Cover and Blurb Reveal

I have been bouncing-off-the-walls excited about today. So much came together this past weekend to get me ready for Burnouts Book 2 to go live on Amazon on November 2nd.  First the design goddesses, namely Kitten and Kim, at Deranged Doctor Designs sent me the final work on my cover.  I love it!  Not only does it tie in perfectly with the first Burnout cover, but it also perfectly captures MG and Steve and the color is what I call a “night sky dreamer’s blue.” 

So without further ado, here is the awesome cover you should be looking for on Amazon starting November 2nd. 

And I finished the book blurb so I could tell you a little about the story I want to share with you of this really unique couple:

“The poorest man is not the one with no penny in his pocket, but the one who has no dream.”

– The Burnouts, Class of ‘99

For two weeks Steve Shrader lived a dream. A dream that he didn’t even know existed until he felt it. For two weeks the kid with no mom had good food, clean clothes and sheets and Christmas. For two weeks he had love – in the form of Hello Kitty bandaids and hot soup and his best friend, MG. Then he screwed up, like he always did, and the dream he was living went away.

Now school is over, MG is gone and he’s headed down the same path as all the adults in his life; drifting along, dodging or dealing with one sh*t-storm after another, numbing themselves with cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. But he’s seen a better life. He’s seen what he wants. He wants MG. The question is how to get to her from where he is now.

MG dreams of living large in New York City. (OK, to tell the truth, it’s her mom’s dream, and she is just along for the ride.) But she’s gonna make it work–in a kick-ass, cool apartment, with a glam fashion job and photo shoots with rich friends in magazines–or not. She left everything she was sure of back home in St. Louis and almost everything she thought she knew about Manhattan and life isn’t turning out to be true.

When her false dreams crumble and fall though her hands she’s left with what’s real. A real life with a real job and real love; and it can all be hers if she’s brave enough to believe in herself and go after what she truly wants.

Their love story started in Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story, now it continues in Popstars, Friends & Lovers: a dreamer’s tale. MG, the best friend with a talent for trouble, and Steve, the most laid back hero in romance novel history, are back. With old friends from high school and a crazed array of new ones they go for a win in the game called life. 
Just like Burnouts 1, this is not your typical romance novel. It’s a laughing, crying, coming of age romance between two out of the ordinary people. 
Check back each week, because starting next Monday I will share the first few chapters with you then let you know when you can get your copy at the introductory sale price.  Are you ready for a dreamer’s tale?

Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story – Ch. 2

The countdown to the release of my second novel, Popstars, Friends & Lovers; a dreamer’s tale, continues. This past week I had some great feedback from a few more beta readers and I’m in the final stage of creating the cover with Kim and Kitten at Deranged Doctor Designs.  

Award-winning book 1 cover

As I said last week, the best way to prepare for book two is to read book one. So today I’m posting the second chapter from book one. Again, I remind you that the book is recommended for readers age 17 and older due to language and sexual content.  

In today’s installment you get to see Carrie and Ben and all the other characters at school, the place where their divisive cliques are most obvious. I have had so many people tell me that this chapter really reminded them of their lives in high school, no matter what group they were in. You also get to meet MG and Steve, the main characters in Popstars, Friends & Lovers: a dreamers tale. (Available on Amazon Nov. 2nd).

Enjoy the chapter and have a great week.

“You don’t look older.” MG was in her usual spot the next morning, under the helicopter tree, waiting for Carrie to get off the bus. Carrie rolled her eyes at the cliché joke. “But you look awesome in that jacket. That from M&D?”
MG was all about fashion and changed her look constantly. Today she had tossled her shoulder length blonde hair, and if Carrie had to guess, she would say MG was aiming for a Britney Spears, good-girl-gone-bad kind of look. She nailed it. 
Carrie adjusted her brown leather jacket. It was the exact one she had been wanting, and it was cool, but considering the way it was given to her, it had already lost some of its sheen. She found it hanging on the back of her closet door when she woke up this morning. It was still in the dress bag from the department store, with the receipt pinned to the bag. At the bottom of the receipt her mom had written, I’m sure it’s the wrong one.  I can’t get anything right for you. Just return it. Gifts always came wrapped in guilt. “It was M. I doubt D knows anything about it.”
Noticing the way Carrie looked at her jacket, MG cautiously asked, “How’d it go yesterday?” After two years as her best friend MG knew how crazy things could get at Carrie’s house. Not that her own was anywhere near normal, but that was one of the reasons they understood each other so well. 
Carrie exhaled a sigh, “Fucking weird as usual. She threw a cake mix at me.”
“She hit you?”
Carrie had to smile at the way MG wasn’t thrown off for a minute by her story. “No, she’s a shitty shot.”
“Good thing.”
Carrie nodded her head in agreement. Then she couldn’t resist throwing something at MG that would shock her, “Ben Gorman hugged me.”
MG stopped short and spun Carrie around by her arm.  “Shut the fuck up.  Dennis the Menace from next door?”
Carrie nodded, enjoying MG’s reaction.
“What the hell was he doing gettin’ all up on you?”
MG’s attempt at ghetto had Carrie laughing. “It wasn’t like that. He came over to eat some cake, and he was just being sweet ‘cause I was in a shitty mood. Besides, Menace don’t do dat shit, and we both know it.” Carrie threw in her own ghetto accent.
“True dat.” Carrie and MG stopped near the smoker’s picnic table. “Speaking of the Menace.” MG pointed across the parking lot to the front steps of the school where the religious weirdos and geeks gathered every morning. Ben was standing behind Joelle, leaning his head on top of hers. Carrie noticed how much he was enjoying his new-found height. It made her smile. 
MG caught her staring.  “Oooo, I see, you want some of that tall, blond and brainy, don’t you?”
Carrie smacked MG’s shoulder and rolled her eyes, “Shut up.”  They both laughed. 
Steve Shrader grabbed Carrie’s math book from the stack in her arms. “You do your homework?” She watched him pull a folded piece of loose leaf paper out of the book, scan it, and try to commit her answers to memory. “Got any paper?”
Carrie pulled a clean sheet of loose leaf from her binder and handed it to him. 
She dug in her purse till she found a pencil.  Steve held her answers and his lit cigarette in his left hand while he scribbled the answers onto the paper using his jean-clad leg as a table.  The result was almost illegible, but Mrs. Dobson wouldn’t care. She cut Steve slack because he was funny, and he tried.
“Thanks, Carrie-go-braless,” his nickname for her since she wore her Erin Go Bragh t-shirt to school. 
“No problem, Stevie-go-pantless.”
He smiled at her lame joke, “You just name the time and place, babe, I’m there for you.”
He was flirting with her, but he flirted with all the girls in their group and had slept with most of them too. Word was that he was pretty fun. He had perpetually messy brown hair and dimple in one cheek that he flashed often because he was almost always laughing and joking around. He was actually pretty hot looking, and girls outside their group would probably be more interested in him if he didn’t wear the same dirty, black clothes all the time. Carrie had never actually been in his apartment, but she had seen it from the car when she went with Chuck to give him a ride one time. He lived with his dad in one of the old government apartments by the park. They were built in like 1940, and she was pretty sure there was no place for a washer or dryer in one. 
He handed back her math homework and flashed a killer crooked smile at her.  Yeah, she’d be interested if it weren’t for Chuck. 
The first bell rang, and everyone around the picnic table except Carrie and MG, who didn’t smoke, dropped their cigarettes and ground them into the dirt. Steve folded his now-complete math homework till it would fit in the back pocket of his jeans. Jim Ripton offered Carrie and MG a drink out of his Big Gulp. Carrie declined.  She knew it was half vodka mixed in with his soda because he got one almost every morning before school. Carrie just couldn’t face the thought of her mom coming up to school if she got caught. MG took a big gulp and crunched the vodka soaked ice on her way to homeroom.  Carrie wasn’t sure what MG’s mom would do if MG was caught drinking at school. Probably put on a big show about being mad so the school would think she was responsible, then never mention it again. Amber Stuart, MG’s mom, was divorced and worked full time, plus more, selling houses. She was always busy and hardly noticed anything MG did or didn’t do. Not that she was up for parent of the year before the divorce. 
Carrie was about to turn into her homeroom when a group of the preppy girls crossed her path. Michelle Wagner turned and gave her a perky, “Hi, Carrie!”  then kept walking with her friends. That stopped Carrie in her tracks. She shook her head quickly to reset reality. Why was Michelle Wagner suddenly talking to her? They had gone to school together since 2nd grade and never been friends. Why, all the sudden, did she keep waving and saying hi? It was like she was on some personal “greet Carrie” campaign, and it was creeping her out. She made a mental note to try to avoid her in Composition today. 
The first half of the day was never Carrie’s favorite. Her grades were pretty middle of the road, but her state tests put her in advanced classes. Burnout kids don’t take advanced classes as a rule, so Carrie had no one from her group to sit with. In first period History of China and Japan she sat by Sylvie, the exchange student from Germany. Second period was Composition, where Michelle Wagner kept sitting near her. Carrie didn’t avoid the preppy girls, but she didn’t exactly talk with them either. Generally, they sat near her and gossiped about their weekends while she kept her nose in her American Lit novel ‘til class started. Everyone from Comp was in third period American Lit, so the room would move, en masse, three doors down and sit in the same pattern. Avoiding Michelle wasn’t going to be easy. There were no assigned seats, but everyone had a favorite spot and there were no open seats. Unable to concoct an escape, Carrie sat in her usual spot in Comp that day and decided to let things play out to see if she could figure out Michelle’s motives. 
“The Homecoming Dance is two weeks away.” Carrie was startled out of reading A Tale of Two Cities when Michelle dropped her books on her desk and slid into her seat.
Carrie raised her eyebrows, “And . . . ?” This was getting stranger by the minute. Is she asking me out?
“We could really use your help on the posters and decorating.” Her tone implied Carrie was obligated to help. 
“Um, did I sign up for this?” Carrie tried not to sound too combative, but she didn’t like the direction this was going in. 
Sensing Carrie’s mood, Michelle switched to pleading, “No, but we could really use your help.” Carrie still wore a mask of confusion. “OK, I know you are a really good artist. I saw your 2nd place painting in the hall yesterday and I thought, you know, that you would be great for our decorating committee, and I think you’d have a lot of fun, and …”  she trailed off, noticing that Carrie was looking less than enthused. 
Carrie did love decorating and painting, but the idea of spending hours with Michelle and her crew. “I don’t go to homecoming.”
“You don’t have to go to be on the decorating committee.”  Michelle hesitated before throwing another idea bomb at her, “You couldgo. We could double.” 
Carrie tried to stifle the laugh that bubbled up. Obviously Michelle didn’t know who Carrie dated. Chuck at a homecoming dance. The picture made Carrie laugh more. Her boyfriend, the epitome of a bad-boy lead singer, 21-year old Chuck Parnell, in a suit, Did he even own a suit?, at a high school homecoming dance. And even better, double dating with Michelle and … somebody. Carrie had no idea who she was dating. “Um … yeah … I don’t think so.” 
“Oh.” Michelle looked dejected, and Carrie felt guilty for laughing at the idea.
“I can help some, with decorations, if you really need me.”
Michelle perked up. “And think about doubling. You still have two weeks to get a dress.”
Another crazy image, Carrie in a homecoming dress.  She smirked. 
“We have a decorating committee meeting tomorrow after school.”
The reality of what she just signed up for hit her. If she stayed for the meeting she would have to tell MG, who always gave her a ride home.  MG would give her shit, not that that really mattered. She did all the time. But she would have to get her mother to pick her up, and her mother would want to know why she stayed late. And if Carrie mentioned homecoming, oh hell, her mother might get the idea about Carrie going, which would bring up the whole boyfriend idea. Carrie had managed to keep Chuck a secret from her parents for a year and a half, she didn’t want to blow that over some homecoming decorations. 
Composition class started, and Mrs. Hemming droned on about tense agreement or something. Carrie was focused on keeping her two worlds from colliding. Except for MG, her home life and school/friends never touched. Her parents lived in their own self-absorbed bubble. As long as Carrie kept a low profile, they didn’t question where she and MG went every weekend. As far as they knew, MG was Carrie’s only friend. 


Lunch was the start of the fun half of Carrie’s day. It was almost impossible to eat with MG, Gina, and Casey. And if Steve and some of the guys joined them, there was no way to stop laughing long enough to finish a sandwich. MG started it all today. She stole a pack of Twinkies from Steve’s tray. He practically crawled on top of her trying to get them back. She threw them to Carrie, who tossed them to Gina, who opened the package and tossed one to MG. Steve was just about to grab it back when MG slid it into her mouth, then back out again, suggestively. He stopped and stared. Using her most suggestive stare, MG slid it in again, and slowly back out, licking around the end. 
“Fuck me.” Steve exhaled and smiled as he watched. 
“Been there.” MG smirked at Steve.
“Done that.” Added Casey, bringing on a burst of laughter from the group. 
Behind Steve, Brian something, one of the few sophomores in the group, turned beat red. MG noticed and burst out laughing, which only made poor Brian turn redder. Gina leaned toward him, licking her Twinkie suggestively. Carrie and Casey tried not to laugh at him, but his innocent shock was hysterical. Sophomore Brian’s entire Irish head and neck were red now, which had Casey doubled over laughing. Carrie started to choke on her soda. A little dribbled out of her mouth and down the front of her shirt before she could spit it back into the cup.
“Trouble swallowing?” Steve shot Carrie a suggestive look, which only made all the girls laugh harder and louder. 
“Is there a problem here, Steve?” Mrs. Dobson was monitoring lunch and stopped at their table. 
“No, ma’am.” Gina answered, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Uh, yeah.” Steve turned around to face the teacher. “MG and Gina stole my Twinkies.” 
Mrs. Dobson thought she was being played, but went along, “Is this true MG?”
MG looked up from under her lashes, guilt written all over her face. She handed the wet Twinkie back to Steve.
“Ewww, she licked all over it.” He complained. 
“MG, did you lick his Twinkie?” Mrs. Dobson realized how that sounded as soon as she said it. Everyone burst out laughing. Carrie had to hang on to the table to keep from falling off her chair.  Mrs. Dobson’s cheeks flamed, then she started laughing too. She walked away, shaking her head, trying to suppress it. 
Art followed lunch. Carrie would have an A in the class, but Mrs. Winter said her behavior pulled her grade down. She sat between MG and Casey, who were both failing, because MG turned everything Mrs. Winter said into innuendo: brush strokes, baroque period, flying buttresses (her favorite). Most of it wasn’t even that funny, but the combination of MG’s lewd expressions and post-lunch sillies had all three falling off their chairs and laughing ‘til they cried. 


It was a beautiful, sunny fall afternoon, so MG put the top down on her car for the drive home from school. She had a convertible Mustang that her mom’s current boyfriend bought for her. She had no idea what the man did for a living, something about house loans, but he was the richest guy she had ever known. He rented a mini mansion with a pool for them to live in and the Jag that MG’s mom drove. He had been around for almost two and a half years, which was a record for her mom. Carrie and MG both thought he was kinda ugly, but he and his money made Amber happy, and happy parents are always a good thing. 
“I won’t need a ride home tomorrow.” Carrie figured now was as good a time as any to open this can of worms.
She took a breath, readying herself for the questions. “I’m staying late to help with homecoming decorating.”
MG turned the radio down. “I thought you said homecoming decorations, but I know that’s wrong.”
Carrie brushed off the joke and held her ground. “I did.”
“What? Why?”
“Cause I like painting stuff, and … I don’t know … they asked me to.”
“Who asked you to?”
“Michelle Wagner”
“Weird, perky, preppy girl, Michelle Wagner?”
“Yeah, OK.  I know, but it’s just a couple of meetings to make decorations. You know I like this shit. Look how many times I’ve redone my room and yours. This way you can keep your room the way it is for a while.”
“My room is pretty amazing right now.” MG hesitated, “You are good at that shit. Just don’t, you know, turn into one of them.”
“Yeah, right,” Carrie rolled her eyes. It was funny that MG even thought she would want to hang out with the preppy girls. They were boring, and what the hell would she have in common with them?
From the outside, it probably looked like she had a lot in common with them. Her parents weren’t divorced or in jail, she was in class with them part of the day, she had a closet full of preppy clothes that she rarely wore. It was the stuff they couldn’t see, the stuff that no one saw, that separated her from them. 

Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story, Ch. 1

The countdown has begun for the release of my second novel, “Popstars, Friends & Lovers: a dreamer’s tale. It’s the second book in the Burnouts series (with a third looking very likely). Popstars works as a stand alone, so you don’t have to read book 1, but it helps make the story richer.  

So, for anyone who may have been thinking about reading Burnouts book one but hasn’t started yet, I’m putting the first chapter here, on my blog, today. I will post chapter two next week and chapter three the week after that. This will give you a sample of my writing and hopefully help you decide that you want to read my work.  

*Note* My writing is for ages 17 and older. There is cursing and sexual content (but no violence. I don’t do violence.)  It isn’t erotica, the story is not based on sex, it’s a love story that contains a sexual element. So, without further ado, may I present chapter 1 from Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story.

Chapter One
Carrie twisted the knife in her hand and took another swipe at it. Maybe if she used a lighter touch with her swirly strokes she could bury the crumbs that had pulled off the cake and worked their way to the surface. She looked again at the photo of the Yellow Butter Cake with Chocolate Frosting and her heart sank more. Martha Stewart’s cake was tall, and straight, and perfect. The stunning guests at her perfect party would love it.  Carrie’s cake was lopsided, had crumbs, and there was really no one to eat it.
                Her bottom lip started to tremble again.  She swallowed down the lump in her throat and breathed deep ‘til she could will back the sting of tears wanting to form. She was not going to let her win this time. This was her god-damned 16th birthday, and her mother was not going to take this one from her too. She leaned over the counter and put her head on the cold granite and worked to steady her breathing, listening hard for sounds from her parents’ bedroom. None. She had no idea what her mother did when she locked herself in there. Maybe wait for someone to break down the door so she could continue her show. Well, good luck with that, lady. No one here but you and me, and I’m not playing your game. She listened for sounds from her brother’s room. None. Christopher must still be napping.
            Carrie pushed the plate holding the slightly-lopsided yellow butter cake with crumbly-chocolate frosting to the center of the kitchen island and rested her head on her stacked fists to study it. Why had she made it? Did she really hold out hope that this would be the year that her Dad remembered her birthday, and he would come home to have cake with her? She huffed and shook her head at that ridiculous idea. So, why take almost four hours to make a whole cake from scratch for just her, her mom and two-year old Christopher? ‘Cause someone had to do it. Just because she lived in the house of crazy didn’t mean she didn’t get a birthday. If her parents couldn’t get it together to have one for her, she’d just do it herself.   
            As she stared at the cake, thinking how much she didn’t want to eat it after all that batter-bowl licking and icing tasting, she noticed a steady pop, pop, pop, swish sound from outside. Usually Ben shooting hoops in his driveway drove her nuts, but tonight the steady cadence was soothing. Always three dribbles, pop, pop, pop, then he would shoot, swoosh. Never four dribbles, never two, always three. Sooo Ben. Carrie rolled her eyes, but listened again, sure enough, pop, pop, pop, swoosh.  Predictable Ben, boring Ben, irritating Ben … but, usually hungry Ben. Last summer, while he was away at camp, Ben had grown really tall. He was a total bean-pole, over 6-feet tall, and all gangly arms and legs. Now he looked like a cross between Dennis the Menace and the Jolly Green Giant, but he could eat a lot of cake. 
Carrie silently opened the door to her brother’s room. Christopher was still sound asleep, sprawled sideways across his big-boy bed, held in place by the safety railing. He had been sleeping almost two hours. That was a long afternoon nap for him. Probably a growth spurt going on there too.  Maybe he and Ben could make a dent in the cake together. 
Pop, pop, pop, swoosh. Ben didn’t stop shooting when he noticed her. She scanned her memory for the last time she talked to him. Had she pissed him off? It had been so long, she couldn’t remember. They went to the same school, were in the same grade, and usually sat by each other when they had class together because their last names were close in the alphabet, but their high school lives were worlds apart.
He was wearing one of the ugly ‘Class of ‘99’ tee shirts they had been selling at school.  Carrie made a mental note to talk to him about how un-masculine the purple tie dye looked.
She stood on the edge of the driveway waiting to be noticed, careful not to get in his way.  Pop, pop, pop, swoosh.  He was definitely ignoring her.  Shit.  She wished she could remember what he could be mad about.  The problem was that it was so easy to make him mad. They had so many fights and make-ups over the years, it was just one big blur to her now. 
She finally called out to him, “hey.” Pop, pop, pop, swoosh. She considered just going back to her house, but years of experience had taught her that one apology would put her back in Ben’s good graces. As soon as she was the one to admit fault, they were good again. 
“Sorry.” She wasn’t sure what for.
Ben stopped between rounds and finally looked at her, “what for?”
Did he actually expect her to remember? She was sure he remembered. You would think he could use his Mensa brain for something other than remembering every little thing she did wrong.
“I’m sorry I made you mad.” That should cover a lot of territory.   
Ben started his dribble pattern again and turned away from her but not before she saw his smile. He wasn’t really mad, he was just giving her a hard time. OK, that was kind of funny.  She needed that today.
“Want some cake?”
“Sure,” He paused to consider the offer, “why?”
“’Cause I made a whole cake, and there is no one to eat it but Two-fer and me.” Ben had started calling Christopher ‘Chris-two-fer’ on his last birthday, which was now shortened to just Two-fer.
“You made a cake for no reason?”
She wasn’t about to tell him about her birthday. She didn’t need a pity party. “Yeah, I saw it in a magazine, and I just felt like making it.”
Ben set his basketball in the grass on the side of the driveway where it couldn’t roll away. He took care of his stuff like that. Carrie was sure it was the same basketball she had given him for his birthday when he turned 8. Back then they were always invited to each other’s parties. 
Ben sat on one of the tall stools at the kitchen island, near the cake.  “Yellow cake?”
“My favorite.”  Ben pulled the whole cake in front of him and perched a fork over it.
Carrie pulled it back to her, “my favorite.” She cut a large slice for Ben and tried to lift it on to a plate. The icing-heavy top tumbled on the counter, and the soft cake broke apart over the side of the plate. Her mother’s voice in her head admonished her; wrong knife. Why didn’t you use a cake knife? Oh my God, Carrie, what a huge mess. Ben won’t want that piece of cake. It’s ruined. She was staring at the mess, drifting into morose, when a large hand with long fingers scooped the cake off the counter and onto the plate. Ben was standing behind her, using his fingers to scrape the rest of the icing off the counter. He returned to his stool while licking the icing from his fingers. 
Carrie noticed his warmth leave her back. It had felt nice. She wanted it back. She took a breath and shook her head. She must be really strung out from her shitty day. This was Ben. Sure he was taller than her for the first time in their lives, but he was still Ben. He was her geeky neighbor who always talked too much about the Army and had to dribble the basketball three times before he could shoot it. She cautiously looked up, hoping her weakened brain would only see Ben the geek. Sure enough, he had put a blob of chocolate icing on his nose to make her laugh. Carrie rolled her eyes but felt better seeing the Ben she knew, her sort-of, sometimes friend. Ben saw she was staring and crossed his eyes to see the icing on his nose. Dorky or not, he was funny; Carrie smiled, but only briefly. 
“So what’s up with you? Why are you so …” You could see Ben’s quick thought process in his eyes as he found his answer even before he finished the question. “Oh,” he said quietly as he looked down at the cake. He figured it out.  “It’s your birthday.”
Ouch. It felt like a punch to her gut. It was one thing to know it, another to hear it out loud, from someone else. Carrie looked down at the icing still stuck to the counter and started picking at it with her finger. 
“Where’s your mom?”  He knew better than to ask where her dad was. 
            Carrie looked over at the closed door to her parent’s room. Ben’s eyes followed hers and he asked, “Is she OK?”
            There was no need to try to pretend with Ben. He had already seen her mom go all bat-shit crazy over little stuff through the years. She could only keep up the façade for so long, and Ben had been around too long. “She’s pissed at me.”
            “On your birthday? What did you do?”
            “I made a cake.” Carrie laughed softly at the absurdity of the statement. “She came home from the store with a cake mix, and I was already making this cake. She threw the cake mix at me and said I hate her and I hate her cakes and I’m ungrateful and, I don’t know … stuff like that.” 
            Ben looked over at the bedroom door again like he was assessing the odds of her coming out. “Did you know she was planning to make a cake?”
            Carrie sat down on a stool and continued picking at the icing. “I never know what she is going to do.” 
            Carrie and Ben both jumped a little when they heard door hinges squeak in the hallway near the bedrooms. Christopher was standing in his doorway, still dazed from his long nap. He stared at Ben, then lit up and smiled like Santa Claus had come. Ben scooped his little buddy up then planted him on his lap in front of the glob of cake and icing he had been eating. Christopher settled his drowsy head onto Ben’s chest as his short arm stretched to reach Ben’s shoulder. He said, “cate,” and Carrie was glad that at least he recognized what was on the plate.
Carrie made a sippy cup of milk while Ben fed Two-fer bites of cake and icing from his fork. When she put the cup down on the counter Ben held the fork away from Christopher’s mouth, “what do you say to your sister?” 
Sometimes Ben was such an old man. Not only did he always follow rules, he made others follow them too. The lost look on Christopher’s face assured her that Ben had not passed on this geeky trait to Christopher yet. Ben leaned down and prompted, “thank you.” Christopher mimicked, “taint tu,” and smiled up at Carrie for her approval. Geeky or not, it was cute. 
Carrie sat down with a fork and dug into the rest of the cake. She looked up into Ben’s disapproving eyes. “Wha?” she said through her mouthful, “it’s not like anyone else is going to eat it.” She shoved another forkful in to spite him, then chewed with a smile on her face, her cheeks full. 
“So where is MG?” Ben was referring to her best friend who was grounded, at least for today.
Carrie thought about answering him and letting the cake fall out of her mouth, but she was enjoying his company and didn’t want to razz him too much. She held up a finger till she swallowed then said, “grounded.” 
“She got caught going out with a 22-year old guy.” Ben didn’t need that information, but it was always fun to shock him a little. Carrie’s own sometimes boyfriend, Chuck, was 21; another fact that Ben would, no doubt, not approve of.  But Ben didn’t seem fazed, or really interested.  Why did she always feel the need to press his buttons? Because you are a mean girl, her mother’s voice in her head chimed in. 
Carrie put down her fork as she felt the storm clouds of guilt rain on her little birthday parade. Focus on the other person, don’t always talk about you, said the mom-tape running in her head. “So, are you still going out with Joelle?” Carrie knew he was. Ben and Joelle always walked around school holding hands. Joelle proudly displaying her purity ring between their clenched fingers. People in Carrie’s group, the druggies, would gag and make retching noises when they walked by. 
His answer was a strangely weak, “yeah.” 
“Nothing.” Ben filled his mouth with cake so he wouldn’t have to talk then focused on giving Christopher another bite. Carrie kept watching him, looking for more details than his lukewarm answer. Finally after swallowing Ben said, “You don’t like her much, do you?”
Carrie wondered if her feelings about Joelle showed on her face. She hoped they didn’t because she was going to lie to be nice to Ben, “She’s alright,” she said with a shrug. Ben wasn’t buying it. “OK, no, I don’t like her much, but I think the feeling is mutual.”
That seemed to get his attention, “What are you talking about?” You could hear his shock that Joelle Welker, purity ring-wearing President of the Right to Life club and outspoken Christian would have anything bad to say about anyone. Carrie knew better. 
“She talks about us, about me, and MG.”Carrie paused to read his reaction, so far neutral. “More than once I overheard her and her friends calling us whores.  She calls my friends drug-addicts.” 
Ben raised his eyebrows, “Aren’t they?”
Now it was Carrie’s turn to get defensive. “Some of them do drugs, but not all. Most just dress different, ‘cause they’re creative. So people judge them, people like Joelle.”
Ben carried Christopher into the living room and dropped him on the couch. Two-fer giggled. Ben picked up the remote and turned the TV to cartoons, distracting him from their conversation. “Is that why you hang around with them?” he asked as he walked back into the kitchen, “because you’re creative?” 
            “Yeah, I guess so, and they’re nice. They don’t judge.” She raised her eyebrows, challenging him. 
“You’re kidding, right?” Carrie knew he was referring to them gagging when Ben and Joelle walked by. 
“They only give it back to those who dish it out.”
Silence. Damn it. They were getting along ‘til she had to bring up this mine-field of a topic. 
“Do you want some more cake?” Christopher popped up and looked over the back of the couch, “cate?” They both laughed. 
“Not you Two-fer. I asked Ben if he wanted more because some little monster ate all his cake.” Christopher laughed and said, “meee.” Then he turned and plopped back down to watch TV. The uncomfortable tension between Ben and Carrie was still there.
Ben picked up his plate and fork, took them to the sink and rinsed them off.  Carrie was surprised he didn’t load them in the dishwasher. “Thanks for the cake.  It was really good.” He walked over and stood directly in front of her, crowding her space. “I’m sorry I forgot your birthday,” he almost whispered. 
Carrie backed up into the counter. She didn’t want him to be nice, it was too real, too honest, too much. Joking and teasing she could take, distance was good too. “Why would you remember my birthday?” she smirked. She was too raw for this today.
“Because I went to every one of your parties since we were 6,” he said as if he was pointing out the obvious. Ben was looking down at her, studying her.
“What?” she said, exasperated and irritated by his scrutiny.  There was pity in his eyes, and it was rattling her cage.
“Was this your only party? For your sweet 16?” 
Oh, a swift kick to the heart. She couldn’t let him see how much it all hurt.  “Yeah, well, I’m not so sweet.” She tried to diffuse the tension.
Ben was standing over her, trying to look into her eyes, like he had something important to tell her, something he wanted to make sure she heard. “You deserve better than this.”
Shit he was direct. That last hit was her undoing. A tear she fought all afternoon while she made her cake ran down her cheek. She looked away from him and tried to turn away in the small space between two stools, the counter, and Ben.
But he didn’t move. He stayed in her space, blocking her in, witnessing her humiliation. Carrie worked to shut down her pain and turn it into anger. She was about to shove Ben out of the way or say something rude when he crushed her thin defense. He reached out and hugged her.
            “I’m sorry.” He spoke quietly into her hair. “I just say stuff. I think just because it’s true, I should say it.” 
Carrie’s body tensed. Her brain spun trying to make sense, trying to process, trying to find a reference for his comfort. She felt a small warm spot in the pit of her stomach, and it felt amazingly good and god-awful strange at the same time. She tentatively bent her arms and touched his waist.
“I’m sorry I made you cry.” He said over the top of her head.
Carrie tried to respond but couldn’t talk past the ball of emotion caught in her throat. She was about to tease him about wanting to hug her because that’s all he and Joelle did, but she fought the urge to make him angry. It felt too good. He was tall, and warm; there was so much Ben surrounding her. And his jacket smelled like fresh air and laundry detergent and fabric softener. She felt the lump in her throat melt and the breath it had been blocking all day eased out of her. 
“Ben?” her mother’s voice was raspy from crying and registered shock at him being there or them hugging, she wasn’t sure which. 
Carrie jumped and pulled quickly away from Ben, but he did not back away. Still standing too close he said, “Mrs. Gould,” acknowledging her in a strangely confrontational tone from over Carrie’s head.
Lana Gould ignored the hug and Ben’s tone and went into hostess auto-pilot. Spotting Carrie’s cake on the table she started opening drawers and cabinets, gathering the proper serving supplies. “Did Carrie offer you any cake?” Ben was about to answer when he and Carrie turned toward her to see her look of disgust. “Carrie, did you eat off the cake?” she questioned with controlled anger. The tension in the room spiked. 
Without answering Carrie took her fork off the counter and pushed past Ben to rinse it off. Lana spun in a slow circle, following Carrie’s path, berating her as much as she dared with Ben present. “That is disgusting, Carrie. Why would you do such a thing?” She turned her attention back to the cake and didn’t wait for Carrie to answer. “Well, we’ll just have to pitch the whole thing now. What a waste.” She picked up the cake and dramatically dropped it in the trash can. Her last sentence was punctuated by the metal clank of the trash can lid closing.
Carrie spun around, dropping her fork in the sink. Her shock at seeing the blank space on the counter only registered for a moment, her anger for a flash after that. She sucked in a calming breath, shot Ben a look of apology and walked toward the stairs to her room, her face defiantly blank. 
Lana watched her leave, then turned to face Ben. “I’m sorry, Ben, she’s rude like that now.” She turned to the sink to finish rinsing off Carrie’s fork. “I think her friends are a bad influence on her.” She placed Carrie’s fork in the dishwasher along with Ben’s plate and fork, clearly not needing Ben’s input in the conversation. Lana noticed the knife still on the counter, as she reached for it she acknowledged Ben again. “You know MG, don’t you?” she turned to rinse the knife. “What do you think of her?”
Ben hesitated while he tried to decide if he was going to be given time to answer.  “I, uh, I really don’t know her very well.”  
Not acknowledging his answer she continued talking as she sprayed cleanser and wiped the counter, “Have you seen the way she dresses?  And her mother?”  Lana rolled her eyes. “She’s divorced, you know.”
Not wanting to get sucked into the conversation, Ben bent over the back of the couch and picked up a very quiet Christopher who turned and buried his head in Ben’s neck.  “Gotta go, bud,” Ben said into his hair. Two-fer clung tighter, “wat wif me,” he pleaded. 
“Can’t watch TV today. We’ll play basketball tomorrow, OK?” Two-fer nodded then slid down Ben’s chest and landed on the sofa with a bounce. 
Lana resumed their conversation, following Ben through the kitchen to the back door. “I haven’t seen your mother at the Ladies Sodality in a while.”
Ben debated his reply. Surely Lana remembered that his parents were divorced now. It was gossips like Lana who made his mom avoid the meetings. “She’s just really busy, I guess,” he blurted out as he reached for the door handle. But before he escaped home he couldn’t resist one parting shot, “thank you for the cake, ma’am. It was fantastic.” Then he shut the door behind him before she had a chance to respond. 

Popstars, Friends & Lovers are Headed Your Way

So, this was me on Friday.

I finished the first draft of Popstars, Friends & Lovers: a dreamer’s tale. I’ve been writing like a woman possessed for the past month. If anyone has been wondering why I haven’t called or written or texted it’s  because when I set a deadline, I hit a deadline. And because I was dying to share this story with everyone who has told me they are waiting for it. 

There is still some work to be done. I am shopping for a proofreader, working with the goddesses at Deranged Doctor Designs on a cover and having it beta read. But we will get there, my latest labor of love will be available as an e-book (at first) and I’m here to make the big announcement today. 

Mark your calendars.
To prepare you for this sequel to my debut novel I am going to be sharing the first few chapters of Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story on my blog.  Starting next Monday. This might inspire any of you sitting on the fence to read book one before book two (always works better that way). 
Then …. I will also post the first few chapters of Popstars on this blog in the weeks before the release. 
Finally … I will debut the cover for Popstars here, on my blog. 

In other words …. keep an eye on this blog.


A Writer’s Labor Day

I’m pushing toward the end of the first draft of my second novel so I am writing like a woman possessed. I have maybe six to eight chapters to go so I don’t want to stop laboring too long on this Labor Day and lose my momentum (although this is really fun labor).

To honor all those pursuing creative careers I’ll just post the following and let it speak for me.