Now, Ceejay can't wait for Bobby to return home from his tour in Iraq. But then he turns up unannounced and seems to be avoiding his family. And he's so different. His wild streak has become reckless. His sense of fun has become desperate. And seeing this, Ceejay's own tough shell begins to crack. How can she believe in being strong when her hero is broken?
As she tries to get Bobby back, Ceejay begins to reexamine her family, her community, and everyone in her life. What she finds is that true strength is not quite what she thought it was.
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Captain Crazy must die.
This might sound like tough talk coming from a girl, but I'm a tough girl. One hundred percent. And my friends, Gillis, Tillman, and Brianna, agree with me about the captain. We trade off ways to do the deed. We'll pickle him in brine, we'll feed him to the blender, the lawn mower, the garbage disposal, the Chihuahua. We'll slice off his fingers and toes like fresh carrots, dice him and mince him and chop off his head. Pack his leftovers in ice, French fry them in a deep-fat fryer. We'll draw and quarter him, go after him with chainsaws and garden shears. We'll stuff him and sell him at the flea market.
No, we won't. Not really. We're not some kind of evil devil cult. But you still don't want to mess with us.
Actually, I'm the only one with a reason to be mad. The others just want something to happen around here. Anything. But with me it's personal because of my brother Bobby. He's in the army, see, in Iraq. Well, he was in Iraq, but now he's in Germany. We're expecting him home in a month, and we sure don't need Captain Crazy putting a hex on him before he gets back. I mean, this time I know he's coming home. He really is. It's just hard to believe it for sure until he wraps me up in one of his big bear hugs and says, "It's me, Ceejay. Don't worry, little sister, don't worry. It's me and I'm home for good."
The Captain Crazy business starts when me and Brianna are cruising in her car and Gillis calls me up and goes, "Listen, Ceejay, you gotta get over here to the courthouse. Captain Crazy's throwing a Vietnam War protest. It's hilarious!"
Vietnam! Leave it to the captain to go all radical over a war that's been over for thirty-something years.
Two minutes later Brianna and I pull up to the courthouse in her car. That's the one and only good thing about living in a town the size of Knowles. Your friends can call and tell you to come somewhere, and you're there practically before they hang up the phone. So when I get to the foot of the courthouse steps, the captain's just starting to really roll, pacing like a preacher on crystal meth, his face red, his eyes bulging. He's not even Captain Crazy anymore. Now he's Reverend Crazy shouting down the devil. And don't you know, if there's anyone who's really seen the devil, it's him.
He's got the usual paisley guitar and the conga drum close at hand but hasn't started in playing them yet. Behind him, three posters on six-foot-tall sticks stand propped against the granite wall, each with flowers painted on thempurple, red, yellow, chartreusejust like it's really the dead-and-gone sixties hippie days. On the first sign, he's scrawled get out of vietnam now! On the second, it's the president is insane, and the third one says, kiss the fish mouth! Only Captain Crazy knows the secret meaning of that one.
A couple of women, three old men, and about seven kids from school are watching the show. Nothing much else to do on a late-May afternoon in Knowles now that school's out. A couple of older girls from my high schoolthe cupcake twins, I call them, because they're all sugar frosting and no substancelook at ugly Gillis, huge Goth-girl Brianna, and scrappy little sixteen-year-old pit-bull me with these expressions like, "Oh God, there they are."
Next to the fish-mouth sign, Mr. White stands with his arms crossed like he's the captain's bodyguard, and I have to admit I'm as bad as the cupcake twins because I can't help thinking, Oh God, there he is.
Mr. White. He's even weirder than we arethe long-haired, stick-figure guy from my English class who never says a thing. The new kid in town. Well, actually he's been here a whole year, but in a town where everyone's known you since you were a zygote, you're still the new kid until you've lived here for at least five years.
His real name's Padgett Locke, but we call him Mr. White because he always dresses completely in white. Probably never been in a fight in his life. Today he has on a plain white T-shirt, white shorts, white socks, and white tennis shoes. His skin is almost as white as his clothes. It's like he finally broke out of his room, where he's been cooped up reading books and listening to alternative bands that no one ever heard of, and now he thinks he's at Wimbledon. The only thing not white about him is his long, stringy brown hair and his black-framed glasses. Anyway, I'm not surprised he hooked up with the captain. Maybe he thinks he'll be like an apprentice and take over the job of town eccentric when the captain retires.
Gillis is standing in the front row of the small crowd, grinning like an evil leprechaun. I don't call him a leprechaun because he's short. I mean, he's around my height, five-six, but he's real solid, about as wide as he is tall. No, the leprechaun thing comes from his Irish pug nose and that sparse red wreath of a high-school-boy beard. Not a pretty sight, but he's my buddy, so who cares?
He waves me and Brianna over and goes, "Check this out, Ceejay. The captain's finally lost it all the way down to his socks," and I'm like, "What socks?"
That's the captain for youankle-high corduroy pants, ancient ruins for shoes, and no socks. He's a mess. A scraggly sixty-something-year-old reject from a mental ward with a beat-up baseball cap and a beard that doesn't look so much like he grew it as like it exploded out of his face.