The First Time

Firsts. They’re super special, right? (Some of you just got a dirty-minded image—keep it rated PG, please. Don’t go all TMI on me…)


Your first elementary school teacher. (Mrs. Back, Kindergarten circa 1980-something.)


Your first crush. (A little blonde-haired boy in first grade, circa 1980-something-plus-one-year, who gave me a grape-scented scratch-n-sniff sticker off of his A+ math paper. And Little Miss goes WILD! Grape is her favorite.)


Your first car. (A gold Nova that my mom had painted teal green for me, circa 1990-something, totaled by an old woman pulling out from Kentucky Fried Chicken with a drumstick hanging out of her mouth—I kid you not. She stepped out of her smoking car, clutching the greasy boxed dinner to her chest with one hand, dangling the finger-lickin’-good drumstick in the other.)


Maybe your first car was your first crush… (Not quite a car person, but if that little Nova hadn’t been wrecked beyond redemption, I’d still be driving it around.)

Next week for Free Fiction Monday, you get to experience one of my firsts.


My first “yes” on a professional sale.


Which brought the first giddy-little-jump-and-squeal of my career—followed by weeping.


Yes. I wept. But only for a few seconds. I’m not a crier by nature.


Then a second giddy-little-jump-and-squeal as I dried the snot and eye drips.


Though I sold another story that made its way into an anthology chronologically faster, “Leftovers” was still my first yes.


The main character, Scripture Jennings, was the first character born from my imagination (or that of Little Miss Muse) who stuck in my head long after I wrote him.


This sale was validation and a huge boost to that wonky, wobbly, trembling low self-esteem that most creatives suffer from, especially at the beginning of new endeavors.


“Leftovers” was proof I could string a few words together and make someone smile. Or think. Or pause. Or dream. If only for a moment.


That lovable, quirky character pulled his weight and pulled on the imagination of Dean Wesley Smith and walked right into Issue #8, Fall 2019 of Pulphouse Fiction Magazine. B.A. Paul was in a table of contents! (Check out the link, and check out the back cover. There I am. First one in the author list—only because my pen name has fewer characters than anyone else’s, but still. And an even cooler thing? I met nine or so of the other authors out in Vegas. Next time, I’ll take the magazine with me and they can all sign it. EEEK!)


Little Miss Muse wants you to know that she also pulled her weight and dropped every good morsel of that story into my subconscious.


And what glorious morsels they were.


“Leftovers” is quirky. It’s tender. And then it’s twisted. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but hey. Neither is Star Wars (I don’t understand why this wouldn’t be everyone’s favorite…) or Iron Man (Seriously, though. What’s wrong with some folks?).


When the short story posts next week, just be forewarned — pure innocence can bring about some fascinating consequences. You may just be tempted to curl your toes, pull your glasses down for a better look, and then glare at me over the screen.


But it’s all in fun. And that first sale sure was glorious fun!


And now, since it’s been a long, long few weeks, I’m heading off to the next item on my to-do list. Before all the ice melts in my Diet Coke. And before I run out of those little chocolate caramel squares that keep me going in times like these, lest I’m forced to resort to a lowly banana to calm my emotions.


Bananas.


For emotional turmoil...


Now that’d be a first.

Wobbles and Topples

It’s been another long week.


It started off as if someone had wound me up tight—like one of those old-fashioned tin toys. At first, I could conquer the world. Buzzing along, one foot in front of the other.


But then wobbling ensued.


Then more wobbling.


Then toppling.


Slowly, slowly, the week became longer and longer.


And now my Great Chocolate Hideaway stash is nearly depleted. Even the dark caramel chocolate squares hidden in the 2018 tax return.


Since my last entry, we’ve realized the hubs and I will no longer need to hide his stash of white powdered doughnuts and honey buns in the underwear drawer. I could bring out the chocolate squares from the filing cabinet and leave them in the open if I so desired.


Because Adult-ish Male Child, the reason for all the hiding, has moved out.


Flew the coop.


The last of our little birdies out in the wide, wide world.


It came as a semi-surprise to us, but not to him. This child thinks things through, assumes we’ve read his mind, then announces with great flair his grand plans.

This time the grand plan included an apartment that was available right now. Now. NOW.


This very second and not a second later, and all moving activities must happen in the next five minutes or disaster would ensue.


Well, who am I to argue with Adult-ish Male Child? In his adult-ish wisdom and 19 years of experience on this planet, he had a rock-solid plan. And a seemingly unlimited supply of energy.


However, though those of us who’ve moved anything more than a trunk full of belongings from Point A to Point B know that nothing happens in five minutes—and if things can go wrong, go missing, or get broken, they will.


Go wrong.


Go missing.


Get broken.


My more than 40+ years on the planet tell me these things. My 40+ also means that I do NOT have an unlimited supply of energy.


It was an exhausting week. Poor hubs is still struggling with a myriad of health issues, waiting on the next test and the next doc appt. My routine is on its head. Ducks are out of rows. Cats are off schedule and missing key pieces of “their” furniture throughout the house. Their confused cries echo in empty rooms.

Little Miss Muse has run amok. Messes of epic proportions in every room.


My self-control is waning fast.


So.


Out came the chocolate from deep inside the 2018 deductions and proof of income.


One square.


Two squares.


Three squares.


I still have some left. Chocolate, that is. Self-control and the ability to reason, not so much.


Web Guy asked me how empty-nesting was going at the EXACT same time Adult-ish Male Child was calling. The kid has a gas stove in his apartment. He smelled gas. What should he do?


“Turn on the vent, crack a window, and hope for the best.” Some mom I am, right? (I did know that the oven hadn’t been used for quite some time and there was a 98.4% chance that it was just that first-turned-on smell. My more than 40+ years on the planet tell me these things.)


Lest you think I’m totally cold hearted and that I would dare risk his safety with that 1.6% chance (and yes, I had to pull out the calculator—I’m exhausted, and simple math eludes me at the moment), I did lay awake for a long while waiting for the news that Adult-ish Male Child wasn’t asphyxiated and that the apartment was still standing.


He didn’t asphyxiate. The apartment is still intact.


I texted Web Guy back: Empty nest. Busy phone.


Ask me in two months once we’ve all adapted to this newfound strangeness. When the health issues are on track with some sort of plan.


When the ducks have returned to some kind of rows—or at least are paddling in the same pond, that’d be nice.


When the kitties stop glaring at us over empty-five-minutes-too-long food bowls, razors showing from their piggie toes.


When Miss Muse has cleaned up the glittery mess she’s left EVERYWHERE and is ready to put her head back in the writing game. (Soon, Little Miss, soon… I promise.)


That’s the thing about excited Adult-ish Males and Muses (and cats when the sun goes down): Unlimited ideas. Unlimited energy.

I, on the other hand, find the energy levels during times of great stress deeply tied to having one hand in the Ghirardelli bag and the other with a death grip on a Diet Coke—the equivalent to someone sticking the tin-toy key in my back and giving me a good wind-up.


Here’s hoping for one-quarter of a “new normal” week this week. Then one-half the next. Weeks with fewer wobbles and topples.


Then, well. We’ll see how the supplies of chocolate squares, Diet Coke, and tin keys hold up.

Stash and Repeat

A few months back, my Number One Fan and my Number One Aunt gifted me glorious surprises based on the book Life Along the Way. Many of those surprises were of the chocolate variety.

Reese’s Cups. Ghirardelli. Lindt.


You get the idea.


After opening the first package from Number One, I showed the Hubs and the Adult-ish Male Child my gifts. My heart swelled from the act of kindness, and my sweet tooth was temporarily satisfied as I partook of a few dark chocolate squares. Then I made a grave mistake: I put the rest away in the kitchen.


For the next time when my sweet tooth should overtake my good sensibilities.


And then… *poof*


Gone.


Stressed as though I may have been at the time of her gift, I know that I did not consume ALL THAT CHOCOLATE from my Number One Fan.


Not that quickly.


I also know, stressed as he was at the time, that Dear Hubs did not consume ANY of the chocolate—he’s a cocoa hater, that one, and was cleared by default.


Little Miss Muse? I lay many a blame on her shimmering wings, but the disappearance of tangible treats is not one I can toss in her court. Anyway, she prefers grape gum and blowing giant purple bubbles in gleeful celebration to melty chocolate misery-tonic.


Likewise the cats. Missing chicken? Stolen raw turkey burger right out of the skillet? The occasional tax receipt? Nail clippers and paperclips (Stella Marie has a serious issue with tiny metal things). Absolutely.


Chocolate? Not so much.


That left one suspect. The Adult-ish Male Child of mine. Love him, but he’s a sweet treat thief. I know this about him, but somehow, in the course of busy and stressful days, I forget this.


I’ll put Hubby’s lunch treats in the cabinet after a grocery store runs.


*Poof* Then Hubby has no lunch treats.


I’ll leave an Edwards Chocolate Cream Pie in the freezer for an upcoming get-to-gether lest I have to *gasp* cook something.


*Poof* There is no Edwards Chocolate Cream Pie in the freezer.


I’ll make Hubs or Mom-in-Law a strawberry pie (a pie that requires only heating a crust and slicing berries, lest any of you believe my culinary skills have improved since my last kitchen disaster).


Anyway. I bet you can guess. *Poof*


After several rounds of this, we started hiding nonperishable sweets in the underwear drawers, in the spare suitcases, and in the bottom of the closet. Pies, not so much – I’m a disaster of a cook, but I do understand certain things can’t withstand the climate in an underwear drawer.


I should’ve done the same with that bag of chocolate heaven. Put it with the socks or on the top shelf out in the garage behind the half-used buckets of paint.


But I didn’t. Instead, I found irrefutable evidence littering the floor under Adult-ish Child’s desk. Those shimmering blue Ghirardelli wrappers tossed to and fro without a care in the world.


The semi-weekly grand disappearance of sweet treats seems to happen in the wee hours of the night when the Adult-ish Child indulges in gaming while his hard-working parents sleep.


Well.


Learned my lesson.


After the Number One Aunt gifted me with very similar goodies as the Number One Fan, I got wise to him. This time, I would keep tight control over the chocolate cache. I refrained from opening the Reese’s bag. I tethered the urge to slice into the box of Lindt truffles. I likewise denied myself even the slightest whiff of Ghirardelli caramel squares.


All packages remained closed and sealed, lest the scent draw the Adult-ish Male from hiding, drool escaping down his chin.


For fear that he may be on to the underwear drawer thing, I found new spots. And, since we’ve had one round of stressful chaos after the next (thus depleting my goodies to dangerously low levels), and since I doubt this particular child reads my blog, I feel secure in sharing with you, dear reader, where I stashed my stash.


And, the next time I should be gifted glorious stress-reducing (or celebratory) chocolate, I’ll not reuse these spots… Should you need to hide your stress-reducing (or celebratory) sweets from those who claim to love you dearly, feel free to steal my thunder.


I flipped the box of truffles on its side and slid it onto the bookcase between Webster’s Dictionary and Life Along the Way. Blended right in.


For the bag of Reese’s Cups… I ate frozen broccoli for lunch. Well. I cooked it. Sort of—it was a chew-and-swallow and get-on-with-it kind of lunch. But I saved the broccoli bag. I stuffed the Reese’s bag inside the broccoli bag and secured it with a clip. I slid this into the very back of the freezer, no one the wiser.


These tactics even worked on me. Out of sight, out of mind until, well…


The truffles met their match after a particularly bad three days in the trenches with work and the insomniac hubby.


The broccoli-floret-bit covered Reese’s bag was opened on a likewise particularly bad day. Replaced into the freezer. Repeat. Several days of this.


But I reminded myself chocolate therapy in tiny, secrete bits sure does the soul good.


And now I’m down to just one more stash…


The IRS says to keep your tax returns for three years. I keep mine for about five. Somewhere in the middle of those five years, the Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Squares await their turn for consumption.


Yes, I’ve got the expiration date memorized. No, they won’t live to see that day. Whether celebration or stress relief, that bag of Ghirardelli will be my pal quite soon.


Little Miss reminds me we’ve made some short story sales. So even in the middle of stressful minutes, we do have reason to celebrate.


She winks, lavender mascara dripping down her chubby cheeks.


I get the point. I’ll stock her up on her grape bubble gum, and I’ll save the caramel squares to celebrate the upcoming announcements.


Giddy little jump-and-squeal chocolate caramel moments…


Complete with sticky purple bubbles.

The Case of the Missing Eyeballs

It’s been a long couple of weeks around here. As I write this, all three cats are sacked out in the office, their faces smushed flat down into their preferred slumber surfaces. They only lift their heads when the crows outside caw a little too loudly, but the felines are too tuckered to approach the window for a round of bird watching.


After all, they “helped” all over the house with my latest freak-out escapade and just can’t cat anymore.


Even Little Miss Muse has slumping a bit through these last few days. I’ve found trails of not-so-shimmery glitter and half a dozen half-drunk grape sodas. She’s just as tuckered as I am.


Everything’s a tiny bit—or a whole gob of a bit—discombobulated.


Last night (and many nights previous), I sat my alarm for six a.m. with the best of intentions. And this morning (and many mornings previous), I woke up at one a.m., three a.m., and five a.m.


For the seventh or eighth day in a row, I turned the alarm off.


All. The. Way. Off.


You see, Hubs has a bad case of insomnia. Like, a consume-all-life-as-we-know-it kind of case. So when he’s up pacing from room to room trying to find a spot to slumber, I’m awake listening. Or herding cats. Or trying to get Little Miss to simmer down, because really, three a.m. isn’t the time for the clicking of keys and lights all on for creative play. Not when someone else is desperately trying to sleep.


So, my sleep schedule (fragile on a good day, thanks to the evil thyroid gland’s temper tantrums) has been turned on its head. Which means my mental clarity (fragile as it is on a good day) is also discombobulated. None of my ducks are in any kind of a row. Lost them all.


Every single cotton-picking one of them.


The goose and emu are likewise missing.


This morning (at nine a.m., not six a.m.), I’m stumbling around doing that mental to-do list thing. Breakfast. Shower. Laundry. Litter Box Duty. Two sink-fulls of dishes (as that’s another thing that can’t be done in the evening when Hubs is finally dozing. No noise from the kitchen is to be had.).


And I needed to find my glasses. They were on my nightstand with my phone. I picked them up. I know I did. And then… Poof! Gone.


The searching ensued, and I, trying not to panic in my sleep-deprived and over-worked state, performed a few menial housekeeping chores along the way so as to not be even more behind on things.


Think. Think. I just had them in my hands…


And I know you’re all going, “Oh! She was probably already wearing them.” Nope. I checked my face first. Because I’ve done that before—looked for a half hour for glasses that I was wearing. They also were not perched atop my head, nor were they hanging by one earpiece from the neck of my t-shirt. I checked those three spots five times each. Pat face. Pat Head. Check shirt. Check down the shirt. Check pants pockets. Repeat. Like a panicked version of The Macarena.


Under the bed? The nightstand again. The drawers of the nightstand—though I know I didn’t open those. Hub’s nightstand. Bathroom. Shower. Sink. The toilet basin…


I’m going crazy.


I retraced my steps. I think that first absentminded chore I performed was litterbox duty. I was relieved to find nothing but litter in the litter box.


But what if I’d put them on my head and they’d fallen into the litter as I was scooping? Out to the garage to dig in the dirty litter bag.


No glasses. Thank goodness, but not really, because I was getting a headache. The day-job jobs had piled up from yesterday, the chores continue to mount, and this blog wasn’t going to write itself. I needed those glasses.


Think, Beth.


What else?


I’d started laundry. I dug through a pile of yet-to-be-folded clothes and towels. Nothing. I dug through the yet-to-be-washed mountain of blankets and jeans. Nope. I stopped the washing machine, pulling out sopping wet, dirty clothes and feeling deep into the freezing cold water. No luck. I hadn’t tumble-dried them, either.


Little Miss kept trying to chime in. She’d started to wake up from her slump, the glitter shining a tick more brightly. And she started in with the snark. “Someone call a detective. Any detective. Nancy Drew. Matlock. Sherlock…” As she mentioned Sherlock, her little eyebrows rode way up her forehead and her impish grin filled the room. I knew what she was thinking. Either Sherlock would do — Mr. Downey Jr.


Mr. Cumberbatch.


Especially Mr. Cumberbatch…


No. Wait. I’d really like to have my glasses on for that.


Garbage can was next. I went through the first four layers before I figured they could’ve have fallen past the horde of leftover food I’d cleaned out of the fridge.


The fridge! They’re in the fridge…


No.


They were likewise not under the table or counters. They were not under Malachi, who was sunning himself on the table or trailing behind Amara, who was singing to a spring. Stella “helped” by following me around. I believe she told the other two cats that “the filler of the dishes needs help,” and by this time, I had a miffed muse and three cats trailing me all over the house trying to find my eyeballs. I wondered if Stella “helped” by hauling them off and sticking them in the box springs. (Their favorite place to hide things. I kid you not).


I sunk down on the spare bed to think. Dialog at the Eye Place ran through my head. “I lost them. Yes, I know I’ve not had them long. Yes. I know it will cost big. They’re in the house, but I can’t find them, make me another pair, please.” I could see the look on Eye Guy’s face at my discombobulated story and mental capacity. No. Wait. I couldn’t see the look — no glasses.


The cats joined me. Little Miss plopped herself down on the pillow, her chunky butt cheeks sinking deep into the spot where I’d love to lay my head down and go back to sleep. I was almost in tears. Tiredness. To-do lists growing by the microsecond. Missing feathered fowl.


Little Miss wiggled. And wiggled again. Shifting and grimacing.


I jumped up, scattering cats, pulling covers, and throwing pillows. In glorious flair, my bifocals came flying out from a pillowcase, tumbled through the air, and landed in Little Miss’s chunky hands. I don’t remember even making the bed. Not that bed.

I’m losing my mind.


But I’ve found my glasses.


Ahem. Little Miss found my glasses. And now the day-job jobs are under control. The blog is almost written. The cats are conked out.


And Little Miss is ready to rock and roll on our current work in progress.


Now.


Where’d I put my manuscript?


Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on Mondays for a new blog or revisit older post on my Archive page. Don't forget to come back on the first Monday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.