The Evolution of Ethan Poeby Robin Reardon
In the space of a few months, sixteen-year-old Ethan Poe's life has become a complicated mix of facts, theories, and hypotheses. Things he knows beyond doubt: his parents are divorcing, his older brother Kyle is exhibiting alarming behavior, and his best friend is turning into a spiritual fanatic. Then there are the shifting uncertainties-including his feelings… See more details below
In the space of a few months, sixteen-year-old Ethan Poe's life has become a complicated mix of facts, theories, and hypotheses. Things he knows beyond doubt: his parents are divorcing, his older brother Kyle is exhibiting alarming behavior, and his best friend is turning into a spiritual fanatic. Then there are the shifting uncertainties-including his feelings toward his father and his desire to both blend in and stand out in his rural Maine hometown. Most pressing of all, there's his attraction to Max Modine, a boy he wants to know much better than he does.
Despite Ethan's initial reluctance, he gets pulled into a heated and sometimes violent conflict about whether to introduce Intelligent Design into science classrooms. Family and friends are turning against each other, school is a battleground, and Ethan will have to take a stand. Because some facts are irrefutable and some bonds unbreakable, even when they can't be seen. And once Ethan finds the courage to become who he was meant to be, the outcome could be absolutely extraordinary. . .
Praise for the novels of Robin Reardon
"Stirring. . .thoughtful and convincing." -Publishers Weekly on Thinking Straight
"A compelling story well worth your time. . .Reardon is an author to watch." -Bart Yates, author of The Brothers Bishop on A Secret Edge
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The Evolution of Ethan Poe
By Robin Reardon
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Robin Reardon
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI wish my mom's divorce lawyer wasn't so freakin' hot. The man is gorgeous. On the other hand, maybe it helps keep my mind off of what's really going on. In any case, it's distracting.
So is my stupid brother Kyle's recent little outburst, the one where he came up with a totally unique way to gear up for the start of school. I don't have a clue where he got this idea, but just last week, he buys one of those giant bags of ice cubes from the Store 24 next to Nick's Pizza in that string of about five stores out on Route 154. He clears some space in the middle of the toolshed that Dad built in the backyard four years ago, plunks the bag of ice in some old tin bucket he got from God knows where, cuts the bag open, shoves his right hand in, and sits there. And sits there, until Mom panics because she doesn't know where he is, makes me call all his friends looking for him—no luck with that—and finally gets in her car to scour the area. I wander into the yard, the phone from the kitchen in my pocket in case Kyle calls or Mom does. And I hear a noise from inside the shed, like broken pottery sliding across a surface.
I pull open the door, and there he is, back against the shaky support for a shelf attached to the side of the shed. Kyle's hand is deep into melting ice cubes, his teeth gritted with determination.
"What the fuck!"
"Ethan! Get out!" His voice is shrill, panicky, and too much white shows around the brown of his eyes.
"What are you doing? Get your hand out of there!" Whatever he thinks he's doing, it can't be good. I step over old green plastic pots, terra-cotta shards, a bent trowel, swirls of stiff green hose worn in places with the crisscrossed fibers exposed. Kyle is seventeen, a year older than me and just as skinny, but more than one year taller. Or maybe I'm more than one year shorter. Anyway, I'm trying to yank his arm to get his hand out of the ice, and he's fighting me. Finally I give up and instead attack the bucket so I can spill the contents. He fights this, too, but he has only the one hand to work with, so I win.
Feet sliding on tumbled lumps of ice, he runs from the shed toward the house, his right hand curled against his navy blue God Is Now Here T-shirt. From what I can see, the hand looks like the claw of some dead creature. I follow, dialing Mom's cell number as I go, and let her know I've found Kyle. The universe must have been conspiring to bring everything together, because she's pulling into the driveway when I call.
Mom's no lightweight; she's tall like Kyle and solid, and between the two of us we manage to drag him out of his room, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. Mom threatens to tie him to the chair if he doesn't stay put, and she takes the plastic bucket she uses when she mops the kitchen floor and starts to fill it with lukewarm water. You don't spend your whole life in central Maine without knowing how to treat minor frostbite, and she hasn't moved more than a few miles from where she was born.
I can tell by the look on Kyle's face that he's in pain now that his hand is warming up. It couldn't have been too badly frozen, or it would have been longer before the pain set in. Mom doesn't care about the pain, evidently. She rants at him as water fills the pail in the sink, one hand on her broad hip and the other now flying into the air, now landing on the faucet, now pushing strands of dark brown, unmanageable hair away from her face, ineffectively trying to tuck them into the frayed red elastic that's holding some of it in check.
"Of all the damn fool things! You boys are supposed to be helping me! Have you forgotten that? Now that that low-life father of yours isn't here. Kyle Poe, what the hell did you think you were doing?" Mom was probably cute when she was young, with a round face and dark eyes that sparkle when she's in a good mood, but right now she looks like one of the Furies we studied in Greek mythology.
Through gritted teeth, Kyle's only response is, "Don't say damn. Or hell."
Of course this sends Mom into a new fit. "I'll say whatever the hell I want to! Ethan, put a chair beside your damn fool brother."
I comply, nervous because Mom doesn't usually swear this much; she must be more than mad. She sounds almost afraid. She lifts the pail, now heavy with water, and half waddles to the chair I've set beside Kyle. It hits the wooden seat with a liquid thunk. Mom grabs Kyle's right arm above the wrist, the curled hand now less white than pink with the blood returning, and lowers the claw slowly, half inch by half inch, into the water as Kyle gasps and grinds his jaw.
Water level halfway up the forearm, Mom stands straight, both hands on hips now, and glares at him. "Talk to me, Kyle. What did you think you were doing?"
His words halting with an effort not to reveal his pain level, Kyle says, "Matthew five, verse thirty: 'If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.'"
Mom looks confused. "And how on earth did you trip over your right hand, I'd like to know?"
If she doesn't know what he means by "stumble," I sure do. My right hand has brought me to my back on the bed or pressed against the tiled shower stall many times in the last few years. And the "member" in question isn't at the end of my right arm. But unlike Kyle, I don't have a problem with either member. I look for opportunities to stumble, every day. Every night. But Mom doesn't know what Kyle means. She prods, "Well?"
Kyle just shakes his head, and seeing how much pain he's in, Mom finally gives up and practically falls into the fourth chair at our ancient Formica-top table, red with gray and black rounded arrowheads scattered across the entire surface. Most of the stuff in our house comes from other people's yard sales. Only recently has it struck me how out of place the straight-backed wooden chairs look around this relic. The chairs themselves aren't new—far from it. But at least they match each other. And they look more at home on the battered, wide pine boards of the floor than the aluminum legs of the red Formica table. Honestly, you'd think we didn't have any money. We aren't rich, I don't mean to say that. But we could afford some decent kitchen furniture. And I know there's enough money put away someplace to give both Kyle and me a good start at college, though we're both expected to contribute to that. As for the secondhand stuff, Mom's just really big on "living light on the land."
Mom stares at Kyle. I watch her uneasily and glance occasionally at my brother's strained face, eyes shut. Everyone seems to avoid pointing out that Kyle hasn't explained himself further. Maybe Mom has figured out what he means. Finally she says, "Honestly, Kyle, going to church is one thing. Punishing your hand ..." Her voice trails off, and Kyle doesn't do anything to fill in the blanks.
We sit there like that, with Mom getting up a few times to add more warm water to Kyle's pail, before I start getting restless. "I'm gonna clean up the mess in the shed," I throw over my shoulder on my way out of the kitchen.
With an ancient stubby broom I sweep the melt-softened cubes and water out through the shed doorway, my mind barely focused on what I'm doing. Low-life father. If your father is low-life, what does that make you? Middle-life? And that's only if your mother is high-life. Whatever that means.
I collect the broken pot pieces in the bucket, my irritation with Kyle growing deeper and closer to real anger with the clang of each shard that lands. He'd started to get all holier-than-thou sometime in June, as far as I can remember, not long after Dad left. Dad hasn't gone very far, what with his public works job with the town. He rents the room over the Barstows' garage where Mr. Barstow's mother had stayed until she died, the kitchen nothing more than a tiny sink, a small stove, and a half refrigerator on a couple of square yards of linoleum in the corner.
Dad gave Kyle and me this big lecture just before he got in his pickup truck to drive away, about being men now and shouldering some of the responsibility around here. I remember thinking, Do men ever want to cry as bad as I do right now? But Kyle looked really serious, and he must have taken things quite to heart. Because the first thing he did was start going to church every Sunday. Not long after that, he took it upon himself to commit to paper the chores we'd each always done without the formality lent to them by virtue of being written down and attached to the side of the refrigerator, where they're now held on display by a magnet shaped like the Christian ichthus—that primitive fish symbol the early disciples supposedly used. Then he started ordering me around, reminding me pointedly when my chores weren't done, adding to the list as he felt necessary to make sure everything was cared for. Protected. Right.
It doesn't help that Mom seems to alternate between approving of Kyle's responsible approach to life and being amused by it. I just want him to knock it off. I mean, who does he think he is, my father or something? Maybe she'll think again after today's little exhibition.
I was never into church that much, but in the past year or so it's actually begun to make me nervous. That is, once I realized what the Bible says about me. About people like me.
In a skirmish with the old hose—stiff and unwilling to let me curl it into a mass I can tie and drag to the pile going to the dump—anger wins out over irritation. I curse under my breath, partly at the hose, partly at Kyle. He's ruined things for me, just when I'd got up enough guts to talk to Mom. I've been waiting for the right time, you know? Because, I mean, you can't just dump this onto your parents. Parent. It's hard enough finding the courage to tell your mother you're gay. I don't know if I'll ever be able to tell my dad. And I sure as hell don't plan to tell Kyle, so this afternoon looked like a good time. Mom went out last night to meet Jimmy Korbel, just for a few beers, not a real date; the divorce isn't final yet. But she came home in a great mood. And then when it looked like Kyle was away someplace for the afternoon, it seemed like this would be the day. So I spent a little time in my room, white earbuds jammed into the sides of my head, collecting energy and attitude from my favorite music, but before I could quite bring myself to turn off the iPod and go look for Mom, she found me. That's when she told me that Kyle was missing and I had to help find him. End of my plan. And now I don't know now when I'm going to say anything.
Getting ready for school is part fun, part chore for me. If I hadn't just bought a lot of Goth-inspired stuff, we'd have gone shopping for back-to-school clothes. But Mom's attitude is, "You made that bed, Ethan. Now you lie in it." I don't get it; does she think I regret the choices? Hardly.
But I do need a new winter coat. So the day after Kyle's weirdness she says she and I need to go on a shopping trip. She stares at me a minute when I tell her I want to get a used coat, from a store in Bangor I heard about called This Time For Sure. When it sinks in that a used coat will be cheaper, she nods, no doubt picturing a maroon parka or some such hideous, practical item. And of course, it appeals to her habit of reusing other people's cast-offs. She says, "We'll go there after my next appointment with Mr. LeBlanc."
This is the hot lawyer I mentioned. Guy. That's what he told me to call him, not Mr. LeBlanc, even though that's how my Mom refers to him rather pointedly when she talks to me. Guy, pronounced in the French manner. Rhymes with Gee, as in Gee Whiz. Rhymes with Jeeeeesus-God, but that man makes my pants too tight every time I think of him.
He's not that old, either. I mean, I've never done it with anyone, but the idea of doing it with him is not so far-fetched. He's just tall enough to be a couple of inches above me, and I love the way his dark hair falls in waves around his head, with that one curl that looks like it's accidentally placed just off-center of his forehead, like he doesn't know it's separated itself from the rest of his hair, like he doesn't know it helps make him gorgeous. Plus, I half suspect that he's gay. That's my fantasy, anyway.
So when Mom and I show up for her appointment the last weekday before school starts, I've got my tightest black jeans on, the ones where the big teeth on the silver zipper show because there's no fabric flap over them, and my black T-shirt with the holes I put in it and then carefully frayed to look like they aren't deliberate—kind of like that curl. And when I tuck the shirt into the jeans, one of the holes is almost but not quite right over my right nipple, so it peeks out depending on how I position myself. I want Guy to notice this.
Mom tries to make me change before we leave the house, of course. "Ethan, for God's sake, put on something decent!" So I top the look with a white shirt, a couple of sizes too big, not tucked in so I can take it off or just let the fabric fall aside as I want. We're already a little late, or I think Mom would demand more of a change.
Guy is as gorgeous as ever in a light-colored suit and a blue and white striped shirt with white collar and cuffs. He's the Light to my Dark. Even with such beautiful clothes I wish he'd take them off. I want to know how much hair is on his chest. For starters. I take off my white shirt as if to open the bidding, and Mom glares at me. Too bad. And it pays off. I swear, at least three times my little peek-a-boo trick catches Guy's eye, in just the right spot. Just the right way.
He's got to be gay. I step out of his office with a smile I hide from Mom.
A bell over the door at This Time For Sure tinkles when we walk in. Mom is quickly buried in a section of fiber-fill parkas, which is what I expected. She calls me over a few times to try something on, and each time I go over without protest, saving my energy for when I've found something worth fighting for. And I find it.
There's this long blue-black (of course) coat, kind of like a navy pea coat on steroids. The collar can flip up high to cover my ears, the sleeves are ideal at just a tad too long, the pocket linings are actually intact, and on the back—seemingly out of character with the rest of the coat—in light gray, between shoulders and hips, is this huge bar code design.
Wacko. Perfect. I bury my hands in the pockets and wander over to where Mom is still digging into stuff I wouldn't wear on a bet, and I wait for her to look up. Finally she does.
Her eyes roll up and then close for a nanosecond, she makes a clucking noise with her tongue, and she says, "Ethan, you can't be serious."
I've been through enough of these scenes to know that when she says, "Take that thing off this minute" or "Yes, dear. Very funny. Now try this on," she isn't going to go along with it. But when she says, "You can't be serious," if I play my cards right—which means patiently trying on anything she wants me to—I might get my way. She hands me another couple of parkas, and I try each one on, quietly but deliberately putting my long pea coat back on each time, until she finally takes a good look at me and says, "How much is that thing, anyway?" She fingers the dense wool while I tell her it's only seventy-five dollars. She pulls the pockets inside out. She opens the coat and examines the lining and looks for how well it's attached to the coat. She takes it off me and goes over it for moth holes. She smells it in several places. There's just nothing wrong with this coat. And the parka prices are only a teeny bit less.
I know it's over when she folds it over her arm and says, "If I buy you this thing, Ethan, you're going to wear it. Do you hear me?" I nod, barely breathing. "What are you going to wear shoveling snow?" I look at her, surprised; Dad always plows the driveway, and all Kyle and I ever have to do is the walkway and the steps. "Don't look so shocked. Did you think your father was going to keep doing everything for you even though he doesn't live with us now?"
Excerpted from The Evolution of Ethan Poe by Robin Reardon Copyright © 2011 by Robin Reardon. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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