Sneak Peek: Remember Me (YA)

Today, I’m here to offer you another sneak peek into one of my (perhaps too many) ongoing queer-related projects, this one a YA novel tentatively titled Remember Me and unofficially titled Gay Ghost Boys Solve A Mystery.

I hadn’t actually intended to either (a) write this book, or (b) do it for NaNoWriMo, but on November 3rd and 4th, lo and behold, 25,000 words of it somehow made their way from my brain to my keyboard, and a story was born. Anyway, venture below for more on this story, including a summary and handy-dandy excerpt:


Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Alex Sato is tired of his life. He’s tired of his dad nagging him to join a sport and make some friends, he’s tired of bullies picking on him because he’s quiet and “weird” and gay, and he’s tired of his mom trying to parent him long-distance from her new job on the other side of the world. All Alex wants is to get through high school so he can graduate and move to a big city, at which point his life will finally begin.

Enter Noah Thornbridge. Athletic, handsome, and sociable, Noah is everything Alex is not. Noah really seems to have it together, except for one small detail: He’s a ghost. When Noah appears in Alex’s English class one morning, Alex feels strangely drawn to him and agrees to help Noah solve the mystery of his death. But there’s no sign of Noah’s body, and the last thing he remembers is hiking through the woods with two of his friends, who are also missing.

With time running out, Alex must push aside his introverted tendencies and better judgment to chase Noah into the woods that claimed his life. There, Alex will face more than just the danger of following in Noah’s ghostly footsteps. He’ll face the biggest challenge of his life: Not falling in love with a dead boy.


Excerpt:

Chapter One

            If anything can screw up your day, it’s having a dead boy show up in your first period class.

            I mean, not that my day hadn’t already been screwed up from the start. Dad was on my case again to join a club or a sport or something, “get some extracurriculars on your resume, because colleges really look for that,” and I had had to once again inform him that (a) I do not do sports, and (b) I don’t particularly do socialization, either, which would make joining either a sport or a club just a little bit challenging.

            Poor Dad. He still has his letterman jacket from high school framed in our basement, and here he is, stuck with a skinny, anti-social gay son who wouldn’t know what to do with a football if his life depended on it.

            So my Monday wasn’t exactly shaping up to be spectacular, and it continued to be un-wonderful when I walked into first period and realized three things simultaneously. First, Mr. Elliot’s neat handwriting on the board declared that we had a test today I’d completely forgotten about; second, Sean and Logan were snickering as they superglued a pencil to the desk where I usually sat; and third, there was a dead boy standing by the window.

            At first glance, I thought the glow around his body was just an after-image from the light outside, but as I made my way to the back row, carefully avoiding Logan and Sean’s oh-so-original and hilarious pencil prank by choosing another desk, I realized that it wasn’t just the window behind him—the dude was straight-up glowing. There was a faint, bluish aura swimming around his whole body. The rest of him looked a little faded, and I could make out the outline of the radiator and the window through him, which was a pretty big clue as to his non-corporealness.

            I sat down, dropped my bookbag to the floor, and folded my hands on the desk while I considered this development. I probably should’ve reacted more strongly to the presence of an honest-to-goodness ghost in my English class, but weirdly I didn’t feel freaked out so much as curious. And the ghost boy didn’t look like someone who was about to unleash an unholy haunting upon us, so that was a definite plus.

            He was tall and pretty muscular, wearing a black and purple graphic tee and faded blue jeans along with sturdy hiking boots. His hair was trimmed close to his head around the sides, while a swath of floppy light-brown hair hung down over his forehead. His face was square and obnoxiously good-looking, with high cheekbones and dark, soulful eyes, and there was something unmistakably lost about his expression. His gaze flickered around the room like he wasn’t sure why he was here or who any of these people were, but I also got the sense that he didn’t know where else to go.

            He didn’t look even remotely familiar to me, but there was definitely something familiar about the scared, uncertain look on his face and the defeated slump of his shoulders. Even though I could tell from his wiry biceps and general build that he was probably a jock, I couldn’t help feeling really bad for him in that moment, because he looked like he was around seventeen just like I was, and here he was, dead and haunting my English class. And I’d thought I was having a rough day.

            I probably should’ve realized that he would notice me staring at him eventually, but somehow it didn’t even enter my mind. I was used to being nearly invisible at school. Except for some diehards like Sean and Logan, most people didn’t even bother bullying me anymore, preferring to just straight-up ignore me, and so I spent most of my time observing what was going on without being in any danger of getting wrapped up in it, like school life was a show I was watching instead of something I was supposed to be an active participant in.

            So yeah, when the ghost boy’s eyes locked onto my face and really looked at me, something jolted in my chest. I was so stunned that I couldn’t look away, and we stared at each other for a second while my heart thudded in my ears.

            He opened his mouth, closed it again. “Can… Can you see me?”

            I should’ve ignored him, gotten out my English book and tried to do a last-minute cram for the test I was about to fail, but instead I nodded slowly.

            He let out a shaky, relieved laugh. “Oh, my God, thank you.” And then he was coming toward me, and I resisted the urge to just jump up from my chair and bolt.

            He knelt down by my desk so he could stare up at me with the aforementioned soulful dark eyes, and I wondered what the chances were that I was dreaming or hallucinating this whole thing.

            “So, I know this is pretty weird,” he said, “but nobody else can see me, so I just kind of wanted to confirm with you. I’m, like, a ghost, right? That’s what’s happening here?”

            I nodded again, swallowing with an effort.

            His eyes widened, and he nodded. “Okay, cool. Cool, cool, cool. That’s what I thought.” He glanced around at the others in the room, most of whom were either chatting with each other or paging furiously through their English books. “So, I get that you’re in class and there’s, like, a test today or something, but is there any chance you could step outside for a sec so we can talk? I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’m having kind of a weird day, so…”

            Hm, tough choice. Stay in class waiting to take a test I was completely unprepared for, or delay the moment of academic failure to sneak out and have a chat with a hot ghost boy. Decisions, decisions.

            Without a word, I grabbed my backpack from the floor and got to my feet. The ghost boy grinned at me, showcasing a predictably perfect row of straight white teeth, and together we slipped out of the room and into the hallway. The bell was going to ring in a matter of minutes, and I’d have a lot of explaining to do if I passed Mr. Elliot on his way to class, but I figured I could always claim I felt sick or something and was going to the nurse. And to be fair, I did feel a little sick, at least in the way that my stomach had suddenly become populated by nervous butterflies, so I wouldn’t be totally lying.

            Luck was on my side for once, because I managed to get through the halls and out the nearest side door of the school without anyone noticing me. Being nearly invisible has its perks, I guess.

            The ghost boy trotted dutifully behind me, and I led the way out through the school gates and across the street to the park. There was a bench I liked that was pretty secluded, tucked back among the trees by the pond, so I headed for that and soon was sitting in the crisp, cool September air about to have a chat with a specter of the paranormal. The ghost boy sat on the bench next to me, and for a while we stared out at the duck pond.

            “So, I should probably introduce myself,” he said. “I’m Noah.”

            Huh. A surprisingly un-jock sort of name. I’d been expecting it to be Bryce or Kyle or Chet or something.

            He cleared his throat a little nervously. “And you are?”

            “Alex,” I said.

            He flashed me the perfect smile again, and I tried very hard not to be warmed or charmed by it. “Awesome,” he said. “Uh, nice to meet you, I mean.”

            He held out a ghostly hand like he expected me to shake it. I stared at it and eventually he put it back down on his lap.

            “So, has this ever happened to you before?” He still sounded nervous, and I felt another pang of sympathy despite my best efforts not to. “Seeing a ghost, I mean.”

            “Nope,” I said. “First time.”

            “Yeah. It’s my first time, too. Being a ghost, I mean.” He laughed. “Obviously. I guess I’m just not really sure why I’m here or what I’m supposed to be doing, and since you can see me, I thought maybe you’d have some idea. But if this is your first time, maybe you, uh. Maybe you don’t.”

            I wanted to keep being guarded and cold—it was my default state in most social situations, for my own protection—but I could already feel the icy walls I’d built around myself melting. Good-looking jock or not, the guy sounded scared, and I hated hearing that tremble in anyone’s voice.

            “Look,” I said with a sigh, “could it be that you’re supposed to finish some business or something?”

            He frowned. “I mean, I don’t have a job or anything. I’m still in high school.”

            I couldn’t help a breath of a laugh. “Not that kind of business. You know, unfinished business. That’s what ghosts are supposed to have, isn’t it? Something they wanted to do or finish in life but never got a chance to because, you know. They died.”

            Understanding bloomed on his face. “Right. Right, gotcha. That makes sense.” He fell into a thoughtful silence. “I don’t know. I guess my main unfinished business is just living my life, but I can’t really do that now, so…”

            “Okay,” I said. “Or maybe you’re supposed to figure out what happened to you. How you—” The word caught in my throat, so I coughed and tried again. “How you died.”

            I was afraid the mention of his death might trigger some big reaction, but instead he just frowned. “I should probably remember that, shouldn’t I?”

            “You dying? Probably, yeah.”

            The frown deepened, digging a line through his otherwise smooth brow. “I remember going out on a hike. Rigo and Jesse and me, we were going to do some rock-climbing on this gnarly cliff by a state park.”

            I decided to ignore the fact that he’d just unironically used the word gnarly. “You climbed a cliff? Voluntarily?”

            Noah shook his head, his gaze lost in the distance. “I don’t remember climbing it, though. I just remember walking along the trail to get to it. It was a really nice hike, all these super-tall trees all around us, and the sun just starting to rise and everything. Anyway, Jesse and Rigo got kind of ahead of me, and I stopped for a sec because I saw this rock that looked like a face, and then…” He shook his head. “Nothing.”

            “You don’t remember what happened?”

            “No. My memory just stops.”

            “Huh,” I said, curious now despite myself. “That’s pretty weird.”

            “This whole thing is weird. So, I guess I died somehow, in the woods?”

            I turned to face him, shifting my body sideways on the bench. “Do you know where this was? I can do a search and see if there’s a news article about it or something.”

            “Oh, uh, Rigo planned the trip, and Jesse was driving, and I had a headache so I just kind of zoned out while we were going there. I want to say the state park started with a D? Or maybe an L. Might also have been a T.”

            I gave a wincing smile as I tugged the phone out of my pocket. “Okay, let’s try a different tactic. What’s your last name?”

            “Thornbridge.” He looked relieved to at least have remembered that.

            I stared at him. “Your last name is Thornbridge.”

            “Yeah.”

            “Noah Thornbridge.”

            “Yes?”

            “That sounds like a character from Downton Abbey.”

            Instead of getting offended, he laughed. “Hey, man, that’s a compliment. I love that freaking show.”

            My lips twitched upward, and I typed “Noah Thornbridge” into the search bar and waited while my phone pondered the request. When the results popped up, I studied them with a slow creasing of my brow.

            “Huh, there’s nothing here about any accident or anything. Just…a lot of other stuff.”

            I scrolled through the results and felt my eyebrows raising. Unless there was another Noah Thornbridge in the area, he was from a town about half an hour away, and he was a star player on the soccer team (they’d gone to Nationals the year before, apparently), an outspoken member of the student government (Local Teen Encourages Peers to Take an Interest in Politics), and winner of some local songwriting competition, of all things.

            “Jesus,” I said under my breath. Noah was exactly the kind of son my dad had always dreamed of having, and here he was, mysteriously dead at seventeen while I lived on. It didn’t seem right, really.

            “So, there’s nothing about what happened to me?” Noah asked, jolting me out of my thoughts. His voice was right next to my ear, and I turned to find him sitting dangerously near, peering over my shoulder to look down at my phone screen. The fact that I could see the bench and the trees through his body did not change the fact that he was an actual boy sitting very, very close to me.

            I shifted over an inch and thumbed off my phone. “No, nothing.”

            “Okay,” he said. “So, I’m dead, but it seems like nobody knows it yet. Maybe we’re supposed to go find my body or something?”

            I had a flash of myself trudging through the woods, searching the bushes for the dead and possibly decaying body of the boy sitting next to me. I felt suddenly queasy. “Uh, maybe?”

            Noah jumped to his feet. “That’s gotta be it. So we just have to figure out where I was when this happened and then go there, find my body—”

            “Or,” I said, a little too loudly, “we could call one of the guys you were hiking with and tell them to go find your body.”

            Noah pointed a translucent finger at me. “Yes. That’s better. Especially since I can’t actually remember where we were when it happened.”

            I pulled out my phone again. “Okay, what are their numbers?”

            Noah’s pointing finger dropped to his side. “Oh. I don’t actually know. They’re in my phone!” he exclaimed when I just stared at him. “Why would I know their numbers when they’re in my phone?”

            He started pacing back and forth, and I got to my feet because his movements were starting to make me dizzy.

            “Look, don’t panic,” I said. “We’ll contact them some other way. DM them on Twitter or something. But right now, I should probably get back to class, because as much as I might look like a nerd, I do not take tests like one, and I can’t actually afford to get a zero on this English test.”

            “Right,” Noah said. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Absolutely.” I felt his eyes on me as I slung my backpack over my shoulder and started back across the park. “But you don’t look like a nerd, just so you know.”

            I gave him a suspicious frown. “Uh, yeah I do.”

            He was smiling a little, which just made me feel even more off-balance. “Nah,” he said. “You look pretty cool, actually.”

            I felt heat rising in my cheeks and tried to focus on the suddenly difficult act of putting one foot in front of the other. I was pretty sure he was lying, but I had other things to worry about than potential falsehoods from a spirit. Namely, the fact that I’d just pretty much promised to solve the mystery of said spirit’s death, and I had no idea how I was going to do that.

            On the plus side, my Monday morning had just gotten a whole lot more interesting. On the not-so-plus side, I couldn’t envision any future that didn’t involve me coming face to face with a corpse.

            When Dad had asked me to be more social at school, I had a feeling this hadn’t been what he’d meant.

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