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The Solace of Denim -- Kathy Otten

The Solace of Denim

Who do you trust when you can’t trust yourself?

The victim of a horrific crime, fifteen-year-old Joey Kowalski has bounced around in the foster care system for six years. When his only friend Luke is murdered, suspicion falls on Joey. As evidence mounts against him, Luke’s denim jacket appears in Joey’s closet. When he puts on the jacket, he gets visions of Luke's murder and hears Luke's voice in his head. Can Joey convince Luke's father, Detective Marek, to look past his grief and help him find the real killer?

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Coming June 2023 from Dragonfly Publishing

The Solace of Denim | DFP Books

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The Solace of Denim.mp4 - Google Drive

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School sucks!

Joey Kowalski kicked the bedroom door shut and tossed his backpack in the general direction of the closet. The weight of his books inside dropped the bag to the hardwood floor with a thud.

He pinched the zipper tab of his winter jacket and pulled down. It jammed halfway. He jerked the tab up and down, but the zipper didn’t move. Reaching behind his neck, he grabbed the back of the collar and yanked the nylon coat over his head. He left the sleeves to dangle wrong side out and flung the useless jacket toward his book bag.

He limped to his bed, flopped face down, and sighed into his pillow. He’d survived another day of whispered name calling, a stolen lunch, and guys knocking into him. He’d made it through another gym class struggling to play basketball, waiting to shower last so no one would see his scars.

He’d endured another lecture from Mrs. Brolin, who told him: “This circled F at the top of your math test is there because you’re being lazy. Your grades at the beginning of the year indicate you can do better. You just aren’t trying.”

His math book was in his backpack. He had homework, but without Luke to explain the A’s, B’s, and negative numbers, Joey just didn’t get it. Besides, even if he aced every quiz and test from now to the end of the semester, he had so many zeros and F’s he’d still be failing at midterms. So why bother? It was like falling out of a plane without a parachute. If you’re going to die at the end, you might as well enjoy the fall.

“Joey!” Lorraine’s sharp voice rose up the stairwell and penetrated the bedroom door. Usually, he ignored her. If he waited, her voice would rise an octave with each failed attempt to gain his attention. Sometimes he wondered how high she could go before her voice shrieked into nothingness. Today he just wanted her to shut up.

He lifted his head off the pillow. “What?”

“Frank and I are going grocery shopping. We’re taking the little ones with us. We’ll be back in a couple of hours. Before you do your homework, I want you to come down and help Allison decorate her gingerbread men.”

He’d rather do his math.

“Do you hear me?”

They’d be gone for a couple of hours. Maybe he could get out of here for a while. He rolled off the bed.


Her voice had jumped all the way to a high-C.


“Well don’t take too long. I want the kitchen cleaned up by the time we get back.”

Whatever. He shivered and massaged his right thigh, waiting for them to go.

Even with a long sleeve T-shirt, beneath his flannel shirt and hoodie, he was cold. This old farmhouse was drafty, and Frank was too cheap to keep the thermostat above sixty-five.

The shrieks and squeals of the little kids faded as the back door slammed. A few moments later, gravel crunched beneath the weight of the minivan as it rolled down the driveway. A minute later the faint, low southern tones of Elvis singing Blue Christmas drifted upstairs.

Every Christmas was blue. Fa-la-la and ho-ho-ho was for stupid kids who still believed.

He walked over to the closet hoping to find another sweater or sweatshirt to layer on. He was sick of always being cold. It made his leg ache and his chest hurt. Maybe when summer came, he’d feel better.

He turned the knob and pulled open the door. He had a blue Penn State sweatshirt in there somewhere. He reached out to sift through the shirts and froze.

A faded denim jacket hung slightly apart from the other clothes.

His heart skipped a beat. He swung around, searching the corners of his room. For what, he didn’t know. Everything remained exactly the same as it had been a moment ago. He turned back to the closet.

The jacket was still there.


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