#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Undercooked #NaNoWriMo

The turkey was undercooked. Ma planned to roast it overnight, have the whole house smelling like a Thanksgiving feast by morning. But we woke up freezing, a surprise dusting of snow on the lawn, enough to slick the roads, but not enough to delay the holiday traffic.

Tony and Kerry arrived at noon, arguing again, though I’d stopped caring what for. Something about Kerry wanting to move back to Raleigh after Tony just got a promotion. Let her go. She wasn’t the one for him, but Tony married her anyway. He doesn’t listen—he never listens.

Dinner was scheduled for 1:00, but at 2:30, I sat alone by the window, watching for Gregory’s car to pull to the curb. I hadn’t seen him since his birthday a week before Halloween, and it was terrifying to see him then. He looked as if he had grown six inches. His face was fuller, half covered in a thick, coarse beard, but the rest of him was so thin and frail, he almost looked like Tony, a physical characteristic the two brothers never shared. While Tony was the spitting image of his father, both in name and appearance, Gregory favored me—the short, stubby fingers, the flat nose, the extra weight around the stomach and arms. But his arms were toned, muscular, the outline of them seen through the thin, sweat resistant shirt he wore, too cool even for mid-fall.

It was Tammi who texted me they’d be over for dinner. Gregory’s phone was off—he hadn’t paid the bill. Gregory had been missing a lot of bills lately—puzzling because his father and I taught him how to be a good steward over his finances. It was as if all of his upbringing left him the moment he met her. Over and over he asked me for money, a car note here, rent there. Tammi’s parking tickets, which I flat out refused. But I didn’t want to completely abandon him, so I slipped him change when I could. The more I gave, the less I saw of him, and when I realized he only came home for money, I stopped giving all together, and his visits became more infrequent.

Before his birthday, June was the last time I’d seen him. He’d even missed our Fourth of July family cookout in Ma’s backyard. After it got dark, we would climb up Ma’s roof and watch the fireworks shot off from the high school football field while enjoying burnt hotdogs and Carolina burgers with chili and slaw. It had been a family tradition since Antonio, Sr. was alive. No one ever skipped it, rain or shine.

I could hear Ma scrambling in the kitchen. Not much to cook with a twenty pound bird taking up most of the oven, but we had to eat something—it was Thanksgiving after all. With a shrunken menu, the sweet potato casserole, became plain stovetop yams, the mac and cheese from a box, the dressing stuffed inside the turkey to cook them both at the same time, while on the back burners, the greens boiled.

Ma kicked me out of the kitchen shortly after she realized she never turned the oven on last night. “You know you’ve never been a cook,” she said. “You’ll only slow me down.” I was given the assignment to make Tony and Kerry chicken salad sandwiches—the salad already prepared, all I had to do was spread it over the bread—to hold them over to dinner and hopefully to quell their arguing.

And it worked. We had silence for a while . . . until Tammi and her mother showed up.

Without Gregory.

I had never met Jacquelyn. She’d tried to introduce herself several times before—calling to explain why she had allowed my son to live with her and her daughter in their overcrowded trailer, knocking on my door in the middle of the night to tell me she’d kicked them out. The vibrations in her voice told me she was nothing but drama then, and now she was standing right before me expecting a free meal, and she didn’t even bother to bring Gregory with her. And the striking resemblance between her and Tammi—how old was she when she had her? Any stranger would think they were sisters.

“Where’s my son?” I had no interest in shaking hands, fake smiles, or “how do you do’s.” These people overstayed their welcome the second they stepped foot on Ma’s front porch.

“He at work.” Tammi smacked her lips. Her nonchalant attitude quickly got under my skin.

“I was expecting to spend Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I don’t know you.”

Tammi’s mother reached out her hand. “Hi I’m Jacqui—”

“And I don’t care to!” I snapped.

Ma entered, putting the oven mitts she was wearing under her arm. “We may need another hour. That turkey just won’t cook.” When she noticed the tense atmosphere at her front door, she said, “Who’s this?”

“Tammi, and Jacqui,” I cut my eyes at the mother, “decided to invite themselves without Gregory.”

“Where’s Gregory?” Ma asked.

“He had to work,” Jacqui answered.

“On Thanksgiving?”

Jacqui started to say something, but quickly closed her mouth. By the way they shrugged their shoulders, avoided eye contact, it was obvious they were lying. But if he wasn’t at work, where was he?

I heard Tony barge down the hall, and I knew things would quickly escalate with him in the room.

“You know they’re getting married, right?”

“Who?”

Tony pointed to Tammi.

“Yea, we engaged.” Tammi shrugged her shoulders, flashed the small diamond on her left hand.

A ring? He bought her a ring? With what money?

I remembered those times he called, whining that his lights were about to get turned off, that he would be evicted if he didn’t pay rent by the end of the week, that he couldn’t afford to have his car repossessed because then he’d have no way to get to work. Were they all lies? The money I’d been giving him—a little here, a little there—had he been collecting it until he had enough to buy a ring and propose? No, no. Heaven forbid I inherit another lethargic, unappreciative daughter-in-law like Kerry, who had secluded herself away in the dining room to pretend she was crying.

Instinctively, I clawed at Tammi’s hand, snatching off the ring I paid for and a thin layer of skin along with it. She yanked my arm back with one hand— with much more force than her petite frame would lead anyone to believe— and with the other hand, slapped me clear across the face. There was shouting and screaming, and at some point Kerry finally appeared in the kitchen doorway behind Ma.

I felt Tony’s arms around my waist. He and Jacqui pulled Tammi and I apart, and backing up, I tripped over Tony’s size thirteen shoe and hit the side of my back on the back of the couch, re-agitating a muscle I’d pulled a few weeks ago when moving around the furniture in Gregory’s room.

“I ain’t gon stay where I’m not wanted!” Tammi was screaming.

“Then why the fuck are you still here?” Tony yelled.

Suddenly the smoke detector in the kitchen went off, setting off all the others in the house, including the one in the living room right above our heads. The piercing peal silenced us for several seconds.

Ma rushed back into the kitchen, brushing past Kerry. “Jesus, Kerry, you don’t smell my greens burning?” I could hear her in the kitchen stirring the pot, adding water and flicking off the heat to the burner. She grabbed a hand towel and begin flapping it under the detector to clear the smoke.

When the noise finally ceased, I looked directly at Tammi. “You need to leave.”

“Gladly.” She turned around and kicked open the screen door, making a sound like ripped metal and leaving behind a dent in the bottom left corner. Jacqui stayed behind for a brief moment, as if considering an apology, but quickly spun around and followed her daughter to the car. I shut the door behind them and noticed the engagement ring on the floor—it must have fallen out of my hand during the scuffle. I quickly kicked it away. The sight of it disgusted me.

“She’ll be back when she realizes it’s gone,” Kerry mumbled.

“Oh, now you got something to say? Where were you when that bitch was hittin’ my mama?” Tony shouted.

Kerry rolled her eyes and turned away. “I’m not arguing with you, Tony.”

“But you gon listen!” He stormed past me—my throbbing face obviously not too much of a concern—to finish his tirade with Kerry from earlier.

Ma returned from the kitchen, her shoulders hunched. She looked just as defeated as I felt. “Why not Chinese? They’re always open on Thanksgiving. I don’t think I can save this dinner.”

“There’s still the turkey and stuffing.”

“That won’t be for another hour. You know my old stomach has to eat early. I’m feeling lightheaded already.”

I tried to force a smile, but my face was so tight, I probably looked constipated. “Why don’t you sit, and I’ll make us some chicken salad sandwiches.”

“Can we eat them outside? I’m sick of those two yelling, and I need to cool off.”

I nodded and looked back to the window. Eating outside would only make me more anxious about Gregory, wondering if every car that drove by was him. I shook my head. No, there was no sense in waiting for him anymore. He wasn’t coming. And Tammi would surely tell him what happened here. Then, after that, I don’t think he will ever come home.

—Nortina


Happy Throwback Turkey Day! Since we are approaching the homestretch of NaNoWriMo, I thought today’s Thanksgiving Throwback should be a scene from my A to Z planning session earlier this year, featuring characters from my NaNoWriMo novel, Lost Boy.
Originally published April 25, 2017.

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#WeekendRewind: How to Tackle NaNoWriMo: My Advice To You (Day 1 of Countdown) #NaNoWriMo #Writing

Continuing with my weekend of reblogs, I’m sending you over to Candice, host of I came for the soup… She’s returned from hiatus just in time to give you some helpful advice going into NaNoWriMo in . . . YIKES! Three days!

Honestly, I have to say, I’m a little anxious. I haven’t looked at my outline for my NaNoWriMo novel since May, and although I spent an entire month planning it, I’m not all that sure I’m ready to write it, mentally at least.

But Candice’s advice truly helps me with my problem of over thinking this whole 50,000 words in 30 days challenge:

Just sit down and type. Breathe, and type.

Perfect. Yes, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. We can do this!

Candice is counting down to NaNoWriMo kick off, and this is just Day 1, so you know there’s only greater advice to follow. Head over to her blog and check out other useful tips she has for tackling NaNoWriMo!

—Nortina

I came for the soup...

In less than a week, November 1st will be here, and a mass of heroes and heroines will be born from the typing fingers of those who have bravely taken up the challenge to write a 50,000-wordnovel in 30 days.

First, let me say congratulations for being brave enough to challenge yourself with this. I have participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for three years running, and each year I have come away with a fantastic body of work (that yes, needs editing and revision) that I can be proud of.

Now, let me clarify, I have not officially done the NaNoWriMo with the whole registration thing (which I totally recommend because they have some great rewards for those who complete the 30 days with 50,000 words or more.) Why? Well, because I tend to use any 30 day month, June being the month of choice…

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“Hiding in Bathrooms” — An Excerpt from Love Poetry

Now she really had to go to the bathroom. She pushed her way into the narrow stall directly behind her, hiked up her skirt, dropped her panties to her knees and fell into a squat over the too short toilet, suitable more for kids than anyone over five feet, despite being in a facility requiring an eighteen-year age minimum. She held her phone away from her ear and let herself go, hoping the sound of her peeing would deter him, but either he didn’t hear it or he chose to ignore it because he continued to talk. 

“If you had answered any of my earlier phone calls–“ 

“What do you want, Whitmore?” Jessica repeated more sternly, speaking over the automatic flush of the toilet.  

There was a long pause; he must have heard it this time, contemplating whether or not to continue with the conversation, Jessica having no more respect for him than to wait until they were off the phone before she decided to use the bathroom. But there was also the possibility that it flattered him, that she valued their relationship so much that she would stay with him on the phone, even while having to relieve bodily urges. Bile rose at the back of her throat. Please don’t let it be the latter. She didn’t want to give him any more hope that this relationship could be saved. As far as she was concerned, it was over. There was no coming back from the invasion of her privacy, even if he suspected her of cheating. Confront her like a normal person and break things off. But she knew Whitmore could never do that. He was too desperate to be loved, even if it meant forcing a relationship with a women who didn’t love him back. 

“I just want to apologize for this morning.” 

“You can’t even say what you did.” Which told Jessica he didn’t think what he did was wrong, and if he in anyway tried to justify himself, she would hang up. 

“But you’ve got to understand my point of view.” 

Hang up, Jessica. 

“I didn’t know where you were, and I kept thinking about what happened with Layla.” 

Hang up, Jessica. 

“She was cheating right under my nose, and I was too stupid and naïve to see it.” 

Hang up, Jessica. 

“It killed me, and I couldn’t help but go back to that dark place when you–“ 

Finally she hung up. Pressed her thump firmly on the end key. She wasn’t listening to that sob story again. How he attempted suicide the night Layla finally called it quits, took half a bottle of sleeping pills and washed it down with vodka. Whitmore was the type of person to threaten with self-harm to guilt a woman in to submission, but not for a second did Jessica believe he actually went through with it. And she wasn’t going to let his little pity part keep her hostage in this bathroom another second.  

It was times like this, when she wished they were still in the flip phone age of cell phones, she would slam the top down with such emphasis. Or if she had a landline she would slam that handset back on the switch hook, knowing surely he would hear the force behind it, at it loudly collided with different parts of the base before at last connecting with the hook, sounding the final dial tone to solidify her complete annoyance and frustration in having to speak with him at all, leaving no doubt in his mind that the conversation was over and that she wanted to hear nothing more from him that night. 

The touch screen hang up was too soft, easily misinterpreted for a weak signal, a dropped call, and inadvertent swiping of the face which ended in an accidental disconnect. It would prompt him to call back, innocently asking questions like “What happened?” and “Are you still there?” 

Not wanting to give him the chance, Jessica quickly pressed the power button until the screen faded to black. If there was any question behind why she hung up, going straight to voicemail would give him his answer. At the very least she could finish this night without further distractions. 

She shoved the door open, clouds of smoke engulfing her. She was greeted by a shower of applause. Not good. Out of habit she checked her phone for the time, and groaned at the black screen. She cursed Whitmore under her breath, then sped walked down the corridor. Seeing the shadow of someone standing at the end, she assumed it’s Yolanda, and fabricated some excuse for why she missed her own deadline. Emergency on the phone, that time of the month, duty calls? She looked to the stage, Jamie Marie already at the mic, preparing to perform her first piece to the background music of the string bass and piano. Behind her a whisper in her ear. 

“Hey there. Still hiding in bathrooms, are we?” 

She turned and met the wide gaze of Bruce. The color of his eyes looked even darker under the haze of the hookah bar.  

“Very funny,” she said. She tried to hide her phone behind her and subtly drop it into her purse, but he caught her, literally. She suddenly felt his arms around her waist, under her jacket, the tips of his fingers on her hip, too close to skin. Fire ignited deep within her, and it’s as if she could exhale smoke. 

She broke away, if only to catch her breath from the sudden sexual tension between them, but his demeanor didn’t seem to change. He leaned back, one foot and the opposite shoulder propped against the wall.  He faced the stage but his eyes were still on her. It reminded her of the way Whitmore looked at her whenever he was trying to catch her in a lie, though not at all as invasive or exposing. Mostly endearing, admiring, like looking at fine art. Thank God she’s wearing something she’s comfortable in, something that’s definitely her. 

She wanted to spin for him, give him the full effect. Better yet she wanted to undress for him. Imagining Whitmore as Bruce did her no favors last night, not now that she has seen where his hands have been, those lips, that tongue. She glanced below his belt then quickly looked away. Not here. Not in front of all these people, and her boss, standing at the bottom of the stage, a scolding look in her eyes. She should probably try to explain herself, but she felt the heat rising again, Bruce had snuck up on her, she turned her head and their lips were mere inches apart, a continuation of how their date ended last night. Before this night is over, she will kiss him, can’t stand the teasing anymore. 

© Nortina Simmons


Just a P..S.A., these excerpts are roughly edited, and I’m still struggling to decide if I want the novella to be in past or present tense, so if it reads kind of crazy, please go easy on me! 😉

“Morning Run” — An Excerpt from Love Poetry

Whitmore pulls the comforter to his chin, and she snatches her hand back as he rolls over to face the wall, stretching his feet to the end of the bed before drawing them back into the fetal position. Jessica lies stiff until his breathing returns to a steady rhythm, and then she dashes out of the bed, sprints toward the window where her little friend has long since flown away, and the room feels deafeningly silent, as if it’s not yet morning, as if the sun hasn’t risen, as if she is back in last night and Whitmore is still breathing down her neck, pressuring her to sleep with him, refusing to take no for an answer, already in the process of laying his claim.

She spins around and watches Whitmore’s chest rise and fall. She looks down at her breasts, goosebumps rising under the spinning ceiling fan above her. Suddenly the room feels too small and Whitmore too close. It’s the last place she wants to be when he finally does wake up, standing at the foot of the bed, fully naked, nipples harden from the chill in the air.

She bends over the dresser, feeling exposed, quickly puts on a pair of sweats, tames her breasts with a bra, throws on the first t-shirt she sees, Wrightsville Beach splayed across the chest. She reaches under her bed for the worn pumas, the only tennis shoes she owns, and steps into them, no thought about socks. She creeps out the door, closing it behind her, down the hall a little faster now, picking up pace, as she grabs the keys and her phone off the kitchen counter, where she left them last night, on her way out front door.

By the time she reaches the stairway she’s running. And when she gets to the bottom, she’s sprinting through the parking lot, dodging Whitmore’s Sonata, parked crookedly in the space reserved for her. She continues to the sidewalk that forms a semicircle around the back of the next building in her complex, turns to run parallel to the road for a quarter of a mile, before veering off into the scenic greenway leading into the heart of town. She runs the whole time and doesn’t stop until she can no longer see her apartment jetting out above the trees when she turns to look over her shoulder.

When she stops, she wants to collapse. She plants her hands on her knees, puts her face between her legs and gulps in sharp inhales of breath. Her heart is breaking through her chest, her lungs on fire, she’s never run like this before. In fact, she can’t remember ever having to run, except in required gym class in high school, and twice she tripped over her own feet, and dove face first into the hardwood floor, sliding across the court, the high squeak echoing in her ear as her skin on her cheeks tore.

How pathetic is she that’s she’s let Whitmore run her out of her own damn apartment? She looks back, then takes off again, a bench in sight. When she gets there, the thought crosses her mind that teenagers could have had sex here, homeless men could have masturbated here—the trees surrounding them, extensive branches heavy with leaves overhead to cover their secrets—bugs crawling in and out of the cracks, bird droppings in hidden places. But she’s too tired to care. So  she falls onto the bench, spreads her legs, throws her head over the back, waiting for all of her feeling to come back to her.

When a real jogger passes by, she folds into faux stretches, but the woman barely notices, eyes on the path, ears plugged in. Maybe that’s what Jessica needs to relax herself too. She takes out her phone and turns on the FM radio station app. She finds herself tuning to 107.1. The sound is fuzzy coming in, because she doesn’t have headphones to work as an antenna, but she turns the volume up, holds the phone to her ear, and lies back on the bench, listening to the croons of Shawn Mendez push through the static, and the soulful melancholic cries of Sam Smith, and when she begins to drift, a familiar name comes to her ear.

“Good morning, good morning, Triad! You’re listening to 107.1 the B.E.A.T. The time is 10:21 AM. I’m your boy, D.J. Ronnie G, and I’m here with our host . . .”

Jessica perks up when she hears his voice, low and nonchalant like last night, slightly muffled from his lips being too close to the microphone. Like a drum roll, he mumbles, “The Girlfriend Whisperer.”

Bruce.

© Nortina Simmons

“Asking All Them Questions” — An Excerpt from Love Poetry

“I was with Alex.” She said it without thinking, surprising herself at how naturally the lie flowed from her lips. Technically, Alex was the reason she was out with Bruce, and she was with her earlier that day, so it wasn’t a total lie, but she still felt guilty for trying to deceive him. Maybe she was more like Layla than she wanted to admit. She spun around, took three steps to her right toward the kitchen, and flung the Styrofoam to-go box in the trash. Her rumbling stomach filled the silence between them, but she wouldn’t touch that lumpy mush that place had the audacity to call authentic risotto. She absently opened the refrigerator and considered the leftover Chinese food from two nights ago, but remembering that Whitmore was still there, promptly shut it, turned around and drummed her fingers on the edge of the island counter.  

“Dressed like that?” Whitmore pointed at the dress under her cardigan. He stared at her—she hated when he stared—his eyes shifting back and forth as the scenarios played out. He analyzed everything—her dress, the style of her hair, the light makeup on her face, the gait in her walk, the sway in her hips, anything to indicate she was anywhere other than where she had said. 

“We were going through her closet,” Jessica said. “This is hers.”  

“And you went to eat like that?”  

“Yes.” She kept her answer short. Any further explanation would cloud the lie. With less information for him to over-analyze, maybe he would believe her.  

His eyes were on the trashcan now, the smell of lobster rising from the lemon-scented bag. It wasn’t fresh; that’s why it looked like rubber. She would have to take it to the dumpster before her whole floor started to smell like a fish market. She wondered if Whitmore would take it out for her, on his way out the door, to his car, and back to his own apartment.  

But now Whitmore was next to her behind the counter. Whitmore was only a breath taller than Jessica, but despite having such short legs, he moved quickly. Before she could react, he clasped her face in his hands and pulled her in for a long, drawn out kiss, until her lips were almost raw. He pulled her hard, putting tension on her neck and she tried to break away. But he wouldn’t let go for anything, as if he were afraid he would lose her for good if he did. He pressured his nose into hers, making it harder to breath. She opened her mouth for air and received his tongue instead, pushing deep inside until their teeth knocked, and the saliva dripped from his glands onto her bottom lip. He backed her into the stove, peeled the cardigan off her shoulders, and feeling how naked she was underneath, he stepped back and further examined her. 

“Why did Alex give you that?” 

“Good question.” Without letting him speak, she took him by the wrist and dragged him down the hallway. He would keep asking questions until she gave him what he wanted. This was their routine now. Whitmore’s persistent prodding, his insecurities and suspicions mounting with each evasive answer she gave until finally she caved, frustrated with always having to explain herself, desperate to do anything to shut him up…

© Nortina Simmons

 

U is for Under Pressure

Originally published April 24, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge.

The two detectives left Jessica alone to get Bruce’s statement. Still shivering from the chilly air in the room, she tucked her arms inside her shirt and crossed her legs underneath her in the chair. She tried to focus her mind only on warming herself up. She rocked back and forth. She rubbed her arms and legs. She pulled her shirt down over her knees. Anything to keep from thinking of Whitmore’s lifeless body lying on her floor, blood spurting from his head onto her carpet, seeping into the split wood at the center of her front door.

She had believed that his talk of suicide had only been an idol threat.

Cheat on me, and I’ll go back to that dark place with Layla. Refuse to love me, and I’ll go back to that dark place with Layla. Leave me, and I’ll go back to that dark place with Layla.

No one who thought death could be achieved by taking a few sleeping pills with vodka was truly ready to die. They hadn’t fully committed themselves to the task. They would rather leave the world peacefully, sleeping, not to violently testify to the world, This is what you’ve driven me to!

But had Jessica driven him to his demise? Could simply not loving him back be the key to his self-inflicted mutilation, or had Whitmore uncovered that Jessica was no different from the last woman who had broken his heart?

Just like Layla . . .

Was it possible that he had known about Bruce? That he had never left the premises after she’d kicked him out of her apartment? Instead, he lurked in the shadows of the parking lot. Watched as Bruce wiped away her tears, took her by the hand and led her down the stairs, opened the passenger side door for her and ducked her into his car. He followed them to the restaurant. Observed as they danced, kissed, and groped each other until the lust had grown so great, they rushed back to her apartment to consummate it. What pushed Whitmore over the edge? When Jessica had straddled Bruce’s lap in the driver’s seat, or did he reach his breaking point when Jessica wrapped her legs around Bruce’s waist and they fell into her apartment? Did he wait outside the door to confront them? Could he hear her loud, desperate moans through the walls?

The door to the interrogation room suddenly swung open, and Dan poked his head inside. “Miss, you’re free to go.”

Jessica uncurled her body from within her t-shirt and slid her feet into her flip-flops on the floor. She hesitantly walked by him, afraid that he might see the guilt on her face.

“I’m, er, sorry for your loss,” he said as he closed the door behind her.

Jessica nodded.

Bruce had been waiting by the door, leaning against the wall. “Hey,” he said. He touched her arm, behind her elbow. “Let me take you home.”

Jessica nodded again. She had lost her ability to speak.

—Nortina

S is for Suicide

Originally published April 22, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge

“Do you have any idea why your boyfriend would want to kill himself?”

It was the third time the detective had asked her that question and Jessica still didn’t hear him. They sat at the cold metal table at the center of the gray interrogation room. A second detective stood by the one-way window.

Jessica wrapped her arms around herself. When she had finally gotten over the shock of seeing Whitmore dead on her floor, a bullet hole in his head, she’d only had enough time to put on a pair of shorts and a tank top before emergency personnel arrived. The police tried to interview her at the scene, but she was too distracted by the men snapping photos and taking samples. Then Bruce behaved so inappropriately. He kept touching her shoulder, squeezing it, telling her everything was going to be OK. Every time he opened his mouth, a film of mucus crept up her throat, tickled the back of her tongue. Stop it! She wanted to shout. Stop acting like the concerned boyfriend. He’s dead. We did this! You. Me.

Jessica wasn’t wearing panties. She didn’t have on a bra. The draft in the room caused her skin to prickle up into goose bumps. Her nipples hardened underneath her shirt, and she felt as if they were pointing out toward the two officers like daggers. I’m not attracted to you, she tried to explain away. I wasn’t fucking when it happened. I didn’t kill him.

She wished they would quit stalling and arrest her for murder. She knew they suspected foul play the second they stepped over Whitmore’s body. She could see it playing out in their scheming minds. She was having a steamy affair with Bruce. Whitmore caught wind of it. She couldn’t keep it a secret any longer; they had to get rid of him. She was the brain, Bruce the brawn. He pulled the trigger. They staged his suicide. Then she assumed the role of the grieving girlfriend.

“Ms. Ryan.” The first detective snapped his finger in front of her face.

“She may still be in shock, Dan. That was a pretty horrific scene,” the detective by the window said.

The good cop, bad cop routine. She was under arrest.

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat the question?”

Dan sighed, shaking his blond hair over his eyes. “Why would Whitmore kill himself? Did he suffer from mental illness?”

Jessica put her fist to her mouth and coughed, but the cough was weak, originating from the front of her mouth instead of deep in her chest. Her tongue convulsed at the back of her throat, and she lightly coughed again, sounding like a child trying to fake sick to get out of going to school. Her lips curled into a smile, and to conceal the imminent laugh, she attempted a truly fake cough, and laughed instead at how pathetic she sounded. Both detectives stared at her quizzically.

“Is something funny?” Dan asked.

“No, no. It’s just—” She crossed her legs, wiped the corners of her lips as if her laugh were crumbs leftover from a dinner long forgotten. “I thought he would kill me,” she finally said.

“Has he ever threatened you?”

“No . . . It was Roger Peacock.”

“The guy in Houston?” the officer by the window asked.

Jessica shook her head. The more she spoke, the more ridiculous she sounded—the more suspicious. “I don’t know why I thought he would kill me. He’s always threatened suicide, though subtly. He would say things like if I ever left him, he would go back to that dark place he was in after his last girlfriend.”

“Layla?” Dan interrupted.

Jessica blinked.

“His final text to you said, ‘Just like Layla.’ I’m assuming Layla is the last girlfriend.”

Jessica nodded. “He admitted that he tried to kill himself then. But it didn’t work. I guess, I just assumed that if he ever had his heart broken again, he would give up hurting himself and hurt the woman who hurt him. He’s never said that to me directly, though.”

“Why do you think you hurt him?” Dan asked.

“I didn’t love him the way he wanted me to.”

“Meaning you cheated,” the man by the window said.

“Excuse me?”

“The man you were with. I assume you two are involved.” He approached the table, pressed his palms down on the metal. He peered down at Jessica over the rim of his glasses.

“I . . . we . . .” She shivered underneath her thin clothing. She could feel her pointy, perky breasts trying to pierce through the cotton fabric of her t-shirt. She wanted to cover herself, but she feared any further gestures to hide her suspicious mannerisms would make her look guiltier.

“Look,” Dan said, “we’re not gonna judge you for what you might have been doing with the radio DJ.”

“I thought his name sounded familiar! My brother-in-law listens to him all the time. Saved his marriage.”

“Jake,” Dan snapped. Jessica could only assume that he was the older and more experienced of the two. He turned back to Jessica. “I don’t care if you were screwing him, sucking him, or watching a movie. All I care about is the dead man on your doorstep and how he got there.”

“We just want to get to the bottom of this. That’s all,” Jake said, recovering the serious tone in his voice.

“The bottom line is he killed himself, and he did it in front of my door to make me suffer for it.” Jessica shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t blame him.”

—Nortina

P is for Peacock

Originally published April 18, 2017 for the A to Z Challenge, this cynical scene won’t appear in the novella, but it raises an interesting question…

Jessica stuffed her phone in the locker so that it wouldn’t distract her. She hoped that someone stretching her legs in front of the lockers would hear it rattling against the metal door and take it. That would be the excuse she would give Whitmore for not returning his calls. I wasn’t ignoring you. My phone was stolen.

Jessica increased the resistance and incline on the elliptical and pushed harder. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and breathed through her mouth. She wouldn’t think about Whitmore for the next hour. She propelled her arms and legs back and forth. Closing her eyes, she pretended shed wasn’t confined to a small space under the thick, heavy air of a gym crowed with sweating bodies but outside in an open field, running through the light breeze, the ripe smell of freshly cut grass lifting her off her feet.

When she opened her eyes, reality struck her in the face, and her legs buckled underneath her. She looked at her statistics on the machine. “Eight miles an hour at level 15 resistance? I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.” She wiped down the handlebars with the moist towel. Out of habit she looked up at the TV above her. She hated that every one of the forty or more television sets hanging from the ceiling throughout the gym was on a news station—CNN, FOX News, MSNBC. Anyone exercising in an attempt to relieve stress would quickly regain it by looking up, and reading the closed captions—local middle school teacher arrested on twelve counts of indecent liberties with a minor; police officer fatally shoots unarmed black man in a routine traffic stop; protestors stage a “die-in” at Madison Square Garden; motorcyclist killed in wreck during rush hour on 1-40; Roger Peacock dead.

Jessica froze in front of the television set broadcasting the CNN report. For the last three days the entire city of Houston had been on a manhunt for Peacock after he walked onto the UH campus and shot five women in the head, execution style, all apparently his ex-girlfriends. All this time, he was crumpled in a corner of his apartment’s basement laundry room with half his face blown off after turning the gun on himself that same day.

Jessica hiked the steps of the stair climber. She was never a fan of this machine. The steps were too steep and she often tripped if they were moving too fast. She didn’t care today. She wanted to trip. She want to fall hard on her face, break her nose on the edge of the steps. Anything to get her mind off of what she’d just read, and how familiar it sounded to her current predicament.

Roger Peacock was another one of Bruce’s bitter friendzoned characters. However, after years of rejection from women who this self-proclaimed good guy believed wouldn’t find anyone better than him, he finally snapped and slaughtered them all. It was as if dating him meant life or death. He held their futures in his hands. He was their god. Do not deny me, or face punishment: Death.

What frightened her most about Roger Peacock was how much he reminded her of Whitmore. That self-entitlement they both contained within their hearts. They believed themselves to be good, respectable men and assumed women would throw themselves at their feet, willingly open their legs to them, devote their every being to them, and when those women didn’t, they couldn’t comprehend why not.

It ate at Peacock, tormented him, a molesting parasite, chipping at his brain, until he finally concluded that women dumb enough to refuse a “good man” deserved to die.

But did Whitmore believe Jessica deserved to die too?

—Nortina

Love Poetry Novella: An Interlude

I’ve crawled out of my cave briefly to chat and share some new developments from Camp NaNoWriMo.

The first three days of camp were beyond productive. I built myself a whopping ten day cushion going well past my daily goal of 968 words, which came in handy yesterday because I wrote absolutely nothing, just ate dry hamburgers, undercooked Bratwurst sausages, and bland potato salad ( 😦 ), slurped melted homemade strawberry ice cream, and spat out seeds from sweet, locally grown watermelons at my granddaddy’s 4th of July cookout.

I’m so happy that I drew out an outline for Love Poetry. Each day I come back to my computer, I know exactly what I’m going to write for that day. Sometimes I even go back to add to what I wrote the previous day, a wave of inspiration coming upon me as I read over the selection.

I’m trying to refrain from editing anything. Editing too soon lead to my downfall my last attempt at NaNoWriMo. So no editing. A first draft should read like a first draft. Write it first. Edit later.

I had a mini heart attack on day two of camp. While praising myself for writing an outline, I suddenly remembered my outline for my planned NaNoWriMo novel, Lost Boy, also scribbled on a scrap sheet of paper, and slightly different from the outline I shared back in April. I nearly tore up my room looking for that damn outline! Everything I found was for a different, abandoned story. Why do I have so many story ideas on scrap sheets of paper?

Eventually, I found it. Folded in an unused 2017 planner in my desk drawer. *sigh*  One of these days, I’ll make use of the OneNote program in my Microsoft Office Suite.

But not now. Now I have to get back to writing Love Poetry. But before I leave you, here’s a very short excerpt from what I’ve written so far. Enjoy. 🙂


Camp Excerpt from Love Poetry

She turns around in her seat, and Bruce is staring at her, one eyebrow raised. He glances at the couple then back at her, and there’s that damn smile again, slowly spread across his face like the Cheshire cat. Jessica can’t help but feel of tinge of jealousy toward the woman now that Bruce has seen her, which is idiotic, she knows. She’s descended, head over heels into her own personal wonderland, but she wants to take back some semblance of control. She wants him to see how she really is, not this frazzled wretch, who couldn’t care to look presentable, whose attention is snatched everywhere but to him. Can we have a do-over? she wants to ask. Go someplace else, somewhere less red, less intimate to make her nervous, preferable out of the country where Whitmore can’t find her. In her comfort zone, Jessica would look like that woman too, wearing something semi-decent, something more in her style, less overly available cocktail waitress, more catch me if you can bartender…

© Nortina Simmons

Z is for… [Z]ealous Interviewer #AtoZChallenge

I’m feeling quite zealous today. Why? Because it’s April 30, and I’ve made it to the end of the A to Z Challenge without burning out. That deserves an applause!

I’m also excited to be starting on my novel, Lost Boy very soon. While I’m reserving the actual writing of the novel for NaNoWriMo in November, these next six months will consist of more planning, outlining, character sketching, and possibly a few more changes to the plot as things come together, and also a change in title (because I’m still not settled on “Lost Boy”).

I also hope to do more research so that the novel sounds as realistic as possible, because if there is one thing I cannot stand about the Christian fiction genre of today, it’s that the plots are so unbelievable, and the characters are more like caricatures.

One phase of my research will be interviews. Right now, my focus is on interviewing one of my fellow church members who’s in the prison ministry From Leslie’s character sketch, we know that she is very active in the church, including going out to the county jail to minister with the prison ministry. Unfortunately, I know nothing about prison ministries, so it’s time for a little investigation.

I’ve already contacted the church member about interviewing her. Now it’s time to put together some interview questions. Here are a few that I may ask in my interview.

  • How long have you been in the jail/prison ministry?
  • How often do you visit the jail?
  • When you visit the jail, do you go as a group? Do you need specific paperwork or documentation to enter?
  • Is there certain dress requirements you must meet before entering? Types of clothing, shoes, hats, purses? Will they let you bring your Bible? Are you searched/patted down? Do you go through a metal detector?
  • Where do you go to witness to the inmates? The cells? a chapel? Is there a common meeting area with many tables similar to a cafeteria? Are you separated from regular jail visitation?
  • Are you restricted in the types inmates you visit. For example, do you see people who have been convicted of violent crimes like rape or murder?
  • Do you talk to the inmates individually or do you stand before a group and minister?
  • What do you say to the inmates? Do you talk about them, how they ended up behind bars? How do you transition into talking about Jesus?
  • What major points in the Gospel do you like to hit on when talking with the inmates? Does the message change depending on the crime?
  • Are the inmates generally welcoming?
  • Do people get saved?

These are all the questions I have so far. Do you have any suggestions? What questions do you think I should ask?

I’m hoping that some of the answers I get to these questions will help me write an inspiring revival at the end of the novel, but if not, I’ll have great material to work with for one of my subplots.

And . . . that’s it for the A to Z Challenge! I’m glad I decided to participate after all. It has truly helped me get over my writer’s block. Not only do I have a new novel in the works, but I feel my mojo coming back. I’m eager to dive back into writing more poetry and short stories, and I’m even more zealous to return to the many flash fiction challenges I loved so much. So stay tuned! More to come soon!

—Nortina