Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Getaway by Maureen Brady #womensfiction

GETAWAY by Maureen Brady,Women's Fiction, 230 pp., $14.99 (paperback) $8.99 (kindle)

Author: Maureen Brady
Publisher: Bacon Press Books
Pages: 230
Genre: Women’s Fiction
After stabbing her abusive husband and leaving him dying on the kitchen floor, Cookie Wagner flees to remote Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. For a moment, she seems to have gotten away with murder. But, consigned to a secretive life with a new name and the need to be on constant alert, she faces all she has not gotten away with. She is helped by the recently widowed Mrs. Biddle, who offers her a place to stay, and the lobster fisherman Butch, who gives her a job and later falls in love with her. Walking the cliffs and beaches, taking in the scruffy windblown plants that survive the buffeting wind by growing at an angle, she begins to heal.

Yet, there is no leaving behind the notion that Warren is dead as the result of her action.
Or is he? And if not, will he one day come to find her?

Sexual harassment and abuse are all over the news these days, often involving celebrites and other well-known figures, but Cookie, the protagonist of Getaway, is no celebrity. She’s an ordinary woman married to a working class guy who drinks too much and resorts to violence. Their story reveals how endemic the phenomenon of abuse is, and the quandary Cookie lands in when she fights back.

Praise for Getaway:
“Sensitive, sensual, and stirring. “Getaway” is a true page-turner, but one with heart and with context. I couldn’t put it down until I got to the end, not just to find out what happened, but also to discover who these intriguing and complex characters would develop into. An extremely satisfying read!”
Danielle Ofri, author of What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear, Editor-in-Chief, Bellevue Literary Review.
Amazon Link:

Cookie dove between the tall grasses, jarred with adrenalin. In the gloom, she could barely make out the blue cottage on the other side of the lake, but her eyes clung to it desperately. It was up for sale and she thought, unoccupied. Maybe if she bushwhacked around the lake and found her way there without being seen, she’d be able to hide behind it.

The air sparkled. Everything around her seemed to vibrate with too much life. When a bullfrog glugged in the reeds, she jumped, stood still, then made herself get moving again. This was no time to try to understand what she had done.

She inched along the shoreline, her feet sinking into the mud.

Her foot slipped off a root and twisted painfully. Damn weak ankle, she muttered, working it before she pushed on.

A three-quarter moon came up to light the way a bit, but it was getting cold. She stopped to put on her windbreaker, the one thing she’d managed to grab from the hook by the door. A good thing she had, even though it was a bright aqua, too colorful for someone
who wanted not to be seen.

Squatting, she buried her face in her hands. Her stomach roiled and she thought she might throw up. My God, Warren, why did you have to come after me like that?

She was struck by the sound of twigs breaking underfoot. A bear or a coyote? Someone coming after her? That got her moving again, making low, humming noises to keep whatever it was at bay.

When she finally came out to the clearing, she scooted through tall tufts of grass in front of the blue cottage and crept around back.

The building blocked the moonlight as she huddled against the cinderblock cellar wall, her arms wrapped around her legs, her feet wet and freezing. She stared into the night as the fireflies spit tiny patches of light before flickering out.

As she adjusted to the dark, she noticed a hump a few feet away, a rounded Bilco cellar door. She stood and lifted the handle.

Detecting a little give, she lifted again, hard, and one side came up. Three steps down, there was a wooden door. It, too, had been left unlocked, so the knob turned and she was in.

She sunk to the cellar floor and wrapped her windbreaker around her wet pant legs but couldn’t stop her teeth from chattering. Trying to still her jaw only made her whole arm shake. She remembered once as a child when her teeth had rattled on this way. It had been fear, not cold that time her father had raised his large square hand but stopped just short of slapping her across the face.

When she finally found the remains of a matchbook in her pocket, the first match she struck crumbled. She stood up and struck another. The light flared up shockingly fast and extinguished itself before she’d seen a thing. She caught a glimpse of a stairway, which she shuffled toward, hands out ahead of her, searching for a light switch.

In the flare of the last match, she spotted a worktable under the stairs. Patting along its surface, she touched something soft and squishy, almost like human skin. She jumped back, horrified.

Gathering her courage, she reached out again but she must have turned when she jumped back because, where the squishy thing had been, there was nothing, not even the bench. She made a quarter turn and reached out again. Still nothing! At least it wasn’t the squishy thing, but where the hell was she and what was that anyway?

Though Maureen Brady wrote the humor column of her junior high school newspaper, she didn’t actually comprehend that she was a writer until after she had moved to New York City in her twenties, where she began taking writing workshops at The New School and then fell headlong into the consciousness raising groups of the early 1970’s.

She published her first novel, Give Me Your Good Ear, in 1979, and it was published by The Women’s Press in England in 1981. Her novel, Folly, was excerpted in Southern Exposure, received wide critical acclaim, was nominated by Adrienne Rich for an ALA Gay Book Award and was reprinted as a classic by The Feminist Press. She published a collection of short stories, The Question She Put to Herself, in 1987, then turned to writing nonfiction in the ’90’s, publishing Daybreak: Meditations for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Midlife: Meditations for Women. She returned to fiction with the novel, Ginger’s Fire, and her most recent novel, Getaway.

Her recent work has appeared in Sinister Wisdom, Bellevue Literary Review; Just Like A Girl; Cabbage and Bones: Irish American Women’s Fiction, Mom, In the Family, and Intersections: An Anthology of Banff Writers. Brady’s essays and stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and were finalists for the Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize and the Nelsen Algren Short Story contest.

An Adjunct Assistant Professor, she teaches creative writing at New York University and New York Writers Workshop @ the Jewish Community Center, and works as a free-lance editor and tutor, helping writers across the spectrum take their writing to the next stage.

A co-founder of Spinsters Ink, Brady edited such books as The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde and The Woman Who Breathes Fire by Kitty Tsui. She also served as a panelist for The New York State Council on the Arts Literature Program and as a fiction judge for Oregon Literary Arts. She is a founding member of The New York Writers Workshop and has long served as Board President of Money for Women Barbara Deming Memorial Fund.

She has received grants from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation; New York State Council on the Arts Writer-in-Residence; New York State Council on the Arts CAPS grant; Holding Our Own; Briarcombe Foundation; and The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellowship to The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland. She was the winner of the Saints and Sinners short story contest for 2015 and is also a Saints and Sinners Hall of Fame winner.

She lives in New York City and Woodstock with her long term partner, Martha, and their joy dog, Bessie.

Visit Maureen’s website at www.maureenbradyny.com

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Strayed by KristaLyn A. Vetovich Pre-Publication Blitz - Win $25 Amazon Gift Card! @authorkristalyn #giveaway #win #puyb

STRAYED by KristaLyn A. Vetovich,YA/NA Fantasy

Author: KristaLyn Vetovich
Publisher: Glass House Press
Genre: YA/NA Fantasy

In the struggle between good and evil, humans don’t stand a chance—not on their own.
Which is why, for every living soul, there is a Firn: a spirit assigned to guide and defend humans from demonic spirits like the Aropfain. But earning a place in the fight is a process that requires several lifetimes—of service, experience, and sacrifice.

Having just returned from her most recent life as an Ancient Roman martyr, Anaya is only one step away from achieving that goal. And if she succeeds, she might become the Firn with the most important mission: guiding the human that will either save—or end—the world.

But when she’s paired with the notoriously difficult Jordin, her chances of success suddenly start to slip. Because Jordin isn’t like other souls. He’s strong, volatile—and a prime target for the Aropfain. And he almost immediately falls for an Aropfain ploy that could not only jeopardize his chances of becoming a Firn, but also endanger the entire world.

As his partner, Anaya is the only one who can save him. But will she succeed? Or will she fail—and take the world down with her?



Well, it happened again. I died.
The bloodied sand of the colosseum shivers out of focus as my soul shakes off its physical limitations in favor of a higher vibration. Instead of centurions and weeping family, I’m now surrounded by snowy white noise and quiet.
They came for me at dawn. I can still hear my mother’s sobs. I was only twelve.
I blink the memories away just as a man bends and pulls into view before me, then straightens with a blithe sort of smile. “Welcome back,” he says in an excessively soothing tone. He wears glasses I know he doesn’t need, and behind them, his unearthly blue eyes trace my face, looking for signs of stress.
And it comes back to me like the snap of fingers. An Advokat. Here to help me adjust to the trauma of crossing over from life to death.
Suddenly I wonder how he sees me. Do I have blue eyes now? In life, they were brown, but here in death I’ve always imagined others see me with crystal blue. I guess it would depend on how much they like me. Appearance is entirely based on impression here. We see what we feel. Feelings are real, vision an illusion.
And this Advokat must be new, I realize a moment later. If he’d been here for any length of time, he wouldn’t be using the sappy voice they put on for the newer souls. The ones who don’t understand how it works. He’d know that I’m something of a regular in the transition between life and death—that I’ve lost count of how many of these interviews I’ve had to sit through. I’m sure I know the process better than he does.
Because I’ve had his job before, mastered it long ago.
I skim him, searching the endless trove of memories trying to break through the fog of earthly business still clouding my mind. I don’t remember him. And I can see that he doesn’t know me.
Definitely new. Which means he’ll play the interview by the book. I groan.
The Advokat reaches out as if to comfort me, like my groan was one of anxiety and not disdain. “Try not to panic.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes and flatten my gaze at him instead. I understand it’s his job to help me recover from the shock of death, but honestly, I’m fine. So I died—so what? There are many things worse than death, and one of them, if anyone ever bothered to ask me, is living. I’m actually thrilled to be back here—and I don’t need an Advokat to counsel me through the transition.
Also, I’m in a bit of a hurry. I have important business to attend to, even higher vibrations to achieve. I’m so close now, and he’s the only thing standing in my way.
I tap my foot and glance around for someone—anyone who might recognize me and give me an opportunity to walk away from this unnecessary formality.
“Everything will make sense soon.” The Advokat’s voice echoes through the white expanse around us. Clearly, all other souls are keeping their distance to allow me to transition without any added shock. Or—I narrow my eyes at the Advokat—he’s followed protocol by requesting they give us space.
And do we ever have it. As far as the eye can see, there’s nothing but static white. But I smile, and my shoulders relax—because this is my true home.
Just the way I remember it.
The Advokat leans into my line of sight. “Do you know your name?”
My smile drops.
In life, my name was Agnes. In this life, anyway.
There have been so many lives, so many names, but between them all, just one feels like home.
When it comes, my voice sounds like a lost, cherished memory. “Anaya.” My first word after death. The truest word I know.
The Advokat smiles and nods. He doesn’t take any notes or write anything down, and I know about that, too. The answers are in his mind, ready when he needs them, downloaded into his head from the source of all truth on the highest plane of vibration there is: El Olam, our master and creator. He sits so high none of us can reach him, above laws and structure. The world is as he makes it, and we are simply stewards of his creation, here to serve.
And today I’ll go one step further in the process of becoming a defender of creation. I’ll become a Firn.
The Advocat, who is becoming more annoying by the moment, interrupts my thoughts with yet another question. “Good. And do you know where you are?”
Where I am? Well it’s a much better place than where I was…
I was in Rome, in the fourth century. I rejected a boy, and he sold me out as a Christian. It took them forever to kill me—first with shame, then with flames. But all I gave them was a blank stare through the numbness. They couldn’t shame me. I wouldn’t burn when they strung me to the stake and lit the fire—even the flames knew not to touch me. But the Roman officer’s sword through my throat did the trick in the end. I was gone before I felt anything. So I guess the joke’s on them. There was darkness, then a burst of light—
And now I’m home, where none of that matters anymore. I’m free here. Because no one can shame or kill the dead. I’ll be safe as long as I stay.
“This is Lemayle,” I say quietly. “The afterlife. The real world.” And I have no intention of ever living again.
He rocks back and grins. “Wonderful!” Then his face stiffens. He swallows and his eyes shake as he looks me over for a second time, now scanning for any truths beneath the surface, anything I’m hiding from him. If souls could sweat, he’d be a mess as he prepares for the most important question of the interview.
I used to have his job, so I know what comes next. My answers from here on out will decide my final destination.
“All right.” He clears his throat. He doesn’t have to. It’s the nerves. I will be his enemy if I answer poorly, but he has to remain objective. He’s a professional, after all, and he doesn’t know whose side I’m on yet—what changes this most recent lifetime might have made in me.
I was martyred, and not all martyrs come back home the way they should. Martyrs go into life as warriors for El Olam’s cause … but don’t always return feeling their suffering was justified. Some turn against him and defect to the one who seeks to depose him.
And me? How do I feel about the suffering I was put through? Have I changed my mind about who to serve? And how dangerous does that make me to the fragile balance of the world? That’s what the Advokat needs to find out.
“Do the names El Olam and Narn mean anything to you?”
Good and evil. That’s what they mean. Free will and slavery. But which is which? Is El Olam good … or is he evil? Are Narn’s plans for less service to living souls and more dominion over them more appealing? Are they justified? No soul chooses evil.
They simply choose what they believe is right.
I hide my laugh with a cough at the tension in the Advokat’s hunched shoulders. If he’s new—and he wants to stay—he’ll need a stiffer a spine than he’s got now. I might as well be the one to give it to him.
I level my gaze at him, eyes wide open to appear just a little less threatening. “Yes. I know them.”
He nods, more rigidly this time, and rubs the back of his neck as he braces for my response to his final question.
“And … your allegiance?”
I stare at him for a long moment, watching the anxiety build behind his bright blue eyes. He doesn’t want any trouble, but his other hand twitches at his side, ready to summon the support of a slightly higher power—just in case I came back tainted.
Just in case I’ve decided I hate the way the world works … and want to serve the one trying to turn it upside down.
“Oh calm down,” I finally chide him. This has gone on long enough to bore me. I have business to attend to, and honestly, after fifty lifetimes, a soul should be able to just skip this process. “I chose El Olam lifetimes ago. I’m bound to be a Firn. This was my last run.”
His whole body wilts as the tension releases. Had I said Narn, the Advokat and I would have had a few issues. Because it would have meant I was a soul with eyes toward flipping the script, turning the world upside down—force living souls to do as we say, and ruling over them as gods.
He’d have had to immediately summon one of Lemayle’s second-highest authorities—a Malekh, El Olam’s archangels—to deal with me. And it wouldn’t have been pleasant. The Malekh don’t like jokes. Most of them, anyway.
“Well that is a relief.” The Advokat’s hand slides from the back of his neck to clutch his chest, steadying the phantom sensation of a palpitating heart.
And I grin, even though I shouldn’t. But what’s the fun in seniority if you can’t mess with the rookies?
“We need as many Firns as we can get,” he admits, “events accelerating as they are.” I perk up at that. Accelerating events is much more my speed—though it gives me less time to meet the final criteria for joining the Firns’ ranks. “The living souls need all the protection we can give them,” he finishes.
I couldn’t agree more. And that’s where I come in—where all the Firns stand and serve El Olam. Without Firns to guide living souls and protect them from temptation and harm, Narn would flip the script. And humans would walk right into their own slavery.
But El Olam won’t allow it.
So neither will I. I’m so close now. Just one step left, and if I impress the Malekh and El Olam enough in my next job as a soul collector, then I’ll become a Firn, and one day I’ll be even more than that. If I perform well enough, I’ll be chosen as the Firn who oversees El Olam’s plan to defeat Narn once and for all. It has to be one of us, so it might as well be me. And I won’t stop until I see it happen.
Meanwhile, the Advokat extends his hand to me. “Best of luck to you. I hope you make the cut.”
I glance at his hand and back up to him. So he really hasn’t heard of me, then. I may not be a Firn yet, but I have made a name for myself as the one to watch for earning the coveted position in El Olam’s plan.
Well, if he hasn’t heard of me yet, he will soon enough.
“Thanks.” With a smirk, I grip his hand and shake it firmly enough to knock him off balance. “But I really don’t need luck.”

KristaLyn A. Vetovich is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter
  • This giveaway ends midnight May 31
  • Winner will be contacted via email on May 31
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply
Good luck everyone!


KristaLyn is the internationally published author of seven books and one short story, including the upcoming Prelude of the Reyn Gayst series releasing in 2018 from Glass House Press. She graduated in 2011 from Susquehanna University with a degree in English Literature and began traditionally publishing her novels the next year. KristaLyn is also a certified health and life coach and enjoys infusing her stories with motivational themes and characters from all walks of life.
KristaLyn lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and their corgi, Jack.




Breathe In by Michelle Bellen @michellebellon #blogtour #thriller #suspense

BREATHE IN by Michelle Bellon, Thriller/Suspense, 272 pp., $13.99 (Paperback) $3.99 (Kindle)

Author: Michelle Bellon
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Pages: 272
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Breathe in. Breathe out. This mantra gets Tessa Benson through the day. The man she loves walks all over her, and she just wants to get by without her heart shattering to pieces. If she could find her voice, she’d scream. Everything changes in one night, when she’s snatched from the streets and tied to a bed, a camera set up to capture her dying moment. And the person who paid to watch her die…is still out there somewhere. Tessa prowls dark neighborhoods in a quest for justice, but she doesn’t find the killer. Not until they strike again…in the place Tessa is least expecting, and where it hurts worst.


I grip the steering wheel and focus on my breath in an effort to steady my shaky hands. Breathe in. Breathe out. I can do this. I gaze up the long driveway toward the house through my car window. It sits tucked away from the road in a cove of evergreens. An immaculately decorative landscape sprawls before the stone home. Amber lights filter out of the windows, adding warmth to the otherwise cold exterior. It’s impressive. Bold. Like Tom, it quietly exudes money and power. I’ve never been to his home before. He never invited me. Though it stung a bit, I figured he was waiting until our relationship progressed.
Even with a thin gray mist blanketing the scene, I feel oddly conspicuous. Am I the crazy stalker girlfriend? Have I overstepped my boundaries by looking up where he lived and showing up unannounced?
Groping through the contents of my purse, a sense of relief rises to the surface when I feel my phone. I hold my breath. Please, please, please.
As I press my thumb to the sensor, the phone recognizes my print and the screen comes alive. Scan notifications. One missed call. Click. Shit, it was my mom. Another kind of dread fills me. I’m not up for a conversation with her tonight. Click over to text messages. Two from Gerald. Scroll right past it. I’m not in the mood for him and his needy bullshit right now. Terin. I’ll read it later. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Click back and forth, checking again.
Nothing from Tom. Disappointment swallows my entire being. My body grows heavy. Sour resentment rises in my throat.
Why is the wrong guy so relentless in his pursuit while the other blows me off? It’s completely backward. How am I so thoroughly messing this up? Tom hasn’t called or texted back in almost a week. He’s clearly avoiding me. Maybe I had been too clingy before. Maybe I’d—
Stop. Just stop. Those are negative thought patterns. There’s probably a good reason I haven’t heard from him. He could be very busy with work. He could be out of town. Maybe he’s not feeling well. That thought worries me. Maybe he needs help, someone to care for him?
My heart races, my movements are quick and jerky as I slide out of the Subaru Outback, pretending I’m not anxious to see him as I face his home. Why do I do that? Try to fool myself? I mean, how can one even accomplish such a task? You can’t really, because it’s…well, it’s impossible. You’re the one thinking the thoughts, so you cannot hide them from yourself. Yet, I try. Why is this?
The banter in my brain is ridiculous. Two dichotomous personalities consistently bickering. Both of them annoying. Always. Stop. Just stop.
I shut the driver side door and take in a deep, cleansing breath, closing my eyes and letting the day go with my exhale. I’ve been practicing this a lot lately. Breathing. Letting go. Sounds easy, but it’s actually quite difficult for me. Every night for the last few weeks, my nightly ritual before bed has been listening to fifteen-minute guided meditations. I put my earbuds in, close my eyes, and listen to the gentleman’s calm, hypnotic voice, telling me that regret is living in the past, anxiety is living in the future. Hyper-focusing on either is a waste of time and harmful. It causes stress, which can poison the mind and body.
Yeah, tell me about it.
So I breathe in and I breathe out. Letting it go. Except it doesn’t work. A mixture of panic and anticipation breaks through as I walk toward his home, my heels clicking on the sidewalk. I stare at the French doors for what feels like an eternity before I finally knock on the door.
Moments later, the door swings open and Tom’s confident presence fills the entryway. I both love and fear this about him.
“Tessa, what are you doing here?” He steps out of the front door and closes it behind him, as if he doesn’t want anyone who may be inside to hear us. I shuffle backward and bring my arms in tight to my side to make room on the porch, feeling it necessary to make myself smaller than I already feel.
His reaction is a mix of surprise and disappointment and, maybe, a little anger? I’m suddenly acutely aware that I’ve made a huge mistake. I cringe and wish I’d never been such a stupid girl. “Tom! Hi.” I clear my voice, hoping to bring it down an octave so I don’t sound like a school girl. “I…uh…well, you hadn’t answered my texts and I was beginning to worry. I thought maybe you were sick…or…I don’t know. I shouldn’t have dropped by like this.”
“No. You shouldn’t have.”
His sharp tone has me taking a clumsy step backward. “I’m sorry. I…” Unable to finish my sentence, I wait for him to jump in and explain what is going on.
“How did you find out where I live?”
An uncomfortable silence lingers between us as I strain to find the right words, any words, to answer the question.
He shakes his head. “Never mind. This is my fault. I should have responded to your texts and just told you I can’t see you anymore.”
My head spins. The world tilts. A daunting thought washes over me. “Oh, my god, you’re married.” I want to die.
“Look, Tessa.” He takes a step toward me, his six-foot-two frame reminding me how meager my own is at five-four. “I’m not married. I’m just a very private person. I always have been and I want to keep it that way.”
“So that’s it? You’re ending what we have, just like that?” The pitch of my voice is embarrassingly high, but I can’t seem to control the way I’m escalating.  
“What we have? Tessa, we’ve only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks.” Tom stares down at me, his brows pinched in mixed emotions. I can’t tell if he’s sad, frustrated, amused, or just feels sorry for me.
A wave of embarrassment floods over me. My heartbeat pulses throughout my body, echoing the impending sense of doom that quickens my breath. “Yeah, but it was a great couple of weeks. Almost two months, actually. And we’ve been together almost every day since we met. I thought things were going really well. This is just a shock. I don’t understand what’s going on. If you’re not married, then what? Did I do something wrong?”
He closes his eyes and sighs before answering. “It’s not that you did anything wrong. It’s just that I don’t really see it going anywhere. Besides, what about that Gerald guy you were seeing before?”
“Gerald? I told you. I stopped seeing him after that first day you and I spent time together. He…he’s contacted me but, I’m…Gerald isn’t what I want.”
“Look, don’t make this harder than it needs to be. I like you. You’re…sweet. But I don’t have time for a fling. And you can’t be here, so just leave.”
I flinch at the bark of his tone. I’m sweet? A fling? Just leave?
Grasping for dignity, I take three shaky steps backward. My ankle rolls but I stumble and catch myself before I fall on my ass. Searing pain shoots hot through the tendons of my lower leg. My lips pinch to hold in the gasp of pain. Without saying another word, I turn and bolt down the driveway. The slap of my shoes against the pavement reverberates into the cool air, echoing my shame. My ankle throbs with each motion. Confused and frightened, I slide into my car, start the engine, and pull away from the curb. My hands shake so hard I can hardly grasp the steering wheel.
What in the hell just happened?
Breathe in. Breathe out. Let it go. Tears roll down my cheeks in a steady stream as I drive away.


Parking across the street from my brownstone, I scan the dark streets before turning off my vehicle. Tom made fun of my fear of the dark. “You’re too skittish,” he said, “like a beaten dog, and you need to find your backbone. No one likes a wimp.” Tom can be a bit harsh like that. Or as he’d say, “direct and to the point.” Well, he was certainly to the point today. No holds barred. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s right. I do need to stand up for myself. I wish I had stood up for myself in front of his home earlier. Told him he couldn’t treat me so terribly, at the very least. Like that would have done any good.
It also doesn’t change the fact that these streets are a bit frightening, even during the day. I’d have never chosen to live in this part of town of my own accord. But when my grandmother passed and left the small unit to me, I had no other choice. As a student, still struggling to finish my doctorate of philosophy, I felt only gratitude for the sudden change in my living situation.
I’d just finished my master’s in English literature and resigned myself to the idea that I’d have to wait to move on to the doctorate program when I received the news that I’d inherited the home. I’d no idea I was even in the will. Free accommodations are a godsend to a stressed and struggling student.
Grabbing my keys and purse, I wait until the street is clear of traffic. I note the glisten of the wet pavement from the earlier rainfall and my shoes don’t have the best traction. I want to slide out of the car, cross the street, and retreat to the sanctuary of my home as quickly as possible, without slipping and breaking an ankle.
Ready, go. Open the car door. Step out, look right and left. Close door. Scurry across the street, making sure to keep my feet low to the ground for solid placement amongst the fallen golden leaves smushed against the pavement. Quick leap to the curb. Almost there. My keys slip from my fingers as my feet hit the sidewalk. Shit. I stop to pick them up. Out of the corner of my eye, movement catches my attention. My heart rate flutters nervously under my thin skin. Stooped over, I turn to see a woman standing at the curb about fifteen feet away. Nothing to worry about. My heart slows down.
I’ve seen her before. Thigh-high boots. No stockings or jacket, though it’s cold out. Hair cropped short, in purposeful disarray. Clearly a hooker, she’s decided this part of town is more profitable as of the last month or so, and frequents this area often. As I stand up and put my keys into my peacoat pocket, she turns and locks eyes with mine. She squints ever so slightly, measuring me up. I wonder if she thinks I’m judging her. Am I? What must her life be like? What events have pushed her to a life of prostitution? How does she swallow the fear? Are we really so different, she and I? After the way I just let Tom humiliate me, like so many of my other boyfriends have, I’m not sure I like the obvious answer to that question.
Her lips purse together tightly as she shakes her head and turns away, as if disgusted.
I take in a short gasp. I’m the one who has been judged. She recognized my fear and it sickened her. Heat rises to my face and I hike my purse onto my shoulder before scurrying up the stairs, anxious to hide from this hideous day. Could it get any worse?
Two stairs up, I stop mid-step and glance upward toward the male voice. My heart sinks. Things just got worse. “Gerald.” My voice cracks. “What are you doing here?”
Gerald stands on the top stoop, staring down at me with a pathetic look of desperate hope dripping from his gaunt features. What did I ever see in him? Was I really that lonely?
He steps forward and offers me a hand. “Come on out of the cold and we’ll talk.” His voice has always struck me as oddly deep compared to his looks. Like James Earl Jones bred with Popeye’s girlfriend, Olive Oil, and Gerald was the result. I ignore his offer for assistance and remain rooted on the spot, staring up at him incredulously.
“Gerald, it’s been a long day. I’m not up for company right now. I just want to go home and crawl into bed.”
His lips press together so tight that they blanch white and the upper right side twitches. He gives an almost unperceivable nod of the head, as if clearing his thoughts, brushing away the rush of agitation. The previous look of calm concern returns as he offers a forced smile. The wave of anger that flashed over his features was so quick I almost didn’t catch it. Almost.
He takes a step back and clasps his hands together, as if showing he’s retreating and harmless. “I’m sorry you had a long day. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped by unannounced, but I began to worry when you didn’t respond to my texts. It’s been nearly a week since we spoke last.”
I finally trod up the last few steps. “Gerald, I told you, I just don’t see a future between us. I’m not really interested in a relationship right now.” It’s hard not to grimace as my words essentially echo what Tom just said to me only moments ago.
“You mean you’re not interested in a relationship with me. But I know you’ve been hanging out with that new Tom fellow, the suit. I bet you want a relationship with him. Is that where you were just now?”
“First of all, I’m not in a relationship with anyone. And second of all, it’s none of your business.”
He blinks three times, as if suppressing another fleeting emotion. “So you’re not seeing him?”
Closing my eyes, I rub my right temple and wish to God this day was over. “No, Gerald. I’m not seeing him. I’m not seeing you. I’m not seeing anyone.” I look up. “I just want to go to bed. I don’t feel good.”
His expression softens. “You poor thing. I’m sorry I came over like this. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just concerned. Is there anything you need? Anything I can get you?”
“No, not really.” A small part of me softens to his kindness. I wish I could muster feelings for this guy. He really is sweet to me when he’s not being so overly persistent, so clingy. I just can’t force what isn’t there.
He hesitates. Looks down the street as if searching for what to say two buildings down. Looks back. “All right, well, I’d better be going then. If there’s anything you need, just call.”
I nod. “Okay.” I just want to be left alone.
He traipses down the steps, pauses on the stair below me, turns, and places a wet kiss on my cheek. “I’ll text you tomorrow.”
I suppress a shiver. Please don’t. “Fine.”
I hold my breath while I watch him get into his car and drive away. Anxiety and relief flood my system as I turn and bolt up the stairs. The building is locked for the evening, so I scramble for the keys in my pocket and quickly open the door.
I love that wonderful, safe sound of the click as it locks into place. Push thoughts aside. Turn and walk down the hall to my door. Unlock and step inside. Yet another layer of safety as I lock both the handle and the bolt. I’m home.
In the sanctuary of my building, socks keep my feet warm as I pace around the kitchen, trying to make sense of today’s unexpected turn of events. My cell phone sits on the counter silently next to a plate of untouched cheese and crackers. I keep it close, just in case Tom calls to apologize or at least explain. He will, won’t he? A siren screams in the distance and I pretend it’s not there. Someone hasn’t committed a crime or suffered a terrible injury. Too gruesome of an idea for the evening. I’m tired and a bit frazzled, but trying my best to find a calm end to the day.
A text comes in and I scramble to retrieve my phone from the counter top, knocking over an empty glass in my haste. Mother blinks on the screen. I close my eyes tight against ugly emotions: angst toward my mother’s relentless nagging about my cheating father, and shame because I had hoped it was Tom. What is wrong with me? Sometimes I wonder if my consistently poor choice of men is due to watching my mom and dad’s toxic relationship all through my childhood. The ups and downs, the ebb and flow of when things were good and then suddenly bad again, the constant feeling of walking on eggshells, of pretending it was all okay. even though it never was. It certainly couldn’t have helped.
My appetite has waned, so I clean the kitchen and retreat to my bedroom for the night. Peeling out of my slacks and blouse, I slip into a t-shirt and forgo the shower. I don’t have the energy for it. The sheets are cool against my thighs as I slip under the covers.
Before I put my phone on the nightstand, I do the one thing that I know I shouldn’t, but keeps nagging at my conscience. I pull up Tom’s number and send a quick text.
Me: I just want to say I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dropped by like that. Good night.
Refusing to allow guilt or regret to slink into my thoughts, I toss the phone aside and sink down into my soft pillow. I remember the last time Tom and I spent the night together. Lying in the dark with only the light from the hotel bathroom filtering in. The cool night air drifting in under the wispy curtain of our hotel room. Tom always insisted that a window be open. If a hotel didn’t have windows that opened, he wouldn’t stay there. It always struck me as odd. Only half awake, I ran my index finger over the tattoo that adorns his left bicep. “What is this?”
Sleepily, he glanced down. “It’s a phoenix. Don’t you know what that is?”
“It represents death and rebirth. Burning to ashes and then rising again into a new life. Right?”
He closed his eyes, drifting to sleep in a post-sex reverie. “Something like that.”
I continued to run my fingers over the tattoo and imagined myself burning from the inside out into a heap of wasted ash and then suddenly bursting to life again into a stronger, more beautiful self. A self that speaks my mind and lives a braver existence. “I wish I had a tattoo like that,” I whispered into the dark, more to myself than to Tom.
To my surprise, he answered without opening his eyes. “You have to earn it first.”
Tilting my chin up, I watched his strong jawline against the pillow. “How did you earn yours?”
A pause lingered in the air between us.
“I don’t like to talk about it, but my dad died when I was only three. After that, my mom went through a slew of men. I guess she couldn’t handle the idea of being alone. Some were cool. Some weren’t. One was a sick bastard that had a thing for young boys.”
Another pause filled the air as I processed what he’d just shared with me. I gasped and my stomach rolled as I realized the underlying meaning of what he said. I placed a hand on his chest. “Tom, I’m sorry that happened to you. Did you ever tell your mother? How did you cope?”
His body stiffened in the bed next to me. His breathing was shallow and slow. “My mom knew. For four years, she knew and did nothing. As for how I coped, when I was old enough, I made sure to be there as a witness to their karma.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked down at me, but his eyes had glossed over, his brow furrowed as if seeing something from his past rather than my face. He shook it off. “Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” He rolled away, turning his back to me. His voice was gruff. “I earned the tattoo. That’s all you need to know. Now go to sleep. I’m tired.”
Now his words echo in my mind as I lie here in bed, feeling like a broken fool, wishing he’d respond to my text. This is my pathetic pattern. There is no possible way I could ever earn a symbol like that. I cannot be someone that I’m not, no matter how hard I wish it.
Shoving aside old conversations and images of a burning phoenix, I roll to my side. Click. The light goes out. Ear buds in. A calm, soothing, masculine voice tells me to breathe in and breathe out.
I am calm. I am calm. I am calm.


An obnoxious sound taunts me out of dreamland. I’m conscious enough to know I’m rising out of the depths of REM sleep, but out of it enough to resist. Limbs are heavy. Lids won’t lift. Mouth is hanging open and dry. The sound is incessant, so I drag myself to the surface. Eyes open and close. Open and close. Open. Brain processes sound. My cell-phone ringer.
Rolling over to the other side of the bed, I reach for my phone, hoping it’s Tom. What time is it? A quick glance at the red digits of my alarm clock tells me it’s only five after ten. I haven’t been asleep all that long. Still, it’s kind of late for phone calls. At least for me it is. Eyes focus. It’s Terin. Oh, yeah, I forgot to read her text earlier.
“Hey, Terin, what’s up?”
“Girl, you sound tired. Were you sleeping already?”
I lie back on the pillow and close my eyes again. “No. I mean, yes, I guess I fell asleep. But I’m awake now. What’s up? I saw the text from you earlier and meant to read it, but I didn’t get to it. Then I fell asleep and…it was just a long day, that’s all. I’m sorry.”
“Whatever, it’s cool. You’re super busy these days. I get it. I was just texting to see if you were still pining over that Tom asshole, waiting for him to text you back.”
This girl. She’s the one person I can be myself with. The one person who has my best interest at heart. She’s brutally honest, and sometimes that sucks, but it’s always something I need to hear anyway, so I take my lumps as she serves them. “I’m not pining over him. Not really. I had hoped to maybe…I don’t know, see him again. Have some closure?”
“Closure? I’m sorry, is him ignoring your texts and phone calls for over a week not enough closure for you?”
I cringe. There’s no way in hell I’m going to tell her about tonight’s incident. “Jeez, Terin, go easy on me. It’s not that simple. I think I just got caught up in our little…fling.” The words taste bitter on my tongue. “He and I had a good time and I got ahead of myself. No big surprise. I’ve done it before.”
“So I take it you still haven’t heard from him then?”
I sigh, contemplating how much to disclose. “Look, he’s much older than me and I think that’s always bothered him. Plus he’s a very wealthy and successful businessman. He travels a lot and work takes almost all of his time. He said he likes his privacy and wants to keep it that way…”
“So you have heard from him?”
Her critical discernment is the thing I both love and hate about her. It births doubt within me. It reveals my stupidity. I pause and think carefully before I answer the question. “Yes. Today. He said that he couldn’t see me anymore. That he was a private person and too busy for…complications. That vague explanation is all he gave. I’m confused and a little heartbroken, to be honest.”
She sighed loudly. “Shit, I’m sorry, Tess. I know I’m busting your balls here, but I love you and hate seeing you hurt. And if you ask me, he’s hiding something. I have a hard time believing he was all hot and heavy after you these last few weeks and then he suddenly drops you like a hotcake and gives you a lame excuse about being too busy or too private, or whatever. It just doesn’t set right with me. You know?”
I shrug. “I guess.”
“Come on, think about it. His behavior has been off from the very start. I suspect he’s got something to hide, but I never wanted to mention it before and kill your hopeful joy. It’s been a while since I saw you that lighthearted and happy. I couldn’t bear to rain on your parade. Maybe I’m wrong and he’s just an asshole.”
“I know you don’t like to upset me. Plus, I wouldn’t have listened anyway. You know how I am.”
She gave a light chuckle. “Yeah, I know. You ostrich everything. Something crops up that you don’t like and you stick your head in the sand to avoid conflict. Seen it a hundred bazillion times.” She pauses a heartbeat. “Listen, I just worry about you. You know? I mean, you’ve always been so…”
I close my eyes, bracing for what she’s about to say. “So what? Such a pushover?”
“Well, that’s not what I was going to say, but now that you mention it, yeah.” Her speech picks up as she tries to recover. “I don’t mean that as an insult, Tess. You know that. I love you. You’re my best friend. But as your best friend, there are times when I just want to scream and pull my hair out when I watch you be so dang nice all the time. I mean, don’t you ever feel like not being nice? Don’t you ever feel like telling someone to shove it where the sun don’t shine?”
I shrug into the dark room. “Not really. I don’t think so. I don’t want to be mean to anyone or hurt someone’s feelings.”
“But see, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes in life, you have to step on other people’s toes just so they stop stepping all over yours. It’s not always fun, although, it can be. But it is often absolutely necessary. You hear what I’m saying? Sometimes it’s not an option. You gotta stand up for yourself simply because it needs to be done. Does that make sense? You feel me?”
I nod. “I understand what you’re saying. I do. I just can’t fathom finding that kind of bravado anywhere inside of me. Have I thought of speaking my mind? Yeah, sure. Can I act on it? Heck no! I’m not like you. I wish I was but, then again, let’s face it. If I acted anything like you, I would have probably already bitch-slapped my uptight boss and been fired long ago.”
The offhand comment has the exact effect I had intended. Terin sputters and spurts as she laughs into the phone. “Isn’t that the truth? Oh, what I wouldn’t give to watch you do something like that. I know it’s in you, girl. Way down deep. You just don’t know it yet. And don’t worry about that bitter woman, Tess. She just needs to get laid. Is she still giving you a hard time?”
“Nothing more than usual. She’s a bitter, angry old woman and I’m the one she likes to take it out on. Story of my life. Reminds me of high school and the way Cindy Lorde used to make my life a living hell.”
“Oh, jeez, Tessa, when are you gonna get over all that? It was a long time ago. And she’s probably a washed up has-been by now with twenty kids and a big butt.”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, well, she was the cool girl back then and that’s a perfect example of a time when I should have stood up for myself.”
“That’s true and further proves my point. It’s time you started sticking up for yourself. So, back to the Tom thing…you’re over him then? You’re doing okay?”
I bite my lip and stare at the ceiling fan overhead. Mostly shadows in the dark room, its blades are still and my clock light reflects off it oddly in the center so that it almost appears to have eyes. It looks like a starfish clinging to my roof.
Should I lie or tell her that I’m miserable and praying he’ll call me? I don’t even know why. Like she said, he’d told me he couldn’t see me anymore. Not that he didn’t want to see me. Just that he couldn’t. That thought makes me sick to my stomach. How could I want a man who no longer wants me? I bet Gerald would be more than happy if I called him tonight. Ugh, I’m such a stupid girl sometimes.
“Yeah, yeah, Terin, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I, uh…”
My phone buzzes as a text comes in. Without thinking, I pull the phone from my ear to take a peek. It’s Tom. My heart thuds against my ribcage. Hit the text. Read it silently, holding my breath while my friend rambles on.
Tom: Stop. Texting. Me.
That’s it. That’s all he has to say to me. Tears well up and I feel like I might choke on them. Swallow down the shame. Terin was right about him. I never meant anything to him. I’m probably one of many. Insignificant. I place the phone to my ear and listen to the last bit of whatever Terin prattles on about. I can’t focus. When she pauses, I take the chance to escape. “Hey, I hate to cut it short, but my stomach is killing me. I think I might have eaten something bad. Do you mind if we hang up for the night?”
“No, no, sure. Sorry you’re not feeling so good. Hope you’re not on the toilet all night long. Remember that time I ate the bad clam chowder and nearly died from projectile diarrhea?”
No answer.
“Okay, I’ll let you go then, Tess. Just call me in the morning to let me know you’re alive.”
Hoping I still sound cheerful, I say goodnight, hang up, and toss the phone to the foot of the bed.
I’m not even going to try to breathe through this. I stare up at the ceiling and let the tears run down my cheeks, into my hair, and onto my pillow. The starfish on the ceiling stares back at the sad, pathetic girl and laughs.

Michelle Bellon lives in the Pacific Northwest with her four quirky and beautiful children. She loves coffee, Superman, rollercoasters, and has an addiction to chapstick.

She works as a registered nurse and in her spare time writes novels. As a multi-genre author, she has written in the categories of romance suspense, young adult, women’s fiction, and literary fiction. She has won four literary awards.