For those of you who are following the blogs postings of my fourth novel, The Rocky Orchard, each one is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and reality can be indistinguishable; both first- and third-person narration are used to underscore these themes.  It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an appetizer to whet your appetite for more.


My brother looks at the floor when he has to walk past me so he won’t have to make eye contact.  I don’t need to see his eyes to feel the fire that is there, the disappointment, the stony disapproval.  He is furious.  At me.  Doug is, too; but at least Doug will look me in the eye once in a while. I see weary pity for me.

My brother chose sides, and he didn’t choose mine.

I was born with my eyes locked onto my big brother.  I followed him around and watched everything he did and wanted to do all those things myself.  And now, it’s like I am forced to watch as he gets into a car, locks the doors, and keeps driving farther and farther away while I just stand here.


Of course our after-school foursome broke up.  I am home by myself today, just like I am every day while my mother picks up my brother from his after-school stuff.  The doorbell rings.  The doorbell rings at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon, and I am sure to the marrow of my bones that it’s Tim.  I’m sure because Tim always hits the doorbell button twice in a row, with no pause in between, so the bell dingdongdingdongs in a manic blur.

My heart pounds. I have a hard time swallowing the lump that’s blocking my throat.  I’m terrified  to turn my head toward our front door, to see if Tim has already seen me, if I’m directly in his line of vision as he stands at our front door, and I sit on the couch in our living room, having thought that I was safe, safe in my own house on a random afternoon.

I stare at the living room curtains, floor-length, heavy old drapes that I picture wrapping myself within, smelling their pleasant smell that enfolds all the smells of our family’s cooking, pets, fireplace, fresh laundry, dirty socks.  If only I can get to the drapes without Tim seeing me.  I can envelop myself, clutch them in my hands, breathe them so deeply into my nostrils that—


The doorbell rings again, two more times.

Tim’s face is pressed against the small glass pane of our front door.  He’s staring directly at me. He has that wry half-smile that used to stop me in my tracks and melt me into a heap. My legs shake when I stand.  I run my hands along my jeans as if I were smoothing a skirt, which is completely inane.  I clear my throat but have no confidence that I’ll be able to utter sound, form words, talk when I need to.

My hand grabs the ancient glass doorknob on the inside of the front door.  I don’t turn it right away, as if I still believe I can prevent this whole scene from going any further.  But the door is open, and Tim says, “Hey, I thought I’d hang out with your brother.”

I nod.  I feel like a complete idiot for being so scared.  But just for a split second, because I realize that Tim knows my brother isn’t home.  He knows he stays late after school.  He knows that my mother goes to pick him up because there aren’t any buses.

He knew that I would be alone.

He meant for this to happen.


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Here is a new section from my novel-in-progress The Rocky Orchard.

candle.gif“Don’t fuck with me. You were definitely talking to him.”  Then, Tim held up his hand, with his palm really close to my face. In the dark of the room, I couldn’t tell what in the world I was supposed to be looking at. Then I saw it. A circle. A perfect circle, faintly reddish-brown, traced the periphery of his entire palm. “It’s from a candle. I put my hand right on the candle and held it there.”

“What?” I said, grabbing his hand to look at it more closely.

“I did it to prove my love for you,” Tim said.

“You did what?” I said.

Just then, this guy standing at the front door yells out, “Hey, is there somebody here named Mazie?”  For a second, I didn’t even move.  And the guy added: “Hey, Mazie, if you’re out there somewhere, your dad’s here. To take you home, I guess.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m Mazie,” I said, and sort of raised my hand like some sort of dork who the teacher was calling on.  I made a straight line for the front door, didn’t even say goodbye to Sam, still sitting in the same chair examining the hell out of her split ends.  I walked out that front door in a stupor of confusion.  Tim’s voice behind me called out, “Hey, Mazie, you forgot your jacket.” He handed it to me then raised his hand to my father, “Have a good evening, Dr. Mills.”  Jesus, he sounded so normal!  So utterly and completely normal, not even a hint of the woozy guy who had just shoved his burned hand into my face.

One look at my father’s face and I knew that he was pissed.  Really pissed.  He had that look of tightly-but-precariously controlled rage, like any little thing could cause him to fly apart into a million billion pieces and rain down razor spikes on anyone nearby.

I debated whether it would be better for me to talk first or to wait it out.  There’s no right answer to that.

The second my car door closed, he said, “You’re grounded.  For a month.”

“What!?”  I said.  I had never been grounded before.  Not once.  “Why?  What did I do?”

“We had no idea where you were.  No idea!  You never asked us if you could go out tonight.  You’re home for a month.  Period.”

“That’s not true!” I said.  Jeez Louise, this whole evening was bizarre beyond belief to begin with, but now this?  I knew that I’d asked my parents if I could go to this party – well over a week in advance – and I also knew that they had said yes!  This is a really tricky one to know how to play.  Did they really forget that I’d asked?  Well, they drink a lot.  A real lot.  So that’s always a good possibility.  But it’s not like I can point that out, that maybe they “forgot.”  No question that would make my situation worse.  I’m pissed!  I ASKED them.  But showing that I’m pissed is also going to make my situation worse.  I take a deep breath, I gather all of the calm I can muster and I say in a really nice sweet gentle voice, “Dad, I’m really sorry that we seem to have gotten our signals crossed here.  I’m super sorry if you and Mom were worried, but…think for a minute.  I asked you about this party at the dinner table last week.  It must have been last Thursday, because we’d just been talking about my math test.  Remember?  I told you about the math test, and then right after I asked you about the party – because Tim had helped me study for that test, and it reminded me to ask you.”


My father remained icily silent.

“Did you and Mom think that I just…disappeared tonight?  I would never do that!  Come on; I would never do that!  Tim’s friend picked me up, just like I’d told you he would.”

I halfway expected the steering wheel to break, what with the death grip my father had on it.  We were most of the way home before my father spoke.

“Did you really ask us?  Are you telling the truth? Because if you’re lying now, I can’t even imagine…” he said.

“Not lying.  Math test.  Time helped me ace it.  Reminded me to ask about the party,”

“You didn’t say good-bye when you left tonight,” he said.

“It’s possible.  I acknowledge that I may not have said good-bye when I left.  Am I grounded for a month for that?” I asked.

“Let me speak with your mother,” he said. “I make no promises until then. Not to mention how hard it was to even find out where you were tonight. Jesus Christ.”

“Yeah, I don’t actually know Samantha real well. That’s her real name, but everyone calls her Sam. Different schools.  I know a lot of people who know her, though, like Tim and a lot of his friends.  I think they all went to the same church or something.”  OK, that was a big fat lie, and I knew it, but I thought the circumstances justified my throwing it in there, seeing as how I had been falsely accused.  I’m not a liar, generally speaking.  That’s a bad way to live. I mean, I’m a teenager, and I have parents; so, of course I lie.  But I don’t usually go out of my way my make stuff up and toss it out there.  This was different.

Bullet dodged.  I did not get grounded.

Pretty soon after that, I turned fourteen.  Tim bought me this giant, apple-scented pillar candle for my birthday.  I couldn’t believe it.  A candle.