Title: The Simplicity of Being Normal
Author: James Stryker
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: May 8, 2017
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Genre: Contemporary, YA, transgender, transvestite, transphobia, bullying, child neglect, PTSD, mental illness, Mormonism
Sam has his life after graduation figured out. Until then he has to deal with being terrorized for expressing his gender identity. His pleas for help have been ignored by the principal and most of the staff, and his time is spent moving quickly between classrooms and anticipating the freedom that will come with leaving high school behind.
Teacher Todd Keegan, at first, wonders if Amanda is on drugs and if he's underestimated her maturity. Between enabling his traumatized, dependent sister and hiding secrets of his own, Todd has no desire to waste time on a junkie teenager, but this one intrigues him. When Amanda shows up in his classroom, bleeding from a head wound, he decides to investigate further.
In order to survive senior year, Sam must convince Mr. Keegan that he’s not a junkie teenager and decide if, unlike his family and school staff, this teacher can be trusted with the truth and become his only ally.
He erased the message. You fight with me and try to keep me from doing what I want. Then you act like I’m the one dependent on you. Why do you even think me being around makes a difference? What good would I be in a fight, Julie? I’m not a three-hundred-pound taekwondo master. I could take him in history trivia. I sincerely doubt an attacker would pause stabbing or raping to play Jeopardy to the death. However—
“Alex, I’ll take ‘FUCKED UP SHIT THAT HAPPENED TO JULIE’ for six hundred, please.”
“All right, Mr. Keegan: ‘Machine guns, brute strength, and skills of any kind beyond turning a doorknob.’”
“What are things not needed to rescue Julie from the sociopath who shot himself after torturing her for a week?”
“Correct, for five hundred.”
Applause from the live studio audience.
Four years ago, Todd and Julie had their separate lives. They were close and spoke frequently, but she didn’t want to be constantly attached to him. And they’d shared many of the same friends, so it wasn’t unusual to meet on a regular basis. However, Todd hadn’t heard from Julie in days.
“No Julie? She must be super pissed at me. She hasn’t returned my calls or messages.” He’d stood when a couple of their friends approached the bar. He pointed at a woman who worked with his sister. “I blame you, Suze.”
“You said that eye shadow looked better on me than on her.”
“It did. I can’t help that.” Suze slipped onto a barstool. “Don’t worry. She’s off on a romantic week with her new boyfriend.”
“New boyfriend?” He raised an eyebrow. Julie hadn’t mentioned a boyfriend. Not that he was under any delusion that she told him everything, but someone she was dating seriously enough to go away with?
“The client who’s been calling for the past few months? The big account? He was really impressed with her professionalism and customer service.”
“She’s queen of the bullshit.” Todd laughed.
“No, I’m queen of the bullshit. Julie is emperor of the bullshit.”
“All hail Caesar.”
“Anyway.” She cracked a peanut shell in half. “He’s been talking to her exclusively. He won’t let anyone else handle his orders, and he sent her flowers earlier this week.”
“I can’t believe she didn’t tell me this.” He looked away from her and into his glass.
Suze pried the peanut out with a fingernail. “And she hasn’t been to work since. I can only assume she rode off into the sunset with her Prince Charming. That fucking bitch. No one ever sends me flowers.” She grinned and shoved his shoulder. “Don’t give it a second thought.”
But Todd had given the idea many thoughts. Julie told him about men she casually dated. He knew she thought her garbage man was worth waking at 5:00 a.m. to ogle. She might not disclose everything, but she’d have mentioned someone she was interested in when he’d seen her last week.
He questioned Suze further and with rising panic. Had Julie been out with this guy before? No. Was he from around here? She didn’t think so. Did anyone know him? No.
“But I talked to him once before he latched onto her. He sounds handsome. Has this deep—”
Had anyone seen this man? No. Had Julie even seen him? Not to her knowledge. Did Julie call into work? Give an excuse for her absence? Suze wasn’t the supervisor; how would she know that? Todd turned to their other friends at the bar. Had anyone at all heard from Julie in the past few days? No.
“Will you reeeelllllax, cher? He sent her flowers! Creeps don’t sent flowers,” Suze protested when he pushed his credit card across the counter and jumped off the barstool.
Alex Trebek cleared his throat.
“Excuse me, Mr. Keegan. It’s your category again.”
“Thanks. Let’s go for ‘STUPID-ASS WOMEN’ for three hundred.”
“And this is our Daily Double! We have six hundred on the line. Your answer: ‘Creeps don’t send flowers.’”
“What are things stupid-ass women say?”
“Correct for six hundred.”
More applause from the studio audience.
Creeps did send flowers. They sent flowers if they knew where a young woman they’d been speaking with worked, but not what she looked like. Creeps sent flowers when they wanted to know more, but were too awkward to ask for a date. They sent flowers so they could sit in a white car outside the office at five o’clock to watch the workers leave.
He’d found out later that Julie had been the young woman wearing the yellow summer dress and carrying a ribbed vase of a dozen pink stargazer lilies. The creep who sent them picked her out. And he’d followed her home.
Todd had raced to his sister’s house. He lost track of the red lights he ran and hoped the police would tail him. He knew. Just had this gut feeling. When he heard sirens, he floored the accelerator.
There’d been a strange vehicle on the curb, and Todd slammed the brakes to avoid hitting it. He thrust his car in park, not bothering to turn off the engine before he was out the door.
“Ma’am! I need you to stay in your vehicle!” an officer shouted as Todd grabbed the doorknob. “Ma’am!”
“Julie! Julie!” He hadn’t cared if the police had a sniper rifle trained on his head or if the man in Julie’s house had a gun.
Todd pushed open the unlocked door. There was blood. Everywhere.
The Simplicity of Being Normal
James Stryker © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“Amanda Michelle! I won’t tolerate that mouth of yours a second longer! Get out!”
“Or what? You’ll hit me? Repeat performance sixteen years later. Go ahead!”
If there was one positive thing to be said of his mother, it was that she avoided violence. While her own mother had often resorted to physical punishment, Scarlet had never put a hand on Stevie. And she’d only hit Sam once, which was how she learned her lesson.
“Amanda was maybe one. Barely walking. I can’t remember what she did, but I hit her so hard that she flew across the room. That’s when I decided to keep my temper in check. I just send them away when I’m angry now.”
Scarlet told this story often when child discipline surfaced in adult conversation. She was proud of herself. Proud that it only took one incident of hitting a toddler with enough force to knock her across the room to realize that violence wasn’t a good idea. She never understood why she received strange looks when she finished this charming anecdote of her parental prowess.
Because you should be ashamed that you struck an innocent baby. That you hurt your child, Sam would think when Scarlet retold it and people gave him the confused looks he often received when his mother opened her mouth. You should want to bury that secret instead of continuing to get off on it more than a decade later. The last thing you should feel is pride.
But sometimes he’d rather have a slap to the face than the emotional abuse Scarlet dealt. Bruises healed. The damage from seventeen years of being blamed for every negative circumstance? The constant feeling of rejection? The thousands of times when something or someone else was of more importance than him? His father. Stevie. The boyfriends. Work. The fucking Golden Girls.
I’ll never get over it. Even when I’m free of you. Even when I’m free of Amanda. Sam stared Scarlet down and waited for her to respond. You’re a cancer to me. I’ll cut you out. But I’ll always have the scar.
“Get out, Amanda! Get out!”
“Oh, I’m going.” He lowered his voice and took a step into the hall. “But so should you. That’s all I came to tell you. You should check into a hotel for a few days. It’s not sanitary. And that’s not even my opinion—it’s the disaster crew’s recommendation. You could get sick.”
“This is my house, young lady. I won’t be told what to do by you or anyone else.”
It was the most below-the-belt thing he could be called, and his skin was smoldering. Sam didn’t believe he was capable of laying a hand to anyone, especially a woman. But he needed to leave now before he said something he’d regret. Like yelling in her face at the top of his lungs. Like using every profane word he could think of until her ears bled. Like divulging his secret when she had some power over him.
“Well, I’m not staying here.”
“As long as it’s out of my sight, I don’t care where you go.” She’d turned away from him again. “But Stevie and I are staying here. I’m not paying for a hotel room because the basement is dirty.”
“You know what else lives in their own shit? Pigs. It’s too bad Gary’s condo doesn’t allow farm animals, or you could stay with him.”
Scarlet spun around and slammed the door in his face without another word.
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Meet the Author
James Stryker is a central-Pennslvannia author who enjoys writing speculative and literary fiction. Themes in his work focus toward diversity in the LGBTQ spectrum and the voice of underrepresented or misunderstood viewpoints. His debut novel, Assimilation, was released in 2016.
James shares a residence with a pack of pugs, who continue to disagree about the ratio of treats to writing. Despite his day job and writing projects, James is never too busy to connect with readers or other writers. He welcomes you to check out his website, follow him on social media, or drop a line to his email.
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