On February 4, 2020, we said goodbye to our almost-18-year-old cat, Pugsley.
Along with her sister Wednesday (who passed away a few years ago), Pugsley came to us as a kitten. She was a feisty but sweet little cat her whole life. Late last week, she started to signal to us that she was ready to leave all this earthly BS behind. Rather than let her deteriorate into a painful or frightening existence, we elected to let her go peacefully at home, among the people and things she loved most.
Thank you to the staff at The Cat Hospital of Media, especially Dr. Kersting, who gave her such compassionate care, and Dr. Peltz and Val, who were so gentle and patient with her in her final moments. It was a blessing to be able to keep her at home until the end.
The Little Princess
We’ll miss you, Puggles. You’re with your sis, now, over that rainbow bridge, running and jumping with the speed and grace that you had when you were a kitten, and keeping watch over us the same as you did when you were by our sides.
In case you missed it, I published my thriller novella“Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” in early January 2019. The story follows bodyguard Number Seven and his charge Kirill, a young athlete training for Olympic gold, as they weave in and out of high-stakes conspiracies and low-key romantic encounters. It’s a story I never thought I could write – thriller has never been my preferred genre for reading or writing – but once the first inklings of the original plot settled into my brain, I had no choice but to run with it.
This post isn’t about Number Seven’s story, though. Not directly, anyway.
My sister is three years older than me. I spent a lot of my childhood wanting to be like her. She was certainly my best friend growing up. In a lot of ways, she still is.
She taught me how to tie my shoes, and how to write my name. She taught me to read, through Little Golden Books and comics she let me look at from over her shoulder. She always read harder stuff than me, stuff with words and concepts I didn’t yet understand. When I’d ask her about them, she wouldn’t roll her eyes or push me away, though; she’d patiently explain them until I did understand. And, of course, we’d play: make-believe school, make-believe knights, make-believe fairies, and make-believe starfighters. She was my first and best example of someone who loved stories. Simply put, I’m a writer because of her.
I’ve talked before about the tradition my sister and I had of trading stories on Christmas morning. But it wasn’t just Christmas stories. There was a time when we traded stories just because we wanted to share our ideas with each other. I remember marking in the margins of my written pages where she’d left off the last time she’d read, and how many lines I’d written since then. She was my first reader, my first critic, the first person whose opinion of my writing mattered so much to me that I felt giddy when she liked it and crushed when she didn’t.
We don’t share stories like that anymore. Her storytelling journey took her on a different path from me. Now, she creates interactive stories, told live with plenty of improvisation from the friends who join her at her gaming table. It makes her happy, and that makes me happy, too.
When I shared the news that I’d published my novella, I was surprised by the encouraging words and actions from family, friends, and colleagues. Many of these were people who had, until this point, never read any stories of mine or even knew I wrote stories at all. I finally felt like the world was seeing the Me that had been here all along. My heart swelled seeing the Congratulations! messages pop up. Then I saw a message from my sister. “I’m so proud of you!” it said, and I burst into tears. This woman who’d taught me so many things, including how to make stories, was proud of me for the story I’d written.
It was satisfying to finish Seven’s story. Publishing it made me anxious but also excited. Hearing from friends that they enjoyed the story has made me happy. Making my sister proud, though, has been one of the greatest joys I’ve ever felt on this journey of becoming a writer. Who knows? Maybe I can even do it again.
Once again, I hadn’t planned on writing a holiday story. But sometimes a line or scene or emotion gets stuck in my head, and I have to put it down on paper. Scroll to the end to skip straight to my notes, or read my 2018 holiday story, “Heritage”, below.
Christmas eve day meant that work had been crazy, traffic on the Loop had been a mess, and last-minute wine shopping had been a really bad idea, but Daniel Wright somehow made it home before Rob got back from his veterans’ group holiday coffee party. He’d had the foresight to prep the roast chicken Rob had requested for their quiet holiday dinner, and the shallots and potatoes would be a quick, easy bake alongside. That meant he could grab a hot shower, open the bottle of Beaujolais – recommended by his brother Marshall, whose knowledge of wines rivaled a sommelier’s – to breathe, maybe even queue up a playlist populated with some of Rob’s relaxing jazz favorites before the evening would get busy. Or, at least, before they would get busy for the evening.
Daniel snickered to himself as he opened the front door,
only to falter on the threshold when he smelled the unmistakable aroma of
“Rob?” he called, but it was Paige who called back.
Daniel blinked, set the wine on the table next to the door,
and walked into the living room with his coat still on. Paige was sitting in front
of the fireplace, coaxing a flame with a bundle of sticks while Buckle rolled,
purring, beside her.
“What are you doing here?” Daniel asked.
Paige looked round at him. “Making a fire.”
“That, I can see,” Daniel said with a half-hearted roll of
his eyes. “I meant, aren’t you supposed to be with your mum?”
“I wanted to come home.” Her green eyes glimmered at him. “That’s
He felt abruptly shamed. “Of course!” He crossed to her and joined
her on his knees, taking her in a quick hug. “You just surprised me. We weren’t
expecting you until the 28th.”
She stayed close to him, smelling of sandalwood soap, and
shrugged. “Well, Brad had a heart attack.”
Daniel jerked back. “Oh, my God! Is he all right?”
Paige shrugged again. “He didn’t die or anything,” she said,
rather coolly. “My mom kind of freaked out, though.”
“I can imagine,” Daniel mumbled, even if he couldn’t quite; Paige’s
mother had always projected an air of supreme – and haughty – control in every
interaction he’d ever had with her. That wasn’t saying much, of course, being
the man her ex-husband had married.
He was about to ask what had happened when the front lock
clicked, the door swung open, and Rob called:
“Babe? You here?”
“We’re in the living room,” Daniel returned.
“Buck with you?” Rob said, when he stopped in the entryway
at sight of Paige. A confused grin split his all-American face. “Hey, kiddo!
What are you doing here so early?”
“Brad had a heart attack,” Daniel said.
Rob’s reaction was to shrug one shoulder from his jacket and
grunt. “Huh. That’s too bad.”
Daniel pulled a face. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
“It’s not like I’m married to him,” Rob replied in a grumble
before flinging off his jacket and opening his arms for his daughter. “You
Paige rose and crossed to his welcoming embrace, pressing
her cheek to his chest. “Yeah.”
“You want to talk about it?” Rob asked.
Paige drew back with a twisted-lipped grimace. “What’s there
to talk about? He tries his best, but those kids run him ragged. I offered to look
after Bailey and Dex, but Mom said that’s what she pays Alexis for.”
Rob met her expression with a frown of his own. “Did you
want to stay?”
“Not really.” Paige let go a little sigh as she bent to Buckle,
reaching out with her mechanical hand to scratch him behind one ear. She smiled
a bit for his murmuring purr, and said, “I mean, I didn’t want to just bail,
but she was all, ‘Oh, honey, it’s going to be so crazy here,’” she said, affecting
a sneer for her loose mimicry of her mother. “‘Why don’t you just go back to
your dad?’” She lifted her shoulders one more time. “So I was like, ‘All right,
fine. You don’t want me here, change my flight and I’ll go home.’”
A pang of love urged Daniel to comfort her. “I’m sure that’s
not what she meant.”
But Paige just rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I feel bad for
Brad – he’s a nice guy – but I couldn’t hang around just Mom bossing around the
kids, and Alexis, and a bunch of hospital folks, on top of everything else.”
Rob smiled and stroked her hair, once. “Well, you’re always
welcome with us.”
Paige smiled, wider and somewhat sadly. “You don’t mind me crashing
your holiday date dinner?”
“Not at all,” Daniel assured her, and grinned. “It’s a big
“You want to help?” Rob asked.
Paige shot him her familiar snarky snigger. “I thought
Daniel cooks this dinner.”
Rob puffed. “I make the potatoes.”
“And he pours the wine,” Daniel added.
“Oo!” Paige goggled her eyes. “Can I have wine, too?”
“Sure,” Rob said, and beckoned her to the kitchen.
Daniel followed them, foregoing the notion, now, of the
shower and playlist in favor of spending time with his two most-loved. The
three of them together – with Buckle predictably underfoot – made meal
preparation go faster, easing them into a pleasantly conversational mien about all
“Where’s Marshall?” Paige asked as she took over sieving
duty from Rob.
Daniel didn’t look up from slicing apples for the salad. “He
and Caitlin took the kids to Cleveland.”
“What’s in Cleveland?” Paige asked with an expected level of
“Caitlin’s folks,” Daniel told her.
“They wanted to go there instead of here,” Rob said, and
Daniel could hear him making his condescending face for what would come next. “Apparently,
Chicago is too scary for them.”
“That’s not what she said,” Daniel chided softly.
“They just don’t want to be on your brother’s home turf,”
Paige hummed as she returned to work on the potatoes. “I don’t
know why they don’t like Marshall.”
“I can think of a few reasons,” Daniel mumbled, mostly to
himself. Rob must have heard him, though, because Daniel immediately felt a light
slap of towel against his hip. He snickered. “They’ll be back on the 28th.”
“Because Marshall can’t spend more than three whole days
with them?” Paige guessed, and they all laughed.
Daniel moved over to the sink to wash his hands, sparing a
glance at the oven timer. “Chicken should be ready in about ten minutes. How
“Almost done,” Paige said, scraping her spatula over a final
layer through the sieve.
“Mind if I grab a fast shower?” Rob asked; he was already
headed toward the doorway.
Daniel nodded him on. “Go ahead.”
“But you’re doing dishes!” Paige called after him.
“That’s what you think!” Rob cried back gleefully, followed
by the thud-thud sound of him taking the steps two at a time to the second
“We’ll run the dishwasher tonight,” Daniel said in
Paige tilted her head toward a shoulder. “I don’t really
mind washing. I just hate drying.” Finished with her job, she licked the spatula
and tossed it into the sink. “What’s next?”
Daniel pressed his mouth into a brief but suitably scolding
line before offering her a more tolerant smile. “Just the table. Get the wine
glasses, please? The good ones, from the hutch. I’ll get cutlery.”
He started to move toward the dinnerware drawer when the
sudden press of her body against his back made him stiffen in surprise. She put
her arms around him a moment, squeezed, and said:
“I love you.”
He chuckled. “I love you, too, sweetheart.” As she released
him, he turned, facing her with an uneasy and uneven grin. “Are you all right?”
Her face, beautiful with youth and hope, glowed with
affection. “You’ve always treated me like a regular person. Even with this,”
she said, waving her mechanical prosthetic arm. “My mom…!” She swung her gaze to
the ceiling, shook her head, and exhaled an exasperated little breath. “I love
her but… You know she still makes me use plastic glasses? I get why she has
them – the twins are still little – but I’m nineteen! I know how to handle a
glass glass! I’m not going to fumble and break them. Or, at least, you know,
not more often than she would.”
Daniel drew his own labored breath.
Getting between Paige and her mother was always a complicated
and dangerous prospect. Rob had no trouble with it, but he was Paige’s father;
he had equal claim to her upbringing. Daniel was a latecomer, though, and a
non-traditional one, at that. He tried his best to be fair to Paige’s mother…as
much as his hackles might rise in defense of the girl who was his daughter by
way only of marriage.
“I know what your arm is capable of,” he said softly, “because
I helped build it.”
“It’s more than that.” Her whole body tensed with a kind of
quiet, barely-held-in anger. “I know there’s stuff I can’t do with my arm. But
there’s lots of stuff I can! She looks at me, and it’s like I’m…broken. And I hate that.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way around her.” He held her
shoulder and dipped his chin. “But you should never feel that way around us.”
As she looked up at him, her smile returned. “I know. And, I
don’t.” She closed her eyes and shook her head again. “This whole thing with
Brad, it made me think.” She raised her eyes to him once more. “If anything
ever happened to my dad, I could still live with you, right? You wouldn’t make
me go be with my mom?”
It felt like an intangible hand reached into his chest and clutched
his heart for a pulse-stopping pause. He blinked to keep tears from forming.
“Of course, I’d want you to stay with me!” He gave a gentle
chuckle. “But, you’re an adult, now—”
“I know,” she drawled in her still-teenage know-it-all voice.
“I know, legally, the custody stuff doesn’t mean anything, anymore.” She inhaled
with an air of resolve that straightened her posture and lifted her chin. “But you’ve
always felt like family, to me. More than my mom does, now.” She twisted her
mouth to one side. “I don’t think I even want to go back to St. Louis, anymore.
It’s like, she’s got her life there, and I’ve got my life here, with you and
Dad. You know?”
He nodded and smiled; the pressure in his throat and behind
his eyes was almost overwhelming. Despite that, he managed to get out without
his voice cracking, “I do.” He pulled a slightly-stuttering breath and looked
around. “I think I left the good napkins in the dryer. Do you mind taking care
of glasses and plates while I run up and get them?”
She beamed. “Sure,” she said, and bounced out of the kitchen
toward the dining room.
Daniel hurried around the short side of the room to the
stairs, rushing up them faster than Rob had done. He stumbled into the laundry room
nearly in gasps, and flung open the dryer to grab one of the limp linens, which
he pressed to his face to muffle his sudden and uncontrollable sobbing,
Rob’s hushed murmur made Daniel sniffle and turn. His husband
was in typical date-night dinner-in wear – a crewneck tee shirt and jogging
pants – but his face was blanched with worry.
“What’s wrong?” Rob asked, opening both arms.
Daniel stepped into them, at once calmed and uplifted in
that loose but powerful embrace. “Nothing,” he said against Rob’s cheek, rough
“You’re crying into our good napkins over nothing?” Rob said
Daniel sniffed and let out a shaky breath. “I wish I hadn’t
been afraid to adopt Paige when she was little.”
Rob blew a sigh close to his ear. “It wasn’t worth fighting
with Serena over, trust me,” he murmured against Daniel’s cheek. “And you were
still there for her. She still thinks of you as her dad.” He stroked the other
side of Daniel’s face. “So do I.”
Daniel stood straight with another sniffle and a still-slightly-weepy
smile. “I’m lucky to have you, Mister McAllister. And that amazing daughter of
“I’m lucky to have you and yours, too, Doctor Wright,” Rob
said, and bumped their heads together.
A staccato clomping signaled Paige’s arrival up the stairs.
“Hello-o-oh?” she called. “Are we eating, or what?”
“Be right there,” Rob told her, still holding on.
As Paige’s clomping tread retreated down the steps again, Daniel
drew up. “Our amazing daughter.”
Rob nodded. “Our amazing, impatient, opinionated daughter.”
They blinked, looked at each other, and said at the same
I’ve mentioned before how my sister and I used to write stories on Christmas eve/Christmas morning, to keep ourselves occupied before we were allowed to rush down to the presents tucked under the tree. Those years – and stories – are long gone, but I’ve renewed the tradition in recent years, if only for myself, and if only to stay in touch with my writing.
I always seem to return to the crew of my “Finding Mister Wright” universe for these holiday stories. I suppose because I wrote the very first “Finding Mister Wright” novella over the winter break of 2013, in a rush of words and emotion. In the five years since, I’ve written 27 stories starring these characters. Later stories (including this one) have swung the spotlight from the original Mister Wright Marshall to the McAllister/Wright family of Rob, Paige, and Daniel. Which is only fitting, I suppose, since Rob and Paige were the initial inspiration for a 2012 NaNoWriMo that never happened.
These stories are about family life and love, though they may not be the kind of life and love that everyone considers “normal” or “regular.” But then, what’s “normal”? What’s “regular”? Everybody deserves a chance at happiness, no matter how different one may look to any other of us. That’s especially true during the holidays.
Are you writing any stories for the holidays? Feel free to share in the comments below!
April 10 is Siblings Day, a day in many parts of the United States of America used to celebrate the importance of siblings. It’s not a federally-recognized holiday, yet, but it’s still a nice time to remember and honor the brothers and sisters in our lives. In lucky circumstances, a sibling is our oldest friend, a member of our genetic family with whom we will often know and share the greatest amount of time of our life. Our parents will usually pass on before we grow old; our children will often outlive us. But siblings grow up with us, and influence us in many ways they may never know.
I have one sibling, a sister. Sisters Day is the first Sunday in August, but I didn’t want to wait that long. I’ve mentionedbefore in my blog how my sister nurtured in me a love for stories. Through example of her own stories, she taught me about things like character and plot. She was also the first person ever to read my stories. While I couldn’t teach her much, being the little sister, I like to think that we offered each other encouragement when one of us might have felt down for not being like more “normal” girls who liked concerts, clothes, cars, and boys.
My sister has always been an avid reader; she is, in fact, one of the most well-read people I’ve ever met. From science fiction and psychology to folk tales and philosophy, she will read anything, even the back of a cereal box! She just…loves reading. That love was instilled in us by our father, I think, who always put a high value on the joy of reading. He used to tell us to never let us lose our joy for reading. Once you lose that joy, it’s so difficult to get it back. To my sadness, I’ve discovered this is true, among my friends and peers.
Wheaties box ca.1937. Well before our time, but this is the kind of stuff cereal boxes used to have on them.
Luckily, my sister has never lost her joy of reading. She’s kept that joy alive in me, too. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt too tired, too restless, too jaded to read. But then I remember my sister, and how smart, compassionate, and generous she is, and how she got that way from being so well-read. And, just like as if I were a little girl again, I want to be just like her.
These days, I stay reminded of my sister with my favorite bookmark: an old Polaroid of her that I keep in whatever book I’m currently reading. When I open up that book each night, and I see her smile, it reminds me how lucky I am to have a sister who loves stories, and who started in me a love of stories, too.
Happy Siblings Day to you! Do you have a sibling with which you share a love of something intrinsic to you both?
I had not planned on writing a holiday story this year. Current events led me into a kind of lingering depression, where even writing my work-in-progress – a space opera of diverse and changing characters running for their lives, a story I love and want so badly to see to the finish line – had become difficult to do every day. I was putting down four, maybe five or six sentences a day on my commute. The spark had left me. Then I saw a throwback post to my Christmas story swap from 2014.
Kindling of a Tradition
For those of you who haven’t read my earlier blog posts about this and aren’t familiar, the Christmas story swap is a tradition my sister and I started when we were pre-teens. (Now, I guess they’d call us “YAers”.) We would each write our own stories – usually fanfiction based on the X-Men, Dark Crystal, Star Wars, or whatever had captured our fancy that season – in the days or weeks leading up to Christmas day, with the purpose of swapping them on Christmas morning. It was an idea designed to keep us busy in those wee hours waiting for our parents to wake up. I don’t even remember anymore who came up with it, just that we did it for a several years straight, and it became one of my favorite holiday traditions. Writing stories became a tradition for me.
That tradition between us fell away as we grew older and moved away to university. I even forgot about it for a few years. Then, during a whirlwind bout of inspiration over the 2013 winter break, I wrote my not-exactly-romance, not-quite-coming-of-age novella “Finding Mister Wright.” Fifteen chapters over fifteen days, with the words flying from my brain to the page. I’d never before – and have never since – encountered characters whose voices and personalities have flowed so easily for me. Like Athena from Zeus’s crown, Marshall, Daniel, Rob, Paige, and the rest burst fully-formed from my brain. More than their easiness, though, I’ve loved how their lives and (non-)adventures have always brought me a simple but satisfying joy.
Finding Myself in Mister Wright
The original “Finding Mister Wright” novella takes place mostly over the winter Chicago holidays. Because of that, the cast of that story has always lived in a perpetual kind of winter wonderland, for me. I’ve written them through many different seasons and stages of life, but there’s something about the holidays that always bring out the best of them…and the best in me.
I love writing these characters in this holiday season. No matter how much they change – and they do – they always fill me with such love and a sense of family that is almost as good as having my real family around me. So, while I hadn’t planned on writing a Christmas story this year, when a little nugget of another “Finding Mister Wright” universe story idea struck me on my morning commute earlier this week, I had to run with it.
I wrote this 2017 “Finding Mister Wright” holiday story over the course of the last three days, so it’s basically me falling in free-form. It’s about 3500 words and nearly a full twelve pages, double-spaced. It’s not as polished as it could be, but it’s something I made and that I’m proud to share, nicks, scratches, and all. You can click on the cover image at left if you’d like to read it. If not, that’s fine, too.
I wish you a lovely holiday season, wherever you may be!
Do you enjoy reading holiday stories? How about reading them? If you read my story this year, what did you think? I’d love to hear from you!