Well, well, well!’ she said. ‘A little red panderino get lonely at Christmas with no girlfriend this year?’

Giving her the middle finger would have done nothing. Giving her my ring finger, complete with ring? That wiped the gloating grin off her face.

‘Guess again. Now I’ve got two housemates and a fiancée who won’t shut up with the ‘You should talk to your Mamá’ thing. So that’s what I wanna do. I don’t want a fight with you. I don’t even want an argument. You gonna let me in?’ I nodded at the box. ‘I bought you a present.’

I’d told Todd that after two and half years of constantly saying she wanted to talk, Mamá would probably just slam the door in my face. For a moment, I’m pretty sure she was thinking of it. She put her hands on her hips. ‘Who are you engaged to this time?’

‘There wasn’t a last time,’ I said. ‘Rosanna said no, remember?’

‘So this one is having your cub?’

‘Mom, can we just not do this shit today?’ Great. I wanted to throw the vase against the wall already. ‘Heidi’s a red panda. Yes, she Italian. No, she’s not pregnant. No, you’re not meeting her until we can talk to each other without bringing a hurricane down. Can you do that today or am I going back to Sal’s and letting you eat Christmas dinner alone tomorrow?’

‘What do I do for a living, you stupid boy? I’m working tomorrow.’

‘No you’re not. I already called Caravaggio’s and asked if I could surprise you on your shift with these.’ I tipped my head to the flowers and package again. ‘The boss told me you were off. And that I should really go see you. So what’s up, Mom? Are you sick? Depressed?’

‘Neither.’

‘Just lonely, then. Come on, let me in. Let’s just try an hour. Or I could go visit Dad. I bet he could even find a way to slam a prison cell door in my face.’

Mamá rolled her eyes and sighed through her teeth as she stepped aside, letting me through the doorway. ‘I know you’re not going to do that. But good try.’

flag
Introduction of a $5 tier + News 2019-08-18T18:37:18+00:00

Hi Everyone,

After asking a couple of you for advice about the tiers here and getting some good suggestions, I’ve had a think and decided to introduce a $5 tier. Before I do it, I’ll run it past all of you so you can tell me what you think.

The idea behind it is to give people who have bought and read the ebooks or paperbacks ‘deleted scenes’ from them, without making them sign up at the $10 tier to get entire novels in advance, when many seem to prefer to wait until the next ebook release. $5 will also be for novellas and short stories as well as deleted scenes, so anything around 25,000 words or below will now go in $5.

As a guideline, Chasing Colton was 55,000, OotH was 85,000, Akio’s House 55,000, and White Christmas a massive 140,000 that really needs editing down a little bit.

Return to New York was around 25,000 words, but just to clarify, that one’s soon getting released in the same ebook as Akio’s House, so I’m going to keep it in the $10 tier rather than transfer it to $5.

The $10 will remain what it is: you get access to every post, and the $15 tier is a tip jar. $2 will stay the same as well – the first post of every new story, the Patreon-exclusive blog-style posts, news and updates.

Now, part of the reason for doing this is how I’m expecting the next three or four months to pan out. I said I was going to write Gone Day next, the final book in the Todd and Colton series, and then an idea hit me: I’m going to use it to do National Novel Writing Month this year.

‘NaNoWriMo’ is a writing event that happens worldwide where the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I was going to take a break from it this year, and then I remembered I’ve got a winners certificate for the last two years, so I’m on a hat-trick, and I do kind of want it. Gone Day is a nice easy way to get there (in contrast to last years entry, the final book in my real-name series, which was a complete mind-ripper, and nearly drove me to despair.)

The catch is that this event takes place in November. If it was more than 2 and a quarter months away, I probably wouldn’t wait and just get on with it. But so that I don’t leave you guys with no material, for a start I now have those 2.25 months to deliver the rest of Cali Otters, and the other shorter stuff I have in my head goes on the side, in the new $5 tier.

To win NaNoWriMo, you basically have to average 1,667 words per day for 30 days. So expect a shitload of material from me in November. I wonder if I can win in under 20 days this time, my record I think is 18 days back in 2014.

There’s one teaser I can’t resist, as far as Gone Day goes. I’ve thought long and hard about how/whether or not to proceed with a certain slight thread I discovered and then left ambiguously open after White Christmas, and the more I think about it, the more I like where it goes: Charlie Fairbrother, the labrador-retriever, is going to have a key role in this story. I’ll say nothing more for now, except that I think I know what the logical first guess is as to why he’s going to be significant, and I can’t wait to do something different!

-T.

flag
Comments (2)
user avatar
toddaldrington - 28 Aug 19 18:29
Impossible to answer that without a spoiler, so I'll ask another question to throw the scent off (possibly): what makes you so sure you know who's in that scene?
user avatar
User #203481 - 28 Aug 19 18:22
Hmmm... if I remember correctly, you've said that the good Dr has an English accent. But why would he be in Toyko? ;)
Why I needed the city back 2019-08-17T21:43:57+00:00

Why I needed the city back

Here’s a post I’m going to write as myself, rather than try and capture it through Todd, Colton or Obie.

I suppose in a way, perhaps, I already have. Looking at tonight’s picture makes me all the more convinced that writing White Christmas and getting a yearning for city life again were connected all along. Which one drove the other? It’s hard to say, but one thing was for sure: when I got back from Christmas break at my parents house to the place out in the sticks where I was renting a room, I had one clear thought in my head: I was not doing another winter here. Change was needed.

Moving there wasn’t a mistake exactly. It was a decent enough couple of years, and hell, I did a lot of writing in that room, including all the stuff you’ve read on here, and the two published furry ebooks. That’s got to be worth something. Yet something was missing.

Everything about Todd and Colton’s life in New York was a mirror for how I’ve enjoyed living in cities since I was 19 and left home (only to go back again for a few years in the desperation of my mid to late twenties, but that’s another story), and yet something’s drawn me back to the country in equal measure. My problem was, I had it the wrong way round. I had a job in the outdoors and a house just 3 miles from it. The city was a drive away, and my escape from the country. What I really wanted, and why I moved last month, was the reverse: my job was the escape from the city, but life in general was just meant to be based there.

I like the glitz of city life, the difference between the hustle-bustle of the daytime and the emptier streets in the evening but still with the night life all around them. I like the fancy cars and the old, beat up ones. I like the smell of the place, the atmosphere of bars and restaurants, the graffiti of subways and skate parks, the way lights from windows seem inviting and traffic lights and shop signs provide the colour. I like how the fancy sides of city life are ironically only around the corner from poverty, or people struggling to keep their head above water and just about managing, and I’ve lived in both worlds in just about equal measure – I’ve been poor and I’ve been comfortable; I’ve been depressed as fuck and I’ve loved everything and felt a massive connection to the world; I’ve been lonely and I’ve had company and companionship. Walking through a city at night has a way of reminding me of everything all at once.

I’m on this vibe right now because today’s been kind of nice – the first time in quite a while where after the usual Parkrun, I’ve had no commitments at all on a Saturday. I wished my favourite guitar player a happy birthday on both my Twitter feeds, and knew that I’m actually not in the habit of remembering my heroes’ birthdays at all, but remembered his because he shared it with my late grandmother, who would have been 98 today if she were still with us. She passed nine years ago at 89. She had some odd views of the world, and her history with family was a little complex, but she was basically a nice lady and she cared about me, and I still miss her. I’ll spare the details, but I do remember one occasion where I was struggling with life in general, and in one conversation she was the one who said the only right thing to me that anyone could have come up with. I hadn’t expected it at all. And it was a phone call, and I don’t think she realised how drunk I was, and I can laugh about it now even though at the time my head was pretty fucked up. Long story short, I felt the need to celebrate her life in some way today. Like maybe spoil myself a little while I still had my own. (After all, I do remember her giving me and my cousin money one Christmas eve and telling us to go out and enjoy ourselves, knowing full well we were going to drink it.)

So I wanted to enjoy the city, and how I could now walk to the cinema or a bar instead of driving to it and being stuck with sobriety all evening. I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – a thoroughly enjoyable movie, and not quite what I’d have expected from a Tarantino flick even though it was recognisably his, and it hit right on my love of American culture and the kind of nostalgia that goes with it. I hit the slightly expensive sushi bar around the corner afterwards, wanting a little class and deciding that today I didn’t give a fuck about money. I’m not exactly short of it these days, but having been poor once has taught me how to be tight and manage a strict budget, and this evening I’m glad I let that go. My new pad is a good couple of miles from the city centre, and I hadn’t seen that walk in the dark until this evening. It was a little bit nerve-edgy even though I’ve walked through far less safe places with a far less sober head, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next time perhaps I need a date on an evening like this. Its about time I felt like I was living again. I read an article recently about someone who had run away from an oppressive home and was seeking advice on what they were supposed to do with their freedom, and the best advice they got was one response that said ‘Discover who “you” actually is. Let yourself do things like go out and go on dates.’ It was strange, I’ve never had anyone forbid me from living how I want to, except perhaps myself, thanks to my obsession with sorting certain other things in my life before I’d let myself start actually living it. In the last 3 weeks, I’ve started to realise I’ve actually achieved most of what I was going for. Now perhaps it’s time to relax my own rules a little and say ‘You can do this now!’

The woman in that article was a good 18 years younger than me, but I don’t think anyone actually stops discovering who ‘you’ is, no matter how old they are, or how many answers they already have for that question. Being within walking distance of what feels like endless possibility right now (and the kind I definitely gave Todd and Colton because I felt desperate for it again myself) has a way of reminding me of that too.

Forgive me the slightly rambling diary entry. It’s a bit like Akio says to Deke in that video scene: ‘It’s a moment in time.’

-T.

flag
Comments (5)
user avatar
User #203481 - 28 Aug 19 18:26
Questions are fine - I've been driving with a CDL for over 10 years, so I've got a decent feel for it. :) As for Phoenix, I think in Interstates, and it's I10 and I17 that go through there.
user avatar
toddaldrington - 26 Aug 19 12:27
I'm not big on the dating scene but from the few I've had, the best advice I can give you is 'Just turn up.' I find the most nervous part of it is the waiting to see what the person's like, and once they get there too it becomes a lot more relaxed and just like talking to anyone new. You might find you're actually pretty good at talking to people and all that stops you is the voice in your head that tells you the reverse. I kind of envy you your job as it probably means you get out all over the country (is it USA for you) and have loads of places you could potentially meet people if you want to. I think I'm sounding like a dating advice aunt kind of newspaper column now, but I'll give one more piece of advice: try going on Ferzu.com if you haven't already. The last person I had a coffee-date with was a fur who I met on there, and it was kind of fun. It was when I was first setting up this page, and he even signed up for a couple of months just to help me out!
user avatar
User #203481 - 26 Aug 19 13:30
Ferzu, huh? I might look that up. And yes, I'm a US trucker. Been a lot of places, and have learned to hate drivers everywhere. ;) Thanks for the advice, it's nice to hear.
user avatar
User #203481 - 26 Aug 19 10:56
I just read this post. I had a really tough day today, not sure exactly why, but I've been rather down. I think I've pegged it to being lonely, though I don't really feel that much anymore. As a truck driver, I'm very used to being alone, and i usually prefer it. But having read all of these stories recently, I'm kind of feeling exactly what you're describing above - I'm starting to think I should let myself actually live a little. I've been grinding towards a major goal for several years, and there is definitely some burnout going on, but I can't just quit now. That said, today is one of the (thankfully) infrequent days that I start wanting someone to share my life with. I never made time for a wife and/or family... now I find myself craving what Todd and Colton have. My problem is that dating is hard...I have no ideal how. But I do understand what you're saying when you talk about wanting your life in order before allowing certain things. Today has been all about the question of "how much is too much" in that setup process...
user avatar
toddaldrington - 26 Aug 19 14:00
Of course you realise now that I know you're a trucker I might have to flood you with research questions next time Oran's job comes up in a story! (And that maybe you spotted the mis-named highway at the end of that book...I don't think 51 goes through Phoenix, does it? I left that guessing most readers either wouldn't notice or wouldn't care)
Todd's Cooking Lesson - Part 4 2019-08-17T10:34:28+00:00

Quick sketch just to finish this one off.


* * *

I managed not to burn anything, just as Obie had ordered, despite letting myself think about him wearing a collar and lead and letting me give him a belly-rub. Obie as pet didn’t just turn me on, it was a chilled out kind of turned on that made me wonder how I’d ever been so nasty to him that one night. I’d heard it said that people who sometimes got on badly or even loathed each other could eventually become friends, but I’d only ever known it to be the other way around: friends fell out and never got back on good terms.

I wasn’t going to think about Devin tonight though. Life without him had proven so unexpectedly more relaxed that I wondered why I hadn’t gotten rid of him long before what happened two years ago. He was never going to make the kinds of amends with me that I was making with Obie.

He took a surprisingly long time to go two blocks and only come back with one half-full shopping bag. When he came in, I wondered if he’d been sitting on a bench watching the world go by. Of course, he was going to tell me he was sorting out his date, if I asked.

‘Can you make the dessert for me?’ I said. ‘I’ll never remember most of this anyway, I think my head’s too full for today. Guess it was your last little revelation.’

Obie smiled, then shrugged. ‘Yeah okay, sure. It’s real easy though. After you’ve peeled your pears and put a little lemon juice on them, you just throw everything together over them, bake it all for half an hour, then you roast your almond shavings for a couple of minutes and throw them on top before you serve. Or you can dry-fry them if you’re afraid of burning them in the gril, that’s probably easier. Then you can put a little golden caster sugar on them and caramelise them if you want. You’ll have to do that while I’m not here.’

‘I don’t know what time he’s getting home,’ I said. ‘I’ll have to do it while we’re eating the mains anyway.’

Now you’re thinking like a chef,’ Obie said. ‘Timing. Yeah, whatever else there was, Dad was always good at that. Nobody could hit it bang on the minute like he could, get it all out at right time for twelve different tables of people all in one night.’ He sat down at the bar and poured himself another glass of wine. ‘You were right about Mamá. I just told Sal I’m going to try going round to her on Christmas eve. I’ll surprise her. I just get this feeling she’s not going to invite me in.’

What was the right thing to say here? ‘She will.’

‘You don’t know her. She’s spent all year trying to get me to talk to her. You know what her most likely reaction is, soon as I do? Slam a door in my face. That’s her.’

‘You don’t know my brother Alfie. You think you’ve done some stuff that might have upset your family? If my mom would always let him in, I’d be willing to take a bet on yours. Knowing her or not.’

‘But that’s just it, Teej, what did I do? My parents stole three hundred thousand bucks from C’s family, and I’m the one who ratted them out, and it’s like I might as well have stolen that money, the way some people look at me. You don’t have to be “connected” or a “made guy” to bring the whole “burn in hell because you betrayed your family” thing down on your head. I don’t avoid talking to her because I hate her. I don’t. I avoid it because it’s going to end in me saying sorry. I’m not.’

‘She wants you to talk,’ I said. ‘Maybe all you’re gonna do to start with is go round and say that. A bitter argument is still talking.’

‘Yeah. Season of good will. I hate Christmas. The only time I didn’t hate Christmas was when it was all about bragging to the other kids in grade school about everything I got. Guess I know how they were affording to spoil me now. I got used to living off C’s money a long time ago.’

‘You’ve got a job of your own.’

‘Washing dishes at the campus kitchen? You know what though, I like it. The guy who runs the pot wash is kinda…what’s the woke term for it, seeing as I’m talking to you? Special? Retarded? Who cares, I like him. He can’t read but man he can talk, and it’s not all complete shit. He’s a human, does what he knows how to do, survives. Good people in that kitchen, they look after him. Maybe it makes up for how their pot-wash panda could probably out-cook most of them.

‘So modest as usual.’

You ever worked a dead-end job, Teej?’

‘I’ve done Starbucks, when I was sixteen. So I could afford singing lessons.’

‘Only to give up a future as the next Dave Grohl to try becoming the next…I don’t know any famous basketball players.’

‘I’m not going to be one, Obes. People are saying the Clouds have picked up their game because of me, but in the world where people get drafted out of high-school or never, that’s not enough. Guys my age have four years of pro under their belt by now. At best I’d get a nod of the head from one of them if they ever came to a Clouds game.’

‘Yeah, but at least you made college education money even if you’re never going to physically see a cent of it.’

I felt more tired just thinking about this. The truth about how I constantly questioned whether it was worth carrying on with it wasn’t for Obie. Nor was the part where I didn’t have a clue what I’d do instead. I’d probably never drop out, I’d just weather the storm, and when it was over I’d realise I’d miss it, and start out on some other boat, heading for black clouds and roaring waters, just to feel like life was familiar. If this was what the rest of my life was, it made me wonder if this was how Dad had started, and then thirty years later, we’d had that conversation about depression in a hospital bed.

‘You’ve gone quiet,’ Obie said. ‘Uh-oh.’

‘Taste the stew, pet-boy,’ I said.

‘Don’t tell C about that, will you? Okay, I’ll just say it: you were right about me finding it hard to take a joke at my own expense too. I’m better than I used to be, but C just can’t stop playing the same button pushing game we always used to. That’s why he got to me with that song. That’s why he’d tell Heidi about the pet thing before I get chance to.’

‘He really wouldn’t.’

‘He really wouldn’t have if it was you, or any of your friends after he started the “better fox” thing. But me? I’m a free-for-all. I’m always going to be. There’s got to be one person he can prank. Even if he is still the best friend I need sometimes.’

‘You know, I thought about something. You forgave him for basically nearly killing you. Your parents committed a massive fraud, your dad’s maybe not the nicest of people either, but did either of them ever try to kill you?’

Mamá already tried that one. Not committing one crime doesn’t excuse another. Heidi’s a lawyer, she gave me that one.’

‘What, an actual qualified one with experience? Not a law student?’

‘Go on, make a gold digger joke. Who cares? Maybe she’s a shit-digger because she’s sick of stupid fucks with loads of money.’

‘You say that like you know it.’

‘Because I do. We’re having a date tonight in that bar you went to last night, the hippie place with the cheap sandwiches and the organic wine made with 100 percent love and kisses to the planet.’

‘Actually you’re selling it pretty well right there.’

Obie’s phone pinged him a text. ‘That’s C, he’s on the bus back from the snep’s place.’

‘Oh god, he went round there? How did it go?’

‘He didn’t say, but that’s the half hour timer. I’ve gotta get ready. All you’ve gotta do is put the bread on to warm up ten minutes before he gets in, just keep the stew on the lowest heat. Start the green beans when you start the bread. Ten minutes. Turn the oven on for the pears before you sit down. Put a timer on, because you two are gonna have the kind of conversation where they’ll sit there burning all night. Did we even check the smoke alarm in this place lately?’

‘Just go, Obie. I’ll manage.’

‘You’ll get laid. Food like that, it’s a promise. So long as you don’t go Bad Todd on him. That wine and flowers I told you about? You know he’s gonna have chucked them off Manhattan Bridge by now.’

‘You’re still standing there, Obie.’

He only took five minutes, and didn’t shower. ‘Here,’ he said, coming back out with his leather jacket on and an old brown book in his hand. ‘Mamá’s cookbook. I stole it the night I stole the ledgers for the police and ran off to Sals with it all. That recipe’s in there along with loads of others that are better. Learn them all, I’m gonna test you next week.’

flag
Todd's Cooking Lesson - Part Three 2019-08-11T19:04:07+00:00

Intro

This cooking lesson is becoming rather long, and it's turning into a improv indulgence, but I don't care, because half the purpose of this Patreon account and the writing in general is to have fun, and this afternoon I most definitely had it, writing this. So here it is, unedited and hot off the press. This scene goes from serious to silly and then back again, rinse-repeat. My favourite kind of comedy.

There will be a Part 4 now, because of how carried away I got with what was supposed to be the final one.

Remember back in April when I wrote that post on the relationship between humans and furs/people-animals in this series? I decided to expand it a little.

Once again, Obie is my homeboy. I'll admit, for all his flaws, he's becoming something of an unlikely favourite among all the characters I've created. I think he's another 'on a journey to being a better person' character, even if he'll never quite shake some of his arrogance, cockiness, and general asshole comments. He's perhaps 'I got woke but I'm also still a little bit broke and IDGAF'...which is actually sort of me. Quite a few of my friends would have no trouble seeing how I came up with Obie. I even have a red panda plushy that I bought from a local zoo and named after him, just to deepen my level of obsession.

So, what's the most unlikely thing Obie Calabrese would do?

Let's go...


* * *

Obie showed me how to make a basic ciabatta bread, then focaccia, and I only when I looked at the amount of food we’d made already, I wondered how he could afford to do fresh ingredients like this all the time. The answer was obvious enough. Colton looked after him in more ways than just paying his tuition, because his parents were broke. Another making up story. Colton could be pissed at how I’d treated Obie all he wanted, but at least I wasn’t the one who’d almost choked him to death once. I felt worse for thinking like that, as I cut the onions like Obie showed me. That hadn’t been Colton’s fault, and he’d been a child going through something most children don’t go through. I was a grown up.

‘Not guilt-meditating again are you, Teej?’

I looked at Obie, trying to come up with something clever, and all I saw was a forgiving, understanding smile. Obie really did have a genuine smile as well as a…what was it exactly? A bully’s smile? Maybe not. Maybe an egotistic, entitled, proud smile. But then, why shouldn’t he be proud of who he was, the same way I always tried to be?

‘You ever been to Italy, Obes? You speak Italian, right? You told me once?’

‘Ma certo, Sal taught me. That’s all he speaks at home. I did an exchange in 12th grade. My partner was called Stefania, she was an RP too. She wasn’t exactly beautiful, but nice. And she was my first kiss. In a vineyard her family owned. I learned how to make wine. I didn’t wanna come home. If she hadn’t loved her family so much I’d have asked her to run away with me. I’d probably be living in Venice right now. Or Rome. If I graduate, I promised myself a trip. You can come too if you want, you and C.’

‘Thanks, but Colton already said he’ll take me to Japan first. But we could always do both. I’ve gotta say it though, Obes. I’d really like to know what it was like growing up in New York in an Italian family. Same way Colton once said he kind of wished he’d grown up in a house like mine. Curiosity. What was it like?’

‘I dunno, Teej, how am I meant to describe what’s just ordinary to me? Why you suddenly asking?’

‘Because I realised I never really tried to get to know much about you,’ I said. ‘You tried to get to know me though. You tried to understand somebody different. Maybe for a guy who belongs to a gay rights group I actually suck at understanding what it means to be different. You’ve got a whole culture behind this food right here I don’t know about. I feel like….I don’t know, there’s a lot a person could actually appreciate about you. I’m sorry I never tried before because I just kept judging you.’

Obie stopped washing up the knives he’d been working with and leaned against the surface. ‘See? That right there’s a better apology than C making you do it in front of the team. And you still don’t have to do it. I get embarrassed about people giving me compliments like that. Seriously, I’m glowing under this ginger fur right here, it’s like I’m that colour to cover it. You really want some of my culture? You got it, we’ll go to Sal’s together sometime and then we’ll go out to some places, meet some more people who come from where I did. But I gotta warn you, I’ve got nothing on what some of these guys can dish out. They’d probably be fine with you, just so long as you don’t get too…well, you know. Sensitive. You’re right about understanding different people, it’s not easy. But you know what? Everybody sucks at it. Nobody likes getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and Italians? Damn, they do like their own. Same way everyone else does. You really wanna meet my family and see the Bronx where I grew up?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Alright then. Guess it’ll be your first exchange. You’re getting it, this cooking thing; those onions look tidy, nice little equal cubes. Not bad for a first go. So, you ready for the real cooking now? Alright, bene, let’s have some vina rosa.

‘I don’t like wine, Obie, and that right there’s a good one isn’t it? Don’t waste it.’

‘You don’t like it because you’ve never tried to.’ Obie poured a smaller glass for me. ‘Roseanna gave me these. She still thinks of me on my birthday. They’re proper crystal. Know why she chose then? Because they’ve got plenty of room for a nose like mine. And yours. So get your nose in there and sniff before you taste it.’

‘When is your birthday?’ I said. ‘No, wait, I do remember. March 1st.’

‘Wrong, cocktail boy,’ he said as I sniffed, tried my first sip, and scrunched my face up.

‘No it’s not,’ I said. ‘We had your party on the 1st. It was a Friday, that’s why we all got wasted and you dumped Colton in the spare bed that night because I told you about our rule.’

‘Yeah. You’re still wrong.’

‘How? It wasn’t a late party, or an early one. You said…oh. Oh! No shit, February 29th?’

‘Leap year baby,’ Obie said, gesturing to himself. ‘Nobody ever remembers. Legally it’s counted as March 1st for everything if you don’t get a leap year; people are so used to sending cards then that half of them forget that’s not the real day. Roseanna does though. On my 20th she gave me those. You don’t forget the guy who actually understood when you didn’t want his kid. She had to have someone collect her from the clinic or they wouldn’t do it. I did it. So she didn’t have to tell her family. And I’m not trying to guilt you about that comment again. It just happened and I can talk about it. So can she. Except she never admits one thing.’

‘What?’

‘She can’t be with me because she’s scared about what we might both go through if we had that accident a second time. What if it wasn’t that simple when it’s more than once, y’know?’

‘How do you know that?’

‘I just do.’ Obie raised his glass. ‘These are nice glasses, though. Here, you still not getting the wine? Try eating something with it. Make a little toast with our ciabatta right there and put some oil on it and chew a little chorizo.’

He deftly cut several small chunks off the sausage for us. I made the toast. ‘Don’t put it all in your mouth at once like a trash panda,’ Obie said, sensing (correctly) that I was about to do exactly that. ‘Food first, then taste the wine again.’

I tried it.

‘See? Actually not bad, huh?’

‘Yeah okay, it’s a little bit better,’ I said. I tried drinking from the glass two more times, copying Obie’s sniffing thing, not caring if he thought I was making fun of me, because I was imagining how Colton often put his nose under my t-shirt or hood and sniffed like that, like I was some sort of fine wine myself.

‘Hey Teej.’

‘Yeah?’ I said, my nose still in the glass.’

‘I fucked a human once.’

Was he trying to get me to drop his special birthday present glasses and break them? Because I almost did. I save it just in time, after I’d showered our kitchen surface in a spit-mist of wine. ‘You asshole!’ I said. ‘You did not fuck a human. How long have you been waiting to try that one, see how far I shower whatever I was drinking? Shit, it’s your wine I just wasted.’

‘I never thought I’d actually go all the way, but holy shit, you want to know how to compliment an RP? She knew. It was like she knew what I liked as soon as she looked at me. I don’t know how. She just did. Like I sometimes know stuff about Roseanna without knowing how. Read me like a book. She knew my thing. She flattered me all the way out of this bar and right back to her place and I just went with it.’

‘You fucked a human. Obie the racist red panda Calabrese.’

‘Yeah, Colton can sing that version of Native New Yorker at me and call me racist with it all he wants. He doesn’t know about it. I don’t think he’d get it. There’s diversity and there’s diversity, Teej.’

Why did I so suddenly believe this was true? ‘Weren’t you worried about…you know…’

‘What people would think of me for it? Fuck, no! When did I ever worry about that?’

‘No, not what people would think. I meant what if you had the Roseanna accident again but with a human? It’s not just a prejudice that makes people not wanna go there, it’s the whole thing with how they can’t carry a cub from a people-animal, or a fur, or whatever you wanna call us. Compatibility issue, isn’t that the PC term for it? It actually is dangerous if there’s an accident like that.’

Obie shrugged. ‘She was on the pill and I wore a condom anyway.’

My stunned silence shouldn’t have actually been a stunned one, in the same way I felt like this shouldn’t be true, but I somehow knew it was. Or Obie was going to deliver a great ‘I had you there’, and I was going to let him have his moment. ‘What was it like?’

Obie grinned. ‘Tight as.’

‘I didn’t just mean her vagina. Or just the sex. Did you like having it with a naked human.’

‘Well, yeah. You can never be bored with something new, right? There are humans who just love us furs, Teej. I don’t think it’s dirty, or nasty, or even a pervert thing. We’re here, they’re here, we both have sexual needs, and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a nice cuddly RP like me? Colton was right about me: I am cute. And I’ve got the rest that counts as well. It’s just off limits to you two. She sure found out though. She could never have faked how satisfied I got her.’

I couldn’t help but smile, and put my hand on my hip. ‘Alright, Mr Woke. Mr I Fucked a Human and the Story’s Almost Convincing. Convince me. She said she knew your thing. What is it? What did she promise that got you into that room with her?’

Now Obie looked like he almost regretted this. ‘Well…that’s kinda private, Teej, isn’t it?’

‘Oh, come on. You know me and Colton’s thing already because he literally can’t keep his mouth shut. He likes punishment. I pull his tail. I put a muzzle on him because he begs me to. I spank his bare ass. We both like it. I know you don’t really tell other people, but tell you? It’s not a secret when you live in the room next door and my boyfriend can’t keep quiet.’

‘Neither can you.’

I held my hands up. ‘Alright. You don’t wanna tell me your turn-on? Fair enough. Sorry I asked. Just I’m really curious how a human hooked you. Admit it, you are kind of racist. Or species-prejudiced, or whatever you wanna call it. But you try to be better. I mean that, I really think you do. You say you went all the way to doing it with a human? That’s cool. I believe you.’

‘You don’t though, do you?’

Not quite. But I had a better test than asking Obie a private thing I was already wishing I hadn’t. ‘You want to call my mom and tell her what’s in my fridge and how I eat shit junk food all the time? Not that I know her number, but what would your Mamá do if I called her and told her you did it with a human.’

Now I believed him. The joke was definitely over. ‘Teej, seriously, please don’t ever do that.’

‘Ho-ly shit, Obes. You really did, didn’t you?’

‘I just wanted to make you choke on the wine and have a comedy moment right there. Just found the whole banter thing funny and wanted to add to it. But yeah. I really did. I liked it. I did feel kind of mixed up about it for a while afterwards, but yeah. I’m not ashamed either. And a few people know already. I don’t think they care.’

‘It’s cool,’ I said. ‘I don’t care. Wouldn’t be my thing ever, but you do you.’

Obie looked around himself for a moment, then at the floor, then at me with a kind of embarrassed humility I’d never seen on him before. ‘I’m a pet.’

‘What?’

‘That’s my thing. I like being a pet. She clipped a collar and lead onto me and I was her “good boy.” Like a dog but I didn’t feel like a dog. I just felt good. I felt like me. I begged, I rolled over, I played dead, I barked when she said “Obie, speak.” She had all the gear. She was a fur-fucker if I ever met one, but wow, you should have heard her talk to me. I swear she really did mean all the stuff she said. I was “such a lovely panda.” It was like it was an art class and she was gonna be the next Picasso just because I inspired it. Then I was her good boy, and…I’ve got a semi right now, Teej.’ Obie laughed at himself and turned away from me to adjust his pants. ‘Happy now?’

‘Obie…holy shit I wish you were at least bi curious. There, I said it. Shall we just cook now?’

‘I sometimes wish I was too, Teej. I’d kinda like to be your good boy too, or C’s, but I just don’t have that feeling inside me. I think about it and I get nothing. I need a woman to do that. Then my engine runs. And I always…ah, I think we’ve gone far enough, right? Let’s cook.’

‘No, go on, you always what?’

Obie sighed. ‘I was always scared you and C wouldn’t quite respect that. How I didn’t feel that way. I made a lot of the jokes you didn’t like because I knew you didn’t like them. Because I am kind of homophobic, and I’ve never been attracted to raccoons, or foxes. I was trying to warn you off. It was stupid. You always respected who I was. I just had the kind of wiring my upbringing put in me.’

‘Trying to warn me off?’

‘I’m sorry, Teej. Okay? Making homophobic jokes wasn’t the way to do that.’

‘Hey, let’s not worry anymore. I can’t be mad at someone who’s probably the greatest “good boy” the world ever saw, can I?’

‘Yeah yeah, jerk off thinking about it later if you want. Permission granted.’

‘More like Colton’s going to be a “good fox.” ’

‘Ugh.’ Obie rolled his eyes. ‘I’ll be at Sal’s place tonight so I don’t gotta hear it.’ He picked up the knife again, then just before he was going to cut the chorizo: ‘You know why I answered your question though, right? About what my thing is?’

‘To prove your story?’

‘Uh-uh. Because it was a fair trade.’

‘Yeah, I already kinda implied it. Everyone knows what Colton’s…’ Oh, God. The smug grin that had returned to Obie’s face could only mean one thing: I must have a louder voice than I thought, too. Even though my thing was quiet, and Colton kept it pretty quiet and cuddly and comforting as well. Always after his punishment act. What had Obie done, put a glass against the wall? I didn’t care. Because this was a bluff. ‘Sure, Obes. Fair trade. Because of course you know more than I already said.’

‘Give me a guess. You’re never gonna tell me, but humour me anyway. There was this one day where it was like your head was all light and you were all airy-fairy and weirded out, and then later you were all over C like you really needed some. So what exactly brought that on? I snuck a look at your calendar, the one on your wall, not your private diary or anything. All I saw was S.P, 10AM. Took me a while. Sports Physical, huh? That’s cute. Is C any good at playing doctor?’

‘Obie,’ I said, feeling like I could chuck my wine back up already, ‘you’ve got one hell of an imagination. S.P stands for…uuuurgh! You smug fuck. Enjoy your moment. And Colton doesn’t do that for me. He just knows I like…certain things that are kind of connected to that whole thing. Ah what the hell, you’re a pet, I’m….I don’t know what it makes me exactly. Not his patient, but…I just like having him hear my heartbeat. That’s all it really is.’

Obie looked up from the pan he was warming up. ‘Cool, I never thought of trying that.’

‘Maybe a “good boy” goes to the vet. Little hurt-comfort.’

Obie’s eyes went wide. ‘Shit, Teej, that’s a smoking hot idea! I need a date. Tonight. Damn, we’ve gotta hurry this up, I’ve got business downtown to take care of.’

‘I’m sure you’ll be such a charming date. Did you get her number?’

‘Hell yeah, I ever got her name too, Talia. But I can’t call her. It’s Heidi at the moment. I gotta call her. And maybe take a few very big steps back because it might not be that kind of night. But I think she’d get the pet thing. Most women do. Hell, I think she might like it.’

‘Heidi, huh? Is that who was here last night?’

‘Yeah. And just FYI, I was doing the good friend thing. Except it was more like ‘Easier to talk to a stranger and I’d kinda like a bed cuddle too.’ No sex. I actually felt like a good person.’

I whistled. ‘That must have blown your head off.’

‘Fuck you, Teej. I bet your doctor’s hot and you shoot your load every time you go.’

‘Nice try, Obes. Countless sports physicals and still accident free. Gotta admit though, last one was close. Doc Owens is a fox. He smelt like Colton.’

‘Gotcha.’ Obie winked and pointed a finger. ‘Shit, look at the time we just wasted. Get those onions in there, we’ve got tomatoes to chop and pears to peel and…oh, uh-oh, there’s no limoncello in this place is there?’ He was rifling through a cupboard. ‘Where’s that goddamn vanilla pod gone? Shit, I used it last week. Okay, we need to write a shopping and list and you’ve gotta…no, forget it, switch: I run to Trangoli’s two blocks down, you try not burning anything. Onions, chorizo, tomatoes, beans. In that order. Keep the heat low.’

‘Shouldn’t I come and hold your lead? Pet outside without a licence?’

Obie gave me the middle finger as he shut the front door.

Follow this link to Part 4 (final part)


flag
The move is almost complete! 2019-07-26T20:56:51+00:00

Okay, I'll disappoint you all first: there's no new story material this week. That's the bad news.

The good news is that this new pad of mine is totally amazing, and I'm nearly done moving into it, and I work a lot better when I'm comfortable in my surroundings and excited by the new lease of life that a new place gives me...

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm feeling pretty good as I write this! I'm back online for one thing...the internet company fucked around no end with the landlord at my previous place when he requested a switch from cable broadband to fiber, and basically cut us off for 6 weeks for no fucking reason. I've not had Netflix for 6 WEEKS, people! Or been able to post to here without putting my laptop in a bag and going out to a cafe or bar...which when you live out in the sticks is a major pain in the ass.

But I live in the city now! Hooray! I like the best of both worlds, and now I have a job in the countryside and a house in urban civilization, full of new people to share with, far less lonely, and my room is all set up with my writing desk, stereo, and new bed. I cracked a brand new bottle of Havana Club rum just before sitting down to write this, put on what I consider to be the great record of this decade (To The Bone by Steven Wilson...seriously, go check that out no matter what your usual taste is...I could write for a good hour about this record and when I first heard it...maybe I should, some other time) and I'm now thinking about writing again.

I can't get going tonight as I have work early tomorrow morning, but after this weekend I have a whole week of vacation, so after I've been back to my old house to grab a few loose ends and spend a day or two cleaning up after myself, I plan to get back in the game, and I can assure you I have big plans.

The first will be to deliver the rest of California Otters, and do some of the 'deleted scenes' I've been enjoying working on.

Then I'm going to write 'Gone Day.'

Hell yeah, I'm actually going to start the last book in the series (although I think it will be two books, Gone Day Part I and Part II....Kill Bill, anyone? I like that structure idea for this project). And get this...I KNOW HOW IT ENDS! It came to me the other day in a moment of inspiration. Call it 'moving house brain' if you like, but somewhere in the chaotic balance of packing my life into suitcases and cars and trying to keep my day job going all at once, I got this idea...

...and I'll stop before I get anywhere close to spoiler territory.

Except for one little teaser. The last scene in Todd and Colton's story takes place in Tokyo.

Japan.

Yeah, that's right. This roller coaster is going all the way there to come to what I think will be a gloriously fitting end.

...so how the fuck do I get to that last scene? Who's still alive? Who might not be for much longer? Who's going to be there when the last word is written? What exactly does Todd and Colton's relationship with each other look like by then? Why would either of them be halfway around the world from the place where their story started?

Of course (disclaimer time): being a hardcore pantser, as it's known in the writing world (having no plan and flying by the seat of your pants, word for word) it's unusual for me to know the ending, which means I might have to change it, because if there's a plan, nothing can go to it. That's how I've written everything else you've read...White Christmas probably being the most spontaneous, Cali Otters a close second, and the rest being a little bit more like what's going on in my head at the moment: a few ideas of where I'm going to end up, but how I get there is where the magic happens without me really knowing how.

Anyway, enough slightly intoxicated rambling about how high I am on life right now. Before I can do anything with these vibes, I've got a weekend of being duty ranger and need to get a couple of good night's sleep in my new pad and then I'll be back.

Ah yeah, and just an update, Out on the Highway and Chasing Colton are doing so well at the moment that I'm thinking I need to release Akio's House / Return to New York within the next 6-8 months. I'm going to do another read-through, edit, a little redrafting and then get a prototype coded up in ebook format for John N to read so that he can design the cover for me, and I'm going to ask him if I can have it by Christmas so I can think about a release in 2020...maybe around Easter time.

-T.

flag
Todd's Cooking Lesson - Part 2 2019-07-20T13:52:11+00:00

Author's Note

Just to acknowledge a little intellectual property and influences, the recipes Obie cooks in this section are ones I learned from Gordon Ramsay and Gino D'Acampo respectively. The exact method is slightly my own, having cooked both recipes many times and found little ritual sort of things I like doing with both.

* * *


‘Alright, the first step to good food’s a clean kitchen,’ Obie said. ‘And we’ve almost got one thanks to you two not being here last night. Clear that pan and ditch that breakfast you’re not eating; what was that, scrambled eggs? Eeeurgh, would your mom have fed that to you?’

‘Is this how your dad taught you cooking?’ I said, scraping my admittedly poor effort into the trash. ‘Just remember, you don’t talk to him anymore.’

‘Oh please,’ Obie said. ‘Here, put this on.’ He threw an apron to me and tied one on himself, as fluidly as a choreographed marshal arts move. ‘Dad barely taught me shit. It was all Mamá. She was the chef. Dad was just the bully who thought it made him a restaurant manager. It’s true what they say about bullies: they’re doing it because somebody’s bullying them.’

Only half way through washing up the pan did I realise that I wasn’t supposed to work out who had bullied Obie’s father. Obie was talking about himself. ‘Y’know, Obes, I find it hard to imagine you were actually a bully. Maybe you were spiteful to some people and you said unkind things, but did you ever actually campaign to make someone’s life hell and enjoy it?’

Obie looked like he might end our lesson before it started, just to escape from this. ‘Look, Teej, I don’t wanna run off a list of everything I’m ashamed of. It wasn’t one person. I didn’t beat people up or steal lunch money. I just had a mouth; I knew how to use it on people I didn’t like, and I didn’t like them because of stupid prejudices and wanting to pretend they were the asshole and I wasn’t. Dad filled my head with shit about who I was supposed to be and it made me someone shit. I’ve got plenty of amends of my own to make. There’s people I made feel like you did before you called me out. Can we just do cooking today though?’

‘Yeah, okay. If my scrambled eggs suck so much, why don’t you teach me how to do them right?’

‘What do you think we’re starting with? Something basic. Okay, you cooked yours to rubber because you had the pan on too hot. And I bet you heated the pan before you threw them in and then you whisked them up. Uh uh.’ Obie switched the gas on to a small flame. ‘That’s all you want. Crack your eggs and whisk them when the pan’s cold. You want a little bit of butter in there too. Four eggs and a little cube of it. Keep stirring. Take the pan off the heat when they start to thicken, just for a few seconds at a time.’

I followed his instructions as best I could.

‘That’s it, better already, see? Now, here’s the real tip.’ He went into his immaculately ordered fridge and brought out some long green things. ‘Chives. Snip these in once it starts to scramble up.’ He did it for me. ‘Now here’s what really makes this. Go on the fridge and find the crème fraiche. You just want one teaspoon.’

‘What is this stuff? It smells like it’s gone bad.’

‘Just wait till you taste this. Make us some toast with that loaf right there, the sourdough one.’

As if I could tell one kind of bread from another. ‘Maybe you should make it. I can’t cut bread like this. Always buy it sliced.’

‘Are you serious?’ Obie rolled his eyes. ‘Uhhh, right. Okay. Knife lesson.’ Obie got a knife with wicked looking teeth out of his drawer, which was as ordered as his fridge. ‘Hardly any pressure, keep the blade straight, don’t bend your wrist, keep it in line with your arm. Drop your elbow down a little bit. Now just slice. Don’t put your other fucking hand there! That slips you’ll take it off! You wanna try bouncing a ball when you’ve sliced your hand with that motherfucker! Geez, you’re gonna make me go grey with this, aren’t you? Here, give it back a second. Put your palm right here and your fingers over the top of the blade, now you just gently cut until it bites. See?’

‘Yeah, okay, give it back and let me try.’ Surprisingly I got a straight cut that wasn’t a door-wedge.

‘Don’t butter those, we’ll have olive oil. Cut them in half. I’ll get some real coffee on.’ Obie had a small espresso machine. He made me a double, none for himself, saying Colton had pumped more coffee down him in Starbucks and he’d be wired until at least bedtime already.

The eggs were amazing.

‘See? You actually feel like eating now,’ Obie said. ‘And so simple.’

‘I don’t think I can cook the fox scrambled eggs and toast for dinner though,’ I said. ‘I only just managed that and you want me to cook a three course meal?’

‘We’ll do it together,’ Obie said. ‘We’re going to make stuff that can cool and reheat. In fact, it’ll taste better that way. When I go out tonight, you can sort it yourself and it’ll be totally you-proof. You can’t possibly fuck it up, capiche?’

‘Alright, you’re on breakfast but I’m on lunch already. Let’s make it.’ He looked in the fridge. ‘There, easy. Gnocci balls. They’re meant to be with potato but here’s a cheating way you can do it with just flour, cheese and an egg. And some spinach. We’ll cut up some baby tomatoes and garlic and fry those up to go with it.’

‘Vegetarian? If I served this to Colton we would be breaking up.’

‘Really? Last time I did he practically wanted to dump you for me.’

I knew this would push his buttons, and he’d practically given me the cue to do it. ‘He does like you. He told me that story about how you asked him if he was gay. He might have told you if he’d thought you were.’

‘Oh, that one,’ Obie rolled his eyes. ‘I meant it though. I never cared that he was. Well, okay, bi technically and he always thought that I was only okay with that coz it meant girls as well, but it wasn’t like that. I pretended I had a problem with gay guys. Another thing Dad told me I was meant to do. Y’know, he says he’s cut me out of the family inheritance now. Like I’d ever want him to fucking leave me anything else on top of the shit I already got. And like he’s got anything left.’ Obie dumped the cheeses into the bowl hard, then looked up at me and smiled. ‘First trick with this, mix the flour in before the egg, that way you don’t curdle the mix. That’s ricotta, that’s parmesan. You want plain flour, not self-raising. Don’t worry, I can write all this down. I stole this one from (x) anyway. Shove all that spinach there in a bowl and get the kettle on, you’re gonna pour boiling water over it to wilt it and then you’re gonna squeeze the excess water out with a fork and a sieve.’

I did it, mostly watching what Obie did with the cheese mixture and waiting for him to get on a full rant about his family again. He often did what he was doing this morning: start off on one and then stop himself and try to pretend he’d said nothing about it, and it had never come up.

He showed me how to mix the spinach in and roll the balls out, with my hands covered in flower.

‘I always wondered, Obie: how does a guy with scent glands in his hands stop it from making all the food taste like him?’

‘Duh, because you only get a little bit of scent at a time; I’m not a panda-scent hosepipe who can turn his palms up at you and shower you with it, Teej. People hear that about us RP’s and they think just a handshake will make them stink. Here, smell that.’ He held his palm up. ‘It’ll be just the same as the smell you get from me living here.’

‘So you can give me a nose full of that cheese mix? Nice try.’

‘I’m not gonna shove stuff in your face, Teej. That’d be a waste of food. Fill that pan there and get it on the full heat, we’re gonna…oh no, wait, we’ve gotta chill these down for half an hour. Slice the tomatoes instead, we’ll make the sauce.’

‘Those balls look like snot,’ I said.

‘Teej, if you’ve got snot like that then you seriously need to go check in with the team doctor.’ He stopped as he was about to pour olive oil into the frying pan. ‘And by the way, I was a little bit worried about you last Friday when you got in from that session. You were shaking like you’d overdone it. It was like you’d been in a fight or something.’

Hell, he’d noticed me that night? I hadn’t even thought he was here. Nice of him to… ‘You didn’t come and ask this then because you thought I’d go for you?’

‘Well…not really, it’s just…yeah, I guess I didn’t know how to ask if you were alright. I just kept checking outside your room every half an hour or so. I could hear you breathing like you were crying. Guess I thought you’d just had a bad session and life just got to you. When I feel like that, I don’t want anyone asking if I’m okay.’

Or you didn’t approach me because you got taught warning signs from a pretty early age. No prizes for guessing how might have taught you that. I decided not to make assumptions, even though I already was. Obie was right: we should just cook. ‘Thanks. For checking. I was crying. I had to call an ambulance for my training buddy. He burst a heart valve. I…think I might have pushed him to it.’

Fuck, Teej, you didn’t even tell C about this did you?’

‘Why would I? I can’t talk to him at the moment. If he’s not wrapped up in himself and how great he thinks his life suddenly is, he’s wrapped up in the bitch snep who wrote that bullshit letter. Okay, maybe it’s not all bullshit. But fucking hell, Obie, wasn’t I always there when he needed somebody? No matter what kind of crappy behaviour he chucked at me, I was there. He’s always saying it was thanks to me that he got his life back on track, and I never wanted anything in return. It was enough to know that he loved me. Now? I’m finding life shit right now. I was finding it shit before last Friday, and two years ago Colton would have noticed. I hardly exist to him anymore. Where’s he when I need him? Sitting in a coffee shop writing a letter to…’ Hell, I was just going to say it. ‘To that old cunt.’

‘Woah, Teej! The c-word? You?’ He laughed, surely knowing I was in no mood to. Then after a moment, the release I felt did seem kind of funny.

‘Okay, maybe that was a little bit extreme,’ I said. ‘And I know I’m being kind of selfish; Colton’s got other people besides me in his life. But you get what I’m saying, right?’

‘That you don’t like his music teacher and you think that means he doesn’t care about you anymore? Teej, come on. If that doesn’t sound like bullshit I don’t know what does. He’d throw that keyboard out of a window for you if you told him to. Well, okay, maybe not literally, but you get what I’m saying. I told C if he breaks up with you, he’s an idiot. So are you if you break up with him just because some old cunt took up a little of his time. How do you know she’s that bad anyway? You met her yet? You really convinced that letter of hers isn’t sincere?’

I sighed. ‘Can I just invoke the same thing you said right now? Can we just cook?’

‘Yeah, okay.’ Obie shrugged. ‘It’s not easy after all, is it? Getting one or two truths you don’t really wanna admit to.’

‘Obie, can we just not? We’ve been doing alright with this. Let me think about how I’ve been with all this on my own. Your job right now’s helping me get the dinner that’s gonna get me a fox I can talk to about this. You wanna fix worlds? Do it like that.’

‘You’re the boss, Teej. Toss those tomatoes before they burn, would you?’

‘You’re as passive-aggressive as my fucking mother,’ I said.

‘Yeah? I’d love to pit her against mine in a contest for that.’

‘Yeah? Maybe I’ll fly mine right here to NY and they can have a cook off. But then, that would mean you talking to yours instead of about her. And you hardly ever do that, really. You just start to and break off all the time.’

‘Jeeez louise, now who’s passive-aggressive?’

‘I’m just pushing your buttons, Obes. Your family, your business.’

‘They don’t have any business with me,’ Obie said. ‘Apart from Sal. Alright, switch places with me, give me that pan and you get that one on to boil. Put a few grinds of salt in there, we’re just gonna boil the gnocci for ten minutes and then add them to this.’

When he served himself, I took a taste. For something so simple, it tasted like it had a whole other world of ingredients in there. The basil that he had me chop and add to the tomatoes at the end just made it. That was when I could resist it no longer.

‘Y’know, Obie, as far as truths go, here’s one I’ve gotta tell you. I don’t buy your whole “I hate my parents” thing. At least I don’t when it comes to your mom. Your Dad? I think you’re probably just angry with him. Been like that for two years. I don’t blame you. I’ve been angry at mine. I’ve been plenty pissed at my mom, too. Everyone’s parents fuck them up somehow, right? Even if most of what they do’s actually pretty good. Point is, you’ve only got one set of them, and most people can’t be angry forever. Is it maybe time you tried not to be? At least with the mom who taught you to cook like this?’

Obie gave a very long sigh. ‘Teej, if you wanna tell me a truth, why couldn’t you have made it one that doesn’t give me a total fucking headache every time I think about it? If it’ll shut you up before you start, you’re right: I should talk to Mamá. And I already told C I was thinking of doing it earlier. So you lose. I was one step ahead already.’

‘It’s yourself you’ve got to win against, Obie. Not me. Same goes for me when I sit down with C about this thing.’

Obie pushed his plate away. ‘I’m not hungry anymore. Wasn’t really in the first place. Good job on your first gnocci though. And you know’s what’s cool here? This isn’t a waste. They can be left to cool and then chilled down and they reheat perfectly in the microwave. Let’s make bread. It’s a little too early to start the dinner.’

Follow this link to Part 3

flag
Still no internet but progress being made 2019-07-10T18:22:25+00:00

Still no internet here while we wait for a date for the company to switch the place from broadband to fibre, but good news on 3 fronts:

1: I can now promise a new post on California Otters this weekend, because I’ve written it and

2: Mum and Dad’s place is empty this weekend so I’m gonna drive down and crash there and hopefully their internet will be working as usual for me to upload it for y’all.

3: the fibre day is a moot point anyway because in 2 weeks time I’ll be moving house, leaving behind my two current housemates to enjoy their faster connection and I think my new place already has one. And more people living there. And it’s in the city! Exciting!

So yeah, as per the last iPhone post like this one, I’ll still cleaning out cupboards, flogging stuff on EBay and packing boxes. And trying to do my day job between all this stuff. Busy busy busy!

Quick ask: have you told all your furry friends about Out on the Highway yet? Not that it’s not doing well already, but every bit of help you guys can give is appreciated in a month like this.


-T

flag
Upload

This creator doesn't have any shared files yet. You can add some by clicking Upload.