10. Family

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"I did the math, and it's like one hundred to one. All the kids come up the mountain for school, and all the grownups go down it for work—I mean, almost all." Nip shot a look out the open kitchen window, where my aunt's head could be seen bobbing up and down as she worked in her vegetable garden.

"Looks like she's blowing a carrot," Ash said.

I flashed back briefly to Billy Rascoe taunting Nip about his bright orange shirt. "It'd be the first thing she blew."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ash said, and then, "Oh."

Down at Thunderpaw, Sandy was something of a Holy Grail. All the local guys had been trying to drink of her and failing for years.

"Anyway," Nip said impatiently, "from nine-ish in the morning to three-ish in the afternoon, there's a hundred of us kids for every one grownup in town. And most of those grownup are teachers."

"We should take Honaw for ourselves," Ash said.

Nip twisted one of the Koosh ball's rubbery orange strands around his finger. "And do what?"

"Start our own perfect society. Duh."

"That worked great in Lord of the Flies." Nip tossed the ball at her.

She caught the ball and launched it back at him, harder. "I wasn't in Lord of the Flies."

"Oh, so you'd be the leader then."

"Of course."

I cleared my throat. "Pretty sure the role of leader goes to the guy with the throne."

"What do you mean guy?" said Ash.

"What do you mean throne?" said Nip.

"Guy." I pointed at myself. "Throne." I pointed at the wheelchair sitting by the Nile Goddess statue in the corner of the living room. Bitchmaster had taken a beating on the bleachers, but she was a sturdy lady—something that she would prove again and again in the days to come.

Nip' and Ash's eyes locked.

They scrambled for the corner on a collision course. Ash switched trajectories at the last instant, encircled Nip with her arms, and spun around heavily. She dropped onto Bitchmaster's leather seat, Nip in her lap.

He raised his hands like the muddy Nile Goddess. "Victor!"

To which Ash whispered, "Boner," jabbing her thump up against Nip's butt. He fell off in shock and landed stinkbug on the carpet.

"Bitchmaster has a new master." Ash cupped a hand to her ear. "And what's that? The new master is a girl?"

I coughed. "Not so sure about that."

"I will hit you in the face, Joel Harper, even if you are still concussed."

"It's a good thing I've got padding." I knocked on my bandaged skull and winced as my fading headache gave a reinvigorated, Hellloooooooo.

"As the newly crowned leader of the rebellion," Ash said, leaning back and propping her feet on Nip's shoulders. "I will require a token of good faith from all my subjects."

"How does a kick in the balls sound?"

Ash raised her voice imperiously. "From Nip, I ask only for complete silence unless he is addressed first." Her finger leveled itself at me. "And from you, sir, I will have your ring followed by your kiss upon it."

"You can have my kiss upon your ass."

"That would be most unwise, I think." Ash stroked her chin. "Most unwise."

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