Friday, September 22, 2017

I'm afraid of the dark

. . . But only certain kinds of dark. Some kinds of dark are super fun. The dark I'm afraid of is the darker side of humanity. As a fiction writer, this a problem. Generally speaking, antagonists are representative of the dark, ugly sides of humanity. They're what we fear. I'm not necessarily afraid of evil psychopaths and mass murderers. I'm afraid of writing them. If I write them accurately, I have to delve into their brain, and that's scary as hell.

Sometimes it's fun. I've been thinking a lot about these fears lately. I think this is the appeal of supernatural monsters: vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, etc. For me, and maybe others, it's easy to write these characters as evil because they aren't us. They aren't human. In New Year's Revolution, I have a vampire character named Bianca who is horribly evil and deranged. She is completely screwed up in the head and has done horrible, unspeakable things. But I have no problem writing her. In fact, I love writing her. She's awesome. I love how demented she is. But she's a vampire. She isn't human. I don't have to fear becoming her because she is literally a monster. In City of Secrets I have an evil ghost. He's also done horrible things. But he's a powerful ghost who feeds off of selfish desires. Again, he is literally a monster.

It's the human bad guys that terrify me. In Pieces my antagonist is a murderer and a child molester. This is a human being who does unspeakable things. I'm not writing in this character's POV, but even so, I'm having a hard time getting in their head. (Using "they" as a genderless pronoun on the off-chance that a future beta reader reads this post. I don't want to give away who the antag is.) I have no idea what this person's "mask" is. I don't know what they're thinking on a daily basis. I don't know how they're supposed to interact with the other characters. I winged it for the second draft, but now that I'm writing the third draft, it's time to dig deeper, whether I like it or not. I don't.

As I started digging into their head and realizing their backstory, they started to become more human. At first, I thought "Yay! I know more about them!" But then I balked. I don't want this character to feel human, because it brings me to the question "If this person is a human, with real, human feelings, how terrifying is it that they do these unspeakable things?"

I am someone whose opinion falls into the gray area on a number of subjects. There are very few things in this world that are black and white. Serial killers, terrorists, and child molesters? I used to think they were all bad. That was a nice, comforting thought. Something is wrong with these people. They were born bad. But maybe they weren't. Something happened to them that made them bad. Or, even scarier, they don't believe they're bad. Inside their heads are warped ideas and motives behind what they are doing. In the case of my antagonist, they believe they are doing good. These thoughts are scary, because it makes me realize that maybe I'm less different from the "bad guys" than I thought I was. I view these people with pity. I can't fathom willingly deciding to hurt or violate someone. I also can't fathom someone else willingly deciding to hurt or violate someone. So what made them do it? What makes a killer a killer and a rapist a rapist? Did they lose control? Did something take over their brain and make them do it? Did they find some twisted justification?

This brings me to my deepest, darkest fear, one that I don't usually talk about for fear of people misunderstanding and/or thinking I'm crazy. What if something happens and I suddenly become evil? It sounds ridiculous on paper, but there it is. I love horror novels and movies, but there's a certain type of psychological horror that I can't handle. I used to be a big Dean Koontz fan. I was reading Moonlight Bay (minor spoiler coming, but nothing that'll ruin it). It was great. It was one of my favorites, until I got to this part where this man, who was a perfectly normal, nice, family guy started having nightmares about raping and murdering his wife and daughter. The nightmares terrified him, but they wouldn't stop coming. Eventually he started to want to do it, and to fantasize about it. I had to put the book down for a bit, it disturbed me so much. I realize it's fiction, but it's a terrifying thought.

Getting back to my writing, it's hard for me to dip into the mind of my evil antagonists, because I fear finding out that their mind maybe isn't that different from mine. Maybe the line between good and evil isn't as clear as I thought.
On the other hand, maybe digging into their brain might ease my fears. Maybe I'll realize that while their minds are more complicated than I thought, there is a difference. I don't know, but I do know that I want to write good books. Books with genuine characters. Books that scare people but also comfort them. Books that make people think. Books people can relate to. In order to do that, I have to face my fear of the dark.
I hope it gets easier.
Thoughts and suggestions on how to do this and/or cope with it are welcome. Thanks!

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

What if the ideas run out?

As a writer, one of my biggest fears is that one day I'll stop having great ideas, that the well will be dry, and I'll have no more great stories. This is especially scary because I've just now started to get better at putting a good story together. What if there are no more ideas to put into stories?

When I started my first novel, New Year's Revolution, in 2010, I expected it to be a fluke, and at the time I was totally fine with that. I just wanted to get Ella's story written. Eventually, the idea for City of Secrets came to me, and Pieces soon followed. These three stories have been keeping me pretty busy, so I haven't had time to worry about the idea well going dry. During that time, a number of other ideas have floated in and out of my brain, but none of them have given me that warm-fuzzy "this is it" feeling. Now, Pieces is almost finished and I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing with the other two, which means it might be time to start thinking about a new project.

Guess when is a great time to start thinking about new projects? That's right, Fall is a great time for that, because NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. I had a brand new idea recently, but it's still just a tiny seed. I'm starting to worry that I don't know how to turn those little seeds into great stories. If I were a plotter, this would be fine. I'd know what to do. But I'm not a plotter. "The stuff" has to come to me naturally. Or at least, that's how it's worked in the past. But what if that magic won't happen anymore? What if I have to sit down and force it out?

What if I have to learn to plot?

Yeah. It's horrifying. 

Bright side: I wrote down a few more brainstorms tonight, so I think I might be able to do something with this idea. 

It'll be a romance. Say what?

I'm having a hard time believing it myself. 

If I'm lucky, I may even have enough of an idea formed to be able to write a crappy draft during November. I really like the idea of "beginning a 1st draft in November for NaNoWriMo" tradition. It worked great for 2015, when I wrote the 1st draft of Pieces. In 2016, I just started the 2nd draft of Pieces and started to write a lot, so it doesn't quite count as a second year of NaNo. 

While I'm excited about the idea, I'm wondering if this will always be my fear. Maybe it's a writer thing? If we run out of ideas, what do we have left?


Friday, September 15, 2017

City of Secrets - Chapter 24

City of Secrets

Chapter 24

Previously: Frankie made a promise to herself to attend her classes and focus on school now that she's in her senior year, but it's turned out to be easier said than done after discovering that she shares a class with Chase, the popular boy who harasses and threatens her at every opportunity. Frankie has found an unlikely ally in Jason, Chase's best friend. 

Chapter 24

    Frankie breathed a sigh of relief when the bell rang at the end of eighth period. Finally. She’d thought the first week would never end, but she’d made it. She had two entire days where she wouldn’t have to deal with Chase, or any of the other jerks.

    Speaking of the jerks, one of them was headed her way. Frankie knew Laurel had no reason to be walking toward the back of the classroom other than to harass her, so she steeled herself.

    Laurel bumped into Frankie’s desk as she passed, knocking a pile of books and papers onto the floor. “Oops. Sorry, Freak.”

    “Yeah, right. Are you ever going to grow up?”

    “I said I was sorry. Can’t you just cast a spell to clean it up or something?” A group of girls at the front of the classroom laughed.

    Frankie rolled her eyes. The witch jokes were getting old. It was all getting old. “If I knew how to cast spells, you wouldn’t be standing there.” Frankie’s voice was cold, filled with a lifetime’s worth of anger and resentment. A small surge of triumph flared inside her as she watched Laurel’s smile disappear. It was back a second later, but Frankie knew she’d gotten under the other girl’s skin, and that was enough.

     “Ooh, I’m really scared now. See you Monday, Freak.” Laurel took the long way to the front of the room and joined the group waiting for her. Frankie didn’t move until they were out the door. She was about to bend to pick up her things, when she saw that Jason had gotten there first; he already had her books stacked into a pile.

    “You didn’t have to do that.” The sharp tone came automatically. She was always on guard at school; suspicion was a constant state of mind.

    Jason looked up. “I know.” It was blunt, matter-of-fact. The honest expression in his eyes melted away her doubts. Most of them anyway.

    “Okay. Well, thanks then.” She knelt next to him and unzipped her backpack, holding it open. Jason picked up the books and stuffed them inside, his hand brushing against hers as he did. It was a light, quick touch, but she still jerked away on reflex, drawing in a breath. Her hand seemed to sear where he’d touched her.

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

    “I know. It’s okay,” she said quickly, feeling like an idiot. She didn’t know what the hell was wrong with her that she couldn’t even handle a guy’s hand accidentally brushing against hers. Was she that deprived of human contact? She zipped up her bag and stood, throwing it over her shoulder.

    Jason followed her lead, but instead of grabbing his own things, he stuffed his hands into his pockets, a nervous expression on his face. He looked like he wanted to say something, so Frankie waited. When he didn’t, she wondered if he was just waiting for her to leave, then wondered why she wasn’t. “Thanks again.” The word felt strange on her tongue, even though she’d been using it around Jason a lot lately.

    She was about to head to the door when he said, “How come I haven’t seen you in fifth the past couple days?”

    Oh, shit. Heat rushed over her, both at the mention of her dreaded fifth period class, and at the fact that Jason had noticed her absence. “No reason. I never go to all my classes. School is overrated.” Her mouth was dry. She didn’t know why the lie felt wrong, why it bothered her to lie to Jason Singer of all people. Not that she could tell him the real reason she’d been ditching fifth period.

    That reason was Chase. Of course it was Chase. He was the source of all her problems lately. She hated that she was letting him dictate her life even more than he already had, but she couldn’t bring herself to sit in a classroom with him everyday. The very idea made her feel sick.

    Jason met her eyes, his expression doubtful. “The other day you said you were going to go to all your classes this year.”

    “You remember that?” she blurted, then immediately wished she hadn’t. She didn’t want to sound like some eager little puppy dog, but he’d caught her off guard. Again. He’d been doing it all week.


    “Well, old habits are hard to break.” She shrugged.  “Why do you care anyway?”

    He blinked at her sharp tone, but didn’t back off. “It’s not my business whether or not you go to class, I just want to make sure you’re not ditching because of Chase. I know he’s a jerk, but that would be—it wouldn’t be fair.”

    The laugh that tore from inside her caught her by surprise. It was full of bitterness and anger. “What kind of sparkly world do you live in? Of course it wouldn’t be fair, but nothing is. The world is shit, and people are shit. I’m used to it.”

    Jason’s eyes widened. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again and said, “You didn’t answer the question.”

    Oh shit. I didn’t. I pretty much confirmed his theory. She felt sick. Though she didn’t want to show weakness, she put her hand on her desk, afraid her legs wouldn’t support her if she didn’t. “No. It’s not because of Chase. Why would it be?” Crap, don’t answer that question, she thought.

    “Because ever since—I don’t know. It seems like he’s been harassing you a lot lately, I mean—”

    “More than most people?” she finished, in a desperate attempt to turn the topic of the conversation to the entire school, rather than Chase. “He’s a jerk, Jason, just like you said. He’s always been that way with me. This whole damn school has, or haven’t you noticed?”

     Jason shook his head, and Frankie was both annoyed and impressed with his stubbornness. “He’s been different this year. And so have you. You always used to stand up to him, and now you don’t.”

    “What are you, spying on me or something?” she shouted, because he was getting too close to the truth, and it made the nausea inside her grow. She gripped the desk tighter. Frankie, just get out of here. It doesn’t matter. Jason doesn’t matter. As horrified as she was that Jason was so close to the truth, there was a tiny part of her that felt comforted by the fact that he’d noticed, that he cared.

    “I’m trying to help you, Frankie. Why do you have to be—” he cut himself off, but Frankie seized the opportunity. She had to do something before she cried, or blurted out the truth, or worse—let Jason in even more.

    “Be what? Such a bitch? Because I am. Get used to it, and mind your own fucking business.” The tears were about to fall. She pushed off the desk and practically flew out of the room without another look at him. If she saw the caring expression in his eyes one more time, she might lose it.

    She barely saw the floor in front of her as she walked swiftly away from the classroom. She turned the corner, resisting the urge to run, and nearly bumped right into Dave Colton. Shit, just what I need right now.     

    “Hey, Freak.” The arrogance in Dave’s voice reminded her of Chase. Her head spun; she was going to be sick.

    “Hey, dickhead,” she said, putting all her strength into speaking, hoping that she didn’t vomit, cry, or pass out. “What, were you waiting for me or something? That’s sweet.” Frankie was pleased that her voice came out sounding almost normal.

    Dave grinned, wolf-like, and Frankie wondered how long he’d practiced that smile for. It looked like he was taking lessons directly from Chase. “Want to know why Singer’s suddenly being so nice to you?”

    Yes. She did want to know, but not from Dave, because she wouldn’t get the real answer. “No, I want to go home and vomit. That’s what looking at your face does to me.” She moved to step around him, but he jumped in front of her again, blocking her way.

    He continued as though she’d asked him to. “He wants to get laid, and he knows you’ll give it up for anyone. Poor guy has no standards.”

    Her stomach churned. She tried to let Dave’s words go right out the other ear, but they didn’t. They started to sink in. What if it was true? Why else was Jason suddenly being so nice to her? “But he has a girlfriend,” she said, more to herself than to Dave.

    Dave laughed. “So? Amber made him agree to some stupid purity pact.”

    Amber’s name did not belong in the same sentence as the word “purity.” That girl could stay a virgin her entire life and she still wouldn’t be pure. Frankie stood up straighter, reminding herself that she was talking to Dave the Dickhead, and that she hated him, and Amber, and everyone else. She was supposed to hate Jason too. You do hate him. “That’s nice. Are you going to get out of my way now?” Voices were coming from around the corner. She moved to go around Dave again, wanting to get out of there before they were joined by more people who hated her, but Dave blocked her path again.

    “You know it’s true, Freak.”

    She clutched her stomach as it churned again. Oh no. She’d made the mistake of assuming that her nausea was a result of thinking about Chase, but it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. It was for the other reason, and she was almost out of time. “Get. Out. Of. My. Way.” She was going to vomit right there if she didn’t get to a bathroom, and quick.

    “What’s wrong, Freak, scared?” Laurel asked as she rounded the corner with a group of girls.

    “I think she is,” Dave said.

    Frankie opened her mouth to tell them both to shut up, but instead of words, she gagged. Oh, screw it. She took a step closer to Dave just as her stomach clenched again. Leaning forward, she surrendered to her body’s demand. Vomit flew out of her mouth, spraying everywhere. There were shrieks and laughs around her, but most of it was drowned out by the sound of her own gagging. When she finished, she straightened, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Dave was frozen, a look of shock and disgust on his face. Orangish colored chunks were all over his shoes and jeans, and there were even a few spots on his shirt.

    “Shit, you freak! What the hell?”

    “Oh my god, Dave. You’re going to have to burn your clothes now,” a girl said.

    They were laughing—both at her and Dave—but Frankie didn’t care. The image was priceless. It couldn’t have worked out better if she’d planned it. “I told you to get out of the way,” she said. When she moved to step around him, he let her.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fighting Hate

Hello friends. Just sending a quick reminder that when I'm not writing, I'm making jewelry along with some of my wonderful friends and talented artists. Together we are Pins with Purpose. A good chunk of our items feature safety pins, a symbol of solidarity. All of our proceeds benefit various charitable/non-profit organizations. A few of our items also support PACs, but those items are listed separately in the Repeal/Replace Congress category.

One of the organizations we support is The Southern Poverty Law Center.

Now seems like a pretty good time to remind people of what SPLC does and why it's important to give them lots of love and support right now. We have a man in the White House who refuses to condemn racism and white supremacists. This is not okay, and not normal. Because this man is in office, people who identify as Nazis and white supremacists now feel comfortable expressing their views publicly. This is not okay, and not normal. There has been a rise in hate crimes. This is not okay, and not normal.

Where does the SPLC come in? They fight all the hate.

From their site:
"The SPLC is the premier U.S. non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists – including the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, antigovernment militias, Christian Identity adherents and others.
We’re currently tracking more than 1,600 extremist groups operating across the country. We publish investigative reports, train law enforcement officers and share key intelligence, and offer expert analysis to the media and public."
"The SPLC stands up for the powerless, the exploited and other victims of discrimination and hate.
For more than four decades, we’ve won landmark cases that brought systemic reforms in the Deep South.
We’ve toppled remnants of Jim Crow segregation and destroyed violent white supremacist groups. We’ve shattered barriers to equality for women, vulnerable children, the LGBT community and the disabled. We’ve protected migrant workers and immigrants from abuse, ensured the humane treatment of prisoners, reformed juvenile justice practices, and more.
Today, with a staff of more than 100 lawyers and advocates, we’re focused on impact litigation in these practice areas: Children’s RightsEconomic JusticeImmigrant JusticeLGBT Rights and Criminal Justice Reform."

That's just a quick overview. Learn more here: 
We at Pins With Purpose have items that support the SPLC. As a reminder, 100% of sales of items listed for SPLC will go to SPLC. Artists volunteer time and supplies and are only reimbursed for shipping and handling.  We are happy to do it. Not only are we supporting good causes, but we are filling the world with beautiful things. 
Here are a few of the items we have supporting the SPLC. 

We also have several more. They can be found on our etsy page under the Liberty and Justice category. Please read item descriptions to find out which organization the item supports.

If you don't have a lot of money to buy things or aren't interest in jewelry, that's okay. You can help by sharing our page on social media and liking us on Facebook. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

City of Secrets: Chapter 23

City of Secrets

Chapter 23

Previously: On the first day of school, new girl Natasha and popular boy Chase discovered the murdered body of their guidance counselor, Ms. Miller. A few days later, no one at school--Chase included--seemed to care about Ms. Miller's death. Natasha, distraught and confused, got in an argument with Chase about it.
Natasha abandoned her old life to come to Caribou Canyon. She left behind her friends and a boyfriend, and is having a hard time adjusting. 


     Natasha might’ve stayed in her room, wallowing in self-pity for the rest of the night, if it weren’t for the buzz of an incoming text that forced her to return to the real world. Crap. I still haven’t called Meg, she thought, sitting up and wiping the tears from her eyes.
    Thoughts of Meg left her mind when she saw the text was from Chase. It read, U busy?    

    She and Chase hadn’t spoken since their argument the previous day, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to. But it wasn’t about what she wanted; it was about getting answers. If nothing else, talking to Chase would take her mind off Nick, which she was desperate for.

    She wrote, No, just hanging out.

    The reply came a second later, Cool. Can we talk? 

    She wondered if that meant she had to apologize. She didn’t want to apologize when she was right, but she needed to get back on his good side. She wrote, Yeah, call me. 

    Actually, I’m outside. In the driveway. 

    Though surprised, she typed, Okay. B down in a sec. 

    She looked in the mirror. Her eyes were puffy, her cheeks red, and her hair was almost as messy as Chase’s, though the look wasn’t nearly as becoming on her as it was on him. Using a squirt bottle and a brush, she did what she could with her hair and applied foundation and powder to her face. She still looked like she’d been crying, but hopefully it would be too dark for Chase to notice. She slipped on her shoes and coat—hating the fact that she needed a winter coat in September—and raced downstairs.

    She stepped out into the cool, windy air, relieved to see Chase’s red Dodge Challenger parked in the driveway. At least it would be warm in the car. The wind whipped her hair into her eyes as she dashed to the passenger side and climbed in. “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe how cold it is.”

    “You get used to it. Here.” Chase turned up the heat and directed the vents in her direction.

    “Thanks.” She held her hands up, both to warm them and to avoid looking at Chase. She didn’t want to be the one to start the conversation.

    Apparently, Chase didn’t want to go first either. They sat in silence, during which she became acutely aware of the fact that the tight space smelled strongly of him—a mix of musky aftershave, leather, and something piney. Chase was angled toward her; she could feel his gaze on her. She finally put her hands down and turned to face him. His hair was even messier than usual. It stood up in several directions, but the serious expression on his face made the look sexy, rather than comical. God, he’s good to look at, she thought, her broken heart happy to have a face to replace the image of Nick in her mind. At least temporarily.

    “Hey,” he said, his voice soft and his lips forming a small smile.

    “Hey.” She tried to smile back, but remembered the way Nick had mocked the same hey from earlier, and instead cringed.

    Chase sighed. “Well, I guess that answers my question.”


    “You’re still mad at me. I can see it on your face.”

    Great. So much for freshening up. “No—it’s not—” She stopped. She didn’t want to tell him she wasn’t mad at him anymore, because she honestly didn’t know what she felt. “It’s not you. I just got off the phone with my ex right before you texted.”

    “Oh. Ouch.” He gave her a sympathetic look.

    “Yeah. We tried to do the friends thing, but—it’s hard.” Understatement. She was full of those tonight.

    “I don’t think that ever works out.”

    “Speaking from experience?”

    He shrugged. “Not really, actually. Mostly from watching my friends.”

    “So, no serious relationships for you then?” she asked, both because it seemed like the next logical thing to ask, and also because she wanted him to open to her.

    “No. I’m not a relationship guy.”

    “Why not?”

    “People are always asking me that. It seems obvious to me. I have girls lined up to go out with me. Why should I settle for one?”

    Natasha sighed, annoyed at both Chase and herself. She should be used to him going from easy-going to jerk in seconds flat, but she wasn’t.

    “What?” he asked.

    “What? Really?” She knew she needed to keep her feelings to herself if she wanted Chase on her side, but she couldn’t. Arrogance drove her crazy. “You realize that what you just said was totally conceited, right?”

    “It was the truth,” he said matter-of-factly, his expression almost challenging. “Did you not want the truth?”

    “So the truth is that you’re just full of yourself?”

    His smile—the confident, self-assured smile—fell away. “I don’t know. I guess I am sometimes,” he said. She couldn’t think of a response to that. Chase rested his forehead in his hands. “I’m sorry, this wasn’t how I pictured this conversation going.”

    “How did you picture it?”

    He looked up, a slightly amused expression on his face. “Well, I was going to apologize for the other day, congratulate you on making the cheerleading squad, and then flatter you so you’d forget you were mad at me. That’s how I usually handle girls.”

    Natasha’s mouth dropped open, her annoyance turning to anger. “Handle girls?” she repeated. “Seriously? How I am supposed to stop being mad at you when you keep making comments like that?” How am I supposed to get any information out of you if I can’t stand to be around you?

    His smile fell away, and he just stared at her for several seconds, his expression intense. It was unsettling, but she didn’t look away. “I like you,” he finally said, his voice soft.

    “I take it you’re just skipping right to the flattery.” It’s not going to work, she thought, ignoring the rush of warmth in her stomach. He was good. No wonder girls were all over him. But she wasn’t going to be one of those girls.

    The serious expression didn’t waver. “No, I’m being honest.”

    “Okay,” she said, not giving him an inch.

    He shook his head. “Come on, what I said wasn’t that bad, was it? I mean, don’t you handle guys?”

    “No. I talk to them. Because they’re people, not pets.”

    “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. She crossed her arms and glared at him, her expression unwavering. He grinned. “Okay, I’m sorry.”


    “For what I said about handling girls. And for the other day. You were right. I was a jerk.”

    She wondered if he meant it, or if he was just saying it. Maybe it didn’t matter. She needed to put up some kind of a shield against his arrogance if she was going to get what she wanted. She needed to start handling him. “Okay. Apology accepted.”

    “Congratulations on making the cheerleading squad.” He winked.

    She laughed. “Is this where you tell me I’m beautiful?”

    “No. Beautiful is too generic for you. Tons of girls are beautiful. You’re much more than that.”

    The soft voice and intense gaze was back. The butterflies in her stomach warred with her logical brain. Remember the mission. She smiled. “Damn, you’re pretty good at this flattery thing.”

    “Maybe that’s because there are so many things about you deserving of compliments.”

    “That one’s a little cliché,” she said.

    “Doesn’t make it any less true.”

    She didn’t answer, she was lost in the forest that was his eyes, but it wasn’t because she was buying what he was selling. There was something about his expression that was off, but she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. Chase was typical in so many ways, but in other ways he wasn’t. Part of her wondered why, and another part of her didn’t want to know.

    “I mean it, Natasha. And I really am sorry about the way I acted. I’m not just saying it. I know I was a jerk. I know I’m a jerk a lot, it’s just—I don’t know. I think that’s the way I’m supposed to be.” He looked down, studying his hands, the confidence he’d shown moments before gone.

    “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    “It would if you knew my dad,” he said, his tone so cryptic that it sent a chill through her.

    She waited, having the feeling that he was going to say more. When he didn’t, she said, “You can talk to me, you know.”

    Chase shrugged, still not meeting her eyes. “He just expects me to be a certain way. He always has.”

    “What way is that?”

    “As you would put it, a jerk.” He smiled when he said it, but there was no amusement in his tone.

    “Chase—” she began, but stopped when she realized she didn’t know what to say.

    “It’s okay. You’re right. My is dad a jerk. I used to know that, but I stopped seeing it. My dad is cold, he always has been, but he’s powerful. People look up to him. They give him what he wants. He taught me to be just like he is. I think I am, but I’m not sure it’s who I want to be.”

    “You don’t have to be who your dad wants you to be. Just because it’s his way, doesn’t mean it has to be yours.”

    “I wish it were that simple.”

    “Why isn’t it?” She wasn’t digging for information anymore. She could see the pain and confusion in his eyes, and she genuinely wanted to help, though she wasn’t sure she could.

    He looked away, staring out the window. It was a moment before he replied. “I guess because I don’t know what I want. Sometimes, it’s easier to be the guy my dad wants me to be. That guy doesn’t get hurt. People look up to that guy. People are afraid of that guy.”

    They are, she thought, remembering the way Frankie had looked at him the first day of school. Frankie had been afraid of him, afraid of the look in his eyes. Natasha had been afraid of the look in his eyes too, but now she had a hard time believing she was sitting in the car with that same person. “You don’t really want people to be afraid of you, do you?”

    There was another long pause. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I do. It’s easier that way.”

    “I don’t believe that,” she said.

    He looked at her. “Come on, think about it. There are two types of people in the world. The ones who create fear, and the ones who are afraid. I don’t want to be the one who’s afraid.”

    A wave of sadness came over her. It seemed like a terribly bleak way to think of the world. “That’s not how it works, Chase. It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

    “It’s not. Think about the other day. How did you feel? Standing there in the rain while we waited for the police to show up. How did you really feel?”  

    His voice was soft, but cold. It sent a chill through her, but it had the desired effect. In her mind, she saw Ms. Miller’s body. She pictured the blood, the gray sky. She could feel the cold, hear the rain. She shuddered. “Horrible. It was horrible. I felt—tiny. Helpless. Afraid.”

    “Exactly. So did I. We were afraid. Ms. Miller was probably afraid too. But how do you think her killer felt? I bet he wasn’t afraid. He created the fear. He was the one on top.”

    Natasha felt sick inside. She didn’t want to think about the killer, about what he’d felt, what he’d been thinking. She didn’t like where this conversation was going. The brown in Chase’s eyes had grown darker, like a forest going black at night. “So, what? Kill or be killed?”

    He rolled his eyes, the exaggerated expression actually making her feel better. “No. That’s a little dramatic. I’m just trying to make a point.”

    “Which is?” she asked, trying to remember how they’d wound up talking about Ms. Miller’s killer.

    “I was afraid, and I hated it. There’s only one other time in my life I felt like that, and I never want to feel it again.”


    At first, she thought he wasn’t going to answer. She waited, and after a minute of silence, he started talking. “When I was eight. My dad took me to this homeless shelter in Denver. I thought—I don’t know—he was always wanting to teach me lessons. When they were over, he’d ask what I learned, what I thought he wanted to teach me.”

    Natasha wouldn’t have thought that was so strange, if it weren’t for the way Chase said it. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, and his voice had dropped down an octave.

    “So, I figured this was another of his lessons. Some of them weren’t so bad, but this one was, at least at first. He’d signed us up to volunteer, to cook and serve food. The cooking wasn’t so bad, I always helped Mom in the kitchen, so I knew some stuff. It was the serving that I didn’t like. The people who came in, well, they were scary. They didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen. Their clothes were dirty, their faces unshaven. I’ve never seen people like that before. I thought they would act as scary as they looked.”

    “Did they?” she asked.

    He looked up, his eyes wide. “No. They were awesome. Most of them seemed really happy to see a kid there. They smiled, thanked me, teased me, told jokes. They were great. Way cooler than a lot of the adults my parents spent time around. I couldn’t believe how friendly they were. They seemed so grateful. I loved it. It felt really good, knowing I was helping them. It was the best day I’d ever had.”

    He paused, and Natasha waited, a feeling of dread inside her. She knew this story was going to take a dark turn, but Chase had looked away again, seemingly lost in his thoughts. A few moments passed before he continued.

    “My dad took me out to dinner that night, some super fancy place in Denver. Before we ordered, he asked me what I thought the lesson was. I can’t remember exactly what I told him, but it was something about how I figured he wanted me to appreciate how good I had it, that there were people who didn’t have it so good, and that because I did have it good, I could help people.”

    “Well, that sounds right,” Natasha offered.

    “Dad didn’t tell me if I got it right. Usually he did, but that time, he didn’t say anything. When the waitress came, he ordered everything on the menu. I’m not kidding, Natasha. Every appetizer, every salad, every entrée, and every dessert. The waitress thought he was joking at first. He pulled out this huge wad of hundreds, showed it to her, and told her to get us everything on the menu.”

    Natasha’s mouth dropped open in shock, and Chase gave her another humorless smile. “Yeah, I think that was about how I looked. I didn’t know what he was doing, ordering all that food. There were only two of us. I asked him how we were going to eat it all, but he didn’t answer.

    “They brought the food out in waves. I think it took at least two hours before we got everything. They had to pull over a couple extra tables to have room for it all. Everyone in the restaurant was staring at us, but Dad acted like he didn’t even notice.

    “He told me to eat as much as I wanted, and if I got full, it was okay. So, I did. At first, it was kind of awesome. I mean, I was a kid, and I had all these choices in front of me. It was like, I don’t know, food Christmas or something. But I got a horrible stomach ache later.”

    “I bet,” Natasha said, her voice a whisper.

    “So, when Dad said he was ready for the check, the waitress asked if we needed to-go boxes. We didn’t even eat half of what we ordered. That was when I found out what the lesson was. Dad told her no, we didn’t need any boxes. There were some plates we hadn’t even touched, but Dad said we weren’t going to save any of it. He told the waitress to the throw the rest away.”

    Natasha was speechless with shock. She stared at him, waiting for him to go on.

    “Want to know what the lesson was?” The sound of his voice told her that she didn’t, but she nodded. “It was that we’re better than those people at the homeless shelter. We’re better than the waitress, the kitchen staff, than everyone at the restaurant. We can have what we want, when we want it. People have to listen to us. If we want to waste food, we can, because it’s ours to waste. We’re at the top. We’re the strong ones, and we can do whatever we want with that strength. We can help, or we can hurt. That was the lesson.”

    “Holy shit,” Natasha said, unable to stop herself. “That’s—I don’t know. Wow.”

    His eyes were cold when he looked at her. “That’s my dad.”

    Okay, so Conrad Martindale is an asshole. And insane. Duly noted. “Jeez, Chase. I—I’m sorry. I don’t even know what to say.”

    His expression was softer when he said, “It’s okay. I’m just glad you listened, and that you’re still sitting here.”

    “Well, you know, it’s warm in here,” she said, doing her best to smile. She was relieved when he returned the smile, lightening the mood in the car.

    “I don’t tell that story to a lot of people.”

    “Yeah, I can imagine.” As his story sank in, she realized that it explained a lot. Chase wanted to be a decent person, but he’d grown up with a father who taught him that being nice was the wrong way to be. She couldn’t imagine what that would be like.

    “I think that’s why I acted the way I did the other day. I hated that feeling. Seeing Ms. Miller like that and not being able to do anything about it. I thought—if I don’t care, then it didn’t matter,” he said, his voice serious again.

    “But you do care. I saw you, Chase. You were as scared as I was.” She didn’t want to make him feel worse, she just wanted him to see the truth. She wanted to help him, because it was clear that he was asking her to.

    “Yeah, and I hated it.”

    “Of course you hated it. No one likes to feel that way, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s normal. You know that, don’t you?” she asked, realizing that he might not.

    “According to my dad, there is something wrong with it.”

    “You don’t have to be like him,” she said, at a loss for what else to say.

    “But if I’m not like him, then who am I?”

    “Anyone you want to be. You’re still in high school, Chase. You don’t have to know yet. I don’t know who I am,” she admitted. A year ago, she thought she did, but her fake parents had destroyed that feeling. She knew how lost Chase felt, because she felt it too.

    He narrowed his eyes at her. “Really? You seem to know exactly who you are, what you want.”

    She shook her head. “Nope. I don’t have a clue. But that’s okay, I figure I have senior year to figure it out.” The thought didn’t fill her with hope. Instead, it filled her with fear. Fear that she wouldn’t figure it out. Fear that she would never get her answers.

    “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

    She took that moment to break the seriousness of their conversation. “Of course I am. I’m always right.”

    He grinned. “I’m sure you are. So, does this mean we’re good?”

    “Yeah, we’re good.” She meant it. She felt much better about him than she had when she’d gotten in the car. She felt like she understood him, at least a little.

    “Good, then let’s talk about tomorrow.”

    “What about it?” She kept her tone innocent, though she had a feeling she knew where he was going.

    “It’s our last free Friday before the games start. We should use it wisely.”

    “I get the feeling you have something in mind.”

    “I do. I promised you a tour. So, how about it?” he asked.

    “You’re on,” she said, feeling the best she’d felt in days.

    As she headed back into the house, she remembered what had Chase had said before he’d told his story, there’s only one other time in my life I felt that afraid, and I never want to feel it again. She wondered what part of the story he’d been referring to. The homeless people? His father? Natasha wasn’t sure, and she decided it didn’t matter. Chase Martindale had opened up to her. He was on her side, and tomorrow would be the perfect opportunity to try and get the answers she was looking for. 


Monday, September 4, 2017

Where to go?

Hello loyal readers whom I've neglected! I've missed all 3 or 4 of you!

Where have I been? I'm so glad you asked. I've been writing non-stop on Pieces, my literary mystery, or possibly my mystery. With light paranormal elements. Yes, I'm still having genre woes.

Something magical happened in the middle of the second draft of Pieces: I leveled up. My writing has reached a new level of maturity. This is wonderful, but it has its drawbacks. More on the drawbacks later.

I've finished the 2nd draft and am already plowing through the 3rd draft, which is mostly revising and editing rather than rewriting, which is awesome. It's also a lot of deleting, because I still have a problem with too many words. More on that in another post.

So, those drawbacks I mentioned. I'm no longer feeling my older novels. You know, that vampire novel I started 7 years ago? Yeah, that one. My first born child. I love it, but I'm not sure I can get back into writing it. All those bad drafts are burned into my brain. It's hard to explain, but I know a lot of writers eventually wind up putting their first books away. I didn't want this to happen, but I'm just not feeling it anymore.

My other problem? I'm not sure what to do with my second novel, City of Secrets, which I began releasing chapter by chapter. It's still here on my blog, but I'm not sure what I want to do with it anymore. The serial site didn't work out the way I'd hoped. I'm not against continuing to release it on my blog, I'm just not sure anymore.

What am I sure of?

Finishing Pieces. I plan to have that done by the end of the year. By "done" I mean ready to query. It's happening.

I'm also sure of this other brand spanking new idea that's brewing in my mind. I know, I know. Should I start a new novel when I have two old ones kicking around? Maybe not, but I think the new one could get written faster and better than those older ones. I've evolved, and my stories have evolved with me.

These are the hard problems writers have. Letting a baby go is scary, but moving on to bigger and better stories is wonderful.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 22

City of Secrets

Chapter 22

Previously: When Penny's older brother died, she didn't just lose him. She also lost the friendship of the best friend she shared with her brother. Josh left town when Richie died, without a word of goodbye to Penny. Penny hasn't heard from him all summer.

Chapter 22
    Penny pulled the keys out of the ignition, but didn’t get out of her mother’s Subaru—anger held her rooted in place. “I’m working from home today, so I’ll fix dinner. It’ll be nice to sit down as a family again,” she said, mocking her father’s words from that morning. She didn’t know who she was more angry with: her dad for breaking yet another promise, or herself for trusting him.

    “It’s not like we’d be a family again anyway.” They’d never be a family again—not with one member missing.

    “Darn it,” she muttered, slamming her hands on the steering wheel. She wasn’t doing herself any good, and she wasn’t doing her mom any good either. She needed to hurry and get back home. They never left Vicky alone for longer than twenty or thirty minutes—not since the time she’d left the gas stove on all day.

    Penny grabbed her purse and got out of the car, the misty air hitting her in the face. She glanced up at the darkening sky, wondering if there would be another downpour. That week they’d experienced an unusual number of storms, even for Caribou Canyon. Penny thought it was fitting, considering recent events. She hurried through the parking lot and stepped into Josephina’s Diner, enjoying the rush of warm air.

    She was about to step up to the counter when a familiar laugh rang through the restaurant. The sound travelled straight to her heart and gripped it tightly, even as her pulse sped up in anticipation. He’s back, she thought. How could she have forgotten? She wasn’t ready for this. Not in the slightest. She’d known she would have to face him eventually, but she’d hoped to have time to prepare. Time to talk herself into being strong. She didn’t feel strong. She felt lonely and weak, homesick and lovesick.

    “Whoa. That is seriously nifty. Teach me,” a girl said. Her high-pitched voice was easy to hear in the nearly empty diner.

    “Really?” asked the voice that had haunted Penny’s waking and sleeping thoughts for the past three months.

    “Yes, really. And shut up about it already,” the girl said.

    “Okay. It’s easy. You just rip a small piece off the end, put it in your mouth, and blow.”

    Penny knew she shouldn’t look, knew she didn’t want to see who he was flirting with, but she couldn’t not look. Turning, Penny saw Josh Abbott—she knew it was him even though his back was to her—sitting in the farthest booth. Her heart broke at the sight of him—the best friend she’d needed desperately and the unrequited love she’d longed for. His auburn hair was slightly mussed up, and even in her anger she still wanted to run her fingers through it.

    He was home. He was home and he hadn’t called her. Despite the fact that he’d been freezing her out, she realized that she’d still expected to hear from him when he came home.

    Penny turned her gaze to the girl who sat across from Josh, pain and jealousy coursing through her. The girl was thin, and didn’t look to be older than fourteen. Her hair was light brown and cut close to her head in a style more common on boys than girls; it made her small ears look more prominent, giving her an elfish appearance. Her skin was so pale it was almost white, and Penny figured it had to be makeup, that the girl must be trying to pull off a goth or emo look. The dark circles under her eyes, which were also probably makeup, served to further prove that assumption.

    The girl put a straw in her mouth and blew the wrapper at Josh, who laughed. She let the straw fall from her mouth, a grin spreading across her face. “Holy shit that was fun.” She hopped out of the booth and skipped to the counter. The girl, who was as short as she was thin, was dressed so strangely that Penny couldn’t help but stare. The girl wore a blue knee-length pencil skirt, the kind a business woman—maybe a lawyer—might wear, except the lawyer probably wouldn’t have paired it with black and white striped tights. The lawyer also would’ve left the sparkling red Mary Jane shoes at the store, figuring that an outfit resembling that of the one worn by the Wicked Witch of the East would be frowned upon in court.

    The girl grabbed a handful of straws from the dispenser—her thumbs were hooked through self-made holes in the black hoodie she wore—and skipped back to the booth. Penny watched with growing jealousy as the girl blew another straw wrapper at Josh.

    “I thought this would get old, but nope. It’s great. I feel like I’m giving an alien a tour of Earth,” Josh said.

    “An alien?” she said, her voice full of offense. A wrapper hit her square in the nose, and she grinned. “Yeah, that is I. Alien here. Prithee, Jay, don’t take me to your leader. I suspect authority could be problematic for me.” Proving this, she put another straw in her mouth, this time shooting the wrapper into the booth across from her.

    Jay? She calls him Jay? His name is only one syllable; he doesn’t need a nickname. Jealously flared through Penny as she stared at the elfish looking girl who was utterly fascinated by blowing wrappers off of straws. You’re just jealous because you never gave him a nickname. 

    “Oh my god, did you just say prithee?” Josh said, laughing. “What kind of textbooks did your dad teach you from?”

    “Jay—” the girl began, but cut herself off. Her voice had lowered and her smile disappeared.

    “Shit, Tone, I’m sorry. I wasn’t—”

    “It’s okay.”

    Penny had been in the process of trying to will the girl to stone with her eyes when Josh’s words hit her. The girl wasn’t some random groupie who’d followed him home. Penny realized that she was staring at Antonia Torrance, daughter of the town shut-in, and the new lead guitarist of Hell’s Descendants. Penny had seen the girl’s picture on the band’s website, but hadn’t recognized her in person. Antonia—who, according to the band’s website preferred to be called Toni—had been the talk of the town back in May, when she’d gone from being Caribou Canyon’s second most reclusive resident to touring the United States with the nation’s hottest new band.

    Toni’s father was George Torrance, former mayor of Caribou Canyon. According to Penny’s parents, George was once amicable and warm, and a friend to nearly everyone. He was the most popular mayor the town had ever had. All of that changed when George’s wife died after giving birth to their daughter. George had sold his palatial house in the center of town and moved to a secluded cabin at the top of Riverdale Road, a windy dirt road that led to an old hunting area that was rarely used anymore.

    George Torrance had become a ghost, a shut-in. By association, his daughter became one too. George never enrolled her in public school, opting to teach her at home instead. George took care of all his business online and had his groceries delivered—a service not normally offered at the Stop and Shop. Penny knew that it was George’s former status that influenced the store manager to make an exception for him. Even the delivery people never saw him—they left the groceries in a cooler on the porch, where enough cash to cover the bill and a tip were waiting in an envelope.

    Curiosity temporarily replaced Penny’s jealousy. Penny had been hearing rumors about the Torrances her entire life. One rumor stated that Toni had died years ago, having been killed and cannibalized by her crazy father. Another was that Toni was a demon child who’d killed her mother shortly after entering the world, and kept her father imprisoned in their home. Whispers around town said that Toni would sometimes come out during the full moon, walking around in the woods and howling at the sky. Others insisted that Toni didn’t exist at all—that she’d died along with her mother, and that was the real reason George had shut himself away from the world.

    Toni was Richie’s replacement. As much as Penny hated that someone had stolen Richie’s rightful spot, even she couldn’t deny that Toni was a good guitarist. She was brilliant. She’d learned all of Hell’s Descendants’ songs so quickly that the band hadn’t needed to delay the tour.

    Penny couldn’t take her eyes off Toni. She realized that the girl wasn’t wearing white makeup after all. She really was that pale; Penny wondered if the dark circles under her eyes were real as well. She’d been wrong about the girl’s age. Toni was at least sixteen or seventeen—Penny thought she’d be a junior if she went to public school.

    Richie’s replacement, Penny thought, the jealousy taking over again. Why couldn’t you have just stayed in your cabin? It was a selfish, unfair thought. It wasn’t Toni’s fault that Richie had died. She couldn’t be blamed for taking the opportunity to escape her sheltered world. Penny knew she had no right to be angry with the girl, but she was. That anger—fueled by pain and jealousy—grew as she continued to watch Toni and Josh. If people didn’t know them, they’d think the two had been friends for years. Good friends. Maybe even best friends. He was talking to her like she was Richie. Josh truly had found Richie’s replacement.  

    “Hey there,” a gristly voice said. Penny turned to see Walter Morris, co-owner of Josephina’s, walking out from behind the counter and heading her way. She was grateful for the excuse to turn away from the besties in the back of the restaurant. Penny smiled at Walter, whom she’d known her whole life. Walter and his wife had owned and ran the diner since before Penny was born. Walter and Josephina were two of the nicest people Penny had ever met. She’d always found it endearing that they’d stayed in Caribou Canyon and ran the diner, despite the fact that over two decades ago they’d won twenty-seven million dollars in the biggest lottery jackpot in Colorado history. Other than visiting their home in the Hamptons once a summer, the couple never left Caribou Canyon.

    “Hi, Walter. I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to make you come all the way over here.”

    He smiled back, every crinkle and crevice in his face moving along with his lips. “S’all right, honey. Crazy, idinit?” Walter said. His white apron was stained with what looked like ketchup, and he was staring just as blatantly at Toni as Penny had.

    “What?” Penny asked, feeling guilty for having stared for so long.

     Walter glanced at her and winked before turning his gaze back to the tiny girl who was sure to be the talk of the town once word got around that she was back. “Thought she was a groupie at first, till I membered seeing ‘er picture in the paper. Can’t believe it. Poor thing, locked in that cabin.”

    “Yeah,” Penny whispered, hoping Walter would get the hint and lower his voice.

    It was too late. Toni looked up at them from across the restaurant. Her eyes travelled over Walter dismissively before coming to rest on Penny. She tilted her head and stared at Penny just as curiously as Penny had stared at her. A second later, she leaned across the table and whispered something to Josh.

    Oh no, Penny thought, heart pounding. He’s going to turn around, he’s going to see you. Dread and anticipation warred inside her. She wanted so badly to see him, but she wasn’t sure if that was because she wanted to hug him or slap him. For that reason, she considered turning and running out the door. But she couldn’t. She was frozen.

    Josh turned, lifting himself partly out of the booth and leaning over the back of it. His face was unreadable as he stared at her. Penny’s mouth was dry, and she wasn’t sure she could’ve spoken even if she knew what to say, so she waited for him. He’s going to call you over. He’s going to apologize. Don’t let him off easy. Don’t give in. Penny was still steeling herself to be firm, to let him know how much he’d hurt her, when he smiled and lifted his hand in a wave. A second later, he turned and slid back into the booth.

    Penny gaped. She hadn’t thought it possible for Josh to hurt her more than he already had, but he just did. That wave was a punch in the gut. A wave. Over a decade of friendship, and all he could muster was a wave.

    “You wanna come getch your order, honey?” Walter asked.

    Penny nodded and followed Walter to the counter. “Be right back,” he said, disappearing into the kitchen.

    Penny sat on a stool near the register, her back facing Josh. She tried to focus on The Eagles’ Hotel California that was playing over the speakers, rather than the sounds of Josh and Toni’s conversation.

    She breathed a sigh of relief when Walter came back and set a bag full of to-go boxes on the counter. “That’ll be $17.44.” Handing him a twenty, she waited for what felt like an eternity as he opened the register. Walter paused, bill hovering over the drawer, and glanced at Toni and Josh. “Didn’tch you two have a thing, or something?” Walter asked, in a voice that was loud enough for the entire town to hear.

    Penny’s cheeks burned. Was he trying to embarrass her? “Uh, no. We were just friends.”

    “That don’t mean you didn’t have a thing. What’s he doing, treating you like he don’t know you?”

    Walter’s words were fuel for the anger that was already burning inside her. She took a deep, steady breath, trying to stay calm. “It’s nothing, Walter. Can I just have my change?”

    Walter moved at a pace that would only be slower if he’d simply stopped moving entirely. “What does he think? He too good for us now?” A harsh laugh escaped the man’s mouth. “Well, he better think again.”

    Penny shrugged, not sure what that was supposed to mean. Finally, Walter presented her change. She put a dollar bill in the tip jar—despite his slow speed and humiliating comments—and pocketed the rest.

    “Bless your heart, honey. You wanna know something?”

    No, I want to get out of here. “What’s that?” Penny asked, trying her hardest to keep her voice friendly.

    “You’re one a the good ones, Penny Harper. Too good for us. Don’t be taking this the wrong way, but I hope you get out of here, honey. I really do,” he said, his smile gone and his voice low.

    The strange statement was enough to momentarily distract her from thoughts of Josh. I hope you get out of here. It reminded her of the conversation between her aunt and her father—the one she wasn’t entirely convinced was a dream. “Uh, okay. Well, it’s senior year, and I plan to go to college, so I guess I will.”

    Walter nodded slowly, and Penny was struck by the sadness in his eyes. “Yeah, that sounds good. You have a good night, honey.”

    Penny forced a smile. “You too.” She was halfway to the door when Josh’s loud laughter hit her in the gut. She froze, the anger and hurt washing over her again. The urge to simultaneously slap him and hug him was almost overwhelming.

    Penny was moving before she could think it through. She didn’t know what her plan was—to hit or to hug—but she figured she’d find out when she got there. Penny stopped when she reached their table, standing where a waitress would.

    “Oh,” Toni said, tilting her head at Penny. Penny was caught off guard by the curious expression on the girl’s white face. Toni’s eyes, a deep blue that gleamed in protest to the shadows underneath them, were wide. “Hello. I know who you are. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say something to you or not.”

    Under different circumstances, Penny might’ve had a lot to say to that statement, but she couldn’t think about Toni at the moment. She turned to Josh, and could’ve sworn she’d seen pain in his eyes before he pasted a very cordial and very un-Josh-like smile on his face. “Hey, Penny. What’s up?” he asked, in a tone one would use to speak to an acquaintance.

    “What’s up?” she repeated mockingly. She shook her head. It was like she was nothing to him. Like it didn’t even matter that they’d gone from talking everyday to having spent three months apart. “Too bad she doesn’t have a sister,” Penny said, tilting her head in Toni’s direction. “Then the replacement would be complete.” With each word, her anger increased. She might’ve been able to maintain control if it weren’t for the look of dumbfounded shock on Josh’s face, as if he had no idea why she was mad. It was that expression that pushed her over the edge. She picked up the half-empty glass of soda in front of him, tossed the liquid in his face, slammed the empty glass back on the table and walked away while Josh was still gasping in surprise.

    “Whoa,” Toni said, before bursting out laughing.

    Penny passed Walter, who was coming out from behind the counter, towel in hand. Her heart sank, heavy with guilt. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed at him.

    He winked. “Don’t be, honey. You’re better off.”

    Penny felt like the door was miles away; every step she took toward it, it moved even farther away. She was forced to listen to Walter assuring Josh that he would take care of the mess, and to Toni apologizing profusely for laughing and asking if she could help. Josh was silent. That silence told her everything. When Penny finally reached the door and stepped outside, she knew she had her answer. Josh wasn’t her friend anymore; maybe he never had been. 


Next Chapter

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