The little beachside town of San Pancras is not known for anything exciting, but when Zach Darlington buys a mysterious ring at the local flea market, his quiet little hometown is turned topsy-turvy by monsters straight from Jewish folklore and a nefarious secret society focused on upholding an apocalyptic prophecy.
Zach discovers that the ring grants him strange powers, and he’s intrigued; maybe he can use the ring’s strengths to halt the slew of anti-Semitic and homophobic bullying he’s experiencing at school. But soon the ring brings unexpected visitors—Ashmedai, King of Demons, in the guise of a preteen boy named Ash, and the local chapter of the Knights of the Apocalypse, a secret society intent on completing a creepy prophecy that will bring three monsters to Earth to start the events of the end of times.
Now responsible for the ring and its consequences, will Zach and his friends, with the help of Ash, be able to stop the Apocalypse and save the world?
Whether you know him as Lev A.C. Rosen (Lavender House!) or L.C. Rosen (Camp!), if you’ve been reading the site a while you know he writes some of my all-time favorite queer lit, so I’m thrilled to have him on the site today to reveal the cover of his upcoming gay YA Indiana Jones-esque adventure, Lion’s Legacy, releasing May 2, 2023 from Union Square Books! Here’s the story:
Seventeen-year-old Tennessee Russo’s life is imploding. His boyfriend has been cheating on him, and all his friends know about it. Worse, they expect him to just accept his ex’s new relationship and make nice. So when his father, a famous archeologist and reality show celebrity whom he hasn’t seen in two years, shows up unexpectedly and offers to take him on an adventure, Tennessee only has a few choices:
1. Stay, mope, regret it forever.
2. Go, try to reconcile with Dad, become his sidekick again.
3. Go, but make it his adventure, and Dad will be the sidekick.
The object of his father’s latest quest, the Rings of the Sacred Band of Thebes, is too enticing to say no to, so he heads to Greece. Finding artifacts related to the troop of ancient Greek soldiers, composed of 150 gay couples, means navigating ruins, deciphering ancient mysteries, and maybe meeting a cute boy while doing it.
But will his dad let Tennessee do the right thing with the rings if they find them? And what is the right thing? Who does queer history belong to? Against the backdrop of a sunlit Greek summer, author L.C. Rosen masterfully weaves together adventure, romance, and magic in a celebration of the power of claiming your queer legacy.
And here’s the magical cover, designed by Marcie Lawrence with art by Colin Verdi!
Behold, a note from the author!
I’m so proud to present the cover of Lion’s Legacy, my upcoming queer archeological adventure YA! The art is by Colin Verdi, who also did the art for my historical noir, Lavender House. He’s so incredibly talented and I was honored to have him do another cover. I love the rainbow sheen on the metal of the shield especially – though I feel I should mention that there is no shield in the book! That was a choice by cover designer Marcie Lawrence, who felt that the hero, Tennessee, holding an ancient shield would be the best image to convey the idea of antiquity and adventure, even if the book itself is about searching for ancient rings, which are prominently displayed on the shield. But accuracy aside, I think it’s such a striking image, and I love how Colin made Tennessee look so active and powerful. I’m so proud of this book, and excited for everyone to get to read it!
But wait, there’s more! Below is an excerpt from Lion’s Legacy, giving you your very first glimpse into the life of Tennessee Russo…
The skeletons stare at me from across the moat, waiting. If you’d asked me, even two days ago, if I believed that reanimated skeletons, their joints tied together with ribbon, were possible, I would have said no. Even with everything I’ve seen—the pit traps and rolling boulders, the ancient mechanisms that somehow still functioned, the scepter that controlled fire—I would have drawn the line there. But now I have to say, I’m a believer. You sort of have to believe in a thing after it
spends hours trying to kill you.
“Dad . . . the bridge is getting lower,” I say, trying not to sound too panicked, and failing. We’re currently on a man-made square of an island. On one side, across the water, is the rest of the lost temple we’ve come through to get there—and the skeletons. They make strange hollow clanking noises as they bang together, teeth chattering, their hands reaching out for me. I have a gash on my shoulder where one got too close. They can tear us apart. The ribbons waver along with their movements, making them blurry, as if they’re covered in rags. They don’t go in the water, though. The water dissolves their ribbons, and the skeletons fall apart.
We came out here via a big wooden bridge that drops down from a device in the ceiling. It lowers for a few minutes, then rises for a few minutes, back and forth, like a pendulum. And right now, it’s not swinging in our direction: it’s lowering. We just made it across last time it came down, but the skeletons were far enough behind they didn’t make it. But this time there’s nothing stopping them.
“Dad . . . ,” I say again. I turn around, focusing the camera I’m holding to film him instead of the skeletons. He’s kneeling in front of an altar, a brightly colored lacquer box on top of it.
The box has a puzzle wheel for a lock—a complex image broken into different rings he needs to rotate into place to make the image line up and open the box. But he doesn’t know what the picture is supposed to be.
“Almost, Tenny . . .,” Dad says, carefully turning one of the rings into place. “Almost . . .”
There’s a small click, and he pulls the top of the box open. Inside, laid in an indentation, is a katana. It gleams in the dim light of the torches. It has a white enamel sheath and an intricate hilt, but we don’t have time to admire it as the bridge has now reached arm height and the skeletons are clamoring onto it and toward us.
“We have to go,” I say to Dad.
Dad looks behind us and sees the skeletons and nods. He grabs the katana and unsheathes it, tossing me the scabbard. “Let’s hope the legends are true,” he says. On the side of the small island opposite the bridge are stairs that lead down into the water. We don’t know how deep the water is, but it’s nearly black, and if there’s a shore on the other side, we can’t see it.
Dad runs down the stairs and holds the katana in front of him, then cuts into the water with a few quick strokes. There’s no splashing, though. Instead, the blade carves, like a knife into soft wood. The water freezes like cut glass where the katana has sliced it. Pieces of it go flying and hover in the air, crystals rotating. And in front of us, a small valley through the water. It’s clear, but too dark to see to the bottom. It must go very far down. Dad has made a path in the water.
Carefully, he puts a foot on it.
Behind us, the bridge falls into place. I hear the hollow beats of
the skeletons’ footsteps charging us.
“Come on,” Dad says, now stepping fully onto the path he’s carved through the water. It holds him. It shouldn’t be possible, but then, neither should the skeletons. I run forward and step onto the water with him. It feels like walking on Jell-O that bounces under my boots. Dad
slices through the water again, carving us a path farther and farther forward, away from the skeletons. I film it all, then turn around to film our pursuers. They’ve stopped at the water’s edge. They don’t know if they can use the path. Neither do I. But I don’t want to find out.
“Faster,” I hiss.
We keep walking forward as Dad carves the water. Around us, the room is made of old brick, covered in moss, low enough to see the ceiling but with the walls far enough out they’re hidden in darkness. Carefully, I reach into the water on either side of us, the parts Dad hasn’t carved. Still liquid. Still deep. And freezing cold.
I look behind us. A skeleton is mimicking me, carefully placing its hand on the carved water. It doesn’t go through. It doesn’t dissolve the little ribbons holding its bones together. “Dad,” I say.
The skeleton steps onto the path. It holds him.
“Dad, they can walk on it, too. Faster!”
Dad glances back and sees the skeletons on the water. He starts carving faster. The strange, crystalized bits of water fly out as he keeps running forward. We don’t know where we’re going, but we know what we have to get away from.
Dad keeps slicing and I stay close, sometimes turning back to check how near to us the skeletons are. Closer every time. This could be it. Our last adventure.
“Dad!” I scream.
“I see land,” Dad says, and points. In the distance is another stone shore, stairs leading out of the water onto an island like the one we were on. He starts carving faster, heading toward it. Behind us, the hollow clanking of bones is closer.
“We need to jump,” I say.
“What?” Dad says.
“We’ll swim. They can’t follow.”
“Tenny, how can I swim with this katana? It’ll cut the water up. You know physics well enough to tell me what’ll happen?”
He knows I don’t. I’m a high school freshman. I haven’t even had physics yet. “Then carve faster!”
The skeletons are quicker, though. I look behind us. They’re a swarm of bone and ribbon nearly on us. But then I hear something. The sound is growing quiet. I tilt, looking behind the pursuing skeletons. There should be dozens of them, but there are only ten now. Enough to tear us apart, but where did the others . . . behind them, the path is gone. Water again. Okay, that’s something. We have options now:
Hope Dad carves fast enough that we reach the end and can climb up those stairs, then push the skeletons back into the water. Hope they don’t kill us before or during that particular battle.
Swim to shore. Sword might cut the water, Dad might sink lower on one side, lower and lower as he keeps swimming, cutting, until he’s at the bottom and the water above him turns liquid again.
Turn and fight the skeletons now. Not my favorite.
Something that uses the best of everything.
I shrug my backpack off, put the camera around my neck, and dive into the water.
“Tenny!” Dad shouts. “What are you doing?”
Dad keeps slicing into the water as I swim. I can hear the skeletons rushing closer and closer to him. Shore isn’t far now, though. I’m a good swimmer, I made sure of that after that water trap in the Mayan temple. I reach the stairs and turn around. The skeletons are practically on top of Dad.
“Throw the katana!” I shout.
“What? We’ll lose it!”
“Throw it! At the water! Then dive in!”
Dad looks behind him as a skeleton grabs at him and pulls his backpack off. He shrugs out of it before it can pull him back. Then, his face grim, he throws the katana at me and dives into the water in one motion. The katana spirals through the air like a comet, coming closer, closer . . . Finally, it lands in the water near me, the blade hardening the water as it hits, the hilt clinking as it reaches the surface. It stays. I reach forward and pull it out, like King Arthur.
Dad is swimming for me, and the skeletons are standing confused on their little crystal island. I film it as the carved water gradually turns back to liquid, and the skeletons silently fall into it.
Dad walks up the stairs, sighing, drenched. He cocks an eyebrow at me.
“If you knew the katana would hold in the water like that and not sink, why’d you dive in first?” he asks. “I could have thrown it and we could have dived in together.”
“So I could film it,” I say.
Dad grins, then starts laughing. He puts his arm around me and hugs me close. “I love you, Tenny,” he says. “You’re a genius.”
I laugh. “I love you too, Dad.”
Relief floods over me. We have the katana. We are out of immediate danger. We did it! We found the legendary Misumune katana, the water-carver. We navigated a lost temple filled with traps, riddles, and supernatural monsters. And we had a damn good time doing it. I keep laughing, and so does Dad. I know it’s a release for both of us, all the anxiety flying out of us in the sound of joy. He keeps hugging me. I keep hugging him.
“We gotta find a way out of here, though,” Dad says.
“I just hope there are no more skeletons,” I say. “That’s all I want.”
“Same here, Tenny.” He takes the flashlight that hangs from his belt and shines it forward. “Hopefully this isn’t long. Our rations were in my bag.”
“And the extra flash drives were in mine,” I say. “We only have, like, an hour of time to film left.”
“Camera okay?” Dad asks.
“Yeah,” I say, holding it up. It’s small, waterproof, shockproof. Good quality. There were a few more in my backpack just in case, but this one seems to have held up.
“Lose any footage?” he asks.
I check my jacket pocket. The memory card is still there, enclosed in a watertight plastic case.
“Nope,” I say.
“Okay, then let’s see where this leads.”
He shines his flashlight ahead of us. The stone platform we’re on narrows into a hallway leading forward. Only one way. We march ahead.
It’s a short walk, only twenty minutes, and no traps or skeletons on the way. We’re wet, and shivering, but I don’t mind it because I can feel we’ve reached the end. We found the sword. We just need to follow this path to the exit. But at the end of the tunnel, the hallway is blocked by a waterfall. A waterfall with an odd smell.
Dad stops before walking through it, holding out a hand to block me. “Acidic,” he says. “We walk through that, our skin melts off.”
“Great,” I say.
“It is,” Dad says, holding up the katana with a grin.
I smile and lift the camera. Dad poses, showing off, before slicing a door through the waterfall. The water—greenish now, I see—solidifies under the sword’s touch, creating an arc of solid water. Dad kicks it down and it shatters like glass. In front of us is a way out.
“Quick, before it goes liquid again,” I say. We rush through the open space and find ourselves in a large circular chamber, the walls carved with beautiful patterns. Above us is a slatted roof that lets in fresh air and moonlight. I look back at the waterfall, which comes out of a slit in the wall. Where the water was carved it just stops, the flowing water curving around it into the rest of the liquid parts. The waterfall ends at the floor and then seeps into two metal drains on either side. It’s beautiful. I make sure to get a slow shot of it. Then I turn around and get the whole room. The producers are going to love this.
At the far end of the room is a ladder, bolted to the wall, leading to freedom.
“We could have just come in this way?” I ask.
“Well, we would have had to get through that acid bath somehow,” Dad says. “I guess with modern technology, we could have . . . but what would be the fun in that?”
He turns and winks at me—well, at the camera—then heads for the ladder. We climb. It’s pretty high, and at the top is a grate. But, of course, it’s locked. There’s a wide opening, too large for a key, in the wall. I carefully film, clinging to the ladder.
“I know this one,” Dad says. He takes the katana and inserts it hilt first into the opening.
There’s a click, and the grate above us pops open.
And then we’re out. We climb up and into fresh air. The breeze smells so much better than the stale air of the temple below us. I look out over the tiny island we’re on. It’s so small it doesn’t have a name, barely five miles in any direction. No one has lived here in centuries.
No one wants it, either. It’s mostly rock and some wild sheep. It’s miles west of Nemuro, just outside Japan’s borders. International waters. Dad had liked that for some reason.
“Let’s go find Toma,” Dad says. “I feel like we’re south of where we went in.”
“That feels right,” I say.
We start walking. The ceiling of the room below us is underfoot, but it’s covered with grass and leaves. I would never have noticed the holes in it until we were on top of it. And besides, all the clues led to the entrance of the temple. No shame going in the front door, I guess, since we made it out. But it feels a little silly that we probably could have avoided the skeletons if only we’d done a full survey of the island when we landed this morning.
We walk for about twenty minutes before we spot Toma and his boat, right where we left them. Toma is sitting in a folding chair on the shore, his small yacht parked out in the deeper water, an inflatable motor raft next to him onshore. He has a fire going and a portable speaker out, smooth jazz playing from it. When he hears our footsteps, he looks up and grins when he sees us.
“You got wet,” he says.
“But we found it,” Dad says, holding the katana aloft.
Toma whistles. “I didn’t think it was actually real,” he says. He stands up and walks over to Dad, staring at the katana. I step forward and look too, filming it. I hadn’t really had a chance before, but now I can see it up close. The Misumune family crest is on the sheath, and the handle is carved bone or ivory, made to look like waves. It’s beautiful. Mrs. Misumune is going to be so happy when we give it to her. She’s this nice old lady whose ancestor owned the sword, and she helped us find it by letting us go through all her stuff while she brought us cookies and tea. She told us stories too, about her ancestor, and how supposedly he held off an entire flood that would have destroyed their village. Now we know how.
Though that part won’t make it onto TV. Dad always says no one would believe the magic we’ve found, and if they don’t believe the show, then they won’t believe the history. I mean, we leave some of it in—the cut waterfall will probably stay. Stuff that people might think is weird old mechanisms or tricks. People believe in that. Not so much the magic. He’ll probably say the skeletons were mechanical, and only show their shadows. He’s good at that, been doing it for years. He started out with just a little handheld camera and videos uploaded to YouTube, but his know-how propelled it bigger—now we’re on a streaming service with fancy network producers. Dad is careful about what he sends them, though. Always at the edge of believable. And he makes sure not to bring a crew along—they can’t be trusted. Plus, the unpolished handheld style is the show’s trademark.
“It sliced through water, too,” Dad says to Toma, rotating the blade in the light. “Just like the legends.”
Toma laughs. “No way,” he says.
“Tenny’s got the footage,” Dad says, walking past him to the raft. “We were chased by living skeletons.” That’s Dad testing, seeing what people will believe, what to put in the show, what to keep just for us.
Toma turns to me, his face skeptical.
“They weren’t very welcoming,” I say. Later, Dad will probably leak some of the real footage online, get people talking, theorizing. “Keep the truth illusive,” he says, “and people will watch to find it.” I don’t love that part, but I think he’s right about the magic being too unbelievable. Even if it is real, it never feels it. Like right now, I feel like I’m in on a joke. Skeletons held together with magic paper. It’s absurd. But the katana is real. Its history is real. And I want people to see that more than I care about whether they believe in magic skeletons.
We load the chair and boom box onto the raft and take it out to the yacht, where Dad and I shower off and change into the clean clothes we’d left there with our regular phones and wallets, while Toma pilots us back to Nemuro. I use a satellite uplink to set up my computer and upload all the footage from the camera into the cloud. Dad can cut stuff later and organize it to send to the producers. They have editors who will turn it into a good show.
And then I lie down. I’m so tired I can feel it in my bones . . . no, no, I don’t want to think about bones now. I just want to . . .
* * *
I wake up when Dad shakes me. We’re docked in Nemuro city. I rub my eyes as we step off the boat. The sun is just rising and the fish markets along the docks are all opening up, men bringing in their haul. It smells like the sea.
It’s not a big city, not by my native New Yorker standards, but it’s got the vibe that small coastal cities have. Big sky, ocean everywhere, people who look gruff but are actually friendly. We spent a day here before we left. There are some beautiful views and this cool arch sculpture.
But I’m glad to be going home. I miss New York. I miss Mom.
Dad pays and thanks Toma and then we start walking back to the hotel. As we walk, Dad takes out his phone and calls someone. Probably one of the producers.
“Yeah, we got it. Oh yeah, it’s a beauty. People are going to want to study this, draw it, absolutely worth a whole touring exhibition, like last time. Same deal, I go where it goes, talk about the find.”
I frown. It sounds like he’s talking to his broker. I’m never involved in this part of it, but I know Dad has a guy who reaches out to collectors and funders who will buy the stuff he finds for museums and helps set up exhibitions. Dad never talks to me about all that, it just sort of . . . happens? But this sword belongs to the Misumune family. We met them. They helped us find the temple by showing us some old scrolls and one gorgeous kimono that had a secret message in the pattern. We shouldn’t be selling it through a broker. We should be giving it back to them.
“Dad,” I say. He ignores me, keeps talking.
“Well, yeah, whoever is willing to pay the most,” he says into the phone, holding up a finger at me, telling me to wait.
It’s not like with the scepter we found in the treasure cave outside Paris. There was no family there. I mean . . . it should have stayed in France. And it did. The Louvre found an investor who bought it.
I stop walking. Dad keeps going.
I’ve never thought about it before. What we find. I’ve always just loved the adventures, the thrill, being with Dad. And yeah, it’s kind of fun being on TV. It’s not a big show, but it has fans. I get fan mail. Hate mail since I came out, too, but more fan mail.
But . . . the stuff we find. I stare at the katana. Dad has it slung over his shoulder. The Misumune family crest gleams on the sheath. The mask we found in the Mayan temple in Guatemala—our first adventure—where did that end up? I take out my phone and search. It’s in the Smithsonian, in DC. That isn’t right. It should be in Guatemala, shouldn’t it? It’s their mask, after all, their culture. Did they sell it to the Smithsonian? Is it on loan? I check the website, but there’s no information.
I look up. Dad is way ahead of me, still on the phone, and I hurry to catch up.
“That much?” Dad is saying. “Wow. Yeah, that’s a nice profit.”
“Dad,” I say. He holds up a finger again. “Dad!”
“Hold on.” Dad sighs into the phone. “Tenny, you’re fifteen, you ought to have better manners.”
“Why are you talking about selling the katana?” I ask. “You told Mrs. Misumune we’d bring it back.”
Dad raises his eyebrows. “Well, sure, back to the world. Back into the light. This way she can see it. I’m sure whomever ends up with it will want to talk to her, maybe borrow that kimono, have her talk—”
“But it’s hers,” I say. “It belongs to her family.”
Dad scrunches his eyes like he’s going to laugh. “Maybe hundreds of years ago, but you can’t expect me to give it back to her because she has, like, a few genes in common with the guy who originally wielded it.”
“But—” I say. Dad holds up his finger again and goes back to the phone.
Mrs. Misumune was nice. She was old but loved talking to us through the translator Dad had hired. Told us all the family stories. About her ancestor, but also about her grandkids’ art projects, too. About how her daughter had recently told her she was a lesbian and it had taken time, but family was important to her, and she’d learned about queer people, and now she marched in pride parades. She gave us tea and let us poke through her things. I took hours of footage with her, and she signed the release forms without asking for a thing, except that we bring back the sword. She said she wanted to see it. See her family legacy. And now we’re just . . .
“Okay, talk later,” Dad says into the phone, and hangs up.
“Dad, we promised.”
“Tenny, come on, she didn’t really think she was going to just bury this in the back of her closet like her old photos and kimono,” he says. “She just wanted to see it.”
“I don’t think that’s what she meant.”
“Tenny, listen, this is a museum piece.”
“Isn’t that her decision?” I ask. I can feel myself getting hot, like I do when I’m angry. Usually, it’s with Mom, though. I never fight with Dad. We’re too busy in temples, on adventures.
“And what about the mask we found in Guatemala?” I ask.
“What?” Dad asks, confused.
“The mask we found. Why is it in DC? It’s not American.”
“Well, no,” Dad says. He stops walking. We’re outside the hotel now. “But they paid the most through a patron who bought it to donate to them so they could put on a real exhibition. No museum in Guatemala was going to do that.”
“But it’s a Guatemalan artifact,” I say. “It’s part of their history.”
“It’s Mayan,” Dad says. “What is this even about?”
“We should give the katana to Mrs. Misumune,” I say, crossing my arms. “That’s the right thing to do. If she wants to donate it to a museum, it’s her choice. Or we should at least ask her.”
“Uh-uh, if the Japanese government finds out we brought it to Japan, there’ll be all kinds of legal holdups, UNESCO might get involved.”
“UNESCO are the good guys,” I say. I’m sure of that. I’ve visited plenty of heritage sites with Mom.
“There are no good guys or bad guys here,” Dad says, his voice rising. “I’m doing what’s best.”
“Best for who? You?” I’m shouting now. People on the street are politely trying not to stare.
“Best for history, Tenny. These objects need to be protected, put places people can see them. The people with the most money can do that.”
“But how can people get money if you keep stealing what should be theirs from them?”
Dad’s face goes cold as stone.
“Stealing?” he asks. “You think I’m stealing?”
“Well,” I say, swallowing. “If we go into another country and find some historically significant object and then just leave with it . . . or if we have something”—I gesture at the katana—“and we know who it belongs to but sell it to someone else . . .”
“It belongs to us now,” Dad says. “We just spent weeks looking for a temple—years if you count all the research I did before that—and then we went to it, made our way through traps and killer skeletons to bring it back. Who else could this possibly belong to? If Mrs. Misumune wanted her family sword back so badly, she should have gone and done that herself.”
“But, Dad,” I say. He’s really angry now. I’ve never seen him like this. I can feel myself starting to cry. “It’s . . . not right.”
Dad rolls his eyes. “I knew I shouldn’t have brought a child with me. If you don’t want to be a part of this, Tennessee, you can just find your own way home.”
And then he turns and walks away. I know I’m not supposed to go after him, so I don’t. Instead, I go into the hotel. I still have our keys. I walk up to my room and wait for him to come back. The sun goes up, then down. I keep waiting.
TWO YEARS LATER
What I love about Fridays is my first period is free, so I can come in late. And yes, that means sleeping in, which is nice, but better than that, it means when I walk to school, Greenwich Village is already awake. Most days it’s people in suits on their way to work, or other teenagers going to school like me, but everyone is still groggy, things are still getting set up.
But on Fridays, the city is fully awake by the time I walk to school. And one of the best things about New York is that you can vanish just by turning a corner. Walking to school, I’m not Tennessee Russo anymore. It’s the thing I’ve loved the most since I left Dad’s TV show two years ago. If anyone recognizes me, they don’t say anything. I’m just some kid.
Well, some queer kid. The pride button on my backpack at least labels me that much. Which I love too, because as I walk through the Village, I see other queer people and there’s like this link between us when we recognize each other. Two butches nod at me like we’re friends. A twink with a group of college kids, two of whom are fighting loudly, gives me an eye roll, and I know exactly what he means: straight people, oy. I’m glad to be gay, glad to be part of whatever weird little network I’m in, glad to have a family, even if I don’t know them.
I have Mom, sure, and I love her and she’s great, but it’s not the same. And Dad . . . well, when your dad walks away from you in Japan and you find your own way back to the hotel and then he doesn’t call for a day or answer his phone and you’re completely alone in a foreign country so you have to call your mom to buy you a plane ticket home and you still haven’t heard from him, and maybe he’s dead or maybe you’re dead to him and you don’t know until a month later when he
emails you with “Want to join me at the unveiling of this katana?”—after something like that, your dad doesn’t really count as family anymore. Especially when you haven’t spoken since then. Sure, there was the apology email when I didn’t respond to the invitation—“I know things got a little heated and you had to make your own way home, but that’s nothing compared to the ruins we’ve explored, right? I knew you’d be fine, but I’m sorry if you were worried”—but I didn’t respond to that, either. Even if I wanted to. Still want to. But I have this family now that’s better than Dad. This weird family of neighborhood queers I’ve never spoken to, and then at school, I have my friends, and David. David, whom I’ve dated for a year and a half. David, who saw me alone in the cafeteria and didn’t just stare and whisper, talking about me on TV, talking about how I came out on TV. He came over and said hi. And he asked me out. And he gave me my first kiss a week later, tilting my chin up to his with just his finger. He introduced me to all his friends—the Good Upstanding Queers, they call themselves, because they all want to be lawyers and politicians and stuff, so they always behave themselves. As opposed to the other queer table in the lunchroom, who can sometimes be a bit much.
And a month ago David told me he loved me, and I said it back, and we had sex for the first time.
David and all his friends—our friends—they took me in when Dad abandoned me, when I hadn’t even been at school in a few years because of the show and didn’t know anyone. I could have been that freak ex–child star, but they made me part of their family. Way more than Dad is.
Which is why I’m glad to see David standing by my locker when I get to school. I smile and walk up to him. He’s so handsome—tall, sandy blond hair, bright blue eyes, wide shoulders, and a broad stomach, which I think is so hot. He’s wearing a polo and cardigan. It’s December, and the school never feels warm enough, so we have to layer up. And he always dresses like he’s an adult already, which I like. Nothing casual or lazy, he says. He helped me pick out my entire wardrobe.
But he’s not smiling when I smile at him. And when I go to give him a kiss, he pulls back. I can feel myself immediately break out in a sweat, and not just because I still have my peacoat on. Something is wrong.
“Ten,” he says in a heavy voice that tells me it’s about me, too. About us.
“David?” I ask.
“Can we talk?” Those aren’t good words, either. My brain tries to figure out what it could be. We’re breaking up because of something I did? I haven’t done anything, though. And he loves me, right? Maybe he’s sick. Dying.
I nod, and he pulls me into the bathroom down the hall.
“What is it?” I ask, and the words tremble a little, which I hate. I’ve faced off against the reanimated dead, but my boyfriend wanting to talk to me makes me so scared I can’t even get a word out right.
“So . . .” He swallows. “Two weeks ago, Brandon and I met up at his place for the science project we’re paired up on, you know? The bio thing?”
He pauses and I realize I’m supposed to respond, even though I don’t like this already. Brandon is another of the Good Upstanding Queers. He’s red-haired and pretty and wants to be a reporter. David is still looking at me, so I nod.
“Well . . . one thing led to another. And we kissed.”
There it is. There was one time my dad and I, in a treasure cave in France, had to run from a rolling boulder down this long hallway. Those words are like a boulder dropping and coming toward me. All I want to do is run. But he reaches out and grabs my wrist.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
I take a deep breath. I can forgive this. This is nothing, right? “Well, if it was just a kiss—”
“It wasn’t,” he interrupts. “It was at first, I mean. But then . . . it was more.”
“Oh.” The boulder is closer and closer.
“And . . . the thing is, Ten. I really like him. I think . . . I’m so sorry, but . . . I want to be with him. I have been with him. We’ve kind of been dating since then . . .”
And now the boulder has hit me. It never did in that temple. Dad saw an alcove and pulled me into it, and the huge rock rolled by us and we laughed with relief. It looked great on the show, too. But this is what it would have felt like to get hit by it, I know. This is what it’s like to be thoroughly crushed, every breath pushed out of you, every muscle popped, every bone shattered by more weight than you were
ever meant to handle.
“So . . . sorry,” he says. He lets go of my wrist. “I’m breaking up with you.”
I nod. “I got that.” I feel myself starting to cry but hold it back.
“Just . . . don’t make a big thing of it, okay. We should stay friends, right? We are friends. And you’re friends with Brandon, too. It’s just . . .a little shifting, right? We’re the Good Upstanding Queers. We’re not drama queens. We’re not going to make a big deal of it, right?”
I nod again, just so he’ll leave.
“Good. So, still friends. I’m glad you’re handling this so well . . .” He pauses, and I feel like I’m supposed to say something again, but this time I don’t. “Okay, well. See you at lunch.”
He leaves and I finally let myself cry for real. Just bawl for a moment, my face collapsing like a landslide. I take out my phone and text Daniela. She’s my best friend aside from David, another of the Good Upstanding Queers.
David dumped me
He cheated on me with Brandon and now he’s leaving me for him
I wait a minute. She’s probably still in class, but Daniela is an expert at under table texting.
Oh thank god he finally told you
It’s like being hit with a second boulder. You’d think there’d be nothing left to crush, but . . .
We all did
I’m sorry Ten ❤
But it’s better this way
Now we can all just go back to normal
They all did? “All” must mean every one of our friends. Not the whole school, right? And no one told me. They all just . . . watched. Laughed, maybe?
Don’t worry about it
We all think it was tacky of David to cheat
But they’ll make a cute couple, and we’ll find you someone new
No drama, or people won’t take us seriously, right? That’s our motto 😘
I stare at the messages for a minute without responding. So many people want me to respond and all I can give them is silence. Normally I’m good at decisions. I see options in front of me like lists, and I can choose one quickly, and once I’m in, I’m in. But I don’t see options here. What options are there? Respond with “sure thing, no drama”? I’m supposed to what . . . just smile when David drapes his arm around Brandon at lunch the way he always did to me?
They’ve always been like this. They don’t want to be seen as bad gays—too dramatic, too slutty. The other queer table at the lunchroom is loud and messy. Everyone is always sleeping with everyone, they make out in hallways instead of just exchanging kisses. They dress loud. They are loud. Teachers don’t love them. But they love us. No drama from us.
Not even, apparently, when it’s warranted.
The bell rings. I rinse my face off and make my way to class. Thankfully, I don’t have classes with any of our Good Upstanding Queer friends today. I’m in the AP History class, a double period, which none of our friends is in. They thought that was so cool. That my wanting to be an archaeologist, like both my parents, was cool. They never asked about my dad, about the show, though they knew. Everyone was so nice. So classy. So polite. But I guess that’s not the same as being kind.
I manage not to cry, but I barely take anything in, either. We’re talking about ancient India and I want to say something about the century-old queer sculptures at Khajuraho that I learned about during my internship at the museum, but I can’t bring myself to raise my hand. Same in math class. And then it’s time for lunch.
I walk into the cafeteria and immediately realize it was a mistake. It’s like looking at a pool of water and thinking it’s not going to be that cold but then you dive in and it’s freezing. I can’t do this. I can’t just sit with everyone and pretend I’m cool, that it’s normal. I don’t want to be the one to cause drama. I know that’ll just make it worse. I know if I start something, make people choose sides, then they’ll all side with David, because I’ll be the one causing the drama, and that immediately makes me the loser. Even if this is all because of what he did. All because of his choices. But I don’t want to lose my friends.
So I walk in and grab a tray and some lunch, like I always do. Then I turn and start walking toward our usual table, also just like I always do. They’re all sitting there, talking, laughing—just like they always do.
Except David is next to Brandon. He has his arm around him, just like I knew he would. But I can do this, right? I can be the bigger person.
David looks up. Our eyes meet.
And suddenly, I realize, I have options.
Turn around, walk out. David sees this and feels like he’s won, something, somehow. That he’s the mature one and I’m the one being a drama queen about this.
Go sit down with them, act like nothing is wrong. Everyone will be happy, but David and Brandon will think what they’ve done is okay. That I’m okay with it. I’m not.
Go make a scene at the table. No one will ever talk to me again. I still have half of junior and all of senior year to get through.
Something totally unexpected.
I don’t smile, but I make it seem like I don’t even see them. I walk right past the table, then down the aisle two tables and sit down next to Gabe. He’s cute, with dark skin that’s almost blue where the light hits it. He’s also kind of the opposite of David, with a pink fro-hawk that’s
grown out a few inches, and pierced everything, including holes in his ears you can put a finger through. He’s wearing a tank top even though it’s December. The tank top has a naked man riding a gun on it.
“Um, hi,” Gabe says. The rest of the table turn to look at me. The Bad Queers. Some look confused. Some look happy I’ve joined them. They’re not actually bad. I’m kind of friends with some of them, or think I am? Wish I was more. When did I become such a snob? When did I accept that my table at lunch was “good” and this one was “bad” just because David said so?
“Hi,” I say, smiling at the table. Then I turn to Gabe. “Wanna make out?” I ask. I know the answer is yes. Gabe has been flirting with me for over a year. He knew I was with David, but that never seemed to bother him.
“Sure.” Gabe grins. “When?”
“Now,” I say. “David cheated on me. You don’t mind being used, do you?”
“Not at all,” Gabe says, lunging for my face.
It’s weird kissing someone who isn’t David. David’s kisses were always forceful, demanding, but Gabe’s kisses feel more searching. Curious. I guess that’s because we’ve never kissed before. His tongue darts softly between my lips and I open my mouth more, accepting. He wraps his arms around me then, holding me tight, one hand sliding down my lower back. I wrap my arms around him, too, and squeeze his ass. I can feel him grin when our mouths meet again. After what feels
like enough time, I pull back.
“Well, you definitely got his attention,” says Lexi, one of the other Bad Queers. “He’s staring bullets at you.”
I don’t turn and look. I can feel my heart go a little faster. I don’t care what David or Brandon thinks, but I hope Daniela and the rest of them aren’t going to make a thing of it. I hope I haven’t just gotten myself kicked out of the only queer community I really know.
Maybe option four was a bad choice. That’s the thing. I know my options—doesn’t mean I always pick the good one.
“You okay?” Gabe asks. He puts his hand on mine and it feels so much more intimate than what we just did. I pull my hand away and make myself smile.
“Absolutely. And thanks,” I say to Gabe, “for letting me use you.”
“Anytime,” Gabe says. “Maybe you’ll be around over break?”
“Maybe,” I say, giving him a look I hope is coy. At least he likes me. Someone does. I look around the table, and people are smiling at me, not glaring, not rolling their eyes, the way they would be at my usual table. Maybe I’m a Bad Queer, too.
Okay, probably not. I’m literally dressed in a blue blazer. But . . .
“Can I eat with all of you?” I ask.
“Sure,” Gabe says. The others nod. I take my lunch out and we all eat and talk, and sometimes Gabe runs his hand up and down my spine, which makes me shiver but in a good way. I don’t look back even once, but when lunch is over and I’m sitting down in English class, I glance at my phone. I have one new message from David:
Lev Rosen writes books for people of all ages, most recently Lavender House, which the New York Times says “movingly explores the strain of trying to pass as straight at a time when living an authentic life could be deadly” and was a Best Book of the Year from Buzzfeed, Library Journal, Amazon, and Bookpage, amongst others. His prior novel, Camp, was a best book of the year from Forbes, Elle, and The Today Show, amongst others. His next book, Lion’s Legacy will be released in May, The Bell in the Fog in October and Emmett in November. He lives in NYC with his husband and a very small cat. You can find him online at LevACRosen.com and @LevACRosen.