Jul 19

Sophie, Techies & A Whole New San Francisco

When you write a mystery series over a 12 year time span (SEX, MURDER & A DOUBLE LATTE was originally published in 2005) you are faced with the challenge of not just conveying the ways the characters change (and don’t) over the years but also conveying how the primary character has changed. No, I’m not talking about Sophie Katz, I’m talking about San Francisco. When I first imagined Sophie it was 2002. Silicon Valley was already established and becoming a mega-force. But San Francisco wasn’t considered an offshoot of Silicon Valley. It was still a town defined by it’s bohemians, it’ off-beat individualism, its eclectic cultures, its proud embrace of the mystical and the weird. Egalitarianism was the prevailing philosophy even if it wasn’t the practiced reality. Those days are gone. There are now exclusive clubs in San Francisco that require huge membership fees to join. There was even a (failed) attempt to rent out sections of grass in a popular San Francisco public park for private use. In case you’re not grasping that, people were being asked to rent grass on public land for the right to sit on it. And of course the biggest change has been the demographics. Tye-dye has been replaced with Mark-Zuckerberg-style hoodies.Diversity has dramatically decreased.

All cities change and not all changes are bad. There is a lot to say for the tech industry and the opportunities, innovations and wealth it has brought to the Bay Area. But it’s also true that dramatic change is emotional and it has winners and losers. San Francisco arguably now has the highest rent prices in the world.  And people who have lived in San Francisco for decades are feeling a sense of loss, not to mention and hefty dose of resentment.

My upcoming Sophie novel, CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE isn’t about this internal struggle for the city’s soul. But I can’t ignore it either. San Francisco has been too important of a character in this series for me to brush aside its dramatic shifts and changing vibe. I’ve tried to integrate the struggles of the city in subtle ways. Not moralizing it, just seeing it all through Sophie’s eyes. Sophie has never been a radical or even a socialist. And yet she can’t help but note the loss of the home she knew as a child with a certain amount of chagrin and bewilderment. Again, it’s a subtle motif throughout the book. None of my characters have ever been stagnant. Their relationships change and progress as does their own sense of self. It makes sense that the changes of the city they live in should mirror that development. For better and  worse.

I hope you enjoy this next chapter of CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE. Remember, if you’re not caught up, please click here to read all the chapters that proceed it. This chapter is also the first that we get to become reacquainted with another favorite character, Marcus!

Chapter 10

“Everyone is beautiful in their own way…but it really helps when they use good hair products.”

–Dying For Laughs

 

 

 

My whole office was flooded with morning sun. Anatoly was gone but I was still in my nightshirt, my hair an ill shaped frizzy halo. I had an appointment with Marcus that afternoon so I had zero incentive to try to do anything with it. But then, I hadn’t really done much with it for some time now.

I ran my bare foot over Ms. Dogz back, letting her fur tickle my sole. To her left was Mr. Katz, giving her a hardcore kitty glare. Still, his proximity to our newest resident was progress.

My laptop sat before me and was open to Microsoft Word. Microsoft called their software Word because that was its raison d’être; to hold words. And my raison d’être was to create words. I should have been looking at a page filled with my words. Words that carved images into readers minds, gave life to new adventures, words that created colorful characters, pain, hilarity and love. But the only thing on my screen was a bleak, empty page and a cursor blinking at me accusingly.

I ran my fingers over the keys, once, then twice.

 

Once upon a time…

 

I let out a wry laugh and hit the delete button. I looked down at my furry friends. “I have never wanted to be an accountant,” I told them. “But there are many days when I’ve wanted to want to be an accountant.”

Ms. Dogz tilted her head in a manner that was clearly doggie language for explain. Mr. Katz blinked his eyes which was kitty language for, you don’t have to explain. I get it.

“If you’re an accountant you just do your job,” I went on, for Ms. Dogz’ sake. “You don’t need to be inspired. You don’t have to create a new world every year. You just do what you know how to do. But being a author, you have to relearn your craft with each friggin’ book.” I looked back at the computer screen. The grey borders on either side of an unadulterated, white document. My imagination was failing me. I had become as dull and empty as the screen.

“I’m lost,” I whispered. “I need help.”

Mr. Katz looked up at me and blinked his eyes once. Kitty language for, “No shit.”

***

 

Three hours later Marcus was studying my hair, his mouth curved down as he reached out to touch one of my frizzier curls. We were in his salon and the music of Prince was intermingling with the sounds of confidences being exchanged between patrons and their stylists. The exposed brick walls made the place seem both elitist and rustic. Marcus was also a mix of those two sensibilities. His short dreads and muscular form denoted a man who didn’t need to spend time primping in the morning, but his AX Armani t-shirt paired with his fitted white jeans said that he did anyway.

“You haven’t been using your product,” he growled.

I sighed, my mind elsewhere.

“It’s like you’ve been taking styling lessons from Don King.”

“Oh come on, it’s not that bad,” I snapped, the insult bringing me back to the here and now. “I ran out of product a few days ago. I was going to pick some more up yesterday but things got hectic.”

“Did we have a nuclear holocaust that I missed?” he asked. “Because short of that, there’s no excuse for going days without product. We live in a civilized society, Sophie. This,” he held out my curls so that they formed wings on either side of my head, “is not civilized.”

“What is your problem today?”

“My problem?” He leaned back on his heels and stroked his chin, pretending to ponder the question. “Well it starts with my assistant calling in sick this morning with an upset stomach…too much vodka will do that to a person. So I rescheduled the client whose appointment layered over the end of yours for another day, and then my next three clients, three, cancelled on me.

“Three?” I repeated, surprised. Marcus’s services were always in high demand. Most people had to wait months for an appointment. It was hard to imagine three of them cancelling at the last minute. “What’s going on?”

“One of them has some sort of work emergency and her boss won’t let her leave until it’s handled. Another just found out that her son’s about to be expelled from his elite private school so she’s running over there with an endowment check and an accompanying plea for leniency. And the last just found out this morning that her husband has been screwing their dog trainer.” He spit out the last sentence with particular vehemence. The stylist working nearest us cast a bemused look in our direction before pointing her hair dryer at her client’s head. “I understand why you might have to cancel a hair appointment in order to save your job or your kid,” Marcus said, raising his voice to be heard over the dryer, “but if you find out you’re being cheated on the first thing you should do is fix you damn hair! What, you’re going to confront your husband and his mistress on a bad hair day? Who does that?”

“It does seem like an ill conceived plan,” I agreed.

“And then to top it all off, you come in here looking like you just went skipping through a thunderstorm with a lightning rod all because you can’t be bothered to get your butt over to Target to buy some product!”

“Oh for…” I shook my head, already bored with my role as a temporary punching bag. “Look,” I said, steadily, “I’m here, aren’t I? Or is all this too much for you to handle?” I patted my hair protectively. “Because there’s a new salon on Maiden Lane that supposedly specializes in miracles.”

Marcus made eye contact with me through the mirror. “Oh touché.” He stepped back and examined my hair even more carefully. I stared pointedly at the blown up Rolling Stones covers that decorated the walls. Much better than seeing Marcus’ perfect nose wrinkle in distaste.

“All right,” he finally grumbled. “I’ve vented, I’m calmer and I’ve formulated a plan of attack.”

I gave him a small smile. “You still love me?”

“Always and forever,” he said with a sigh. “Okay, let’s Beyoncé you out.”

He stepped forward and started combing through the disaster, his eyes narrowed with focus. “I’d like to do some color but if we do you have to promise me you’ll deep condition once a week. Your hair’s going to start getting drier now that the grey’s coming in and—“

“The grey’s coming in?” I leaped to my feet and faced him. “Is that supposed to be some kind of sick joke?”

The patrons in the chairs nearest me all jumped, surprised by my outburst and then quickly started whispering to their respective stylists.

Marcus gave me a withering stare. “We all go grey sometime, honey. Anderson Cooper went silver fox before he hit thirty.”

“But that’s not me!” I insisted, banging my hand against the revolving chair. “I’m not going to go grey for another decade! I don’t have a single strand of—ow!”

Marcus had reached over and yanked out one of my hairs from the back of my head and held it up for my inspection. “What color would you say that is?”

I bit down on my lower lip and glared at the hair. “Slate.”

The corners of Marcus’ mouth twitched. “It’s a little light for slate. You might have to amend to silver.”

“Fuck.”

“Sit.”

“Fine.” I dropped back down in my chair, disgusted.

“It’s really not a big deal,” he assured me, my own outburst calming his mood.

“Whatever.” I sounded like a petulant teenager. Did London’s daughter sound like that? How was she doing? “Are there a lot of hairs…like that back there?”

He hesitated a little too long before replying. “Have you been stressed lately?”

“No! Not unless I grew this within the last twenty-four hours! With the major exception of yesterday, everything has been smooth as silk. I have no deadlines. Excluding last night, Anatoly and I haven’t had an argument about anything in like, a year. Every one I care about is doing well. Financially I’m totally fine. My family has been acting suspiciously sane. Mr. Katz is thriving. I have absolutely zero to be stressed about.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

I turned my head so I could figure out what the hell he was talking about but he firmly turned it back toward the mirror. “Artist at work. Stay still.” He started working through a particularly stubborn tangle with the business end of a comb. “The good news is that with me on your team you never have to go…slate. You’ll only get blonder with age.”

I started to nod in appreciation then remembered myself and went into mannequin-challenge mode, only allowing my eyes to wander around the room. I noticed for the first time that, with the exception of the Eurasian receptionist, Marcus and I were the only people of color in the salon. Thanks to Silicon Valley and sky rocketing rents the whole city was becoming blonder with age. We used to be vanilla, chocolate chip ice cream with caramel swirls. Now the chips and swirls were becoming a little more sparse. If we kept it up we might morph into plane ol’ vanilla.

Until yesterday, your life had become a bit vanilla too.

I blanched and cast my eyes down. I didn’t know where that little voice had come from but it was wrong. As wrong as the silver hairs on my head.

“All right,” he sighed once the knots were gone and my hair was divided up into several different sections. “Stay here while I go mix some color. When I get back you can tell me about the last twenty-four hours that were…less than smooth?”

“They weren’t even in the vicinity of smooth.”

“Oh goody. I’m crossing my fingers for scandalous. Be right back, love.”

He turned and disappeared into a back room where all the chemicals were kept. I lifted my eyes again to see my reflection in the mirror. I looked ridiculous, a black, nylon styling cape drawn tightly around my neck, covering my clothes, my hair divided into a multitude of sections with Marcus’ clips and sticking out every which way. The salon’s receptionist stopped by to ask me if I wanted coffee, or maybe a glass of champagne. I had been coming to this place long enough to know the champagne was cheap and the coffee was not so I opted for the caffeine. As she walked away I thought I noted, through the picture windows, a man in a black baseball hat standing outside, across the street from the salon, staring at me. But when I turned my head to look he was walking swiftly away. I was imagining things. At least I hoped I was. It would be super embarrassing if I scared off a stalker by looking like a crazed, greying circus clown.

But there was something about the way he walked as he disappear out of my line of sight…why did he seem familiar to me?

“So tell me about yesterday.”

The sound of Marcus’ voice startled me. I hadn’t heard him approach. “Yesterday was not a good day,” I insisted as he began to paint each hair section with a thick goo of white, then sandwich it between tinfoil.

“Uh-huh. Tell me about it anyway.”

I sighed and laid out the whole story. London, his manic warnings and fears, his collapse, his apartment, the text, the Zipcar, the business cards, Anita, Catherine, Ms. Dogz…although I left out the part about Ms. Dogz’ given name.

“London,” he said, thoughtfully. “I like that. We would all sound so much more sophisticated if we were named after two syllable cities. Paris, London, Florence, Milan—“

“New York?”

“Okay, maybe it’s a European phenomenon.” He painted another section of hair. “So you don’t actually know if London’s married to that woman?”

“I’m pretty sure he was. I mean, he had a wedding ring so he was married to someone. I tried looking her up online before I came in today, same with London but, you know, they don’t exactly have uncommon names, or at least not uncommon enough. I couldn’t find her daughter either although I did discover that there is a Catherine St. in London, so you know there’s that.”

“But it was Catherine who called to give you the news, right?” He asked tapping his foot along with the Bruno Mars song that had just come on. “So you have her number.”

“When I call it rings once and then goes directly to Voicemail. I tried last night and again on my way over here. I texted her too but haven’t heard back.”

“She’s probably blocked you,” he said matter-of-factly.

“You think?”

“When you block someone on your iPhone it rings once and then goes to voicemail.” He painted another section of hair. “Only thing is, the person who’s done the blocking never gets the voicemails, or the texts of the caller. Remember that guy I went out with, the one who lasered off his pubic hair so he could put lily and daisy tattoos on his pelvic area?”

“Flower boy!” I cried out, entertained by the memory. “You dropped him right after he gave you a glimpse of his…er…pruned garden, right?”

“Yep. And when he wouldn’t stop calling I blocked him. The bartender who introduced us told me he’s been getting the one ring ever since.”

“Huh. Well I hope she is getting the messages because in them I pointed out once again that I only met her dad yesterday. In other words I’m not, not, not his girlfriend.” I paused for a moment before adding, “If she wasn’t his daughter I’d be embarrassed that she didn’t think I could do better.”

“The state of your hair probably threw her off.”

“Marcus.”

“Okay, okay.” He ran his gloved fingers over another section of hair. “So once again, the fates have aligned and a real life murder mystery has been dropped into your lap. What are you going to do?”

I chewed on my lower lip and rubbed the nylon fabric of my black cape between my fingers. “Nothing,” I eventually answered.

Marcus shifted his weight back on his heels and met my eyes in the mirror. “Say what?”

“I’m not going to do anything,” I explained. “Initially I was tempted. To you know, poke around, see if I could turn up anything suspicious. But then Anatoly weighed in. He definitely thinks pursuing this whole supposed mystery is ill advised and I have to admit he has a point.” I paused as the patron next to me squealed with delight as she tossed her newly purple and blue hair. “Dena and Mary Ann think I should leave it alone too. Hell, even London’s dog seems skeptical of my foul-play theories. And you know what? I’m finally grown up enough to listen to other people’s opinions.” I sighed and shook my head. “Plus London’s daughter clearly doesn’t want me anywhere near this thing. I really think I need to respect the daughter’s wishes, don’t you?”

Marcus went silent, allowing the chitchat and the music of the room fill the space between us as he studied my reflection. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, “Marcus?”

“No.”

“No?” I repeated.

Hell no! That child’s mother might be a murderer! She may actually need your help, whether she wants it or not.”

“But Occam’s razor says Aaron London killed Aaron London.” I protested. “I don’t have any compelling reason to believe it was a homicide. Just a text and a hunch.” I glanced up at Janis Joplin who was sticking her tongue out at me from a 26 x 38 inch Rolling Stones cover.

“Something hasn’t been quite right with you lately,” he said, slowly.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I muttered.

“Yes, you do.” He put his brush down with a sigh and checked the clock. “For one thing, the Sophie I know would never go days without hair products.”

“Oh, come on.”

“When is the last time you got any writing done?”

“Hello non sequitur,” I forced a laugh. My gaze slid from the poster to my feet.

“When Sophie?”

I shrugged noncommittally and ventured a glance at Marcus’ reflection. He looked firm but also concerned. Mostly he looked like he wasn’t going to take a shrug for an answer. “Ok, fine,” I said, throwing up my hands. “I haven’t written a word since I turned in my last manuscript almost two years ago, but it’s not my fault! All those years of writing Alicia Bright and now that’s done and…and it’s hard just coming up with something new.”

“Oh, you think that’s it?” he asked, flatly.

“I want it to come to me organically,” I explained, self-consciously, “like it did when I came up with my Alicia Bright series.”

“You came up with the Alicia Bright series while you were going through a chaotic divorce from an infuriating man,” Marcus pointed out. “That’s what motivates you.”

“Divorce?”

“Craziness!” He put his hands on his hips. “Drama! Big giant messes! I have news for you, girlfriend, you are not wired like the rest of us. Throw you into a stormy sea and you’ll swim like an Olympian. Drop you in a glassy lake and you’ll sink like a Jimmy Hoffa.”

“I am not sinking!”

“Really? Tell that to your follicles!” he retorted.

A large truck passed the salon making the ground rumble beneath me as I angrily gripped the armrests of my chair. “Just a few minutes ago I was telling you how great things were going for me!”

“You told me how smooth things were. Totally different. And I bet things don’t feel quite the same between you and Anatoly these days either!”

“Don’t be ridiculous! We’re absolutely in love!”

“Oh, go put it in a Hallmark card. Like I said, you’ve been off lately. But when you came in today, you seemed a little better, and that’s because of the craziness of yesterday.”

“This is ridiculous,” I muttered. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Uh-huh. You once told me you and Anatoly could survive anything except decaf and boredom and you are bored out of your frizzy haired skull.”

I glanced around the bustling room. No one was looking at us now which was odd because I felt like Marcus had just busted open my whole psyche and laid it out on the floor. I shook my head, causing the many bits of tinfoil in my hair to brush against each other. “I guess I’ve been feeling kind of…numb lately.” The words burned my throat, scorching me with humiliation. “I am happy a lot, but, I don’t know, I’m missing…I guess I’m missing my spark. And things have just been weird. Every once in a while I’ll think someone’s watching me, and then I look and no one’s there and rather than be relieved I’m like, disappointed because if someone was spying on me at least that would be interesting. Which is crazy. I’m crazy.”

“All the most interesting people are,” Marcus countered.

“Yeah, but that’s not…I mean, oh, I don’t know, Marcus…I guess I’m embarrassed.” I hung my head, letting the tinfoil crinkle. “I’m embarrassed that I’m struggling to fully be the person everybody knows me to be. I can’t write, Marcus. What do I do?”

“Two things,” he said, solemnly.

I looked up at him, ready to take his words as soul-saving commandments. Whatever advice came out of his mouth would be my new gospel.

“Are you ready for this?”

“I’m ready,” I replied, almost meekly.

“All right. Number one,” he held up one finger, dramatically, “deep condition.”

“Oh for God’s sake.” I had never punched Marcus before but I was tempted.

“Two,” Marcus continued, “solve a real life murder mystery…again.”

“I don’t get it. You’ve always counseled me to behave…well, reasonably. And now you want me to slip on my gumshoes in order to investigate the marginally suspicious death of a total stranger.”

“Because that is reasonable for you.” He gently swiveled my chair around so I was facing him directly. “It’s not that you’re a drama queen–”

“Gee, thanks.”

“It’s that you’re a drama goddess. You have a sacred duty to follow drama wherever you see it, and you see it now. Nobody dies of pneumonia these days.”

“Actually, pneumonia kills over 50,000 thousand people per—“

“Don’t bore me with statistics,” Marcus said, theatrically. “Follow the breadcrumbs, jump in and ride the breaker. Make sense of it. It’s what you do, Sophie.”

“This is insane,” I said with a laugh.

“Exactly!” Marcus replied. “Trust me, Sophie, If you let a little crazy seep back into your life and a little moisture seep back into your head your life will be the glorious mess you need it to be. And your hair,” he added with a sniff, “will just be glorious.”

 

 

Jul 12

More Sophie and Some Outlining Angst

When I dined with George R.R. Martin a few weeks back I picked his brain in regards to his process. He confessed that he doesn’t outline. He just follows where the characters take him. I found that answer startling. Yes, it’s a very common answer for fiction writers to give but most writers have one or two protagonists, not twelve or more as is the case with the Game Of Thrones series. Compare that to mystery novelist Elizabeth George who often speaks of her intensive outlining process. By the time she sits down to actually write the story she knows exactly what is going to happen in every scene.

I’m jealous of Elizabeth George. Knowing what you’re going to write before you write it just seems so much easier. Yes, in many ways I’d love to emulate George R.R. Martin in many ways but he’s never pretended to be a “fast” writer and I assume that his process, which is clearly right for him, has something to do with that. Characters are like real people, they’re complicated and sometimes clueless. If you follow them they may lead you in a good direction, or they may lead you around in a circle which means you have to go back, retrace your steps and rewrite a bunch of chapters. Of course when they lead you in the right direction it can be a glorious, but always bumpy, journey.

try to outline. But my characters just aren’t interested in my plans for them. I have tossed out every single outline I have ever written by the time I’m half way through my manuscript. What that means is that I end up doing a lot of rewriting. I don’t want to do a lot of rewriting but that’s just how it works out. I fumble through a rough draft and before i’m done with it I start rereading some of it a little writing spirit will lean in and whisper, “I think this scene comes a little too early on, don’t you?” or “Now that we know this character better, wouldn’t he be doing Y instead of X here?” And that’s when the tweaks come along with the more significant changes and deleted pages. Soooo many deleted pages. It’s frustrating. But the weird thing is, by the time it’s done, it’s clear that as messy and chaotic as my process is, it does eventually get me to where I want to go.

So what I’m trying to say is I’ve been doing some rewriting and while all the major changes happen later in the book I have had to make a few tweaks in the chapters I’ve already published here. I’ve updated them so if you read them now they’re up to date. For those who don’t want to re-read what you’ve already read, just know, when Sophie first meets London, one of the things he rants about is a drug called Rispolex. Later, when she goes into London’s apartment the business card she finds there now reads:

Gundrun Volz

Nolan-Volz

Co-Founder, CEO

Those are the only changes you really need to know about so far. I hope you don’t mind being involved in the chaos of my process. I can’t help it. My characters are just chaotic people.

Speaking of which, here’s the next (VERY short) chapter from CHAOS, DECEIT & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE, giving you a glimpse into the chaos of Sophie’s own inner turmoil. Enjoy!

 

Chapter 9

“There’s a reason I’m afraid of the dark. When I can’t see the tangled mess that surrounds me, I start thinking about the tangled mess that is me.”

–Dying To Laugh

 

I woke up to the quiet whine of Ms. Dogz. Anatoly’s arm draped over my stomach, his breathing deep and steady, his body completely relaxed into sleep. I felt the weight of Mr. Katz, curled up above the covers. There was just enough light for me to see Ms. Dogz outline on the makeshift bed of spare blankets we had set-up for her. Her head was on her paws, her eyes too black to make out. But her whining…steady, mournful, rhythmic, it was heartbreaking.

Such a whirlwind of emotions. The ecstasy of the evening that topped off a day filled with confusion, daring, thrills, loss and guilt.

All fun aside I still felt so much guilt.

“There’s nothing I could have done,” I whispered aloud, to the dark, to London’s dog. Even if we had agreed to help him, we still wouldn’t have been able to save his life. It’s not our fault.

But the last few moments of his life…those could have been filled with hope. Anatoly and I filled them with disappointment. Now, with nothing around to distract me, I couldn’t escape that truth.

Anatoly mumbled something incoherent and turned to face the other wall, dragging his warmth away.

Carefully I pulled my feet out from underneath my cat. With practiced stealth, I managed to creep out from beneath the blankets without waking either of my bedmates. I crouched down by Ms. Dogz and ran my hand over the top of her head and back. She smelled cleaner than I felt. “You’re going to be OK,” I assured her.

How many people had said that to me after I lost my own father at nineteen? And, assuming she really was his daughter, how many people must have said that to Cat London within the last ten hours? All those people were right of course. But in an odd way they were totally wrong too. When you loose someone who is that central to your being you have to change the definition of what it means to be OK.

Ms. Dogz’ whining was getting softer with my touch, less plaintive. The quiet gave new amplification to the thoughts forming in my exhausted mind:

Maybe Anatoly’s right.

London was probably separated from his wife, which didn’t mean there still wasn’t love there. Not necessarily. Yes, he was clearly in the middle of a breakdown but if she was the mother of his child, Anita was his family.

If London’s family wanted my help, I would owe it to them. But they quite clearly didn’t. Would London want me to upset his family? Now, just as they had begun to grieve?

Yes, yes he would if it meant uncovering the truth.

But it was hard to figure out if that was the voice of reason or that of my own stubbornness. There was no question that I was incredibly tempted to pursue this. To investigate and see if I could solve a murder or at the very least prove that it was a murder. But why? What would be the point? No matter what I discovered, London would still be gone. His last moments on this earth would still be defined by disappointment. The latter’s my fault but I couldn’t change what was done. I couldn’t help him.

But I could still make it worse. I could hurt his daughter.

So if I did pursue this, who would I be doing it for? Me? Today should have been purely awful. And it was awful…except…it was also so much fun. I had felt…energized. More so than I had in a while. Even the resulting conflict with Anatoly had ended up amplifying our lust. What was wrong with me that I could get an endorphin kick from something so dark and twisted?

I removed my hand from Ms. Dogz back and sat quietly by her side. “It’s possible I’m a monster,” I murmured. Ms. Dogz tilted her head, looking up at me with eyes that were still perfectly camouflaged by the darkness. Then she shifted her weight and put her head on my lap.

I loved this dog.

I would have to think about what I’d needed to do to deserve her.

 

 

Jul 05

Cemeteries, Fireworks, & A Little Love For Sophie

I spent the 4th of July in the liveliest cemetery in the world. Yes, I’m talking about the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Home to Johnny Ramone, Douglass Fairbanks, Chris Cornell and venue for indie rock concerts, movie screenings and more. Last night we went to see the screening of Jurassic Park followed by a fireworks display choreographed to everything from Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now to the theme song of South Park’s creator’s movie, Team America: World Police. It. Was. A. Blast.

Is it weird to be partying among a bunch of graves and screening a movie against the wall of a mausoleum? A little. Some may wonder why they would want to be buried in a known party spot. Well, maybe they want to be part of the party. Or maybe Chris Cornell wanted to be buried next to Johnny Ramone (he is). But I’d like to think that maybe he wanted both. I think the people who are buried there want to be eternally part of the Los Angeles experience. They want to be within listening distance to the up and coming artists who play at the cemetery’s venues   and to rest under a sky that will occasionally be filled with fireworks.

And when you think about it that way, who wouldn’t want that? If you have to die why not be laid to rest in a place that is perpetually filled with joy, laughter and life?

Now, as for Sophie. I expect to have a rough release date by this time next week. But in the interim, enjoy these rough pages of CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE. If you haven’t read the pervious chapters, catch up by clicking here!

 

Chapter 8

“If you play tennis like a pro, it’s not fun to play with amateurs. By the same logic, I refuse to sleep with virgins.

–Dying To Laugh

 

 

 

By the time I got home I was sober enough to drive but exhausted enough to pass out. Still, I had managed to retrieve my car, drive to a 24 hour CVS, load up on dog food, poop bags and the like. Ms. Dogz, as I was now calling her, was calm enough, but occasionally she would let out a whine and once, when I looked back at her while at a stoplight, I noticed she was shaking.

When Ms. Dogz and I finally stumbled up my front steps and sort of fell through the door of my Victorian, Anatoly had already been home for hours. He was waiting for me in the living room, reading some WWII book on our leather couch, one foot propped up on the dark wood coffee table. “I thought you were going to call and have me come get you,” he said, not looking up quite yet as he marked his place in the book. Mr. Katz was snuggled up by his side but when my feline saw what I had brought with me, he was immediately on his feet, back arched.

Anatoly noticed and followed Mr. Katz’ glare. “You got a dog?” he asked, incredulously.

“Not exactly,” I hedged. “She needs a bath.”

Ms. Dogz managed to wiggle away from me but once her freedom was obtained she didn’t exactly go wild. Instead she carefully sniffed the area rug covering the recently re-polished hardwood floors, then the chair closest to her. Finally she approached Anatoly and Mr. Katz.

“You’re beautiful,” Anatoly told her, appreciatively. “But she’s right. You are in dire need of a bath.”

Mr. Katz leaned forward and swapped his claws across Ms. Dogz’ nose.

Ms. Dogz looked stunned and took several steps back as Anatoly swiftly picked up Mr. Katz, ignoring his flailing attempts to try to strike once more at his new adversary. “Looks like she needs a bath and a Band-Aid now. What’s her name?”

“I’m calling her Ms. Dogz. We’re just fostering her until I can figure out if she belongs to someone,” I said, side-stepping the question. I went up and examined Ms. Dogz’ nose. Only a minor scratch. Still, it was ironic that I had thought Mr. Katz would be the one who would need protection. Mr. Katz was the Lion King of Ashbury Heights.

Anatoly nodded and walked back to our only downstairs bedroom, otherwise known as my office, and shut Mr. Katz in there.

“I don’t want him to think he’s being replaced,” I said, urgently.

“He can stay in the office until he calms down. Where did you find her?”

“She was trapped,” I hedged. “Want to help me bathe her?”

He gave me a quizzical look.

“I don’t know if she has fleas,” I said, quickly, not wanting to give him a chance to ask too many questions, “but I bought some Dawn dish soap because apparently Dawn kills fleas. Did you know that? Isn’t that weird?”

“Why don’t you want me to know where you found her?” Anatoly asked, flatly.

“I told you, she was trapped…inside.” I shifted my weight back onto my heels. “I really think we should wash her.”

“Inside where?”

I bit my lip and looked over at the dog.

“Inside where, Sophie?”

Immediately Ms. Dogz ears perked up and she trotted over to Anatoly’s side. It brought a small smile to his lips. He was such a sucker for dogs. He leaned down to look at her tags and then burst out laughing.

“I know what it says. We’re still calling her Ms. Dogz,” I said with a little smile.

“Have you called the number on the tag?” He asked.

“I have, but the person at that number…isn’t available.”

He shot me another look and then slowly straightened back to standing. “Why so cryptic tonight? Where exactly was she trapped?”

I swallowed hard, and then mumbled, “Inside an apartment.”

There was at least five seconds of silence. “You want to try that again?”

I held up my hands in a request for patience and understanding. “I didn’t do anything significantly illegal.”

Anatoly’s eyebrows shot up and then he muttered some Russian curse.

“Look, I can explain everything while we wash the dog.” I pulled out the Dawn and held it out for him as if the dish-soap would clarify everything. “We have to get rid of the theoretical fleas.”

***

In the upstairs hall bathroom, Anatoly and I were both on our knees, wet. This was the first time we had been in this position together when sex wasn’t involved. Although Anatoly did look like sex on a stick. He had removed his shoes, his socks, his shirt, so now it was just him in his jeans and a perfectly chiseled torso all wet from our efforts to clean this mutt. I was probably looking a little less enticing in bleach-stained yoga pants and a Race For A Cure 2012 t-shirt.

Mr. Katz had been freed from my office and was now sulking in our bedroom. Ms. Dogz was before us, in a tub full of soapy bubbles looking extremely unhappy. Almost as unhappy as Anatoly. I had told him the whole story. From beginning to end. As stories go, it wasn’t his favorite.

“This isn’t the big mystery you think it is,” Anatoly insisted as he massaged some of the soap into the dogs fur. “Anita and Aaron London are probably separated. He might not have even been wearing the ring, just carrying it around while they figured things out.”

“And he dropped it in the sink from his pocket?” I asked incredulously. Although the more I thought about it, the more and more likely it seemed that the couple had been separated. At the hospital Cat London had asked me why I hadn’t taken her father to the hospital sooner. I had assumed she meant sooner in the day, but now that I thought about it, I wasn’t sure she meant that at all. It was more than likely she meant I should have taken him earlier in the week, maybe even earlier in the month. Because if she had seen him recently surely she or Anita would have been the ones to take him to the hospital.

I scrubbed some more soap into Ms. Dogz neck. She gave me a look similar to the one my sister gave me when I set the table using paper napkins. It was a why-are-you-doing-this-to-me look. “Maybe London died of natural causes and Anita’s on the up and up,” I said. “But it’s also possible you’re wrong, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we look into that?”

“No.”

“No?” I balked. “You don’t believe there’s even the slightest chance your wrong?”

“It’s highly unlikely,” he amended. “But now, thanks to you, I have to track this woman down anyway and figure out how to explain to her why we have her husband’s dog. You know what you did was reckless, right? You could have called the SPCA.”

“I didn’t need to call anyone. I had a key.”. And it had been fun being reckless again.

“You understand we’re going to have to return her, yes?” I might have been mistaken, but I thought I heard just a tinge of regret in Anatoly’s voice. He had been wanting a dog for a while but I had been hesitant to impose something like that on Mr. Katz. It wasn’t an unrealistic concern. I could tell by the look Mr. Katz gave Ms. Dogz as she came out of the office that a dogicide was being plotted.

“Maybe not. I mean, yes, if London had the dog before their supposed split, Anita will want her back,” I reasoned as I moved on to Ms. Dogz back. There were soapsuds clinging to Anatoly’s bicep and I was trying really, really hard not to stare. “On the other hand, if Ms. Dogz was Anita’s replacement…” I let my voice trail off, allowing Anatoly to fill in the blanks.

Anatoly reached for the hand shower, his arm brushing up against mine as he did although neither of us looked at one another. Ms. Dogz treated Anatoly to a baleful stare. I wondered how much she understood. If she was waiting for London to come knocking on the door and rescue her from this water torture.

“Anyway, you can’t say there isn’t any reason to at least consider the possibility that London sorta, kinda knew what he was talking about,” I pressed. “That maybe someone was out to get him. That he was being poisoned. He is dead, after all.”

“It wasn’t that long ago that you tried to convince me that Alex Kinsky sorta, kinda knew what he was talking about.” He turned on the stream and started rinsing the suds off Ms. Dogz. “But he was conning you. He almost ended up killing both of us.”

“First off, that has literally absolutely nothing to do with this,” I snapped. “Alex is a man with mafia-ties who offered to help me through criminal means. London was an individual who asked us for help through legal means. Secondly, Alex didn’t exactly con me. It’s just that he only gave me part of the story. Maybe that’s what London did.”

“London didn’t give us any story,” Anatoly corrected as he got off the last of the soap. I leaned over and drained the tub. My shirt was drenched and clinging to me in all sorts of inconvenient places. It might have been construed as an invitation if Anatoly bothered to take his eyes off the dog for one flippin’ second. “Ranting and raving is very different from story telling.”

I angrily swiped at a wet curl that was sticking to my cheek. “Why are you so resistant to even considering the possible veracity of the facts of this case?”

“What case?” Anatoly put the hand shower back with much more force than necessary. “For it to be a case, there has to be a client. London didn’t hire me–”

“Because you wouldn’t let him!” I jumped to my feet and grabbed a towel throwing it over a now confused-looking-but-fresh-smelling Ms. Dogz. She was probably wondering what new kind of mad house she had wandered into.

“I think we can both agree he won’t be paying me,” Anatoly continued as he vigorously dried her. “This isn’t our business. No one wants us involved and there’s no upside in forcing the issue. There most likely isn’t an issue to force.” He carefully helped Ms. Dogz out of the tub. She immediately shook herself off, splattering us both and making a mockery out of our attempts at drying. “We have no solid reason to believe that anyone poisoned or even stalked London. This is over. At least it would be if you hadn’t broken into his apartment and stolen his dog!”

Saved. I saved his dog!” I turned on my heel and stomped out of the bathroom. Ms. Dogz was right behind me, then in front of me, then behind me again as she sprinted up and down the hall in a burst of energy, shaking herself every two or three seconds, making sure the whole second floor shared in her bathing experience. I threw open our bedroom door with the energy of unbridled frustration. Ms. Dogz rushed into the room, startling Mr. Katz who had been curled up on the bed. He looked at the expression on my face, then at the wet dog and jumped to the floor, storming out of the room just as Anatoly stormed in.

“We have an obligation,” I said in a voice that wasn’t quite a yell, but loud enough to let the world know I wasn’t messing around.

“To whom?” Anatoly asked, coolly.

“To London.”

“He’s dead.”

“So what?” I snapped. Ms. Dogz had stopped running around, undoubtedly captivated by the strength of my argument. “That doesn’t change the fact that he asked us for help! It doesn’t mean we didn’t screw up when we blew him off! And it doesn’t mean we get to turn our backs on his dog!”

“Again, all you had to do was call the SPCA! Or you could have called the police and told them there’s a dog stuck in a dead man’s apartment! That’s what you do. What you don’t do is break into a man’s house! If you had been caught you could have ended up in jail or worse!”

“But I wasn’t caught!” I took a step closer, glaring up into his eyes. “An animal was in trouble and so I did what needed to be done. It’s called being responsible.”

“Are you suggesting that I’m being irresponsible?”

“I’m suggesting that you’re being an asshole.”

“Careful, Sophie.”

Ms. Dogz perked up her ears. That animal’s insistence on responding to my name drove my agitation up to the next level.

“Or what?” I challenged, my hands now clenched into fists.

Anatoly stared down into my eyes, letting the silence stretch. I had forgotten how forceful his silences could be. He could infuse them with tension and threat…

…and sex. Anatoly could do with a silence what Otis Redding could do with a moan. Goosebumps were prickling my arms as my breath quickened. I was fully aware of the rhythm with which his uncovered chest was moving and yet my eyes were locked on his, absolutely unable to look anywhere else.

“Anatoly,” I whispered “I–”

But I didn’t get a chance to continue. In an instant I was up against the wall, my arms pinned above my head as his lips found my neck and his body pressed against mine. His mouth found that spot that made me positively squirm and I let out a little squeak as I was suddenly unable to speak. His lips moved up to my ear and as his teeth scraped gently against the lobe. When he released my arms he lifted me up so that I was still pressed against the wall. My legs wrapped themselves around his waist as my arms encircled his neck. I can’t remember the last time I wanted him this badly.

He crushed his mouth against mine, parting my lips with his tongue as I let my fingers run through his short, coarse hair. I bit down onto his lower lip, my nails digging into his flesh. There was an energy to this that had been missing lately. A whirl of excitement was spiraling up from my stomach through my ribcage, making my heart beat too fast and my breathing too shallow.

I loved it.

He moved me from the wall and half carried, half threw me on the bed. He was on top of me in an instant and my fingers immediately traveled to the button of his jeans, reaching into his pants, feeling the proof of his desire as my other hand greedily ran down his shoulders, his back, his beautiful biceps.

“Sophie,” he said in a growl as he began to lower his face toward mine.

Except our lips never touched because the dog shoved her face between ours, causing me to accidently press my mouth against black fur.

“Whaat da ferk!” I sputtered as I spit out wet fur. Anatoly busted out laughing, harder than he had in ages. I looked at him, looked at the dog, who looked back with innocent enthusiasm and in an instant I was giggling too, then laughing, then pretty much breathless with hysterics. Anatoly and I were both laughing like hyenas as Ms. Dogz pranced back and forth, periodically leaning in to lick one of our faces as she rejoiced in the commotion she’d caused.

“You might have to take a nickname,” Anatoly said as he sat up, wiping both dog slobber and tears from his face.

I scooted myself up, pressing my back against the headboard as I attempted to catch my breath. “I already gave her an alias,” I reminded him. “Ms. Dogz.”

“I’m not talking to the dog, I’m talking to you.”

I should take a nickname?” I balked, although I could feel the giggles threatening an encore. “I’m not giving up my name for a dog, not even if we get to keep her.”

“Well the dog clearly isn’t giving up her name for anyone,” Anatoly chuckled. “I could call you baby.”

Baby? What is this, a 1970s porno? Millennials use the word, Bae.”

“We’re too old to be Millennials.”

“Oh my God, there you go again, being all realistic and honest about our age.” I moved forward and straddled him, using my left hand to push him flat on the bed and my right hand to cover his mouth. “If you stop talking, I think we can make this work.”

I could feel his smile against my palm and then, without another word, he reached up, unhooking my bra, slowly pulling it off me so the straps tickled my skin, tossing it to the floor where, with a little luck, it wouldn’t become a chew toy.

He cupped my breasts, his thumbs moving slowly over my nipples until they reached for him. His eyes moved steadily up and down my body before finally, they once again locked with mine.

Without saying a word, he told me I was beautiful.

Anatoly really could do wonderful things with silence.

Jun 28

Music, Friends & A Little More Sophie

I’ve been going to a lot of concerts lately, or at least by my standards…perhaps this is sad, but two in a month is a lot for me.

A day after Prince Day this year (June 7th), my friend Abigail & I went to see Princess, Maya Rudolph’s Prince cover band. I wasn’t sure what to expect but she and her partner Gretchen Lieberum were absolutely wonderful. One of the most uplifting concerts I’ve ever been to, excluding the ones given by the Purple One himself. It was an intimate venue, the music was awesome and Rudolph’s stage presence is simply perfect. She blended in moments of light comedy into her performance, engaged the audience, had us all singing and dancing and having the time of our lives. A guy behind me, there with his buddies celebrating Gay Pride month, at one point bet me a drink that the next song would be Purple Rain. It wasn’t, and he and his friends honored his commitment by taking Abigail and I out to drinks afterwards to a cool little divey bar with a DJ open to requests. So Abigail and I had new gay boyfriends that night.  It was a total blast and it felt…well, a little like college…except I didn’t end up dancing on the bar (missed opportunity?).

Last night I went to see Queen + Adam Lambert at the Hollywood Bowl (which, as always, is the best large music venue EVER). Every single seat was filled. That said, I had heard beforehand that Adam was…well, not Freddie Mercury. And during the concert he acknowledged the same, saying that “Freddie Mercury is a God and I only aspire to the heights he was able to take you to with his music.” All that said, I don’t think anyone can claim that Adam Lambert doesn’t have an AMAZING voice and I actually thought his performance was a joy. He camped it up, didn’t try to pretend he was anyone other than who he is, gave great deference to the original band members, particularly the guitarist, Brian May and was just sort of great. And speaking of the original band members, they were On. Point. If you’re one of those people who likes to say you’re too old to do this or that, take a look at May or Queen’s drummer, Roger Taylor, still killing it over 47 years after they got the band together.

It all was a reminder that no matter how stressed we are, no matter how much we have on our plate, no matter how old we get, we have to remember to be young every once in a while and experience life with that same joie de vivre (but with a little more wisdom). Find the things that make you sing and dance and laugh and live in the moment, and go a little crazy and then do them. That will keep you younger than any skincare product.

And now, the reason you’ve all come here, I have a more Sophie pages (applause please).  If you haven’t read the earlier chapters of my next Sophie novel, Chaos, Deceit & A Kick-Ass Cupcake you can check them out here. And if you are caught up, enjoy the latest installment right here! Happy Wednesday everyone!:

 

Chapter 7

“We each have to decide, do we crave the feeling of vitality we get from taking great risks more than we fear the potential consequences. You can’t achieve greatness if the fear is greater, but you’ll probably live a longer life.”

–Dying To Laugh

 

 

 

 

London’s place turned out to be a fourplex two blocks from the beach in the outer sunset district. As we pulled into a parallel spot across the street we noted there were lights on in three out of the four apartments.

“It doesn’t mean the dark one’s his,” Dena noted. She was sitting in the backseat. Mary Ann was sitting behind the wheel tapping her fingers to Kelly Clarkson which, according to the deal she struck with Dena, she was allowed to play after every two Kendrick Lamar songs. “His wife and daughter really could be home. Or maybe they’re in the dark apartment but went to sleep.”

“It’s not that late,” I said, uncertainly.

“It’s not that early either,” Dena reminded me. “Besides, they’re in mourning. They have reason to just crawl under the covers and black out the world. Just drop the ring off by the front door and let’s go.”

“But…what if the wrong person finds it,” I asked. “What if they take it?”

“Sophie, this is your plan,” Dena reminded me. “If someone steals the wedding ring they’ll have bad juju for the rest of their lives. Let’s do this and move on.”

I nodded. Sobriety was making a very gradual and unwelcome comeback. Time was of the essence.

“Okay, you guys stay here for a minute. I’m going to look around to see if there’s a good spot for it, if not…” my voice trailed off.

“If not?” Mary Ann repeated, urging me to finish my thought.

But I didn’t have a finish for that thought. I shook my head, uncertain and then opened the car door. “Just five minutes you guys.”

“Wait, you went from a minute to five minutes in less than three sentences,” Dena protested. “Five minutes is not–”

I jumped out of the car and closed the door before she could finish her sentence. As I walked up to London’s building I could hear the muffled sound of a dog barking from somewhere inside. The apartment numbers were listed by the various buzzers. Living so close to the beach in San Francisco meant living in a fog bank for approximately 360 days of every year. But then London didn’t seem like a man who longed for the sun and perhaps his daughter enjoyed holding beach bonfires with friends like I did when I was her age. As for Anita…I didn’t have much of a read on her at all.

I ran my fingers lightly over the buzzers. Were Anita and Cathy home? At a friend’s? A loving family member’s? I lowered my gaze to study the steps leading up to the building, then the walkway…surely there was some place to plant this stupid thing. But of course there wasn’t.

But if they weren’t home, and the key really was for their apartment…

I gave my head an energetic shake to clear it. Dena was right, breaking into the apartment wasn’t a good idea.

But what if I just broke into the apartment building? Like maybe the ring could have slipped off his finger while he was clinging to the banister, or fiddling with his mail after collecting it? I could go in and just drop it in a plausible location.

My little voice, which was apparently a lot more sober than I was, told me that was a ridiculous and reckless idea.

I glanced over my shoulder at Mary Ann’s car, still parked serenely across the street and gave them a little wave, letting them know I was fine. Not that they couldn’t see that for themselves. The only thing they could be worried about was that I might be thinking about doing exactly what I was thinking about doing.

I reached into my bag, as subtlety as possible, and fished out the keys. I sort of strolled up to the front door, keeping my head bent toward the ground as if looking for a place to drop the ring. Keeping my body angled so Dena and Mary Ann couldn’t see exactly what I was up to, I tried one of the keys. It fit into the lock, but didn’t turn.

By that point, there was no way Dena and Mary Ann hadn’t caught on to what was up. Quickly my fingers closed around the other key, just as Dena was opening the car door and started crossing the street toward me. I fumbled with it as I tried, then succeeded, to get it into the lock. It turned. This was the key! I was about to triumphantly push open the door when it swung open on its own, pulling away from me.

I squealed and jumped back, into Dena who had caught up with me and she fell back into Mary Ann who let out an even louder squeal. We all stood there, regaining our balance as a man wearing sweats, a t-shirt, Vans and spikey black hair, gelled to an inch of its life, stared down at us from the now open doorway.

“Can I help you?” he asked, irritably.

I blinked, a little stunned.

“I’m really sorry,” Dena began. “We have the wrong–”

“We’re friends of Aaron London in unit 4,” I interrupted, straightening my spine, pulling out a smile. “We’re expected. His wife gave me the key.” I held up the keys as evidence.

The man barely even looked at them. “Bullshit.”

My smile disappeared. I hadn’t expected to be called out that fast. Behind me I heard Mary Ann squeak out an uh-oh.

“No, really,” I said, trying to maintain at least the façade of confidence. “She gave it to me this afternoon. I don’t think she’s home yet…or, she may be sleeping…”

“Look, I don’t know who you are, but you didn’t get those keys from his wife,” he retorted.

I took a sharp breath, tasted the salt in the air. “What makes you say that?”

“Unit 4 guy? Aaron London? He’s in the apartment right next to mine and he doesn’t have a wife.”

For a few seconds I just stared at him, unsure if I had heard him correctly. When I finally glanced back at my friends they looked every bit as taken aback as I felt. My hand went to my purse where the ring was. It was a wedding ring. I mean, it looked like a wedding ring. Anita was London’s wife. That’s what made sense. “He…doesn’t have a wife,” I repeated, slowly.

“No, that dude lives alone…except for the dog. Is he married to the dog? Is that the bitch you’re talking about? Because if it is, I wish you could get her to shut the hell up.”

It was everything I could do not to pull the wedding ring out of my purse and shove it in Gel-Head’s face. He had to be wrong. And Anita must have been listed as an emergency contact in London’s wallet or something otherwise how would the hospital know to call her?

Mary Ann raised her hand as if she was a student in a classroom. “Um, sorry, I’m a little lost. Is the bitch that won’t shut up, like, a dog-dog? Or are you just being really mean about a woman you don’t find attractive?”

“What?” the guy shook his head. “I’m talking about a dog. I think it’s a Lab or something…maybe part pit. I don’t know, but it’s got a pink collar so I’m guessing she’s a girl, and do not tell me I’m gender stereotyping. People have been trying to lay that shit on me ever since I moved to San Francisco. It’s like everything I say here is sexist.”

My eyes moved past him to the apartment building. I could see the lobby painted a utilitarian beige, metal mailboxes lined up neatly on the wall, the frayed carpet on the steps that led tenants up to their apartments. I tried to imagine the angry woman I met at the hospital latching on her pearls before descending those steps. But it was like trying to picture Audrey Hepburn in an Adam Sandler film.

“Um, how long have you lived here?” I asked. Maybe he had just moved in a few days ago. Maybe Anita and Catherine had been away, visiting potential colleges or ailing grandparents.

“I moved in four months ago. And…look, I don’t know what your relationship is with Unit 4 but there’s something wrong with that dog. She’s been barking since I got back from work. I have to be on the Google bus at six-thirty tomorrow morning and now I gotta go out and buy earplugs just so I can sleep!”

But it was like the quiet roar of the ocean was pulling his words away from me. I could barely hear them, or anything other than my own screaming thoughts. Had the hospital called Anita? Or had she just shown up, because maybe, just maybe, she knew he was going to end up in the hospital.

Or maybe she had been following him. In a Zipcar.

But that was crazy…wasn’t it? Of course it was. It had to be crazy.

Gel-head was still talking. It took effort to drag my attention back to him.

“Barking, whining, then barking again,” he was saying. “There is no sound insolation in this place. Maybe she’s in distress or something, I dunno. I haven’t heard her do this before.” He sucked in his lower lip, revealing a wisp of a soul patch. “Look, if you think you can get it to shut up and you really have a key just give me some plausible story about how you got it. Something so when the cops ask me why I didn’t report a bunch of suspicious looking women entering my neighbor’s apartment I’ll have an out. Seriously, I don’t care. I just need that thing to be quiet.”

“You really shouldn’t call living creatures things,” Mary Ann scolded.

Gel-head’s mouth curled down into a cartoonishly frustrated glare. “I really hate this city.”

“Aaron London was admitted into Mercy Hospital today,” I said, choosing my words with obvious deliberation. The wind picked up, brushing wet air against my face. “He gave us his keys so we could get some stuff for him and take care of the dog.”

Gel-head studied me as a new force of wind tried and failed to tousle his hair. “That’s your plausible story?”

“Pretty much.”

He considered it, then shrugged. “It’ll do. Just keep in mind, if the dog doesn’t shut up in the next fifteen minutes I really am calling the police.”

“Fair,” I agreed. Gel-head stood back and held open the door for us. I went in right away but Dena and Mary Ann hung back.

“Guys,” I said, impatiently, gesturing for them to follow.

“Sophie, we don’t know what we’re walking into,” Dena pointed out.

“She’s right,” Mary Ann agreed. “I do want to help the dog but…what if it’s a scary dog?”

“Yeah,” Dena agreed then narrowed her eyes and faced Gel-head. “Is the barking bitch Lassie or Cujo?”

“I don’t know,” he said, clearly exacerbated. “Neither? Maybe more like that dog in Marley and Me?”

“Oh, I loved that movie!” Mary Ann cooed. “I cried so much at the end.”

“Are you guys going to do this or what?” Gel-head snapped.

I gave my friends an imploring look. “Please?” I asked. “If not for me, then for Marley.”

Mary Ann gave me a firm nod and marched past Dena into the building. “For Marley.”

Dena exhaled loudly and followed. “This is so fucking crazy.”

She was right. It was. But it was the kind of fucking crazy I used to love and maybe, just maybe still did. This was a Sophie kind of crazy.

In the minute that it took us to get to the apartment the dog had gone from barking to whimpering and scratching at the door. Mary Ann placed her flat palm next to the peephole. “That poor thing! Do you think she’s psychic?”

Both Dena and I looked at her as Gel-Head, who had been trailing behind us, let himself into the apartment on the other end of the hall and slammed his door closed.

“Maybe that’s why she’s so upset,” Mary Ann explained, ignoring our enabler’s dramatic exit. “She knows her human died. Animals are different than us. They understand things we don’t.”

“We’re all animals, but I’m completely sure that dog understands things you don’t,” Dena grumbled.

“We don’t know how long she’s been alone in there.” I chewed on my lower lip, shifting my weight from foot to foot. “London was in bad shape when I saw him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he hadn’t been home the night before.”

“Oh that poor thing!” Mary Ann said again. “Open the door, Sophie.”

“Wait a minute, what’s the plan here,” Dena interjected. “Are we just going to take the dog out for a short walk, feed her and then leave her for someone who actually knows London to take care of her?”

“Maybe?” I said, uncertainly.

“Because you know we can’t just take the dog, right?” Dena asked. “We don’t have enough information about what’s going on here to do that.”

She was right, we had no idea what we were about to walk into. I still couldn’t get my head around Anita and Catherine being frauds…in fact I didn’t really believe it. It’s not like Gel-Head looked like the kind of guy who was particularly observant. And yet, not to notice the existence of two people who theoretically lived down the hall from you…

“Hold on a second.” I pulled out my phone and went through my recent call log. “His teenage daughter…or the person who might be his daughter, is the one who called me with the news.” I found the number and pressed call. I put it on speaker so we could all hear.

It went to voicemail after one ring. “Hi, I can’t get to the phone right now. You can leave a message which I probably won’t listen to or you could just be normal and text.”

“I don’t know if she’s his daughter or not, but she’s definitely a teenager,” Dena muttered. I shushed her right as the phone beeped.

“Hi, um, this is Sophie Katz. I…look, I’m so sorry about your dad. I only met him today,” I said, stressing the word today, “but he did mention that he had a dog and I….um, I guess I got the feeling he was the only one who took care of it. Not that I think you wouldn’t take care of a dog. I can totally see you as a dog person.”

Dena gave me a look that said What the hell are you doing?

I swallowed and tried to regroup. “Look, I just wanted to know if the dog lives with you guys or if London was keeping him…somewhere else. If it’s the latter, will someone be getting the dog? Just let me know. Thanks.”

I hung up as both Mary Ann and Dena looked at me with their mouths hanging open. Finally Dena let out a short laugh. “Well let’s hope she sticks to her word and ignores her voicemail.” She took my phone from me and after a few seconds of tapping away showed me the text message she had come up with:

I’m so sorry about your dad. Will you be taking care of his dog or do you need help with that?

“Not perfect but better, no?” Dena asked and then pressed send before I could weigh in.

The scratching at the door was getting frantic. What if the dog did bite?

“That animal needs help,” Mary Ann said, sternly. “Open the door, Sophie.”

Mary Ann could be a ditz at time but no one could say she wasn’t brave and efficient in the face of a crisis.

The doorknob trembled slightly with the efforts of the animal inside. “Here goes nothing.” Slowly, carefully, I slipped the key in the lock and inched open the door.

Immediately a black furry snout squeezed its way through the crack and forced the door all the way open.

The snout was attached to a large, pink-collared dog, built like a lab but with Richard Nixon jowls, wagging her stub of a tail as she sniffed my shoes and pant legs. Not even a whisper of hostility in her manner. I leaned down and scratched her behind her ears as she stared up at be with big, black, puppy dog eyes. She was strong and gorgeous…and smelly. In fact the stink was pretty intense.

The dog moved on to Mary Ann but the smell didn’t let up. That’s when I looked up and saw it. The majority of the stench was coming from the apartment. Although it looked a lot more like a toxic waste dump than anyone’s living quarters. There were dirty paper plates on the floor, a dog bowl inexplicably placed in the middle of the room that, even in the dim light, looked crusty. I spotted a cup on a pedestal table by the door, still partially filled with old, neglected coffee. Empty water bottles had been cast carelessly about.

But mostly there were papers. Papers and papers and papers. Printed out articles crumpled up on the floor, newspaper articles pinned to the walls with certain passages circled or highlighted, torn out pages of magazines piled on chairs. A waste basket overflowing with shreds of ripped up sentences. Pamphlets and business cards scattered across the coffee table. If someone set off a bomb in a Kinkos you’d have less paper and more order than you had here.

Dena stepped up next to me, peering into the space. “I think we have confirmation of Aaron London’s crazy.”

I felt Mary Ann come up behind me, the dog now nudging against the back of my legs. “It’s like an episode of Hoarders,” Mary Ann observed, “except…worse.”

“We can’t just leave this dog here,” I whispered.

“It’s not our dog!” Dena snapped.

I gestured to the junkyard London had made out of his apartment. “This is animal abuse.” I paused to think about how best to handle things before adding, “we have to go in there.”

Dena balked. “I think I’d rather spend a week in prison than a second in that hole.”

I squared my shoulders. “We have to take the dog out. So we need a leash. I’m sure there’s a leash in there.”

“Oh for Christ’s sake.” Dena dug into her oversized-bag and pulled out a short, chain-link leash. “If we truly have to take her, we can use this.”

Mary Ann did a quick double take. “You don’t have a dog.”

“I have a boyfriend,” Dena replied.

“Wait…” Mary Ann began but I cut her off.

“Please don’t ask her to explain that,” I requested.

Dena leaned down put the leash on the dog. As soon as she did the dog managed to give her a lick on the nose. “Chill,” Dena said sternly to the mutt. “I don’t even let Jason do that.”

“He definitely doesn’t live here with a woman,” I said quietly.

“It does seem unlikely,” Mary Ann agreed.

“Maybe they were separated,” I suggested. “Maybe he moved in here while they were taking a break and he sort of,” I glanced back at the apartment, “let the bachelor thing get out of control.”

That’s highly likely,” Dena said with a sigh. “Can we go now?”

I swallowed hard and bit my lip. I was so curious. But the smell was not getting better with continued exposure. And there might be bugs in there. I wasn’t sure if I could handle a lot of bugs. Still… “Let me just place the ring.”

I took several steps away from the door, pulled out the ring, inhaled a deep breath and then, holding it, walked into the cesspool. I didn’t have the courage to turn on the light to see things more clearly. Instead I skirted around shadows and shapes as I made my way to the coffee table. On the couch was a pile of clothes, each item too dark to be distinguishable from the others in the dim light with the exception of a red, checkered winter scarf that seemed to be slithering off the pile as if attempting a slow moving escape.

I glanced down at the coffee table. Pamphlets touting holistic medicine and homeopathy were scattered about along with a few business cards. I picked one up and narrowed my eyes to make out the words. It was for a blogger for a site called Corporate Evil. Sounded like London’s cup of tea. Another business card was for the Founder Of Citizens Against (Legal) Drugs

The legal part, in parenthesis no less, made me want to smile. But I resisted just in case moving my mouth inadvertently led to my accidentally inhaling.

That breath I was holding was beginning to hurt. Still, I reached for one more business card.

 

Gundrun Volz

Nolan-Volz

Co-Founder, CEO

 

Seriously? I put my hand on my chest, partially out of shock and partially because I really was going to have to inhale soon. Was this really the card of the Nolan Volz CEO? Or was it a fake? It had to be a fake, right? I mean, no one would really name their kid Gundrun Volz.

“Sophie!” Dena yelled from where she stood in the hall. “We can’t be hanging out here!”

She was right. Plus I really did have to breath. I put the Gundrun Volz card in my back pocket and carefully placed the ring in the center of the table where it could be easily seen before quickly walking out of the apartment. As I closed the door behind me I finally released my breath with a gasp, desperate for air that was wasn’t weighted down by the stench of moldy pizza boxes and dirty sox.

I looked over at Mary Ann, still holding her nose. “I think Dena’s right. Going would be good,” she said in a nasal voice.

“You did everything you wanted to do,” Dena pointed out. “You returned the ring and we’re rescuing the dog. Plus I’m pretty sure we have just confirmed that he wasn’t living with his wife. There’s no reason to hang out.”

“Oh, my God,” Mary Ann squealed. Dena and I both looked over to see Mary Ann, crouched down by the dog, studying her tags. “You won’t believe what her name is!”

“Marley?” I guessed.

“No!” she stood up, with a big, bright smile. “Her name is Sophie!”

Jun 21

Another Wednesday, Another Few Pages Of Sophie (+ an AWESOME celebrity encounter)

Due to my husband’s line of work I meet a lot of celebrities. I’ve hung out with Barbra Streisand, chatted with DiCaprio, hosted James Woods at my home, had long conversations with Cynthia Nixon, shaken the hand of Mick Jagger etc. etc. Meeting these people is always cool. It’s interesting to find out where public personas and personal identity split. Very few people are who they seem to be in the tabloids or even on social media. All that said, I’m not a celebrity fan girl. Celebrities/actors are nice people, talented people, very successful people but in the end, they’re just people like the rest of us. It’s rare that meeting someone famous gets me all a flutter.

 

But when I found out my husband and I were going to be having dinner with George RR Martin, the author of Game Of Thrones, I’ll admit, I got a little fluttery. This man is a literary giant. His writing prowess is undeniable. He paints pictures with his words and stories that have captured the imagination of readers all over the world (mine included). Sitting down with him was a true honor.

 

And as it turns out, he was not only an extremely kind and affable man he’s also an inspiration. Not just because of his successes but because of his stumbles. He talked openly about how he started off strong in his career.  In the early 70s he was getting his short stories published in magazines and they were getting lots of acclaim. His first book, published in 1977 also did quite well. In 1983 he published Fevre Dream which was universally loved by the critics…and was also a total and complete commercial flop. Its lack of sales almost ruined his career. He couldn’t get another publishing contract. So he moved on to Hollywood. There he had another string of good fortune. He was writing for the Twilight Zone and his scripts were making it onto the air. And then, as he branched out beyond that show he found that some of the new scripts he was writing weren’t getting on the air at all. He found himself frustrated by having to say goodbye to characters and stories that viewers and readers would never even get to meet.

And so he went back to books. It’s a good thing he did because that’s how we got Game Of Thrones. The first two books of that series did well but didn’t initially make the New York Times list. The third and fourth most definitely did. And that sparked HBO’s interest. The rest is history.

 

So, you may be asking, why am I giving you a rundown of Martin’s career. Well, I’m doing it because it’s a good reminder that we all  have our peaks and valleys. We like to think that our trajectory will always be upward but that’s not how life works. But a major setback doesn’t mean that a major triumph isn’t attainable if you’re willing to persist and put in the work. It’s important to remember that because the failures, well, those take work too. And it’s painful to see something you work incredibly hard on go nowhere. It’s tempting at those times to throw in the towel. It took Martin 30 years to come even close to the level of success he’s at now. But he never, ever gave up. He learned from his setbacks and took heart in his successes. It’s a hard lesson but one all of us would do well to learn.

As for me, I’ve certainly had my fair share of setbacks. I’ve been writing for about fifteen years now and I’m not  where I want to be in my career. Yes, I’ve been on the New York Times list a few times but that was four years ago. It was frustrating seeing what I and critics believe was my best book (JUST ONE LIE) not match the sales of many of my other titles. I worked extremely hard on that one and fell in love with the characters. I’m the first to admit that I allowed its lack luster sales to get me down. But I’m still here, still writing, this time another Sophie. and I do still love my Sophie. I hope you do to, because she’s coming back and I’m not going anywhere.

And with that, here are some more pages from the new Sophie book CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE.

CHAPTER 6

“The smart choice is almost always the cautious one. I’m proud that I’m just stupid enough for bravery.”

–Dying To Laugh

 

 

“I’m the devil.” I gripped my third Cape Cod in my hands. Dena, Mary Ann and I had found a small table in the corner of the dimly lit bar. The place was vibrating with the grating laughter of the Silicon Valley infiltrators, all decked out in the cheapest looking expensive clothes they could find. A virtual sea of white faces peering out of Nordstrom-bought hoodies. I had made a point of feeling superior to these so-called innovators for years. They were completely screwing up the vibe of my city. But as I watched them I couldn’t help but think that their analytical brains would have found a much more effective way to handle the whole London thing than I had.

Mary Ann toyed with the leaves of sage sticking out of the artisan cocktail she had been working on for the last forty minutes. “You’re not the devil, Sophie.”

“Of course not,” Dena agreed. “For one thing, Satan would have a better sense of what the fuck is going on. You were an innocent, clueless bystander. That’s all.”

“Wrong. I’m a guilty bystander. A nefarious bystander! He asked me to get involved and I rejected the idea out of hand.” I slammed the rest of my drink.

“There was nothing to get involved in!” Dena insisted. “This London guy was sick and refused to get treatment from a doctor. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there is no such thing as a nefarious bystander. You’re drunk.”

“Not yet,” I retorted signaling to our passing cocktail waitress that I wanted another.

“Perhaps if you wait a few weeks and then call the daughter back,” Mary Ann suggested, “maybe she’ll talk to you. When she’s, well, not less sad, but more calm.”

“And after she’s over the shock of finding out about your affair with her dad,” Dena added with a humorless smile.

“And when they find he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring they’ll think it’s more proof of that!” I moaned. “I have to straighten that out.”

“Think that’s a dilemma to ponder out tomorrow,” Dena suggested, leaning back in her chair.

“Tomorrow!” I exclaimed. “Tomorrow? Who am I? Scarlett O’Hara? Annie? Fuck tomorrow!” Okay, so maybe I was a little tipsy. They were strong drinks. “I should have dealt with things today. I should have helped him somehow! I was so thrown by all the crazy conspiracy stuff…I just screwed up!”

“Jason always gravitates to the conspiracy theories out there,” Dena noted, referencing her boyfriend and primary lover. Dena always had a secondary or two on hand. It was an arrangement Jason seemed almost grateful for. After all, Dena might be a bit much for any one man to handle. “But you know Jason,” Dena added. “He’s a little eccentric.”

I pressed my lips together and Mary Ann coughed softly as she stared pointedly into her cocktail. I had no problem with Jason. He was fun. But saying he was “a little eccentric,” was like saying Muammar el-Qaddafi had been a little erratic. There were some seriously weird stuff going on in that man’s head.

“London had all these weird theories about how hospitals were performing needless medical procedures on the homeless,” I began but was interrupted by the arrival of my drink, which required immediate drinking.

“Like Medicare pays out enough to be worth scamming,” Dena said with a scoff.

“Mm,” I put down my drink after downing a little over half of it. “London was also really concerned about a New World Order.”

“Oh yeah, Jason’s always going on about that,” Dena noted as the waitress walked off. “Oligarchs creating a secret society and taking over the world or some such bullshit.”

“Wait,” Mary Ann asked as she raised her martini glass for another sip, “What’s an oligarch? Are they, like, a kind of ogre? Like in The Hobbit and Shrek?”

Dena took in a sharp breath and I could see her fist clenching by her side. She never had a lot of patience for what we euphemistically referred to as Mary Ann’s unworldliness.

“Sort of,” I said, giving Dena a subtle kick under the table before she let loose with something biting. “But these kind have money, so more in line with the ogres in Shrek II.” A group of guys at the next table broke out in laughter. San Francisco had become one of the rare cities where even the straight guys traveled in packs. Dena called the PGP, Proud Geek Packs. I shifted in my seat and brought my attention back to my own table. “London also thought the government is trying to kill us.”

“Same with Jason,” Dena noted.

I stared down at my drink. “I like Jason,” I said slowly. “I mean he’s crazy but I don’t blow him off when he asks for my help.”

“Yeah, well that’s because he doesn’t ask for your help,” Dena said before taking a quick sip of her whiskey tonic.

“Okay, but I mean, I wouldn’t,” I explained. “And I don’t treat him like he’s a lunatic who needs professional help.”

“Well,” Mary Ann said, delicately, “I don’t know if Jason getting a little professional help would be the worst idea…”

“I treat Jason with respect,” I continued as Dena shot Mary Ann an icy glare. “I don’t think I treated London with respect,”

“If I remember rightly, the first time you met Jason you didn’t treat him with a lot of respect,” Dena pointed out. “It wasn’t until you got to know him that you came to respect the man under the conspiracy theories.”

“Yeah, but I should have learned from that! We’re in San Francisco! Half the people here think our government is homicidal!” My words started picking up speed until they were practically bumping into one another. “Every time there’s a drone strike there’s a protest on some street corner railing against government sanctioned killing! We can disagree with them but that doesn’t mean they’re irrational. Or even when they are it doesn’t mean we should act like their concerns are stupid or silly. And that’s what I did with this guy! I dismissed him! Why did I do that?” I fumbled around in my purse until I found the ring. I pulled it out and held it reverently in the palm of my hand. “I screwed up. I really, really, screwed up.”

“No, you didn’t,” Dena said, definitively. “You were kind to an irrational man without encouraging his insanity. That’s responsible. You did everything right…except for the girlfriend part.”

I groaned again and made my hand a fist around the ring. “I can fix that much.”

“How?” Mary Ann asked.

“I was going to ask if your nurse friend might be able to sneak…”

Mary Ann was shaking her head before I even got through my sentence. “Jenna doesn’t sneak,” she said, firmly. “She doesn’t even jaywalk. I think it’s because she’s a really devout Christian.”

As a Jew I was hardly an expert on these things but I was pretty sure jaywalking wasn’t on Jesus’ list of concerns. But whatever. “I don’t need her to sneak anymore,” I assured her. “It’s too late for nurse sneaking. But, I mean, if it fell off his finger, and that’s got to be what happened, he probably had been losing weight. His clothes were too big and everything. And his weight loss, his family would know about it, right?”

“I would think so,” Dena agreed.

I jumped to my feet and waved my arms in the air to get the waitress’ attention.

“What are you doing?” Dena asked.

“I’m getting the check. We have to go to Aaron London’s place.”

Mary Ann and Dena looked at one another. “Um,” Mary Ann said, running her fingers nervously back and forth along the edge of the table, “I don’t think he’s home.”

“Of course he’s not home,” I replied. “But I’ve got to make it look like his ring fell off somewhere around his place! Or better yet, in his home!”

“I’m sorry, what?” Dena asked, flatly.

“I might have his house keys. I could just—“

“Yeah, no!” Dena said, cutting me off immediately. “You are not breaking into his house to return a ring!”

“Why not?” I demanded.

“For one thing, his wife and daughter are probably already there,” Dena pointed out.

“But what if they’re not? They could easily have gone to a family member’s home while they process this. That’s what my mom did when my dad died.”

“Sophie.” Dena said my name like it was a condemnation but I simply ignored her as I continued to make my case.

“It would be the opposite of a burglary! I would be like Santa Claus…if Santa gave you stuff that already belonged to you.…and if he had a key instead of having to mess around with chimneys.”

“Um,” Mary Ann said again, “Dena may be right…about you’re being a little bit drunk.”

“Of course I’m drunk! You think I want to deal with any of this while sober?” I retorted. “And look!” Again, I searched through my handbag until I found London’s car insurance failed-payment notice, his name and address clearly printed in the corner. “See!” I slammed the paper down in front of my friends. “I have his address!”

The waitress came over with our check and I triumphantly put my credit card on top of it before she could even leave it on the table. “Drinks are on me,” I declared. “Mary Ann, you’ll have to drive us over there.”

Listen to me,” Dena wrapped her knuckles against the table, “this isn’t Christmas and nobody wants you busting into their living room no matter how jolly you are. We are not doing this!”

“But–”

“Do you even remember what happened the last time we tried to sneak around someone else’s home?” Dena pressed. “That was at that guy Alex Kinsky’s house in Vegas. The night ended when he held us at gunpoint and set the whole building on fire.”

“That’s really not fair,” I countered. “The fire was a total accident.”

“Sophie!”

“Fine!” I threw up my hands in mock surrender. “Then I’ll…I’ll just drop the ring by his doorstep.”

“That’s stupid!” Dena insisted.

“It’s a free country! I can be stupid if I want to be!” Mary Ann and Dena looked up at me doubtfully. Frustrated, I put my hands on my hips. “I swear to God you two, I will go on a full sobriety boycott until you agree to help me handle this! Right now, the only important thing is the ring!”

“Oh make up your mind, are you Santa or Golem?” Dena muttered.

I stared her down, letting her know I was not going to let this go.

She sighed and shook her head. “Let me just ask you this. If we drop Precious by his front door, like, by the matt or something, will you let this go?”

“Yes,” I said, without really thinking about it. “Sure.”

Dena and Mary Ann exchanged looks. As the waitress came back with a receipt for me to sign, Dena gave a little shrug. “Okay. Looks like it’s time us hobbits to go on an adventure.”

Jun 14

New Wednesday, New Plans, New Sophie!

It seems that every time I introduce a new chapter of the new Sophie book, CHAOS, DECEIT & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE, it’s accompanied by more news about my son. I suppose that makes some sense since being a mother and a writer are two of my six main roles in life. The other four are being a wife, a daughter, a friend, and a conscientious, contributing citizen.

That last role, citizen, is the role my son has decided he wants to explore more deeply for himself. A while back he applied for Americorps NCCC and a few days ago he received his invitation to serve the Southwest region based out of Denver, CO. Allegheny College took about two seconds to approve his request to defer his attendance for one year so that he could take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with what Americorps NCCC is, it’s one of the primary programs under the umbrella of the Corporation For National And Community Service (CNCS). Young adults between the ages of 18-24 are placed in teams of 10-12 and over a 10-month period and under a somewhat military style structure, are sent out to serve their country by working with various non-profits, National Parks and disaster relief efforts. A typical 10 month stint in Americorps NCCC would involve:

1) Building houses with Habitat For Humanity,

2) Working with foster kids, helping out inner city schools and/or working with the Boys & Girls Club

3) Being trained by the IRS  then going out into the community to help low income families file their personal taxes.

4) Removing invasive species of plants, planting trees, building trails in a National Park

Each mission (or as they call them, Spikes) lasts for about two months. The team lives in VERY modest conditions near their current project (in other words, he’ll only be in Denver periodically), have mandatory physical training, are trained on how to use the tools/power tools they’ll need, are educated about the reason for the need for every one of their missions, are responsible for keeping their living quarters and uniforms neat and so on.

It’s not going to be easy. There will be lots of 8hrs-plus days of demanding manual labor.  But it’s such an amazing program and he’ll be helping his fellow citizens and our nation in very tangible ways. Here’s a video of one of Americorps NCCC’s recent projects:

Anyway, that’s what’s going on in my world. Now let me give you a peek into what’s going on in the world of Sophie! Please remember, if you haven’t read the first four chapters yet, you can find them all by clicking here! Enjoy!!

Chapter 5

“You can reject Robert Frost’s advice and choose the road most traveled, but it’s still going to lead you to some unexpected and dangerously rugged detours. No one gets to stay on the paved road for the whole trip.”

Dying To Laugh

 

 

 

It says something about my friendship with Dena that I was unsurprised to find her absently doing bicep curls with giant dildos at the end of a work day, one black, one pinkish. She was standing in the middle of her store, Guilty Pleasure, studying a collection of colorful ball-gags hanging from hooks in the wall, her thick, Sicilian eyebrows scrunched together adding drama to her otherwise kittenish features.

“Ready for dinner?” I asked as I maneuvered around two giggling twenty-somethings hunched over the edible panties display.

Dena looked up, my voice pulling her out of her thoughts and then glanced at her wind-up watch, a subtle form of rebellion against the technification of the city. “Since when do you arrive anywhere early? That’s Mary Ann’s thing.” She glanced back up at the wall. “I’m thinking about moving these further back and doing a vibrator display here instead.” She held out the giant mechanical penises for my inspection. “I have these in eight different skin-tones now. Diversity.”

I nodded and tapped the black one. “You should put the darker ones up front in honor of Black History Month.”

Dena blinked down at the vibrators. “That’s fucking brilliant.”

“Do you have any black, Jewish dildos?” I asked. “To celebrate both sides of my racial and cultural identity?”

Dena held up the phallic device so it was eyelevel with me. “It’s circumcised, isn’t it? But if you’re asking if I have any black dildos that will fuck you while playing Hava Nagila the answer is no.”

“The limits of technology,” I sighed as my eyes wandered over to a shelf holding a smiling, silicon creature with antennas. Its packaging read, Flexi Felix for Anal Fun Days! “Do you know if Mary Ann is still friends with that nurse who works at St. Dominique’s Hospital?”

“Jenna?” Dena asked, following my gaze “What about Flexi made you think of her? Oh, is it because she’s a tight ass?”

“What? No, I…okay, first off, ew. I was just thinking she might be able to help me with something.”

Before I could continue, the chime of the front entrance alerted us to Mary Ann’s arrival. She was half walking, half skipping in our direction, her chestnut curls bouncing enthusiastically around her shoulders giving her the look of a model from a shampoo commercial.

“Oh my God, I’m so glad you could come out tonight!” Mary Ann said, as she gave me an enthusiastic hug and then Dena a more tentative one as she carefully avoided contact with the dildos in her hands. “I have news!”

“Is it something I won’t believe?” Dena asked, giving me a sidelong glance.

“Seriously guys!” Mary Ann’s porcelain complexion flushed with excitement. “I’m going to have a baby!”

I froze in utter shock. Dena looked down at the black dildo as if it was somehow responsible.

“You’re going to be a mom,” I whispered. Then squealed, “You’re going to be a mom!” It was enough to attract the attention of the giggling girls who looked up from the flavored lubes in their hands.

“I didn’t even know this was something you were thinking about!” Dena said, the traces of suppressed emotion bringing her voice up an octave.

“Well, Monty and I have been talking about it for a while and we’ve decided it doesn’t make sense to wait any longer. Now’s the time!”

“We have to celebrate!” I stated firmly. “What should we do?”

“We can start by not going to happy hour,” Dena gave Mary Ann a stern look. “No way in hell are you drinking during your pregnancy.”

“Oh, I’m not pregnant,” Mary Ann said, blithely. “I can have at least one cocktail. We have to toast this!”

Dena scrutinized her cousin and then looked over at me to see if I was as lost as she was.

I cleared my throat and shifted my weight from foot to foot. “Sooo…are you adopting?”

“No, what makes you think that?” Mary Ann looked at me, then Dena. “Oh, I see where the confusion is!” she added with a laugh. “I’m not pregnant right this second but I’m going to be pregnant. Probably by tomorrow.”

The corners of Dena’s mouth twitched “So your news,” she said, gently putting the dildos down next to the anal beads,is that you’re going to fuck your husband tonight.”

“That is so crude,” Mary Ann said, irritably. “I’m going to make a baby with my husband tonight. It will be the first time I’ve ever had sex without any contraceptives.”

Ever?” Dena and I asked in unison.

“Nope. I’ve never had sex with anyone without a condom,” Mary Ann further clarified. “I’ve never wanted to be pregnant before.”

“My God,” I whispered. “I’ve been friends with you for almost two decades and I never realized you were the most responsible woman on earth. Dena,” I said, a little accusatorily, “you must have known. How could you not share that?”

“Because I didn’t know!” she snapped and then gave Mary Ann a not so gentle smack on the arm. “You have never bought a condom from me! I have latex, polyisoprene, vegan-friendly condoms, condoms with cockrings, glow in the dark, extra thin, everything! It’s like a fucking condomcopia in here and you never once hit me up!”

My phone started vibrating in my bag as Dena continued to rail against her cousin’s refusal to involve her in her sex life. I didn’t recognize the number but I was more than happy to use it as an excuse to step away. “Hello?”

“Is this Sophie Katz?” a girl asked. The young voice was familiar but she spoke so quietly it was difficult to make out her words.

I moved several more feet away to better hear and to get myself out of the line of fire just in case Dena started hurling cock rings. “This is Sophie, who is this please?”

“It’s Cat, Aaron London’s daughter.”

“Oh! I’m so glad you called! Look, it was a total misunderstanding back at the hospital. I’m not dating your dad. But I was with him when he…when it happened.” I moved aside to make room for two more customers who were headed towards lingerie. “How is your dad?”

“Dead.”

Dead?

My mouth dropped open and my fingers tightened around my cell. Behind me the new customers were chuckling. In front of me Dena was still gesticulating and yet all the sound in the room was now couched in a kind of ringing silence. I took a step forward as if movement would help. As if there was some corner of this adult toy store that would be appropriate for receiving this kind of news. “But…the surgery? Didn’t it work?” I asked, stupidly.

“I just thought you should know,” she said, opting not to humor me by stating the obvious answer.

Again, I found myself struggling to find words. London’s ring was in my purse, waiting for him to put it back on. I was sure he would put it back on. I honestly hadn’t expected he wouldn’t be able to. I hadn’t really believed that I could be talking to a man one minute and then have him just…die. Not from a gunshot or some sudden violent act but from something much quieter. A silent killer slithering through his veins.

 

Look at me. Use your eyes and see me dying. You’re witnessing my murder.

 

“Is your mother with you?” I asked, urgently. “I need to talk to her. There are some things she should know.”

“My mother is never going to talk to you.” Catherine’s voice was almost steady. “Not in a million years.”

And then the line went dead. She was gone.

London was gone.

I watched mutely as Dena turned away from Mary Ann and started walking toward her office. Dena’s limp was less severe than it used to be but still detectable. Odd, seeing Dena, the petite, athletic woman I’ve known since high school, limp with each step. It was a bullet to the back that had done it, years ago. A physical manifestation of a twisted metaphor. The things that scar us are never the things we see coming.

I hadn’t seen this coming.

Mary Ann came bounding over, clearly unfazed by Dena’s rant, but when she saw my face her expression immediately changed. “What’s wrong, Sophie?” she asked.

“Someone died today,” I whispered.

Mary Ann’s hands fluttered to her face. “Who? Who died?”

“No one you know. I didn’t really know him either. But…but he asked me to help him. I refused. And now…” my voice trailed off.

Mary Ann wordlessly pulled me into a hug. She was such a slender, small-boned woman you would think that a fierce hug might break her. And yet when her arms wrapped around me they felt reassuringly strong. I rested my chin on her shoulder and squeezed my eyes closed as I tried to just absorb the comfort she offered and block out the reason I needed it. It’s like I had made it happen. I had wanted an adventure. A mystery. And now a man was dead.

Dena came back out and when she saw us in an embrace she let out an audible sigh. “Seriously, she spent her entire adult life having sex with cheap-ass condoms. It’s sad but it’s not a tragedy.” But then Dena too took a good look at my face. “Something happened.” A statement more than a question. “Come on.” She gently took my arm as Mary Ann released me. “Let’s walk and talk.”

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