Authors: Brie Spangler
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright Â© 2016 by Brie Spangler
Cover art copyright Â© 2016 by Leo Nickolls
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Spangler, Brie, author.
Title: Beast / Brie Spangler.
Description: First edition. | New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. |
Summary: After falling off the roof, fifteen-year-old misfit Dylan must attend a therapy group for self-harmers, where he meets Jamie, a beautiful and amazing person he does not know is transgender.
Identifiers: LCCNÂ 2015048797Â (print) | LCCNÂ 2016023777Â (ebook) | ISBNÂ 978-1-101-93716-7Â (trade) | ISBNÂ 978-1-101-93718-1Â (lib.Â bdg.) | ISBNÂ 978-1-101-93717-4Â (ebook)
Subjects: | CYAC: Self-help groupsâFiction. | Interpersonal relationsâFiction. | Transgender peopleâFiction. | Dating (Social customs)âFiction. | BISAC: JUVENILE FICTION / Social Issues / Dating & Sex. | JUVENILE FICTION / Humorous Stories.
Classification: LCC PZ7.S7365 Be 2016Â (print) | LCC PZ7.S7365Â (ebook) | DDCÂ [Fic]âdc23
Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
Because I wanted to quit more times
than there are words in this book and
you always said, “Keep writing.”
I don't know what fell first, me or the football.
In theory, it was the football because good old me, all meat and muscle, can't be trusted to walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone rescue a misthrown ball. Glad no one saw me climbing out onto the roof, because I'd never hear the end of it. Same stupid stuff, like Don't do that, You're too big, You're too tall, You're too furry. Everyone loves to remind me about what I look like. As if I don't own a mirror. But it was quiet up there. Nothing moved, not even the wind. I edged toward the corner where the gutters met and stood on a row of shaky tiles. My shadow cast itself on the grass below, long and lean.
I shouldn't have looked.
It's bad enough I'm closing in on six foot four and have enough body hair to insulate a small town. No, I need to shop in the Minotaur department too. Regular standard-sized uniforms don't fit. Before the new school year kicked off, my mom had to sew the stupid school patches onto maroon jackets and white polo shirts the size of baby grand pianos. I look like an ogre who drifted in from under the Fremont Bridge and decided a reasonably priced Catholic education was the way to go.
Today didn't start off as the worst day ever. When I ate a small breakfast of six pancakes, four pieces of toast, and a quick fistful of bacon, I thought maybe Mom was onto something when she said, “This is your year, Dylan, I can feel it!” Because, I don't know, perhaps after this epic crapstorm of foot-long growth spurts and shaving since the sixth grade, sophomore year
be my year. It'd be a nice change. I even saw a good-luck penny lying heads up on the sidewalk on my way to the bus stop. A sign from my dad that he was thinking about me. But that false hope of One Good Year shattered when St. Lawrence had to go and ban hats and long hair on guys. The whole entire school turned around and gawked at me.
Every day my hair is the same. Part it down the middle, comb it down so it covers as much of my face as possible, put the hat on. Mom hates my hair. It hangs in my face, she says. Hides my eyes. My hair is my thing.
Correction: was my thing.
Madison blurted out, “Oh my god, now we're going to have to see the Beast's face every day.” She really did say that. Right in the middle of the school assembly. I sat one row behind her. Of course JP laughed. When Fern Chapman rolled her eyes at Madison and told her to shut up, my chest bounced off the floor like a rubber ball.
Thank you, Fern Chapman. This is why I'm so stupid in love with you.
She's so pretty, it's hard to be in the same room as her. The air tightens.
“Take Madison back to your cave first, Beast.” JP elbowed me from his chair and waited for me to laugh. I gave in because, screw it, that's what you do when the principal is standing on the stage announcing to the world that St. Lawrence Prep is hell-bent on exposing you for the genetic wasteland you are.
Sitting next to my best friend, JP, only proved my theorem. Not in some crazy quadratic reciprocity way. No, more like: one of JP's freckles > my entire physical everything. Squared. If we're going on looks, JP is the gleaming hero in shining armor mounted on an all-white horse, who unleashes his broadsword from its gilded hilt and slays me dead while the townsfolk cheer. Which is pretty much the truth. His motto is
which if you plugged that into Google Translate, it'd humble-brag: “He is worshiped.” Watching how he gathers up girls like a butterfly collector kills me every time he pins one through the heart.
But in a weird way I love JP because he's not afraid of me. Making friends was never easy. Mom was always like, “Talk to the other children. Show them your beautiful smile!” (Momâ¦) But when I tried, they ran the other way. Or even worse, pretended I wasn't there. When I had thirty pounds on every other first grader in town, JP was the only kid who asked, “Wanna play?” Of course my answer was yes. And if he asked me to rough up the occasional somebody here and there, I did it because he wanted me to be his friend. It wasn't too bad. Usually standing over the kid and staring down did the trick. Besides, hanging out with JP is a badge of honor at St. Lawrence. I'm not about to sacrifice my seat by his side at the lunch table.
He's the best, except sometimes I hate him. Like right now. If it weren't for JP, maybe I wouldn't have gone onto the roof and maybe I'd still have hair. It was JP's idea to go to the barbershop after school. He said he'd pay and I was like, awesome, because he's stinking rich and I'm poor as hell. JP must know I'm really down, I thought as I sat in the chair. Nice thing for him to do. So I told the guy I wanted it cut like JP's, just like JP's. He tosses it to the side and it always looks perfect. Girls run their fingers through it whenever they get the chance. I want that. I'm telling the barber this and the dude goes and buzzes a strip right down the center of my head. What the hell? I jumped out of the chair, stupid plastic cape and all, and towered over the guy. He cowered, like they always do, and pointed at JP. Told me JP slipped him an extra twenty bucks to buzz it. And right on cue, JP starts laughing. I laughed too, but that's different. I had to.
So now I have a buzzed skull. I don't like it. Reminds me too much of chemo. I wonder what my dad thinks about my new haircut. He'd be the expert on this particular hairstyle. If he still does think, that is.
I tried to block out hating my new chemo head, but that only lasted until I got home, took my hat off, and saw my reflection in the hallway mirror. If anyone asks, yeah, the busted glass and dribbled bloody trail leading up to the roof was me. Big deal. I needed some fresh air. I picked up the long-lost football, took a deep breath, slipped, and we both came tumbling down. Perfect end to a perfect day.
And then it just got better! My neighbors the Swanpoles heard me dent the earth and my hollering that went with it and called an ambulance. Now I'm in the hospital, waking up from surgery with two spiral fractures in my right leg, and all the beeping from the monitors is driving me crazy. Does it have to do this with every heartbeat? I wish someone would turn it off. The beeping, I mean. Every time it repeats, I hear Madison's voice on a loop.
“Oh my god, now we're going to have to see the Beast's face every day. Oh my god, now we're going to have to see the Beast's face every dayâ¦.”
My eyes close to block out all the white-white-white of my hospital room, and I'm feeling vaguely disappointed. Didn't think I'd end up here. Not what I had in mind. My right leg is attached to the metal skeleton of the bed, with spikes and pins and wires all jutting out of it, and in my morphine-drip haze, it's like my very own trippy puppet show. I settle into my hospital bed and inhale the room's chemical sterility as though it's Fern Chapman's perfume. Or deodorant; whatever it is that always makes her smell unbelievable. I can't lie: I've had dreams where I'm invisible and all I do is walk behind her and inhale.
I guess in my dreams I'll have to hobble now. Crutches are perfect. Now I will be known as the Guy on Crutches. “Hey, look at that guy on crutches,” I'll hear people say as I go by. I like the thought of that. It feels so amazingly ordinary.
The silence is short-lived.
Mom comes flying into the room. “Dylan!” There's no chai-tea-for-the-ride-home in her hand. She must've raced all the way here from Beaverton, where she works long hours and gets us shoes at the employee store. A wave of guilt crashes over me. There's not enough chai tea to wash away her kid being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and having emergency surgery while she got the call at work. She might need to switch to kombucha.
“Sweetheart!” she cries out, and zooms across the room, smothering me in a massive hug. “I got here as soon as I could. Your doctor brought me up to speed while you were knocked outâhe says you'll be okay. Are you okay?”
I could use some more morphine. Not because I'm in pain but because it's morphine. “Never been better.”
“Can I get you anything?”
A genetic do-over. “No.”
Mom pulls away and takes in the hospital tomb. I mean room. A shudder slips down her back. “You look so much like your father,” she murmurs. No doubt. Looking at me attached to tubes, bald, and more pasty than glue must be like being thrown back in time to when my enormous father sprawled across a hospital bed.
A fresh smile blooms on her cheeks, the one that crinkles up too high when she's trying not to be too gushy. Mom lets go of the metal bar on the side of the bed. “But I like your new haircutâI get to see your face again. Looks so much better than hiding behind all that hanging scruff.” She lightly cups my cheek like she did when I was small. “You're just like him in every way.”
I say nothing because okay, I've seen the pictures and it's true. You can swap out a photo of my dad and think it's me. Same massive picture-clogging bodies and camera-breaking faces. But lucky me, I'm the hairier one.
“Oh, Dylan.” My mother sighs as she fluffs my pillow. “The doctor told me you were trying to get a football? We could've found a better way to get it down, you know.”
“I thought you hated football.”
Ignoring that, I reach for the pain pump instead. Pump-pump-pump.
“Stop,” she says, taking it out of my hand. “The last thing I need is to drop you off at the methadone clinic before school every morning. We are not getting addicted to morphine today, thank you very much.”
“I bet,” she says. “Well, while we were waiting for you to wake up, I called the school and let them know you're going to kick off the school year with only one leg.”
I roll my eyes underneath my lids, getting a rush from the painkillers as I do. “Whatever. Who else did you tell?” Fern Chapman?
I swear if Fern comes gliding in through that door, I will die.
“The school, the family,” she says.
“My friends?” I'm afraid to ask. “Please tell me I'll be the first to tell JP.”
“Don't be mad, honeyâ¦.” She bites her lip.
“But you already texted him,” I finish for her.
“No, noâhe texted me! He heard something happened and wanted to make sure you were okay. Isn't that what friends do?”
“I guess so.”
“Don't shoot the messenger. You two were the ones who decided you were brothers when you were little kids, not me. He was watching out for you.” Mom tries to chuckle. “Well, JP might not have seen you in full flight, but I bet Dad enjoyed his front-row seat.”
We laugh together but it feels rehearsed. I mean, what can we do? Nothing. The man I look more and more like every day, from the height to the fur to the never-ending bodily expansion, has been gone for twelve years. He died a long, hard death from cancer, so I hope if anything, he's up there laughing his ass off.
My head feels cold. I touch it slowly and feel all stubble, no weathered cotton and a stiff, frayed bill. It's gone. “Where's my baseball hat?” I immediately say.
Mom glances about. “Not sure.”
I sit up and jerk left and right, looking for it. “No really, my hatâwhere is it?”
“Lie down,” she stresses. “Dylan, your leg, the traction.”
“I'm fine.” Things begin beeping and nurses run in, yelping for me to quit moving. “All I want is my hat,” I try to say as slowly and calmly as I can. Doesn't work. A billion panicked hands and arms press my body down. Guess I am as big as they say. “It's not my leg,” I try to assure them. You'd think they were holding down a thrashing water buffalo. It's just me, people! “I just like my hat, that's all.”
“A hat?” one of the nurses says.
“I can get you a hat,” the first nurse volunteers. “Be right back.”
Mom comes over and rubs my shoulder. “It's okay, sweetie,” she says. “You're a handsome guy, you know. You don't need to hide behind a hat. You are a beautiful person, inside and out, and somedayâ”
Mom. Jeezus, where do I begin? The bleeding sincerity? If a total and complete stranger stubs their toe next to her, she will be the first one offering a ride home and half her life's savings just to make sure they're okay. In my case, it means a constant maternal bludgeoning so I am painfully aware of my epic wonderfulness.
The fact that she has to try so hard annoys me more than any of the words.
“Here we go.” The first nurse returns, holding up a white cotton skullcap.
I take one look at it and drop it on the side of the bed. “Thanks,” I tell him all the same. Don't feel like wearing any hat that's not my baseball hat. My hat's been through a ton of crap with me; it's my helmet for battle. This hospital hat couldn't protect me from shit. I look at the metal frame. The system of pulleys and wires keeps my leg still and high. My leg. Emptiness vibrates through me as I stare at it. Like it's lifeless. A marlin that fought the good fight, only to be strung up and measured at the dock.
“Dylan, honey, are you okay?” Mom asks.
“Hurts.” I fake some physical agony. She doesn't budge, so I squirm some more. She was so excited to see my face again, I crush it up into little pieces with sheer anguish, just for her, and she lets me push the pump. (Yay.) “I need to talk to the doctor.”
The first nurse tests the nerve response from my toes as the second nurse leaves the room. “I'll find him,” she tells me.
I chew my upper lip. Should I really do it? Ask him a question I've only asked Google? I'm kind of thinking yes. Some twenty minutes later, my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jensen, enters and surveys the scene. “What's the problem, Mr. Ingvarsson?”
His bedside manner is nothing if not direct. “Never mind,” I mutter, embarrassment circling back in full force. “I'm fine now.”
Everyone stares at me. The doctor looks to my mother. “Might I have some time with my patient?”