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Monday, February 3, 2014

Excerpt from 'Bear Naked' by Rachel Eliason

*Urban Fantasy - Teen*

A pile of packages wrapped in butcher paper sat on the kitchen table. An E was crudely drawn in grease pen across each of them. She thought of Jay’s comment at lunch. Figures, elk steak for supper.
She went into the kitchen and pulled out a package of frozen corn. She found a notepad they used for grocery lists and wrote on it: “Parents make their kids eat veggies.” She put that and the corn on the table next to the thawing steaks.
She went up to her room and lay on her bed. She thought about how her first day of school had gone. It would take the bullies and losers a few days to get bored with the school routine and really start their taunting, but today hadn’t been half bad. A few muttered comments she could live with.
On the plus side, a sort-of-cute boy had smiled at her. On the negative—or at least perplexing—side, that cute boy had been Connor. Maybe by tomorrow, he will back to his usual self, all sneers and cutting remarks. He can’t possibly have changed for good in just a few months.
Also on the negative, everyone seemed to have found new friends except her. Even Jay had found someone. More than just a friend too, she had discovered on the way home. They were boyfriend and girlfriend. Or boyfriend and boyfriend, or maybe Jay was the girlfriend. Genderqueer and gender variant . . . trying to wrap her head around it gave her a migraine. Oh well, they seemed happy, and Corey seemed like a nice kid.
Lots of new faces this year—typical urban shake up. A lot of the parents rented, and they moved every few years. Enrico in her first period was familiar from elementary school, but for most of middle school, his parents had been living closer to the river, so he had been going to Dubuque Senior instead.
Some of the kids were really new. In last period, she met a girl named Erica, tall with short dark hair and an athletic build. From somewhere in Northern Minnesota—and vague about why she had moved—she was laid back and seemed friendly enough.
Then there was the blond that Connor had sat with. Amanda was pretty sure she had never seen her before. A girl that beautiful could not have gone to their school for more than a day without everyone knowing who she was. In fact, she’d heard some boys in fourth period asking about “the hot blond.”
She shrugged the thought off and dug into her bag for The Great Gatsby. It was assigned reading. Mrs. Horner apparently thought that since there was a movie out, it would attract students’ interest. Amanda wasn’t so sure, and she was less sure about having homework assigned the very first day.
After forcing her way through the first two chapters of The Greats Gatsby, Amanda put the book away and went back downstairs. The elk steaks had been unwrapped and were now soaking in a marinade. The note and the package of frozen corn had disappeared and been replaced by a colander brimming with leaves. The back door hung ajar, and she could hear Uncle Darren out there.
She stepped out and leaned against the door jamb. He was bent over the grill, checking the coals by placing one hand close to them. He was wearing a faded green t-shirt and a kilt. His feet were bare. He glanced up at her and said, “Eat your vegetables.”
She snorted. “Weeds, you mean.”
“Weeds are vegetables,” he said with a dismissive shrug, “and we don’t eat the frozen veggies while we have a full crop growing in our backyard. Can you grab the steaks? I think these coals are hot enough.”
Amanda went back and brought out the bowl. Darren pulled the steaks out with a long fork and laid them across the grill. “How was school?” he asked.
Amanda found an old wooden chair on the back porch and sat. “It was okay.”
“Just okay?”
She shrugged. “Not as bad as I feared, how’s that?”
“I didn’t know you were afraid of school,” he said.
“I am not; it’s just I don’t care for the people who go there,” Amanda said, adding, “and they don’t care for me either.”
“What makes you think that?”
“They say so.”
He gave her a concerned look.
“It’s just teasing,” she said, not wanting to have him decide to take too personal of interest in her school life. Uncle Darren showing up there would not help her reputation at all, she was sure. “Anyway it wasn’t so bad today, and maybe it won’t be so bad this year either. Hey, Jay has a new friend.”
“Friend?” he asked, putting a special emphasis on the word.
“I think so,” she said.
He paused and then said, “And what gender would this friend be?”
“Umm,” she hesitated, “I am not really sure how to answer that.”
Her uncle raised an eyebrow.
“Corey is kind of like Jay, but the other way around.” Amanda explained.
“Other way around?”
“Yeah, his real name is Courtney.”
“Hmm,” Uncle Darren said, and then he shrugged. “Oh well, whatever makes them happy.”
He brushed past her and went into the house. He came back a few minutes later carrying a cast-iron skillet and the colander of leaves. They were now damp from washing. He found a place next to the steaks to put the skillet and handed the colander to Amanda to hold.
“So how was your day?” Amanda asked, mostly to make conversation.
“Spent most of the day hauling buckets of fish to Jeremy Harmenson’s farm to stock his pond. Catfish, sunfish and smallmouth bass,” he replied.
“Wow, exciting,” she said sarcastically. “You know some people have jobs, like regular jobs they go to every day, same time, same place.”
“Psht,” he said. “Lazy bastards. I have,” he made a face as he counted and then shrugged, “at least a dozen jobs. I’ve got a couple more ponds to stock tomorrow. Next week I have to help Jacob take some cattle to the slaughterhouse.”
“And these jobs pay?” she groused.
“After I pay the fisheries and gas,” he said, “my take will be just over a hundred twenty. Not bad for two days’ work. Besides, Jeremy’s pond is up by the old woodlot on County Road 54. I picked up more than a dozen good quality sticks while I was up there. I can sand and finish them over the winter and next summer sell them at the craft fair for a decent price as well. Jacob is paying too and giving me the hides for leather working.” He paused and looked up at the house. “I keep a roof over our heads, don’t I?”
Amanda nodded but didn’t answer. She was grateful for all the work Uncle Darren put in to keep the roof over their heads and food in their bellies. But sometimes she wished she lived in a regular household, with two parents who had steady jobs, cable TV, and high-speed internet.
When the steaks were nearly done and the skillet hot, he took the colander from Amanda and dumped the still wet greens into it. They sizzled slightly. He threw a lid over the mass. He handed her an old kitchen towel and said, “Can you take that in? I will bring the steaks.”
Using the towel as a makeshift potholder, she lifted the skillet and took it inside. She snagged a trivet and sat it on the table. He followed her in with the plate of elk. “Dinner!” he yelled into the living room at Hunter.
Hunter came skipping in and threw himself into a seat as Uncle Darren handed out plates for the three of them. Hunter peeled the lid off the skillet and squealed, “Cooked greens, my favorite.” He grabbed for a fork.
“Huh-uh,” Uncle Darren said sternly. He reached both arms across the table, taking Hunter’s hand in his right and Amanda’s in his left. “Grace,” he said firmly.
Hunter dutifully closed his eyes and said, “Bless be the mother, giving that which grows on her own body that we might live. Blessed be the,” he opened one eye and inspected the steaks, “elk, that gave his life that we might live. So mote it be.”
“Her life actually,” Uncle Darren said as he let go and picked up a steak with a fork. “This is from the doe I bagged last year with Carl when we went to Alberta.”
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