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.

World building

World Building in Fan Fiction

I enjoyed the first Pacific Rim film. Watching it, I wanted to learn more about that world. For that, I did a little bit of reading and poking around the Internet (mainly the Wikipedia article). While that gave me a gleaning of information, I wanted to do something a little bit more.

I didn’t always like world building. It seemed tedious. But as I’ve started to create my own worlds, I’ve come to appreciate the craft of others’ worlds. It’s just that some worlds lack the specific piece I’m looking for, which is why I write fan fiction.

In the first Pacific Rim movie, I loved the design of Cherno Alpha, the Russian robotic monster-hunter Jaeger. Cherno’s pilots had a great fight scene but were handed a raw deal in the script (along with the Wei triplets and their Crimson Typhoon Jaeger, which had to be one of the coolest ideas for a robot ever). I was in the shower one morning when I got the main ideas for the Kluge twins, competitive brothers caught in the swirl of war with the Kaiju but somehow still distanced from it…until it becomes personal to one of them.

I wrote a drabble based on this personal connection (“Worth Dying For”), but here’s the backstory for the brothers, written in a world-building buzz of one sitting almost 5 years ago…

The Brothers Kluge

Ein and Albert Kluge are fraternal twins from Ulm, a city in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, born September 23, 2000, to parents Inge and Erhard Kluge, a chief engineer at Zwick Roell Group. Brash and competitive, especially with each other, the twin boys grew to adulthood in the far-reaching shadow of Kaiju attacks, each one always trying to one-up his brother for skills and smarts. Their father desired them to stay in Germany and continue their work with him at Zwick, but when they came of age, they enrolled in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps Jaeger Academy. They believed their close genetic bond would make them excellent candidates for the Ranger pilot program (q.v., Gage twins, Wei triplets). However, while their mental and physical scores were significant, they failed out in first cut, being particularly incapable of successful Drifting with one another or anyone else.

Morally winded, the Kluge twins resigned themselves to returning to Germany and their “disappointingly conventional” heritage as material testers like their father. Before they were dismissed from Kodiak Island, though, first-generation Ranger and instructor Stacker Pentecost suggested that, while their competitive nature with each other would prove disastrous in a Conn-Pod, it could be highly beneficial in a research capacity:

“It’s not all about piloting Jaegers, you know,” Pentecost said. “J-Tech Engineering needs checks and balances, too.”

Ein looked at his younger brother. Albert looked back at him with the gleam of a new grin. They turned to Pentecost at the same time, and at the same time said, “When do we start?”

Having agreed to training and assignment at the Vladivostok Shatterdome, the Kluge twins soon became Jaeger Engineers. They contributed to upgrades in design and armor on Jaegers Nova Hyperion and Cherno Alpha. During their assignment at Vladivostok, Ein developed one-sided and mostly-hidden romantic feelings for Ranger Sasha Kaidanovsky, one of the pilots of Cherno Alpha. Albert advised his brother to steer clear of both Sasha and her husband Aleksis, but Ein remained devoted:

“You’re a fool if you think you have any chance with Frau Kaidonovsky,” Albert said, snorting under his breath.

Ein wilted. “I know she will never be mine. But I cannot ignore that which beats in my heart. So I will do everything in my power to help her. With or without you, Brüderchen.”

When the Vladivostok Shatterdome was closed in 2024, Cherno Alpha and her J-Tech team, including the Kluge twins, were relocated to Hong Kong. On 8 January 2025, Hermann Gottlieb’s predicted Double Event occurred. Kaiju Leatherback and Otachi attacked, destroying the Jaegers Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha.

On hearing the news of the Kaidanovskys’ deaths, Ein Kluge was never the same. Neither was his brother Albert.

 

“Worth Dying For” [Pacific Rim]

After the sealing of the Breach and the ensuing celebrations, the crews continued to work. Not to advance the cause of the Jaeger program, but to mourn and honor their dead.

The salvage crews returned to the Shatterdome what they’d managed to find of Cherno. Of Typhoon, too, though the crimson debris didn’t interest Ein so much as the burnt and twisted ochre metal.

The left leg was nearly intact. The right hand, as well. No sign of the torso, though. Or the head. Destroyed in the battle with Otachi and Leatherback, they said. The details didn’t matter. The Jaegers were gone. Their pilots were gone.

Sasha was gone.

In the week since that terrible night, he’d had time to come to grips with that fact, though it didn’t make her loss any easier to swallow. He’d never again hear the steady tread of her boots as she walked toward her Jaeger, never again smell the clean scent of her sweat as she stepped from her Conn-Pod, never again see the quirk of her red lips as she’d train to the technical beat of her Ukrainian electronica.

The rest of Cherno’s J-Tech crew hated that music, but no one ever said a disparaging word about it within Sasha’s earshot. Ein liked it, though. Sort of. That Sasha enjoyed it was enough. He’d even asked her for a sampling, to which she’d smiled – smiled! – and promised him a datapin of her favorite tracks.

He’d fallen in love with her the moment she’d smiled at him. And just standing in the shadow of Cherno Alpha, under the gaze of such a woman, had been his reason to work, and strive, and fight.

Now, the weight of her sacrifice made Ein crumple on his bunk, that same datapin full of music files clutched in his hand.

The door clanked and belched with a pressure change, but he didn’t look up, instead groaning, “Not now, Albert.”

His brother had been trying for days to coax him from his self-imposed hell, with ploys and promises more fitting the privileged, selfish boys they’d been growing up in Ulm than the men they’d become: drunken challenges along Hong Kong’s stretch of dingy dives, scavenger hunts for the K-Science teams in the seedy black market maze, even amorous adventures in the city’s red light district. It was stupid. Pointless. And it dishonored the memory of his lost Valkyrie.

But, it wasn’t Albert who’d made the door shudder open, or who called his name in a tentative, curious murmur:

“Ein?”

That high, feminine voice made his thoughts stutter. It also made him raise his head, mumbling, “Una?”

“I came to see if you were all right,” she said, floating toward his bunk with her soundless step. She settled beside him, barely disturbing the blanket or mattress.

“I’m fine.” He returned his gaze to the floor, noticing that her toes only just touched the grates beneath his boots. The sight made him smile a moment, for some reason.

“You’re not,” she said pointedly. Her hand touched his back, between his shoulders.

She’d touched him like that once before, the night Cherno hadn’t come back. He hadn’t noticed then how the light, kind press of her fingers started a faint warmth fluttering through him. This time, though, he closed his eyes, to feel it spread and multiply, and fill him with a new feeling not so lonely.

He sighed a long, low breath. “You know me a bit too well,” he said, half-lamenting but half-amused, as he looked at her again.

Una returned his faint smile. “We’ve worked together for three years.” She blinked her brown, doe-like eyes, and her smile wilted. “But, in that whole time, I’ve never been afraid for you. Until now.”

Ein pulled the air between them through his teeth. “Don’t,” he said, his vision going narrow with a frown. “I don’t want you fearing for me.” He reached out, laying his hand very tenderly upon her jaw. It wasn’t the defined and noble edge of which he’d often dreamed, but rather slender and gently sloping. Delicate, even. He stroked it with his fingers.

She didn’t react, save for a slow, sad smile. “You say that like it’s possible. Like I can just close my eyes,” she said, and did, her lashes lowering with a weight he could nearly feel in his chest. “And forget I care.”

The air shifted, and his heart stuttered, making his throat ache with a sudden dry tension. He considered – only for a second – taking his hand from her face. But it wouldn’t move.

“Una…!”

“I care for you, Ein,” she went on, as though she hadn’t heard his quiet warning. “I care for you more than anything. I know I’ll never be like Pi Kaidanovskaya. Not to you.” She shook her head, adding, “But I cannot silence what is in my heart.” Her narrow shoulders drooped with the burden of resignation. “I wouldn’t want to.”

Ein froze. He’d muttered nearly those exact same words, himself, about Sasha. When he’d said them to Albert, his brother had groaned and cursed and told him to get over his potentially damaging schoolboy crush. But, here, Ein swallowed, hard. Because it shouldn’t have been like this. He should have noticed. He should have paid attention at some point over these last three years to the brave and kind and clever little single mechanic beside him, rather than pined in hopeless solitude for the powerful, untouchable, married warrior pilot who’d known him only as a member of her Jaeger crew and not as peer or friend or—

“Liebling,” he whispered, without even thinking the word.

Una flicked her gaze up, clear but cautious.

Ein nodded, slowly. And, slowly, he smiled again. He was still holding her cheek.

She mirrored him, stroking her small hand over his prominent brow. “Darling,” she echoed, and leaned over to kiss him, only a touch of her soft and gentle lips to his, but it filled him with such fresh fire, he felt nearly consumed.

He pulled back before letting such flames fan themselves, their lips clutching only quietly, to murmur, “I’m sorry.”

She pulled away, too, curiously. “Why?”

“I never opened my eyes,” he said, drifting his gaze over the smooth lines of her face as it lit with another smile.

“I never opened my mouth,” she allowed, and chuckled, a high, warm, welcoming sound. She quickly turned silent, though, moving her whole body against his, this time, in preparation for a new kiss.

He backed away again, one hand laid upon her shoulder. It almost broke him to say so, but, with trembling tongue, he managed it: “Shouldn’t we wait? Go slowly?” He looked at her and cracked an uneven smile. “I don’t even know what music you like—”

“Chopin,” she said readily. An impish gleam shone in her eyes. “And The Pogues.”

He chuckled. “Or, your favorite food—”

“Goulash. But, only my babička’s recipe.”

His chuckling turned to laughter. “Or, oh, I don’t know…!”

She laughed, too, that most splendid of sounds he’d heard before but never so clearly as now.

“You don’t have to,” she said with a subtle shake of her head. “We’ll talk, and take our time, and get to know each other properly.” The gleam returned, brighter than before, as she brought her legs beneath her to kneel on the bunk beside him, cupping his face with both her hands. “But first,” she said, shifting one knee expertly over his lap so they sat chest-to-chest. “This.” And she kissed him again.

He knew he’d always remember Sasha Kaidonovsky, and feel a weight in his heart whenever he thought of her cool, commanding presence. He would always honor the memory of who she’d been, and what she’d done, and the countless lives she’d saved at the helm of her towering Jaeger, by the side of her husband. But this other woman, whose look and touch and kiss were meant specifically for him… This was a woman worth living for.

I’m published!

I’ve published my thriller novella!

A little over one year ago, I started the story of Number Seven when a friend of mine sent me a writing prompt for a contest. That prompt was “Awakenings”, and that’s what I called this story through its entire first draft. What I didn’t quite realize was that Seven’s awakening would lead to an awakening for me, as well.

It took me about six months to write the first draft, then another five or so months to take reader feedback and get it edited. At just about 33,000 words, it’s far short of the 80,000-word average for a novel, meaning that no traditional editor, agent, or publisher would give it the time of day. But I didn’t want to double the length of the story with extraneous subplots or details; I always liked that it read relatively quickly. So when Amorphous Publishing Guild (APG) came to me with an opportunity to self-publish, I took it. With APG, I got to publish my story on my terms. No doubt there are folks out there who think the way I published this story is wrong, hurting my brand, not exposing it to enough readers…but we each have to follow our own paths.

I respect and admire my writer friends who are dedicated to their goals of a book deal and big-time representation. That is impressive! It’s not for me, though. I write stories that speak to and through me, and the strictly business side of publishing doesn’t much interest me. Sure, I’d like to make back in sales what I spent on production and editing costs, but I really like my day job, too. For me, writing stories is about personal joy. By sharing the story, I hope to entertain others and bring them a little bit of joy, too.

Reading the Story

To pick up your own copy of my thriller short story “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”, choose from the following versions:

  • Kindle Version, available from Amazon US, Amazon UK
  • Paperback, available from Amazon US, Amazon UK
  • For countries not the US or the UK, you can search for “Mayumi Hirtzel”. If the book is not available in your country but you’d still like a copy, let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure we work something out!

If you decide to give it a read, thank you! I hope you enjoy the story of Seven and his friends. And look for more stories from me in the future!

“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!

NaNoReWriMo

National Novel Writing Month does not inspire me the way it once did. I’ve participated in the race to 50,000 words many times over, each time writing a new story that sometimes became something more, and sometimes not. NaNoWriMo is really an exercise in forming writing habits, though, not so much about the novel or story itself. At least, that’s what it’s been for me.

I’ve long since proven to myself that I can write everyday. I may not write the 1700-ish words you need to average every day in order to finish NaNo, but I do write everyday. Some days, it’s 1000 words. Other days, it’s no more than 100. But the habit is with me, now, and it’s one I can’t shake. I suppose I can thank NaNo for that.

This November, I’m concentrating less on writing from scratch and more on rewriting. Rewrites for the following stories, to be exact:

  • Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens: My sci-fi space western about a group of misfits searching the galaxy for freedom, adventure, and one lost love. This one has been in rewrite hell for almost three years, now, it’s time I got seriously cracking on it again.
  • Finding Mister Wright: My coming-of-age not-exactly romance starring the original Mister Wright, Marshall, on his journey of self-discovery to be the better man.
  • Number Seven and the Life Left Behind: My most recent political action story focused on a bodyguard torn between duty, friendship, love, and country.

I’m focusing my energies on making progress on all of these stories in one way or another. I’m already in pretty good shape! “Number Seven” is in the hands of my husband right now. His feedback should be the last step before I’m ready to upload that one to the printer. “Finding Mister Wright” has gone through a chunk rewrite, with the last chapter in its final stage of revision. “Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens” requires the most work, seeing as it’s a near 90% update edit, but I’ve had some plans percolating for a while now that I’m confident I can transcribe to paper.

I wish all of you out there pushing forward with your NaNo stories all my best. I know what a challenge it can be to make the time to write every day! But believe me, once you get yourself in the habit of writing, you’ll be a stronger writer for it. Here’s a blank version of the spreadsheet I’ve used in years past to track and calculate my NaNo progress: NaNo_calculations-blank. For those of you not joining the NaNo race, what are your writing plans for this month?

 

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