A Stella Review: Cutie Pies by Barbara Bell

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RATING 3,5 out of 5 stars

Joey works at Cutie Pies, the smallest adult store in Sydney. After his parents kicked him out years ago, the haphazard shop became his home away from home and is the only place where he can embrace his queer, quirky, and—okay—sometimes a little awkward self.

When Mick, a new-to-town customer, walks in asking for a dildo, Joey thinks it’s all a part of the day’s work. Except Mick’s large dark eyes, shy smile, and kissable lips—along with the ten-inch dildo he bought—quickly win him a starring role in Joey’s nightly fantasies.

Joey can’t stop thinking about him, and Mick’s continued visits to the store make him even harder to forget. Mick is shy and sweet, but also secretive and uncertain. As the two grow closer together, Joey starts to wonder what Mick really wants from him, and whether he can risk falling in love with someone who might not be free to love him back.

Cutie Pies is the first book I read by this author, I was curious as soon as I saw the cover and the title, too cute to pass on. This story was very lovely, easy and quick, especially well written. Sure, there is nothing too deep or developed in the plot, just two guys, Joey and Mick,  that met in the sexy shop where Joey was working and liked each other. So they decided to see if more could begin between them. I liked how cute (absolutely the key word!) the characters were, how they were shy and scared sometimes. And then I loved the epilogue, it gave me a glimpse of what happened after their HEA. But it’s not just this, there were important second characters, which I so hope will get their own story, and some basic background on the MCs that showed how a good job the author did with this release.

Although I liked the story a lot and it was exactly what I was looking for in that moment, I gave it a little lower rating, because in my opinion having only Joey’s POV wasn’t enough, I missed knowing what was going on in Mick’s mind. I think with a book not so long like this one, the double POV works better and gives a completeness I didn’t find here. Still I will definitely keep my eyes open for the author’s upcoming releases.

If you’re looking for a light story, give Cutie Pies a chance, truly adorable.

The cover art by L.C. Chase is perfect, in the style and in the colors. I love it.

SALE LINKS:   Riptide Publishing | Amazon

BOOK DETAILS

ebook, 116 pages

Published March 19th 2018 by Riptide Publishing (first published March 17th 2018)

ISBN 162649746X (ISBN13: 9781626497467)

Edition Language English

A MelanieM Review: Livingston (Trenton Security #1) by J.M. Dabney

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

He was the Beast without the escape clause.

Francis “Liv” Livingston was a beast. No matter if he wore a perfectly tailored suit or if he was in his tactical gear, people avoided looking at him. He was always first to volunteer for the jobs only a person with a death wish wanted. Tomorrows weren’t guaranteed. His boss had come to him and told him he needed him for a job. Linus knew the jobs he liked, but when he opened the file, it all went to hell.

Beauty was only skin deep.

Fielding Haskell made his way in the world on his looks. He’d earned his first film role before he could read a script. He didn’t want the fame. He wanted to go to college. He wanted a man who didn’t look at him and see how pretty he was. Unfortunately, a so-called fan only cared how attractive he was, and it earned him a personal bodyguard and a vacation. He looked forward to the break until he met the man in charge of his safety and wondered if the danger he left was worth dealing with a sudden attraction to a man who was colder than ice.

When I think of books with wounded, broken men, J.M. Dabney’s series and characters immediately jumps to mind.  Indeed her moto “even the broken are beautiful” is applicable to all her stories, themes, and yes, people.  It’s especially true in her new series, Trenton Security, and it’s first book and character, Livingston.

Essentially,  Dabney’s interconnected series was finished with the Executioners but then something spoke to her (see her guest blog here) and the new series was born.  A little darker, more suspenseful, and action packed, if all that is possible considering the series that came before.  Boy, was I on board!  Some had already made small bit appearances and I needed to know more.

Livingston is the first up and what a tortured soul he is in  just about every way.  Body and spirit.  A child raised in a cult by a crazed mother whose  twisted beliefs now are forever emblazoned in Livingston’s ruined skin and damaged memories by fire, he seeks isolation and perhaps, as his colleagues think,  even death.

As one of Dabney’s more tortured souls, Livingston certainly ranks up there in the top five.  A mass of scars inside and out, you can’t help but feel, not pity, but sorrow for this man who’s had such a hard life with no love or softness.  Her ability to make us care for him, to bring us into his life and share a little of his pain is what makes these stories so notable.

All that  changes when   Liv is asked to guard young actor Fielding Haskell from a dangerous stalker.  Fielding himself is in need of saving but in an entirely different manner.  A cash cow for his parents and manager, love has never been a part of his life either,  Instead, he’s been more of a puppet living an insulated, strictly controlled environment guaranteed to maintain his image and their control of it and him.  In effect, someone who has been controlled all his life that’s it’s a part of him is about to meet someone who can never give up control of his life again to anyone.  A match made in heaven or in this case in hell.

There is only a short time to develop the relationship between the men but you do get a feel for them getting into something real here. But the ending is HFN instead of HEA which makes sense given the timeline and the characters involved.

There is the mystery of who  is the stalker and the action packed element of keeping Fielding safe (will they/won’t they…no spoilers here).  I could have used more of this but only because it was so good.  Definitely heart racing, white knuckle scenes await you here!

Also because of the age difference, there’s some Daddy kink here.  If you read J.M Dabney, then this isn’t unexpected and it certainly fits in with the relationship dynamics and past history of the men.  In short, it works here.  Whether you find it sexy or not is up to you.

Is this a standalone novel?  Not really.  None of them are.  You need to become familiar with their town Powers, Georgia, its history, its people, and it’s relationships.  That means all the series and couples because they all appear in each others stories.  The kids grow up, call the others Uncles.  It’s a maze of interlocking relationships and it can be confusing if you are just picking up one book without any foundation to rest it on.  I do recommend them all even though I clearly have my favorites.  The list is at the bottom of the review.

So yay to a new series, Trenton Security and yay to a new couple to break your hearts and on their way to finding their HEA in Powers, Georgia.  I can’t wait to see what the next three books bring.

Cover art: Reese Dante.  This is an absolutely gorgeous cover.  It speaks to the character and to the fact that he’s hiding part of himself.  Incredible.

Sales Links:

AMAZON

B&N

KOBO

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1 edition, 190 pages
Published March 6th 2018 by Hostile Whispers Press, LLC
Original Title Livingston
ASIN B079ZQR567
Edition Language English
setting Georgia(United States) 
  • Trenton Security – fourth series

Livingston (Trenton Security #1)

An Alisa Review: No Rulebook for Flirting by Laura Bailo

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

When Gabriel goes to the annual gaming convention, planning to play as many games as he can during the next three days, he doesn’t expect to be glared to death in the parking lot by a really cute guy. So when the same guy joins the game Gabriel is playing, Gabriel is determined to make him smile, even if it takes some awkward flirting.

When Aitor makes it inside the convention center after someone steals his parking spot, he doesn’t expect to be so attracted to the man he decided to hate just a few minutes earlier. But as he gets to know Gabriel through gaming and flirting, he just can’t look away.

The game of flirting has no rulebook, but for Gabriel and Aitor, it may just have two winners after all.

This was an adorable story.  Gabriel ends up inadvertently taking Aitor’s parking space at the gaming convention and they quickly end up at the same table.  They flirt over the games and let it overflow outside the convention center.

Gabriel and Aitor both seem mostly reserved and their awkward flirting is cute.  I loved watching their interactions and how both of the characters acted with each other.  I felt so bad for Gabriel, I don’t quite know why but he had pretty much decided that he would be off the market forever since no one could want him and pretty much gives up any of his free time to be with family.  We didn’t get to see any of the story from Aitor’s point of view but were able to learn a little bit about him.   I loved seeing these two the next year at the end of the story.

I love the cover art by Written Ink Designs and I think it’s perfect for the story.

Sales Links: JMS Books | Amazon | B&N

Book Details:

ebook, 48 pages

Published: February 10, 2018 by JMS Books

ISBN: 9781634865753

Edition Language: English

J.M. Dabney On Creating a New Character and Series: Livingston (Trenton Security #1) by J.M. Dabney (Release Day Blog)

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Livingston_ReviewTour

LIVINGSTON

TRENTON SECURITY BOOK 1

J.M. DABNEY

M/M ROMANCE

RELEASE DATE: 03.06.18

Livingston-200x300 

Cover Design:   RESSE DANTE

AMAZON

B&N

KOBO

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have J.M Dabney here today talking about  her latest novel and new series,Livingston (Trenton Security #1).  Welcome, J.M., and thanks for answering a few questions for us.

How did the Security Agency form? What has you as an author, most excited, about this next series?

First let me thank Melanie and Scattered Thoughts for hosting me on their blog today.

How the security agency formed was odd. It came mostly into play during the Executioners series. The Executioners were to be the last of the spin-offs. I believed the Crews had run their course on the voices I could come up with. Then Ghost and Harper’s book happened. Those soft whispers of voices at the back of an author’s brain are dangerous stuff.

Of course, Livingston solidly formed first. I’ve written scarred characters, mostly from suicide attempts or self-harm, severe abuse. I hadn’t laid out the full groundwork for who Livingston was and then his horrific past and what or more importantly who caused the scars became clear.

And like always, Little, Gage, and Pure along with Linus and Hunter, the Trenton Security Agency was born.

I wanted something different for the Trenton Security Series. As with every series they need to have their own feel and tone. I’m most excited about the new series for the action and suspense themes which come into play. As always there’s a lot of group interaction—families formed by choice not blood. The darker themes that will run through the series are challenging and possibly hard for readers, but I believe if I don’t cause some emotional response I haven’t done my job as a writer.

My only hope is my readers will embrace the Trenton Security Team the way they did the rest of my crews. I sincerely work hard to make sure that I give my readers something different and I hope I do that.

Thank you once again for having me today.

BLURB

He was the Beast without the escape clause.

Francis “Liv” Livingston was a beast. No matter if he wore a perfectly tailored suit or if he was in his tactical gear, people avoided looking at him. He was always first to volunteer for the jobs only a person with a death wish wanted. Tomorrows weren’t guaranteed. His boss had come to him and told him he needed him for a job. Linus knew the jobs he liked, but when he opened the file, it all went to hell.

Beauty was only skin deep.

Fielding Haskell made his way in the world on his looks. He’d earned his first film role before he could read a script. He didn’t want the fame. He wanted to go to college. He wanted a man who didn’t look at him and see how pretty he was. Unfortunately, a so-called fan only cared how attractive he was, and it earned him a personal bodyguard and a vacation. He looked forward to the break until he met the man in charge of his safety and wondered if the danger he left was worth dealing with a sudden attraction to a man who was colder than ice.

Livingston_BlurbTeaser

Livingston_Teaser_Breathe 

EXCERPT

He disconnected the call and slipped his phone back into his pocket. “That for me?”

“Yes, sir, I didn’t mean—” Fielding swallowed hard. “I wasn’t listening.”

The boy closed the distance between them quickly and thrust the mug at him. He caught it before it made a trip to the ground.

“Black. I noticed you didn’t, um, put anything in your coffee. Is it strong enough?”

He hesitated with the mug at his lips. He swore the boy was holding his breath waiting for his approval. Taking a sip, it was perfect, but he took his time to see how long Fielding would keep himself from breathing. Nothing much amused him anymore, but that was doing it for him.

During the time the boy was in his home he’d picked up on little things about him. Fielding’s need for approval. The boy’s natural submissiveness. Fielding was also downright domestic.

“Not bad.”

“I’ll do better. Are you going somewhere?”

“No, not for a few more days. We’ll head to the office for a check-in, and see what Linus’ boy, Hunter, found out about your stalker.” Interesting, the stalker comment hadn’t earned a flinch, but the moment he said boy, the kid’s perfectly arched brows rose. “Make a list of anything you need. We’ll hit the store before we come back.”

“Can I get candy and chips?”

The question took him by surprise. Fielding didn’t look like anything fattening ever passed his pretty lips.

“Do you want candy and chips?”

“So much.”

He hid his smile behind his mug at the boy’s longing sigh. He’d noticed the boy didn’t eat very much, not enough in his opinion, but Fielding wasn’t big. Tiny compared to him, probably not for normal sized men.

“We’ll see then.”

“Yes, sir.”

One more submissive little yes, sir with averted eyes and the boy was going to find himself on his knees worshiping his cock. He was too old for the boy, but his dick didn’t seem to have a problem with it. What made it harder to resist Fielding was a natural submissive born to be someone’s boy. He was inclined to dominate and to have the perfect boy in front of him was more temptation than he’d ever experienced.

He needed to get Fielding as far away from him as possible and soon.

 JM Dabney Logo

J.M. Dabney is a multi-genre author who writes mainly LGBT romance and fiction. She lives with a constant diverse cast of characters in her head. No matter their size, shape, race, etc. she lives for one purpose alone, and that’s to make sure she does them justice and give them the happily ever after they deserve. J.M. is dysfunction at its finest and she makes sure her characters are a beautiful kaleidoscope of crazy. There is nothing more she wants from telling her stories than to show that no matter the package the characters come in or the damage their pasts have done, that love is love. That normal is never normal and sometimes the so-called broken can still be amazing.

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Sarah Black on Screwing Up, Moving On and her new release ‘American Road Trip’ (guest blog)

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American Road Trip by Sarah Black
Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Tiferet Design

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Sarah Black talking about her latest release, which we highly recommend, American Road Trip.  Welcome, Sarah.

♦︎

After You Fall on Your Face

Sarah Black

When you fall on your face, drive off a cliff, stand clueless holding a bomb while it ticks down, like Wile E Coyote while Roadrunner speeds safely away- how do you recover from the massive and irretrievable disasters that strike your life?

Hey, this part is easy. We stagger back to our bloody hands and knees and start down the road to recovery, step by brutally painful step. You know what the worst part of the whole deal is? Deciding it was all your fault. And being right. Because when the screw-up is your fault, there is no place to put your pissed-off except squarely between your own two eyes. 

It’s so much easier, isn’t it, when someone else screws up? Then we can sit on top of our high horses and explain to them exactly where they went wrong, and what they should have done. But when we are the culprits in our own lives, all we can do is slink off in shame, muttering, ‘what the fuck is wrong with you?’ over and over again. Not really helpful, but it is a classic.

Some people, and I have to include myself in this group, have become experts in studying personal screw-ups. I remember when I was a kid, thinking that adulthood was when people knew what to do in most situations and stopped messing up all the time. Apparently for some of us, adulthood never comes!

But that isn’t really the point. We know we screw up. Everyone does. The real question for me is how do we deal with it, how do we move on, how do we learn to forgive ourselves? That’s what I was interested in, and why I wanted to write this story. I don’t know if other writers have this experience, but I don’t always know or understand how my characters are going to react. If I ignore things like what the market says, or what the genre says I need, then characters start doing things that I only half-understand, but that strike me as genuine and real. Maybe later it will come to me that this motivation or that issue was behind a character’s actions.

My point of view character, James Lee Hooker, started growing his hair long after the Army, and he used his grandmother’s hairbrush and braided his hair over his shoulder, like she had done. It was a small gesture, but it was something he would do—to feel closer to her, like an unconscious memorial. He did all sorts of small things like this when I was getting to know him. But the bigger issue for me and for him, as a character, was how he was going to punish himself for screwing up. Because he did screw up, a number of times.

I kept trying to make him more heroic, stronger. I didn’t want him to appear in a bad light. I was trying to save him from the consequences of his screw-up. He just sat and stared at me, wouldn’t open his mouth. Wouldn’t move. I finally gave it up and gave him his head. When I decided I wasn’t going to try and write him as a good guy, a hero, strong and brave, then he suddenly became more real to me, and more interesting. And his actions became believable.

I think mostly when we screw up, we try to punish ourselves. And we can usually devise tortures that are particularly brutal and painful, because they are so on-target. We embrace our self-punishments, because we deserve them and they define us. The really tough thing, I’m starting to think, is learning when to say that it’s time to move on. That we’ve punished ourselves enough, and it’s time to move on and enter the world again. Go out into the world again, where our next screw up is waiting. Or maybe not! 

Here’s a scene from American Road Trip:

“I’m sorry I didn’t come and find you. Austin too. I’d done something I couldn’t take back. Just that one moment, you know? I couldn’t live it over again. And once it was done, it was done. And I could never fix it. He was hurt. The damage was done. I felt like I had to atone. Put myself in limbo or something.”

Easy stared over at me. “Limbo? Is that some Catholic thing? What the hell does that even mean? James Lee, you didn’t lay the IED in the road. You didn’t tell your spotter to get out of the vehicle, start jumping up and down on the spot where he’d seen a wire buried.”

“That’s what got him hurt. Once you’ve got an injury to the brain, it’s probably for a lifetime. That’s what TBI is, right?”

“Yeah, he’s got a TBI, but that wasn’t what got him hurt. What got him hurt was he had feelings for you, had a big thumping heart of an adolescent crush on you. And you knew it and didn’t do anything to stop it. He was acting like an idiot to impress you. That’s what got him hurt.”

I stared out the window again.

“You did the wrong thing with me, pushing me away. I was a man, and we were lovers. We were in love. We could have made it work, and fuck the Army. It was real. Austin was just a kid. He depended on you, looked up to you. You were his captain, and you got a kick out of all those young boys crushing on you. Big black eyes, ripped muscles, silky black hair. You looked like some vid star, and they would have followed you into hell. Not because you were their leader. Because you were you.”

I closed my eyes. I wanted to be anywhere but inside this truck, with this man shoving his angry truth in my face. Did I really do that? Did I take advantage of those kids, play them when I should have been thinking how to keep them safe?

“I loved you then, Jamie, and I still do. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see you. I see who you are. And if you even think about trying to walk away again in the fucking middle of this, I’m going to break you into pieces. I won’t let you do it to me again.”

That’s exactly what I was thinking, about walking away. I was picturing walking down this road, my thumb out, anonymous, no history, drifting across America with the truckers, listening to them talk, and meditating. Not doing anyone any good and not doing anyone any harm. Was that the balance I was looking for, between harm and good? Was it a worthy goal for a life, to try to stop hurting other people? Or did I have a tendency to leave when things got too hard and too real?

“I have about said all I’m going to say on this. Oh, one more thing. We had peanut butter and jelly for supper and donuts for breakfast. I’m hungry. I’m stopping at the first diner I see that has burgers on the grill. And you can stop crying anytime.”

“I’m not crying,” I said, wiping my eyes with the heel of my hand. “I’m allergic to the dog.”

 

American Road Trip, by Sarah Black, out March 16 from Dreamspinner Press

A single moment—or a single mistake—can change everything.

When Captain James Lee Hooker and his lover, Sergeant Easy Jacobs, were in the Army, they made a mistake that got a young soldier hurt. Three years later, they’re civilians again, living far apart, haunted by what they lost. Now that young soldier needs their help.

With his grandmother’s one-eyed Chihuahua riding shotgun, James Lee climbs into Easy’s pickup for a trip across the American Southwest. They set out to rescue a friend, but their journey transforms them with the power of forgiveness.

Author Bio: Sarah Black is a writer, artist, veteran, and mother. She is a Lambda finalist.

American Road Trip has an epilogue! “Tino Takes the Cake” is offered free on Dreamspinner’s blog on March 16, and tells the story of the main characters’wedding! 

You can find it here:

New Release Blitz for Tomboy by Janelle Reston (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Tomboy

Author: Janelle Reston

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: March 19, 2018

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 17000

Genre: romance, historical, LGBT, Historical, lesbian, 1950’s, tomboy, student, blue collar, mechanic, NASA, scientist, friends to lovers

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Some kids’ heads are in the clouds. Harriet Little’s head is in outer space.

In 1950s America, everyone is expected to come out of a cookie-cutter mold. But Harriet prefers the people who don’t, like her communist-sympathizer father and her best friend Jackie, a tomboy who bucks the school dress code of skirts and blouses in favor of T-shirts and blue jeans. Harriet realizes she’s also different when she starts to swoon over Rosemary Clooney instead of Rock Hudson—and finds Sputnik and sci-fi more fascinating than sock hops.

Before long, Harriet is secretly dating the most popular girl in the school. But she soon learns that real love needs a stronger foundation than frilly dresses and feminine wiles.

Excerpt

Tomboy
Janelle Reston © 2018
All Rights Reserved

The first time I met Jackie, I thought she was a boy. Of course, she was only eight then, an age when most humans would still be fairly androgynous if our society didn’t have the habit of primping us up in clothes that point in one direction or the other.

Jackie was in straight-legged dungarees, a checkered button-down shirt, and a brown leather belt with crossed rifles embossed on the brass buckle. Her hair was short, trimmed above the ears.

“Who’s that new boy?” my friend Shelley whispered as we settled into our desks. It was the first day of fourth grade, and Mrs. Baumgartner had made folded-paper name placards for each seat so we’d know where to go. Shelley always sat right in front of me because our last names were next to each other in the alphabet. She was Kramer; I was Little.

I looked at the blond cherub in the front row. He—as I thought Jackie was at the time—had his gaze set toward the ceiling, eyes tracing the portraits of the US presidents that hung at the top of the wall. A cowlick stuck up from the back of his head. He reminded me of Dennis the Menace, the mischievous star of my new favorite cartoon strip, which had debuted in our local paper that summer. I liked the way Dennis talked back to adults but somehow never got in trouble for it. I wished I had the same courage.

Mrs. Baumgartner walked into the room. The class fell silent and we straightened in our chairs, facing her. “Good morning, class. I’m your teacher for this year, Mrs. Baumgartner.”

“Good morning, Mrs. Baumgartner,” we answered in unison. She spelled her name on the chalkboard in cursive and asked us to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Back then, the Pledge didn’t have the gist of a prayer like it does today; “under God” wasn’t added to “one nation indivisible” until three years later, after Eisenhower became president. I wiggled my toes around in my hand-me-down saddle shoes as we recited the words.

The trouble began when Mrs. Baumgartner started to take attendance. “Jacqueline Auglaize?”

“Here, Mrs. Baumgartner,” Dennis the Menace answered from the front row.

Mrs. Baumgartner narrowed her eyes. “New year at a new school, and we’re starting with the practical jokes already?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Will the real Jacqueline Auglaize please speak up? This is your only warning.” Mrs. Baumgartner’s eyes scanned the room. I craned my neck around. I hadn’t noticed any new girls in the classroom before our teacher’s arrival, but maybe I’d been distracted by the Dennis the Menace boy.

“I’m Jackie Auglaize, ma’am,” Dennis the Menace piped up again.

Mrs. Baumgartner’s face screwed up as if she’d accidentally sucked on a lemon. “What you are is on the way to the principal’s office, young man.”

“I’m not—”

“And a detention for talking back.”

Mrs. Baumgartner called on one of the other boys to escort the new, nameless student to his punishment. From chin to scalp, Dennis the Menace’s face turned red as a beet. His flushed ears looked almost purple against his pale hair.

Kids playing pranks didn’t blush like that.

“I think that really is a girl,” I whispered to Shelley. But if she heard, she didn’t respond. She knew better than to turn around in her seat when a teacher was already angry.

An hour later, Mrs. Baumgartner was quizzing us on our classroom rules when the school secretary appeared at the door. In tow was a student in a frilly cap-sleeved blouse, knee-length blue corduroy jumper with a flared skirt, lace-trimmed white bobby socks, a pair of shiny black Mary Janes—and short blonde hair.

The cowlick stood like a sentinel at the back of her scalp despite the hair polish that had clearly been combed through since we’d last seen her.

An audible gasp filled the classroom. Actually, it was multiple gasps, but they happened in such synchronization that they had the effect of a single, sustained note.

“Mrs. Baumgartner,” the secretary said, “Jacqueline Auglaize is ready to return to the classroom. We’ve explained the school dress code to her mother. The behavior of this morning won’t be repeated.”

“Thank you, Miss Hamilton. Welcome back, Jacqueline.”

Titters filled the room as Jacqueline walked toward her desk. Mrs. Baumgartner slapped her ruler against her desk. “Does anyone else want a detention?”

We went quiet. Detentions are never an auspicious way to start a new school year.

We spent the rest of the morning learning how to protect ourselves from atomic explosions. Mrs. Baumgartner said this knowledge could save us now that the Soviets had the bomb. “When an air raid siren goes off or you see a bright flash of light, duck and cover underneath a table or desk, inside a corridor, or next to a strong brick wall. Then pull your sweater or coat up to cover the back of your neck and head,” she explained.

We all squatted under our desks as instructed. My father said the Russians weren’t stupid enough to bomb us, that they loved the common people and wanted to protect us. But Mrs. Baumgartner seemed to think they were. She went on in excruciating detail about the things that could happen to us if we didn’t duck and cover. Glass from broken windows could fly in our faces, we could get a terrible sunburn from the blast; pieces of ceiling might drop on our heads. I wasn’t sure whom to believe about the bomb—my dad or Mrs. Baumgartner. I didn’t want to think about it. I shut out my teacher’s voice and stared at my scuffed saddle shoes, pondering how a boy could magically turn into a girl in the wink of an eye.

“She’s not a girl,” Shelley insisted as we walked out to morning recess. “Girls can’t have hair like that.”

“They can if they cut it.”

“But no mother would let a girl wear her hair so short.”

“The school wouldn’t let a boy wear a dress to class.”

Shelley must have been won over by my logic, because the next thing that came out of her mouth was, “Maybe she has a little brother who likes to stick gum in people’s hair.” Shelley’s brother had done that to her once, but since he only got it on the tail end of her braid, she hadn’t lost much length to the scissors when her mother cut it out. “Or she got lice. Yuck.”

I didn’t like the direction of Shelley’s last comment. As it was, the new girl was guaranteed to have very few friends after the morning’s clothing incident. If the lice rumor spread, she’d have no friends at all. I’d been new once too.

“She doesn’t look dirty,” I said. “Maybe her hair got caught in an escalator and they had to cut it off.” I was terrified of escalators. My mother had warned me never to play around on one or my clothes would get snagged between the steps and I’d be pulled in, then smashed as flat as a pancake. Back when she worked in a department store, before marrying my dad, she saw a lady get caught by the scarf in an escalator’s moving handrail, and it would have been death by strangling if an alert gentleman with a penknife hadn’t been nearby to free her. I still get a little on edge every time I step onto one.

We got in line to play hopscotch on a board a couple other girls had drawn earlier that morning. I looked around. The whole school was out on the playground, and it was harder than I would have expected to find a short-haired girl in a blue jumper. There were lots of blue corduroy jumpers darting around the swings and monkey bars and jungle gym. Wanamaker’s must have featured them in its back-to-school sale that year. My dress wasn’t new. It was a hand-me-down from my older sister, with a ribbon tie and a skirt made with less fabric than the newer fashions. Shelley and I had done a test run of our first-day outfits the previous week, and no matter how fast I spun around, my skirt failed to billow as dramatically as Shelley’s.

Still, I tried to make the skirt swing gracefully as I hopped down the squares. I had no desire to be dainty, but I liked the aesthetic of fabric twirling in the air. We went through the hopscotch line four times before I finally spotted Jackie. She was over by the fence, poking at the dirt with a stick. Alone.

That last bit was no surprise.

It took three more rounds of hopscotch before I worked up the nerve to go find out what she was doing.

“Where are you going?” Shelley called as I marched off.

I didn’t answer her, afraid I’d lose my momentum. It was risky talking to an outcast. On the one hand, it was the only way to turn her into not-an-outcast. On the other hand, it might turn me into one too.

“What are you doing?”

Jackie looked up. “Thinking about digging a hole to China.”

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Meet the Author

Janelle Reston lives in a northern lake town with her partner and their black cats. She loves watching Battlestar Galactica and queering gender. You can keep up with her at http://www.janellereston.com.

 

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