"Something New" is not the book's title. ;-)
The Zero Knot is, and below is an excerpt from it. This story also takes place in the town of Cold Harbor, the setting for most of Visible Friend.
I suppose it could be classified as a "coming of age" tale. The central characters were childhood pals. They're now 18 and trying to determine the paths their lives will take. So The Zero Knot is about growing up, growing together, and growing apart -- and, most important, about forging identities and the values that define those identities.
Of course, shit happens along the way.
The section below features Jesse, one of the 18-year-old protags, and his 15-year-old brother, Jared (or "Red"). Just minutes earlier, the kid accidentally let it slip that he's seen the gay porn magazines secreted in Jesse's bedroom. It's a turning point in their relationship, because it forces Jess to discuss his orientation -- something his parents and older brother still aren't aware of. (The "Mig" who's mentioned is one of Jess's friends.)
* * * * *
Now it was time to set a few things straight with the resident punk.
Without bothering to knock, Jess barged into Jared’s room, grabbed the kid by the front of his camo green T-shirt (which proclaimed, ironically, I DIDN’T DO IT), and flattened him against the nearest wall. Red was growing fast—was only a couple inches shorter than Jess now—but had all the muscle mass of a pole bean.
With his forefinger a millimeter from Red’s nose, Jess said in a low, ominous tone, “Stay the fuck out of my room, you shit-stirring little twerp.”
A sea of crimson buoyed Red’s sparse freckles. “Hey…”
“Hey nothing. Keep your nose out of my business.” Jess firmly pushed the tip of that nose for emphasis.
He remembered an observation their mother had once made while she was reading some urban fantasy novel: that Jared’s freckles, when he blushed, looked like “vampire tears in a sea of blood.” Jess loved his mother, but Jill Bonner was one of those in-the-Zone-alone people. She’d always been creative…and more than a little dingy.
Red was temporarily silent.
Jess released him but kept his finger in Red’s face, his narrowed eyes locked onto Red’s wide ones. “I’m not playin’ here. Get it?”
“Okay, okay. From now on I won’t go near your room, and I won’t say nothin’ to nobody.”
Point made, Jess turned toward the door.
“FYI, dude, I don’t care if you’re gay.”
Jess stopped in his tracks, spun around.
Red put up his hands. “Chill. I’m an enlightened guy. Live and let live and all that crap. I’m just bummed you’re not the best source for dating tips.”
Jess hung his head and started chuckling. Why couldn’t he stay mad at this little prick?
“You okay?” Red asked warily. “You’re not spazzin’ out, are you?”
“No. This is just so anticlimactic.”
"Never mind." Jess shuffled to Jared’s bed and dropped onto it. The walls in this room were like a bad acid trip, posters and artwork plastered everywhere at every imaginable angle, including sideways and upside down. Jess spotted a recent addition—a doctored picture of Justin Bieber with an arrow through his neck and a mischievous imp (that looked suspiciously like Jared) perched on the arrow’s shaft. “So, it was the magazines that tipped you off?”
Red sat beside him. “Well, duh. Dongapalooza.”
Elbows resting on thighs, Jess lowered his face to his hands and rubbed it. Maybe this wasn’t so anticlimactic after all. The thought of his little brother paging aghast through queer skin magazines…
“You really get off on that stuff?” Red asked, suspended in a stew of disbelief, distaste, and curiosity.
Jess tilted his head and looked through his fingers. “Well, duh.”
The kid’s eyebrows went up, down. “How, um…how long have you known you’re like this?”
The house seemed unusually quiet. It wasn’t, of course. The old man had simply turned off the TV and gone to bed. Same drill every night.
Jess dropped his hands and loosely linked them between his knees. “As long as I can remember.”
Red scraped his upper teeth over his lower lip. “What’s…you know…what’s that kind of stuff…?” He paused. A wince tugged at his features.
“What’s it like?” Jess said with a sympathetic smile.
“For me it’s just right.” As Jess turned a bit more to face his brother, he caught a glimpse of the custom-made T-shirt he’d ordered for Jared’s twelfth birthday. Red Rum, it warned in jagged scarlet lettering. The kid had long since outgrown it, but he kept it hanging on the outside of his closet door.
“Remember your soapbox derby car?” Jess said. “The one Dad helped you build when he was still in Oshkosh?”
“Sure I do. I wanted to live in that car. We fit together perfect.”
“That’s what it’s like.”
Red looked puzzled. Then his face relaxed and he nodded.
As more questions formed in his addled mind, Red nibbled the inside of his cheek. He always had to do something when he thought hard—chew a fingernail, toy with some object.
Patiently, Jess waited.
“You got, like, a boyfriend?” Red finally asked.
“No.” And bam, just like that, Mig was in the room with them.
“D’you want one?”
Jess’s stomach squirmed. “Someday.”
“You gonna tell Dad you’re gay? Or Mom? Or Joel?”
The squirming increased. “Someday.”
Red resumed nibbling. The questions clearly weren’t over.
“Do you ever, like…shove stuff up your butt?”
Jess wheezed into laughter. “What?”
“Umfy Randall says fa—” Another blush surfaced with volcanic speed. “He says gay guys like sticking things up their butts.”
Dare I ask? But it was too delicious to resist. “Such as?”
Red shrugged. “Root crops, small animals, grooming aids.”
Snorting, Jess fell back onto the mattress. He lay there, both arms thrown over his face, as his laughter spiraled and his eyes spilled tears. For one thing, he didn’t think Umfy Randall, who was dumber than a drumstick, was even familiar with phrases like root crops and grooming aids.
Abs cramping, Jess rolled onto his side and folded his legs. Oh, Christ.
“So…it ain’t true?”
The kid sounded serious, which made Jess laugh even harder. “Of course it’s true. If it came from Umfy Randall, it must be true.” He gasped for breath and tried to control his hooting. “In fact, I’m packing a blow dryer, three parsnips, and a litter of newborn weasels as we speak.”
Stony-faced, Jared regarded him. “Dude, weasels are dangerous.”
Jess curled in on himself. His gut was ready to split.
If only coming out to everybody else in his life could be this much fun.
* * *
~ From The Zero Knot, copyright © 2011 K. Z. Snow