Another unfinished novel. This one was meant to be a Young Adult novel. While it might appear to be a contemporary setting, it is not our world. And you know, folks, I’d really like some feedback here — do any of these starts look promising? Would you keep reading?
Steve Everett sat quietly on the porch, his back against the wall below the living room window, listening to his mother’s conversation with Ms. Ramirez.
He knew he probably shouldn’t be there; the adults would consider it spying. It was spying, really. But they were talking about him, and he was curious, and wasn’t talking about him behind his back a little rude, too?
“You said he has his learner’s permit?” Ms. Ramirez said. Steve imagined her looking at her notes, the way she did every few seconds whenever she spoke with him. It was really annoying, the way she did that.
“Yes, of course,” Ms. Everett replied. “He’s been sixteen for months; all his friends have had permits for some time.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Ms. Ramirez asked.
“What? Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Well, with the way his parents died…”
Steve could almost hear the expression on his mother’s face as the social worker’s voice trailed off, leaving her sentence unfinished. He knew that look of disgusted anger well.
“Stephen does not even remember his biological parents,” Ms. Everett said coldly. “We are the only parents he has, and we have not been in any car crashes. I think if you’ll check with the Department of Motor Vehicles, or our insurance company, you’ll find that my husband and I are very safe drivers – no accidents since before Stephen was born, and the last ticket either of us got was ten years ago.”
“Oh, I know, but I know Stephen knows what happened to his parents…”
“His biological parents.” Steve thought his mother had gotten to the stage of speaking through clenched teeth, and he was impressed; it usually took him half an hour of arguing to get her that angry, and the social worker had done it in five minutes. He would have to remember that trick of talking about his biological parents as if they were his only parents; he had called them his “real parents” once or twice in some of the nastier family fights, but he had never thought of not using any adjective at all.
“Yes, his biological parents. I’m sorry. At any rate, he knows they died in an auto wreck, so I’m not sure pushing him to learn to drive…”
“Pushing him? Ms. Ramirez, how long have you been out of high school? The hard part is restraining him! He’s a normal boy; he wants to learn to drive as soon as possible. He wants his own car as soon as possible.”
“I really don’t think that would be a good idea, Ms. Everett.”
“Well, we aren’t about to give him a car, Ms. Ramirez, but if he earns the money himself, we aren’t about to stop him from getting one. Learning to drive is pretty essential, don’t you think?”
“I’m sure millions of people manage without.”
“When did you get your license, Ms. Ramirez?”
“When I was sixteen,” the social worker admitted. “But Stephen’s situation is different!”
“Not in any way that matters, so far as I can see.”
For a moment neither woman spoke.
This was one of the things that puzzled Steve about the quarterly visits from the social workers. He’d first noticed it when he was ten, when old Mr. Albright was still handling his case, and at first he’d thought it was just some quirk of his, but then when Ms. Zelinski took over four years ago she did the same thing, and for the past year Ms. Ramirez had done it, as well. All of the social workers kept talking as if he was somehow special, as if there was something abnormal about him, but they would never say why. They would never come out and say that he was anything other than an ordinary kid, but they talked about his “unique circumstances,” or “different situation.” And if he or one of his parents got curious or annoyed enough to ask outright what was “unique” or “different,” the social worker would change the subject.
The only thing he could think of that might make him special was never mentioned; he didn’t see any sign anyone knew about it other than himself. The social workers certainly never asked him about it.
For that matter, Steve wasn’t entirely sure why the social workers were still coming around at all. On TV shows or movies about adopted kids, no one ever mentioned regular visits from social workers going on for year after year. Social workers were supposed to check on abused or neglected kids, kids who got in trouble with the law, or kids who used drugs, not on kids like him.
And social workers on TV checked for bruises or asked about perverts touching kids, they didn’t go on and on about whether he’d seen any strangers in the neighborhood.
Maybe the TV stories had it all wrong. Maybe the regular visits were just something nobody mentioned. But it seemed a little weird. His biological parents had died almost fifteen years ago, when he wasn’t even two yet; was it really worth the government’s trouble to keep sending people to check up on him?
“Well, thank you for your hospitality, Ms. Everett,” Ms. Ramirez said, breaking the silence. “Stephen seems to be in good hands, as always. I’ll be back in September to talk to him again.” Steve could hear papers shuffling and the thump of her briefcase closing.
“Of course,” his mother said, and her voice still had an icy edge.
“You will let us know immediately if you see anyone watching him, won’t you?” The briefcase latches snapped shut, one after the other.
“Of course.” Her tone was a little softer.
Steve knew that Ms. Ramirez would be coming out the door any second now; he turned – really turned – and hid.
Sure enough, the knob turned and the front door opened, and Ms. Ramirez stepped out onto the porch. She turned and shook his mother’s hand.
“See you in September,” she said.
“September,” Ms. Everett agreed.
Then Ms. Ramirez turned and hurried down the front steps, her high heels clicking. Steve watched her go.
So did his mother; she stood in the doorway as Ms. Ramirez bustled down the walk to her car, tossed the briefcase in the back, and climbed into the driver’s seat. She watched as the social worker took out her phone and punched a number.
With the phone to her ear, Ms. Ramirez looked back to see Steve’s mother in the door. She started the engine, and drove away as she began speaking to whoever she had called.
When the car had pulled away from the curb, Ms. Everett leaned out and looked around. “Steve? Are you out here?”
Steve hesitated, then decided not to answer. He wasn’t a little kid, after all, who had to come running the instant his mother called him.
She shrugged, stepped back inside, and closed the door, and Steve let himself show again. He sat on the edge of the porch, looking out across the lawn.
A car appeared, cruising slowly up the block, and he blinked. He hadn’t seen it come around the corner; it just seemed to be there. And why was it moving so slowly? It wasn’t anyone who lived in the neighborhood; he knew all their cars. And this certainly wasn’t anyone’s new car; it was a beater, at least ten years old. The dark blue paint was in terrible shape, the front bumper was cracked on one end, and there were visible dents here and there.
The blue car stopped at the curb in front of the house, in just the same spot the spiffy white sedan from the Department of Social Services had been in a moment before. The driver’s door opened, and a woman stepped out.
She was tall and blonde, and certainly looked as if she ought to be driving something nicer than that battered heap. She wore a fine gray suit, a yellow blouse, and low-heeled black pumps; her hair was cut to a little above her shoulders and looked as if she had just come from the beauty salon.
She waved to Steve, and started across the lawn toward him. He slid from the porch and stood up.
“Hello,” she called. “You must be Jason Turner.”
That explained a lot; she was clearly lost.
“No,” he said. “I’m not. Sorry.”
She frowned, but kept walking toward him until they stood just a few feet apart. “You aren’t?” she asked.
“Nope, I’m afraid not.”
She studied his face. “You look like a Turner,” she said.
“Who are you, then?”
“Steve Everett.” He held out a hand.
She took it, then released it again, still staring at him. “Were you born with that name?”
Startled, Steve hesitated, then admitted, “I’m not sure.” After a second’s thought he added, “Probably not.”
“Not that it’s any business of yours – ” Steve began.
She interrupted him. “Your parents died when you were not quite two, right?”
“Well, my biological parents, yeah.” Steve wondered how she knew that. Was it just a lucky guess?
“And… let’s see… when you were little, you had trouble learning the directions, didn’t you? Because there was one that no one ever talked about, that wasn’t up, or down, or left, or right, or east, west, north, or south, and when you tried to point to it no one knew what you were talking about.”
Steve’s jaw dropped. He threw a quick glance over his shoulder at the house, to see whether his mother might be watching out the window. He didn’t see her, so he leaned closer to the strange woman and asked, “Who told you that?”
“No one told me,” she said. “I can see it, too.” She pointed. “It’s that way.”
Steve stared at her finger, held at an angle he hadn’t known anyone could hold a finger at – well, anyone except himself. Then he looked back up at the woman’s face.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Are you another social worker?”
She grimaced. “Social worker? No, I’m not a social worker.” An expression of sudden understanding burst onto her face. “You mean like the government woman who was just here?”
“Yes, like her,” Steve said.
“She’s not a social worker! Is that what they’ve been telling you?”
“Yes, of course. Her car says ‘Department of Social Services’ on the side; of course she’s a social worker!”
The stranger shook her head. “No, she really isn’t. That’s just her cover story. She’s a security agent. I followed her here from the security office downtown.”
This whole conversation had gotten so weird that Steve began to think he was dreaming. A strange woman drives up looking for someone else, but then seems to know things about him, including stuff he hadn’t mentioned to anyone since he was in preschool, and tells him that little Ms. Ramirez, with her clipboard and iPhone, is a government spy.
Things like that just didn’t happen in the real world!
Unless… was this woman crazy? Was she a madwoman?
But she had known how old he was when his biological parents died. She knew about the Other Direction…
But then, Steve had sometimes suspected that everyone knew about the Other Direction, and it was something you just didn’t talk about. Maybe she was willing to talk about it because she was nuts.
Or maybe the whole world wasn’t quite what he had thought it was.
“Who are you?” he asked.
She smiled. “You are Jason Turner, I’m sure of it. And if you are, I’ve been looking for you since you were a baby. I’m your Aunt Lucy.”