The River City Chronicles by J. Scott Coatsworth - Part Seven

Sacramento author J. Scott Coatsworth has written and published a number of short stories, novellas and full-length novels, but “The River City Chronicles” holds a special place in his little writer heart.

In many ways, it is a love letter to Sacramento, one that we wanted to share with Outword’s readers. To do that we have uploaded the next installment of chapters of the book here, for you to read online.

Previously in the River City: Carmelina suffered through an exorcism, and laughed about it with the ghost of her husband Arthur. He told her to ask about September 23rd. She went out with Daniele, and when she asked him, he told her how he'd killed someone by accident many years before. Then she found out she had a granddaughter, born before her daughter was killed.

The class continued to get bigger, and made Chicken Cacciatore together.

Ella told Ben that she had Fahr's Disease, and that she is dying. Ben told her he still wanted to be with her.

Marissa got her court summons, and talked with Marcos about her relationship with her mother. And then she met Tristan.

Matteo and Diego met with an immigration attorney, and were told Diego would need to go back to Italy to get a divorce from Luna, his ex wife.

Will Marissa and Tristan make it past their first week together? Who killed Carmelina’s daughter? And what will Diego learn in Italy?

Find out next.

Major Characters:

•   Ben Hammond: 35 – Trans author and barista working on his first novel

•   Brad Weston: 30 – Runs the LGBT Center, former chief of staff for GOP senator, partner to Sam

•   Carmelina di Rosa: 55 – Semi-retired, redhead, lost her husband Arthur three months ago

•   Dave Ramos: 47 – Human resources consultant and Carmelina di Rosa’s tenant

•   Diego Bellei: 47 – The chef at Ragazzi restaurant, married to Matteo Bianco.

•   Marcos Ramirez: 39 – Web designer and gay playboy who works with the LGBT center

•   Marissa Sutton: 17 – Bisexual homeless teenager who turns up at Ragazzi for the cooking class

•   Matteo Bianco: 47 – Co-owner and host at Ragazzi restaurant, married to Diego Bellei.

•   Sam Fuller: 23 – Suspense novel writer, working on second novel, partner to Brad Weston

Minor Repeating Characters:

•   Andrea Smith: deceased - Carmelina’s daughter

•   Arthur di Rosa: deceased – Carmelina’s husband

•   Dana Pearce: Matteo and Diego’s immigration lawyer

•   Daniele Amoroso: 40 – Italian suitor interested in Carmelina

•   Darryl Smith: Andrea’s adoptive father

•   Ella Jackson-Cucinelli: 32 – Caucasian woman recently transferred to Sacramento from Chicago

•   Emily Stamp: P.I. hired by Carmelina

•   Giovanni "Gio" Mazzocco: Diego’s son

•   Jason Clark: One of Marissa’s friends at McClatchy High

•   Jessica Sutton: Marissa’s adoptive mother

•   Loylene Davies: friend of Carmelina’s

•   Luna Mazzocco: Diego’s Ex and Gio’s mother

•   Max Cucinelli: Matteo and Diego’s immigration lawyer

•   “Moms” Cucinelli: Mother to Max and Ella, trans woman

•   Rex Ward: Owner of the Twink tattoo shop

•   Ricky Martinez: One of the homeless kids from the LGBT center

•   Tristan Dayton: Marissa’s boyfriend

•   Valentina Bellei: Diego’s sister who lives in Italy

55 - Empty

Carmelina entered the central branch of the Sacramento Public Library System—a beautiful structure inspired by the Italian Renaissance style—through its gorgeous, light-filled gallery. The morning sunlight streamed through the tall arched window at the street side to lend the long hall a warm amber glow.

She had tried to get online to look for articles about her daughter’s death, hoping to find a clue to her grandchild’s identity, but the newspaper archives had been glitchy, and she hadn’t been able to access the articles for the year 2000. She’d turned to the library website, but they wanted her to have a library card first before she could access the information. So she decided it was just easier to go down there directly.

She waited in line at the reference desk, looking around the brightly lit space while she waited. Sunlight shone through windows above rows and rows of wooden bookshelves, and the smell of paper and ink took her back to when she used to go there often for her studies in college. Libraries seemed so quaint in the age of Amazon and the internet and e-book readers. Yet here this one was, still standing, still full of books, knowledge, and the aroma of literature.

“May I help you?” The librarian was not at all what she’d expected: a young woman of maybe twenty, with one side of her head shaved and the other in a short bob cut. She had a tattoo of red roses streaming down her left arm.

“Yes, Brianna,” Carmelina said, reading the woman’s name tag and putting on her friendliest voice. “I’m trying to find some articles from the Sacramento Bee from 2000.”

“Of course. I can help you with that.” She flashed Carmelina a warm smile that went a long way to resolve any misgivings Carmelina might have had about her looks. “Follow me.”

She led Carmelina to a long bank of computers and sat her down in front of one of them. “Just click here to access the Bee archives,” she said, pointing over Carmelina’s shoulder. “You can put in a search term and choose a year.”

Brianna’s body was warm next to hers. Carmelina wondered if her grandchild was anything like this woman. Strong, independent, with her own stubborn sense of style. She nodded. “Got it. Can I print out anything?”

“Of course. There’s a printer down there.” She gestured to the end of the table. “Just try to keep it short. You can choose which pages to print in the pop-up window. We’re a little short on paper this month.”

“Got it. Thanks so much!” She waved Brianna off and dove in, Typing “Andrea Smith” and “obituary.”

She found it almost immediately.

Andrea Smith, Kindergarten Teacher

August 15th, 1975–September 23rd, 2000


Andrea Smith passed away at Mercy Hospital after being struck by a drunk driver in the early hours of the morning outside a Midtown Sacramento nightclub. Ms. Smith was a beloved teacher at the Caleb Greenwood Elementary School in River Park.

Carmelina gasped as she read the obituary. Her daughter had been a teacher, and Caleb Greenwood was just down the street from her house. How many times had she passed by that school? Had she seen her daughter outside once, twice, maybe a hundred times, and never known it?

She read on.

She is survived by her two-year-old daughter, Mary Smith.

So Andrea had a daughter! And Carmelina had her name: Mary.

Carmelina closed her eyes for a moment, trying to imagine her granddaughter. Would she have red hair like her grandmother?

She stared at the black-and-white photo of her daughter. Would she have Andrea’s turned-up nose?

She wished she could reach into the photograph and pull her daughter back through it into her embrace. To never let her go again.

With a heavy sigh, she printed the article. Sister Clara had said that the county had handled the adoption. Now that she had the name, she could contact Loylene and see if her friend still knew anyone from their time at the County Welfare offices who could help.

Then she searched the archive for “Andrea Smith” and “drunk driver .” Several articles came up, but one in particular caught her eye.

Local Woman Killed by Drunk Driver


Andrea Smith was killed by a drunk driver as she came out of Harlow’s Restaurant and Nightclub at 2:15 a.m. A car traveling eastbound on J Street jumped the curb and struck Ms. Smith, injuring her. She was taken to Mercy Hospital, where she passed away from blunt-force trauma.

The driver’s name has been withheld pending identification. He was taken into custody on suspicion of driving over the legal limit.…

Carmelina’s hands started to shake.

Daniele had told her about an accident just like this, an accident he had been responsible for. She had felt sad for the woman at the time, but… it couldn’t be. Oh Lord in heaven, it couldn’t be. Not Daniele. Not her baby girl.

She scrolled up to check the date at the top of the page. September 23rd.

Arthur had tried to tell her.

She pushed away from the desk, nearly toppling the monitor, and ran toward the bathroom, her stomach cramping as a wave of nausea rolled through her.

Carmelina made it to the stall just before the contents of her stomach came spewing out.

She retched until her stomach felt as empty as her heart and mind.

Then she sat there on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, miserable and alone, one thought running through her head over and over again.

He killed my baby girl.



56 - The Adolescent Army

“We’re out of lunches,” Diego said.

Matteo looked up from the Square app on his iPad. “Dici sul serio?”

Diego grinned. “English, please.”

Matteo laughed. “Are you serious?” Now Diego was calling him on his language skills.

Diego nodded. “No more lunches.” He gestured to the new cooler case they’d installed, borrowed from one of Diego’s chef friends while they gauged if the new idea was going to work. “Le piadine… the piadines is the best popular.”

“Fantastic.” Students from Sac State had made up most of the lunch rush, but a few of the neighbors had popped in to say hello too. “We made…” he checked his app. “…four hundred dollars after expenses today. Almost enough to pay for your ticket.”

Diego put his hands down flat on the counter and sighed. “Ho paura.

“I know. Me too.” It was natural for Diego to be afraid. He was going to confront his ex. What if she said no? Even if she said yes, how long would the divorce take?

What if Diego couldn’t get back into the US?

They’d found a temporary chef, but would he work out in the kitchen?

All this to deal with, just as things were finally starting to work themselves out at the restaurant.

He said none of those things. Instead, he reached forward to rub Diego’s strong arm and say “Tutto sarà buono.Everything will work out all right.

Diego started to say something, but the door chime rang out.

“Hey, did you guys save anything for me?” Marcos asked, looking around the restaurant. “Today’s the big day, right?”

“Nothing left,” Diego said with a sly grin. “But I make you something.”

Matteo gave his friend a big hug. “They cleaned us out. Must be Diego’s good cooking.”

“Or the handsome host.” Marcos settled into a chair at the bar. “Thought I’d stop in and check on things before I go to pick up Marissa after school. You two ready for the adolescent army that’s about to flood the place?”

“Adoles…?” Diego asked as he fired up the grill and put some pasta on to boil.

L’esercito di adolescente,” Matteo explained. “Our new helpers.”

“Ah. ! I am… eccitante? Excited.”

“We’ll see how you feel by the end of the evening.” Marcos smirked.

“Something to drink?” Matteo asked his guest as he turned the closed sign around and locked the door.

“Sure… a beer?”

Matteo slipped him a Peroni.

Marcos squinted at it.

“It’s kinda like the Italian Budweiser.”

Marcos shrugged. “Things are finally going well for you two. That’s great. Cheers!” He took a sip of the beer and made a face. “At least it’s cold.”

“And cheap.” Matteo shared a look with Diego. Diego nodded. “Diego’s leaving for Italy Saturday.”

“Just Diego? You two aren’t…?” He looked back and forth at the two of them.

“Oh no, not at all.” Matteo chuckled. “Quite the opposite. We haven’t told anyone this. We just found out Diego’s first marriage never ended.”

“Holy shit.”

Certo. Oly shit.” Diego smiled grimly.

“It could cause problems for us if the authorities found out. So we have to be careful until Diego can resolve the situation with his ex.”

Marcos nodded. “Not a word.” He got up and gave Matteo a big hug, which he returned a little awkwardly. These Americans and their unexpected displays of emotion. Then he hugged Diego too.

Marcos checked his phone. “Gotta run to pick up Marissa. See you guys in a few.”

Matteo let him out and waved as the man ran down the street.

Forse non era un buon’idea di dirglielo?

“Maybe not. But I had to tell someone. And I trust him.”

Diego nodded. “Need to make ready now for the army adolescente.”

* * *

Marcos pulled up in front of McClatchy High to wait for Marissa.

She appeared at the steps of the school a moment later, walking with a tall, lanky dark-haired boy.

Marcos leaned forward.

The boy looked like a walking skateboard ad.

Then she kissed him.

Marcos sat back in the seat, flummoxed. She has a boyfriend.

He wasn’t ready for this. Truth be told, he still didn’t feel entirely ready for Marissa, but that ship had sailed. He certainly wasn’t ready for Marissa to have a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend, for that matter.

The passenger door swung open, and she settled into the seat next to him. “Hey!” She gave him a peck on the cheek.

“Hey. So, anything exciting happen at school today?”

She shook her head. “Same old boring shit. Come on, let’s go! I don’t want to be late!”

He shook his head and pulled the car out onto the street.

Marissa had a boyfriend.

Was he supposed to do anything about it?

And if so, what?

* * *

Diego lined up his new staff, the teenagers who the Center was paying to work at the restaurant from four to seven p.m. three days a week. There were five of them, including Marissa, who had shown some talent for cooking in the Sunday classes.

He read his prepared English speech. “Each of you will learn all aspects of the restaurant business.” He wasn’t sure if he was pronouncing it all correctly—was it bizniss or busy-ness?—but they seemed to get the drift. “We’ll start with Marissa in the kitchen with me as sous chef, Danny at front of house with Matteo, and Meghan, Ricky, and Q as bussers. Understand?”

Marissa winked at Ricky. Must be friends.

Matteo and Diego spent the next hour walking the kids through their duties. They reminded Diego of himself when he was first learning the trade.

Matteo showed the bussers where to get the dishes, silverware, and napkins and how to keep an eye on each client without being intrusive. He also showed Danny how to check in guests with a smile and how to keep track of the tables.

In the meantime, Diego worked with Marissa, showing her what they would be making and how they needed to prepare the pasta, vegetables, and sauces.

“You make your own pasta here?” she said, as he demonstrated the process.

Sì. It’s necessary. Best flavor. Here, let me show you how.”

* * *

Marcos watched Marissa with a bemused smile. She was attentive, excited, and engaged with Diego. It was a wonderful thing to see her blossom, but it wasn’t the only blossoming she was doing, apparently.

They’d have to have the talk. He was so not looking forward to that.

In the meantime though, he had to run home to get ready for his hot date.



57 - Rice and Roses

Dave checked the Spanish rice. It was never as good as when his mother made it. She had a true gift in the kitchen. A pinch of this, a spoonful of that, and her recipes always came out the same. And always delicious.

The calabacitas, as his mother called the cheesy zucchini soup she used to make, was almost ready, and the chili verde, his favorite of all her dishes, was practically falling to pieces.

He had cheated on the tortillas, picking up a bag of Micaela's from Nugget. They were just about as good as the real thing and a hell of a lot less messy.

It had been ages since he had cooked for someone else, but it had come back to him as easily as if he had been preparing banquets all year long.

His mother would be proud.

For dessert, he had prepared something decidedly not Mexican—an angel food cake topped with a slathering of whipped cream, strawberries, and bananas. It wasn't traditional, but it was a family tradition.

Maybe he was overdoing it. With his luck—which was almost always bad—he’d scare Marcos away with his overabundant table.

Better to be who he was than pretend to be something else.

* * *

Marcos pulled into the driveway of Dave's place, a cute little brick-and-wood-slat bungalow painted a cheery yellow. It was just around the corner from Carmelina's. In fact, they were attached at the garage.

He parked the Prius and got out of the car, grabbing the bundle of red roses and a bottle of wine from the front seat.

He waved at a man and woman going by on bikes. They waved back and were followed in quick succession by a young boy with a dog, a father trailing three little girls, and a green Karmann Ghia roaring by from the other direction.

It was like that old movie The Truman Show, where the kid grew up on TV in this weird dome thing, and the same six sets of people circled by on a loop in front of his window, over and over.

Marcos waited a moment to see if the couple on the bikes came back around.

No such luck.

He shook his head and went to knock on the door.

Dave opened it, flashing him a big grin. “Hi!”

“Hey there.” He kissed Dave’s cheek. “Um, nice apron.”

It was the statue of David, from Florence. Dave glanced down at David’s tiny cock. “Well, that’s unfortunate.” He grinned again. “Hey come on in!”

Marcos followed Dave inside the house. The place was cozy; the walls were painted in a nice Tuscan gold, and candles flickered all around the room. “Very nice. And it smells heavenly in here. Oh, these are for you.” He handed Dave the bouquet.

“They’re beautiful.” Dave took a deep breath of their perfume. “Come on into the kitchen. I’ll put them in some water.”

The kitchen was old, with white cabinets and white tile and grout.

“Sorry. The landlady hasn’t redone the kitchen yet.”


Dave laughed. He had a beautiful laugh. “I keep telling her it’s not a big deal. I’m only here for a little while.” He sighed. “At least, that’s what I thought five years ago.”

Marcos glanced down at the linoleum floors. “Uh huh. Anything I can do to help?”

Dave was trimming the rose stems. He plopped them into a glass vase full of water and handed it to Marcos. “Want to take them out to the dining area and put them on the table? I think we’re about ready to eat.”

Marcos did as he was told.

A seemingly endless selection of Mexican dishes followed. Chile verde. Rice. Some kind of zucchini soup. Tortillas. Chips. Fresh made pico de gallo. Guacamole.

“Hey, are we expecting other guests or something?” he asked, eying all the food.

Dave stopped, a bowl of refried beans in his hands, and actually blushed. “It’s too much, isn’t it?”

Marcos laughed and shook his head. “Not at all. It’s just a lot of food.”

“Have a seat.” Dave put the beans down on the table on a trivet. “It’s my mother’s fault. It’s just how she is. You stop by her house and she says to sit down, she’ll make you a little something. And the next thing you know, it’s Mexican dinner service for six.”

Marcos sat. “My mother was the same way. She was constitutionally incapable of cooking a meal for less than eight people.”

“Was? Oh Marcos, I’m so sorry—”

“Oh, no, not like that.” Marcos grinned. “She lives in Palm Springs now, and she and my dad have a chef who cooks for them most of the time. Now she only goes into the kitchen on the holidays, when the family gets together.”

“Got it. Go ahead. Get started.” Dave gestured at the food. “You’re probably starving.”

Marcos was. It had been a long day of coding and then running Marissa around. He scooped up some rice and beans and a helping of chili verde. He took some of the salsa too. He used a tortilla to scoop up a bit of each thing. “Damn, this is good,” he said through a full mouth.

Dave wrapped his own food up burrito style and wolfed it down.

“The soup is amazing.” He fished out a spoonful of broth and zucchini and cheesy, gooey goodness.

“It’s called calabacitas—one of Mom’s specialties.”

“She must be a great cook.” There was something else he wanted to say, but he was a little scared to bring it up. “I’ve… been thinking about you, a lot,” Marcos said at last, afraid to look up at Dave lest he be disappointed by his response.

“Me too.”

Marcos looked up. “Maybe we could… take things a little faster?”

Dave’s face lit up. “Yeah?” He reached out to touch Marcos’ hand. “I’d like that.” He glanced at all the food. “This will all keep for a little bit—”

knock knock knock

Dave laughed. “Foiled again. Just a sec. I’ll go get rid of whoever it is.” He jumped up and ran to open the front door, while Marcos took another bite. He’d need to keep up his stamina, after all.

“I’m so sorry to bother you.”

Marcos knew that voice.

“Not at all,” Dave said. “Come in.”

Carmelina entered the house. Marcos could see she’d been crying, even from a distance.

Her gaze registered the candles and the table. “You guys are on a date, aren’t you? I’m interrupting you. I’m so sorry. I’ll talk to you later.” She started to leave.

Dave looked at Marcos, who nodded. “Don’t be ridiculous. Come sit with us. We have plenty of food.”

She sniffed. “Are you sure? I don’t want to be a pest.”

Dave nodded and guided her to the table. “Here, have a seat. I’ll get you some sparkling water.”


Soon they were all together around the table.

“Now,” Dave said, putting his hand on Carmelina’s. “Tell us what happened.”

As she began to recount what she’d discovered earlier in the day, Marcos turned to look at Dave. He was fully engaged with their friend, the look on his face a mixture of care and true concern. He set everything aside in an instant to help a friend in need.

That was the moment, Marcos would realize much later, that he started to fall in love.



58 - The Box of Hopes And Dreams

Carmelina hung up the phone. Making that call had been one of the hardest things she had ever done in her life. Asking Daniele to come over so she could… could…

She didn’t even know what she wanted from him.

Someone to blame, to yell at, to absolve her of her own guilt.

Hers was the original sin, after all. If she hadn’t given that beautiful little baby girl up for adoption so many years before…

There were no answers. Only gnawing guilt, anger, and more questions.

Did Daniele know it was her daughter he’d killed?

She didn’t think so. Why confess to her a half-truth if he knew she’d eventually learn the rest?

Her anger flared anew, a blaze of red that momentarily blinded her. She staggered, catching herself against the wall of her kitchen. That was followed by an equally strong wave of sadness.

Breathe, Carmelina, breathe.

She took a deep breath, then another, then another, counting each one in and out. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. At last, she reopened her eyes.

She had held so many secret hopes and dreams for her daughter once. She needed to reconnect with them, lest this despair overwhelm her.

She went to her bedroom and opened her closet door. Surely it was still up there somewhere. She grabbed the stool from her bathroom and turned on her phone flashlight, searching the closet shelf.

She found it soon enough, half-buried under a stack of Arthur’s clothes she had set aside for donation to the Salvation Army. Putting them on her nightstand, she pulled down the box.

It was a bright-blue hat box that used to belong to her mother. She sat on the bed and laid it next to her, pulling up the lid.

After she had given her daughter up for adoption, she had borrowed this box from her mother, and over the next several years, she had added things to it for the girl, one item at a time, tying each one to a wish or dream.

She picked up the little pair of pink-and-white shoes on top, bought when her daughter would have been a year old. She had hoped that day that Andrea, as she had come to call her daughter, would walk and dance and run and climb and explore all the world in shoes just like these.

Next to the shoes was a plastic unicorn. She’d wanted her daughter to see the wonder and magic in the world around her, to never lose that sense of possibility.

There was a Harvard shirt that she’d bought on a visit to Cambridge, when her daughter was approaching college age. She had hoped Andrea would be smart, would get a good education, and would be successful in her life.

The next thing in the box struck at her heart. It was a baby rattle—a plushie ring with a pink bear on top. Bought in the hopes that Andrea would one day have a son or daughter of her own and make a different choice than her mother had.

She held it tightly to her chest with one hand and put the other to her mouth, suppressing a sob. I’m so sorry, Andrea.

Marcos and Dave had been so sweet, hugging her and telling her this wasn’t her fault. That she had done what she had to do to give her daughter a better life. Her Catholic mother had made it clear that there was no place for an unmarried mother in the family.

The boys next door had taken the time to comfort her instead of kicking her out when they were clearly on a date.

Nevertheless, it all rang hollow.

She should have been there for her daughter, no matter the cost. She should have known when Andrea died. Somewhere deep inside her heart, she should have known.

The doorbell rang.

* * *

Ciao, bella.” Daniele kissed her on both cheeks. “You said to come over right away, so here I am.…” He looked at her face and frowned.

She had been crying on and off for hours. She knew she must be quite a sight.

“What’s wrong, cara mia?”

This is too hard. She closed her eyes and steeled herself. “Please come in and take a seat on the couch.”

“Of course.” He did as he was told, still frowning. “What’s this all about?”

Carmelina sat in her armchair and picked up a manila folder, handing it over to him wordlessly.

“What is it?” His brow knitted in concern.

“Just read it, please.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded dull and lifeless.

He opened up the folder and started to read. She saw the moment the recognition dawned on his face. “This is…”

She nodded, feeling a strange sense of calm descend over her. Her left hand, the one closest to Arthur’s chair, suddenly warmed, as if her dead husband had put a hand over hers.

Daniele finished reading the article and closed the folder and set it down on the glass dining room table. “That was a long time ago,” he said softly, looking up at her. “We talked about this, remember? I was a different person then.”

She nodded. “Yes. Yes, I’m sure you were.” She pulled the little rattle out of her sweater pocket, holding it in her hand. I’m so sorry, Andrea. “She was my daughter, Daniele.”

Daniele looked at her, at the folder, and then back again. “I… I don’t understand.”

“The girl you killed, that night you were drunk off your ass.” She tried to keep the bitterness from her voice, setting the rattle down on the table next to the folder. “Her name was Andrea. I gave her up for adoption, forty years ago.”

Porco cane.” It struck him like a blow, knocking him back into the couch. “I didn’t know.” He put his hands on his cheeks, his whole body shaking.

Carmelina’s calmness was unraveling, consumed by anger, guilt, and sadness. She struggled to keep it together. “I think… I think it’s best that you leave. Now.”

Pain twisted Daniele’s features. “I didn’t know,” he repeated, sitting up and reaching out toward her. “I am so sorry, Carmelina. Please let me help.”

She recoiled from his touch. “I can’t be near you right now,” she said, her voice brittle as glass.

“It can’t just be over. Not like this.” The pain on Daniele’s face matched her own. “Just talk to me. Please.”

She closed her eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe later, once I’ve had some time. Right now, I need you to leave. Please.”

He looked up at her once more, like a dog who had just been kicked in the gut. He nodded and got up to leave. “I am so sorry,” he whispered once more from the doorway. Then he was gone.

Carmelina locked the door behind him, picked up the rattle, and fled to her bedroom. She gathered all of the things from her box—the shoes, the unicorn toy, the shirt, and the rattle—and held them tightly to her chest, sobbing uncontrollably for what she had lost.

What she had never had.



59 - Green Light

It was day three. Marissa knew she had it bad. She was counting the days since she and Tristan had met.

They planned to hang with some friends at Sweets and Sugars after school. She was going to try something called a mangonada.

It wasn’t a date. Not really. But it was with Tris.

She sat through her last class of the day, bored to death, staring at the clock as it ticked down the minutes. It seemed to go slower the closer to three it got. In the background, Mrs. Markham droned on.

Marissa stared at the second hand. Each second seemed long enough to sing the chorus to “Can’t Feel My Face” between each click of the old clock.

Finally the bell rang, and she leapt out of her seat in her eagerness to get to Tristan. She turned to find her adoptive mother, Jessica, waiting for her. Marissa snarled under her breath.

“Hello, Marissa.”

Jessica was perfect. She wore a tight pink sweater and a matching pink skirt, gold bangles inlaid with pink coral on her wrists along with matching earrings, and pearls. Pearls. Her blonde hair was fresh from the stylist. Jessica Sutton wasn’t on fleek. She was fleek.

“Hello, Jessica.”

Her adoptive mother frowned, creating delicate lines around the edges of her lips. “Please don’t call me that. I’m your mother—”

“You’re not my mother.” Jessica hadn’t earned the right to be called that.

“I am your mother,” Jessica insisted, “and I don’t want to fight with you anymore.”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” she said, shriller than she’d intended.

“Everything all right over there?” Mrs. Markham called from her desk.

“Yeah, we’re good, Mrs. Markham,” Marissa said. To Jessica, she said, “What do you want?”

Jessica looked uncomfortable, massaging the arm of her sweater between her fingers. “We want you to come home.”

“We?” Marissa looked around. “I don’t see Phillip and Oliver here.”

“Your father’s at work. And your brother is in school at Bella Vista. Where you should be.”

“I’m perfectly happy here at McClatchy.” Marissa picked up her backpack and brushed past Jessica.

“I’ll drop the charges,” Jessica said.

Marissa stopped, hand on the door knob. “What?”

“I’ll drop the breaking-and-entering charges.”

Marissa turned around slowly. “In exchange for what?”

“I miss you.” She wore a sad pout like an accessory.

Marissa wanted to believe it. She really wanted to. But she knew Jessica too well. “In exchange for what?” she repeated, her voice dangerously low.

“I just want you to come home. The neighbors and the folks at the club are talking—”

And there it is. “Unbelievable. You’re here because of what other people think? After you threw me out on the street for being… oh, what did you call me… a disgusting lez?” She was surprised, but she shouldn’t have been. This was a new low, even for Jessica.

“Your counselor said you have a boyfriend now,” Jessica said hopefully, ignoring Marissa’s anger. “I’m sure the whole lesbian thing was just a phase. Come home, and we can put all of this behind us.”

Marissa felt her anger building inside. Lesbian thing? Just a phase?

She took a deep breath, calming herself down. No good would come of shouting at Jessica, at least not in public. “I can’t even… I’m done.” She stared at the woman who should have been her mother and saw only bitterness and disappointment there. “I’ll see you in court. Jessica.”

She opened the door and left the room, closing it firmly behind her.

Then she ran down the hall, eager to be away from that horrible woman.

* * *

Tristan was waiting for her in front of the school. “Hey there,” he said with a grin. “You, um, look a little shady.”

“Yeah.” They walked toward the street together. It was a warm, sunny Thursday, especially for early October. “Jessica came to see me.”


“My adoptive mother person.”

“I thought you lived with a guardian?”

“Yeah, Marcos. He’s a good guy.”

“Must be.” He scratched his neck. “What did she want?”

“She wanted me to come home. She wants me to go back to being her good little porcelain doll in her perfect little world.”

Tristan laughed. “You don’t look like a doll to me. So what happened? Why aren’t you living with her?”

Marissa sighed. She had hoped to keep her new life less complicated. But her old one kept sticking its nose in where it didn’t belong. “She caught me with a girl. She wasn’t happy about it, so she kicked me out.”

“You’re… bi?”


He nodded. “Cool.”

They were at the corner. Marissa looked across the street at Sweets and Sugars. Their friends were waiting for them. She didn’t much feel like hanging. “Hey, would you mind if we just walked together for a bit?”

“Sure. Whatever you want.”

It was the right answer. They made their way down Freeport, under the shade of the old oak and elm trees, and she told him all about her upbringing in the Sutton household and how she’d finally broken free. Or been pushed out. Somehow it seemed less painful when she talked with him about it. He listened to everything, nodding and interjecting the occasional ‘yeah,’ ‘sure,’ or ‘that’s crazy’ at appropriate times. Somewhere along the way he took her hand.

By the time they reached the freeway underpass, she felt really comfortable with him. “It won’t matter, anyhow. In a couple more weeks I’ll be eighteen, and I can do what I want.”

He squeezed her hand. “That’s good.”

They stopped at the corner, waiting for the light.

She looked him over. He was cute, sweet, a good listener, and with his gauges and tattoos, he was exactly the kind of guy Jessica would hate.

She pulled him down for a kiss, and he didn’t resist. Their lips met, and she felt good, really good, for the first time all day.

The light turned green, but she didn’t even notice.



60 - Whiplash

“Hey there. You made it!” Sam gave Ben a big hug. “Glad you could come on such short notice. I just thought it might be something you’d enjoy.” The space on the sidewalk in front of the convention center doors was packed with people waiting for the conference to start.

Ben grinned. “For a queer writer’s con in downtown? How could I say no?”

“We writers gotta stick together.” Sam pulled his fleece jacket off. It was warm out for mid-October, and he was already starting to sweat. “Technically it’s a diversity con—DiverSac.” He frowned. “It sounds kinda dirty, doesn’t it? So of course, there’s a large queer contingent.”

Ben snickered. “Whatever. I’m this close to finishing my novel, but I need a little free head space before I tackle the ending.”

“How’s it going with Ella?” Sam knew things were complicated.

“Um… better? We had a long talk on Monday. She wanted to talk with her mother about me. Her mom’s trans, but she doesn’t like trans guys, or something? Plus she’s been spending time with Max, her brother.” He shook his head. “I thought I’d check in with her after I finish the book this afternoon.”

“God, I know how that goes. I get so nervous at the end of the story. After all the weeks and months writing the rest of it, can I deliver? Will the ending work? Or will it all fizzle out into a sad pile of wet noodles?”

“Exactly.” Ben slapped his arm. “Hey, at least you’ve gotten one published.”

“Yeah, it just ratchets up the pressure for the next one.” The gathered crowd shifted forward. “I think they’re opening the doors.” They followed the crowd into the convention center.

“What are you going to after the welcome breakfast?”

Sam pulled a folded sheaf of paper out of his pocket. “I went through the schedule and made a list. The first one is called ‘Politics 101: Writing the Law.’ I know it sounds boring, but it’s really about how to make legal drama work in books and screenplays. One of the Law & Order writers will be there, along with Roald Stone, the guy who writes the Legally Blind series.”

“Is that the one with the blind detective who ‘sees’ better than the cops?”

“Yup. They’re a little cheesy, but I love how he finds these obscure bits of the law and twists them to his own ends.” The latest one was on Sam’s Kindle, about half-read.

“Sounds like fun. Mind if I tag along?”

“Mind? I’d love it.” It was nice having a writer friend in real life. They registered and grabbed something to eat at the welcome breakfast. Afterward, they went off in search of room 105. They found it at the end of the hall, arriving just in time. The only seats left were in the front row.

“So how many Law & Orders and CSIs are there now?” Ben asked. “I used to watch the original CSI, back when it had the one guy with the hair—”

“Hello, everyone.” A young man strode to the front of the panel table, mic in hand; likely one of the con volunteers. “I’m sorry to tell you that we’ve had to make a substitution on the panel today. Professor Hans Satterlee has been delayed en route from Seattle. In his place, we have Professor Jameson Cort from the University of Arizona English Department.”

“That’s rich.” Ben chuckled. “Professor Court on a panel about writing and the law.”

Sam was transfixed. There he was, the man he’d left Tucson to escape, looking just as handsome and self-confident as ever, his blond hair neatly swept back and his fine gold-rimmed spectacles layering a gloss of sophistication over his beautiful tanned skin and stubble. His gray sports coat and jeans made him look like the poster guy for “cool literature professor.”

“You okay?” Ben asked, waving a hand in front of his face. “You look a little pale.”

Jameson’s gaze swept the audience and stopped at Sam. The man smiled and then looked away.

Sam shook his head. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“What’s wrong?”

“He’s my ex.”

* * *

Sam managed to get through the next hour of the panel discussion, mostly by refusing to look at Jameson. When the man spoke, Sam looked down at his hands in his lap. When Sam closed his eyes, he could almost feel the man’s touch—Jameson’s hand on his face, his kiss on Sam’s neck. The cruel, almost offhanded way he’d treated Sam that paradoxically had only seemed to make Sam want him more. Then, when he’d grown tired, there’d been others.…

“Sam, wake up. It’s over.” Ben was shaking his shoulder gently.

“Huh?” He looked around. Everyone else was getting up and heading to their next panel. “Is he gone?”

“Sam Fuller. What a pleasant surprise.”

Sam looked up into Jameson’s blue eyes. They were fixed on his, and he felt the electricity between them.

“Hi, I’m Ben.” Ben held out his hand, interrupting the connection. “I’m Sam’s boyfriend. Nice to meet you, Professor Court. How do you know Sam?”

Sam started to breathe again, and mouthed a silent thank you to Ben. “He was my professor in my last year at the U of A. I didn’t know you were going to be here, Professor Cort.”

“It was a last-minute thing,” Jameson said, staring at the two of them uncertainly. “It certainly was a surprise to see you here, I must admit. Though I did read your book. It was quite good.”

“Thanks,” Sam said, uncertain how to respond to that.

“Say, I’m going to be here for a couple of days. If you have time, maybe we could get together and get some coffee and… catch up?” His tone left no doubt as to what he meant.

Bastard. “I’ll see. I’m pretty busy this weekend—”

“Here’s my card. Call my cell if you find the time.” He shook Sam’s hand, then Ben’s. “Nice to meet you, Ben.”

When he turned to talk with someone else, Sam gave Ben a big hug.

“What was that for?”

“For stepping in like that.” He raised an eyebrow. “My boyfriend, huh? I thought you didn’t play for my team.”

“Not usually. But sometimes you need a pinch hitter at the bottom of the ninth.”

“I’m not even gonna pretend I know what that means.”

“So what’s next?”

Sam pulled out his schedule. “Let’s see. There’s a session on world building I wanted to check out.”

“Sounds good.” Ben looked at his own copy of the schedule. “Looks like it’s in 102. Let’s go. I want to get better seats.”

Sam followed him out of the meeting room, looking back at Jameson once more.

The man was chatting with a couple of women from the session.

Sam could still feel Jameson’s touch.

He shivered and followed Ben out of the room.



61 - Tequila Courage

Jesse stared at the old torn and weathered photograph.

Jessica stared back at him, her beautiful raven-black hair framing her face.

Seven long years to get to this place, to go from there to here.

He was done apologizing. Done conforming. Done with Jessica.

He lit the photograph on fire with his lighter, holding it by one corner as the shiny paper combusted and wafted into the air in pieces of ash. He wrinkled his nose at the smell.

Jessica was dead, whether his mother accepted that or not.

And Jesse had a hell of a lot of living to do.


Ben lifted his hands off the keyboard. It was done. For better or worse, his book was done. He sat back, staring at the computer screen. Six months he’d worked on this novel. Six months, this time, since he'd taken his sabbatical. In reality, it was more like six years since he first put metaphorical pen to paper.

I should feel something. A surge of excitement. A profound sense of relief. Or even a deep-seated sense of worry that his writing wasn’t good enough.

Instead, he was numb.

He printed out the final chapter and stuck it into an envelope to send it off to Sandy. He stopped in his kitchen for a celebratory glass of tequila. He almost never drank, but when he did, he liked the good stuff, and maybe it would loosen him up a bit. He sat down at his little kitchen table and sipped it, savoring the taste. A warm glow slowly suffused his stomach, spreading out into the rest of his body. He sat back and closed his eyes, and Ella was there with him, her beautiful smile beckoning him.

After their long walk on Monday, he’d let her be. She’d told him she was dying with little hope for reprieve. She didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. It had all made sense at the time, but tequila had a way of undoing his ordered and logical thoughts. It dredged up all the things that he buried when he was sober, trotting them out for him to see like a cat with a dead mouse.

Ella was beautiful. She liked him. More importantly, she understood him. She was totally comfortable with him as a trans guy. He’d seen enough of the world in his thirty-five years to know what a wonderful gift that was.

I love her. The thought surprised him. What the hell? He’d known her all of a week and a half. He couldn’t love her—he hardly even knew her. The whole idea was absurd.

Yet the idea ate at him, worming its way into his head. I love her.

He reminded himself of the facts. Her mother doesn’t want me anywhere near her. And she’s dying. It made no sense to fall in love with someone who might not make it past Christmas. Simple emotional self-preservation dictated as much. They had no future.

I love her. Nothing good ever came from emotional entanglements. People always turned their backs on you, sooner or later. His parents, his old friends, his last girlfriend… you only opened yourself up for heartache if you let someone get too close.

I love her. He had to go see her. He put away the tequila and the used glass and grabbed the envelope for Sandy. He hopped into his trusty old powder-blue VW Bug—the car was sixteen years older than he was—and set off toward Midtown. He’d drop off the package for Sandy at the post office and then head across the river into town.

He knew where to find Ella. He just hoped she’d be happy to see him when he arrived.

* * *

He pulled into the hospital parking garage and took the first spot he found, screeching into the spot. A man walking to his car glared at him, and he waved back sheepishly. “Sorry!”

He was going too fast. He would scare her off if he kept this up. He closed his eyes. Think, Ben, think.

He needed to shake off the effects of the tequila, first and foremost. There was an Everyday Grind kiosk in the hospital. Coffee first, then make a plan.

He found the coffee shop and ordered a regular coffee, black. He needed it to be strong. Then he sat down at a table and drank it in one long drag, slamming the cup down onto the table.

He tried to work out some kind of grand speech, typing it into his phone, but between the tequila and the caffeine from the coffee, he felt hopelessly muddled.

Maybe this had been a bad idea after all. Maybe he should just go home; try this another time.

He got up and headed for the elevator and ran smack into someone, knocking both of them to the ground.

“I’m so sorry!” He got himself untangled and found himself face to face with Ella. “Hi.”

“Hi. You need to watch where you’re going.” Her tone was sharp, but her lips curled up in a slight smile. She was dressed in jeans, a white sweater, and a matching wool cap.

“I was hoping to run into you,” he said with a wicked grin of his own. That might have been the tequila talking.

“Ouch. That was bad.” She laughed. “Really bad. Help me up?”

He got up and extended a hand to her, lifting her off the floor.

“Were you really here looking for me?”

He looked into her warm brown eyes, and his fear melted away, along with his grand imagined speech. “Yes. I missed you,” he said simply.

She shook her head. “We can’t do this.” She looked away, her face lined with sadness. “You know we can’t do this. I’m sick, Ben—”

He cupped her chin and lifted her face gently toward his. “I don’t care. I’ll take whatever you’ve got. I missed you.”

Her eyes searched his. “I don’t want to be a burden. I’ve already asked too much.”

“Ella, you are without a doubt the most beautiful girl I have ever met, inside and out. You could never ask too much of me. I just want to spend time with you. Please don’t take that away from me.”

She closed her eyes.

She looks like an angel.

At last, she nodded. “All right.”

He pulled her into his arms, and she hugged him back tightly.

He didn’t know what he’d just gotten himself into—just that there had been no other choice.



62 - At The Zoo

“So why are we here?” Dave looked up at the peaked entrance to the Sacramento Zoo. He hadn’t been there since he was a kid. Marcos had called him out of the blue and asked him to get to the zoo as quickly as possible.

Marcos grinned. “There’s something I want to share with you.” He handed Dave a ticket and looked at his phone. “Come on, or we’ll be late.”

“Oooh, mystery. What, are the lions in season? A little gay penguin mating going on? Or maybe the seals are putting on a show?”


They turned in their tickets and went through the gate into the zoo.

It was a small zoo by national standards, but big enough that you could still kill an hour or two seeing all the animals. Dave’s mother used to bring him there after school with his siblings. They didn’t have a lot of money, but she’d sprung for the annual pass so they could come whenever they wanted.

Marcos led him past the tigers and lions but not past the bears. Though he did spy a couple of human bears staring avidly at the big cats. “Lions… tigers…”

Marcos laughed. “Too easy.”

They veered left, past the river otter enclosure. Marcos was pulling him along now, practically running.

“Where the hell are you taking me? There’s not much zoo left.”

“You’ll see!”

They came around another corner, and there was a short line in front of one of the displays. Dave craned his neck to see what was in the zoo paddock beyond. It craned its neck back to look back at him.

“Giraffes?” Marcos had brought him all the way down to Land Park to see giraffes?

Marcos nodded, grinning like a little kid.

“Okay, I don’t get it. I’ve seen giraffes before, lots of times. I mean, they’re cool and all—who wouldn’t want to have a twenty-foot neck? But…”

“Just be patient.” Marcos gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Oh, and turn around and face this way. I don’t want you to ruin the surprise too soon.”

What, are we going to take one home? Dave shook his head, but he turned around as instructed and faced away from the paddock. It made things a little difficult as the line moved forward, but he soon mastered the foot-over-foot side step.

Behind him, he heard “oohs” and “ahs.” He started to turn but Marcos glared at him. He felt like a five-year-old child waiting to open a present.

“Two?” a zookeeper named Marcie asked them when they reached the gate.

“Yes please,” Marcos said, handing her a few bucks in exchange.

“Is he a first timer?” she said, glancing at Dave with a smile.

“Yup. He’s a virgin.”

“Ouch! Just blurt it out loud, why don’t you?” Dave glared at Marcos.

Marcos laughed, then frowned. “Wait… you’re not… are you?”

“Are you kidding?” Dave squeezed Marco’s ass. “I’ve had plenty of experience.”

“You guys are cute together.” Marcie grinned encouragingly. She waved them through the turnstile and up a small flight of stairs, which Dave navigated backwards, slowly. “Have fun!”

Another zookeeper, Carlos, handed them a couple of branches.


“Okay, you can turn around now.”

Dave looked over his shoulder and gasped.

There were two giraffes, one adult and one baby, just five feet away, their heads straining over the wooden railing toward him. “Oh my God.” They were beautiful. Their spots were the softest velour, a lovely deep, rusty brown.

He’d never seen a giraffe up close like this.

“Go ahead. Feed them. They’re hungry.” Marcos pushed him forward gently.

“Just hold the branch out toward them. Keep your fingers back,” Carlos suggested. “They won’t hurt you, but they get a little eager sometimes.”

Dave did as he was told.

The younger giraffe reached out toward him, and he held up the leafy branch like a sword. “Is it a boy or a girl?”

“A boy.”

The giraffe took the branch in its mouth, chewing on it and pulling Dave forward in the process. “Hey, slow down, boy. Can I touch him?”

Carlos shook his head. “They’re wild animals, and they can get a bit skittish if they are touched.”

“Fair enough.” He grinned at Marcos. “I’m gonna call him Spot.”

“Very creative,” Marcos said, handing his own branch to Dave as the baby finished the first one. It snorted loudly, and Dave fell back into Marcos’s arms in surprise. Marcos laughed out loud. “He’s not gonna hurt you,” he said at last. “Go on. Give him the other branch.”

Dave inched forward, branch held out in front of him.

The giraffe sniffed it and turned away.

“Oooh, snubbed by a baby giraffe.”

“Yeah, funny.… Hey!” As he’d turned to stick his tongue out at Marcos, the other giraffe reached for the branch and pulled it up out of Dave’s hands.

She chewed on it sedately, staring down at them with what Dave could only describe as a lazy smile. “And you’re Swindler.”

Swindler didn’t seem to care.

“This is amazing,” Dave said as the baby giraffe sniffed in his direction. He’d never realized giraffes were such beautiful, magnificent creatures.

“Worth the drive?” Marcos asked as they exited the platform.

For his answer, Dave pulled Marcos against the railing, wrapped his arms around him, and kissed him.

Marcos held him tight. Dave felt safe. Loved. Desired.

“I take it that’s a yes?”

“A definite yes. This was… I’ve never experienced anything like this. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Hey, we already bought the tickets.… How about we go and explore the rest of the zoo? You said you hadn’t been here in a long time?”

“Not since I was a kid.”

Marcos took his hand and led him down off the platform.

Dave glanced back at the giraffes, the older one bobbing its head to take a branch from a little girl, who squealed in delight.

What an extraordinary, unexpected thing Marcos had shared with him.

That was the moment, Dave would realize much later, that he started to fall in love.



63 - Descendents

Diego sat in coach, waiting for the plane to taxi and take off. Matteo had dropped him at the curb, hurrying back to the restaurant to get Diego’s replacement up to speed with the way Ragazzi’s kitchen worked.

Diego stared out the window glumly at the line of planes waiting ahead of them.

Going home should have been a joyous occasion, a chance to see his family—his sister and his mother especially—and all their old friends.

Matteo should have been here with him.

Instead, Diego was on a one-man mission to try to change Luna’s mind. To find some way to get out of a decades old marriage before it ruined his new life.

And Matteo’s.

Though reforms had been enacted earlier in the year to cut down the time it took to get a divorce, it still meant at least a six-month delay under most circumstances. Far too long. If the immigration authorities caught on before he and Matteo could fix things, he might be thrown out of the United States for good.

Diego cursed the Italian legal system.

He had no idea how he was going to pull this off. He just knew he had to try.

I have a son. That was one more thing to face up to. If Luna were telling the truth—and with her, one never knew—there was a grown man waiting to meet him. Diego had been with Luna in 1987 for a brief time, so that would make his son what… twenty-seven?

It was hard for Diego to absorb—that he might have a son who was already almost into his thirties whom he had never met.

Did the man know about Diego? Did he hate him? Did he wonder why his father had never come to see him, had never been a part of his life?

Luna should have told him. Should have let him make his own choice when it came to the boy—the man.

Diego had sent his sister a long email, explaining everything that was going on with Matteo and Luna. He’d asked her to set up a meeting with Luna after he arrived, so he could… hell, he had no idea what he planned to do or say. But he had to try.

His phone buzzed. He’d forgotten to put it into airplane mode.

Remember, I love you, no matter what.

Diego smiled. Matteo was thinking about him, even in the midst of the rush at Ragazzi. Diego was doing this for the two of them, putting something right that he should have done a long time before.

He had to remember that.

He turned his phone off and shoved it in his pocket as the plane finally turned onto the runway and the engines powered up, pushing the jet down the runway and up into the late morning sky.

* * *

Carmelina sat in the comfy chair in the nook by the doorway at the Everyday Grind location closest to River Park. Across the street, the old House of Fashion building sat empty. It was a gorgeous old white building, a bit worn and tattered with age, one that had seen the coming and going of so many seasons that it had approached a sort of timelessness.

Carmelina could relate.

She’d had two days to try to digest what she’d discovered about Daniele and her daughter. She felt shaken to the core.

Why would God do this to her? Play this wretched trick? Send a man into her life, only to break her heart with a cruel twist of fate’s knife?

Dave waved at her through the window.

“Hey there,” he said as he entered the cafe. “What the hell are you doing here, sitting all alone and moping?”

“Hey, darlin’.” She kissed him on both cheeks.

Dave pulled off his jacket and sank down in the chair across from her. “So what’s up? Are you doing all right?”

“Thanks for coming. Go get a coffee first, and then we’ll talk.” Dave always made her smile.

“All right. But I want you to tell me everything when I get back.” He squeezed her shoulder on his way to the counter.

Dave had been her go-to guy ever since Arthur had died. He was a rock and always found time for her, no matter how busy he might be.

He was back in a minute with a decaf Americano and a plate of assorted lemon and chocolate scones. “These are for you, too” he said, sitting down and taking a sip of his coffee. “Now tell me. What happened?”

“I told him.”

“Oh shit.”

Carmelina nodded. “It was the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done. After burying Arthur, that is. But I had to hear it from his own lips.”

“What did he say?”

“He admitted it. Everything. But he didn’t know she was my daughter—at least, that’s what he said.” She closed her eyes, picturing her daughter’s face from the newspaper article. “She was a beautiful girl.”

“I have no doubt. Look at her mother.”

She gave him a wan smile. “He begged me—-did everything but get down on his hands and knees—to let him stay.”

Dave stared at her intently. “What did you do?”

“I kicked him out. It hurt too much to have him there.” She sipped on her mango sunrise tea.

“God. I can’t imagine.”


“So.” He reached out and put a hand on hers.

She fought it, but she couldn’t stop the tears. God, I’m a mess. She’d been a regular waterworks these last few days. “I don’t know what to do.”

He got up and gave her a hug, enfolding her in his warm arms. “I know.”

It felt good just to be held by someone who had no claim on her. Who wanted nothing in return.

After a moment, he let go and pulled his chair over to sit down next to her. “What do you want to do next? If there’s anything I can do to help, you know I’m here.”

“I know you are.” She thought about it. There was only one thing she wanted. That she needed. “I want to find my grandchild.”



Check back in two weeks for the next part of the story – published the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.


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