Free excerpt from my upcoming novella, No Stopping Now
“Are you ticklish here?” the male voice coos awkwardly, and I fall back on my bed and shove the purplest, fuzziest pillow I own over my face.
It helps zero. Zilch. Nada. Their laughter and other weird sounds stream into my bedroom as if I’m not almost suffocated in purple fuzz.
“How ’bout here?” His question elicits a long, raspy, stifled giggling sound—like a mechanically impaired sports car. Or a donkey invasion. Yes, a donkey invasion. Hee-haw! Hee-haw! Not at all sexy or feminine.
“What about here?” Sheets are ruffled. Someone flips over. A watch, or something, drops to the floor.
“Hehehe. Ah. Ohh. Hahaha! Hee-haw! Hee-haw!”
Did I mention said donkey sounds are coming from my mother? Who is, indeed, extremely ticklish.
Kill me now. Kill me right the fuck now.
I’m happy for her, really I am. She waited almost a decade after Dad died before she started dating again, something about wanting to protect us girls—namely me, since Cara was already out of the house by then—from potential “weirdos and crazies” and the trauma of seeing Mom heartbroken and missing Dad even more.
I call bullshit. She loved Dad, and hasn’t been ready till very recently. Now she’s making up for lost time I suppose, and I’m glad she’s dating. I’m happy for her. But Jesus Christ, I don’t need to hear it from the next room over. Especially from the mid-sixties tickle monster with the handlebar mustache, making Mom breathlessly squeal.
“Hee-haw! Stop! Hee-haw! No! Hehe-haha!”
Hell to the no. How can she stand him? Incessant tickling is grounds for a swift kick to the nuts. She does seem to enjoy it though—a little too much.
I gotta get outta here, pronto.
I fling myself out of bed, grab my cell and purse and swoop Cosmo into my arms. She doesn’t need to listen to this porno sesh, either. We bolt outside and settle in my car’s copper-toned leather seats, and man do I love how this thing purrs when I start the engine. Cosmo, yes—the obstinate little feline’s a trooper for riding shotgun with me—but also the car. I rev the midnight-blue Miata and toss down the ragtop and ride off in quiet bliss.
Just me and my girl and the late-autumn breeze.
Working for my sister at the front desk of her practice, Cara’s Caring Chiropractic, has its perks. She can be a royal pain in my ass, not unlike Mom, who helps Cara manage said practice, but we foster a cozy, warm, inviting space—and sis pays me pretty well. It’s enough to cruise my sorrows away in Blue, my 2002 Mazda Miata, and with fluffbutt in tow. It’s not enough to live by myself.
Far-far away from the acoustics of middle-aged pre-coitus.
My furry passenger and sidekick, Cosmo, is an eight-year-old Nebelung kitty with a silky grey-blue coat and glass-green, wide-set eyes. She’s sitting like a pooch in the bucket seat, but prim and poised, and staring harder at me than any dog I’ve ever witnessed. She’s unimpressed by my sudden conniption fit, leveling those see-into-your-soul eyes at my no-makeup look, my bees-nest hair and Sailor Moon pajamas I’ve worn since Friday night. It’s Sunday afternoon, Cosmo says with a flip of her long, plumed tail. Don’t judge me, cat, I eye back at her.
Cara’s given me two weeks off for “winter break” while my work-wives, Alice and Marisela, man the front desk. She says I’ve earned it. I say she’s freed up my time to help her plan her Christmas party. She’s my sister—granted I was four when she moved out and went to college—but I know her. She’s smart and accomplished. And wily and cunning. She doesn’t fool me, but actually, I don’t mind the time off. I get to sleep in for two weeks straight. And who knows, a party at Cara’s could be fun…
Hee-haw! Yeah, right.
I get through two epic Zakk Wylde guitar solos before pulling up to Cara’s driveway. The mature scarlet oak’s brilliant red leaves and quarter-sized acorns festoon the dying front lawn as autumn yields to mid-December. Though Cara pays me a competitive wage, I wish it were enough to live someplace like this, preferably alone. She’s a seasoned chiropractor, astute business owner, and fourteen years my senior. I’m a high-school dropout with zero regrets—but I’m also good at my job, and very lucky to have one that I enjoy.
Cara’s two-story house isn’t ostentatious by any stretch, but it’s spacious, quiet, and hers. She only shares it with Sadie, my almost-eight-year-old niece, and Jack, her cute new-ish boyfriend who used to live next door to Mom’s house when we were kids—the house I was born into and need to get out of before I die there, too.
Quit being dramatic, Cosmo scolds with a wrinkled, avocado stare, as I shift into park.
Still living at home at twenty-three, and now, emceeing whole conversations with my cat. I reach over and pat her head. “Sorry, Mo. You’re more than just a cat.” She nuzzles her face into my palm and grants me one vibrating purr, then whips a paw at me to stop it now.
“Fine!” I shriek, scooping her out of the car with me.
Sadie answers the door when I knock, as Cara hurtles down the stairs to stop her.
“Bubbles!” I squeal.
Sadie crashes into my arms. “Aunt Paris!” Her small but strong arms encircle me—my Sadie bubble—and squeeze like a kingsnake.
“Thank god it’s just you,” Cara sighs. “Sadie, how many times do I have to tell you not to open the front door? Just wait for me or Uncle Jack.”
“I knew it was Aunt Paris,” Sadie reasons. “I heard Blue.”
That’s right she did.
I lower Sadie down and Cosmo slides into her arms. “Hey MoMo,” Sadie croons, vigorously patting down her ears, and Cosmo hums repeatedly, indulging on Bubbles’ affections. They scamper upstairs to Sadie’s room.
“Uncle Jack?” I shift toward Cara. “That’s not awkward or confusing.”
“Ugh, I know.” Cara folds her mouth inward as she looks up the stairs then back to me. “It just came out one day and now it’s kind of stuck. I hated hearing her call him Jack—he’s too important to me, to us, to go by a first name. You know? She can’t call him Dad. We’re not married or engaged, and she has a dad.”
“Don’t remind me.”
Cara smirks. She’s right, though—Sadie has a father she adores. Few other people are fond of Evan Holland, Cara’s ex-husband and baby-daddy and the owner of Spine Doctor, Dallas-Fort Worth’s sprawling chiro chain, with twelve local wellness centers. He’s a pill, but Sadie loves him endlessly, and Cara handles him well. She may be the only one.
She observes my lovingly lived-in PJs. “Sailor Moon?”
“Champion of justice!” Never gets old. I giggle as Cara rolls her eyes, stifling her own little chortle. “For real though, you got any coffee?” I implore. “We need to talk.”
“There’s a Keurig Jack brought. Help yourself.”
“Come with me.”
Cara follows me into the kitchen and sits at the island while I grab a mug and a pod and fill up the water. “What’s this about? Mom brought another date home?”
I spin to face her and press a finger to my nose.
“Yikes.” She scrunches her face and releases a faux-shiver. “You’re not gonna make donkey noises, are you?”
“Let me live here.” It sails from my mouth before I know that’s why I came. “Pleeease, Cara. I’ll clean your house every week!”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
Good choice. “I’ll watch Sadie whenever you and Jack go out. I’ll be like your own personal live-in babysitter!”
“That would require you actually be home on a Friday or Saturday night.”
“Y’all can’t go out on weeknights?”
She shakes her head. “We go to bed early, P. You know we’re old. We need sleep during the week.”
“You’re old. Jack’s twenty-seven.”
“He’s almost twenty-eight.” I catch her smiling when she says it, which makes me smile too. She’d been so hung-up on their age gap she almost didn’t go for it with Jack. Which would’ve been a shame because he was so shamelessly smitten for so long, and together they make a darn cute couple. Sadie, daddy’s-girl she may be, also warmed quickly to Jack. The two of them needed him.
I whirl back to the Keurig as it sputters out the last drops of Caribou goodness. I need to make another offer, something that might truly help. Think, think.
“I’ll drive Sadie to school every morning!”
“You can’t. Her school doesn’t start till nine, and I need you at the office first thing.”
I fix my cup with a spoon of sugar and a quick chh of Cara’s almond milk from the fridge. I sit next to her at the island and pitch my eyes to hers. “Then what can I do? We get along just fine at work, and we never really lived together growing up.” I touch at the part of her that’s soft and sentimental before I realize I’ve done it. Her Persian-blue eyes lighten a shade.
I add for good measure, “We could be like sisters,” and Cara chuckles.
“Nice try, P. I’m not saying it wouldn’t fun—for like one day—but we don’t have space. Jack lives here now.”
“Yes, I know, but he lives with you, in the master. Don’t you have a third bedroom? Don’t tell me it’s Willow’s now—”
“The bunny sleeps in Sadie’s room.”
“So what’s the issue? I can bunk in the spare room.”
“No, Jack needs that space. It’s his office until he can rent a place.”
I groan into my coffee mug and take a long sip. I added too much milk, so it’s already tepid. I drink it anyway. It’s the caffeine I need now.
“I’ll help with your Christmas party.”
“You’ll help regardless,” Cara says.
I dare to ask, “Would you consider…maybe…a pay increase?”
“You’re already overpaid, you know that, right?”
She’s not wrong. “Yes, and I’m very grateful, Care, I’m just a little shy of affording my very own place. Do you realize how saturated the market is now? Look up this house on Zillow—I bet it’s worth double what you paid.”
She shakes her head. “That money isn’t anything until I sell it.”
“I don’t mean to take advantage. I know you’re doing well for yourself, and you’ve earned every cent. I’m not asking you for money.”
“You kind of are,” Cara says, this time in her lower-pitched, big-sister voice. “Why are you set on living alone? I get not wanting to stay with Mom. So find a roommate.”
“I hate people.” It’s a lie, and she knows it.
“Whatever, P. You’re excellent with our patients. You go out every weekend, always making new friends, meeting new guys—”
Ditching them the morning after. I don’t say it aloud. Yes, I like to have fun and meet people, experience life and try new things. But I don’t have a single girlfriend, not a real friend.
And I don’t do boyfriends.
I don’t get close. And living with someone means getting way too close.
But I can’t live with Mom forever. Not even another day.
“Jack’s old roommate is looking for someone. It’s a nice place, I’ve seen it. Dean keeps it pretty clean.”
“Oh, no.” I finish the last of my Caribou coffee. “There’s no way in hell I’m sleeping in the same room where you had sex with Jack.”
Cara laughs. “Then you don’t want to live here.” I shake my head slowly at her. She says, “Come on, anything’s better than your ten-by-ten at Mom’s house.”
True story. “Alright, so, who is this guy?”
“A longtime friend of Jack’s. He’s like twenty-seven, twenty-eight, about to take the Texas Bar Exam.”
“Yep. Wants to go into family law.”
That’s not totally uninteresting. And it did sound like a decent place. “Where is it?”
“Uptown.” Nice. “Ten minutes from the office.” Ultra-nice.
“I’ll take it.”
“Just like that?” Cara asks. “You should meet Dean first.”
“No need. I’ve made up my mind.”
“Well, he might want to meet you first. Living with someone’s a big decision. You should give it some thought.”
“Hey. I did think about it.”
“Not long enough. You’re being—”
“Impulsive?” I stand and take my mug to wash in the sink before Cara winces harder at the now-dirty dish. She’s not as type-A as her ex, but she’s not as far off as she thinks she is.
“Yes, impulsive. And a little reckless.”
“Some call it spontaneous,” I say, but I know the word they’re looking for is stupid.
I am very, very stupid.
We lose ourselves in books. We find ourselves there too.
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