A funny, witty, Young Adult novel.
Funny. A tour de force.
Strutting his stuff on the catwalk in black patent leather pumps and a snug orange tuxedo as this year’s Miss (ter) Harvest Moon feels so very right to Chance César, and yet he knows it should feel so very wrong.
As far back as he can remember, Chance has been “caught between genders.” (It’s quite a touchy subject; so don’t ask him about it.) However, he does not question his sexual orientation. Chance has no doubt about his gayness—he is very much out of the closet at his rural New Hampshire high school, where the other students avoid the kid they refer to as “girl-boy.”
But at the local Harvest Moon Festival, when Chance, the Pumpkin Pageant Queen, meets Jasper Donahue, the Pumpkin Carving King, sparks fly. So Chance sets out, with the help of his BFF, Emily, to make “Jazz” Donahue his man.
An article in an online women’s magazine, Ten Scientifically Proven Ways to Make a Man Fall in Love with You (with a bonus love spell thrown in for good measure), becomes the basis of their strategy to capture Jazz’s heart.
Quirky, comical, definitely flamboyant, and with an inner core of poignancy, Love Spell celebrates the diversity of a gender-fluid teen.
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Shine On, Harvest Moon
It occurs to me that brazen is the perfectly appropriate word to describe moi right about now. It is, however, the only perfectly appropriate part of this evening. Which is perfectly appropriate, in my humble opinion. So get over it.
I lift my chin just enough to stop the stiff orange spikes of glitter-gelled hair from flopping forward onto my forehead. But who can blame me? These spikes are razor sharp—best they stay upright on my head where they belong—and gravity can only do so much to that end.
Okaaaayyyy… sidetracked much?
*Forces rebellious thoughts onto business at hand.
Chance César is a brazen B.
I stare ‘em down, but only after I pop the collar of the blinding “Orange Crush” tuxedo I’m rockin’ and shrug my shoulders in a sort of what-the-fuck fashion. Rule of thumb in this queen’s life—first things must always come first.
Pop, shrug, and only then is it kosher to stare.
“Eat your ginger-haired heart out, Prince Harry.” Based on the buzz of scandalized chatter blowing about in the crisp evening breeze, I’m reasonably certain that nobody in the crowd heard me speak. And although several of the girls currently gawking at me may do double backflips over my red-haired counterpart across the pond, Prince Harry of Wales, they don’t give a rat’s ass about Chance César. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that they view my atomic tangerine locks as more reminiscent of Bozo the Clown than of the sexy singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.
They are, however, completely unaware that this carrot top is going to make Harvest Moon Festival history tonight.
Refusing to succumb to the impulse to duck my head, I take a single shaky step forward on the stage that’s been set up on the dusty ground beside the vast (by New England standards) cornfield. The stage doesn’t wobble, but my knees sure as shit do. Okay, so I’m a freaking honest diva and I tell it like it is. And I’m what you might call a wreck.
Nonetheless, this brazen B takes a deep breath, blows it out in a single gush, and starts to strut. I mean, this boy’s werkin’ it.
Smi-zeee!! Yeah, my smile is painted on, just like my trousers.
Chance, you are by far the edgiest Miss Harvest Moon this ramshackle town has ever had the good fortune to gaze upon.
I am a major fan of positive self-talk.
Using the feigned British accent that I’ve perfected—thanks to long hours of tedious practice in my bathroom—I dish out my next thought aloud. “I wish I’d put in a tad more practice walking in these bloody heels before going public in ‘em.” And despite one slight stumble—a close call to be sure—the clicking sound my pumps make is crisp and confident. I saunter out onto the catwalk.
#trueconfessions: Faking foreign accents is a hobby of mine. I can yammer it up in improvised French, German, Mexican, Russian, and plenty more accents, but I don’t mimic Asian languages, as it seems too close to ridicule. My plan for the rest of the night is to continue vocalizing my abundant thoughts in Standard British, with just a hint of Cockney thrown in for charm. New Hampshire is the “live free or die” state and I’ll do what I laaaa-like. Yaaasss!
“Introducing this year’s lovely… or, um, handsome Miss…ter… Harvest Moon. Let’s hear an enthusiastic round of applause for Chance César!” Mrs. Higgins always speaks using a lolling Southern twang, although I’m sure she’s lived her entire life right here in less-than-gentile, way-too-many-dirt-roads, Fiske, New Hampshire. Like, can you say “backwoods Fiske” without it sounding too much like “backwards Fiske”? But, overall, I’m pleased—it seems I’m not the only one with an affinity for a colorful accent.
The applause is—to be real—disappointingly, but not surprisingly, scattered.
“Woot!” A solitary hoot splits the night—it’s quite impossible to miss—and I recognize an undeniably shrill and nasal quality in the sound. I know without a doubt that the hooter is my best (only) friend, Emily Benson. In my not so humble opinion, Emily’s hooting for my benefit sounds as liberating as Lady Gaga bellowing “Born This Way” live on the Grammy Awards after emerging from a large egg.
My Emily is everything!! Not to be dramatic.
In any case, that single, supportive hoot is followed by mucho expected heckling.
“Chances are, Chance César is gonna moon the crowd!” That’s a girl’s voice, for sure. I do not have a lot of female fans here in Fiske.
“Come on, Miss Harvest Moon, bend over and flash us your full moon!” A dude mocks me next. I’m proud to say that I’m an equal opportunity victim of harassment.
I don’t blink once in the face of the jeering. This type of inconvenience is par for the course in my life, and thus, I consider it a challenge. I simply place one fine pointy-toed pump in front of the other, my eyes focused on the mountain in the distance. I’m especially proud that, amidst the chaos, I remember to offer the crowd my best beauty queen wave.
“Thank you for being here today,” I speak in my most Princess Diaries-esque tone.
“Werk it, girlfriend—werk hard!” Yes, it’s Emily again. She’s got my back.
“Aw, shit… we must be havin’ a lunar eclipse or somethin’.” It’s another pubescent male voice, and a deep one, at that. “There ain’t no moon to be seen ‘round these parts!” The heckler is a douche I know too well from school, Edwin Darling – whom I less than fondly, and very privately, refer to as “Eddie the Appalling.” I watch as he glances up briefly at the full moon in the dark night sky and shrugs.
The lunar eclipse one-liner is actually pretty funny—I toss out ten points for creativity in Edwin’s general direction by allowing a small smile—but still I never remove my eyes from the single treeless spot on Mount Vernier.
*Time for a mental detour.
I wonder why this one spot is bare-assed of all trees.
That’s when the music starts and I’m more than glad for the downbeat. It’s much easier to sashay to the sound of a jazzy snare drum than to the unpleasant clamor of heckling. Not that my backside won’t wiggle righteously to any sound at all. Because, rest assured, it will.
“Shine On, Harvest Moon.” Whoever is in charge of the sound system plays the Liza Minnelli version, which may be the silver lining to this farce. For as long as I can remember, it’s been the traditional tune for Miss Harvest Moon’s victorious stroll up and down the creaky runway. I will say that tonight is a first for the Liza rendition, and I’m curious as to whether it is coincidental, as she is a female gay icon for the ages.
But who really cares? Ring them sparkly silver bells for Liza M!!!
On a side note, I wonder: Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Liza Minnelli’s voice always brings out the dramatic streak in me?
Okay, okaaaayyyy … so maybe it doesn’t take more than a gentle nudge to get me going in a theatrical direction—but, hey, drama’s not a crime. Momentarily, my mind is pulled to the back of my bedroom closet (how ironic), where my flapper get-up hangs.
Should I have worn that instead?
But it’s a muted peach, not a vivid orange, as seems fitting for a pumpkin festival. And then there’s the whole “not a single soul, with the exceptions of my parents and Emily, has yet been privileged with the honor of viewing Chance César in full female garb” thing that held me back from rockin’ that vintage coral dress with its spectacular tiers of flesh-colored fringe. But tonight is the Beans and Green Farm’s Annual Harvest Moon Festival, and for northern New Hampshire, this is a big deal—the whole town shows up for cheesy shit like this.
In light of that recognition, I decide that pumpkin orange attire is mandatorbs. I mean, I went so far as to dye my hair for tonight’s festivities; the least I can do is choose garments that enhance the Halloween-like atmosphere.
At the end of the catwalk, I indulge the audience by providing them with their deepest desire: I stand there, still as a statue—for ten seconds, give or take—so they can drink in the sight of me, from spiky glittering head to pointy patent leather toes. I allow them this opportunity for viewing pleasure because I know that whether they admire me for having the balls to strut around ultraconservative Fiske wearing a scandalously snug-in-all-the-wrong (right)-places orange tuxedo and four-inch black pumps, which I will admit is a public first for me, or they wish the shining harvest moon would fall on my house and crush me while I sleep, what they all really want most is a good long moment to study me.
To twerk or not to twerk, that is the question.
When the spectators finally start to squirm, I throw out a few of my best vogue fem moves to the tune of some subtle arm, wrist, and hand action, followed by several full-body poses, avoiding the death drop move as I haven’t yet mastered it in pumps.
And when it’s time to once again get this show on the road. I pivot on my toes and strut briskly—picture it, America’s Top Model style—back to the stage where my boss, the owner of Beans and Greens Farm, stands nervously holding my crown.
Mrs. Higgins is a tall glass of water, in the manner of a big-boned Iowa farm girl, but she’s accustomed to crowning petite high school junior girls, not nearly grown senior boys in four-inch heels. I crouch politely, and I dare say delicately, beside her and she carefully nestles the crystal-studded crown in my spiky mop of neon orange hair.
“Be careful, Mrs. H,” I warn her beneath my breath. “Those spikes might look harmless, but they’re sharp enough to slice off your little finger.”
She offers me half of a crooked smile, for which I give her credit. I, Mrs. Higgins’ very own “boy with the bad attitude on cash register three”, have broken about every rule Beans and Greens has established for its hordes of Fiske High School summer workers, right down to the “no jewelry at work” clause. But a couple of points go to the lady cuz she manages to force out a grimace that could be mistaken for a smile… if your standard for smiles is on the low side.
Besides, I’m not about to remove my nose ring. It in no way impedes my ability to count, ring up, and bag cucumbers.
*Spins on a single heel to face the crowd.
“You don’t happen to have any… very brief… words of wisdom for our audience, do you, Chance?” Mrs. Higgins asks, speaking into an oversized microphone. But despite the laidback accent, I can tell she’s wary. Like a rat in a corner.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.” My clipped British accent momentarily stuns the woman, and I take that opportunity to snatch the microphone from her less-than-dainty hand. Realizing that it is now in my possession, Mrs. Higgins shudders. “I just want to thank you all, my beloved coworkers at Beans and Greens Farm, for voting me in as this year’s Miss Harvest Moon.” I wipe imaginary tears from my eyes with my wrist, sniff for added effect, and, of course, I employ a most gracious, high-pitched tone of voice. “I am just so honored to represent you all here tonight.” I sound like Eliza Doolittle in the stage play My Fair Lady.
The crowd is silent. Maybe it’s a stunned silence. I sincerely hope so.
*Pouty lips follow dainty sniffling. Sniff, sniff.
Mrs. Higgins makes a sudden grab for the microphone but I’m more agile. I only have to twist my shoulders ever so slightly to the left to block her move.
Then I lower my voice so it’s all man—momentarily losing the delightful British inflection—and I pose my question to the crowd. “So you thought voting for me as Miss Harvest Moon, here, would humiliate me—dull my shine or rain on my parade, perhaps?” I wag my well-manicured finger at the crowd. “Well, in your face, my sorry backwoods homies, cuz I’m here and I’m queer and I’m shining on—just like that big ol’ harvest moon!” Without hesitation, I lean down just enough to grab Mrs. Higgins around the waist, and then I lift her off her feet and swing that lady around, probs ‘til she’s seeing more stars than the ones in the dark Harvest Moon sky.
I’d bet my ahhh-mazing ass that no other Miss Harvest Moon has ever given Mrs. Higgins a joyride like that!