Tricksby Ellen Hopkins
“When all choice is taken from you, life becomes a game of survival.” Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching . . . for freedom, safety, community, family, love.… See more details below
“When all choice is taken from you, life becomes a game of survival.” Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching . . . for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they don’t expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words, “I love you,” are said for all the wrong reasons. These are five moving stories that remain separate at first, then weave together to tell a larger, more powerful story–a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. And figuring out what sex and love are all about. TRICKS is informed and inspired by living near Las Vegas–a big teen prostitution scene–and by the fact that teen prostitution is not exclusively the result of kids running away from abuse. Kids from “better” families are selling themselves for hefty sums in order to finance addictions or even just to buy jewelry or clothing. In some cases, parents prostitute their children for the same reason. So what happens to the kids who are asking themselves, and asking us, “Can I ever feel OK about myself?” Highly charged, TRICKS is a gripping experience that turns you on and repels you at the same time.
Read an Excerpt
A Poem by Eden Streit
Eyes Tell Stories
But do they know how to craft fiction? Do they know how to spin
His eyes swear forever,
flatter with vows of only me. But are they empty
I stare into his eyes, as into a crystal ball, but I cannot find forever,
movies of yesterday,
a sketchbook of today,
dreams of a shared
His eyes whisper secrets.
But are they truths or fairy tales?
I wonder if even he
Never find the right kind of love.
You know, the kind that steals
your breath away, like diving into snowmelt.
The kind that jolts your heart,
sets it beating apace, an anxious hiccuping of hummingbird wings.
The kind that makes every terrible minute apart feel like hours. Days.
Some people flit from one possibility to the next, never experiencing the incredible
connection of two people, rocked by destiny.
Never knowing what it means to love
someone else more than themselves.
More than life itself, or the promise
of something better, beyond this world.
More, even (forgive me!) than God.
Lucky me. I found the right kind of love. With the wrong person.
Not Wrong for Me
No, not at all. Andrew is pretty much perfect. Not gorgeous, not in a male
model kind of way, but he is really cute,
with crazy hair that sometimes hides
his eyes, dark chocolate eyes that hold laughter, even when he's deadly serious.
He's not a hunk, but toned, and tall enough to effortlessly tuck me under his arms,
arms that are gentle but strong from honest ranch work, arms that make me feel
safe when they gather me in. It's the only time I really feel wanted, and the absolute
best part of any day is when I manage to steal cherished time with Andrew.
No, he's not even a little wrong for me except maybe maybe! in the eyes
of God. But much, much worse than that,
he's completely wrong for my parents.
See, My Papa
Is a hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching Assembly of God minister, and Mama
is his not-nearly-as-sweet-as-she-seems right-hand woman, and by almighty God,
their daughters (that's me, Eden, and my little sister, Eve yeah, no pressure at all)
will toe the Pentecostal line. Sometimes Eve and I even pretend to talk in tongues,
just to keep them believing we're heavenbound,
despite the fact that we go to public school
(Mama's too lazy to homeschool) and come face-to-face with the unsaved every day.
But anyway, my father and mother maintain certain expectations when
it comes to their daughters' all-too-human future plans and desires.
Papa: Our daughters will find husbands within their faith.
Mama: Our daughters will not date until they're ready to marry.
You Get My Dilemma
I'm definitely not ready to marry,
so I can't risk letting them know
I'm already dating, let alone dating a guy who isn't born-again, and even
worse, doesn't believe he needs to be.
Andrew is spiritual, yes. But religious?
Religion is for followers, he told me once. Followers and puppets.
At my stricken look, he became not quite apologetic. Sorry. But I don't
need some money-grubbing preacher defining my relationship with God.
At the time, I was only half in love with Andrew and thought I needed
definitions. "What, exactly, is your relationship with our Heavenly Father?"
He gently touched my cheek, smiled.
First off, I don't think God is a guy.
Some Old Testament-writing fart made that up to keep his old lady
in line. He paused, then added, Why would God need a pecker, anyway?
Yes, he enjoyed the horrified look on my face. More laughter settled
into those amazing eyes, creasing them at the corners. So sexy!
Anyway, I relate to God in a very personal way. Don't need anyone to tell me how to do it better. I see His hand everywhere in red sunrises and orange sunsets; in rain, falling on thirsty fields; in how a newborn lamb finds his mama in the herd. I thank God for these things. And for you.
After that, I was a lot more than halfway in love with Andrew.
The Funny Thing Is
We actually met at a revival, where nearly everyone was babbling in tongues,
or getting a healthy dose of Holy Spirit healing. Andrew's sister, Mariah, had
forsaken her Roman Catholic roots in favor of born-again believing and had
dragged her brother along that night,
hoping he'd find salvation. Instead
he found me, sitting in the very back row, half grinning at the goings-on.
He slid into an empty seat beside me.
So..., he whispered. Come here often?
I hadn't noticed him come in, and when I turned to respond, my voice caught
in my throat. Andrew was the best-looking guy to ever sit next to me,
let alone actually say something to me.
In fact, I didn't know they came that cute
in Idaho. A good ten seconds passed before I realized he had asked a question.
"I...uh...well, yes, in fact I come here fairly regularly. See the short guy up there?"
I pointed toward Papa, who kept the crowd chanting and praying while the visiting evangelist
busily laid on his hands. "He's the regular preacher and happens to be my father."
Andrew's jaw fell. He looked back and forth, Papa to me. You're kidding, right?
His consternation surprised me. "No,
not kidding. Why would you think so?"
He measured me again. It's just...you look so normal, and this... He shook his head.
I leaned closer to him, and for the first time inhaled his characteristic scent
clean and somehow green, like the alfalfa fields I later learned he helps work for cash.
I dropped my voice very low. "Promise not to tell, but I know just what you mean."
It Was a Defining Moment
For me, who had never dared confess that I have questioned church dogma
for quite some time, mostly because I am highly aware of hypocrisy and notice
it all too often among my father's flock.
I mean, how can you claim to walk
in the light of the Lord when you're cheating on your husband or stealing
from your best friend/business partner?
Okay, I'm something of a cynic.
But there was more that evening instant connection, to a guy who on the surface
was very different from me. And yet,
we both knew instinctively that we needed
something from each other. Some people might call it chemistry two parts hydrogen,
one part oxygen, voilà! You've got water.
A steady trickle, building to a cascade.
Was the poser type, things would probably be easier. I mean, if he could
pretend to accept the Lord into his heart,
on my father's strictest of terms, maybe
we could be seen together in public not really dating, of course. Not without a ring.
But Andrew is the most honest person I've ever met, and deadly honest that night.
Did you have to come to this thing?
It seems kind of, um...theatrical.
We had slipped out the back door,
when everyone's attention turned to
some unbelievable miracle at the front of the church. I smiled. "Theatrical.
That sums it up pretty well, I guess.
You probably couldn't see it in back, but..."
I glanced around dramatically, whispered,
"Brother Bradley even wears makeup!"
Andrew laughed warmly. So why do you come, then? Pure entertainment?
I shrugged. "Certain expectations are attached to the 'pastor's daughter' job
description. Easier just to meet them, or at least pretend they don't bother you."
It was early November, and the night wore a chill. I shivered at the nip in the air,
or at the sudden magnetic pull I felt toward this perfect stranger. Without a second
thought, Andrew took off his leather jacket, eased it around my shoulders.
Cool tonight, he observed. All the signs point to a hard winter.
He was standing very close to me.
I sank into that earthy green aura, looked
up into his eyes. "You don't believe in miracles, but you do believe in signs?"
His eyes didn't stray an inch. Who says I don't believe in miracles?
They happen every day. And I think we both knew that one just might have.
It Was Unfamiliar Turf
I mean, of course I'd thought guys were cute before, and the truth is, I'd even kissed
a few. But they'd all been "kiss and run,"
and none had come sprinting back for seconds.
Probably because most of the guys here at Boise High know who my father is.
But Andrew went to Borah High, clear across town, and he graduated last year.
He's a freshman at Boise State, where his mom teaches feminist theory. Yes, she and his rancher
dad make an odd couple. Love is like that.
Guess where his progressive theories came from.
That makes him nineteen, all the more reason we have to keep our relationship discreet.
In Idaho, age of consent is eighteen,
and my parents wouldn't even think
twice about locking him up for statutory.
That horrible thought has crossed my mind
more than once in the four months since Andrew decided to take a chance on me.
Of him coming to church with Mariah,
both of us patiently wading through Papa's
sermons, then waiting for post-services coffee hours to slip separately out the side doors, into
the thick stand of riverside trees for a walk.
Conversation. After a while, we held hands
as we ducked in between the old cottonwoods,
grown skeletal with autumn. We joked about
how soon we'd have to bring our own leaves for cover. And then one day Andrew stopped.
He pleated me into his arms, burrowed his face in my hair, inhaled. Smells like rain, he said.
My heart quickstepped. He wanted to kiss me. That scared me. What if I wasn't good?
His lips brushed my forehead, the pulse in my right temple. Will I burn if I kiss you?
I was scared, but not of burning, and I wanted that kiss more than anything I'd ever wanted
in my life. "Probably. And I'll burn with you.
But it will be worth it." I closed my eyes.
It was cold that morning, maybe thirty degrees. But Andrew's lips were feverish
against mine. It was the kiss in the dream you never want to wake up from sultry,
fueled by desire, and yet somehow innocent,
because brand-new, budding love was the heart
of our passion. Andrew lifted me gently in his sinewy arms, spun me in small circles,
lips still welded to mine. I'd never known such joy, and it all flowed from Andrew.
And when we finally stopped, I knew my life had irrevocably changed.
Day by Day
I've grown to love him more and more.
Now, though I haven't dared confess
it yet, I'm forever and ever in love with him. After I tell him (if I ever find the nerve),
I'll have to hide it from everyone. Boise,
Idaho, isn't very big. Word gets around.
Can't even tell Eve. She's awful about keeping secrets. Good thing she goes to
middle school, where she isn't privy to what happens here at Boise High.
I'm sixteen, a junior. A year and a half,
and I'll be free to do whatever I please.
For now, I'm sneaking off to spend a few precious minutes with Andrew.
I duck out the exit, run down the steps,
hoping I don't trip. Last thing I need
is an emergency room visit when I'm supposed to be in study hall. Around one
corner. Two. And there's his Tundra across the street, idling at the curb. He spots me
and even from here, I can see his face light up. Glance left. No one I know.
Right. Ditto. No familiar faces or cars.
I don't even wait for the corner,
but jaywalk midblock at a furious pace, practically dive through the door
and across the seat, barely saying hello before kissing Andrew like I might
never see him again. Maybe that's because always, in the back of my mind, I realize
that's a distinct possibility, if we're ever discovered kissing like this. One other
thought branded into my brain is that maybe kissing like this will bring God's almighty wrath
crashing down all around us. I swear, God,
it's not just about the delicious electricity
coursing through my veins. It's all about love.
And you are the source of that, right? Amen.
Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Hopkins
A Poem by Seth Parnell
As a child, I was wary,
often felt cornered.
To escape, I regularly stashed myself
in the closet,
comforted by curtains of cotton. Silk. Velour.
Avoided wool, which encouraged my
the ever-present rashes on my arms, legs. My skin reacted to secrets, lies,
and taunts by wanting
to break out.
Now I hide behind a wall of silence, bricked in by the crushing desire to confess,
but afraid of
my family's reaction.
Fearful I don't have the strength to survive
As Far Back
As I can remember,
I have known that I was different. I think I was maybe five
when I decided that.
I was the little boy
who liked art projects and ant farm tending better than riding bikes
or playing army rangers.
Not easy, coming from
a long line of farmers and factory workers. Dad's big dream for his only son has
always been tool and die.
My dream is liberal arts,
a New Agey university.
Berkeley, maybe. Or,
even better, San Francisco.
But that won't happen.
Not with Mom Gone
She was the one who
supported my escape plan. You reach for your
dreams, she said. Factory
work is killing us all.
Factory work may
have jump-started it,
but it was cancer that took my mom, one year
and three months ago.
At least she didn't
have to find out about me. She loved me, sure,
with all her heart. Wanted
me to be happy, with all her
heart. But when it came to
sex, she was all Catholic in her thinking. Sex was for making babies, and only
after marriage. I'll never forget
what she said when my cousin
Liz got pregnant. She was just sixteen and her boyfriend hauled his butt out of town, all the way
to an army base in Georgia.
Mom got off the phone with
Aunt Josie, clucking like a hen.
Who would have believed our pretty little Liz would
grow up to be such a whore?
I thought that was harsh,
and told her so. She said,
flat out, Getting pregnant without getting married first
makes her a whore in God's eyes.
I knew better than to argue
with Mom, but if she felt that strongly about unmarried sex, no way could I ever let
her know about me, suffer
the disgrace that would have
followed. Beyond Mom,
Indiana's holier-than-thou conservatives hate "fags" almost
as much as those freaks in Kansas
do the ones who picket dead
soldiers' funerals, claiming their fate was God's way of getting back at gays. How in
the hell are the two things related?
If God were inclined
to punish someone just for being the way he created them, it would
be punishment enough
to insert that innocent
soul inside the womb of a native Indianan.
These cornfields and
gravel roads are no place
for someone like me.
Considering almost every guy I ever knew growing up is a total jock, with no plans
for the future but farming
or assembly-line work,
it sure isn't easy to fit in at school, even without overtly jumping out of
that frigging closet.
I can't even tell Dad,
though I've come very close a couple of times,
in response to his totally
cliché homophobic views:
Bible says God made
Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and no damn bleeding-heart liberal
gonna tell me different.
Most definitely not this
Of course, Dad has no clue that's what I am. Or have
become. Because of who
I am, all the way inside,
the biggest part of me,
the part I need to hide.
Wonder what he'd say
if I told him the first person
to recognize what I am
was a priest. Father Howard knew. Took advantage, too.
Maybe I'll confess it all
to Dad someday. But not
while he's still grieving
over Mom. I am too.
And if I lost my dad because of any of this, I really
don't know what I'd do.
So I Keep the Real Seth
Mostly hidden away.
It is spring, a time of hope,
locked in the rich loam we till and plant. Corn.
Maize. The main ingredient
in American ethanol,
the fuel of the future, and so it fuels our dreams. It's a cold March day, but the sun
threatens to thaw me,
like it has started to thaw
the ground. The big John Deere has little trouble tugging the tiller, turning
the soil, readying it for seed.
I don't mind this work.
There's something satisfying about the submission, dirt to churning blades. Submission,
yes, and almost as ancient
as the submission of one
beast, throat up to another.
One human, facedown to another. And always,
always another, hungering.
Drives the beast, human
or otherwise, and it is the essence of humanity.
Hunger for food. Power.
Sex. All tangled together.
It was hunger that made
me post a personal ad on the Internet. Hunger for something I knew
I could never taste here.
Hunger that put me on
the freeway to Louisville,
far away enough to promise secrecy unattainable at home.
Hunger that gave me
the courage to knock on
a stranger's door. Looking back, I realize the danger.
But then I felt invincible.
Or maybe just starved.
I'd Dated Girls, of Course
Trying to convince
myself the attraction toward guys I'd always felt was just a passing thing.
Satan, luring me with
the promise of a penis.
I'd even fallen for a female.
Janet Winkler was dream-girl pretty and sweeter than
just-turned apple cider.
But love and sexual desire
don't always go hand in hand.
Luckily, Janet wasn't looking to get laid, which worked out
just fine. After a while,
though, I figured I should
be looking to get laid, like every other guy my age. So why did the thought of sex
with Janet who I believed
I loved, even not turn
me on one bit? Worse, why did the idea of sex with her Neanderthal jock big brother
turn me on so completely?
Not that Leon Winkler
is particularly special.
Not good-looking. Definitely not the brightest bulb in the
socket. What he does have
going on is a fullback's
physique. Pure muscle.
(That includes inside his two-inch-thick skull.) I'd catch
myself watching his butt,
thinking it was perfect.
Something not exactly hetero about that. Weird thing was, that didn't
bother me. Well, except for
the idea someone might
notice how my eyes often fell toward the rhythm of his exit. I never once
lusted for Janet like that.
I tried to let her down
easy. Gave her the ol'
"It's not you, it's me"
routine. But breaking up
is never an easy thing.
Not Easy for Janet
Who never saw it coming.
When I told her, she looked as if she'd been run over by a bulldozer. But you
told me you love me.
"I do love you," I said.
"But things are, well...
confusing right now. You know my mom is sick...."
Can't believe I used
her cancer as an excuse
to try and smooth things over. And it worked, to a point, anyway. At least
it gave Janet something
to hold on to. I know, Seth.
But don't you think you need someone to...?
The denial in my eyes
spoke clearly. She tried
another tactic, sliding
her arms around my neck,
seeking to comfort me. Then she kissed me, and it was
a different kind of kiss
than any we'd shared
before. Swollen with desire.
Demanding. Lips still locked to mine, she murmured, What
if I give you this...?
Her hand found my own,
urged it along her body's contours, all the way to the place between her legs,
the one I had never asked for.
To be honest, I thought
about doing it. What if it cured my confusion after all?
In the heat of the moment,
I even got hard, especially
when Janet touched me,
dropped onto her knees,
lowered my zipper, started to do what I never suspected
she knew how to do. Yes...
The haze in my brain cleared instantly, and I pushed her away. "No. I can't,"
was all I could say.
All Janet Could Say
Before she stalked off
was, Up yours! What are you, anyway? Gay? Not really expecting a response,
she pivoted sharply, went
in search of moral support.
So she never heard me say,
way under my breath, "Maybe I am gay." It was time, maybe
past, to find out for sure.
But not in Perry County,
Indiana, where if you're not related to someone,
you know someone who
is. All fact here is rooted
in gossip, and gossip can
prove deadly. Like last year,
little Billy Caldwell told Nate Fisher that he saw Nate's mom
kissing some guy out back
of a tavern. Total lie, but
that didn't help Nate's mom when Nate's dad went looking for her, with a loaded shotgun.
Caught up to her after Mass
Sunday morning, and when
he was done, that church parking lot looked like a street in Baghdad. After, Billy felt
kind of bad. But he blamed
Nate's dad one hundred percent.
Not Nate, who took out his grief on Billy's hunting dog. That hound isn't much
good for hunting now, not
with an eye missing. Since
I'd really like to hang on to both of my eyes and all of my limbs, I figured I'd
better find my true self
somewhere other than Perry
County. Best way I could think of was through the
"be anyone you choose to be"
possibilities of online dating.
Granted, One Possibility
Was hooking up with a creep
a pervert, looking to spread some incurable disease to some poor, horny idiot. I met more
than one pervert, but I never
let them do me. Nope, horny
or not, I wasn't an idiot. No homosexual yokel, anxious enough to get laid to let any
guy who swung the correct
direction into my jeans.
I wanted my first real sex to be with the right guy. Someone experienced enough to teach
me, but not humiliate me.
Young. Educated. A good talker, yes, but a good listener,
too. Someone maybe even
hoping to fall in love.
Unimaginably, Loren turned
out to be all those things,
and I found him in Louisville!
He opened my eyes to a wider
world, introduced me to the
avant-garde performance art,
nude theater, alternative lit. He gave me a taste for caviar, pâté, excellent
California cabernet. After
years of fried chicken and
Pabst Blue Ribbon, such adjustments could only be born of love. Truthfully,
love was unexpected. I've
said it before, and I'll repeat,
I didn't fall out of the tree yesterday. But that first day,
when Loren opened his door,
I took one look and fell
flat on my face. Figuratively,
of course. I barely stumbled as I crossed the threshold
into his apartment, and into
the certainty of who I am.
Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Hopkins
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