Finally, finally it's Friday again and for Fantasy Friday a very special Friday. One of our own has given birth. Ana's 'baby' is here and it's beautiful. She has been gracious enough to chair a bit of this wonderful week with us. I'll let her tell you more...
Eleven years ago, I wrote a story about a girl named Kat and her best friend who disciplined her. I sent the story to a publisher only to be told that no one would read F/F spanking stories. I put the stories away for the next ten years, and only accidentally did I find it after sorting through boxes. The original manuscript, tied with a sheer black scarf. I dusted it off, retyped it, and added another installment. Then another. Finally moved the stories to a blog of their own. What with one thing and another, I ended up with a book contract for the stories I had previously been told were not marketable.
This week, The Way Home (Kat and Natalie, Volume One) was released by LazyDay Publishing. It hit the Top 100 Amazon ranking for LGBT fiction. My publisher will be appearing on Fika this Monday to talk about this journey, but for today PK has graciously offered to host the first chapter of this newest book. PK’s character, Cassie, became friends with Kat and helped her through her struggles. Thank you to PK for her support of my stories, and thank you to everyone who has come to love Kat and Natalie. This free chapter is my way of saying thank you for all of your support.
Prelude: Losing Natalie
(Kat’s apartment, present-day)
I groan at the sunlight bombarding my face, and I cover my eyes with the back of my right arm. I forgot to close the industrial-ish white blinds last night, and Mr. Sunshine has woken me bright and early. I throw back my covers, pad into the bathroom, and splash some water on my face. Might as well get up for real, I think. I was annoyed at being reduced to three-quarter time when the budget cuts rolled around four months ago, especially since I was one of the most senior salesclerks. Or sales associates. The management thinks a fancy title will camouflage our tiny paychecks. But even though the smaller pay forced me to downsize when finally getting an apartment of my own again, on days like this I appreciate the leisurely start to the day. Or what would be a leisurely start if I could remember to shut out the sun.
I trudge to the kitchen, open the fridge, and blearily search for the peanut butter before remembering that Natalie is no longer around to hide my favorite morning toast spread. Try as I might, I never could break her of the habit of refrigerating perfectly good peanut butter.
“It won’t spread when it’s cold!” I insisted. “It melts onto your hot toast, anyway. Besides, do you want food poisoning?”
Natalie has this phobia about food poisoning. She is absolutely certain that every food must be refrigerated or else it will grow lethal germs. I tried to explain that my Jif contained approximately as many preservatives as a Botox injection, and that a germ would have to be bio- genetically engineered in order to survive in all of the chemicals found in the modern wonder known as Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter. Every morning, I would complain to Natalie about my cold peanut butter and she would tell me to get over it. Does she even eat peanut butter? No. She just feels very, very strongly about food safety.
As I open a cupboard to take out my soft, easy-to-spread, room-temperature Jif, I unscrew the cap and dip my index finger in for a taste. I absent-mindedly lick the peanut butter from my finger as I pop an English muffin into the toaster, take out a plate, and find a knife to spread the peanut butter.
Waiting for the toast to pop up, I nearly drop my knife as my phone rings. I did not expect someone this early. I cross the room, knife still in hand, and pick up the receiver.
“Hello?” “Kat. I need the house key I gave you.” Natalie’s voice is strained. Terse. One part of my brain notices that the toaster has finished toasting and has begun scorching. I
broke my good toaster the first week after I moved in, and budget constraints forced me to find a replacement at Goodwill. This one does the job, but the pop up button almost never works. I have to manually eject the bread to finish the cycle.
“What’s wrong? Where are you?” Silence. “Natalie?” “At the hospital. Room 568.”
“At the hospital? But... but... why are you at—” Click.I stare at the receiver in my hand in complete bewilderment. Is she visiting someone? Why the urgency? I thought she was going to nag me about my appointment with Dr. Mitchell. But what is this about her house key?
I hurriedly flip the toaster switch so that the now-charred bread pops up, but I leave everything else as it is. I throw on yesterday’s clothes but skip the socks, stepping into clogs as I grab for my purse.
The drive to the hospital usually takes fewer than ten minutes, but today the roads are filled with spectators for a huge conference. I nearly scream in frustration as I inch forward only to wait at a standstill for several minutes at a time.
“Natalie? What is...” My voice ends in a small croak as I realize, too late, that I have walked in on a nurse helping Natalie use a bedpan.
“I’m sorry, I...” The nurse turns and tries to shoo me out the door. “Ma’am, you’ll need to wait until...” “Just put the key on the counter and go.” My jaw drops open. “What?” Natalie does not respond. The nurse bustles around the bed, and I reach out to put a hand on
the counter. I lick my lips and allow the nurse to nicely, but bossily usher me out of the room. I stand in the hallway, reeling. Have I ever heard that tone of voice from her before? Why is she in the hospital, anyway? I thought she was visiting someone! She should have called... oh. Wait. I remember her cryptic text message from last night. I thought she was just being her usual, over- controlling self. No probation officer checked on any former prisoner as zealously as Natalie checked on me. But why had she sent a text instead of calling? Why only one? What the heck happened?
The nurse emerges, closing the door behind her. I make a move toward it, but she shakes her head at me.
“No visitors,” she warns. I disregard her, just waiting long enough for her to move out of sight before darting back into the room. I must have heard wrong.
“Natalie, what happened? Are you okay?” She turns her back to me and does not look up. “Natalie...” My voice no longer seems to be working properly. Are you okay? I want to ask.
What’s wrong? Why didn’t you call me again?
“I said put the key on the counter,” she says in the same harsh, clipped voice. “Then go.”
I have to steady myself again by grabbing onto the counter. I hear a roaring in my ears, and my vision darkens around the edges. Not even at her most angry have I ever heard Natalie speak to me that way.
“Natalie...” “Jason will be here tomorrow, and he needs the key. Now go.” Jason is her brother who lives across the country and last spoke to Natalie three years ago. “Please... do you need anything from the house? Can I bring you clean clothes? Or do you
need me to water your plants—” “Go!”
Blinded by the stunned rush of tears, I fumble in my pocket for my key ring. I take off Natalie’s key... my key... and set it on the counter next to her water pitcher and styrofoam cup. I
stumble out the door, attracting dirty looks from a passing nurse who glances pointedly at the “no visitors” sign posted on Natalie’s door. By the time I arrive at my car, I have convinced myself that Natalie has stage four brain cancer, AIDS, leprosy, Lyme disease, and paralysis from a stroke. Jason is coming to help her with funeral arrangements, and she needs some space to deal with things. She is trying to protect me, and she is not ready yet.
Before I know it, I have pulled into the parking lot of Target. I may be barred from getting her things from home, but I will not give up. I grab a plastic red cart and make my way through the aisles. Lotion... Natalie has dry skin, and the severe air conditioning of the hospital will cause chapping. Air conditioning... she will be cold. I pick out a pashmina-style scarf to throw around her shoulders and wool socks for her feet. Then I change my mind, put the wool socks back, and find soft, fuzzy slipper-socks with non-skid rubber hearts on the bottom. They can double as slippers, at least if she is able to get up.
I head down nearly every single aisle and toss in whatever might be useful. The latest naughty novel that skyrocketed to bestseller lists and which Natalie and I have ridiculed ever since it was published. Neither of us has read it because the writing quality is reputed to be beyond bad, but perhaps it will make Natalie laugh. Even if only because she has to hide it or explain it to the nurses and her visitors. A back-up charging cord for her phone, since she must not have very much battery life left by now. Breathmints and floss because hospitals never supply those. Her favorite fudge-covered mint Oreo cookies. I tried once to forbid her from eating her crappy packaged cookies when I could make her homemade ones any time, but she swore that they were not in the same league.
“You can like apples and bananas,” she said solemnly. Still, she started hiding them from me. I would find half a package stashed beside the couch or on the top shelf of the linen closet, and each time I would give the fake cookies an offended shake before carrying them directly to the dumpster. Not even the trash can, but the Dumpster of No Return.
I hesitate for a moment, and then I add another package of Oreos to my cart.
A pre-paid phone card in case the phone charger is the wrong kind, so she can call her family without racking up the exorbitant hospital calling rates. A pocket-sized hairbrush. I struggle to think what else she might need or want.
I toss in a ballpoint pen. Panties. A travel-size bottle of Tide in case Natalie is well enough to want to wash her clothes for going home. When she is going home, not if. A full-size toothbrush, carrying case, and toothpaste. She is probably using the disposable hospital issue, and they suck.
A small word search, crossword, maze, and activity book. An oversized nylon tote bag to hold everything. And, finally, a plush little white bear with a red ribbon around its neck. Natalie never cared for stuffed animals, but sometimes lying awake alone at night in those crinkly, plasticy hospital beds is enough to make anyone want something soft to cuddle.
At the check-out counter, the total on the register screen makes me gasp. I had no idea it would cost that much, but at this point I am too impatient to care. I swipe my credit card, pull my cart of merchandise over to the food court area, and start efficiently ripping off all the price tags and stickers. I arrange everything neatly in the tote bag, return the shopping cart to its corral, and head to the car. Back to the hospital again.
“Can I leave this for Natalie Mestecom?” I ask breathlessly as I tug at the shoulder strap of the tote. “She’s in room... um... 580. Or 508. Or five... something.”
“All of the rooms are five something. This is the fifth floor,” the charge nurse says, without looking at me.
“Can you check, please? It’s really important.”
With a sigh of irritation, the nurse scans through her computer list. “Room five six eight. Just down your hall, to the left, and around the corner.”
“Oh no, I don’t want to disturb her, just could I leave it here for her? Please?” “We don’t usually...” “Look, it’s open. You can check it if you want, and you’ll see it’s nothing bad.” “My staff has enough to do without playing delivery service...”
At my tone of desperation, the nurse looks at me for the first time. I allow my eyes to fill with tears, not too proud to use every trick in the book. It never worked with Natalie, but it works now.
“Look,” the nurse says resignedly. “I can’t take a bag. What you should do is go downstairs to the in-house post office and mail it as a package. Here,” she writes on a slip of paper, “this is how you can address it to your friend’s room. Okay?”
I thank her and promise to take her advice. I hesitate by the nurses’ station for a moment more to collect myself before making a hasty exit. I duck into the ladies’ room because the tears- for-show have now made an honest woman out of me. I try to make myself laugh by picturing the stern-faced nurse poking through the package from the post office and coming across the naughty romance novel, but instead I lean against the bathroom stall door shuddering with sobs.
I do not know why Natalie has chosen to exclude me from her life, but I cannot change her mind. I cannot even know whether she will accept the gift-by-proxy.
I only know, should she choose to accept it, that I am here for her. Will always be here. If only she knew that.
Ana I thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. I'm excited for you, I'm really proud of you. And boy someday I hope to follow in your footsteps! Keep writing girl!!
Remember we want everyone to write for Fantasy Friday - we have pro's here, but we also have many, many first time story writer so everyone, please, write for us. You can send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org