Sunday, September 30, 2018

Excerpt time!

In my contemporary romance, About That Summer, Molly finds herself at the same summer camp where she met her future ex husband, Jamie. They've been brought together for their mutual friend's memorial service, and neither one is particularly happy about it.

Except that they still love each other.



I ducked back under the water and started to kick, propelling myself away from the rope divider. Those blasted lily pads hadn’t done anything for me. They bound me to the boy who eventually became the man who dumped me for having a bum uterus. If I thought they’d catch fire, I would’ve ignited the whole patch out of principal. But for now, all I could do was paddle away. With a burst of energy from deep within, I swam toward the dock in the butterfly, my weakest stroke, barely slowing down to draw a breath. My muscles burned in protest, but I kept swimming. Burning muscles and tight lungs felt infinitely better than an aching heart. After approximately twenty-three laps between the ropes and the dock, I finally breast-stroked my way back to shore.
Crawling back onto the beach, I pushed myself onto my feet, breathless and exhausted. I needed a nap and some food. Something fattening and bad for me. Sue’s barbeque ribs sounded better than a Thanksgiving feast. Tilting my head forward, I shook my hands through my hair, sending droplets onto the beach at my feet as I walked back to my towel. Maybe Sue wanted some help in the kitchen. All I needed were dry clothes, and then I’d wander to the mess hall to check in with her. When I reached the overgrown tree line, I bent down to retrieve it, and cracked my head on something solid.
“Ow! Mother f—”
Every hair on my body stood on end, and I stood bolt upright. “Jamie!?”
Kneeling in the brush by my towel, looking sweaty and angry as he hurriedly tied his shoe, was my ex-husband.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Try Breaking Girl Code on for size...

Still haven't grabbed your copy of the Once Upon a Summer Anthology? 

Read an excerpt of my new adult contemporary, Breaking Girl Code, below, and see if it wets your whistle...



Peeling his antagonizing gaze off of me, he propped his arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze. I noticed how his upper arms stretched the sleeves of his fitted grey t-shirt, then jerked my eyes back in a forward facing direction.
“Liza.” That’s all he said. Like some sort of royal acknowledgment, or something. Douche bag.
I shook my head. This was going to be a long night.
“Thanks for inviting us.” Liza grinned at me over her shoulder. “Aubrey, don’t be shy. Did you find a date for my friend?”
Liza.” My face scalded.
Preston drug a hand through his sun-streaked hair, standing it on end. Between the sexed up tresses, the khaki shorts slung low on his hips, and his tanned skin, Preston looked as if he’d stepped off a commercial set. It was aggravating. And sexy. But mostly aggravating.
“Uh, my friend, Jeremy, is going to hang with her.” Preston shifted his gaze to me. “Hey.”
“Hi.” I swatted at a mosquito. “Listen, I don’t—”
“Oh, good! He found a friend for you!” Liza batted her eyes at her date. “She’s very excited.”
I grunted. “No, I’m—”
“Aubrey, right? Glad you came.” Preston nodded at me. “Do you want a beer?”
Liza’s smile faltered. “She’s my DD. But I do!”
I shifted in place. His gaze was heavy, and it made me want to kick him in the shins. Or purr. One of the two. “Aubrey Snow.”
His full lips pulled back, revealing that prize-winning smile. Somebody give that boy a blue ribbon. “That explains a lot.” Preston took Liza’s hand. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to my friend, Becker. This is his step-dad’s cabin.”
“Hey, wait.” I shoved my way through the crowd of partygoers. The scent of barbequed burgers and beer were heavy in the air, as we rounded the side of the house and strode onto a wraparound deck which faced the water. “Whatexplains a lot?”
“You’re kind of an ice queen,” Preston replied, pulling my best friend along. “Get it? Snow? Ice? By the way, you smell great, Liza.”





Saturday, September 15, 2018

A moment for the books.

I am not close with my family. Without going into the ins and outs of why, we'll just say I'm not, and I'm okay with it.



That said, I have always had a soft spot in my heart towards my nieces and nephews, my two brother's children. There are three nieces and three nephews, and they're all extraordinary and brilliant in their own way, and despite not having done a good job maintaining my relationship with them (because of the aforementioned non-closeness,) I have always, always adored them, and would pretty much jump in front of a train for them.

Last weekend, I was given an opportunity I hadn't expected. I was asked to arrange flowers for one of my nieces' wedding in Hood River, Oregon. (In case you didn't know, I was a florist in another life, and so often when someone in my family gets married, I do the flowers.) But because I have an estranged relationship with much of my family, I had originally planned on simply taking the flowers to the venue, sitting quietly in the back at the ceremony, wishing my niece well, then hitting the road to GTFO.

But instead something magical happened.



My oldest niece, the bride's sister, asked me to drive wagon-train style to Oregon with her little family, where we stayed in the same hotel. I was able to play with her six year old, and cuddle with her four month old, and share a dinner with she and her husband. These small acts made me feel important and needed, in circumstances where I needed that reassurance badly. The way those two little kids smile and hug me fills my heart in a way I didn't think possible.

And as if that weren't enough to fill my soul for a good long while, my second oldest niece, the Bride-to-Be, asked my daughter (a gifted makeup artist) to do her makeup, and then asked if she could spend the morning of her wedding with us in our hotel room, getting ready for her ceremony.



I was flabbergasted. Utterly flummoxed in the best possible way.

Instead of hanging with friends, she chose to be with me--the aunt nobody likes, the family black sheep. We spent hours (her, her sister the Matron of Honor, her niece, my mother, my daughter, and me) in our hotel room doing makeup, giggling, talking, and gossiping. We discussed silly topics and serious ones. I got to know my nieces more than I ever have before, and I discovered that they are some of the kindest, most loving young women I've ever met. It felt like they were seeing me, and I was seeing them, 100% clearly for the first time. I loved every second of it.

I never would've thought that I would be the person my niece--and her sister, for that matter--would've wanted to spend such a special morning with.



And my heart overflowed as a result.

Literally never been so happy. And it was in the midst of one of the most awkward and uncomfortable weekends I've ever had.

And you know what? I learned something, too. I am important to people. I haven't believed that for a long, long time. I've been living my life under the assumption that I am very, very disposable to folks. That my presence is neither wanted, nor required amongst most people. But for some reason, I was not only wanted, but needed, and it. felt. great. You know what felt equally great? I realized that I needed them right back. *shuddering sigh*

What a cool experience.

I loved being a part of such a special day.



I will always, always be grateful for the experience, and for the love my oldest niece has shown me lately. It really is something to feel like I have a place in the crazy, dysfunctional, whackadoodle puzzle that is my family. Maybe someday I'll find my place with the rest of my nieces and nephews, too. If I don't, that's okay. Like I said before, I'm okay with the way things are. But if I do, I can't imagine how full my heart will be.

Thank you, Ry and Bean.

xoxo
(Aunt Sissy)
Brooke


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Ever spent...

....a late summer night in a hot cabin with your ex husband and your oldest friends?

Molly Kaff has...



“What?” Rachael teased. I still didn’t open my eyes. “Are you really going to pretend you didn’t tell us all what Jamie looked like naked?”
            “Can’t we pretend that never happened?” I grumbled, the skin on my neck and face growing hot.
When Jamie and I consummated our relationship, all three friends celebrated it as if we’d discovered a cure for cancer. Unfortunately for the world, we hadn’t cured anything but extreme sexual frustration at camp. I didn’t exhibit post-coitus discretion, and promptly told the girls every detail. Including a detailed description of Jamie in his birthday suit.
“No, we cannot pretend that never happened,” Rachael announced, pulling me out of my trip down memory lane. “In fact, if memory serves, doesn’t Mr. Burnham have a trio of moles right at the base of—”
“Argh! Your attention to detail is disturbing.” Wincing, I threw back my drink in one burning gulp, then wiped my lips. “Why did you even ask, if you already knew everything?”
“Because I wanted to give you a chance to insult his junk.” She shrugged simply, and looked at Jared. “It’s part of the process, insulting his penis size. Right?”
He didn’t look up. “Exactly right.”
“No, it’s not.” I shook my head, shuddering after my drink. “Not for me.”
Rachael’s smirk faded as she poured me another drink. “That’s because you’re not over him.”
“Not true.” I took the glass and threw it back. My arms and legs felt heavy, and my throat burned. All of which felt better than owning up to Rach being right. “I don’t. I mean, I’m not. I mean, I am,thank you very much.”
“Sure you are.” Her nostrils flared. “You know the best way to get over someone is to—”
“I know, I know. Get under someone new.”
She chuckled at her wittiness. “Well, yeah.”
“I can’t do that.” I sighed, and sat back in my chair, swirling the vodka again. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
Rachael down another drink, then blinked repeatedly to focus on me. “I know it. You’re not that type. You’ve always been too loyal and pure for your own good. It’s actually a beautiful character trait.”
I smiled lazily at her. “Well, thank you.”
Her fist landed on the makeshift table with a thud. “But it’s time to become a slut!”

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Still haven't read Drew and Posey's story?

Grab the book that helped to heal my heart after my agonizing fostering journey...


His hands came down on the front of my shirt, and when he jerked me close to his face, I could smell his toothpaste. “What else has this little bitch told you?”
Don’t call her that.” I growled.
He laughed bitterly. “What, are you in love? Did you fall in love with the trash?”
“You don’t even know her,” I said. My voice shook. I’d never stood up to him like this before. “You can’t control who I date. I’m eighteen. You have no say in anything I do anymore.”
“If you want to live in this house, I do.” He gave me a shake. “If you want to drive around in that nice car and use the nice credit card I gave you, I do.”
I dug in my pocket for my wallet, pulled it out and tossed it on the cement floor. “Take it. Take it all. I don’t want it. I just want you to leave me alone.”
“You just want me to leave you alone?” My dad imitated my words, raising his voice like a whiney child. His grip tightened, and he raised me onto my toes. “Bull. You want to piss your life away. You want this whole town to see the mayor’s kid throwing his life away. You want to embarrass your old man because of some damned rebellious streak.”
“It’s not a rebellious streak,” I croaked. His grip on the collar of my shirt tightened even further, and sweat beaded on my forehead. “I don’t care whether you’re embarrassed or not. I don’t give a damn about you or your reputation. I just want to get the hell away from you.”
His eyes searched mine. The tension in the garage hung in the air like smog, and I damn near choked on it.
“You pretentious little bastard,” Dad spat, giving my shirt another jerk and making me cough. “You wouldn’t last one day without your mother and me wiping your ass.”
“Why bring Mom into this?” I managed to say, tears stinging the back of my eyes. No turning back now. I’d already gone further than I ever had with him. “She might be a drunk, but at least she doesn’t beat up her kid. I wonder what people would think if I started telling the truth?”
He threw me onto the hood of my car and the metal bent underneath my weight. His fist collided into my ribs once. Twice. Three times, before he stood back upright, panting. “You sanctimonious little brat. You won’t ruin my reputation. You won’t. Do you understand me!?”
Rage rolled in my stomach, pricking my skin with sweat as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was off the car hood in a flash, drawing my fist back, then smashing it full force into my dad’s face with a belly-turning thwack. He stumbled backward, his hand on his mouth as blood seeped from the split in his lip.
We stood there for a long time, the silence only broken by our ragged breathing.
His eyes widened.
My heart pounded so hard it echoed in my ears. I spread my feet apart, and clenched my hands again, ready to fight some more. My heart was torn. Part of me wanted to throw another punch, this time landing it right on the eye, so he would have to go into his office the next day with a shiner. But the other part of me felt like a freaked out little kid who just wanted to curl up underneath the car and cry.
I’d punched my dad in the face. My dad.
He stood upright, wiping the blood from his skin, then scowling down at his dirty fingers. I could see his pulse jumping in his neck as he considered what to do next. I waited for him to talk. To say whatever he wanted to say after being clocked by his only kid, but instead he clenched his bloodied fingers and lunged at me. 

Excerpt time!

Still wondering if you want to grab a copy of About That Summer to enjoy in these last days of your summer? Check out the excerpt below to help you decide...



The lump in my throat started to crumble and wash away.
“Ahead of my time. Or totally out of touch. Take your pick.” Jamie kept his arm around Sue and didn’t move away when she rested her head on his shoulder. “But I gave the necklace to Molly during the game of hide and seek on s’mores night. There was a full moon, and everyone was hiding, so the green was still and quiet. Bree told me about her favorite hiding spot behind the fireplace.”
            I noticed as Owen swiped at his eyes. “When we got back there, James thanked her,” I explained. “Then she took off into the darkness to find Rachael and April. James asked her for help. They concocted a plan to get us alone, so he could give it to me. It was very romantic, in a fifteen-year-old sort of way.”
“Hey, I thought it was romantic.” Jamie’s eyes met mine and lingered. “It was one of the best nights of my life. That was the night I realized I loved Molly.”
Sue looked at both of us. “Guess that’s why Bree asked us to make sure we gave you a s’mores night just like the old days.”
“I guess so,” I said finally, my voice hoarse. The weight of Jamie’s gaze felt even heavier than the grief. “She… she must’ve known how important it was to us all those years ago.”
“Still is,” Jamie said, his voice barely audible. I wasn’t sure either Sue or Owen heard him utter it.
I didn’t look at him. Couldn’t. Was something happening between us? I didn’t dare move.
Owen spoke next. Turning back to the dishes, he switched the hot water back on. “It’s a damn shame you two split the sheets.”
Sue stood up straight, and wiped her nose, scolding, “Owen.”
He shook his head. “Sorry, kids. I just wish it’d all turned out differently. I wish Bree were still with us, and we were all getting ready to have a s’mores night with her family, and with Toby’s. And with you two.” He gestured to Jamie and I. “And your kids. Would’ve been nice to share s’mores night with your kids, eh?”
Jamie’s hand slid from my shoulder, and the kitchen suddenly felt chilly. Owen’s words hung on the air between the four of us like filthy, stained laundry hanging on a line in the backyard, and a pit formed in my stomach.
“Well…” Jamie drew a long breath, then released it slowly. He turned and walked toward the door, not casting a glance at me as he strode away. “I’ll go get the rest of the dishes.”
And just like that, the moment was gone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Anxiety.

For the longest time (literally decades) I didn’t dare say out loud that I had anxiety issues, because I didn’t want to be labeled as “mentally ill.” 

I’d had mentally ill folks in my life, people who did really worrisome, unsavory things because they weren’t in complete control of themselves, and therefore were seen as crazy or unstable. I didn’t want to be labeled as crazy or unstable, so I kept my burdens to myself.
But anxiety has always, *always* been a problem in my life. Even as a little girl, I remember being so nervous that I would bite myself to feel pain, because pain made sense—nervousness didn’t. I remember that even though I was going to the same school, with the same students I’d known since preschool, I vomited every day before middle school. I remember telling people I had headaches because Of my glasses, to justify inexplicably crying in class. And I remember having a full on meltdown at a school dance when an upperclassman asked me out. I didn’t like being so uneven all the time, or having epic, massive unravelings at school for random reasons that made no sense to folks around me.
I hated the fact that I was different. I hated being viewed as erratic and babyish because I couldn’t control my emotions. I hated that it was viewed as weakness and immaturity. Rather than telling people that it felt like I was having a heart attack, or that I couldn’t breathe or bear my own weight at times, I let folks think I was just a silly, weepy little girl. Too young and immature to care how ridiculous I was being. It was better to be viewed as lame and immature, than crazy. I knew that much.
Over the years, I learned to keep these anxiety attacks to myself. I learned how to turn these meltdowns from tears and sadness to rage—because it’s easier to explain that I’ve got a rotten temper, than to explain that I’m having panic attacks triggered by random, seemingly inconsequential triggers. Rather than being seen as a “crier,” I would be seen as a “rager,” which is equally damning, but slightly less embarrassing. To this day, I am not a “crier,” and I would rather be seen as an epic b*tch than cry in front of most people. 
Over the years I became adept at hiding my anxiety from the world by masking it with humor and a loud voice. If I was laughing, nobody would know that on the inside I was literally spinning out, and that I would over analyze literally every word of every conversation I had that day, while struggling to slow my heart rate back down to a tolerable level. There were always 5 kids in my marriage that I had to manage: my four children, and my anxiety, which was usually the unruliest and most unpredictable of them all.
As far as anyone knew, I was a healthy, happy, functional—albeit high strung—middle aged wife and mother. I showed up for church activities, I had two jobs, I participated fully in raising and rearing my children, and I spent most of my time smiling and laughing while I did it all. My secret was just that: my secret. Nobody was the wiser, and even better, nobody saw me as weak....
I detest being seen as weak.
When we moved abroad, though, that’s when I lost my ability to (mostly) hide my anxiety from the world. We were in a foreign country where we didn’t speak the language, and I was put into circumstances I could not control. See, in an expat situation, you’re given a small handful of folks and told: “here are your friends, play nice.” If you do not mesh with someone, too bad. If someone isn’t your cup of tea, too bad. If someone isn’t kind to you, too bad. 
You don’t get the opportunity to find other people to befriend. There aren’t other people to mesh with. You get who you get and you deal with it, or you accept that you’re going to be lonely and without a social support system, which to me (at the time) felt utterly nonnegotiable. And it takes massive amounts of patience for a person with anxiety to spend time with people who emotionally and mentally drain them. 
This is not just a case of not really digging someone, it’s the difference between seeing and spending time with them, and then having the physical and mental energy to *function* for the rest of the day, and be there for your own family. For a human with anxiety, faking it for four hours can be the difference between spending an evening cooking and eating dinner with their family, or laying in bed crying because they’ve over analyzed a ten second blip of a conversation they had with someone who mentally drains them, to the point where they’ve spun out completely.
Yeah. No bueno. 
Between the move, and the unraveling of my relationship with some family members which caused some panic attacks of epic proportions, followed quickly by the death of my father while we were estranged, and I was suddenly unable to mask my anxiety from the world any more. There I was—live and in color—melting down for all to see. And it sucked, hard.
Panic attacks; meltdowns; temper tantrums; verbal tirades; unexplained illnesses and physical ailments; crippling, mind boggling exhaustion. The list goes on, and now that I’m back in the USA, I’ll likely be able to get help for a lot of these things, but the anxiety is a beast that never, ever lets up. It’s a monster that sits in the corner, growling lowly like my dogs when they dream, grinning at me as if to say, “don’t get too comfortable, Brooke, I’m right here, ready to pounce when you least expect it.”
And so I wait. Praying I don’t fall apart and cry in the line at the grocery store, or at a meeting at church, while simultaneously patting myself on the back because I’ve been wrangling this awful, ugly beast for 42 years, and still managed to show up for life, participate fully, and keep everyone fooled for a good, long while. 
I’ve learned little tricks to maintain my composure. I control the things I’m able to control. I like to be organized. I prefer things to be tidy and predictable. I like order and predictability. Chaos sets me on edge, so I make lists. Dozens of lists. I even list on my lists that I need to make lists. This is how I maintain my calm. It doesn’t always work, but it helps, and my husband appeases me, so I go with it. I also eliminate people from my life if they trigger anxiety in me. Not because I don’t like them (though sometimes I don't,) but because I like myself enough to want to maintain my balance. 
I still don’t like my anxiety being referred to as mental illness. I am not schizophrenic, I do not hurt other people or myself, I hold a job, I have a successful family. I don’t like being lumped into a category with folks who are sicker than me. But I’m learning to relax about it. I’m learning to accept that it’s an umbrella, and I’m on just one end of it, much like the ASD umbrella my son is under. If I fight the stigma associated with his diagnosis, shouldn’t I fight the stigma associated with mine?
Eh, with time, I suppose.
In the meantime, why not celebrate those who, like me, wrangle that beast every single day, and still show up, participate, and function, as if they *didn’t* just collapse on the floor because they couldn’t breathe, or spend the last night of their life laying awake crying because they just couldn’t stop stressing and panicking long enough to doze off....
Maybe we should be high fiving those peeps, because they sure as heck deserve it. I feel like I do. It’s not easy to be me some days. And I would venture it’s not easy to be you, either.
Just a thought. 
Moss out.
xoxo