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.
The Simplicity of Being Normal
James Stryker © 2017
All Rights Reserved
But she’d been too daring. She’d gone for that jog around the high school track alone, and a man had approached her.
He’d come beside her and kept pace for too long.
“I’m Charlie Smith.” He smiled.
Julie scanned him. He wore a loose T-shirt and athletic shorts. His hands were empty, but he had a green CTR ring on one hand. Every indication of being a harmless, popcorn-necklace-stringing Mormon. And sweat dripped down his red face. He was already tired, giving her the advantage. It was a risk she wasn’t willing to take though. She ignored his introduction and picked up speed.
“You’re…the. New teacher.” Gasps punctuated Charlie’s sentences as he reached her again. “Just…moved…here, right?”
She ran faster.
He caught her sleeve.
Julie thought about screaming. It hadn’t helped before, but could it now? She looked around. No one was there. Why had she come alone? Why had she let herself believe everything would be okay if she went out of range? Now she’d be the 1 in 840.
However, the stranger was weak. He held her sleeve, but he bent over, puffing heavily. She could grind her shoe into his shin and flee, yet she felt frozen.
“I know…what…it’s like. To be new.” Charlie had squinted. “And I used…to teach here. Maybe I could…give you…a few pointers. At dinner sometime. What was…your name?”
“Julie Keegan.” She expelled the breath she’d been holding as an idea burst into her mind. A great idea. A brilliant idea. “Mrs. Julie Keegan.”
“Yes.” Suddenly, Julie was stronger. More in control. She pulled back her sleeve. “My husband will be teaching here as well.”
Charlie had raised an eyebrow. “Really? I was in on Todd’s interview, and he didn’t mention he was married.”
“I thought you said you used to teach here?”
“I did. But I’ve been the assistant principal for the last couple of years.”
Fuck. Why didn’t she pour the amount of research her brother did into these things? Todd probably knew who the last eleven assistant principals had been, while Julie had sat in the lobby before her interview trying to remember the school’s mascot. If they asked the area crime rates, that she could answer in detail.
But she hadn’t been quizzed on the number of homicides, assaults, or reported rapes. The principal hadn’t been interested in useful information. He did ask about the mascot, but there’d been a dozen plush eagles in his office. And thank God they were desperate, since the principal was patriotic, and the school mascot was a wombat.
When Todd found out, he hadn’t been as irate as Julie expected. Picking at him and teasing was one thing, but she knew her emotional dependence was something he opposed, yet had taken in stride. So far anyway. In addition to her relief that he didn’t completely hate her, when she’d gotten past the initial panic over the lie, the idea had again taken on the attractive sheen that compelled her to make it in the first place.
Being married. Now that was an excellent safeguard. And a better role to the rest of the world than the pathetic, paranoid sister living with her brother. As Charlie Smith had, men would be more likely to respect her boundaries if she was clearly unavailable. With a ring on her finger, everyone would leave her alone. She was taken and protected. A person might think twice before attacking her or holding her captive. No longer would she be a young, single woman who could be murdered in a basement, her body left to rot in a ditch. Her absence would be noticed. She’d be missed. By her husband.
Julie wouldn’t force Todd to do anything; it was all in the title. She only had to go by “Mrs.” instead of “Ms.” And it was temporary. When she got better, she’d leave. Or if Todd got tired of it, he’d ask her to go. No matter how paralyzed with fear she might be, if Todd wanted a relationship with someone, she’d back off.
Even if the someone is Amanda Porter. I swear to God, I won’t stand in your way. I’ll just tell you to wait until she’s not a minor. Again, Julie shook the more recent issue from her mind and traced to where her thoughts had ended.
An additional realization that had occurred to her was that, until her brother found a companion, the arrangement could be mutually beneficial.
Being married is a good image. It’s what people want to see. They’ll be less likely to give credence to anything else they might discover if you’re a happily married man. They might forgive you for not being Mormon if you’re married. And if you stop saying the F word.
“Oh, Julie, it’s you,” Todd had been reading in the living room when she entered a couple of days later. By the tone of his voice, she knew he’d found out. “I was taking some of my books to the school this afternoon and ran into Charlie. He informed me that he’d met my wife a few days ago. Funny, I don’t remember getting married. I was waiting for her to come home.” He brought his book up and carefully turned a page. “Apparently, her name is Julie too. What are the odds?”
She hadn’t been able to interpret what he was thinking from his expression—her punishment for not immediately divulging her actions. She had to fly blind and, without having an inkling of what she was in for, she couldn’t pace herself. Everything spewed out, including the calculated reasoning she’d been recently confident in. Todd kept the book hiding his face and turned the pages so slowly she couldn’t tell if he was listening. But when the deluge of excuses dried, he closed his book and glared at her.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” It was as close to calling her a delusional lunatic as he’d come.
“I’m sorry. I really am. This is why I shouldn’t go anywhere alone. I panic.” Julie lowered the grocery bag she’d been holding.
“I see. Did you panic and bring home a couple of kids from the supermarket this afternoon? Are they in that bag? You shouldn’t put a baby in a plastic bag, Julie. It says that right on the fucking bag!”
Of course, she’d started to cry.
I’m so scared, Todd. Julie stared at the dark hotel ceiling. All the rationalization aside, her fear had been the only explanation she could give him. At the time, she then worked herself into the manic hysteria where she ceased to be coherent. I’m scared to be cornered and alone. That’s the thing about corners. You can’t be cornered and recornered and recornered. It’s not some fucking Russian nesting doll. You’re just cornered. And if I’m cornered with you, I’m safe.
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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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