|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
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Monday, January 5
IT'S FUNNY THAT they called the Civil War civil, because there's not much polite about trying to kill the people you don't like. Following that same logic, Wyatt figured he should call Lincolnville High School Civil High — because ninth grade was a war, too. Every day.
But he wasn't due back in battle for a few hours — it was still a reassuring black outside. And he told himself, for the millionth time, that he wasn't going to give Jonathon the power to ruin stuff outside school, when he wasn't even around. It didn't really work.
A thin stream of cold coffee pooled onto his sock, and Wyatt jerked the sodden paper back over the plastic bin. He swore under his breath, working the wet sock off with one hand and tossing it onto the needs-to-get-washed pile by his desk.
He studied the dripping paper. It was ready. He grabbed the red long-reach lighter from the living room fireplace to singe an edge of this sixteenth Emancipation Proclamation. The wet paper took a few seconds to catch. Once it was on fire, he quick-snuffed it out in the coffee so it didn't burn too far.
Two more sides had gotten crisped when the pocket of the thrift-store, fake-leather motorcycle jacket he was wearing vibrated. Wyatt fumbled for the phone. Having a new cell (even his mom's four-year-old hand-me-down) so he could get a call without waking up the whole bed-and-breakfast rocked.
"Hey, handsome. Good morning!" Mackenzie.
Plugging in the headphone jack, he fit the plastic bud in his ear. "I'm so glad it's you." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he realized how ridiculous he sounded — they both knew no one else would be calling him. He pushed the thought away as he burned the final edge. "Can you get online? I uploaded the new video last night."
"Just two more emails to delete," Mackenzie said. "How's it going?"
"Sucks. I'm not even going to get my run in because of this stupid antiquing." The last bit of flame sizzled out in the coffee, and Wyatt swapped the wet sheet for the dry one in the microwave on his bedroom floor. Forty-eight seconds. Start. The laser-printed, coffee-aged, fire-singed paper rotated on the plate inside. Predictably, the cracked-glass ceiling light dimmed as the microwave hogged the power on that circuit. It would dim in the third-floor bathroom, too, but Wyatt hadn't heard any guests up yet. Just his dad, in the attic above the part of Wyatt's room that wasn't the tower. He'd gotten Wyatt up at 4:30 a.m. to do this stupid antiquing job while he headed up to reseal the dormers for the storm on its way.
Even with the people-height windows open, the smell of burned paper and coffee hung in the cold air between all the furniture that didn't match their B&B's 1830s–1860s thing. The good news was that Wyatt's 2000s black wood bed, no-style pressboard wardrobe, and 1940s gunmetal navy-surplus desk were such a period mash-up that his dad wouldn't let any guests see it, so Wyatt didn't need to keep it neat.
But even when the windows were closed, guests used to complain that sleeping in the Tower Room was like sleeping outside. New windows cost too much, so Wyatt got one of the nicest rooms in their Queen Anne Victorian. He just had to wear a lot of layers, camping-style. He liked camping.
He pulled on a dry sock, reasoning that all white sweat socks matched — even if one was cleaner than the other — and headed over to the clunky laptop that wouldn't work unless it was plugged in. He'd already cued up the video, waiting for her call. Mackenzie was clicking at the keys of the pretty-much-new laptop that she took notes on in class. He pictured her sitting at the kitchen counter in her dad's condo, Monday-morning oatmeal in a bowl beside her.
The dingy white microwave beeped, but Wyatt ignored it and the lights surging back to full strength. There was plenty of time to finish them before school — Mackenzie had finally called, and he was bursting to share.
"Okay," Mackenzie said. "I'm there."
Wyatt gave her the countdown so they could watch it simultaneously. "Three, two, one ... play!"
"The swimsuit issue? Really?" Mackenzie sounded pissed, and the theme music hadn't even stopped playing yet.
Wyatt hated that she didn't like it, and almost wished he hadn't put that part in. But Jonathon had been giving him such a hard time all December about being a "history fairy," he had to do something. He heard himself get defensive. "You wouldn't understand. Guys like that." He hoped he sounded gruff enough.
"I understand that it's objectifying. And insulting. And ridiculous! Don't guys know about hypothermia?"
Wyatt knew she was right, but he couldn't say it. It was up for debate which were faker: the model's breasts or the Antarctica she was supposed to be standing in. He'd just wanted Mackenzie to tell him the video was great. Of the probably only ten people who'd see it, she was the only one he wasn't related to.
"I'm sorry," she said, and he figured she knew him well enough to know his silence wasn't happy. "I just ... think it would be better without the testosterone-caveman moment. I'm not saying you're not allowed to like it, but you don't need to be that kind of guy."
Or maybe, Wyatt remembered with a pang, his best friend — okay, his only friend — didn't know him at all. He decided to cut his losses. "Let's just go back to the list." Closing his laptop, he returned to the makeshift assembly line laid out on the skinny wood floor planks. He grabbed the seventeenth copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and slid it into the tub of yesterday's cold coffee.
"Fine. ..." At least she didn't sound quite so annoyed with him anymore. Mackenzie had found this old slang website, and at her insistence they'd been working through it over the past few days. She was hoping to find more of her own "touches" to add to Wyatt's family's tours of their exhibit rooms. Wyatt's tours, if they were after school. Another one of his mom's your father's working around the clock, and I'm killing myself for the mayor, so the least you can do is pitch in chores.
"See if you can guess this one." Mackenzie giggled, like she already knew how many clowns were about to come out of the circus car. "Queer as a three-dollar bill!"
Wyatt's whole face flushed hot as he lifted the paper and let the coffee pour off, back into the bin. "I don't know!" His voice sounded all pinched, and he told himself to calm down. At school he'd have to worry about Jonathon seeing him turn bright red and shouting something like, Look! It's the blushing bride! just to get everyone to laugh at him, but it wasn't like Mackenzie could see him.
And he told himself Queer must have meant something else back then.
He blew out a steadying breath, willing the color to seep back inside so he could fade from pomegranate red back to pale Wyatt in January. It was like his skin was some boy litmus test for embarrassment, and he failed every time.
She rolled the words on her tongue — "Queer as a three-dollar bill" — like she was seeing how it would sound on one of their tours. She'd never get him to say it. "Give up, studly?"
Studly? That was Mackenzie, trying to build him up. She knew how much he didn't want to go to school today, the first day after winter break. They'd be getting their first-semester History finals back. For two weeks in December, Jonathon had kept threatening that he'd kill him if Wyatt ruined the curve for him and the other guys on the freshman basketball team. Half of them were on the edge of academic disqualification — though how hard was it to know the US presidents in order when they were the street names in your town, all the way through the second Bush? And after all they'd done to make his life miserable, Wyatt was supposed to care? To spite Jonathon, Wyatt had aced the test.
What was he thinking?
They weren't getting their grades until third period, but Wyatt would still have to deal with Jonathon in PE before that. Everyone else thought PE was short for physical education, but Jonathon seemed to be working on the theory that it stood for popular embarrassment, as in, the more he embarrassed Wyatt, the more popular Jonathon got.
Wyatt grimaced. He was so dead. "Okay, trivia goddess. What's the ... three-dollar-bill thing mean?" Mackenzie swallowed some oatmeal. "It says, older term to describe something extremely unexpected, odd, or rare."
Like me in Lincolnville, he thought.
Mackenzie finished, "That's because they never made a three-dollar bill."
Nope, Wyatt mused, as he clicked the lighter to burn the first edge. Not even here in crazy Oregon.
"Hmm. Can't see where we can use that one," Mackenzie said, like she was crossing Queer as a three-dollar bill off a mental list. "Your dad wants everything to be just what you'd expect if you visited Lincoln by time machine. No surprises. Everything 'authentic.'"
Wyatt knew she was making air quotes, and he knew they were aimed at what he was doing. But people liked fake. They'd much rather buy a Gettysburg Address, or an Emancipation Proclamation, or even a President Abraham Lincoln Timeline that looked real and old, even if they knew it wasn't, than a boring copy they could just print themselves off the internet.
"Yup." He agreed fast, to change the subject. "What's the next one that grabs you?" Swapping the papers in the microwave, he hit START and ran downstairs to get the envelopes.
"Oh my gosh — fart-catcher!" Mackenzie laughed, and this time, Wyatt let himself laugh, too. He whipped around the second-floor landing post and remembered to be quiet on the stairs down to the entryway. His parents' room was right off the kitchen, and he wanted this antiquing chore done before his mom got a chance to lecture him about time management skills — and how he didn't have any.
"Got a guess?" Mackenzie asked. He heard her rinsing her bowl and putting it in their actual dishwasher. Wyatt's dad was all concerned with "anachronisms" and keeping the illusion that they were offering a "real Civil War–era experience." He'd drawn the modern line right after a refrigerator and Wyatt's mom's beloved coffee machine. But if they could do those, along with indoor plumbing and electric fake-gas lights, Wyatt didn't see why they couldn't have a dishwasher. But he wasn't in charge. Clearly.
He took a stab at fart-catcher as he headed over to Reception. "What they called those old hoop skirts?"
Mackenzie gave a fake-offended gasp before trying on an even faker Southern accent. "Dear sir, that is not the answer. I'll have you know, real ladies do not expel gas in the coarse manner you suggest."
Wyatt laid on the accent himself, feeling his face finally cooling down. "I'm sure they don't, ma'am. ... But how would anyone know, when you're wearing all them skirts?"
They both snorted a laugh as Wyatt pulled out the clear plastic bin of office supplies, searching for the pale green envelopes.
"Fart-catcher," Mackenzie read. "A valet or footman, from walking so close behind their mistress or master."
"That's ridiculous," Wyatt said. "And funny."
"I wonder where we can use it on the tour."
"Not sure," Wyatt mumbled, rifling through the box. Mackenzie would rewrite the whole tour if he let her. She'd probably grow up to tell the president what to say — be the presidential speechwriter. Forget that — she'd probably be president herself.
Not Wyatt. Maybe he'd be a park ranger, or a wildlife photographer, and finally get to spend every day outside. Trees, animals, birds. Rivers like Jenson's Stream. He could do all these videos of wildlife, and maybe add in some cool or crazy history angle ... Who was he kidding? He knew he'd have to end up in some big city, somewhere far away from all that. But anywhere sounded better than the shark-infested waters of Civil High.
Outside, the night was softening to a Union blue. Too soon! Wyatt forced himself to focus: envelopes.
"I'd love to, but I don't see how we can use fartcatcher," Mackenzie said. "Let's move on."
There they were. Wyatt counted out twenty GENUINE REPRODUCTION ANTIQUED EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION! envelopes and shoved the box back into its spot under the sideboard.
Mackenzie's voice was light. "Okay, I'm covering the definition column, and I'm going to try to guess this one, too: Can't see a hole in a ladder ..."
She started tossing out possibilities. Wyatt stood to head back upstairs when he saw his soldier — smiling out at him from this poster-size Civil War photo, behind their collection of Confederate and Union firearms in the six-foot glass display case.
His soldier was standing in a group of eleven Civil War soldiers. Everyone else was holding a rifle, bayonet, or sword, but his hands were empty. Some of the guys seemed proud, others excited, a few grim. But his soldier just looked sweet. Like he wanted to say, Hey, Wyatt. Good to see you. Always good to see you.
What if his soldier came to life and were right in front of him? Standing here? He couldn't just lock eyes with the guy forever. ... What could he say back? What would he say?
Hey ... I've been wondering. Wyatt could feel his cheeks heat up again. What's your name?
"Wyatt!" Mackenzie's raised voice through the earbud snapped him back to reality. She'd been talking, but he hadn't heard any of it. "Can't see a hole in a ladder?"
What was he doing? He needed to focus. He couldn't slip up and maybe say something that would blow up his whole life! Not with Mackenzie. Not here. Not anywhere in Lincolnville, Oregon, population: 5,817 closed minds. Plus one Wyatt Yarrow.
"Sorry, no idea. What's it mean?" He jogged back up the stairs as Mackenzie read that can't see a hole in a ladder was what they used to call drunk people. There was an awkward silence, which Wyatt figured was because of that whole thing with Mackenzie's dad three years ago. But her dad didn't drink anymore, something he told them three times a week when he dropped Mackenzie off for Tuesday and Thursday dinners and Sunday afternoon "homework club," as Wyatt's mom put it, while he drove the forty-five minutes into Corvallis for his AA meetings.
Wyatt wasn't sure what to say, so he stayed quiet. He passed their Lincoln Room and was halfway to the third floor when Mackenzie asked, "Don't we need to get going?"
He pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket to check the time: 6:52? Homeroom started in eighteen minutes, and PE was right after that! He still had to make his own lunch ...
"I gotta run," Wyatt told her, as he hustled into his room.
"You nervous?" she asked.
Her question slowed him down, like he was suddenly underwater. Was it that obvious?
"I know how great you are," Mackenzie said. "Just be yourself, and other people will start to see it, too."
Sure ... except being yourself worked only if you were like everyone else to start with. Wyatt fought his way back to the surface and started folding finished Emancipation Proclamations in thirds, stuffing envelopes fast. They looked perfect. After four years of doing them, he'd finally gotten the recipe down. But seventeen would have to be enough.
Mackenzie said, "I should go. My dad wants to drive me, to remind 'all those hormonal teenage boys' — his words, not mine — that he's 'with the police force.'" Wyatt could almost hear her eye roll. Her dad was their town's parking enforcement officer. "Can you believe that?"
Wyatt wasn't sure what he wasn't supposed to believe. There were worse things than not having any chores and getting driven to school.
The sky was lighter now, nearly a Confederate gray — he was racing daybreak and the first bell. Move, he told himself, as he kept folding and stuffing. A gust of air brought the smell of outdoors. Fresh, green. He'd be out in it soon.
After a moment, Mackenzie said, "I'll see you in History. Good luck with PE."
"See you. And ... thanks." Wyatt hung up. He needed the luck. Because his life was so Queer as a three-dollar bill.
Lincolnville, Oregon, streetlamp banner:
Celebrate February 14! Abe And Mary: A Great Love Parade 9:00 A.M. @ Union Square(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill"
Copyright © 2018 Lee Wind.
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