The Unwanted started with ‘The Trouble with Billy’
The three main characters in The Unwanted—Jamie, his best friend Sarah, and Billy the bully—made their first appearance about three years ago, in a story called “The Trouble with Billy” that appeared in the anthology Speaking Out edited by Steve Berman and published in 2011 by Bold Strokes Books. While The Unwanted is very much a YA fantasy, the short story that birthed these main characters was much more a straightforward realist piece of writing. The Unwanted is narrated by Jamie, but “The Trouble with Billy” is told in third person from the point of view of each character in turn:
Jamie tells himself he just has to make it through the day, which is the same thing he tells himself every Monday through Friday, until two-thirty arrives and he’s free for another day, or another weekend. He tries not to think about Monday. Instead he thinks about turning 17 next month, about being a senior next year, and about going to college and getting out of Athens as soon as possible after that. He’s looking at colleges in New York, Chicago, Boston—anywhere but Missouri.
“Penny,” Sarah says as the bus pulls into the parking lot. Penny for his thoughts, she means.
“Nothing,” he says. There isn’t enough time to convey to her the sense of dread that overcomes him every time the bus climbs the hill to the front of the school. Running up that hill with no problem, he thinks. Yeah, right.
Once they get off the bus, they go to their respective homerooms and won’t see each other again until third period AP English, then lunch. Second period is chemistry, the one class he has that’s not honors level—and the one class Billy Stratton shares with him. Jamie can’t really explain to Sarah, in the short amount of time they have between the bus and the front door, how getting flattened by the bus still seems like a viable option to him. Life already seems to be doing a pretty good job of it, so why not go for it literally?
He’ll never do it, though. He’ll keep getting on the bus every day, walking into school, and hoping that today he’ll escape Billy Stratton’s notice.
To read the rest of that story, head over to Wattpad. The anthology includes other great stories by writers such as Sandra McDonald, Alex Jeffers, and Sam Cameron. Check it out here.
Genre: Gay YA fantasy
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Date of Publication: March 18, 2014
Number of pages: 264
Word Count: 91,556
Cover Artist: Sheri
Jamie Thomas has enough trouble on his hands trying to get through junior year of high school without being pulverized by Billy Stratton, his bully and tormentor. But the mother he was always told was dead is actually alive—and she’s an Amazon!
Sixteen years after she left him on his father’s doorstep, she’s back and needs Jamie’s help. A curse has caused the ancient tribe of warrior women to give birth to nothing but boys, dooming them to extinction—until prophecy reveals that salvation lies with one of the offspring they abandoned.
Putting his life on the line, Jamie must find the courage to confront the wrath of an angry god to save a society that rejected him.
I managed not to think about Billy until I walked out of the building at the end of the school day, and there was his Mustang parked at the curb.
Just keep walking, I told myself, determined not to let him get to me, mentally or physically. My bus was across the parking lot. I started to veer around Billy’s car. He lowered the passenger side window.
“Get in,” Billy said.
Wow, bossy was my first thought. No way in hell was my second. When I made no move toward his car, he leaned closer to the passenger side window. “Please. Get in.”
Wait, did he actually say “please”?
“Really? Why, did you miss a spot?”
I pointed at my face. My nose and eye were still bruised. He had the decency to look away, at least.
“Look, I’m sorry, and I’ll explain everything, I promise. But can you get in now?”
I’d have to be out of my mind to get in a car with Billy Stratton. Right? I crossed my arms. “If you’ve got something to say to me, I don’t see why you can’t say it while I’m standing right here.”
This time, he rolled his eyes. “Would you stop being a fricking drama queen? Look, your bus is gone, so I might as well drive you home.”
This was true. I turned to see the last bus pulling out of the parking lot and turning left out of sight. Way to go, Billy. It was either ride with the bully or walk home. I didn’t think he’d try to run me over if I opted to walk, but I decided not to press my luck.
Billy usually drove too fast—everyone in the school had heard him lay rubber at the driveway to the parking lot. With me in the passenger seat, though, he was almost too careful pulling onto the road. The radio was off. Neither of us had spoken for about a minute. Once we were on the straightaway from the school to the highway, I couldn’t take the silence anymore.
“What do you want?” I asked, trying to sound tougher than I felt and hoping I didn’t sound as scared as I was.
At the same time I started to say, “Why did you hit me?” Billy blurted out, “I’m sorry I hit you.”
“You’re such a—wait. What?”
“I said I’m sorry.” He gripped the steering wheel harder. “You want me to say it again?”
“No, I’m just—I mean, why did you hit me? Why—I never did anything to you. Why couldn’t you just leave me alone?” I felt like I was stumbling all over the place, though I was trying to keep myself still, as if he’d pounce if I moved too much. I squeezed my eyes shut and willed this all to not be happening.
I opened my eyes when I heard gravel under the tires and felt the car slowing down. Billy pulled over but left the engine running. He took one hand off the wheel and placed it on the armrest between the seats. Outside, iron-gray clouds closed out the sky overhead. The air felt tentative, like a storm was coming.
“Look,” Billy said. “I know you have no reason to believe me, but I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Yeah, yeah, you already said that. But I still don’t get why you did it. Do you know how hard it’s been some days just getting out of bed and going to school, knowing that you were going to be there? Wondering what you were going to do to me next?”
I have a bad habit of talking with my hands when I get worked up. Usually I can keep it under control, but control was in short supply at that point, and I must have looked like I was conducting an invisible orchestra.
“I think I do know,” Billy said quietly.
It started raining. Fat, heavy drops came down so hard they bounced off the hood and the windshield. Though he turned on the wipers, they had a hard time keeping up with the downpour.
“Then why did you keep tormenting me? Was it just fun for you? Did you even think about how it made me feel?” He tried to say something, but I was on a roll now. I cut him off. “Wait, of course you did. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? To make me feel like total shit? Because it’s so easy for you to walk around this school like you’re king of everything—”
“Easy?” he practically shouted. “You think it’s easy? You’re the one who makes it look easy.”
What the hell did that mean? I wanted to ask, but he was already facing the windshield again. He put the car in gear and pulled back onto the road.
“I really have no idea what you’re—”
Before I could finish the sentence, the sky cracked open and a bolt of lightning struck on my side of the street, splitting a tree and sending leaves and wood flying. Billy jerked the wheel to the left instinctively, and the tires squealed on the wet pavement. He somehow managed to get the car under control, but I still felt as if my heart was beating between my ears.
“That was close,” he said, right about the same time another lightning strike flared directly in front of us. It hit the roadway and flung gravel and asphalt into the air. Pebbles smacked against the windshield so hard the glass cracked. The road in front of us dropped away.
“Jesus!” This time Billy wrenched the wheel harder. The car fishtailed. We went hydroplaning across the road and barreling toward the trees on the opposite side.
This was not the way I expected my day to end.
About the Author:
Jeffrey Ricker’s first novel, Detours, was published in 2011 by Bold Strokes Books. His second novel, The Unwanted, will be published by Bold Strokes in 2014. His writing has appeared in the anthologies Paws and Reflect, Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction, Blood Sacraments, Men of the Mean Streets, Speaking Out, Raising Hell, The Dirty Diner, Night Shadows: Queer Horror, and others. A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he is pursuing an MFA at the University of British Columbia.
Red Room page: http://redroom.com/member/jeffrey-ricker/
Publisher’s website: http://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/Author-Jeffrey-Ricker.html
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