Damn Procrastination Monkey

I just realized I haven’t posted much on this blog recently unless it was a book tag or something else random. I didn’t even have a reason for it either because I haven’t been writing much since I finished rewriting Cheap Guitars.

I blame it on the Procrastination Monkey. Damn thing. It’s ruined all my plans!

On a more serious note, I honestly haven’t been able to decide which one of my novels I want to sit down and write yet. It’s like my brain is so overloaded with ideas that it can’t process which one needs to be written. But, I do need to narrow it down and start writing my damn books. I’ve got five covers ready for them, after all. But for the life of me, I couldn’t sit down and focus on one thing.

I hope that is a problem other writers face. You just get so many ideas that you can’t help but jot them down, but then that idea turns into an entire first chapter of a book. Then you get flustered with yourself because you can’t start writing the new book because you have to finish writing the other damn book. It turns into a round of stuffing your face with Doritos and hair pulling and–oh, just me? Okay, then.

But, to be honest?

I’ve had that problem since I finished Cheap Tricks. I’m not saying it’s a BAD problem… it’s like the Universe wanted me to take a break.

Well, Universe, I ain’t got the time for that.

I’m thrilled to announce that I think I have finally narrowed down my writing schedule for 2018. No more break needed, Universe.

Recently, I’ve become obsessed with Erin Condren planners. I sat down to REALLY think about how I want my writing year to look and jotted a few notes in the back with my pretty double sided purple pen. I’ve been working on the Cheap series for so long that I started worrying that might be the ONLY thing I ever write, so I will ending the series with a novella and one more novel, Cheaper Sunglasses and Cheap Promises. I’m not ready to say much about those stories yet except that they are happening. I’m also planning a contemporary standalone with a more adult theme and an NA trilogy. After that, a brand new series, and I haven’t decided how many books will be in that yet. I’m finally excited about my writing plans for the year because I managed to get myself organized.

And no, Erin Condren isn’t sponsoring this little post. I don’t have enough followers yet for that. Haha! I just really love her stuff. I’m especially obsessed with the way you can customize everything. I’ve got two notebooks that I had customized for the novels I will be writing this year.

So, with a self-inflicted publishing deadline fast approaching for Cheap Guitars, story plotting to do, and an editing job to complete (note to future Mara: good blog post idea), a new relationship, and the MFA program starting shortly, I’ll have busy schedule. I’m freaking excited about it, too. I’ve been dying to see more books up on my list of published novels in the back of my bullet journal and I say it’s about time I start buckling down to make 2018 my year.

The Phenomenal Booktag

The lovely Jayne Easton tagged me in her YouTube video for this book tag. It was created by Nicole Pierman. I realize I need to start my own channel, but for right now I’m camera shy and have something proper to film with at the moment.

1. Your Favorite: Who is your favorite female lead in bookish history? Catherine from Northanger Abbey. She’s a quirky teenager and would totally write fanfiction if she were a modern-day girl. I’ve thought about playing with a modern retelling of the just for fun, actually!

2. The Scariest: Who is the scariest female character you’ve ever read? (She doesn’t have to be a villain or evil.) Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. That witch has some serious mental issues, and they were confirmed after I read the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play.

3. Oh-so-sassy: Who’s your favorite sassy female character? Celaena/Aelin from Throne of Glass. She’s this kickass assassin who is really a Fae princess and even though I kind of trudged through Empire of Storms, I still am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt since the last book hasn’t been released yet.

4. The Kindest: Which female character is the kindest female character you’ve come across in literature? I really loved Cath from Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. She was such a sweetheart.

5. Best Character Development: The female lead that’s changed the most throughout a book series? I’m picking from Throne of Glass again, but I have to say Lysandra. She was this really petty character I wanted to throat punch in the novellas from Assassin’s Blade, but she’s now turned into this well-rounded female character who’s favorite animal to turn into include giant snow leopards and sea dragons. How can you NOT love that?

6. Sidekicks ROCK: The best female sidekick? Hermione Granger! How can I NOT mention the female side of the trio from Harry Potter?! Although she and Harry should have ended up married with a bunch of babies, I’m just saying. And this is completely NOT my fanfcition writer side coming out here (I have read so many H/HR fanfics, it’s not funny!!!) She’s brainy, she’s sassy, and there was that one time she knocked Malfoy a good one in the face, and let’s not forget that she loves to read. Hermione is a girl after my own heart and always has been.

7. Your BFF: The one female character you’d love to have as a best friend? Hermione Granger, duh. Or Claire Fraiser from Outlander.  Damn. That’s really hard to pick. I already gave all my reasons for Hermione, but Claire is the type to always have your back until you cross her.

8. Misunderstood: Which female character is the MOST misunderstood? Manon Blackbeak from Throne of Glass. She’s an iron teeth witch and you really want to dislike her when you realize what his happening after she’s first introduced, but then you can’t help but start to like her just a little bit because all of the witches are so damn crazy.

9. Save The Day: Who is the one female character you think would always save the day, no matter what she’s up against? Okay, so there have been Buffy books, so I have to pick Buffy Summers. There is no other way around it. We will not even get into a discussion about how much I love Buffy and her kickass, save the day mentality when it comes to fighting vampires and other demons who are attracted to the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. I’ve heard the comics have gotten really weird, though. (Yeah, I’m cheating/bending the questions a little).

10. I Need More: Finally, which female character do you want to see more of in literature?  I can’t WAIT for Lysandra to have more backstory/story something in Throne of Glass.

I’m tagging Tara, Stephanie Doyel, and J.A. O’Donoghue.

All Hallows Write Tag

Here’s the thing–I’ve been meaning to start a YouTube channel, but I don’t have a proper space set up to make any videos. I spent like three hours trying to record last night, first with my iMac, then with my phone when I couldn’t get the lighting to cooperate. I either started rambling or spoke too fast, and got frustrated when I couldn’t figure out how to edit the videos on my iPhone. I’m going to wait to make them until I get my office set up–something I’m really excited about because I am now officially an MFA Fiction student at Southern New Hampshire University. I deserve a new desk, haha! And an office, which I have been in the process of cleaning for the past few days. It’s taking a long time because it was a storage room, and I will be yanking up old carpet and knocking out the closet.

Also, Hank (my Mastiff) kept slapping me for attention. Can’t have that when I’m trying to make a video, right?

That brings me to this post–The lovely Jayne Easton (her video is here) on Twitter tagged me in the All Hallow’s Write Tag, and I still wanted to do it because I thought it would be a lot of fun! The tag was originally created by Sam Kasse.

#1 – Provide a BRIEF description of your novel before starting.

The Empire of Bilran and island of Callahadrice have been at war for three years because the Queen rejected the King’s son proposal to her daughter. Still, in love with Princess Adara, Prince Artenance seeks the help of the Goddess of Blood and Winter, Xylorcia, wherein she offers him a “gift” in order to help him protect his love from the King’s sudden power play to kill the royal family on the island without considering the consequences.

#2 – Don’t use the same character for more than 3 answers.

It’s Halloween night! What is your protagonist dressed up as?

Adara would dress as Faith the Vampire Slayer. She’s a brunette, snarky with a dark side, and is fed up with kings and princes trying to take over her island.

Who in your cast refuses to dress up and shows up at the Halloween party without a costume?

That would be Art’s second, Evander. Evander is a no-nonsense military man. He would hate costumes because he wouldn’t be able to spot the enemies vying for the death of his Prince.

Which character wears the most outrageous costume, and what would it be?

Xylorcia. She would show up in either a meat dress or worse—covered in the blood of her sacrifices. (I also might be a Lady Gaga fan).

GoddessofBloodandWinter.png

Character aesthetic designed by Jayne Easton.

On Halloween, werewolves, vampires, and zombies are on the prowl. Which of your characters gets caught in their clutches, and which creature do they subsequently turn into?  

That would be Artenance—he doesn’t know how to stop traveling at night.

Who wins the contest for best costume?

Athalia, Adara’s little sister, would show up dressed like Joan Jett.

Who hands out toothbrushes to the trick and treaters?

That would be my witch, Adradia. (Wow, I really need to change their names! Side Note: I created most of these names when I was a 14/15-year-old kid who had no idea how to write or properly format a novel. I finished that novel when I was 19, and I’m finally revisiting these characters for NaNoWriMo. All names that begin with “A” will be changed before I start the novel on November 1st.) She is a very A-type personality and wouldn’t want anyone to get a cavity.

Which two of your characters decide to pair up and do an angel/devil costume together?

That would be Axel (Adara’s little brother) and Ciya (Evander’s little sister). Ciya is sweet until you propose to her, and Axel is eager to spill blood.

Someone is too scared to even attend the Halloween party. Who is it?

Lord Yatah. He thinks he’s all that and a bunch of grapes until it comes to facing a real live goddess (i.e. Xylorcia).

Who overdoses on Halloween candy and ends up sick?

That would be Axel—he loves his sweets. I might have to give him an obsession with pastries in the novel!

Which character is most likely to place a curse/hex on someone and who would they curse?

Adradia would TOTALLY hex Artenance because she thinks he is a pompous ass who has no right to demand marriage to the princess.

That’s it for the writing tag! I’m tagging Kalesjha Wolf, J.A. O’Donoghue, Dan Beliveau, and Lindsey Frantz. You would all have a lot of fun with this, I think!!! I especially can’t wait to see Lindsey’s answers because her debut novel, The Upworld, released this past summer under Line by Lion Publications and it was a freaking awesome book.

Writing Rituals Tag!!!

I saw this tag floating around a few days ago. I love watching YouTube videos from Kim Chance and Kristin Martin (you can see those links here and here), and since I’m not brave enough (I’m a big chicken) to do an actual video and post it online, I’ll do it here.

Questions for the Writing Rituals Tag:

1.) When do you write? (time of day, day of week) I try to write a little bit every day. I feel like I’ll lose my momentum if I don’t try to. Lately, though, I’ve found that I like to sit down either early in the morning or late at night to get a couple thousand words in. It all depends on the project I’m working on, too.

2.) How do you seclude yourself from the outside world? Well, the first step is usually trying to sign out of Facebook (which I’m fantastic at failing spectacularly with). I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and either throw it in a drawer in my nightstand or let it die completely. Writing at night has helped me seclude myself lately, too, because there are fewer chances that I’ll get distracted. I shut off messenger on my computer, make sure my dog has had water and gone potty, then get to writing.

It’s actually really easy to seclude myself, though–I live in the National Daniel Boone Forest in Kentucky. There’s not a whole lot of distractions up here other than the internet.

3.) How do you review what you wrote the previous day? I’ll usually try to decide if I need to read it first. I don’t like to edit as I write the first draft because I find that I get too caught up in editing and rewriting if I’m not careful. So, if I decide I absolutely have to read it, I’ll save it as a PDF and toss it into my Kindle program to read it that way (prevents editing as I go, but I make notes). Or, if I feel like it sucks, I’ll message one of my writer friends and see what they think. If they have suggestions for on the spot improvement, then I’ll fix it, but not before.

4.) What song is your go-to when you’re feeling uninspired? I’ll throw on Lindsey Stirling’s Final Fantasy Medley (I am a huge gaming nerd and this series will always have my heart–when I heard her playing some of the best songs from the series on the violin, I became hooked). A long time ago I might have said anything Gaga, but now I just end up dancing and get nothing done.

5.) What do you always do (i.e. listen to music, read, watch youtube, etc.) when you find yourself struggling with writer’s block? I am constantly on Youtube, it seems like! I think it has been sucking up most of my time non-writing time lately. I have an obsession with Booktuber and iPhone unboxing videos. I’m also a knitter, so when my writer’s block gets really bad, I’ll put on some silly show like Say Yes to the Dress and get out my blanket project I’ve been working on a few months now. Whenever I do this, it makes me feel like my brain is about to melt, so I have no other choice than to start working on one of my books. That method, in particular, was a suggestion from one of my closet friends. I laughed at her at the time, but it stuck with me.

I also have taken a huge liking to YA fantasy. I’m leaning toward reading romance when I need to write fantasy (especially for my creative writing class right now) and reading fantasy when I need to write contemporary romance. It’s strange but it works!

6.) What tools do you use when you’re writing? I have three notebooks: the one that I’m planning in, my bullet journal, and something to scribble scenes onto (for my NaNo project this year, it’s the same notebook). Sometimes if I can’t get it started right in my head, I’ll use one of my fountain pens to write the first few pages of the chapter or scene. Sometimes I’ll only write a page or two before I feel solid in where the scene is going, then type it up, or I’ll write the entire chapter down (free first draft!!!). My favorite pens to write with are my Pilot Metropolitan and Nemosine pens. My inks are Noodler’s inks, a pink one named Hellfire (I couldn’t help but giggle and buy it because it made me think of the Ifrit summon in Final Fantasy), and another called Black Swan in Austrailian Rose. Usually, my program of choice is Microsoft Word, but I’ll flip back between it and Scrivner. It’s almost like I go through stages on which program I use the most.

7.) What’s the one thing you can’t live without during a writing session? Quiet. I have gotten to a point where it is very hard to write if there are distractions during certain times. It could be the tv all the way on the other side of the house, or Hank woofing at me for attention, and I can’t write for a few minutes after. Mostly this is during the day when I’m a bit more high strung. At night, I can calm down with a few crackers and my pens and just write away. I think a part of the reason it has to be quiet in the morning is that that’s when I’m enjoying my coffee and I’m trying to avoid getting on Youtube, Twitter, or Facebook. Mom usually wants to spend time with me in the mornings before she goes to sleep, too.

8.) How do you fuel yourself during your writing session? Well…it used to be Mingua beef jerky (it’s a local Kentucky beef jerky brand) and sodas like Pepsi or Ale-8, but since I completely dropped all meat to go back to being a lacto-ovo vegetarian, it has been stuff like cheese and crackers or carrots with ranch dressing. And olives–I will eat an entire jar of kalamata olives right from the jar if I’m not paying attention when I’m in a long writing session (which I try not to do because those things can be salty). I prefer Greek black olives (and there is a difference, believe me) but they’re hard to find out here. I’ve been trying to cut back on the coffee and sugar, but I’ll usually have a cup in the morning to get me going then move to tea, apple juice, or water for the rest of the day. When I’m drinking coffee, it’s usually a hazelnut or pumpkin spice blend with organic, non-GMO soy creamer (yeah…I know how pretentious I sound) that I found at Good Foods when my brother and his girlfriend took me and Mom to the store in Lexington.

9.) How do you know when you’re done writing? Hank would like to take the credit for finding my stressors, but he’s a big cuddly baby with a giant head who likes to steal my coffee and frustrate me by putting his big mastiff head on my keyboard.

The real indicator, though, is when I start to feel like I am about to rip out my hair and snap my keyboard in half. And if I’m writing on paper, paper wads will start to pile up in the corner of my room, and I’ll start to feel guilty about wasting paper. My fountain pen nibs sometimes write funny if I’m frustrated and need a break. If it gets to that point, then I pull my phone out of wherever I threw it, and turn on my Angry Birds Evolution app and mess with that for a few minutes. If I feel calm enough to continue, I will. If I don’t, I take a step away from the computer completely and let it lock itself.

Okay, that was a lot of fun! I’ve tagged a few of my fellow writers on Twitter, but I also want to tag the following people if they happen to read this (there is no escape because I’m tagging you on my personal Facebook Profile :P): Barb, Jenn Eades, Leonard D. Hilley II, Nora, Jordan O’Donoghue, and anyone else in my writer circle who wants to participate! (yes, that includes fellow SNHU classmates who are following me!)

Upcoming Projects

I wanted to post a quick little update.

I’m in the middle of working on the Author’s Extended Edition of Cheap Guitars, and editing Cheap Lies. They’re coming along fabulously.

But why am I posting this?

I have committed myself to writing the first book two new projects this year, on top of everything else. Am I a little crazy? Absolutely. But I think (I say think because I don’t want to jinx myself) I’ve finally hit a stride in my writing where I’m not wasting time anymore. I’m procrastinating less. I’m writing every single day. Recently, I started a bullet journal, and have up to four months of my writing schedule worked out. My graduate work will be worked in as I go, too. I’ve found bullet journaling efficient when keeping track of what I have planned for the day. It’s also helped me become incredibly organized when it comes to tracking timelines, character names, and word count goals.

How efficient?

I just hit the 50,000 word mark for Camp NaNoWriMo.

So, if you see two new novels in my Goodreads account, they’re untitled, but they have their spots saved. It’s my way of committing myself to working on them (which I find to be smarter than setting a 3-month preorder deadline and running into print and editing issues). I’m not rushing myself this time (okay I am a little because I want CG and CL to be back on Amazon, but they are already written and the updating/adding to the storyline has been coming to me incredibly fast). I’m not even setting a specific word count for my new projects since I don’t want to stifle my stories (something I’ve worried about doing in the past).

I’m not bragging about my word count.

I’m not.

Back to writing for me! This update ended up a little longer than I wanted it to be, haha.

Warning: I’ve been on a Buffy binge.

There are weeks where it’s just…Meh.

It’s Beer Bad, Fire Pretty! Or all I want to do is lie around and beat up monsters on Final Fantasy XV or giggle at Zidane’s antics with Dagger in Final Fantasy IX. 

In other words, weeks when I’m not writing. I read something on Colleen Hoover’s Facebook group the other day where she said there’s not really something called writer’s block. She called it a creative lull–because obviously, if I had an actual writer’s block, I wouldn’t be starting this blog right now at almost 3 am. I’ve always prescribed to the mentality that writer’s block doesn’t exist, even though I may use it from time to time. When you say “…I’m blocked,” editors freak out, soundboards listen, and mothers can be persuaded to drive all the way down to Shellmart just to get you some freakin’ beef jerky.

But–point, I liked that term. Creative lull. It fits me perfectly when I’m in the middle of writing a new book. Sometimes I can get it done in three months, sometimes it might take me an entire damn year. I will never be an author who can get a book out in a month, not that I am trying to insult anyone who has. If you can, you’re a fucking rock god or goddess.

This week has been a major meh week for me. A creative lull. I laid around and did nothing but watch Buffy. Okay, in my defense, I am analyzing one of the episodes for my language class for my graduate program. But I also got hit with a medical issue…a tooth abscess, of all the things. I’m not afraid to publicly speak about what is going on in my life, even though I don’t talk about all of it. But this has been one of the most painful, frustrating weeks I’ve had in a long time, and I felt like finally getting out of my bed and doing something about it rather than feeling bad for myself.

And are you cringing yet? Dental issues? Yeah. Me too.

I take care of my teeth. Or I try to, anyway. I’m pretty sure all that coffee I drink isn’t good for them, and I had a orange soda earlier and about spat it out. My grandfather had to go to the ER for a tooth abscess too, and I’m like…Okay, universe! What’s the next thing you’re throwing at us? I’m a firm believer in the power of three.

I digress. I’m just in a creative lull at the moment, even though Cheap Tricks has made a steady progress. I recently purchased a refurbished iMac, and oh my, is the big screen big and fun to write with in full screen on Scrivener.

So, my entire point to this: what do you guys do when you hit a creative lull? Usually for me, it’s to knit, watch Buffy, and cuddle the dogs. I’m starting to feel better enough that I can sit at the computer long enough to write (since I adopted a Mastiff, there is no sitting in the bed with the laptop since Hank insists on cuddles). I just don’t like not writing.

Dog sitting, Novel Planning,& Other Stuff

I think it’s safe to say that I am horrible at deciding which platform I want to use as a blog.

One of my friends talked me into creating a website through Strikingly, and I’m so glad she did. It’s a beautiful website, and can be found here. But she also thought it might be a good idea to create a blog there, and while I loved the idea for a while, I think I’m back on WordPress permanently…it might be more work, but I might cross-post on my website. I haven’t decided yet, to be honest. I know that it seems like I’m indecisive as hell, but I am, and I’ve learned to be okay with that. I’d drive myself insane otherwise.

No. Really. I would. I can’t even decide which shoes I’m going to wear to take my brother’s dog potty sometimes. I’m dog-sitting until he gets his own place. I think he intends to move in with his girlfriend, and I don’t mind keeping Atlas while he figures stuff out. Until then, I have a sweet pup who likes ti sit next to me while I write.

I’m laughing at myself. It’s this kind of indecision that has made it so impossible for me to sit down and actually plot out a novel. Most of the time, I find that it’s more effective when I sit down and write whatever pops into my head. It’s how I’m able to keep up with more than one writing project at a time, even though it may take longer to finish a book.

Or, that’s the way I used to be.

For the past ten weeks, I’ve been in an online class through Southern New Hampshire University, titled ENG: 520: Story and Concept. For the past ten weeks, I’ve been planning my first full-length, stand alone novel. I’m not talking about my series, like what I have already published with Cheap Guitars, Cheap Lies, Head Over Hoof, and Cheap Sunglasses. I’m talking about an honest to goddess complete novel with twists and terns. Something with deep, interconnected themes that allow me to reconnect with my roots as a literary. Something that has profluence and carefully constructed beats.

How the hell did I ever write my first novels without a full plan?

I’ve even gone so far as to make one for Cheap Tricks, the final installment in the series (for now). The writing process has been so much easier. I’m trying to train myself to think of the full outline as the initial draft, the one that interconnects all the little pieces of the web I’ve mapped in my brain. In fact, I have been using Scapple, one of Scrivener’s programs. It works just like a web would on paper, and that has always been my favorite way of getting my ideas out so I can see if they are feasible for writing. I don’t fault myself for my earlier publishing mistakes–and I’m humble that way, because I know I made them–but I’m learning as I go and now I know I cannot move forward without a beat-by-beat plan. Something that I can get detailed with, that I can hold in my hand, and decide from there if the story will work so much. Actually, CT was going to be the second book in the Cheap series, but because of some serious issues, I decided to write Cheap Sunglasses instead. That’s the last one I’m ever writing without a plan, even though I love the novel.

Also, here is the summary for Heart Be Still. I’m planning on starting it in March. It’s still sort of in it’s rough stages, but it gives you an idea of what the story will be about.

Patience McDaniel has one goal—keep her excellent GPA and get accepted into Harvard. Her life is derailed when her mother dies and her estranged sister moves to Maine with promises of helping with the bills, all while hiding a large family secret. Joey Slater has no choice but to move in with his aunt and uncle after he drops out of college. He ignores his cousin’s request to leave her best friend, Patience, alone. He can’t help but be fascinated with the sad, lonely girl, who suddenly needs to drag a date to a party. Patience doesn’t want to admit anything because that means she might fail in getting accepted into Harvard—to her, Joey is a welcome distraction. He also has a bad reputation in town and it angers her sister when she spends time with him. It’s definitely not love…right?

 

**Edit made. Earlier, I said Cheap Lies instead of Cheap Tricks, because apparently I can’t keep books in my cheap series straight. Bah…haha.

Little Secrets

I’m going to let you in on a little detail about my life: I have dyslexia.

You may not be able to tell. That is because after years of making myself read and stop to repeatedly write letters over and over again until writing a letter became muscle memory, I have mostly overcome the learning disability, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle in other areas. I can’t spell worth a crap without a spell checker if it’s a word like “necessary” (yes, spell checked, although it’s getting easier to write this word). Math is a foreign language to me unless I have the calculator on my phone. Writing the word “guarantee” is another pain in my ass.

This makes broadening my vocabulary frustrating as a writer. I’m managing, however. I have a thesaurus and several other books to help me with this process. I also constantly read-I read three books in the past week-and really study the syntax on a page to make sure I’m not misreading it. It does happen sometimes if I’m tired or trying to read too fast. Really, dyslexia is more of an annoyance now, than anything. I think I was blessed in that it is a very mild case. When testing for it to see if I qualified for vocational rehabilitation when I got accepted into Eastern Kentucky University, they tested me again and said I had more of a math learning disability than dyslexia.

Keep in mind, the therapist who diagnosed me with dyslexia told my parents that I would never read, write, or be able to do math. My parents more or less told that person they were full of shit. I’ll never be able to thank my mother enough for doing that for me, or for shoving a Nora Roberts novel into my hand as soon as she realized I took an interest in reading. It’s what created my love of writing, and that can never be taken from me.

Also, I sucked as a student. I’m not sure if it was because of the learning disability, that I was lazy (I have a bad habit of procrastination), or a combination of both. My GPA coming out of EKU was below a 2.5. Yes, it was part of the fact that I was lazy and procrastinated and maybe a little bit of the learning disability, but I had also just gone through a divorce. I’ve never had higher than a 2.5…

Until now. I’m a 4.0 GPA grad student. I have just uploaded the final files for my e-book version of Cheap Sunglasses, a 60-thousand something word novel. My fifth one, at that. I can’t help but think that therapist was full of shit now, either. I just saw the official grade on my student account and nearly cried. To have a 4.0 is amazing to me, and especially in a graduate level course. I just started my ENG 501: Studying the Craft course, and I’m going to come out of this one with an A, too.

If you are dyslexic, or know someone who is dyslexic, all I can say is not to give up. Even if it’s another learning disability–it comes with a lot of patience, perseverance, and just a little bit of stubbornness to accomplish what I have, but don’t think that you can’t because you’ve been labeled with a learning disability. It disheartens me when I hear someone feels like they can’t do something because of something their brain isn’t properly wired to do. So what? Find a way around it. I would have never started writing if I hadn’t finally given in, in elementary school, and started reading Goosebumps (Nora’s books came after I told my Mom I wanted to read something else). I’m so thankful I did.

The Girl or the Gun

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks.

My uncle, Mark, recently passed away. He lived in Philadelphia. Living in Kentucky, I don’t really find out much about what is going on with family up there unless I call my brother, Mick (who never answers his phone) or through Facebook posts from family. Thankfully I’m reconnecting with some of my cousins now. I had been trying to call Mark a few weeks before that because I wanted to see how he was doing, and it always went to voice mail. Mark worked a lot and it was sometimes hard to catch him, but I just couldn’t shake the need to give him a call and talk to him. After I told my Mom, I cried harder than I’ve cried in a long time.

Mark was a great guy. He was my favorite, not to offend my other uncles. I’m hoping family reads this. I think a part of the reason that I have chosen to be a writer is that he LOVED to tell stories, whether it was about my father when he was younger or a story about how he acquired one of his guns. I also liked to talk to him about his cars. Mark talked my ear off about both subjects. He had the kind of voice that you could listen to for hours. A sweet, gentle soul, he got along with everyone. Kind of like my dad, from what I’ve heard. Daddy passed away when I was little. Definitely like my brother, George, who has so many friends I can’t keep track. I went to the funeral over the weekend and wanted to get up and tell this story when my cousin, Chase, asked if anyone wanted to say something, but I froze up. I hadn’t seen my Dad’s side of the family in almost fifteen years. It might have been a tad too long, too.

The Girl or the Gun came about when I made the decision to write a story about a man who misses his brother. Mark loved telling me about how Dad liked to make up crazy stories that weren’t true, and how Mom used to fall for it. I’m trying to remember the exact conversation because we had it almost four years ago. I knew I wanted the character to have guns, and I knew I wanted to start it off with him cleaning one in particular. With no idea how that worked, all I had to do was call Mark, and he explained it… in detail. I think that part to of the conversation took at least ten minutes. He talked about his various guns, including one, I think, that my Dad got for him (also along with a big story that Mark thought my father was full of shit over). Everything in earlier scenes of this story are a by-product of my conversation with him that day.

Apparently, Mark almost got engaged once.

From what I remember him telling me, she wanted him to get rid of his guns, so he got rid of her instead.

Not surprising, really. He loved his collection, both his guns and his cars. As soon as I got married, he was like “HAHAHA you’ve got him by the balls, now!” (obviously, I’m not now, but I will never forget his laugh before he belted that out). It was a mixture of those few things that brought this story to full circle. I will be turning this into a novel, and changing it around. I also plan to dedicate it to him, too. This is the story that made me lean toward writing romance and away from my vampire/horror stories.

Besides, Grandma Miller always said to write romance since sex sells. While I was in Philadelphia, I had to walk through the laundry room to get changed for the ride back to Kentucky. A huge wave of memories hit me because it smelled exactly the same. That’s what made me decide to post this online.

Please note that even though Uncle Mark inspired this story, it is a work of fiction. I will be changing it when it is turned into a novel. I didn’t quite have everything worked out when I wrote it. Yes, I will be changing some key elements. I would love for conversations to start about this piece. Do not feel like you shouldn’t comment.

The Girl Or The Gun

Year 1990

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Arnie sat alone in his bedroom with an 1873 Colt Peacemaker. It was one of the first repeating handguns ever made. It needed to be cleaned since he hadn’t touched it in a while. Arnie loved this gun.

The Colt was very special to Arnie because his brother, Steve, gave it to him in when they were in their late twenties. Steve learned to drive a tractor trailer when he was eighteen and turned a career out of it before a CDL licenses was required. It was while he was working in New York that he got the gun.

“You won’t believe it!” Steve said to him enthusiastically after he got home. “John Wayne gave this to me! I ran into him while I was dropping off a shipment near Broadway.”

Arnie deeply loved his younger brother. It took a lot for Arnie a lot to admit it, but Steve had been full of shit.

He liked telling stories to his wife, Cora, who humored him when she shouldn’t have. Cora was a good natured girl, who didn’t like to bring anyone down, and that, as well as her passion for animals was why Steve fell in love with her when he was twenty-five and she was twenty-two. Steve met her in a pet store, where she helped the owner raise baby parrots. Cora had been on the verge of getting evicted since the pet store didn’t pay much, so Steve offered to let her move in with him. Steve and Cora got pregnant with their daughter within three months of living together. They were unmarried and that caused a huge rift between Cora and Steve and Arnie’s mom. Arnie tried to talk Mom into trying to accept Cora into the family, but she didn’t when Steve and Cora declared a common law marriage. It was in ’85, when Steve and Cora had a real wedding after their son was born, that Mom finally gave in and started acting more friendly toward her.

Steve told exaggerated stories.

Cora loved his story about a “street fight” he got into once.

“So, me and my buddy Jimmy are rough-housing outside,” Steve would say as Cora and Arnie watched him become excited as he reenacted the fight, boxing air and ducking an invisible fist. “But, being knuckle heads, it turned into a real fight when I told him he still owned me twenty bucks for cigarettes from a few months back and he punched me in the gut too hard.” Steve gasped for air as he dramatically lurched back into his and Cora’s kitchen counter.

Arnie had a hard time keeping a straight face as his brother told them the story.

“So, I get all pissed off, grab Jimmy by the shoulders, and bite his ear off!”

“Gross!” Cora squealed. She shook her head and looked at Arnie.. She was beautiful, and Arnie was glad his brother met such a great girl. Cora had an eighties perm in her long brown hair and wore very little make up. She said she liked the natural look even though she always had a small line black of eyeliner across her top eyelid and a thin layer of lip gloss.

That isn’t really how the fight happened.

Steve was fifteen the summer day he, their friend Jimmy, and Arnie were spending time together. Arnie liked Jim. He liked to show them both how to work on cars together, since Jim was eighteen and was still in high school since he failed the year before. Being sixteen, almost seventeen himself, Arnie had a new car he was trying to work on with Steve.

“Jim, when are you going to give me my twenty bucks back?”

Jim wasn’t a small guy. He was big and always boasted about working out, and had the beginnings of a small afro because of his extremely fizzy blond hair. Working on cars required a bit of muscle so you could lift the parts and not get crushed.

“What? I don’t owe you twenty bucks.” Jim asked.

“I drove you girlfriend home the other night. You said you would give me money back for the gas.”

Arnie remained on the steps outside of Jim’s house, not sure if he wanted to get involved in the conversation.

“You’re crazy. You aren’t even 16 yet. Arnie, you ought ’a tell your momma on Stevie here, he might kill someone trying to drive without a license.”

Steve stood up, and shoved Jim. “Come on, don’t be a—“

“Okay, come on now guys. Calm down,” Arnie said. He stood up and stood between his brother and Steve. “What’s twenty bucks, huh, Steve? Jim can work it off by helping us with the car.”

Steve quickly sidestepped Arnie, and he shoved Jim. Jim laughed and shoved him back.

“Steve, it’s no problem. I’ll give you twenty bucks.” Jim laughed when he said this. Arnie looked at his brother and friend, getting ready to step in between them again.

Steve shoved Jim back. “Good.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” More shoving.

Were they just acting stupid? Arnie sat back down on a set of steps and watched the two young men, still uncertain.

“Hey, guys, come on. Quit horsing around. I think I’m going to work on the Corvette. Come on, Steve.”

Arnie didn’t know what happened, it happened so fast. Jim and Steve were playfully shoving each other, and then all of a sudden Jim fell back onto the concrete.

“What the…?” Jim asked when he stood.

“Quit shoving me.” Steve straightened his shirt out and pushed back his long hair.

Jim shoved Steve, hard. “You started shoving me.”

“Hey, guys, come on…”

Arnie wasn’t sure who made the first punch, but soon fists were flying and as much as he yelled or tried to get his brother and friend to back off each other, neither one of them would listen to him. Arnie almost got punched himself until he decided it was a good idea to just back off and let them fight it out.

“HEY!” Arnie covered his ears and backed far away from the steps and the section of the street his brother and friend were fighting on. Standing behind the two boys was Arnie and Steve’s mother with a large blue bucket. “What is going on? Stop!”

The boys just kept fighting, and they got a large bucket of slimy dog water dumped onto their heads. Arnie knew what it was by the amount of wet, smashed dog kibble which clung to Steve’s long hair.

“Mom, what—“ Steve started to say, angrily, wiping dog water and blood from his jaw. Only, his jaw wasn’t sitting on his mouth normally and his words came out a little garbled.

“Nadine! I’m sorry—Steve was being—“

“Jim, I love you, but I think you just broke my baby’s jaw. Get away from me RIGHT now.” Their mother put down the bucket and walked up to Steve.

“Mom, I tried to stop them…”

“You should’ve tried harder! I swear, you boys are going to be the death of me.” Mom said, grabbing Steve’s jaw.

He yelped in pain and pushed her hand away. Mom pushed back his hair, and Arnie gasped when he saw his brother’s bloody ear. Mom just shook her head and picked up the dog bucket.

“You need to go to the hospital. Your ear is bleeding and your jaw is obviously hurt… Arnie, I’d ask you to take him to the hospital, but I’m not sure if I can trust you.”

“Mom, that’s not fair—“

“Just don’t,” Mom said.

Arnie’s mom eventually forgave them, Arnie for not stepping in for Steve, and Steve for getting into a fight on the street. Their mother was just protective and had trouble controlling Steve sometimes, because when he got into an argument, he usually was the one to finish it. It took Steve two days to get all the mashed up dog food out of his hair and even longer for his jaw to heal. Thankfully, his ear drum wasn’t busted or anything, but Arnie sometimes wondered if Jim did damage to his brain, because that was when Steve started telling stories which were wild sometimes. He wasn’t sure if he believed him about the Colt, but it was a story his brother told him, and Arnie cherished it.

Arnie never told anyone the story Steve told him about the Colt, not even Cora.

He sometimes thought about telling Cora, and her and Steve’s kids. They didn’t remember their father. Five years after Cora and Steve declared common law, Steve died in his damned tractor trailer. It was early in 1987; two months after Cora and Steve had a second boy.

It wasn’t just the gun Steve gave Arnie which he cherished. Two years before Steve died, they had some work they had to do on the car after another driver flew past him by running a red light. They got it running while they were teenagers, but Steve often helped Arnie give it tune ups.

“I think you fried your clutch,” Steve said after a few minutes of failing to get the car to move.

“Great. I can’t believe that moron pulled in front of me like that.”

“I can’t believe you tried to stop in the wrong gear,” Steve said. “This thing is a baby. I told you it was when I decided you’d be the one to keep it.”

Arnie threw a greasy towel at Steve’s head. “You gave it to me ‘cause it’s too flashy for Cora and the kids.”

“Are you kidding me? Cora loves this car. She’s always asking me to get it from you so we can go for a drive.”

Arnie wanted to answer his brother, but he shook head at Steve and threw a greasy rag at his brother’s head. “Well, while we’ve got it open, does it need anything else?”

Rag still on his head, Steve fiddled around some more with the engine.

“Oil change. Your spark plugs look rough. Did you let mom drive this to Vegas again?”

“Well, she couldn’t take the station wagon.”

Steve shook his head and threw the rag off his head on the side of the car. “Arnie, come on. I’m going to have to take the car from you. I go out of town for two weeks and everything on the car starts falling apart. I didn’t almost get my jaw unhinged trying to get Jimmy to stop being stubborn and help us ever get it running in the first place for you to let it go downhill like this.”

“Steve, it just needs an oil change and new spark plugs. What is wrong?”

Steve sighed and closed the hood of the car.

“I’m just tired of being on the road all the time.” Steve walked over to the driver’s door and leaned against the car, as Arnie had been the entire time. The hood was up and one of the tires were also flat from the near-accident which caused Arnie to need Steve in the first place. I haven’t told Cora, but I really think I want to stop driving a truck.”

“What would you do? You used to love driving trucks.”

“Yeah, Arnie… but driving all the time takes time away from Cora and the kids. You’re there a lot for them but it doesn’t feel right to have my brother be there for my wife when I can’t be.” Steve’s hair was still long, and he brushed it out of his face. As adults, both Arnie and Steve kept mustaches and had gained a little weight, Arnie more so than Steve.

Arnie clapped his brother on the back.

“Steve, you know I love Cora. You couldn’t have chosen a better girl. But you need to think this through before you quit your job.”

“I don’t want to raise my family in the city. I think I want to move out of Philly.”

“What?” Arnie wasn’t sure if he was stunned or not.

“Yeah… Cora always talks about how she used to live in Kentucky for a year before she decided she wanted to move up north. We don’t want the kids in a city environment. I want to raise them on home cooking and—“

“Steve, I love you, but good luck getting that past mom.”

Steve had always been a big dreamer. Arnie just never thought he would dream about something so different.

“I’m just thinking about it. It doesn’t mean I’m going to,” Steve said.

“If you moved down there, I’d never be able to keep this car running,” Arnie said.

Steve laughed and pulled out a cigarette. “Yeah, I know Arnie. That’s why I’m thinking the whole moving idea is a bad idea, even though I want to do what Cora wants.”

He had to pull himself out of his memories.

Arnie took in a deep breath and set about cleaning the pistol, inspecting the bores. They were tarnished and rough-looking. The entire gun looked dull and neglected. His cleaning kit sat on his bed, each bore brush and cleaning cloth neatly lined up against his pillows.

He couldn’t help but remember his brother. Losing Steve hit everyone hard when it happened four years ago, but Arnie had to stop and remember to breathe slowly as he picked up a bore brush and inserted it into the gun. He hadn’t touched it since Steve’s funeral.

“Arnie?”

Arnie sighed when his mother knocked on his bedroom door. Mom was in her early sixties and sounded like a fishwife when she raised her voice. Arnie frequently had to endure her nagging. Mom let him live at home. Arnie didn’t have to pay rent, but he still insisted on helping her pay the utilities. Mom owned some property, and she rented it out to roomers who sometimes came to her for cigarettes and beer. Some of the guys she let rent from her weren’t the best people, and so Arnie wanted to live with her at home so he could make sure she was safe. Mom always refused to work a practical job because she didn’t have the skills. She inherited the property she owned from Arnie and Steve’s dad once he died. They lost their dad when they were young.

“Arnie? Come out here for a minute. Lauren called.”

“All right, I’m coming, Mom.” Arnie sat on his bed for a moment longer and studied the gun before he closed the barrel and set it on his nightstand.

“Well, hurry! I haven’t got all day. I have to go over to the house in Doylestown and ask the tenants there why they haven’t paid rent yet this month.”

Breathing heavily, Arnie stretched, popping his back. He unchained his door and opened it. “I told her I’d call her when I was ready.”

“What have you been doing?” Mom looked Arnie up and down.

Arnie didn’t think of himself as much to look at. He was slightly overweight. His belly hung over his jeans. He scratched the bald spot on the crown of his head as he looked at Mom.

“I, uh, got out the Colt.” Arnie shuffled his bare feet on the cool tile of the floor.

“Oh, you brought that out?” Mom put her hand on Arnie’s shoulder. “Are you okay? It’s getting pretty close to January.”

“I’m fine.” Arnie shrugged Mom’s hand off his shoulder. “Is Lauren still on the phone?”

“No,” his mother said. She brushed her short curly hair behind her ears. “Where are you taking her tonight?”

“I don’t know; somewhere fancier than the usual diner.”

Arnie’s mother took in a sharp breath. “Are you finally going to propose?” A wide smile spread on her face. Her hand shot to his arm. “It’s about time!”

“It’s just her birthday. I might just decide I don’t want to drive far and take her to the Spaghetti Warehouse.” Arnie thought about shaking Mom’s hand off, but he didn’t.

Arnie felt like he was in a good place with his girlfriend. Cora introduced Arnie to Lauren at a Tupperware party. Cora temporarily sold it in an attempt to have something to do a year after Steve died. Neither one of the girls were the slight bit interested in Tupperware now. Cora focused more on painting, her real passion, and Lauren was attending community college while she worked as a night desk receptionist at the hotel Arnie worked at as an electrician. Arnie stalled starting a family after Steve died. Maybe it was because he was afraid the same thing would happen to his family if he got married—he’d have a few good years with his wife, have a few kids, and then die on them.

“That’s still a really nice restaurant.” Except, Arnie thought to himself, his entire family ate there regularly. “It’s about time you give me grand babies. Have you both gotten more serious?”

Arnie thought about that for a moment. He peaked back into his room and looked at the black box which sat next to his Peacemaker. He didn’t have his bedroom door opened so he could hide the box. If Mom saw it, she’d become so excited, Arnie would be afraid she would have a heart attack. “Ah, I like her.”

“Oh! That reminds me,” Mom said. “Cora is bringing the kids over this weekend.”

“Aw,” Arnie said. “I have to work a little overtime at the hotel this weekend.”

Arnie thought he sometimes worked too much, but his relationship with Lauren wasn’t what suffered. His relationship with Cora and his niece and nephews suffered. He tried to spend time with them as much as possible. The kids were the closet thing Arnie had left of Steve, besides the Colt, and it broke his heart they didn’t have a father.

“It’s okay.” His mother pushed her glasses onto her face. “Well, I’ll leave you to get ready. Lauren asked me to tell you to make sure you pick her up at seven-thirty.”

Arnie told her he would get her at nine. He looked at his watch. It was six-thirty. Lauren consistently tried to move time around on him. She had a controlling personality, and most of the time Arnie let it go. He was nowhere near ready to go out, though. He needed to shower and finish cleaning the gun.

“All right,” he said to his mother. He kissed her on the cheek. “Why are you going to collect rent so late?”

His mother flashed a semi-evil half-grin. “Don’t ask, dear.”

Arnie didn’t ask.

Thirty minutes later, Arnie had on a nice t-shirt and slacks. He had the box in his right pocket along with his keys and wallet. His mother’s house was large. With three floors and five bedrooms, and a large basement and attic, it was sometimes an arduous walk from one end of the house to the other.

Arnie was almost out the door when the phone which sat on a table near the front door started to ring.

“Hello?”

“Arnie! I was hoping to catch Nadine,” Cora said through the phone.

“Mom’s gone out. I think she’s breaking into a tenant’s house to collect some rent collateral.”

“Again? I hope she doesn’t hurt herself. Shouldn’t you be out there with her?”

Arnie laughed. Mom only broke into a tenant’s house once when she thought they brought drugs into the place. She didn’t care about privacy laws, and that sometimes got her into trouble. It was another reason Arnie still lived with her. He didn’t want to control Mom, but he also didn’t want her to do something stupid.

“She probably is just issuing an eviction notice.” Arnie said. “Is everything okay? I’m supposed to head over to Lauren’s.”

“Oh! Is it the big night?”

Arnie stuck his hand into his pocket and fingered the box. He hadn’t meant to tell Cora he wanted to propose to Lauren.

“Arnie?”

“I’m still here, Cora.”

“It’s okay. I know it’s the big night. You don’t have to say anything, because I know it must be scaring the hell out of you. Just take a deep breath before you do it and don’t worry—you aren’t making a mistake!”

“Thanks, Cora.” Arnie said. He heaved a huge sigh of relief. “I needed to hear that.”

“I’m already mom and dad. I can be sister and brother too.”

Arnie laughed. “Okay. I have to go. I might not be around to see the kids this weekend, but love you all.”

“Good luck! Love you too.”

Arnie hung up the phone.

 

“I thought you were NEVER going to get here!” Lauren said as soon as Arnie knocked on her door.

He looked at the flowers in his hand; a dozen roses. Lauren didn’t even give the flowers a second thought as she flitted past him. Arnie caught a whiff of her vanilla perfume and coughed. Lauren always wore too much. Her tall black heels clacked noisily down her apartment steps as she walked to his red ’75 Corvette convertible.

Arnie loved his gun and his car, even though it wasn’t his only one. Arnie also owned a Chevy Malibu he drove for every-day errands. When Arnie was sixteen, and Steve was fourteen, Steve helped Arnie restore the Corvette after they found it in a junk yard. The radiator was busted in from a telephone pole, the owner of the junkyard said, and it hadn’t been touched since. The hood had been a crumpled mess. For a year and a half the boys scraped and begged for money from Mom so they could work on it. Arnie got his first job working at a diner down the street to earn cash too. Arnie would never forget Steve’s face when they finally started the engine. It purred. Steve immediately wanted to try to repair another car. Maybe that was why Steve ended up driving a truck.

“Oh, this car?” More heel clacking. “I love this one!”

Lauren must not really like flowers, or else she was just too excited to get out to really notice them, Arnie reasoned with himself. He placed the flowers on a table near the front door and closed it. Using a key he had to her apartment, he locked it.

“It makes you look gorgeous.” He walked down the apartment steps. Arnie actually felt a bit of indifference toward her light blue dress.

“Don’t flatter me,” she laughed. “I need a night out on the town. I had a rough day at work.” She ran her hand through her hair. Lauren usually worked the night shift at the hotel, as Arnie did. “I can’t believe they ordered me to come in this morning.”

“You shouldn’t let the managers push you around. I was actually thinking we would go somewhere nicer tonight,” Arnie said as he opened the passenger door. Lauren sat down.

Arnie got in on the other side, and then started his car up.

“So where are we going?” Lauren asked.

“I was thinking the Spaghetti Warehouse,” Arnie said.

“Oh, really? But there are so many carbs there… I’m not sure if I want to do that.”

“They have salads.” Lauren was very self-conscious about her health, and Arnie tried to appreciate that about her. He looked down at his gut as he shifted the car in reverse and put his feet on the gas and released the clutch.

 

 

He kept fiddling with the ring box in his pocket the entire time they ate dinner. Lauren finally relented to the Spaghetti Warehouse because of the classic Cesar salad, while Arnie ordered the five layer lasagna and the sampler plate. Lauren kept giving him confused looks every time he fiddled with something in his pocket, and it made Arnie more nervous about popping the question.

“So…” Lauren started.

“Ah, hell, I’m just gonna ask.” Arnie pulled out the ring and opened it. It was a nice ring, with a large diamond in the middle. He had placed a down payment on it. The engagement ring was the first part of the whole set, as the wedding ring sat in place underneath it. It was something Cora recommended when he started looking since that was what Steve bought for her when they got married. “Lauren, will you marry me?”

Arnie froze up while he held the ring up to her. Lauren dropped her salad fork, staring at the ring. For a moment he thought she was going to say no until she snatched it up out of the box. She held it between her index finger and thumb, her eyes wide as she looked at it.

“Oh—Arnie, of course I will!”

 

After dinner, Arnie and Lauren decided to go back to his house to spend some time together. Lauren couldn’t wait to tell Mom, and Arnie tried to tell her she also had Bingo and a senior citizen’s meeting, but he decided to go home anyway.

Lauren held his hand as they walked up the steps to his bedroom.

“You’d have to move out of your Mom’s house,” she said, wrapping one of her arms around Arnie’s tighter.

“I’ve got some money saved, but not much. I thought maybe we could rent a while.”

Arnie knew Lauren would want him to move out of his Mom’s after they got married. Thinking about it now, though, made his hands sweat. He wasn’t sure how his mother would do if he left her alone.

Lauren shook her head. “I hate renting. I just throw so much money with rent.”

“Mom wouldn’t mind letting us stay here. She doesn’t make me pay rent.”

“I really, really don’t want to live with your Mom, Arnie.”

Arnie opened his bedroom door. His light was still on as he ended up rushing around to get ready before his date with Lauren. He got nervous right after his talk with Mom. The Colt was still on his bed.

“Oh, you have that out,” Lauren said as she walked into his bedroom. She sat on a chair toward the end of the bed which sat next to the wall.

Arnie quickly picked up the gun and shut the barrel. He picked up the bore brush kit and closed it and shoved the bullets into his nightstand. “It was a gift from my brother.”

“Yeah… isn’t it old? Worth something?” Lauren sat up straighter in his chair. Arnie sat on his bed and placed the gun on the nightstand on top of the bore brush kit.

“Yeah. It is. Did I ever tell you the story Steve told me when he got it?”

“No, you didn’t.” Lauren stood and sat next to him on the bed. She placed her hand on Arnie’s knee. “Could you?”

“Steve was always full of it. I think you would’ve liked him. He said he got this gun from John Wayne.”

“No way!” Lauren laughed loudly. She startled Arnie when she slapped him on the shoulder. “So it’s old then?”

“It’s an 1873 Colt Peacemaker,” Arnie said. “Classic.”

“But isn’t John Wayne dead?” Lauren asked.

“Yes. Steve didn’t pay attention to that stuff. John Wayne may have owned it,” Arnie picked up the gun and showed it to her. “Steve probably just found it in a pawn shop, and the person who had it didn’t realize what it was worth.”

“That’s so fascinating. How much do you think it’s worth?”

Arnie shrugged, suddenly feeling uncomfortable with the way Lauren was phrasing her questions. People had asked him how much the gun was worth before, after Steve gave it to him. For a while, Arnie did let people see the gun. That was before Steve died.

“It’s invaluable.”

“Maybe we could sell it—and the Corvette. Can you imagine what kind of money we could get toward the wedding and a down payment for a house?”

Arnie suddenly stood up. “You know I worked on that car with Steve.”

“You really need to let his death go. It’s pathetic.”

Arnie’s back stiffened. He felt some of his hair stand on the back of his neck.

“Are you really telling me you want me to sell the two things I have left from my brother?”

“Oh, come on, you have pictures of him or—“

“I’m not marrying you!” Arnie hated raising his voice, but he didn’t know any other way to grab Lauren’s attention. “Give me the ring back.”

“What?” Lauren’s eyes widened. “I’m trying to be practical.”

“Cora and Mom want me to be on my own but they’d never suggest I get rid of my gun and car. We’ve been together a year and you haven’t realized that?”

“I’m not Cora.” Lauren stood up and crossed her arms.

“Yeah, you sure aren’t. Give me the ring back.”

“Fine! Whatever.” Lauren yanked the ring from her hand. “It looks stupid anyway.” She threw it at his chest. Her heels clacked against the floor as she walked down the hallway.

Arnie was breathing hard. He didn’t know when he started breathing hard. He looked at the gun. Had he really just broken up with Lauren?

He needed to go somewhere.

(I deleted this part of the story because I wasn’t comfortable with it.)