“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!

“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!

“Autumn Leaves” (original FMW short story)

“Autumn Leaves” (original FMW short story)

This is “Autumn Leaves”, the latest entry in my “Finding Mister Wright” series of stories. It follows Rob as he and Daniel take Paige off to college(!).

I tried to keep it from getting too sappy, but that often doesn’t work when it comes to these characters and the steps in their journeys. It has been fun watching Paige grow up from a sassy, somewhat bratty little girl, into the confident, still-a-bit-bratty teenager she’s become. It’s also been great to be with Rob through this particular adventure, too. He’s so used to being Paige’s knight-protector, seeing him have to let go of her as she matures has been both charming and heartbreaking for me. (Yes, I have shed tears for these characters over the years.) Click the title image if you’d like to read it.

I’m still sorting out the best way to present these stories. If you have a preference, why not let me know in the comments? In the meantime, happy reading!

Giving Makes Me Feel Good

Last week, Kate Johnston, AKA 4amwriter, posted a writing contest on her blog. The contest involved writing a 250-word (max) story featuring wolves in a positive or hopeful light. Three entrants will be chosen as winners by Kate’s panel of judges on April 10, 2017.

It had been a while since I’d participated in a good, old fashioned writing contest, and this one was for such a good cause, I had to put down my editing/rewriting pen and give it a try. I’ll post my entry after the winners have officially been announced on the 4amwriter blog, so as not to potentially skew any of the judges, for good or ill. Not that anybody reads this blog anymore, let alone those judges, but I need to decide how to present my entry anyway (first draft with changes, or just final submission version?).

Part of Kate’s contest involved her donating $5 for every entry received. I was so touched by that endeavor, I decided to check out the site that prompted her to offer the contest in the first place. That site turned out to be the Wolf Conservation Center, a private, not-for-profit environmental education organization located in South Salem, NY. Per their webpage, the Wolf Conservation Center teaches people about wolves, their relationship to the environment and the human role in protecting their future.

I clicked through a bunch of the pages on the site, when I came to the Adopt a Wolf section. Now, I love looking at pictures of animals, and wolves have been a long-standing animal love of mine since the days of reading about the Wolfriders in Elfquest. I scrolled down the list of wolves, and then I saw her:

Alawa-adoption

It seemed so fitting. Those sparkling eyes, that wily smile, and her name: Alawa, meaning “sweetpea” in Algonquin. For those of you who have read my “Finding Mister Wright” series, you’ll know that one of the principal cast characters, Paige, has several nicknames, most of them involving the letter P: peanut, pickle, and, as her grandparents call her, sweetpea. Nobody else would remember that little detail, but I did. The word sprung out at me from the screen, making me think of all of the happiness I’ve felt sharing Paige’s and her family’s stories. And so, I just had to adopt this gorgeous girl.

I’ve felt weighted down for a long time. Even my writing has lacked a certain spirit. But, this adoption made me feel good. Not just for the charity, but for the feeling of being connected to a greater whole. It’s naive to think that my writing can connect people that way, though that is certainly something I strive for. What this good feeling of giving gave me was a breather, a moment of openness to a world made more beautiful for this creature’s presence in it. I can only hope for me and my stories to mean as much, someday.

Did you do a wolf-write for 4amwriter’s Save El Lobo contest? What version of my own entry might you like to see? Who are your favorite wolves from stories?

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