Sons of Libertyby Adele Griffin, Peter McCarty
Nobody knows the American Revolution better than Rock Kindle. He takes pride in his patriotic forefathers and believes that he too could brave any combat. But when he helps his best friend run away from home, Rock begins to question the bonds that hold his own family together.
Intelligent writing and thoughtfully drawn characters amplify the process of two boys wending their way through the complexities of family relationships that are often beyond the scope of their understanding. Rock, 13, is a history buff, an American Revolution aficionado who understands loyalty and conflict. Griffin cleverly draws parallels between the private family war of two sons rebelling against their regimented, fiercely controlling father, and the large-scale revolt of young colonies against the parent country. Rock's relationship with his brother Cliff is mostly intuitive, marked by petty jealousies and competitions as well as shining moments. As Cliff and Rock toy with the notion of escape, the suspense is exhausting; Rock's anguish is achingly realized, and the final outcome is no black- and-white happy ending, but a gray realm: They choose the temporary pain of breaking away in the half-uttered hope of finding a better life. It will make readers wince in discomfort, and long to know how it all turned out.
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Sons of Liberty
By Adele Griffin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Adele Griffin
All rights reserved.
THE SUGAR ACT
TONIGHT WOULD BE INTERRUPTED. Rock couldn't figure how he knew, but he did. Drip-plip, drip-plip, drip-plip; water pooled in the plastic bucket Rock's mother had stuck on the landing between the two upstairs bedrooms. Rock listened to the drips—would the plinking rhythm lull him into sleep, or prevent it?
He listened harder, for the soft brush of newspaper pages turning in Cliff's bedroom. His brother usually worked on his designs late at night, spread-eagling the real-estate section, drawing pad, and himself underneath his bed, his body tensed for their father's voice vibrations in the floorboards, in case he planned a surprise checkup.
It was way after midnight, though. Cliff was long asleep. Rock flopped onto his side and raised his head, punching and twisting his pillow. Maybe he should turn on his lamp and work on his paper, get a few more index cards done, if sleep was evading him for now.
He pressed and rubbed his thumbs against the back of his neck, willing himself into relaxation, but his heart skittered uneasily under the floor of his chest and he could feel a fat wad of tension folded into the space between his shoulder blades. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and tried to let warmth and darkness fog over him. Uneasily, he drifted.
"Okay, men. Everybody up."
A flood of electric light and the steady clapping of his father's hands jolted Rock awake. The colors of his room blurred before his squinting eyes. He knew it. I knew it, Dad, he felt like saying. He and his father were in touch that way.
Rock could see only the crook of an arm and a white shirtsleeve, but he knew that his father stood in the landing with his feet planted far apart and his arms crossed at the chest. His Mr. Clean pose, Cliff called it.
Rock snapped back the quilt and jumped to his feet.
"Cliff, up." Quietly. Their father hardly ever raised his voice.
"Oh, for chrissa—"
"You hear me now, Cliff."
"I got my Spanish quiz tomor—"
"You want trouble, sailor?"
"Naw, no. No trouble."
Rock held himself straight at attention; chin raised, shoulders leveled, hands cupped at his sides. He blinked back the tiredness from his eyes, shook it out of his head, smiled grimly. He might be fifteen months younger than Cliff, but Rock had always been quicker to his feet at surprise wake-ups.
Now their father leaned in the door frame and nodded at him. "Your brother can't seem to get going. Rock, you want to help him out?"
"Twenty push-ups and you're all set, Cliff," Rock said quickly. If a help-out wasn't decided fast enough, their father might think one up, and he had a way stronger imagination. But this time he only hmmphed approval.
"Don't know how I got one son so alert and one so lazy. Warm clothes, you two. We're gonna go fix that roof."
Rock heard the heavy slap of Cliff's weight to the floor as he began chuffing off twenty. Hauling into his jeans and flannel shirt, Rock caught sight of his reflection in the mirror over his dresser. Once Liza had accused him of looking like her hamster, Pearl. At 2:17 in the morning, just waking out of his uneven sleep, Rock had to concede the likeness. The puffs of dark hair curling up to stiff meringue-beaten points, his frowning, triangle-pinched face—not that he resembled a rodent during regular time. But an Interrupted night was different from regular time.
"Get a move on." Their father clattered down the stairs, loud enough to wake their mother and Brontie, if he wanted to. Which he probably did. When their father was awake, he thought the whole world should jump awake with him, or at least be aware that some jumping was going on.
"Unreal." Cliff coughed. "Can you believe this?" he asked. Not waiting for Rock's answer, he started singing quietly. "Oh, give me a home. Where the bu-fah-lo roam. An-the deeeer an-theean-tee-lope plaaay." The song was sort of a joke, since lately in private Cliff had taken to calling their father Cowboy George. But now Rock was in too much of a hurry to laugh.
As he rushed down the stairs, Rock heard the squeak of his brother's closet door opening and the clattering of wire hangers as Cliff leisurely explored its messy cave for clothes.
"Hurry up," Rock huffed under his breath. It unnerved him, this defiant streak Cliff had been showing lately. It couldn't be a good idea for anybody.
Outside, the air was prickly cold, and Rock's every breath swelled from deep inside his heart and lungs. He sucked in cleansing balloonfuls. An ivory horn of moon hung in the sky and the crunch of the snow beneath Rock's Timberlands sounded purposeful, stealthy, as he walked around the side of the house. One cool thing about being awake when everyone else was asleep was slipping through the ghostly beauty of a winter's night.
His father was already up on the roof. His Triplebeam Jetlight suddenly bore down on Rock, who automatically raised his hands to shield his face.
"Just a flashlight, buddy. Look on your face—ha! Remind me of a blind squirrel." His father laughed softly as Rock dropped his arms and began scaling the ladder, double time. Rock hated ladders and heights, and yet the fear also exhilarated him. Not one molecule of his body or brain was sleeping now.
"Leak's coming from right up around here." The flashlight roved and caught odd pictures in its light circle. "Leaky pipe, maybe, but then I think we'd be seeing more water. Clear away the snow?"
Rock dropped to his knees and began digging like a dog. Snow whooshed off the roof.
"Take it easy," his father chuckled. "You're like me, Rock. Too much night energy. Couple of barn owls, that's us."
They worked together, clearing the snow, and their breath in the stillness made a comfortable working rhythm. Barn owls. Rock smiled wryly. It was true. He and his dad were a lot alike. It was mystical, almost.
"Time I got to be your age, my own parents had long passed." His father's words were easy inside a familiar story. "I got raised by your great-aunt Cass, as you know, and I spent my summers mostly alone. Aunt Cass couldn't keep up with me. Running wild, neighbors used to say, which was fine by me. 'Cause you can learn a lot, running wild."
"Sure can," Rock agreed.
"There's plenty of times when it's important to do what you gotta do, not follow along with rules that don't make sense to you."
"But there was other times, when I'd liked to've shared those wild days, when I'd wished I had an old man, or a brother or two, even a sister, maybe, that I could've horsed around with, fished with, talked to. Which is why I myself am glad I had my own kids pretty young."
"Yep," Rock answered. These moments with his father Rock enjoyed best, the remembering times, when Rock could picture his dad like Huck Finn, running wild through a Sheffield summer. And his father was still young, kind of; at least it wasn't impossible for Rock's imagination to smooth out some of his father's wrinkle lines and slim down his waist into the gangly, smooth-cheeked kid Rock had seen in a couple of old Polaroids.
"And I used to think that when I had a family of my own, I'd teach 'em all the learning I was storing up inside, all the things I taught myself. How to look a man straight in the eye. How to bluff, even when the deck's stacked against you."
"Straight in the eye, yep," Rock repeated. He enjoyed the sound of the words; they rang so solid and true, although Cliff would have called it Dad's Cowboy George talk. Cliff liked to point out that their dad's philosophies seemed like they'd been pulled off old John Wayne westerns. Rock didn't mind. Besides, if all Dad had counted on for company was weedy old Aunt Cass, watching John Wayne movies easily won out as livelier entertainment.
"This world's gone lazy," his father continued. "Everyone's used to handouts. No one's got endurance. No discipline. Say if that isn't right, Rock?"
"I need to teach my own sons better. That's why I worry about Cliff's lazy streak. He's got no discipline, your brother."
"Nope," Rock said uncertainly.
Too soon, Rock heard Cliff's feet shuffling up the ladder.
"Hey." Cliff's stocking hat appeared just over the eaves. "I brought these up from the basement." He produced a thick stack of cedar shingles from his jacket pocket. "In case we need to replace."
"Smart thinking," their father grunted.
Rock frowned. Why hadn't he thought to get the shingles from the basement? Because of course the problem turned out to be not a pipe leak, but a couple of loose shingles tacked along the edge of the metal chimney flashing. Their edges were warped from where the ice had buckled the wood.
"Good move, Cliff, bringing along those shingles," their father commented again. "Take a lesson, Rock. Your brother thinks on his feet, eh?" Rock nodded begrudgingly.
Now the three of them worked, intent as thieves, clawing off the rotten shingles and hammering in the fresh roofing. The darkness blurred the edges of Rock's careful fingers, and the cold, which had at first jolted him awake, began to exhaust him. He yawned, turning his face so his father wouldn't see.
"Just because you're tired's no excuse to do a sloppy job, Rock." Their father shone his flashlight over Rock's handiwork. "You just hammered in a three-quarter nail, where you need about an inch more length for the wood to hold."
"It's 'cause he can't see," Cliff muttered.
"His glasses," Cliff persisted, although by now Rock was leaning into him, pressing the toe of his boot hard against Cliff's leg to make him shut up. "He can barely see a foot in front of himself without them."
"Ah, that's baloney." His father scowled. "Not one single Kindle in our entire family history's ever had granny eyes." Rock hunched closer to the toolbox, fingering for the right nail. He felt his face go warm. Fatmouth stupid Cliff, making Rock look like a granny-eyed weakling.
"Well, I'm just saying," Cliff concluded.
"Fine." Cliff shrugged, but his face was clenched with secret thoughts. "I'm finished," he reported after a few silent minutes. "So I'll be heading down now, if that's okay. I got a long day at school tomorrow."
"Nothing school can teach you that you can't learn from life lessons. Remember that, son. Your brother and I've been talking about you. You might as well know—both of us've noticed this lazy streak you been showing."
"Oh yeah?" Cliff turned and glared at Rock, who raised his eyebrows and said nothing, even though he felt sort of embarrassed.
"One bad apple spoils the barrel, right?" their father continued. "You're not interested in being that apple, are you, sailor?"
"No." Cliff continued to hold angry eyes on Rock, who looked down and began to carefully brush some snow off his knees.
"Glad to hear."
"I'm still going inside though, okay?"
Their father was silent. Cliff swung a leg over the roof and disappeared down the ladder.
"He's got that Spanish quiz," Rock tried to explain as they listened to the front storm door slam. He felt bad, especially since Rock didn't really think Cliff was lazy and hadn't really been bad-mouthing him behind his back. It was just hard to speak up, sometimes, when their father was trying to make a point.
"You're not your brother's keeper, Rock. You don't need to make excuses for him." His father sat back on his heels and scratched his chin with the claw of the hammer, thoughtful a moment. Then suddenly he leaned over and tapped Rock's thigh with the tool's handle. "Good job out here."
"No problem." And even though Rock thought he could have curled up and gone to sleep that very moment, he was so tired, he also felt plenty content up on that rooftop with his father after a job well done. Life never seemed easier than when Rock could bask in the calm of his father's good spirits.
Their mother was awake. She'd set up the kitchen table: mugs filled with tea and a plate arranged with festive points of toasts, their crusts cut, slathered in butter and cinnamon sugar.
"We can set the alarms fifteen minutes later for tomorrow," she said nervously, holding her fingers over her mouth to stop her yawn. "Give you boys a little extra sleep."
"They're fine, Katherine." Their father curved his hand lightly over her bony shoulder blade. "They're young. Anyway, I don't need any of this." His fingers flicked in the direction of the table. "I'm due down at the boat yard in an hour and a half. I'm turning in."
"Night," Rock answered, sliding clumsily into his seat. Exhaustion wobbled him. Cliff sank into the seat opposite. Their mother fluttered and jerked between the kitchen counter and the table, rearranging silverware, pouring out milk, and fetching extra napkins before roosting lightly in her chair, one leg tucked beneath her as if she were poised to fly away at any moment.
Rock munched his toast triangles methodically, the sweet and crunch and butter all dissolving beautifully in his mouth.
"I'm gonna flunk my Spanish quiz," Cliff, his head bowed, muttered to his toast. "On less than five hours of decent sleep."
"Didn't you study?" His mother's voice was gently reproachful.
"Course I studied. What I'm talking about's being able to keep my eyes open long enough to actually read—"
"Shhh. Your father'll hear."
"I don't care if he hears."
"What kind of tea is this?" Rock asked. "It's too strong."
"Earl Grey. It's the only decaffeinated we had."
"Tastes nasty. Like smoke."
"Mom, you gotta talk to him. You promised you were going to, last time," Cliff said querulously.
"And I did, I did talk to him, but he thought tonight was important, and you know your father has his ways, how he was saying about discipline."
"Don't you start now, Mom. I mean, come on. School gives me discipline, the soccer team is discipline, lifeguarding is discipline, but geez; two hours hammering on our roof in the middle of the night trying to fix a leak—that's not anything but Dad being nuts, and you just let him. You just let him get away with it." Cliff's last word ended in a reluctant yawn that stretched his face and for a moment, in Rock's eyes, made him look scarily deformed.
"This tea tastes like aspirin and throw-up," Rock said. He dug his spoon into the sugar bowl and began shoveling sticky spoonfuls into his teacup. But no matter how much he added, the bitter taste stayed. Two, three, four; soon a sandy floor of sugar had formed on the bottom of his cup. But his mother wasn't watching him; her eyes were fixed to Cliff.
"While you are under his roof—," she began. Cliff crumpled his napkin and threw it into his buttery plate.
"Yeah, okay. Just go ahead and use that excuse. I can't say anything to that old argument. Except maybe to warn you that I might not be under this roof for much longer."
Strong words, Rock thought. Too bad the voice they came out of was all crackly with feeling. Rock looked at his mother, whose body seemed to deflate under her nightgown. She touched her fingertips to her closed eyes, and Rock was certain tears would squeeze out of the corners any second.
"I can't take your treating me this way, Cliffy."
"I'm not trying to be mean, Mom." Cliff pushed away his plate. "I just wish you'd stand up to him every once in a while. Look, don't cry, you're not gonna cry ..." Cliff shoved himself to his feet, gathering his cup and plate.
"What are you doing?" Suddenly his mother turned on Rock with agitated energy, yanking the teaspoon from his hand. "If you hate the tea, then I'll get you some juice or cocoa or something, but don't just sit there dumping eighty-six pounds of sugar into that little cup. Good grief, Rock, what a waste."
"Sorry." Rock bounced up and away from her. "I'm going to bed." He used his foot to push his chair back under the table.
"Wait a minute, Rock honey, come back, I didn't mean ..." Her voice shook, but Rock scooted out of range of his mother's outstretched hand, covering the area of the front room in three easy strides and taking the stairs two at a time. Tears made Rock nervous; he himself rarely cried, and when he did, it felt too private and embarrassing for anyone to see, like when people leafed through their family photo album and caught a glimpse of those baby pictures of Rock smiling and goofily naked in the bathtub.
Cliff didn't follow. He stayed downstairs for a long time, helping their mother clean the kitchen. Their muffled voices drifting up from below replaced the steady noise of the leak, lulling Rock to sleep and at the same time filling him with a restless unease that didn't leave him even as he dreamed.CHAPTER 2
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
LIZA STOMPED HER PRESENCE ONTO THE FRONT STOOP, ONE PINK-WOOL-MITTENED hand jammed on her hip, the other bare and blue and pinkie-crooked as she inhaled from an imaginary cigarette. Slowly she exhaled a long white tail of frost, then threw back her head and fake-laughed like she was at a cocktail party. Loony Liza, Rock smiled, always preparing for some swank life after she got out of Sheffield.
"You're busted, Covergirl." Rock opened the glass storm door, letting Liza slide into the living room on a current of freezing air. "Pretending to smoke air frost. That's like what second-graders do."
"So? I'm practicing for if I win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. For the parties after. Who cares if you saw, peon." Liza waved to Cliff and Brontie and their mother, who ranged around the kitchen table. "Morning, Mrs. Kindle. Morning, everyone. It's wicked cold in here." She moved closer to the front room's tiny fireplace, crouching and stretching out her hands.
Excerpted from Sons of Liberty by Adele Griffin. Copyright © 1997 Adele Griffin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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