Review: Everything That’s Underneath

underneath

Me and Too Many Words are now a Read and Review minion for Apex Book Company. (If you are a reviewer I’d definitely check them out here) They have an eclectic collection of really unique novels and anthologies. Their monthly magazine rocks. It’s an all-around awesome stop for horror, fantasy, and science fiction lovers. For my first pick, I went with Everything That’s Underneath by Kristi DeMeester. I was drawn to the breathtaking cover by Mikio Murakami.

I enjoy the darker side of fiction. Better yet, I adore the hint at more than we are being shown. Layers and layers of it. Kristi had me with the first line of her first story which shares the title of the collection. Both sets the groundwork and mood for the rest. Kristi’s lyrical, poignant style and sorrow-touched scenes bled together into a mystifying air that builds with each story. This is a splendid collection of her horror and weird fiction. Each story is truly a complex and haunting masterpiece.

If I had to call out one story as not only my favorite, but one that will stick with me for a good while,  it would have to be, The Wicked Shall Come Upon Him.

Wicked Shall Come Upon Him kicked me in the throat then held me in an embrace of flowing prose and clear, raw and painful images. Kristi paints betrayal and broken heart in a tale wrapped with the gleam of dark fantasy. There is so much to pull from each sentence. The moment I read the last word, I circled back to reread it. Just. Wow.

I definitely recommend this anthology. Kristi is a gifted writer and masterful storyteller. She juggles the balance of relatable emotion and otherworldly elements with a swift, fluid prose. So much emotion comes through each story which webs beautifully with the terror and tension many of them build.

You can find the anthology at the publisher’s site and on Amazon.

Happy Reading!

-J

Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians

UNKINDNESSfrontcover_final-740x1118.jpgEvery so often a book comes around that is much more than a good read, or an engaging story. Certain books feel more like a portal, like the pages are kissed with magic and anytime you pick it up you are a hundred percent a part of the world as if you were inside the pages yourself. It’s those books that keep us digging through shelves. “An Unkindness of Magicians” by Kat Howard was all of that. “Unkindness” caused a similar stir in my mind that I experienced when I was read Harry Potter and Narnia as a child but I felt it as an adult. Magic is right there under our noses. Anything is possible. But, much like adult life, everything costs something and sometimes that cost is great.
Kat Howard threads an enchanting, mysterious, and dangerous world of social-climbing magicians with the familiar New York City, weaving a world both comforting and exciting and terrifying. The Fortune’s Wheel turned earlier than it should have. Powerful magical houses must get ready to hire their champions and battle to be the head of the Unseen World.
Hands down my favorite aspect of this book is Sydney, an unhoused magician with incredible magical talent and a fantastic backstory. I like to keep my reviews spoiler-free so this will remain no different BUT I will say that Sydney’s character arc is a raw and relatable thing of beauty. Every character in the story is complex and stands on their feet in their way. All of them kept my interest as the expertly woven story unfolded. Sydney is strong, brave, and full of faults and fear. I was rooting for from the moment I met her. Character-wise she’s one of greats.
I love the magic in this book. The magic is a character of its own. Many fantasy books have magic in them but so seldom does the magic come across on the page as having feelings, obstacles and faults. The visuals Howard painted of the magic casted were beautiful and never once slowed the story down but she also gave the magic a personality. This personality changes depending on who is using the magic and that is just fantastic.
I’m going to call out one more awesome aspect of this book and then you just have to go grab a copy because this is so worth reading. The relationships in this story (and there are many) are so organic and varied and real. Howard juggles multiple family dynamics and she does this with such a natural rhythm. I was invested in every one whether they were relationships built long before the story started or new ones we got to witness.
“An Unkindness of Magicians” is by far my favorite book I’ve read in 2017. Like I said in the beginning I felt the adult version of what I felt as kid when I read Harry Potter. That is awesome. So yeah, if you haven’t read it, grab a copy! You won’t regret it.

 

Humbled by Stories and Pie

Fall is approaching. The kids are back in school. My house is quiet. Cinnamon is suddenly more appealing. Our planet seems to be crumbling down around us. I spent the summer writing scenes that never needed to exist for the story I was telling because I thought I was writing another one. I discovered the amazing world of paleo-style cooking in a nobel attempt to be healthier and have a hobby outside of words.  I’m currently sitting at my desk ready to crank out some smaller pieces in hopes of earning modest piles of cash. It’s been too long since the last blog post, nerves were starting to climb my legs, so I popped over here to write this. The moment my fingers hit the keys my mind started jumping all over like a confused frog with no tongue.
I’ve learned so much in the last eight or so months. I did it with crash-course grace, and my head is still spinning on its side. I made so many mistakes with my latest project—the one that I’ve been obsessing over and nothing else. (Part of the problem, btw.) I know what you are thinking. “It’s all part of it.” “Probably not as bad as you think.” “That’s what editing is for.”
No, really. I broke it. For now. I wasn’t listening to the character’s true voice and allowed my goals to distract me. The first moment I started the project till right before I finally listened to myself, was a continuous and reactionary series of events. I walked away for its own good. This was a hard thing to swallow. Really hard. Making mistakes is sometimes the best way to learn. My husband always says to the kids, “If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t growing.” So, I guess I grew up a lot over the last year.
As a parent I watch my kids slip in and out of these developmental phases. There is nothing like children to remind you of how temporary life is. Oh so humbling. I so seldom pay attention to my cycles of learning and moods. If you are only a little familiar with me, you know my love for Alice in Wonderland. The story is so much more than children’s fantasy. It’s a story about growing up and how our environment messes with us as we go. We have choices, and they have consequences. It’s a metaphor for life, for writing a story, and periods of time that have more of an impact than others. Lost innocence is the place we all visit at some point. Wonderland can symbolize many things, but sometimes I think of it as a representation of a phase. The thing about life? ‘Our now’ feels forever. For me, it’s those milestone birthdays or the realization of how old Moe the cat is that really shows me all that’s changed. This summer that just soared by was on the other side of a door in a hole. I’ve been chasing this project for the last eight months (or more) that didn’t want to be chased. There is a story there, one I have to tell, but my mind is on other projects that are ready for me now. Sometimes a story has to wait. It hurts, and it always sucks. I trust that my path with lead back to it.
As disappointed as I am that my WIP and I need some time apart, I am equally excited about all the short fiction I have in the works, essays of thoughts, working with Rebecca Clark on The Shadow Bearers again, and another wave of Too Many Words Episodes. (More info on all that soon.) The words will find me, as they will find you.
I wrap this up with:
Keep the critic in your pocket, listen to your gut, and have fun tormenting your characters that all want something.

A Day In Inertia, Suburbia

A young mother wakes to the nagging sound of her alarm. For privacy sake, we’ll call her Margret. The cat is asleep on her face. After a small battle with the semi-feral feline, she gets out of bed.

Coffee. Book. Then tiptoes to the sofa in hopes of some quiet before the chaos of a weekday morning unleashes itself on the untidy household. Something chunky and wet soaks her sock. The dog ate legos again.

***

Margret is standing in her kitchen wearing superhero pajamas. She makes lunch and breakfast while her children get dressed for the day.

Her seven-year-old son comes into the kitchen wearing six shirts and three pairs of pants.

Margret: Why are you wearing all your clean clothes?

Son: You told me to dress warm.

Margret: I meant no shorts or t-shirts.

Son: How was I suppose to know that?

***

The kids walk to their classrooms. Margret puts on her blinker in an attempt to escape the chaotic drop-off line while blasting Veruca Salt. A woman with shiny hair in a German luxury SUV, who is responsible for one the meaner kids in Margret’s child’s class, holds down on her horn and flips Margret off. She wonders if the angry mother spent less time perfecting her makeup if her child would be nicer.

***

Inside an overpriced grocery store for the over-privileged, the barely thirty-year-old Margret walks to the counter. Her hat is half on her head. She’s forgotten to wear socks.

Margret smiles at the checker, a woman nearing middle-age who we’ll call Abby.

Margret: Hey, how’s it going?

Abby: Oh you know. Life.

Marget nods: Yep. Can I trouble you for a pack of Marb lights?

Abby: Just one pack today?

Margret: Yep. Cutting down. Not quitting.

Abby: That’s something.

Margret: I think so. Monkeys on the back and all.

***

Home again. The house is a droning quiet with the kids at school. She remedies that by cranking her newest playlist. Then sits at her desk in the draftiest part of the house, her office. There is nothing now but the words she needs to write and her own insecurities.

Five hours pass. The same nagging alarm tells her it’s time to pick up the kids. Unsure of how she feels about any of the words she’s written, Margret closes the laptop and slips on her worn Chucks.

***

You see a school with a water view and false ivy-covered walls. Margret gets out of her insincere mini-van and makes her way to the classroom door and waits. She checks her social media notifications hoping to gain some validation for her work she hasn’t yet learned to give herself. A middle-aged man in a golf hat, by the name of Todd, approaches Margret.

Todd: I hear my kid got moved from your kid’s table.

Margret: Yep

She smiles.

Todd: I hear they didn’t see eye to eye.

Margret: By that do you mean anytime my kid asks yours to be quiet so she can focus, he pushes her and calls her names?

Todd: Yeah, man. It’s tough. He’s so strong willed. Can’t tell him nothing. He beats to his own drum.

Margret: It’s called parenting, son. It’s necessary.

Todd: Did you just call me son?

***

The day turns to night. Homework is done, dinner eaten. Margret feels satisfied with the day. She opens her third beer in an attempt to relax and get ready for the same thing tomorrow.

chasing dreams

Hey, guys!

I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like to. I tried the before bedtime and I only stuck to it for a week. I have so many deadlines and honestly, I couldn’t be more excited about it. I love to write, building my career is challenging but rewarding. Following dreams can be terrifying but I believe it’s necessary. Things have just been super busy. Most of my nights have been me bent over my computer writing until I’m close to passed out. I’m hoping once the fall comes I’ll have some more time to blog.

I’ve been working a lot behind the scenes, getting things set up and being heads down and creating. One of the things taking up my time has been co-writing a fantasy novel with the wonderful author, Rebecca Clark. It originally started as a short story and became so much more. Rebecca and I just entered our fantasy project in an Inkshares contest with Geek & Sundry. I’m really excited and nervous.

The more preorders the project receives and better chance it has to win. Winning would be amazing and help me get so much closer to my dreams.  Below you’ll find the blurb and cover. I’d love to know your thoughts. You can comment below if you have any questions. Shares and preorders would be so appreciated. It makes me nervous to put myself out there like this but we are super proud of this story and would love the chance to share the entire version with the world.

ShadowBearerseBook.jpgView the book on Inkshares

Countless Huditra villages demolished by a darkness spreading throughout the lands. Thousands slain by the falling shadows. Hate looms over the forgotten lands like heavy fog stifling the little life that’s left. Over the years the Nafarat have been casting their magic, destroying all that’s natural. The War From Nowhere forced those who’ve survived the initial attacks into hiding. Nothing alive was safe. Both Tag, the leader of the Nari, river, people and Athea, the future chief of Dagee, the tribe behind the mountains, are all that’s left standing of their kind. With their home grounds no longer safe Tag and Athea hit the traveler’s road, each with individual missions. When their paths cross, they reluctantly team up to seek the answers that will lead them to free the land of shadows.

Chapter Sixteen: Wandering The Unfamiliar

Listen to Chapter 16 on iTunes  and Google Play!

promo ch 16.jpgWe stepped into a tile floored hallway that broke away into a large open living room and kitchen that looks nice enough for Taylor Swift to use. The walls were white and lined with stainless-steel counters. The house was decorated with simple modern furniture. Not a single picture hung on the white and yellow walls. It was hard to ignore that every piece of furniture matched as it were taken from a showroom as is.
“We are sitting ducks,” Malachi groaned dropping his bag next to his feet. “We need a plan B.”
“Why is that?” I crossed my arms tightly around myself as I took in the inside of a house I would normally only drive by. Pete trotted up the stairs with his guitar case hanging loosely off his shoulder. He felt like a million miles away.
“I’m in love,” Molly cooed. Her large green eyes glistened as she looked at the shit we just stepped in. The pink streaks in her hair glowed under the bright lights hanging from the high ceilings.
“Something doesn’t feel right,” Malachi said, his eyes set only on Lincoln, who did seem at all impressed by the house. “I was expecting a shoe box with roaches.
Lincoln shrugged, “They are good speakers,” as he finished his sentence his lips curled into a smirk.
“I’m sure,” Malachi tossed his hand to the side dismissing Lincoln, “Where is my room?”
“Rooms are upstairs, and they are all huge,” Pete’s voice traveled down from an open loft overhead.
“Well, I guess I’m heading upstairs,” Malachi walked toward the wooden staircase keeping his eyes on Molly. Concern etched into every inch of his tired face.
Molly’s smile was suddenly gone. The spark disappeared from her eyes. She rubbed her stomach with a frown.
“You okay?” I asked her as I hitched my bag up on my shoulder.
“I just need some water,” Molly whined, walking toward the kitchen.
“Let’s not do this tonight,” Malachi’s voice tightened but clearly from concern and not frustration.
“You can do whatever you want.” Molly’s voice was indifferent, which wasn’t a tone from her I’d heard yet.
Malachi pushed out a massive sigh giving me the feeling there something I wasn’t catching, some hidden line of communication I wasn’t privy to. Malachi hissed a “Whatever,” as he climbed the stairs.
Suddenly I was the only one still standing in the foyer. I was in another world. Malachi was right, as nice as the house was, an ominous feeling hung in the air. A hole in my stomach was growing and filling with doubt. I was completely uncomfortable and restless in my own skin at that moment. Without a better idea as to what to do, I also meandered up the stairs.
Lincoln sat on a twin bed in the first room off the hallway. He was taking stacks of comics out of his green messenger back. As he grabbed a bunch of Spiderman, his eyes found me like he knew I was looking at him the whole time. His dark hair fell in front of his eyes. It seemed that every time it did that my heart melted into a pathetic puddle. As usual, I had no idea what he was thinking.
“You worried like Malachi?” His voice revealed more self-doubt then I’ve ever caught before. Lincoln is so mysterious about everything it comes across as confidence but in reality it really wasn’t.
“I guess a little.” I stepped into the room.
“Don’t you trust me?”
“I don’t really know you,” I smiled nervously. My words had come out colder than I intended but the truth I suppose often does. I added, “I definitely don’t this Rex guy.”
“I get it,” he mumbled.
I was frustrated that he wasn’t saying more. I wanted him to make me feel better somehow, assure me that I hadn’t just made a terrible mistake. But, he couldn’t because he didn’t know much more than I did. I realized that he was possibly even more lost than I was.
“Did I hurt your feelings, because I didn’t mean to.” I let my crossed arms flop helplessly to my sides. “I’m just…overwhelmed, I guess.”
“Me too,” Lincoln patted the spot next to him on the bed, and my heart twisted to its side.
The moment I sat down next to him I picked up an issue of Spiderman, nervous of the sudden tension screaming between us. I was in fact in over of my head. “I haven’t read this one yet.”
“What about Spiderman do you like so much, you hardly touch the other comics.”
“I like that’s he an underdog.”
“You like underdogs?”
“I am an underdog,” I glanced up from a panel solely focused on the web, to find his dark eyes on me.
I made a weird noise and looked back at the page.
“I make you nervous.”
“That’s an understatement,” I mumbled into my sleeve.
He laughed.
“Do I make you nervous?” I squeaked the words out like an award mouse.
“Nope,” he said leaning in. He pressed his lips hard against mine. I swear I could feel all his panic and self-doubt through that kiss. His hungry desperation wasn’t for me; it was for general escape.
Was that all this was?
The cruel thoughts whirled around in my head.
The distant, frantic strum of Pete’s guitar cut our very intense moment with a hint of gravity, at least for me. I pulled back, but his hand found my hair and pulled me back into him. My heart raced as uneasiness sunk into my knees.
Lincoln’s hands were everywhere. My chest was about to implode. Without any thought, I stood up. Flashes of something I didn’t want to think about found an entry into my mind.
“What’s up?” Lincoln frowned, his voice ragged and out of breath.
“We aren’t gonna do it tonight. We are still getting to know each other.”
“Can’t we do that better if we are sharing a room?” Lincoln grabbed my hand attempting to pull me closer.
“I’m gonna be in my own room,” I smiled a little annoyed with his attitude. Just because he found us, a place didn’t mean we were gonna shack up, did it?
“Is it cuz good boy Pete is here?” Lincoln’s face transformed into one continuous frown, his eyes even seemed a shade or two darker.
“No, it’s because I’m not ready to move fast. Everything feels like it’s moving too fast.”
“Whatever,” Lincoln’s voice was very curt. He turned to an issue of Captin America, “See ya in the morning,” he mumbled.
I was confused and stood there for a minute unclear how things got so weird so fast. The distance from my mom scared me. Her smile and guidance felt lightyears away. I was looking for an escape, but now I didn’t recognize anything.
I backed out of the room. At first, I just stood in the hallway for a moment unsure of what to do. I rubbed my hands on my thighs trying to hear my mom’s voice. Brain poured into my head. Was he okay? I was hit with a powerful desire to find a corner, curl up, and cry. My world was spinning out of control. In a house full of people I felt completely alone. Was it too late to fix everything?
The sound of puking came from a crack in a mostly closed door. I glanced in without really intending to as I made my way down the oversized and strange hallway. Even the doorknobs looked like they cost a fortune. Molly hurtled over the toilet with fingers stuck down her throat. It hit me what the secret dialogue between her and Malachi meant—all the comments he made in the car made sense. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept walking even though that it didn’t feel like the right thing. Instead, I followed the sound of Pete’s guitar.
I came to a large room at the end of the hallway. Of course, Pete would grab the master suite first. He sat perched on the window sill. His whole body curled around the guitar making it seem like they were one. His crystal blue eyes drawn to the cords as his fingers plucked each one.
He looked up startled to see me. He stopped playing as a sweet smile formed on his dimpled face. “Done with lover boy already?”
I crossed my arms and looked down at my feet.
“Trouble already?” Pete leaned his sticker-covered acoustic against the wall.
“I want to take things slower than lightning speed.” I knew that sentence was all I needed. After all, Pete knew everything about me.
His eyes grew dim. He stood up and walked over to me. Pete folded me in a giant bear hug, “You might want to tell him about that night. Ya know, if you are serious about that clown,” Pete mumbled the words into my head. I heard them, but at the moment all I wanted was to be there in his arms because it’s the closest I felt to home in a while.

Chapter 15: Brewing Regret

You Can listen to the chapter on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play

    I strolled aimlessly up and down the narrow aisles of the deluxe convenience store off the Parkway. I barely had any money on me, and I wasn’t hungry. I couldn’t tell if Pete being there was adding to my panic or not. On one side he was a piece of home, a piece of who I used to be, but on there another hand, having Pete on my side as I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life thus far only added to the miscalculation of all of it.

    What was I doing? Besides pacing back and forth, I wasn’t sure. I considered speaking up, saying “Hey guy’s lets go back.” But instead, I walked in rhythm with my accelerated heartbeat as I waited for others to finish whatever it was they were doing. The heaviness of the missteps we were so obviously taking filled the air, suffocating me more by the second. I was confident that others were feeling it too. No one spoke as Molly drove way too fast down the parkway in the abyss of the unknown. All the windows were rolled down allowing all the harsh wind to whip into the car.  In the summer going to the shore meant sitting in unmoving traffic for hours getting a sunburn before even getting to the beach. But, driving to the beach in the winter, was an effortless journey. Winter on the beach cast a whole different impression to the water touching the sand. The business of the summer was a drastic contrast to the deadness of winter. It was the difference between hope and the hopeless. Night and day needed each other to maintain balance.

    I turned the corner into the candy isle. Lincoln’s army green hoodie and mess of dark brown curls were the first things I noticed—key elements that signaled to my brain that this was Lincoln. Just as I was about to say something to him, probably along the lines of wanting to go, he grabbed a handful of Snickers and shoved them in his pocket. Then he grabbed a handful of Swedish Fish and slid them under his shirt.

    One thing my mother really hated was stealing, or really any version of dishonesty, but especially stealing. Once when we were grocery shopping, I was around seven or so, and I wanted a bag of cookies, but I didn’t want to ask her for them because I knew she’d yes, but I was also already well aware of the fact that we didn’t have much money. I put them under my shirt a lot like what Lincoln just did with the fish. I still remember the disappointment on her face when the bag of cookies fell from my shirt as I climbed into the car. She made me go to the store and explain to the cashier what I had done. I was mortified. On the way home from the store my mom went on and on about trust. Her words, “People who steal aren’t trustworthy, plain and simple,” circled through my head as I approached Lincoln.

    “Where is everyone else?” I asked tugging on a loose part of his sweatshirt.

    His shoulders arched up in surprise, but when he turned around, his face was nothing but dangerously smooth. “Who cares, I know where you are.”

    I shook my head, flustered by his flirting. He was so much more experienced than me it was hard to ignore. In fact, at the moment it was yelling in my face.

    “What are you shaking your head at?”

    “You.” A nervous smile pulled at my mouth.

    “Why is that?” His smiled faded, his shoulders taught.

    “I don’t know.” My heart was still rapping around in my chest. I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t know what to do about it. “Just nervous about all of this,” I muttered trying to keep my voice from doing that embarrassing cracking thing when I’m upset—which I was. The problem was that I wasn’t able to figure out what to do about it.

    Pete and Malachi strolled up the aisle. Pete wore his usual lazy grin. Malachi was anything but lighthearted; his eyes showed signs of being some place only Malachi knew about.

    We were all reeling. When we first started gathering our things to put in Molly’s car, I was excited but the further we got from Paramus the worse I felt. Without planning to, my hand slid into my hoodie pocket and grabbed the camera, but instead of being creepy and weird about it I said, “All get together, I want to take a picture.” I waved my hand back and forth signaling them to get closer.

    “Good step calling it out El,” Pete’s lazy smile widened. It is hard not to feel like the most important person in the world when Pete focused his blue eyes on me.

    Lincoln grimaced, eyeing Pete with dark eyes.

    “Are you documenting our downward spiral?” Malachi crossed his arms as he scooted closer to Pete.

    “I’m fine where I am,” Lincoln grumbled.

    I wished I could look into Lincoln’s mind and begin to learn how his mind worked.

    “I think that’s exactly what I’m doing.”  I snapped two shots, both without Lincoln smiling, as I churned the idea of doing something purposeful with pictures.

Pete nodded his head in approval.

    I was doing something crazy, and I was going to document every moment. “I need one with Molly in it,” I said glancing around for her.

    “There she is….and she’s stress eating…fabulous.” Malachi sighed this, hanging his shoulders in permitted defeat. He turned to me with wide, knowing eyes, “This is gonna be a shit show,” he warned before stalking over to the counter, where Molly unloaded an armful of candy, chips, and other sweets—at least she was paying for them, I thought.

    “Whatcha doing?” Malachi forced an upbeat voice, but the attempt was a fail and only caused him to come across as even more stressed out.

    Molly rolled her eyes and tossed her head back, “I don’t even want to hear it, Malachi.”

    “Okay.” He put up his hands as if he was a soldier surrendering in a war.

    “Picture!” I cut in, trying to keep my own mind off the reality of what we were doing. Never in a million years did I think I would be a runway—at least not before my mom died.

    “I can do pictures!” Molly winked. She brought her right shoulder up, threw her hair to the side and gave me a full, professional model smile. Something so flawless one could only assume she spent hours practicing it. My thumb pressed the circle button two times. I glanced at the screen of her beautiful face smiling back at me.

    For some reason taking those couple of pictures helped me relax, even if it was just for few minutes. There was something about taking photographs of something that made it feel substantial.

    

***

    A screaming voice penetrated the speakers of Molly’s SUV as she raced down the last stretch of parkway before the exit. I sat in the back between Lincoln and Pete, which was really not that bad, but probably only because Lincoln was bruiting and quiet and Pete had his head in a notebook, and he was obsessively writing songs. Though he was playing off like going solo was something he wanted for awhile—even though that may be true—Pete was clearly spinning.

    I often wondered what it felt to be driven. I wasn’t. I was completely lost and wasn’t at all sure what would make me happy, especially not forever. When my mom died, the person I was before also did, leaving behind this stranger who I was still trying to figure out.

My mom would have hated Lincoln.

    “Hand me my Sour Patch Kids,” Molly barked as she snapped her fingers together.

    For all the times I saw Molly pick at her food like a bird watching her binge eat everything in the overflowing paper bag one after the other was disturbing all itself. I had never seen her so high strung before. Her eyes were quick and darting revealing that there is a whole lot she wasn’t telling me. I guess Molly and Lincoln have more than a few things in common. There was something about their obviously off-the-track nature that made me feel like I belonged. Belonging anywhere felt good.

    “Last call girl,” Malachi moaned, his loose wrist offered an open bag of Sour Patch Kids. Molly shoved her hand into the bag, pulled it out almost as quick then emptied the handful into her mouth.

    Lincoln laid his hand on my thigh with his eyes focused on the blur of sparse trees and lines of identical houses in the distance rushing past. I reached into my pocket for my camera knocking my elbow into Pete’s writing hand.

    “Sorry,” I turned surprised to find his face so close to mine. His eyes could tell a million tales of the impossible, but he only said,” No worries,” before turning back to his writing. As much as I did wonder what it was like to be so driven, it also appeared to be painful.

    Once the camera was in my hands, I brought the lens to my eye. I often felt safe when there a barrier between me and everything else. My thumb clicked over and over as the night began to fall, the sky a dark gray with a blue hue. Lincoln’s curls accounted for one-third of the shot adding dimension. My thumb moved across the top of the camera as I focused in on small details of my life and not someone else’s for the first time, really ever.

    “It’s our exit!” Molly cooed as she peeled off to the right, veering into the off-ramp at least thirty miles over the speed limit. She slammed down on the breaks at the stop light and shoved her hand into the bag of Sour Patch Kids simultaneously.

    “Watch it, would you? Do you need me to take over?” Malachi asked.

    “Lincoln, how far are we?” Molly glanced into the leopard print covered rear view mirror.

    “About five minutes. We are really close to the beach.” Lincoln mumbled this out of the window. He gave my thigh a squeeze before bringing his hand back to himself. At the moment I didn’t look at Pete, but I knew somehow that his were on us.

    I couldn’t shake that something was wrong, but it was manageable if I kept taking pictures. I was anxious to get out of the car, nervous about where we would be staying. There was a lot Lincoln hadn’t told us. I was just really hoping the set up wasn’t as shady as it sounded.

    After driving through a quiet and dead center of town, larger and more extravagant houses began to file in around us. The smell of the ocean filled the car lifting away so much anxiety and replaced with an emotion I wasn’t sure what to call. For everything there was to complain about New Jersey, the shore was something otherworldly, something that felt worlds away from mall country.

    After several quick turns, left, then right, then left again Lincoln said the house is 6775. Rex said it was yellow one with a deck.

    “No,” Molly said her mouth open.

    “This can’t be right,” Malachi shook his head.

    “Well, ass you did it,” Pete jutted his chin forward, “you’ve impressed me. This might actually be fun.” Pete’s eye matched a child’s in a toy store. Classic Pete. Exuberant and misdirected optimism.

    Molly pulled into a cobblestone driveway of a large yellow house with bay windows and a wrap around deck. The yard was immaculate.  My stomach was a raw knot.

    “This house is worth at least a million.” Molly shut off and climbed out of the car.

    Everyone followed her lead and piled out of the truck. The elaborateness of the house only highlighted our mistake further. Whoever owned this house sold a lot more than just speakers. My mind went back through the files of conversations with Lincoln. His parents. His bouncing around. The money he owed. The fact that we could stay at the house on the condition that we sold speakers. Some very critical information, the pieces that tied it all together, were missing. As my heart rate picked up, I pulled out my camera again and started snapping shots of our new temporary home.

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