Worlds, words, and more.

Photo by Shane Leonard.png I have one of my new favorite writers on the show today. Kat Howard is quite the wordsmith. I started reading her short stories which you definitely go check out. If you go to her site you can find them there. Her stories led me to her recent release Roses and Rot. Wow! I really love this book. It hits home in some ways but it also just mystified me. It’s one those stories where every line is tight and beautiful and the story stays with you after you read it.

Due to my inability to stop dissecting a character last night, horribly cliche dreams about being  hired to hunt myself, and my cat’s need to eat at 3 o’clock in the morning I did not sleep well. I’m making gradual strides to rid my zombie persona as the day carries on.

First off, I’m going to tell you all to go to the comic shop because there are awesome titles you should treat yourself to. I talked about Ladycastle last week. Delilah S. Dawson does an amazing job and it is officially out in stores out from Boom Studios. Vertigo/DC’s Lucifer is now in Richard Kadrey’s hands. Issue 14 is fun and dark and I love it. So it’s worth the grab for sure. Of course if you aren’t reading Monstress yet you should start. Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda hit it through the moon. It’s dark and enchanting.

Next week I have Charlie Stross on the show. Then after that the show will be going on a hiatus for a bit while I bury myself in this massive rewrite. It was hard for me to decide to put the show on hold but my mind needs to be fully focused. I will for sure post dates and details when I have them. I appreciate all your support and patience.

Here are the links for Episode 49:

 

words to ink

Mind going crazy. Million different directions. Six notebooks circle me. I’m hungry. The words can’t come fast enough. Obsessive, frantic scrawling, then I flip the page or swap the journal.

A wish to fly. A hope to nurture.

Doubt and self-sabotage are shelved, though calling out the way cookies do after the house has fallen quiet.

The right music. The chosen journal. A thirst. A fear. A thousand. A battle of fiction and reality.

The more words that flow the further I get. Away. Nowhere. Anywhere.

When the pen is in motion, the worry, the doubt, the mocking of silence falls away. A cherished moment. The ink is dry. The words gone, served their purpose. The rest only lasts seconds till it begins to fade.

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.

A rose is a rose.

I’m trying a new routine this week, and I’m calling it blogging before bed. Between my busy summer schedule and my multitude of awesome projects, I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I would like to. I don’t mean sharing some of my fiction with you, even though that’s great. I mean actually sharing my thoughts with you.

Once or twice a week hasn’t felt good enough. I wanted to try to figure out a way to work into my schedule like I did with reading. I do most of my reading in the morning during three cups of black coffee wrapped in a throw blanket with my head against a yellow couch pillow. It’s glorious. I don’t dread the morning because I love my routine. I wanted to find a spot like that for blogging. Every day right now is a little different; I wanted something that was consistent.

My mind is often racing as I attempt to go to sleep (that is if I haven’t passed out on the sofa watching television). Blogging before bed might actually accomplish two things at once.

You know how much I love multitasking.

I’ve been trying to honestly look at my workload and how I’m going about each thing under the idea of “work smarter not harder”. Change makes me nervous and the idea of purposefully doing anything causes concerns to rise, but I realize that moving things around is just life. Nothing stays still.

Leaning into change isn’t the same thing as giving up.

I’ve been continuing to make an attempt in being present. My mind is often in the future or on a project and not where I am in the present. This is something I want to work on, so that’s what I’m doing. Leaving my phone in my office helps this of course. Just like turning off my phone when I’m writing. There is a time and place for everything.

Only recently as I work on different projects and articles am I realizing how much I let fear steer my decisions…and my panic.

I was on StumbleUpon the other day and came across the article ‘Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules For Writers’. He was offering some real jewels of wisdom about writing. There was one that stood out taller than all the rest, which was, “Have fun writing.”

It hit me right away because I’ve been guilty for being too focused on my goals. I love that I am so goal driven, but I’m not a kid on the night before Christmas. This isn’t a race it’s a marathon. There is no instant gratification. It’s a long journey. Why not have fun?

I write because I love it, and I’m making a career out of it. I should be sure to enjoy the ride along the way. I think this something all of you can take from this. Life is life. And it’s hard, and messy, and doesn’t come with instructions but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be enjoyed.

It should be as enjoyable as possible.

My eyelids are getting heavy, and if I continue on much longer I’ll run the risk of no longer making sense.

Until tomorrow night.

Sleep well.

-J

P.S. If you haven’t had enough of my rambling you should check out today’s episode. I talk to the awesome and inspiring Julie Anderson of Feminine Collective about life, motherhood, people, and her journey to starting The Collective. It was an honor speaking with her.

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Mark Twain.jpg

 

 

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.

Thanks so much for reading! Please visit the show on either iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play  and leave a review. Also a reminder there will be three more episodes till the end of the first volume. A new batch of episodes will air again starting September 10th. 

Chapter Fourteen: Fleeing with Hesitation

*Listen to this chapter on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play

    Flashes of my mom’s smile spread throughout my dream. I was stumbling around the forest with a bag of snakes in my hand. The echo of my heartbeat rumbled in my throat. I couldn’t find my camera which what brought me to the woods in the first place. Faded image flickered between the trees. The confusion in the dream resonated in the stomach of my present body. A warm hand grabbed my shoulder, gently pulling me out of the dream.

    I opened my eyes to find Lincoln’s face inches from mine. His eyes were a tense knotted line. “Can we talk outside?” Lincoln’s raspy voice was nothing but a rough whisper that causes uneasiness to course beside the blood in my veins.

    Nerves danced on my skin. I was fully awake. “Is everything okay?” I sat up in the dark living room. I glanced at Molly, who was soundly sleeping with her arms around Matilda. Lincoln’s hand gently grazed my chin.

    “Real quick,” he said now, his voice a little louder.

    I narrowed my eyes as if that would somehow help me understand the situation better, but without much surprise, it didn’t. I nodded and stood up. My oversized gray t-shirt hung off my one shoulder. Lincoln’s eyeing my bare skin turned my knees to jelly. The soft glow from the streetlights seeped in through the bent blinds casting a dreamlike glow on everything.

    Lincoln placed his hand on my back, slowly guiding me through the dark rooms. The door squeaking open disturbed the peaceful silence. Matilda popped her head up, eyes locked on our figures.

    I held out a flat hand, singling her to stay. She laid her head back down but with open eyes. Lincoln’s leg rubbed against mine as we passed through the doorway. He closed the door and grabbed my head carefully as if he’d rehearsed it many times in his mind.

    “What was this about?” My pulse quickened suddenly with the uncertainty of what we were doing. It wasn’t that I was frightened of Lincoln, I wasn’t, but I was becoming aware of how unpredictable he was—something that drew me in and warned me to be careful in equal measure.

    “I just wanna explain a few things,” his dark eyes held so much at the surface. Lincoln gave off the impression that he was always thinking, one can’t have eyes so complex and be thoughtless. There walking beside him in the middle of the night I wished for nothing more than to be someone he felt like he could trust me enough to share them with.

    We stepped through the aging doorway. Black paint peeled across the surface. My toes scraped the back of Lincoln’s slip-ons.

    “Sorry,” I mumbled.

    He grabbed my waist and pulled me into him. The cold air made his touch warming.

    “I don’t want to play games. I want us to be real with each other.” He bit his lower lip, seeming to question his choice of words.

    “What’s the backstory to that comment?” My head was still foggy from the dream. The dark sky blended with the artificial light from the street posts. Shapes from other buildings cast shadows on Lincoln’s bruised face.

    “Pete.” He looked away and cleared his throat. “I don’t want to get in the middle of something messy, but I really like you.” His dark eyes were on me then, holding me fiercely in their grasp. Lincoln ran his hand through his messy curls. I’m not sure if it was the shadows, or the fact that we were standing outside in the middle of the night, or even if it was the way his hair framed his large eyes, but I couldn’t help but see how sad he was. Not because I went for a walk with Pete but because of years of events I wasn’t yet privy to.

    “He’s my family. He’s my best friend and the closest thing I have to everything.” I stopped, unsure of where I was taking that. My mind flashed back to our walk, how even though things were weird and different, we were still Pete and El.

    Before I could continue with rambling, Lincoln said, “Do you have feelings for him?”

    Without much thought beforehand, or any real knowledgement of the ripple effect my words would have, I mumbled, “I don’t know, but I do know I have feelings for you.”

    Lincoln’s mouth was on mine, his hands in my hair. I guessed that my answer was enough of what he needed. Somewhere inside of me a twinge of guilt developed, threatening to take over.

    Lincoln pulled away, his mouth barely touching mine. “About what you saw,” he started, pulled in a deep breath then continued. “I stole a lot of money from some bad guys, they chose to get me to work it off, but then family shit happened, and I took off. Now they want the money in full. I’ve got a buddy down the shore, and he’s got some ways to help me get the money, but it’s gonna take longer than Monday. I’m hoping to get us all in on it, and then take off. I can come back once I have the money.”

    Thousands of questions circled my mind. I wanted to ask why he took the money but then decided it didn’t matter. He placed his hand on the side of my face. His touch was so warm, and exactly what I needed to feel. Lincoln gently pressed his lips on mine. “Knowing if I have you with me, will make everything okay.” His perfect and dangerous words vibrated on my mouth.

    I leaned the weight of my entire body into him and said, “You have me with you,” into his chest. His grasp around me tightened cementing the delirious fact that I was all in. Few moments can be pointed to and named the event that changed everything, but there kissing Lincoln outside in the middle of the night was definitely something that altered the rest of my life, rendering me forever changed.

***

    Sunday, thanks to the Blue Laws, was my first day off. I laid next to Matilda on the sofa staring at some spectacle of reality show Molly had put on. She was sitting crossed legged in her favorite chair rolling a blunt using honey and the outer layer of a cigar. 

    “Why the honey?” I turned my head taking in the full Molly package. Her hair now streaked with pink, something she did on a whim. She wasn’t wearing any pants, just a long blue t-shirt and white socks all the way to her knees.

    Molly tapped her throat with two fingers, “It makes this all smooth and sweet.” She confidently nodded.

    “I call jelly beans,” Malachi stumbled into the room. “It makes the whole thing burn like crap and gives off an unfortunate stench.” His mouth twisted up in a smirk. His braids now threaded with green and brown ribbon. 

    “Nonsense,” Molly rolled her eyes. Her extended fingertips broke up the weed into pieces.

    “Where’s lover boy?” Malachi asked me. His smirk settled into a grin.

    “Talking to a buddy about a place for us to stay.” I scratched Matilda’s head, then added, “and jobs for us.”

    “Sounds ominous.” Malachi grabbed my feet, lifted them up, and slid onto the sofa underneath them. He left his hands on my ankles after he rested them on his legs. He had this parental warmth about him. I’ve always been under the belief that certain people naturally gravitated to different roles, every one of them needed. Malachi was a guardian. He was especially for Molly, which was good because she was in definite need of one. Even though I was enjoying the step-parent free, untouched by mom environment, I couldn’t help but hear the whispering in the corner. It was hard to feel like I somewhere I belonged. I wanted to give in, but I couldn’t completely. There was a sense that I was forgetting something, or missing something hanging out on the shelves in the room.

    Perhaps that ignoring that very feeling led me to places I should have never gone in the first place, but I was determined to live, but I just wasn’t sure what that meant. My phone vibrated in my pocket, the reminder of the impending Christmas and no longer having a working phone close around me. Even though I knew I was searching for something, that fact that I didn’t know what it was that I was looking forward made feel lost and blinded.

    It was from Pete: Thinking about you.

    I sucked in a breath of too much meaning then typed: What about?

    The screen lit up: Your butt

    I typed back: Liar

    Then he responded with a, Maybe, maybe not but I’m glad we are cool again.

    My fingers typed in, Me too but more, then my thumb hit send.

    He sent a GIF of a dancing turtle, and I laughed.

    “So, missy, I woke up last night because your adorable dog snores like a bear, to find you and Lincoln nowhere in sight.” Molly studied the paper as she rolled it tight getting honey all over her fingers.

    “We were talking outside.”

    Molly turned to look at me her eyebrow arched like a hook, “Talking. Sure, and I’m Beyonce.”

    I snorted, “Intense talking,” I added.

    My phone vibrated it was Pete again. Can I come by and hang out tonight?

    My mind went to standing in the streetlight illuminated dark telling him I was in. Lincoln has to be okay with Pete. They have to figure it out. I remembered Pete asking me to tell him if I was leaving town.

    It was looking like we were going to, but a heavy part of me didn’t want Pete to come. Not because of the weirdness, or maybe feelings, but because part of me knew it was a bad idea. Just because I was stumbling through my life didn’t mean he had to…but then again, maybe it did. Maybe Pete wasn’t as put together as I had thought. His words, “I need you more than you realize,” created queasy and restless bubbles to form in my stomach.

    But, regardless of my messy brain I typed back, of course, and hit send.

    “Why Beyonce?” I asked Molly in hopes of pulling my thoughts away from Pete and running away.

    “Because she’s awesome.” Molly licked the seal of the blunt, smiled at it, and muttered, “You’re perfect,” to it.

    “Falling for that boy probably isn’t the best decision.” Malachi sweetly squeezed my ankles with his large hands.

    “Yeah, I know.” I slunk into the sofa cushions a little more.

    Smoke filled the room as Molly got the honey blunt started. She leaned over and passed it to me.  Just as my fingertips grabbed the joint, there was a knock on the door.

    Could that be Pete already? I wondered as Malachi grumbled sliding out from my legs and sauntered to the door.

    A deep, throaty voice drenched in a New York accent said, “Got a deal on a dishwasher, gonna do it myself.”

The landlord.

I quickly stubbed the blunt out as Molly darted to open the windows. Malachi’s foot lined against the inside of the door preventing it from bursting open.

    “You said Wednesday, I’ve got family here.” It turns out Malachi is a terrible liar.

    “Family? What’s that smell?”

    A large, round man pushed past Malachi. A thin patch of greasy hair cover the sides of his head. A large bushy mustache cover his upper lip, matching in thickness with hair on his partially exposed stomach.

    “Is that marijuana I smell? A dog! These are friends not family! You’re done.” His eyes now fixed on the bags of clothes next to the sofa. He turned like a raptor toward Malachi, “Meet me at the office in ten,” he yelled, then was gone.

    Malachi closed the door, his face drawn in defeat. “Gonna light that back up?” He asked.

    “I’m so sorry.” I got up from sofa and handed him the blunt.

    Malachi shrugged as he pulled silver zippo from his pants pocket. “He said Wednesday.”

    

    I hung upside down on the sofa like I used to when I was younger when I was attempting to make important decisions like vanilla or chocolate. It was hard to ignore this nagging feeling telling me something wasn’t right. I hadn’t heard mom’s clear voice in an over a week but was starting to wonder if this was a quieter version of her.

    “He’s been down there for over an hour,” Molly’s concerned voice interrupted the spiraling of my thoughts.

    The door knob jiggled, followed by a swinging door. Lincoln’s slender frame stalked in with his shoulder raised. A self-pleased grin floated across his face. “I got us a pretty sweet place ladies.”

    I twisted my body around and sat up.

    Lincoln closed the door with his hip, “Yep! Four bedroom house a block from the boardwalk. The guy’s who house it is lives overseas right now and will be for awhile. My Buddy, Rex sells speakers and knows the guy. We can stay there rent free as long as we help him with the speakers.”

    “Like the pyramid-scam speaker sales people?” Molly raised her eyebrows. “The one’s who case houses?”

    “Sorta, but this more is legit and won’t get us jail time.” Lincoln’s didn’t even seem to believe himself.

    “Well, it’s something. We can make it work,” I slid off the sofa and wrapped my arms around his waist. The small whisper that something was off was now screaming, but I chose to ignore it and focus on how good he smelled.

    “I agree,” he leaned his mouth onto my head.

    “You guys are in for it,” Molly said hanging off the chair holding her hand to her forehead.

    I laughed but knew she was right.

    Malachi pushed through the door; his eyes were wild. “Asshole.”

    “What happened?” Molly asked her whole posture suddenly in an alert, upright position; all goofy was off her face.

    Malachi turned to Lincoln, “Got room for one more?”

    “Sure man,” Lincoln nodded without asking any questions. I’m sure a symptom of having so many of his own. “The least I can do. I say we hit the road tonight. Rex needs us to start working tomorrow afternoon.”

    “New jobs?” Malachi pressed his lips together.

    “Shady speaker peddlers,” Molly rolled her eyes. “Adventure time!” Everyone one of us shared a hint of uncertainty but didn’t say a thing about it. Trouble hung in the air as thick as fog.

    “How about two more?” I pushed the words out quickly before I could break the promise I made to Pete.

    Lincoln eyed me carefully, saying no was right on the tip of his tongue, but he then said, “Yeah, Pete can come.”

    The moment the words were out of his mouth, I started tapping the buttons on my phone screen. We leave tonight. My stomach twisted into a nest of barbwire.

    Pete immediately responded. I’ll be there in the hour.

        

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Scary dolls, backstories, and what’s next

K.M. Randall is on the show! K.M. is an editor and fantasy author. Her titles are Reaper’s Daughter and Fractured Dream. She talks about all that she has in the works. K.M. and I talk about how our imagination sometimes gets the better of us, how dolls can be terrifying, shedding dogs, playing the waiting game, and managing our inner critics. Before K.M. comes on, I go on a rant about my social skills, dealing with other parents, and quite a bit more.

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