Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Stairway to Paradise by Nadia Natali

Title: STAIRWAY TO PARADISE: GROWING UP GERSHWIN
Author: Nadia Natali
Publisher: RareBird Books
Pages: 304
Genre: Memoir

BOOK BLURB: 

Growing up as Frankie Gershwin's daughter, the sister of George and Ira Gershwin, was quite a challenge. I didn't have the perspective to realize that so much unhappiness in a family was out of the ordinary. But I knew something was off. My mother was often depressed and my father was tyrannical and scary, one never knew when he would blow up. I learned early on that I had to be the cheery one, the one to fix the problems. Both sides of my family were famous; the Gershwin side and my father who invented color film. But even though there was more than enough recognition, money and parties I understood that wasn't what made people happy.

As a young adult adrift and depressed I broke from that unsatisfactory life by marrying Enrico Natali, a photographer, deeply immersed in his own questions about life. We moved into the wilderness away from what we considered as the dysfunction of society. That’s when we discovered that life had other kinds of challenges: flood, fire, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears. We lived in a teepee for more than four years while building a house. Curiously my mother never commented on my life choice. She must have realized on some level that her own life was less than satisfactory.

Enrico had developed a serious meditation practice that had become a kind of ground for him. As for me I danced. Understanding the somatic, the inner body experience, became my way to shift the inner story.

We raised and homeschooled our three children. I taught them to read, Enrico taught them math. The kids ran free, happy, always engaged, making things, and discovering. We were so sure we were doing the right thing. However, we didn't have a clue how they would make the transition to the so-called ‘real world’. The children thrived until they became teenagers. They then wanted out. Everything fell apart for them and for Enrico and me. Our lives were turned upside down, our paradise lost. There was tragedy: our son lost his life while attempting to cross our river during a fierce storm. Later I was further challenged by advanced breast cancer.

It was during these times that I delved deeply into the somatic recesses of myself. I began to find my own voice, a long learning process. I emerged with a profound trust in my own authority. It became clear that everyone has to find his or her way through layers of inauthenticity, where a deep knowing can develop. And I came to see that is the best anyone can offer to the world.

Enrico and I still live in the wilds of the Lost Padres National Forest, a paradise with many steps going up and down, a life I would not change.

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First Chapter:

On December 8, 1980, my husband, Enrico, our three-year-old daughter, Francesca, and I finished our cross-country journey to Ojai, California, where we planned to make a home on land we had seen only once but had long been dreaming about, away from city life and, especially, away from my difficult and powerful family.
We’d caravanned in separate vehicles, hauling all that we could carry in and on top of our cars, in addition to a foldout trailer hitched to Enrico’s Toyota jeep. At the end of a long, winding two-lane road that followed Matilija Creek, a brown metal gate barred our way. Beyond the gate lay the Los Padres National Forest, wilderness, and a mile farther up a dirt road through the canyon, our property. We had to wait for a key to open the lock, a key that a forest ranger was going to hand over—the key to our new life. I gazed toward the jagged and intimidating mountains that leaned over the canyon. Inhaling the sweet smell of the dry chaparral, I couldn’t help but compare it to the lush, green landscape of my childhood home in Connecticut. This is going to be a very different life, I thought. My privileged upbringing seemed the polar opposite of this place, and maybe that was what attracted me to it. Observing the struggles of my family and seeing that money and fame had failed to bring happiness, I’d learned I needed to find my own path. I had not fully formulated my goal, but it was something unique and original, and I had to find it on my own.
A moment later a forest service truck pulled up by the gate. “You sure found yourselves a beautiful piece of property out here,” the ranger said, as he offered his hand to shake. “I’m Dave Brown. I suppose you know there are some pretty dangerous natural conditions you’ll need to look out for.”
Enrico shook Dave’s hand as he asked, “And what does that mean?” Dave took a big breath. “Well, you should know about this if you guys are planning to live here. There’s the flood. That’s real serious this time of year. There’re two creeks you have to drive through that rise fast and wild when there’s a lot of rain. The water turns black and fierce. You could get trapped in here for weeks.”
Enrico and I exchanged worried looks. We had not known about this. “Also,” he continued, “as you probably know, there are rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats, and black bears. The bears won’t bother you much if you keep your food well covered. But the mountain lions . . .” Dave trailed off, as he looked at our young daughter. “If you suspect there are any about, better keep your little girl close by.”
I glanced at Francesca to see if she was listening. She was busy poking the dry dirt with a stick, her red corduroy cuffs turning brown with dust. I wasn’t sure I wanted her to hear all this. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it. I imagined grabbing a stick of my own and drawing pictures in the worn shoulder of the last bit of paved road.
“The thing that would bother me more than anything though,” Dave continued, “are the kooks that come out here.” That was all he said on that subject, as if he expected us to know just what he was talking about. Then we noticed a large parking area at the side of the road for vehicles, and figured that must be where people parked who were going to walk in.
I hoped he was exaggerating. Kooks? Francesca continued to prod the ground, making scratching sounds that in my mind echoed off the hard landscape and the ranger’s words. Suddenly a sweep of fatigue from the packing, driving, and camping for many nights hit me. I was beyond tired.
“But,” Ranger Dave went on relentlessly, “the fires are the biggest threat. This is the most dangerous canyon in California, if not the whole country. It hasn’t burned in fifty years, and it’s real serious when it does.
There’s only one road kept open, to get in and out.” The ranger stopped.
My heart skipped a beat. He must deliver this information routinely, I thought. That was why he seemed unaware of how scary it sounded. Maybe the reason that no one else lived up here in the Los Padres National Forest is because of the danger. I didn’t know what to say. This was not how I’d imagined our arrival at our new home would be. Was I being irresponsible and risking the safety of my family? I felt numb. I wondered what my mother would think, though I knew she wouldn’t want to get involved. She couldn’t handle challenging situations.
A warm, peaceful breeze sighed through the chaparral, along with the high-pitched buzz of tiny flies that Dave kept sweeping away with his hand. Enrico was silent, typically slow to react. I suspended my negative thoughts. What could we do at this point anyway? “We’ll figure it out,” a voice in my head whispered. “It’s the cold season, and we won’t have to worry about rattlesnakes, bears, or fire for now.”
Francesca’s voice broke into my thoughts. “Mommy, let’s go,” she said, gently tugging on my hand. Her smile pushed my worries away.
I picked her up, gave her a fat smooch on the cheek, and brushed off her pants as best I could. Looking around at the dusty terrain, I had to laugh at my futile attempt to keep her tidy.
Dave handed Enrico the key. We said good-bye and closed the gate behind us. Enrico crept along in the jeep, his tires stirring up dust in the clear winter air. Francesca and I followed in the faded-blue Renault. Only one more mile to go.
Rugged mountains surrounded us, and then a graceful valley emerged before us. Its colors were muted, everything brown and dry. The chaparral and meadows were sunburned to a pale sage green. The tangled grasses were still yellow from the dry heat of summer and fall. The rainy season had barely started.
As I followed the jeep, I heard the ranger’s words in the noise of the tires on the dirt road repeating over and over, “Floods, fires, rattlesnakes, and bears, oh my!” And yet the pronouncement of these threats couldn’t diminish the beauty we saw on our first day.
Our vehicles splashed through the shallow water of the first creek crossing, bumped over stones, and labored up the steep bank on the other side. The dirt road was narrow and densely shaded by spindly red alders. Then the landscape abruptly opened and again revealed the mountains and a bright blue sky.
A quarter of a mile farther ahead we met the second creek crossing, a broad convergence of three streams. There was so little water flowing that winter day that I could not imagine it as a raw, roaring flood. The slow- moving water gently murmured around the rocks, serene and harmless. I recalled Phil Kern, who had sold us the land six months earlier, telling us that this was a special site of the native Chumash who had come to Ojai and into Matilija Canyon thousands of years ago. “A chief and his tribe used this area where three creeks meet—the Matilija, the North Fork, and the Murrieta— as the site for spiritual retreats and shamanic rituals,” he had said.
Once beyond the crossing, I told Francesca the little I could re- member learning about the Chumash. I could almost sense the imprint left in the canyon from when they lived there so many years ago. The earthy color of the chaparral with its sages and scrub oaks was a visual echo of the color of their skin and of the animals they used for clothing, while the wind rushing through the dry grasses could be their distant voices like a welcoming presence, leading us to our property. Something was definitely special about this place, something alive within the landscape. Francesca opened the window, and we excitedly inhaled the fragrance of a wilderness and life new to us.
I had made this rash move with no thought to its consequences. Six months earlier, without considering the details, I’d impulsively decided to buy the property. But I wanted to be in Ojai so badly that the decision felt like it had to be right. The risks I was taking in this drastic move were prefer- able to my previous life in a family with a history of deception and false promises of happiness.
I knew how well Enrico had handled rough living during the years when we lived at what had been his family’s cabin at Sackets Harbor, New York. How he thawed out our hand pump every cold day to get water, how he blasted out a well, cut firewood, tobogganed in the snow to and from our car, and repaired the rustic cabin to make it livable. Amazingly, he did it all with little prior experience, having only watched his father make do and create from very little. But he had the gift of confidence. He had a conviction that he could do just about anything. It was Enrico’s self-assurance and my belief in his abilities that allowed me to move to this wild land.
Bumping along the dirt road to our new home site, I felt the conditioning of my privileged past dispersing with the plume of dust kicked up behind us. Watching Enrico’s jeep lumbering ahead with our foldout trailer bobbing and bouncing behind him, I felt like a kid on a new adventure.
That trailer was to be our dwelling while we built a house. I knew I could handle a simple life because I had become expert at making a home in temporary primitive campsites. But it could be a year before we had a real house. Could I last that long? One thing I did know: this was going to be a life very different from my childhood.
Enrico parked the jeep in a small clearing on the edge of our forty acres, the national forest surrounding it on all four sides. I jumped out of the Renault and tried to find a larger clearing, but the dense chaparral blocked my way. I knelt down to peek through the undergrowth, its strong, tangy scent unfamiliar. The undergrowth was so thick that it kept the sun from reaching the ground. There was no chance of getting farther onto our property until we cleared a long wide path. Perhaps a week, I thought.



Monday, February 19, 2018

Chapter reveal: ‘Traveling High and Tripping Hard,’ by Joseph Davida

THTH_final_4Name: Joseph Davida
Book Title: “Traveling High and Tripping Hard”
Genre: Travel Memoir
Publisher: Dark Planet Press
Fine out more on Amazon
Traveling High and Tripping Hard is the story of a young man’s quest to find the meaning of life through a series of altered states and high adventures…
After accidentally ingesting a large dose of PCP at eight years old, Joseph Davida had an apocalyptic vision that would change the course of his life forever. Charged with the monumental task of saving the world, he set out on a mission that led him through the jungles of Central America, the pyramids of Egypt, the temples of Kathmandu—and into the deepest recesses of his mind.
For anyone who has ever wanted a glimpse into those strange places that lie somewhere between the darkness and light, hope and despair, and spirituality and madness, Traveling High and Tripping Hard is guaranteed to deliver.
Long Island
I grew up in a small working-class town near the Queens-Nassau county border. Technically, it was an incorporated village. Even though it was less than twenty miles from Manhattan, the town maintained strict zoning laws that were designed to keep the modern world at bay. There were no fast-food chains, franchises, or department stores. The main road had a strip of mom-and-pop-owned businesses that provided all of the essentials. In theory, you could live out your entire life without ever having to leave. There were a few small restaurants and bars…a butcher, a baker, and a grocery store. There was a post office, a pharmacy, and a bank. An old two-screen movie theater and a bowling alley. The town had its own police department, and even the last operational farm in Nassau County. Everyone knew everyone else. All the kids referred to the town as Mayberry.
I lived on a street called Wright Avenue. Every day, I walked to and from school with a kid named Jay who lived a few doors down from me. He was my best-friend-slash-arch-enemy. After school, we usually stopped at one of the candy stores that we passed on our walk back home. Either Lenny’s or Mike’s Lotto. Both places were pretty much unchanged since the 1940s. They each had racks of newspapers and magazines up against the walls, candy displays, and cartons of cigarettes on the shelves behind the register. They also both had long wooden counters equipped with old-fashioned soda fountains and round spinning seats bolted to the floor.
One afternoon in 1984, Jay and I decided to stop at Mike’s. The store had recently acquired the new Elevator Action arcade game, and we were anxious to play it. After putting a quarter in the machine, we took turns sharing lives, then walked over to the counter to buy candy with whatever coins we had left. Since you could get more candy by buying the pieces individually, I usually bought some Dubble Bubble bubblegum and probably a few loose Peanut Chews or Mary Janes. The bubblegum came wrapped in waxy pieces of paper, the ends twisted like a Tootsie Roll. I vaguely remember that one of the pieces had an abnormal amount of bitter-tasting powdered sugar (that’s supposed to keep the gum from sticking to the paper), but after over thirty years it’s hard to say for sure.
After inhaling our candy, we rushed home to pick up our cleats and gloves for Little League practice. As we walked over to the field behind the junior high school, I began to notice that things were starting to look a little strange. Everything seemed to be taking on unusually vivid colors, and normally inanimate objects seemed to be pulsating with energy. By the time I made it to the baseball diamond, practice was already underway and I was rushed onto the outfield with my mitt. I don’t know how long I was out there, but I remember staring at the trees in the distance…and for some reason, the leaves appeared to be spinning.
The next thing I knew, I was up at bat. Justin Calabria, who I didn’t like at all, was winding up to throw out a pitch. As I watched the ball come flying in my direction, I thought I detected something sinister…something about the way it whizzed past me over the plate. But it wasn’t until I saw the next pitch coming that I knew for sure. Somehow, in midair, that ball transformed into a missile…kind of like the ones Wile E. Coyote buys from the Acme Corporation. And then my suspicions were confirmed: Justin Calabria was trying to kill me. Then, as if a switch went off, something in me snapped, and I realized that I had to destroy him—before he could destroy me.
I started running toward the mound with the bat clenched tightly in my hands, and chased him into the outfield with the sole intent of smashing in his face! When the coaches realized what I was trying to do, they chased after me and eventually began to close in from all sides. Every time they tried to get close, I swung my bat at them with all the force I could possibly exert.
My father was an assistant coach for the team and he would sometimes show up a little late for weekday practices. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that his car had just pulled into the parking lot, and I heard Coach Evans yell out to him, “Hey Al, your son has gone fuckin’ crazy!” I froze as I saw my dad running toward me. He slowed down as he got close, and the other coaches stepped back. As he approached, my fear started to melt away. He pulled the aluminum bat out of my hands, and kneeled down and grabbed me by the shoulders. He looked directly into my eyes and could apparently see that my pupils were completely dilated.
He said, “He hasn’t gone crazy…he’s tripping his fucking brains out.”
At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. I was only eight years old.

I don’t remember everything that happened after leaving the baseball field, but I know at some point after getting home my father had me piss into a cup. He sent my urine out with one of our neighbors, who worked as a lab technician at the local hospital. Fortunately, after having his own experiences with psychedelics in the 1960s, my dad was smart enough to realize that taking me to the hospital might not be the best idea.
After the lab analysis was completed, a doctor called the house and told my parents that I had tested positive for PCP. While no one had any idea where it had come from, the doctor said that I’d somehow ingested a very large dose…enough to potentially cause a psychotic breakdown in a full-grown adult. The only thing they could possibly do was give me a large shot of Thorazine, but apparently the amount needed to counter my hallucinations came with its own set of risks. In some kind of bizarre experiment, my dad decided the best thing he could do was let me ride it out.

When night fell, my father took me up to my room and put me to bed. After tucking me in, he turned off the light and told me to try to sleep. It wasn’t long after he left the room that things began to get really weird. First, the walls burst into flames, and then the floor started oozing blood and lava. I looked up and noticed demonic bat-like creatures flying around the ceiling. I knew where I was…and it was hell. Suddenly, a shadowy figure started rising out of the molten ground, and began to materialize right in front of me. He looked straight at me and I asked him who he was.
“Who are you?” I said.
Without making a sound, the creature spoke directly into my brain, answering in German—which, to my surprise, I could understand perfectly: ”You know who I am.
He was right. I did know who he was.
Then I asked him why I was there and again he answered me telepathically: “You know why you are here…”
“No,” I replied. “I don’t!”
But I did know, I thought. It was because I was evil.
The figure started laughing. “Yes, that is right! You are evil!”
I asked what he wanted from me, and the fiend quickly morphed into a form that looked familiar. It was Hitler. I knew it was him because both of my grandfathers had been in the war.
He was smiling, and then he answered me: “You know what we want you for. You were chosen! You are going to finish my work for me and take over the world!”
“But I’m only eight years old,” I said. “How am I supposed to take over the world?”
Yet even before he could reply, I knew the answer: I had to kill my parents.

By the time my father came back into my room to check on me, I had already resigned myself to my terrible fate. I was sitting on my bed in the dark, staring into the infernal abyss, with an open Cub Scout pocketknife in hand. When my dad turned on the light, he could see that some really bad shit was happening.
“Umm… What’s going on, man?”
“Dad. I’m evil. I just spoke with the devil and he told me that I have to kill you and Mom to take over the world.”
Now that I am a parent myself, I can’t even imagine how I would have dealt with a situation like that. But this is why my father was the man. It is almost impossible to fully comprehend how delicate my psyche was at that point, but what my father said was perfect. He told me that not only was I not evil, I was in fact a pretty good kid. He said I was being tested, and only if I gave in and actually killed my mother and him would I become evil. Even in my semi-deranged state of mind, this seemed to make sense.
After seeing how quickly things went south when I’d been left alone, my dad decided not to take any more chances. He asked me to hand him the knife, and then took me downstairs to lie down in his bedroom. For the next few hours, I saw the history of the universe play out before my eyes—from the Big Bang up to the rise of modern civilization. And then, I witnessed what I could only perceive as the future…and it looked grim. The world was at war: cities were burning, children were starving, and entire populations were killing one another. It seemed like the entire planet was possessed by madness. The entire surface of the Earth was either devastated by drought or flooded with water. It was the apocalypse, the end of the world, and I could see that it would happen in my lifetime.
Then there was only death—and everything went dark.
Just when I thought it was finally all over, the room became engulfed in an almost blinding white light. I could hear a sound—a constant layering of notes played by an orchestra of unknown celestial instruments—that climaxed when it reached a perfect chord. And then…I heard a voice. It was the sweetest voice I had ever heard, and it told me that I’d passed my test…that my heart was pure. And then it explained that while everything I’d seen was real, it was not too late. There was still time for things to turn out okay, but there was just one catch…
I had to save the world.
I called out to my father, who was sitting outside the door: “Dad, you were right! An angel came and told me it’s going to be okay!”
I was crying hysterically, but these were tears of joy. The gravity, the weight of my mission was not yet apparent, but at that point it didn’t matter…the nightmare I had been experiencing for fourteen hours was coming to an end. All I felt was an overwhelming sense of relief, and for the moment at least, I knew it was all over. Then, finally, I fell asleep.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

War Eternal: Angels' Whispers by J.F. Cain


Title: WAR ETERNAL: ANGELS’ WHISPERS
Author: J.F. Cain
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 355
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Romance

BOOK BLURB: 

Alex Meyers, a dynamic, global entrepreneur, has an advantage that no other human has ever had: he is protected by Aranes, the Superior of the Angels. While he is skiing, he dies in an avalanche, but his all-powerful protector breaks one of the ethereal world’s most important Rules and brings him back to life. Alex falls head over heels in love with the beautiful Angel, who appears to him in human form. But she disappears just as suddenly as she had appeared.
While he searches for Aranes, Alex discovers her true identity and that he actually might be the high-ranking Celestial Abaddon, who is mentioned in the Revelations prophecy as the one who will defeat Lucifer.
The man who fate has thrust among the world’s superpowers is now living a nightmare. He wants to evade Lucifer’s pursuit, find out who he truly is and once again see the only being he has ever loved. And the only way to do it is to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Angels’ Whispers is the beginning of an epic tale set in modern times. The eternal war between Light and Darkness is at a critical turning point: Angels and Demons, invisible to mortal beings, battle for dominance in the physical world, while Guardians, Vampires and Werewolves, who live among the humans, find themselves on opposing sides in a deadly power game.

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Amazon


CHAPTER 1

In the sphere of invisible reality, where eternity’s whispers divulge primordial secrets, resided an immortal being of formidable power. Hidden behind the veil that covered timeless creation, the otherworldly entity watched the events unfolding in the world of the manifest forms. Inside a rain of pictures and sounds, her numinous perception rapidly surveyed all the important events taking place on earth at the time. Finally, her awareness stopped at a Gulfstream G650, flying at 25,000 feet above Maryland, bathed in the morning sun's light.
Her supernatural sight penetrated the private jet unhindered. Inside the luxurious passenger cabin with the gray leather furnishing, two men sat in armchairs next to a row of round windows. Both of them were absorbed in their reading, only occasionally glancing at the streaming display of market quotes that flashed on the television across from them accompanied by the muted voice of the Bloomberg financial analyst.
The unworldly entity concentrated on one of them, Alexander Meyers.
Alex, as his few friends and associates called him, was studying an upcoming project on his laptop resting on the table in front of him. He was a physicist, and the owner of a fast-growing company supplying ecological energy, his own invention. At thirty-eight, he was enjoying global success.
He defied the rule that people with exceptional minds cannot also be equally exceptional in looks. Alex was, in a word, striking, and not simply because of his dark, expensive suit. He was tall, with a muscular, athletic build. He radiated strength and a certain magnetism that made him stand out from those around him. His dark chestnut hair, attractive face, and well-proportioned features made up a whole that deserved to be acknowledged as a prime example of male beauty, but the crowning feature was his eyes. They were the dark blue color of a stormy sea, complete with waves, formed by fine silver lines radiating outward from the pupil to the edge of the iris. Though barely visible, they were enough to lend his gaze a riveting force.
Alex looked up at the man opposite him reading a lengthy document.
Four years older than Alex, David Carson was also an attractive man–blond, with blue eyes, but with a calmer strength about him. There was something about his face: an interesting clash between transparency and mystery that made it impossible for even the most perceptive observer to discern his intentions. A successful attorney and the chief legal advisor in the company, he was the person closest to his boss who enjoyed something that Alex did not offer easily: his trust.
The two of them had met at MIT, when Alex was a freshman and David was there for his graduate degree in technology and environmental law. Neither had any family. Only Alex had some distant relatives, scattered around the States, with whom he had no contact. As the oldest and undeniably more mature of the two, David had from the beginning assumed the role of big brother to his wild, but brilliant, young friend, who had challenged social and academic conventions and flustered his physics professors with his startling ideas and cutting-edge theories. Despite their different characters, they also shared enough attributes to have formed a special bond over their many years of friendship. They confirmed the saying “strength in unity”. They were a powerful pair that the business world regarded with a mixture of envy and respect.
“So, what do you think?” Alex asked David.
David rested the folder on the table and loosened the knot on his tie. Even after so many years of having to wear a suit for work, he had still not grown used to the constriction around his neck. Ties were one of the rare annoyances for this man with an otherwise enviable self-control.
“The bill clearly leaves you room to maneuver as you want,” he declared.
Alex nodded with an expression that indicated he was not expecting a different answer.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“I’m sure you are. It’s not easy to dodge your competitors’ obstacles.”
“I’m taking advantage of their own loopholes,” said Alex indifferently.
For him it was only fair to turn his competitor’s weapons against them rather than on the defenseless. So he had no qualms about taking advantage of anything he could find in the law that he could use in this open warfare.
David refrained from reminding his friend that first and foremost, they should be fair to themselves, and perhaps approach the subject from a different angle.
“So, other than work, what else is going on? Have you made plans to see Claire?”
Alex began to rifle irritably through the papers spread out on the table. It was his usual reaction when a discussion turned to personal matters. When he was away from his office—although he managed to convert anywhere he was into his workplace—he always found a way to show that he had better things to do. But that day, his reaction was not enough to discourage David’s persistence.
“Is that your answer?” David pressured him.
“Why should I see her?” Alex asked, setting aside a thick sheaf of papers bearing the US Energy Department’s logo.
“I don’t know, is there any other reason than wanting to be together?”
“I’m not interested,” replied Alex with an expression that implied he was not willing to discuss the matter any further.
“Here we go again!” David leaned forward, trying to catch his friend’s attention. “You have to do something with your life.”
Alex looked up from the pack of diagrams he was sorting, his eyes grave.
“My work is my life. Besides, romance is overrated.”
“But necessary,” David shot back. “You can’t always be alone.”
“I’m not alone all the time. Here we are.”
“The small breaks you take to meet your biological needs don’t meet your emotional needs,” his friend insisted with calm certainty.
Alex lowered his gaze again to the papers in front of him.
“It’s enough for me.” 
“It doesn’t look like it.”
“I’m not one for excessive displays of emotion.” He pulled out a diagram from the pack, leaned back and pretended to study it. “People are, for the most part, a disappointment. The only thing they’re interested in is catering to their psychological and material needs. Most don’t even know the basics about themselves.”
“Not everyone is the same,” David argued. “I think Claire is quite emotionally mature, and also very much in love with you.”
“That’s the problem,” admitted Alex. “I can never return her feelings. So it’s better if I break it off while it’s still early.”
David gave him a searching look.
“Are you trying to protect her or get rid of a burden?”
“Let’s just say that it’s a choice where we both end up winning.”
“Or losing,” David added.
“There is no reason why I should stay in a relationship that doesn’t give me what I want,” replied Alex with a tone that betrayed him being annoyed by the subject matter.
“And what is it that you want?”
Alex tossed the diagram onto the table.
“I know what I want, and maybe one day I’ll find it,” he said with a slight melancholy in his gaze.
At one time, there had been no “maybe”. But after years of fruitless searching he had realized that even charismatic individuals weren’t immune to the rule that “you cannot have it all”.
David gestured towards the window next to them.
“Look outside, maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for there.”
“What do you mean?” Alex scowled.
“That you might be able to find the woman of your dreams up here, because a being such as the one you imagine may not even exist on Earth,” David replied. “Or, wait,” he raised his palm to stop his friend who was about to protest. “Maybe the invasion of an alien race would solve your problem, or a custom-made robot.”
“In that case, I’ll order one for you, too,” Alex shot back. “It seems that you’re not faring any better.”
David shrugged.
“I’ve reconciled myself to it, whereas you haven’t. It’s obvious that you’re lacking something.”
Alex bypassed the comment.
“All this because I don’t want to take Claire with us this weekend?” he asked suspiciously.
“What are you going to do on your own in Aspen?”
“Ski, obviously.”
“You don’t ski, you attempt suicide,” David said with a pointed look, and then went on in an attempt to change his friend’s mind: “I was thinking that if Claire came with us, you’d be polite enough to stay with her and I wouldn’t have to fly around in a helicopter, scouring the mountains and canyons searching for you. Besides, she’s very pleasant company; she’ll help you to relax.”
His elbows resting on the armrests and his fingers interlaced, Alex pensively regarded David.
“Can you tell me what’s got into you?” he asked calmly. “You’ve been getting into my personal life more and more lately.”
“I see you becoming increasingly isolated, and that isn’t helping you at all,” David explained in the same tone.
“I find solitude immensely constructive.”
And very dangerous, thought David. He knew that the minds of people with high IQs worked differently from other people’s, which made them vulnerable to psychological disorders. There had been many cases where distinguished scientists, philosophers and artists had become victims of their intellectual singularity, which had destroyed their lives. Alex had for months been showing such symptoms and David, having noted the change, kept on inventing various excuses to be close to him. Through activities and ideological debates, he tried to limit his friend’s introversion and preserve his intellectual equilibrium. And he had a very serious reason for doing this.
Alex unlaced his fingers and sat up.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to focus on my work. The contract we’re after is very important,” he said, putting an abrupt end to the conversation.
He opened a file with statistical data on his laptop and immediately became engrossed. Once he had decided something, no one could change his mind.
David realized that there was no point in continuing to pressure his stubborn friend. He turned away, and his gaze became lost in the vast sky outside the airplane window.
“I’m not worried about that. In business, you seem to be more favored than anyone,” he said, giving up on trying to change Alex’s mind.
Unlike the dead ends in his private life, Alex’s professional life boasted many successes. His company was growing beyond all expectations. In ten years he had succeeded in becoming one of the major players in the energy industry, a fact for which he was highly resented by his established competitors, who vainly struggled to arrest his growth.
Alex did not reply. The project he was going to Washington for was important, of course, but right now he was using it as an excuse to avoid any further analyses of his love life, or rather its non-existence. Not that he considered it a strictly private matter. Other than his personal moments that he kept to himself, he shared everything else with David. It was just that he didn’t want to poke at his only existential wound. He had never been able to fall in love like other people did. He had never touched or looked at a woman in the way that many of them touched and looked at him. This significant experience was so foreign to him, it was as if he carried a curse.
Until he had turned thirty-five, he had subconsciously covered this lack with some short-lived excitements, and each time he had hoped that something would change. But despite all his efforts, this tactic had not borne any fruit. Disappointed, he had accepted his emotional inadequacy and had gradually withdrawn into himself. In the last three years he had made very few, reluctant efforts to form a relationship and, despite what he said, he knew very well that no one else was to blame for his inability to love. Something inside him stopped him from giving himself wholeheartedly. An indefinable barrier kept him shackled in the torment of loneliness.
The two men exchanged very few words until the private jet landed at Reagan National Airport in Washington half an hour later. A black Mercedes was waiting to take them to 1000 Independence Avenue, the headquarters of the US Department of Energy.
When they arrived, David remained in the lobby. Alex, accompanied by a member of staff, went up to the third floor and entered a conference room. The committee that was to examine his proposal was waiting for him there: four men and a woman, all over fifty, were sitting around a large, oval table, with folders open in front of them. He greeted them civilly and went to stand across from the committee chair, who was sitting at the one end of the table. Before taking a seat in the black leather chair behind him, he rested his briefcase on the table, removed a folder from inside, then closed the briefcase and put it on the floor.
“We’re ready to hear your proposal, Mr. Meyers,” said the committee chair and gestured for him to start.
In a clear, energetic and engaging presentation, Alex offered the data analyzing the comparative advantages of his proposal and also highlighted the irreversible ecological destruction caused by the widespread use of petroleum and other fossil fuels. He continued about the dangers of nuclear energy: radioactive waste and the residues of nuclear accidents remained intact in nature for hundreds of years, condemning millions of people to death from incurable diseases.
The committee chair, the woman and another man were listening carefully; the other two looked bored and indifferent.
Alex entered the last stretch of his presentation:
“In the last few years my company has invested millions of dollars in research and development in alternative energy sources, and I believe the result has vindicated these efforts. My proposal revolutionizes the energy sector and provides access to cleaner and cheaper energy to more consumers than we thought possible.”
Frank Brenner, one of the two men who seemed to be against the proposal, smirked.
“Let’s talk business, Mr. Meyers. We all know that your company’s primary interest is to make a profit.”
Alex heard what Brenner really intended to say: “Don’t pretend you’re interested in protecting the planet. We’re not so stupid as to believe you.” Alex could see that some committee members already had suspicions about him. He had no such suspicions; he had facts. He had reports—a necessary business tool—that Brenner supported the interests of a major oil corporation. So was not surprised.
“I won’t disagree, but for me profit and innovation must go hand in hand.”
“Mr. Meyers is not obliged to defend his intentions,” the man sitting next to Brenner remarked sharply. “This proposal has many advantages we need to seriously consider.”
Alex watched as these two rivals sized-up each other. What would be their next move?
Another member of the committee, who worked behind the scenes for one of Alex’s competitors, entered the discussion:
“Exactly what advantages?” he asked, his baffled expression implying that he, for one, couldn’t see any.
The woman sitting next to him found it difficult to conceal her displeasure. People who sold out without caring about the future, not even their children’s, disgusted her. Unfortunately, she had no proof that would help her throw Brenner and him off the committee.
“Advantages for whom? For the planet, people or your shareholders?” she asked back with undisguised frostiness.
Alex intervened, rescuing the man who had opened his mouth to protest. A dispute between the members could cause the committee to issue no decision at all, and that would not serve his purpose.
“We all know that energy resources are not inexhaustible, and every day we have more and more protests against the environmental pollution caused by other forms of energy. If we also take into account the current economic crisis, the one hundred thousand new jobs created for this project would be good publicity for your party and you. And from what the opinion polls show, you really need it.”
“You have quite an aggressive strategy,” said Brenner, his sarcastic tone barely hiding the hint of a threat.
“I thought we were talking business,” Alex retorted in the same tone.
“This meeting is not the place for personal confrontations,” the chairman intervened, glancing sharply at his colleague.
He made no comment to Alex; he thought it only reasonable that he would react that way to Brenner’s insulting behavior. He did not wheel and deal with high-ranking officials and political leaders and he had the moral right to put the sell-out in his place.
In the short, but tense, silence that followed, a high-frequency sound began to penetrate Alex’s head, becoming louder and louder. Without betraying the slightest disturbance, he discreetly pressed his left ear, trying to stop the noise.
The vibrations in the room were changing their frequency constantly, influenced by the entrance of a supernatural being in the material plane. Suddenly, a pulsating cloud of light began to take shape behind the committee chair, quickly condensing into a female form. Those present would have been shocked had they been able to see the otherworldly entity that appeared—a presence visible only to Brenner’s eyes, or rather the eyes of the being hidden inside him. Making sure that no one was watching him, he turned to look at her. For fractions of a second his eyes glowed red with a burning hatred, and then immediately returned to their normal color.
A radiant, silvery blue aura surrounded the transcendental being’s ethereal body, extending around her in gentle undulations. A cascade of long strawberry blonde hair framed her exquisite face, accentuating her strange-colored eyes. They were neither light blue, nor gray, nor white, but a blend of all three colors that gave her irises a shade that was rare even for the world from which she came. She wore a long, ice blue dress and an ice blue overcoat that flared out at the elbows and hips. It was fastened at the chest with two platinum chains linked to four facing buttons. Her compelling presence exuded gentleness and power, as she stood there serenely in all her majesty, emitting the resplendent light of her sublime nature. She was not just any Angel. She was Aranes, the Superior of the Angels.
Coolly, she cast Brenner an expressionless glance before leaning over the chair’s shoulder.
“Oscar,” she whispered in his ear, “this is not just the same old, everyday decision. Humanity’s future depends on it as well as the planet that was created for its prosperity.” Your responsibility goes beyond the office you hold. Your decision must be in the interest of life.”
She said nothing more, but remained standing behind him, keeping him within the positive influence of her aura. Meanwhile, she was scanning Alex's aura. He had perceived the disturbance caused to the invisible cosmic force energies from her entrance in the material field, yet he was not sure what caused it. However, he did not miss the committee chair’s brief startled expression and he was looking at him with discreet curiosity.
The chairman never understood why memories of his childhood awakened in his mind. Of the days when he played naked with his friends under the sun without giving a thought to ultraviolet radiation, or when he cupped his hands to drink water from a nearby spring without caring about bacteria or poisons. When his gaze did not stumble on the gray walls of enormous apartment buildings, but got lost in varicolored horizons, and the air he breathed was neither smoggy nor polluted with carbon and sulfur dioxide. Of those days when he never felt the suffocating fear he now felt about his children’s future, and the future of the twin grandchildren that his daughter had brought into the world a few months ago.
The committee chairman snapped back to reality, wondering at the sudden awakening of his conscience, of the sensitivity which he thought had faded with the passing of his youth and his entry in the tough adult world. His decision was not merely made, it dominated his entire being.
He leaned forward and spread his hands on the table.
“It seems that mine is the deciding vote,” he said, looking at his subordinates one by one. “Personally, I believe that the proposal has a number of features that are hard to ignore.” He turned to Alex: “I like it, Mr. Meyers. I’m going to support it.”
Alex nodded. If he felt vindicated, it did not show on his face. He had learned to hide his feelings so as not to reveal aspects of his character that would make it possible for someone, especially his competitors, to predict his reactions. And, when he achieved a professional victory, he thought it foolish to provoke his enemies without reason by smiling complacently.
Brenner and the other member who had opposed the proposal closed their folders with a measure of disappointment. The woman and her like-minded colleague smiled, pleased with the decision.
Aranes slowly crossed the room and went to stand behind Alex’s left shoulder. As expressionless as he, she let her gaze sink into Brenner’s eyes. A dark energy, like a cloud of smoke, began to come out of the man’s body. A few moments later, behind his back, the energy took the insubstantial form of another entity: Asmodeus.
The Archdemon of Eregkal was tall and muscular. Long black hair framed his harsh, sharply angular face and fell freely over his shoulders. He wore dark pants tucked inside his high black boots, a long coat, and elbow-length gloves, all in black leather. His dark aura whirled around him, betraying his irritation at the confrontation’s outcome.
With the arrogance of Demons, who are unwilling to admit defeat, he calmed his aura and winked at Aranes.
“Good work, Princess. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
The Superior of the Angels watched impassively as Asmodeus disappeared, taking with him his strong negative influence. The dominance of the positive celestial energy changed the atmosphere in the room. The humans felt better, except for Brenner, who seemed somewhat dazed.
Aranes rested her hand on Alex’s shoulder as he collected his papers.
“You did it, Alex,” she said softly.
He heard her gentle, unearthly voice and felt an inexplicable wave of warmth pass through him. He went completely numb. For a brief moment, he stopped gathering his papers and held his breath.
The Angel moved away from him and, as she had done countless times before, observed him with interest, thinking how special he was. Humans couldn’t hear the voices of Ethereals or sense their presence, unless an entity wanted to communicate with them—something that happened rarely and only to spiritually advanced individuals who had dedicated their lives to full knowledge of the transcendental. But Alexander Meyers was a prominent scientist and businessman, the epitome of rationalism, and his inner explorations always had objective facts as their starting point. Yet he felt her presence and heard her voice, even though she had not intended it. Why did this happen?
Alex recovered and closed the folder. He shot a quick glance at the people present. They were all gathering their own papers and, thankfully, no one had noticed his momentary confusion. If over the weekend there circulated a rumor on the ever-wakeful market that he had some mental problem—and Brenner would be more than willing to spread it—then on Monday, as soon as Wall Street opened, his company’s stocks would begin to slide. He picked up his bag from the floor and rested it on the table. He opened it, threw in the folder, said a polite goodbye and left the room.
Aranes watched him leave, understanding that this was not over, but rather the beginning of something. But neither could yet fully understand what that could be.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Chapter reveal: The Lubecker by M.J. Joseph


9781614935247-JacketGray_Lubecker COVER.inddName
M. J. Joseph
Book TitleThe Lübecker
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Peppertree Press
The Lubecker explores the dynamics of personal identity and self-knowledge in a thematically braided journey of characters toward a dramatic and unexpected finale. M.J. Joseph achieves this by plunging the reader into a world of parallel and lively narratives drawn into the roiling milieu of European history leading to the onset of World War I. the book also recalls many of Western Literature’s most engaging philosophical and religious challenges and its most memorable and moving human struggles.
Chapter 1
Dr. Tomaso Bettoli looked down at Dr. Sam Yoffey, who was sitting on an old, blackened, scarred, hickory stump, picking with the edge of his left thumb at the black shell of a nut, exploring grooves where the nut’s skin it had lifted away.  The stump had been created some years, ago, after a squall had moved-in from the Bay over the Bluffs and blown the tree down.  Men had hacked at the stump for a while, trying to shape it into something flattened, and their axe bites had left their straight and wedged marks.  There were trees everywhere: hickory, oak, magnolia, all hung with moss swaying in the light breeze stirring from the Bay, below.

“Sam, you can’t save them all; premature births are all too common, here on the Hill.  The women don’t let anyone know they’re in trouble, until it’s too late; some are afraid of their husbands, some rely on midwives.  Who, knows? said Bettoli. Dr. Bettoli was from New Jersey, and having served his commitment with the Navy, left his last station in the adjoining town, to serve as a physician in the town across the Bayou from the Hill.  He was only able to visit patients on the Hill once a week: far too seldom.  He had let it be known through medical schools, that he was looking for a partner and one day, Samuel Yoffey, late of South Carolina, had arrived at his door. Sam wore the same clothes he was wearing, today: khaki pants, white cotton shirt with two chest pockets and cowhide brogans; all items procured from his father’s dry goods and surplus store.   “I’ll leave you, now; maybe old Jones still has my boat unrented.”  And, so, Bettoli left the tired, saddened young man muttering to himself: “It’s 1886; might as well be 1786, as far as these poor women are concerned,” to walk down the Hill to the boathouse and, hopefully, rent a boat to row back to town, to rest in his house, atop Town Hill.

Sam looked out over the Bay, silver and calm, with sea birds wandering from the Hill’s shore out to the white sand island, the spit that enfolded the harbor.   He lifted himself from the stump; it had been a long night, and the peace he’d enjoyed with the hickory nut was to be left behind for a while.  He walked back to the little cottage, passing unwashed, children of all ages, a parade of dirty bare feet and mostly blond and light-eyed heads. As he entered the house, he went into the small, mournful room and accepted the small bundle from Sister John.  The nurse had worked with him several times, but neither Yoffey, nor the nurse, had been able to accustom themselves to such scenes.  Yoffey moved the bundle to his left arm and said to the Sister, “I’ll take it to the Esther, if you’ll see to the girl, please.”  The Esther was the Hill’s infirmary, hospital and late-morning gathering place for the Hill’s women, who sat in the most comfortable crux, which varied according to season and weather, of its low, stone

2

wall, to gossip and complain and keep account of their neighbors.  The Esther House had been founded by Miss Esther Cord, a well-to-do spinster who had lived-out her days in a tall, wooden mansion next door, the daughter of a timber magnate who had appeared on the Hill in the 1830’s, the scion of an old, Mississippi plantation family. Esther Cord inherited the white, columned house and a fortune that she devoted to establishing a hospital for the residents of the Hill with a group of nuns she had invited from across the South, most of whom had walked away from disparate Orders to serve more of mankind and less of the Church. These women had kept their distinct habits and somehow, had captured the support of the nearest Catholic priest, who was careful never to mention the ladies of the Esther to his superiors. Sam bent his back forward to stretch in the early day, and the cool air, quiet, except for locust with their insistent buzz along the bayou as the sun rose higher into a clear sky.  Sam left a couple of hours after the rosy shafts of the dawn had begun to reach over the east bluffs and fall down the great hill that defined the community, bringing the season’s heat through the trees to meet the Bayou’s interminable humidity.

The young doctor left the small, green, shotgun house, meeting no one, except one or two of the girl’s worried women relatives, some holding hands, some clinching their sides or pulling and twisting stringy hair; all the men were in the Bay or the Gulf.  A sandy path paved with magnolia leaves, each side lined with large white chunks of marble, all growing green with age, damp and shade, led away from the small house, and the pervasive beards of Spanish moss hung slightly angled from the live oak branches tangled over the ill-defined yards that neighbored the sad home.  Yoffey followed the dirt road along the bay heights and decided to detour and trudge down, along the narrow trail dividing the native tangle of dewberry vines, yaupons and false rosemary.  As the trail began to rise, he came to the long thicket of palmettos which, as he’d learned as boy in South Carolina, harbored rattlesnakes.  The palmettos led up the hill and he rejoined the road as it curved and straightened into a wide, dirt, four-rutted lane that led to the Esther Sisters, as they had become known to the tiny community.  The “hospital” had been established after the Civil War and the number of Sisters varied, according to a management Yoffey didn’t attempt to understand. The “Mother” was always glad to see him, notwithstanding the news he brought or the time of day he appeared.  As he walked up the concrete steps onto the porch, he noticed that the painted boards were wearing and flecked, but clean, as always, the wood declining under the feet that trod them and the Sisters’ application of rough brooms and potent mops.  He nodded to the thin, black boy who rose to open the double, black-painted, screen door and, as he entered the reception room, was met by a new, fresh face, fixed into a coif and veil and an old-fashioned, dampened bandeau.  Her eyes shone light, brilliant gray and she stood before the young man as an apparition of the type of Rococo light he’d seen in museums, a kind of beauty he could not recall encountering amongst the living.  As he opened his mouth to speak, the Mother appeared and shook her head, and unclasping her hands, held them out to take the bundle. “This is two, this week, doctor.”

“Yes, Mother, birth mortality is so common on the Hill.  The womenfolk run themselves to death, trying to earn extra money across the Bayou and the men are never around, until after

3

dark.  It’s hard to know an ailing woman by the light of a kerosene lantern and then, after pulling up oysters or mackerel all day, trying to look at them through eyes, half drunk or half asleep. I am a twenty-six year old doctor, I do not want to keep delivering these premature and stillborn babies, Mother; I suppose that I’m just tired” said Yoffey, with tears welling up behind his spectacles, over his soft brown eyes.  His ample mustache was damp and the curls of his black hair, loosed by the removal of his hat, had begun to spill over his forehead. He bowed, walked out onto the porch and sat down at the left edge, knocking his heels against the brick that lined the bottom and hid the cool and dusty underside of the building.  He allowed a few of his tears to fall, and took out his plain, white handkerchief, to wipe them away and blow his nose. The Sisters were busy, as always, working the grounds’ verdant and variegated collection of flower bushes, hedges, and grass, as well as, cleaning, and more cleaning of the stone fountain with the Virgin standing with clasped hands.  Other nuns walked their patients around an elliptical stone path that centered the building, or pushed them in wooden wheelchairs, silently, cutting through the usually indifferent and voluble gaggle of women who had found the perimeter wall’s ideal corner.  Behind Sam, a steady influx of maids with food from the richer families mixed with the sick, and the dying, to enter the front door to leave their offerings.   The occasional cackles and Southern articulations of “uh-huh” or “uh-uh” or “ah-ha” of ladies filled the air as visiting Esther Foundation members came and went, most hailing from across the Bayou and “Town”.

Presently, the young Sister he’d encountered came out of the building and offered him a cup of strong, black coffee. Yoffey accepted it and, ashamed of his tears, whispered, “Thank you, Sister.” She stood behind him for a few minutes, until he seemed calmed, and then sat down, next to him.  Her bright eyes and full lips were the only things he noticed, pulling his mind away from his amassed grief and into her presence.  She offered her hand, a defiant gesture that would never have been allowed by her original Order, and introduced herself as Sister James. Yoffey accepted her hard and callused hand and said, “I’m Sam Yoffey; you’ll have to get used to me; I’m the only doctor practicing east of the Bayou. Your physician on the Hill, ma’am.”

“Dr. Yoffey, that’s a beautiful accent you have: South Carolina? I believe that I’ve heard it at the abbey, where I trained. ”

“Yes, ma’am, born and bred, except for some training in Paris.”

The two young people sat quietly, Sam sipping his coffee, trying to revive his spirits and alertness and Sister James, watching the activities of the other nuns about the hospital grounds and the antics of the poor Hill women, who occasionally rose from the wall to bring to life an absent member of their tribe with comical, idiomatic wiggles and other, more lively gestures.  “Where do you maintain an office, Doctor?” asked the young nun. “Do you live on the Hill, or in town?”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Excerpt reveal: Watch Me, by Jody Gehrman


Watch Me CoverTitle
:  WATCH ME
Genre:  Thriller/Psychological Suspense/Women’s Fiction
Author: Jody Gehrman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Find out more on Amazon
A gripping psychological thriller about one college student’s dark obsession with his professor, Watch Me plunges readers into a tense, twisty, and terrifying tale about how far obsession can go…
Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.
Except one.
Sam Grist is Kate’s most promising student. An unflinching writer with razor-sharp clarity who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, his raw talent is something Kate wants to nurture into literary success. But he’s not there solely to be the best writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years.
As Sam slowly makes his way into Kate’s life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire. But how far will his fixation go? And how far will she allow it?
In this gripping novel that explores intense obsession and illicit attraction, Jody Gehrman introduces a world where what one desires most may be the most dangerous thing of all.
EXCERPT:
You’re in the foyer now, closing the door. Any moment you’ll turn and see me. My heart pounds against my ribcage like a crazed dog throwing itself against a fence. I dash up the stairs, willing my boots to stay silent. If you could see me now, you’d be impressed. I’ve got stealth. My criminal instincts are honed. The good girl in you can’t help but be turned on by that. Maybe if you catch me, you’ll find it sexy.

But no. Not going to happen.

You can’t see me.

I have to disappear.

Everything’s riding on this. My pulse races.

Without thinking, I run into the first room at the top of the stairs: the bathroom. Your smell is heavy in here, a tropical storm of Kateness. I creep inside the tub and, careful not to make a sound, pull the shower curtain closed.

I hear you walking up the stairs. You’re humming. It sounds like “Wild Night” by Van Morrison—one of my favorite songs. That has to mean something.

There’s a preoccupied cadence to your footsteps. I picture you flipping through mail, your brow furrowed in that tiny apostrophe of concentration. You probably have your reading glasses perched on the end of your nose. I ache for you. I peak around the curtain just enough to catch a glimpse of your slender bare feet reaching the top of the staircase and making a left toward your bedroom. I hold my breath, letting the curtain fall back into place. Why didn’t I slip out when I had the chance? If you find me here, everything’s fucked.

I let my cockiness get out of hand.

From now on, I resolve to be more careful.

You’re in the bedroom, still humming. Definitely “Wild Night.” I close my eyes and lean my head against the cool, white tile. My heart continues to race. My breathing’s ragged. I can hear you searching through drawers. You must be looking for your yoga pants, your wife-beater. Your humming turns to singing in the bedroom. There’s the sound of coat hangers clicking against one another. Your voice is husky and rich.

Out of nowhere, a ripple of calm washes over me. This is how it will be when we live together. You’ll be in the next room singing while you change clothes. I’ll step out of the shower, wipe steam from the mirror. I’ll walk into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around my waist. You’ll glance over your shoulder at me, your face lighting up as you pull your tank over your head. I’ll sit on the bed and rub my damp hair, caught between the need to touch you and the simple pleasure of watching you from across the room.

You drop something—your phone? The sound jolts me back to the moment. I need to go right now, while you’re still in the bedroom.

I can’t, though. With your scent in the air, your off-key song in my ears, there’s too much anchoring me to the spot. We’re so close right now. I’m in your world, and even though I haven’t been invited, your nearness fills me like a drug.

Oh, god. You’re in the bathroom. You turn on the faucet at the sink. This is torture. You’re so close.

So close.

I listen to you brushing your teeth. Smell the minty freshness of your toothpaste. You gargle. Spit.

My breath catches in my throat as you fall silent. What are you doing now? You’re motionless. Are you eyeing the shower curtain? Maybe it’s not as opaque as I thought. You can see my silhouette. You’re standing there, still as a tree, holding your breath, staring at my outline in the pearly white curtain. Any second now you’ll yank open the plastic and—

Oh, god, I can’t stand it, I’m going to—

Wait. You’re leaving.

I exhale in dizzy relief as your bare feet patter back into the hallway and down the stairs.

When I hear NPR come to life in the kitchen, I decide it’s now or never. The stairs end in the downstairs hallway opposite the kitchen, so it’s risky. I have to chance it. Let’s pray you’re in the pantry or at the stove, your back to me. I lift first one foot, then the other, out of the tub, moving like a mime. Every step requires extreme control. My system’s still flooded with adrenaline; my muscles ache to take the stairs at a dead run. In spite of the radio, the oak planks will make way too much noise if I hurry.

There’s a window at the landing. I catch sight of your neighbor’s children in the side yard—two little girls. They’re playing a game involving plastic guns. Like marionettes controlled by the same hand, their tiny blond heads swivel toward me. We stare at one another through the glass for a long moment.

I need to get out of here.

Now.

There’s a bad moment at the bottom of the stairs. You’re not in the pantry. Not at the stove. You’re at the sink. All it would take for you to catch sight of me is a quick sideways glance.

Again, the crazy injustice of our situation hits me. I know you better than anyone, Kate, yet I’m forced to run away like a thief. I hurry toward the front door.

Just as I’m closing it behind me, lunging for the porch steps, I hear you say, “Hello? Is someone there?”

As I slip away, head bowed, hoodie pulled up, one of the little girls next door cries, “Bang-bang! You’re dead!”

I offer her a weak smile and stride toward my car.