The Struggles of Struggle

Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday. Yes, I’m one of THOSE people that listens to Christmas music all year round, I have my decorations up practically after Halloween, I go broke at the end of every year because I spend every penny I have so that people enjoy my gifts. I love everything about it.

The reason why I love Christmas so much is not because it was a season that provided the best gatherings and moments, but because it provided some of the worst.

As a child of two divorces, Christmas with a single and working mother and autistic brother was very tough. When my brother’s dad left, my mother barely had money for Christmas dinner and presents. I remember vividly that I only got a VHS movie and an off-brand board game on year. Earlier that year, I would go to school wearing old clothes that couldn’t fit but they were all that we had. All of our extended family lived in Puerto Rico, so it was only ever my mother, me, and two brothers. There were plenty of years that it was quiet – I kept to my books and we watched How The Grinch Stole Christmas on TV and even though she never said the words, I would look at my mother’s face and knew that she was praying, praying for the days and years to get better. Even as a pre-teen/teenager, in the midst of depression and anxiety already, there was no need to complain. To me, I saw it as  we made it through one year, we could surely make it through the next. That was a gift in itself.

Our family is in such a better place right now – we came up from the ashes and we thrived. Between us children, we’ve succeeded in education, careers and just keeping a level head. My mother is about to become a grandmother for the first time. My youngest brother is about to leave the nest.

To this day, between our immediate family, we still only ever get each other a couple of presents a year. The real gifts were, and still are, each other. The real gift was the struggle. Because in all of its wretchedness and wrongness and unfairness, it shed away to shape who we truly were and who we would become.

As a parent-to-be, I often wonder: we don’t want our children to struggle or go through the experiences that we have gone through. We want to give them everything we didn’t get a chance to have. But as a firm believer of struggle and empathy defining who you are, how do we shape our children to become well-rounded, compassionate and kind individuals who simply understand suffering? To help those that need it? Of course no child or family is perfect. I have known people on both sides of the spectrum – that had everything and not a care in the world but still managed to strive for a better community and love for one another, and the others who ended up being, well, very Trump-like.

So what are some ideas to help our future children grow to be model citizens who are equal in intellect and compassion? How do we get them to succeed in both life and love?

Updates from an exhausted author PLUS a holiday ADC short!

I feel terrible, truly.

I normally write whenever possible but some rather important and time consuming changes all seemed to happen at the same time as a release of A Deathly Compromise. While I’m eagerly waiting for print copies to be available before the next run of promotions, I figured I could take some time to finally update you all and flex my writing fingers.

In terms of big changes, my husband and I have a baby on the way (due in April) and we just purchased-and moved into!-our first house. Between those two huge things on their own and prepping for the holidays, I feel a bit like this cat:

tiredcat

(So when I say I feel terrible, know that it is not just emotional sentiment.)

Nevertheless, to quote the great Walt Disney, we keep moving forward. While we’re still technically living out of cardboard boxes, we managed to decorate for Christmas and are in joyous disbelief that the place is ours (we’ll just ignore the fact that it’s really the bank’s). And while 2016 was nothing short of tumultuous, 2017 will undoubtedly bring some much needed joy and I look forward to it. I promise to not be so neglectful to this little corner of the universe.

So now that things are settling down and I can finally scratch that author itch, I spewed out this quick little A Deathly Compromise short, just for the holidays. It’s not spoiler-free and will most likely not be included in the sequel, so let this just serve as the in-between snack of the holiday meals. Enjoy and hope you all have a safe and wonderful holiday!

-/-

Although it’s been said, many times, many ways.

I watched the television as if it were an animal documentary. George Michael and his fantastic hair frolicked across the screen, belting out his infamous tune over his lost Christmas love. I pulled the fur-lined rim of the Santa hat over my eyes.

“Oh, Georgie, who were you trying to fool?” I remarked out loud, catching a nasty glimpse from a waiting visitor. I ignored her, draping my legs over one side of the armchair while resting my head on the other. A shadow loomed over my body and without completely looking up, a small smile escaped the corner of my lips. I would know his presence anywhere. His soul stirred up flurries in my stomach. “Is that a candy cane in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

He laughed. He began searching for something in his pocket and for a moment, I questioned the seriousness of my proposition. Before I could stand, a green, red and white candy cane, with a split in the curve, landed on my chest.

“Tease,” I called him as my fingers worked to unwrap the unruly plastic.

“Bum,” he replied, gently removing the hat from my head.

A hiss erupted from my mouth. “The light…it burns us.”

“Get up, I want to show you something.”

“Fool me once, Lux…”

“There are cookies involved.”

I swung my legs and my boots planted themselves on the ground, my body sitting up at full attention, the candy cane between my index and middle finger like a 1920’s cigarette. “Next time, just go with that, darling. No need for foreplay.”

Lux rolled his eyes and turned, the glimmer from his clothes made annoyingly bright from the hospital lighting. I caught up to his pace, now smooth and effortless, not a hint of flawed life among the steps. “Nice outfit,” he remarked, noticing the rather jolly and lightly stained seasonal nurse scrubs I had been recently adorning.

“One must learn how to blend in with the peasant folk when one loses their cover. Didn’t you learn anything from James Bond?” I asked.

“Favorite?”

“Connery, of course. So cheeky, great in bed.” He glared. “Kidding!” I was definitely not kidding.

“I liked Roger Moore.”

I groaned as we turned the corner to the main lobby. “Ugh, you would.”

He grabbed my hand and pulled me into the nearby janitor’s closet, his body providing the only illumination in the confined room. He held my arm and hand up, his other hand resting on the small of my back. “Close your eyes,” he whispered.

The moment felt fearfully similar to one of his last when he was alive. I obliged, my body leaning into his. The familiar warp of transporting sent shivers up my spine before it ended in an eerie calm. The frost of the night greeted me, soft flakes kissing my cheeks. The smell of hot chocolate wafted around us. My hips adjusted to the environmental shift before my body completely betrayed me and I fell to the floor. My head met ice. I looked up, Lux’s face holding back a laugh. He held out his hand but I smacked it away.

“Skates, it had to be skates!” I wobbled up, my hands bracing the ground between my legs while I straightened up.

“You just made Bambi look like he could do the moonwalk.”

“You….shut your mouth. Goddess of death here, not of grace.” My torso came up next, then my head, my hands rubbing up against legs for warmth. “Now, then…” I began to slip again but caught my balance with an arm spinwheel before I could fall back down the dreadful frozen earth. I huffed, the echo of fire from my eyes transparent in Lux’s. “You said…there were…cookies.”

He opened up the crook of his arm to allow mine to lace through it. “In a bit. They’re on the other side of the rink and we got a ways to go.”

“You couldn’t have just landed us on solid ground?”

“It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

“Have you been reading the verse of Jones lately? I feel like I’m talking to his parrot.”

He ignored my comments, the smile on his face never wavering. He guided me halfway down the frozen pond, looking around and stopping abruptly, about 20 yards from warmth and chocolate. His free hand reached for mine, turning me to face him. I was still in disbelief. It had been weeks now, yet my mind couldn’t fathom it. His fingers reached up to my face, pushing a loose lock of hair behind my ear. Fingertips trailed down the length of my jaw, his thumb landing on my chin. “Merry Christmas, Dee,” he whispered.

Before I could reply or fill in the space between us, he moved away, revealing the scene in front of me like a curtain. Disappointment turned into confusion before the faces and figures in the background sharpened. Amongst the bulk of snow jackets and dark colors, a familiar head with a lavender-colored knit cap erupted like a pleasant streak of lightning in the night.

Oh, what a year could do. She had grown like a weed in summer, perhaps a foot or more. Her smile was free of chains, loose breaths now residing between small bursts of laughter. Her mother and father were there, holding her hands, lifting her up and sending chips of ice into the air. My hands found themselves rubbing my arms up and down, recollecting her last embrace. Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown score came out on the speakers, the vocals of the children’s choir and soft piano keys settling softly in the air. “She’s…so happy,” I said under my breath.

“You did that,” Lux said, his voice suddenly joining in the reverie.

I shook my head. “No. No, she was always happy, in a way. Now she’s…”

“Joyous.”

“Yes, that. She’s, she’s certainly something.” I swallowed down a happy sob, determined not to make myself look like a fool in the middle of a crowd of children and agile adults. “Is she…?”

“She’s doing great, Dee. Perfectly healthy.”

“Good, that’s good,” I said quickly, my voice cracking. I let out a long exhale. “We better go before she sees me.”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded emphatically, turning away and bracing myself for the last few feet between me and snow covered grass. He took my arm again and guided the way. We stood in line for hot chocolate and cookies, but I no longer had the urge. My eyes strayed toward Aria’s direction every couple of minutes, following the spot of lavender across the pond. I memorized her one more time, her muscles and limbs moving without restraint. When she was lifted into the air, the hem of her jeans rode up, revealing new rainbow socks. I laughed, silently wishing I could go back to being invisible. I could watch her all day. Lux handed me a mug of hot chocolate – cider for him – and placed his free hand back on my cheek, melting the snow on my face. I smiled at him, taking a bite of the cookie already in my grasp.

“Thank you,” I told him in sincerity, swallowing down the treat. He shrugged in the most Lux way possible, the remnants of cider now on his lips. I licked my own, trying to ignore the temptation. He was off limits now. I looped my arm through his once again and led the way back to the hospital grounds. A walk would do us both some good. Nevertheless, the warmth and joy from Aria’s laugh echoed in between us, melting away the cold of the evening. Some things were worth waiting for, worth sacrificing for. My cup toasted his as our steps found their synchronicity. “Merry Christmas, Lux.”

When hinges creak in doorless chambers: A Haunted Mansion story

A/N: My butt needs to get back into gear with writing these short stories. I love this attraction so much so I need to make the time for it. Comments are welcome-hope you like!

-/-

New Orleans, 1925

Edward Gracey was a smart man, or rather, he would like to think so anyway. He had just graduated Summa cum Laude from Yale University, landed a job at an infamous firm in New Orleans and was finding good prospects for homes nearby. Luck was in his cards, most assuredly. He smiled as he parked his car down the street from the last prospect: a towering three-story Colonial piece with four large pillars gracing its entrance and iron facades framing the wrap-around porches on the first and second floors. Giant juniper trees stood its height along the right side of the house, symmetrical with the brick chimneys on the left. Overgrown shrubs and wax myrtles framed all corners, enveloping the home in a mysterious beauty.

Edward looked at the piece of scribbled paper in his hand. This couldn’t be right. The house was beautiful, but no way could it fit in his price range. His hand went up to the iron gate of the entrance, leaning his head so that he might get a closer look. He felt a prick on the outside of his wrist. A vine full of thorns had snaked through all of the bars–he could have sworn they weren’t there moments before but figured it a trick of the light–and they now had decorated themselves with drops of his own blood. Edward nervously chuckled, pushing away a small anxiety rising up in his throat. He heard the car door close shut and his trance broke suddenly at the sight of his fiancée in a buttercup yellow dress. Her rosy cheeks and matching lips suited the color, a vision of Spring in this eternal Autumn.

“Edward, is anything the matter?”

He crumpled the paper in his hand, stealing another glance at the thorns. “I’m afraid I’ve led us in the wrong direction. Or perhaps the clerk in the land sales office may have transposed the address. This can’t be the right house. We will return to the office and I shall inquire–” But her eyes had drifted from him and focused their attention on the manor. Her breath caught in her throat and Edward could honestly not tell if she was breathing. Her lace gloves were wound tightly on the iron bars, the vines now nowhere near her. “Darling, best you stay away. We know nothing of these current residents and their temperaments.”

To his surprise, she turned back and smiled. “Edward, it’s beautiful.”

He knew that tone. He was all too familiar with it. The vibrato of it shook him, the warm tone of it turned him into mush, the smile that accompanied it made his mind bend to her will. She only used that tone when she had her heart set on something and would do anything to get it. She was tenacious but always a lady; it was always what she didn’t say that made Edward jump to her requests. But at this, he would be a broke man in two month’s time and with a wedding to plan, it wasn’t logical. “Darling, it must be far out of our price range. And who knows if it is even up for sale?”

“But it is for sale,” came a voice from the gate.

A relic of a man appeared on the other side. His eyes were sallow and his face skinny; his large nose practically coming at them from the bars. He held an unsightly beagle by a rope leash, his other hand gripping a lantern. Dusk was beginning to fall and the fear on his face indicated dire consequences should the proper street lamps in front of the house were not lit. He stared at Edward and brought an insincere smile to the corner of his lips. As quick as it came, it went–he was unaccustomed to speaking with visitors, Edward guessed. Edward smoothed his waistcoat, stuffing the piece of paper in his pocket. “It is, you say? Unfortunately, I do believe I don’t quite have the means. The sales clerk–”

“If you show an interest, I can bring you up to meet the Mistress. She is preparing for an expedition to the West Indies and would like to sell the home at the earliest, at any price.”

“We would love to see the house,” his beloved blurted, her arm circling and nesting in the crook of his elbow. “Wouldn’t we, Edward?”

He looked into her dark eyes, a glimmer of mischief circling in her irises. It was that tone again. Oh, how she loved to use it and what a fool he was to fall for it. He smiled despite a bead of perspiration dripping down his temple. He looked at the groundskeeper behind the bars–his smile was so forced, it looked painful. There was certainly more than what he was letting on. Edward could swear he heard the whole house creak from where he was standing. Unsettling whispers in the twilight hour settled squarely on his shoulders. His free hand squeezed the piece of paper in his waistcoat pocket. He was a smart man. He’d be foolish to let a good deal go to waste. He swore the groundskeeper gave a subtle shake of the head but ignored it, turning to his fiancee instead. “My dear, sweet Leota, how could I say no?”

The groundskeeper let out a sigh under his breath and unlocked the gate. Vines snapped and Edward thought he heard small screams echoing out from the stems. Caked rust flaked off onto the grass as the groundskeeper held it open for them. “Welcome to Gore Manor.”

night blossom.

A small fanfic that blossomed into something I rather liked.

-/-

There were times when she smelled flowers.

Not the ones that he had planted outside of their window – English lavender, peach & white gladiolas and yellow buttercups – but the ones that grew by the bay, that held the ocean spray in the velvet of their petals. He would go out to sea, gone for only an afternoon or night at a time, and each time would bring back of sprig of wildflowers from the docks. She woke up to their smell next to her pillow, the first peeks of sunlight illuminating them in the new day.

She groaned, her fingertips clutching the empty pillow next to her, lines of sheet forming to meet in the heart of her palm. The wildflowers spilled over the edges, filling the room with their scent. She turned her head, her eyes squinting at the window. He stood there, his jacket off for once, his shirt loosened from his trousers. He held his hand on the windowpane, looking out over the bay but turned when he heard her stir.

“Morning,” she mumbled, pillow fluff half hanging from her mouth. He smiled, walking over to her and sitting on the edge. His nearness pulled her body up like a magnet and she draped an arm over the back of his shoulders. She rested her chin in the crook of his neck, taking in the salt air still pressed on his skin.

“Good morning, love,” he whispered, the stillness of the dawn not yet ready for anything other than hushed voices.

“Tell me,” she uttered. It was more of an order than a request, a permission for him to lose the weight of what he held onto.

He took a deep breath, in and out, his chest letting out a small shudder. She felt his heart in hers, the layers of skin and organs the only barriers between them. “A calm night, all clear. The town remains safe on the water another night.”

“And?”

He smiled, looking at her, the moon still an echo in his eyes. “I saw it again.”

His past. It still haunted him, drowning him in dreams and nightscapes. “Tell me,” she repeated, a gentleness in her tone. The serenity put him at ease again, his muscles loosening just an inch.

“I keep thinking the day would be more soothing, but the night helps more. The stars help. They keep me on track, keep me sailing back to you. I keep seeing the gates and the river and the shadows. So many shadows.”

She rubbed his back in small circles, her hair draping down his collarbone.

“I feel like it’s suffocating me, sometimes. I feel wound, constantly waiting for it to end. I see this blackness, this rope of black smoke choking me.”

“Honey-”

“But then I open my eyes and I see you. I see you in the stars…and then everything just disappears.” His voice was normal now, no longer a whisper, a small wave of nerves rippling off his tongue. She kissed the curve of his ear, pulling him into the bed, clothes and all. She wrapped her arms from behind him and across his chest. He tightened and loosened all at once, the pain of the day folding back into hibernation.

“Sleep, darling. You’re here, you’re home.” The petals crunched beneath their bodies, the remnants of the sea enveloping them, welcoming them back into pleasant dreams.

I know my value, a love letter to Peggy Carter (MCU)

Recently, I participated in a great project by nerdygirlnotes – a book of thank you letters to the fictional women that have become our heroes. Here was my contribution. 

——————————————-

Dear Peggy,

When I was a child, I knew not of courage.

When I was a young adult, it still hadn’t reached me. I lived in the fear of the unknown, of the future. I watched all the women around me grow and move and leave and show off their confidence to the world. I wanted nothing more to bask in that courage. As they stood out, I lingered in, stayed in holes and behind walls, unsure of my potential. There was one thing that I was sure of – that there was no positive place for me in this world. I sank deeper, I lost love, I was losing myself.

I looked up to the boys, you see. It was what was popular, what was televised. Despite their flaws, they had courage. Despite their problems, they found resolution. I admired the princesses too, but there was something missing. I wanted many of them to take charge, to be better, to show me how to be a woman who was both compassionate and fierce without losing a part of herself in the process. As I got older, these wishes fell to the wayside as I tried to find myself amongst the bustle and madness of growing up.

Years later, I moved away from home with my husband, away from all of my family and friends, to start a new chapter. I was depressed and needed a hero, needed a compass to guide me to a better mindset. I was always interested in Captain America, but when he showed up on the screen, I was more interested in your story. How did you take that pain and make a flower in the drought? How did you harness that frustration and move forward with ease, obliterating all doubters in your path? I was amazed that such a woman, especially in that time period, could persevere and out-astonish any being, let alone one enhanced with a super soldier serum. You were an aspiring dream – even in the soft moments of red dresses and dance invitations, even in your tears, I watched you throughout this span of films, excited of the prospect of how you could effect the generations after you.

Then I saw your red hat amongst the sea of blue and gray, walking down the street like the world was yours for the taking. I saw you protect those you care about, sacrificing your time and privacy, for a cause far greater than anyone could imagine, greater even than the Captain’s. You taught me that a woman can be tough but can look great doing it. You don’t have to look pretty OR be a badass….you can be both. You can be tough as nails but still mourn over the things that you lost. Week after week, I looked forward to watching you fight, bicker, outwit, but also love, mourn, and show kindness, even to those who didn’t deserve it (for sometimes they need kindness the most). You taught me that if someone doesn’t respect you, make them. It doesn’t matter your gender, sex, affiliation, background — if you are dedicated to a worthwhile cause, you stand your ground and you fight for it. All it takes is for one person to listen and then it can grow to something quite spectacular.

In those last moments, when you speak of your confidence in a brutal, defeating world, dusting off the thoughts of men or anyone else who doubted you, it was a realization that I had been desperately waiting for my entire life. I spent my existence doing things for the benefits of others while believing my value was diminishing. But what do pain and scars make us? They don’t alter our foundation, they just shape us to make it harder to break. Thank you, Peggy, for making me harder to break. Thank you for teaching me courage, for showing me that kindness and love can prevail, for being a fashion muse, for being diplomatic and holding that gravitas without ever sacrificing your sense of humor, for showing me that sometimes you have to fight for something greater than yourself. I’m learning to become a better woman, friend and confidante. Most importantly, I’m learning to love myself again.

Despite the certainty of age, a part of me is still that child holding to the flickering bulb of fear. Each chapter in your story is a lesson, each development makes me grow along with you. You are the hero that many of us need and have been waiting for, no capes, no shields, no armor. Just your heart and your determination. That will always be enough.

Thank you for showing me my value. It was worth waiting for.

Sincerely,

Coral