Please say hello to Amy Lane and
Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron—who thought life began and ended with his kids—is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.
Larx has been living for his kids too—and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.
It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.
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Things That Are Real, Part III
So… In the past two blog tour installments, I’ve covered “Things that are real”—actual events or moments in my life that I drew upon for the events in Bonfires. At first, it was supposed to be one post—but the more I wrote, the more I realized, “Hey! This story has a whole lot of my life in it! I might need a few other posts!”
So here we go—the eighth post in the tour, and another four things Amy added to the book from her real life.
I remember this very clearly.
My senior year—we were working on the school play, and as I said in a previous post, we were the band kids and the drama kids and the college bound kids.
And the stressed kids.
Saturday night, the play was over, and we’d all stayed late to strip down the sets. Nobody had asked me if I’d want to drink (I was sort of a Pollyanna, even then) but all of my friends were… well, drunk, by the time we were done breaking down, and I was… unaware, at best.
They asked me if I wanted to go to a wrap up party, and I said yes—and although my friend Craig was driving a little wobbly, well, he’d been giving me rides to school for two years and he wasn’t the best driver anyway.
We showed up at a moonlit clearing where everybody—the field conductor of the band, the school valedictorian, the head cheerleader, the choir teacher’s daughter—everybody proceeded to get shitfaced drunk.
I didn’t drink. I rarely drink now—but back then, it hit me, as I watched folks pass around a half-gallon of Jack, that I was the only one there who could actually drive.
I didn’t get my license until I was almost eighteen, because of, well, being me mostly. Now I’m a decent driver, but back then, my dad’s teaching technique involved screaming things at me along the lines of “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WAITING FOR, A SIGN FROM GOD?” and it left me a little shell-shocked.
But this night, as everybody drank and drank hard in this little moonlit clearing, it hit me that I could be the only way my friends got home. So, right before the field conductor of the band and his best friend Craig passed out, I got them into Craig’s station wagon and I drove home.
It was hard—not only because it was night and backroads in a small foothills town aren’t lit at all, but also because Craig was talking to me the whole time about, “Are you okay? You don’t have a driver’s license, are you okay?”
Well, yes and no. I did almost drive us into a ditch twice—but the second time wasn’t my fault.
The second time, Craig’s best friend—whom I assumed was passed out giggling quietly to himself—suddenly popped over the back of the driver’s seat and screamed, “Oh my God, Amy, you don’t know how to drive!” and grabbed the wheel.
Craig beat him back to his seat—but I have to say, it didn’t do much for my confidence. I took the guys to Craig’s house and left them getting out of the car. Craig lived about three miles from my house, and I walked that in the middle of the night on a lonely moonlit road.
And I giggled to myself the whole way home. There I was, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, the kid none of the counselors expected to go to college, the kid whose parents expected to be too butterfly-minded to make it through school, and I was apparently the least fucked up person I knew.
Imagine my surprise.
So when Larx and Aaron talk about where a student might be hiding—when they talk about the various clearings in the forest—I’m speaking from a specific memory. I’m remembering the best and brightest kids in the school, getting stone drunk because they wanted to be anywhere but there, in a small town, with small town expectations, living in their own skin.
Truckers and Fishwives
Did I say teachers swear like truckers and fishwives?
I meant teachers swear like sailors fucking truckers who are giving face to fishwives in traffic.
The funny part is the kids always assume we’ve never heard a swearword before in our lives—and for the most part, we like to keep that illusion, because it just feels wrong when the kids say stuff like, “Man, that’s fucked up!” right in the middle of class.
I did let loose a couple of times though—and one stands out in my mind.
I fed my students—a lot. I brought granola bars and Pop Tarts and sometimes bagels with little packets of cream cheese. Fed kids think—it’s that simple—and I was happy to feed them out of my pocket. (By the way, the people in government who think we should cut free lunch and breakfast programs have my permission to fuck themselves with rabid porcupines wielding chainsaws—I’m not going to apologize for that sentiment. Ever.) But the drawback of being the teacher who fed her kids was being the teacher who attracted bugs.
The school had been recently built in the middle of a field—every year we had an infestation of some kind, and I was always the first teacher hit.
The year of the cockroach was the worst.
One day, I was reaching into my drawer for a pen so I could sign this kid’s yearbook—and he was, by the way, the sweetest, most devout Muslim on the face of planet earth. Every teacher should have kids as awesomely creative and kind as this student—I wouldn’t have offended him for the world.
Which was why my mortification was complete when I pulled out a pen and screamed, “Oh my GOD it’s a FUCKING COCKROACH!”
I looked at the kid, stricken, and started to apologize to the moon and back, but I don’t think he heard me. He was too busy laughing his ass off.
Guns in School
While the incident that inspired the one in Bonfires happened long after I left teaching, it happened to a friend of mine, and hearing about it left a scar.
Of course, being aware of guns in school has been a part of any teacher’s experience since Columbine. The entire experience of the lockdown drill has been normalized since then, and one of my dearest fantasies is to see Betsy Devos locked in a small classroom on a sweltering day with thirty-five high school students sitting on the floor in the dark when they do not fucking want to be there.
Make it for two or three hours, too, because when there is a real gun scare, that’s how long it takes to sound the all clear.
I’d like her and any NRA activist to see what that’s like, and to decide if it’s worth not having background checks to live through that normal once a week, because frankly, I’m not seeing the tradeoff.
But back to the subject of the kid with the gun in the science teacher’s room.
I’d known this teacher for years before I left—she was one of my first friends at the school. When I heard the story of how a kid walked into her room with a live weapon, threatening to kill himself and everybody else, I cried.
The story ended well—my friend is smart and she has a heart of gold, and she talked the kid into giving her the gun after clearing the other kids out of the room.
The part of the story that sticks in my mind though, and won’t leave either, is that she took the gun away from the boy and said, “I’m sorry. I’ve never held a gun. I don’t know what to do with it.”
And then the boy said, “That’s okay. Just set it down on the desk.”
And then she and the kid went outside with their hands over their heads.
And I guess this part sticks with me because police shootings have been so in the media. And my one thought, every time I hear about one, especially the horrible ones that seem so unwarranted, is that the shootings are done by someone who is afraid. Terrified. Stinking with fear, and they think shooting the object of their fear is the only way to make it go away.
I think those police officers need to take lessons from teachers.
Teachers walk into a situation every day in which they are told they may have to face an angry, armed teenager with a grudge, and guns aren’t really an option for a high school teacher.
Convincing the kid that it’s in everybody’s best interest to set the gun down and walk away is really that teacher’s only chance.
So that’s how I wrote that part of the story. It wasn’t the policeman with the gun who made that situation better. It was the unarmed civilian with compassion and understanding who de-escalated a moment of terror. Because I knew my friend had done it. Because I had—along with everyone I’ve ever worked with in the school system—walked into my classroom with that hum of awareness in the back of my mind, that someday it might come to exactly that, and I had to hope I was ready.
So those are some more things from Bonfires that were real to my everyday life. What’s funny is, I mostly just set out to tell the story of two guys falling in love.
But everyday things get in the way of love—it’s the strongest love stories that push them back. So I hope you enjoyed these everyday things, both the good and the bad. They’re such a part of Larx and Aaron’s world, I sort of forgot how much a part of my world they were as well.
More about Amy Lane:
Amy Lane exists happily with her noisy family in a crumbling suburban crapmansion, and equally happily with the surprisingly demanding voices who live in her head.
She loves cats, movies, yarn, pretty colors, pretty men, shiny things, and Twu Wuv, and despises house cleaning, low fat granola bars, and vainglorious prickweenies.
She can be found at her computer, dodging housework, or simultaneously reading, watching television, and knitting, because she likes to freak people out by proving it can be done.
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Stops on the blog tour:
- March 17 - MM Good Book Reviews
- March 24 - Divine Magazine
- March 27 - Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
- March 27 - The Novel Approach
- March 28 - Alpha Book Reviews
- March 29 - Love Bytes
- March 30 - Gay Book Reviews
- March 31 - My Fiction Nook
Promotional post. Materials provided by the author.