The 6 printed, illustrated versions of Zachary's novella, "Shattered," have been won by the following folks:
Traci @The Reading Geek
Congrats! I have emails for everyone but Suzanne, so Suzanne, please email your mailing address to me at jeri AT jerismithready DOT com within the next week, or I will draw another name.
Also, I wrote a rough draft of the de-kilting scene over the weekend. Half of it is funny and cute, and the other half is just, ugh, so awfully cheesy.
If you're looking for a Crush Tourney wrapup post, check out Fictitious Delicious's phenomenal summary with links and fundraising totals and all sorts of goodness. And this SHADEboys tumblr post pretty much sums up my own feelings.
For every 100 votes Zachary gets in the YA Crush Tourney Round 2, I'll add another 100 words to this little story about Senior Prom. Aura briefly alluded to it in the final chapter of SHINE, but she gave no details other than "yeah, he wore the kilt."
I think it's time for details.
EDITED 7/26 TO ADD: The story is now finished--I hope you enjoy it! Much of it was written on-the-fly, which was an interesting experience, one that forced me to forgo my perfectionism and just ride the flow of the story. It's a bit goofy, but that's part of the fun.
The first 100 words are free:
It took literally hours to make it all perfect, with no one to help me this year. But worth it. Wearing the kilt is like a following a thread to the past, tapping into the strength of my blood.
Also, it’s incredibly expensive, so I feel a wee bit James Bond. On the outside, at least.
Inside I’m wound tight, and not because of the way the black dress dips between her breasts, the neckline framing them in a silver beaded V that says, “Here, ya numpty! Look here!” Were it not for the all-too-short hour together in my hotel room last night, we’d be ruining each other this moment. My mouth would be smearing her makeup and my hands tangling her hair. That maddening skirt of hers would be hitched up to her waist so her bare legs could wrap around me and—
A’right, her dress isn’t the only reason I’m tense.
It’s being here again, gliding down roads I traveled without care for eight months. While I lived here last year, I feared for many things—my father’s life, my happiness with Aura, my ability to not crash a car. But I never feared for my freedom. Why would I, in the land of the free?
We pass the street that leads to the regional DMP office. My chest thickens, as if my heart’s filling it up with its uneven, swollen beats.
“Zach, what’s wrong?”
The word, “Nothing” comes out before her question is even finished. “It’s a wee bit stuffy in here.” My fingers fumble for the window controls, and I press the first one I find.
A hole in the roof of the car slides open. “Ah, that’s better. Let’s pop our heids oot, like dugs.” At her confused look, I drop open my mouth and stick out my tongue in a look of canine joy.
She laughs. “Definitely on the way home tonight, once my hair’s already a disaster.”
Good, we’ve changed the subject from my state of mind. “I’m glad you wore it doon.” I risk a brief touch of one long, dark brown lock, just my fingertips.
Mistake: I want to bury my hands in all of her hair, now.
“With the strapless dress, I had to, or I’d feel naked.”
Her little laugh after she says the last word goes straight to the base of my spine. I try not to groan, but there’s one less-than-perfect element to my ensemble, a foreign element that’s suddenly become quite, em, constrictive.
I brush my bare knee against hers. Her lower lip pulls in, just a bit.
“Ye can touch it,” I tell her. “It won’t break.”
She clears her throat. “What?”
“Oh! Okay.” Slowly Aura rests her hand on my right hip, closest to her, then she breaks into a smile. “Wow, it’s softer than it looks.”
She clears her throat. “I mean, I thought, since it’s wool, that it’d feel like a sheep.”
“Sheep are softer than they look, too.” That didn’t come out right.
Her hand drifts down to the hem. “Is it okay if—can I?”
I nod, since my lungs are too tight to breathe, much less help me speak. I close my eyes as she slips her fingers underneath the kilt. I know it’s curiosity as much as lust on her part, but I don’t care.
Her hand stops at the top of my thigh, as I knew it would. “Wait. What’s this?”
Aura pulls back. “You’re wearing briefs? I thought you didn’t wear anything under the kilt.”
“Usually, but this is prom. I plan to be oot there spinnin’ on the dance floor. It’s dodgy.”
She gives me a sideways look. “You’re telling me you don’t know how to dance in a kilt without flashing the world?”
There’s no point in arguing with Aura, so I tell her the truth. “It’s the rules.”
“Yer school’s. Last year before junior prom, Principal Hirsch called me to his office just to tell me to wear something under my kilt.”
“Principal Hirsch ordered you to wear underwear?”
“Basically. I wouldnae dae it otherwise, especially not these…” I shift on the seat. “I’m a boxer man, you know that.”
“Why not wear boxers under the kilt, then?”
“Same reason you don’t wear shorts under yer skirt. It ruins the streamlined look.”
She heaves a frustrated sigh. “Zach, this is stupid. You don’t even go to our school anymore. It’s not like he can give you detention.”
“But he could make us leave the dance. I don’t want that.” I brush my hand over her bare shoulder, where there’s the faintest subtle dusting of glitter. “I want tonight to be perfect.”
“Me, too.” Aura turns her head to rest her cheek against my palm, then lifts her dark gaze to meet mine. “So take them off.”
I swallow hard, wondering if she’s serious. “Sorry?” My voice comes half an octave higher than usual.
“Take them off. I don’t care if we get kicked out. I want you to be comfortable. I want you to be you.”
I feel I should argue. I always argue. But I can’t think of a good reason—or even a bad reason—to deny her this. I do consider a negotiation, however, asking her to remove her own underwear as well. But she’ll say no, and then if I say yes, anyway, I’ll look weak.
“Compromise. I’ll take them off now, but only until the dance.”
One side of her mouth curves down. “’K,” she says, her flat tone in complete disagreement with her letter-word.
I glance at the driver, who suddenly seems much closer than before. But he’s no doubt seen worse, and anyway, the window between him and us is tinted.
Still, I keep the kilt down as I slip the briefs off my hips and over my legs. They get tangled about my knees, of course. I’m careful not to disturb the laces around my calves as I stand to step out of the hateful piece of cloth.
I give a deep breath of relief as I sit back down. Now the outfit is perfect.
“Told you you’d feel better,” she says. “These are nice, by the way.” Aura examines the scrap of blue silk, which looks small and pathetic. “Now close your eyes.”
A smirk slips over my lips. “Why?”
Aura looks at the tinted windows on either side of the limo. We’re entering the expressway headed south, a good ten minutes from the restaurant. “Just do it.”
“No, you cannae win this battle.” I try to hold onto the smirk, but it falters. She still doesn’t know how hard it is to close my eyes, whether I’m alone or with someone, even her. It’s been almost a year, yet sometimes I still see that void on the backs of my lids. I still worry that when I open them, there’ll be nothing but a white ceiling.
“Then I’ll have to find another way to surprise you.” Her wide, innocent smile turns dark and ominous. She waves my briefs at arm’s length, then stands, steps back, and tosses them out the sunroof. All before I can move an inch.
“What the—” I can do nothing but turn and watch the tiny scrap of cloth tumble down the road, tossed by the wind. Far behind us, a red pickup truck runs it over.
Aura sits beside me again, smoothes her hair, then folds her hands in her lap. “You can thank me later.”
If I hadn’t once been a rock star’s girlfriend, I’d totally freak out right now.
My classmates swarmed Zach the moment we walked through the door. They all loved him last year when he went to Ridgewood, and absence makes the heart grow insaner, I guess. He’s created a human traffic jam here in the foyer, with his tux and kilt and that accent, which is so much stronger now that he’s been living in Glasgow.
As is he. It’s hard to even glance at him without remembering how the contours of his muscles looked and felt last night in his hotel room. He always had a good body, but in that general-fitness-healthy-weight sort of way that guys have when they play sports instead of video games for fun. Above average, but nothing extraordinary.
But now…he’s several standard deviations above the mean.
(Back to Aura now.)
But based on the attention he’s getting right now, he’s warming up to it again.
“Zach, you look amazing!” My best friend Megan shoulders the forty thousand other girls out of the way to hug him. I send her a mental thank you and try not to laugh when she stomps on Tori Benson’s toes.
“Hey, Aura,” says a warm, familiar voice behind me. I turn to see Dylan, Megan’s date—also, my date last year and younger brother to my dead ex-boyfriend.
This should be awkward. “Hi, Dylan.”
“Hey. You look…amazing, of course.” He shifts his feet awkwardly, and in one second I’m taken back to a year ago, when we stood on this spot and he admitted he wanted me. He did that same foot-shift.
But things have changed. He’s with Megan now, sort of. It must just be the memories.
Zachary’s at my side in an instant, extricated by Megan from the crowd of admirers. “Hiya, Dylan.”
“Hey.” Dylan lifts his chin, then points to his own cheek. “Got a little lipstick there, bro.”
Zachary’s eyes widen, and he reaches for the handkerchief in his tux pocket.
“You do not,” I tell him.
Dylan shrugs and looks away. “Sorry, guess it was the light.”
For a moment, we all say nothing, and the James Bond theme playing at the photo booth behind us seems suddenly loud.
And then, a moment later, it gets even louder, as all the voices in the foyer stop.
“It’s okay, kids!” says a deep, authoritative voice. “Just have your fun. Nothing to see here.”
I step to my right to look between Zachary and Megan. Four DMP agents in white uniforms are at the front door, blocking the exit.
“What the hell are dumpers doing here?” Dylan says.
Zach freezes. Megan puts a protective hand on his arm. “You have GOT to be kidding me,” she growls.
The two youngest, buffest agents step forward. “Mr. Moore, we’d like you to come with us.”
Zach’s eyes meet mine. He wants to run, I can tell. So do I.
But the last time he was detained and resisted arrest, trying to defend his mom and sick father from the FBI, they used it as an excuse to keep him. And from the FBI, it only got worse.
I move forward to press against him, entwining my arm with his. “They won’t take you alone.”
F***ing hell. Another van. Same dark interior, same white uniformed agents.
I really need to stay oot of this country.
Aura stays close beside me in the rear of the vehicle. Not huddling, though, or looking to me to protect her. I know she’s pepper spray in her purse, and they’ve not taken it. They’ve not searched me, either.
That’s how I know they’re fake. They aren’t the DMP agents they pretend to be.
Their guns, however, are real. I’ve been shot once, with no desire to repeat that experience. Staring at the bigger “agent’s” sidearm, I rub the exit-wound scar just under my right collarbone. Aura notices, and I stop, putting my hand back in hers.
If they’re not DMP, could they be Nighthawk? If so, we could be on our way to a quiet execution in some dismal swamp. Or to a concrete interrogation cell.
I won’t let them take her. They can beat me, cut me, break me, and it’d be nothing compared to what I endured last summer. All for Aura.
We slow for a traffic light. Through the front window I can see we’re at the intersection of Pratt Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, only a few streets from the exit to the highway. This could be our last chance.
Aura sees it, too, and slips her feet out of her high-heeled shoes, ready to run.
The van starts to ease into the right lane, then suddenly swerves left. I grab Aura as we’re thrown back against the wall of the van. My head slams something hard, making my skull reverberate with pain in every direction.
One wheel of the van bounces onto the median strip of the boulevard. The “agents” across from us spill onto the floor. Aura yelps in fear, and my mind fills with the image of the traffic coming the other way.
But the van lurches to a halt. The bigger chap, the one with the shaved head and sunglasses, reaches across the floor for a dark, dull grey shape.
The pistol he dropped.
In a split second that seems an hour, I choose between tackling him or going for the gun. But it’s too far to get and he’s too big to overcome.
I opt for the third choice. Reaching under the left side of my kilt, I jerk down the collapsible Smith & Wesson baton attached to the inside of my belt. The clasp releases, and with one hard snap of my wrist, the baton expands from the length of my hand to the length of my arm. Two feet of steel encased in solid black rubber.
Aye, that’s what’s under this lad’s kilt.
The thug’s hand closes around the pistol’s barrel, but before he can lift it, I slam the end of my baton on his knuckles. He howls in pain and lets go, long enough for me to kick the gun out of his reach, with my heel so it goes behind me.
The guy grabs my ankle. In adrenalin-fueled panic, I crack the baton against his wrist again and again. Finally he releases me, and I stumble back.
Behind me comes a Valkyrie screech, then a man’s high-pitched cry of pain. I turn my head to see the other agent on his knees, covering his left eye. Aura draws back for another blow, wielding her spiked-heeled shoe. His other hand snakes out, seizes her wrist.
“NO!” Swinging the baton with both hands, I bring it down and around with full force, against the back of his shoulder. He pitches forward, dragging her with him onto the floor.
I raise the baton again, ready to bash in his head, knowing it could mean losing my freedom forever. I’ve given that up for her once. I’d do it again, for the rest of my life, if that’s what it takes.
The rear doors open, letting in a flood of flashing red and blue lights. Four police officers stand with their weapons drawn, shouting words so fast I can’t understand. I step back, drop the baton, and put my hands up.
[Author's note: I was asked what the baton looks like. Here it is in its deployed state. Collapsed and concealed it would just be the part on the right that looks like a handle.]
But for once, the guns aren’t pointing at me.
“Kids, it’s all right,” one of the uniformed officers says. “Come on out of there. Careful.” He steps forward, offering a hand to Aura while his partner trains the gun on the man who was holding her.
Behind them on the median strip, Dylan and Megan, along with two other students whose names I can’t remember, are standing next to a female officer. The right front bumper of Dylan's black SUV is streaked with white paint, the same white of the van I’m standing in now.
Nice one, mate.
I pick up the baton I dropped and step around the fake agent.
“I’ll take that club,” says the young officer helping us out of the van. “You know it’s illegal to carry a concealed weapon in the State of Maryland.”
I wobble a bit as I step down onto the grassy median. Still dazed from the fight, I look at the baton held at my side. “It’s not concealed. Where would I—”
“Here.” The officer takes the baton from me and jabs the end against the side of the van. With a bang and a zip, the thing collapses back to its original eight-and-a-half-inch length. He holds it up. “You could hide that anywhere.” He glances down at my kilt and shakes his head. “Man, something new every day in this job.”
By the time Zach and I—and Megan, Dylan, Jenna, and Christopher, who saved our butts by running the kidnappers’ van off the road—finish at the police station, the prom is almost over.
Gina showed up—as my aunt to make sure I was okay, and as a lawyer, to make sure they didn’t charge Zachary with the misdemeanor of carrying a concealed weapon under his kilt. It was one of those gray areas where law enforcement can use its discretion. Zach did, after all, fend off people who were trying to kidnap us.
They weren’t really DMP agents, which we’d figured out. But they knew we were the First and the Last, born on either side of the Shift. It was only a matter of time before some random criminals thought we’d be valuable enough to hold for ransom.
I wish I could say this was the worst Prom Night ever, but it still beats last year. I’d rather be kidnapped at gunpoint than watch Zachary dance with Becca Goldman. Probably.
When we arrive back at Ridgewood High, most of our classmates have left, off partying in hotel rooms or people’s houses. The photographer is breaking down his cheesy James Bond casino backdrop, and the “bar” is all out of “mocktinis.” Sadness.
In the gymnasium, where the pulled-back bleachers are draped in silver, black, and gold, there are maybe twenty people still on the dance floor, jamming to a nu-metal/hip-hop mashup.
“Wait here.” Zach squeezes my hand and heads for the DJ station. I watch him walk away, his stride confident and steady, the kilt brushing the top edge of the backs of his knees.
“Wow.” Megan puts her arm around my shoulders and watches him with me. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I am at this moment burning that mental picture into my permanent memory.”
Dylan comes to stand on my other side, then sighs. “Takes a lot of, um, guts to wear that.”
I nudge him with my elbow. “Thanks again for saving our lives. Or almost killing us.”
He shrugs. “Since Operation Scot Free last summer was a complete fail, I had to try version 2.0.”
In a minute, Zachary returns to us, looking a little nervous.
“What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“Nothing.” He gives a quick tug to each sleeve of his short black tuxedo jacket. “I hope you like the song I chose.”
“Why wouldn’t I—” I cut myself off as the pounding bass fades into a sweet acoustic guitar. “Oh.”
He bites his upper lip, dark brows pinching together. “Is it a’right, then?”
Any other words are useless, especially considering the song. I step close to him, wrap my arms around his neck, and pull him into a sweet, aching kiss.
Zachary makes that low, soft sound in the back of his throat and draws me closer, his hands firm around my waist. He deepens the kiss as Alison Krauss breaks into the chorus of “When You Say Nothing at All.”
“We’ll just be over…away…now,” Megan says. “Yeah.”
When Zachary and I finally open our eyes, she and Dylan are gone. We start to dance, our bodies pressed together, barely moving.
“I really wanted to do that last year,” I tell him, “when we were dancing to this song.”
“Aye, me, too.”
“Why didn’t we? Besides the fact that we had other dates.”
“Because we were daft.” He brushes his lips over the corner of my jaw, right below my ear. “Because we didn’t know we were already together.”
We stop talking, letting the wisdom of the song dissolve our past foolishness.
So many have tried to steal our future. They put Zachary away, tried to shatter his spirit and shake my faith. All to gain the powers we were born with, the powers that become something new and world-changing when we’re together.
But no matter the odds, or the ferocity of our foes, somehow we always come out stronger, and closer, and more hopeful than ever.
And that? Is the best power of all.
(A short hotel-room epilogue to come in a separate post!)
EDITED TO ADD: Some nice person added this scene to GoodReads, so rate it if you like. Don't worry--I won't look.
Voting has now ended, and Zach didn't win in terms of getting the most votes, but Team Kilt made a brave showing and had a brilliant time. Thank you SO MUCH for all your support. It really meant a lot to me.
In the meantime, you have through the end of Friday to enter by commenting on this post. Thanks!
Comment on this post to be entered to win an exclusive printed, illustrated (with photos!) version of "Shattered," Zachary's upcoming novella. One will be given away for every 500 votes Zachary receives. (EDITED TO ADD: These will not be available when the novella comes out--it will be ebook only.)
Open to international entries. Deadline: Friday, July 27.