It’s Sad How Great This Trump Anthology Is

Satire and parody are two of my favorite forms of comedy. I grew up with and loved MADtv (and I’m not sorry that SNL will never compare, try as they might). I’ve always skirted the edges of writing comedy, though—mostly because I’m weird and not sure the world is ready for me.

That’s all about to change.

Steaks, Walls, and Dossiers: The Best Trump Anthology Ever (Featuring "She's Totally Changed Her Look," by Elizabeth Barone)
Steaks, Walls, and Dossiers: The Best Trump Anthology Ever (Featuring “She’s Totally Changed Her Look,” by Elizabeth Barone)
The Best Trump Anthology Ever

Time assassins. The entire nation of Scotland. Satan himself.

You thought President Donald J. Trump was outrageous? See 13 fictional Trumps combat absurd enemies in these amazing 16 short stories—the BEST ever.

Some classy but most downright ludicrous, these tremendously winning stories are going to take care of your need for entertainment, Little Reader Man. Believe me!

We’re making fiction great again for billions and trillions of incredible readers just like you. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. Grab your copy now!

These stories are imploding, and soon will explode. To miss out would cause an absolute and total catastrophe. Buy the book now before the price goes up!

WARNING: Not suitable for low-energy types, weak men, losers, lightweights, zeros, Crazy Megyn, Crooked Hillary or Lyin’ Ted!

What are you waiting for? Do your thing, Little Reader Man!

From “She’s Totally Changed Her Look”:

Gazing out from the view of his penthouse in Trump Tower, Donald Trump eyed his city with satisfaction. In the morning, he would be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Everything was going according to plan. It wouldn’t be long until he made America great again.

He frowned. The mob of protesters still surrounded his tower. It wasn’t fair. Protesters, he mused, ought to be thrown in jail. They were terrorists, plain and simple. The first thing he was going to have Jeff Sessions do as Attorney General was punish them all.

Grinding his teeth, he shook his head at them in contempt. His jaw stuck out, a nearly permanent expression from years of clenching. He turned from the window and drew the curtains closed behind him. Already clad in pajamas, he ambled past his empty California king and back into the master bathroom. Melania, his wife, kept her own apartment in Trump Tower on the floor beneath him, and would move into the White House as First Lady. He, on the other hand, he mused as he popped in his nightguard, would remain in Trump Tower. A president should look over his people, not out at them.

Steaks, Walls, and Dossiers features my debut into political satire, “She’s Totally Changed Her Look.” Writing has always been my way of figuring out and coping with the world around me. Participating in this anthology was A) cheaper than therapy and B) an exciting opportunity to stretch my comedic muscles.

It’s also currently on sale for only $0.99—for a limited time. Grab your copy now, and get ready to relax with some laughs.

A Whole Year Younger

Another day, another nap.

Recently I realized that I have blog posts dating back to 2004 archived on an external hard drive. This is a slightly terrifying prospect, because hello, teenage angst! They come in handy sometimes, though.

Reading through old writings can give you new perspective on a situation. They can also give you a better birthdate for your cat.

That’s right, folks—Squirt is a whole year younger than I thought! 😂 I thought she was 14 but she is, in fact, 13. (Again?) When I let her know, she just flicked her gaze away from me disdainfully.

She has naps to take, people.

It seems like I got her in May or June of 2004, so she was probably born in March or April 2004. Some people pay big bucks to look younger, but not Squirt—she actually is younger! (Plus there’s the fact that she is tiny and doesn’t at all look or act like an older cat, aside from being more cuddly and taking more naps.)

There you have it, folks—musings from a kooky cat lady who is procrastinating all of the things. #amediting #amschooling #amwishingiwasnapping

PS: Does anyone know how to import LiveJournal XML posts to WordPress? I can’t figure it out for the life of me, and the plugins I’ve tried all suck. Not that the world really needs to read my angsty teen blogs, but it’s a hell of a lot easier reading them here than it is to squint at an XML file, and I kind of like scrolling through (some of) memory lane.

Save 30% Off Becoming Natalie!

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.

Use code 30JAN to save 30% off Becoming Natalie in the Kobo store!

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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.


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!

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.


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.


“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.


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


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Becoming Natalie: Chapter 4

Bursting into the entryway, Natalie turned in a half circle. Her heart pounded in her chest. The kitchen lay in front of her. To her right, the bathroom. She moved past both rooms, calling out for her father. She hadn’t been in his apartment in at least a year, but nothing had changed. If anything, he had downsized on the amount of Booth paraphernalia. Last time she had visited, he had an old telephone booth in the entryway. She was pretty sure he still had a restaurant style booth as his dining table.

She entered the living room, eyes sweeping the floor for her father. The bedroom door stood ajar.

“Dad,” she called, her voice breaking.

She pushed open the bedroom door and moved inside.

Bright sunlight streamed in through the windows. Squinting, she held a hand over her face. Spots danced in front of her eyes. Blinking, she moved out of the path of the light.

Her father sat on the floor, a full suitcase open in front of him. Huge spiral bound books overflowed from it, some of them half open on the floor, displaying huge maps. She blinked again, unable to believe what she saw. One of the titles read Toll Booths in New England.

“Okay,” she said slowly. “You’re getting out of control.”

He glanced up at her as if he hadn’t heard her come in, yelling for him. “I bet I could sell some of this on eBay.”

I bet this would qualify as proof of your insanity,” she said, picking up a guide to toll booths in Missouri. “When are you planning on visiting the Midwest?”

Shrugging, Dylan lifted two of the atlas-sized books and set them aside on the floor.

Natalie glanced at his open closet and groaned. “Were you trying to wrestle this out?”

Her father scooped more books out of the suitcase, his eyes glued to the pile.

“I thought you were already packed,” she said, crossing her arms, “and just had to get your suitcase?”

Pressing his lips together, her father shook his head.

“Are you just trying to waste all of my time?” she asked, throwing her hands up in the air.

Dylan shrugged. Avoiding looking at her, he pulled the last toll booth book from the suitcase and added it to the pile. Then, still keeping his eyes from hers, he stood, legs shaking. Shuffling over to his dresser, he tugged open a drawer.

“Are you going to ignore me? Because I can just go home.” She shook his keys. “You can stay here, in your sad apartment, and hire a visiting nurse or whatever.”

“Have some respect,” he snapped, throwing a glare at her.

“Oh, now you can look at me?” She paced, her hands shaking. “You talk about respect, yet you don’t respect me!” Stopping in front of him, she jabbed a finger in his face.

“Stop talking to me like I’m a child,” he said, picking up a pile of tee shirts and dropping them into the suitcase.

“Then stop treating me like your slave!” She spun away, nearly crashing into the phone booth. So much for him getting rid of things. She slammed her palm into it.

It rocked slightly. “Be careful with that!” he said, rushing over and steadying it.

Blowing out a puff of air, she stalked toward the door. “Whatever,” she said. She stomped back into the living room. Slumping into the couch, she buried her face in her hands. Tears stung her eyes. So far, she kept doing exactly the opposite of what she meant to do. She needed to be a better daughter, no matter how difficult her father was. She was all he had, she reminded herself. Whatever mistakes he had made in the past, he didn’t deserve to sit in his apartment all alone while he healed. She rubbed her palm, still stinging from the impact with the phone booth, on her jeans.

Maybe she was crazy, she surmised. Her father didn’t deserve her help.

Still, she had nowhere else to go—unless she wanted to hang out with her stepfather until she found her own place. Gritting her teeth, she closed her eyes. She had made quite the mess.

“Ready,” her father sang, dragging his suitcase behind him. Its sides bulged, as if he had stuffed some of the toll booth guides back in.

Cringing, she got to her feet. In just a few strides, she was at his side. “Let go,” she ordered, tugging the suitcase from his grasp.

“It’s heavy,” he protested.

“No shit,” she said, using both hands to drag it toward the front door. “That’s why I’m going to slide it down the garage stairs.”

He nodded as if he approved, and followed her to the door.

* * *

Getting the suitcase down the stairs proved to be harder than she had thought it would be. It didn’t slide very far, and got turned around, catching on the rungs of the railing. Scowling, Natalie tugged it from between two posts. A sharp pain lanced through her finger. Shrieking, she yanked her hand away. She stared in horror at the bloody spot where both her acrylic nail and real fingernail had been.

“What’s the matter with you?” her father asked from the top of the stairs. “It’s just a nail.”

Speaking from between clamped teeth, she said, “You don’t understand. It’s like having a nail ripped out twice.” The words came out slurred, as if she were drunk. Scrunching her face up, she balled her other hand into a fist, digging her nails into the palm of her hand to distract herself from the pain. Maybe, she surmised as she sucked in a deep breath, this was all karma for some horrible act she had committed in a past life. She didn’t believe in past lives, though. Exhaling, she opened her eyes. Her finger throbbed. The sooner she got her father up to the campground, the sooner she could get it fixed.

Then she remembered her empty bank account and maxed out credit card. Maybe her father would pay for it. Looking up at him, peering down at her with an expression on his face somewhere between concern and disbelief, she reconsidered. Maybe pigs would fly.

After a few more minutes of tugging with one hand, holding her injured hand out of the way, the suitcase popped free. She clambered over it, nudged it with her foot, and it slid down another few inches. Several kicks later, she got it to the bottom of the stairs.

If she ever found a new job, she was going to buy him a rolling suitcase with a long handle.

She dragged it to the pickup, its bottom scuffing against the asphalt.

“Be careful,” he chided, running behind her with his arms open, as if he was going to catch it.

Rolling her eyes, she released it, shoulders dropping. All she had to do was lift it into the bed of the pickup, and she was home free—sort of. The thing had to weigh seventy-five pounds or more, though.

“I can get it,” Dylan said, reaching for it. Beads of sweat rolled down his face.

She swatted his hands away. “Why don’t you get in and start the air?” She smiled at him and handed him the keys. Nodding, he took them and turned toward the passenger’s side. Shaking her head, she used the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her own face. It was just after noon, and had to be already ninety degrees. Summer was rolling in, in full force.

Natalie looked back at the task at hand. Wincing, she spread her legs, crouched into a squat, and lifted the suitcase. Arms buckling, she hefted it over the gate and into the bed. She started to tumble, caught herself with her elbow on the truck’s corner, smacking her bone into hard chrome.

“Gah,” she screamed, clutching her elbow and hopping up and down. If she made it to the lake without any more injuries, it would be a miracle. Come to think of it, she surmised, scowling down at her blistered heels, she had done nothing but get hurt since arriving in Connecticut.

Whimpering, she walked to the driver’s side. She pulled open the door and slid in. Cool air brushed against her face, and she rested her head against the seat for a moment.

Then, slowly, she realized which song was playing.

She reached for the button to change the station, glancing at the digital display. The first button was the same station. Groaning, she pushed the second button. A car commercial replaced the horrible crooning.

“What do you have against Bon Jovi?” her father asked, reaching for the first pre-programmed button.

“No way,” she said, covering the dashboard. “I’m driving, my music.”

Her father snorted. “This is my truck,” he said.

Deja vu pressed down at her, making her feel as if she hung upside down. Taking a deep breath, she began backing out of the driveway. The sooner they got on the road, the sooner they would be at the campground. Maybe she could talk him into paying for her nails and a bottle of wine.

They hadn’t been on the highway for ten minutes before he started again.

“Why aren’t you getting onto 691?” he asked, twisting in his seat as they passed the exit. The expression on his face reminded Natalie of someone who had just run over his own dog.

Gripping the steering wheel with both hands, she smiled and said, through her teeth, “Because I’m driving.” She felt like a crazy person. She wondered if maybe her father needed medication.

“You’re going to hit traffic if you stay on 84,” he grumbled, crossing his arms. Slouched in his seat, he looked like a kid whose parents wouldn’t take him to McDonald’s.

“Dad,” she said sharply. “We’re going to hit traffic no matter which way we go. As you’ve reminded me a hundred times, I got to the hospital too late in the day.” She huffed, tightening her grip on the steering wheel.

He sank lower in his seat. “I don’t know why you have to yell.”

Pressing her lips together, she stared at the road in front of her. 84 was pretty empty, considering the time of day. She supposed it was because all of the kids were still in school—for another couple of weeks, anyway. If they had left even ten minutes later, she might be dealing with that traffic. Once they got to Route 2, they would be home free—at least, she hoped so.

The sun shone brightly down on the pickup. She smiled. Despite her misgivings, it would be nice to stay at the lake for a few days. At the very least, she could catch up on her tan—as long as Dylan didn’t keep her working all day. Up at the site, there was mostly shade. She would have to keep moving her chair to get even a fraction of sunlight. Down at the beach on the lake, though, it was a different story. Her smile widened. On a Monday, there wouldn’t be anyone else there. She would have the whole beach to herself. Granted, she might not get down to the beach until the next day. Still, she found herself looking forward to being there. Nestled in the country, away from the city, she could get a handle on her problems.

She wiped sweat out of her eyes. Blinking herself out of her daydream, she glanced down at the temperature. “Why did you turn the air down?” she asked, sneaking a look at her father.

He sat with his arms wrapped around himself, body slightly hunched over. “I’m cold,” he grumbled.

She bit down on her lip. Usually, she was cold out of the two of them. ”Cold?” she repeated, pointing out the window. “It’s like ninety degrees out.”

Shoulders drawn up to his ears, her father made a face. “I think it’s the damn blood thinners,” he said.

She turned the temperature down a little. Instantly, he started to shiver. “Why do you have to be so dramatic?” she whined.

“Why can’t you be more understanding?” He pressed the off button. “Open up your window, if you’re so hot.”

Pulling in a deep breath through her nose, she then exhaled through her mouth. She needed to find a way to compromise with him, or the rest of the ride was going to be miserable. “How about we leave the air on, and you can close the vents on your side?” She gave him a smile, proud of her solution.

“My truck,” he insisted, turning and looking out the window.

“Dad,” she tried, but he stared out at the passing trees.

She opened her window a few inches. Wind rushed inside, whipping her hair around, ruining her part. The air felt cool, though—compared to the warming interior of the pickup, anyway. She took both hands off the steering wheel, yanking the hair tie off her wrist in the same motion.

“What are you doing?” her father gasped, grabbing the steering wheel. The pickup lurched to the left.

Natalie yanked it away, correcting their path. “I’ve got it, Dad,” she said. “I do this all the time.”

“Did they teach you that in driving school? Is that what I spent all that money for?” He waved a finger in her face. “Don’t do that ever again, unless you want to give me another heart attack.”

She wanted to tell him that he stressed himself out, but kept her mouth shut. Her hair flew into her face again. Using one hand, she tucked it behind her ears. The next few days, she decided, were going to be anything but relaxing.

* * *

“Take this right,” her father instructed.

“I know,” she said, even though she didn’t. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to the campground.

Half out of his window, her father pointed up. “They’re getting a new sign,” he said.

“Why don’t you get back in the truck?” she replied, turning onto the dirt road. The truck bounced, its tires kicking up stones. She could just imagine him getting clobbered in the head with a stray rock. As much of a blessing it would be to have him quiet for a while, she did not want to go back to the hospital with him.

Safely back in his seat, her father grinned at her like a kid at a circus. “This is going to be great, Lee,” he said. “You’ll be thanking me for taking us up here.”

She smiled, despite the knot of anxiety in her stomach. The old stop sign loomed ahead. Attached to it, she knew, was a white sheet of paper declaring that visitors pay inside. She had completely forgotten the fees. As far as she knew, the campground didn’t take debit cards. Besides, she didn’t need anymore overdraft fees. “Um, Dad?” she asked, already slowing the truck.

Her father leaned out of his open window again, his eyes closed, a smile on his face. Birds chirped from the trees above. A breeze rocked the mountain laurels softly. The air smelled crisp and clean, like dirt and water and woods.

Loosening her grip on the steering wheel, she shouted his name.

He jumped. Turning toward her, he raised a hand in frustration. “You’re going to kill me,” he declared. “What do you want?”

Taking a deep breath, she patted his arm. “Sorry. Listen, how long are we going to be here?”

He hand a hand through his hair. For the first time, she realized his hairline was receding. Regarding her with his brown eyes, he shrugged. “As long as it takes.”

“Well,” she said slowly, “I need to know, so I can pay them.” She pressed her lips together, resisting the urge to lick them. She had left her lip balm in her purse, which sat on the floor behind her. Since her father wouldn’t let her take her hands off the steering wheel, getting it while driving would have been a miracle. Licking her lips would just chap them even more. As soon as she found a new job, she was going to have to invest in some good lip balm, the kind that didn’t dry her lips out so she would have to use more.

Her father nodded, as if thinking to himself. She expected him to say that he would take care of her. Instead, he said, “You’re going to have to pay for yourself, kiddo.”

Her mouth dropped open. She stared at him. He couldn’t be serious. She started to argue, to say that if she didn’t know how long she was going to be there, she couldn’t possibly pay. Then she remembered that he didn’t know about her apartment or her bills or the job she had left. She suddenly wished she had taken Benjamin up on his offer.

“Or,” her father said, a slow smile breaking across his face, “you can become a co-signer on the site. You’d get your own pass. Of course, you’d be responsible for maintenance and—”

“Whoa,” she said, holding up a hand. “I can’t be a co-signer. I’m here to take care of you, not the trailer. I didn’t even know we were coming up here, Dad.” She shook her head at him.

“Come on, Nat,” he said. “Your mom was a co-signer. It’ll be fun, like old times.”

Scowling, she tipped her head back. She couldn’t believe he had really gone there. “If you hadn’t cheated on her,” she said to the ceiling, “she would still be a co-signer.”

Her father said nothing.

She looked back down, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye. They sat just a few feet from the stop sign. She could either drop him off and go back to Waterbury, or stick it out. Being a co-signer wouldn’t be the end of the world, she surmised. At the very least, it would buy her a free vacation. Nodding to herself, she straightened. She needed to look at her situation as just that, time off before moving on to the next phase of her life—whatever that was.

Licking her lips, she eased the truck forward. “Okay,” she told her father.

“You’ll do it?” he asked. The light in his eyes almost made it worth it.

“What do I have to do?” She pulled up to the stop sign.

He smiled. “Nothing, kiddo. You’re all set.”

Eyebrows furrowing, she turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”

He patted her hand. “You’re already a co-signer. I called them from the hospital. Go on, you can just roll right through, here.”

Her hands fell into her lap. She stared at him, mouth open. Her head started to turn. Her lips began to move.

A car behind them honked its horn.

She glanced into the rearview mirror. A station wagon sat behind them, a rack of bicycles strapped to its roof. One of the bikes was askew, as if it had lost a strap.

“Let’s go home,” her father said, motioning for her to drive.

She wanted to argue, but for better or worse, the trailer was going to be her home, for who knew how long.

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


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


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