Chris Lynch Killing Time in Crystal City

ISBN 13: 9781442440128

Killing Time in Crystal City

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9781442440128: Killing Time in Crystal City

A teen runs away from his broken life and invents a new one in this “absorbing and satisfying” (Booklist) adventure from Printz Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Chris Lynch.

Crystal City called for him, and Kevin answered. And why wouldn’t he? His relationship with his father is broken—as is his arm. With barely anyone to miss him or care if he’s gone, it seemed like the perfect time for Kevin to run away to his estranged uncle and create an entirely new identity. New name. New attitude. New friends. Maybe even a new girl.

From the first moment of adventure, Kevin’s life takes a turn for the exciting. Making friends seems easy with his new persona, especially when a group of homeless beach bums instantly includes him in their crew. But do they like the real Kevin, or the guy he’s pretending to be? And will this new lifestyle help Kevin escape from the misery of his former life—or will it drag him right back into the reasons he left home?

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About the Author:

Chris Lynch is the Printz Honor Award–winning author of several highly acclaimed young adult novels, including Printz Honor Book Freewill, Iceman, Gypsy Davy, and Shadow Boxer—all ALA Best Books for Young Adults—as well as Killing Time in Crystal City, Little Blue Lies, Pieces, Kill Switch, Angry Young Man, and Inexcusable, which was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of six starred reviews. He holds an MA from the writing program at Emerson College. He teaches in the Creative Writing MFA program at Lesley University. He lives in Boston and in Scotland.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Killing Time in Crystal City

DEPARTURE

I came for the name.

I should probably be embarrassed to admit making a big decision based on such lameness. But I figure if you are aiming for a place to do a total reboot on your whole entire self, then you aim for a place with a name like Crystal City.

It’s a name that calls you to come. As soon as you see it on a map, or on a bus schedule, or if you hear somebody mention it, the impulse is to think, yup, that’s the place. It wants me and I want it. It conjures immediately The Crystal City, the very home of clarity and radiance and shimmering promise. I can’t be the only one to have noticed that. I know. So it has to attract lots of people, peoples, types. Lots of people who are looking for stuff. Looking for what I’m looking for.

Whatever that turns out to be.

More than anything, it needs to not be the place I am leaving behind. Ass Bucket is the name of my town. Not really. But, really.

I might well find out what I am looking for just by going. Maybe somebody there will even tell me.

Or, possibly, I don’t have to wait that long.

·   ·   ·

She gets on the bus at our one stopover, the midpoint between Ass Bucket and Crystal City. I wouldn’t have noticed her, since I have the premium, top-deck, front-seat position, except that she bangs her way up the stairs and down the aisle with the kind of stomp and thump that just forces you to turn and look.

So I turn and look.

She throws her backpack onto the window seat and takes the aisle seat, second from rear, left. I become aware of my staring only when she stares back, with an exaggerated head tilt and a dropped open mouth that are not meant to flatter me.

She has noticed me. Already, right there, my life has changed beyond all recognition.

She has a cast on her left arm. I have a cast on my right. If you do not answer when the universe calls out to you as clearly as that then you, pal, are a shitbag and you deserve to be a shitbag and live the loser life that comes with it.

I turn away and look at the road ahead, because she intimidated me and forced me to. But every real part of me wants to do the opposite, wants to do what I would never do. Before, anyway. I would never make that long and scary walk down that aisle separating me from her. Before.

Now, however, I can’t stop thinking about doing exactly that. The road and the cars and the landscape ahead, so mesmerizing up till now, are suddenly nothing, and the girl behind me means everything. If I can’t do this now, when everything tells me this is the this and now is the now, then I might as well just slither out the bus window and walk all the way back to Ass Bucket to resume my former life as a shitbag.

That thought propels me out of my seat, onto my feet, backpack in tow, to my new best seat in the house. Aisle seat, second from rear, right.

I sit for ten silent minutes, which is not really that long of a silence unless every one of those six hundred seconds is spent on my agonizing over coming up with an opening, the opening, that will launch the conversation and the future and all the incredible betters and bests waiting for me in that future, and an eleventh minute waterlogged in the realization that the reason I am speechless is that I have just put all that lifetime of pressure on this one small opening jab of communication.

Just speak, ya dope.

“We have something in common,” I say, shocked at the sound of my own voice but not as shocked as I am at the sight and sensation of reaching boldly across the aisle and tapping her cast with mine. I draw my arm rapidly back to my territory and savor the sad and thrilling reverberation of that instant of human contact, and plaster be damned because human contact it was.

She turns her head slowly in my direction, the kind of slowly that suggests I’m either getting attitude already or maybe her neck was also injured in whatever accident did her arm harm. I’m hoping the universe doesn’t hold it against me that I am wishing her neck pain over attitude.

The long turn of her head takes a little detour to look at the spot where I touched her—like I left a stain or something—then continues up to engage my actual face.

“What?” she says. Could she possibly know of the torture that went into the first run of my clever line, never mind the rerun?

“I said, we have something in common,” I say, and watch with fascination as this arm, which apparently belongs to me but could just as easily be the mechanical grabber on one of those carnival claw machines, reaches over and taps hers again.

“Well, it wouldn’t be proper boundaries, because I have them. I also have pepper spray, a knife, and steel-toed boots I like to call the ‘testicle testers.’”

This is not how it’s supposed to go. The new and wider and bolder world is supposed to be friendlier and appreciate gestures like this. I am supposed to get things right this time. And the new and wider and bolder me cannot just accept this kind of failure if things are going to improve, and they have to improve, they have to improve.

“I’m sorry,” I say, leaning in a slightly unnatural way in the opposite direction from her. And I place my left hand on top of my casted right forearm, as if I can hide the shameful thing.

I cannot possibly hold this pitiful and awkward posture for the rest of the ride, but I fear I am going to attempt it, shitbag that I am.

Fortunately, I don’t have to put it to the test because after about two minutes, she speaks to me.

“Hey,” she says, and I turn cautiously to see her expression not quite the hard thing it was. Her face shows what I might possibly recognize as pity, which I am more than happy to accept.

“What?” I say. I try to match the disinterested tone she used when she asked me that same question, because I think that acting the way this cool person does is a pretty good step to start on whatever it is I’m starting on. She doesn’t seem to notice.

“How’d you get yours?” she asks, pointing from within her proper boundary area at my cast.

Oh. Oh right. What kind of feeb am I, that I thought I could initiate an arm-cast discussion that wouldn’t come fairly quickly to this question, which I do not want to answer? Which I really, really, do not want to answer.

“My dad did it.” The words burst out of me like the stream from one of those pump-action water guns.

“Oh,” she says, but an unstartled “oh.” “You poor kid.”

She doesn’t follow it up for any elaboration, which is a surprise and a relief.

“How about you?” I say, pointing from an appropriate distance because already I’m learning these rules of the road I’ll need to live by.

“What? I don’t even know you. I’m not telling you something like that.”

What? That was an option? Opting out was an option?

“I didn’t know that was an option. Just refusing to answer the question? Especially after you just . . . that’s an option?”

She tilts her head again, befuddled by my befuddlement. We’ve only just met but this is already an unfortunate recurring motif in our relationship. She knows I’m a dolt before she knows my name.

“Everything is an option. Nobody has to say or not say anything they don’t want to. Don’t you know even that much?”

“Of course I do. I was just . . . I was going by what you . . . I’m trying to work out the way things are done. . . .” The trailing off at the end is the most intelligent part of my response.

“Did the spaceship forget to come back for you?”

“Hnn. Yeah. Very funny. Actually, I’m just out, seeing the world.”

She’s underimpressed. “Right, well maybe you should think about going back home,” she says with a drop of kindness that unsettles me. “I’d worry that you’re going to struggle at this.”

Home. Where is that? What is that? I’m happy to go there, but all I know for sure is that whatever home is, for me it’s not back anywhere, it’s someplace out forward.

“What this is it that I’m going to struggle at?” I ask, still undecided about what percentage impressed/offended I am at what she’s thinking she’s knowing about me.

“Running away,” she says with a dollop of duh in her voice.

“I’m not running away from anything,” I say. I hope I sound more like an appalled man than a cornered six-year-old, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

“Okay,” she says, shrugging. “But I’d still be worried that maybe the street could be an unkinder place to an innocent somebody than home. Even a home with an arm-breaking father in it. What does your mother think about it all?”

I am trying to work out how she does this, slipping multiple provocations into such brief strings of sentences. What would be the it all that this mother would have an opinion on? Innocent somebody, by the way? The street? What and where is this street, and what does it have to do with me at all?

“Why would I tell you that?” I say. “I don’t even know you. I don’t have to answer that.”

She laughs, deep and rich like a hot hearty soup, and I notice her left eyetooth is missing. “Okay,” she says, “so it’s possible that you are capable of learning some things as you go along. You might not be quite hopeless.”

Now we’re getting someplace. She’s already easier for me to talk to. So I go for it.

“You’re coming on to me now, aren’t you.”

She tilts her head this time at such an unfeasible angle it could possibly twist right off.

“Right, well, I knew this was your first time running away, but I didn’t realize it was your first time ever leaving the house.”

“It’s not,” I blurt far too quickly in my desperation to quash the idea.

She laughs harder this time. “You actually responded to that. That is so cute.”

“It isn’t,” I say, tragically persevering.

She turns away from me, from my overwhelming cute imbecility that might be contagious. She looks like she’s addressing me in my original seat way up there at the front and the top of the bus, back in that time when the only fully developed idea I had about proceeding to better things was that the top and the front of everything were what you should always shoot for.

“You’re giving me a real dilemma here, funny boy. I should throw you back like the little fish you are, except that you’ve already amused me more than anybody has amused me in a long time.”

The fact that I have been inadvertently amusing does not have to be a problem for anybody.

“You’re welcome.”

“And what little conscience I still have is nagging at me not to let you go out there and get savaged by all the big fish waiting just for you.”

She’s doing it again with the provocations.

“Hey,” I snap, or nearly snap anyway, but do enunciate clearly and with vigor. “Who asked you to do anything? I don’t think I at any point suggested that I needed you to let me or not let me go out there, even if such a place as out there actually existed or represented a challenge that I was unprepared to meet.”

She hesitates several seconds, continuing to stare ahead, composing herself, then turns to me, smiling broadly. “Oh, it does. And you are. And you’re doing it again, being kind of adorable and I think I just might be in love.”

I have my righteous scolding finger already poised, and my mouth open to retort when her words themselves finish the long journey to my brain and I jam to a halt.

“Oh,” she says, pointing at my face. “First thing, right away, you’re going to have to lose that blushing thing or you are dead meat out there. And God, boy, if that means you took the love thing literally, then man oh man do we have our work cut out for us.”

Ah, crap.

“I’ll take the rapid blinking to mean, unfortunately, yes.”

“Grrr,” I say, punching my own thigh with my cast. “How can I possibly have the option not to answer something if my face keeps answering for me?”

“No doubt about it, you’ve got a conundrum there. A poker face is probably one of those things that you have to grow, over time, like a beard. Hey, maybe grow a beard.”

“Yeah, thanks, but if you look closely I think you’ll agree that beard-growing is another thing you could probably do better than me.”

It appears I have said something wrong.

“What?” I say. “What? I was talking about my inability to grow a beard, not your ability to. Come on, you don’t have a beard.”

“Yes, I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do, and thank you for pointing it out, zithead.”

“Ah, so it’s my skin now. Very nice. Feels like I’m talking to my sister.”

“So, you have a sister, then.”

“Grrrr. No, I don’t.”

“Does she have a beard? Is she in the circus?”

“Can we start over again?” I say, with prayer-hands for emphasis.

“Why? This was just getting fun.”

“Fun is overrated.”

“That’s extremely sad,” she says in an extremely sad tone. “Just how bad was your father?”

This one’s easy. “I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Okay. Then how ’bout, what’s your name?” She extends her healthy right hand to me across the aisle.

I happily extend my less-healthy one across to her. Finally, a question I am not only anxious to answer, but one I have prepped for.

“Kiki Vandeweghe.” Because why not, right?

She splutters a laugh right in my face, but still shakes my hand.

“Your name is Kiki Vandeweghe.”

“That is correct.”

“I was going to guess Benedict, or Kenton, or Skippy.”

“Kiki Vandeweghe,” I assure her.

“And you’re just gonna go with that, yeah?”

“Because it’s my name.”

“Your very red ears wiggle a bit when you lie. Awfully cute. Like how elephants flap away overheating with their ears.”

“Kiki. Van—”

“Where have I heard that name before? Is it some sports—”

“So what’s your name?” I blurt.

She laughs. “Well, I was gonna be Kiki Vandeweghe until you showed up. So I guess I’ll go with Anastasia Dimbleby.”

“Really?” I say, as if anybody’s name should really come as a surprise.

“For you, we’ll just leave it at Stacey. Best not to make things any more complicated for you than they already are.”

Right, so it’s more mockery. No problem. “Thanks for that, Stacey,” I say, getting a stupid little shot of thrill when I say her name.

Stacey. My friend, Stacey. I made a friend. Already.

“What are you, like a human thermometer or something?” she says. “You need to get that blushing thing checked before your head pops right off.”

I really, really do, dammit.

“Sign?” I say, pulling out the little stubby blue marker that I have been carrying for just this purpose.

“What?”

“I want you to sign my cast. I want to collect signatures as a kind of record of my travels. And then I’ll sign yours.”

“Okay,” she says, shrugging, “but no thanks on signing mine. I prefer all record of my travels to be kept inside my head and no place else.” She then goes on to sign “Anastasia Dimbleby” in long sloppy script along the belly of the forearm part. I’m about to pull back when she turns it over and signs “Stacey” across the knuckle part where I can look at it all the time.

“So, Stacey, are you running away?”

“Why would I do that? I don’t run away from things, things run away from me. I’m just on a kind of grand tour.”

“That sounds nice,” I say.

“Nice,” she repeats, but in a tone with twelve more layers of everything th...

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