Songbirds Series: “This Lonely Angel”

A sort-of “Doctor Who” story; first in the Songbirds Series. Doctor Who and all associated character names and likenesses are owned by the BBC. Used here without permission.
Based on characters presented in episode 3.10 “Blink” written by Steven Moffat and produced by Phil Collinson, Russell T. Davies, and Julie Gardner. Spoilers for the episode “Blink”.


The first time Sally Sparrow comes to Larry Nightingale’s bed – the old double bed shoved against the wall among crates spilling over with digital discs and random cables and remote controls – it’s because he takes her there…but only because she’s exhausted. They both are, their panic-induced adrenaline high long since faded on the winding walk back to his house.

They go to his house because it’s closer than her flat, even though he doesn’t know where she lives. Not that it matters. She mentions along the way she’s been awake for the last two days straight, and now she’s almost falling over from her weariness, so the sooner they can get someplace safe for her to rest, the better. And she is weary: she leans against him as they move up the stairs, nearly hip-to-hip, his arms wound around her just to keep her upright. Though, his arms haven’t left her since they walked – half-stumbling, half-looking back over their shoulders – from the overgrown old Wester Drumlins estate.

He lowers her onto his still-unmade bed because he can’t go into Kathy’s room, not yet. And of a fumbling, stuttering sudden, he scolds himself for letting this pretty young woman settle herself upon sheets that haven’t been washed in over a week. But she’s asleep before he even starts to make his bumbling apology. So, from the floor, he watches her for a long time, almost not blinking, until he falls asleep, too, propped against the hard plaster of the wall.

The second time Sally comes to his bed, it’s nearly a month later. Of course, it isn’t really to his bed she comes, but to Kathy’s, to help sort through Kathy’s things. But amid the poking and poring through dressers and closets and containers full of clothes and bling and shoes (When did his sister get so many bloody shoes? And what is he supposed to do with them all, now?), Sally comes across a ratty, weather-beaten paperback copy of The Phantom Tollbooth tucked between a pair of faded jeans and a maroon pullover.

She looks up at him and asks if he wants it, or if she can take it, as a memento of his sister.

Looking at it, the wide brightness of Kathy’s smile flashes behind Larry’s eyes for just a second, and he blinks. Sure, he tells her; he’ll just find her a bag to put it in, because it’s raining and it’d be a shame to let the old book get any more damaged than it already is. Although, Sally has a coat under which she can tuck it, and a purse with more than enough room for a child’s story book, and she didn’t even say she wanted to take it with her today, anyhow. But he goes into his room nonetheless, holding the book in his hands, to look for a suitable satchel.

He never quite makes it to the closet, instead swaying somewhat woozily to the top of his bed, where all he can do is think of his sister and try to remember what she looked like, and sounded like, and how very lonely this place feels without her, now.

Sally comes to him a minute after, asking if he’s all right. He doesn’t know how to answer, except to lapse into a pointless story about him and Kathy bunking off as kids, to go on a silly child’s adventure to find Paddington Bear’s house that makes him laugh at how stupid the two of them used to be.

Sally doesn’t laugh. Instead, she sits down on the narrow bed with him, one leg folded beneath the other, and tells him a story of Kathy, too: how one girl once asked her friend to come with her to read some strange writing on a wall, and how the team of Sparrow and Nightingale was almost formed, but for the touch of an angel.

Her words bring him little joy…until she tells him about The Letter she knows by heart, that tells another story of Kathy Nightingale, one that makes him smile and chuckle and remember the sister gone but not forgotten.

The two of them sit across from each other atop his lumpy duvet, to trade other stories and more laughter. And, over the course of the warm afternoon, the house doesn’t feel so lonely to him, anymore.

The third time Sally comes to his bed, it’s because she’s crying.

It’s past midnight when she rings him, with tears in her voice, asking if she can come round. He doesn’t hesitate. Of course she can; she always can. They’ll have some tea and talk it out, like they’ve done with growing regularity for the last three-on months. He doesn’t mind. It’s good to talk to her. About Kathy, mostly, but also about all the things he doesn’t know but for which he’s more than willing to sit and listen, if only to have…something…with the pretty blonde miss with the charming dimples and hazel eyes.

Those eyes are teary and glassy when he meets her at the door, where she tumbles into his arms, crying about how she still can’t make sense of it. How can she make sense of anything anymore, knowing what she does? About all the regret, and all the death, and so much potential of life just plain lost -! And how she doesn’t think she can handle the weight of all that knowing and all that not knowing – about what could have been, about what should have been – alone.

Except, Larry wants to tell her: she’s not alone. He knows what happened, too. He feels the same ache in his gut for the missing and the missed. But as he sits her down at the foot of his lonely bed, he can’t quite say that, not with those words. Instead, he presses his lips together and blows a soft, shushing breath.

He pushes her temple from his shoulder and cranes his head down, to look into her deep and shining eyes. “We’ll sort it out,” he murmurs, and strokes the tear-dampened flaxen curls from the corner of her soft mouth. “I’ll help you sort it out.”

She stops, sniffling up a line of hitching snot from her cute, upturned nose, and blinks curiously at him. After a long moment, she actually smiles. “You, Lawrence Nightingale?” she asks, and he cringes at the sound of his Christian name said aloud. But then he nods and feels a smile come to his face, too, because he can’t imagine doing anything else when he looks into her eyes, anymore.

“Yeah,” he tells her. “Me, Sally Sparrow.”

The fourth time Sally comes to his bed, it’s to help him there, though he barely registers it, his senses dulled by the punch of too many bitters…not to mention the still-aching swell of his cheekbone, which – when he glances briefly into the mirror above the toilet sink – is already turning a very un-pretty shade of purple.

Sally wipes his perpetually messy hair from out his face as she helps him lurch from the loo to the top of his equally messy bed, where she lowers him as carefully as she can. She’s stronger than she looks. A lot more scathing, too, because even while she’s visibly troubled by his state – her pale brow furrowed and her pink lips pressed together – she still chides him for letting Banto goad him like he does. Through the haze of alcohol-induced earmuffs, Larry hears her scolding: Can’t he just ignore whatever it is that the self-involved prat mutters to him over pints and twiglets at the pub?

But he can’t. Not when it’s about her. Not when Banto starts in about how Sally’s not worth the time or effort; about how she’ll never give up her circular theories and puzzle-piece musings and girl-detective hypotheses about doctors and angels and other such nonsense. And about how daft Larry is for thinking nobody notices the stiffy he gets every time his little blonde slag comes round the shop.

It’s the word slag that makes Larry throw the first punch.

But he can’t tell Sally that. So when she asks him what could be so bloody well important to make him take a swing at his boss, he rolls onto his side and barks at her to just belt up about it and let him alone. Her response is to get up from the bed and slam the door behind her, making him wonder if maybe Banto isn’t right about her, after all, and maybe Larry should just give up on ever unraveling the wondrous mystery of one Sally Sparrow.

In the morning, he wakes with a hammering headache that’s compounded by the sound of council workers complaining outside the window about the summer heat. He gets up and staggers out to the loo, wondering just how he’s going to apologise for being a right git to Sally last night…when he smells the wafting, warming aroma of freshly-brewed tea coming from the kitchen.

Bleary-eyed and sleep-blanched, he follows that smell, to find who else but Sally – plucky, perky, wonderful Sally – sitting at the table, with one steaming teacup in her hands and another in the empty place across from her.

She blinks at him in the doorway, then smiles that familiar cheeky smile he’s come to look for every time she steps into his sight as she says, “At least you remembered your pants, this time.”

The fifth time Sally comes to his bed, it’s in celebration.

The loan for the shop – their shop, Sparrow and Nightingale’s Antiquarian Books and Rare DVDs, an homage to Kathy but also so much more – finally comes through from the bankers’. In honour of the occasion, Larry invites her to the house, to split a bottle of champagne his sister bought on a whim last Christmas and that’s been sitting untouched in the kitchen bottle holder for the last ten months. He doesn’t think Kathy would mind his taking it, in this case.

Still dressed in his old business school interview suit – the one with the stifling collar and tie – he gets two mismatched glasses from the hutch while Sally crowds close to him, with her hair tumbling in loose blonde curls around her shoulders and decked out in a flowing but fitting dress. She takes the glasses with a grin while he makes a corny little toast about the future of the team of Sparrow and Nightingale before opening the bottle with an explosive pop! that makes them both hoot before they realise it’s spilling over in a bubbly eruption, splattering on his trousers and her skirt.

He curses but she laughs, setting the glasses on the table so she can hand him a towel from the oven door and slap another at her legs. He says she should change, wash her dress before anything sets. (Does champagne set? He doesn’t know…but he also doesn’t care. Not when faced with the alternative.)

To his heart-stopping surprise, she agrees and asks him – twice, because at first he can’t quite think straight to get his mouth to work – if he has a robe or something she can change into. All of Kathy’s clothes were given away or consigned months ago, so he stammers something incoherent and goes to his bedroom, to find her something appropriate. The best thing he can scrounge from his wardrobe is a long suit shirt he hasn’t worn since the days of post-graduation interviews, but it hangs long on him and should be enough to provide her with some modesty.

He turns back to the door with the shirt in his hands, and blinks when he finds her already there, holding the half-full lowball out to him with a smile.

The bubbles will fade before she can change, she says, and they should enjoy the excitement of this brief moment of endless possibilities while it lasts. So he takes the glass from her and raises it to eye level between them, just as she does, and drinks.

When he lowers his glass again, she leans over to kiss him softly on the cheek. She laughs at his sudden mute stupor, then sits down on the cramped bed before raising her glass to him once more. He’s mesmerised by her dimples as her smile turns wider.

“To the shop,” she says, as though nothing has happened, even if he knows different.

The next time Sally comes to Larry’s bed, they stumble there, together: Sally wrapped in his arms, Sally pressed to his mouth, Sally in his every sense and thought, just as she’s been for what feels like his every waking moment for the last three, six, nine months. Since the mystery of the bespectacled Doctor and the strange message hidden on the seventeen DVDs. Since the creaking, creepy halls of the dilapidated Wester Drumlins estate and its fanged, clawed angels. Since the loss of Kathy, the only other person in the whole world he ever thought willing to stand with him against the enigmas and conspiracies and conundrums of his imagination.

Until Sally.

As they turn and twist and tumble up the stairs to his bedroom, she feels so soft and smells so good and tastes just like the sweet cherry balm she rubs across her perfect lips in the chilled winter air, that Larry can’t help but sigh against her smooth cheek with every turn of his head for every lonely, love-starved kiss.

It started at the shop, as they’d put the last finishing touches on the last finished shelf of books (“Sparrow’s Choice!” proclaimed the placard she set there) for the official opening tomorrow morning. He placed the open/close sign on the door and they looked at it together, both of them grinning like dizzy fools. When he turned to her, she jumped into his arms, squeezing him around his neck with a joyful little giggle; he squeezed her back, laughing around the wonderfully-smothering folds of her hair. Breaking away for just a moment, she kissed him, quickly…but pulled away again just as quickly, her beautiful eyes blinking at him. Without waiting for her to maybe cover it up or maybe apologise or maybe do something he would never even think of to make them forget that marvellous and sublime moment, he closed his eyes and kissed her back, shutting out everything else in the half-lit shop in one desperate effort to make the moment last forever.

She didn’t pull away.

With barely a word said between them, they almost ran, hand-in-hand and in silent, smiling anticipation, to the house, where now he cups the back of her head with particular care even while he pulls at the bottom of her pullover. But when he breathes her name into the flawless skin of her neck and whispers to her the reasons why he doesn’t want to wait anymore (“Life’s too bloody short!”), she pushes him off of a sudden, shaking her head with a low gasp.

He eases away from that troubled, lost look in her eyes. “Sally…?”

“This isn’t right,” she says, shimmying up from beneath him, her boot heels catching on a fold in the duvet. “I can’t just-! We have the shop-”

“Bugger the shop!” he tells her.

“Larry,” she begins, but he cuts her off:

“Sally, I want you!”

But she scrambles up from the rumpled bed and gets to her feet, blinking too quickly to let her eyes focus on him.

“I’m sorry,” she says, even if she likely knows that’s the last thing he wants to hear. From the bedroom door, she turns back to him and shakes her head again, blinking tears from her eyes. “There’s just- There’s too much…I need to sort out.” And, with a trailing whisper of blonde hair, she’s gone.

She’ll be at the shop tomorrow. But as for this moment, their moment, there’s nothing left, save for the lingering imprint of her form on the top of his bed, and of her voice in his ears, and of her kiss on his lips.

There is one more time that Sally Sparrow comes to Larry Nightingale’s bed, but it’s the last time.

It’s been over a year since the ancient angels and the old phone box-that-isn’t in the basement of the Wester Drumlins house. Over a year of questions and half-formed answers, of tears and laughter, of memories and speculation. Over a year of her leading him through old book shops, dropping recommended titles into his hands while he moves his hip close to hers as they meander through the stacks. Over a year of him playfully pressing a finger to his lips, to shush her in cinemas showing brilliant double-feature classics of their time while she leans her head against his shoulder after the lights go down, her soft hair tickling at his cheek. And over a year of guarded glances and tentative touches, of impetuous kisses and blurted declarations, from which he wonders and worries for a long time that they will never recover.

Until, one day, somehow, the wild-haired Doctor finds his way to them again, on the street in front of the shop, of all places. With only a few words from him (“Good to meet you, Sally Sparrow,” is all that Larry catches), the clasp of Sally’s hand isn’t so cautious anymore, the look from Sally’s eyes isn’t so clouded anymore, and – perhaps most wonderful of all – the press of Sally’s lips is full of such a liberated and untroubled joy, such that Larry has never felt from her before.

So the last time Sally Sparrow comes to Larry Nightingale’s bed – his old, narrow, lonely, messy, cramped, rumpled double bed in the second bedroom on the second floor of the house near the shop – is for the first time they make love, sweetly and quietly, with nothing between them save a new and welcome feeling of hopeful possibility.

Afterward, with their skin cooling in the April air, they lie together in his bed, facing each other, silent and staring. He blinks first, and when he opens his eyes again to her, she smiles, so dear and tender and beautiful that all he can think of to say is:

“Thank you.”

She giggles, her slender shoulders shaking beneath the light cover of the blanket, and her soft breasts and belly quivering against him where they’re pressed so close, and her hazel eyes twinkling at him in the darkening room. “For what?”

“For this,” he says, squeezing his hand between them so he can stroke at the fine strands of her hair. “For staying.” He drops his eyes and blinks again, because he can’t quite look at her when he whispers, “I think… I want you to stay.”

The springs of the bed give a tiny squeak as she mimics him, shifting closer to raise her hand to his face, her fingers catching a little on his stubble as she fondles his cheek.

“I want to stay, too,” she says, and he can’t help the smile that breaks across his face as he looks up at her again. Though, a moment later, she shakes her head. “But, I can’t.”

“What?” he mutters, his eyes going wide at her. “But, I-! Everything we’ve-!” His throat starts to close, as he blinks his eyes, rapidly, trying to force the next words from his lips: “Sally, I-”

She places her hand against his mouth, hushing him before she giggles again. “Not until we find ourselves a bigger bed,” she tells him with her clever, dimpled smile.

For a moment, all he can do is blink. Then, behind her small, smooth fingers, he laughs, and takes them in his hands and holds them to his lips, kissing gently at them. She rises up against him with a matching laugh, pulling her fingers away to take hold of his face and trade her hand for her lips, muffling both of their laughter with new kisses as she pulls him on top of her again.

So, the next time Larry Nightingale goes with Sally Sparrow to bed – aiding, easing, taking, or tumbling; to talk, to listen, to kiss and cuddle and love and slumber – it’s to neither his bed nor hers alone, but to one they share, together, like all the days and nights as yet unwritten with potential.

.


AUTHOR’S NOTES:
I’ve always enjoyed imagining the lives of secondary and supporting characters, and these two – written so well by Mr. Moffat – captured my interest in, shall we say, the blink of an eye.

Everyone in the episode seems to fall in love with lovely, spunky Sally Sparrow, and Larry Nightingale is no exception. This is just my take on that. Not your cup of tea? That’s fine. But I ask that you afford me the same consideration of opinion, and let me have my little Sparrow/Nightingale love story.

“Heritage” – a “Finding Mister Wright” holiday short

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.

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“Heritage”


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 burning kindling.

“Rob?” he called, but it was Paige who called back.

“Just me!”

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 okay, right?”

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 okay?”

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 chicken anyway.”

“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 things familial.

“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 disdain.

“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,” Rob said.

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 are potatoes?”

“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 floor.

“We’ll run the dishwasher tonight,” Daniel said in appeasement.

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,

“Babe?”

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 from vacation-stubble.

“You’re crying into our good napkins over nothing?” Rob said quizzically.

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 yours.”

“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 time:

“She gets that from you.”

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Author’s Notes

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!

5 Months, 3 Days, 1 Story

In late December 2017, a friend directed me to The Book Smugglers ‘Awakenings’ Writing Contest. The idea behind the contest – a speculative fiction short story/novella based on the theme of “awakening” – intrigued me, so I kicked around some possible ideas before one particular concept clicked. Here’s the very first original sentence I wrote for it:

original first line for the story

At first, I thought I could pull it off before the December 31 deadline: a short story about agent Seven and his handsome young charge, navigating the adventures of first lay and first love. But, as so often happens when a character grabs my imagination, Seven’s story became larger, more complex, and demanded more words. And more time. The deadline passed, and I had written only a fraction of the story Seven wanted me to tell. A new character entered the mix. An existing character wanted a bigger role. The main supporting character had a change of heart. And everyone’s conflicts came to a joined head that put all of them in danger from a common enemy.

The things we do for love (of a story).

So, what happened? Well, I wrote it all: every character, every subplot, every conflict. I put it all down in my main document and kept pressing toward that goal of writing The End. Far longer than I’d originally intended – five months and three days, to be exact – I finished this story. It went through changes, updates, even some 180-degree turns. But, I love it.

I’ve always thought that stories are better when they’re shared, even the flawed ones. This one, no doubt, has its flaws, but in my experience, flaws are easier to see when you open them up to other eyes. So, I’m opening this story up to you, my friends and fellows. It didn’t succeed in its original purpose (that is, for submission to that Book Smugglers writing contest), but it did succeed in fulfilling my hopes for a new story.

~More than “Just a Job”~

My original thematic catchphrase for this story was “Just a Job”, and, if you decide to read it, you’ll probably see why. As the words – and weeks – went on, though, I decided that wasn’t the most descriptive title. In its place, I’m calling this one “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”. (My other idea was “More Than the Sum”…but that titles was already taken by somebody on Goodreads. And if I ever decide to post this story there, I want it to stand out.)

Over the coming month, I’ll be posting each section/chapter of “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” here on this website. Starting June 7, you can read a new section every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. If you’re on my subscriber list, I’ll be turning off email update notifications for the individual story posts. But, I’ll be linking to them in my various social media feeds. At the end of the updates, I will collect all sections into a single document suitable for download or reading on your e-device. (psst! There’s even a chance I’ll put it into real book form, for both your and my shelf!) As for the story itself, you can “Like” or comment or not; that is always your choice. I’m just interested in sharing Seven’s story.

 

“Like” It or Not

Recently, I took part in a flash fiction writing challenge, the #WriteFightGIFClub’s #PhotoStoryPrompt, from writer and Twitter user Radina Valova. Challengers are encouraged to use the photo to inspire a flash fiction piece while adhering to some very basic criteria. Here was this particular prompt:

When I see a flash fiction/writing prompt challenge, I give myself five minutes to find my idea. If I don’t hit on an idea within five minutes, I move on. I think prompts like this one can be great for kick-starting the story-writing process, but I’ve already got a few works-in-progress I’m working on! For this prompt, an idea did come immediately to mind:

Longtime followers should recognize Maggie and Rob from my “Finding Mister Wright” series of slice-of-life stories. If you enjoyed the story, maybe you’ll click “Like” at the end of this post. When you “like” something on a blog like this one, everyone else who comes to this page sees that you did. If you’re on Twitter, if you click “like” on (or “heart”) a Tweet, all of your followers see that you liked it in their own timeline. That’s kind of obnoxious, but I’ll show you a way to stop those “likes” from potentially cluttering up your timeline.

Let’s say you follow a lot of people on Twitter, and those people love to click “like”. What happens is that your own timeline starts to fill up with all of those different “likes”. That can be overwhelming, but here are some steps to keep it under control. Keep in mind that these steps will unilaterally disable likes from a person, so be careful for whom you use them.

Step 1: Click on the down-arrow to the far-right of the Twitter user’s handle/name. You’ll open a drop-down box that looks like this:

Select “I don’t like this Tweet”, to go to the next step.

Step 2: Click on the option that best fits your desire: either Show fewer likes from a user, or Show fewer Tweets from the person they “liked” or retweeted. I’ve blanked out the usernames from this example so I don’t make anybody feel bad. 🙂

Step 3: Once you decide on your choice, you should get the following notification in your timeline:

Remember, this basically turns off ALL likes from that particular user. So, if you want to keep abreast of some of their likes, you’re stuck with all of them. At least until I figure out the next step to share with you!

Did you like my post on Liking in Twitter? How about my flash fiction story? If you’d “like” to participate in the #PhotoStoryPrompt short fiction exercise, head over to Twitter and check it out. There’s a new one every Thursday!

“Buckle Up” [original FMW short story]

“Buckle Up” [original FMW short story]

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.

The Rekindling

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.

“Buckle Up”

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!

Metro 2033 Fanfiction: “Brotherhood of the Dead”

Logline:

When Artyom escaped from the Metro tunnels under irradiated Moscow, he thought he’d left the war, the mutants, and the horrors of the Metro’s fractured societies behind. But the dead don’t give up so easily.

 

The story behind the story:

In early 2017, a bundle sale of “Metro 2033: Redux” rekindled my interest in the “Metro 2033” games. I vaguely remembered them being based on a larger story. So I poked around the Internet about it, and I discovered the game was based on not just one book, but three books, all written by Dmitry Glukhovsky. I ordered and devoured all three books in the space of about 5 weeks. Even after I’d finished the books, my imagination was hungry for more. I read a few fanfiction stories, but very few of them followed the books, and none of those stories took the characters where I wanted to see them go. Of course, that meant I had to put my own version to paper.

“Brotherhood of the Dead” came to me in a dream of dark tunnels and monstrous shapes, and a young couple bound to each other yet struggling to connect. I wrote it in a little less than a month, during the early summer of 2017. It’s full of a different imagery and emotion than I’ve used before, as I tried to match Glukhovsky’s original style. Still, it commandeered my brain and my keyboard until I could get the whole thing down.

Here it is, for you to click on. Or not. Very few people read this story when I posted it at Archive Of Our Own and Fanfiction.Net. Fewer still are likely to read it here. But that’s okay. I enjoyed finding my!Artyom’s voice, and doing the research around the Metro stations underneath (modern-day) Moscow, old Russian folk tales, Eurasian geography, and subterranean hydroponics. And, isn’t the joy of it what truly matters?

Metro 2033: Brotherhood of the Dead

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