So long, Twitter

I’m no longer on Twitter. It’s been a long time coming, but since the changeover, I have decided to leave for good. I’m feeling better already. You can still find me on Instagram where I post lots of cat pictures or on YouTube where I post the audio of some of my flash fiction as well as things I like.

First chapter of A Family Matter : a Lacey Stocking mystery

A Family Matter is available for pre-order right now and will be released September 13, 2022, but in the meantime here’s the first chapter to whet your appetite.

Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc. Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU

I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Hardley was keeping up. We were already running behind and there he was flirting with the new secretary at the insurance company down the hall from our office. “Did you lock the door?” I said it loud enough that Miss Long Lashes and Pouty Lips got the hint that batting those eyelashes of hers at my partner was interrupting his work. She took one look at me, scowled, and flounced away.

Disappointed, Hardley hung his head and grumbled. “I thought you did.” Tall and lanky, he was the spitting image of Hollywood actor, Dan Duryea. Hardley had a mix of toughness and charm about him, but mostly Hardley was, I hated to say it, a little on the goofy side.

“Look, fella, your name is on the door.”

“Fine. Hold the elevator.”

It was wrong to play tricks on him when he was chasing all the skirts in the building, but I got a good laugh out of it. It kept him on his toes and us on time for our appointments. Mostly. Deep down, even if he wouldn’t admit it, he enjoyed it too.

Starting Hardley A. Witt Detective Agency was my idea. I had wanted to be a cop ever since I was little, just like my father and my two brothers, but good ol’ Dad wouldn’t stand for his only daughter putting her life in danger on the streets of Chicago. So, after he passed away, I moved to the Pittsburgh area and became a secretary for Standard City Bank where I met Hardley. In his police uniform. Standing in the lobby. Looking bored out of his mind. We became friends and soon found ourselves in compromising situations that usually involved thugs, thieves, guns, Hardley getting a black eye, and me calling on the police to help him out. I suggested going legit and after getting our license we started our own agency. Unfortunately, without his name on the door, no one took me seriously as a private detective.

“The door was locked,” Hardley said, out of breath from racing down the hall. “But I bet you knew that.”

I pretended to be offended. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Fresh. Don’t think you can keep using the your name is on the door line either. It’s not funny anymore.”

“Aw, come on. Where’s your sense of humor?”

“Back in my bed where I left it. Now, are you going to tell me what this is all about?”

“In the elevator. The hallway has ears.” Lois, the nosy switchboard operator, walked by with her morning cup of coffee, watching Hardley and me talking. It was bad enough that she listened in on our phone calls but there she was doing it openly. One of the girls from the steno pool told me that Lois could read lips and that she might have been a code-breaker during the war. It seemed a bit far-fetched about her being a code-breaker but the lip-reading thing? I’d put money on that. I glowered at her. “How’s the old switchboard? Learn any government secrets yet?”

“Hi, Lois.” Hardley winked at her. “How’s your cat?”

Thankfully, the elevator door slammed shut before she could answer. I turned to Hardley. “Why don’t you ask her out and get it over with?”

“Lois?” He scrunched up his nose in a mix of disgust and fascination. “She’s old enough to be my…” He counted on his fingers. “Older sister. You know sometimes I think you’re jealous of me flirting with other girls.”

I laughed. “Why would I be jealous?”

“Because deep down you love me.” He sighed in a love-sick way.

The elevator suddenly got smaller and warmer. I shifted my weight so that I wasn’t standing so close to him. I stared up at the dial as it moved down from one number to the next, hoping he’d take my silence as a hint that I didn’t want to talk about this. He said things like this every once in a while and politely changed the subject when I didn’t take the bait.

“Anyway,” he said. “What’s going on?”

I quietly exhaled in relief. “After you left last night, I got a call from the local wine king himself, Mr. Edwin McMasters, demanding we help him. Not asking, demanding.”

“With all the money he has he could hire any detective agency in the city or the state or the world even. Why us?”

“I was getting to that.” I fished my compact and lipstick out of my purse and began touching up my face. “He doesn’t want a big name. Wants a small racket. His words, not mine.”

“If I could afford it, I’d be offended. What else did he say?”

“Get this. He thinks one of his kids wants to kill him.”

Hardley took hold of my compact and smiled in the mirror, checking for food in his teeth.

I raised an eyebrow. “Now who’s being fresh?”

“It sounds like he needs a bodyguard, not a detective.”

“Being the ditzy secretary I pretend to be, he didn’t tell me everything, but the family is gathering this weekend for their annual memorial service honoring Adele McMasters, the matriarch of the family. Nothing like a little patricide to liven up a family get-together.”

“My, what big words you have, grandma. Inheritance?”

“He’s no Rockefeller, but he’s never stood in a bread line, that’s for sure. Money would be the most obvious motivation for snuffing him out. Or maybe he’s just a nasty person. He sounds like a cantankerous old coot over the phone.”

“Kinda how I feel right now.” He yawned and stretched. “But what I don’t get is why so early and why are we being forced against our will? Couldn’t you have said no?”

“He didn’t give me any room to say no. Like I said, it wasn’t a request; it was a command. Besides, we need the money or they’re going to shut the lights off.”

“It almost feels like we’re being kidnapped.”

“I don’t know about you, chum, but I like having a roof over my head.” Fighting off a contagious yawn, I checked the time on my watch. “Besides, nine o’clock isn’t early.”

“It is when I wake up at four and can’t go back to sleep.”

“He’s sending a car to whisk us away. He kept telling me how lucky we are that he’s letting us visit him and his family at his very private estate.”

“Private estate? Well, la-di-da. I could use a vacation.”

The elevator doors slid open, dropping us into the lobby. My heart raced in anticipation. Despite the circumstances, I was excited about meeting the family. When you live in the shadow of one of the richest families in western Pennsylvania, you can’t help but want a glimpse into their lives. I grew up in a cramped apartment and had to share a room with my brothers. Of course I was curious to see how the other half lived, but add a suspicion of murder into the mix and I was ready to get this job started.

“Don’t expect poolside drinks, okay. We have to help a man figure out which one of his kids wants to bump him off.” As I stepped out onto the sidewalk, I shielded my eyes against the morning sun and began searching for our ride. I had seen the McMasters Family of Wine emblem on the side of a black car around town a few times before, but I didn’t see a black car or a gold emblem anywhere. “Do you see him?”

“I wonder if he’ll send the Bentley.”

“Is Bentley his chauffeur?”

“It’s a car, brainless. Do you know how much one of those things cost?”

“If it’s more than bus fare, then no. And how do you know so much about Edwin McMasters’ car?”

“I saw it in a magazine once.”

We stood outside our building, scanning the street for an expensive car, but mostly the road was filled with taxis and buses rushing people off to work. It was hard to hear anything out in the busy street, but if I had, I would have been prepared for the footsteps that belonged to the gun now making an imprint on my left kidney.

“Don’t turn around. Don’t make a sound. Got me?” A man with a deep, nasally voice stood so close to me that I felt he should have bought me dinner first. But I did what I was told, especially since my gun was in my handbag and my hands weren’t working very well at that moment. Hardley glanced over his shoulder, looking like he was ready to pounce on the man.

“Eyes front if you know what’s good for you. The car’s in the alley. Any wrong moves and I pull this trigger.” He shoved Hardley, nearly knocking him over.

“Easy, pal.”

“Don’t easy pal me,” the brute said. “Move it.”

“Shut up,” I whispered to Hardley.

The gorilla of a man pushed us along the street into the alley next to our building. I turned my head quickly to get a glimpse of his face in case I needed to identify him later. His fedora covered most of his face, leaving only his impressively wide chin visible. A plain black car sat parked with the back door open. Before I could react, another hulk of a man spun me around and put a blindfold over my eyes.

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

“Quiet! Get in.”

With the help of the brute, I slid across the back seat. Hardley jostled in next to me, bumping my shoulder.

“Hey, take it easy, chum.”

“Not a peep, hear me? Keep your eyes covered. I can see you in the mirror, got me?”

The car drove off. Hardley wasn’t kidding when he said it, except this was more than like being kidnapped. We were being kidnapped.

Social Media Expectations and Publishing

I have a lot of things I could say about this subject, but this blog post hits on everything I’ve suspected and some conclusions I arrived at on my own without the experience — the point about how publishing controls the market in particular. But alas, if you’re an aspiring author seeking a traditional contract, please read this blog post by Kacen Callender Social Media Expectations.

Some of the points in the post jell with points I made about why I chose to self-publish. I’m also including the link to the tweet so you can read the comments from other published authors.
Kacen’s tweet.

5 Reasons I Chose to Self-publish

Why I Chose to Self-publish:

This post is many years after the fact, but I had always wanted to blog about why I chose to go the self-publishing route. But after many years into this journey, I understand more of why I chose to do it. My perspective has changed immensely. I used to hesitate to admit I self-published my books but not so much anymore.
When I first started, the stigma against self-publishing was greater than it is now. Some believe it has disappeared almost entirely, but it hasn’t, not really. (more…)

My Advice to New Writers

Doling out writing / career advice is not something I normally do. No matter how long I’ve been at this game (almost 20 years) and how much success I’ve had (hint: none), I don’t feel comfortable opening my mouth about choices others should make on their journey because I don’t feel qualified. But I guess there is one area where I do feel comfortable. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s experience. Maybe it’s jaded cynicism. Maybe it’s because I care. And I do care.

I remember what it was like when I started writing with an eye toward getting traditionally published. The Internet was just starting to take off and there weren’t a lot of resources available for writers to research and vet the people giving out information. Scams still existed and people still fell for them, but technology has changed a lot in the last twenty plus years. More importantly, technology has changed us.

A lot of you might not have had that before and after experience because you were born on the cusp of it and grew up with technology and social media in your face all the time. Now we have YouTube and Instagram and whatever where a creative can attract a following and grow a business—building a brand, if you will. That is great. I’m not bashing it. I know it’s taking me time to get to where I’m going with this, but I want you to know where I’m coming from and that I’m not coming down on anyone specifically. I am speaking in general terms here. No shade. So here goes:

BE CAREFUL WHO YOU GET ADVICE FROM AND WHO YOU GIVE YOUR MONEY TO!

Over the past few years within the writing community, especially since self-publishing took off, I’ve seen a lot of folks setting themselves up as founts of knowledge, ready to help you on your journey to writing success. There’s one big problem with these people, and this is what steams my buns, and that is they don’t really have the experience (time put in to actually writing, finishing, editing, and publishing a book or several), sales to show that they can write a marketable book that attracts and keeps readers, marketing skills to grow a sustainable career, or a background that gives them the knowledge and skills to dispense solid advice.

Because this is what I’ve been seeing in the writing community (more specifically, the self-publishing/indie community):

  1. Inexperienced writers who haven’t even finished their first book giving writing advice.

  2. Inexperienced writers who have started a few books but haven’t published anything, giving advice on how to succeed at publishing.

  3. Somewhat experienced writers who have put the time and words in, who haven’t been vetted by the reading public, telling you how to write, edit, or market your book.

  4. Experienced writers, claiming they have credentials when in fact the truth is only a mustard seed covered with a heap of manure.

I’ll admit my opinions are strong and very black and white about this, but this isn’t about my opinion. It’s about teaching newbies how to spot someone who doesn’t have your best interest at heart, because the theory of writing a book, of polishing a book, and of publishing a book is one thing; the execution of it is another. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll see how vastly different these things are.

Anyone can start a YouTube channel and blog about how to write a story. There’s nothing wrong with any of that; however, there are some out there who are probably at the same point as you are in your writing career: they’re just starting out, haven’t written much, still learning about craft (plot, structure, narrative, pov, etc.), and generally haven’t put enough time and work in to convey the nuances of writing fiction effectively. Anyone can find general writing advice on the web. Most of the folks out there giving advice (traditional or self-pub) are giving general writing advice that you can find on your own with a simple Google search.

So here are a few tips to help you sort through those who really are paying it forward and those who are exploiting your eagerness and inexperience:

If a person has a YT channel or website giving writing or publishing advice, ask yourself these questions:

Have they finished any books? If not, why would you go to them for help? If you’re looking for a buddy to commiserate with while on your writing journey, there’s nothing wrong with that. Writers need other writers. This ish ain’t easy. But is it really wise to get craft advice from someone who’s at the same level as you? If they’re asking for money on their Patreon, don’t give it to them. Set up one for yourself if it’s all that. MONEY FLOWS TOWARD THE WRITER.

Do they have any books published? Maybe they’ve finished a few drafts but haven’t published yet. Why would you seek publishing advice from them? They don’t know any more than you.

If they have books published, how are their sales? You can check this, you know. https://kindlepreneur.com/amazon-kdp-sales-rank-calculator/ This is a bit old school, but it will give a ball park idea of how many books per day an author is selling. If an author’s overall ranking in the Amazon store is say 300,000, they’re selling less than a book a day. This author is not a bestseller. If any author is claiming best seller status, check their rank on all sites, not just the major one. Here’s a general hint: If an author’s ranking in the store is in the five-digit range, they’re not a best seller. If they’re ranking is under say #100 in their chosen categories, it means they’re writing for a niche (small) category and might be a best seller in that category, but if the market has 2,000 readers, that’s hardly best seller status overall. Anyway, maybe not go to this person for marketing advice. Others have explained this better, Chris Fox being one of them. Check his videos out on writing to market.

Does this author have the background or education or experience of some sort that gives them credibility? In this day and age, a lot of people are setting themselves up as gurus who are all too eager to exploit you and separate you from your money. Anyone can say they’re an editor. Anyone can say they used to teach writing. Anyone can say they were a literary agent. Anyone can say just about anything. For the most part, we believe them. I was a sucker once, taking outdated publishing advice from someone who thought his way was the right way. Well, it was. For him…twenty years ago. Despite the technology, we can’t always check on someone’s background. Well, you can, I guess, but you have to dig and dig and maybe use the Wayback Machine http://web.archive.org/ . Don’t be afraid to learn the truth about your heroes. If they are legit, they’ll withstand your scrutiny.

Is this person saying there’s only one way (their way) to do things? If so, just run. Go. There is no one true way when it comes to writing. There’s no one true way when it comes to anything.

This post is getting too long, so I’m going to cut it off here. All writers, even experienced ones, are looking for a magic bullet to make this gig easier. I hate to break it to you but it doesn’t exist.

There’s only this: Study your craft from the best people (I heard Master Class is pretty good) and from the best books. Read in your chosen genre but also read widely. Write. Put the words down. Seek beta readers or critique partners who know their stuff. You have to put the work in. I wish I could say you’ll find some sense of comfort in the knowledge you gain, but to be honest, this is the only creative endeavor I’ve ever done where every effort feels like the first time. Surround yourself with good people who aren’t trying to use you to build their platform. Vet people. Ask questions. Research. You’ll get there. I’m tired of seeing newbie writers being taken advantage of, and I hope this helps in some way.

P.S. This also goes for taking advice from message boards. Sometimes those places can be toxic. Let me know if you want to hear my story.

Poetry: How To Let Go

From my chapbook, There I am in Pieces Again, available everywhere in e-book and paperback. Links below.

How to Let Go

Dust off a memory
pick at the tender scar
relive the past until you are filled with love
let your heart ache
your eyes water
let the pain hit you like a tsunami
drown

come up for air
take a deep breath
hug your broken heart
wipe the romance from your eyes
cry some more
get angry

see the truth
the way it was
the way it felt
the way he treated you
the words you wrote
the journey to wholeness
that never came

Understand
you are he is that love those feelings that happiness sadness elation sex anger hurt tears
good bad great reconciliation questions ending that never ended
all frozen in time
an emotional photograph

Rip it up

So now you must
forgive yourself
forgive him without an apology
you deserved better than what he gave
you are more than what he saw
you are more
You. Are. So. Much. More.
dry the tears
write the final poem
turn the page
close the book

Walk away.

 

Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU | Kobo | Apple | Barnes & Noble

Chapter One of The Good Daughter

One

Dad warned me to stay away from girls like Eden Rhodes. On the first day of cross-country practice, I hung back and let her set the pace so I could keep an eye on her. She was a good six inches shorter than me, but her thighs were thick with muscle. She glanced over her shoulder and caught me watching her, but I played it off like I was pacing the runner in front of her.

For someone so short and athletic her stride was smooth, almost graceful. She ran track last year, setting a new record for the 100-meter—the best in the tri-county region. And here she was running cross-country. When we were near the end of the run, I blew right past her.

“It’s the first day of practice, Christa. Don’t push it,” Coach Paul said, looking sort of impressed and sort of irritated with me.

“I know,” I said, finding my breath. The final sprint winded me, but I tried to hide it in case Eden was watching.

“Cool down and hit the showers,” Coach Paul shouted. “Good work today.”

As I walked, I rubbed my quads and shook my legs out, searching for Eden while trying to look like I wasn’t. Soon, I felt someone beside me, someone short with messy brown hair. She was out of breath, almost wheezing, and soaked with sweat. I fought the urge to study her mannerisms.

“This is tougher than I thought it would be,” she said, gasping for air.

At the end of junior year, Eden got caught hooking up with a guy under the bleachers. Some jock on the football team recorded it on his phone and passed it around to the other guys at school.

“Giving up already?”

“Don’t get excited. I just don’t like losing.” She eyed me then jutted her chin in the direction of the school. “Race you to the locker room?”

“You must like being humiliated.”

After the bleacher incident, the slut shaming haunted Eden all summer—whispers behind her back at the mall, guys coming to the restaurant where she worked, hoping to hook up with her. It never got her down, though. She shrugged it off, and by the beginning of senior year, it was like it had never happened.

Eden dug the shoe of her push-off leg into the ground. I crouched down, preparing to sprint.

“Go!”

Eden took off like a cat that had gotten its tail stepped on, but it didn’t take much effort to catch up with her. With my long legs, she had to take double the strides to even keep up with me. I wasn’t going to let her win no matter what. I owned cross-country. The sooner she understood that the better.

“I win.” I threw my arms in the air and pranced about. I always win.

“Dammit.” Eden leaned on her knees to catch her breath.

I copied her moves as if it would somehow transform me into her.

“Next time I’ll beat you.” She put her hands on her hips and walked in circles. “I’m so out of shape.”

“You’ll get there.” I reached to pat her on the shoulder just as Janel Fowler rushed out the locker room door and shoved me out of the way. “Watch it.”

Janel ignored me and focused on Eden. “Something came up. An emergency with my little brother, so I can’t drop you off.”

“Oh no. I hope it’s nothing serious.”

“Not sure, yet, but I have to go like five minutes ago.”

“I can take her home.” The words came out of my mouth with a little too much enthusiasm, but I had to take this chance to talk with Eden. With the chaos of school and practice, she wouldn’t listen to me, and we weren’t exactly friends, so I had to find a way to be alone with her. “It’s no problem.”

Janel flicked her eyebrows. “Christa Pierce doing something nice for someone? Color me shocked.”

“Don’t you have an emergency to go to?”

“God, you two.” Eden threw her head back and growled. “You’re worse than the women on those reality shows.”

“I gotta go.” Janel shot me a nasty look and stormed off.

“Are you sure it’s not a problem?” Eden smiled, weakly. “I think we live in opposite directions.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“If it’s no big deal, then okay.” Eden shrugged and headed to the locker room.

“You want to come over and study?”

“Today? Well, I—”

“If you’re busy then—”

“I mean, sure.” She turned toward her open locker and dug inside her backpack. “It’ll be fun.” She threw a towel over her shoulder and disappeared into the steam of the showers.

This was perfect. My dad was going to hate her. I could almost see it. Eden and I would be studying at the dining room table and he’d walk in after work, take one look at her, and make that disapproving face I knew so well. He wouldn’t cause a scene right then, but later he’d talk shit on her. It was easy to do.

Her curly brown hair always looked like she had just rolled out of bed. She must have bought her clothes at the thrift store. The few times I stood near her, I caught a whiff of cheap perfume and stale cigarette smoke. Dad gagged at the smell of smoke on someone’s clothes. I sat near her table at lunch whenever I could. She was usually loud, snorted when she laughed, and burped like a sloppy drunk. Everyone at the table thought it was oh so cute. She could probably spit on the sidewalk and no one would even care. But my father would.

 

On the drive to my house, Eden talked nonstop about her new boyfriend, Kyle Jenkins—the one she got caught with under the bleachers. Sometimes she got explicit with the details. It was a little gross to listen to, but I kind of enjoyed it. Not in a perverted way. It was just that no one ever talked like that around me, and here the coolest girl in the whole school was sitting in my car, sharing her secrets with me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t squeeze a word in about what I wanted to talk about—the whole reason for offering her a ride home.

“So, it looks like I’ll have a date for prom,” Eden said. “I have to start saving money for the dress now, though. You need to find a date. Most of the senior class will be there. We have to leave this dump on a high note.”

“The prom isn’t my thing.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Eden studying me. “I get that vibe. But you should go, anyway. At least try.”

“We’ll see. Anyway, here we are.”

With her mouth hanging open, Eden gawked at my house. “I heard you had money, but I didn’t know you were this rich.”

A lot of people assumed I was a spoiled rich kid because of my dad’s position at Milford University. If we had a lot of money, I didn’t know it. Dad kept a tight grip on the finances, and I got a small allowance of about $100 a week.

“I guess that was a dumb thing to say.”

“It’s all right. My dad won’t be home for a few more hours so you can look around if you want. Just don’t touch anything.”

Eden jerked her head back, smirking. “Are you serious?”

I nodded and pretended not to notice when she raised her eyebrows while mumbling, “ooookay,” under her breath.

I took her in through the garage into the mudroom, because, God forbid, I got any dirt on the floor. “Leave your shoes by the door. Rachel gets bitchy if I don’t take my shoes off after school. She thinks schools are full of germs.”

“Who’s Rachel?”

“My stepmom. Dad married her after my mom ran off with some guy when I was two.” I made sure to emphasize the important words, so it would pique her interest.

“That’s sad. My dad took off when I was seven.”

Good. She took the bait. I had heard this story of Eden’s many times, mostly while eavesdropping in the halls at school or sitting in class or near her at lunch. She treated each mention of her father as if it were the first time out of her mouth, adding more to the story each time. It came up at least once a week.

“I didn’t know your mom took off when you were a baby. It sucks, doesn’t it?”

“I never knew her, so it doesn’t bother me. I don’t even know what she looks like.”

“You’re lucky, then.” She grew quiet, looking sad enough to cry. “Wow. This is so weird.”

“What is?”

“I never thought I’d have anything in common with someone like you.”

“Someone like me? What does that mean?”

“Well, you’re rich.” Eden tugged at the zipper tassel on her backpack. “And I’m not.”

“I don’t know what to say to that.” I grabbed two bottles of water from the fridge and passed one off to her.

“I’ll shut up. I’m the queen of saying dumb shit.”

“Princess?” My dad’s voice boomed from upstairs.

I fumbled with the bottle, spilling water down the front of me. “Dad? I didn’t know you were home.” I looked at Eden, scrambled for the bottle cap on the floor, and grabbed a towel to dry my shirt. “Crap.”

Before I could get myself together, my father was in the kitchen, straightening his shirt and tie. “Hello,” he said to Eden. “Are you a school friend of my daughter’s?”

“This is Eden Rhodes.” I managed to get the words out of my mouth in one complete sentence, my jaw and throat automatically clenching when he was around. No matter what he was saying, I stiffened up at the sound of his voice. “She runs cross-country with me.”

“Nice to meet you.” My father greeted everyone the same way, whether it was an old lady or a kid: his hand was out, palm facing downward, ready to shake. His loud voice carried the weight of promises if only you’d vote for him.

Eden took his hand and smiled. “And you.” She didn’t cower in his presence or act like she should bend her knee and bow her head, which was how I felt most of the time. Why couldn’t I be more like her?

“I didn’t know you were home,” I said, my voice cracking. “I didn’t see your car anywhere.”

“Christa.” My dad’s syrupy voice filled the kitchen. He put his arm around me, his hand squeezing the back of my neck, letting me know I better behave myself. “You can have friends over any time you want, especially Eden Rhodes.”

That wasn’t the rule, and we both knew it.

“We’re going to study,” Eden said, unapologetically.

“That’s all right. I’m glad you’re here. I see she did something right in offering you a beverage.”

A door slammed shut upstairs. My father’s eyes followed the noise, but the smile never left his face.

“Is this place haunted?” Eden giggled and winked at me.

“I must’ve left the window open in my room and a breeze caught the door.”

“I was kidding.”

Dad’s face grew pink. My stomach flipped with excitement at this reaction. He doesn’t allow others to embarrass him. I liked that Eden didn’t give a shit about his fragile ego.

“Well.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously. “It’s getting late. Maybe you should take Eden home. It was nice meeting you. Don’t be a stranger.” My father stood in the doorway like a guard, barring our entrance to the rest of the house.

Eden slung her backpack on her shoulder and glanced from my father to me. “Okay. It was nice meeting you, too.” I could tell by the sound of her voice she was confused and offended by the polite suggestion that she leave.

Out in the car, I apologized, even though I was satisfied with what had happened. I invited someone over without asking permission first—something which was never allowed—and the person just happened to be the type Dad didn’t want his daughter associating with, and someone who cracked a joke at his expense. “I didn’t know he was home. Honest.”

“Where’s his car?”

“Who knows?” I did, actually. It was still at the university. As I drove along the street, just a block away from the house, I spotted the car of the woman he had been sleeping with. He’d walk home from his office on campus to meet her there by cutting through the soccer field and a small grove of trees. He thought no one knew, especially Rachel, but everyone did.

“That’s okay. I need to get home to make dinner for my mom anyway.”

“Maybe we can do it another time,” I said.

“If you want.”

“It’ll be fun.”

“Big fun.” Eden flipped through the radio stations, mindlessly. “I’m sure you get this a lot, but you’re the spitting image of him. Like twins.”

“You’re right. I do get that a lot.”

“I mean, it’s freaky scary.”

“How do you think I feel?” Long legs, broad shoulders, same blonde hair. If my hair wasn’t long, no one could tell us apart from behind. This was the perfect segue. “I don’t know what my mother looks like, so I can’t tell if there is any of her in me.”

Eden stared out the window as I drove along the streets of the subdivision, craning her neck as we rode past some of the prettier houses in the neighborhood. “Do you ever wonder what she’s doing and where she is?”

“I shouldn’t, especially after what she did to me. I mean, who leaves a toddler behind to chase after a man?”

To be honest, I wondered about her a lot lately. Something happened to me over the summer. Something clicked, something changed. I was tired of not knowing the truth, tired of life at home, tired of everything, really. I wanted to know where my mother was, what she was doing, what she was like. And if I could get back at Dad in the process all the better.

“Do you think about your dad?” I asked.

“All the time.”

There was no better time than that moment. “We should search for our parents. Together.”

“No. Way.”

I had a feeling she’d say that, but I had hoped I dropped enough hints to warm her up to the idea. “Why not?”

She let out a sharp breath. “Because if my dad wanted me in his life, I would be.”

“Maybe he has a good explanation for what he did. Did you ever think of that?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. I always thought my father was lying to me about why my mother left.”

“Why would he lie to you?”

“Just a hunch.”

“And, so, you think my mother is lying to me?” She waved her hands around wildly, like she was getting pissed off.

“No, but there are always two sides. You know your dad, so only you can tell if what your mother told you is true.”

“I suppose. I was only seven when he left.”

“At least you knew him. I mean, it’s hard to miss someone I don’t even remember, but…” I took a deep breath. “I still wonder about her.”

Maybe I needed to hear myself say it out loud. Somehow putting those words out there made it real, and there I was trying to convince another person to help me search for her. Sure, I could do it on my own, but Eden had something I didn’t have: confidence. She didn’t give a shit about much of anything, least of all getting in trouble. The whole bleacher incident proved to me that she was stronger than most of us at school, and I wanted some of that, too.

“What are you thinking?” I said, breaking the silence.

“You said your father lied to you. How do you know?”

Because he lies a lot, was what I wanted to say, but I settled for something simpler, something that wouldn’t derail the direction of the conversation. “I refuse to believe my mother would leave her two-year-old when she could’ve taken me with her.”

“Maybe she couldn’t.”

I didn’t want to hear or believe that. “I was a baby. What do babies do wrong? Except for the pooping thing, not much.”

She let out a long sigh. “You know what? I change my mind.”

I nearly drove off the side of the road when I heard the words come out of her mouth. “Do you mean it?”

She pressed her lips together and nodded, fighting back tears.

My chest swirled with energy. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this happy. I was about to turn seventeen and wanted to know what really happened to make my mother leave.

“What if my father doesn’t want to see me at all?”

“You have a right to know.”

I pulled into the driveway of Eden’s rundown, double-wide trailer. She stared out the window and laughed. “After seeing your house, mine looks like a shack.”

“I’m not here to judge.” But it was hard not to. The white vinyl siding was now a dingy grey, with splotches of green algae near the overgrown shrubs used to hide the cinderblock foundation. The front screen door had strips of silver duct-tape holding the screen to the door frame. I bet her house smelled like an ashtray or sour milk or soup. Places like that always made me think of a can of vegetable soup.

“Listen,” I said, “let’s keep this idea between the two of us. Do not mention—”

“Do you think I’m nuts? My mother would be pissed if she found out I was looking for him.” She took a deep breath. “There’s no one else I can talk to. No one ever takes me seriously or maybe they just don’t want to hear about it anymore. You’re the first person at school to ever act interested.” Eden wiped her cheeks with her hand. “Now that I know about your mom, I know you get it.”

I tried so hard not to smile. She took the bait like a hungry fish.

“How do we do this?” she said, solemnly.

“We’ll go online in the computer lab and see what we can find, I guess.”

“Perfect. We can keep it at school so no one finds out.”

“Not a word to anyone. Promise?”

“I promise.”

 

~Princess was previously published with the title Daddy’s Girl under the pen name L.E. Falcone.~

Poetry: Scattered

From my chapbook, There I am in Pieces Again, available everywhere in e-book and paperback. Links below.

Scattered

Snuggled in the spot
between your chin and shoulder,
there was no other place for me.

Holding     you
was like holding
sand in my fingers
slipping     through     the     empty
spaces     falling to the ground
one granule after another
on a beach of many
never whole
scattered.

But I remember
the love and the pain
funny how they went hand-in-hand
just like us
love     pain
me     you.

It’s been so long,
the wound still fresh.
It was my mistake to release you
even if you wanted to go.
we weren’t
done      it wasn’t
over

Pieces remain     here
there     where
you’ve imprinted on me for life.
Your cruelty left a scar
just like your love
our love     preserved forever
unfinished     incomplete
never to know its ending
scattered grains of sand on a beach of many.

Where do I even start to finish this?
I hope you still weep for us
because the burden of pain you left me
can’t be carried alone.

 

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