Excerpt, Building Kitten

Kitten PB CoverFormats:

–Variety of eBook formats

–6 x 9 in. paperback; 180 pages

Author: J. L. Lawson

Building Kitten is a How-To-Build a sailboat wrapped in the package of an evocative and touching Coming of Age story—Dashiel Drummond’s story. Orphaned at sixteen, he rises to the challenge of fulfilling the promise of his potential—from ranch hand and welder to globally successful entrepreneur and the builder of starships. Narrated by two of his closest friends…

In conjunction with Six Leaks a’Leaking, this eBook is a very abridged version of Just A Curtain  (Just A Curtain is the remarkable, fast-paced gateway to the grander saga of the journey toward true self-realization recorded in J. L. Lawson’s other works: The Donkey and The Wall trilogy and The Curious Voyages of the Anna Virginia Saga.)

Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:

Kitten Read Inside (eReader embedded)


Excerpt, Building Kitten, Chapter: Too Bad About That   ©J. L. Lawson 2012

“No comment…” I heard her repeat without a pause, and probably ready to repeat it again if necessary. She did. “Again, no comment! You people really need to find another angle to your stories. Richard and Elena Drummond were our friends. End of story!” and she slammed the gate to the ranch behind her, got back into the SUV and probably sat silent until she, her kids and husband reached the safety of the house. Now it’s just my house; the only one on the Drummond Ranch.

Set in the rising lands of the Wind River Mountains along the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone in northwest Wyoming, it should be the warm and welcoming home of my folks and me. But on this occasion it is not. I heard the brakes on their car and used the distraction for the newsies to run over to the barn without being noticed. That’s how I heard Mrs. Segersson’s outbursts to them. Mom and dad aren’t here and they, the ‘news’ mongers, know it. Everybody knows it; I guess. The official story is that they met an untimely end while on assignment with an NGO in sub-saharan Africa—setting up an anti-poaching campaign hoping to remedy the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade that was threatening not only the animals but the ecological balance of those areas, not to mention wreaking havoc on the local economies and such. All I know is that they missed my sixteenth birthday—the only birthday they ever missed, and now won’t be the last.

My eyes are sore from crying, my stomach hurts ’cause even though there’s a bunch of food in the house—thanks to the neighbors and all—I just haven’t had an appetite for the last few days. Few days. Only a few days? Seems like forever already.

The late spring rains that brought back the verdant valley from the barren cold is also casting a pall over the land that is seeping into the hearts and minds of the folks around here trying to weed out the tragedy from the hope that has to carry forward in spite of the loss of dear friends. I know they mean well, and my folks were as close to many of them as their own family. But it was my family, and now I have none. Grandparents and great-grandparents, I have, but they never visit; I don’t expect that to change… long story.

I’m not advertising that I’m in the barn and really? I’d just as soon stay out of sight as hear people’s consolations any more than I have to… But I’m still curious I guess, because I hear Reggie saying, “Mommy why do those people want to know about Dashiel now? I mean, they didn’t seem too interested in him his whole life before now?” Jeremy, her little brother, adds, “I mean, they don’t even know him; do they?”

I peek out the barn door in time to see Mrs. Segersson, Marilyn, look to her husband Dave with almost a plea of help on her lips, but she answers, “The same reason that buzzards only show up after the jackrabbit’s been hit by the truck; I suppose. The newsies perform a similar function. They gorge on the meat of a tragedy and clear the path for future troubles.”

Dave chuckles at her explanation to the kids. Marilyn has always been like my mom: down-to-earth smart and nice at the same time. “Regina…” he calls as he goes inside, “Go find Dash and tell him we’re here.”

“Okay,” she answers absently, ’cause she’s already heading toward my hiding spot, “he’s probably in the barn, again.”

I hear the screen door slap in its jamb on the front porch.

“Let’s get this kitchen put to rights, shall we?” Marilyn mutters as she pushes up her sleeves and follows him in.

Jeremy gets up from the porch step, and nods woodenly, “Mama Elena would never have let it look like this…” he mutters and follows her into the havoc.

Regina pushes the creaking barn door aside and peers in; I went to the tack room and set about quietly organizing the mess I left in here the other day. The day I got the news.

“Dash? You in here?”

There’s a pause. I look up at the ceiling and for a split second I think of not answering.

“Are they gone, yet?”

Her shoulders relax and she ambles passed the stalls petting each horse’s muzzle as she makes her way through. “Yeah; Mama told ’em to go to hell.” She stands in the doorway and watches me as I put away the halter I’d finished mending. I’m just staring at it. And Reggie’s staring at me the way she always does; kinda like she’s trying to remember me or something. I was already as tall as dad by when I was twelve, and even with my back mostly to her she can probably tell I’ve been crying a lot. I turn and smile at her to show her I’m fine.

“She did not! Really? For them to go to hell?!”

“Okay, maybe not in so many words, but they are gone,” she admits. My smile is faint but at least I am smiling again. I actually am. She says, “Anyway, Mom and Dad and Jeremy are up cleaning the mess up. You can hang out in here a little longer… before…”

I chuckle because she’s so terrible at trying to get away with stuff, “No, I was going to get to it after barn chores. Come on, Reg, might as well get it over with.”

She blocks me from leaving the room. “How do you do it?” she asks softly, like she’s talking to herself. “How do you just go on about your life as if… as if…”

“…As if they were in the house waiting for the Simpson’s to come on and dinner’s waiting and everything’s just like it was just before they left for the trip?” I finish for her. “I don’t know.” I’m not telling her that my heart’s dead and my mind’s numbed beyond anything I’ve ever known. “Things just gotta get done, is all. And I’m the only one around to do them. It’s not like the world stopped or anything.”

She’s studying my face, looking for some sign that I’m really as tough as I’m pretending to be. I can stare into her eyes all day; she’s not so hard on the eyes… for a skinny girl. “Not a tear? Nothing? Is that it?” she insists.

I look away from her gaze, at last, and fess up, “I cried my eyes out already. Besides, what’s the good of it anyways? They’re gone. I’m here. The ranch still needs to be run. And thanks to everyone ’round here, I can still be the one to do it. I’m actually a pretty lucky guy, when you think about it.”

She takes a deep breath and shakes her head from side to side as she lets me pass. “Dashiel Richard Drummond, you are annoying as hell!” Her hand slips up to my shoulder and she squeezes me gently, “But that’s what I like about you.” I glance back at her as I pass to the door; she’s grinning.

I smirk, “Colorful language back there for a preacher’s daughter…” but I really appreciate her attention.

She picks up a curry brush and flings it at my back. And misses, of course. “…Not my fault!” she retorts. That has been a running joke between us: Her father, Dave Segersson, trained as a preacher alright, but not associated with any denomination around the northern counties of Wyoming. He was raised in Boston and the Unitarian upbringing he left behind when he married Marilyn to move out west is a faded memory. But my dad had always called him ‘Preacher;’ so it stuck. I still use it on Reggie when she’s annoying me.

She changes the subject as we walk back to the house. “So, do you think you’re gonna get a hardship license? That would be so cool if you could drive me and the brat to school from now on!”

I cock an eye at her, “And Robby, and Alice, and Eddy and Sylvie…” I nod, but answer, “I turned sixteen a couple days ago. Don’t need a hardship one. I suppose picking y’all up isn’t a big deal. I’ve been driving for years on the ranch, an actual license won’t make my driving any better.”

She dimples then looks suddenly embarrassed as hell. She realizes I got the news of my folks on the morning I turned sixteen.

“Okay you two,” her dad announces as we open the back door, “Dash, you go clean up; and Reggie, you help your mother rearrange what’s left of the edibles and vacuum the dining room. We gotta get over to the courthouse by three.”

“Yes sir,” Regina nods, and sticks out her tongue at her little brother, just coming out of the kitchen with a cupcake and dribbling crumbs all over the dining room tiles.

“Mom! Jeremy’s being a…” she lets out, but stops short of saying it.

“Watch your language!” her mother shoots back before she finishes. “I’m so tired of your potty mouth these days! Now go put these in the porch freezer;” she hands Regina several tupperware containers, each labeled for a day of the week. “Dash’ll at least have dinner for a few nights.”

When Reggie comes back in from the porch, I hear her ask, “Mama? Do you think Dash is gonna get to drive the crew cab truck from now on? ‘Cause he can pick me and the twerp up for school in the mornings easy…”

Her mother doesn’t honor the question with even a glance. She hangs up the apron and just stares at it as I stand in the doorway opposite them unnoticed. “Elena made this out of Dash’s baby blanket, you know…”

Regina sighs and looks at her mom’s face. I can see the pain reflected in her eyes. Her folks and all our friends’ folks are taking my parents’ deaths harder than I seem to be—but they don’t know my aching heart and I’m not telling anyone else. It is getting a little tedious to talk to any of them at all. Hopefully once Spring Break is over and everybody gets back to normal, I keep telling myself, maybe they all won’t just stare off into space when I’m around so much any more?

Two months later, the Friday before the last week of school, I’m out in front of Sylvie and Robby’s house just as dawn creeps over the foothills out east…

I smack the horn again.

“Sorry guys, it’s not my fault. Alice and Sylvie had a sleep-over and can’t get dressed without taking pictures!” Alice’s brother, Robby, announces as he pushes into the back seat next to Jeremy.

“Ooh,” Regina giggles, “Maybe I should go and get…”

I put a hand on her arm; “Whoa; they’re coming. We aren’t waiting for three girls to practice their drill-team moves.” Sure enough, Reggie looks from me to the house as Alice and Sylvie are just coming out the front door.

“Meanie!” Regina pouts at me and in the same motion grins at her friends, “Let’s see the new uniforms!”

Sylvie and Alice do modeling turns like they’re on a New York boutique runway or something, even though they’re actually on the gravel roadside, before getting in the back seat and squishing Jeremy and Robby against the far door. “Are these great! Or what!” Alice trills. It almost hurts my ears they squeal so high.

Regina is going to be going through the tryouts for next year’s squad this afternoon, so she can’t pull her eyes from staring at the flattering uniforms her friends are wearing. “Mama said I should be able to fill out the bottom of the pyramid routine easy since I’m probably the strongest girl she’s ever seen!” she intimates to her girlfriends as if nobody else is in the car.

I have to just roll my eyes. “If y’all put half as much time into your barrel-riding as you do spinning in front of mirrors…” I catch myself and give up that tack as they stare back at me like deer caught in the headlights. I shrug and just go back to staring at the road, thinking. I spend a lot of time just thinking nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as busy as ever with the ranch and school and all, but my mind is always working out some next project that I am sure I can arrange to make happen… if…

“…Well it is High School after all!” Alice emphasizes about some item of arcane female importance. She and Sylvie are my age and in my class. We’ll be juniors and they aren’t letting Regina, as a soon-to-be incoming sophomore, forget that they know the ropes but will still stick by their best-est friend. Meanwhile Robby and Jeremy only stare at the ‘older’ girls and just imagine what the rarified life of the lofty high schoolers must really be like—even if they are: girls!

“You guys better buckle up; we’re hitting the main road,” I remark as always when we reach the end of the county roads and make the last leg into town on the two-lane blacktop. There’s a murmuring of hrmphs and the sounds of buckles clicking into place. Then the high-pitched chittering conference commences all over again.

It’s the same scene with few variations every weekday morning. In the afternoons though, I only have to get Jeremy and Robby home. The girls hitch a ride with Sylvie’s dad when he leaves the courthouse at five or so—most of the time, anyway. Then on the weekends it’s like a holiday. Just me and the horses, the five hundred head of cattle I still hold on to—not counting the calves born this spring, another seventy—and the fences that seem to always need mending; the moose population sees to that.

“Seeya later Best-boy!” Reggie yells over her shoulder as she dashes for the school doors.

“Oh yeah! You are the Sophomore Class Best Boy this year!” Alice yelps, and Sylvie chimes in, “Congrats!”

“Aw, some awards don’t matter so much anymore,” I reply. I sound bored or something. I can hear it in my voice. Actually I’m a little embarrassed at the attention. “Already got my license, got the ranch, the calves are getting fatter, I have a possible buyer for the mare from down in Cody.”

The girls huff out of the back seat once we’re parked in the student lot. “Even my cousin Gerald celebrated his medal of valor and he’s a Marine, Mr. I-Don’t-Care-About-Awards Drummond!” Sylvie protests. She’s right; I should apologize.

“Whatever…” is all that comes out though without giving it another thought.

After school as I pull up outside the barn, back home again for the weekend, my two dogs: Ralph and Lady—a pair of red Healers—leap at the side of the truck. “Okay! First your dinners, then we got some stuff to do to get ready for all the pipe Mr. Gerson’s sending over…” They hop around me like jackrabbits as I toss my bag on the sofa and go to the kitchen.

Half an hour later I’m already dragging the rack pieces, I assembled during the week, to the outside wall of the work shop. Another fifteen minutes and a truck crunches up the drive. “Early! Excellent!” I delight to Ralph and Lady who are supervising my efforts from under the truck. I step out from around the corner of the shop; it isn’t an early delivery of the pipe.

“Hey! You guys didn’t say you were going to actually help!” I grin in surprise to see my buddies, Mark and Humpy, roll out of Humpy’s folks’ truck.

“Gotta learn how to weld sometime!” Mark waves. “Besides, it was this or studying for finals…”

“Where’s the pipe?” Humpy asks, scratching both dogs at once.

“…Be along shortly I guess. Mr. Gerson said this evening.” I look up toward the road as if I can see beyond the tree stands and to any flatbed trucks on their way to the ranch. “In the meantime, we can get the gear loaded on the trailer. Camping and fencing with the guys! What a great weekend this is turning out to be!”

Mark reaches into the bed of Humpy’s truck, “I got our stuff Humpy, if you wanna break the news to him…” and he carries the bags toward the barn and the trailer. I know I look bewildered when I turn to Humpy.

“What news?”

Humpy cocks an eye at me and glances with disapproval to Mark who is safely out of sight all of a sudden. “You really hadn’t heard a peep about it? Really?” he equivocates.

“Peep about what!” I insist, expecting a bad turn of events. Another truck rolls down the road from the direction of Clark, our closest ‘town,’ if you can call two or three hundred scattered neighbors a town. Humpy just grins and nods to the others just arriving.

I follow his gaze. “Well, I’ll be a…” I mutter. The rest of my friends from the big spreads around Mantua are climbing out of their truck: Gene and Hayley, John and Danny, and of course Neva—his cousin.

“We know you don’t go for celebration stuff anymore,” says Hayley. When she’s around, she is always their spokeswoman, “since your folks…” she hesitates, even though I can handle the reference to my folks being dead. Hell, of all the folks around northern Wyoming I guess I’m alone in that as well. “Anyway,” she continues with a blip of remorse, “we needed an excuse to get away for a couple days—any time we say we’re going up here to help out at the Drummond’s, we sorta get a free pass from our folks. Besides we missed your birthday, and now with ‘Best-boy’ on your resumé…”

I must have an incredulous expression on my face because that’s how I feel on the inside; but I laugh out loud, “…I thought it wasn’t just to get my fences up!”

Gene corrects me, “Of course it is! We just also brought along our fishing gear and two cases of beer.”

Neva looks around for Mark, “Where’s Summers? He’s supposed to have my tackle!” Mark and Neva are a ‘thing.’ Have been since they both got accepted to MSU up in Bozeman to start Engineering courses next fall.

“Coming!” Mark calls from the barn. “Your stuff’s already in the trailer.”

I call out to all of them as they pile onto the trailer and truck bed, meaning that I’ll catch up shortly, after the pipe’s delivered. They should head on back there; any more dancing around the obvious vacancies at the ranch and I’ll probably blow a gasket. “Never mind the buffalo back there. Unless they wander around to the side of the lake we’ll be on—which they don’t usually do—just treat ’em like they’re just part of the scenery. Only don’t try and get their attention!”

The flatbed with all the piping shows up a while later and only me and the dogs are there to greet it; I’m pretty relieved, actually. The others are probably already almost up to the work/camping area with the gear at the far western end of the ranch. Our lake’s near the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone and has always offered up great fishing, that it also anchors the bison’s migration range is a plus—and of course that’s another reason why all my friends have gathered for the weekend ‘to help out.’ Oh, and the fences might get done too…

I enjoyed myself for the first time in a long time over that ‘fencing’ weekend. Now, it’s set to be a regular sorta week day in August and not long after sun-up. I’ve been counting on selling five of the steers and a hundred of the cows from our… my ‘little’ herd—the one’s that didn’t calve this year—I’m expecting the last of a string of potential buyers who have already showed some interest.

In the meantime I’ll just get on with my other little project: building a dinghy for getting to those remote fishing spots out on our… I mean my… well the big lake. I suppose I should offer a little background here. Just before mom and dad left for their last trip… really last… mom and I started plans for this little boat. Like anything one wishes to accomplish, the purpose behind the endeavor has to be clearly understood, all the denying forces that could prevent completion have to be foreseen and naturally the materials and skills required have to be thoroughly evaluated. That being said, on this occasion mom had walked me through all the little bits of preparation and we were going to begin lofting the plywood in earnest upon their return.

That didn’t happen. I was just going to shelve the whole thing—it was mom’s idea after all—but after that last weekend with the gang; with them all here and fishing and stuff… well the notion of going ahead with mom’s boat sorta has been growing on me. I would like to get to those fish. So, I’m standing in the workshop and staring at the lofting plans. Mom explained every facet of the project to me while we were drafting these up so, really, all I’ve got to do is make the first measurement and get the ball rolling. But I’m just twiddling the pencil in my hand and staring at the plywood, the framing square and the walls of the shop like an idiot. Like I don’t have a clue or something.

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