Green Valley Shifters bonus story: Lessons


This short story occurs after Dandelion Season, but it can be read completely alone.

Catch the Green Valley Collection 1 on sale this week for $0.99 in the US and UK on Amazon (it includes Dancing Bearfoot, The Tiger Next Door, and Dandelion Season). Signed and Sketched paperbacks are 15% off for a limited time!

Cover for Lessons


Chapter 1

“I don’t waaaaaaant to go to piano lessons,” Aaron said in theatrical despair. He knew that it was theatrical even as he was doing it.

Bingo thought that all drama was wonderful and bounded around them yelping his head off.

“Practice and going to lessons are the only way you’ll get better,” Clara said, picking her way around an early-autumn, leaf-clogged mud puddle in Aaron’s back yard to get to the swing set. She didn’t seem to realize how snotty she sounded, sometimes, and Aaron and Trevor exchanged a tolerant look behind her back.

Then she added, “But I don’t want to go to my dance lessons, either. My tights itch and my hair is too tight, and it’s a really long, boring drive to Madison.” She fluffed her aforementioned hair around her face until she looked like a dandelion going to seed.

“Tell me about it,” Aaron said, laughing. He drove to Madison almost every weekend to see his mom and stepdad, Juan. They couldn’t live in Green Valley because his mom said that everyone blamed them for breaking his dad’s heart. If his dad still had a heart, maybe Aaron wouldn’t have to go to piano lessons, he thought sourly. “I’ll push you first, Clara.”

There were only two swings on Aaron’s swing set, plus a seesaw that they’d nearly outgrown, and a slide that was fun to climb up backwards but not at all fun to slide down.

“You have to leave soon for your piano lesson,” Clara countered. “You go first.”

Aaron knew that she was just being polite, but he also wasn’t going to turn down the first swing. Trevor took the other seat and Clara alternated pushing each of them, until they were all out of breath and laughing and shouting and Clara wasn’t being careful about her shoes and the mud any more. Bingo played with them until he got yelled at for being underfoot too much and went to flop down on the porch.

“Five minutes until you have to go, Aaron!” his dad called from their back porch.

Aaron pumped his legs even harder, like he wouldn’t have to go if he couldn’t hear him because of the wind whistling past his ears, or like he could stop time if he went fast enough. He mistimed leaning back and Clara’s hands jammed hard in his back as he heard Trevor dragging his feet in the dirt to slow himself down.

“Ooof!” Clara said, staggering back at the impact. “Careful!”

“I’m going to jump!” Aaron declared. “I’m going to do it!”

He and Trevor always said they’d jump, but then they always chickened out when they got too high. Clara was too smart and cautious to say she’d do it, even though she’d probably do it the best because she was such a good dancer; she could do one-handed cartwheels and walk on a balance beam. Aaron dragged his feet on the ground until he was slow enough to hop off, knowing that it was anticlimactic.

Trevor tumbled after him, landing dramatically on his knees. Aaron sourly wondered if he wasn’t trying a little too hard to look clumsy. Ever since he learned how to shift, he was extra goofy and always pretending he couldn’t do things.

Aaron climbed the wrong way up on the slide and sat down on the tiny landing. It wasn’t a very tall slide, but it had seemed much higher and more terrifying when they were younger. It was still a good place to go and pretend that no one could find you. Aaron hadn’t practiced piano all week and he dreaded Tawny’s gentle disappointment.

Trevor followed him with a noisy clatter and Clara came up the proper way, on the ladder.

They squashed together in the tiny place, Clara standing primly in a corner looking out over the yard and Trevor laying on his back drumming his feet on the railing.

“Do you think we’ll all be friends when we’re grown up?” Clara asked wistfully.

“Yes,” Trevor said emphatically, just as Aaron said, “No.”

“It’s not that I wouldn’t want to be,” Aaron said quickly, lest his despondence start an argument. “But we probably just won’t know each other then. Grown-ups don’t really have friends. They just get married.”

That earned him a quick kick from Clara. “Gross.”

“I don’t want to get married,” Trevor declared. “I’m going to be a firefighter scientist doctor lawyer.”

“That wouldn’t leave a lot of time for being married,” Aaron agreed.

“I’m going to be a teacher,” Clara said.

“I thought you were going to be a dancer,” Trevor said, pausing his feet on the rail.

“Well, yeah,” Clara scoffed. “I’m going to be both. If Trevor can be a scientist doctor whatever, I can be a teacher dancer.”

“You’re going to be late!” Aaron’s dad was on the back porch again. “Aaron, you’d better get over to Tawny’s right now! Lessons cost money!”

Aaron heaved a sigh. “Okay.” He didn’t slide, but tromped daringly down the slide on his feet. The end was a panicked whirl of running. Bingo met him at the bottom of the slide, his tail wagging like Aaron had been gone for a week, not just at the top of the slide for a few minutes.

“Bye!” Clara and Trevor called in unison from the top of the slide, but they didn’t offer to come with him, which felt keenly unfair. They got to keep playing in his yard, even though he had to go to piano lessons.

Bingo went with him to the edge of the lawn and when Aaron told him to stay home, he looked blankly back and then sat down to scratch at his collar like he didn’t understand a word of it.

Aaron made the walk next door last as long as he possibly could, scuffing his feet and stopping to tie his shoes and throw leaves into a puddle in the road.

Chapter 2

“Did you remember your hair tie?” Papa asked Clara as they hurried to the truck.

She showed it to him on her wrist, but he wasn’t looking, so she added, “Yes!” and was alarmed by how shouty it sounded. She didn’t mean to shout, she just really didn’t want to go to her dance classes. The first was a group class where she was clearly the most experienced and she spent a lot of time going over things she already knew how to do, feeling awkward and out of place. The second was a private lesson that made her feel like she didn’t know how to do anything.

“How was school this week?” Papa asked, as he pulled the truck out onto the highway and Clara stared out of the window at the fall-brown fields and drunk fences and old houses they passed.

“Good,” she said.

“Did you and Aaron and Trevor have a fight?”

Clara shrugged. “No.” It wasn’t a lie, but she still felt bad. She knew the difference between lying by omission and being truthful. But it was truthful that she wasn’t actually fighting with Aaron and Trevor, and they weren’t fighting with each other like they sometimes did. They were just leaving her out of something, and she didn’t know what it was and it was making her feel hurt and abandoned. Did they have to have secrets from her?

“Have you thought about what you want to do for your birthday next month?”

That made Clara brighten up and she was happy to regale him with all of her involved ideas for a Halloween birthday party to celebrate turning eight. “Can you make all the doors creak?” she wanted to know. “And I want mummies, but they can’t be too gross, just scary. But not funny, either.”

“I’ll call a guy I know in Egypt and ask him about robbing a crypt for you,” her Papa teased. “I’ll see if he knows any scary, not-gross, not-funny Pharaohs.”

“And not cursed,” Clara added, even though she knew Papa was pulling her leg.

“Not cursed,” Papa agreed with a sideways smile. “The last thing you want to have to do is have a cursed mummy wandering around your birthday party.”

Clara giggled, then sobered. “Papa, am I spoiled?”

She wasn’t sure if he was just concentrating on driving for a while because there was a big truck going slow in front of them, but he didn’t answer until they passed it on a long straight stretch.

“I don’t think you’re spoiled, cub,” Papa said seriously. “I know you will have everything that you need because we’re really lucky to have enough money for that, but I don’t let you have everything you want, do I?”

Clara shook her head. There were plenty of things that she got “nos” on. She’d been begging for a cat or a pony for years.

“And I don’t let you get away with skipping your chores or slacking on your schoolwork?” he added. The familiar getting-to-Madison landmarks were getting closer together and Clara knew that they were nearly to the dance studio. She snapped herself with the rubber band on her wrist.

“No,” she agreed softly.

“Then why would you think you were spoiled?”

Clara considered, scuffing a foot on the passenger mat. “Well, dance lessons are expensive,” she started.

“Don’t you worry about that,” Papa said, reaching over to ruffle Clara’s hair. “You’re going to be a great dancer like your mom.”

The words echoed in Clara’s head.

She didn’t want to be a celebrity ballerina like the mother she didn’t remember, but Papa was so proud of her dancing, and everyone expected it of her now, and wouldn’t it be a great waste if she threw away all that study and talent? Clara snapped her rubber band again, harder, wishing she could tell Papa that. She didn’t dread lessons because they were hard or the drive was boring, but because she was afraid that she would disappoint everyone if they knew that she didn’t even really like dancing.

Dancing around the living room with Miss Mama Patricia, maybe, but not tight-bun, strict-teacher dancing the way everyone thought she should.

She hadn’t even told Aaron or Trevor about her doubts, though she had tried to a few times. It just got stuck in her throat. It felt like she was being selfish. A quitter.

Clara stared out of the window at the road as the traffic got thicker. Maybe it would be her own secret, to pay them back for whatever it was they were keeping from her.

Chapter 3

“Trevor, do you want to practice shifting with your Grandpa?”

Trevor skidded to a stop in the doorway. “With GRANDPA?” he said in tones of disgust. It only occurred to him then his frankly terrifying grandfather might be in earshot, and he looked around in alarm.

Fortunately, the house was empty, except for Trevor and his dad.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Grandpa Damien was going to marry Miss Tawny the piano teacher, and Trevor had very mixed feelings about that topic altogether.

His lion was hopeful that a wedding would have lots of good food. There were cupcakes at Clara’s dad’s wedding. Trevor hadn’t realized at that time that the voice in his head was anything more than his own imagination, but he knew better now.

I like cupcakes! Especially the crinkly wrapper! 

“I was hoping I could…ah…have lessons with you and Miss Andrea,” Trevor said awkwardly. “You’re nicer.

His dad’s expression in return was confusing, like he was proud and embarrassed and also a little regretful. Trevor knew that his dad felt guilty about not being around when he was really little, was that why he looked like he’d just found a fly in his mouth? “But you’re a lion,” his dad explained, “and so is your grandpa. He might be able to show you things that I can’t.”

Hunting! his lion suggested. We should learn hunting! 

“I guess,” Trevor said with a shrug. He put his backpack down by the door and took off his muddy shoes as he came into the house, leaving them where they fell off his feet.

“Have you been practicing on your own?” his dad asked suspiciously.

Trevor went to the fridge. “Do we have cheese sticks?” he asked as innocently as he knew how.

“Trevor,” his dad said with a sigh. “You know how careful we have to be.”

“I’m careful,” Trevor whined. “You wouldn’t believe how careful! I’m like the king of careful!”

I’m the king of the jungle! his lion yodeled unhelpfully in his ear.

“Do you do it at school?”


“At Aaron’s?”

“Aaron’s dad is a shifter!” Trevor reminded him. “It’s okay there!”

“But Aaron has neighbors,” his dad countered. “I need you to promise not to do it unless someone responsible is with you.”

Aaron’s dad is responsible,” Trevor muttered.


Trevor heaved a sigh. “I never get to do anything.”

His dad’s sigh was even better that his. “It’s so unfair.”

Trevor knew when he was being mocked. “Well, why don’t you show me, then? You’re always saying you have time to make up for, but then you’re too busy with your bakery!

He watched his words hit a nerve and felt bad the moment his dad flinched. He didn’t know how to take it back, so he just stuffed a cheese stick in his mouth so he wouldn’t say more and stomped up to his room.

The cheese stick was gone and Trevor was lying on the rumpled mess of his unmade bed wondering if he should go downstairs and get another one when there was a knock on the door.


His dad was carrying a plate with apple slices spread with peanut butter. “I thought you might be hungry still.”

“Yeah.” Trevor sat up and his dad sat on the bed next to him, making it sag in the middle. “You want one?”

They ate apples and peanut butter in silence for a little while.

“I think you’re right that I should teach you a little bit about shifting,” his dad said unexpectedly. “I don’t really think of myself as a good teacher, but I’ll try, okay?”

“Right now?” Trevor said hopefully, but his mouth was full of peanut butter, so it sounded like it had several extra ells and an owl in it.

Shifting! Hunting! Pouncing! Play! His lion clamored to get out.

“Wait until you get your clothes off!” his dad cautioned. “Andrea’s already threatening to dress you in burlap sacks until you stop ripping up your shirts.”

Chapter 4

Sunday evenings were the best. Clara’s dad and Miss Patricia were always in town visiting Gran and Marta, Aaron was back in Green Valley from visiting his mom and stepdad in Madison, and Trevor was allowed to walk the three blocks to his house so the three of them could play until sunset drove them to their separate dinners.

Aaron was pretending to throw the ball for Bingo, only actually releasing it every few fakes, and Bingo would faithfully try to chase it every single time.

“My teacher says I’m a remarkable talent,” Clara said, doing a dramatic stretch with her pointed foot up high on the flat seat of the swing. “I’m learning to pirouette and usually you don’t get to do that you’re much more advanced.”

“Miss Andrea says I can’t do after school sports,” Trevor said with a frown.

“Why not?” Clara asked.

Trevor clearly realized he’d said too much and cast Aaron a helpless look.

Aaron knew why—it wasn’t fair to kids who weren’t shifters, and Trevor might hurt someone or accidentally show off his strength. His own dad had been talking to him earnestly almost every single night about how careful he needed to be when—if—he started hearing a voice and turning into a bear. Aaron didn’t like this in-between wondering time. What if he didn’t become a bear? Would his dad be disappointed if he was never more than a boy?

Clara was glaring at them. “Why not?” she repeated with a threatening tone. She was a little bit taller than they were and was dancer-strong. Every so often, she’d lose her temper and knock one of them down, even though she always felt bad afterwards.

“Too expensive?” Trevor squeaked, just as Aaron flailed, “His dad hates sports?”

Clara stared in disgust. “Your dad is like a gazillionaire,” she reminded Trevor. She turned to Aaron. “And, he has team stickers on his car bumper. Yesterday, he was wearing a hockey jersey at the bakery.”

Clara was really smart on top of being strong and weirdly flexible. Aaron and Trevor exchanged stricken looks.

“Never mind,” Clara said crossly. “No, Bingo, I don’t want your slobbery ball.”

Aaron had neglected to take the ball back from Bingo and the dog was making the rounds, hoping someone else would throw it.

“Gross,” Trevor said, when it was offered to him. “Let’s go pretend the top of the slide is a Tibetan monastery and we have to climb a mountain to get there to train as ninjas!”

Clara frowned, not convinced, but she went along with the ninja-training play until her dad and Miss Patricia came to collect her.

“I have to go home, too,” Trevor said reluctantly. “Bye, Bingo.”

They all said their goodbyes, and Bingo attempted to give his ball to Clara’s parents and finally went to the porch to try to sneak it inside.

“The ball stays outside,” Aaron’s dad said, as Trevor trudged away and Clara got in her car.

Bingo pretended to let go, watching hopefully to see if he was fooling anyone.

“Drop it,” Aaron scolded him.

Bingo reluctantly dropped it on the porch, then wagged his tail. Was someone going to throw it again?

He scooped it back up as Aaron went inside and Aaron had to pry it from his jaws and toss it out the back door as he slammed it before Bingo could chase it.

“Did you have a good weekend with your mom and Juan?” his dad asked.

“Yeah,” Aaron said, though he’d forgotten all about it. “I tried sushi.”

“Did you like it?”


“You want a sandwich?”


“Quite the conversationalist,” his dad observed.

Aaron wasn’t sure what saving the environment had to do with anything. He played with Bingo in the living room until dinner was ready.

His dad scolded him for not getting any piano practice in the week before and Aaron solemnly promised to do better this week, feeling wretched.

“Tawny’s moving a little bit out of town,” his dad pointed out. “I’d have to drive you to lessons from now on. Do you just want to stop doing them?”

Aaron opened his mouth, and then shut it, not sure. He liked Tawny. She even made jokes at lessons! And it wasn’t that he disliked practicing once he sat down to do it, it just didn’t seem like fun beforehand, so he tried to get out of it whenever he could.

And besides that, he knew that money was tight. His dad didn’t say anything about it, but he got this squinty look on his face when Aaron asked for things at the store, and he could see that other kids at school got a lot more new clothes and backpacks and fancy water bottles than he did.

“Yeah,” he finally said. He hazarded a look up over his sandwich. Was his dad going to be disappointed with him?

His dad didn’t have the squinty look, but he did look a little sad.

Chapter 5

Trevor was intensely jealous when Aaron informed him at school the next day that he wouldn’t be taking piano lessons any more. Clara was busy talking to her girl friends across the classroom and ignoring them, except for wounded looks over her shoulder once in a while.

But Aaron didn’t look at all happy with the decision. “I don’t know. Now that I don’t have lessons, I feel like I’m going to miss playing the piano.”

Trevor chewed on that. He complained about piano lessons and practicing, too, but would he regret it if he asked his dad to drop them?

At recess, after sulking through science and phoning in a paper plate mask for social studies, Trevor went to the place they usually met to play at the edge of the school yard where the forest started.

“Let’s play that we’re bears and lions!” Aaron suggested, when he caught up.

Yes! Trevor’s lion agreed.

“We shouldn’t do that,” Trevor cautioned, despite his lion’s eagerness at the idea. “I promised my dad that we’d be more careful.”

“Careful about what?” Clara had apparently been bored by the girls’ quiet recess games and she stooped to pick up a pinecone as she approached.

“Aaron’s not taking piano lessons anymore,” Trevor said quickly.

Clara’s eyes got big as she straightened up. “Why not?”

“Money,” Aaron said shortly, flashing Trevor a betrayed look. “And I didn’t practice. And it was boring. I don’t want to anymore.” He sounded defensive.

Clara was more sympathetic than Trevor thought was appropriate. “I’m sorry,” she said to Aaron. “That’s…really sad.” She said it very slowly, like it made her think about something.

“Clara practices,” Trevor joked, not liking that both of his friends seemed down about something stupid like getting out of piano lessons forever. “Clara doesn’t do anything but practice.” He put his hands up in the air like a ballet dancer and swiveled his feet out and squatted in place.

She flushed. “I do other things.”

Aaron laughed and made his own pose, kicking high in the air with his hands on his hips. “I’m a daaaaancer,” he chortled.

For a moment, Trevor thought Clara was going to take offense at their teasing. Sometimes she did, but sometimes, like now, she only laughed and joined in. “Let me show you how to do it right! First position! Plié!”

Trevor and Aaron were terrible students, doing everything Clara told them to but exaggerated to a hundred as she clucked in mocking disapproval. Before long, they were all dancing around laughing so hard their sides hurt and the recess bell was ringing.

“What did you learn at school today?” his dad asked him when he got home at the end of the day. There was a tray of test cinnamon rolls on the kitchen table and Trevor fell eagerly onto one of them.

“I mumma letta gooay too.”

“Want to swallow and try that again?”

Trevor licked sticky frosting off his fingers and swallowed. “I learned that Aaron’s quitting piano and sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you actually want, and I also learned the first three positions of ballet.”

His dad blinked. “Are you thinking about taking ballet?”

“No,” Trevor said, “but I think I’ll go practice my piano, now.” Maybe he could be a musician firefighter scientist doctor lawyer.

* * *

Download a copy of Lessons for your Kindle! Catch the Green Valley Collection 1 on sale this week for $0.99 in the US and UK on Amazon! Signed and Sketched paperbacks are 15% off for a limited time!