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Story a Day: Day 31 – “Masterpiece”

It’s the last day of Story a Day, and today’s prompt was to write a story about a creative person who has just completed, or is in the throes of completing a massive creative effort. I used characters from my current novel project, Flames of Knowledge. Connor is a painter and he’s been getting ready for an art show. This will come close to the end of the story, which I’m not quite to yet, but hopefully by the end of June.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Connor stepped back away from the easel. He studied the canvas intently, hardly breathing for a moment. Waiting for that feeling that something just wasn’t right. It usually swamped him when he first finished a painting. Until he tried to see it through someone else’s eyes.
It didn’t come this time. There was no doubt that everything about this painting was perfect. He took a few steps back and sank down onto the stool he’d pushed away when he’d been sucked into the frenzy of finishing this.
That was it. He was done now. All the paintings that had been ruined were replaced in time for the show. Once the painting was dry and sealed, he could take it to Dev at the gallery, and she could figure out what to do with them. He only had to show up for the show now.
He’d expected to feel satisfied, and he did. But, he hadn’t expected to feel quite so drained. It happened sometimes when he’d painted for hours on end. But, never quite like this.
He felt like he could sleep for at least a full day. And he usually didn’t sleep more than six hours, often quite a bit less at a time. He barely heard the footsteps but felt Ames’ arm wrap around his shoulders.
“God, Connor,” they said, and he could hear the awe in their voice. “Is that truly the way you see me?”
“As the most splendid person I’ve ever laid my eyes on? Absolutely. You’re a masterpiece I couldn’t dare to try to improve on.”
They shoved his shoulder and laughed. “And you keep trying to insist you don’t know how to flirt.”
“It’s nothing but the truth.” And he was determined to show them just how stunning he found them as long as Ames continued to give him that privilege.
Ames tugged him up off the truth. “Come on. I can see how exhausted you are now. You can get that ready to go to Dev later. Let’s go to bed now.”
Now that sounded like a pretty good idea to him.

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Writing Wednesday: Hanging In

This week isn’t going quite as well as the last one did. I’m still making slow progress, though. Sunday we went down to the local ice cream place and took both dogs with us. They give a special doggie ice cream(a small cup of vanilla with a milk bone on top). That was an experience. Our older dog stayed in the backseat of the truck, but kept going from window to window. Our younger dog, however…sitting on the girl, then climbing over the boy’s lap then into the front and climbing all over me. And it was much the same on the way back. I still have a small scratch on my leg today from him.

The Baron Bridge 😉

We didn’t really do much Monday. Husband had to work in the morning. I started doing the week’s laundry, though I decided to wait until Tuesday to worry about any of the other chores. The second load was on the second rinse cycle when the washer started making a grinding noise. I threw my clothes, sopping wet, into the dryer, since I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and they were just about done anyway. It took about 2 hours for them to dry, though. Husband did some research when he got home and thinks it’s a plastic coupler on the motor(I think is what he said). The washer is almost 12 years old, and it’s the first we’ve had a problem with it. He ordered the parts, but they’re not supposed to be here until Monday. Our neighbor is letting me use her washer today for the kids’ clothes, at least. Hopefully we’ll have it fixed next week.

But, right now, it’s time for WiPPet Wednesday!! I’m still working on this week’s goal for Flames of Knowledge, so I’ll be sharing from that this week. I have 30 sentences today(Too hot to do more complicated math). Connor went to the pub to talk to his cousin(Gio, who you may remember) and Ames comes in with some of the firefighters from the station to celebrate their birthday. When Connor learns this, he decides to sketch a picture and get it to Ames.

He saw they’d smudged a line of the face and instantly dug a pencil and eraser from his bag. “It’s okay,” he said. “I can fix it.”
Ames jerked their head up and stared at him. “You did this?”
He suddenly found it hard to swallow. “Yeah. It was just real quick. It’s not a big deal.”
He could feel their eyes on him as he bent over the paper and touched up the line that had been smudged. Then, he took a step back. If they didn’t like it, he didn’t know what he was going to do. Probably run out and find a hole he could bury himself in until the embarrassment finally faded away.
“If this was real quick, what would it be like when you take your time?”
There were a few chuckles around him, and Connor guessed there was an innuendo in there. Those so often flew over his head, but he just kept his gaze on the paper in front of him. “Better,” he said.
There was more laughter, and he felt one elbow nudge him, but he turned away. “Sorry. I’ll go. I wasn’t invited. I just wanted you to have that. I…I’ll go,” he said again, knowing he sounded like an idiot but not sure what else to do.
“No, wait,” Ames said.
Connor was pretty sure he stopped breathing. But, no, then he would pass out and hit the floor. At least there were plenty of people with emergency medical training on the premises.
“Why don’t you join us?”
His knees felt a little weak, so he dropped into the closest chair. At least that would keep him from hitting the floor too hard.

Color Code:

Finished/Monthly Goal Met

Progress

Nothing Done

Set Aside

Plotting:

  • Primary: Craving You – Story Toolkit 
  • Secondary: Craving You – Outline Act 1 
    • This week: Outline act 1, list rest of chapter & scenes
  • Tertiary: Flames of Knowledge – Outline Acts 3 
  • Stretch: Heart to Heart – Brainstorm

Writing

  • Primary: Flames of Knowledge – Chapter 28 – 13370/~15000 words
    • This Week: Get through Chapter 28 – Through Chapter 27/28
  • Side Projects – 3350 words – 4566/3350 words
    • This Week: Riley Fire – Edit, Hawk – add 1000 words
  • Jonas & Isaac – 15 pages – 19.67/15 pages
    • This week: 3/0 pages
  • By the Gun – 6 scenes

Editing

  • Primary: Flames of Renewal – Beta edits(I wasn’t sure if I’d get these back before the end of the month, so I hadn’t initially included it. But I did) 
    • This Week:
      • Edit through Chapter 12– Through Chapter 0/24
      • Get Cover art – emailed cover designer Tuesday night.
  • Primary2: Stained Blood – Beta edits
  • Secondary: Short Story Collection
    • Bree & Jenny
    • Goin’ Down
    • Meeting Jonas*
    • Changing History
  • Tertiary: Paint Me a Picture – Transfer to Scrivener
  • Stretch: Law of Choice – send to CP 

Reading:

  • Read: 20 books – 24/20
    • Fearless(R.G. Alexander) – Started this Sunday afternoon. Finished it Sunday night.
    • Taking Flight(Siera Maley) – Started this Sunday night. Finished it Monday evening.
    • A Girl Like Her(Talia Hibbert) – Started this Monday night. Finished it Tuesday afternoon.
    • Taking Chances(Kris Jett) – Started this Tuesday evening. Finished it Tuesday night.
    • Defenseless(Elizabeth Dyer) – Started this Tuesday night. At 12%
  • Listen: 5 books – 22/5 books
    • Trace of Fever(Lori Foster) – Started this Friday morning. Finished it Sunday afternoon.
    • Savor the Danger(Lori Foster) – Started this Sunday afternoon. Finished it Tuesday morning.
    • A Perfect Storm(Lori Foster) – Started this Tuesday morning. On Chapter 34/43

Social Media

  • Primary: Post 5 regular weekly posts – 21/21
    • This week:
      • Writing Wednesday
  • Secondary: Post 31 stories for Story a Day – 30/31
  • Tertiary: Make 3 Patreon posts3/3
    • This week: Post: Bonus Story – Riley Fire

Crafting

  • Knit: Dunfallandy Baby Blanket
    • This Week – Finish Side 4 – 4/56 rows. I couldn’t even make myself work with yarn yesterday. It was too hot.
  • Crochet: Boxy Blanket

Story a Day: Day 30 – “Change Your Point of View”

Today’s Story a Day prompt was to take a story you wrote earlier this month, and tell it from a different point of view. I took my Start at the End story, and wrote this from Natalie’s POV this time. This all started back during Text Conversations.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Can you get that, Nat?”
Natalie looked over at her mother, who was bent over the counter, cutting up some red peppers to add into their dinner. “Who’s coming over now? You don’t usually have company over when we’re having dinner.”
“Just go get the door before he starts to worry, Nat.”
He? Her mother was inviting a ‘he’ over now. They’d just barely survived her mother’s latest episode, and now she was inviting some guy over. Who the hell was it, and what did he want with her mother? She obviously wasn’t going to get those answers from her mother right now, though, so she stalked to the front door.
The man’s hand was raised as if he planned to knock again when she jerked the door open. Her breath caught for a moment. There was something about him, with his dark hair pulled up into a knot on top of his head. It would probably reach his shoulders if he let it down. She had a moment of thinking she knew him, but that couldn’t be right.
Natalie realized her mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut. She shook her head then demanded, “Who are you?”
But a voice from just behind him piped up. “Are you Ms. Michelle’s daughter? She’s told me about you.”
Natalie dropped her gaze to where the little girl peeked around the guy’s leg, and her lips tugged up into a smile. “I wish I could say the same.” Maybe she wouldn’t feel so off balance if her mother had ever told her anything about these people. “Yes, I’m Natalie. Who are you?” She’d already asked him, but her voice was softer now.
“Rina Price,” the girl said brightly. “This is my daddy, Marshall. He and Ms. Michelle are friends. So, she invited us for dinner. Are you joining us, too?”
The girl was adorable, and probably not quite five years old yet, though she almost seemed more mature from the way she talked. She could just be small for her age. Not that it mattered. She knew what her mother was doing. With that thought, she glanced over her shoulder. But, she couldn’t see her mother from here. “Damn it, Mom,” she muttered.
When she looked back, the man, Marshall, was grinning. Damn him, too.
***
“You’re on Nightborne, too?” Natalie couldn’t believe it. She’d found it so easy to talk to Marshall most of the night. The only other person she’d been like with that was her online friend, MarshImp. But, it said right on her profile that she was a woman, and Marshall was obviously…not. MarshImp’s avatar was a profile shot, though most of her face was hidden by her hair, so Natalie was having trouble telling how different their features were. The hair looked close to the same color, but it was hard to tell with the way he wore it.
Natalie shook that off. They weren’t the same person. Obviously.
“I am. I’ve been playing nearly since it was released. Who are you on there? Maybe we’ve run into each other. I’m CoachMage.”
Natalie stared at him then burst out laughing. Oh, this was just too good. “NuttyHippo,” she said, still laughing.
He stared at her. “You are NuttyHippo?”
“I am. I was called both those things in school, so I took the leverage away from my tormentors and started calling myself that.”
He glanced over his shoulder toward the living room. Her mom had taken Rina in there a while ago. Natalie wasn’t sure exactly what he was thinking. Maybe if his daughter would have to go through that. Who would ever want to bully Rina? She was a precious child.
He finally looked back at her. There was something in his eyes she couldn’t quite place. “And I can still contact you?” he asked. “Through the Global Friends account.”
He hadn’t given her his username there yet. They’d gotten distracted talking about Nightborne. “Of course. We already know we get along. You know when I’m not succeeding at killing you.”
He laughed at that. “Yes, that’s the best time. I’ve got the same name there. It makes things easier.”
She almost thought she saw him wince, but she couldn’t figure out why. “So do I,” she said. “I’m NuttyHippo all around.”
The unsettling expression on his face smoothed out at that. Good. At least she’d done something good tonight.
***
Natalie stared into her closet. She didn’t have a clue what to wear tonight. She’d been talking to Marshall for nearly a week and a half on Global Friends and occasionally on the phone. But, this was the first chance they were going to actually get to see each other again. She just hoped it went as well as dinner at her mom’s had.
She usually ended up ruining things as soon as she met someone in person. She really hoped that wouldn’t be the case this time. It didn’t always happen on the first date. Sometimes it was the second or third.
She’d narrowed her choices down to a sweater dress or a blouse and slacks. The dress would probably be better, but she didn’t always feel comfortable in them. Before she could make a final decision, her phone rang. She glanced at the display and saw Marshall’s name. Her heart quickened and she answered right away.
“Hey, Marshall. I’m just getting ready.”
“I’m sorry,” he said in a rush, and she snapped her mouth shut. What could he be sorry for? “I can’t make it for dinner.”
Natalie felt like she’d been hit in the chest. “What?” she practically gasped out. “Why not?”
“I just can’t.” He almost sounded defensive. “Something came up. Maybe we can get together next week. But, I can’t do it tonight.”
Maybe something had happened with Rina. But, she was supposed to be with her mother. And wouldn’t he have just told her? He’d said he didn’t like to talk about her online, but he knew her now. So, that couldn’t be it. She must have already done something to ruin this after all.
“Fine,” she said, swallowing back her disappointment. “I guess I’ll see you around the dungeons.” They should have just kept it to that anyway.
“Natalie, wait…”
She didn’t bother waiting for his excuses and just hung up the phone. She threw the clothes back into her closet. She’d pick them up later, but she just didn’t care right now.
I walked over to my laptop, but instead of dropping into the computer chair, I unplugged the computer and carried it to my bed. I logged in and brought up Global Friends. Talking to MarshImp usually made things better. I really hoped she was online.
There was a green dot next to her name. Thank you, God.

NuttyHippo: You there? My plans changed for tonight.

Nothing. Not even any sign she was typing. Natalie slumped back against her pillows. Great. No one wanted to see her tonight. She was such a loser.
“Oh, get over yourself,” she muttered. “She doesn’t have to sit at her computer, waiting around for me.”
She opened a browser tab and went to her email. She had to find something to do to keep her mind from wandering. But, she found herself navigating back to the messenger window. Still nothing from MarshImp. She couldn’t help thinking how close that was to Marshall, but that was just a coincidence. It had to be.
Where was she? When she was online, she usually got right back to Natalie.

NuttyHippo: Marsh? It says you’re online. If you don’t want to talk, I get it.

God, could she sound any more pathetic? She needed to get a life. Tomorrow. She’d get a life tomorrow.
Then, her computer dinged, and she focused on the chat window.

MarshImp: No. I’m here. What’s going on?

Natalie blew out a long breath. Thank God. She didn’t know what to say to her question, though. Could she admit what an idiot she’d been? Like a man as nice as Marshall seemed to be would truly want a relationship with her.

NuttyHippo: Nothing, I guess. I thought this guy liked me. My mom introduced us, and we realized we already knew each other online. We couldn’t seem to get the same time off in the last couple weeks, and then we did, but he canceled on me. I don’t know. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

Maybe she just wasn’t meant to have anything good. Her mother hadn’t been allowed to, either. Not only did she lose Natalie’s dad to war, she’d had to see her second husband killed in front of her.
Her computer dinged again.

MarshImp: Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Maybe he just got all caught up in his own head. I bet he’s regretting it now, though.

Natalie snorted then started typing again.

NuttyHippo: Ha! Yeah, sure. I doubt that. I seem to turn people off as soon as they meet me in person. It’s probably best we’ve kept our friendship online only. I wouldn’t want to lose you, too.

Great. Way to keep it cool, Nat. Now she really was going to think Natalie was a loser. She didn’t say anything else. And that blank space under the last message was driving Natalie nuts.

NuttyHippo: Shit. You went silent again. I said something wrong again. I’m sorry.
MarshImp: No. It’s fine. I just got busy. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. You don’t have to worry about that.

Yeah, right. She’d heard all that before. But everyone went away. Even if it was only into their own head, as her mom often did.
***
Natalie checked her computer before finishing getting ready for work. She was being stupid. She knew that. He wasn’t going to send her any more messages. He’d made it clear, whether he realized it or not, that she just wasn’t important enough. But, there it was. A message from Marshall.

Coachmage: Sorry I had to cancel dinner last night. I really did want to see you.

Those words made her eyes burn. Maybe she hadn’t given him enough of a chance. She shook her head. No, she wouldn’t take that risk. It hurt too much when she got let down once again.

NuttyHippo: Maybe it’s best if we just keep our relationship to the Nightborne chats.
CoachMage: That’s not what I want. I want to see you again.

Natalie hated how her heart thumped at that. Stupid, traitorous heart.

NuttyHippo: Well, I think it’s all I can handle right now. I’m sorry.

Natalie signed off before he could send her any more messages. She really did need to finish getting ready for work. She’d check on her mom during her lunch break, she hadn’t heard from her the day before, and that always worried her. But, for now she just had to worry about getting into the office.
***
“Mom?”
Natalie knocked on the door again, but there was still no answer. When her mom didn’t answer the door, Natalie always worried about what she was going to find. It usually wasn’t any good.
She tried the knob, but it was locked. Her mom didn’t lock her door. Natalie locked it whenever she left. Which meant her mom hadn’t been out of the house since the last time Natalie had been here, and she was supposed to work the day before. “Oh, Mom,” she whispered, and reached into her purse to dig out her key.
The house was dark. Nothing. Not a sound except for the whirring of the refrigerator and the ticking of a couple clocks. Natalie didn’t bother looking around. She just went straight to her mom’s room. The curtains were drawn tight, but Natalie knew her way around in here. She found the lamp and flicked it on. Her mom didn’t move. The blanket stayed drawn tight up over her shoulders, her face buried between the pillows.
Natalie sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her hand down her mom’s hair. “Mom, come on. When was the last time you got out of bed?”
“Too tired,” she muttered. “Want to go back to sleep.”
“No. You need to get up and eat something. I’ll call your therapist.”
“No! I’m fine. I’ll be fine. Once Max gets home…”
Natalie’s chest squeezed tight. Her stepfather had been dead for nearly a decade, but during these episodes, it was like her mom completely forgot about that. “Max isn’t coming home, Mom. I’ll go make you tea. Why don’t you go take a shower?”
There was no way Natalie was going to get her mom to leave the house right now. Thank goodness her therapist was available for house calls.
“I just want to go back to sleep. Tell me when Max gets home.”
Natalie squeezed her eyes shut. There was no point in trying to insist Max wasn’t alive when her mom got this bad. She should have come over the day before. Maybe they could have stopped the episode before it got to this point. But, it was too late for that. She’d just have to deal with it.
She pulled the blanket down and put an arm around her mom’s shoulders. “Come on. You don’t want to still be laying in bed when Max gets home.” It hurt to tell the lie, even if it sometimes worked better to just go along with it. She barely remembered her own father, but Max had always been there. She’d grieved just as hard when he’d been killed, but she wasn’t the one who had witnessed it.
She managed to get her mom into the shower then walked back out into the kitchen, opening curtains and blinds as she went. Natural light would help. After starting the tea, she made a call to the psychiatrist’s office. The doctor wouldn’t be able to make it here until the next day, unless she thought this was a crisis situation.
“No,” she admitted. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I’ll just stay with her until then.” It would mean calling off the rest of the day and at least tomorrow. Her boss was understanding about her situation, but she wondered when it would end up being too much.
The tea kettle whistled as she heard the shower shut off. She went back into the bedroom and helped her mom dress. She wouldn’t push for too much today. Just make sure her mom didn’t fall down any further. She knew it wouldn’t get better right after the psychiatrist’s visit. It would still take a couple days for her to be steady again, but this was the first step.
***
Natalie could hear her mom crying in the bedroom. That was still better than what it had been like the last couple days. But, Natalie was exhausted. The psychiatrist had made two visits to the house this week. It hadn’t been this bad in a long time. But, her doctor seemed to think they’d finally made a breakthrough. Hopefully that meant they were finally on the opposite side of this episode.
She opened her computer and logged in to Nightborne. She’d been avoiding it, using dealing with her mom as an excuse. Really she just didn’t want to see Marshall on there. She wasn’t sure she could handle it with everything else going on.
He wasn’t there, though. Thank God for that. She started playing, mowing her way through enemy knights and mages and anything that stood in her way. It felt good to just lose herself in that. Until a message in the private chat popped up.

CoachMage: I’m seriously sorry if I screwed everything up.

She had to blink away tears. What was he doing to her? She glanced at her game screen, saw his character just standing there, losing experience points every time he got hit. She started typing.

NuttyHippo: The only thing you’re screwing up is your character’s experience points. You better start actually playing.

She went back to slashing her way through a horde of trolls. Was it called a horde? What did it matter? She took all of them out. But another message pulled her away.

CoachMage: Hard to play when my head is all screwed up.

And that was her problem? Like she didn’t have enough burdens to bear at the moment.

NuttyHippo: Then I guess you’d better get it straightened out. I’m no help with that.

Natalie logged off before he could say anything else. Even Nightborne was no longer a refuge for her. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do now.
***
Natalie stumbled into her house. She just wanted to lay down and sleep for a week. Not that she could do that, of course. She’d promised her boss she’d be in to the office in the morning. She’d been off for just over a week. She was thankful he didn’t just let her go without a word.
She needed to check her email, make sure there weren’t any work messages she’d missed. Then, she could shower and maybe actually get some sleep. But, it was the Global Friends window that popped up first. She groaned at how pathetic she was. Especially when she noted with disappointment Marshall wasn’t on. She’d told him she didn’t want to talk to him on here, that they should stick to the game. And she’d basically gated him off there, too.
But, MarshImp was on. That eased some of the disappointment. Natalie hadn’t chatted with her since the night Marshall had canceled their plans. She brought up a new message window and started typing.

NuttyHippo: I am so tired. Tired of everything. I don’t think there’s enough sleep in the world to make up for this tired.

She shouldn’t have said that. Why had she said that? She’d made other comments after dealing with one of her mom’s episodes. But not like this. Not something so blatantly honest. She was tired of it. But, she knew she wouldn’t let that keep her from helping the next time her mom fell into this pit.
Natalie walked away from her computer, getting a drink while she calmed herself down. She hoped MarshImp wouldn’t read too much into what she’d said. When she returned to the computer, she had three new messages.

MarshImp: Are you okay?
MarshImp: Talk to me.
MarshImp: Please.

Shit. Natalie had worried her. She hadn’t meant to do that. The words had just seemed to fall out of her fingers.

NuttyHippo: I’m fine. Sorry. My head’s just a mess. Dealing with…family. Stuff. It’s complicated.

She always hated having to explain her mom’s issues. Most people didn’t see her during the episodes, and they would probably never understand it.

MarshImp: I know dealing with your mom can get difficult. But, she’s handling things the best she can.

Natalie stopped breathing. What. The. Hell. She had never told MarshImp about her mother. She knew she hadn’t. She didn’t talk about this to anyone online.

NuttyHippo: I never told you about my mom. I don’t discuss it with people I’ve never met.
MarshImp: I’m sure you have.

Natalie narrowed her eyes. No, she hadn’t. Very few people, even offline, knew about her mom’s issues. She’d told her boss so he knew why she sometimes had to take several days off in a row. A couple friends, though they didn’t even know the full extent.

NuttyHippo: No, I’ve only ever discussed it with…Marshall. Damn it.

She still hadn’t quite worked it out in her head when she saw MarshImp had gone offline. Her heart was hammering hard. What the hell did this mean? Did the two of them know each other? Had he told someone else what was wrong with her mom? Or…No. That couldn’t be it. She’d already convinced herself that was only a coincidence.

God. How could she have been so wrong?

Story a Day: Day 29 – “Meeting Maribel”

Today’s Story a Day prompt was to write the story that you’ve been hungering to write. Nothing was really coming to me. I looked over everything I’ve written this month and while taking a walk, an idea came to me. I already wrote about Arcelia and Maribel, but today I have the moment they met.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Arcelia glanced at each of the doors along the hallway before finally stopping in front of one. She double-checked the paper in her hand and satisfied she had the right one, pushed the door open. The room was empty, but she saw one of the beds was already made, and there was stuff out on the desk and when she poked her head around the corner, in the closet. She looked back out the door. “Guess I’m taking the left side of the room.”
“You two didn’t already decide that ahead of time?” her older brother, Toby, asked as he carried a couple boxes into the room.
“I didn’t even know how the room was going to be set up. All we did was introduce ourselves.” And even then, they hadn’t shared that many details. So, Arcelia had been looking forward to learn more about her roommate when they actually met. “I do know she’s from Gilbert, too. Though, she just moved up here with her parents a couple years ago.”
“Looks like she’s already been here and gone. An organized soul.”
“You’re a dork, Toby.”
He wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her temple. “I love you, too.”
She laughed and shoved against his shoulder. But, she didn’t try to get out of his hold as they waited for their mom and her twin brother, Jonas, to make it to the room. She stared at Jonas for a few long moments. He seemed okay, but something was different. And it wasn’t just that he actually had muscles now after the last twelve weeks of basic training.
There was still a sadness in his eyes. She’d hoped he’d get over Isaac by now. But, it didn’t look like that had happened. And he wasn’t going to be here for long before he had to leave for more training. So, she wasn’t going to ruin any of it by mentioning that jerk to him.
They put the rest of her boxes down on the floor, and she opened the first one to start unpacking while they went back down for the next load. She found her sheets first and made her bed. She was another organized soul, as Toby had called her still mystery of a roommate.
By the time her mom and brothers had made it back to the room, she had two boxes emptied and their previous contents organized to her satisfaction.
“That’s the last of it,” Toby said, setting two more boxes down. “Though I’m still not sure why you’re living on campus, when Mom’s house is only about a ten minute drive away.”
“It’s longer than that. And I want to live on campus. That’s why.” She loved her family, but Jonas was going to be gone. And Toby was always so protective, even though he had his own family now, sometimes she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep breathing.
“Leave her be, Tobias,” their mother said. “Come on. We’ll take you for lunch then come back and help you unpack.”
“I’ll take lunch, but I think I can handle unpacking myself. I know right where I want to put stuff.”
“Always so independent,” Toby said.
She dug her fingers into his side, and he jumped away from her. “Damn. You always were vicious when it came to tickling.”
“Some things don’t change just because I’m grown up.”
“Keep telling yourself that’s the case. You’re always going to be my baby sister.”
***
Arcelia hugged Jonas tight, not sure when she’d get to see him again. He’d be leaving for Texas soon, and she didn’t even know where to after that. “Stay safe,” she whispered.
“I’ll be fine,” he told her, but he squeezed her just as tight. “Don’t let any of those college boys take advantage of you. Or girls,” he added after a moment.
She snorted. She had no desire for that. No matter who it was. She waved as her family drove away then turned and headed back up to her room.
She would miss them, but she could go home whenever she needed. She’d at least be able to see Toby and her nephew and new niece.
When she made it back up to the room, she heard someone humming inside. That must be the roommate. Arcelia didn’t understand this quickening in her chest. She never got like this. And they’d only exchanged a total of two emails. She shook that off and stepped inside.
The other girl turned her head and grinned. “You must be Arcelia. I see you brought your stuff up already. Where’s your family? Did they come with you?”
Arcelia smiled at the way her questions almost seemed to run together. “So, you’re Maribel then. And they were here. My mom and brothers.” Her half-sister hadn’t, but that wasn’t a big surprise. Tereza never had a whole lot to do with them. “They took me to lunch then headed back home.”
“Mine did, too. Both of my parents and my big brother. My sister’s still in New Mexico. No reason for her to come just to move me into the dorm.”
They hadn’t exchanged too many details about their families in their emails. “So, you’ve got a big brother as well? I’ve got two. Well, technically one is my twin brother, and he was only born a couple minutes before me.”
The other girl laughed at that. “I always thought I wanted a twin. Allison’s like three years older than me, and she always had her own thing going. And Patrick’s like fourteen years older than me. He was practically out of the house when I came along.”
“I never thought we’d have so much in common. Toby’s about that much older than me. When Dad died, he stepped in, though. So, we’ve always had a unique relationship.”
“I’m sorry,” Maribel said.
Arcelia shook her head. “Don’t be. It was a long time ago.” Nearly a dozen years. Something caught her attention over Maribel’s desk, and she took a step closer. “How come you have a picture of Jason and Connie up on your wall?”
“You know them?” Maribel asked, stepping closer.
“My brother works with Connie’s brother. We know them pretty well.”
“Well, Jason used to be married to my brother’s half-brother’s half-sister.” Her mouth twitched, then she added, “Well, technically Patrick’s my half-brother, too. I know it’s confusing. There’s a lot of halves. Allison’s my full sister, though.”
“And I thought my family was confusing. Toby’s my half-brother, and I have an older half-sister. But, my mom abandoned her when she was little, and she still holds a grudge for that, so we don’t see her much. She spends more time with the couple who adopted her when she was a teenager. And they just adopted my brother’s boyfriend, too. They’d been his foster parents for a couple years before that. And he’s actually Jonas’ ex now. The stupid jerk.”
“Your brother or the boyfriend?”
“Ex-boyfriend,” Arcelia reminded her. “He dumped Jonas at graduation, in front of our whole class. And I’d always liked him, too.”
“Well, he sounds like a fool, then. Is your brother going to school here, too?”
Arcelia shook her head. “He joined the army. He’s a stupid jerk, too. Making me worry about him.”
Maribel laughed and gave Arcelia a quick hug. And there went her heart again. What was wrong with her? It was just a hug. But, if her body was going to keep shorting out on her, this was going to be a long semester. Maybe by the time it was over, she’d have this under control. Or she could find a new roommate.

Story a Day: Day 28 – Memorial Day

Today’s Story a Day prompt was to include the words: ink, previously, work, breeze, seven, run, delicious, example, spontaneous, barb. As today is Memorial Day here, I decided to run with that theme as well. This will come after the end of Jonas & Isaac’s story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A breeze ruffled through Jonas’ hair as he headed down the path. It wasn’t the smoothest path, so he was glad Isaac had insisted on him bringing his cane along, even though he’d been walking without it for a few months now. Still he didn’t want to damage his prosthetic or hurt his residual limb. Again.
He wasn’t thinking about that now, though. It was all over. Isaac’s father was back in prison, and not getting out any time soon. Whatever had happened previously didn’t matter. The last seven months had been the most peaceful Jonas could remember in a long time.
When he reached the stone he was looking for, Jonas slowly lowered himself to his knees and brushed some cut grass and dirt off the top of it. A year. It was hard to believe it had been a year already. And maybe a little ironic on the timing of it all. The previous Memorial Day he’d spent tethered to machines, not even knowing yet that his best friend, his former lover, had already been buried.
He pushed those thoughts away and reached out to run his fingers over the letters engraved into the stone. “You’d want to shake me for it,” he murmured, “but sometimes I still think it should have been me instead. You shouldn’t be the one gone, Santiago. I still don’t understand why I’m the one who survived.” He kept his hand on the stone and kept talking, even though he’d never get a response from Santiago again. Never be able to trade barbs with him again or hear the man burst into spontaneous song when they were working together.
“You’re supposed to still be here. I’m supposed to be able to tell you that I got back together with Isaac. I know you’d be happy for me. And that I’m going to begin work as a paramedic soon. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that kind of work again, and it’s a lot less likely I’ll have to dodge bullets or bombs when I go out on a call.”
He heard Isaac’s footsteps behind him. He knew his boyfriend was worried about him, but there wasn’t much he could do to assure him he was doing better now. He’d gotten his pain issues mostly sorted out, was accepting the help that was offered, even when it didn’t settle right with him. He felt Isaac’s fingers trace over the ink on the back of Jonas’ shoulder. He’d encouraged Jonas to get it. One more way to honor what had come before.
“I’m going to go now,” he said. “Your mom’s making some of her delicious enchiladas for us. Just another example of how lucky I was to know you.”
Isaac helped him back to his feet. He could have done it on his own, but it would have taken longer, and he knew it made Isaac feel better to be able to do something to help. Then, Isaac brushed his lips over Jonas’ jaw and to his mouth. “I’m okay,” Jonas insisted. “I’ll always miss him. That won’t change. But, I’m okay. Come on, let’s get out of here. He’d rather we celebrate what he did with his life than wallow in the fact he’s gone.”
Isaac looped his arm through Jonas’, leaving the other free to wield the cane so he didn’t lose his balance. Isaac kept him keep that most of the time now anyway. And he couldn’t help but think he’d never have found his way back to him if that helicopter had never crashed. Yes, he’d always miss Santiago and the direction his career could have taken. But, sometimes things worked out the way they were supposed to.

Story a Day: Day 27 – “Start at the End”

Today’s Story a Day prompt was to write a story that begins with the ending, then immediately jumps back in time.

Well, this isn’t quite the actual ending. But, it will look like it(and not a happy one), to the characters. I rewrote part of Text Conversations for this one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to going to that dinner. Nothing would have gone wrong if I’d just told Michelle we couldn’t make it that night. And now everything was wrong.
***
Three Weeks Ago

I glanced in the rearview mirror and smoothed down that one lock of hair that never wanted to cooperate. This was the longest I’d ever let it grow so far, and I had it pulled up in a knot near the top of the back of my head. But, that one lock never stayed down.
“Dad, your hair looks fine,” my daughter, Rina, said from the backseat. “Can we just go inside?”
I let out a little laugh and opened my door. “All right, all right. We’ll go inside. Come in.”
She let herself out of her seatbelt and opened the door. Damn, my little girl was growing up too fast. It wasn’t too long ago that I had to do all that for her. When her mother let me see her. I took a deep breath to keep the bitter thoughts away.
I took Rina’s hand in his and headed up to the house, knocking briskly on the door. Michelle usually answered right away. There were only a few times she hadn’t, and those hadn’t been good times. But, she’d seemed fine when I saw her earlier. But, a minute passed then another.
I started to worry, but then the door opened, revealing…not Michelle.
The younger woman started to open her mouth, but then it seemed to freeze in place. Her eyes narrowed then she snapped her mouth closed and shook her head. “Who are you?”
“Are you Ms. Michelle’s daughter?” Rina asked from just behind my leg. “She’s told me about you.”
The woman’s gaze dropped down to Rina, then a friendly smile spread over her face. “I wish I could say the same. Yes, I’m Natalie. Who are you?” It was the same question she’d asked me, but not nearly in the same tone of voice.
“Rina Price,” she answered brightly. “This is my daddy, Marshall. He and Ms. Michelle are friends. So, she invited us for dinner. Are you joining us, too.”
The woman glanced over her shoulder, and I heard her huff out a breath. Then, a muttered, “Dam it, Mom.”
I couldn’t help it. I grinned.
***
Later that night

“You are NuttyHippo?” I was having a hard time believing this. On the Nightborne chat, where I was known as CoachMage, NuttyHippo’s avatar was a knight in armor. And on the Global Friend Messenger, I’d approached her as MarshImp, the personality where I felt more me, the only place it seemed I could be my true self. There, her avatar was a hippopotamus, holding a large peanut. I hadn’t even been sure what gender NuttyHippo was. It didn’t really matter to me.
But, I had to keep both of mine separate. It was too important not to.
I certainly had never expected to actually meet the one person who seemed to accept me no matter how I presented. It seemed too good to be true. It had to be.
“I am. I was called both those things in school, so I took the leverage away from my tormentors and started calling myself that.”
That made my chest ache for her, and I glanced to the living room where Michelle had taken Rina to keep her entertained while Natalie and I talked. I knew what it was to be bullied through school and hoped it was something my own little girl would never have to deal with.
“And I can still contact you? Through the Global Friends account.” I’d just have to make sure I remembered which profile I was logged in under. It shouldn’t be too hard. I’d been keeping the two balanced and separate since my ex had first tried to keep Rina from me.
I couldn’t believe the way she smiled at me. Then said, “Of course. We already know we get along. You know when I’m not succeeding at killing you.”
I burst out with a laugh at that. “Yes, that’s the best time.”
I was really hoping I could have more of them with her.
***
11 Days Later

I stared into my closet, hating the way my hands were shaking. Natalie and I hadn’t been able to work things out so we could see each other again. If I wasn’t working late, she was. And she’d already had plans with some girl friends the weekend before. I’d have Rina again this weekend, so if we didn’t get together tonight, I didn’t know when we’d be able to.
But, I just couldn’t do it. Every time I tried to reach for the dress shirt, I thought I’d be sick.
I still had my hair down, brushing over my shoulders. Today it felt good that way. I wanted to leave it like that. And there were clothes I wanted to wear in the back of the closet. But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t let Natalie see that side of me. Not yet. I could converse with her online as MarshImp. She could see me as a woman that way. But, if she knew the truth, would she be as disgusted as Rina’s mother had been?
I wasn’t sure I could live with that. It was better hoping that wouldn’t be the case.
Some days, when I felt like I fit in with my own skin, I could wear these clothes hanging right in front of me. But, there was just no way I could do it tonight.
I had to cancel, as much as I really didn’t want to.
“I’m sorry,” I said when Natalie answered. “I can’t make it for dinner.”
“What? Why not?”
“I just can’t. Something came up. Maybe we can get together next week. But, I can’t do it tonight.”
“Fine. I guess I’ll see you around in the dungeons.”
“Natalie, wait…” But, she’d hung up already.
Fuck. Sometimes I really hated myself.
I jumped in the shower, hoping it would help wash away some of the frustration and disgust. It didn’t work. And when I came back out in my robe, a notification flashed on my computer from Global Friends. I couldn’t remember the profile I’d been logged in as last, so I held my breath as I approached and brought up the window.

NuttyHippo: You there? My plans changed for tonight.

I glanced at the time stamp next to the message. Almost ten minutes ago. Shit. She was going to think I didn’t want to talk to her at all. And I was logged into my MarshImp profile. So, she would think there were two people letting her down tonight.
Before I could send a message, another one from her came through.

NuttyHippo: Marsh? It says you’re online. If you don’t want to talk, I get it.

I could not let her think that. I typed as quickly as I could.

MarshImp: No. I’m here. What’s going on?

As if I didn’t know.

NuttyHippo: Nothing, I guess. I thought this guy liked me. My mom introduced us, and we realized we already knew each other online. We couldn’t seem to get the same time off in the last couple weeks, and then we did, but he canceled on me. I don’t know. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

Every word I read made me feel just a little sicker. I wanted to tell her that wasn’t it. That I liked her too much, and I was afraid she wouldn’t still feel that way if she knew the real me. I started typing before I could think better of it.

NuttyHippo: Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Maybe he just got all caught up in his own head. I bet he’s regretting it now, though.

I certainly was.

NuttyHippo: Ha! Yeah, sure. I doubt that. I seem to turn people off as soon as they meet me in person. It’s probably best we’ve kept our friendship online only. I wouldn’t want to lose you, too.

I squeezed my eyes shut and slid my hands into my hair. What was wrong with me? I’d hurt her, and now I didn’t know how to make it better. I couldn’t let her know how much I wanted to see her. I couldn’t explain why I’d suddenly canceled. Not without telling her more than I was prepared to at the moment. And if I said more, I’d give myself away and not even be safe under this name.
I opened my eyes when my computer dinged again.

NuttyHippo: Shit. You went silent again. I said something wrong again. I’m sorry.

I was totally screwing all of this up. I needed to try to untangle at least some of these lines.

MarshImp: No. It’s fine. I just got busy. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. You don’t have to worry about that.

If only I could figure out how to make sure she wasn’t the one who ended up wanting to leave me.
***
The next morning

CoachMage: Sorry I had to cancel dinner last night. I really did want to see you.

It was the truth. For a moment, I wished I could tell her more of that. She was online now. I just hoped she’d still speak to me.

NuttyHippo: Maybe it’s best if we just keep our relationship to the Nightborne chats.

My stomach flipped. She already didn’t want anything more to do with me. And I hadn’t even told her anything yet. I needed to figure out how to fix this.

CoachMage: That’s not what I want. I want to see you again.
NuttyHippo: Well, I think it’s all I can handle right now. I’m sorry.

I dug my fingers into my hair, pulling some of it out of the knot. Shit, shit, shit. I couldn’t stand this. I needed to figure out a way to fix it. But when I looked up again, she’d gone offline. And I needed to finish getting ready for work. I’d have to come up with something later.
***
6 Days Later

I booted up my computer and sank into the chair. I’d hated dropping Rina off at her mother’s tonight. I’d gotten an extra day with her, but it just wasn’t enough. I hadn’t been able to talk to Natalie in almost a week, even as MarshImp. It seemed she was ignoring any possibility of contact with me.
But, Rina had distracted me for the time she’d been here at least. Now, I wouldn’t see her for almost two weeks. I had to find a way to get through that if no one in my life was talking to me. Michelle hadn’t even been at the library this week. It was apparently another bad week. She had them at least once a month. Hopefully she’d get through it soon and be back, so I’d at least have someone to talk to.
Though with it being her daughter I was so torn up over, maybe that wouldn’t be such a good thing.
I signed in to Nightborne. Maybe fighting my way through hordes of enemy knights would help clear my mind. But, I saw right away Natalie was already there. I knew I should just leave her alone. But, I clicked on her name in the chat anyway.

CoachMage: I’m seriously sorry if I screwed everything up.

I didn’t think she’d respond. But, finally it showed her typing.

NuttyHippo: The only thing you’re screwing up is your character’s experience points. You better start actually playing.

I couldn’t help but let out a laugh, even as my eyes, throat, and chest burned.

CoachMage: Hard to play when my head is all screwed up.
NuttyHippo: Then I guess you’d better get it straightened out. I’m no help with that.
NuttyHippo has left the game.

I wanted throw my mouse, and possibly the keyboard, across the room. But, I’d spent too much time teaching Rina not to throw a tantrum when she was upset to give in to that urge. I just had to keep trying and hope I hadn’t screwed everything up yet.
***
3 days later/Present Day

I saw her come online. This almost felt like stalking. Every minute I wasn’t at work or sleeping, I was sitting here, just waiting. But not as CoachMage. I hadn’t logged back into that profile on Global Friend since she’d told me she wanted to stick to us being on Nightborne. I had to hope she’d still talk to MarshImp, though.
I was just getting ready to send her a message when one from her popped up.

NuttyHippo: I am so tired. Tired of everything. I don’t think there’s enough sleep in the world to make up for this tired.

That sent my heart skittering a bit. Tired of everything. I’d had that thought before, and it was never when I was in a good place. I didn’t want to think Natalie had those thoughts as well. I knew she took care of her mother during her own darker moments. But, who took care of Natalie when she needed it?

MarshImp: Are you okay?

No answer. I walked out to the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed back to the computer. There was still no response for her. I couldn’t help but worry.

MarshImp: Talk to me.

Still nothing. I tried drinking from the bottle, but it stuck in my throat. Why wasn’t she responding? I hoped that message wasn’t going to be the last one I ever got from her.

MarshImp: Please.
Nutty Hippo: I’m fine. Sorry. My head’s just a mess. Dealing with…family. Stuff. It’s complicated.

So, Michelle had been having a bad week then. I couldn’t blame her. She’d seen her husband, Natalie’s step-father, gunned down nearly on their doorstep not quite a decade before. I wouldn’t be surprised if she never fully got over the trauma of that.

MarshImp: I know dealing with your mom can get difficult. But, she’s handling things the best she can.

As soon as the words came up on the screen, I felt sick. She’d told me about her mom, even though I’d already known a good bit of it. But, never on here, with me logged in to this profile.

NuttyHippo: I never told you about my mom. I don’t discuss it with people I’ve never met.
MarshImp: I’m sure you have.

Shit, shit, shit. No, she really hadn’t. I had to find a way to fix this.

NuttyHippo: No, I’ve only ever discussed it with…Marshall. Damn it.

Fuck. I clicked the sign off button as fast as I could. I needed to find a way to fix this. Even if it meant finally telling her the whole truth. It might be the only chance I had.

Sunday Summary: Caught Up

The boy(red shirt in middle) at his school concert Thursday night.

Yes, I did get caught up on all the things. I had all my writing goals for the week met by Wednesday afternoon. My crafting goals by Friday night. And I finished my reading goals Saturday night. And that was even with taking Monday off. It almost seems counter-intuitive. You’d think it would take longer to meet goals when I take a day off. Instead it seems to be the opposite. So, I guess I’ll keep up with that.

We had bunnies in the driveway the other day

Color Code:

Finished/Monthly Goal Met

Progress

Nothing Done

Set Aside

Plotting:

  • Primary: Craving You – Story Toolkit 
    • This Week – Locations, Act 1 Beat Sheet, Act 2 Beat sheet, Act 3 Beat sheet, Act 4 Beat Sheet, Timeline
  • Secondary: Craving You – Outline Act 1 
  • Tertiary: Flames of Knowledge – Outline Acts 3 
  • Stretch: Heart to Heart – Brainstorm

Writing

  • Primary: Flames of Knowledge – Chapter 28 – 12221/~15000 words
    • This Week: Get through Chapter 27 – Through Chapter 27/27
      • “If that’s what you’re thinking,” he said softly, “you’re wrong. This Ames just might not be the right one for you. Nothing says you have to find the right person for you right now.”
        “But, I thought they were. Everything was going well, then…” He let out a strangled sound and pulled at his hair. “I don’t know what happened.”
        “You’ll figure it out,” his father said, wrapping an arm around Connor’s shoulders and pulling him in against his chest. “I’ve got faith in you. I always have.”
  • Side Projects – 3350 words – 4546/3350 words
    • This Week: Riley Fire – 1000 words – 1709/1000 words
  • Jonas & Isaac – 15 pages – 16.67/15 pages
    • This Week: 2.25 pages – 4.83/2.25 pages
  • By the Gun – 6 scenes

Editing

  • Primary: Flames of Renewal – Beta edits(I wasn’t sure if I’d get these back before the end of the month, so I hadn’t initially included it. But I did) 
    • This Week: Compile comments through Chapter 24– Through Chapter 24/24
  • Primary2: Stained Blood – Beta edits
  • Secondary: Short Story Collection
    • Bree & Jenny
    • Goin’ Down
    • Meeting Jonas*
    • Changing History
  • Tertiary: Paint Me a Picture – Transfer to Scrivener
  • Stretch: Law of Choice – send to CP 

Reading:

  • Read: 20 books – 20/20
    • Inkmistress(Audrey Coulthurst) – Started this Sunday night(5/13). Finished it Saturday morning.
    • Shelter By the Sea(Elena Aitken) – Started this Wednesday afternoon. Finished it Saturday afternoon.
    • Exposed(Various) – Started this last Friday afternoon. Finished it this Friday afternoon.
    • Safe From Harm(Kate Serine) – Started this Monday morning. Finished it Monday night.
    • Ever Touched(Erin Zarro) – Started this Tuesday afternoon. Finished it Saturday evening.
    • Let’s Talk about Love(Claire Kann) – Started this Wednesday afternoon. On page 154/277
    • Deep Blue(Kat Martin) – Started this Thursday morning. Finished it Saturday night.
  • Listen: 5 books – 20/5 books
    • Happily Ever Ninja(Penny Reid) – Started this Monday morning. On Chapter 11/26
    • Dating-ish(Penny Reid) – Started this Monday afternoon. Finished it Tuesday afternoon.
    • West Cork: Aftershow(Sam Bungey, Jesse Baker & Jennifer Forde) – Listened to this Tuesday afternoon.
    • The Knocked-Up Plan(Lauren Blakely) – Started this Tuesday afternoon. Finished it Wednesday morning.
    • Stud Finder(Lauren Blakely) – Read this Wednesday morning.
    • When You Dare(Lori Foster) – Started this Wednesday morning. Finished it Thursday afternoon.
    • Trace of Fever(Lori Foster) – Started this Friday morning. On Chapter 17/22.

Social Media

  • Primary: Post 5 regular weekly posts – 20/21
    • This week:
      • Writing Wednesday
      • Fiction Friday
      • Stream of Consciousness Saturday
      • Weekend Writing Warriors
      • Sunday Summary
  • Secondary: Post 31 stories for Story a Day – 26/31
  • Tertiary: Make 3 Patreon posts2/3
    • This week: Post: Coming Soon

Crafting

He didn’t want me to knit anymore…or he just thought my yarn would make a nice pillow

  • Knit: Dunfallandy Baby Blanket
    • This Week – Finish Side 3 – 56/56 rows
  • Crochet: Boxy Blanket
    • This week – Get through Row 90 – 87/87 rows

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