Tracing the Stars – Chapter One

O N E

Emilia

 

I PULL THE navy dress out of my suitcase and unzip the protective bag. I decided to bring it along in case I needed an ego boost. Tonight, I absolutely need an ego boost. Quickly stepping in and tugging it up and over my Spanx-clad midsection, I reach around and yank the zipper up clumsily. Anastasia’s throaty laugh echoes over the speakerphone.

“Please tell me it still fits.”

I cluck my tongue. “You’re the worst. Of course it still fits. I haven’t gotten that fat.”

“I only meant because for the last two years, you’ve had your nose stuck in astronomy textbooks and your ass in sweatpants.”

“That’s not true.” It’s totally true.

“Well, I’m sure you look amazing. When do you meet everyone?”

I delicately step into my black stilettos—probably the only time I will wear them all winter, so I might as well bust them out for this meeting. “In ten minutes.”

“Are you nervous?”

“No,” I mutter.

Ana calls me out. “Liar.”

I sigh as I smooth on some nude lipstick. “Fine. I’m petrified. But if I don’t dress like a professional, there’s no way they’ll treat me like a professional. This is my chance, Ana. This is it. My whole future depends on this job.” The reality of my words seep in. First impressions are everything.

“You’ve managed to get yourself this far, Em. Have a little faith.”

“Easy for you to say, Doctor Harper,” I chide. Anastasia is one of San Francisco’s top pediatric doctors. At 22, she managed to score an almost perfect on her MCAT. At 29, she landed the title of one of UCSF’s best pediatricians under 30. Seriously, TIME Magazine had an entire write-up on her. Hospitals and practices all over the country vied for her attention after that, offering her exorbitant amounts of money to start her career at their affiliates. In the end, she chose a small family-run practice in a low-income area of Oakland. She was even given an award by the mayor of San Francisco earlier this year.

“You’ve worked just as hard. Don’t let the patriarchy intimidate you.”

I ruffle my long, wavy hair, giving it a bit of volume as I study my appearance in the mirror. “Leonardo Kennedy is the Galileo of the twenty-first century. It’s hard not to be intimidated.”

“Well, then that makes you Nicolaus Copernicus. Mom says Leo is a complete gentleman.”

I huff. “Yeah, well, Mom is a bit biased, don’t you think? And I’m impressed you know who Nicolaus Copernicus is.”

Ana laughs.

Our mother, who happens to be a biology professor at Stanford, knows a lot of people in the scientific community, and when she told me about the United States Antarctic Program winter opening with Dr. Kennedy heading the research station, I applied enthusiastically. She knew Leo. Ana and I both did. His mother had gone to graduate school with our mother. So, of course Mom felt the need to give him a glowing recommendation on my part, and two weeks ago, I was offered the position of research assistant to Dr. Kennedy at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. Not that her nepotism landed me the job; only one other person applied. I suppose spending six months in complete and total darkness doesn’t appeal to many people. It seemed like a dream to me… endless time to study and map the stars.

“She also told me he’s very handsome,” Ana continues. I roll my eyes even though I know she can’t see me.

“Why does this feel like a blind date rather than a business meeting?”

Ana chuckles. “I’m just saying. Wow him with that dress, Emilia.”

I glare at my phone. “I won’t be wowing anybody. I have a job to do down here.”

Down here meaning Christchurch, New Zealand—the home base and closest major city for the United States Antarctic Program, or, USAP for short. I happen to be leaving for Antarctica in the morning, and tonight was the only night that our three-person team would have a chance to meet before the big day tomorrow. Though I’ve been in New Zealand for a couple of days already, I’d spent my time enjoying the outdoors. I laid on the grass in the public parks, reading and rereading the manual and assignment for this winter. I walked everywhere, and ate everything I wanted to, knowing full well that they didn’t have fresh milkshakes or French cheese in the freezers at Amundsen-Scott. I would soon be in a glorified igloo with only forty-three other people for six months, and four of those months we’d be enclosed in total darkness. I needed all the vitamin D and caloric food I could get.

“Whatever you say. I should probably let you go. Don’t be late—remember, first impressions are everything,” she drones, repeating my mother’s favorite phrase.

“I know,” I reply, giving myself one last look-over before grabbing my clutch and making to leave. “I love you, Ana.”

“Love you too, Sis. Have a great time. Email me when you get settled.” I hear her sheets rustle as she climbs into bed. It’s almost midnight there. I feel sad that I’m not a twenty-minute BART ride away anymore.

I swallow the lump in my throat. Though the station has telephones, it’s the first time I’ve ever spent this much time away from my family. And there’s no going back once I’m there. I couldn’t leave Antarctica even if I wanted to. The winters down there are so severe, no planes can come or go until the Antarctic spring, which is an entirely different season than winter. For one, there is sunlight, unlike in the winter. Secondly, the threat of a storm decreases drastically. In fact, our flight tomorrow is the very last flight in. I already knew I’d miss my mother and Anastasia terribly. They’d been my support system—my everything—for my entire life. Our father had walked out on my mother when I was three. He didn’t want her working, and they fought all the time about her career. Ultimately, he couldn’t take it anymore and abandoned us. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since, and the three of us, though all independent women, depend on one another.

“I will. Bye,” I murmur, hanging up.

I toss my phone into my clutch and grab the room key. Five minutes until eight. I’m never late, and I’m not about to start tonight. I close my hotel door and walk quickly down the red, patterned carpet towards the golden elevators. I hear a loud ‘ding’ and rush over to the closing elevator door.

“Wait!” I shout, waving and speeding over. “Hold the door, please!” I catch only the sliver of striking male features: yellow-green eyes and a miserly scowl. The doors close in my face, leaving me to stare at my outraged, warped reflection on the shiny metal surface. He had plenty of time to throw a hand between the closing gates.

Son of a bitch.

Two minutes later, the doors open again, and I step inside. Jamming the ‘L’ button roughly, I compose myself and straighten my dress. It’s the perfect dress for an occasion like this—proper, but with a twist, like me. The capped sleeves fall down to my outer shoulders, exposing my chest with a slightly retro V-cut. The hemline hits just above my knees, and the form-fitting, indigo material clings to my generous curves without revealing too much. It says, I am a woman, I am serious about this job, and I am not going to let anyone boss me around.

The door slides open to the lobby, and I make my way to the hotel bar, where Dr. Kennedy said he would be meeting us. I’m nervous about meeting the person I’d idolized growing up.

The brainy boy turned genius scientist. My confidant and pen pal turned stranger.

The bar is empty, save for a couple canoodling in the back. I decide to make myself useful and order a gin and tonic while I wait. The bartender smiles at me as he mixes my drink, and when I dig around in my clutch for my credit card, he waves it away.

“It’s on the house. A beautiful woman like you should never buy her own drink.”

“Thank you,” I reply, grinning. I sip my drink and glance around the bar. It’s eight on the dot, and I’m the first to arrive. That’s a good sign. Nothing like the rush of being early. The bartender hands me a bowl of bar snacks. I hesitate at first. I once read that bar snacks are one of the filthiest things you could touch and/or eat. Bacteria, everywhere. But I’m ravenous, so I squirt some Purell—one of my lifelines as a germophobe— into my hands to counteract the germs I’ll be ingesting. I let the sanitizer dry and pull the bowl of snacks next to me, eating the nuts voraciously. Why is it that these things taste the best when you’re hungry?

“My favorite kind of weakness,” a husky voice with an American accent says from over my shoulder.

I swing around to face the offender. It’s ‘Elevator Man’. I can tell it’s him because he has those same chartreuse eyes. And while he may be an imbecile, he’s certainly nice to look at now that I can see the full picture. He’s tall, lanky but muscled, with short, tousled brown hair and those penetrating cat eyes. He has a strong face and tan, sinewy arms. He’s wearing jeans, a tight gray t-shirt, and Converse. For some reason, the Converse intrigue me. He watches me with cold interest.

“Excuse me?” I cross my arms, not about to forget the offense against humanity that he committed five minutes ago. There’s no way in hell I’m letting him hit on me if he doesn’t hold the door open for people. It’s simply common courtesy.

“The nuts,” he answers, his face serious. His eyes hold mine as he reaches down and grabs a handful. His pupils darken as he chews, and I have to look away. “I can never resist.”

Something about his voice is so provocative. I cross my legs and look away. I discernibly look down at my watch and check the time. 8:04.

“Waiting for someone?” he asks, leaning casually against the bar and munching on the nuts. The way he’s throwing them back into his mouth—swiftly and confidently—does something to my body. My face flushes with heat. Damn him and his beguiling power.

“A couple of colleagues,” I say quickly, waving him off. Where are they? I’m supposed to be meeting Leonardo Kennedy and Gretchen Thompson, the second research assistant. I’ve corresponded with Gretchen before. She seems pleasant. However, the only communication I’ve received from Dr. Kennedy was instructional—what to pack, where to meet, etc. Impersonal and bland. So unlike the chummy letters we used to send each other as kids.

“Don’t worry, I’m not interested,” the man muses. The way his enrapturing eyes flick up and down my body say otherwise. For a second, I think I hear him incorrectly. It’s not that I’m conceited or that he has any reason to be attracted to a complete stranger, but the way he said it was so harsh. I instantly hate him for it. He looks away and I stare down into my lap in embarrassment. “I’m waiting for colleagues too,” he adds.

“Great. I’m glad we’re on the same page,” I respond with a bite. I take a large, gin-filled sip from my drink, trying to hide the grimace on my face.

“You seem disappointed,” he murmurs, taking a step closer to me, “that I’m not buying you a drink like your bartender friend over there.”

I turn to face him. “I’m not disappointed.” I sit up taller and uncross my legs. Perhaps I should leave, find another stool or a booth to wait for Gretchen and Dr. Kennedy. If first impressions are everything, I don’t want them to think I’ll seemingly flirt with any kind of riffraff that approaches me at a bar. So unprofessional. Not that I’m flirting—but to prying eyes, our body language speaks volumes.

“You’re quite overdressed,” he continues, swirling the straw in the drink I hadn’t seen him drinking until now. “Trying to impress someone?”

I glare at him and cross my arms, my hackles rising. “As a matter of fact, yes,” I huff, turning away from him. A low rumbling laugh reverberates across my skin. The feeling of his breath on my neck slinks from vertebrae to vertebrae. Damn him.

“These colleagues you speak of must be very important,” he teases, his face hard. You’d think he would crack a smile, but no. He remains passive and calculating. Maybe he’s incapable of being nice.

“First impressions are everything,” I say without thinking.

The man slides his narrowed eyes to mine. “Want to know my first impression of you?” he asks, sipping his drink coolly.

I press my lips together. “Not really.” I glance at my watch. 8:09.

“You’re meeting some important work people for the first time tonight. You decided to wear your favorite dress because it highlights your dark hair and it shows off just enough skin to make you seem both competent and alluring. You’re wearing lipstick but it’s not red or pink, which makes me believe you want to seem feminine but not high-maintenance. Your hair is styled casually so that they might think you slipped into your dress and heels after a day of walking around. Am I correct?”

I gawk at him. No one has ever sized me up like that, and certainly never so accurately. My stunned silence prompts him to continue.

“You do something that requires a professional demeanor, and since you’re an American in New Zealand, I’m guessing it’s something important—technology or science. My guess is the latter, since you’re well-spoken and you have a tan, leading me to believe you spend a fair amount of time outdoors.”

I scoff. I do like to sunbathe. With lots of sunscreen, of course. “You can’t possibly discern all of that from a dress.”

He smiles, the first of the night. “I’m very observant.” He glances at his watch. “And very late. If you’ll excuse me, I have some colleagues to meet.” He sets his empty drink down and turns to walk away.

Finally.

To my horror, he turns back around. “You must be Emilia Harper.” My mouth drops open. He holds his hand out. I give him a disbelieving look as he watches me with a cocky smirk.

You’re Leonardo Kennedy?”

His smile fades. “I’m not sure which look of yours I like the best. This or the headgear look from seventh grade.”

I want to scream. I hated that Christmas card. Of course he saw it. I’ve known about Leo Kennedy since I could walk and talk. Though I never did meet him or his mom—they lived in Chicago—he was a constant topic of discussion in our household. Taking a better look at the man in front of me, I should’ve recognized the dark hair and self-assured grin. I’d seen pictures of him growing up. Though, I hadn’t seen a recent one. It seemed the years had made him insufferably arrogant. Being touted as the world’s most important astronomer—the Yo-Yo Ma of astronomy—had gone to his head.

“Screw you,” I mutter. I throw down a five for the nice bartender and grab my clutch.

Just as I’m about to stand, Leo reaches out and places a hand over mine. “That kind of talk is a little inappropriate for your supervisor,” he murmurs, barely audible.

Goosebumps erupt on my skin where his hand holds mine firmly. I look at him with repugnance. His face is still cold, and I wonder for a second if he thinks he’s being funny. More like rude…

Still, it’s strange to be so close to someone that you’ve known your whole life. Or, known about. In a way, I’ve been competing with Leo since we were kids. First to enroll in science camp. First to graduate high-school with a 4.5. First to be published in an acclaimed scientific journal. First to make a life-changing discovery. Those accomplishments had all been Leo, and I’d been clawing my way to second place ever since. Though we never met face-to-face, we wrote angsty letters to each other in school. We talked on the phone a lot.

Until we didn’t, because I’d gotten sick of second place.

Because I wanted first place.

He’s familiar, and I know so much about him, yet this captivating stranger before me is not what I was expecting.

“Hi!” a chipper voice says from behind us. Leo’s hand flies off of mine, and we both turn to face a stunning blonde. She’s wearing a black blouse, grey slacks, and red stilettos. At least we both seemed dressed to impress. The same couldn’t be said for Leo and his dirty Converse. “I’m Gretchen Thompson. Sorry I’m late.” Her eyes flick between Leo and I. He’s the first to stand, offering a handshake.

“Nice to meet you, Gretchen,” he says smoothly. He gives her a wide, close-mouthed smile.

“Hi,” I say faintly, overcome with agitation from Leo’s earlier bodily contact. I can still feel his hand on mine. “I’m Emilia.”

“It’s great to finally meet you. What are you guys drinking?” She gives me a warm smile and takes a seat next to me.

“I’m just about to order another gin and tonic.” Or seven. I place my empty glass on the bar, and Leo sets his glass next to mine, taking a seat on the other side of Gretchen.

“Oooh, that sounds divine after the travel day I’ve had,” Gretchen squeals, taking my hand and squeezing it. I like her. She reminds me a bit of Anastasia—genuine and happy. Honest. Her teeth are straight and white, and she has shoulder-length silvery blonde hair. Her eyes are a pale blue, and her long face is beautiful and strong.

“We’ll have three gin and tonics, please,” Leo booms to the bartender, giving me a rousing wink before turning to Gretchen. “So, you’re from the University of Colorado in Boulder, right?” he asks her genuinely.

“Yes.” She smiles brightly and faces me. “You’re affiliated with UC Berkeley?”

I nod. “I am.”

“Lucky. I’m jealous of the sunshine.”

I laugh lightly. “Well, in the Bay Area, our summers are basically winter.”

Gretchen giggles. When I look over at Leo, he’s watching me with a mystified expression, as if he can’t quite seem to figure me out.

“Chicago and Antarctica are basically the same in winter,” Leo interjects, reaching for our poured drinks and handing them to us. “I win.”

Gretchen and I laugh. It suddenly feels easier with her there—the icebreaker we so desperately needed.

We all clink glasses. I gulp down about half of my drink. I should’ve eaten dinner. The gin is hitting me harder than I thought.

The three of us continue our small talk.

More drinks are ordered.

Somewhere along the way, we order French fries and migrate to the comfier booth in the back of the bar. In a way, I think we’re all digging our feet into the last night in civilization. I know for a fact that scientists work hard and play harder. I’m used to it.

At one point, a man approaches the table and sits next to me. He knows Leo—they’re good friends—and this makes the stranger all the more interesting to me after my fourth drink. I certainly don’t intend to go back to the stranger’s room with him, but when the bar closes, the four of us make our way upstairs to his loft-style hotel room. Talk of board games and more drinks get passed around, but by the time we enter, I see Gretchen fall into the plush arm chair, asleep within two seconds. Her red stilettos litter the floor in front of her. Leo passes out on the couch, one arm over his eyes. His shoes are still on. That’s all I can process. In my drunken state, I follow the man—Jake, I figure out later—up the stairs to the bedroom. He’s good-looking. A little stout and a little too beefy for me, but he’s certainly not bad to look at. His hair is short, and his smile is perfect. I know I probably shouldn’t be doing this. I’m smart enough to know that this is all because of what tomorrow holds. Jake and I shut the bedroom door behind us. He drags me to the king-sized bed. His hands are cool, and they feel so good against my fiery skin… we barely make it to the bed before our clothes are in a pile on the floor.

I suppose it would’ve been a shame to waste the dress.

Pre-order for 99c here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MAY2B5K/

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Dear Evi.

Dear Evi,

I’m sitting here with Franklin all wrapped up in his Ergo carrier. You’re in the bedroom taking a much-needed nap, and the ambrosial air wafting in through the open windows is unusually warm for February in Portland.

Life is good. Life is good with you. 

I know you’re a sucker for Jane Austen, but I’m not going to quote her today even though today would be a great day for it. Instead, I’m going to tell you how much I love you in my own words, as best as I can. So here it goes.

I wish I could say our love sprung deep from the instant we met, but I’d be lying if I said that. It happened slowly. Thank god it happened slowly. It allowed me to take every ounce of your soul in fully. It allowed me to get to know you truly. Our love began with a foundation. And the day I allowed my heart to thoroughly love you, to completely and utterly drop my defenses and concede to you, was the happiest day of my life.

The way you care for Bria, who is currently upstairs listening to Taylor Swift (something we disagree on, I know) astounds me. The way you accepted the two of us as immediate family is something I’ll forever be grateful for. You know as well as I do that loss of any kind can permanently scar your heart. But you healed me, Evi. You healed us.

Our family of four is not yet complete. This I know. The two pink lines you showed to me excitedly two days ago are proof of that. Our family. How on earth did I get so fucking lucky? You and I can conquer this world as long as we’re together–as long as you’re holding my hand. Even if we have twelve kids; even if we end up in the poor house; even if every other thing is taken away from us… as long as you’re by my side, I will be just fine. As long as we have the four (now five) of us together, our life will continue to be awe-inspiring.

I love you, Evianna Wilder.

Forever & Always,

Nick

The Realm of You: First Page Teaser!

TROYcover1

Chapter One

Drip, drip, drip.

The blobs of water hit the porcelain sink with such precision every time that it wakes me up. Even the most seamless dreams aren’t precise, so the repetitive, orchestrated noise always rouses me.

Drip, drip, drip.

I nudge the body next to me from where I lay—face down, legs spread, arms out—using the tip of my index finger. Our California King sized bed allows for the luxurious spreading of limbs at all times. I take advantage.

Drip, drip, drip.

I poke the flesh to my right, trying to wake Charlie. I notice a few things right off the bat: first, the skin I’m touching isn’t as warm as Charlie’s. His skin is always hot—always burning up. Second, the drip, drip, drip is not falling at the exact tempo I’ve come to memorize. It’s slightly slower. It wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone but me. I’ve listened to that damn leaky sink every single night for at least two years. Third, just as I pull my arms underneath me and into my chest, I realize I’m wearing a ribbed tank top.

I don’t own a ribbed tank top, and I most certainly never sleep with clothes on.

Drip, drip, drip.

I’m afraid to open my eyes, so instead I gently caress the sheets with my pinky finger. The motion makes my arm hair prickle—these aren’t my sheets. These are cheap, generic, polyester-blend sheets—worlds apart from the state-of-the-art linen sheets I’m accustomed to.

Drip, drip…

My body goes cold as I wait for that last, sequential drip, but it never comes. I must be dreaming. This whole thing—the stranger in bed next to me, the shirt, the sheets, the dripping… it’s a figment of my imagination.

Drip…

The leak has slowed now, something my sink never does on its own. I always poke Charlie and he dutifully climbs out of bed, grunting and stark naked, to fiddle with the handle until it stops. Two or three times a week this happens, and every time it does, Charlie climbs back into bed and mumbles, “We’ve got to fix that fucking sink.”

I always pretend I don’t hear him.

Drip…

The person next to me—not Charlie—stirs slightly, and lets out a long sigh. I squeeze my eyes shut as tight as they’ll go, trying to will myself to wake up. The muscles in my face bunch around my eyes, and then it starts to sting, so I stop. My heart is hammering in my chest, and I’m afraid the person next to me will hear it. I’m afraid they’ll feel my pulse—thumpthumpthumpthump—and I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me if they know I’m awake.

Will they kill me? Mutilate me? Torture me?

I take three, slow, silent breaths, and after the last one, I force my eyes open.

Drip…

The stranger next to me is sleeping on his side with his back to me. The blanket is tucked underneath his armpit. I can only see the small mole in the center of his upper back as my eyes adjust, and then slowly, the dark brown tufts of hair curling at his neck. My body goes stiff, and I try not to whimper out loud.

Charlie has blond hair. Unruly, thick, blonde hair.

The Publicity Stunt

Coming 2016!

Rule #1: No sex. Ever.
Rule #2: No public displays of affection unless there are cameras.
Rule #3: No dating other people.
Rule #4: No drinking or drugs.
Rule #5: No falling in love.

Willa Parker and Sawyer Black are not actually dating—not really. Willa’s new movie is rumored to win her an Oscar, and Sawyer’s new album is alleged to go platinum. Their PR person throws them together for a timely publicity stunt to garner attention.

It was never supposed to be real. The rules were established for a reason. But they broke them.

Every last one of them.

And Then You – First page teaser!

Prologue: Nick 

 – September 2013 –

I walk miserably to the grimy coffee station and refill my small paper cup for the fourth time. I don’t know why I’m drinking so much coffee. It’s not like I need to stay awake. I can guarantee that I won’t be sleeping anytime soon. No matter the outcome. As I sit down and sip the unpleasant liquid, Bria stirs next to me. I am an awful father for letting her sleep here, like this. But what other choice do I have?

I watch the family next to me interact – a mother, her two young sons, and the father. They look happy. How does anyone accomplish happiness in a hospital?

I can’t sit still. I’m too impatient – I can feel the uncomfortable gurgle of fear working its way up my esophagus, burning me. Immobilizing me. And yet, I can’t sit still. My body’s nervous system is being ravaged by caffeine, and my mind is numb with panic and dread. How do I reconcile the two? Is it even possible?

So I fidget, and I stand, and then I sit again, because there’s nothing else to do.

Where are Cecelia and Frank? They were supposed to be here thirty minutes ago. As if my mind somehow summoned them, I hear the sliding front door whirl open. In runs Cecelia with Frank slowly towing behind her. She looks alert and perky. He looks like shit.

“Oh my god, Nick, what happened?” Her panicked voice raises my blood pressure, and I can feel my throat constricting. I can’t even let myself think about the possibilities, so I’m sure as hell not going to talk to Cecelia about it.

“I don’t know,” I answer honestly. “I’m so sorry. I was driving, and…” I trail off. I hate how indifferent I sound. I know it’s the shock, working its way into my heartless vocal chords. That’s what the doctor told me. That I was in shock. That I might be in shock for days.

But I care. I feel. I feel it all, in every essence of my being. It might not be showing, but it’s there, just beneath the surface of shock.

“And Bria?”

I gesture to the small figure lying on the waiting room chair. Cecelia rushes over, and I’m left standing there with Frank. He just looks at me. Normally, when he gives me his steely stares, I want to cower and hide, anywhere but beneath his gaze. Not this time. Because this time, I’m numb. And I don’t care if he’s never liked me.

“Doctor’s been out?” he asks, his voice gruff.

“Not yet.” My eyes dart to the door instinctively.

I slam my hands into my jean pockets. I want out. I’m uncomfortable, and I want out. I want to wake up and have this all be some kind of sick nightmare.

Frank and I walk over to Cecelia, who is now cradling Bria in her arms, even though Bria is a toddler and much too big to be carried that way. I notice that Cecelia is crying. Frank sits down next to Cecelia and motions for me to sit next to him. So I sit. And we wait. None of us says anything.

I place my head in my hands. They still smell like soap from the restaurant. How can it be that the last time I washed my hands, my wife and son were alive and well? And now…

I Left My Heart in San Francisco… And London: Finding Home

Having lived in one place until I was an adult meant that, as a teenager, I had yet to experience home as an abstract term. It was a literal thing, nestled in the hills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Though I traveled quite a bit as a child, I never found that indescribable feeling I now know as harmony — that feeling of being connected to a city without knowing how or why. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco when I was eighteen that I experienced the sheer joy of falling in love with a place. Sometimes I tell myself that perhaps it was because I was on my own for the first time, or because I’d found the quintessential group of friends. But I know deep down that the “City by the Bay” captured my heart in more ways than just perfect timing and quality people — it was my home, and I still very much consider it that. But soon after moving to San Francisco, I inexplicably found myself at home again… in London.

Let me add that I’ve had the great fortune of traveling to a wide variety of cities: Lima, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Prague, Tel Aviv, Paris, Krakow, Copenhagen, and Venice, to name a few. All of these places were wonderful in their own way. However, upon arrival to each of these cities, I did not feel that same heart-stopping, adrenaline-inducing, starry-eyed wonder that I felt my first day in San Francisco or London. It was almost painful, this feeling of connectivity to a certain place, almost — dare I say — déjà vu (side note: I do believe in reincarnation, so I suppose it’s entirely possible that I have been to these places in a past life). When someone describes déjà vu to me, I immediately think of my first days in those two cities. Is it possible, then, to find home in a place you’ve never physically been before? The soul is capable of many things — reincarnation being one of them — so maybe that’s what this feeling, this kinship towards a geographical location, is. What is it about a place that envelops you so wholly — grounds you so completely — in its gritty, unfamiliar arms?

When I studied abroad, I’d chosen London as a destination without ever having traveled there. Whenever people asked why, I always replied that I’d been strangely drawn to London. It had been a sudden love affair. I wasn’t expecting to love everything about it, but I had. And not only that: I felt as though I was home. Which, having never been there before, was hard to explain to myself, let alone other people. London drew me in and never let go. Even now, thinking of the foggy parks, the cobblestoned streets, the smoke billowing from chimneys in the winter, the wild geese, the smell of diesel — it brings forth a very emotional nostalgia for a place that I called home for four months, a place I still consider one of my homes. I belonged, truly belonged, in London. I haven’t felt that same sense of belonging since I left.

Flying into London last summer after having been away for two years brought tears to my eyes. Joyful, exuberant tears. The man next to me on the plane noticed. He asked me if I was returning home. My answer? Something like that. London, a place I’ve been four whole times, was my city. Can you explain that? I can’t. Driving up the 101 Freeway into San Francisco, glimpsing the well-known cityscape, navigating the streets so familiar that I could drive them with my eyes closed: emotional, heart-warming, my home. I am home. That’s what I tell myself upon arrival to both of these cities. I am home, I am home, I am home.

Why doesn’t Los Angeles feel like home any more? It physically is; it’s where I grew up, where my parents still live in the house I grew up in. It’s important to note that I love it here. The Los Angeles I live in now is entirely different than the city I grew up in. Maybe it’s just that. I am evolved now, and I have given my heart to other cities, and there is no room left for my hometown. I have so much love for these other cities that there is nothing left to give Los Angeles other than the half-hearted nod that I give to everyone who asks if I like living here. Yes, I do like living here. Sometimes I think I might love it here. Los Angeles is like a familiar friend: comforting, routine, and complacent. Given my history, I should have room within me to accept it as my home, a label I’ve given to two other cities. And maybe one day I will think of it as such. But for now, I can keep dreaming of returning home — to my heart— in San Francisco and London. I left a piece of myself in each of those cities. I won’t feel whole until I go back.

*A blog post I wrote for La Guera Viajera

Charlotte Bloom is coming early 2015!

When I started NaNoWriMo on November 1st, I didn’t have an outline, but I knew the story I wanted to write. The first couple of days were easy, but then it suddenly took a strange twist. By day 10, I was pretty sure I was 22,000 words into my first romance novel. It goes without saying that if the characters are flushed out well, they have minds of their own, which is exactly how I can describe what happened here. I just went with it, eagerly awaiting what they would do or say, or where they would go. I wasn’t in control anymore. I realize that sounds like a crazy talk, but I swear, November was one giant, prolonged, out-of-body experience.

This character named Charlotte Bloom took over. I barely ate or slept until she was done. I found myself copiously typing detailed emails to myself midday at work on several occasions, turning down requests for drinks with friends to sit at home and write, and pretty much ignoring my fiancé for 30 days straight (sorry, Peter). This hugely contrasted my first book, which I wrote over a period of 2.5 years. This was an all-out obsession.

I decided on the last week of NaNoWriMo that I would turn this into three books instead of one. There was more to tell, and I wasn’t nearly finished with the characters. Or… the characters weren’t nearly finished with me. I haven’t decided yet which is more true. I’ve created detailed outlines for the each of the next two books. Though these books may not win me any Nobel Prizes (or even sell well… I have no expectations), there’s a story here that deserves to be told. Yes, it’s romance, and yes, it gets a bit smutty at times. If I’m being honest, those are the most entertaining scenes to write. 😉

I bought a few stock photos, did some cover design in Photoshop, and voila! The covers are done (for now). I’m not planning on publishing these traditionally, but rather via Amazon Kindle. If all goes well, I’ll have the first book in the series up in January. The other two, I hope to publish sometime in the Spring/Summer. That means… instead of being done with Nano, I am about to embark on two months (or more!) of solid writing. Wish me luck!