Riley LaShea & the Case of the Neighborhood “Background Check”

It was just before 5 p.m. when the knock came at the door. Hoping to find the important package filled with rare goods* she was expecting sitting on her doorstep, where the lazy courier always dropped them, sometimes without so much as a knock, Riley was surprised to discover a standing package instead – a man moving back and forth from the door, dressed in shady intentions. Through the peephole, his real clothes looked earth-tone, like the uniform of a UPS driver if this weren’t noir and UPS wasn’t a futuristic delivery service.

Dressed in her Lady Rainicorn** onesie, because the frigid temperatures inside were almost as cold as her hard-edged neighborhood on its worst day, Riley beckoned her goblin butler to open the door for her.

Instead of the anticipated courier, the man who stood there had a badge and gun at his hip, coat drawn back to flash them into the whites of the goblin butler’s eyes.

“Raleigh P.D.,” he said. “Do you know Lauren Something-or-Other from across the street?”

“No,” said the goblin butler, but the policeman didn’t seem to believe her. Nor did he seem to be much of a policeman. “I don’t know any of the neighbors,” the goblin butler tacked on when the man didn’t walk away, because Riley and the goblin butler were an antisocial people. The neighbors spent too much time in their driveway with yappy dogs, letting their delinquent minors ride skateboards into the side of their roadster, making ruckuses where quiet would do.

“We’re just doing a background check,” the so-called policeman said.

Hmmm, Riley thought from the other side of the door. Since when is this how background checks are done? If it took that much legwork, no competitors would offer them for the low-low price of $19.95 with a free oven mitt if you bought right now.

On the lie, the man left, an unlikely policeman. Instead, unidentified, a potential threat to the decent working people of a tough neighborhood. Crossing the street, he knocked at another door, was invited inside, then let himself in and out several times as if he owned the place. Or was sexing the owner up good and proper.

The whole thing stunk of skunk tactics and the tuna still on the phony cop’s breath from lunch, and it was as flimsy as phyllo dough rolled out for baklava on a Greek grandmother’s countertop.

Though the clues didn’t add up, watching the man’s car finally roll down the street and out of her town, Riley let one get by her. Not all mysteries, after all, were hers to solve.

*organic candy
**1940′s Lady Rainicorn

Days in Italy

Remember that time I went to Italy and it took me five months to write about it? The funny part is I saved Italy for last because, though I know it’s cliche, Italy was, in fact, the place that grabbed me most.

Sixteen-euro, thimble-sized Hemingway Bellinis, authentic food at establishments that may or may not have been restaurants until we walked through the doors, good espresso any time of day or night everywhere from the oasis-like Autogrill at 2 a.m. to the parking garage where we stashed our rental to train into Venice.

Our base for exploration was Vicenza – east of Verona, west of Venice – and we came at it from the north, through the Austrian Alps and the Dolomites. The kind of scenery that, when put to film, makes a movie look bigger than life. The kind of scenery that, as you are moving through it, makes you feel as if the world is just too big for you. The kind of scenery that makes you cry, because it’s as if you transcended the real world, because nothing of this Earth, with its perpetual violence and day-to-day mundanity, actually looks like that.

After checking into Italy the first night, we drove a little further and took the train into Venice. A maze of canals and walking streets, Venice was a place to get lost, to buy a map, and to get lost some more. And it was good that it was a good place to get lost, because the narrow passages and convoluted ways between islands was mind-boggling. Four hours that night we wandered without direction, and came upon St. Mark’s Square for the first time at night when it was strangely empty, barely another person to encounter.

The shoes were wrong, and there were blisters, but they were well-earned and well worth it.

The next day was my birthday. We lunched by Lake Garda at this little local place that was so off the beaten path it was nearly impossible to find. The final turn was onto an ‘Is this a road? road that was really just a dirt path wide enough for our tiny rental. With no other turns until we were almost on top of the restaurant and had a beach sitting a hundred yards before us, we pulled into the parking lot that wasn’t a parking lot at all, but an olive grove where the spaces were the openings between trees. It was here that I ate amazing veggie pasta and looked out at the lake and the mountains and used a squat toilet just to say I did it.

That night was the opera in Verona. It’s held in an arena straight out of antiquity, uncomfortable as hell, but worth the pain just to see and hear. Then, there was a late dinner in an outdoor cafe staring out at the arena, and the return to the parking garage, where I squeezed back into the driver’s seat before making way down the insanely narrow floors to the exit.

The next day we sought out the biggest surprise of the trip, mainly because we had no idea it was there until we passed it driving into Vicenza. And then on the way to Lake Garda. And then back to Vicenza. And then to Verona. And then again to Vicenza.

Each time, day or night, we looked at it from a distance, and knew it was a place we needed to go.

The walled town of Soave lies just off a major roadway, and yet it’s off the beaten path because it’s more difficult to get to by public transit than the more well-known tourist destinations. In Soave, we encountered no English, but people willing to talk to us anyway, a quiet walk up and down cobbled roads, a hot climb to a perfect castle with a drawbridge, a moat and an amazing view, fantastic gelato, and a bakery where we came away with both sweet treats and olive bread for the equivalent of about $3 US.

Driving into Vicenza for lunch, we had what may be the most stereotypically Italian moment ever experienced in Italy when we went into the place that may or may not have been a restaurant, and I told the man inside, in my limited Italian, that I didn’t speak Italian. To which he replied, “Try me” in the most Italian possible way.

As there was-a no-a menu-a, he told-a us-a what-a he-a could-a make-a us-a.

He had the roast-a beef-a, he had the spaghetti bolognese-a, he had the tuna. And that was pretty much it-a. Luckily, it was all we required.

That evening, it was back into Venice for another go-round with its stunning buildings and its everywhere canals and its legend of masquerade and its twisty-turny pathways. And as we made our way out of the city for the last time this trip, there was only one thing I could say -

“Dove è il treno?”

2013, in Summation, and a Look Ahead to 2014

I have a reputation for cynicism in some circles. What I call realism, others call pessimism. What I call accurate observation, others call looking on the dark side. I do tend toward caution in belief where other people can see.

What most people don’t know is how much my facade, mostly in what I say and how I say it, serves as cover for my sometimes overwhelming expectations. I am a closet romantic, hopeless in my quiet, suppressed conviction that anything truly is possible, that love is worth giving whether it is returned or not, laughter is worth sharing even when it takes work to draw it out, that, in the end, things will be better than they began.

Throughout 2013, I had to remind myself again and again to temper my expectations. People rarely do as you would like, experiences can only be what they can be, and, in any type of creative endeavor, you must always anticipate failure first, or at least restrain your hopes for success, because the odds are rarely in your favor.

This year, though, I’ve had several occasions on which I got to challenge fear, I experienced such beauty, I was elevated, for brief moments, from the constant pressures of the world, I had moments with people that were genuine, and I watched in wonder as person after person discovered my writing and embraced it, something that means so much to me as someone who has been working very hard for a very long time in the pursuit of a dream that often felt only accessible in fantasy.

I have a lot of gratitude for a lot of people – Shawna, who has to endure my crazy (and there is a lot of it) and reads everything twice, Barbara Winkes, who has hosted me on her blog and posts about my writing all over the social networks, Dominique, who is always encouraging, Julie, who pointed me in the direction of the Rainbow Awards, and all those who have tweeted, retweeted, posted, and mentioned my books to friends. I especially want to thank those of you who have left reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I am well aware of how precious your time is, and that when you leave a review, you are giving me even more of your time than you have already given me by reading my books. I know what it means to get a review from someone. Please, don’t think I take it for granted.

This year, I saw two of my books – Behind the Green Curtain and The Wish List – come this close to cracking the top ten in their categories on Amazon, and Black Forest: Kingdoms Fall take first runner-up in Lesbian Fantasy in the Rainbow Awards. It has been a good-year for this dreamer, sometimes skeptic, and I only hope I can keep up the momentum in 2014.

In that regard, I wanted to let you know that I have updated my Writing page with my first releases of the coming year. I do advise caution to those who have not yet read The Wish List. There are some minor spoilers in the synopsis for The Four Proposals.

At the beginning of June, I embark on the next grand adventure when we sell most of our belongings, put those things that must be kept in storage, and spend two and a half months in Seville, before going to Bodrum, Turkey for three months, with hopes of traveling on from there. It is a big world, I don’t know what adventure awaits, who I might meet, what might happen, but embracing the unknown becomes more freeing everyday, and if I can find as many shining moments in the next year as I have found in this one, I will be overjoyed.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year. May it bring you the courage to seek what you desire.

Call Me “Dirt”: A Parable of an Accidental Prodigal

My uncle died at the end of August. He wasn’t the first. My mom had three siblings who never made it out of infancy. Three others – my Uncle Rodney, my Uncle Jerry and my Aunt Sue – died before I was born. When I was in junior high, my Aunt Annie died of cancer. I remember seeing my mom rush out of the gym from the basketball court during a game.

In a large family, there is a lot of loss. When I was a kid, we had a running joke that the life expectancy in our family was thirty. It helps sometimes to laugh at the things that hurt most.

When my Uncle Chuck died in August, it was a different kind of death, because it marked the beginning of the deaths to come. For half my youth, I had only one grandparent. My Grandma Ada died when I was nine, my Grandpa Harold died when I was five, and my Grandpa Bill died before I was born. My Grandma Helen, she was the one who made it until I was an adult, but only just. She died two months after I turned nineteen, a year after I left home for good.

Next, it will be the uncles and aunts and parents, then cousins and so on as life goes.

I didn’t go to my Uncle Chuck’s funeral. I had been kept informed of his condition and told when he died. During these updates, I could tell from the sound of the voices on the phone, from the underlying tone of emails and texts that I was supposed to come when called home by death, but I had seen my uncle twice in the past decade with good reason. I have seen all my extended family, whom I was once so close to, that little.

The day of my uncle’s funeral, I was in New York for a play. No one forced the issue.

My Uncle Chuck’s oldest son didn’t go to his funeral either.

During his illness and right after his death, I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with my mom, more time than I have spent talking to her in many recent years. It was during one of those lengthy conversations that I asked about him, my cousin Mike, how he was doing.

“Mike’s dirt,” my mom said. “I don’t want to talk about him.”

I was more surprised by her words than by Mike not returning to Ohio for his father’s funeral.

I haven’t seen Mike in nearly twenty years. I can pinpoint the approximate date, because 1995 was the year my nephew was born and Christian was a baby when my sister and I were bridesmaids in our cousin Stephenie’s wedding. Most of the wedding party was made up of strangers, but Mike was a groomsman, and, by luck, I got to sit next to him at the table for the wedding party, which sat on a raised platform, looking out over the attendees like a royal table at a banquet.

When they were young, Mike was super tight with my brother. They met up in the Pacific Northwest while Mike was home from the Army, drove down through California, and then back across the country to Ohio in Mike’s car. Video evidence showed Mike’s obsession with Beverly Hills, 90210 displayed without shame in a sticker on his glove compartment and Vanna White waving to them from her convertible.

“How’s Mike?”

“Mike’s dirt.”

Earlier the same month, my sister and her family came to visit. Within an hour, I’d heard the first barb about my nephew being gay for one of his friends by my brother-in-law. Ready for it, because I am nothing but preparation and stress in my family’s presence anymore, I said, “Oh, a gay joke already, huh?” To which my brother-in-law responded, in all casual lack of realization, “We’re always on him with it.” 

Apparently, at some point later, there was a conversation I didn’t hear, because the next day my brother-in-law asked me about some things, and it started a torrent of truths I didn’t know I could confess. I admitted for the first time to any of them that when I stopped coming “home” was when I had begun feeling suicidal every time I left.

It is a stunning, difficult thing to realize you feel less yourself and more alone around your family than almost anywhere. You miss them like crazy, you experience the loss almost as a death, you want to relate to them more than they know, but the day you think, “I love you, but I don’t know if I’ll survive you,” you have to make some very difficult decisions.

Last month, my nephew texted me and asked if we would come for Christmas. I almost always say “yes,” because I want so much for things to be different.

When we left on Monday, I could not look forward to it, though. I could not be excited. I went with trepidation, with those walls up that work pretty well against the constant onslaught of things I hear and read about “people like me” in the media, but are so inadequate against the stereotypes and jokes and comments when they come from the mouths of the people I love. I went there, not with an open heart, but with a heart that has become terrified to open for fear it will take a direct arrow. I went with that usual fear that, at some point, out of the blue, I would hear that thing that, no matter what the actual words are, echo in my head as -

“You have no home here.”

As usual, I was right to worry. After having been made to wait for them, within the first twenty minutes of our “togetherness,” the young men in my family were already off on their homophobic, ignorant comments that have nothing to do with me and yet everything to do with me.

I used to think there was a serious disconnect for them between gay men and Shawna and I. After all, it’s only gay men that obviously terrify them so much. But during the part of their conversation that I was apparently lucky to have missed, the oldest of my two younger brothers said something after which he declared, “I probably shouldn’t say that, because somebody will find it offensive.”

So, now I know they do know.

The thing is, though, the things they say aren’t offensive. They are ignorant. They are bigoted. They are disrespectful. They are hurtful. They do not offend me, they hurt me, and I don’t know why I should be expected to keep returning to a place that is a constant source of pain.

On Christmas, I finally told my mom I stopped coming when I started leaving suicidal. I didn’t want to have that conversation again, especially not that day, but it got pushed to that place and it came out in one of those dramatic revelations that people who’ve had their share of them wish only ever happened in fiction.

My mom said she hoped one day I wouldn’t feel that way. She didn’t say anything they might do to make me feel differently.

Mike didn’t go home for his father’s funeral. As far as I could tell, nobody asked Mike why he didn’t go home. They just thought he should have and called him Dirt.

I don’t know why Mike didn’t go either. I don’t know Mike anymore. I don’t know any of them.

I do know, however, that those of us who like to roam don’t always want to roam as far or as long as we do. Some of us simply look back and realize our homes are no longer where we left them. When that happens, all we can do is keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, hoping one day we’ll stumble upon a new one.

Subtext Recap: Once Upon a Time 3.11 – Going Home

There is a rare, bittersweet joy in watching the unfolding of a love story that will never be allowed to fully blossom. It’s what makes movies like Malena and Never Let Me Go so poignant, what makes songs like Almost Lover feel so lonely. That stated, the subtext in Going Home was so-not-even-subtext that I will not divert onto paths of dislikes and complaints. I will not mention those who need not be mentioned. I will not brainstorm the ways in which it can all be destroyed again, make bets on how quickly it will be, or opinion-spew about the return of the curse or the show’s new villain.

This post is about Emma and Regina, and about Emma and Regina only. Because this episode was pivotal. After a half-season leading up to it, this was the one in which two women who started out hating each other realized they would never be able to hate each other again.

- spoilers start now -

It all begins following a magical switcharoo, in which Gold returns Henry to Henry’s body and brings Pan back to Pan’s body, when, upon realizing Gold’s magical mojo has proven successful, Emma declares, “Let’s go find our son.”

As the gang marches down the street with Granny sniff-tracking Henry, because Once loves its big group walks, Henry-as-Henry rushes out of the library and into the arms of his two mommies for another joint hug, because, after the filming of the first one, it became instantly clear to the directors, cinematographers and Jesus how swooningly pretty those look.

So, Henry has the scroll they need to break Pan’s curse, and it’s a race to stop it, so Emma puts said scroll in Regina’s hand, declaring “It’s up to you now” with all this abounding faith. When Regina actually does swoon, or, rather, falls unconscious in response, Emma does most of the catching and is the one who calls out to Regina until Regina at last awakens, looks up and whispers “Emma.”

She says “Emma.” Emma. Emma.

It’s clear to all that things aren’t going to go painlessly, and that these are two women in love, but before the price of the magic required to stop the curse can be revealed, Pan is back to being a jerk who magically steals the scroll from Regina’s hand and boasts about his plans to kill them all. Emma and Regina go all tag-team-mom to protect Henry just as Pan puts the freeze on them, and there is a showdown between Pan and Rumple that ends in Rumps being totes heroic and the scroll falling to the street in slow-motion dramatics.

It is in this moment in which Regina breaks away from everyone to suffer on her own, as she is prone to do, and in which Lana Parrilla has a moment that ranks right up there with my favorite reactions of all time on screen or stage.

Neal says, “Regina, don’t let him die for nothing,” and gets no response. Then again, “Regina.”

“What?” Regina returns, and it is half a lifetime of torment and darkness, and two and a half seasons of aching loneliness, in a single, exquisite syllable.

The curse is coming, though, so no time to dilly-dally over this excellence. Fearing the end, Henry walks to Neal’s side for a little fatherly comfort, and Emma reaches toward Regina with a touch that doesn’t land, but that I’m not really sure if it matters makes contact or not.

“Regina?” Everyone is back on her to end Pan’s curse with a quickness.

“Yes,” she nods with such perfect internal suffering, it hurts all my everywheres. “Yes.”

Only Emma thinks to ask about the price, which is Regina’s alone, yet costs everyone. Upon finding out that Regina can never see Henry again, Emma looks utterly bothered, even before Regina reveals the curse being undone means everyone goes back to their own places of origin, which would leave Henry a part of our world.

“Alone?” Emma questions.

“No,” Regina steps closer to her. “You will take him, because you’re the savior.” And she says it with awe and admiration of the fact. “You were created to break the curse, and once again you can escape it.”

But Emma doesn’t want to. She wants to go back with everyone else. And it takes Regina’s declaration that it’s not possible and convincing for Emma to agree to take Henry and go.

Then, we stand at the town line, where there are a lot of goodbyes, and Regina waits for Emma to be alone-ish.

“Emma,” she says, and, in all seriousness, I still just want to watch them say each other’s names back and forth for like an hour. “There’s something I haven’t told you.”

“What now?” Emma can handle all the goodbyes, except for the one from Regina. And she can handle it even less when Regina tells her she and Henry are going to lose their memories of Storybrooke and everyone they met there.

“It doesn’t sound much like a happy ending,” Emma says.

“It’s not,” Regina admits, and stops trying to hide her affection. “But I can give you one.”

Though she can’t preserve their memories, she can give them new ones, as she did everyone else who came to Storybrooke by way of the Enchanted Forest. And, though, Emma doesn’t forget that Regina is the one who cursed them to begin with and that they were all miserable, when Regina says, “They didn’t have to be,” and reaches for her hand, Emma gives it without hesitation.

So, Regina bestows upon Emma the gift of good memories, memories in which Emma never gave Henry up, in which they have always been together, and Emma starts to cry for the first time and Regina starts to cry, and it is the longest goodbye by far. As it should be.

“You would do that?” Emma asks.

“When I stop Pan’s curse and you cross that town line,” Regina promises her, “you will have the life you always wanted.”

Then, she let’s Henry and Emma, and, romantic or not, Emma and Regina stake their claim as this show’s greatest love story.

Subtext Recap: Once Upon a Time 3.10 – The New Neverland

These snowstorms, for serious. Last Sunday night, we had a reservation for a night in New York. I was gonna sip local cider, cover myself in the crumbles of the world’s greatest (and a very large) gingersnap cookie, see the lights and windows, and, generally, just soak up New York Christmas. On Monday night, we were gonna see Jinkx Monsoon do the holidays up right before heading back to the land of the Raleigh.

Instead, the forecast three inches turned into upwards of eight inches (at least in the area in which we ended up snowbound) and Sunday night was spent trapped in a hotel room outside Baltimore, where I watched the tenth episode of Once Upon a Time‘s season three, after it was interrupted, of course, by a weather guy promising even more snow.

This also proved a good time to switch on the ole VPN and catch up on the Lost Girls for this season. Even the last one, which we watched before rationally heading home Monday before getting bound up by the snow again.

We did, however, discover the most sprawling, beautiful Wegmans I’ve ever been in, where they served up organic lattes of perfect flavor. So, there’s a hot tip for anyone seeking organic coffee drinks in the northeast.

So, anyway, there is no point to any of this other than to draw you in with the promise of subtext and then unleash my tale of woe upon you. Except not really, because we got safely parked in a hotel with food and coffee on hand in some very dangerous conditions, so it was actually more of a best case scenario than a worst case scenario.

Now, onward to The New Neverland. *SPOILERS AHEAD*

First off, it’s fucked up to have Eric chopping the heads off of fish when Ariel goes to find her true love. I mean, I’m sure that was all part of Regina’s ha-ha laugh-riot curse, but he remembers everything like everyone else, right? So, he should know that shiz is whack. Of course, it’s really just an excuse for them to be at the dock when the ship comes in, so there can be loooooong slow-motion return of the passengers of the Jolly Roger just to show how alone Regina is in the world.

But, wait! What’s this? Snow White wants to honor Regina’s behavior in Neverland? Great, she feels so much better now about you pointing her out as she stands alone with no one who loves her, except for the thousands upon thousands of people who watch this show for Regina and Regina only.

Next, it’s back to Granny’s to celebrate the homecoming, ’cause it’s the most hoppin’ joint in town, a celebration that includes the following -

A bro talk about how Hook is going to back off so Neal-Bae can have Emma in the short-term, while Hook awaits their break-up so he can take Emma on home. Aren’t we glad they decided that for her?

Regina and Tinkerbell as sudden friends, and a brief talk with the Blue Fairy for the pure sake of killing her later. Plus, of course, the foreshadowing that Tink doesn’t believe in herself and her magic, so we can anticipate, at some point, Tink’s magic is going to save the day.

Snow and Charming proving they are really just team penis. Neal’s dead. Go for Hook! Neal’s alive. Go for Neal! They don’t really seem to care, as long as it has the power to impregnate.

The early manufacturing of some parental drama as Pan-as-Henry prefers the company of the hotter, naughtier mommy for bedtime. Can’t say I blame him.

Mary-Snow having something to say as Regina leaves with Pan-as-Henry, because there is never a time Mary-Snow doesn’t have something to say.

Party maybe or maybe not over, it doesn’t matter, because we follow the wafting fragrance of Regina’s hair back to Mills Manner, where Regina is mothering, and we realize, yet again, there is nothing the woman doesn’t do sexy.

It is here where Regina makes a vital declaration - “Magic isn’t the answer.”

That hair, however, may be, and, at some point during each of the past five or so episodes, Shawna has demanded to know when we get the deleted scene of Regina brushing her hair for fifteen minutes.

Anyhows, Pan-as-Henry is a bad mofo and he sets the shadow loose on the town.

Before the shadow can do any damage, though, we must see Neal eating alone in his meet-me-at-the-diner-or-I’ll-never-pursue-you-again ultimatum, and the Charmings who have come there to, oh I don’t know, spy on them maybe, realize Emma didn’t take Snow’s advice to jump on the first available erection. So, Charming goes out to talk some sense into their baby girl and get her hooked back up with Henry’s biological father. (Notice Hook’s cameo in there? I did that.)

This is when the writers find opportunity to give a tip of their hat to the show’s subtext… between Hook and Charming.

This leads straight into a moment of Emma being jealous over Hook and Tink. Just before the Blue Fairy gets dead. So, yeah.

And, while I’m no fan of the Blue Fairy, and I’m more than cool with this show cutting down on some of its unnecessary baggage, that was a pretty quick, lame-o death for a character that has been around since the beginning. I mean, disappoint someone, scream, and you’re dead. End scene.

Then, in the wake of the quick fairy death, there is parental conversation (contention) between Regina and Emma. Because they are back in Storybrooke, so it’s what they do. Though, I give props to good portrayals on both sides that show a melting surrendering softening toward each other.

Of course, Regina’s argument against Emma’s point that Henry isn’t himself is kind of silly since she knew damn well Henry wasn’t being himself when he was asking about magic. So, the likelihood that she would take him to the vault? Low. But, for the sake of drama, let’s just go there with them, shall we?

Fast-forward to Henry-as-Pan being discovered in Pandora’s Box and Pan-as-Henry knocking Regina out with some magic something that makes her fall funny.

Found in the crypt, Regina admits in front of all them-alls that she wanted to believe Henry needed her so badly she bought Pan’s act, and Henry-as-Pan says he does, and all sorts of warm family ahhhs ensue, before we get into the fact that the curse, which Pan now holds in his grubby little Henry hands, can be cast again.

Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I imagine they know better than to go there. And if the creators and writers don’t, ABC certainly should. Remember what happened to your one-season wonder FlashForward when it started to become clear to viewers the only way to sustain the premise was to FlashForward again? It didn’t end well.

Like I say, I don’t know what will happen, and I’m sort of sorry, sort of relieved to say I don’t particularly care. The important takeaways here are -

Medusa. NO.

And Regina has amazing hair.

Subtext Recap: Once Upon a Time 3.8 & 3.9 – Think Lovely Thoughts & Save Henry

 - OR (if these were episodes of Friends) -

The One Where Emma and Regina are Stronger Than Nature

&

The One With the Moment Emma Fell in Love with Regina

My effort to get two books out in a short period has gotten me behind double, and probably a double-behind too, but sometimes one must neglect one’s posterior for the sake of posterity. You know, ’cause future generations are totally going to benefit from my writings on lady-love, badass fairy tale heroines, and Christmassy magic. I mean, it could happen.

But probably not.

The point is, I’m behind, but at least I’m working toward catching up. So, here we go, backtracking to Think Lovely Thoughts. As always, expect spoilers throughout.

While it has been a while since I watched it, granted, I do recall a lot of commotion at the beginning with Bae’s revelation to all that his Pappy is all “Death to Henry!”, though really Gold kind of isn’t, and overall this is largely just a ‘Gold, Who’s Your Daddy’ episode. Which, I don’t know, was anyone surprised Pan was Gold’s daddy? Because Once has a tendency to set up a lot of plot twists that aren’t the least bit surprising.

So, let me take us all back just a little further for a moment to season one, and the nostalgia of not knowing. At least for me. Because I, personally, did not know who August was until they revealed it. Of course, it helped that Pinocchio was never mentioned until they wanted us to know, but I’ll take it.

And, back to the present.

The important stuff begins with the rescue of Henry, and a lovely moonlit boat ride to Skull Island, during which Emma and Regina sit side-by-side (holding hands) while their goblin-butler (Adventure Time reference) Neal rows, rows, rows their boat.

Once on Skull Island, Gold is the only shadowless creature amongst them, so he slips off to do his saving of Henry while NealBae thinks he’s slipping off to do a little throat-slittin’. While Gold is in with Pan, getting piss-poor fatherly advice and all boxed up, Emma remembers elementary science and that light makes shadows.

So, what’s the obvious solution?

Block out the moon by eclipse, duh.

Not ‘Hey guys, look I’m wearing a long coat. Why don’t you crouch down and I’ll hold it open in front of you and it will block your shadows so you can waddle on through, and then I’ll crouch down and hold it against the moon and get right through too, no probs.’

Now, I’m not saying their way wasn’t way sexier and subtextier. I’m just saying, magic’s nice and all, but if ever they return to a land without it, I’m not sure what they’ll do when they find themselves in a pickle. MacGyver, they ain’t.

On the sexy, subtexty side, though, this is the point where Regina admits she needs help, and Emma is surprised, because she believes her woman has unsurpassed powers that require no backup, a misunderstanding forged in the bedroom where, in fact, Regina has unsurpassed powers that require no backup.

So, basically, what happens next is Regina and Emma combine their magic essences to eclipse the moon. As sworn enemies are known to do. And Neal stands back and thinks, ‘Hmm, Emma and I never produced an eclipse.’ That’s right, Neal, you didn’t. You just didn’t.

Next, there’s this whole parental appeal to Henry, which goes pretty much like this -

PARENTS: Henry, we are nothing without you.

HENRY: That’s awesome. But I’m a kid and I’m stupid.

Then, he gives Pan his heart, Pan ascends or something, and we’re all set up to -

Save Henry

The best thing about the subtext in Save Henry isn’t that it starts immediately, though it does, but that it is so wonderfully existential in nature. First, Emma and Regina are being all parental together, cradling Henry between them, and Regina is actually getting the leading parent role. As she should.

Then, Neal is asked to speak and Regina is pretty much done with having two additional parents in her son’s life when she did it all on her own for ten years. So, she goes into Regina mode and tells it like it is, and Emma tries to make peace between her past and future lovers by telling Regina it’s enough.

“Don’t tell me what’s enough,” Regina snaps back. “My son is dying.

And Emma looks flat-out wounded, because she really thought they had already gotten over that particular relationship hurdle. “Our son,” she says. “So, yes, I know how you feel.”

It’s at this point that Neal walks off, realizing he is not at all part of this conversation, despite his own parental ties to Henry, because it is SO not even about Henry.

And this is SO much feeling for Regina to openly reveal to Emma -

“You have no idea what I feel. You have your parents, you have this person, a pirate who pines for you. You have everything, and yet you claim to know what I feel. All I have is Henry, and I am not about to lose him, because he is everything.

And this is SUCH a concession for Emma to make to Regina -

“You’re right. I don’t know what you feel. So what do you wanna do? You wanna run the show, run it. How do we save Henry?”

And then Regina admits weakness -

“I don’t know.”

Then, there’s a little more discussion about how Pan can be hurt because Emma nicked him with the sword, and Regina is more than ready to take her own chunk out of Pan. And whomever else she must take a chunk out of on the way. This leads to the hunt for pan, and interrogation of the Lost Boys, and they gots limited time, so Regina is about to go all heart-ripper on the worst little Lost Boy (it did work once, after all) and Emma stops her with physical hands on her.

Now, I’m not about to sit down and go back through two-and-a-half seasons, but is this not a milestone? Because the only touches I recall Emma and Regina sharing until this particular touch have all been either violent or absolutely necessary (to save Regina’s life). Now, one could argue that Emma felt she had to put her hand on Regina’s arm to prevent her from ripping out the kid’s heart, but I argue against that.

Because this is how I choose to see the world.

So, then something even more telling happens.

Emma reasons with Regina. Reasons with Regina. Reasons.

Since when does Regina do reason?

I mean, seriously, for someone who didn’t want to follow Emma, or to be stuck with the Charmings – which, who the fuck can blame her? – she has taken a LOT of direction from Emma in Neverland.

“Rip out a heart, Regina.”

 

“Okay, Love.”

“Don’t rip out a heart, Regina.”

“Okay, Love.”

And Emma’s big idea to make the Lost Boys speak? Pretty much say to them exactly what Regina said to her moments before. Because it clearly worked wonders, and Emma is still feeling it.

PIT STOP

Now, we must veer off course for a moment to go back in time, as we did with frequency during this episode, and always to Regina. Yay!

Because the trajectory of Henry’s adoption is one of the things that Once has gotten right. And it’s about time Regina gets some credit for her choice to love (at great cost to herself, we at last discover), and that adoptive parents in general get some props on this show.

When she said “Please, just give me a chance” and kissed Baby Henry’s smooshy face, and he finally stopped crying and it made her so happy, that was it. I was done with concern for any other character. Just slay your way through the competition and take Emma already Regina. Take her! Or, you know, be humane and just lock everyone up. And please, I implore you, gag Mary Margaret.

Because it’s amazing that the Snow White/Mary Margaret characters are still soooo far apart in personality that I’m totally on board with Snow White and yet every time Mary Margaret opens her mouth, I start rolling my eyes before she can get out a single syllable.

Anyway, our three main ladies – the savior, the queen and the sap – go off to look for Pan alone, because, despite all this talk about how strong Pan is and how he is damn near unstoppable, that makes the most since because there are some basic chores to be done elsewhere on the island.

Yes, I know… Until Henry’s heart firmly sets in, Pan can be hurt, yada yada. But they set him up as this ultimate Big Bad, and when they said that shiz on Buffy, they meant all hands on deck.

In the end, though, it only took one hand. Which really isn’t all that surprising, because Regina is both the villain and the hero of this show. Kind of like House, you know if House had ripped out people’s hearts and putting sleeping curses on them.

Anyway, off on their own, the savior, the queen and the sap stop by the Pandora’s Box trap and get vined up to a tree by their regret. The thing is, though, Regina has no regret, because everything she did got her Henry. And also Emma in a roundabout way. So with a saucy declaration that she has no regret, she breaks them the fuck out and rips Henry’s heart from Pan, as Emma looks kind of terrified and yet awed.

This is Regina’s lifting-a-car-to-save-her-child-trapped-underneath maternal-adrenaline moment.

So, they rush to the Jolly Roger and Regina puts Henry’s heart back. After some manufactured suspense, Henry wakes up and the most important thing in the episode happens -

Joint hugs! Joint hugs!

And, while Emma and Regina aren’t hugging each other, they are hugging close to each other, and, in subtext, that counts. It has to. If near, close and sort of weren’t somewhat satisfying for us, we would all be starving.

It isn’t so much the joint hug, though – although Regina’s fingers clearly want to get intimate with Emma’s hair – that make this moment so freaking subtexty, but the way that Emma and Regina look at each other just before they cut to the next scene.

That’s freakin’ love, yo.

The Wish List – The Playlist

For those who may be interested in a few musical selectables for The Wish List, here they come at you in the form of my playlist.

1 – I Said a Prayer, Pam Tillis
2 – That’s What I Want For Christmas, SHeDAISY
3 – Something to Talk About, Bonnie Raitt
4 – Here (In Your Arms), Hellogoodbye
5 – Think About Love, Dolly Parton
6 – Let Me Be the One, Blessid Union of Souls
7 – No One – Alicia Keys
8 – Beautiful Soul – Jesse McCartney
9 – Say Hey (I Love You) – Michael Franti & Spearhead
10 – What Can You Lose – Madonna and Mandy Patinkin
11 – I Already Do – Chely Wright
12 – You Fool – Kaci Brown
13 – All I Want For Christmas Is You – Play

The playlist on Spotify.

And, for those who may have missed Kaci Brown’s blink-and-you-miss-it mainstream career nearly a decade ago, might I recommend at least listening to “You Fool,” because I oh-so love the particular vocal stylings of this particular song.

The Wish List – Now Available

I know some people have already discovered it out there, which makes me very happy, but for those who haven’t, I wanted to let you know The Wish List is available on both Amazon and Smashwords.

Find it on Amazon

Find it on Smashwords

In honor of my last release of the year, this is where I would go into what a hectic, exhilarating, occasionally infuriating first few months it has been publishing as myself if I weren’t so exhausted.

I am, though.

Sorry.

Another time.

The Wish List – Chapter One

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving / first day of Chanukah / Thursday in November. Sorry to keep bombarding you with nothing but book-related stuff over the past few posts, but I won’t have time for anything else until December 6th. So, if book stuff is lame stuff for you, please stay tuned.

I know there are at least a few people who have been waiting for me to post an excerpt of The Wish List, and I do apologize for the delay in getting it out here for you, but, without further ado, the first chapter in its entirety.

Be warned, it is a lot of chapter.

* * * * *

Chapter 1 – American Thanksgiving – 29 Days ‘Til Christmas

One should never underestimate the mind-altering effects of sugar, tryptophan and copious amounts of alcohol. This was something Kelsie remembered every fourth Thursday morning of November when she was loading festive food and paraphernalia into her car. By the time she was halfway through her first overloaded plate of turkey and trimmings, though, her thoughts of moderation tended to come in moderation, so she could manage to avoid the hangover, but not the bursts of creative madness that tended to come from a day of overindulgence with her intimate six.

Some of the most asinine ideas her friends ever had came in the stupor that occurred sometime between eight and ten p.m. each American Thanksgiving.

Some of the most brilliant too.

It was mid-cranberry jello shot one year that Brian suddenly perked up with his idea for the pet ornament – like the pet rock, but a seasonal inanimate object people could pretend was alive and had affection for them. Pleasantly tipsy, they had all indulged this “genius” until the next day when, sober, the pet ornament seemed like a stupid idea to everyone but Brian. In the end, though, his dedication was justified when the pet ornament was fad enough the following holiday season to treat them all to New Year’s in Aruba.

A trip that required a Christmas night departure, Kelsie’s mom claimed to be fine with it at the time. She didn’t really let it go, though, until Kelsie repented with a three-night pilgrimage to her old bedroom in the middle of March for no reason at all, other than for her mom to make her pancakes every morning and hug her at random intervals without warning.

Of course, even her mother recognized that Kelsie had two families, the one into which she was born and the one she formed at school when pressure, late nights, and the terror of impending adulthood created a nearly unnatural bond. She had even adopted them for a time, providing them a place of refuge when their families were too far or too infuriating. Part necessity, part kismet, Kelsie had given her heart to Melissa, Kip and Doug years before any of them fell for anyone else.

It was bound to happen, though. Two gays, two straights, none of them romantically compatible, they had to fall outside their circle eventually. Though, oddly enough, external parties only seemed to fortify their original foundation, instead of disbanding it.

There were no Yokos.

Watching late-addition Ashley fall into her husband’s appreciative lap and kiss him soundly, Kelsie remembered how surprising it was when Doug found someone in his early twenties. An unapologetic player who, quite literally, lived by the motto, “Youth is the time to explore all channels,” none of them expected him to give into forever until he had probed every channel he could find. So to speak.

“Oh, Kels,” Ashley sunk contentedly back against Doug’s chest, slapping his hand as he tried to maneuver it beneath her shirt. “We have to find you someone. We need to find her someone,” she repeated to her husband, sighing in over-dramatized pity at Kelsie, as if she was just the saddest thing.

“Yeah, Kels,” Doug agreed with his wife. Doug always agreed with his wife. “You’re such a catch. Why are you still single?”

“Am I single?” she asked, juvenilely satisfied when Doug’s gaze narrowed in drunken confusion.

“Yeah, you’re totally single,” he replied, but glanced around the room for a phantom girlfriend just in case.

Ever since Melissa wrapped Jay up in an elopement-style ceremony at Niagara Falls that was more like a bawdy celebration of their last vestiges of youth than holy matrimony, Kelsie hadn’t just become more noticeably single to her friends. She had become their new project, the ‘pet ornament’ of the year.

“She’s too picky,” Melissa raised her dirty blonde head from picking lint off her husband’s intentionally-ugly sweater on the couch nearby to throw in her unsolicited two cents.

“What are we talking about?” Brian asked, coming back into the room with Kip and coffees that Kelsie thought were meant to start taking the edge off until she took the first sip and found the java-to-liquor ratio unfavorable to the regaining of her faculties.

“Why Kelsie doesn’t have a girlfriend,” Jay informed them, as if the topic of conversation ever changed. Kelsie would swear on a million bibles, her mother’s life and the cutest of puppies that her love life was all they had talked about since Melissa and Jay got back from their honeymoon.

“Oh,” Brian’s face wrinkled as he finished the distribution of the coffees and leaned the empty tray against an end table. “Maybe she’s just too busy.”

Kelsie smiled at him for coming to her defense.

“Or maybe she’s using that as an excuse,” Kip hardened his husband’s reasoning.

“She is hot, though,” Doug declared. “Come on, you really can’t find any woman who wants a piece of all that?”

As Doug motioned to all the parts of Kelsie he considered highly-appealing, Ashley only smirked her agreement, more amused by her husband’s behavior than bothered by it.

“He does have a point,” Melissa took Doug’s side as they all would in the end, and Kelsie prepared for the united front of the recently-espoused against her bastion of romantic freedom. “I mean, that piece I had was pretty tasty.”

“You two?” Doug was roused so quickly to attention, he nearly dumped his wife on the floor. “Oh, of course you did. All that time alone in your apartment, both being all sexy. How could you not? Oh my God, that is so hot.”

“It is also untrue,” Kelsie stated, sending an irritated glare toward Melissa. “Why would you tell him that?” Like they could have conceivably done any such thing without Doug and Kip knowing about it at the time.

Melissa had zero justification aside from her own humor, which was clear on her face, as Doug looked between them, trying to decide who was telling him the truth. “Someone else talk,” he uttered. “I forgot what I was saying.”

“What I think Doug’s trying to express in his own crass way,” Ashley translated her husband, “is, are you even trying?”

“You know I’m trying,” Kelsie countered. God knew, she couldn’t date in private. If she ever met a woman without a million immediate questions and twelve hands pushing her toward the altar, it would be a miracle. “What is this?” she added, not sure if she was asking about their holiday attack or the extremely potent drink she’d been given as she lifted it to her lips. “Does it hurt you all somehow that I’m single?”

“Does it hurt you?” Kip came to rest on the arm of the chair with too much confidence in its build. As it tilted precariously on two legs, Kelsie watched the quasi-coffee slosh in her cup and thought they were all going over, until Kip’s absurdly strong legs pushed them back with a thump she was shocked didn’t break the chair in two. “Seeing the rest of us leaving with someone,” he didn’t miss a beat, “while you go home to your empty condo?”

Tossing a look toward Brian, Kelsie silently begged him to come fetch his husband. “Why did you let him go back for a psych degree?”

“He wants to help people,” Brian looked adoringly at Kip, too love-dumb to recognize him as the menace he was. “Besides, look at that handsome face. Could you say ‘no’ to him?”

Of course, Kelsie couldn’t say ‘no’ to him. She couldn’t say ‘no’ to any of them. That was the biggest part of her problem. These people were her kryptonite, and she went willingly into their debilitating embraces on regular occasion.

“He wants to revel in people’s psychoses,” she argued.

“That too,” Brian acknowledged.

“Seriously, though…” Kip decided redistributing his weight was the best way to keep them from tipping, and, sliding his arm over the top of the chair, he hovered over Kelsie like a sadistic angel. “Your core group of friends are all paired up with each other. Then, there’s you. That has to make you feel like an outsider. A seventh wheel.”

“On what?” Kelsie countered. “A cargo van?”

“Maybe she’s like the spare,” Doug found his brain again. “And I will just say right now, Kels, if anything happens to me, I give you permission to fully take care of any and all of Ashley’s needs.”

“Why wait?” Ashley added to her husband’s great pleasure.

When Doug looked hopefully to Kelsie, she shook her head with due adamancy. “I am not doing that,” she stated. Though, she had to admit to herself, if things continued as they had been going in her attempts to meet the right woman, she may well be desperate enough in a few years time to borrow her friend’s beautiful black-haired, mocha-skinned wife for the occasional fix.

“Do you feel like that, Kels?” Melissa thought she was helping as she abandoned Jay on the couch to plop on the other arm of Kelsie’s chair. Fleetingly wondering about its weight limit, Kelsie lost her chance to escape the precarious seat when Melissa’s hand came to rest on her shoulder, the squeeze of her long, determined fingers feeling more like incarceration than comfort. “Like you’re the spare?”

“No, I really don’t,” Kelsie responded.

“Well, we certainly don’t see you that way,” Brian came forward to assert, and it made Kelsie wonder if it was, in fact, how they saw her. She imagined them lying in bed at night, in their separate sets, pillow-talking about it. Oh, mustn’t it be depressing to be Kelsie, bolted in on the underside of the chassis, getting pelted by rocks and dirt slung up at her, as we all move forward in perfect harmony toward wonderful future destinations?

“What are you waiting for exactly?” Melissa questioned. “You have dated some very nice women.”

“Hot women,” Doug interjected. “Some hot, hot women.”

“Yes,” Kelsie acknowledged. “I have dated some nice women, I have dated some hot women. I have dated women so insane, Kip would love to get his mind-meld on them, and some almost normal.” Grateful suddenly for the spirits in her cup, she imbibed a hearty swallow that failed to make her friends go away.

“And?” Ashley questioned from Doug’s lap.

“And what?”

“Why did you decide against the almost normal ones?” Ashley went on. “Assuming some of the almost normal ones were also some of the hot and-or nice ones.”

“I didn’t decide against them,” Kelsie countered. “I just couldn’t imagine a future with any of them. Who knows why?”

That was the real deal. Her first quarter-century-going-on-thirties had been a rather pain-free existence. She wasn’t riddled with issues. There had been no great drama inhibiting her love life. She had just never found anyone quite… enough. And she frankly thought it a little unfair the way they ganged up on her when she knew damn well they were all only off the market because they had each found someone who was more than enough.

“Brian burps in his sleep,” Kip’s sudden announcement was both gross and unexpected, and Kelsie got a face full of boozy breath as she looked over at him and discovered his hovering had only come closer. “Burps,” he reiterated. “In his sleep.”

Not sure why she was being enlightened to said fact, Kelsie glanced toward the nocturnal belcher. “I’m sorry to hear that, Brian. Maybe it’s a digestive problem?”

“Kip talks to his dead grandmother,” Brian declared, catching onto his husband’s train of thought much quicker than Kelsie. “It’s really freaky.”

“Melissa watches reruns of game shows and pretends she knows the answers,” Jay said.

“Yes, I know.” Kelsie bitterly recalled the twenty bucks lost to Melissa in college before she became aware of the bizarre, yet clearly lucrative, habit.

“You also know what’s wrong with him,” Ashley said, patting her carnally-predisposed husband on his muscle-bound chest.

“Ash wears two pair of underwear in the winter,” Doug complained in retaliation. “Regular panties, then boy shorts.”

“Probably as a barrier,” Melissa snorted her coffee.

“That’s not true, Honey. You know I just don’t like my bits cold,” Ashley appeased Doug, before looking toward Melissa in wide-eyed affirmation.

“Jay pulls the wings off butterflies!” Melissa realized she might miss her chance to share one of her husband’s less-desirable traits, and all movement in the room came to a truly horrified standstill.

“I do NOT do that,” Jay stated firmly.

“No,” Melissa admitted. “But he does sneeze into his hand and wipe it on his pants.”

“I do do that,” Jay confirmed.

“Well, fantastic,” Kelsie stated when their gazes returned to her, as if, between the six of them, they had made an indisputable argument. “Thank you for all of that information I would rather not know about you. Is there a point to any of this?”

“Yes,” Kip pushed up, adjusting his glasses on his nose and trying to find a position of authority on the arm of the chair. “The point is everyone has faults. Bizarre, gross, annoying, inherently unsexy faults. No one’s perfect, Kels.”

“I know no one is perfect,” Kelsie straightened in defense. “I am far from perfect.”

“That’s true,” Kip responded.

“You don’t have to agree.” Kelsie resisted the urge to push him off the arm of the chair due only to its precarious balance and the knowledge Melissa didn’t have the lower body strength to keep them from tipping the other direction. “I’m not looking for perfection. I’m just… I’m looking for…” Sighing as she realized she didn’t know why none of the women she’d dated in the past didn’t feel right to her, she knew it was a mistake to admit defeat, but there was nothing else she could do. “I don’t know what I’m looking for.”

“THAT is your problem,” Melissa suddenly thought herself an expert too. “You have to have some idea of what you want, or how will you know when you find it?”

“Well, I don’t,” Kelsie grumbled.

“Kels,” Doug was suddenly almost serious, and Kelsie released a frustrated sigh as she looked to him. “You don’t have to know what you want exactly, but you do have to have some idea of what you need to be happy. Like I’m a hound, right?”

“So say half the alums of U of T,” Kelsie defensively replied, grimacing at the slip and flicking her gaze to Ashley. “Sorry, Ash.”

“It’s all right,” she returned with all the confidence of a woman who could handle being married to Doug. “I know all about his record, on and off the ice.”

“But now…” Doug rushed to proclaim the sanctity of his marriage. “Now, I’m all bark and no bite. I knew that would always be me, though, and I would have to find someone who would put up with that.”

“And, miraculously, you did,” Kelsie grinned at the wonder of it all.

“Better in the open where I can see it,” Ashley reasoned, scratching her fingers along Doug’s scalp. “That way I can pull him back by his leash when he gets out of hand.” When she gave his short light brown hair a sharp tug for emphasis, Doug groaned in anything but pain, and Kelsie felt over-informed as to how they made things work so well.

“Why don’t you just let us pick someone for you?” Melissa suggested, and Kelsie’s laugh came so fast and raucous, it was almost painful.

“No, thank you.”

“You don’t trust us?” Melissa sounded truly wounded, and Kelsie knew she had reached her usual alcohol-induced pouty stage. “We did all right for ourselves.”

“Yes, you did,” Kelsie admitted. In fact, she wasn’t sure how they could have done better. “But you do have a tendency to think what you want is what I want when that’s not necessarily the case.”

“But you don’t know what you want,” Brian reminded her, lifting his coffee cocktail to his  lips for a victorious drink.

“He does have a point there,” Jay agreed, and Melissa smiled at her husband in a way that indicated taking their side when he didn’t have to say anything was a very wise, and would prove a very rewarding, decision.

Maybe they were right, Kelsie acknowledged, but only in her head where they couldn’t use her agreement to plot. Maybe it was her problem. Maybe she needed to really think about what she wanted. She wasn’t going to create some kind of dream-mate checklist, though, a set of criteria against which she compared every person she met. After all, the six people currently circled around her, telling her how pitiful, lonely, and imperfect she was, couldn’t be more different, and, for reasons that escaped her at that moment, she was enamored with all of them.

“All right.” She knew she had to put an end to their match-making notion before they overruled her on her own life. “I love you guys, and you have, I admit, shown a true knack for finding quality partners. However, if you would take a moment from your self-congratulating to remember, you have all set me up in the past. With most of the crazy people. Remember, that woman Jay set me up with a year ago stabbed me in the hand with a pocket knife when I tried to pick up the bill at dinner.”

“She thought she was being romantic,” Melissa tried to reason away crazy. “She didn’t want you to pay.”

“I thought it wasn’t the knife.” Brian thought the details made a difference. “It was only the little scissors.”

“I had to get four stitches!”

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Jay, at least, had the decency to feel some remorse. “She didn’t seem insane at work.”

“Well, there you go,” Kelsie raised her mug to him. “It’s really kind of hard to know until you have an inch of steel embedded in the fleshy part between your thumb and index finger. So, as much as I appreciate you all caring, and I do,” she stated directly to Melissa, hoping she could prevent the next stage in her best friend’s intoxication, the flood of baseless tears, “if I’m going to ask someone to just drop a woman on my doorstep, I think I would rather ask Santa.”

It was meant to be a firm testament as to how much she did not want them pushing some stranger upon her. It was not meant to be a suggestion.

“Oh my God, that’s brilliant,” Ashley took it as such anyway, so enthused with the idea she bounced and spilled coffee in Doug’s lap. Hissing at first, like any normal person, Doug settled into a satisfied grin, determining he liked the scald. “You should ask Santa.”

She should have kept her mouth shut, that’s what she should have done. Not sure where exactly to begin with that, Kelsie fell back on the adult-life mainstay of disenchantment. “You do know Santa isn’t real, right?” she asked.

“You shut your mouth.” Brian was dead serious.

“I like this idea,” Melissa’s mood brightened as she joined in on their folly.

“Can you do something for them?” Kelsie looked to Kip for help, ending up on her own again as he shook his head.

“I think they’re onto something,” he said.

“God, you are going to mess up so many people,” she foretold.

“Not because I think Santa is going to bring you the perfect woman,” Kip explained himself. “But because it will help you figure out what you do want. You know, since you have no idea.”

Six against one, Kelsie knew it was a losing battle and gave up trying to make them see they were all out of their inebriated minds. “Yeah, all right,” she uttered to end the debate. “I’ll think about that.”

“Do it now,” Melissa ordered.

“No,” Kelsie returned.

“Why not?” Doug asked, but before Kelsie could come up with a good excuse – instead of telling them the truth that she wasn’t particularly in the mood for soul-searching, and, even if she was, she wouldn’t willfully reveal her innermost workings in front of them when they already knew way more about her than they should, or would ever need to, know – Ashley jumped to her feet.

“We’ll do it for you,” she declared, rushing from the room on an apparent mission.

Her sudden departure taking him by surprise, Doug whirled for cover, grabbing a book from the end table and dropping it into his lap, as if anyone in the room wasn’t already aware he was hiding an erection beneath his wife. Doug spent eighty percent of his life hiding an erection, and the other twenty with one proudly on display.

“Please, don’t,” Kelsie pointlessly called after Ashley, but, seconds later, Ashley was returning to the room with a notebook, a pen, and a commitment to the cause.

“Dear Santa…” she started to write before she even crouched by the table next to Doug, turning it into her temporary letter-writing desk.

“My name is Kelsie,” Brian began the dictation. “I’m twenty-eight years old, and I’m single.”

“Frowny face,” Melissa added with glee.

“Wow.” Kelsie attempted to down the rest of her coffee, before accepting, with some frustration, it was still too hot. “Please, never sum me up again.”

“The first step is to admit you have a problem.” Kip was still on her like an overbearing parent, and it at last occurred to Kelsie what was happening. It wasn’t dinner. It wasn’t celebration. It was intervention. She had been lured into her own intervention by companionship, booze, and the promise of pie.

Realizing, in the next instant, she would follow Jay’s choco-coconut dream pie to her own doom, Kelsie made an effort to go claim the rest of it while they were distracted. When both Kip and Melissa’s hands held her prisoner in the chair, she growled beneath her breath and tried to come up with an adequate insult.

“That’s what you’ve got?” she shot at Kip. “The same textbook psychology from every twelve-step program? And I don’t have a problem. You all clearly have a problem.”

“Up through the Victorian era,” Brian interjected, “you would have been considered a spinster.”

“Up until the Victorian era,” Kelsie countered, “they would have hung me at the gallows right between the two of you. Thank God for progress, eh?”

“Okay,” Ashley was all business as she ordered them back to the subject at hand. “Now seriously, you guys, this is it. This is an official letter to Santa. We have to make it good.” For some reason, that actually focused everyone’s attention, as if whatever went into the Santa-letter would somehow alter reality. “Now,” Ashley pinned Kelsie with an unwavering gaze, “what do you want, Kels?”

What Kelsie wanted, more than anything, was to open her mouth and let loose a stream of traits that would make up the perfect woman, just to prove to them they didn’t know everything. Parting her lips to backtalk, though, she realized she had nothing to say. If she started listing, it wouldn’t take long for them to realize she had dated a few women who came awfully close to meeting all criteria and she still hadn’t fallen in love with any of them. Clearly, something was missing from her so-called checklist, which made the entire list moot.

“A babe,” Doug declared, and, apparently accepting that they were going to have to take up the task if she refused to participate, Ashley put pen to paper.

“I would like a pretty…”

“Sexy,” Doug insisted.

“I’ll put it in parentheses,” Ashley said.

“Blonde,” Doug added. “She’s done her share of blondes.”

“For the love of God,” Kelsie declared, wondering if it was time to cut ties with the people who knew her in college when she did just about anything. “If you’re going to do this to me, could someone at least bring me pie?”

“A pretty (sexy) blonde,” Ashley summarized.

“With huge boobs.” Brian mimed a breast size more frightening than appealing.

“Whose fantasy is this?” Kelsie asked. “Not huge. Just sufficient.” If they were insistent on doing it, they were at least going to get it right.

“A great smile,” Ashley said.

“A good body,” Melissa added.

“With a tight little ass, perfect for spankin’.” Doug felt the need to demonstrate, reaching around the end table to give his wife’s a hearty smack. “Trust me, you don’t want to live without that.”

“Maybe kind of exotic?” Ashley suggested.

“Perhaps, we should dig just a little deeper,” Kip, thankfully, reasoned.

“Listen to him,” Kelsie said. “Santa don’t like shallow.”

A second later, appearing before her, like a beacon of all things good and beautiful about the holiday season, Jay held out a small plate, and Kelsie accepted the offering with all the affection she was currently withholding from her other friends.

“Thank you, Jay,” she sighed. “I love you the most.” And, grinning, he was relocated to the other side of his wife as Melissa pushed him out of the way.

“Smart,” Melissa stated, and, considerably less annoyed as she tucked her coffee cup dangerously between her leg and the side of the chair, Kelsie nodded her agreement around a bite of pie.

“With a good sense of humor,” Ashley stated.

“Rich?” Still novel enough to have the courtesy to make it a question – and to bring her pie upon request – Kelsie pre-regretted the day Jay was deeply-embedded enough to torture her like everyone else.

“If it comes with the package,” she replied.

“Someone who cares about the world,” Brian stated, and Kelsie acknowledged that she liked the idea of someone with a global awareness, even as she, personally, cared little about anything at that moment beyond the stuffing of choco-coconut into her face and letting her friends get their current caper out of their overstimulated systems.

“Any specific sex acts we should mention?” Doug asked.

Clearing the remnants of pie from her palate, Kelsie swallow-scoffed. “No, Doug,” she replied. “I don’t think that would be appropriate in a letter to Santa, do you?”

Settling back with a small huff of his own, Doug lifted his mug to his lips. “You’d be surprised by some of the stuff I asked Santa for as a kid.”

“Doubt it,” Melissa’s and Kip’s voices responded in stereo.

“Okay, that should be good,” Ashley reasoned. “We’ve covered all the major bases.”

And, though the list seemed rather general, it wasn’t entirely off-target, and Kelsie was just glad to be done as Ashley finished up the last of the letter in silence.

“Let’s hear it,” Kip requested when at last she dropped her pen.

“All right,” Ashley replied, getting to her feet and clearing her throat. “Dear Santa. My name is Kelsie. I’m twenty-eight years old, and I’m single. Frowny face. I would like a pretty (sexy) blonde with sufficient breasts, a great smile, a good body, maybe kind of exotic, who is smart, has a good sense of humor, may or may not be rich, and cares about the world.

“I have been very lonely,” Ashley went on to her private addition. “Sometimes, I cry myself to sleep because I want to cuddle so badly.”

“Where did that come from?” Kelsie questioned, not even the pie distraction enough from that balderdash.

“I assume,” Ashley shrugged.

“You assume wrong,” Kelsie declared.

“It doesn’t hurt to bend the truth a little,” Brian backed Ashley up.

“But won’t Santa know if we’ve been naughty?” Kelsie pulled her lore from the only reference she had on the subject.

“White lies,” Melissa played it off.

“And everyone loves a good sob story,” Jay added. “You’ve seen what those cancer kids get. Trips to Disney. Celebrity meetings.” All eyes going to him, he may as well have pulled the wings off a butterfly.

“If there is a hell, you do realize you’ve confirmed your one-way ticket there with that sentence alone, right?” Doug asked, but Jay didn’t seem all that concerned with eternal damnation.

“Now, we have to stamp it,” Ashley was singularly-focused.

“You’re going to waste a stamp on that?” Kelsie sniggered around another bite of pie, smacking Kip’s hand with her fork as he tried to steal a piece of crust that broke off on her plate.

“That’s not how you stamp a letter to Santa,” Ashley’s frustration at Kelsie’s total ignorance of the Santa-letter process was clear.

“I’m sorry, Ash,” Kelsie countered. “In all the time we’ve known each other, I never realized I was in the presence of a bona fide Santa authority.”

Pausing for only a second to cast a glare back at her, Ashley continued to where Melissa’s purse sat atop the pile of coats inside the door, walking it back to Melissa.

“Please tell me you have that vixen-red in here,” Ashley said, eyeing Melissa’s flaming lips, and Kelsie watched with reluctant intrigue as Melissa went digging.

“You know I do,” she returned, pulling her makeup bag free.

“Will you do the honors?” Ashley requested.

“Of course,” Melissa returned, handing her purse off to Ashley.

Watching their cryptic exchange, Kelsie thought she was home free until Ashley ripped the pie plate from her hand and she was forced to grab her coffee mug and pray Kip could hold them up as Melissa turned suddenly and dropped into her lap.

Straddling her into immobility, much to Doug’s vocal pleasure, Melissa wiped the crumbs from Kelsie’s lips and squeezed them into a pucker.

“I have food in my mouth,” Kelsie could barely push through the ruthless grip.

“Then stop talking, or you’ll get crumbs in your lipstick,” Melissa countered.

“I’m wearing lipstick.”

“You can’t kiss a letter to Santa in peach,” Melissa declared. “Have some respect.”

Feeling the thick layer going on, against her protests and the repulsive fact that she had half-chewed pie in her mouth, Kelsie swallowed the soggy mess when Melissa at last released her cheeks to wipe the corners of her lips with a grin.

“Perfect,” Ashley returned to shove the folded letter in front of her. “Now kiss.”

Aware that she wasn’t getting up until she did exactly as she was told, Kelsie withheld her saucy retort and puckered, pressing her lips against the folded letter and pulling back to see her vivid red kiss against the white paper.

Following the path of the letter as it departed with a grinning Ashley, Kelsie watched her slip it beneath the dancing Mrs. Santa on the mantel as Melissa and Kip at last gave her back sole possession of the chair.

“I really think this will be good for you,” Kip stated again.

“Do you?” Kelsie asked, standing to stretch and set her coffee on a table, just grateful she hadn’t ended up wearing it. “Maybe you’re right,” she told them what they wanted to hear, and that was all it took to gain access to the other side of the room without interference. “Maybe asking Santa for a girlfriend isn’t such a bad idea.”

“That’s the spirit,” Melissa happily replied.

“It really is just about being optimistic,” Kip said. “Keeping your mind open, your eyes open, and your heart open.”

“Absolutely,” Kelsie accepted his sappy, crappy advice with a smile. “I mean, who knows? Maybe the jolly old fellow keeps mail-order brides on hand for just this sort of occasion.” Finally at her destination, she could let them know what she was really thinking, and, with a streak of rebellion, she tipped Mrs. Claus onto her abetting keester and seized the letter.

“Whoa, hey!” Brian was the first, but not the last, to try to call Kelsie off her mission. “What are you doing?”

Watching them all come for her, she held up a finger as if it would keep them at bay, and it was like threatening a werewolf with a butter knife because she was out of silver bullets. “While I appreciate the sentiment,” she rushed to say, “I don’t want you all this crazy, so I’m going to destroy the evidence.”

When she made the first tear through the center of the letter, they all kicked it into high gear, and Kelsie was caught in the embrace of at least three sets of unidentified arms as she tore the rest of the letter to shreds. Throwing the confetti into the air to show them the deed was done, she felt Santa-lovin’ hearts breaking all around her as the pieces floated toward the floor.

Then, all of a sudden, the air in the room seemed to shift. Whirling and circling at their feet, the scraps she’d tossed drifted back together until Kelsie swore she could see the letter exactly as it had been before her defiant outburst, and the paper chose its own direction, zooming suddenly into the unlit fireplace and up the chute. Blinking rapidly at the spot where the letter had just been, Kelsie knew she had to be hallucinating and wondered what exactly Kip and Brian had put in that coffee.

“That was a weird gust,” she uttered when speech finally returned.

A sharp bark of nervous laughter from Ashley her first response, Doug soon joined in on his wife’s enthusiasm.

“You’re getting a girlfriend for Christmas!” he exclaimed.