WINTER OF THE BEES is launching on Kickstarter! We’re reaching for the stars, y’all. If you want a sneak peek of the book, here’s chapter one! Enjoy, and back the campaign!
WINTER OF THE BEES
Angela R. Watts
Grandpa says the bees are magic.
I don’t believe him.
Because grownups have a way of fantasizing life when things get tough.
I look up at the great grandfather clock tick, tock, tick, tocking away against the pale blue kitchen wall. The tiny clean kitchen wafts with the sweet scent of syrup and cooking butter. I sit at the wooden table, picking at some scratches etched in the surface while I eat—Grandma’s homemade pancakes and orange juice are the best things I’ve ever tasted—while Grandma chats like a bird.
Grandma looks like she walked out of some old movie. Her hair is always prim and in a low bun. Her knee-knocks and button-up white shirt are crisp. I guess when you’re old there’s not much else to do but cook and do laundry, so maybe she enjoys it or something.
She hands me a plate stacked with pancakes and then pours me another glass of fresh orange juice. “We get these oranges from our friends,” she says, droning on about how she makes the pancakes and how fresh the oranges are. She rambles on about how the closest town to their farm occasionally has a man who trades fresh oranges. Grandma looks proper, but she has a spunky nature that I’m growing to relax around.
I listen a little, but mostly stuff my face and think about how I’m going to play football alone. I’ve been here a week and I still haven’t figured it out. I haven’t asked Grandpa to play with me either. He’s sick. The kind of sick he probably won’t recover from, but also the kind of sick where nobody will actually say that.
But if I don’t practice, I won’t get any better. My best friend, Brandon, and I had planned on practicing football before I had to move in with my grandparents. Our dream was to be on the high school team together. We’re both pretty small for our ages and Mom worried I’d get crushed, but I figured with practice, I could get buff, and girls like a guy with calloused hands.
But I didn’t know if I’d be doing much football practice or buffing up this summer at my grandparents’.
Would I ever see Brandon again? Mom had mentioned by accident we may not move back to Michigan. What would I do if I was stuck in some weird backwoods world forever?
I clench my fists, anger rising in my chest. Mom and Dad hadn’t even asked what I wanted.
They don’t care what I want or what I think.
No one does.
“Niles?” Grandma says, her voice yanking me from my thoughts.
“Yes ma’am,” she corrected.
“Yes ma’am?” I roll my eyes when she turns her back. She and Grandpa are way too strict.
“Why don’t you help Grandpa with the bees today? June is always a busy time with the bees, he’d love the help. It’s just about time to harvest.” Her cheerful voice reminds me of the wind. Soft and gentle and refreshing. Different from Mom’s loud and short commands and remarks. Grandma actually talks to me like she sees me.
“I don’t like bees.” I give her the same excuse I’ve used before.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, dear,” she reassures me.
“I could be allergic.”
“We may live in the country, but we’re not that far from the hospital if it came down to that, love.”
I don’t respond to her gentle rebuttal and focus on my food. Almost done now. Then I can ask if I can walk down the dirt road and see if there are any kids in the countryside. We could play some football—I’d brought my ball with me. I might as well play football until I figure out a way to fix my life.
The front screen door clapping shut brings me to attention. Grandpa comes in and gets a cup of coffee. He takes a whiff of the steaming black stuff and looks at me. “Ready to help?”
“Help?” I blink.
“Hmhm. You’ve been here a week. It’s time to get to work,” Grandpa says. “June is coming fast.”
I shake my head. “It’s summer break,” I tell him. “And I don’t like—”
“You may not like the bees, but the bees sure like you. I ain’t ever seen ’em like somebody the way they’ve taken to you.” Grandpa waves me off with a calloused hand.
Hm. He’s got strong, tough hands. Maybe my hands would look tough if I did the same work he did.
But I’m not sure I like the bees enough to help with them, even if it did toughen me up.
“What’s that mean?” I ask anyway.
“They like ya.”
“How?” I didn’t understand what he meant. They seemed like normal bees. I’d seen them buzzing around Grandma’s bright and luxurious flower garden and the pretty, tall fruit trees lining the dirt driveway.
Grandpa smiles. “Come see what I mean.”
Frustration rises in my chest. “I have other things to do,” I say stubbornly.
“Your gaming station doesn’t work here,” Grandpa points out. He’s right. They don’t have the internet here. Not because they couldn’t have it, since it’s the twenty-first century and all, but because Grandpa doesn’t like it.
“I have other things,” I argue. “Like reading.” There. Grandpa respects reading. They couldn’t complain if I spent the summer in my bedroom if they thought I was reading books that’d make me smart.
“You can’t lie to me, youngin’,” Grandpa said with a booming laugh. “You don’t like readin’ any more than you like bees.”
I’m stuck. If he wants my help, I don’t have a way out of it anymore. But maybe it will make my hands look tougher. If I find some good work during the summer, who knows? I could get strong and tall in no time. Maybe.
“Fine.” I finish my orange juice. It burns going down this time.
“Finish your breakfast.” With a satisfied smirk on his face, Grandpa sits at the table with his newspaper and coffee.
Grandma chatters away for the rest of breakfast and cleans the table after we finish. I pull my worn sneakers on and follow Grandpa outside into the humid day.
“What did you mean earlier?” I ask.
“About the bees liking me?” I lower my voice. It’s a silly question. Who cares what the bees think? And why should I care about some fantasy my grandparents created to distract me from the fact my family was falling apart?
Grandpa chuckles. “Follow me.” He leads me around the small, whitewashed house into the backyard. Grandma has flower beds back here, too, and a vegetable garden that looks awfully happy. Bees swarm about the vegetables, but I hear a steady sound coming from the house.
“Look,” Grandpa says, gesturing to the corner of the house closest to where my bedroom is.
A small swarm of bees lingers in the rafter. They whisper and flutter above the window of the little, white-washed home—right over my bedroom. I wrinkle my nose. “What’re they doing up there? They have all those hives in the field.”
Grandpa nods. “They do.”
“And?” I pester.
“I told you, they like you.” Grandpa crosses his big arms across his chest. “So, I’m gonna let ’em stay there.”
“But…” I pause. “Don’t they have a home?”
“These aren’t your normal bees, Niles.” He glances down at me. “They do as they please.”
“But you’re the beekeeper. You can’t even handle your own bees?”
Grandpa gives another thunderous laugh. “No, son, I’m their friend. Nothing more, nothing less. Just their friend.”
I think about that for a moment. “But isn’t it unsafe if they stay here?” I point to them. “They’ll die. Or make a hive here on the house and that’s not safe, right?” A bee from the house flies close and I grimace at it.
Why did Grandpa have to pretend like they were special? They were just bees.
He just pitied me.
He pitied the boy whose own parents and sister had left him behind like a forgotten stray dog.
Grandpa was trying to make me feel better and it wasn’t working.
Frustration rises in my chest. I was thirteen, not a five-year-old who needed coddling.
Grandpa’s green eyes glint like he’s holding back some secret. “We’ll see.”
I suck in a deep breath, scents of sweet flowers and fresh dirt filling my nostrils. I exhale in a huff. “I don’t want them over my bedroom.”
A bee lands on my shoulder. Its little body almost glimmers in the sunlight.
“I don’t want to be stung.” I tense as the bee crawls around my t-shirt.
“I haven’t been stung.” Grandpa shrugs.
“Sure you have. You’ve kept them for decades, you’ve had to be stung.” I hold my breath and wait, but the bee doesn’t fly away from my shoulder.
“I don’t recall being stung,” he says. “These bees and I, Niles, we have a friendship, and that means having respect. And it means having some magic, too.”
I laugh bitterly. “You’re a crazy old man.” I’d heard Mom say those same words about her father before, but now I know why she said it. Grandpa was strange. Eccentric, Dad said, always trying to smooth over Mom’s harsher words.
Grandpa reaches and ruffles my curls. “Your mother tells me the same thing. But her eyes are always sad.” He meets my gaze. “Do my eyes look sad, boy?”
His words cut deep. I look away, heat flooding my cheeks. He shouldn’t say such things about Mom.
But I can’t argue with him.
His eyes aren’t sad, and Grandma’s eyes aren’t sad, and it’s a big change from being around Mom and Dad.
I shove the bee off with a firm shake of my shoulder, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to kill it. It flitters off back to the window and joins its many friends along the gutter of the house. “Bees are not magical. I’m not a child. And I don’t want them over my room,” I say firmly, balling up my fists and heading toward the bee field.
I don’t wait for Grandpa to follow.
END OF SAMPLE
Enjoy it? Find the campaign here: (LINK COMING SOON)!