October 1, 2018
The Summer Between by Anne G’Fellers-Mason
Cover Design: Jeanne G’Fellers
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Mountain Gap Books (October 1, 2018)
Genre: Young Adult
Blurb: When I was eighteen years old, I knew everything there was to know about anything ever in the history of the entire world. I thought I was a genuine, Stephen Hawking-level genius. My entire life stretched ahead of me, and everything I’d ever wanted was going to be handed to me on a silver platter carried by admiring angels who’d ask, in dulcet tones, “Brendon, how’d you get to be so cool?”
I also thought I was immortal.
Thank God for summer break, for those ten weeks between high school and college when life took me roughly by the collar, shook me hard, and said with a deep, guttural laugh, “Buckle up, kid, ’cause I’m drivin’, and you don’t know squat.”
Excerpt: Chapter One
Brendon’s Boss Summer Playlist (BBSP)
Track One: “The Climb,” by Miley Cyrus
A Miley Cyrus song is a weird place to start, but here we are. I’m a firm believer in music, all types of music. I’m also a firm believer in the power of music to set the tone, and believe it or not, Miley Cyrus is about to set the tone for summer break 2009. Why is “The Climb” number one on “Brendon’s Boss Summer Playlist?” Stockholm Syndrome is the short answer. More importantly, today is the last day I will have to hear the song and watch people weep openly as it plays.
If you’ve been to any sort of commencement ceremony within the past year, you’ve heard the song, over and over, until you wanted to vomit. As a graduate, I’ve had an extra-special helping of Miley Cyrus because I’ve heard the song at every senior function, including the lunch, the brunch, the dinner, and baccalaureate. That seems like more than enough, right? Wrong! That stupid song makes every mother in the stands and half the people on the football field cry. Clearly, the powers behind any graduation service get their jollies by making people ugly cry. It’s a sick, sad truth, and you can’t escape it. Don’t try. Go to a graduation at Harvard this year, you’re going to hear the song. Go to your dog’s graduation from obedience school, and you’re going to hear the song. Accept it! I had to.
As I stand in the stadium parking lot, my mother placing my mortarboard on my head as she sobs uncontrollably, I realize I’ve made my peace with the song. Come noon, the incessant Miley Cyrus song loop will be over, and I’ll have my high school diploma. I will be a Hal Henard High School—say that three times fast—alum. The entire summer stretches before me. The giant calendar on my bedroom wall is suddenly and blissfully empty. No more squiggling in Beta Club meetings, biology exams, or choir practice. No more seeing the words “senior event” almost every other day. The only dates remaining on my calendar after today are June 8th, June 29th, and August 1st.
“Oh, you look so handsome,” my mother croons for the umpteenth time.
“Thanks.” She grabs me in another tight embrace, pulling my gown backward and choking me with the stupid stick-on collar.
“Honey, let’s not strangle the boy.” My father comes to my rescue. “I’m sure Brendon needs to get inside.”
I look at my watch, the one I specifically sought out for my epic adventure this summer. “Yeah, I gotta go, Mom.” I don’t, not really, but what my mother and her camera don’t know won’t hurt them.
“I want a few more pictures.”
“You took a million pictures at the house. We look the same now as we did then. Nothing has changed.”
My mother gives me that look, the one all mothers give their children when they contemplate murdering them. The stick-on collar suddenly feels tight, and I shut my mouth. “We weren’t in the parking lot, smarty,” my mother retorts, fishing the camera from her purse. “And you look so nice standing out here with the sun shining on your robes.” She’s crooning again.
“Okay, okay.” I raise my hands in surrender. My father clasps my shoulder. He understands the position I’m in.
A Note on My Parents:
I love my parents. They’re nice people. My mom’s an elementary school music teacher and the director of our church choir. Pretty average. My dad writes for a travel magazine. He’s always hopping a plane to places like India or Thailand. Pretty un-average, and pretty cool. Every summer since I was five, my family has taken some great, exotic vacation. My passport book has the stamps to prove it. This summer is going to be different because my mom and dad are going on the family vacation alone, a thirtieth wedding anniversary present to themselves. It’s all good, though. I have other plans.
“Derrick, get out of the car!” My mother smacks the window with her free hand. My older brother looks up from his iPod and lowers his shades. “Get out of the car,” she mouths. Derrick smiles and nods, no clue as to what she is saying. Mom opens the door and leans her head in. “Get out of the car,” she repeats, much louder and with more emphasis. She looks back at us, her bright smile plastered to her face once more. “Brendon, let’s get a photo of you and your father.” My father places his arm across my shoulders, and we smile. Derrick pulls himself out of the car and stares at the scenery. My brother always looks like he’s checking his bearings, trying to discern if he’s still on planet Earth. “Derrick, get over there with your father and brother.”
“Happy, shiny family time,” he mutters as he saunters over.
A Note on My Older Brother:
Derrick is almost ten years older than me. He’ll be twenty-eight in August. He lives in what used to be our garage. Mom let me have his old room, the one with the awesome skylight, after he moved to California. Derrick lived there for three years, trying to get his music career started, and came home after he’d failed. He came back with jet black hair, three new tattoos and four new piercings, much to mom’s chagrin. Derrick was the star talent at Hal Henard High School. He was also the biggest rabble-rouser and the reason senior prank day is now condemned under pain of death. After graduation, he studied at the local community college, getting his associate degree in music performance. Mom had high hopes for places like Julliard, but Derrick took off for California. He barely talked to us while he was gone, and the first and only time our parents visited, he treated them like an embarrassment. Come to think of it, it was right after their trip that mom let me move into his room. Guess it was a good catharsis. Derrick’s been back for about three years now, doing absolutely nothing. Most days, Derrick sleeps until about four or five before finally getting up. He shoves some food in his face, and he’s off to another wild night. Mom and dad spent a lot of money turning the garage into an apartment, making sure he had his own precious space. And this is how Derrick repays them, by keeping vampire hours? You know those posters, the ones about everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten? Yeah, well I learned everything I shouldn’t do in life by watching my older brother.
Derrick stands behind me, his insanely tall frame making me feel short. No one else in the family is tall like him. There must be giants on our family tree somewhere. “Everyone smile,” Mom chirps. We obey, and the camera clicks. “Derrick, come take the picture so I can step in.” Mom and Derrick exchange places, and I’m beginning to sweat under my god-awful polyester robe.
“Smile, happy family,” Derrick quips and takes the picture. My mother turns and envelopes me in another one of her hugs. “Oh, baby Brendon’s all grown up.” Derrick snaps another picture as I glare at him. My father tries to intervene, but my mother won’t be consoled.
“Time to get a move on, Mr. Murphy.” My rescue comes in the form of Dr. Hubbard, the school’s principal. “All graduates should be moving to the gymnasium.”
“Hi, Dr. Hubbard.” Derrick smiles, and the corner of Dr. Hubbard’s mouth twitches slightly. Hal Henard legend has it Dr. Hubbard entered the school fourteen years ago, fresh from principal school, full of hope and a full head of hair. That was the same year my brother started high school, however, and in true epic battle form, only one of them came out unscathed. At the end of his fourth year as an administrator, Dr. Hubbard had considerably less hair, a painful ulcer, and a nervous twitch.
Dr. Hubbard makes some sort of odd noise, a cross between a sigh and a sob, and moves on. “He looks good. Healthier,” Derrick comments. “Did he get hair plugs?”
“We’ll see you inside, honey. You’ll look for us, right?”
“Yeah, Mom, I’ll look for you.” My mother holds my face in her hands. I am suddenly glad I took extra care shaving this morning. The first time she felt hair on my face, she went into hysterics. Lord only knows what it would’ve done to her today.
“Let the boy go, Merriam.” My father touches her arm.
“Okay.” She drops her hands and slowly steps back. A sense of longing and insecurity takes me by surprise, and I suddenly want nothing more than for her to hold me again. I fling myself forward and hug her. “Thanks, Mom, for everything,” I whisper into her shoulder blade. She strokes my back reassuringly then gives me a pat. It’s time for me to let go. Our roles have reversed, and she’s being the strong one now.
“See you inside,” I reiterate, forcing myself away.
“We’re so proud of you, sweetheart.” My mother blows me a kiss. I wave once and turn, almost tripping over my own feet.
“Don’t fall on your face as you cross the stage,” Derrick advises.
“Derrick,” my mother chides as I steady my balance and walk on.
Inside, the gym is a glorified mess. Maroon gowns bob to and fro, laughing, screaming, and taking thousands of pictures. A hand reaches out of the chaos and takes mine. Lindsay pulls me beside her. “Smile,” she commands, shoving a camera in front of us. I lower my face to hers and obey.
A Note on Lindsay Beckingham:
Lindsay Beckingham and I have been best friends since she beat me up in second grade. It’s a long story involving lemonade, graham crackers, and a Royal Blue crayon. Anyhow, we settled our differences over recess that day, and we’ve never fought since, at least not with fists and teeth. We pretty much do everything together. Ride bikes, go on hikes, and take turns killing each other on World of Warcraft. And I know what you’re thinking, “A guy and a girl can be just friends?” I’ve been interested in Lindsay, like seriously interested, I’ll admit it. But Lindsay and I work much better as friends. Trust me. I won’t get to see her much this summer, since she has this insane notion you need to do something with that time, like work, but we’ll be going to the same college in August. Lindsay’s had her whole life figured out since she was eleven. She’s going to be a doctor. It’s both impressive and daunting how sure she is about everything.
Lindsay turns the camera to make sure the end-product is acceptable.
“Do I pass?” I ask.
“Yeah. You’ve gotten better at it.”
“I’ve matured into my looks.” I turn my head from side to side, showing off my profile.
“True. You’re not as ugly as you used to be.”
“Hey!” I reach out and tug her tassel.
“Stop!” She swats at my hand. “Go find your real friends and harass them.”
“Cookout at your house, right?”
“Six o’clock.” She tries to fix her mortar board from where I’ve screwed it up.
“Jessica, at two o’clock,” I mouth to her in warning. Too late. An exuberant brunette tackles her from the side.
“Help me,” Lindsay silently pleads over the other girl’s shoulder. Jessica’s hugs are like bear traps; sometimes the only way out is to gnaw off your own arm.
“Nope,” I mouth back and rejoin the teeming sea of maroon. Several teachers are flitting about, attempting to form lines and reminding students they have to leave their cell phones and cameras here in this room. Some members of the security team are staying behind, and students can rest assured that none of their personal belongings will walk off during the ceremony. We all have to return to the gym to collect our real diplomas anyhow. We only get the fancy-schmancy holders onstage, but if you want your real diploma, then you need to leave your cell phone here, by God. Graduation is serious business. I’ve made a wise decision in leaving my phone behind on my desk. My Facebook and Myspace statuses from the crack of dawn are perfect, and there is nothing more to add. “Something important is happening today, must wear clean underwear.” Nailed it.
I ignore the roving faculty, finally locating the three faces I’ve been searching for. “Brendon!” the chorus of exuberant voices welcome me. I jump in their midst and allow myself to be pushed, prodded, and passed around by three sets of hands. These are my people.
A Note on My People:
Matthew Senclair, Travis Walker, and Glenn Murray are my people. They’ve each come into my life at different times. Glenn has been there since third grade. Travis entered in the form of my lab partner in seventh grade, and Matthew found us the first day of freshman year. We’ve done lots of stuff together, like watch movies, test out the new games at that store in the mall, and gang up to kill Lindsay in World of Warcraft. We also enjoy the outdoors, and this summer we’re going on an extreme hiking and rafting adventure in the great wide open. We’re leaving on June 8th and we won’t be back until June 29th. Hence two of the three dates marked on my calendar. I can hardly wait.
“Marking days off your redonkulous calendar, Murphy?” Travis asks.
“You know it.” I look at my watch. “In exactly nine days and two hours, we’ll leave civilization behind, gentlemen.”
“You got a teleporter on that thing?” Matthew takes my wrist and fiddles with the dials on the side of my watch.
“Hey, hey, only I can touch.” I pull my hand back, drawing it to my chest for protection.
“This is a very sensitive piece of equipment,” I inform them all.
“But you’re taking it in the woods?” Glenn asks.
“Oh, this baby can take whatever Mother Nature throws at it,” I assure.
“Then why can’t I touch it?” Matthew reaches for it again.
I lean farther back. “I don’t know where your hands have been, son.”
“I do,” Travis quickly mimics jacking off. “Thinkin’ ’bout Laura Snyder.”
“Shut up,” Matthew hisses, and we all start to laugh. “Screw you all! I was drugged!”
“Oh, the sad, sad confessions of a post-wisdom-tooth-removal,” I lament.
“I hate you,” Matthew sighs. “You guys suck. I need new friends.”
“I bet Laura Snyder’s available,” I snicker, and Travis makes the motion one more time.
Matthew grabs the shoulder of my robe and I’m ready for a good mock-tussle when a voice breaks through the chaos. “Ladies and gentlemen, please get in your processional order!” Dr. Hubbard speaks through a megaphone near the door. “You want to graduate. And, believe me, we want you to graduate, but we can’t start the ceremony until you are in your processional order. And no cell phones or cameras. Your parents will take enough pictures to fill a warehouse, and there’s no one you need to call or text.”
“See you losers later,” Travis shouts over the rising commotion. Matthew punches me on the shoulder for good measure and the two of them fall back, toward the end of the line.
Fortunately, Glenn and I have similar last names. “I think we’re supposed to be up there,” he speaks as I glance ahead, but it all looks the same to me. It’s hard to tell exactly who’s who under their robes and hats. Then I see her, Ashley Louise Alyssa Long. Of course, she would be distinguishable.
A Note on Ashley Louise Alyssa Long:
I love Ashley Louise Alyssa Long. I have always, always loved her. I loved her when she walked through the door the first day of fourth grade. I loved her in sixth grade when she beat me for district spelling champ. I loved her in the tenth grade when she dyed her hair black and started a band with Amber and Andrea, aptly named the Triple A’s. And I still loved her last Thursday when the Triple A’s rocked the auditorium stage and took first place in the school talent competition. Ashley Louise Alyssa Long is all about her music, a true artist. She’s going to get a double major in music performance and business, and then she’s going to be a talent agent. What I wouldn’t give to be her client, but I can’t get the girl to notice me. I’m just some kid in her class. That’s all I’ve ever been, but no more. On August 1, I’m going to take the stage at the annual Sinister Cyanide Lounge Singer/Songwriter Competition and blow her away. I’ve been working on my song for months. August 1 will complete my perfect summer, finally giving Ashley Louise Alyssa Long a reason to notice me and hopefully never, ever look away.
“Dude, stop creeping on Ashley.” Glenn’s voice brings me back to a crowded and maroon reality.
“Did my eyes just spaz or have these robes always been this maroon?” I raise my hand, judging the contrast between my hand and my sleeve.
“Come on.” Glenn tugs my arm. I let my hand fall and follow. He’s right, our space is further up. We find it and squeeze into place. Dr. Hubbard and a handful of teachers begin to inspect the line, going over names, checking them off lists, doing last minute technology confiscations, and adjusting collars and tassels. Soon it’s time to vacate the gymnasium, and we all turn expectantly. Dr. Hubbard leaves to find his place at the head of the line, and we’re led out into the hall to wait. Bright, vibrant rays pour through the opening ahead of us. I watch as the school band raises their instruments and the first notes of “Pomp & Circumstance” resonate off the concrete walls. I smile not only because I’m about to graduate high school but because everything I need— Lindsay, Ashley, Glenn, Travis, Matthew, my parents— is either right here in this line or outside in the stands. We’re the newest graduating class of Hal Henard High, and the summer is ours for the taking. And, according to every teen flick and young adult novel that’s ever existed, this is supposed to be the greatest summer of our lives
About the Author: Anne G’Fellers-Mason lives in the oldest town in Tennessee. By day, she works for the local historical society in Jonesborough. She has a BA in Theatre/History from Mars Hill University, an MA in History from East Tennessee State University, and an MFA in Playwriting from Hollins University. She gets to put all her studies to use at the Heritage Alliance where she writes local history-based plays. Her first novel, The Summer Between, is a work of contemporary, young adult fiction. Anne lives with the love of her life and their rambunctious cats in a family compound.