Chapter Excerpt


James kicked off his flip-flops and dug his toes into the grass. "So, Connor, what was it like?"

"What was what like?" We sat side by side on an overgrown soccer field. The sun was warm on my bare arms and legs.

"That night. Must've been pretty trippy, huh?

Pretty wild?"

I laced my fingers together. "I dunno."

"Course you do. It had to've been an incredible rush in spite of the outcome."

I gazed at the goal box across the field, plucking idly at the grass with my left hand.

He nudged me with his elbow. "Speak."

"Ryan said it was like walking on fire. Almost like being God."

"Was it?"

I paused, thinking, remembering. "No. It was sickening. I demeaned myself. I lost something I'll never get back."


"I dunno exactly. Something without a name."

"Do you want it back--whatever it was?"

Again I hesitated. James and I seldom shared our most private selves. "Yes, I do."


I watched my family from the other side of the glass. Because of the darkness outside and the bright lights within, they were unaware that I observed them. My father was helping Kathleen with her homework. When he gets involved, he always ends up straying off course and teaching stuff that has nothing to do with the assignment. It looked as though he was explaining cell division that night. I could see the drawing on the table.

My father is a chemist with the county's water department. His job is to maintain water quality in the local reservoirs. Occasionally he has to close one if the contaminant level is too high. A typical scientist, he breaks everything down into the most basic elements. He probably dreams in molecular structure.

Kathleen appeared to be listening to Dad, but I'd seen that look in her eyes often enough to know that her mind was elsewhere. I remember the day she was born. I was seven, and I'd spent the previous few months placing my hands on my mother's belly to feel the baby kick and roll. Kathleen's a dreamy little eight-year-old--always off on some adventure in her imagination. She picks out the quiet shadows in the boldest landscape; hears the delicate grace notes in the wildest concerto.

Trent sat on the floor putting new bearings in his skateboard wheels. He held a screwdriver in his hand and had the cordless phone tucked under his chin. I knew by the expression on his face he was bored. Trent's in ninth grade--just over a year younger than I am. He probably knows more about me than anyone else. We've shared a room and clothes and toys since we were babies.

My older brother, James, who'll graduate from high school in May, stood at the counter eating a grilled cheese sandwich before dashing off to his job at the DramaRama movie theater. As usual, his energy level was so high it was nearly visible.

My mother was chopping vegetables at the counter. A skillet of olive oil, onions, and peppers sizzled on the stove. She was deep in thought, her eyes distant.

Mom teaches English composition at the local community college. She's a fanatic about proper grammar. When she watches the news, she corrects every minor infraction by the newscasters. When a commercial uses an incorrect tense or subject-verb agreement, she totally flips, saying if the advertisers can't get it right how can we expect to have an articulate society. Sometimes we use double negatives just to see her reaction. What really drives her nuts is something James started: saying wit for with.

One night when we were eating dinner, Mom said, "James, I need you to help me wit the dishes." She was so straight-faced about it that it took a couple of beats before we realized she was only playing him.

James winked and said, "Aw, Mom, I was gonna play video games wit Connor. Can't Trent help you wit them?"

My name is Connor Kaeden. I am not sure how that helps to define me. Probably not at all. That name was given to me at birth. I share it with a grandfather I never knew.


People liked Daniel. He had a comfortable way of moving and talking. He hardly ever got embarrassed. Even when he did something totally stupid, he'd just laugh and move on.

Daniel was smart, too, even though he hardly ever made honor roll. He remembered stuff I would forget. Stuff like adventures we'd go on, but also the states and capitals we had to memorize in fourth grade, or the formula for photosynthesis, or the stats from the previous World Series.

Daniel and I were best friends ever since third grade, when we were on the same baseball team. I played shortstop with him behind me in center field. I was quick and agile. He could hit pretty good. Once Daniel caught a pop fly in center field and fired the ball to me at second. We made a double play and were heroes for a flash.

Our team didn't win a lot but Daniel and I had fun. We walked to practice together, talking as if we were big leaguers. In the dugout, we'd spit sunflower seeds at the no parking sign we'd adopted as our target, or play endless rounds of rock paper scissors. On the field, we'd rag each other about strikeouts or fielding errors.

That was a long time ago. We don't play baseball anymore. Daniel doesn't play anything anymore.

Excerpted from Ricochet by Julie Gonzalez
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