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I Want to Be the Kind of Person Who…

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I’ve been in reactive mode for as long as I can remember; things keep happening, and I do things in response. For years I’ve felt like I’ve only just been keeping my head above water. Now, I know shit happens in life and I can’t necessarily control everything, but I’d really like to break out of that cycle.

Yesterday Sandy and I were looking for a laugh and searched for “how to adult” videos on YouTube, when we came across this.

What I thought was going to be funny ended up really opening my eyes. I don’t think I’ve been victimizing myself, per se, but considering all the trauma I’ve been through, it’s really easy to fall into a trap where I feel like bad things just keep happening to me.

It’s time for good things.

I keep seeing all of these indie authors making it and thinking things like “When is it going to be my turn?” and “What am I doing wrong?” I see friends buying houses and going on vacations, and I wonder if those things will ever happen for me. It’s not my fault that I got sick or that my pain is so debilitating I can’t hold down a “normal” job, but there are things I can control.

In December I got a new phone and one of its features is a bedtime and wakeup time. It’s been a game changer for me. All I had to do was tell it how many hours of sleep I wanted per night, then fiddled around a bit with a dial until I found times that I could live with. Since then, I’ve been going to bed around 11 p.m. and waking up at 8 a.m. almost religiously. I say “almost” because I have it set for weekdays and let myself stay up and sleep in a bit later on weekends. Aside from a few exceptions—painsomnia, events, Stardew Valley or Netflix rabbit holes—I’ve been sticking to this for months. And you know what?

I’ve been much more productive. I sleep better. I have more energy. I’m in a better mood.

I still have pain, I still have fatigue, I’m still sick, but combined with my new meds, I’m in a much better place. And all I did was change one small thing.

Kalyn’s video got me thinking: What if I took things a step further? Rather than stumbling upon and playing with an iPhone feature, I can make some conscious tweaks and improve my life even more. I sat down and thought about the kind of life I want, and I came up with this list:

  • I want to be the kind of person who will write every day.
  • I want to be the kind of person who is able to comfortably pay my bills and buy necessities.
  • I want to be the kind of person who has my own car.
  • I want to be the kind of person who can buy a house.
  • I want to be the kind of person who will regularly treat myself to a manicure and pedicure.

 

This week I wrote every day. I didn’t set a daily word count goal (though I do like to write at least 1K words). I was just happy with myself as long as I wrote. Usually, even if I didn’t feel up to it, the words started flowing after I pecked away at the keyboard for a bit. It didn’t hurt that I’m really enjoying writing Any Other Love. Even though I’d like to write much more, much faster, I’m still making progress. I’m making my way to 25K, then 30K, then 40K… all the way to my projected 70K.

I don’t work on weekends, so I don’t usually write then (but sometimes if I’m really fiending, I “sneak” in some writing). Saturdays and Sundays are mine to do with as I please. Netflix and chilling on my couch in the old fashioned sense of the word? Yep. Playing an obscene amount of Stardew Valley? Yes. Spending time with friends and family? Oh yeah.

Those are two more simple rules that I follow, and it works.

I’m still figuring out a plan for the other things—after all, one doesn’t simply buy a house out of thin air—but they feel achievable using these principles.

What kind of person do you want to be? Let me know in the comments!

Setting Up a Spoonie Couch Office

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Chronically Creative: Creativity and Lifestyle Tips for Spoonies

I say all the time that, while I’d definitely rather not be chronically ill, my disease did shove me onto the path of being an author. Before I got sick, I was only dancing around writing; I wrote for myself and sometimes posted things online, while working 10-16 hours a day as a web designer and social media consultant. When I had to leave the workforce, I started writing full-time. I was laid up most of the time anyway; I might as well be productive.

Since then, I’ve discovered lots of tools and tricks to assist me in my career. I’d like to start sharing them weekly, as well as interviews with other creative spoonies and some lifestyle tips. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I’m kind of terrible at keeping schedules and staying consistent—mostly because being chronically ill is a full-time job in and of itself. So these Chronically Creative posts might not be weekly, but if you enjoy them and find them useful, I’ll try my best to do them as often as possible.

This week I’m sharing how I set up my own couch workstation or office.

Disclosure: The links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. I earn a small commission from your purchase, which goes directly to my writing business. Your support is much appreciated!

Since I’m often laid up on my couch with an ice pack, heating pad, or hell, my electric blanket, I’ve been doing most of my writing there. I’ve had to find a balance between being comfortable and creating an ergonomic setup to prevent any further damage to my joints.

I work on a MacBook Pro, with my couch reclined just enough so that my legs and feet are propped up. Behind my head, I tuck a flat throw pillow for support; otherwise I tend to lean forward, especially when I’m super into what I’m writing. I typically wear my wrist braces while using the computer, and often have my TENS machine handy for a nice massage on whichever joints are being assholes that day. Since painkillers tend to make me loopy or sleepy, I try to use other methods of pain management while working, which I’ll share as well.

Please be sure to consult your own doctor to create the best setup for your individual needs.

Wrist Braces

Over the years I’ve tried many wrist braces, but the only ones I can stand wearing are 3M’s Futuro for Her. I originally found them at Target. Unfortunately, you have to purchase the left and right braces separately—though I do suppose that’s because the average person has arthritis or carpal tunnel in one or the other.

They come in black or pastel blue; mine are somewhere between white and blue because I’ve bleached the hell out of them. My hands tend to get sweaty when I sleep with them on, okay? Not to mention I don’t have washer/dryer hookup in my apartment, so when I’m in a pinch I soak them in a bucket of bleach in my tub.

I can’t recommend these enough. I’ve had them for years and they’re well past due for a retirement and replacement. Previous braces I’ve had were too scratchy or immobilized my fingers too much to type. These keep my wrists straight so that I can continue using my laptop. (Someday I’ll get me a fancy iMac, with its sexy ergonomic keyboard and mouse. Someday!)

Lap Desk

I bought my first laptop back in 2006—a clunky Gateway that I was super proud of. I was living with my grandparents and didn’t have a desk at the time, so I often worked on a TV tray in the living room or propped up in my bed. I finally caved and bought a ridiculously flimsy plastic lap desk at Barnes & Noble. It eventually cracked and I replaced it with a laptop desk on wheels that I could use from the couch. I still needed something for when I was bedridden, though, so I finally broke down and got a new lap desk.

It’s so old, I honestly couldn’t tell you what brand it is or where I got it. Probably Target, because I’m a junkie. Mine is like a vinyl, and not really ideal for keeping your laptop cool. When we got my sweet Biz Noni a laptop, my sister and I bought her a lap desk with a wooden surface. I’m not sure of the brand either, but this one is pretty close, as well as comparable in price.

Between my wrist braces and lap desk, I’ve got the perfect (mostly) ergonomic setup right in my living room. The lap desk can be tucked away behind my accent table, and my laptop can be put away in my office. (Eventually I’ll do a post on my office setup—but first I need to get in there and reorganize, because it’s become a disaster area again since I started working on the couch.)

Ideally, I’d have an iMac on an actual desk, with a nice comfy chair. But this setup works for me for now, and that’s what’s important. Like I said, I also tuck a pillow behind my head to keep from straining my neck and shoulders. Sometimes I take my laptop, desk chair, and Ergobeads wrist rest and work from the kitchen table.

They also make a cushion for your mouse, but I don’t have mine anymore since I haven’t use a mouse in ages. I absolutely love my Ergobeads and highly recommend them, as they’re supportive even if you don’t have wrist braces and are working from a laptop or even using a regular keyboard.

In case you’re curious, this is my office chair.

I originally purchased mine last year from Walmart, which got it from Overstock. It appears to be only available through third-party retailers now. It’s not quite as shaped to my back as I’d hoped, but it’s still pretty comfortable—especially considering it was about $140, which is cheap for an office chair IMHO. I got it to go with the desk my aunt gave me, but unfortunately the seat is too wide, so I usually use it with my writer’s desk hutch thing. Brain fog is hiding the actual name for both desks right now, so I’ll try to update this when it comes to me.

Pain Management

I’m going to keep this section short and sweet, as this post has gone well over 1,000 words and I’d originally planned on it being much shorter.

Because I get a limited supply of Tramadol (not to mention it tends to be binding on the GI system), I try to use non-narcotic pain management during the day. Never mind that Tramadol can make me woozy like I’ve had a glass of wine, and some of the stronger painkillers make me outright loopy or sleepy.

My joint pain is migratory, so it’s important that I have a medicine that can target all of it at once or different tools that I can use in different areas. Hands down, my favorite is my TENS machine. I got mine a couple years ago at the suggestion of my friend Melanie, and it’s been a lifesaver. It’s so small and discreet, I’ve even taken it with me to doctors’ appointments, while running errands, and on trips.

I also have a heating pad that can be used for moist heat, too, using a special insert. I learned to appreciate TENS machines and moist heat packs during physical therapy. While PT didn’t help my hip, those sessions at the end were heavenly.

The cover is removable and washable, and the pad itself is super flexible. I’ve tied it around my waist to use on my lower back, and my leg and waist to use on my hip.

When multiple joints hurt and I’m not going anywhere that I will mind the spicy scent, I use Tiger Balm. My rheumatologist was actually quite pleased to hear that it’s sold here in the States and that I use it frequently.

I prefer the clear balm, because it doesn’t stain and it’s just as potent as the red. It does have a strong scent, though, so I’m not a huge fan of wearing it while out and about.

Last but not least, my longtime go-to for discreet and long lasting pain management are ThermaCare patches and heatwraps. Unfortunately, they stopped making the wrist ones, though I can sometimes find the CVS version. I live by the multi-purpose patches, which work perfectly for my hips.

I like these because the heat doesn’t stop if I have to get up or run out. Though I usually wear them to bed, they’re just as handy during my workday.


Did you find my tips useful? Please let me know! I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know in the comments if you have requests for future Chronically Creative posts.

#TeaserTuesday: Kissing Char

Kissing Char was like being enveloped in the clouds during sunset. Her lips were soft, commanding explosions of pastel orange and red behind Amarie’s eyes as they moved against hers. She melted into her, her hands finding Char’s hips, tugging her closer. She needed more, all of her, all at once.

Here’s another teaser for you from my work in progress, Any Other Love. I wrote this first kiss scene, believe it or not, after dreaming it. I hadn’t yet reached that part in my draft, but I created a separate doc and got it all down before it faded completely.

I’m over 21K into it now, so we’re way past the first kiss. I still don’t have a release date, but if you sign up for my email list you’ll be the first to know (and I’ll be sending an exclusive excerpt soon). Click here to join.

Side note: I’m having a lot of trouble finding stock photos of two women kissing, never mind a white woman with teal hair kissing a Latina with curly hair. If you can recommend any stock photo sites, please let me know in the comments!

Behind the Scenes of ANY OTHER LOVE: The Distancer and the Pursuer

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These two have been giving me a run for my money. When I first started all my pre-writing for Any Other Love—character profiles, plot structure, etc—I thought I had the whole who’s chasing who part down. It seemed pretty cut and dry: my shy little Amarie would be the distancer, and my animated Char would totally be the pursuer. Apparently these two had other plans, because Am was the one to make the first move and now Char is the one who’s hesitating.

Which is why Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” is so perfect for these two.

And I run for miles just to get a taste
Must be love on the brain

According to some psychologists, in every relationship there is a distancer and a pursuer. You can even flip roles from time to time, depending on the circumstances. I’m trying to find a balance between the two, because I don’t want Char and Am flip-flopping throughout the book, driving you crazy. I think I’ve found a rhythm, though, with Am the full-time pursuer and Char very uncertain but also very into her.

On Friday I crossed 20K for this book, which is a huge deal! My wrists haven’t exactly been cooperating—I’m seeing a neurologist soon to be evaluated for carpal tunnel—and I’ve also had a lot on my plate lately. But I managed to check off all of my To Do list for this month, so all of this week will be dedicated to writing.

That first 20K was fueled by A.G. Ferrari coffee, Stash Breakfast in Paris tea, and Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice chai. I typically have one cup of coffee in the morning, then Breakfast in Paris after lunch and my chai in the evening. So far I’ve been mostly listening to SZA, The Pretty Reckless, and Phildel while writing.

Originally I’d hoped to finish the first draft by the end of this month, but I’m only about a third of the way done. It is what it is; all that matters is I’m putting the words down, one day at a time.


Are you on my email list? Join now—I’ll be sending out an exclusive excerpt from Any Other Love in another week or so! Click here.

#FridayReads: Bad Boy, by Elliot Wake

This past week I devoured Elliot Wake’s latest, Bad Boy. As usual, I stayed up late just so I could finish and man was it worth it.

I’ve been on a queer #OwnVoices fic kick lately. Not really on purpose—aside from the lesfic—but reading books featuring queer characters by queer authors feels like coming home, to me. There’s a big part of me that worries about losing my queerness because I married a dude. And I know, I need to shake that shit—especially because I’m the one always telling my lady bi friends that being with a guy doesn’t make them any less queer. Plus… I’m kind of a little rainbow-lonely in IRL. I live in a small town. Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends live in the city or have long moved on to bigger and better places. Not that you need queer friends in your immediate area to be queer. It’s just that I feel the hole in my life where my high school rainbow gang used to be when conversations like “What is pan?” and “You’re married; you can’t be queer!” come up with my straight cis friends and family.

Sometimes I just wanna be around people who get it. Who get me.

Anyway.

Bad Boy.

I highlighted a lot in this book. I nodded so many times while reading. I also learned much about how men process emotions, thanks to Ren. Even without the plot, Bad Boy is a good read. It explores what it means to be a feminist man, and what it means to be a man in general. It’s not about which “bits”—as my favorite robot Mr. Pendulum would say—you’ve got.

I also loved the line about how every touch from a woman is a communication, a question. As usual, Elliot Wake knocks it out of the park with his prose. Each sentence is a true delicacy.

The plot is fast-paced, though, so I took lots of breaks to just let things sink in. Especially because the main character Ren is a survivor of rape, and he must confront the “man” who raped him. I don’t think there are any triggering scenes, per se, but every time the subject comes up I’m going to be automatically thinking about my own experiences. Bad Boy truly highlights how completely it can shatter a person.

Bad Boy also carries a common thread through Black Iris and Cam Girl.

Vlog star Renard Grant has nothing to prove: he’s got a pretty face, chiseled body, and two million adoring video subscribers. Plus the scars on his chest and a prescription for testosterone. Because Ren is transgender: assigned female at birth, living now as male. He films his transition and shares it bravely with the world; his fans love his honesty and positivity.

But Ren has been living a double life.

Off-camera, he’s Cane, the muscle-bound enforcer for social justice vigilante group Black Iris. As Cane, he lets his dark side loose. Hurts those who prey on the disempowered. Indulges in the ugly side of masculinity. And his new partner, Tamsin Baylor, is a girl as rough and relentless as him. Together, they terrorize the trolls into silence.

But when a routine Black Iris job goes south, Ren is put in the crosshairs. Someone is out to ruin his life. He’s a bad boy, they say, guilty of what he punishes others for.

Just like every other guy: at heart, he’s a monster, too.

Now Ren’s got everything to prove. He has to clear his name, and show the world he’s a good man. But that requires facing demons he’s locked away for years. And it might mean discovering he’s not such a good guy after all.

This is one of those books that will stay with me, that I’ll keep thinking about long after I’ve finished.

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5 Secret Strengths in Being a Wallflower

When you think of strong female characters, the loud and outspoken girls like Katniss are the ones who spring to mind—not quiet and introverted girls like my Sade. There’s a certain strength in being a wallflower, though. I didn’t know that during my teen years when I was all big eyes and closed lips, soaking in everything around me but being powerless to stop it. Silence is often interpreted as weakness, but it’s also the quiet ones who have the coolest secret strengths.

We See and Hear Everything

People either don’t notice us or don’t interpret our presence as threatening, so they tend to bare all within earshot. Or they’ll walk right up to us and spill their darkest secrets as if we’re old friends. Since we’re introverts, we don’t usually abuse this information, but we know that it might come in handy later.

We’re also the ones who will find your lost earring or notice that you left your coffee pot on before we head out with you. We make great artists, counselors, detectives and, of course, friends.

We Give Great Advice

Because we’ve almost literally seen and heard it all, we’re able to give close to qualified advice on almost everything. Having boyfriend troubles? We know what to do. Don’t know where your fifth period class is? We’ve got that covered too. We know the ins and outs of a wide variety of subjects, including many useless things as well.

We Master Skills Quickly

We’re super observant, so we pick things up fast. Show us once or twice, and we’ll take it from there. We often come up with systems, too, getting it done more efficiently. Introverts have a lot of interests and are really good at many different things.

We are Walking Lyrics Traps

Not only can we remember this morning’s lecture—or at least take detailed notes—but we also have a bad habit of memorizing every single song ever. Including the really bad ones. Especially those.

We often have photographic memories and can tell you the exact shade of our childhood bedroom walls. Or how many streaks were in our favorite Barbie doll’s hair. Ask us to compare dresses from store to store in the mall, and we don’t even need to take a pic with our phones.

We Make People Feel Better

We put people at ease with our presence alone. We’re good listeners and friends feel comfortable talking to us. Even though we often feel like we didn’t do anything to help, just being there is more than enough. It’s also not too draining on us, so it’s a win/win.

Being a wallflower is pretty kick-ass, if you ask me.


Save her friendship, or save her best friend…

Shy girl Sade just wants to get through sophomore year without her moms grounding her or her little brother converting her to his newfound religion. But when her best friend Jackie starts acting weirder than everyone in her family combined, Sade discovers there are just some secrets she can’t keep.

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Kick Ass Girls of YA

We’re celebrating kick-ass girls all month long with a blog hop and other events. Check out the events schedule, then stop by the other blogs in the hop!

Step by Little Step

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I’ve been taking Plaquenil and Prednisone for my UCTD for over four months now. For a little while, I was having some moderate anxiety: fatigue, feeling frozen, heaviness in my legs. I thought it might be Plaquenil (or even Tramadol withdrawal), but I haven’t had any of those symptoms in a while and I’m still taking Plaquenil (with Tramadol as needed). I think I might’ve freaked myself out about it, too, and it sort of became this brutal cycle. But my anxiety is relatively tame and my meds are working—all good things.

The temperatures and barometric pressure have been all over the place lately, as usual in New England. It snowed in March and we’ve been getting rain this month, along with random hot days. This has been killing me, but the difference now is—thanks to Plaquenil and Prednisone—I just take some Advil and Tramadol, and it’s enough. Usually, anyway.

Sometimes it’s not.

I’ve been having lots of trouble with my wrists and hands lately. For the past decade, I’ve struggled with severe pain in all of the joints in my hands, but this is a different ball game entirely. For quite some time now, I’ve been getting numbness in my ring and little fingers (which I’ve been ignoring, haha). In the past few weeks, though, it’s progressed to burning, tingling, and icy-weird-ness in both of my wrists and all throughout my hands. It sounds like carpal tunnel, which could easily be caused by the inflammation in my tendons.

I kinda always knew this would happen, eventually. I mean, I am an author, and before that I was a web designer. There are few hours of the day that I’m not hacking away at the keyboard. I guess I just thought I was years away from having to worry about it. Then again, the possibility was mentioned to me a decade ago, so I guess it would’ve been years away then. 😂

The only thing that really seems to help are my wrist braces, which I usually try to wear while using the computer for long periods of time. For the longest time, I was sleeping in them and that seemed to help, but I’d stopped because my wrists weren’t hurting anymore. Now I’m back to wearing them again, and I’m even bringing them everywhere with me because I need them almost all the time. It’s not a big deal, per se, but it’s kind of odd—to me, anyway—how quickly this has progressed. I had the numbness for like a year or so and then bam! Tingling and burning.

I’ve been meaning to ask my rheumatologist, but my appointment keeps getting bumped back for one reason or another. I see him this week, though, so we’ll see what he says.

Felt like a selfie, so. #disabledandcute

A post shared by Elizabeth Barone (@elizabethbarone) on

Aside from weather-related flareups and possible CTS, I’m doing okay. I’ve been super tired lately, so I’m wondering if my B12, D, or iron levels are low again—spoiler alert: they usually are—but even that’s manageable with cat naps, afternoon teas, and my old fallback Emergen-C.

I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead as the weather continues to warm and I’m able to get out and do more. Last week I went to the zoo with Sandy and the kids; a few weeks before that, on a random nice winter day, I walked a mile.

Slowly but surely I’m getting my life back.


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Quoted on TODAY Show and Washington Post

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Sometimes something happens and you can feel that it’s A Big Deal—a milestone. Last night I found out through a couple people on Twitter that I’d been quoted in the media.

It’s super important to me that people with chronic illnesses have our voices heard, that we aren’t erased or romanticized. Seeing my words in the media—having my voice heard on this level—is surreal in a way that I can’t even explain. It’s also made me stop and think about a couple things.

I never knew I’d be an activist. Sure, I’ve always been passionate. (Just ask my parents and partner.) I’ve also long been shy and, for quite a while, lost my voice. It wasn’t until more recently that I’ve begun speaking out. I want awareness for people with chronic illnesses. I want able-bodied people to treat us better, to stop judging us by how we look or don’t look. I want better accessibility. (Yesterday I went to a restaurant and their ladies’ restroom barely fit me, never mind a wheelchair.) I want so very many things… and so I think I have to sit down and come up with some goals, focus my efforts a bit more than just sharing my story and speaking out when I come across something wrong. I want to do more.

It’s also made me stop and think about how much my words matter. As a writer, I think I’m maybe a bit more aware of the weight of my words. Seeing them in the media puts it into a whole different perspective, though. I’ve always strived to be myself on social media; I’m going to swear and share cat pics, but I’m also not going to join the mob with pitchforks when there’s a tweetstorm. I want to be professional but firm, serious but kind.

It’s truly surreal to see your words out in the wild, to know that they were on how many thousands of TV screens in an instant. My life hasn’t changed—I didn’t get an influx of followers or anything like that—but in 140 characters, I helped people see how that Cosmopolitan article was focusing on the wrong inspirational story. I’ve been part of the conversation for years, but I feel like this week, I was truly heard—along with so many others in the community.

Hey, I wonder if maybe now Washington Post will accept my article about opioids being a lifesaver for people with chronic pain. 😉

#TeaserTuesday: Maybe She Needed to Let Go

It wasn’t like she really could ever have her own restaurant.

Maybe that was what she was supposed to do, though.

Maybe she needed to let go of the familiar and jump into the unknown.

In more ways than one.

This week I’m hoping to cross the 15-20K line for Any Other Love. I’ve had a lot going on lately: the passing of my Aunt Gayle, several family get togethers, my godson’s surgery… I’ve been exhausted, and laying it all out like this, it’s no wonder why. So maybe I won’t finish this book by the end of April like I’d hoped, but I’m still plugging away.

Also, I’ve decided I need to work a steamy shower scene into this book. I haven’t seen a single one in all of the f/f romance I’ve been reading. It’s a tragedy, truly.

In the meantime, join my email list for updates. You’ll be the first to know when I have a release date.

Crazy Comes in Threes: Chapter 5

Children raced around the basketball court. They screeched and laughed. Quinn winced. She wondered how anyone could be awake at eight in the morning.

“Okie dokie, Monkey,” she told Tara. “Have a good day. I’ll pick you up this afternoon.” They had slept at the house, but Quinn itched to return to the dorms. Her roommates were probably wondering where she was. She didn’t want to lose her dormitory privileges, and Juleyka, at least, seemed like the type to tell the resident assistant that Quinn wasn’t sleeping there. A glance at the gas gauge told her that she wasn’t commuting at all if she didn’t stop and fuel up.

Tara slid out of the car and ran into the throng of students. Quinn left the school grounds and headed to the closest gas station. It wasn’t the cheapest place, and their gas wasn’t great, either, but it would get her to campus. She pulled up to a pump. Without even looking, she opened the glove compartment. Her fingers closed on the thin plastic of her mother’s credit card. Biting down on her lip, she slid out of the car.

“This constitutes as an emergency,” she told herself. She swiped the card. The pump beeped shrilly at her. “Okay, jeez.” She went to press the regular unleaded button when she realized the screen wasn’t telling her to choose. The message flashed on the screen and then disappeared, but she read enough: Card Declined.

Sucking in a deep breath, she swiped it again. The screen gave her the same result.

“What the hell?” she demanded of the pump.

An elderly woman gassing up on the opposite side gave her a dirty look.

“Sorry,” Quinn mumbled.

“Should have paid your bill on time,” the woman said, sneering.

Quinn bit her tongue. She held the card up, as if to swipe again. Her shoulders slumped. No matter how many times she tried, it would just be a waste of time. Her mother simply hadn’t paid the bill.

“Or she went over her limit,” she said as she walked around to the driver’s side. Sometimes, late at night, Nancy sat on the couch watching home shopping channels. Every so often, packages arrived in the mail. Quinn never questioned them before. It was none of her business. But a real emergency was occurring and she couldn’t get gas. She squeezed the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white and her hands hurt. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the old woman shaking her head and climbing into her own car.

She relaxed her grip. Inhaling, she closed her eyes. She leaned back in the driver’s seat. Her chest rose and fell as she breathed slowly. It had been a while since she did any yoga. Maybe she should stop in for a class later. She had a couple punches left on her dance studio card.

Her shoulders tensed again. She wouldn’t be going anywhere unless she got more gas. She started the engine and headed home. There had to be change somewhere in the house. She only needed five or ten dollars to get to the university and then pick up Tara.

“I can’t miss any more class,” she said through gritted teeth as she turned into her street. She had emailed her algebra professor but he hadn’t responded yet.

She hopped out of the car before the engine fully shut off. The late summer sun beat down on the lawn. If things were different, she might be slick with tanning oil, laying out, trying to catch the last few rays for her tan.

Inside, the house was cool. She locked the door behind her. Standing in the living room, she tried to remember where her mother usually stashed her change. There used to be a jar on top of the refrigerator. She crossed into the kitchen and pulled a chair over.

“Jackpot,” she said, spying the jar. She pulled it down. Dust bunnies rained on her head. She sneezed. After hopping back down, she dumped the jar on the counter. It was mostly pennies, but there were some quarters. There was even a half dollar. She counted it out. When she finished, only five dollars sat on the table. It might get her to school, but it definitely wouldn’t get her all the way back to pick up Tara.

She left the change on the table and climbed the stairs. Her mother’s bedroom door stood closed. She hadn’t gone into it since her tour with Christopher, and even then, she only stayed in the doorway. She stood just inside the room. Nancy had made her bed that morning. It seemed strange, that her mother could be so normal and then so crazy.

She hung her head. That wasn’t fair, or nice. Her mother had a mental health disorder and needed help. She wasn’t crazy.

But the knife sliced through her memories. The stitches on her arm stung. She clutched her arm to her chest as though the wound was fresh.

Sighing, she turned her attention back to the hunt for change. Most people threw spare change on or in their nightstands. She checked the mismatched tables next to her mother’s consignment bed. Nothing.

She checked on top of Nancy’s dresser next. Only framed photos of her and Tara greeted her hands. Her fingers left faint trails in the dust. She would have to try to remember to give the room a quick dusting and vacuuming. If her mother came home to a dirty room, she would freak out.

Quinn paused. She wondered if her mother really would come home. She flopped down on the bed. Fifteen days seemed like such a long time, and she didn’t know how long a more permanent place would be. From what she gathered, it all depended on the judge and how unstable Nancy seemed. Her legs dangled off the edge of the mattress.

“The mattress,” she said. She jumped up. People kept money stuffed into their mattresses all the time. She lifted it away from the box spring, her arms trembling. At first, she saw nothing. Then her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She reached in with one hand and pulled the object out.

The mattress fell with a puff of dust. She coughed and slid backward, her find cradled in her lap. After blinking a few times to clear her eyes, she looked down at the leather journal.

She flipped through it, eyes scanning for loose dollar or five dollar bills. Tucked into the pages about halfway through was a twenty and some ones. It was probably her mother’s emergency cigarette money. Quinn slipped the bills into her pocket. The journal remained open on her lap.

She tried not to look, but words began jumping out at her. The handwriting was definitely Nancy’s. The words looped in wide arcs.

“I hate Stan for killing himself, and I hate myself because it was all my fault,” she had written.

Quinn blinked at the words. Before she could stop herself, she read more.

The words started off neat, the meaning behind them sharp. Further down the page, her mother’s handwriting became almost illegible, the loops more of a scrawl. The last sentence was Quinn’s best guess.

She bit down on her lip. If the judge or Nancy’s doctors at the hospital saw her journal, they would almost definitely put her away.

She rubbed at her temples. By right, she should turn the journal in immediately. Grief did funny things to people, though. Nancy blaming herself for Stan’s death wasn’t all that crazy. At least, Quinn didn’t think so. It might look bad to a judge, though.

Her fingers flipped through the pages. Nancy’s words blurred by on fast forward. Phrases lurched out at her: “not a loving wife,” “made him do it,” “should kill myself.”

Quinn stopped at the page after that last phrase. Her eyes scanned through. Tears singed her sinuses. In thick felt pen, Nancy had outlined a detailed suicide plan. She even wrote about how the girls—Quinn and Tara—would at least get her life insurance.

“I am a horrible mother,” she wrote. “I don’t even love them. How can I love them when I don’t even love myself?”

Quinn slammed the journal shut. The sound of the thick pages slapping against each other, sandwiched between leather, echoed through her mind along with her mother’s prose.

“She needs help,” she sobbed. Her cheeks itched. She pressed the pads of her fingers to them. Her hands came back wet. Using her tee shirt, she dried her face and eyes. She sucked in long, deep breaths to still her mind. If she gave the journal to Christopher, Nancy would be locked away in a facility for a long time. There would be no end to her current reign as Tara’s caretaker. She had no idea how she would be able to stay at the dorms if her mother were transferred to a more long-term facility. At least, as things stood, Nancy would be home in less than two weeks. It could all be over soon.

Maybe she didn’t have to turn the journal over. Maybe her mother was doing well. Maybe the doctors at the hospital had figured out a treatment plan. She didn’t know for sure. It would take one phone call to find out.

She swallowed hard. Maybe she didn’t need to know. There was a strong possibility that Nancy hadn’t improved at all. Knowing could only make things worse. The knowledge would force her to take action. Deep down, she wanted to keep the journal to herself. The thoughts in those pages belonged to her mother, and only her mother. Guilt festered in the pit of her stomach like acid eating at a battery. She felt like a voyeur.

On the other hand, if she called and Nancy was doing well, she could just tuck the journal back where she found it. Maybe someday, years later, she could find a way to tell her mother that Stan’s death wasn’t her fault. That task felt as impossible as getting Tara to stop listening to that stupid boy band, ESX.

The first step, though, was to find out how their mother was doing. Everything else would fall into place after.

“It is what it is,” Nancy always said. Quinn would have to let things play out the way they were supposed to.

She jumped to her feet and jogged downstairs, where she left her phone. She held it in the palm of her hand for a moment, then  dialed the behavioral disorder unit’s number.

A woman with a bored voice answered.

“Hi,” Quinn said. “I’m calling to inquire about my mother.” Her heart pounded in her throat. She had never called the hospital. She hadn’t even thought about it. If Nancy found out Quinn hadn’t asked to speak with her, she would be furious. At the very least, she would be hurt.

“What’s your mother’s name?” the woman asked.

Quinn gave her the information.

“Hold on a moment.”

A second later, elevator music kicked in. Quinn wrinkled her brow.

Luckily, the woman came back on. “You’ll have to call back.” Static nearly drowned out her words.

“Why?” Quinn asked. Her hands clenched into sweaty fists. What Nancy called gerbil thoughts wheeled through her head. She struggled to put them into words. Swallowing hard, she made herself ask. “Was she released?” Her voice cracked.

“No,” the woman said. “Your mother is currently in solitary.” The phone line crackled.

“Why?” Quinn said again. The living room seemed to close in on her. She sat down on the couch.

The woman’s words were garbled. “She’s been refusing to take her meds. She assaulted a nurse today. You can try calling back tomorrow.” The connection broke.

Quinn dropped the phone into her lap and stared at it.

Her mother was not getting better.

Nancy seemed, in fact, to be getting worse.

She squeezed her eyes shut. Bringing the journal to Christopher would seal her mother’s fate, but it might also help her get better. They only needed to prove that Nancy was a danger to herself or other people. The hospital record’s from Quinn’s stitches and the police report from the incident might not be enough.

She blew out a long breath, stirring her hair from her face.

Slowly, she stood. With the journal tucked under her arm, she left the house.

She drove to the gas station first, then headed to the Department of Children and Families offices. A secretary informed her that Christopher was currently in a meeting.

“Would you mind waiting? He’ll only be another ten or fifteen minutes,” the secretary said.

Quinn nodded.

As she sat outside of his office, she realized she was missing yet another full day of classes. Her mother’s illness was once again complicating her life. She swallowed back the bitterness. Nancy couldn’t help it, she reminded herself

Christopher rounded the corner. He smiled, then frowned. She tried to smile back, but instead stood shakily. She held out the journal.

“What’s this?” he asked. Then, seeing the expression on her face, he gestured to the interior of his office. “Come on in.”

They sat down. His office was small but tidy. A bonsai tree sat on the window sill. His chairs were worn but comfortable. She crossed her legs, and held the journal out to him again.

He took it. “What is it?” he asked again.

She told him. Tears drizzled down her cheeks as she repeated some of the things she read. Christopher passed her a box of tissues. She pressed one to her eyes, but continued talking. She left out the money and her desperate search so she could get gas. If he asked, she decided she would just tell him she was cleaning. DCF didn’t need to know that she was broke.

He listened without saying anything. When she finished, he nodded. “I know this was a hard decision for you to make,” he said. “Your mom will be better off in the long run, though.” He set the journal down on the oak surface of his desk. He pulled her and Tara’s folder from a filing cabinet. He slid a sheet of paper to her.

“What’s this?” she asked, staring at it. She thought she already knew. She leaned forward. The edge of the desk bit into the soft and sweaty palms of her hands.

“Your temporary legal guardianship order,” Christopher said. “I told you my friends were fast. This grants you the ability to make decisions for Tara. Don’t abuse it.” He winked at her.

She only blinked back. They sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity. She watched the seconds tick by on the clock on the wall behind the social worker. Everything felt hazy, as though she were in a dream. Her mother was probably going to be locked away in a mental health facility, and she was going to become her little sister’s new mother. She pressed her hands even harder into the wood. The sensation brought her back.

Christopher gave her a gentle smile. “Do you have any questions for me?”

She swallowed hard. Her mind was as blank as a white board in the classroom of a ghost town. Suddenly she found herself thinking of the fake towns the United States government set up while performing nuclear testing. Everything was staged. Families at tables, employees at meetings. Mannequins stood posed in an infinitely soundless world while a mushroom cloud bloomed overhead. Then the dust blew everything away.

She shook herself. She needed to be careful. If she thought about depressing things, she might find herself not far behind Nancy. Then Tara would have no one.

She needed to be an adult. She needed to ask the right questions.

She didn’t know what the right questions were.

“It’s okay,” the social worker said suddenly. “I’m sure you’re overwhelmed. If you think of anything, you can call me.” He smiled.

She stood on legs that felt as bloodless as the oak of his desk. Her head nodded, but she did not remember wanting to nod.

He started to walk her out, but as they reached the hall, she stopped suddenly. The right question surfaced in her mind.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

He looked at her. The seconds stretched out. People walked through the hall behind them. An air conditioner whirred. Phones rang. The receptionist chatted with another DCF employee. A weeping woman with two small children careened through the doors.

Quinn noticed none of this. Every fiber of her attention was focused on Christopher.

He cleared his throat.

She thought of spiderwebs and dust under mattresses. She realized she hadn’t dusted her mother’s bedroom. She would have to remember to do it later. Maybe she could make her last class of the day.

Her mind raced, throwing shadows of doubt. Maybe she had asked the wrong question. Maybe she wasn’t cut out for this job. She placed a hand on the wall, steadying herself.

“Now,” Christopher said suddenly, his voice soft.

Her heart leapt into her throat. She held her breath.

He cleared his throat again. “Now we wait.”


Bad things always happen to Quinn in threes.

CONTINUE READING
Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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