This is my stop during the book blitz for Freak by Erin Lee. This book blitz is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The book blitz runs from 27 June till 3 July. See the tour schedule here.
Regret Comes in Every Color of the Rainbow
Based on Erin Lee’s novella, Her Name Was Sam, Freak is the story of Kelly and Morgan, the mother and sister of Sam Harris, in the aftermath of her suicide. Bullied for being brave enough to show her true colors to the world, Sam has been gone exactly one year and Kelly and Morgan are left to tackle the grief that comes with regret in her absence.
But Sam’s story is far from over…
Through the love of Willow, a teenager intent on standing up for her “Freak” best friend at all costs, Ryan is able to finally come out to family and friends. His transformation from ashamed to proud with Willow’s help gives new meaning to Sam’s story and how things could have been.
Because love comes in all shades too.
You can find Freak on Goodreads
You can buy Freak here on Amazon
About the Author:
Erin Lee is a freelance writer and therapist chasing a crazy dream one reality at a time. She is the author of Crazy Like Me, a novel published in 2015 by Savant Books and Publications, LLC, Wave to Papa, 2015, by Limitless Publishing, LLC and Nine Lives (2016). She’s also author of Alters, Host, and Merge of the “Lola, Party of Eight Series,” When I’m Dead, Take Me As I Am, Greener, Something Blue, Once Upon a Vow and 99 Bottles. She also penned Her Name Was Sam, an LGBTQ awareness novella. She is author of Losing Faith, and co-author of The Morning After with Black Rose Writing. These days, she spends her free time working on the sequels to this novel, Jimmie’s Ice Cream and Thing Fifteen.
Lee is a co-founder of the Escape From Reality Series. She, along with authors Sara Schoen and Taylor Henderson, are working with twenty other authors to bring the hopes, dreams, fears and terrors of a tiny fictional town alive. The town and its setting is exactly the type of place a man like Jimmie might escape to as the bodies thawed.
Lee holds a master’s degree in psychology and works with at-risk families and as a court appointed special advocate. She cannot write horror with the lights off. However, these days, she’s getting braver and dimming them. She’ll get there . . .
There is a tour wide giveaway for the book blitz of Freak. One winner will win a signed paperback of Freak by Erin Lee. US only.
For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:
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Burgundy is the color of blood. I try not to think about it. Instead, I rush back to the kitchen sink for more towels. Willow needs me. Ryan needs me more. And this isn’t the first time I’ve had to help my daughter clean up her best friend; the kid better known at school as “Freak.”
At some point, someone is going to need to do something. This is the third time in just as many months that I’ve patched my daughter’s best friend up after a fight. This time, they tell me from our tattered leather couch patched with electrical tape that fails to hide a thing, that it was Colby Brown who started it. Colby, a sophomore middle linebacker on the Conant High School junior varsity football team, is a kid I’ve known since he was in grade school. In fact, I used to be his Sunday School teacher. It’s hard to believe that the kid who was the first to remember the Lord’s Prayer is now the first to throw a punch over something as stupid as how another kid walks. But times change and so do people.
“Hold this to your head. And not like last time. Put pressure on it. We need to stop the bleeding. Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to the doctor? It’s totally fine. I could get a sitter…”
“Really, Mrs. Schoen. I’m okay. I’ll be fine. Sticks and stones, right?” Ryan brushes his long blond bangs away from his eyes, pulling gently at the hairs wet from the blood gushing from his eyebrow. He throws his neck back and waves one hand at me while holding my new white towel to his head. “Really! I’ll be fine.”
“No you won’t. Why don’t you just let my mom do something? I’m sick of this. It’s not fair, Ry. It happens like every single day. Mom could like call your mom or the school or something. They have all that bullying crap up now. They have to take it serious. It’s not like they are blind…”
The skinny boy on my couch who doesn’t look a day over thirteen but is technically sixteen, glares at Willow; my daughter and his best friend since the first grade. “Yeah. And that will help. Be serious. It will only make it worse. Like I don’t already have a target on me? Like they can’t tell? Why do you think this shit—he looks up, ‘sorry, Mrs. Schoen,’ and continues—keeps happening?”
I sigh, turning back to the kitchen to see if I have a bag of frozen peas or something for the welt that’s already forming on his face. I have no clue how he thinks keeping a fight like this a secret is going to be any easier than being gay. I pretend not to ease-drop on the duo but can’t help myself as they wrestle with what to do about kids at school, the administration and, most importantly Ryan’s parents who have no clue he’s gay and would likely disown him if they knew. What the hell is wrong with people? He’s a great kid. Why does it matter?
Digging through the freezer and wishing I hadn’t used up the last of the chilled ice packs for John’s lunchtime cooler, I try to put myself in Ryan’s parents’ shoes. I want to believe that I would be okay and supportive if Willow was gay, but I’m also realistic. I know it might be something I’d have trouble with at first. It makes me hate myself for feeling that way. What I do know, though, is that ultimately I’d come around. Willow’s happiness has been all and John have ever really wanted for her since I first learned I was pregnant.
I linger at the freezer, spying on their conversation and trying to come up with a plan of how to help this kid who I’ve also known since he was chubby with coke-bottle glasses. Ryan was once the happy kid who met Willow at the bus stop every morning with a bright smiles and sometimes a handful of dandelions. Back then, I swore they’d end up married someday. His mother, Mary, and I had joked about what gorgeous babies they’d make with Ryan’s chubby cheeks and Willow’s naturally curly hair. Even now, listening to them bicker like an old married couple about the best way to handle another round of bullying from Colby and half the jocks at the high school, it seemed hard to imagine that they’d eventually go their separate ways. For as long as I can remember, they’d been stuck together at the hip. Still, most of their free time is spent either Snap chatting each other on the latest gossip or practicing together for the school marching band or choir; extra-curricular activities they joined together back in middle school.
“Dude! I’m just not, okay. Let it go. You don’t get it. And I don’t know why you don’t. You’re the kid who has to sit with the freak at lunchtime. And you know what? Don’t.”
“Oh hell no, you don’t. That’s BS and you know it. I’m not like that. What’s wrong with you? You aren’t taking this crap out on me, Ry. Chill out. I’m only trying to help you. Team you, remember? Loyal, remember? Don’t piss me off.”
I suck in a sharp breath, waiting for Willow to continue her rant. She doesn’t. All I can make out now are whispers. I throw a gallon of ice cream on the counter and reach for the scooper, forgetting entirely about the peas for Ryan’s head. I need to get back in there. Then again, I really don’t. Willow can hold her own. She’s always been this way. Somehow, she came out of the womb an old soul. Never one to care what people thought or said, my daughter was born with an innate self confidence that never really made sense to me; the woman who still worries about straightening her hair for parent-teacher conferences or a school bake sale.
I return with two bowls of mint chocolate chip, which Ryan happily takes and Willow pushes to the side on a coffee table. I sit across from them in a reclining chair prepared to give Ryan the lecture my daughter’s already begun. I’ve known Mary and Tom longer than their son and can’t imagine they’d be that difficult to talk to. Sure, I know they are big into church and might not be thrilled with the idea of Ryan living a different lifestyle from theirs. But still, being gay doesn’t mean you can’t be spiritual or don’t believe in God. Mary would see that, eventually. No mother would want their son going through something like this alone. Would they?
“What if I called your mom and explained things to her?”
Ryan puts down the spoon he holds in one hand and removes the towel from his head with the other. He shakes his head.
“Listen, guys. I appreciate it. I really do. You just don’t get it. This isn’t something that would be cool. I’ll deal with this eventually. I’m just not ready to. I mean, hell, do you guys even comprehend that my mother asks me at least ten times a day who I’m asking to the homecoming dance? She’s just not ready for it.”
“Shoot. I forgot the peas. Put that thing back on your head. At least it’s cold.”
“Yes. For your head. That bump is huge,” I say, uncertain about why I’ve never heard anything about the homecoming dance myself. “I’ll be right back. Willow, eat that ice cream. You’re too skinny.”
“Gee, thanks, Ma.”
Am I a coward? Probably so. And that’s fine. I’ve been called a hell of a lot worse. Usually, it’s just Freak. That happens the most on the days I get too colorful for the assholes at Conant High School. Generally, I try to tone it down. God forbid a guy want to express himself. In a way, I blame myself for it. I guess stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Had I just toned it down and not gone through that phase in middle school with the black nail polish and the leather spiked collar, they might not even know. I don’t speak with a lisp. I don’t walk any different than any other guy at school. And I sure as hell do my best to keep the dramatics down. Still, they know. And it’s fucked up. Because if I could be who I really am, I’d do all those things and so much more. I’d pay a million dollars for someone to truly explain what’s so bad about wanting to just be me? I just don’t get what’s so wrong with being the way that I am.
When I’m with Willow, that shit goes right out the door. She’s probably the only friend I have who knows the true me anymore. My parents swear we’ll get married some day and have two perfect blond haired, blue-eyed children – a boy and a girl. Of course, they won’t be gay. That would be too much for my mother to take. “Leave me some hope, Ryan. And take off those sneakers! No shoes in the house!” No, to Mom, perfect comes only when you fit into a pre-packaged mold. A boy should be strong and athletic. A girl should be pretty and pink, like Willow. “The perfect girl for you, Ryan. Be nice to her, Ryan. Someday, Ryan, you’ll see. I just have a feeling about her.” Gross. For starters, there is absolutely nothing about my best friend that I find attractive in any way other than platonic. Even her freckles scare me.
Besides, Willow has flaws. No one is perfect, Mom. If Willow was so perfect, she might understand why now isn’t the best time in the world to come out to my parents. It’s hard enough to get through the average school day. She’s the only one who will sit with me at lunch anymore. Most days, I feel guilty about it; no matter how much fun we have whispering at the head cheerleader who thinks she’s hotter than everyone else. If Willow was “the one” I’d also be able to tell her that her nagging’s getting old and, frankly, I’m sick of feeling alone. I know it’s ridiculous, but sometimes, I feel like if Willow really “got” me, she’d become gay too. (I know, I know better than anyone – it’s not a choice). Still, the silences between us are becoming more frequent and she doesn’t invite me over as much. No matter how hard she tries, she’s never going to get what it’s like to be the kid they call Freak. Sure, I appreciate that she stands up for me. But lately, I just wish she’d leave me alone. She’d be better off. Frankly, they would all be – if I was just gone… And all of this? It makes me a terrible guy. Because as much as I need her to just go away for both of our sakes, I can’t stand it when she’s gone. To be honest, I’m really afraid of what I might do if I was left entirely alone for too long. Sometimes, I have scary thoughts. Most of them start with Colby. Generally, they end with him too, at my funeral: The one place he wouldn’t be able to hurt me.
I stand in a sea of color. It’s so bright, so real, that I feel like I could almost reach out and taste it. I imagine it tastes like summer’s fat watermelon slices or the Fourth of July. But my mouth is dry. Even if I could, I wouldn’t take a bite. I have too much guilt. The only reason I’m standing here is because I helped kill my daughter. If I’m totally honest with you, and with myself, I would never be standing here if Sam hadn’t done what she did.
She asked me to come with her to this very parade so many times. I told her there was no way I’d be caught dead marching down the streets like this. I tried to convince her it was just a phase. I told her to keep an open mind; the very thing she was asking of me. I said she was just curious and experimenting. I even tried to tell her it was all a normal part of growing up. But deep down, I knew. I knew exactly what was going on with her. I also knew how important it was to her that I support her. I just wasn’t ready. I couldn’t see myself as “that” mom. The last thing I wanted to have was pride.
I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t be normal. I felt like she was only doing it to punish me. I’d watch her, getting dressed in wild patterns and heels so high I was sure she’d twist an ankle. She’d put on so much make-up it reminded me of a circus clown. I told her so. I told her to take off the mask. She glared at me, telling me I didn’t understand.
It’s ironic that I’m here now. Being at the rainbow parade is a horrible consolation prize. I only want my daughter back. I’d go to a parade like this one every year for the rest of my life if I could change things. I’d even have pride: In her. In me. In a million things I wouldn’t have done so awfully wrong. Pride in the things I’d do over right.
I wonder what she thinks of me today and almost hope there’s no afterlife. I admit it, I’m a hypocrite. I should have been here years ago. I should have done whatever it took to support her. But there are no do overs. At least, I don’t think.
Sam believed in reincarnation. She’s probably too busy living another, better life, to be paying attention. If she is, I know she’s rolling her eyes. She’d say, “Finally, Mom’s here.”
The ironic thing is, I couldn’t not be here. I am, after all, a conspirator. Maybe I can help some other mother from suffering the same fate. Sam always used to say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
I can’t imagine a good enough reason for her suicide. But there were many. I might have been able to stop her, had I listened. I didn’t listen when she told me how bad the bullying had become. I didn’t take her seriously or buy her the new dresses and make-up she asked for. I told her she needed to see a therapist and to stop trying to change who she was. I said that she needed to focus on school and ignore everyone around her. I told her she was too young to date and that the only thing that would solve her problems was prayer. I told her that maybe she was just bisexual or gay. I told her it was no big deal and that she had plenty of time to figure it out. And, then, I told myself I was being open minded. The truth was, my mind was entirely closed and we both knew it. I even asked her what the neighbors might think.
Sure, there were warning signs. I should have paid closer attention when her grades dropped and she stopped attending band practice. I should have known something was wrong when she burnt her journals in the backyard. I let her give her trumpet and flute away. Instead, I wrote it off to teen angst and told myself she was only going through a phase. I painted over her pink walls and made them blue. I figured it might help her rethink things.
It’s probably a good thing that I can’t hear myself think over the noise. A man wearing white leggings and rainbow leg warmers has a gold horn on his head. His Mohawk is dyed every color of the rainbow. I think he’s supposed to be a unicorn. I try not to wince as he spins and twirls and prances by. I tell myself at least his mother has him alive.
Someday, I hope to be able to smile with him. I hope to be able to look past the glitter and overt cries of ‘pride.’ For now, I need to just be here, part of it, and try. Three young girls, with their arms locked together, march beside me. Their faces are painted red and I wonder what it symbolizes. They laugh and smile and I have to make myself look away. It’s too late…