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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hiding the Moon

So, when Racing for the Sun came out, I always planned to do a sequel and/or a spin-off. The spin-off would include Lee Burton, Ace's friend, the special ops guy who helped Ace plan the rather, uh, grim ending that you can read about in Racing for the Sun. 

Lee's story might have stayed untold permanently, but Sonny and Ace figure big in the next Fish book, so I think that maybe, with a little diligence, I can give you the story behind Marine Officer Lee Burton, who now works black ops, and has just been given an assignment that might be more trouble than it's worth.

* * *

Burton didn't like the meet.

He didn't like the timing, he didn't like the place, and he didn't like the way Jason Constance, his handler, was fidgeting with the manilla envelope in his hands.

None of it spoke of good things to come.

"I hate fuckin' Denny's," Burton snapped, scowling. He had a degree in computer science and had graduated from Officer Candidate School fifth in a class of two-hundred. But the only person he talked to that he liked and knew as a friend had been fighting in alleyways when he should have been taking his SAT's, and Burton sounded more like Ace Atchison and his boyfriend, Sonny, every goddamned day.

"Well, they're disappearing for a reason," Constance muttered, toying with the envelope again. "Look--"

"What in the hell is wrong?"  Burton didn't believe in fiddlefucking around.

Constance sighed and ran his hand through tightly curled hair that pulled back from a widow's peak. "I don't like this," he muttered. "I don't like this assignment. I don't like that they specifically asked for you. I don't like the asshole this request came from. I'm putting it out there. I don't fucking like this. You have the right to say no here. And if you say yes, and this doesn't look kosher in any fucking way. You have the right to bug out and leave the target pristine, you understand?"

Burton blinked.

He was a military assassin. 

He worked primarily on American soil, although he'd been overseas enough to get pulled for some gigs in the middle east. Mostly, he took care of people who couldn't be legally identified as terrorists--but who had the stacks of guns and the agenda and the covert acts of violence that actually made them terrorists.

A surprising number of his targets had blond hair and blue eyes and had done some heinous fucking shit.

Burton didn't see innocent a lot. And he certainly hadn't seen a target that had tempted him to neglect his duty.

Burton palmed the back of his shaved head with a hand the color of burnished dark oak and reached out for the folder.

"At least let me see the op," he muttered.

Constance handed him the envelope and darted his eyes back and forth like a fucking spy, when the first thing you learned in black ops training was how not to act like a fucking spy. Burton's curiosity--a thing he thought had been yanked out of his chest along with his conscience--surfaced unexpectedly.

What had him spooked?

He opened the folder and blinked.

"This kid?" he asked, staring at the photos.

The kid had an unshorn abundance of curly black hair, for one. It hung around his ears, was being constantly pushed out of his eyes--a full three-quarters of the pictures showed the kid fucking with his hair. It didn't look like a fashion statement--it just looked like the kid forgot it was there.

The rest of his face was sort of pretty--narrow chin, narrow cheekbones, tiny blade of a nose. He had eyes a man could drown in.

Burton blinked and tried to slow-breathe that thought away. He hadn't had a feeling like that since he told his girlfriend back home he was breaking up with her.

The breakup had hurt--they'd been friends since grade school--but not as much as becoming the man he'd known he'd become while he was bedding his pretty high school sweetheart and lying his ass off.

But this kid's eyes--big, brown, luminous in a pale face--Burton had to swallow. He usually took care of those urges with a girl for a night, but he'd known they were in there for men as well.

He just kept those to himself.

"There is..." Constance made a frustrated sound and took a long swig of his dank coffee. "There is nothing in that kid's jacket that looks like he should be in that fucking jacket."

Burton scanned the details and had to agree.

He saw a lot of half-finished classes and trips to the dance floors. A lot of pretty bedmates, but no man in particular. And a lot of jobs he'd lost for being late or for forgetting something important or for general flakiness. He's a nice kid, one employer had stated, but he's as reliable as a rabbit. 

Criminals who ended up on the wrong end of Burton's scope were often very reliable. "Oh, he killed people on a regular basis? But he punched the clock every day and ate lunch with my wife!" That was who Burton was assigned to.

X-blowing disco bunnies?

Not so much.

"Hinky," Burton muttered, looking Constance in the eyes.

"I won't say this more than once," Jason Constance told him, the lines around his mouth seeming particularly deep and bitter today. "If this kid doesn't smell right, walk away."

"Who asked you to off this kid?" Burton asked.

"Some fucking commander from a naval base in Las Vegas--"

"Las Vegas?"

"Man, that place is so far off the grid it makes us look like a billboard in Burbank. I'm not sure which favor he pulled to get access to our division but--"

"This was the kid he pulled the favor for." Burton's chest turned icy.

"Yeah."

"I hate being used as a tool."

"So do I."

"I'll scope out the sitch. If this kid's bad--"

"Do what you have to."

"If not--"

"Walk away."

Burton studied the pictures again-- this one a long distance shot of the kid waking up in a pile of happy naked limbs, looking around him like he was surprised to be there.

"Ernie James Caulfield," Burton murmured, reading from the jacket. "Boy, who did you screw?"




Thursday, January 11, 2018

Dear Deceased Garage Cat--

Otherwise known as Shula-monster, the small brown shadow:

Bye sweetheart. You had a good long life out here.

I'm sorry that you had to live in the garage--it's what happens when cats can't use the cat box in the house though. You were really sweet, just not indoor cat material.

I hope that was okay with you.

I hope it was okay that you lived with us for seventeen years, mostly in the garage. I hope it was okay that you got to sleep on all the old blankets, and that we'd pet you on those rare occasions that we saw you and you didn't run.

I hope it was okay that the kids dragged you inside sometimes just to cuddle--I hope that wasn't cruel. You always waited an hour or two before asking to be let back into the garage.

I hope you forgive us for the dogs. They're assholes to all cats, not just you.

I hope you forgive ZoomBoy for that one time he tried to stick a dog diaper on you so you could come inside. He forgave you for the bite to his thumb.

I hope you knew that we loved you in a distant way--you were the Great Aunt of cats. You didn't visit often, but you were appreciated when you were here.

I hope it's okay that ZoomBoy forgot his right from his left and dug your little grave so close to the garage. On the one hand, you're probably comfy there. On the other hand, the other side was more often in sunlight, and you didn't get a lot of that.

I hope it's okay your graveyard is getting a little crowded. We put the Altoids box/fish sarcophagus back with you when we covered you up. At this point the more the merrier, right?

I hope you enjoy Halloween--it's going to be a riot there. Guard us well, protective spirit, okay? And don't worry, the dog's got the backyard. You've got the easy job.

I hope it's okay that I cried a little for you. You were such a delicate, quiet thing, but you did love the occasional show of affection. It's hard to fault a creature that poops outside and asks for little more than food, fresh water, and occasionally getting her whiskers smoothed back. In a house of fuzzy attention whores, your retiring nature was much appreciated.

I hope you know ZoomBoy and Squish and Chicken and Big T all miss you now. You were never as invisible as you tried to be.

And I really hope your spirit can give the useless furry meat sacks around here some anti-vermin lessons. I have the feeling you were carrying a whole lot of that burden on your own. These floofy assclowns just don't seem that bright, I swear to Goddess they don't.

Mostly I hope your life was content here. Not every cat is made to be box-trained, but I hope being queen of the garage made up for that. I know even though it's filled with teetering columns of crap, the garage us a lot emptier without your skittish little presence. Thanks for hanging with us. I hope you know you were loved.

Sincerely, Amy Lane and company--

Also known as the wonderful bringers of food and the terrible distributors of small-dog retribution.

May you get to sleep in all the sunspots now.

Amen


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Worm Gamucking

So, uh, took the dogs for a walk today.

Yes, it had rained a lot the day before, but still.

I mean, what on earth could go wrong?

I mean, I knew one part of the path would be flooded--but I've got that mastered, right? I walk on the side of the path for part of the flooding, and then I move into the residential area so I can swing around the second part of the path and then, Bob's-Your-Uncle, I can take one of the residential paths back to the loop. Yeah, sure, it's an extra quarter mile onto my walk--I can use the exercise, right?

Of course, when I get down the path and realize that it's twenty feet of standing water, my can-do attitude sort of dissolves.

And as much fun adding a quarter of a mile to my walk has been, in order to go back and avoid all puddles altogether, I'd be adding another mile to my walk, and, well, I've got things to do!

So I suck it up, roll my pants up to my knees, take my shoes off, and walk across the pond, ignoring the little air bubbles coming up from the seams in the concrete, stepping over the piles of oak leaves and God knows what's in them, and apologizing profusely to Geoffie who is actually swimming during the last bit because the water was that deep, and she is that short.

Oh--and trying not to completely bite it by slipping on the mud which is way slippery without the traction of my shoes.

I make it.

I walk to my car, let the dogs jump in and get on a towel, and then I sit in the heat until my feet dry and I can put my shoes back on.

And the whole time, I'm pretending that there wasn't a chance... not even a teeniest hint of a chance... that I stepped on any worm carcasses during the entire trip.

Don't tell me, folks.

I just don't want to know.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Kermit Flail--A Quiet but Hopeful January



Yayayayayayayayayay!!!

So, welcome to the first Kermit Flail of the year!

It's a little bit small, and that's my fault--I was thin on social media over the last few weeks for family reasons, but I'm SO pleased about the people who submitted!

Alix Bekins and Connie Bailey are some of my oldest and best friends in the writing business. They write because they love it, and they teamed up together because they're great friends and they wrote sci-fi because it's their passion and they're both funny, witty, awesome people and I'm so happy to see them writing for the helluva it again, and SO proud to have them on my blog!

And Mercy Celeste! Who hasn't heard of Mercy Celeste! She breaks your heart every time! This book looks like no exception and I'm proud to host it on my blog :-)

And as for me? I've got a book that folks have been waiting for--for a long time at that! Can you guess? I bet you can--and if you haven't read the rest of the series watch this space, and follow me on social media for some sales going on so you can read the whole whack of them without going broke!

So exciting stuff--and some much needed good news.

Let's have a better year, everyone!!!





Song and Key
by Alix Bekins and Connie Bailey


The Men from GLEN


Dreamspun Beyond | #11

So-called monsters won’t hold these spies back!

For two secret agents on a mission to a secluded Romanian village, the toughest fight they face may not be against the folktale monsters lurking in the foggy mountains and old ruins, but against their unlikely attraction to each other.

Keller Key is the top operative at the covert Global Law Enforcement Network—and boy, does he know it. Sexy half-Ukrainian, half-Korean Sevastyan Song is a close second. When the agents go undercover to investigate an old friend’s suspicious death, it soon becomes clear something sinister is afoot in the ancient forest and decrepit abbey. If an evil organization doesn’t spell the end of them, the angry locals might. But if they’re going to conquer their enemies, they need to keep their hands off each other and their minds on the case, in a rivals-to-lovers paranormal mash-up that gives new meaning to spy-on-spy action.

Buy at Dreamspinner

Buy at Amazon:



Long Way
by Mercy Celeste


Death Waits for No One

Former Marine Chad Mayes planned to honor his father’s last wishes and lay him to rest in California.

Estranged from his family for so long he wasn’t prepared to return to the life he left or the people he barely remembered. He planned to do his duty and drift away to figure out his place in life.

That was the plan, right up until he laid eyes on his first crush.
Skip Simpson didn’t have time to worry about his son’s life.

An emergency call from his best friend requesting a get together sent him packing north. He went, never expecting his world to be flipped upside down when the Marine, half his age, walked in the door.

The plan was to scatter his best friend’s ashes. Not end up on a trek through the woods, with his friend’s son.

But what exactly does a free spirit and a lost soul do in the woods? Alone. For days. In one tent… when one is one’s best friend’s son and should be off limits.

Chad and Skip are about to find out.

Book 2 in the Adventures INK series. Should be read in order.

Buy at Amazon



Bobby Green

by Amy Lane


Vern Roberts couldn’t wait to turn eighteen and get the hell out of Dogpatch, California. But city living is expensive, and he’s damned desperate when Dex from Johnnies spots him bussing tables.

As “Bobby,” he's a natural at gay porn. Soon he’s surrounded by hot guys and sex for the taking, but it’s not just his girlfriend back in Dogpatch—or her blackmailing brother—that keeps him from taking it. It's the sweet guy who held the lights for his first solo scene, who showed him decency, kindness, and a smile.

Reg Williams likes to think he's too stupid to realize what a shitty hand life dealt him, but Bobby knows better. What Reg lacks in family, opportunity, education, and money, he makes up for in heart. One fumbling step at a time, they connect, not just in their hearts but in their bodies, where sex that’s not on camera, casual, or meaningless, becomes the most important thing in the world.

But Reg is hampered by an inescapable family burden, and he and Bobby will never fly unless he can find a way to manage it. Can he break the painful link to his unrealized childhood and grow into the love Bobby wants to give?


PRESALE ON DREAMSPINNER







Sunday, January 7, 2018

Zombies from Timothy

So, I've been going back and forth about how much to share.

On the one hand, this blog started out as a document of my kids and life in general and all of those pithy, amused observations that I was frequently making for the people around me that weren't getting a whole lot of response. I figured if I could make them here, at least they'd be out of my system and I could stop boring people with them.

But it grew, and I get a few hundred hits an entry, and then there was that whole "You can't talk about your old job" thing that happened when I was let go from Natomas, and I got good with compartmentalizing, and eventually I learned a thing that my nearest and dearest could never seem to teach me: Some things were not meant to be shared publicly.

So my family has been grieving and my husband has been grieving, and I'm not sure about how much of that I want to broadcast on the internet as it happens--but this thing, I think it's okay to share.

So one of my biggest complaints about services is when the pastor or reverend or whoever speaks, because so often, this person seemed to know the absolute least about the deceased, but suddenly he gets to dominate the floor and talk about how much luckier that person is to be away from all THESE tacky people and up in their heavenly home.

I haven't been to a single funeral when the pastor had anything to say that sounded like the person I once knew.

But my MIL had recently found a church she really loved--one where she could be quietly of service, and much beloved. I was hoping this time, we'd have a winner.

Mmm...

See, the poor man--he was very young--was feeling super super bad about not getting to see Dee the day she passed. He'd gone two days before and she'd just moved so he'd missed her, and had made time on Wednesday, but he called her and she told him she was enroute to the hospital, and of course she passed Thursday morning.

So, his first words were about how bad he felt that he'd missed the chance to visit her, and for a moment I felt hope. Hey--this guy at least knew her, knew her personally, had been to her home.

And then he seemed to notice Dee's grandchildren--who had been featured a few times in Mate's lovely and touching photo montage.  (He'd set it to Simple Things, because, like me, he'd found the song lovely, and thought it represented her life in a touching way.) But suddenly he saw the four people under thirty in the room, and he knew they were special to her...

And he pulled out his YA Bible Study skills and oh my God, we were in the book of Timothy and Revelations...

And a rather lurid retelling of the story of Lazarus.

Mate and I stared in horror as he started leg two of the sermon, and I had a sudden thought. Our kids were sitting in the row next to us, one row back. They were not church kids. Big T was filming the service, so he was mostly out of trouble, but... but the younger kids.

Quietly, I craned my neck to see what they were doing.

Squish was wiping a spot from her pristine pink boot. ZoomBoy was in full sprawl.

Big T and Chicken were staring at the poor pastor with ginormous eyes, and Chicken did a slow pan toward me and mouthed, "Zombies?"

I tried not to respond, because church! Respect! A service! But my eyes got big, and she later said, "You pursed your mouth like you were trying not to laugh."

The rather odd eulogy finally ended, and I stood up to thank the congregation. I noted that there were people from all moments of Dee's life there--the people who knew her when she'd been the smiling little tot in the video montage, her family who knew her best, and Mate and I and her grandchildren and nieces and nephews, who knew her as a full and productive adult, and her spiritual family who gave her such comfort in her last years before she passed. I told everybody how grateful we were that so many people had appreciated the woman with the quirky smile and the sly sense of humor and the hidden determination that we had loved, and how her grandchildren got to see a little bit of her, from child to grandmother, in their stories of her during the service.

As I was finishing the final thank you, I was surprised by a sound from my peanut gallery.

Squish had broken as I was speaking, and Chicken and ZoomBoy joined her, and as everybody left the room to have snacks in the foyer, Big T draped himself over them and we had a big group hug of devastation.

I was reassured.

For a moment as the pastor had been speaking, they'd lost sight of why we were there--but once they connected with the woman they will miss so much, they were able to grieve.

I managed a moment to console the kids--and then poor pastor. Like I said, he was young, and I told him to please forgive himself for not being there on her last day. Like I've said, she hadn't demanded care or attention, and if her sister and the hospital hadn't called us, we wouldn't have known. He'd done his best to take care of his parishioner, to give her solace and kindness, and I fully believe that counts.

But in the minivan afterwards, after we'd taken the flowers to the family plot in Auburn and then joined the caravan from my parents' house to Wong's (where many of our family moments are celebrated, from birthdays to graduations) Chicken and Big T were in our car, while Squish and ZoomBoy rode with my parents.

"So," Chicken said after we'd started. "Was it my imagination, or was he really talking about zombies?"

"Oh my God!" Big T said, "I mean he brought up Narnia, but I was wondering when the Walking Dead started to figure in!"

I swallowed and looked at Mate, to see if he wanted to reprimand the children or adult or anything of the sort and he let a bewildered smile break. "Seriously, all I could think about was Batman and the Lazarus pit of Ra'sh alGhul (sic)."

I burst into laughter, because now I could say it. "The X-Files," I said promptly. "They had that episode..." and by now, we were all laughing too hard to breathe. "The one with the bowl?" I howled. "Remember?"

"Oh my God! Yeah! I remember that one!" the kids said.

And together we got it all out of our systems--mostly--before we got to Wong's.

My parents paid for Wong's--Mate offered, and he said, "Uh, I was going to let my mom take care of it," because that's what funeral expenses were for.

My mom said, "Yeah, my mom took care of our dinner after her funeral. But we want to do this for you."

And for a moment, I almost lost it, when we'd all managed to keep our shit together, because if it's ever my turn to take everybody out to dinner on my parents' dime, I'm going to be in bad shape too.

Today, Chicken came by to do her laundry, and I gave her the now-common warning: "You know, if I have to look down from the Goddess's meadow to hear some asshole talk about zombies at my funeral--"

"Yeah, I know. You'll haunt me and I'll deserve it."

"Damned straight. Your father knows it too."

"Anything else?"

"Dad wants to be cremated--"

"And spread over the ocean. I know."

"Yeah, but we were both thinking we might want some of our ashes put in a rock, you know, like Chiquita? So you can set us outside and sometimes come out and say hi."

Her lower lip quivered. "That's sweet."

"It seemed to give ZoomBoy comfort after the dog died."

"I like that. I'll make it so."

Just no zombies. I think as a family, that's all we ask.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Two Things

* In Regret Me Not there's a part where Hal's condo had the power turned off and he went in to clean the place up. He comes back a few hours later and Pierce is concerned that his hands feel like ice. An early reader suggested that this was hyperbole because, after all, how cold would it be inside that house? Fifty, maybe sixty degrees?

I stetted. I wouldn't want to work in an apartment that was less than sixty degrees, so the part stayed in.

After a couple of days of trying to get something accomplished in a house that's fifty degrees--maybe fifty-five at the most, I would like to gently inform that reader that I win, Hal's hands would be like ice, and I'm right and they're wrong and full-on gloating WILL commence, as soon as my core temperature returns to normal.

Two days at the most.

* Mate's Aunt Sis asked me if I wanted to keep the pictures of "the dead relatives".

I responded, "No, because when I was alone in that damned house and everything creaked and it was all haunted and it was freezing and Mate was gone six nights a week and I was stuck with two babies and no car and Big T couldn't talk and Chicken had a heart murmur and the house was never clean enough, those assholes were JUDGING ME for being a failure as a mother and I HATE THEM."


I finished, breathing a little hard because my blood was up, which was great because I was freezing and it helped, and she looked a little taken aback.

"Well, okay then. Carl and I will take them if you don't want them."

"That would be fine," I said meekly.

Some wounds don't heal. Now I know.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Past and Pending

 I'm tired and it's late, but I'm going to leave you with this.

Once, a very long time ago, I took a picture of Mate with his two children.

He has four now, and everybody is very old and sophisticated, but still...

Long ago it was Mate and two babies.

And he's still pretty amazing, even when they're as old now as we were then.











Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Day

First of all, thank you all so very much--Mate was so very moved by your condolences, and so was I. Even though life can really suck sometimes, sometimes people can surprise you in the best ways. I've always believed that--thank everybody with their best wishes for making it so.

We spent last night at my parents, playing games at first, and then, entertaining Mate's visiting family, which brings me to my blog!

One of the irritating ironies about the death of a loved one is that suddenly you have an excuse to visit with all of the people you wish you'd gotten to talk to when they were alive.

Thus is the case with Mate's Aunt Sis and Uncle Carl--two of the world's most decent, hardworking people of faith you could ever hope to meet.

I know in the liberal community when I say "people of faith" that's usually a big red flag.  But real people of faith--people who give their lives to serving their communities and raising children who do the same and who do it with a deeply held spiritual belief that people can be their better selves because of a just and kind god or goddess--those people of faith are often surprisingly, compassionately liberal.

Thus it is with Mate's mother's family. They don't do social media or Twitter or Facebook. They are, in fact, too darned busy. They read print news, and spend critical thinking skills dissecting the bias and deciding if it's their bias or if their bias should change.

Smart, good people.

They get all of their stories by knowing their neighbors. ALL of their neighbors.

They live in Arizona now  but driving with them through their old stomping grounds--the 49er fruit trail, where they used to have a small community church--was an education.

They knew every parcel of property, and the genealogy of every resident, and how the property was passed down and under what contingency it could be developed. It was like having an encyclopedia at your fingertips, one who knew whose grandparents had gone to school with their parents and which route the school bus took in the 1920's.

Their knowledge and understanding of land rights and understanding of who was feuding with whom and how this parcel of land came to be owned and developed in which way was STUNNING. (Not only that, but they had an incredible list of names I've never thought of. I just want to download their cortices so I can tap that!)

Now Auburn--which is adjacent to Ophir, where all of this deep community knowledge is based-- was the site of one of America's greatest shames: a Japanese interment camp.

They knew the property that had been left vacant when citizens had been rounded up and unjustly imprisoned for four years.

And they knew--in detail--which citizens had stepped up, taken care of the property, and returned it, plus revenues, when the madness ended.

That last thing is important.

This wasn't the violent gesture. This wasn't the 300K Twitter likes rallying cry.

This was the, "You are my neighbor and my friend and I can't stand up to the armed people and risk my children but I can take care of you to the best of my ability."  For people who think this was a weak shit gesture--taking care of an extra 40 acres, keeping it profitable, paying taxes on it and then NOT KEEPING THE EXTRA PROFITS  is not an easy task. Making sure people had a home to return to was an act of love.

Doing the right thing doesn't always make headlines. Doesn't always garner attention. There's not a public list of the people who did this--I doubt that without the social skills of these two kind, decent people, these acts would be remembered, or grouped together to realize that there was a small rebellion in the foothills that said imprisoning innocent citizens wasn't right.

But it was done. And to the families who had a home to return to after the madness was over, it was everything.

I'm going to remember this when I feel helpless. I'm going to remember this when I grieve.  I"m going to remember this going into the new year.

So much of our time in 2017 was focused on the terrible damage inflicted by a few truly vile humanoid crapbags. I think it's time to focus on the wonderful healing that can be spread by a vast number of truly decent people.

I know more good people in my life than bad--and even if I disagree with some of them, I know that in the breakdown of who would go to the wall for a friend unjustly treated, they would be on the good side.

Let's make 2018 the time to make that a bigger deal.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cold, cold hands

So, last night my older children were going to come get me and take me to the movies--we all wanted to see The Shape of Water, and for some reason the grown kids thought Mom would be the best grownup to see it with.

Right when we were gathering things to leave, Mate got a phone call. His mother had called an ambulance that morning and asked to be brought to the hospital. Mate was a little hurt--he'd just gone to visit her on Sunday, and she'd looked very frail, her health not great. He'd taken the kids to wish her a happy holiday, and some baby food and plain bread, because her stomach had been a little tetchy. He wanted to help. Why hadn't she called him?

Well, we asked her--she said she'd felt too horrible to actually walk through the ER. She knew the ambulance would bypass that, and then she'd asked her sister to not call Mate until she thought he got off work.

Oh.

Such a humble, sane line of reasoning.

We made sure she was okay--secure for the night, as it were. She was going in for a CT Scan on a mass in her abdomen, and trying to loosen it so it would pass. We would see her in the morning.

Before we left I went to kiss her cheek.

She'd never been a big woman--5'2", small boned, enormous hazel eyes--she'd always been so simple. So unassuming. She'd spent the last three years since her mother's death making her life as spare as possible--she wasn't going to get much on social security, right?

But as I kissed her cheek I smushed her a little (God, I'm clumsy) and I pulled back and apologized, horrified.

"No, that's okay." She grimaced and adjusted herself more comfortably. "Your hands are so warm."

I was wearing my mitts--like always.

I took them off my giant ham-fists and put them on her hands--her tiny, tiny hands.

We got home around nine and told the kids that she seemed to be holding stable. I started a pair of mitts for an absurdly small pair of hands while we watched Troll Hunters until 11:30 at night.

We got a call at 12:10--she was doing much worse, and she was asking for Mate.

We called Chicken to come watch the children. They were upset--and I told them what I tell anybody who worries about these things: Did you tell Grandma you loved her before you left?

"Yeah."

"That's all you can do, every day, with anybody you love. Tell them you love them. Hug them. Know that they knew when you parted."

They'll never know it's how I'm not rendered completely dysfunctional whenever there's a public act of violence, and I have to drop them off at school.

When we got back to the floor, we had a choice to make--balls-out surgery, full stop invasive procedures, intubation, crash cart, bells and whistles, EXTREME MEASURES RESUSCITATION, or...

Or keep her comfortable.

She had an ischemic bowel blockage--and had been suffering with it for days. She was going into sepsis, and even if they could remove it, her organs were initiating shutdown.

Her vessel--her teeny, tiny, delicate vessel was done.

That was a bad moment.

But after the decision was made, we sat in the quiet of the room while the ICU nurse monitored her vitals, and watched her slip away.

I worked on the mitts for part of it.

Mostly, I just held Mate's hand.

This morning we went up to the newly refurbished house she'd just moved into. It was once the bear trap I couldn't gnaw my way free of--but now it was lovely (if nut-shriveling cold.)  Clean, bare, neat as a pin, The new flooring couldn't hide the fact that no, they still hadn't put a foundation under it, but other than that, it was a lovely space.

She'd been there about ten days.

We looked and looked--all of her paperwork was nicely ordered, in boxes. We saw paperwork for the work done on the house, paperwork for the service work she did with the church, paperwork for the rescue cats, her medical problems, her work with genealogy and calligraphy--all in order. But we couldn't find a single slip of paper indicating where she wanted her tiny body to go.

I called my stepmom, and she gave me ideas for where to look--she's done this before. We were exhausted--we'd slept maybe three hours of shitty, shitty sleep, our grown daughter between us needing solace.  But still, I was grateful.

My stepmom, the one who'd given me common sense and practicality, who had raised me to believe in the sacred power of the DNR, who had taught me how to give the elderly and the dying respect and dignity, and to be kind to their fragile bodies while their sturdy souls ventured on, was still here to guide me.

I'm so very, very grateful.

We even searched her computer, but in the end, all we found was a surrender request for the two rescue cats hiding behind the washing machine.

"They were supposed to be barn cats," it read. "But they were wounded and now live in the washroom. I am the only one they will let touch them. They are invisible cats."

It was so very, very much my mother in law.

Practical. Kind. A touch of sarcastic humor.

We made sure the cats were secure and came home, stopping for takeout for all our kids on the way.

As we were getting out of the car, Mate suddenly laughed. (This is not as odd as it sounds--it's how we cope.)

"What?"

"Heh. Invisible cats."

We laughed softly again.

When I got home, before we both crashed to start our investigations again tomorrow, Chicken showed me the envelope she'd addressed for the mitts I'd finished. A friend of mine has a tiny teenaged daughter.

With delicate, birdlike hands.

Hug all your people tonight. Be grateful for every one of them. Be sure to tell them you love them as they venture out the door. Our bodies are fragile, even if our souls are strong. Be good to your bodies, take care of your souls, nurture all the love in your life.

When I die, I want to be cremated. I only want extreme measures if my body is healthy and ready for the fight. And I want music playing--my family knows my favorites. At the end there, last night, as my husband's mother was breathing her last, I got tired of the incessant beeping, and Mate and I had already said all the things we could think to say. I sang at first--hymns, although my pagan self couldn't remember many. Finally I pulled up Simple Gifts on my phone--because the melody is beautiful, and with the faith that sustained her in her last years, I thought she might enjoy it.

I hope so.

I know she will be missed.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

An Amy Lane Christmas Anthology


by Amy Lane

So, a few thousand years ago (eight!) DSP published their first Amy Lane story-- it featured an adorable kitten on the cover and it was called If I Must. And after that? Christmas stories just seemed to be my thing.

Now some of the stories-- Candy Man, Winter Courtship Rituals of Fur-Bearing Critters, Winter Ball--went on to have more stories attached to them, and all of them ended up in print in one way or another. (With Candy Man, you can find the print version in the same volume as Bitter Taffy.)  But some of the stories just sort of floated around a little-- they were completely stand alone, very adorable, and totally holiday, even if the holiday wasn't the focus. 
Those are the stories gathered in this anthology. 

I've loved writing each story--they've been proof, in a way, that I can do adorable and light (and so have the Dreamspun Desires, for that matter) and still have moments of poignance. I've got the synopsis of each of the stories here, and if you haven't read them--or even read just one--the bundle price is a really good deal.

And some folks have told me that the shorts totally made their keeper shelf, and that's why the print story.

So, thank you all so much for reading my Christmas stories, for making a big deal out of them, for loving the adorable and fluffy as well as the angsty--and I hope your Christmas was as awesome as mine.  (I have some pictures at the end of the post--crappy, as is my signature photo style, but these are some very happy kids here.)

Anyway-- here are the story blurbs, and I hope your holiday was as adorable and fluffy as possible! And I'm leaving the DSP link because the store is on sale, but also available at Amazon!

Amy

If I Must
Joel Martinez, a practical and organized computer programmer, is roommates with Ian Cooper, a certified IQ-in-the- stratosphere mathematical genius who literally can't find his own underwear in the mess of his day-to-day life. When Joel uneasily leaves Ian for the holidays, he ends up telling stories to his sister and discovers he feels much more for Ian than he thought. So when Ian calls, distraught because the only other thing in his life that loves him (a half-feral cat named Manky Bastard) is going to have to be put down, Joel hurries back home hoping that opposites really do attract.

Christmas with Danny Fit
In a perfect moment of cold November sunshine, pudgy accountant Kit Allen realizes Jesse, his new office assistant, is everything he's ever dreamed about in a man. Feeling supremely unworthy and desperate to get a life—even an imaginary one—Kit embarks on a self-improvement campaign featuring DVD fitness guru, Danny Fit.  
In the meantime, Jesse has begun a subtle campaign of his own, one designed to bring Kit out of his DVD dream world and into Jesse's arms. Jesse isn't perfect—he's no Danny Fit—but he hopes that the kind, funny man who has been looking at him so soulfully since his first day at work has what it takes to be everything Jesse has always wanted.

Puppy, Car, and Snow
Ryan’s entire life changed the night Scott surprised him in a bathroom at a party.  Now Ryan’s soulless climb up the corporate ladder has stalled—but his quality life has become a whirlwind of laughter, joy and surprises, thanks to Scotty’s playful, gentle heart.  
After three years together, they’re going to Ryan’s parents’ cabin to spend Christmas.  Snowed in by the weather and locked under the icy glare of his mother’s disapproval, can Ryan show he has found the most profound happiness in the simplest of things?

Turkey in the Snow
Since Hank Calder’s four-year-old niece, Josie, came to live with him, his life has been plenty dramatic, thank you, and the last thing he needs is a swishy, flaming twinkie to complicate things. But when Justin, the daycare worker at his gym, offers to do something incredibly nice for Hank—and for Josie—Hank is forced to reconsider. Justin may be flamboyant in his speech and gestures, but his heart and kindness are as rock steady and dependable as anyone, even Hank, could ask for. Can Hank trust in his dramatic “turkey in the snow” to offer his heart the joy he and Josie have never known?

Going Up!
Every dreary day, Zach Driscoll takes the elevator from the penthouse apartment of his father's building to his coldly charmed life where being a union lawyer instead of a corporate lawyer is an act of rebellion. Every day, that is, until the day the elevator breaks and Sean Mallory practically runs into his arms.
Substitute teacher Sean Mallory is everything Zach is not—poor, happy, and goofily charming. With a disarming smile and a penchant for drama, Sean laughs his way into Zach's heart one elevator ride at a time. Zach would love to get to know Sean better, but first he needs the courage to leave his ivory tower and face a relationship that doesn't end at the "Ding!"






ZoomBoy got three or four different models, including this one of BB-8 built of Legos. It took him Christmas Day--and no, we weren't home all day. Let's hear it for ZoomBoy!

Yes, the dogs got walked on Christmas Eve, and yes, Mate came with me. Because. 

ZoomBoy, spending his Christmas Eve the way God intended--wearing fluffy Jedi pajamas and his Jedi robe, to celebrate the birth of the New Hope and the existence of the Force. Don't tell him that's not what Christmas is all about--we've got him convinced!

The beginning of the great BB-8 assemble, while his sister looks on in amusement.

Squish asked for very little-- a phone, because most of her friends go to different schools, a long-sleeved shirt, and those pink boots. The hat was mom's idea, and the fuzzy kitten mitts were her brother's. In all, she's a vision of savoir faire. 

And everybody got fuzzy pajamas for Christmas. Because.