NOT-SUNDAY SAMPLE: From ‘In the Nothing’

In the Nothing blog2This is my new adult offering, that I’ve been working on for what seems like AGES. It’s about a young woman struggling to find her place in the world after her mother dies, and she is faced with the prospect of being kicked out of the home of her her aunt, who is her reluctant caregiver. In her quest to find a new job, she stumbles across what seems to her like another world, or privileged young people whose lives and prospects could not be more different from her own. Her name is Trinity, and her story is called, ‘In the Nothing’. Release Date: whenever.

Unedited Excerpt From ‘In the Nothing’:

Opening the store with Skylar every morning wasn’t a chore; it was a blessing. Waking up at dawn and getting dressed before anyone else was awake; walking out onto H Street where the traffic was still light and muted and standing on the almost deserted Metro platform – it was all good.  When she got uptown, Skylar was usually in a bad mood and barked out orders at Trinity as they got the store ready to open for business.  They alternated on the chore of walking a couple blocks down around eight a.m. to get coffee and pumpkin bread from a nearby coffeehouse by which time Skylar’s mood had improved and she became chirpy and chatty again.

It was on these mornings that Trinity learned about her life which sounded almost too good to be true.  As Skylar babbled in almost stream-of-consciousness fashion, Trinity discovered the following: Both Skylar’s parents were attorneys. They lived in Potomac, Maryland with Skylar’s younger sister whose name was Madison. Since they’d both her parents had gone to Ivy League schools, they expected Skylar to do the same.  She’d gotten into Dartmouth and Vassar, and was hoping that by the time the year had passed and her deferral period was over, she would be able to convince her parents that she needn’t go to either.  Because, you see, what Skylar really wanted to do was go to New York and live with her best friend who had an artist’s loft in SoHo, which was incredible since SoHo was now ridiculously expensive and who could afford to live there anymore even though it was supposed to be the kind of community for artsy types.  But her parents didn’t like her best friend and made disapproving faces when she even mentioned her name, which was Stella, a name Skylar thought was wonderfully old-fashioned and so not what Stella was really like so it was kind of ironic and the only reason her parents hated Stella was because when they were in the ninth grade Stella had been involved in a huge scandal that involved Francie’s father. Francie, whose real name was Francesca, was a girl they went to school with, and the only reason her Dad hadn’t gone to jail was because Stella shocked them all and told her parents she would lie if anyone went to the police because everything that happened with Francie’s Dad, she wanted it.

The constant chatter was Skylar’s singularly most noticeable trait. That and her beauty. Every single time Trinity saw her, she was struck anew by how effortlessly incredible-looking Skylar was.  No, it wasn’t just effortless, it was careless. She wore ugly clothes and no make-up and seemed to barely care about her disheveled natural, but still managed to look like something someone had dreamed up as the ideal Black woman. Though small-waisted, she was curvaceous in all the right places and had long limbs that she moved with the grace of a dancer. Trinity wasn’t gay, but decided that she was a little in love with Skylar nevertheless.

This morning, she waited outside, glancing at her phone to check the time.  Skylar was almost twenty minutes late. Even though she projected an air of indifference about almost everything, Skylar had always been punctual and businesslike when it came to opening the store, so Trinity was on the verge of worry when a gray Land Rover pulled up and Skylar spilled out.  She looked like she’d just woken up and was wearing jeans, flip flops and a t-shirt so large it clearly didn’t belong to her.

“Trinity,” she said. “Ohmigod I am so sorry. I overslept. Let me let you in. I’m going to have to run home and change. You’ll be okay?”

“Sure,” Trinity said.

The car still idled at the curb but because of the tinted windows it was impossible to see in. Trinity waited as Skylar unlocked the front door and they both went in. Skylar disarmed the night security system and flipped on the lights.

“You’ll be okay for the next hour or so?” she asked.

“I think I can handle it,” Trinity said.

“Brad won’t be here till about ten and I’ll be back long before then. D’you want me to bring you a coffee and pastry on my way back?” Skylar’s words came out in a rush. Despite her careful I-don’t-give-a shit mask, it was clear that being late had unsettled her.

“That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Okay. Thank you so much.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  She gave Trinity’s shoulder a brief squeeze before running out the door.

Trinity locked the door after Skylar left and began the process of opening the store; logging into the computer, turning on the lights and doing a walkthrough.  It felt good being there alone.  She had a book in her backpack that she was trying to get done so she fished it out and sat at the register.  If only she could leave for her coffee, but it was too risky.  Besides, if she waited, it would be on Skylar.  She only ever got the coffee and pumpkin bread every morning because she didn’t want to look like what she was – someone for whom every penny mattered.  Skylar got coffee and pumpkin bread, so she did too.  It was funny how Skylar seemed to assume that Trinity was just like her – that she would understand about choosing between colleges and parents who were pushing you to do and be more, and friends who lived in tony parts of New York City.  It created a strange sense of inclusion. Skylar’s ignorance and her utter lack of interest in anyone but herself made it easy for Trinity to conceal the grim details of her own life.

Skylar was back before nine, this time dressed in her own clothes and followed by a tall, blonde young man carrying a tray with three coffees and bags with pastry.  He set them down on the counter in front of Trinity and turned to Skylar who tilted her head back to gaze up at him flirtatiously.

“Thank you, Carey,” she said.  Her voice was different, a little more high-pitched and girlish.

“Anytime,” Carey leaned in and kissed Skylar, a deep, open-mouthed kiss of the kind generally reserved for when you were in the act of lovemaking, or about to be. When they were done kissing, Skylar turned.

“This is Trinity,” she said.  “We love her.”  The last three words were directive rather than descriptive.

“Hey Trinity,” Carey grinned at her.  “You mind if I join you girls for breakfast?”

Trinity offered him a thin smile and watched as he grabbed the second stool next to her and perched on it, reaching for one of the coffees.  Skylar leaned between his open legs as they all ate and described how she’d run into Carey the night before at a pub off Dupont Circle.

“We haven’t seen each other since junior high school,” she told Trinity.  “He never gave me the time of day then.”

Carey laughed.  “I was dating Hayley then,” he said.  “And she was your friend.”

“Oh bullshit,” Skylar said.  “You weren’t enlightened enough to date a Black chick, that’s all.”

“Oh but I am now,” Carey said.

As he and Skylar gave each other significant looks and nuzzled, Trinity pretended to be engrossed in something on the computer in front of her.  One week.  It had been one week since she’d started working here.  She stole glances at Carey’s hair when he was distracted.  It was so fair, it was almost white.  His skin was a strange bronze that more likely came from a bottle than from exposure to the sun.  Along his arms, there were fine hairs like peach fuzz.  He was well-built, athletic and probably good-looking. Trinity didn’t feel qualified to judge since she’d never been attracted to white guys.

Carey slipped out just after Brad showed up and the workday began.  There was generally very little to do in the store, just as Brad had warned the day she hired.  Most of Trinity’s time was spent examining the items on the shelves, reading the labels and marveling at the prices.  Everything was either organic, all-natural, or chemical-free.  There were essene breads, almond flour, psyllium husk fiber, and oils of various types.  Then there were the protein powders and weight-loss shakes, coconut milk and water and grains that weren’t identifiable just by sight.  She tried to learn the names and purposes of everything, studying each item just as she’d studied in school.  Occasionally, Skylar or Brad would try to draw her into their conversations, but generally, they talked on their cell phones, or slipped into the storeroom to watch television on the 20-inch set that was hooked up with cable.

“Rick’s back tomorrow,” Brad said almost to himself as they were eating lunch.  “So we’re going to want to make sure we clean up thoroughly at closing tonight.”

“I could stay and help,” Trinity offered.

“Don’t be a suck-up,” Skylar said.  “Brad has plenty of help with Jenny and Paul.  He’s just being a drama-queen.”

Jenny and Paul were the high school students who came in after five.  Trinity had never met them.

“You’re going to love Rick,” Brad said to Trinity.

“He’s an over-the-hill hippie,” Skylar said dismissively.

“Ohmigod, he’s only thirty-five,” Brad protested.

Skylar laughed.  “I knew you’d defend your little secret crush,” she said.  She made kissing noises and only laughed harder as Brad turned beet-red.

Just then the door opened and they all looked up.  Skylar shoved aside her sandwich and jumped up.

“Baby!”  She stood on her toes and threw her arms around the neck of their visitor.

He was about six feet tall and looked Middle-Eastern or Latino, with dark olive-toned skin and thick jet black wavy hair that was long enough to permit him to pull it back into a short ponytail at his nape.  He had formidable eyebrows and eyes that were dark and intense.  A neat moustache and about a day’s worth of hair shadowing his jaw didn’t quite succeed in disguising his good looks.

“Hey Ethan,” Brad said.

“Hey, how’re you doin’ Brad?”  Ethan hugged Skylar back but looked over her shoulder with curiosity at Trinity. “Who’s this?”

Skylar turned.  “This is Trinity.  Trinity, my boyfriend Ethan.”  She looked at Trinity evenly, the memory of that morning hanging in the air between them.

“Hey Trinity,” Ethan reached over and briefly took her hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

Trinity smiled.  “Hi,” she said.

“What’re you doing here?” asked Skylar.  “We don’t have plans till later.”

“I tried to reach you last night.  Your housemates were all squirrelly.  And you didn’t answer your phone, so . . .”

“It died on me,” Skylar said breezily.  “I went out with Max and we got so wasted . . .”

“Well, I need to change our plan for tonight and I was up here getting some paints so I figured I’d stop by.”

“And I’m glad you did,” Skylar looped an arm through his and led him to the back of the store.

Brad and Trinity watched them walk away.

“Now you’re part of the conspiracy,” Brad said dryly.

Trinity looked at him.

“That boy she had in here this morning wasn’t the first.  Our Skylar’s a total slut, I’m afraid,” he said matter-of-factly.

Read ‘The Engagement Season’ from Tia Kelly BEFORE it Goes on Sale!

The Engagement Season

Tia Kelly just launched a pop up bookstore where you can read her latest novel ‘The Engagement Season’ for FREE!

How does a pop up bookstore work?

It’s like a free web series. Between January 21 – February 9, on select days, a new chapter(s) of ‘The Engagement Season’ will be available online to read for free.

Visit theengagementseason.tiawithapen.com to follow the eight-part contemporary fiction series, a postscript for ‘Playing for Love’ (a Wilkersons in Love novel). If read ‘Playing for Love’, I know you’re curious what became of Kenneth and Paige, and what’s going on with Carlos as well. ‘The Engagement Season’ gives you the low-down!

The store will only be online for a limited time, so catch her new web series before it’s gone because after February 10th, ‘The Engagement Season’ will no longer be free online and will only be available for purchase as a complete e-book from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Click here for EPISODE ONE of ‘The Engagement Season’

Happy Reading!

N.

Stalemate

black couple2“I’d like to meet her.”

“Why?”

“She’s your daughter. More than your daughter. You talk about her all the time. Why wouldn’t I want to meet her?” Malcolm asked.

“I don’t recall banging down the door to meet your two,” Lorna said, reaching over and spearing one of the brussel sprouts on his plate.

“I know. Which I find somewhat insulting if you really want to know the truth, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day. Tonight, I want to know why I can’t meet Riley.”

They were in the Portman Arms. It was a shabby, pretentious little restaurant the next town over from the college where people went to meet when they were having adulterous affairs and inappropriate relationships with their students. Lorna and Malcolm’s  . . . thing wasn’t inappropriate on any level—he was divorced and she was long single—but somehow by suggesting this clandestine meeting place, Lorna felt it kept everything very tongue-in-cheek, not quite as serious. But now he was pressing her, and had been for weeks now, to meet Riley.

“Why do you find it insulting that I don’t want to meet your children?” Lorna asked leaning forward in her seat. “I find families complicate things. Especially kids. Don’t you?”

“I generally don’t think of my children as complications, no,” Malcolm said, taking a bite of his glazed salmon.

Lorna smiled.

This was why she liked him so much. A different, lesser man might have been peeved at a comment that implied that his progeny were anything other than the “joys of his life”, or “apples of his eye” or some other such triteness. Malcolm was many things, but he was not trite. She liked that about him; that and much more.

Lorna had been sleeping with him for almost eight weeks now. That was how she liked to think of it, “sleeping with”, though they did many more things together now than just have sex. Mostly they talked, debated, ruminated, brainstormed. He was her intellectual equal, possibly her superior, and the mixture of competitiveness and awe she felt toward him was the most potent aphrodisiac she had ever experienced in her life. That he was nine years younger than she was not a factor for him, and had grown less significant to her as well over the course of their time together.

They suited each other, and made few demands that the other was not prepared to meet. But lately Malcolm had been making overtures, expressing curiosity about the rest of Lorna’s life, particularly about her daughter and son-in-law. Just when she thought he might have forgotten this ill-conceived quest to make incursions further and further into the rest of Lorna’s life, Riley or Shawn would show up in the media somewhere, and Malcolm’s curiosity would be piqued once again. This time, his interest was revived because Riley had been quoted in The Times (which both irritated Lorna—she had never been quoted in the Times!—and had her ridiculously proud) making some remark that Malcolm found amusing. Asked about the influences for her new contribution to an anthology on race and gender, Riley had quipped that her influence on gender was undoubtedly her mother, Dr. Lorna Terry, who was a “staunch feminist, or as my husband Shawn would call her, a ‘fucking-feminist’.”

Lorna didn’t mind the quip, nor the reference to Shawn calling her a ‘fucking-feminist’. He’d called her as much to her face which Lorna didn’t mind because she adored him and thought of him as a friend and compatriot, and knew full well that he thought the same of her. Well, Malcolm found the comment intriguing, and it only re-lit the flame of his fascination with Riley and her unlikely mate, the world-renowned rapper, blah, blah, blah. Such an old and tedious storyline, in Lorna’s view. Riley and Shawn were a couple in love, whatever the hell that meant, and that was all they were; a story as old as the hills.

He particularly wanted to meet Riley because like Malcolm, she was obsessed with writing about race. Not that Lorna took any issue with an interest in racial politics, but as a twenty-first century topic of focus, she had begun to believe it was all so . . . retrograde. At some point Black folks needed to stop crowing about their Blackness and just . . . get on with it. Of course, Riley would argue—as had Malcolm —that she was just as anal retentive in her insistence at discussing the implications of gender bias in every single little thing.

“Does she even know about me?”

“Does who know about you?” Lorna asked, taking in a mouthful of pasta primavera.

Malcolm held his fork still, aloft and midway to his mouth, and looked at her.

“Okay fine, yes, she knows about you,” Lorna admitted. “But only in the most academic sense.”

“What the hell does that mean? How can she know about me . . . academically? Either she does or she doesn’t.”

“She knows that I’m seeing someone. And she knows that it’s one someone.”

“As opposed to . . ?”

“As opposed to more than one someone, Malcolm,” Lorna said pointedly.

Malcolm paused once again.  “Maybe we should talk about that as well,” he said finally.

Then he took a sip of his pinot.

Uh oh. Here it was. The Monogamy Lecture.

Women generally initiated this talk, but Lorna almost never had. Not since she was about twenty years old. Her theory of relationships was one of Non-Attachment, which was really a misnomer because of course she formed attachments, just loose ones. The kinds that were easy to let go of when the time came. Non-Attachment was far easier if one wasn’t monogamous, and if every relationship was viewed as an opportunity for learning rather than a lifelong partnership.

“What would you like to talk about?” she asked, as if she didn’t know.

“Eve Rogers asked me to dinner the other day.”

Lorna almost spluttered her pasta across the table and onto Malcolm’s very well-tailored, perfectly-fitting beige blazer. Eve Rogers, the pushy English professor who hated women? Well. Lorna couldn’t say she was surprised that Rogers would ask him out; she was however surprised and a little disappointed that Malcolm would consider it. Not because he shouldn’t keep his options open, of course, but because Rogers was so . . . obvious.

“And what did you say?” she asked, taking a delicate bite of penne.

“I was noncommittal,” Malcolm said. He looked at her over the top of his glasses, the way she imagined he looked at his students during his lectures.

“That’s not like you,” she said lightly. “You’re generally rather committal, I find. Why the hesitation?”

“Because I’m otherwise occupied,” he said. “Except the extent of it . . . this occupation . . . eludes me.”

“The occupation being . . ?”

“You.” He put down his wineglass and for a moment gave her his full and complete attention.

So, she was correct. This was the Monogamy Lecture. But leave it to Malcolm T. Mitchell to be so stealthy about it. It was a question wrapped in a threat, swathed in a gently prodding inquiry: “I want to meet your daughter but is it necessary if I’m dating someone else? And by the way are you also dating other people?”

“Malcolm, what we are is what we are. I see no need to define it. If you’d like to go to dinner with Eve Rogers, you should feel perfectly free to do so.”

Why was that so difficult to say? Why did it make her feel like each and every word was choking it’s way past her lips?

“Really?” he asked. Then he looked at her plate. It was almost clean as was his. “Dessert for you? I’m feeling like something sweet tonight.”

Then you’d better get something sweet here, Lorna thought. Because there’ll be no sweetness for you later, that’s for damn sure.

“Just coffee,” she said. “And yes, really.”

Her voice had taken on an edge, though she was trying valiantly to control it.

“So you would have no issue with me taking Eve Rogers to dinner?”

“None,” she enunciated.

May as well let him know now. She was not That Woman. The clingy, I-want-you-for-myself woman. The ‘your-dick-belongs-to-me’, ‘where-were-you-all-evening’, ‘I-need-to-know-where-I-stand’ woman.

She was Lorna Fucking Terry. Asshole.

“Then we may have a problem,” Malcolm said. He raised his hand, trying to get the attention of the waiter.

No shit, Sherlock.

The waiter responded to Malcolm’s summons and took his order for tiramisu and Lorna’s for a double espresso. And then they were alone once again. She wanted to, but could not resist asking:

“What would be the problem?”

Malcolm looked at her, giving her the full Malcolm T. Mitchell He-Man stare. The one he gave her when they were in bed and he wanted her positioned differently than she was. The look he gave before he grabbed her by the ankles and yanked her toward him, with not a hint of gentleness. The look he gave her before he took her like no man ever had.

Malcolm had discerned about her what no other did, which was the paradox that as a feminist, she felt most powerful as a woman when she was with a man who knew how to be a man. There were no kid-gloves in this thing they had—Malcolm gave it to her straight, and always had.

“The problem would be,” he said, “that in telling me I should go to dinner with Eve Rogers, you might be under the impression I would be equally understanding if you were to go to dinner, or anywhere else for that matter, with any man but me.”

Lorna sagged in her seat. Now he’d gone and done it . . .

“Malcolm,” she sighed, her voice kind as though addressing a three-year old. “I wish you hadn’t said that. You had to know that I’m not one to stand for ultimatums. Especially not those that would tell me what to do, and with whom. You had to.”

“Yes,” he said, downing the last of his wine and meeting her gaze evenly. “I do know that. And you had to know that I’m not one to sit blithely by while you squander a good thing on some half-baked notion that you’re polyamorous or some such foolishness. You had to.”

They went back to his house and had sex anyway. Angry sex, because they were both unfulfilled by their conversation at dinner. Neither had gotten what they wanted, and later there would be a reckoning.

Later, but not now.

Not now because the challenge Malcolm issued turned her on. Lorna was certain she was going to have to leave him, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t revisit, just one more time, the heady, achy, exhilarating feeling of being taken by a man who knew exactly how to take her.

As soon as they made it inside, they were shoving each other against walls, pulling aside clothing, nipping at necks, nipples, stomachs, thighs. Wide-open mouthed kisses, thrusting pelvises, grasping and grappling hands, noisy climaxes.

Afterwards, Lorna let him talk her into going back with him into his bedroom. The wine at dinner had done her in. She wanted to close her eyes for only a few minutes before shaking Malcolm awake and having him drive her home to sleep in her own bed. The idea, of course, was that once she was there she would simply disappear from his life. Avoiding him would not be too difficult. He was all the way across campus most of the time and their schedules did not coincide. They were able to have time together only because they made time. She would stop.  That was the plan. No more time, no more Malcolm.

But when Lorna opened her eyes again, it was morning, and bright sunlight was bathing the stark white sheets in Malcolm T. Mitchell’s bed. And he was lying partially atop her, his limbs intertwined with hers, and her arm was wrapped about him, his face buried in her neck, and she didn’t want to move, and didn’t want to disappear from his life, nor have him disappear from hers.

Shit.

Read how Lorna and Malcolm met in Forty-Six. And to learn more about her daughter and son-in-law, check out ‘Commitment‘, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Solo #6: People You Don’t See

ShadowsFrom my days of considering murder-mystery as a genre . . .

Check out my other Solos here.

There are two types of people in the world – people you notice and people you don’t. I am one of people you don’t. Some would consider this a curse, but not me. I consider it a gift.

It’s amazing what you see when no one seems to see you. Like the fact that Cindy Palumbo was having an affair with her husband’s brother. He came over when Mr. Palumbo was out of town, which he is a lot, being a truck driver and all. I knew she was a hussy the minute I met her. You ask me how I knew? Been working in a library for fifteen years and in the quiet I learned to pay attention to how people act, rather than what they say. I know when a kid is about to try to slip a DVD into their backpack, or some guy is planning to sit at a table just to pick up a pretty girl. And I knew Cindy Palumbo was no good by the way her eyes danced around the crowd at the first neighborhood picnic he brought her to, the way she seemed to scan the faces for an attractive man and drift oh-so-casually in his direction when she found one. I knew by the way she became distant and wooden around other pretty women. Disliking the competition, is my guess.

Mr. Palumbo parks his rig on the street in front of his house. It takes up three spots at least, but no one minds because he’s such a nice man. In the winter he shovels my driveway without me asking. I tried to pay him once and he looked honestly insulted.

Aw c’mon Aggie, he said. What’re neighbors for?

He calls me ‘Aggie’, which makes me feel ancient. I’m only forty-three, but I guess a woman my age, living alone and with no kids must seem matronly. It doesn’t help to have an old-fashioned name like Agnes. I think he’s probably closer to my age than to his wife’s, which might be the problem. When he left, Cindy Palumbo strutted her stuff in the front yard in tiny cut-off shorts, pretending to prune bushes. Her tops low-cut and so tight you’d wonder how she could take a breath. Within hours, the brother-in-law shows up in his flashy sports car. He goes in and stays awhile. When he comes out, he’s grinning like a Cheshire cat. Disgusting, the both of them. I don’t think Mr. Palumbo likes his brother much, but I don’t know that for sure.

But affairs are pretty tame stuff.  Christine Turner who lives in 5306 with her husband and two kids has an eating disorder. Her house is always overrun with teenagers because the daughter is real popular, so Christine sometimes purges outside, directly into the trash can. She looks around first, up and down the street and up at the Bells’ windows next door in 5304 and then she upchucks, right into the can and replaces the lid. Afterwards she pulls out a handkerchief and daintily wipes the corners of her mouth like someone at tea with the Queen of England. If you looked at Christine Turner, you would never know it either, because she is Miss Prim and Proper for sure, all pulled together, all the time with her little twinsets and low-heeled pumps.

Judd, her eighteen year old son does drugs. A car comes by every other night or so, after his parents and sister are probably in bed, and he goes out to the curb and gets something which he slips into his pocket. It’s a nice car; one of those foreign ones. I think the dealer is another kid at the high school. I could call the police, but then people would know I’d been looking, and then they would start looking at me. Most evenings I sit at the bay window in my living room and the blinds are open just a smidge. I don’t mean to watch, but the amount of action is just unbelievable. Real life trumps television any day of the week.

Cecil Parker in 5312 beats his wife. I would be surprised if I was the only person who’d figured that one out. She is as nice-looking a woman as you could ever hope to see in real life and up close, with a creamy complexion and soft brown hair that always looks like something out of a shampoo ad. She wears long sleeves all year long and sunglasses even on cloudy days. When she says hello, her head is always bowed as though she expects you to just as soon reach out and strike her as tell her good morning. One night I heard thumping sounds coming from their place so loud that I thought for sure he would kill her. He had to have been flinging her back and forth against the wall to be making sounds like that. I reached for the phone and dialed 911 but couldn’t go through with it and hung up. And don’t you know someone called me back? Apparently they keep track of stuff like that – hang ups to 911 – and have to check back to make sure there wasn’t a real emergency and to warn you about crank calling if you’re some kid with nothing else better to do.  Well, I can tell you, that was the last time I ever did that. That night I told them I thought I heard a prowler but it turned out to be a neighbor looking for his cat outside.

But Cecil Parker’s wife wasn’t the one who turned up dead, was she?

And let me tell you, the murder didn’t stop Cecil Parker’s wife-beating schedule, not one bit.  I don’t think he goes through that stage you see in movies and on television, where there’s remorse and flowers and tears. I think he beats up on her just as routinely as some men have a beer after a hard day’s work. Someone ought to do something about that.

The Friday they discovered the body, I worked late. There was a book-signing for ‘Song of the Desert’, that god-awful memoir from that woman who moved to the Sahara and married a nomadic tribesman. I don’t think the library ought to sponsor book signings but I suppose we’ve stooped to the level of competing with bookstores now. I was there monitoring the crowd and making sure the fans didn’t linger too long after getting their autographed copy of the book and believe me, it was quite a task. That kind of book always draws out the aging hippie crowd, the types who fantasized about doing something equally adventurous but only got as far as Yosemite National Park, married a guy from their hometown, settled down and bought a Volvo station wagon.

I got home around nine-thirty and all of Mason Avenue was cordoned off and there were cops and cop cars everywhere. I had to show my driver’s license before they would let me in and then they told me I should stay inside and that someone would be by to talk to me. No one came that night and by the next morning most of the police cars were gone, and there was just a crime scene investigation van parked outside. As they prepared to leave for work, some of the neighbors were standing around gossiping, talking about what they had or hadn’t seen. Funny thing about it was that when I’d gotten home the night before, I ate my dinner and went straight to bed. Not used to working late and all. You would think that I would be at my window the one time something big had actually happened, but I wasn’t. Wasn’t too shocked  about it, I guess. Surprised maybe, but not shocked.

Why wasn’t I shocked?  It’s been what I’ve been talking about all along.  There are lots of secrets on Mason Avenue, and I know most of them. Now if you ask me would I have expected a murder, I would have to say no. But I guess what I mean is that people are never what they seem. They are more interesting and mysterious than anything I ever read in a book or saw on television.

Someone finally came to talk to me the next evening. He was a young uniformed officer and his female partner. I think his name was Daniels and her name was Goldstein; I don’t have great recall for names of people, just of book titles. They asked whether I knew “the victim” and what, if anything I had seen. I told them I was at work when it happened, and they asked me why I thought that, whether I had some sense of when it happened. Daniels and Goldstein were young, obviously hadn’t been on the job for too long. The notepad that Goldstein used to take notes looked brand new, as did her shoes. I figured they were recent graduates of the academy and canvassing the neighbors was busy work they were being given. It seemed to me that what the neighbors might or might not have seen should be more than busy work and that they should send out real detectives to ask the questions, and I told them so. That annoyed Goldstein, and after that she was very snippy with me.

“I have no clue when it happened,” I told them. “I just heard some of my neighbors talking about it, that’s all.”

“Who did you hear talking about it?” Goldstein asked, her pen poised above paper. “What are their names?”

“Oh, everyone,” I said.

“Did you hear anyone in particular speculate about when the murder occurred?” Daniels asked.

“Murders don’t ‘occur’,” I said. “People commit murders.”

Goldstein’s lips tightened into a purse but Daniels pressed on.

“Did you hear anyone in particular speculate about when the murder was committed?”

“Yes. I think it was Robert Nelson in 5313.”

Goldstein scribbled the name and address in her pad.

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell us? Anything you think might be important.”

“I have no idea what might be important,” I said. “I’ll leave that to the professionals like you. If you have a direct question, please ask it and I’ll do my best to answer.”

That made Daniels smile a little and I decided that I liked him, but not his partner who seemed like a real piece of work.

About a half hour after they left, someone rang my bell. It was my next door neighbor the wife-beater. He said there was an impromptu block meeting at the Turners’ in fifteen minutes and did I want to come. I said I would and he left, crossing over to the other side of the street to knock on the Rendells’ door. I spent the fifteen minutes pulling myself together and having a quick cup of coffee.

At the Turners’, there was standing room only in the living room. Almost every family on the block was represented by at least one person, but more often two. There was a plate of pastries that looked hastily thrown together for the occasion, and a stack of papers cups next to a punch bowl on the coffee table.

“Well, something awful and unprecedented has happened in our little community,” Blake Turner said, opening out the meeting. “Christine and I were shocked, as were all of you I’m sure.  So we thought it would be a good idea to invite folks over to talk about it and see where we go from here.”

“I say we revisit the idea of hiring a private security firm,” someone said from the sidelines.

I couldn’t see who because I was sitting on the sofa and most people were behind me. I was one of the few who’d made it to the meeting precisely on time.

“Now everyone knows it’s unlikely to be some crazed killer roaming around, right?”

This came from Reed Cook. He was an architect and a divorcee who lived alone in 5301. He dated a lot and brought women home almost every weekend, rarely the same woman in a row. Some of the neighborhood women talked about him like he was a god, but he was a little too European in his style for my taste. All those close-fitting, narrow-legged jeans and tight shirts.

“What are you saying, Reed?” someone else piped in.

“It’s not likely to be a stranger is all I’m saying,” Reed responded.

This caused a wave of murmurs that Blake Turner tried to calm by putting up a hand.

“Look,” he said, “there’s no point our speculating about something like that. The police are doing their job. I’m sure many of us have been visited by them already, and I for one am confident that they’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“Are you, Blake? Well, in the meantime, my wife is telling me not to go out running in the morning any longer. And I’m not one hundred percent comfortable having Amy walk to the school bus stop on her own. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s not the community I pay all these damn taxes to live in.”

That was Mike Steeple who said that. He was the kind of guy who always referred to his wife and conversations they’d had, but she never seemed to speak for herself. I looked over my shoulder and she was standing right next to him, nodding earnestly and wringing her hands. It was then that I noticed that none of the women had spoken, myself included. That was typical of Mason Avenue meetings though. Dominated by the voices of men.  I got a little resentful right then if you want to know the truth. I was part of the problem, though. I routinely let them all get the better of me, these loud-mouthed, testosterone-driven cretins. They took liberties – having parties and letting their guests park in my driveway, borrowing my lawnmower without asking and thinking it was okay just because they brought it right back – just because they were men.

As I sat there, listening to the meeting spiral out of control and become a cacophony of male voices, I thought about Cindy Palumbo who’d been stabbed what we’d all heard was more than thirty times, and left to bleed to death on her bathroom floor. She might have been a floozy, but she didn’t deserve that. And now these men were mostly concerned about property values and having to curtail their exercise regimen. Well, maybe Blake Turner was right and the police would get to the bottom of it, but in that moment, I wasn’t so sure.  What could they learn about Mason Avenue that I didn’t already know? Where could they go without alerting someone who was perhaps the guilty party?  I, on the other hand, could go just about anywhere. People didn’t ever notice me.

Like I said; it’s a gift.

Get to know Shayla . . .

ShaylaFROM ‘SECRET’:

It was almost an hour later and Shayla sat staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair stood upright, wiry and springy, away from her skull like a cartoon character who’d stuck their finger into an electrical outlet. It was as uneven as she’d feared, and a little dry. And long, but not nearly as frightening as she expected. Whenever she’d gotten her braids redone—about every seven weeks or so—she never paid attention when they were removed, never even looked in the mirror until the job was done. This was the first time in two years that she’d taken a good long look at her own hair. Longer, in fact, because before the braids, she’d used a relaxer on her hair and had since she was thirteen.

She stared for a moment more and then reached up to test the texture, raking her fingers over her scalp.

Oooh. That felt good.

Next to her, Trey smiled. “I like it,” he said.

Shayla laughed out loud. “You’re nuts if you think I’m going to leave it like this,” she said.

Trey’s face fell. “What’re you going to do to it?”

“Well for tonight, wash and moisturize and hope to God I remember how to do a fishbone braid or something so I don’t look like a lunatic at this party tonight. And then tomorrow I’m going to a hairdresser and get a trim and . . .  I don’t know, but something.” She shook her head, still not taking her eyes off her reflection. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

“I’m glad I did,” he said. And then he nodded. “I can see you now.”

Shayla’s eyes met his in the mirror and they stared at each other. Sometimes when they looked at each other like this, she felt a literal chill over her entire body, like he’d reached inside her and unexpectedly touched some secret place that was not meant to be touched.

“Get out of here,” she said after a few moments. “I have to go wash this bird’s nest and figure out what the heck to do with it for tonight.”

When she was alone, Shayla took a closer look at herself. Her hair was just something short of black. Darker than she remembered it, and certainly much darker than she used to keep it. Back then she used to get highlights. There were long hours in the beauty salon while the hairdresser painstakingly pulled strands through the highlighting cap. Sometimes she would be there for five hours or more, making sure it was absolutely perfect. Justin would pick her up afterwards and he would look her over with appreciation and for that moment in time, she would once again feel as though she pleased him.

Pleasing Justin had once been her primary mission in life. Seeing that smile on his face could alter the trajectory of her entire day. Her entire existence was colored by his moods. If he was happy, she was too and her day would go well. If he was in a bad mood, she knew that it wouldn’t be long before he ensured that she knew it.

In the mirror, her face had changed. Just thinking about him made her look different. Sometimes lately, she caught herself wondering how he was, where he was and whether he ever thought about her. It was hard to imagine that she could ever live a life that did not somehow include thoughts of him, and of them, and of what they had been to each other. It frightened her to think that in that way, he still owned part of her, just as he had then. But that wasn’t exactly right. Back then he hadn’t owned part of her, he’d owned all of her.

FREE Friday June 7th and Saturday June 8th on Amazon!

Happy Reading!

-N-

 

Get to know Tessa . . .

FROM ‘SECRET’:

TessTessa Denison was as beautiful as her brother, with wavy dark hair that hung like black licorice, the same intense almost black eyes and smooth coffee-and-cream complexion. She was in Shayla’s kickboxing class and was to many of the men at Olympus what her brother was to the women. But personality-wise, she couldn’t be more different.

Tessa talked to everyone who crossed her path, and made friends with people within minutes, smiling and laughing her way through her workout, making fun of herself and cracking smart-ass jokes. She had a slender, graceful body that she hid in thick sweatpants that sagged at the seat and basketball jerseys that were way too big, under which she wore a sport bra. The one time she’d worn a close-fitting pair of running tights, just about every man in the room had spent a good portion of the evening checking her out.

But it was all for naught, because as Tessa had explained to Shayla within minutes of her meeting her, she didn’t “do men” and was “as gay as the day is long.” Her type, she told Shayla was “girls who look like boys. Not actual boys.”

FREE Friday June 7th and Saturday June 8th on Amazon!

Happy Reading!

-N-

Bad News, Good News . . .

No need to sugarcoat it — ‘The Art of Endings’ will not be out this month. If you’ve been waiting for it, all I can say for sure is that it will be released this spring. If you read my blog, you know that I write a lot about my ‘process’ that self-important and highly pretentious phrase for how things come out of my head and wind up on the page, and ultimately in your hands.

So ‘my process’ tells me that this one needs to marinate further. I am at a turning point for the characters that could send them irretrievably into the land of cheesy, or into terrain that I far prefer and tend to understand better – honest treatment of difficult issues in a way that is easy to understand but not trivializing. So there it is.

screamingIf you’re a little annoyed with me or a little impatient, then I’m flattered, because it means you like what I’ve done so far. I want to honor that by giving you no less than you deserve — a well thought-out and well-written book.

And if you have no idea about ‘Secret’ (which means this post means nothing to you), I will be making ‘Secret’ – the first part of the narrative that is continued in ‘The Art of Endings’ – free for one day only, Wednesday April 10 (tomorrow). So those who’ve read it, tell a friend . . . and assure them that the sequel will be worth the wait (I hope).

Happy Reading!

-N-