Excerpt: The Ace and the Bear

It was 2008 and I was a week into being eighteen when I met Ansel. I was sitting behind him in class on our first day of senior year history. I was doing fine, just scribbling in my notebook, drawing cats to amuse myself while the teacher continued on when it happened. Ansel turned to the side, putting his arm over the back of the chair, and smiled at me. He had two crooked teeth and a scar on his cheek, and even though I’d crushed on movie stars for years before that, I was suddenly liking the country boy look.

“Hey, you’re new, right?” Ansel asked.

I nodded and stopped drawing. I had a half-done purple cat staring up at me. “I’m Jonah.”

“Ansel.”

He didn’t need to tell me his name. I’d learned it already when the teacher called out and we’d had to raise our hands to tell her that we were here. Maybe I shouldn’t have introduced myself either then.

“You going to the party tonight?” he asked.

I’d just moved there. I knew no one and I knew nothing about any parties. The most interaction I’d had with anyone had been at the grocery store when a girl who had probably been my age checked us out. I shrugged.

“Ansel, turn around. Eyes front!” the teacher snapped at him, and he was quickly looking away from me again. Him paying attention to me was a welcome distraction. He tore off a piece of paper, wrote on it for a lot longer than I thought a note should take, then passed it back to me.

Two miles west of the Walmart on 5, red tractor on the right. Park on field beside barn. Starts at 10.

“Okay,” I whispered. My cheeks were warm. He gave me a thumbs up without looking back at me. I’d been invited to my first party in Missouri.

*~*~*

I got dropped off at my driveway at just after four. No bus stops for me. Not anymore apparently. This town didn’t actually have them. I had to walk about five hundred feet from the county highway to my front door. I’d been living there almost a week, and it still unnerved me a bit that the speed limit right outside my front door was fifty-five.

In San Francisco, we’d had a little townhouse with a patch of yard that was smaller than some of the trucks I’d seen in the school parking lot. Now I had over two acres of woods to walk through. My parents wouldn’t be home for a few hours, and I didn’t have that much homework to do since it was the first day and all, so I went for a walk.

And I thought about Ansel.

I had only one friend I still talked to from San Francisco: Daisy. I called her up, needing to talk to someone about the boy who had talked to me today.

“Hey,” she said.

“I got invited to a party tonight,” I told her.

“That’s good.” Daisy sounded bored, and like I’d interrupted her. Maybe she was playing video games or something. That was what Daisy loved doing the most.

I should have just let her go so she could go do whatever she wanted and not be bothered by me, like I felt I was doing. But I’d never really been invited to parties before. I knew the basics. I knew to look good. But more than that? I had no idea and needed advice.

I tried to tell myself Ansel had probably invited everyone to his party. That made me feel better. And a little less put on the spot. I didn’t know that for a fact of course. But thinking that made it less scary. Because if I thought for a moment that a guy as cute as Ansel had actually wanted me to be there as a sort of date, I was pretty sure I would start going nuts. It wasn’t a date. It was definitely not a date.

“Are you gonna go?” Daisy asked me.

“I have no idea. I want to. I think so.”

“Good. Should I hook up with Tyler again? He’s kind of a douche, but he’s good sometimes too.”

Ugh. Tyler again. He was her sometimes boyfriend, not really though, mostly just a guy she’d been having sex with for a year or so and didn’t do a whole lot else with. I didn’t love that she definitely had no interest in talking about what I wanted to either. It wasn’t every day that I got invited to a party, or that I even thinking thought a guy was cute, so it would have been really nice to have my friend’s attention while I worked through what I was feeling. “Sure. I guess. If you want to.”

“It’s not like there are lots of other guys charging down my door to get with me. I know you don’t think much of sex, but it’s kind of a big deal to me. Be happy for me, please?” She sounded so sad now, like she needed my approval or something. She didn’t, though. Not at all. She was my friend, but I stayed far outside of her love life.

“I am happy for you,” I lied. Tyler didn’t deserve her, but if she wanted to be with him, I wasn’t going to tell her not to be. She was right: I didn’t understand sex or her preoccupation with it. But that wasn’t something she needed to deal with.

“Good. Thanks. Look good tonight at the party. You need a boyfriend. You won’t get one looking like a slob.”

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