Jeremy Warsh has been in off-mode ever since his grandpa’s death a couple years ago. He set aside their shared passion, comic art, and hasn’t looked back. As an introvert from the other side of town, he fully expects to spend his boring life bagging groceries until, maybe one day, he’s promoted to store manager.
Yet, his two best friends, Kasey and Stuart, are different. They’re not afraid to demand more out of everyone. When Kasey comes out, Jeremy’s inspired. He picks up his colored pencils and starts drawing comics again, creating a no-nonsense, truth-talking character named Penny Kind. Who speaks to him. Literally.
The friend-group sets in motion Stuart’s plans for a huge Homecoming prank, and if they can get Penny’s comic trending, they might be able to pull it off. Could this be a stepping-stone to a future Jeremy’s only dreamed of? And after he kisses a boy at a college party, will Jeremy finally face what he’s been hiding from?
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||NineStar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)|
Read an Excerpt
CHILLY IN THE underground basement, one of my best friends and I spent the final hours of summer's freedom on opposite sides of the couch. Kasey's head poked out from under an orange-and-black chevron afghan. Her arm snaked out from under the blanket as she reached for the bowl of potato chips between us. In fact, we had moved only for snack and/or bathroom breaks since setting up camp earlier in the day. The last of August's to-do list was to listen to Nirvana's entire library.
"Did you catch this live when it came out on MTV?" I asked, as the first few notes of "Lake of Fire" sounded. Cobain's scratchy prophet-like lilt emanated from a set of waist-high speakers next to the fireplace.
"In middle school? I don't know. They re-air it every now and then though." She licked the BBQ-flavored spices from a potato chip.
"It wasn't long after that he was gone, and we were all down here drinking our first beers in his honor." I gave my can of Mountain Dew a little shake, empty. "I remember." Kasey leaned her head back against the pillow. "This is too depressing for words." She popped the rest of the chip in her mouth and jumped up from the couch to switch off the stereo.
"Hey! I love that one!"
"Come on, Jeremy. You need to practice." She grabbed my hand and tried to pull me from the couch.
"Yes! School starts tomorrow." She gave up and walked toward her bedroom. Kasey's basement was hardly that. Basically it was its own two-bedroom apartment with a TV room, kitchen, and dining space. The lower level of her house cut into the hill and opened to a brick patio overlooking a pool and woods beyond. She'd lived down there with her older brother until he left for college. Now, it was just Kasey; her parents lived upstairs.
"Fine!" I called after her. Our senior year was less than twenty-four hours away; she was probably right. My distorted reflection peered back at me from the TV's black glass as I forced myself out of the sunken cushions.
Kasey's bedroom walls were sponge-painted with textured splats in varying shades of flamingo pink. It was dizzying and the opposite of subtle, but the same went for her.
"Jeez, you've grown, like, a foot in the last month. You could've played football this year." She reached for my shoulders and positioned me in front of her closet mirrors.
"That would mean more time around Russ. Plus, Mom would never let me."
Kasey stepped back, assessing my reflection. "Now, say it."
"Suck it, Russ." The words rolled clumsily off my tongue. I rushed through the line because I hated every minute of it.
Russ Landry had been making my life miserable forever. Kasey was convinced if I stood up to him, he'd leave me alone. I figured it would likely get me punched. But ignoring the bastard, which I'd been trying to do for years, proved an unsuccessful strategy.
She shoved me forward and flopped onto her bed. "You'll get nowhere if you say it like that. This needs flair, Jeremy. Again."
I repeated the line with some sass that I would never replicate in real life.
"Grasshopper, you must deliver a blow of such magnitude that thine enemy is left stunned." Kasey flipped through the latest issue of a teen fashion magazine. She hadn't even seen my sashay.
"Is that why you tell people to suck your dick?" I cleared my throat, a little embarrassed.
"I only tell misogynists that, and yyyyep." Kasey unwrapped a sucker and stuck it in her mouth. "Wah-wa?" she asked, her speech hindered by the candy. "I'm good." I sat next to her. The magazine contained musky perfume samples. Kasey found one and rubbed the paper on both her wrists and neck. "Yuck, that smells awful," I said.
"You're crazy. Everyone loves CK One." She flipped through the special back-to-school edition. "Wanna read your horoscope? Cancer, right?"
She read my crab-shelled future.
KIDS PACKED THE halls, most of them showing off stiff new clothes and kicks. My sneakers were the same ones from last year, and these new jeans were already creating itchy red impressions on my gut. Mom had spent most of her last paycheck getting new school clothes for me. So, I wasn't about to tell her. I'd wash them less and hope for some stretching. Maybe try to lose a couple pounds. Or not. Overweight, with kinky hair and sweat permanently lining the sides of my face, I was boundaries upon borders.
As I mixed with the herd, it hit me how this would be the last time I'd cross the threshold of these halls with a whole 182 days of lectures and homework in front of me. The last time I'd find my new locker and get all sweaty when the combination didn't work the first, second, or ... third time. Damn it! I slammed my palm into the area above the lock, and the door opened with a clang. I stacked a fat binder and a package of loose-leaf paper on the top shelf but kept a few pencils and spiral-bound notebooks in my backpack for later.
"Wat up, beeyotch?"
The last year I'd have to deal with Russ Landry.
The jerk rounded the corner, high-fiving one of his lackeys. "Boo-yah!" The two bumped chests and foot traffic came to a standstill as they hashed out how their summers had gone.
I kept my head down and decided on going the long way.
My first two classes, World History and Classic Lit, went off without a hitch. I kept to myself in the back of each room. Nobody I hung out with on the reg were in those classes, but neither was my archnemesis.
My two best friends were supposed to be in Physics with me though. I weaved through mazes of people the whole way. The district had approved the transformation of the smoker's courtyard a decade ago. Filled in with cinder blocks and fluorescent lights, the once green space had become three climate-controlled classrooms and a computer lab. Stuart and Kasey both waved as I walked in, and Stuart removed his backpack from the empty chair next to him.
"How goes it?" he asked. We'd been bros since we were a couple of twerps in elementary school.
"I'm here, ain't I?"
The bell rang, and everyone hustled to find a seat. Kasey sat across the aisle, and I leaned over and whispered, "Hey" before the teacher introduced herself and started taking attendance.
"Warsh?" Mrs. Paisley had frizzy sand-colored hair and wore a pair of lavender-framed glasses that kept sliding down her nose. Her long skirt had a swirling purple-and-red-violet paisley pattern, and I figured that was a purposeful choice. "Jeremy Warsh?"
People said my full name, and their mouths sounded full, as if they'd tucked two midsized sacks of marbles into their cheek pockets.
"Here," I murmured.
"All righty, then. That's all of us. Welcome, Class of '99; this is Physics!" Mrs. Paisley motioned to the room. She went right into a lecture on potential versus kinetic energy, not wasting a second of time with introductions and getting-to-know-you posters. I hard-core respected this decision. As she turned to write on the whiteboard, the classroom erupted with shuffling and zipping noises.
"I love that sound!" Mrs. Paisley chimed with her back still toward us. "It means you are invested in your futures! Your mission, if you choose to accept it, and you must ..." Mrs. Paisley paused. Thirty adolescent groans tolled. "... is to build a mousetrap powered car by the end of this week." She straightened a stack of papers at her lab table. A couple hands shot up. Mrs. Paisley carried the bundle to the front of her desk and handed them to me.
"Jeremy will pass out the instruction sheets, which I expect will answer many of your questions. But, yes, you there. In the back, mm-hmm." Mrs. Paisley pointed to the back of the room. "I don't know your name yet. What's your question?"
The legs of my seat grated against the freshly polished linoleum floor. I counted two papers for each table. Russ Landry sat in the last row, smirking in his letterman jacket. Why the winter coat? It was ninety degrees outside. Even the AC struggled to keep up with the heavy August heat. Passing out the papers caused a line of perspiration to form under my pits. I tossed the handouts at him. Of course, he let them float to the floor.
"Hey, p-p-porky." He talked loud enough for the kids around him to hear, but not Mrs. Paisley. Hardly ever did a teacher catch this guy in prick-mode. "You better p-p-pick those up."
I'd stuttered one time in eighth grade during an oral presentation on Aztec culture — or maybe the Mayans? I couldn't remember. Point was, Russ did. Assholes must be born with an extra memory sector. Within the additional brain fold existed embarrassing details from every weirdo's tiny life.
"You wanna suck it, Russ?" My voice wavered, registering higher at the end of the sentence. Damn it. That wasn't what I'd practiced all summer with Kasey. She'd made it sound hard and offensive. I sounded as if I'd just offered my junk on a serving platter. People snorted with laughter. My heart raced. Sprouting legs and wearing knee socks, shoes, and a sweatband, the little organ sprinted inside my chest.
"You think you're funny now?" Russ leaned over the desk looking up at me, a coiled snake shaking its rattle.
"No." I backed away.
"Nobody talks to me like that." His cheeks flushed with excitement, anger, or his own body heat trapped in that ridiculous puffy coat. He wouldn't make a scene now, would he? I walked away totally aware a beating could be on my horizon.
"Are you okay?" Stuart asked. "You gonna hurl, Warshman?"
"Possibly." I patted my clammy face and sat back down.
"That sucks. I hoped to hit up Hefties for lunch." The burger joint down the street permeated a constant smoky smell, bringing even the crunchiest of health nuts to their knees. "I'm in."
The bell rang — although more accurately, it chirped, signaling the end of class. Stuart promised to meet me at the restaurant and left. I'd shoved the new textbook and notepad into my bag when a meaty hand slammed all my stuff back down on the table.
"Leave him alone, Russ." Kasey stood at the lab station next to mine, fitting her arms through the straps of her bedazzled backpack. Boys loved Kasey. She made out with a few but typically moved on after a couple weeks, claiming an overall dullness contaminated our species.
A creepy smile surfaced on Russ's face as he sauntered toward her. "Looking good this year, Kasey." He adjusted his crotch and waited for the usual coo he got from most girls when he handed out compliments. Kasey ignored him.
"What, you're not gonna acknowledge me now? You had something to say when I was tryna chat with your boyfriend over there." Russ placed both his palms on the table, claiming territory wherever he could get it. His stubbled jaw, level with Kasey's chest, flexed as he chewed a wad of fluorescent green gum between his front teeth. "Least you can do is give me a smile, girl."
Kasey tilted her head to the side and batted her lashes at Russ. Extending both middle fingers, she said, "See you around, pig."
"You can count on it." Russ pushed away from the table, watching her leave. He adjusted himself again.
I grabbed my things and hurried out of the room behind her. Russ feigned a pounce at me.
"She won't always be around to protect you, dork!" he threatened.
Bodies shuffled through the two-lane hall. I trotted after Kasey. An easy trail to follow, her fake raspberry body spray overpowered the surrounding scents with its sweet-and-sour candyness.
"Wait up!" I panted.
"Do me a favor, Jeremy." She stopped short, turning to point her finger in my face. "Don't you ever pull that shit, okay?"
"I would never ..." When her signature cat-eye outline around her eyes disappeared in a squinty glare, I knew to agree with whatever she said. "Um, okay ..."
"Never tell a girl to smile for you." Her lips were stained the same color as her cuffed maroon minidress. Stomping down the hall, she came up to my shoulders in her chunky Mary Janes. "You know why?"
I leaned against the wall of lockers and looked around. Kasey's loudness and spasmodic movements were garnering attention.
"I'll tell you why." She wrenched her padlock down and banged open the metal door. "Because it's not a woman's job to look cute for you. That's why." Kasey dumped the textbooks from her morning classes in the bottom of her locker. She grabbed a fresh folder and zipped up her backpack. "Got it?" Hives were forming on her neck.
"Kase, it's me," I whispered. "You're more than how you look." That got her attention, and her shoulders relaxed. "We all are, right?"
"Right." She rolled her lips. "Ready for lunch?"
"Sure. Stu said he'd meet us at Hefties."
"Cool." Her purse hit me in the stomach as she flung it over her shoulder. "Let's get the hell out of here."
We stepped across the school building's threshold, and my lungs pitched back against the glass doors — the southern Ohio air so thick with moisture, it was near solid. Throughout the neighborhood, the steady whir of AC units hummed, an orchestra of heavy machinery tuning relentlessly but never playing their own song. They had a job to do. Cool the people. This town could stifle anything.CHAPTER 2
PACKED WITH A mix of upperclassmen, construction workers, office temps, and people dressed in scrubs, Hefties was the only fast-food joint in town. The walls were decorated with framed newspaper clippings — colorless pictures of sharply dressed men shaking hands and clapping each other on the back. Rumor had it Hefties was the inspiration for one of the major burger chains found in every city across America.
Stuart was queued up at the front, near the registers. Adults grumbled when Kasey and I scooted in next to him.
"Welcome to Hefties. May I take your order?" The middle-aged woman behind the counter had dark bags under her eyes and oily skin, but that could have been from all the kitchen grease. She wore her hair pinned back in a tight bun and didn't make eye contact.
Stuart and Kasey hurried off to claim our seat while I ordered smiley meals for all of us and paid with the cash Kasey slipped me. After the waitress piled a tray with three colorful sacks of food, I carried it through the crowded dining room to our usual table next to the plate glass window. A pony wall topped with dusty fake plants offered up some privacy and blocked the stinking trash can from view. I passed my friends their meals, while Stuart chatted about new music. He worked a couple shifts each week at Spinz, the only record store within a twenty-mile radius of our town. A dream job if ever there was one. The manager paid under the table, and most of our acquaintances creamed themselves over Stuart's ever-growing pop-punk vinyl collection.
I never told anyone I had applied at Spinz. But the shopgirl, with her purple hair and multiple face piercings, crumpled up my application before the bells jangled above the exit door. Stuart got the job a week later. I didn't understand what made him more desirable as an employee. He was thinner, but ghastly so, with thick, wiry black hair that took on a mushroom formation if he went too long between haircuts. Along his temples, faint blue curving veins were always visible. Maybe shopgirl had mistaken his pallor for drug addiction, speed being way cooler than emo chub. I picked up work as a bagger at Bern's, an independent grocery store right next to my apartment building, and have been there ever since. It would never be as glamorous as all those records, but it paid for the insurance I needed to drive.
Spinz would not have been a good match. Any time conversations veered toward the verbal pissing contest over what indie band would sell out next, I clammed up. Spoiler alert! Anyone with the chance of signing with a major label took the money. So really, the debate boiled down to a bunch of pimply kids gabbing themselves into circles and dropping band names. Anyone who thought punks couldn't be pretentious was a damn idiot.
The other little nugget in play here was that I was awful at remembering the names of groups. They were all too random to stay in my brain. Lyrics got stuck in my head, and there were bands I enjoyed more than others. But conversations tended toward this ...
"Have you heard the new so-and-so?" "I don't know, maybe."
End of story, because I never could recall who was who; I didn't have the knack for it. The clerk at Spinz had done me a big favor. When she crumpled my application, she single-handedly prevented hundreds of awkward exchanges with customers.
"What do you guys think of our classes so far?" I interrupted Stuart. Dude needed to pipe down and eat something before he forgot.
"That's what you wanna talk about?" Stuart gulped down a bite and took a sip of pop. "For six hours a day, we listen to what they want us to. Out here, we don't. Jeremy Warsh, this is freedom lunch. Act accordingly, man."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Evolution of Jeremy Warsh"
Copyright © 2018 Jess Moore.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.