Secret Forts

As we near the release of What it Takes, I’ve been sharing tiny snippets on Twitter — I’m tagging #WhatitTakes, and posting one a day. Head on over, I’m @judesierra.

As well, I’ve been sharing some excerpts here! I wanted to share a pivotal moment in Milo and Andrew’s childhood: when they build their fort in the woods. This is a spot that becomes very important to them as they grow up. So much happens there; I always like to imagine that the walls of this tiny haven they build for themselves hold secrets even I’m not privy to.

~*~

They’re in the woods one day in July when they come into a small clearing. Milo has been keeping complaints about the humidity and bugs to himself. He wants to hang out with Andrew and if this is the best he can get, he’ll take it. Andrew comes alive when they’re out here, which is awesome. God knows Milo could use some happiness too.

“You good?” Andrew asks. He looks around the clearing, then sits carefully on what’s left of a fallen tree. Milo kicks at a tuft of grass.

“I’m fine.”

“Milo,” Andrew says in that voice he gets, the one that’s knowing and superior.

“I’m fine. Looking forward to school. Less time at home, you know? It’s close but not close enough, and it’s making me crazy.”

Andrew looks at him for a long moment, then away. His eyes explore the fringe of woods, and the scraggly wildflowers in the sunlight. “We should build something out here.”

“Huh?” Milo gives up and stands next to him. A line of sweat slides down his temple, and he wipes it away.

“Like a fort?” Andrew shoots him a shy and hopeful look. Milo resists the urge to point out that they aren’t kids anymore and that they’re too old for that kind of play, because he doesn’t want to hurt Andrew’s feelings. “I know it’s lame. But come on, it’ll be fun!”

“How will we do that? We need wood and supplies and, like, to know how to build stuff.”

“We’ll figure it out.” Andrew’s face brightens; Milo is terrible at resisting this sort of persuasion. “And then we’ll have a place no one knows about. It’ll be our thing.” Andrew looks away then and shrugs. “That sounded wrong. I didn’t mean—”

“No! No, that’s cool.” The thought of a secret place is appealing. If they do this, it’ll be somewhere Milo can go when everyone is busy and he can’t go to their houses. Plus, the thought of planning something to build is exciting. “So we’ll need a plan.”

“Blah,” Andrew complains. He starts circling the clearing.

“How do you plan to accomplish this without— ”

“A plan? I’m kidding. Come on, let’s find a spot. We can go home and make the best plan and it’ll be like a little wet dream for you.”

Milo blushes and laughs and only looks away for a second before looking for an ideal spot.

#

The fort takes longer to build than Andrew anticipated. The wood was expensive, and they had to figure out how to pay for it, and also, come on, they aren’t master builders yet. Despite all of Milo’s drawn plans—the first drafts roughly scratched into dirt, then, as they sat on the beach, into shifting sands that proved to be a terrible sketch pad, and finally on paper—the process was a whole lot of trial and error.

“It’s not all that big,” Milo says when they’re finally, for the first time, seated inside their little creation.

“It’s fine.” Andrew is unpacking a cooler of snacks and pop he brought for the occasion.

Milo inspect their handiwork. “There’s a huge gap over here.”

“Oh my god, Mr. Perfection, enjoy the moment.” Andrew kicks him in the ankle.

“No wait, there’s an exposed nail; let me find the hammer—”

“Milo,” Andrew says in his most stern voice, which isn’t that stern at all when it cracks. He clears his throat. “Shut up, sit down and drink your Coke. We can fix that later.”

Milo sighs and sits down. Andrew can tell he’s working very hard not to examine the fort for more flaws.

“We’ll be here again, you know,” Andrew says.  “We have time to fix things up if we want. For now, it’s mostly done; it’s awesome. We’re awesome.”

“Yeah. True.” Milo smiles; his hair is a shaggy mess and his face is spotted with pimples that have come and gone as they’ve started to hit puberty. His shirt is dirty, they’re both sweating and it’s sweltering in the fort—even though it’s in the shade, the heat of their bodies in the confined space is driving the temperature up to uncomfortable. Milo is right—it is small, and being so close to Milo makes a completely different heat suffuse his body. It’s confusing and new and unwelcome, and, if he doesn’t distract himself immediately, will be very obvious.

Andrew distracts himself by looking over their creation. The wooden floor is rough enough to need more sanding. The walls are made of mismatched wooden boards—some bought and some scavenged—that don’t fit together perfectly, especially around the small window and door. One day, when it’s not about a billion degrees, Andrew wants to paint the walls inside. Milo looks up to examine the roof while they finish lunch, and Andrew contemplates whether making some sort of sign outside the fort would be too childish.

It’s far from perfect, but still, for that moment, Andrew can’t imagine that he’s ever been happier.

~*~

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

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