Green Valley Shifters bonus story: Twelve and a Half


This short story occurs after the events of Broken Lynx, but doesn’t particularly spoil any of that book. New to Green Valley? Broken Lynx is FREE until June 25th, and The Zoe Chant Series Starter Set (which includes Book 1, Dancing Bearfoot) is just $0.99 (US and UK) until June 27th!

I’m a teenager now,” Abby protested, loading the dishwasher. “I can get a job, I just need you to sign off on it.”

You’re not a teenager,” Devon argued, handing her dishes.

I’m twelve and a half. It rounds up!”

Age does not round up!”

Anyway, if you’re working at Gran’s Grits, I can work there at the age of twelve because you’re my legal guardian and I checked the Wisconsin laws!”

You don’t need to get a job!”

We need the money!”

Devon was silent and Abby knew she’d hit a nerve. She took the dirty plate he was holding out and crammed it into the dishwasher with an angry clatter.

Her older brother was proud…and he was poor. Abby knew that they were in debt up to their eyebrows for the rundown little house he’d bought in Green Valley so that she’d have a good place to grow up as a shifter. He was already burning the candle at both ends working two part-time jobs and trying to do freelance programming late into the night. 

Look,” Abby said, trying to sound reasonable even though she felt like biting something, “I’m not suggesting that I get one of those short black skirts and serve drinks at Hardy’s. I’d just be washing dishes in the back of Gran’s a few afternoons after school. It’s not the big deal you’re making it out to be. Then I can buy my own clothes.” Maybe if she framed it as vanity? 

I can buy you clothes!” Devon snarled.

She hadn’t just hit a nerve, she’d hit the trigeminal nerve. (They were learning about the nervous system in middle school.)  “I can use it for the excuse I need not to join after school sports like they keep asking me to!” Abby tried, wondering if she should have opened with that argument. She was inches taller than her classmates and being a lynx shifter meant she was naturally athletic. As hard as she tried to hide it, she had fast reflexes and innate speed. Gym was pure hell, trying not to get hit with anything or picked for teams, and she’d faked cramps so many times she probably looked like she had consumption or something. 

Devon seemed to regret his outburst. He always did, flashing to anger when Abby expertly pushed his buttons and then feeling bad. They usually made up with ice cream and bad movies. 

Jamie would love it if you could buy your own movie ticket and small popcorn when you went to make out at the theater,” Abby pointed out, hoping that she could needle him back to good humor. 

That made Devon’s ears turn pink, but he didn’t say anything. 

I’m not giving up on this,” Abby said fiercely. “You work really hard and it’s only fair that I should, too.”

Devon finally sighed. “You make it really hard to stay mad,” he said, defeated. “I think twelve is too young for a job, but I give up trying to stop you.”

I’m twelve and a half,Abby reminded him. She shut the dishwasher in triumph and stood up to give him a swift, impulsive hug. She’d been protesting that she was too old for hugs lately, but this was a special occasion. She was going to get a job. 

# # # 

As much as Abby had tried to convince Devon that getting a job wasn’t a big deal, it was a very big deal, and she felt like she had made a terrible mistake as she walked slowly up the back steps to Gran’s Grits. What if she couldn’t do it? What if she broke dishes, or did something dumb, or if her friends—such as they even were—caught her working at an uncool place like the local greasy spoon? She was already the new girl, and the city girl, and the orphan girl. Could her reputation survive being a girl with a job, too? 

She felt like she was walking straight into one of those black and white photos about child labor from the Great Depression. 

Did she care if she impressed the other kids at Green Valley Middle School? She wanted to fit in, but she already knew that she didn’t, in any possible way. She was a shifter. She didn’t like boy bands, or even boys. She was more grown up than her classmates, and yet miles behind them at the very same time. 

Abby hesitated at the back door. Should she knock, or just go in? She smoothed her coat down and wondered if she shouldn’t have worn a skirt or something a little nicer. She’d blustered her way through asking Gran for the work out of sheer momentum, but now that her first day of work had arrived, she’d had plenty of time to regret the idea. 

She was already a few minutes late, because she’d spent too much time trying to get her hair somewhere between frizzy and flat, with very little success.

Abby lifted her chin. This was who she was, and waiting would only make it worse.

She went in without knocking, and was assaulted by the smell of grease, soap, and condiments. Being a lynx shifter wasn’t always a great thing.

Old George was slapping burgers onto a sizzling grill, and he turned at her entrance and gave a grunt.

That was apparently all of the greeting she got, because he turned back to his work without further comment. 

Abby studied his back, trying to decide if he was a shifter or not. He didn’t look as old as his nickname, but his bald brown head implied age. He was big and Black and burly.

Gran was nowhere to be seen, though her cat was sunning in the front window. As Abby was wondering if she was meant to just start washing, Devon rushed in with a tray of dirty dishes. He was shamelessly wearing one of the ruffled cafe aprons. “Oh, Abby, about time. The dishes are piling up. You know how that works, right?”

There were three deep sinks, one for washing, one weakly smelling of bleach for sanitizing, and a third one for rinsing. “I can read English,” Abby said, hoping after she said it that it didn’t sound too snarky. She just couldn’t help the things that came out of her mouth sometimes. Devon said it was because he let her get away with too much when she was young, but Abby figured it was just a character defect. 

You’ll need a hairnet,” Devon reminded her, pointed to a dispenser like the kind they had for rubber gloves. Abby gingerly put one over her head. So much for the time she’d spent trying to look less awkward.

She hung up her coat and rolled up her sleeves quite literally, then dove in as Devon took a full plate from Old George and returned to the dining room.

There were a lot of dishes backed up, and more came in as she worked. She had to dry as well as wash, restocking the dishes in the cabinets when she ran out of drainer space, so it didn’t feel like she was making any progress until suddenly, she was drying the last glasses and Devon hadn’t brought any more in.

Just a lull,” Old George warned her. They were the first words he’d said all afternoon. 

How come Gran doesn’t have one of those industrial dishwashers?” Abby asked.

George just shrugged. 

There were a few more diners that Abby could see outside the pass-through and she watched George put the finishing touches on their plates with interest.

You like cooking?” he asked with a rumble.

I like cooking shows,” Abby said. She didn’t want to admit that she actually did like cooking. It didn’t seem very cool.Gordon Ramsey and stuff.”

George grunted disapprovingly. It was weird to think of Old George watching television, but Abby realized she hadn’t thought enough about him to wonder if he did anything besides skulking around the kitchen of Gran’s. She wasn’t even sure where he lived. She realized that she just sort of assumed he propped himself in the closet with the mop when the day was over. 

What, you don’t like fancy food?” Abby regretted the tone of her voice more than the words. 

George shot her a sharp look and just as Abby figured she’d sabotaged any chance she had to get him to like her, he said gruffly, “I like Julia Child.”

Order up!” Devon called, slipping an order into the ticket wheel.

Abby’s feet were aching from standing and washing dishes so long, but she saw that the trashcan by the stove was full, so she went to empty it with all of Devon’s advice ringing in her ears. Always look for more to do. 

If Old George was impressed by her initiative, he didn’t show it, and Abby lugged the huge bag out to the dumpster in the back, and returned to find that a group of kids from her own class had come in the front door. Devon was seating the kids at a corner booth and Abby was keenly aware of the fact that if they looked this way, they’d see her at the back door with the empty bin, wearing her extra stylish hairnet. 

She slunk back to the sink and washed the dishes that had piled up again, too proud to look and see if they’d noticed her at all.

She didn’t fit in with the girls, talking about cute shoes. Or with the boys, racing bikes. She couldn’t be too fast or too strong. She had to be quiet, invisible, and out of the way. She rinsed a plate so vigorously that water splashed all over the floor. Old George pointed her to the mop and she cleaned it up before anyone—probably her—could slip on it.

You got a boyfriend?” Old George asked unexpectedly, as she was putting the mop away and he was putting more burgers on the grill.

I’m twelve and a half!”

Don’t act twelve and a half.”

Should she feel flattered? “I’m an orphan. It comes with the territory.”

Well, at least you got family.”

Yeah, I got family.”

She had enough time between loads of dishes to figure out the cadence of George’s cooking, and she was impressed by how much he could juggle at once. He was never idle. When it was quiet, he was chopping huge quantities of vegetables. “Can chop these ahead for potato salad,” he explained, when he caught Abby watching him. “Potatoes brown and herbs go tasteless, so those are best done day of, but the rest is fine after a day or two in the fridge.”

Abby nodded sagely. 

You know that Julia Child was a spy?”


She was too tall to join the Women’s Corps at the start of WWII,” George explained. “So she became a secretary for the OSS. Had some talent for research, ended up inventing shark repellent.”

Shark repellent?” Abby had given up pretending she was still washing dishes and just stood there with bubbles in her hands.

Her very first successful recipe,” Old George said.

Was he teasing her? Abby couldn’t tell, and it drove her crazy and delighted her at the same time.


Devon was looking at Old George, not Abby. George was plating the burgers, and he brushed past Devon to deliver them to the pass through. 

Abby?” Devon repeated, staring after him. 

What?” Abby wanted to know. She hadn’t broken any dishes. 

Was Old George talking to you?”

Abby gave a shrug and took a page from the cook’s playbook to say nothing.

Devon groaned. “Great, I’ll have to work with two of you.”

He took a tray of glasses to fill at the fountain in the dining room. Abby caught Old George’s eyes as he went back to the griddle to start hot sandwiches for a new order and they shared a brief, conspiratorial smile.

By the end of her shift, even though it was only half the length of Devon’s, Abby was beginning to understand why they called work a grind. Her knees, already aching from growing too fast, felt like they had sand in the joints, and her feet felt two sizes too big for her shoes. Maybe they were. Maybe she’d be able to afford new ones with her first paycheck.

How was it?” Devon asked, when they finally got home and Abby could take off her shoes with a sigh of relief. “You don’t have to do it,” he reminded her as she sank into a chair. “No one would blame you for quitting.”

Abby remembered that someone would need to cook, and that Devon was terrible at it. 

It wasn’t that bad,” she said honestly, getting to her sore feet again. “I learned a lot.”

About washing dishes?”

Abby grinned. “About shark repellant,” she said mysteriously. 

If Julia Child could go from being too tall for the military to being a world famous cook, maybe Abby could go from being too tall for middle school to…well, she still wasn’t sure where she wanted to go from here. But she was only twelve and a half. She had time to figure it out.


What’s next for Green Valley? I am planning to write a spinoff series that follows the grown-up adventures of Trevor, Aaron, Clara, Abby, and more, but I don’t have an ETA on it. Green Valley crosses over with Virtue Shifters – start that series with Timber Wolf!