Wonder Woman and Global Running Day

Full disclosure: there are no SPOILERS, but there are certainly hints. If you are unfamiliar with the DC comic universe, this may not make much sense… 

I took a vacation day this past Friday so that I could give Wonder Woman as much of my money as possible.

It was 100% worth it.

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly have my (minor) criticisms and nit-picky things, but I truly don’t think that I will ever NOT cry during Diana’s first battle crossing No Man’s Land.

Ugly tears. Like an angst-riddled toddler.

After seeing this magnificent piece of cinema thrice in one day, I then spent the weekend working, cleaning my apartment, baking with Sophie, and making up for the fact that I was too sick and then too busy to run for the past two weeks.

Imagine my surprise when I beat my split by over a minute.

I thought for a moment that the app tracking my miles was being finicky. There was no way I was suddenly running a nine minute mile (I know I’m slow, okay??) after fifteen days of nada. My average even before then had been around the ten and a half point.

But I do have a theory.

My feet hit the pavement on Saturday morning when all I could think of was that scene from Wonder Woman. I imagined Diana taking the battlefield and deflecting bullets one by one. I imagined a shield on my back and a lasso of truth on my hip, and I swear those thoughts are what made me run faster.

And I think I now know what a runner’s high feels like.

I know it sounds pretty cheesy, and I know that I’m a grown woman who ought to be past  the time of pretending to be a superhero running down the street, but here’s the deal: I didn’t have that as a child. I remember the first time I saw Christopher Reeve fly and thinking how amazing it was, but never once did I think to myself “Oh, I could do that!”

I could never see myself as Superman.

And I didn’t have a truly heart-stopping moment of awe with any DC superhero until Dawn of Justice when the shield lowered and there was Diana (with, I might add, the greatest possible theme music).

I ran like the wind yesterday – or as close to the wind as I probably could have come – all the while, thinking of my beloved Princess of the Amazons. It hurt like hell, but the second I stopped, I felt amazing. I felt invincible.

And this morning I heard on the radio that today is Global Running Day.

I’m off to grab my running shoes and my imaginary lasso.

 

Grief – a Short Story by Pepper O’Brien

There really wasn’t anything quite as satisfying as beating bread dough into submission.

Don’t think about it. Don’t go there. Keep it together. 

I chanted silently to myself over and over as I kneaded, the smell of the yeast wafting up to remind me that I was safe, I was home, and I was getting on with my life. I baked every day and made bread twice a week, sometimes more.

This week, all I’d done was bake. I woke up for a batch of muffins. The instant the bowl was clean, a cake was next, then there was buttercream to mix, and then a pie crust to roll out.

I baked for hours until Kyle came to either eat his fill or take away the extra to whomever. I never asked. As long as there was need, I’d keep baking.

Need in myself or need in others to eat, I didn’t pause for long enough to consider.

“Honey,” he said tentatively as I continued to knead.

“There are lady fingers just there and some chouquettes,” I told him. “This needs to prove again, but I’ll have an Angel Food out soon.” I spared a glance for the upside-down tin where the cake was resting before I returned my attention to the dough in front of me.

I didn’t hear my husband’s resigned sigh, but I knew it was there. I could feel it in my bones.

“Okay,” he finally said. “I’ll take care of it.”

You’re okay. Everything’s fine. Don’t think about it. 

***

Late that night, sounds drifted through the house in an uneven pattern. Baseball highlights floated in from the den’s television as my mixer whirred together butter and sugar. Kyle muttered on the phone, the ceiling fan spun in a hum, and cicadas happily sang in the yard. The oven timer beeped. The water ran in the sink. The kitchen radio played bachata. I used to dance as I baked, and I hadn’t quite gotten out of the habit of playing music whenever I had cookies on the brain.

I didn’t dance anymore.

“Terry?”

At first, I didn’t hear him. I was too busy chanting in my head and watching to make sure the chocolate I had melting in the saucepan didn’t burn.

“Terry, baby,” he said again.

“Hm?” I didn’t look up.

“That was your mom.”

I tensed, unsure of why she’d call now.

“Janet’s kids… her students keep sending cards and things. She just wanted to know if you… if you’re interested in taking a look. Or maybe coming for a visit.”

I barely heard what he said after “Janet”. My sister’s name reverberated through my head as I stared at the blade of my mixer.

Janet. Janet. Janet. Janet. Janet. 

I could scream. I could vomit. I could curl in a ball in the corner and refuse to speak to anyone.

I didn’t. I just baked.

“Sweetheart? Maybe you could call your mom back tomorrow. She didn’t sound like she was doing very well-”

He cut himself off before he could say “either”. We both heard it anyway. What he stopped himself from saying, but meant just the same. She’s not doing any better than you are. 

Meaning I wasn’t doing well. Meaning I wasn’t handling my sister’s suicide.

“Kyle.”

My voice rasped from underuse. He probably hadn’t heard me say his name in weeks.

“I can’t…”

“Can’t what, baby?”

I didn’t know what to say. I reached up and turned the mixer off. Suddenly, all the noise in our house seemed to rush to a halt. I no longer heard the sports commentators. I no longer heard the ceiling fan. Kyle must have lowered the radio’s volume when he tried to get my attention. Even the cicadas seemed to hold their breath as I stood in my kitchen and tried to tell my husband what it was I couldn’t do.

“I can’t think about her right now, Kyle.”

“You don’t have to, Terry,” he whispered, never moving from his place by the door. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want, but you’re scaring me.”

That snapped my head up in a hurry. I finally met his eyes.

“You can keep doing this. I’ll bring you all the flour and eggs you want. I’ll keep bringing cookies to work with me. I’ll take your mother’s calls, and I’ll tell all of our friends that you’re doing okay. I promise I will. I’ll do all of it until you bake through every ounce of butter in the state, I swear.”

My eyes filled. My poor, worried husband looked pale and gaunt, barely propping himself against the door jamb.

“If that’s what you need, honey, that’s what I’ll do. But no one knows you like I do. Not your mom, not your brothers, and baby, I’m so sorry to say this, but not even Janet knew you like I do.”

The tears fell because he was right. I knew it and so did he.

“I know every part of you, and I know you’re trying to make yourself feel better. I know you’re trying to forget, because all of this,” he gestured to the counter in front of me, “is something you love.”

He took a step forward and I felt my hands shake.

“I miss my wife,” he said softly. “And I don’t want you to forget. I’ll go along with whatever you want, whatever you need to do, but sweetheart… I’d take years of your anger and your tears and your frustration over a single moment of your reserve. I miss you so much, and I don’t know how to show you anymore.”

Without another word, Kyle turned and walked out of the kitchen. I heard the game highlights come back on. Rubbing my face on my apron, I turned the mixer back on.

***

The next morning, I stepped outside and sat on my front steps with a cup of coffee in my hands, and I waited. I’d woken up to an empty bed. Kyle was probably out for a run, and I wanted him to see me here. I wanted to show him that I could leave the house, that I could behave like a normal person. Or at least pretend to for a time.

It was another ten minutes before I heard the telltale rhythm of his running shoes hitting the sidewalk.

I smiled even though it hurt. I stood even though I didn’t want to. My hands ached for my whisk and my rolling pin. Still I gripped my mug and made my way down the front walk.

Sweating and exhausted, my husband pulled up in front of me.

“Terry?”

“Hey.”

Ouch

My body hurts.

I ran over ten miles last week, and before I know it, I’ll be running ten miles in a day

Remind me why I thought becoming a runner was a swell plan…?

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 2.43.23 PM

Because my swollen, mud splattered ankles make for top notch blog copy. 

I have found, though, that I am already starting to reap the benefits of getting off my own butt and doing something active on a regular basis. At work yesterday, Nino looked over and said, “You’re skin looks really great – what have you been doing?” As this particular workplace happens to be a cosmetics shop, I’m sure he was expecting me to tell him I switched moisturizers or started sleeping on a silk pillowcase. When I told him I’d been running, he nodded anyway and just said, “Yep. That makes sense.”

Yes, my body still hurts, but not as much as it did that first day, and not nearly as much as I would have expected it to after two weeks of running four to five days a week. I still want to rip off my own feet at the end of mile two most days, but at least that distracts me from my knee, which honestly hans’t been bugging me as much as I would have thought. I’ve also got a pretty impressive bruise on my thigh from a spill I took the other day on my trail of choice, but I’m proud of myself for getting up from said spill and finishing that day’s mile goal.

I suppose what I’m learning is that running is hard, but worth it. I have to make myself do it and those initial few moments of “crap, I don’t want to” are probably harder to get through than a stitch in my side on mile two. There will always be reasons why I shouldn’t or can’t or won’t, but the reasons I should or can or will are more important.

Becoming a Runner

I ran twice last week, and no, I was not being chased by something scary.

That’s a perfectly reasonable assumption, though, since I kind of hate running.

My lovely friend Keebs and I are planning on doing a 5k together this June. If you are unfamiliar with the Color Run, I encourage you to educate yourself below…

In the interest of getting pelted by colorful dust, getting some sweet photos, and gaining quality bonding time with Keebs, I agreed.

Then I remembered I hated running.

I just need to establish that. I really do hate it.

All of that said, I don’t want to hate it. I am not the sort of person (or, at least, I prefer to think that I’m not) whose favored topic of conversation is my disdain for all things. I don’t count my worth by my ability to trash the stuff others enjoy. I do make honest attempts at understanding why people like the things that they do, even if thoroughly incomprehensible to me.

For example, jellyfish scare the shit out of me. I don’t think this is a totally unjustified fear. However, I can see how others find them fascinating. I can go to an aquarium and see them in a tank and see them as interesting and, in their own scyphozoan way, rather beautiful. That does not mean I want to encounter one without the shield of a very thick pane of plexiglass.

Mosquitoes, on the other hand… no. Get out of here with that. I’m within the sphere of reason to despise mosquitoes on a basic human level.

Running, though, I am intrigued by. I don’t like doing it, but I really admire the people who wake up at 5:00 in the morning to run ten miles. I admire what it takes to train for a marathon and commit to that kind of physical strain/pressure/exhaustion/elation. I do really want to know what a runner’s high feels like.

I also need to exercise more often. The week I turned twenty-six, I feel like my body got  a huge smack in the face, and I suddenly couldn’t stomach Taco Bell anymore.

Amidst all of this internal debate/existential crisis/potential quarter-life meltdown, this gem popped up on my recommendations as I perused YouTube one day.

If homegirl can run a flipping marathon with ten weeks of training, I can run five measly kilometers.

Or, at least, I should be able to…

Any advise on this matter is appreciated…

XO
Pepper

A Very Short Story About the Little Things by Pepper O’Brien

Every morning, right around 11:00, I have… a moment with the FedEx guy.

I estimate he’s not much older than I am and that he works out on his own aside from hauling boxes up and down the stairs to various offices. He strikes me as a dog person, and perhaps someone who owns and rides a bike. I don’t know any of this for sure. We don’t exactly chat.

What I do know is he has a tattoo of a tiger on his arm. I only see it in the summer and only ever half of it as the rest is hidden under the sleeve of his polo shirt.

I also know he likes pizza, because the one time I had pizza and was too hungry to wait until noon to eat lunch, he’d pointed to my plate and simply said “jealous” with a smirk and a longing look in his eye.

I don’t know what his favorite pizza topping might be. I don’t know if he has any other tattoos. I don’t know what his favorite color is, as I have only ever seen him in black and purple.

I do know that every day, he comes right up to my desk, my simple, tidy desk, and shares a moment with me.

Anyway, each morning, he strolls through the office doors with a bright smile and says “morning” before setting down whatever parcel and handing me the keypad for my signature. Each morning, right around 11:00, he does this and looks at me with that handsome smile while I blush and scribble my name with the attached stylus. Sometimes I take longer than I need to handing it back just so I can see his eyes crinkle at the corners.

I smile at him and take his delivery, and he says “thanks so much” and gives me a wink, which (naturally) makes me blush harder.

I’d been at my job for less than a month when I first saw him. He was new, too. I liked that.

“Hey, there,” he’d said, looking right at me, probably because my desk just happened to be the one closest to the door. For the record, none of the packages are ever for me, nor do I ever open them. As soon as he leaves, I walk them right over to Kelly, who works in the very back corner.

“Hi,” I’d replied, a little confused and a little nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to sign for anything at that point. I did it anyway, because when a good-looking guy hands you a keypad and asks for your signature, you give it.

“Last name?” he’d asked, taking his keypad back from me.

“Campbell.”

“Perfect,” he’d said. “Thanks.”

He has never asked for my last name since. He remembered it was Campbell after only one visit. I try not to dwell on that too much, assuming that he perhaps just happens to have an excellent memory. I try not to think it has much (if anything) to do with me.

My moment with the FedEx guy is easily the best part of my workday.

This morning, right around 10:55, I rushed to the bathroom to make sure my hair was okay (yes, I know how that sounds – sue me).

When he strolled into the office five minutes later, though, he didn’t have his usual bright smile. He didn’t look up at me at all. He didn’t say “morning”.

“Morning,” I said brightly, hoping it would be returned.

He looked up quickly and gave me a half-hearted smile. One that didn’t reach his eyes.

“Sign here, please?” He handed me the keypad and I scribbled.

“Sure,” I said, and then, dropping my voice a bit, “um, is everything okay?”

As I handed back the keypad, he looked up again and held my gaze.

“Yeah, thanks. Last name?”

I paused, and let myself stare for a second too long. He cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows, still waiting for an answer. I tried to ignore the sinking feeling as I took in another breath.

“Campbell.”

On Dystopian Young Adult Fiction

***Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links: the book cover images are clickable***

Small confession: I caved and read another romance novel. And then reread two others I fell in love with last year.

I can’t apologize, because they were all great. I have mad love for Karina Halle’s work. I also may have a small thing for soccer players… I make no apologies for this.



Then, of course, I explored my saved shelves (yes, the real and the digital), and discovered just how many Young Adult, female heroine driven, post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction there is in the world.

I’m not complaining at all, but holy cow, I’d never actually realized there was so much of it! And no, I do not believe that there is any harm/shame/what-have-you in reading books geared toward high school students. I read Anna Karenina when I was eleven, and I read the complete works of William Shakespeare a year later (yes, I’m serious). Read everything and read it because you like it, okay? (Just not “Fifty Shades”…)

Most recently, I finished the Chemical Garden series by Lauren DeStephano, and while there were a few parts that dragged just a little, I did enjoy the concept. The premise is that we’ve completely eradicated genetic diseases, cancer, immune disorders, and the like, all at the cost of human life expectancy. Men die at 25, women ay 20. The only people who live longer are “first generations” who were born before these effects took hold, and not necessarily everyone is born as perfect human specimens. There are still those with birth defects that are looked down upon as malformed.

Enter Rhine, who is essentially kidnapped and sold into marriage, and who has heterochromatic eyes (one brown, one blue), which intrigues her new father-in-law scientist/doctor/psycho.

Not my favorite series of this genre, but certainly worth a read. A solid three out of five orange trees.

      

Another I finally got around to in the past few months is the Selection series by Keira Cass. This one takes a note from Suzanne Collins by “selecting” girls from different portions of what was once the Americas. Teenage America (yes, that’s her name) is selected and sent away to be courted by the nation’s prince. There’s also a caste system (probably one of my favorite “rules” of this world) that determines your job, indicates who you might marry, etc.

Not the craziest, most complex read I’ve found, but certainly enjoyable, and I really loved the different rebelling factions. Another solid three out of five stolen pennies.

      

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer is truly excellent. I reserve five out of five for knocked-my-socks-off-could-not-put-down-Harry-Potter-and-the-Prisoner-of-Azkaban-level-rock-star-awesome, but “Cinder” gets four out of five screwdrivers. Loved, loved, loved it, and I won’t bother to explain. Read it now. (And yes, there are more than what I’ve added links to, but obviously, start here.)

      

Those are examples, because I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the Divergent series or the Hunger Games. More still that fit the category quite neatly are the Matched series, the Delirium series, the Shatter Me series, the Uglies series, the Mortal Instruments, the Infernal Devices, and you know I can keep going.

The next two I’m looking forward to taking for a spin are “A Thousand Pieces of You” by Claudia Gray (which I’ve already dug into and is part of the Firebird series) and “The Forsaken” by Lisa M. Stasse.

   

For those of you who are not as voracious, perhaps, as I am about reading until your eyeballs fall out, enjoy the next few weeks/months of bedtime reading, and you’re welcome.

A (Very Short) Excerpt

I sat crossed-legged on my kitchen counter and let the heat from my mug warm my hands. It was below forty degrees in our apartment, but I tried not to let that bother me too much. At least we had someplace to live.

As I sipped my tea, I heard Jacob curse from the other room. For some reason, my mother’s voice echoed through my head.

“Language,” I reprimanded him. I said it firmly and I made sure he heard me, but I didn’t shout. As a general unspoken rule, Jacob and I did not fight.

He shuffled into the kitchen and pinned me with a look.

“Really?” he asked, his eyebrows disappearing into his hair. It really was getting much too long.

“Really,” I confirmed, holding his gaze. It was was Mom would have done. It ought to work for big sisters, right?

He heaved a sigh and shook his head, looking bemused.

“Yeah, alright,” he agreed as he turned to make his way back toward the living room.

“What are you working on this time?”

“The bookcase,” he told me, holding up the level in his hand. “The shelves are uneven.”

“So?” I asked, and I knew my nose scrunched in confusion. “It’s not like we have anything to put on them.”

“No, but we will someday, won’t we? I don’t want it going on a crooked shelf.”

“Fair enough.”

Jacob wandered back toward his project and I couldn’t help but smile. If there wasn’t something for him to do, he’d invent a task for himself. No one could ever accuse my brother of having idle hands. In the short time since our arrival, he’d managed to replace the windows, right the doors that were falling off their hinges, and retile the small bathroom we shared. One had to admire his sense of industry.

My tea had cooled a bit and I drank it deeply, my focus straying to the window. I saw shapes in the distance that must have been our landlord and his family. While it felt early to me, I knew our neighbors had been awake for hours.

“Sara?” Jacob called.

“Yes?”

“Any idea where a hammer could be? Or maybe a pry bar?”

“Not a clue,” I almost laughed. “You could ask David.”

I listened for my brother’s footfalls as he left the bungalow in search of our friend David. We’d lived here almost three weeks, and while a tiny farmhouse that was probably somewhere near eighty years old and had seen its share of bad winters certainly wasn’t the city apartment Jacob and I had grown up in, it sure felt like home to me.

Ruth had said her cousin’s farm was some version of paradise, what she imagined heaven might be like. While I didn’t really go that far, I could see what she meant by it. It might not have the unicorns and ice cream I’d pictured when I thought of heaven as a child, but it was safe and the people welcomed me. It was much more than we’d had for the past few years.

Mom had gone to Austria in search of some old family friends to stay with. The last thing she told me before she went was that it seemed unfair to be fleeing a place her great-grandmother had herself fled to so long ago, but perhaps that was our cycle. To never have anywhere to belong. I hated the sentiment, but worse than that, I hated that I understood it.

We hadn’t heard from Dad in months. I think that’s what finally convinced my brother it was time to seek refuge.

I didn’t care that it had only been three weeks, and that nothing was certain. I was relieved. We were as off the grid as anyone could get in twenty-first century America, and at least for now, we were safe.

I looked up at the sound of Jacob plodding back into the house triumphantly.

“Got it!” he called.

I smiled into my mug.

Book of the Month Club – February 2017 – “The Possessions” by Sara Flannery Murphy

***Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links: the book cover photo is clickable***

I’m going to go ahead a confess that I’ve been pretty awful about keeping up with my Book of the Month picks.

Oh, I log in at the beginning of each month and diligently educate myself about each of the monthly selections, and I get very excited when the BOTM box arrives on my doorstep, but here’s the thing: I’ve been reading too much on my phone.

My book apps have yet to fail me (I do so love Scribd) and its far too easy to snuggle up in bed, check my Snapchat and skip right on over and scroll through the dozen or so ebooks I’ve saved in my tiny glowing library. My hold-in-your-hands paper books have, therefore, more often than not, found themselves stacked (neatly, at least!) on the end table of my living room.

“The Possessions” did not end up on said stack.

First of all, make-up junkie that I am, I was drawn to the too-perfect-to-be-anything-but-Photoshop lip line business happening on the front cover.

Second of all, I know myself well enough to understand that I desperately need to get out of my romance novel obsession and rejoin the land of fiction without orgasms. I felt that this, a story about seduction, obsession, and intrigue, was at least a step in that general direction. Kind of.

And third, the heroine’s name is Eurydice. I played her namesake in “Orpheus & Eurydice” in college for a stage movement project. It was like fate spoke to me and said “pick up the damn book”.

This one took me just about two days to read. I don’t necessarily care so much that it didn’t plunge me into “non-romance” – there are definitely some erotic themes going on here… but what I think I enjoyed most was the exploration of emotion Edie goes through.

As part of a society committed to helping others reconnect with dead loved ones (oh, she’s like a medium, but with a special drug), Edie remains curiously unaffected by the thoughts and feelings of the spirits she summons. Until widower Patrick Braddock has her summon his late wife, and Edie finds herself trapped between remaining safe in her drug-induced detachment and pulling herself out of it to risk allowing Sylvia’s memory to affect her.

I need to stop there, because spoilers are awful, but I do recommend this book.

Four out of five perfect lipstick applications.

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Book Boyfriends, Part 1 – The Gentlemen

***Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links: the book covers listed below are clickable*** 

There is no shame in having a book boyfriend.

I say this because I have several dozen… hundred…

It really depends.

While it is very easy to say that Mr. Darcy is the ultimate gentleman book boyfriend, I find that so many are overlooked. I’ve always preferred Bingley, anyway, as one-dimensional as he may seem (I really do treasure a sense of humor).

Don’t worry. I love some rogues, vagrants, fighters, and the odd criminal or two (book-wise!), but those will be for other lists. 😉

My favorite gentlemanly book boyfriends are…

Prince Hal from “Henry IV, Parts 1 &2” and “Henry V” by William Shakespeare 

Well, yes, Hal is a teensy bit of a trickster in his formative years, but there is no denying he is polite and (very) distinguished. We forgive his philandering in pubs with Falstaff because, let’s be honest, his heart is true.

Marco Alisdair from “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern 

Only a hopeless romantic would spend years of his life crafting such magnificent feats of illusion in tribute to his lady. Who needs love letters when you’ve got an entire enchanted carnival to work with? He’s also a bit of a writer/doodler

John Brooke from “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott 

Am I the only person in the world who can’t stand Laurie? I liked him fine as Jo’s boy Friday, but good gracious, I wanted to smack him by the end of the book. John Brooke, while somewhat reserved, truly loves Meg and has his own small ways of showing his feelings, and Meg’s defense of him to her mother delighted me.

Colonel Brandon from “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen 

I feel obligated to include an Austen character, and if I must, it’s Brandon. While this may merely be evidence of my everlasting crush on the late and magnificent Alan Rickman, it is worth noting the Brandon is the very personification of the phrase “still waters run deep”. He may seem dull at first, but it masks a thoughtful and sensitive nature that I find unbearably attractive.

Kell from “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab 

If you have not dug into this series yet, I do so highly encourage it. Not only is the world building excellent, but our beloved protagonist Kell is a well-traveled, poised, sharp, and eloquent gentleman. Small crush, no big. I also super admire Lila – slighter bigger crush. 😉

Niall Stella from “Beautiful Secret” by Christina Lauren 

I couldn’t possibly forget my romance novel boys – it just happens most of them are not exactly… *ahem* gentlemanly. Niall Stella, though, is about as well-mannered and refined as they come, albeit fairly repressed. He more than makes up for it by the end. While I love all the boys from the “Beautiful” series, Niall remains my favorite. What I wouldn’t give to see this man in a suit…

And not to worry. I will most assuredly introduce you to the rest of my book boyfriends (even the decidedly ungentlemanly ones… especially them, in fact) in future posts.

“Ours” by Pepper O’Brien

I stand up and stretch, hoping to relieve some of the tension that has collected in my back. A popping sound seems to reverberate up my spine and it feels amazing.

“Ow!” Penny cries in empathy. “Are you okay?”

I smile at my sister as I reach my arms up over my head.

“Yep,” I tell her, “I’m good.”

She rolls her eyes and keeps ripping open boxes.

“More books,” she says. “Bedroom or living room?”

“Depends. What kind of books?”

She peers into the box and pulls out one of my dictionaries, holding it up for me to see.

“Living room, please.”

“This would be a lot easier if you’d labeled the boxes, you know.”

“I hadn’t really planned it out that much, Penny,” I say with a shrug.

She nods and shoves the box of books aside to start on another. Penny is good about not asking questions she knows she won’t like the answer to. She’s also good about listening even when she doesn’t like what she’s hearing. It’s good to have a sister like her in times like this one.

“Pen?”

“Hmm?” She looks up from the next box, which I know is full of linens.

“Michael wasn’t a good guy,” I tell her simply.

“I know.”

“I mean, he was pretty awful toward the end…”

“I know he was, Tally. You don’t have to-”

“Yeah, I do.”

Penny sits back on her heels on the floor of my new apartment’s hallway. She clicks the blade back into the box cutter and waits for me to continue.

Penny has always been good about handling these sort of things.

“He was abusive, and ignored it because I loved him.”

I hadn’t intended for it to come out quite like that, but it’s too late now. The words formed themselves the way they were meant to, I suppose.

“I should have guessed he’d be a good manipulator. That should have been clear a long time ago, but it never occurred to me that he could be that way with someone he said he loved. I guess that was pretty stupid of me to think.”

“No, it’s not,” Penny tells me, her compassion practically bursting through her eyes. “It’s not stupid to think that someone you love loves you back enough not to trick you like that.”

I turn her words over in my head for a moment before I respond.

“I couldn’t tell I was being tricked for over a year, and when I did…”

I pause because I don’t quite know what to say next. The words come anyway.

“When I did, we were so entrenched in each other’s lives. He knew everything about me. All my friends, how to scare me, everything. Staying felt so much safer than leaving.”

Penny stares at me and heaves a heavy breath before sliding over to sit beside me on my new floor.

“Tal?”

“Yeah, Pen?”

“I want to remove his testicles.”

It’s such an unexpected thing for her to say that I can’t help but laugh.

“I mean it,” she says through a smile. “He was awful and should not be allowed to procreate.”

I look at my knees, deciding not to tell her about the pregnancy scare a few years ago that Michael found a way to make my fault despite his consistent disinterest in condoms.

“Tally, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but… how bad did it get?”

“You want to know if he hit me?”

“Yeah.”

I stare at the wall for a moment too long because Penny scoots closer to me and grasps my hand in both of hers.

“Not at first,” I tell her. “That wasn’t his way until I started sticking up for myself. Then he hit.”

“May I kill him?”

“You’re asking for permission?”

“Not really,” she admits. “Just declaring my intentions.”

I smile a little at that.

“So… that’s why the police were there yesterday?”

When Penny helped me collect my things from the old place, a squad car was in the driveway to greet her. Penny, always good about not asking questions she won’t like the answer to, said nothing at the time.

“I got a restraining order. Officer Willis was there to make sure Mike didn’t come home early.”

“You packed fast.”

“To tell you the truth, Pen,” I say with a sigh. “I’d been packing for a while.”

“I thought you said leaving wasn’t planned.”

“It wasn’t. I didn’t wake up last week and decide I’d leave yesterday. But I’d been… ready for it, I guess.”

Penny squeezes my hand and leans her head on my shoulder. I’m really glad I have a sister.

“Now you have something that’s all yours.”

“I suppose I do.”

***

Later that night, I’m propped up in a bed we picked up from a nice college guy who’d posted it on craigslist. The mattress is a little creaky, but it will do fine.

My laptop rests on my thighs and I dutifully delete every photo I can find of Mike. On my hard drive, on Instagram. Everything.

Just as I am going through the ones of us on Facebook, a messenger notification pops up.

John: Hey you. 

It’s John from college. I haven’t talked to John in months, and I know I’m grinning.

Tally: Hey yourself. 

John: I know this is kind of last minute and please don’t feel like you have to, but I’m actually in your neck of the woods. Want to grab a bite? 

I freeze for a moment and read the words on the screen a few more times before my fingers return to the keys.

Tally: WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THE WEST COAST? 

John: Last minute project! We’re filming in Santa Cruz tomorrow. We just landed and everybody’s exhausted but me. Go figure. 

I laugh a bit at that. John and I were both always nocturnal.

Tally: Where can I meet you? 

John: Could you pick me up? 

He sends me an address and I know immediately that this will be good for me. I’m afraid that Michael will get the bulk of “our” friends in the split. I know he’ll twist it to make himself the victim, although I don’t like that word associated with me either. “Our” friends were always really his anyway. John, though, is gloriously untainted by Michael. John from college and the coffee shop and the movie theater. John, I can trust implicitly.

John, who never scared me, not even a little.

I quickly map the address on my phone and wrack my brain for where I left my shoes.

Tally: I’ll be there in ten. 🙂 

***

I pull around the corner and see John’s lean figure beside a streetlamp. I flash my lights and he looks up, smiling.

“Hey, stranger!” I call out the window. He hops into the passenger’s seat and grins right at me.

“Hey, yourself. Where’s my hug?”

“You’ll get one when we stop, not to worry.”

We catch up, falling into the easy, teasing conversational rhythm we found freshman year, which feels about a million years ago now. John has been working with an independent film company, which I knew. What I didn’t know was that they were picking up a documentary project about an environmentalist group based out of Santa Cruz. He confesses that the idea of a documentary did not excite the rest of the team as it did him, but he managed to convince them anyway.

I tell him about what’s new with the job I’ve had for the last two years. Copywriting might not be the most glamorous thing, but it pays the bills and I make my own schedule. I tell him that I’m starting to get back into painting again. That gets a curious look out of John, who was unaware I’d ever stopped, but he says nothing.

When we find my favorite burger place, I park and hop out. John, on the other side, waiting for me, opens his arms and I practically leap into them, so happy to seem him again. His long, wiry arms wrap all the way around me and I can’t help it. I hide my face in my shoulder.

“Hey,” he says softly. “You okay, Tal?”

“Sure,” I lie.

“You’re bad at that, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. Get a burger in me and I’ll be better.”

“You got it.”

***

An hour later, I’ve effectively poured my heart out and John is fully up to date on all things Tally, including but not limited to the many sordid details of Tally’s unfortunate romantic circumstances. And there are very many.

“Tal…”

“Please don’t tell me that I’m better than that,” I plead. “Please don’t tell me that I should have left sooner. I promise you I know that better than you. I’ve been tough for my parents, I’ve been tough for my sister. I haven’t even cried over it. I’m just exhausted. Please do me the favor of not telling me what I already know.”

John looks at me sadly, but it’s not pity or disappointment. At least, if it is, it doesn’t seem to be directed at me.

“Tal. I was going to say I’m proud of you.”

Okay, that catches me off guard a little.

“Huh?”

“Tally, my father was an abusive alcoholic. You think I don’t understand how hard it is to get out of that kind of situation? I know exactly how brave you had to be. I’m proud of you. You’re a lot tougher than you’re giving yourself credit for.”

And there, suddenly, are the tears. Thank God for John.

“On top of which, I can’t imagine your family holding anything like that against you. Were they-?”

“No, no. They’ve been really great about it, especially Penny. I just…”

“You were looking for someone to judge you. And when they didn’t, you decided to do it yourself.”

John stares at me for a moment, not really expecting a response.

“You’re too sharp for your own good,” I accuse through a watery smile.

“Come here.”

I slide closer to him in the booth and collapse against his side. He wraps an arm around my shoulders and rests the side of his head on top of mine.

“I’m sure plenty of others have offered, but do I have ass kicking to do?”

I chuckle. “No. I really don’t think he was dangerous to anyone but me.”

“Hence the restraining order.”

“Hence,” I agree. “But thank you.”

John and I sit in companionable silence, easily polishing off our remaining french fries. I giggle every time he swallows and I can feel it against the side of my face.

***

The next morning, John texts me to say he’ll be in Santa Cruz for ten days, and can we please get together before he heads back home. I readily agree.

As I unpack my coffee machine, load it up, and make myself comfortable perched on top of the kitchen counter by the window, I can’t help but think about Michael.

This morning, he is probably wondering what happened to his kitchen and how he will make coffee now. He is possibly concerned about the sudden barrenness of the cupboards that once housed my waffle maker and my mixing bowls and my teacups.

He is probably noticing something different about the walls in the hallway, but it will take him a few guesses to realize that I took my photo frames. He is maybe even collecting a little list of all the things I took with me.

What I hope he will ultimately realize is, despite their residence in his home for a short while, everything I took was never his or even ours. All of it was always mine.