Welcome to For the Reader
CLICK HERE to read my latest blog post.
The first chapter of each of my very different “novels in progress” are below.
Keep in mind my “two sides” (click here to read my bio) as you check them out.
I have one foot in The Land of Serious and the other in The Land of Fun.
The Land of Serious: Kyle’s Story
A middle-grade novel based on my son’s journey with leukemia. This story navigates the world of pediatric cancer through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy. So many kids have no idea how to react to a child with cancer.
My goal with Kyle’s Story? To spread the message: Be a friend. Don’t be afraid. Cancer isn’t catching.
The Land of Fun: Awakening (Scroll down to the first chapter of my Young Adult novel Awakening.)
Think Quantum Leap. Imagine if your mind could live in other people’s bodies. Sixteen-year-old Kate is plagued by foreign voices and memories in her mind—the identical symptoms that drove her older sister Claire to suicide. Striking stranger Rane offers to help with her secret struggle, implying he knew Claire. Kate accepts and finds herself locked in a genetic research facility where Rane’s boss, Viktor, forces her to tap into her ability to enter people’s minds.
My goal with Awakening? To write a fun, entertaining ride while keeping it clean.
Sweat trickled down Kyle’s face and stung his eyes until they watered. When he wiped them with dusty hands, it made them burn and blurred his teammate’s faces. Maybe playing tic-tac-toe in the dirt with Joe hadn’t been such a great idea.
“Freeland up!” Coach yelled into the dugout.
Kyle’s teammates rushed him. Patted his back. Handed him a helmet. Yanked him off the bench.
“Come on Kyle!”
“Hit a home run!”
“Kick the Bears’ butts!”
“Don’t let Nate scare you!”
He rubbed his eyes against a clean spot on his shirt until the faces swam back into focus and then reached around the bench to grab a bat. It was bottom of the seventh and the huge white scoreboard behind third base read Tiger’s—4, Bears—5.
If he struck out, they would be the Timid Tigers forever—the worst team in Madison—and it would be his fault. His batting average sat bottom of the league and when he did get a hit, he ran too slow. Way too slow.
This game could change all that.
“Let’s go, Kyle!” Dad clapped from the wood bleachers behind the fence, Mom at his side. As usual, his brother and sister played under the bleachers. Alek and Maddy only watched the first inning because Mom bought hot dogs and made them sit on the bleachers to eat.
“One good hit, Kyle!” His friend, Joe, yelled from second, his foot inching off the base.
That fat kid, Jack, who’s batting average was even worse than Kyle’s, crouched so far over third he was about to do a face plant. Like he was gonna make it. He ran slower than Aunt Jemima syrup. At least he had an excuse—he had to pull two people along when he ran.
Kyle entered the batter’s box and took a practice swing.
On the pitcher’s mound, Nate warmed up his arm. With a wide grin, he tugged on the brim of his cap, pulled it down over his wild red hair, and too quick for Kyle to react, wound up and pitched a fastball.
“Shoot!” Kyle squinted against the bright sun. It didn’t matter they were best friends, Nate wouldn’t go easy on him and give up the Bears’ position as the only undefeated team in Kennedy Little League this season—even if best friendship should count for something.
“Focus!” Dad’s voice boomed from the bleachers.
Kyle concentrated on the ball in Nate’s hand and gripped the bat tighter with his sweaty hands. Come on. Come on! Don’t be a loser! Just hit the ball!
Nate thrust the ball forward.
Straight into the catcher’s mitt.
Kyle shifted his feet and raised the bat, breathing hard. A giant rock weighted the bottom of his stomach. Nate was good. Too good.
“Remember yesterday’s practice!” Dad yelled.
“You can do it, honey! Don’t be nervous.” Mom added.
Thanks, Mom! He groaned and his cheeks burned as Nate’s laughter drifted across the diamond. He would never hear the end of that. Please, God, I need a hit. I can’t walk back to the dugout. Everyone’s gonna laugh at me. He pushed his helmet up and got a better grip on the bat.
Nate stretched, shifted his feet, wound up and let the ball fly.
Kyle held on, to his position and his breath, until the last moment, and then swung.
The bat connected with the ball, driving it over Nate’s head. Kyle’s mouth opened in a round O as the shock of that crack paralyzed him for half a second. Then he took off, flying toward first.
The ball bounced past the center fielder and clanked against the fence. He rounded first. Sprinted toward second. Sucked in air. Move feet! Move! Ahead of him, Joe shot around third, practically pushing Fat Jack across home.
Loud screams of “Go! Go! Go!” rose from the home team bleachers. Mom, Dad, even Maddy and Alek, pressed their faces against the fence. Two runs won the game, but Kyle pushed on. The air grew thick. His side cramped. He soared over second. Focused on home plate. Third base coach waved him on.
“Keep going, Kyle!” Mom’s excitement pulled him forward.
He was going to do it. His first home run. And against Nate, too!
A few feet past third, his vision blurred and his legs stopped. When he tried to move them forward, they wouldn’t work. He dropped to the ground. No time to catch himself with his arms. His head smacked against the dirt. The white line leading him home grew fuzzy and the sun clicked off.
From very far away, he heard Mom scream his name again.
I hated cemeteries.
Which sucked for me, because as of noon today, Restland Memorial Park became my sister’s new permanent address.
The service and burial finished, the last thing to get through was this farce of a reception. At my house, no less. How much longer would I have to stand here in these tight shoes pretending I hadn’t died along with Claire?
I wedged myself farther into the corner between the two long windows in the great room. Naked branches tapped against the pane behind me and a frosty chill seeped through the glass. I pulled my black silk shrug tight around my shoulders and curled my toes inside the ugly black funeral pumps.
Oh, Claire, how could you do this to me?
An ache ripped into my chest.
Alek leaned against the patio door across the room. He caught my eye and straightened like he was going to come over.
I took a deep breath and shook my head. I needed to be alone. No more hugging. No more crying. No more words. Not even from my best friend.
He frowned, but stayed where he was, turning to whisper something to his brother, Kyle.
That hurt, puppy dog look on his face sent a wave through my heart, threatening my already waning control on the pent-up tears begging for release behind my eyes. I turned away and pressed the spot between my eyes. I could not handle any more guilt right now—I’d had enough in the last three days.
Across the room, Claire’s friends squished together in couples on the brown leather couch, murmuring and taking turns glancing at me. If one more of them gushed on teary-eyed, about how hard this was—
What did they know? After they played their parts today, they could go home to their normal lives. In a month or two, they’d get over Claire.
Nothing would be the same for me.
Claire lived in every part of this huge house—from the shared bathroom she hogged, to the laundry room where she ironed her jeans at midnight. The Claire place in my heart collapsed, leaving a giant empty crater of longing. I knew, I just knew, nothing would ever be able to fill it. Could I live with this massive wound the rest of my life?
The room closed in. My legs buckled. I leaned against the frosty window and supported my weight on the wide ledge so I didn’t slide to the floor.
I wasn’t going to make it through the rest of the day.
I breathed faster, in and out through my nose, and glanced at the stairs. They felt far away—getting to them felt even harder. I’d have to cross the room and walk by all the people that had been murmuring and rubbernecking at me all day like I was an accident on the side of the Tollway.
A snatch of conversation caught my attention.
“Poor Josh.” Kim Hanes sidled up to Claire’s boyfriend, where he sat alone on the arm of a wing chair by the kitchen door—the remaining half of a dissected pair.
She dropped her hands on his shoulders and massaged. “I’m so sorry.” She followed her words with a quick smile he couldn’t see.
Opportunist. Claire’s been in the ground two hours and you’re stalking her boyfriend like a piece of prime real estate about to hit the market.
Josh brushed her hands away.
She leaned over, whispered something in his ear I couldn’t hear. The V of her black silk blouse gaped opened and she swayed a little, like she was at a dance club.
I straightened. Wrapped my hand around my punch cup. And squeezed. The cheap plastic caved, and some of the red liquid spilled over my wrist and onto the floor. I smeared it into one of the black divots on the dark oak with the toe of my shoe and licked the sticky drops from my wrist.
Uncle Johnny spiked the punch. Again. I swear he couldn’t make it five minutes without a drink. Although, maybe today, that wasn’t a bad thing.
I tipped it back and drained what was left in the bottom of the cup. Warmth seeped through my body. My shoulders relaxed. My breathing slowed.
Over by the couch, Kim dipped lower over Josh, giving everyone in the room an uncensored view of her zebra-striped pushup bra.
I stepped forward, ready to peel her off Josh if he wasn’t going to do it himself. Once I made it over to her, the stairs wouldn’t be far away. I worked my way across the room, trying to stay along the edge by the wall.
Little magnate groups littered the room. Mom’s law partners, dressed in starchy business black, gathered in a tight group in the middle of the room, unlike Dad’s associates who loitered loosely by the front door checking their watches. Our neighbors mimed various stilted poses on a small grouping of silver folding chairs, whispering in a cliquey little circle.
Quiet followed me like a reverse wave at our football games. Conversations shut down as I approached and resumed after I passed.
Some of the chatter cut off too late.
“Sad. Claire was only sixteen.”
“Terrible way to go.”
“Poor Kate. Twins are so close.”
“Should’ve seen it coming.”
I should have seen it coming.
A tear tracked down my face. I wiped it away, held my head high, and pretended I hadn’t heard. My stomach clenched, burning with cheap booze. I hadn’t eaten in two days. Probably not a good idea.
The smell of pine-scented potpourri combined with hot cheese dip and brownies and wafted from the kitchen. I tasted vomit. It burned my mouth. I refilled my cup from the punch bowl and took another sip to push down the acid. The sharp cherry sweetness did nothing to kill the sour taste.
Kim still hung over Josh. No one could miss those boobs. Would she even care if they fell out? Or was that her goal?
Josh noticed me and got up, pushing Kim’s hands away. His lips pulled straight and his red, swollen eyelids drooped. “Kate.” He yanked me against him, crushing my face into his shoulder so hard I had to work to breathe.
I stood there, hands at my side, holding the sticky cup. A tear slid down my face. I dug the nails of my left hand into my palm.
He sighed and caught his fingers in my hair. He pressed his cheek to mine. Moved his left hand to my neck.
My shoulders tensed. Strangled in his foreign embrace, I held my breath and waited for him to back off.
Was he pretending I was her? One last hug? One last moment? Could I blame him? I looked exactly like her. Maybe even smelled like her, too.
He finally let go and I brushed the tear away. He looked guilty. So he had been pretending. He scrubbed at his face and gave me a long glance. “Sorry, Kate.”
I nodded, pretty sure if I opened my mouth the only thing coming out would be sobs.
He walked into the kitchen. Kim turned to follow.
Acid bubbled up my throat. I blocked her way and narrowed my eyes.
“Kate.” She backed up, wide-eyed. “I loved your sister.”
“Right.” I whispered under my breath and strode past her, brushing her shoulder hard.
She slunk to the couch and took a seat next to Claire’s friend, Abby, who kept her head hung low, buried in her hands—a pose she’d held most of the day.
I needed out of this room.
Light laughter carried from the stairs. Uncle Johnny claimed the baluster, blocking my way if I wanted to make a run for it. His burgundy suit matched the ornaments woven into the green boughs that climbed up the railing. He held a full cup of punch in each hand, giggling with my Aunt Marie—who was not the aunt he was married to.
How much of that punch had he had? I glanced around the room. No one else seemed to notice. Except—
A guy I didn’t recognize stood by the tall Spruce Pine Christmas tree watching me. A pair of Aviator sunglasses perched over short blond hair on his head. In black pants, a white dress shirt, and a leather jacket, he dressed for the funeral, yet he seemed…out of place. Like he didn’t belong here. He didn’t quite look old enough to work for Mom or Dad, either. Unless he was an intern.
How long had he been staring at me? Without taking his focus off me, he fingered one of the ornaments on the tree, flipped it over, and ran a thumb across the back. The tree overflowed with mementos—places we’d gone and important events in our lives. Mom had written our name and the date on each one, collecting them for us to hang on our own tree when we grew up and left.
Aviator Man leaned back against the stone fireplace and crossed his arms. His casual posture and loose shoulders implied disinterest, but the firm set of his jaw, punctuated by his brazen study of my face, contradicted his stance. His eyes didn’t hold pity, just interest.
I burned under the intensity of his stare. My breathing hitched. I waited for him to break eye contact.
I shivered in response to his blatant disregard for social etiquette.
Had he been at the funeral? I would have remembered the angular features, the intense eyes, the way he took up the room just by standing in it. Weird, but something about him made me wonder if I wanted more space between us, or less.
Before I could decide, he threw me a quick nod, buttoned his jacket, and strolled to the front door. He moved through the people gathered there and walked out of the house.
I shook my head. Weird. Aviator Man’s gaze still hung on me, heavy and disquieting. I glanced at my watch. How much longer before everyone else followed him out? I shifted my feet and tried to find something else to focus on while I decided how to make it past Uncle Johnny without a big scene. You never knew what he would pick to comment on after a few glasses of that punch.
I hated funerals.
In sixteen years, I’d only known two people who died—Great Aunt Bernice who went to sleep at night and never woke up and Dad’s poker buddy who had a heart attack last year.
My parents made us go to both services. To show respect.
There had been nothing respectful about Claire’s funeral. The whispers. The furtive glances. People stared out of the corner of their eye all day. They still were, taking little furtive glances they thought I hadn’t noticed.
And that word hung in the air—the word everyone was afraid to say because no one wanted to name the massive elephant in the room. At least not to our faces. That would be rude and hurtful. As if the whispers and stares weren’t.
Wasn’t anybody real? Just say it already.
I refilled my cup and swallowed more of the punch. Claire would be shocked. I never drank. But she wasn’t here, so it didn’t matter. A rush of dizziness lightened my head. Maybe I should rethink the no drinking rule.
Instead of letting Johnny make the scene, I decided to do it myself. If all these hypocrites were too afraid to name the elephant, I would.
I kicked off my shoes and stepped up onto the coffee table in front of Abby. The wood creaked under my weight and she jerked her head up.
I cleared my throat. “Thank you for coming to Claire’s funeral.” I raised my voice over the drone of the few remaining conversations. “You can stop whispering. It’s not a secret that Claire tied herself to a rock and took an early evening swim.”
The room fell mute. The silence amplified my mother’s breathy gasp.
A swell of vertigo jeopardized my perch. I took a deep breath and centered my stocking feet on the table. “I believe the word I’m looking for is suicide.” I held up my sticky cup in a toast. “To Claire and her ingenious exit strategy.”
I drank the rest of the punch and crushed the cup. With every ounce of elegance I could muster, I stepped down, leaned over to snag a finger under the narrow straps on my shoes, and padded up the staircase into my sister’s room.
And slammed the door.