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Chapter 1

Creepy Clowns and a Dodgeball Diva

     Be yourself? Just keep it real?

     Well, guess what? BAD advice! Plain old, misguided, rotten advice that could only come from a Normal. I might have bought that nonsense when I was four. Maybe even when I was six—when I was still under the delusion that I, Jax Sheppard, was a Normal. But fast forward to my seventh birthday—the day I got my first inkling that I was anything but normal, courtesy of a dozen creepy circus clowns.

     My mom had managed to snag backstage passes to the circus for me and my friend, Petey. I’m sure we’d all agree any seven-year-old would be tempted with the idea of owning his own clown car. Especially one packed full of twelve ultra-small and ultra-creepy clowns.

     So when Mom stopped to use the restroom, I made my move. I grabbed Petey and the two of us sneaked out while my mom was in the stall. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, took a deep breath, and squatted low. With just a little grunt, I hoisted the nineteen hundred pound Volkswagen up over my head. We were halfway out the service entrance when those lousy clowns started to climb out. Wouldn’t you know one of them landed right on Petey!

     Mr. Bringling tried to cut us a deal—if Mom agreed to let me work as a circus freak for the next fifteen years, would overlook Blinky’s hospital bill and Bobo’s mental distress claim. Instead, Mom opted for the sixty month payment plan. I couldn’t understand why, but for some reason Petey’s parents never let him play with me anymore. Not even after his body cast came off.

     Fast forward again to the third grade. We were playing dodgeball in gym class. Chelsea Pendleton kept pummeling me with the ball, and everyone knew when a girl kept nailing you in dodgeball it meant you had to be her boyfriend. It didn’t seem like Ms. Rattner, the P.E. teacher, even cared.

     Well, I wasn’t about to be the boyfriend of a girl who outweighed me by forty-five pounds and was two feet taller than me. The next time she threw the ball, I was ready. I snagged it out of the air and whipped it back at her. I threw the ball with superhero force. When it hit her in the gut you could actually hear the air leave her lungs and pop right out of her mouth. Her gum shot halfway across the gym and she flew backwards. Her legs and arms were parallel to the floor, and the ball was lodged in her mid-section. She smashed into the bleachers with a deafening crash.

     I was super pleased with myself. So I was shocked when I turned around to complete and utter silence. Twelve boys, sixteen girls, and one very masculine gym teacher stared at me with their mouths wide open. After what seemed like forever, they all spun and ran screaming from the gym, Ms. Rattner included. Michael Flack could be heard whimpering, “I want my mommy!” from the guidance office for the next two hours. Chelsea was totally fine—she only had some slight bruising on her back, two cracked ribs, and the round, dimpled imprint of the dodgeball on her stomach. But I got detention anyway.

     The other kids pretty much avoided me after that, so it was probably a good thing I transferred to Beyhaven Elementary the next year. I would have to have been a complete idiot to “be myself ” and “keep it real” when I met my new classmates. From that point on, Gram and Grandpap had thought it best I not show or tell anyone about the unusual things I could do. In fact, I could count on one hand and one thumb the number of people who even knew about my tricks. Mom and Grandpap had known. But of course, they were both gone now. I squashed down the lump that clawed its way up my throat every time I thought about them. That meant Gram, Sebastian, Dad, and Andie were the only people left who knew my secret. Gram and Sebastian wouldn’t tell anyone, I hadn’t heard a word from Dad in years, and Andie was my best friend.

     But, really—thanks for the advice. NOT! Next time, just stop and think for a minute or two before offering worthless and potentially harmful advice to a kid unless you know for a fact he’s a Normal.

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