Nerdelicious is coming! A little sooner than anticipated even!
I updated the release to 10/30/2020 and that has gone through ALMOST everywhere (only Barnes and Noble has not updated, but they have been having some issues lately–hopefully it will update there soon, but I cannot say for sure if it will in time for release). To pre-order, click here!
As is customary, the first chapter is available here and now 🙂 Enjoy!
“I was born to be a ninja.”
–Overheard at Comic-Con
I squint in the low light, the hazy outline of the man in front of me coming into focus.
This is it. I’m going to kiss someone other than Jack.
And his name is Dave.
Dwayne? I can’t remember.
He’s good looking. I think. I can’t tell anymore. Maybe it’s because I chugged that last drink, but he vaguely resembles Tom Holland, if Tom Holland were thicker, softer, and looked nothing like . . . Tom Holland.
We face each other in the darkened strip of space between a fence and the side of a house. Thirty feet away, music thumps and laughter echoes from the backyard, the soundtrack to this poorly constructed seduction. The only illumination comes from a solitary window behind me, casting a yellow square at my feet.
I stare at Dave/Dan/Dwayne as he leans closer, random thoughts pinging back and forth in my mind like a drunk pinball machine.
Do cows dream?
Remember to breathe. This is happening.
His lips are warm.
This is nice. Isn’t it?
If they do dream, do they do it all standing up?
Jack was a decent kisser. I think.
Maybe this isn’t so nice. He smells a little weird, like beer and cologne and sweat, but I can’t really pass judgment. I’ve been drinking and running around and probably smell a little whacked myself.
His mouth opens and it’s . . . oh, no.
This is not good. Too much saliva. It’s like a wet snake sliding between my lips. His tongue jackknifes into my mouth, and I can’t take it anymore.
I yank away. “Hold up there, Casanova.” I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. Ick.
He reaches for me with sweaty man-paws, grabbing me by the waist and pulling me against him. “Don’t be shy. I’m hurting so bad for you.”
He’s hard. I know it’s supposed to be sexy, his arousal pressed against me and all that, but it’s not. It’s just weird. Not right. Off. Bad. Peculiar. Discombobulating. Catawampus. Pick an adjective.
My arms are folded between our bodies and I use them to press away, but his grip tightens.
“I’m not shy.” You can call me a lot of things, introvert, weirdo, geek, a total fandom-obsessed nerd, but I’m definitely not shy. What I am is pissed off because he still won’t let me go. “I don’t like being stabbed in the face hole like you have a problem with mouths and you want to murder them with your tongue.”
His whole body goes rigid. Hmmm. This may have been a bad choice for my first make-out session post-Jack.
“You’re going to criticize me?” He pulls away. The better to spew his insults in my face. “At least I’m not a girl named Fred.”
“I’m not a girl, I’m twenty-two and a woman, fuck you very much. I just wanted to make out with someone and now you’re ruining it with puerile insults.”
He stills for a few long seconds, a wall of tension, and then his shoulders relax. An arm slides around my waist. “I’m sorry, baby, I just want to please you.” He leans closer, kissing my ear. His mouth is . . . moist.
What? Baby? This guy is giving me whiplash but I’m almost too buzzed to care.
Maybe I should let Slobber Man kiss and grope and have his way with me, just to get it over with. I mean, he sucks, but I’ll be moving on from Jack. Which is what I wanted, right? Isn’t that why I came here?
Slobber Man. More the moniker of a villain than a superhero. His power is drowning people in spit.
I snort a laugh while his hands move up my waist, going for the goods with all the finesse of an off-balance T. rex.
He claws at my breast, and all thoughts of giving in and just letting it happen flee. Nope. Can’t do this. I shove him away, taking two giant steps back and coming up against the side of the house.
He lunges forward faster than I thought possible, considering his current state of sobriety. He sets an arm on either side of my head, his hips pushing into mine, trapping me.
I can’t believe this is happening. My life has become a hackneyed script, like the writers’ room has run out of ideas and decided, Yes, it would be a great idea to make the Mother of Dragons go abruptly Mad Queen in the last five minutes, sure sure sure.
He moves in to kiss me and my arms pop up, shoving at his chest. “Back up or my knee will be meeting your ball sack.”
I’ll have to remember to thank my parents for forcing me into self-defense classes before they allowed me to take the subway.
“You’re feisty.” He remains unconcerned, crowding me again.
“I’m serious.” I raise my voice, jerking my head away from his sodden seduction. “Back. Up.” I’m nearly yelling now.
My whole life, I’ve been prepared to defend myself from muggers on the streets of New York City. But it’s here, in small town Texas, where everyone leaves their doors unlocked and children skip around unattended and safe, that I get cornered by a drunken asshat.
As I raise my knee in preparation for an instep stomp, the pinballs in my brain finally come to a stop on one question.
How did it come to this?
Three hours earlier . . .
“Fred, girl, you get on down here and let that no-good ninny die!” Granny hollers up at me.
I grit my teeth and pull myself farther along the plank, inching toward my goal. “No.”
“It’s just a dumb bird.”
I glance down at her from my precarious position, arms and legs wrapped around an eight-inch beam, clutching it with both arms and legs like it’s all that hangs between me and death. And it sort of is. The rope around my waist for “security” is tethered to a hook on the wall and anchored by a fourteen-year-old girl. The only thing between me and certain death is a teenager and a rope.
As someone born and raised in Brooklyn, I never imagined I would find myself rescuing a chicken who’d somehow gotten herself stuck up on a crossbeam inside of a barn. But here we are, hovering over a mishmash of moonshine-making stills and accoutrements.
I scooch closer to the fowl. She stares at me, amber feathers twitching, head jerking, copper eyes flashing.
She’s just out of reach. I grit my teeth. “Kylo Hen is not dying on my watch.” I don’t know if I’m talking to Granny, the fowl, or myself.
“You might die on your watch, though,” Grace calls up. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, pale hair, pixie face, innocent expression, but she’s a tenth-level genius with the attitude to match.
“We got eight more in the coop with less attitude,” Granny says.
“She’s not just a bird to me.”
Kylo Hen cocks her head, like she hears and understands me. And maybe she does. I bonded with the terrible creature my first week here. I cried. She pecked at my shoelaces. It was magical.
If anything happens to her, my life will cease to have meaning. Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but my whole life has been upended over the last six months and I’m entitled to some theatrics.
Not that your life ever had meaning to begin with, a shrill voice quips in my head, one that sounds exactly like Dolores Umbridge. Evil bitch.
Gripping the board with already shaking thighs, I shoot forward and seize Kylo Hen’s feathered body, clutching her close to my chest with one arm. I wobble and tighten my legs to avoid a death plunge.
“Got her.” Triumphant, I glance down at Granny and Grace. Surely they are impressed with my amazing chicken-rescuing abilities.
Granny is pacing back and forth, her long grey braids swinging behind her. She’s muttering something about supper getting burnt while she’s in here dealing with fools.
It’s me she’s talking about. I’m the fool.
Grace has one hand on the rope, lax and unconcerned, her other hand holding a cell phone up to her face, thumb scrolling over the surface.
Oh, yeah, they’re impressed.
I inch back to the ladder, using my free arm for balance while my legs grip and slide like an inchworm in reverse.
Grace snorts from below. “You look ridiculous.”
I finally reach the ladder, scrambling down in a clumsy, one-handed descent.
Granny stops her pacing when I reach the bottom. “All this for a damn bird that will likely be dinner next week.”
“We can’t eat Kylo Hen.” I hop off the ladder onto the barn’s clean hardwood floor. Since all of Granny’s stills and mash buckets are kept in here, she likes it sanitary. I clutch the chicken to my chest like Granny might attempt to throw her in the frying pan any second.
“Your first problem was naming them.” Granny shoots a look over at Grace, still on her phone. “No more screens.”
Grace shoves the phone in her back pocket and then proceeds to pick at the knot around my waist.
“Is that my only problem today?” I ask.
Grace laughs. “I’m betting you’ll have at least twelve more before sundown.” Her eyes gleam. She loves it when Granny and I squabble, even though it’s not really like we’re fighting or anything, it’s more Granny’s way of showing she loves me. I think.
She’s not actually my granny, but she sure does act like I’m part of the family. The part that annoys her.
“Dinner’s about done. You two get cleaned up. Grace, you set the table. Y’all have five minutes.” Granny stalks out of the barn, the door thwacking shut behind her.
The rope goes slack and Grace pulls it away, curling it around one arm and then hanging it on a hook on the wall.
“She’s just worried about you,” she says.
“I know. I gotta get Kylo Hen back in the coop. I’ll meet you inside.”
Grace scampers off to the house and I race across the expansive lawn. It stretches from the back of the house and disappears into tall grass and trees at the back of the property.
If the ranch and surrounding acreage could be compared to a piece of literature, it would be something written by Douglas Adams. Colorful and weird, and yet fitted together with seamless magic.
The chicken coop, for example, is purple, with a lime-green door and a squashed quadrangle of a window that doesn’t quite shut. It’s likely how Kylo Hen made her great escape. The coop is set back among large trees, nestled into their shade. I open the door and set the chicken down and then make sure everything is latched up tight before scurrying back through the heavy humidity to the house, my mind on the occupants inside.
I don’t want Granny to worry about me, or anything else. Have I overstayed my welcome? Probably. I’ve been here for six months. There’s nothing worse than a house guest who can’t take a hint.
I enter the house through the back door, thanking the gods of Asgard for air conditioning in the Deep South.
Dishes clang in the kitchen where Granny takes out her ire on the pots and pans. I tiptoe down the hall past the marching row of African fertility sculptures to the dark wood stairs that lead to the second floor.
My little guest room is tucked away on the second floor. It’s surprisingly simple, a spot of Jane Austen in the middle of a galactic comedy. The pale blue walls frame a full-size bed with a simple white frame and comforter, an oak dresser, and matching night stands. The rest of the house, on the other hand, is splashed in vibrant colors and spotted with abstract paintings and other esoteric art pieces and figurines.
I grab my Tardis tee, then hustle to the bathroom.
The door is shut. “Grace?” I knock. “Are you almost done?”
“Just a minute.”
I lean against the wall and wait for her to finish. The water runs, then shuts off. Then runs again. And off. Then the toilet flushes.
What is she doing in there?
I don’t have any siblings of my own, and I thought it might be kind of fun to have a live-in little-sister type. But she hogs the bathroom, doesn’t talk about anything important, and when she does open her mouth, it’s to ask me incessant questions like, How long are you staying? Why don’t you have a real job if you’re a grown-up? And my favorite, Aren’t you too old for toys? As if I’d ever be too old for the Baby Yoda Funko POP! figure on my nightstand.
The door opens.
“Finally.” I rush to the sink to wash up, but Grace speaks up before I can turn on the water.
“Are you going over to Jude’s later?” she asks.
Jude is her older brother, sort of. He lives with Beast, her other brother. Or foster brother, or something. The details are kind of hazy. They don’t talk about it much. The first and only time I asked how they were related, Jude said something about blood being thicker than water, and Granny said she was happy none of them were in her family tree, and then they changed the subject.
“No. Why would I be going over to Jude’s?”
“They’re having a party.”
“They’re always having a party.” They live walking distance to the local college, making it a prime location for never-ending loops of drinking, carousing, and hooking up. “I’m too old.”
Not really true, since I graduated early after taking college credits in high school, but still. Me and parties with a bunch of strangers sound like the seventh circle of Crowley’s hell.
“It’s the last one,” she says with emphasis, eyes wide at my lack of enthusiasm. “Until fall anyway. And by then you’ll likely be gone.”
She crosses her arms over her chest and leans against the doorframe. “So instead of going out like a normal adult, you’re going to spend another Friday night locked in your room listening to Halsey sing about how you should be sad?”
“No.” I scoff. Yes. Absolutely yes.
She grins, her smile impish. “Come on, Fred. It will be fun. I can go with you.”
I laugh. “Beast would murder me with his giant bare hands.”
Grace laughs with delight, the devil.
Beast is close to seven feet tall with broad shoulders, stark features, and an eternal five-o’clock shadow. He’s a little terrifying. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t speak. Ever. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him so much as clear his throat. And I’m not sure what his real name is. It can’t be Beast. Can it? It’s probably a John Wick thing, where they call him Baba Yaga, all dark and grim, but he’s actually, you know, John.
A cow bell jangles from downstairs.
“Coming!” Grace heads out.
I shove my hands under the water, thinking about the party at Jude’s.
Maybe Grace is right. Maybe I should go.
But Jude has his girlfriend, Annabel. And Reese—Granny’s biological granddaughter—will probably be there with her boyfriend, Fitz. And they’re all nice, but it’s like a never-ending happy-couple-in-love fest around them.
The only other one there I know will be Beast. Who I can’t have a conversation with, so I’ll basically be at a random party by myself. Surrounded by people and yet all alone.
Not exactly enticing since my self-esteem is still recovering from Jack’s rejection. How do you move forward when the one who was supposed to love you dismissed you like season two of The Defenders?
Downstairs, Grace and Granny are in the kitchen, whispering to each other.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
They leap apart.
“Nothing.” Granny grabs a bowl from the counter and bustles into the dining room with it.
Grace grabs a serving spoon and follows her without meeting my eyes.
They’re up to something, no doubt.
In the dining room, I slide onto the bench-style seat across from Grace. Granny sits at the head and we reach out, holding hands for prayer.
“Dearly beloved.” Granny always starts like we’re at a royal wedding.
I close my eyes. Not because I’m devout, but because it’s better than staring at the walls, which are painted in three different primary colors bright enough to hurt the eyes. The fourth wall is white, but it’s also hung with an abstract mural made up of tiny penises. Penii? Is there a plural? Whatever it is, I don’t want to stare at it.
“We are gathered here today to join in our love and appreciation for this fine meal. We thank you for keeping us safe from great heights, devil chickens, and whatever that child is watching on TikTok. Protect our souls from evil hellfire and young boys, especially those of us under twenty. In Jesus’s name, amen.”
“Amen,” Grace and I contribute.
“Will you pass the beans?” Grace asks and I hand her the bowl of green beans.
There’s a substantial amount of food in serving dishes set around the heavy mahogany table. Pulled pork, green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits. One thing about eating in the South is you do a lot of it. Which is not a complaint. I love food almost as much as I love my fandoms.
“Are you going to Jude’s party?” Granny asks.
I finish chewing my biscuit and look pointedly at Grace. Then over at Granny. “No.”
“You should go,” she says, spearing a green bean with her fork. “You could take the Cadillac.”
That evil genius. It’s not just a regular old Caddy. It’s a 1956 Cadillac DeVille convertible. And it’s pink. It’s atrocious and I love it and she knows it.
When I first came to stay with Granny, I drove her around for her errands. Because of her fainting spells, she didn’t want to get behind the wheel, just in case. But she hates people driving her car, especially me. I never had to drive much in New York because of public transportation, and owning a car in the city is a nightmare. I can drive, but I’m a little . . . rusty. As evidenced by the fact that every time I drove her anywhere, Granny would pray for her life. Loudly. Now she’s conveniently had zero issues with light-headedness over the past couple of months and no longer requires being chauffeured around town.
Stay strong, Fred. “That’s kind of you, Granny, but it’s fine. I can hang out here.”
I don’t miss the glances darting between them.
“Unless I’m not wanted.” I try to ignore the sting of rejection. I know they mean well, and I know they’re right—I’ve spent enough time moping around—but it still hurts.
“Of course you’re wanted,” Granny says. “It’s just . . .” She side-eyes Grace before leaning in my direction and stage-whispering, “You know the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else, right?”
A laugh bursts out of me. “Granny!”
Grace is grinning. “Does this mean I can invite boys over?”
Granny points her fork at Grace. “Hell no, young lady, you aren’t dating until you’re thirty.”
Granny shrugs and takes a sip of her drink. “Fairness is to reality as horses are to pickles.”
Grace rolls her eyes with a sigh. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Exactly.” Granny turns back to me. “So? Are you going?”
I shrug and push at my food with my fork. “I don’t think so. I just don’t feel up to it.”
“Fine. If you’re staying here, you can help with . . . mowing the back lawn.”
“Okay. I can help you.” I’ve never actually seen anyone mow the back lawn. It’s ginormous and I swear Granny told me it was some kind of buffalo grass that didn’t need maintenance. But whatever. It’s nice to be needed.
“Fred, no!” She waves a hand at me. “That was supposed to scare you away.” She takes a breath and then fixes me with a stare. “Go live your life or I’m calling your momma.”
“Ugghhh,” I groan. “Fine. I’ll go.”
Or I’ll pretend to go. Various ways to get out of it buzz through my mind like anxious bees.
Anything to avoid a Granny/Mom tag team.
They couldn’t be more opposite. Granny owns guns, eats meat, and goes to church every Sunday. My parents are vegans, pacifists, and atheists. And yet Granny and Mom talk like two best friends at least once a week. And usually about me.
An hour later, we’ve finished dinner and cleanup. Grace has forced me to pull my long dark hair out of its ever-present braid, conned me into lip gloss and mascara, and maneuvered me behind the wheel of the pink Cadillac.
I’ll just go to the diner on Main Street, get a milkshake, and hang out for a bit. Then I’ll head back to Granny’s. She’ll be none the wiser.
There is no way I’m going to this party.