excerpt from


by John Fuller

A young adult novel about finding yourself...
and everyone else.

Please Note: This is unpublished material, but it is still protected by copyright.
No use without my permission.

Chapter 1
It’s Not Easy Being the Son of the Most Famous Black Lesbian Sex-Shop-Owning Political Activist in Semi-Upstate New York

1/5/15 Monday — White Christmas

As was to be expected, Mom got arrested on Christmas Eve. But any resemblance to a normal holiday for the Anniston family ends there.

I was home supervising the turkey in the oven. Mom was more than an hour late.

At 7, the turkey timer dinged, and I got a text from Mom: 

Bayard, can you meet me at the station w $50? Long story. ATM card is inside Eyes on the Prize, vol 1. Thanks, buddy!


Normally Reggie, Mom’s old friend and most frequent arresting officer, drives her home in the squad car on his way back to New Paltz after a brief arraignment in Poughkeepsie. Something definitely wasn’t going according to plan.

I glanced out at the thick, swirling new snow. My hands were still practically stuck in shovel-grabbing pose from the two feet I cleared out last week. I sighed — it just feels so good in your chest — and grabbed the ATM card from the book.

With all my winter gear on, I looked like a cross between Iron Man and Ernest Shackleton. I heard the magic beans sound from my pocket. Probably Mom again. Dutiful Son de-gloved & checked his phone. This text originated with Auntie Cheryl:

Hey, favorite nephew. The roads are a frozen mess. Grandpa Jordan and I are going to hit a hotel hopefully not literally. We’ll try and get through tomorrow. The struggle is real, Padawan [black fist emoji]

I stepped out into the life-size snow dome of our town. Family holiday traditions can be so much work. Ya feel me?

Kerieme says I’m passive aggressive sometimes. (Isn’t it nice when best friends point out your faults?) The definition of passive aggressive might be that once you’ve got three twenties for your Mom’s fifty-dollar bail, and realize you’re not 100% sure jails give change, you decide to go back up the hill, break one of those twenties on a mocha at the Bitter Dreg, and then go free your mother.

Inside the police station, I said hi to Alphonse, the big Italian guy who mostly does dispatch; and Sergeant Jeannine, the station chief, who was just leaving. She wished me a non-partisan Happy Kwan-hanukk-mas and disappeared.

“Hey, Bayard!” Mom said, cheerily handcuffed to the red leather armchair where they let her linger instead of throwing her in the cell downstairs. I smiled on the bottom of my face, and glared on the top, still shivering from my walk across the Arctic Circle.

“I shouldn’t really let you sign this!” Alphonse boomed, sliding a clipboard across the counter. “You being sixteen! But, hey, it’s Christmas!” Alphonse has the New York accent people imitate in movies, but his is legit. He always yells; it’s in his nature.

He grabbed a pen from over his ear and pointed to two places on the form with his gigantic finger. I signed, and handed over the money.

“Alright, let’s go unlock Rosa Parks.”

He walked over to Mom’s chair, and she raised her wrist to make the de-cuffing easier for him. “Alright, Kendra, you’re all set.”

“Thanks, Alphonse,” she said. “You’re a prince. Bayard, honey? Why the long face?”

N-n-n-no r-r-r-reason.

Back at home, Mom was chilled through. She took a hot shower while I removed Auntie Cheryl and Grandpa Jordan’s dishes and silverware from the table.

It was actually a really nice dinner, just the two of us. Mom told me the whole story of her Fifth Annual Christmas Eve Brush with the Law, and after stuffing ourselves on turkey, sweet potatoes, wild rice, tame rice, and stuffing, we did make-your-own sundaes. I love that about-to-throw-up feeling you get for the first three or four hours after a king-size dinner.

1/6/15 Tuesday — What Is This New ‘Word Power’?

You probably noticed a few things by now:

You have no idea how to pronounce my name.

You are reading my memoir.

You have a sense of increased Word Power you can’t quite explain. You may even be a little frightened by it.

My name is pronounced BY-erd. Not BAY-erd. Not By-ARD. Easy peasy.

You’re reading this memoir because I’m taking Mr. Maung’s class “Eyewitness: History through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It”. ‘Memoir’ is French for a diary anyone else would ever find interesting. For fancy points, pronounce it mem-WAH. Mr.Maung is making us write a 10,000-word memoir for the second semester. That works out to 250 words a day! We all complained, but he wasn’t having it.

So, welcome to my memwah.

And finally, if you are suffused to your very core with the desire to read the dictionary, it’s because of my class “Super-Charged Word Power!!!”. It should be called “Get Ready for the State Regents’ Exam!!!” but whatever. Point being, Ms. Kitts wants written sentences for fifteen featured vocab words each week.

When I griped about the memwah and vocab assignments for the millionth time, Kerieme had a straight-A genius idea: Combine the assignments by using fancy luxurious vocab words to describe my plain old mundane life. Hence the bold type.

Two birds, one stone, and apologies to the Audubon Society of Eastern New York.

1/7/15 Wednesday — Mom in Five Bumper-Stickers

Kerieme, who’s looking in my mirror trying to look sexy practicing French, reminded me most people’s mothers don’t get arrested every Christmas Eve for five years running. He thinks I should be less reticent and talk about that before anything else.

Here’s the bare-bones version of my mom:

She’s been an activist since she was a little girl going to marches and protests with my grandparents. She kept at it in high school, then in college until she had me, and then again once I was walking. She always tries to change things for the better, and as we have seen, she’s not afraid to risk arrest. She’s kind of famous around here for working on local issues; she’s like Dr. King, just in fewer ZIP codes. She’s done less lately, though: running the store takes most of her time.

Mom drives a Subaru wagon, but if she were a car herself, a) she’d be a Prius, and b) she’d look like this if you were behind her at a red light:

Shhh…My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know I’m a Lesbian

Black Lives Matter

Supreme Court out of My Uterus

Smash the School to Prison Pipeline

The Patriarchy Isn’t Going to Fuck Itself

Like any normal mom.

Mom’s been arrested so many times, she’s lost count. Her stays in jail are usually evanescent, like two hours max. Having to post bail is rare, and it’s never been my job before, so I shouldn’t complain about Christmas Eve. I have pointed out to Mom that if she was an ophthalmologist, she’d always carry enough cash to post her own bail. Alas, you make a lot less money running a sex-toy store than studying eyeball diseases.

1/8/15 Thursday — White Devil

Kerieme’s really branching out. Today, he’s lying on my bed looking at guys on Grindr, swiping left at light speed. Apparently they’re all ‘sketchy’.

He says the story of my life will make much more sense if I introduce the villain of our story: LaBianca Ferrari. I told him just because he’s from Sudan doesn’t mean he knows everything. He said he knew I was going to say that. Checkmate. Damn. It’s nice to have a best friend who doesn’t just point out my passive aggressive behavior, but also helps me write a coherent memoir instead of one that makes no sense.

LaBianca is why Mom got arrested on Christmas Eve. She’s basically Mom’s nemesis. They’ve hated each other since before I was born, when they were in college together. I’m not sure exactly why. In families, some things you know not to ask about, and LaBianca is that thing in my family.

I wonder if LaBianca’s daughter Mercury grew up with a taboo against mentioning Mom, too. I doubt I’ve said a dozen words to Mercury in the four years we’ve been in the same schools. I don’t avoid her, it’s just she’s a loud grrl-jock, and I’m a nerdy reader of manga, so our paths will pretty much never cross in this life.

Her mom owns the Mini-Cooper dealership here. (With a name like Ferrari, you’d really have to sell cars.) She’s also president of the Chamber of Commerce, and when Mom opened her sex shop, LaBianca was not pleased. She said it sent the wrong message to tourists visiting New Paltz. She’s afraid the youth of our village will become sex-crazed libertines.

The place Mom and LaBianca really go head-to-head is over the Chamber’s Christmas Crèche. It’s hard to be offended by it, if you ask me. Over the years various figures in it have had to be replaced, and you can’t always get a perfect match. By this point, the sheep is larger than the cow, one of the wise men should get drafted by the Knicks, and let’s just say a Baby Jesus that big could not possibly have entered this world through the vagina of the nearby Virgin.

Mom complains every year that all the figures except one wise man are white, even though everyone knows Jesus and Co. came from Semitic stock with darker skin and hair “like lamb’s wool” according to the Oracle at My Grampa Jordan. Six years ago Mom wrote a letter to the paper complaining about it, and the Chamber promised to make the crèche more representative of the world’s Christians. They never followed through.

Not following through is a bad strategy with Kendra Anniston.

On the one hand it’s hard to know why Mom would give a weasel-nut about a Christian holiday display. We celebrate Christmas, but you wouldn’t call us devout. On the other hand, it’s beyond me why anyone would break a promise to the most famous black lesbian activist in barely upstate New York. So LaBianca loses a point there.

Result being that for five years running Mom has snuck into the crèche the night before Christmas Eve and put a little black baby doll in the manger. She hides the original Baby J in more or less clever places, the driver’s seat of LaBianca’s Mini Cooper being my all-time favorite.

On Christmas Eve, Mom handcuffs herself to the manger in protest. Our cop friend Reggie arrests her because she refuses to leave the Chamber’s property, mom gets let out on her own recognizance, and the Anniston family’s Christmas Eve is normal as can be. No walking in a winter wonderland to the ATM required.

This year, Mom didn’t take the Baby Jesus, and the Chamber thought they’d finally won. But Mom had just upped her game, packing some special low-temperature quick-drying spray paint. When the Chamber began their Christmas Eve Carol Sing in front of the crèche, Mom clapped on the handcuffs and got to work. The third coat was drying by the time the sound of sirens could be heard. I’m not saying LaBianca called the cops, but in the photo of the whole thing in the local paper — Mom always invites the press to her actions — LaBianca is actually on her phone in front of the crèche. And it would have been a weird time to order pizza.

With Reggie out of town —visiting his mom, who had a fall, it turns out — a brand-new cop was sent to the scene. With no idea of the way things normally go, and Mom’s ‘vandalism’ obviously on private property, New Cop realized she could make everyone happy (especially Mom) by hauling her off to the police station for booking. Hence my Christmas Eve re-enactment of The Snowy Day.

I wrote a haiku about it in Japanese Studies today:

Darkness in the town

Our hero brings unique paint

Jesus gets a tan

Chapter 2 — Two Crazy Girls

1/9/15 Friday — No Restroom for the Weary

Mom let me skip school so I could go to court with her and Drayton, her lawyer. She knows almost everyone involved in the proceedings on a first-name basis, and they always exclaim about how much I’ve grown. They admire Mom for taking strong stands, but they must also feel she’s a real pain.

If there’s no threat to public safety, the police don’t bother to file the paperwork to charge her, and she doesn’t enter a plea. The judge dismisses the case, and the District Attorney can focus on more useful things (we hope). Since the arresting officer wasn’t even there today, Mom predicted business as usual.

Court appearances involve a lot of waiting — except on Christmas Eve, when Mom says the service is excellent. It was only an arraignment, so Mom was there to say exactly two words (not guilty). Unfortunately, there’s no express line, so we chilled on a bench watching other people blab to the judge about whatever.

I was so bored (no phones allowed) that I was almost relieved (snort) when I needed the men’s room. At the back of the courtroom, as I reached out for the door handle, the door flew open, nearly scaring the bladder out of me, and LaBianca marched in. She didn’t say excuse me; I’m not 100% sure she saw me, mashed behind the Door of Death like I was. My heart was beating American Ninja Warrior style from surprise, but also because I was so close to the reason for Mom’s troubles. Out in the cool hallway, my head pulsed with pure hatred for LaBianca.

I’d just learned how unpredictable doors can be, so I shouldn’t have spaced out as I hit the Men’s Room. But I was distracted by thinking what I’d say if I ever got to school LaBianca on her stupid racist crèche. I opened the door to the first stall. Sitting on the toilet was LaBianca’s daughter Mercury, all freckles and frizzed-out hair, and pants down around her shoes. I must have walked into the Ladies by mistake. Thank god I was paralyzed with astonishment, or I would have peed my pants. I wasn’t trying to be perverted, but before Mercury could say a word, my eyes swept over her legs, which were up on tiptoe. She had the nicest muscles I’ve ever seen.

“Hi, By,” she said, sweet as can be. “Bye, By.

She gave a little wave, reached out, and shoved the door shut. There was a hole in it where the latch thing should have been. I got the hell out.

I had to pee worse than ever, so I ran across the huge hall to the other restroom. Another Ladies. Maybe they did Ladies on one floor, and Men’s on the next? I was halfway to the stairwell when I heard two voices behind me laughing helplessly.

I just had to look. It was Mercury and Zelda, another girl from the hockey team, walking away from me toward the courtroom. Even in the echoey hall I could make out Zelda’s words.

“Oh, shit! I can’t believe we just did that!”

I hadn’t been spacing out. Mercury and Zelda had been using the Men’s room.

I went upstairs to pee, anyway. The Girls’ Men’s Room felt too risky.

When I got back, Mom was waiting for me in the hall. The judge had postponed the arraignments of all non-violent offenders until Monday.

I don’t think I said one word all the way home. Those muscles.

1/10/15 Saturday — Poultry in Motion

I don’t have to write on Saturdays, but I wanted to add a couple things to yesterday.

From the courthouse, Mom drove to her sex shop. Open All Night closes at 9pm on Fridays, and it’s always busy enough that she and her employee Kayla both work.

Mom kissed me goodbye, and I floated off in the direction of my house. I stopped at the Bitter Dreg on my way and got a Frisbee-sized chocolate chip cookie and a latte and plopped onto the comfy couch. I was so close to the wood stove I could feel my shins getting frightened. I Snapped Kerieme and he replied right away.

K: Hey, man. How was court?

B: Unreal.

K: Everything go alright?

B: Mom’s case got postponed. But some next-level weirdness went down as well. Got a minute?

K: Yeah, just making dinner for Fatima…

Fatima is K’s 6-year-old sister. I texted him the Saga of Stall One, leaving out the muscles.

K: I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming.


K: Alright g2g ramen is ready. Out.

That was it for Friday. This morning, he texted about an even weirder girl at school:

K: Mysterious Ostrich Girl requests a meeting with you. Wednesday at 3 at the Dreg?

I assumed he was playing.

B: Sorry, meeting with Obama from 2:30 to 5.

K: For real, Bye. Turns out she likes you. Wednesday at 3?

B: For real real?

K: No Shih-Tzus. Can she count on you?

B: You’re scaring me, K. What if she’s ugly? How will I know what to say?

K: She is +not+ ugly, I promise you on a stack of Qur’ans. And I’ll be there to keep your ass from looking too damn stupid.

B: Alright, I’m in. You won’t bag on me?

K: And miss watching Ultra-Nerd act the ladies’ man? Hell, no.

B: Who is she?

B: Just so I can stop stressing.

B: K, I’m begging you.

I refused to make Kerieme any happier by sending more desperate messages, so I tossed my phone onto the bed and woke up the laptop. This necessitated the biggest screen I had. I opened the file, clicked on the giant triangle, and watched Kerieme’s titles scroll by:

New Paltz High School Festival of Drama and Dance 2014
“La Fille Autruche Mystérieuse”
Video by Kerieme Abu-Bakr, Sophomore

The video was from December 10th, a month ago today, and a week and a half before holiday vacation. The entire freshman and sophomore classes packed the auditorium to see maybe fifteen dance routines interspersed with four short scenes from plays. Some were meh, some good, a few jaw-dropping, which is to say sublime.

Now, dancing can rock a certain amount of sexy, if you ask me. But the last dance was extra-hot, except not in any normal way. Written in by hand at the end of our programs, it was called ‘La Fille Autruche Mystérieuse’. Google translate says it means ‘The Mysterious Ostrich Girl’. The performer was listed as Big Bird, which Kerieme and I agreed must be an alias, since the real Big Bird coming to New Paltz High School was too much to hope for.

A solo dancer took the stage. She was dressed in a long-sleeve black leotard. The skirt she wore was covered in fake ostrich feathers — the big fluffy grey kind you see on Three-Musketeers-style hats. More feathers sprouted off the left side of her waist to make an ostrich-booty. Her right arm was the giant bird’s neck, painted pink from her fingertips to a little past the elbow. Her hand was the head, with orange eyes painted on the sides. Greyish-yellow tights completed her costume.

She was either really dark-skinned, or maybe she had painted the rest of her skin black: neck, face, feet, and her left wrist and hand, cuz they were pretty much invisible. Her hair must have been crammed under a cap, too, because you couldn’t even notice it. All you saw was the bird shape. I wasn’t the only one who laughed in embarrassment for her during the silence that preceded her act, as she stood perfectly motionless.

Despite the ostrich angle, I was responding very sexually to the shapeliness of her body, and her bare feet on the stage were really working for me. God knows why. Or probably Kerieme knows why, since he is from Sudan and knows everything.

The laughter died down after a minute, leaving that kind of silence you swear you can hear. After a minute, the girl’s bird hand began sliding up and down, turning this way and that like it was looking around, like a real ostrich, but also sort of like a cobra. It was creepy, and I got shivers.

The girl ostrich-strutted to the far left of the stage, where some teachers and staff were sitting on folding chairs, probably wondering if they were supposed to stop this unauthorized addition to the program. Ostrich Girl stepped along, the ostrich-head examining one teacher after another. She stopped at Mr. Carle, who teaches Algebra.

Mr. Carle despises the students. He always calls on kids who don’t know the answers, and deprecates them when they mess up. It’s so subtle that if you read a typed-out version of it you would have no idea how humiliating it is if you are his target.

Ostrich Girl — back in our seats, we were all looking around furiously to rule out different girls — stood in front of Mr. Carle’s seat, and the ostrich-head looked him dead in the eye from maybe three inches away. For like sixty seconds! Jerking its head left — then right — in that weird way birds have. Mr. Carle decided to say something to break the tension of the moment.

The millisecond he opened his mouth, the ostrich screeched, and snapped ferociously at the bill of the stupid ball cap he always wears to seem cool. It was so sudden that almost everyone jumped — I know I did — and people gasped in surprise. We were no match for Mr. Carle, though, who let out a huge terrified squeak. Think parakeet trounced by honey badger.

The girl twirled away and started running in huge circles around and around the stage. She really looked like an ostrich, moving her arm, her legs, her pelvis in the most authentic way, ineffably bird-like.

Even on the video, you can hear the sound of three hundred phones getting whipped out, as everyone realized this was something worth posting. I noticed Kerieme had been recording ‘La Fille Autruche’ on his iPad from the beginning, which I found almost suspiciously lucky.

I turned my head to Kerieme but didn’t take my eyes off the girl on the stage.

“If you send me that video, I’ll give you a million dollars,” I said.

“Two million.”


Then the projector flashed words on the rear curtain:

“The ostrich can run at speeds OVER 35 MPH.”

Ostrich Girl stopped, and stood there, breathing hard, until the slide changed.

“Females can weigh as much as 320 POUNDS.”

Now she began to strut around the stage, slowly this time, fluidly, like a slinky: bending, sliding, and flowing around the floor.

The words cast by the projector changed again:

“It is one of the few non-mammal species that has a CLITORIS.”

This caused a few expressions of disapproval from boys who had to make sure everyone knew their opinion of all parts of female anatomy besides breasts the size and shape of Jupiter.

But the performer was unflappable. (See what I did there?) She started doing cartwheels across the stage. Since one of her arms and her human head were blacked out, it looked like the giant bird was tumbling from its ostrich head to its legs to its head to its legs. She disappeared offstage.

Total silence reigned for five seconds before we all burst into wild rock-concert applause, whistling and shouting so loud you couldn’t hear the Principal on the mic trying to calm us down. It took the teachers fifteen minutes to shepherd us back to our classrooms, and the buzz continued all day as everyone tried to identify Ostrich Girl.

I’ve watched that video a hundred times, and I still get the shivers, the sexy feelings, and I jump at the ball-cap snatch every time.

After La Fille Autruche, the Principal, who we affectionately call Dr. Excellence, made it known that she wanted to “have a talk with the young lady in question”. But if anyone figured it out, nobody turned her in. They probably appreciated her messing with Mr. Carle.

On the 22nd, we all blasted off for Winter Break. That was nineteen days ago. And now I’m supposed to believe Ostrich Girl wants to meet me? While I’d like to think I have something going for me that I’m not aware of, it seems more likely that my best friend is setting me up for some stupid prank. Probably involving a real ostrich.

Chapter 3 — Ostrich, Mon Amour

1/12/15 Monday — Mom, Courts, Disaster

Mom went to Poughkeepsie with her lawyer again today to enter her plea. But it never happened; and her expectation that there wouldn’t even be charges filed turned out to be dead wrong, but not because of the cops.

Instead, LaBianca showed up for mom’s arraignment, and made a huge scene. Because defacing a privately-owned baby Savior is a property crime, the owner of the property gets to decide whether to press charges. And you better believe LaBianca was pressing charges.

In New York state, if you do up to $500 in damage to someone’s property, it’s a misdemeanor, sort of like a mini-crime. Normally, the owner of the property just wants their shit replaced, so the evil-doer agrees to pay for what they damaged and it’s all good.

But LaBianca had done her homework, and discovered that more than $500 in damages can be charged as a felony. LaBianca actually brought the judge a receipt for $511 for the Baby Jesus the Chamber of Commerce bought for this year’s crèche. The magistrate was clearly dubious, and asked how a doll could possibly cost $511. Turns out it’s a custom job, outfitted by some guy on Etsy with custom robotics to make it move like a newborn — even cry.

Mom had spray-painted the crèche equivalent of the Robo-Mona Lisa.

Here’s jacked up: New York has a law called the Repeat Offender Control Act. Under ROCA, if you’ve been convicted of two felonies — ever — and find yourself charged with a third, you can’t get bail. If you wind up getting convicted, it’s even worse: ROCA means you get a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

And guess who has two prior felony convictions? My mother.

The cops have to file felony charges to detain anybody, and LaBianca wanted Mom held until the forms were ready. But Mom’s arresting officer was missing today, too. The judge, obviously on Mom’s side, told LaBianca the paperwork wouldn’t be ready until after lunch, which gave him the excuse to keep Mom’s bail at the $50 already paid. He continued the case until the 23rd, and let Mom go until then. When LaBianca raised the concern that Mom might flee to avoid prosecution (like Mom has ever tried to avoid prosecution), the judge, with some eye-rolling, ordered Mom not to leave the State of New York. So at least she gets to be at home for now.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Mom is technically looking at life in prison — for painting a doll. It’s hard to believe LaBianca will go through with it, but their mystery beef seems like it’s given her mad cow disease.

1/13/15 Tuesday — Hearing Voices

The last couple of days, I’ve been extra-depressed about Mom’s case. Two things happened today, though, which aren’t completely good, but they make me more hopeful.

First of all, Reggie, our favorite patrolman, called with the news that Mom got charged with a felony as expected. She went to the courthouse one more time to enter a not guilty plea, but was surprised when the District Attorney asked the judge to convene a Grand Jury to decide whether to prosecute Mom’s case or just drop it. The judge agreed, and let Mom go until the Grand Jury decides whether there’s enough evidence to go through with LaBianca’s charges. But there’s almost certain to be a trial — I mean, Mom was caught painting the Mochaccino Messiah.

Reggie also said a reporter from the *Village Voice* newspaper in New York City arrived today to write an article about Mom’s case. Apparently a lot of people are in the same situation as Mom (well, not exactly the same situation). They have multiple felony convictions for non-violent crimes, and find themselves looking at long sentences because of antiquated laws which turn misdemeanors into felonies. No-one envisioned the arrival of big-city reporters, but it can’t hurt, right? Especially if they’re disinterested and unbiased.

1/14/15 Wednesday — Like Likes Likes

The only good thing about Mom’s arrest is I’m killing it with this memwah. I’m halfway to Mr. Maung’s full-semester word count, and we’re only a week into the term. I’ve never done anything early for school before. Is this what it’s like to be Kerieme?

I squirmed through the entire day thinking about meeting the beautiful Ostrich Girl, and by fourth period I was so worked up my central nervous system decided to give me an erection that refused to abate. Which I wouldn’t mention, except Ondréa, who has been acting flirty recently, was my lab partner in Genetics when it happened. She noticed, and assumed I was responding to her in-Bayard’s-personal-space, unnecessary-hand-on-arm strategies.

Ondréa’s gorgeous; it’s just, she’s in twelfth grade — practically a grown-up. In any case, the fact is that when you are blessed with a renegade hard-on, the more you try and think it away, the harder it gets. I thought the end of the day would never come.

After the dismissal bell, Kerieme was nowhere to be found. Probably off renting some clowns to harass me at my ‘meeting’ with Ostrich Girl. I walked into town by myself. Might as well get it over with. At the Dreg, I looked around the main room while I waited for my bagel and Espresso Gravel Freeze at the counter. No Kerieme, but no clowns either. I grabbed my food and peered around the corner into the smaller side room. Kerieme was sitting at a table with a girl. Her back was to me, but I knew who it was immediately. My face was still cold from being out in the freezing day, but I instantly felt sweat evaporating from the entire surface of my skin. I was frozen in terror.

It was Mercury, and her crazy unruly head of corkscrews was bouncing around while she talked. It pissed me off how much K was laughing at whatever she was saying. I watched her get up to act out some part of the story, which involved doing jazz hands and twirling around. When she saw me, she stopped, and her hands flew into her pockets, like she couldn’t trust them not to keep twirling. Mercury’s dad is black, and LaBianca’s white. Mercury’s complexion is super light, and I saw her cheeks were rosy, from the cold, or the twirling, or something. She just stood there gazing at me and smiling, all eyes and freckles and hips in tight jeans.

As I had apparently been shot with some kind of stun-ray, Kerieme got up to grab my shirt and pull me toward a seat at the table. He sat on my left, Mercury on my right. Since a real man takes charge of any situation, I bit off a quarter of my bagel, and sat looking around at the paintings of robots French kissing that was the current art exhibit. Every few seconds I snuck a glance at Mercury, who was playing with her hair and chewing enormous bites of a sandwich.

The next time I looked, she was staring right at me. I locked onto her eyes, green and gorgeous, like sexy drills boring into me. Something was happening that I didn’t understand.

“I like you,” she said. “I know I’m not supposed to. Thoughts?”

I could feel my ribs collapsing. Whatever I said would be stupid.

“You weren’t kidding,” Mercury finally said to Kerieme, “he is like a deer in headlights.”

“This is where you say something,” Kerieme whispered extra-loudly. “Almost anything, in fact.”

They alternated suggestions to ‘help’ me:

“How about ‘thank you’?”

“Or ‘I like you, too’?”

“Or, ‘Sorry, I’m gay’?” This cracked Kerieme up.

“Or, ‘Would you like to go to a movie with me and my best friend Kerieme’?”

“Or, ‘Wanna go to a movie without my best friend Kerieme’?” Mercury said.

“Oh, snap! Get me to the burn unit!” Kerieme shouted, and the two of them did daps and made sizzling noises. I wanted to disappear.

Honesty about feelings is a cool idea. But it’s like everyone knows more about romance than I do. Which is strange because my mother runs a sex-toy boutique, and I learned to read looking at Changing Bodies, Changing Lives. From growing up around the store, I probably know more than any kid in New Paltz about reproduction, the different kinds of lube, light bondage, and setting limits.

But it’s all from books. I’ve never had to actually set a limit — ever. And I have zero experiences (me-time doesn’t count). I feel like a theoretical physicist who can calculate the size of the galaxy but can’t catch a baseball.

After a few seconds Mercury drummed on the table and said to me, “Did you like my dance?”

“You were beautiful,” I said to a crumb on the table. Although my crotch was melting, I forced myself to lift my gaze.

“There you go, Bayard!” Kerieme said. “That was almost like flirting.”

“Ignore him,” Mercury and I said to each other at the same time. We both started laughing, and it turns out laughing with a beautiful girl makes everything 100% okay.

I couldn’t believe how normal Mercury was. Or, not normal exactly, but bright, and…fresh, or something. Like that day — usually sometime between March 10th and June 1st —when you walk outside and it smells like spring for the first time.


I don’t remember if I answered her question or not. This is going to sound moronic, but I had never really thought about whether I liked a girl or not. Whether she was sexy, sure. But knowing Mercury liked me made me want to know who she was.

We’ve been hearing trash about each other’s mama since the maternity ward, but I was meeting her for the first time. We didn’t talk about our moms at all, or what it would be like sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom in a few weeks. I still think her mom’s a few eyeshadows shy of a makeup kit, and she probably thinks my mom is too unstable for life on the Outside. The sweet feeling I got around her blotted out all thoughts of Mom’s thing with LaBianca.

We wound up sitting there for an hour and a half. Mercury talked about hockey — a lot — and all three of us talked about movies, and how jacked-up the American education system is, and how it doesn’t prepare you for real life, which is absolutely true. I asked if she had any more dance performances and she said that she dropped dance because hockey was taking all her time. That is really too bad for me.

When I had to head home to cook dinner, I left Kerieme and Mercury talking as easy as could be. Glancing back, I saw Mercury’s almost white hand reach out and touch Kerieme’s almost jet-black one. She snorted like he was the funniest dude in the world. Thank god he’s gay.


I wanted to Snapchat Mercury all evening, but wasn’t sure if you do that right away, or if girls need some time. I guess it would have been okay, because she called after dinner. Her voice. We talked about summer jobs and school, I promised to come watch her play hockey, and we kept laughing at every dumb little thing. All of a sudden it was two hours later, and we had tons of homework, so we said goodbye. Listening to her voice all that time had revved me up in the craziest way. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t focus. Is it normal for your brain to get all scrambled when you like someone?

Lying on my bed, I watched the Ostrich Dance on my phone and masturbated. In my mind she was dancing for me, and then we kissed, and — isn’t masturbating so nice sometimes? I mean, it pretty much is nice all the time, but every once in a while, you bring your A-game, and it’s on beyond. And it was obviously necessary, because afterwards you are capable of concentrating on the War of 1812, which had previously been impossible.

Consider if you will how little Civilization would have accomplished over the last 30,000 years if people couldn’t masturbate. Cave people would have wandered around, unable to hunter-gather, spear mammoths, or tame fire because they were so turned on it was impossible to think straight. Don’t even get me started on opposable thumbs.

Heading to bed now. I’m falling for Mercury, which makes me feel a little like a traitor. But I feel a lot like a badass who’s doing something forbidden.