…we're keeping our name but expanding our offerings!
Hi! I’m J.A. Rock, and I’m so happy to be visiting Boys in Our Books today with an excerpt from my new book, “Take the Long Way Home”. TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME is about growing up. And screwing up. And family. And…farmer’s markets. And low level kidnapping fetishes. It’s about a lot of things, but I think mostly it’s about searching for connections with people.
If you would like a chance to win a free book, details are at the bottom of the post.
Thank you to BiOB for having me!
Dresden Marich has failed out of high school three months shy of graduation. He’s infatuated with his online friend, Evan, alienated from his family and former classmates, and still trying to recover from his father’s death six years ago. He’s also keeping a troubling secret about his older brother, Gunner, who is away at boot camp.
Then Dresden meets Caleb, a judgmental environmentalist who’s hardly Dresden’s fantasy come true. But Caleb seems to understand Dresden’s desire for rough sex, big feelings, and, ultimately, safety. As Dresden becomes embroiled in a farmers market drama involving Caleb, a couple of bullying tomato enthusiasts, and a gang of vigilante vegans, he discovers he might be willing to trade a fantasy relationship with Evan for a shot at something real with Caleb.
But Dresden fears telling quick-to-judge Caleb his secret, and the news that Gunner is coming home sends him fleeing to California for a chance to meet Evan in person and hopefully fall in love. When the encounter doesn’t go as expected, Dresden faces a choice: stay in California and carve out a new life, or take the long road home to his family, Caleb, and a past he must face if he has any hope for a future.
“Can you go away?” I ask Mom.
“I want to talk about this.”
“I know, but I’m having, like, a…a hard time with this experience.” I stand and press the heels of my hands to my forehead. “With you being here, right now, and I’m in this weird mood. Can you go?”
She looks at me for a long time, and I wonder what she sees. I think for her it’s like looking at unusual scenery. You know—palm trees and beaches, stuff she’s only ever seen on TV, because she’s never left Oregon. She recognizes me, but I don’t look right to her. I don’t look like home.
“Are you going to want one pork chop or two?” she asks. “For dinner?”
The times I feel closest to breaking are always the times someone says they like my shirt or asks if I got a haircut. Or asks how many pork chops I want, like that matters. My chest is so fucking tight, and I’m still thinking about yelling at Kate.
Mom doesn’t leave, so I do. I go and get on my bike and ride to the Thursday-afternoon farmers’ market downtown. The market is indoors in winter, in the karate studio, and it’s mostly crafts and canned goods. I buy apricot jam and start eating it right out of the jar with my finger. I hunch outside the door, like I think someone might approach me wanting some, and I’m gonna growl them away like a dog.
When I’m halfway done, I break the jar on the ground and wonder if Gunner still does shit like that, or if military school trained it out of him. Some guy who sees me throw the jar says, “Hey!” but nothing else. I go inside and ask for a broom and dustpan, and while I’m waiting for someone to find them, my eyes get clogged with tears, and everything around me goes fuzzy. Whoever hands me the broom doesn’t notice, and I stumble toward the door.
Someone almost runs into me coming in. He smells like cedar, and he’s got a flannel shirt on. Suddenly I can’t think of anything sadder than flannel. It’s like, lumberjacks and people with deer heads on their walls.
That makes me laugh, and I still can’t see the guy through the tears. He keeps his hand on my shoulder, kind of holding me back even though I’m still marching forward, like those cartoons where a character holds a swinging attacker at bay with a hand on the other guy’s head. “Move!” I shout.
He says, “Hey. Take it easy.” Not mean, but I still puff up to yell at him to take it easy. I think maybe he’s the one who saw me throw the jar outside. I laugh again, and it turns into a sob.
It’s crazy how sick I am and how no one notices. Every single day I’m either dead or too alive, and the world is just ruts and puddles and roadkill under the same kind of bland, blue sky I’ve been seeing my whole life. It’s fucked, really, how ordinary everything is, even this kind of pain. It’s not fair, and I’m glad. Fair sounds more boring than anything.
“I’m not even crazy,” I tell the guy, who has taken my broom in one hand and has turned around to head back outside. If I were crazy, I wouldn’t feel crazy, right? But I need to know if this guy thinks I am.
Once we’re outside, it’s cold, and he tells me to hold the dustpan on the ground near the glass. He sweeps the shards up—they’re covered with glops of jam and dirt—and I follow him to the recycle bins. I pocket one small piece of glass on the way. We dump the mess. He takes the dustpan. He tells me he’ll give me a lift if I need it, but that I should go home and sober up.
I sink to the curb and sit, laughing. My eyes are pretty dry now. “I am sober. I’m really, really sober.”
He sits next to me. I notice he’s kind of thin but strong looking. I still won’t look at his face. “What’s wrong?” I like how subtle the note of concern is. You wouldn’t even notice unless you wanted it to be there. Like how wine all pretty much just tastes like fucking wine, but once you read on the label you’re supposed to taste cherries, you do. Most of him is gruff. But he cares enough to ask. So that’s my cherries.
Maybe nothing is really wrong. I put my hand in my pocket where the glass is. If I get cut, it might be a little easier to breathe.
I wait for him to ask why I broke the jar. But he sticks his hand out and says, “Caleb.”
Then I have to take my hand away from the glass and shake his. I don’t tell him my name, though.
He says, “How about some organic cider? There’s a stand inside.”
I say I should get home. I feel rude, which I normally don’t care about, but he deserves something a little better, maybe, so I ask what he does here. He says watermelons and lumber. He tells me he has some property outside of town, and he collects and recycles wood. He gives me his card, which is his contact info handwritten on a thin piece of reddish wood. His name is Caleb Harview, and his business is Harview Wood Rescue.
What the fuck is a wood rescue? But whatever.
He rises first and helps me up, and I stand there looking at him for a minute. “I’m Dresden.”
“That’s an awesome name.”
I think he means it. My sophomore year, Julie Sams asked what the deal was with my name. And before I could answer, Mr. Frankle, the history teacher, told the story of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. And then everyone started calling me Firebomb. Which turned into Flamer.
So, you know. Thanks, Mom.
It’s not so bad, though. I’m named after a tremendous act of destruction. It’s mostly stupid but sometimes makes me feel secretly powerful.
“You need a lift?” he asks.
“I got my bike.”
I walk over to my bike, moving like I’ve got pythons squeezing my legs. My bike doesn’t even look like mine. Like a prop department has just laid out my life for me, and now I finally have real things in place of what I’ve been miming.
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J.A. Rock has worked as a dog groomer, knife seller, haunted house zombie, standardized patient, census taker, state fair quilt hanger, and, for one less-than-magical evening, a server—and would much rather be writing about those jobs than doing them. J.A. lives in Chicago but still sees West Virginia behind Illinois’s back.