Three Years, Three Little Words

Karaoke night. This is the only photo I have of myself with both of my longest, closest friends.

Three years ago today, I was sitting at the desk at my part-time office assistant job, chatting with the 90-something-year-old woman who’d helped build it from the ground up. Mrs. D was an absolute doll—though I can’t say the same for her son’s girlfriend. Anyway, it was a slow day, so Mrs. D and I kept each other company while working on odds and ends. Then I got the text.

“Sean passed away,” Mike wrote.

The world flipped. My mind went as white and cold as snow. No. Then I entered the first stage of grief: denial. This has to be a joke. And it’s not funny.

Sean and I had been friends for 12 years—ever since the day we’d sat together on the bus my freshman year and bonded over our Gameboys. Our friendship was the oldest one I had, one that had changed very little over the years. We were super close, though a little too alike in our short tempers; we often had heated but friendly debates about anything and everything. We’d seen each other through tragedy and milestones: his first painting sold, my first book published, him moving in with Gabi (the love of his life), me marrying Mike (the love of mine).

So when Mike texted me those three little words, I couldn’t believe it.

I wouldn’t.

“Excuse me,” I told Mrs. D. “I need to step outside and make a call.”

“Of course!” She smiled warmly at me, then continued what she was doing at her desk.

I walked out to my car on shaking legs. I hadn’t had a cigarette in two years, but at that moment I needed one. I opened the passenger door and sat down. Then I called Mike.

No answer.

I tried to take long, slow breaths. Why, my brain demanded to know, would Mike text me something like that and then walk away from his phone? It was starting to feel less like a sick joke and more like a horrible misunderstanding. I couldn’t just sit outside forever. So I logged into Facebook.

As I scrolled through my feed, I told myself that I’d see everything was fine. I’d see Sean’s or Gabi’s latest post, and then I could kill Mike for pulling such a nasty prank. Who does that? my brain insisted.

He’s never done anything like that before, though. He may be a goofball but he’s not mean. Never mean.

And then I saw it.

A mutual friend of Sean’s and mine had posted something along the lines of “Just found out an old Kaynor friend passed away.”

No.

No.

No.

Just as the tears started to blur my vision, as I frantically tried to tell myself maybe it was someone else, Mike called.

My poor husband couldn’t talk.

In his shock, he’d managed to fire off those three words and then he’d broken down.

He’d seen it on Facebook, too, but the post had specifically named Sean.

“No,” I sobbed. “We would’ve heard something from Gabs.”

Meanwhile, our lovely, sweet girl was barely keeping it together while she sat with his parents and helped make arrangements. She’d wanted to tell us herself because she didn’t want us to find out via Facebook, but understandably hadn’t had the chance to yet.

It was true.

All of it.

Still, my brain insisted that if I just went to Sean and Gabi’s, I’d see that it was all a joke. Or a mistake. I wouldn’t even be mad that they’d pulled such a mean prank. I’d just give him a big hug.

This was the second stage of my grief: bargaining.

The rest of January passed by in a haze. There were nights at Sean and Gabi’s place. I stopped sleeping, binge-watching Lost instead because we’d long had a debate about it and I guess I needed to put that to bed. There was a wake and a funeral, and two autopsies that gave us no cause of death.

Only a black hole in all of our hearts.

Sean and Gabi, at my wedding (2013).

He was only 28. He had his entire life ahead of him—along with a beautiful, loving girl who he was going to marry. It wasn’t fair. They’d been in our wedding; we were supposed to be in theirs, too, damn it. The four of us were going to start families together, continue our Friday night tradition of games and drinks, and grow old together. I still hadn’t even gotten him to sit down and watch Game of Thrones or Firefly with me—two shows that I knew he’d love but he hadn’t made the time for yet.

He left paintings unfinished and goals unachieved. None of us could grasp that someone so young could just pass away, for no reason at all.

I still can’t, not really.

The gang, before catching the train for NYCC (2011).

It has gotten easier, though—at least, a little. I no longer hope he’ll text me on a Friday morning with “What are you guys doing tonight?” Hanging out with you guys, duh. I still want to text him every once in a while, before I remember. And I always wish I knew what he’d think about certain things, like the new DC and Marvel movies, the LEGO movie we all went to see just weeks after losing him, and the new Coheed album. I know we’d probably debate it, but I’d give whole limbs to be able to argue with him again.

Today makes three years since the day Sean passed away. Much has changed since then. Our group is now scattered across Connecticut, rarely connecting because of our hectic schedules. Mike started painting, beginning with a memorial piece for Gabi. And me… I poured my grief into my stories.

Rather than feeling sad, I now cherish the memories—of which there are so many good ones. Though I’ll always miss him, the grief is no longer debilitating and consuming. I’m not religious, so I don’t know what I believe about the afterlife, but I do know that someday, somehow, we’ll cross paths again.

Because ever since I met Sean in 2002, our paths crossed again and again—even when we weren’t really speaking. I’ve always believed that there are certain people we’re meant to have in our lives—people we instantly connect with because in a sense, we already know each other.

So even though my heart is heavy today, it’s the good memories that make me smile and remind me of how precious the people in our lives are. As they say in Rent, there’s “no day but today” to live our lives and appreciate the people we love.

Out of Control

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I like lists. Schedules. Planners. Being prepared. As much as I appreciate order, though, life continues to teach me that I can’t control everything.

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.
-John Lennon

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do other than let go and focus on the things you can change.

I’m learning this more and more lately.

Because I have anxiety, I can easily spin out—especially when there are too many what ifs hanging over my head. I’ve always been observant and curious, which are both my best and worst qualities. I see everything. I always have. Sometimes it’s a bit like being the psychic in a Stephen King novel. You just know shit’s gonna hit the fan, but no one will listen to you because you’re weird.

I can be stubborn and pushy, which almost never works, but I have a really hard time letting go and letting be.

Especially when it concerns people I love.

But more and more I’m learning to focus on me. Even when it feels selfish or wrong. Because, at the end of the day, the only thing I can control is what I do.

I can’t make my autoimmune disease go away, but I can keep track of my pain levels and try new medications.

I can’t force a loved one to get help, but I can be a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen with.

I can’t fix my country’s social and political issues, but I can get my own affairs in order, while being kind to everyone.

Because the truth is, no matter how observant I may be and how much I might worry, I still don’t know what the future holds. Not for sure, anyway. By working on myself, though, and making sure my own world is stable, I can be more available for others—and whatever comes next.

My worry list is long, but the more I work on myself, the more capable I am of coping with those worries.

It’s Okay If You Can’t March

This morning my Instagram feed was full of pics about the upcoming Women’s March on Washington. Well, okay, books too, but the closer we get to the 21st, the more people are getting involved. This makes me incredibly proud, but also a little sad.

These days I’m lucky I can stand long enough to do dishes, never mind march for civil rights.

It doesn’t help that some of the slogans that people are using seem to reach out and pinch those of us who can’t march. I know they aren’t actually for us—they’re for those sitting by in apathy, doing nothing—but it still sucks that I can’t be there.

Still, I realized something.

These marches have historically been people more powerful joining hands with people less powerful to achieve the same goal. Every movement has been about someone stronger lifting up someone less strong—whether in voice, privilege, or ability.

It’s hard for me to let others do for me, when I’d rather do it myself. It’s difficult for me to just sit and watch, rather than participate.

I never thought I’d be sitting on this side of history; when reading about The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—AKA the civil rights march—as a kid, I always felt this burning passion inside of me. I knew, had I been born decades earlier, I would’ve marched right alongside those women and men. In reality, my body is the opposite of willing and able.

And that’s okay.

It’s also okay if you’re not marching, too.

You don’t have to explain why to anyone.

It’s okay.

In your heart, you know what you stand for. You know what you believe and who you support. And you can resist in other ways.

Keep breathing.

Keep making art.

Keep raising children who love.

Keep posting selfies.

Keep making posters for your town.

Keep denouncing hate.

Keep spreading love, even if in “small” ways.

Keep.

Just keep.

Because when someone hates you—for how you look, who you love, what illnesses you live with—the loudest torch you can carry is to keep living, in spite.

Let your fire blaze bright.


However, if it’s the cost of travel that’s holding you back from marching, there  are many sister marches happening all around the world. I had no idea until I saw a few overseas ones this morning on IG. There are even several in Connecticut, so I might actually be able to go to one, depending on how I feel. Click here to search by your state or country.

Then rise, baby, rise.

Fuck Arthritis

via Unsplash

Lately, I’ve been struggling.

There. I said it.

I had so many plans and hopes for this new year—so many things I wanted to do. Yet these past couple weeks, I’ve been mostly immobilized.

I’ve been bedridden before. I’ve spent entire winters doped up on painkillers, binge-watching whatever from the relative comfort of my bed. But this winter was supposed to be different. I’d started Plaquenil and Prednisone, and they were helping. Then they weren’t—or at least, not as much.

It started off slowly. The joints in my neck and lower back hurt, but the pain was tolerable. As a whole, I was feeling better; I could actually use my hands again. Then the joint in my neck swelled to two or three times its normal size, and my back joined the screaming chorus.

At first, I thought it was my new pillows. I’d bought a couple king-size pillows and they’re super thick. I figured I’d tweaked my neck while trying to sleep on them. I bought a less thick pillow and the pain immediately improved. Until it got worse again.

So then I thought it might be my work setup. For the past few months, I’ve been working from my couch. Not the most ergonomic setup—especially since I tend to lean into my computer when I really get into whatever it is I’m working on. I became more mindful of my body while working, keeping my neck and back more straight while on the couch. Mike joked that we should duct-tape my head to the couch to keep me from leaning forward and putting strain on that joint.

I also cleaned up my office a bit and returned to working at my desk. It’d become a bit of a dumping ground these past few months—getting more and more cluttered as I felt worse and worse. Even still, with a proper desk and chair, I can’t sit at the computer for very long. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it 40 minutes.

The only time my neck and back aren’t screaming is if I’m reclined on the couch with full blast heat on them—or flat on the floor on my yoga mat. Alternating heat and ice was helping, but the other day I iced my neck for no more than 20 minutes and it made it worse. A lot worse.

Last Thursday, I saw the APRN at my GP’s office. I had to go in for a refill anyway, and figured I’d have her look at my neck—which was my biggest concern, considering the joint is so swollen. I told her what I’d been doing: TENs machine, Advil, rest, ice, heat, Tramadol (as well as my Plaquenil and Prednisone). She said the joint was definitely swollen. I explained that the Advil was helping a little, taking it down by a notch, and told her I’d been taking two Advil three times a day. I asked her if I could take more and, if so, how much would be safe to take in a given day.

“Don’t take too much, or it’ll cause an ulcer.”

“Oh, of course! But how much can I safely take?”

“Just don’t take too much.”

I wondered whether I’d accidentally walked into an episode of Punk’d. “Okay, well, is there anything else I can do? It’s really painful.”

“The Prednisone should help it.”

“Well… I’ve been on it for a month, and this is a new problem.”

She mentioned Prednisone again, completely brushing me off.

It wouldn’t have been such a big deal, if my husband hadn’t recently been in to see her about his swollen knee. She prescribed him a relatively new NSAID: ibuprofen 800, which also has an antacid in it to lower the risk of ulcers. I don’t think she does it on purpose, but she doesn’t listen to me. There’s definitely a gender bias when it comes to patients, and until now I’d never really dealt with it so blatantly. When she sees Mike, she’s on her game, helping him with all of her expertise. When she sees me, she either laughs me  off or ignores me completely.

That’s not even what I’m really angry about, though.

Every day, I fall further and further behind on my production schedule. I try to do simple things around the house—like cleaning my bathroom—and I pay for it for days. For a brief window, I got a glimpse of what it’d be like to live with low pain. (On one particular Sunday, it went down to a 5/10!) I started to feel hopeful that I’d get my life back. I know there’s no cure, that I’ll never be pain-free again, but every time I turn around, I feel like I’m losing yet one more thing.

I haven’t worked a normal job in years.

I haven’t been able to write in months.

I’m just really tired of this disease taking from me, and I still don’t even really know its damned name.

And, if I’m being really honest, I’m a little scared.

My pain has changed; now when any of my joints creak, there’s pain where there wasn’t before, and the pain in my neck and lower back is a burning pain that creeps up and down my spine like fire. Every time my disease changes, we find another piece to the puzzle. My doctors have said so many times that something autoimmune is definitely brewing, and I’ve joked that if this is “just” brewing, I don’t wanna know what full force feels like.

So I wonder: Is this full force? Am I about to get the answers I’ve been wanting? And, if so, will I like those answers?


I have a really hard time asking for help, but I’ve got electricity/heat, student loans, and other bills creeping up on me. If you’d like to help, you can buy my books, throw me a tip on PayPal, or donate to my GoFundMe. If you can’t help financially, a comment offering virtual hugs would really lift my spirits. I appreciate your support, in whatever form. 💜

I’m a Nook Best Seller!

Last night, curiosity finally got the best of me. I’d noticed some pretty consistent Nook sales for The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos, but since I hadn’t done any marketing, I had no idea where they were coming from. So I went to the Barnes & Noble website on my phone and started looking around. I didn’t expect to find anything. Truly. It was more of a “Maybe someday I’ll be featured” kind of thing.

And then I found The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos in Explore Nook Romance, in the New Adult category, sorted by best seller. BN doesn’t have a numbered best seller list for the NA category like they do for other romance genres, so this is more like a feature; of all the NA books being featured in the Nook store, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos is one of the best selling ones.

Therefore, I’m a best seller!

I’m two rows down from one of my favorite authors—Elliot Wake, FKA Leah Raeder. *flails*

This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me, so I’m thrilled. It was a nice surprise on an especially bad pain day, and it’s continued to bring a smile to my face on yet another bad pain day. (In case you’re wondering, it is #159 of 185 featured NA books.)

Grab your copy of The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos now and see what all the buzz is about!


Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.

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Becoming Natalie Gets a Makeover

One of the things I usually do in the last couple weeks of the year is update my books. This could be as simple as giving it a shiny new cover (like I did with the South of Forever series), or as complicated as rewriting it entirely (like I will with Crazy Comes in Threes [more details coming soon]). Becoming Natalie fell somewhere in between.

While re-formatting and re-reading it, I realized the ending is pretty abrupt (and there were even a couple unanswered questions). So I set aside some time and wrote a brand new epilogue that neatly wraps everything up. (If you’ve already purchased the book, you can read the epilogue for free here.)

I also gave Becoming Natalie a fresh coat of paint and a new blurb. Check it out!

Natalie might not survive a summer back home with her father.

For Natalie, the key to a successful life has been simple: escape her divorced parents, get a well-paying job in graphic design, and snag the sexy CEO. Life in the Big Apple isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, though, and Natalie quickly finds herself drowning in debt and drama—especially when a nurse calls her from a hospital back home.

Her dad’s had a heart attack and needs surgery—and Natalie is the only one who can take care of him while he recovers. But Natalie hasn’t spoken to her father since her parents’ divorce, and their relationship has been nothing short of complicated.

Coming home could give Natalie a chance for a fresh start with both her dad and her checking account, though. The plan is simple: use the summer to get back on her feet—as long as the handsome karaoke DJ she keeps running into doesn’t sweep her away completely.

Becoming Natalie is a lighthearted, humorous Chick Lit novel that will warm your heart.

READ AN EXCERPT

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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What do you think of the new cover? Have you read Becoming Natalie? Let me know in the comments below!

Hello, 2017

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If you’ve been around for any period of time, you know I’m all about goals rather than resolutions. Setting actionable, achievable, and accountable goals is far more productive than making promises.

Usually, I keep my goals for the year down to a short list. Recently I heard about Level 10 Life, which is basically just your life, broken down into 10 areas. You’re supposed to set 10 goals for each area—100 in total—with the objective of eventually fulfilling all areas of your life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s possible to ever reach 100% fulfillment; there’s no such thing as perfection. Plus, I think 100 goals is a bit overwhelming.

Goals are supposed to be challenging yet within reach. If you set the bar too high, you’ll set yourself up for failure.

A few weeks ago, I found a wheel of life pin that I loved. It focused on eight areas of life rather than 10, with one goal in each area. The objective is to achieve more balance in your life; once you reach a certain goal, you set a new one in that area.

I tried making the wheel of life and failed epically. After several attempts, I realized I didn’t need a Pinterest-worthy craft to help me set goals for 2017. I sat down with my white board and several dry erase markers, and got busy. This list is the result.

My Goals for 2017

Home

Get curtains for all windows. Though it has its quirks, I love our little country apartment, and hope to stay here until we’re ready to start a family. (That’s a whole other blog post, so stay tuned.) To make our place look even more home-y, I’d like to get curtains for each window. Fortunately—in this case, anyway—there aren’t many windows; our apartment was an attic in a former life. I’m starting with the kitchen, with the front door (which naturally has the oddest measurements ever, and I can’t seem to find anything). Challenge accepted!

Me

Get arrow, hummingbird, and spade tattoos. 2013 was the year I got married, and probably one of the best years of my life. But 2014 and 2015 were easily two of the worst years of my life. I lost one of my best friends in 2014 and in 2015, I lost myself. PTSD finally caught up with me and I completely bottomed out. But in 2016, I got better.

There’s a quote that really spoke to me in 2015-2016:

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.

I don’t know where it originated, but it really resonated with me—especially regarding my PTSD. I truly cannot explain how strong I feel. I’ve got my voice and my magic back, and I feel more me than I’ve ever felt. This is why I want to get an arrow on my ribs, on my right side—to remind me of how I shot forward in 2016. Something simple and delicate (my ribs do swell, after all, so tattooing that area might be a bit… challenging). Something like this, in this same spot:

I think this design is the one I’ll go with.

I’ve long wanted to get twin hummingbirds on my collarbones, for my Popi. He loved watching the birds at the lake, and the “hummers” were his favorites—especially the ruby throated hummingbird. Growing up, I always felt enveloped by magic whenever I could look fast enough to see them. Popi had hawk eyes and saw everything; he was the magic.

I like the general placement of the hummingbirds in the above pin, but I don’t love the design. My plan is to have Jay—the artist who did my hydrangeas and tiger lilies—design and tattoo my hummingbirds. I love his style and I know he’ll help me come up with something I love.

Finally, I want to get a spade in memory of one of my best friends, Sean. He loved spades—I’m pretty sure it was an old nickname, though I have to check with his girlfriend to make 100% sure—and had one tattooed on his forearm. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out the perfect tattoo to remember him by. It suddenly dawned on me the other day that I should get a spade. I’ll probably add it to the sleeve I’m working on, on my left arm.

I’d like to get something for my Biz Noni, too, but for one, I’ll be lucky if I can afford three tattoos in one year. Plus, I kind of already got something for her: my hydrangeas around my Fievel. She was still alive back then, but my dad was talking about transplanting her hydrangeas in the yard. I thought about how amazing it was, that those hydrangeas stubbornly continued to bloom year after year after year—even though she couldn’t physically get outside to nurture them anymore. It reminded me of her; she was “up there” in age, but remembered everything and had survived much. I got the hydrangeas tattooed as a reminder that I can survive, too, even in the toughest of circumstances.

Money

Pay off all debt and past due bills. I won’t bore you with the details, but between my student loan, some credit cards that I opened to help us out, our bills, and my creative team from Booktrope, I’ve racked up a teensy bit of debt. I say “teensy” because I was panicking but when I added it all up, I realized it’s really not that bad. Some people are thousands of dollars in debt; I’m only about $5K in. Still, I’d really like to make it go away—especially the damned student loan that’s been hanging over my head for years.

Long story short, that student loan is from a half semester that I had to withdraw from due to health issues. It was too late to withdraw without penalty, so I got stuck with the bill. I’ve been trying to pay that thing off for almost 10 years now.

My accumulated debt grew to a ginormous monster in my head. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, terrified I’d go to jail for delinquency. That’s totally not the case, but anxiety lies. When I actually broke it down on paper, though, it suddenly became a teeny baby monster. Now that I’m writing for Textbroker and regaining momentum in my career, it doesn’t seem completely impossible to overcome, either.

They say the best way to pay off debt is to make regular payments on everything while going really hard at one particular bill. I haven’t quite decided which one to tackle first, though.

Career

Finish all currently open series. 2016 was all about regaining some lost momentum; 2017 is going to be all about closing boxes.

Right now, I have three unfinished series: the Comes in Threes, Not Just Any Love, and South of Forever series. While the Not Just Any Love series is actually just two companion standalones (Just One More Minute and the forthcoming Char/Amarie novel), the Comes in Threes series has been in limbo for almost four years.

I’ll be releasing the final South of Forever book soon, and then my plan is to get back to Quinn, Tara, and everyone else from Crazy Comes in Threes. I’ll be rewriting CCIT; I won’t be changing anything about the story, but I’ll be making some structural changes—that way I can pull off my master scheme. I’m super excited about what I have in store. More news on that soon!

Marriage

Go on one date every month. Thanks to the holidays, health issues, and financial stress, Mike and I haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. Our hot dates have recently consisted of doctors’ appointments and him helping me put pants on. So romantic. 🙄 Not!

Money is beyond tight, but I’d really like to do something every month—even if it’s just a movie night in. We’re both always busy, but I make sure we eat dinner together (unless he’s working), with no tech at the table so we’re really focusing on each other. Still, I’d like to do actual dates.

Last month, my Noni got us a gift certificate to our favorite sushi place, so we went to lunch after my rheumatology appointment. (Note to self: blog about that ASAP.) It was nice to get out and spend time together, and we have enough left on the gift certificate to do it again. Little things like that keep our relationship strong.

Family

Host at least one family dinner. Due to my arthritis, it’s really hard for me to pull off gatherings at our place. Not only is it physically difficult, but it also takes a major toll on my energy. The last time we hosted anything was Mike’s birthday party—in October. It was so nice to have both sides of our family all together, but I paid for it dearly in the days after. I always do.

Originally, we really wanted to host weekly Sunday dinners, but that’s just not possible. I’m slowly adjusting to my limitations, which means not pushing myself and accepting things for what they are. Still, I’d like to have at least one Sunday dinner this year; they were a huge part of Mike’s family when he was growing up, and it’s really important to him that the tradition continues.

My plan is to give Plaquenil and Prednisone some more time and, when the weather gets warmer, set a date.

Health

Find a treatment that brings pain down to a 4/10. I’m hoping Plaquenil is The One. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never have a zero pain level again, but if my new normal could be a 4/10, that would be great. At that level, the pain is tolerable; once it gets to five or even six, it’s debilitating. Honestly, I’ll even take a five at this point; last Sunday, it got all the way down to a five, and I felt amazing. It’s been an eight lately, which is still better than a nine or 10.

But four is about my normal level when I’m not in a flareup. If Plaquenil can decrease the flareups and their severity, I’ll be happy.

I’d also really like a diagnosis more definitive than “it might be Lupus” or “it’s definitely enthesitis-related arthritis.” Right now, my chart has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) as my diagnosis, which translates to “undiagnosed autoimmune disease.” It means there’s definitely something inflammatory and autoimmune going on, but my labs are inconclusive. There are two camps in rheumatology: one that relies more on symptoms to diagnose, and the other that relies more on labs. My rheumatologist falls into the latter, and so did my former rheumatologist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for my own closure, I’d really like to know the name of the disease that has completely and irrevocably changed my life.

I may never get that. I may have to practice accepting that. Time will tell.

Passion

Write “writing through trauma” book as a blog series. I’d like to tell my story—and help others write through theirs. Writing has long been a huge part of my life. I’ve written my way through every major event, be it in a journal or weaving my pain into a novel. The most important writing I’ve ever done, though, were my trauma stories.

I’d like to teach others how to write through their pain. Eventually, I’d even like to lead workshops for local organizations who help sexual assault survivors, but I’ve got to start small. That, for me, means writing a how to book.

I’ve started several times. I keep getting stuck because I’m not sure how much of my personal story I should share; I don’t want to take away from the advice I’m giving, but I’d also like to show how writing through my own trauma helped me. I’ve decided to take my outline and the roughly 10K words I’ve written, and turn it into a blog series that can be later converted into a book. This way, I can get some reader feedback on it while I’m putting it together.

Stay tuned, because that will be starting very soon.


What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments!

Goodbye, 2016

via Unsplash

Despite this year being a hard year, I can’t exactly say it was a bad year. 2016 was full of growth, grief, and guidance for me, and though I suffered some major losses, I’m very happy with where I am right now.

I started off the year recovering from fresh trauma and working to overcome multiple traumas from my past. I was in a fog of PTSD-driven depression and anxiety, as well as medication withdrawal, and it felt like I’d never be myself again, never mind recover. But my therapist Erica believed in me. She insisted I’d experience something called “post-traumatic growth phenomenon.” She encouraged me to keep facing my demons and to write my story. With her cheering me on and with the support of my family and friends, I did. I’m still trying to find the words to tell that particular story, but after about six months of hard work, I started to feel whole again. And, even better, I started to feel like myself—but even stronger.

I got my voice back in 2016, and no one will ever take it from me again.

I lost my great-grandmother, though—my Biz Noni. In October, she passed away after battling dementia. It still hurts so much, especially because I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I wanted.

A couple weeks later, my great-aunt Gayle had a severe stroke. Thankfully, she survived and has been making fantastic progress. She’s always been strong, but watching her recover has been truly inspiring. She still has a long way to go, and many things will never be the same for her. But I’m grateful that she’s doing as well as she is, because we almost lost her.

I also really struggled with my autoimmune disease. My rheumatologist, who’d diagnosed me with Reactive Arthritis, suddenly left the practice. The rheumatologist who replaced her decided that I couldn’t possibly have any kind of autoimmune disease, and took me off all my meds. Just like every year, I went into a flareup as the weather got colder. It got so bad, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning or dress myself. After a phone conversation with my rheumatologist where I asked him to please give me a hand up, he took a closer look at me. I’m now taking Prednisone and Plaquenil, and able to get up in the morning, care for myself, and do normal things like dishes. However, I’ve really had to learn to pace myself and be more forgiving of and gentle with myself; I quickly get frustrated with my limitations and lack of mobility.

That didn’t stop me from writing, though. I wrote Just One More Minute, a small town romance novel. Then, as a Christmas special, I wrote a novelette starring the Just One More Minute characters. I also started the last book in the South of Forever series.

Meanwhile, the publisher I was with suddenly closed its doors and, as a result, I became an indie author again. At first it seemed like the absolute worst timing; because of my health, my husband and I have been struggling financially. I suddenly had to self-publish four novels, which meant spending money that I didn’t exactly have. Due to a contract snafu, I also became financially responsible for my publishing team. This was all right before I was supposed to be releasing the third book in the South of Forever series. Thankfully, my team was super understanding and we came to an agreement. Through crowdfunding, I was able to release What Happens on Tour.

I desperately needed to catch up on bills but still couldn’t return to work, so I launched a GoFundMe to get some freelance work. The response was overwhelmingly lovely; not only did I get some work, but many people donated and told me they wanted nothing in return. I hadn’t expected anything, so it was a huge surprise. I can’t even begin to express how grateful Mike and I are.

Toward the end of the year, I decided to cut back on social media. I needed to limit my use of the computer, and through time tracking tools, I realized I was spending hours every day responding to DMs, tweets, Facebook comments and messages, and other social media comments. It was a difficult decision but I had to make room for self-care—and to catch up on work.

I used the last few weeks to get some inventory done. I re-launched the South of Forever series with new covers and put it in Kindle Unlimited for 90 days. I also re-launched my Chick Lit novel, Becoming Natalie (more on that soon). I also wrote a business plan for 2017 and have been working on other things I’ll be able to talk about soon.

I came down with the damn flu, which knocked me on my ass (even though I got my damn flu shot). I nearly missed the Christmas festivities, but thankfully recovered just in time to spend the holidays with some of my family. I’m still dealing with a bit of fatigue, which I think has more to do with my autoimmune disease; I picked up some D3 and B12 this week just in case I’m deficient again. It’s also been pretty cold here in Connecticut, which is wreaking havoc on my joints. I’m snap, crackle, popping away (and it really hurts)!

Still… I feel content. Happy, even. I’m more me than I’ve ever been. Like the Alanis Morrissette song, “I’m broke but I’m happy,” and “everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine.” I feel strong, and I’m getting better at coping with my chronic illness. With the holidays over, Mike and I are spending more time together. I’ve been slowly connecting with friends and family who I haven’t seen in a long time. Even though I have some concerns about what 2017 will bring, and I don’t know what the future holds for my personal life, health, or career, I do know that 2016 was the year I grew strong.

Whatever happens in 2017, I’m ready.

via GIPHY

Becoming Natalie: Epilogue

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read the previous edition of Becoming Natalie, the following will spoil the ending for you. I recently added an epilogue to the book, and decided to post it here for those who’ve already purchased and read it. Click here to read a FREE excerpt.


Though the resort had been beautiful in the winter, with the glacial sky stretched over the frozen ocean, it really came to life in the summer. Natalie had practically counted down the days to June—for more than one reason. For one, the resort’s steady flow of guests had slowed down considerably during the colder months, which meant she had a lot less to do. For a while, she’d worried that she’d be out of a job, but Rohan had assured her that wasn’t the case.

“After all,” he told her brightly, “we’ve got renovations to do all winter.”

And renovate they had.

With Nigan back in commission, things really got moving. Between Rohan and his father, Natalie stayed busy making new materials for the spring and summer promotions. The Singh men had big plans for the resort—including a full-service spa and wedding planning. By the time June bloomed around the grounds, business was booming.

But the resort wasn’t the only thing growing.

Though they were taking things slowly, Natalie and Rohan had been dating for ten months. She wasn’t about to drop any L bombs any time soon, but once they were together, things between them were just . . . easy. She’d been slightly worried that dating another guy that was her boss would be a bad idea, but Rohan had wanted to immediately set boundaries.

“When we are working, we are Natalie Booth, marketing coordinator, and Rohan Singh, hotel concierge,” he said in bed one evening.

“You know,” she said, her head resting on his chest, “you can seriously drop the last names now.”

“I am serious. We need to make sure our working relationship doesn’t interfere with, well, us, Natalie.” Those deep brown eyes bore into hers. “I don’t want to screw this up,” he said softly.

“Neither do I.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “So we should probably make a rule about keeping things strictly professional while on resort property.”

“Well . . . minus our suites,” he said with a grin. He pulled her into his arms, and they stopped talking.

Still, things were going incredibly well, considering how often they saw each other. Natalie’s days were a blur of marketing meetings, hours designing posters and brochures, and scheduling ads across newspapers, radio stations, and social media. At night, she and Rohan either had dinner in the dining room or went out. And her days off—well, those were her favorite days of all.

Since Rohan still had family in India, he, his uncle Nigan, and his father Darius visited quite often. She’d gone with them for a few weeks in January. Visiting another country should have been slightly nerve-wracking, but with Rohan and his family, it was fun. He often whisked her away for adventures on weekends, too—whether it was running karaoke at a random Connecticut dive bar or exploring the lakes and parks hidden around the state.

“Lee!”

The door to her suite swung open, ricocheting off the wall. Layla lifted her head from the floor, then settled right back down when she saw who’d come in.

Natalie’s father balanced two plates piled high with waffles, a jug of maple syrup, and two tall glasses of milk. He hustled across the living area and plunked everything down on a nightstand—somehow managing not to spill anything.

“Dad,” she said, “I told you to just call room service.”

“And miss out on my famous waffles?” He shook his head at her. “It’s healthy to have a nice, home-cooked meal every so often.”

“I have home-cooked meals every day.”

“A restaurant in the resort you live in doesn’t count, Lee.”

“Dad.” She tugged her hair up into a messy bun, using the gesture to hide the smile pulling at her lips. “Darius usually cooks for us. He’s really talented. He can even make Italian food—”

Her father pressed a plate of waffles into her hands. “Eat, Nat. It’s getting cold.”

Shaking her head at him, she cut a bite with her fork, trying not to think about how annoyed the chefs might be with her father for barging in on their kitchen. She hoped he’d at least cleaned the waffle iron.

“So,” Dylan said between bites of waffles. “Are you happy?”

She set her fork down, considering. It was still kind of weird to live so far from any family. While it was true that her mother and stepfather were still in the state, they weren’t close anymore—and probably never would be again. Though it’d initially stung to find out that her mother had cheated on her father, Natalie had accepted things for what they were. After all, she and her dad were so much closer than they’d been. Even if he was the type to force waffles on her.

At least Grandma Booth had stayed behind in Florida for the summer.

“Yes,” she replied, answering her father’s question. Her eyes lifted to meet his. “Are you?”

“Well, your grandmother is driving me crazy . . .” He exaggerated a grimace. “But yes. I am.” He shook a finger at her. “Just don’t go doing anything drastic like getting married, young lady—at least not without letting your old man know first.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. I’m happy with exactly the way things are right now.”

And she was. Though it’d been hard to let her dad go to Florida, he was much more independent than he’d been while she’d stayed with him last summer. He was driving for a school bus company and planned to continue spending his summers at Laurel Lock. In a few weeks, she and Rohan would go visit him—Layla too.

“Now what about that meddling friend of yours? I never could stand the way she interfered with your life,” Dylan said.

Natalie lifted an eyebrow at him, but chose not to comment on the irony of his statement. “You mean Violet? We talked. We’re not as close as we once were, but she apologized. She’s really happy for me—and she got rid of that tool she was dating.” She shuddered. Between her and Violet, they had the worst taste in men—with the exception of Rohan.

As if on cue, knuckles rapped on her door and Rohan strode in. “Ah, Dylan Booth!”

“You can call me Dad—”

“Just Dylan is fine,” Natalie amended, shooting her father a look.

Rohan plopped down on the bed beside her and plucked the fork from her fingers. He shoveled waffles into his mouth.

“Hey!”

“I thought you said his father was feeding you?” Dylan asked, looking quite satisfied with himself. “It’s a good thing I’m visiting.”

Natalie sighed, then smiled. The more things changed, she mused, the more things stayed exactly the same. She could live with that.


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Becoming Natalie: Chapter 5

The second the truck stopped moving, Dylan threw open his door. Gravel-sized pebbles crunched beneath his sneakers. He reached up toward the sky, stretching, a loud yawn pouring out of his mouth. The sound echoed throughout the open space.

Natalie winced. “Can’t you yawn quietly?” She shut off the engine and climbed out. It felt amazing to stretch her legs. The hour long drive had definitely taken its toll. She glanced up at the sky. If she hurried, she could catch a few rays of sun down at the beach. By the time her father finished making dinner, she could have the base of her base tan going. She reached for her suitcase.

“Leave those there for now,” her father said, pulling a ring of keys from his belt loop. He went through them, selected one, and ambled toward the trailer.

Ignoring him, she yanked her suitcase out of the pickup bed. Dropping it to the side, she reached for his next. If she wasn’t careful, she surmised, she could end up with a hernia. They seemed to run in her family. As she began tugging on it, she felt her father’s hand clamp gently around her arm.

“I said, leave ‘em there.” He tugged her toward the trailer.

“What are you doing, you psycho?” She yanked her arm away.

He pointed to the deck. “Look at this,” he said, opening the door and entering the screen room. He swept his foot in an arc through leaves and other debris. “You’ve got to clean this up.”

She snorted. “Me? I think you can handle a broom.” She turned toward where she had left her suitcase.

“I can’t, Nat. I’m exhausted. I’m supposed to rest.” He put a hand on the arm of a deck chair, stooping a little.

Pressing her lips together, she entered the screen room, ducking under a spider web. With a grimace, she grabbed the broom from the corner. Sweeping would only take her a few minutes. “Then I’m going down to the beach,” she told him, pushing a pile of dirt toward the leaves.

She wondered how so much stuff had gotten into the screen room. Her father had built the deck himself, adding screening to the lattice on the bottom specifically so that the flooring stayed clean during the off season. As she swept, she glanced around for a hole or tear.

From his seat, her father hummed, watching her.

“Is this up to your standards?” she asked, pointing to her progress. A clean path ran from the door to where she stood, on the other side of the deck.

He shrugged.

Squatting, she pointed to a dark corner. “Looks like there’s a hole here,” she said. Her eyes ran along the bottom of the lattice. A gap gaped between the wood and the ground. Frowning, she scooted closer. Tiny claw marks were imprinted into the dirt outside. “Dad,” she said, motioning him over.

The chair creaked as he got up. A moment later, he joined her. “I’ll be damned,” he said. “Looks like there’s a fox nest under the deck.”

Wrinkling her nose, she looked at him. “How can you tell?”

He pointed into the garden in front of them. Two small creatures with orange fur and bushy tails chased each other in the leafy fronds.

Natalie gasped.

“It’s okay,” Dylan said, lowering his voice. “They won’t hurt you. As long as we don’t mess with the babies, mama won’t bother us.” He stood slowly, his knees stiff. “Finish up here,” he said, wobbling back to his chair.

Clutching the broom, she jerked her chin toward the foxes. “Aren’t you supposed to call animal control or something?”

“For what?” He waved a hand at her. “We’re in their backyard.” Pointing to the deck floor, he said, “You missed a spot.”

She rolled her eyes, but resumed sweeping.

By the time she finished, the sun had sunk below the treeline. Deep shadows stretched across the campsite. Even though the sun wouldn’t go down fully for another forty-five minutes or so, the trees at the top of the hill blocked it out after a certain time of day. Below, on the beach, it would still be bright and warm.

Shivering a little, she replaced the broom. “All set,” she said, wiping her hands on her jeans. “I’m gonna go down to the beach for a bit. Can you handle dinner?”

Her father’s eyes fluttered open. Yawning, he shook his head. “You’ve got to rake the leaves out front,” he said.

“Rake?” she repeated. Small piles of leaves were everywhere, leftover from the winter. It looked as if someone had emptied a bag of them, scattering them all over. “Can’t it wait ’til tomorrow?”

“It’s going to rain tomorrow,” he said. “If they get wet, we’ll get those little gnats. They’re a pain in the ass.”

“Dad,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “It’s getting late. I drove for an hour plus, then swept this whole deck for you. What more do you want?”

“I want,” he said, his voice growing stern, “you to rake the leaves so we don’t have to deal with the gnats after the rain.”

Turning red, she flung her hands up into the air. “You can’t treat me like a little kid!”

“I could just do it myself, then,” he said.

She noted his pale complexion, the way his hands shook. “No,” she said, sighing. “I’ll do it.” With another glance up at the sky, she held her hand out for the shed key. At least, out in the yard, she wouldn’t have to deal with her father watching her every move.

The shed smelled like kerosene, but it was otherwise clean. Beach chairs lined the walls in neat stacks. Rope hung from hooks. A couple fishing poles leaned against a metal garbage can full of deflated swimming floats. She inhaled. For some reason, she had always loved the scent of kerosene. It reminded her of late nights on the deck, a fire flowing out in the keystone pit. Her parents had played cards while she watched. Sometimes, her father let her join them, and they played Rummy 5000. She had been good at it, she remembered—as long as she had his help.

Blinking away the memories, she grabbed a rake from the back of the shed and went back outside.

Raking in flip flops proved to be annoying at best. The tines kept getting caught on her toes, and sometimes leaves brushed against her skin. When she finished, her feet were caked in dirt. Bits of leaves clung to her clothing. She didn’t even want to see her hair. Five neat bags sat near the dirt road. One of the maintenance workers would pick them up in the morning, according to Dylan. She had made good time, but not good enough. The sun had begun to sink beneath the horizon.

She clomped onto the deck, feeling like a zombie risen out of its grave. Her father opened his mouth, but she held up a hand. “I’m going to take a shower now,” she said, tossing him the shed key. He started to say something, but she slashed her open palm through the air, cutting him off. “Nope, don’t wanna hear it.”

Inside of the trailer, she found towels and a wash cloth. Kicking off her trashed flip flops, she stepped into the tiny bathroom. To use the toilet, she would almost have to put her feet in the shower. Rolling her eyes, she reached for the knob inside of the shower. She turned it on. Nothing happened. She kept turning it. Only a squeaking sound poured from its metal faucet.

“Dad,” she called.

Floorboards squeaked as he entered the trailer. “Yeah?” He poked his head into the bathroom. “Oh. I tried to tell you. The water’s still off. You have to turn it on.”

“I have to what?” She turned toward him, hands on her hips. “Have you done anything to open this season?”

He shrugged. “I haven’t been feeling good,” he said. “Come on, I’ll teach you how.”

She turned the faucet off. “Or I could just take one in the adult lounge,” she said, brushing past him. She stomped through the screen room. Clamping her fingers around the handle of her suitcase, she headed toward the recreation hall.

“Nat,” her father called.

Her suitcase caught on a rock. Its wheels bit into her already blistered heels. “What?” she howled.

“When you get back, throw some burgers on the grill.” He stood in the doorway to the screen room, leaning against the frame.

She scowled. “Do it yourself.” She jerked her suitcase over the stone. Nothing was going as planned. She thought of New York, and Benjamin’s hot tub. Her job had paid enough, if she could just avoid putting things on her Victoria’s Secret credit card. She should have tried harder.

“And,” she grumbled out loud as she dragged her suitcase through a patch of grass, “I should have never come home.”

* * *

Beads of water dripped down her back. A large, dark wet spot marked one side of her suitcase. Her feet were already dirty in her ruined flip flops. She felt like a new person, though. Walking back to the campsite, she hummed. Everything would be fine, she told herself. She just needed to have more patience.

Rolling back into the site, she waved to her father. He sat in his chair reading a newspaper.

“Better?” he asked, putting the paper aside.

She nodded. Feet crunching over the little stones, she walked toward the screen room. As she stepped up onto the deck, he jerked a thumb toward the shed.

“Do me one more favor,” he said, “and set up my hammock.”

She released her suitcase. It fell over, wet spot up. “One more favor?” She slammed her fist against the door frame. “I’m starving, Dad.”

“So set up the hammock and then throw a couple burgers on. Or better yet,” he said, “throw them on now. By the time you finish, they’ll be ready.”

“Why can’t you do it?” She stooped to pick up the suitcase. With a sigh, she brought it into the trailer. “It’s been a long day,” she called through the open door. “Can’t it wait?”

“I need to relax,” he said. “I can go lay on it in the morning. Think about how nice it’d be.”

Natalie scowled. “If I do this one last thing for you, will you quit bugging me?”

He nodded. “Sure.” Then, stroking his stubbled chin, he said, “Wait, we have to pick up my prescriptions in the morning.”

She wondered whether she should kill him, or herself. “You’re a maniac,” she told him. “Why couldn’t you say something before we left Waterbury? Why do you have to be so difficult?”

Sputtering, he got up from his chair. “You’re being difficult. I had a heart attack, Natalie. It’s nothing to be taken lightly.” He joined her in the trailer.

“You keep using that as an excuse,” she said. Crossing her arms, she stuck out her chin at him. “I’m going home in the morning—to New York.”

“You are?” He cocked his head at her, an eyebrow raised. “I’m not stupid, Natalie. You can’t go back.”

Her heart caught in her chest. “What do you mean?”

“I know all about your financial troubles,” her father said. “You were on the verge of losing your apartment, if you haven’t already been evicted.” He reached out for her hand. “Come on, Nat. Let’s help each other out, huh?”

She pulled away from him, out of reach. “How do you know?” Her heart thudded in her chest. There was no way he could possibly know. He had to be bluffing. She should have played it cool, she surmised with a twinge. He had probably been digging, and her blurt-out told him for sure. She wanted to smack herself.

“Your mother told me,” he said, as if she should have known.

She blinked at him. It had been years since her parents spoke to each other. When her mother remarried, it was up to Natalie to call her father to schedule their weekly visitation. Her mother hated her father, and didn’t miss a single opportunity to tell her. Natalie couldn’t blame her. If Benjamin or any other man ever cheated on her, she would castrate him. “Since when do you two talk to each other?” she asked, gripping the  edge of the dinette.

“Nat,” he said, his voice softening, “we’re always going to talk to each other.” He sat down on the couch, which would be her bed for as long as she stayed. “How else can I get updates? You don’t talk to me.” He shrugged, palms up.

“I’m talking to you right now,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Arguing with me, more like.” He gave her a smug grin.

“You’re impossible,” she said. Shoving her suitcase underneath the dinette, she felt her nerves start to buckle. She needed to get away from her father before she actually did kill him. Straightening, she moved toward the deck. “I’m going for a walk,” she announced. Without waiting for him to respond, she stormed out of the trailer, through the screen room, and back outside.

The temperature was starting to drop. In the dying daylight, she could just make out the dirt road. Her father’s site sat at the beginning of Cedar Circle. If she continued down the road, she would be at the top of Rocky Mountain—an unpaved treacherous hill that led directly down to the beach. In the waning light, though, she would probably break her neck. Instead, she would have to go down Cedar Circle, cut across Laurel Lane, and down Lake Drive.

She wished she had brought her headphones. It wasn’t a long walk, but it was definitely longer than going down Rocky Mountain. She would rather take the trip than sit at the site with her father, though.

Natalie set out, her hands still clenched into fists. She wondered if she would be better off dealing with Edward, her stepfather. At least he wouldn’t make her work all day and then expect her to make dinner. Her father was turning out to be a misogynist, she surmised with a twist of her lip. No wonder her mother had left him.

A few minutes later, she reached Beach View Drive. A group of people sat on the gazebo. A fire burned on one of the beach-front sites. Two children chased each other while their parents watched the sun set, arm in arm. Pink streaks stretched across the sky. On any other night, she might stop and watch, too. She continued past the beach, though. Wishing she had a flashlight, she walked through the beach parking lot—which was really just a large dirt semicircle—and ducked through leafy branches.

Squinting, she could just make out the path. She took her time, picking her way over roots and jutting rocks. She could walk the path in the dark or blindfolded. Ever since her parents started camping at Laurel Lock, she had wandered the area just outside of the campground. Technically, it was state property. Her mother hated when she slipped away and went into Hopemead, but Natalie thought of it as her sanctuary. On the path, she always found something new. There was a tiny stream. A crumbling stone wall ran almost parallel to the trail. Once, she had found a trio of pipes that led nowhere. When she told her father about them, he said they had probably once belonged to a house. There was no other sign of a house, though. She had liked to pretend that they were put there by aliens or maybe Native Americans. Her favorite part of Hopemead, though, was the cave.

Ducking under one fallen tree and stepping over another, she paused. The cave was still there. It was actually an old root cellar—or at least, that was what her father called it. Rumor had it that it was connected to tunnels that ran underground, or that it had been built by Native Americans. Whatever it had originally been, it had become a party spot. If she sat on the rock just outside of its entrance, though, she had a perfect view of the cove that opened up into the lake, and the sunset.

A fire pit sat, cold, just above the small beach. She kicked off her flip flops and padded onto the sandy, pebbles. Unlike the campground beach, the cave beach was completely natural. Small waves lapped quietly at the shore. The sound of the water soothed her soul, and brought her blood pressure down. At the cave, things really were okay.

The remaining light from the sun cast pink shadows on the sand. She crouched near the shore and watched as a boat sailed toward the campground docks. What she needed, she mused, was a job. It would get her away from her father for a while every day, and would help her move into her own place. At the very least, it would help her pay her bills. Heat flushed her cheeks. She couldn’t believe her mother had blabbed her business to her father, of all people. She made a mental note to never tell her mother anything, ever again.

Pulling her phone from her back pocket, she scrolled through her contacts. The last time she talked to her high school best friend, Violet had her own bar in Oakdale. It was just a dive bar, but it would have to do. She pressed the phone to her ear and waited, holding her breath.

“Nat-a-tat!” Violet squealed. “Haven’t heard from you in thirty-ish. Where have you been?” Loud music and voices drowned her out.

“Banging a CEO,” Natalie said, falling into their old rhythm.

“Is he cute?” Violet asked.

Natalie could practically hear the laughter in her voice. “Was,” she said.

“Old news,” Violet said, a pout lacing her words. “Tell me something that happened within the hour.”

“Okay,” Natalie said, scooting back until she sat on a bumpy rock. “My father conned me into leaving New York to take care of him.”

Violet snorted. “You willingly left New York? I don’t buy it. Spill.” A glass shattered.  Men laughed. Gradually, the noise in the background ceased as Violet moved into her office.

Natalie watched as the sun dipped below the lake. In a few more minutes, she would be walking back to the campsite in pitch darkness. She needed to hurry up. “Listen, Vie,” she said. “I need a job, pronto. Tell me you need a bartender.”

“You’re in luck, Lie,” her best friend said. “I just had someone quit on me. We’re super shorthanded. If you can get here, you can start tonight.”


Natalie might not survive a summer back home with her father.

CONTINUE READING

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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