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.”

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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.

Scribd Selects – February 2017

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The first thing I do on the first day of the month is write my rent check. The second thing I do is see what Scribd has added to their monthly Selects.

If you are unfamiliar with Scribd, click here or peruse the App Store or Google Play Store. ‘Tis a magical land of ebooks and audiobooks.

If reading off of a screen isn’t your thing, I encourage you to click on the pictures below to grab hold-pages-in-your-hands copies of the following books.

AND STILL I RISE

“And Still I Rise” is a Black American History text, and it looks remarkable. Chronicling significant events from 1965 to 2015 into a comprehensive timeline, this book takes a close look at modern black social, cultural, and political influence in the United States from Malcom X to President Obama. I can’t wait to dive into this one.

 

 

THE OPIUM WARS

This book broaches a subject that had honestly never occurred to me. When Arab traders first brought opium to China for medicinal purposes, it opened the floodgates for addiction across the country and fed Great Britain’s economy for years. So much so that when the Chinese attempted to ban opium, the British fought to keep it for the sake of their own economic stability and their reliance on trade with China including tea. “The Opium Wars” follows that struggle.

 

MIDNIGHT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT

Until just two years ago, I was woefully uneducated in regard to Japanese internment in the United States and pretty generally ignorant about the events between Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. “Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds” examines those historical monuments from both sides within the same family, and the uncertainty and intensity that comes with war.

 

Knowing me, I’ll read all of these by next week. Let’s rock.

“Fine” by Pepper O’Brien

“Ow, fuck!” I shouted the moment the cart made contact with my elbow.

“Shit! Sorry!” Danny said immediately, letting go of the cart and coming to stand next to me. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t even looking.”

“It’s fine,” I told him tightly, my jaw clenched and my eyes watering.

“Are you sure? Do you need ice or something?”

I forced a laugh. “Buy me a drink later and we’ll call it even, okay?”

“I can do that.”

My arm hurt like a bitch, but I couldn’t focus on it for too long. I had work to do. Danny carefully continued on with the cart still muttering apologies and sneaking glances at the bruise already forming on my arm.

I plucked the pencil from behind my ear to jot down a reminder for Nick to check out the popping noise on the far left studio speaker. Reporting the news using only the Internet had its limitations sometimes, but we were certainly profitable enough to afford a replacement speaker. The set we had was secondhand from a theater that had been shut down during the budget cuts. I’d hated to ravage the place for equipment, but it was cheap and we hadn’t had any other options when we first started out.

“What do you think it’s about?” I heard Jen, our new intern, ask someone. She was with us for the summer before going back to finish up her Bachelor’s at Columbia. I almost smirked at the naivete behind her question.

“No idea,” said Mike. “Can’t be good, though.”

“Why do you say that?” I liked Jen fine, but on days like this one, it was hard to appreciate her idealism.

“Hasn’t been good for nearly a year. Five’d get you twenty he’s exploited another legislative loophole.”

I silently agreed and placed that bet with myself. Then I got moving. A presidential address wasn’t new anymore. It didn’t elicit the same adrenaline that it used to. I tried to remember the rush of excitement when I first started covering politics. There was so much to learn and so many intricacies to keep track of. When the president addressed the nation, there had been thrill. Lately, though, all I felt was dread.

***

Fours hours later, Danny and I were down the street at Bobby’s, my favorite dive bar. Billy Joel crooned from the tinny stereo and I could hear the cook shuffling around, putting together baskets of fries. We’d arrived with barely a word between us before I ordered two beers and as many appetizers as I could remember without glancing at a menu.

I stared straight ahead, studying the reflections in the liquor bottles. For a while, neither of us knew quite what to say.

“What am I going to tell my mom?” he asked quietly, slumping in his stool and tracing patterns in the dew of his beer bottle.

I adored Danny’s mother. She owned an art gallery and sent the studio care packages when we couldn’t make it home for holidays. More than once, she’d had pizza delivered when we were editing late into the night.

She taught art classes at a few local colleges. Or did. We’d just found out that all public schools would no longer hire part-time or guest teachers, and that arts classes would be removed completely.

That wasn’t all we’d reported, but it didn’t surprise me that it was all Danny had heard.

“Same I told mine when veteran’s benefits got stripped,” I replied, my gaze still on the bottles lined up along the shelves behind the bar. I knew I’d find his face as broken as mine had been in the beginning, and I couldn’t bear to face it straight on, cowardly as that probably was. “Tell her you love her. Tell her she deserves better, and you’re sorry it happened.”

“Dad got laid off more than two months ago. I don’t know what’s going to happen if… fuck, I don’t know.”

I thought about that for a moment, and I pictured Danny’s family in my mind. His mother’s friendly, open smile. His father’s kind eyes and weathered hands. Slowly, the mental image morphed to look like my own family. I thought about my parents in their dress blues, perfect postures, and the proud angles with which they both held themselves.

“You know what I thought at first?”

Danny turned to face me.

“I thought… what do these clowns even need an opposition party for? An administration like that will discredit themselves just fine on their own.”

Danny nodded solemnly.

“The healthcare reform was one thing – as much as we hated it, we all expected it. But then… that entire first week it just kept tumbling. The employment holds, the gag orders, the suspensions, the budget cuts. He hadn’t even been in office a week and his executive orders were already in the double digits, and there was so much resistance. All those marches, all the protests. I had so much faith in us. That we’d get through to Congress and they’d help us end it. I thought there was no way he’d keep it up.”

The lump that had formed on my elbow where Danny had hit me with the cart throbbed as I spoke.

“I don’t know a single person I went to school with who hasn’t had to pick up second and third jobs in the past ten months,” I said. “Half my friends have fled the country and so many others now have marriage licenses no one will recognize as valid anymore. My brother will probably never finish college now. The world’s biggest con artist silenced every scientist who ever made a damn bit of sense and now he’s strangled the artists. It’s not like we don’t fight back. We fight back. But God, it’s… fucking exhausting.”

Our shared tray of greasy fried food found its way between us on the bar and I picked at a mozzarella stick.

“If your brother needs a place to stay, he can crash at my place,” Danny offered, staring blankly at our food.

“I’ll ask him.”

“Kel?”

“Hmm?”

“What happens when the studio gets shut down?”

A zinging pain shot through me at the thought. I’d put my heart, soul, and every dime I had into that place, and panic had crossed my mind more than once about what would become of it if the witless wonder of the White House ever found a way to dig his claws into it.

“We don’t have to worry about that yet. Worry about the people who are already hurt.”

“You think we’re not hurting?”

Pain spread through me, radiating from my bruised elbow to the rest of my body, gripping my heart and snaking its way up through my spine and into my head.

“Not yet,” I told him, taking another swig of my beer. “We’re fine.”

Books to Read in 2017

We are into week four of 2017, and I have read ten books. My goal of 75 books in a year is looking steadily more preposterous.

There are plenty of other preposterous things going on so far this year, and in an effort to educate myself about the voices that are being silenced by the current political climate, I have done some research and created a list for myself.

In the past, I’ve created lists that include things like a book of poetry, a book longer than 500 pages, a book written before I was born, etc.

This list is pretty different.

  • Book about a First Nations culture I’ve never heard of
  • About growing up in a modern First Nations community
  • Psychology text about the impact of conversion therapy
  • Memoir of a conversion therapy patient
  • About being female in the military
  • History about the feminist movement
  • Book about intersectional feminism
  • Personal account about the process of transitioning/transition therapy
  • Memoir about living gender neutral
  • Journalistic perspective of the media’s coverage of refugees
  • Memoir of a refugee
  • About human trafficking in the United States
  • About human trafficking globally
  • About an illegal immigrant
  • About a legal immigrant
  • About a war veteran from another country
  • Book about asexuality
  • About growing up Latinx in the United States
  • About growing up black in the United States
  • About growing up Asian in the United States
  • Psychology of racism
  • Psychology of sexism
  • Examination of religious influence and impact within modern-day politics
  • About a black historical figure I’ve never heard of
  • About a Latinx historical figure I’ve never heard of
  • About an Asian historical figure I’ve never heard of
  • About a transgender historical figure I’ve never heard of
  • About climate change and climate change denial

Please, please, please feel free to comment with book suggestions for any of the above categories, as well as categories I may have missed. There are, more than likely, plenty that did not occur to me as I wrote this – please help me get on the right path in this regard. The goal is to educate myself, and hopefully others.

The Fairy Godmother of Smut

I’m beginning to notice just how many friends I’ve collected whose first impressions include involved discussions about sex. From the mechanics of how one can conceivably have sex on a motorcycle (pretty sure he lost that bet) to recommendations for (ahem) items

In this regard, I’m finding that my truest talents lie with (pun intended) romance novels. For the third time this month, I wrote down a recommended reading list for a friend who was in need of better lesbian erotica.

Below is a summary of my general advice to all smut readers.

First things first; please put down whichever Fifty Shades book your nose is currently buried in. Please. Down. Now.

Done? Excellent. Thank you.

Secondly, please do me and the general BDSM community an enormous favor and never pick it back up again.

The most honest advice I can give you as you search through the pantheon of steamy reading (a process that has yet to bore me – there’s just SO much of it) is this: take a good hard look at the books you enjoy apart from romance. What do you read most often? Fantasy? Sci-Fi? Crime? Examine your existing bookshelf and take stock of what you already know you like.

Additionally, throw away any preconceived notions. I know plenty of lesbians who read smut about gay men. We all have our turn ons; don’t shy away from yours.

Next, trust your fellow readers, but trust yourself more. If a book about alien werewolf people seemed good enough for someone to have rated it five stars, it must turn someone’s crank. You will probably go through some you’re not crazy about before you get to the stuff that really does do it for you. A particular favorite series of mine is realm-traveling vampire steampunk. No joke. Another involves post-apocalyptic tattooed bootlegging bikers. We all have our vices. (See below for links…)

Finally (and I cannot stress this point enough), understand that there is no shame whatsoever in reading whatever the hell you want.

Happy reading, loves.