And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
“Destiny is gone,” Misty said. “They got back together and they broke up. Jesse is free from her forever. This is my summer.” She looked at Bekah Lynch, her best friend, and she smiled. “This is the summer I get Jesse Teller. We can finally get it straight and we can be together. All of them are gone. It’s just him now. This is my summer.”
This book is going to be long. It will be intense and it will span so many topics, but I need to veer to the side for a while and show Misty and I at one moment my seventh-grade year. This won’t take long, but this is the sort of thing she did for me all the time. This right here is common for her. She gave me little parts of herself for six years. This is one of them.
She grabbed Guardian at Harmony and pulled him aside.
He looked into her eyes and saw Shooting Star. He tried to smile at her and he looked at his boots.
“I was walking past the screen door to my house last night, you know, headed to my room, when I heard my brother Blank and his friend Hogan talking about you.
We are going to call him Hogan because this kid is, what I think, Hulk Hogan was like when he was in middle school.
“They had nothing nice to say I would bet,” Guardian said. He tried looking her in the eye again and felt a stab of pain at the sight of her wide, beautiful eyes and her expressive face.
“They said they were going to jump you and beat your ass.” She grabbed Guardian and wrapped him in a tight hug. “I don’t want you to be hurt. You have to go make up with them or something.”
Guardian hugged her back. “Thank you. I will take care of it.” He pulled back and looked at her. “I love you. You know that, right?”
She smiled and he had to walk away. There was too much Shooting Star blinding that smile.
See Blank had dated Less for half a day. He had the most beautiful girl in Waynesville Middle School for one half of one day. Less was the most sought-after girl Waynesville had at the time. She was an eighth grader when Blank was a seventh. When she broke up with him, he needed to blame someone and he decided on me. Now him and his best friend, who was much bigger than me, were ready to make their play.
But they were dealing with Guardian.
It’s the next day in some sort of side class. It’s the kind of class they give middle schoolers that they don’t devote an entire semester to. There are four of these little classes and they teach a new one every quarter. I’m in this one. I think it is a map reading class. We have large fold-out maps of the state and we are plotting routes and counting miles. Taking measurements of roads and comparing them to scales and this is about to pop off in about three minutes as soon as this class bell rings, when Blank and Hogan drop into the two-top desk behind me and start to giggle. I feel something swipe the back of my hair and hear a laugh.
Guardian spins in his chair and looks them both in the eye. “When?” he says.
“When what, asshole?” Hogan says.
“When are you two planning to jump me?” Guardian says. The strength runs out of them and they stammer for a minute.
“Is this going to be a plan it out and meet somewhere kind of thing, or should I expect you two to jump out of the shadows and hit me with something upside the back of the head?” Guardian smiles at both of them. “I’m just trying to plan my day.”
“No one wants to jump you, punk. No one cares about you,” Blank says.
Guardian turns in his chair. The giggling stops, the laughing, and no more phantom swipes at my hair through the class, and off to lunch where they sit at the same table as me and they whisper to each other.
But Guardian is sitting at the table with Bump and Crush and Butch. They are as close to a gang as this city has seen in a long time. They are all huge. None of them have the bodies of seventh graders. They all hang on every word Bump has to say, and every one of them is ready for a fight.
Crush has been formally trained at a dojo somewhere to the level of black belt, and he is dying to kick something and watch it break. Butch is not bright but a good guy and huge. Bump has taken him in and given him a friend. Butch is so massive and so strong that he could pick D up and throw him in an arc that peaks six feet off the ground and flies until D can catch himself and laugh. Six foot arch, maybe twelve foot distance if we’re being modest. Butch is strong. I love Butch. Me and D love Butch. He’s not smart. I don’t know where he is. But wherever he is, there’s a piece of Ronin with him. But we’re at the lunch table now. Blank and Hogan are giggling.
Butch, Crush, and Bump are on the other side. Guardian can’t stand the whispering. He looks at Blank and Hogan and sighs. “When will it come, my brave, brave boys? When will you finally do it? Just throw a punch already so we can get on with this little attack you two are planning for me.”
“Wait, what?” Bump says. He looks at Blank and Hogan. “What is this?”
“The two of them are planning to jump me at some point in the future—soon I hope—and I am trying to get information.”
“If the two of you even touch Jesse the three of us will break little bits of you off and leave them behind us like a trail of bread crumbs,” Bump says.
Guardian looks at all of them. “I appreciate it, guys. But this, I won’t need help for. I have this handled.”
The fight never came. If I had not known of it, it would have. Misty saved my ass that day. She did that kind of thing all the time, looking out for me when no one else would.
Still every time I looked at her, either the face of Shooting Star would flash before my eyes or after that stopped, I would feel this undefinable ache of pain. Misty was fighting for the two of us. I was just in too much pain to reach out for her.
Now it is the summer of 97. Destiny is gone and Misty is at my house. Bliss has left. Precious has gone. Burg and Bell are sitting on the couch and I’m in Burg’s chair. Misty is on the floor talking to all of us and Shadow is thinking about nights before. When Bliss and Misty had come by with Bekah in the car. We had gone out there to get a hug and scream that Brett was an idiot for losing her, and now Bekah has come over a few times. She is smiling, and when Bliss left that night, she took Bekah with her.
Bekah has made her way past Taste. She sat on his barracks bed, sang with me, I’ll Be There for You. And when you breathe, I wanna be the air for you. And did you know, these five words I swear to you. And as Bekah left the room that day, Taste’s room, Jesse’s hand was on the small of her back.
And Shadow knows the rules. He was taught and taught well by Grr.
“You know who I have a crush on, a little thing for?” Shadow says.
Misty turned with hope on her face.
Misty’s mouth drops open. The house falls dead silent. Everyone in this room knows how Misty feels about me, but by this time, I know I can’t be with her. For some reason a part of me hurts when I see her, and I can’t get my mind off of Bekah.
“I’ll be right back!” Misty says, slapping her knees and getting off the floor. She is out the door, door slammed, and away in her car.
“That was subtle,” Bell says.
“You know she is running to Bekah right now,” Burg says.
“I’m sure of it,” Shadow says. He does not know that Misty has vowed that this is her summer. He does not know how bad and how long this feeling for him has been in her heart. He never knew about the summer when he was ten and he came to Missouri to visit his grandma, because he was not even created yet. He does not remember the brush of the hand, the smile, and the way the sunlight played in her hair all that summer. Shadow has never known any of that until last night when we wrote the first Misty chapter, and all of us sobbed for hours. Shadow knows none of that.
Bekah hears a pounding on her door. She is watching a movie with her family and they pause it when Misty snaps that she needs to talk to her outside.
“Jesse Teller has a crush on you,” Misty says.
Bekah giggles. “No, that is not true.” She is blushing now, thinking of the last time she saw me and not being able to pull up any memories of flirting or any sly smiles because she was simply not looking for them.
“Yes, he does. He just told me,” Misty says.
“I-” And in this moment Bekah has never thought of me that way but she is starting to. She is beginning to think about it, and she is aware of the vow that Misty made to her just weeks ago. This is Misty’s summer, and I am off limits.
“What do you think?” Misty says. “How do you feel about him?”
“I never saw him that way. He is just a friend,” Bekah says.
And Misty is off. She jumps in her car and screeches away. She has to get back to my apartment and tell me that it is not going to happen. She needs to squash this bit of a dream I have about her best friend as soon as possible.
That night Bekah goes into the house and stares at her family. All but Plan are there and they look at her with curiosity brimming.
“What was that about?” Bliss asks.
“Jesse Teller has a crush on me,” Bekah says. She says it out loud for the first time and she feels it in her bones.
“What?!” Bliss says. “What did you just say?”
“Who is Jesse Teller?” Hymnal asks.
“He is a guy. He has hair,” Bekah says. “Look, I can’t watch the rest of this movie right now. I have to go upstairs. I need to—” Bekah says. “He made the first move,” she says, looking at Bliss. Bekah has always been the one making the first move. She has always asked the guy, but now this, and all of her is humming.
“This doesn’t count as a first move,” Bliss says. “He was just talking to a few friends and said something. He did not know that Misty would come tell you.”
But Bekah knows that we knew Misty would. Shadow has just made the first move.
And Misty is rushing to our apartment to tell us Bekah says no.
“Make them all leave and you can do anything you want to me all night,” Trashy says.
Guardian is not having it and he drops down on the bed next to Bekah. He begins to whisper to her, and though Misty can’t hear what he is saying, she knows what is happening. She hears Bekah giggle. She hears Bekah say, “You’re a good kisser, Jesse Teller.”
No one knows what happened to Misty’s heart that day. No one knows how furious she was or how hurt. We do know that soon she will leave Bekah’s life for years.
The next day she nearly screams at Bekah, “How can you do this to me?” Or else she whispers it dejected and destroyed. Maybe the words just spill out of her mouth when she sees Bekah and asks if the two of us are together, or else they have been stewing in her mind since Bekah and Jesse started flirting the night before.
“I have to see where this goes,” is all that Bekah can say. Because she has heard all of the things that Jesse said to her last night, and she has never heard any guy say anything like that to her before. She knows this is not a normal crush. Bekah knows that no relationship has ever started this way.
Misty found her soulmate. When she found him, she called Bekah and wanted us to all get together. The two of them are so perfect for each other that I can hear that perfect hum coming off of them when we see them. The same hum that resonates around me and Bekah.
Misty has her dream job. She teaches middle school art, bringing beauty and creativity to every young mind sat before her.
Misty and her soulmate are foster parents. They have a house so full of love and brimming with pain, children that are not okay are given to her and her soulmate, and they provide shelter, fun, safety, humor. Misty and her man provide values. Misty and her soulmate are changing the world. They’re saving the world. The love of their home pours out of the seams of the windows and doors and rolls down the streets of their neighborhood in the form of giggles and energetic glee.
Misty is so happy and I watch her from a distance knowing that she is right where she is needed, where she wants to be, and where she belongs.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.