25 November 2015

Shopping Small

As everyone in the United States is gearing up for cold weather, parades, football games, turkey, and shopping, I’m watching my friends who are artists, writers, and small business owners gear up for their busy time of year. Here are some of the Rhode Island artists and small business owners that I know and love. Some of them have online stores, some of them you might just have to go meet in person and see how wonderful they really are.

Rick Devin
Thompson's Flowers and Antiques
Amy Kristin Photography
Spoonlove Bracelets

We can’t all shop local, I understand that. And I am among the zillions of people who do love the convenience of a site like Amazon. So consider books from indie authors and small presses. You’re still helping an individual. I’ve compiled a few of my favorites from this year at my Amazon store. (Amazon Affiliates link.) 

You don’t have to wait for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or Snooze in Your PJs All Day Sunday (that’s a thing). You can click over to Facebook or Etsy or Amazon right now if you want to. Check the hours of your local coffee shop and an independent gift shop and pop in any time to spread some holiday cheer. They will appreciate it and you’ll know exactly where your money is going.

Here’s Where I Write on Bamako

I’ve written so many personal notes to friends and family over the last few days that it’s difficult to sit down and write my public feelings about what happened last Friday in Bamako. I’m exhausted. I may or may not have copy/pasted phrases from various notes and stitched them together here for this post.

Last Friday morning I was feeling too sick to be motivated to leave the house at my usual time for a run. My phone buzzed with a message from a friend telling me to stay home if I hadn’t left yet. Thank goodness I was sick. Otherwise I most likely would have been running past the Radisson at the time of the attack. I surrendered to the couch with a cup of tea and a long day of waiting for news ahead of me. I’m not going to rehash the day here. You can Google all the news if you’re not familiar with it. Reading it now still gives me a bit of a panicky headache.

Bamako is relatively back to normal now. Most people can’t afford to take the days off for mourning or states of emergency. The economy relies on everyone going to work every day. My run streak is still on (day 26 today). I spent a few days on the treadmill, partly due to the events here but partly due to the amount of dust in the air right now making my sinuses ache if I’m outside for too long.

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m sick and all I want to do is sleep and order take-away on Thursday and hope that Mike doesn’t get called in to work. I am thankful that everyone I know is safe and sound. And that we have enough to eat should we choose to have a feast. And we have friends we can gather with, who are our family here. And we have a roof over our heads and all the necessities, and then some, which so many people in Mali and in the United States and in other parts of the world do not have. We are still very lucky.

19 November 2015

Book Reviews: A Taste for Mystery, Libidinous Zombie, & Summer Pudding

I've put up a few new reviews this week. Please consider leaving a line or two on Goodreads and Amazon after you read a book. The authors appreciate it!

These are my reviews as they appear on Goodreads.

A Taste for MysteryA Taste for Mystery by K.D. Rose
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

KD Rose does something I could never do, and that’s write a mystery that leaves you wondering who did it and what’s going to happen next. They were fun stories and a perfect read for a cold, rainy afternoon.

Libidinous Zombie: An Erotic Horror CollectionLibidinous Zombie: An Erotic Horror Collection by Rose Caraway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, I wasn’t anxious to read this book even though I enjoy the writing of several of the authors. I hate zombies. And it’s not the gore, it’s the unrelenting, suffocating pursuit. Zombies are one of my irrational fears.

I faced my fear and read the book anyway. And I’m glad I did. Only one of the stories is about zombies. Tamsin Flowers’ zombie tale did give me the panicky feeling any story about zombies gives me because she tapped into that suffocating pursuit rather than the gore. But her tale turned out to be one of my favorites in the book.

The entire collection is full of horror and sex, and it’s a lot of fun. I’m a whimp about horror and there are a few stories I started at night and had to put down until daylight – most notably Malin James’s journey into an asylum. I also particularly liked Janine Ashbless’s erotic take on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the way Rose Caraway gave me second thoughts about how much I enjoy the Santa Ana winds.

These stories will keep you warm on a cold winter night and will make you pause to think about whether you want to turn the light off or not.

Summer Pudding: Story 1 of Forbidden FruitSummer Pudding: Story 1 of Forbidden Fruit by Tamsin Flowers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story left me breathless and anxious for berries to be in season next summer. Lisa and Laurent have the perfect amount of tension and sweetness between them, which leads to a delicious, satisfying ending.

View all my reviews

13 November 2015

Mountains Never Meet Kindle Release Day!

About a year ago I half jokingly posted a status on Facebook stating I was going to write expat-travel themed romance novels. Whether they were half joking or not, my friends encouraged me to actually do so. After a lot of work, here it is.

I made it a point to read more independent authors on my road to becoming one myself. I had no idea what I was getting into. I reached out to different online communities and not only did I learn some of the ropes (because there’s really no one way to do this) I met some wonderful people who have helped and supported me immensely.

Mountains Never Meet is available for Kindle from Amazon (in several countries, including the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, and India, so check your local Amazon site). The paperback edition and other digital formats will follow in a few weeks.

Thank you, everyone, for the various ways you supported and encouraged me. I hope you enjoy it. (And if you don’t, that’s okay, too. Not every book is for every person.)

US: http://amzn.to/1MN6QxF
UK: http://amzn.to/1Mbcpsz
Australia: http://bit.ly/1QzHwkW
Canada: http://amzn.to/1Nu7FvY
India: http://amzn.to/1NP4dRj

After you read, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads. (And check out the reviews I’ve left for other indie authors.) Thank you!

28 October 2015

23 October 2015

Book Reviews: Fifteen Postcards and The Marshall Plan

These are my reviews as they appeared on Goodreads.

Fifteen PostcardsFifteen Postcards by Kirsten McKenzie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book very much. I was riveted to the story, although as it went on I became confused by how all the characters were going to tie together. I kept reading though, anxious to find out.

The attention to detail with the antiques and their historical settings was wonderful. I could smell the mustiness of the antique shop and incense of India. I lost track of the family tree, however, and there was a lot of time spent in the past with characters that ended up not having much to do with the final story. I also felt there were some loose ends, so I hope that means there’s a sequel in the works. I’m curious to see where Sarah’s adventures continue!

The Marshall PlanThe Marshall Plan by Olivia Folmar Ard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is a great examination of that difficult time many of us face when we’re finished with school but not quite working in the careers we just spent so many years studying to work in. Are you an adult yet? Or are you a big kid still?

I wanted to give this one five stars but I couldn’t quite get there. Technically the writing is excellent but I found the characters very frustrating. I couldn’t figure out exactly why Molly kept putting off marrying Gavin when 1) she kept saying she loved him so much and 2) it would have solved a number of practical issues such as roommates and living expenses. But I also didn’t get exactly why she loved him so much. You don’t have to love everything about your partner but she seemed downright mean about his choices of hobbies.

All that aside, I still found The Marshall Plan a compelling read. I wanted to see what would happen with Molly, if she would solve her problems or create new ones.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

19 October 2015

"Sweaty, Gross, and Super Hungry"

That's what I said to Mike one morning when he leaned in for a hug and a kiss before he left for work. I was in the midst of my run streak and had just returned from the great outdoors. It was the peak of Malian summer, sometime in April or May. Every morning I was sweaty, gross, and super hungry. Mike laughed that morning and suggested it as the title of my memoir when I eventually wrote about the run streak.

I started on Thanksgiving last year and ran at least one mile every day for 199 days, ending in mid-June. I ran in Mali -- in Bamako and Segou. I ran in Paris. I ran in Salzburg. I ran on the pedestrian path between the hotels and the airport in Munich. (Or was it Frankfurt? I don't remember now where our twenty-four hour layover was.) I ran in West Palm Beach and South Beach. I ran along Ocean Road in Narragansett. I ran by myself most days but with sometimes with Mike or other friends.

I ran on treadmills sometimes. I'd brought one with us to Mali to get me through running during the worst weather here -- the dust storms of winter followed shortly by the intense heat of summer. The treadmill shorted out the electricity in the entire downstairs of the house every time I plugged it in, and by the time someone was able to fix that problem, I'd already run through the worst weather outdoors. The dust storm days when my lungs hurt after ten minutes outside. Long runs in the May heat that I broke up by running two miles to the gym, running on the treadmill under a full-blast air conditioner, and running two miles home.

I learned that I can run one mile under almost any conditions. Bad weather, minor injuries, mild fevers, after too much cider and chèvre-stuffed galette for lunch at a Breton café in Paris. I learned that eventually one mile wasn't enough unless I was extremely tired or pressed for time and most days I was going out for at least two.

I was always hungry. Even the low-mileage days left me ravenous and I ate like crazy. Yet, I started to fit into clothes that hadn't fit me in a few months (a few years, even, after my winter hibernation in Rhode Island).

Until one injury stopped me. We were back in the U.S. I was eating like crazy because so many foods were available that we don't have in Mali. I was running every day but pain was causing me to slow down and limit myself to less than two miles. I could have run slowly through the injury, limiting myself to one ten-minute mile each day. But I'd planned to run a half marathon with some friends, friends who I hadn't seen since we'd run a half marathon together the previous year. I ended the streak so I could get some real rest. A week later I ran with my friends and came within ten minutes of my half marathon PR, which I was thrilled with considering the horrible two-hour nonstop downpour we ran through combined with still nursing the injury.

I belonged to a handful of run streak groups online. Some people congratulated me on knowing when to end the streak and concentrate on having fun with my friends instead. Others sniffed at my decision, saying they would have chosen to keep the streak alive and forego the half marathon. Whatever. I made the right choice for me at the time. (And the people who supported my decision are people I'm still in touch with regularly even though I'm not streaking any more.)

Even though I kept running regularly, I did not go back to streaking. Yet I was still in the U.S. eating as if I were still streaking and training for a half marathon. By the end of our vacation, some of those favorite clothes no longer fit.

Several months later, some of those clothes still don't fit and I know that all I have to do is commit to running one mile every day again if I want them to. Without even really thinking about it I recently found myself running every day for several days in a row -- a week, maybe 8 or 9 days, I didn't really pay attention. I felt healthy and strong again. I also felt like there's not enough food in Mali to keep me fed through another streak and we don't have plans to get to Europe or the U.S. any time soon.

But aside from the health, strength, and fitting into of favorite clothes, I also found I was extremely productive when I started every morning with a run, regardless of it being ten minutes or ten miles. I wrote my novel during those run streak days along with a number of other projects. (I'm thinking I should try to write off Strava Premium on my taxes because of my productivity during the streak.)

I'm going to take it one day at a time. I ran yesterday. I ran today. I'll probably run tomorrow but I'll make that decision in the morning.

18 October 2015

Seven Sentences

A few weeks ago I was tagged for the 7-7-7 challenge by @LMBryski on Twitter. I posted my response on Goodreads because I was still going back and forth on if I was going to breathe life back into this blog or start a new one.

You go to the seventh page of your work in progress, count the top seven sentences, and then publish the next seven. I decided to go through a new manuscript I'm currently writing rather Mountains Never Meet so as not to repeat lines I've already shared.

This is completely first-draft unedited writing. It's not likely to stay on the seventh page and it might not even stay in the finished manuscript. At least not all seven sentences.
Sara rummaged through the kitchen for things to roast with the chicken. She’d been too hot and tired to haggle at the vegetable market earlier in the week so hadn’t bought much and their stores of fresh fruits and vegetables were getting low. Carrots that were a bit too soft to be in a salad or cut into sticks were still good enough for roasting. And some oranges that were a bit too dry, so no one was eating them, would be good roasted with a chicken, too. An apple that was a little soft. There were two small onions left. She grabbed all the random fruits and vegetables that were not good enough to eat as they were.
Working titles I've been toying with include The Trailing Spouse and Honeypot. I'd like to leave out all other background information and references to the rest of the story for now but if you want to know more, please feel free to ask.

17 October 2015

"It has to be a good story."

"Sometimes I interview as many as three or four people a night if I'm lucky. But it has to be a good story. That's only fair, isn't it?" -- The Boy, Interview with a Vampire
I was tagged by the lovely and talented Mollie Smith to do a little Q&A. I can't promise vampires, though, not this time.

When did you first start writing?
I've always written. Professionally I'm more of an editor, but I've written children's books, essays, catalog copy, website copy, all sorts of different things.

Was being a writer something you always aspired to be? 
Not really. I always pursued whatever my interests were at the time and I seem to have landed on editing and writing.

What genre do you write?
Right now I'm concentrating on novels but I've written mostly nonfiction. I'm calling Mountains Never Meet and some of the others I'm working on travel-expat-romance.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress?
It's my first novel. I started writing a memoir about living in Burundi but somewhere along the line I decided it would be a little more interesting if things happened differently. It morphed into a work of fiction that has nothing to do with Burundi now. (I'm sure Burundi will pop up in future stories, though. I still have a lot of adventures to share from there.)

When did you start working on this project?
At the beginning of this year.

What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about? 
In third or fourth grade, I think, I wrote a piece of My Little Pony fan fiction (before it was even known as fan fiction.)

What’s the best part about writing? 
All of it!

What’s the worst part about writing?
All of it!

What’s the name of your favourite character and why?
Right now I'm in love with my male main character in Mountains Never Meet. Opening up my manuscript every day is like opening an email from someone I have a crush on.

How much time a day/week do you get to write?
I consider writing this novel my job this year so I spend several hours a day working on it. I'm more in the editing and format phase right now but I still make time almost every day for a writing prompt.

When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
I'm a morning person, but I often have ideas just before I fall asleep at night so I jot them down and turn them into real sentences the next morning.

Did you go to college for writing?
I was an English major. I concentrated on literature but the program included some writing courses. I minored in film studies so my courses included script writing, too.

What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?
As an editor, all of them. As a reader, all of them. As a writer, I don't pay attention to them at all until I'm editing later in the process.

What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
Write drunk, edit sober.

What advice would you give to another writer?
Don't be afraid of your first draft. Just write the damn thing. No one's going to see it so it doesn't matter if it's terrible. You go back and fix that later, but if you don't write it in the first place you'll have nothing to work with.

What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
I like the Badass Writing series and Terrible Minds. I love #1lineWed on Twitter and I belong to a couple writing groups on Facebook. For the most part, though, I read a lot of novels and learn from them. I'd rather spend more time writing than reading about writing.

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
I'm a runner. I sew. I bake gluten-free treats.

What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
We happen to be back in the U.S. when Jaws was shown in theaters for its 40th anniversary. I'd only ever seen it on television before. It was an entirely different movie on the big screen!

Who is your favourite author?
J.D. Salinger

Where else can we find you online?
Twitter: @StephanieSD
Instagram: @stephanierunnerwriter
Goodreads: Stephanie (and where you can see from my reviews who my current favorite authors are)
Facebook: Stephanie Smith Diamond

07 October 2015

Mountains Never Meet, Chapter Two

Chapter One is here, in case you missed it. And this is all I'm going to share until the book comes out next month!

As fall approached Thomas’s mother put more pressure on Maggie for wedding planning.
            “I just don’t see how you don’t have any opinion on the food, dear,” Mrs. Henderson said over the phone one evening. Maggie was only half listening to her. She and Thomas sat at the coffee table in his living room eating Thai take-out with the Red Sox game on mute in the background. Things had been better between them since their last blowup about Madison and the girls’ night out. They’d escaped the city and cell phones a few times to go hiking in the Berkshires and Thomas even watched a Sox game with her brothers one night, coming home looking like he’d had fun. Thomas still wasn’t interested in wedding planning but Maggie was too busy with a new work project to be that involved in it, either.
            “It’s not that I don’t have an opinion, it’s that I’m not a picky eater and neither is anyone in my family. We’ll eat anything that’s delicious.” Maggie gave Thomas a pleading look.
            “Chicken?” Mrs. Henderson asked.
            “Sure, chicken’s great,” Maggie said. Then followed up with, “As long as it’s not that dry, bland chicken that gets served at a lot of big catered events. It has to be juicy and flavorful.” Maggie could almost hear Mrs. Henderson frowning.
            “Beef then?”
            “Sure, beef is great, too,” Maggie replied.
            “Have you thought about a theme? Or colors? If you want an April or May wedding it’s almost too late to start thinking about those things.”
            Maggie didn’t really care about a theme or colors but she knew it was important to Thomas that she get along better with his mother. She was a little resentful that her own mother didn’t want to get more involved. Her mom had made it perfectly clear that as much as she loved her daughter she wanted little to do with the wedding industrial complex, as she called it. Everyone kept saying they just wanted Maggie to be happy. Maggie would be happy if people stopped bothering her about the wedding.
            “A theme for the wedding? Boston Red Sox,” Maggie said. Thomas laughed and threw a crumpled up napkin at her.
            “Pardon me, dear?”
            “A Red Sox–themed wedding.” Maggie held back giggles. “Blue and red, some gray.”
            Again, Maggie could practically hear Mrs. Henderson frowning. 
            “Those aren’t really spring colors…”
            “I’m kidding, Mrs. Henderson,” Maggie said. “Um, my favorite color is blue though. Can something be done with that? Maybe something beachy?”
            “A beach theme, yes, coastal New England. Now we are getting somewhere.”
            Maggie was relieved she finally gave one right answer. “Okay, great, well, I have to go now. I have a little work to do tonight. Do you want to talk to Thomas?” Thomas was shaking his head, “No,” but Maggie smiled and handed the phone to him anyway.
            She really did have work to do. Dr. Rodriguez, the malaria researcher she’d met at the cocktail party a few weeks earlier, had e-mailed her. He had a friend writing some tourism articles on East Africa. He asked if Maggie was available to copyedit them. Maggie had jumped at the chance to learn more about travel in Africa.
            Thomas walked out of the room while he was on the phone and Maggie opened up her laptop on the couch to work.
            During the ball game’s seventh inning stretch, Maggie stood up from her laptop to stretch, too. She had an idea.
            “Hey,” she said, finding Thomas at work on his own laptop in his study.
            “Hey,” he replied, closing his laptop quickly.
            “How do you feel about a vacation before the wedding?” Maggie asked. “I just want to get away from it all for a while.”
            “I love going on vacation. What did you have in mind?”
            “Camping for a week or two?” she suggested. “Something a little challenging. Hiking, mountains? I feel bored. I want a little bit of an adventure.”
            “I’m not in as great shape as you are,” Thomas said. “Hiking and camping for a week? And it’s getting cold out.”
            “I’ll find something we can handle, nothing too technical. And in a warmer climate.”
            “Sure, what the hell?” Thomas agreed. “But on one condition.”
            “What’s that?” Maggie asked.
            “The honeymoon is you and me on a secluded tropical island wearing bathing suits, or less.”
            “It’s a deal.”

A few days later Maggie landed on the perfect destination.
            “Mount Kilimanjaro,” she announced over dinner.
            “You’re back on this Africa stuff? I was hoping more for day hikes in Tuscany or something.”
            “I’ve been working on those articles for Dr. Rodriguez’s friend,” Maggie said, “and East Africa will be awesome. We’ll go in February, which is the worst month in Boston but will be warm there, except for the last couple of days at the top of the mountain. And afterward we’ll go on safari for a week. Nice and warm. Relaxing in luxury camps. Bathing suits by the pool, even.”
            “It will be a hard climb,” said Thomas. “It’s, what? Twenty thousand feet?” His reluctance was obvious.
            “Highest point in Africa,” Maggie replied. “Difficult, but not technical with ropes or anything. Totally do-able if you’re in decent shape. Porters and guides take care of everything for you. All you have to do, literally, is walk.”
            “You really want to do this?”
            “Yes, I do. I want a real adventure.”
            “Alright, let’s do it, if it’s what you really want.” Thomas gave in with no enthusiasm in his voice.

Maggie planned the trip with more enthusiasm than she had for wedding planning. With advice from the travel writer she’d been editing for, she researched tour companies and made their reservations. She borrowed some camping gear from her brothers and Thomas gave her the jacket she’d wanted from REI for Christmas.
            It was a brutal winter in Boston and as the trip neared, Maggie consoled herself with warm thoughts of equatorial Africa.
            “Only one week left!” Maggie said one night as she and Thomas were huddled together under blankets on the couch with hot chocolate, watching a movie.
            “Yup,” Thomas said, not matching Maggie’s enthusiasm. She’d had to drag him to a clinic that morning to pick up their malaria pills and he’d been in a bad mood since.
            “Do you think the mefloquine is making you cranky?” she asked him. The doctor had advised them to take the first dose right away, to get the medicine into their systems before arriving in a malarial zone and to see how they reacted to it. The weekly malaria pill was notorious for its side effects, and there were daily pills, but lots of people took mefloquine and felt fine. Maggie felt okay.
            “Maybe,” Thomas mumbled. “That’s probably it.” He continued, “You never told me which hotel we’re staying in, in Paris.” They planned to spend a couple days there to recover from jet lag before heading to Tanzania.
            “Annelyse invited us to stay with her,” Maggie said.
            “I guess it’s too late now to book a hotel?” Thomas asked.
            “Do you have a problem with Annelyse’s place?” replied Maggie. “It will be more fun.”
            “No, it will be fine. Just don’t speak too much French.”
            “We’ll be in France.”
            “Yes, but I don’t speak French,” Thomas said. “You and Annelyse get together and forget that no one else can understand you.”
            “That’s not fair. Maybe we could be a little more considerate at times, sure. But our families speak French. We’ve always spoken it.”
            “It’s just that you two have a wall I can’t break through. The same with your brothers. You’re practically a different person around them all sometimes.”
            “I’m not going to apologize for being close to my family and for my family being different from yours,” Maggie said. “My family has tried to be welcoming to you but lately you haven’t made much effort.”
            “Your brothers hate me.”
            “They don’t hate you,” Maggie said. “They just think you’re kind of a jackass. But they feel that way about almost everyone who didn’t grow up in our neighborhood so it’s really nothing to worry about.”
            Thomas didn’t look convinced.
            “You’re marrying me, not them,” she said. “Now, come on.” Maggie turned off the movie with the remote, then reached out to Thomas to draw him closer. “Do you really want to talk about my brothers right now? We’re all cozy under the blanket.” She had one hand in his hair and the other was under the blanket, working its way up Thomas’s leg.
            “Not tonight.” He gently nudged her hand off his leg. “I think the mefloquine is giving me a headache and I have an early morning. Lots of work to do before vacation.” He kissed her on the forehead and stood up.
            “Oh, okay.” Maggie sat back. “I’ll just watch television for a few more minutes then go to bed, too.”
            Maggie couldn’t believe Thomas was bringing up the tension between her friends and family again. She thought they were beyond all that and she didn’t think every weird emotion could be blamed on the malaria pills. Thomas hadn’t acted jealous of anyone recently, so that was something. But he still hadn’t been participating in wedding planning or defending her from his mother, either. Maggie had put Annelyse’s words from August out of her head but they crept in again. The strange feeling that something isn’t right. Maggie was starting to feel it, too, but brushed it off as pre-trip or pre-wedding jitters.
            Maggie had started packing Thomas’s bag that afternoon but he’d stopped her, saying he preferred to do it himself so he knew were everything was. Maggie gave him a packing list but she noticed that he dropped it on his desk without glancing at it. She wasn’t the world’s most organized packer, but there was a lot of essential gear for this trip.
            She rolled over on the couch to grab her phone from the coffee table. Annelyse wasn’t online. Mikey was at work, but he’d be free to talk until a call came in.
            “Hey, Mikey,” she said when he answered.
            “Hey, Mags,” he replied. “It’s late. Everything okay?”
            “Yeah, I was just bored.”
            “Thinking about your little vacation isn’t exciting enough for you?” he asked.
            “What is it with everyone being so against this?” Maggie said. “Mom thinks I’m crazy. I don’t even think Thomas really wants to go. He’s acting all weird.”
            “Well, it’s kind of a weird thing to do. Running off to Africa.”
            “I’m not running from anything,” Maggie said. “It’s not like I’m disappearing into the bush. I’m going to a popular tourist destination.”
            “There’s plenty of camping and hiking to do around here.”
            “Not in February,” she replied.
            “There’s always Florida,” Mikey said. “The Sox will be arriving for spring training soon.”
            “Florida’s not an adventure.”
            “I’m teasing. I don’t know where you got this idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I know you’ll be great at it.”
            “Thanks,” Maggie said.
            “Hey, the alarm’s going off. Gotta go.” Mikey ended the call abruptly.
            Maggie sighed and stood up to go to bed.
            The bedroom was dark. Thomas breathed deeply with sleep. Maggie snuggled up against him, absorbing the heat he radiated. “What are you really thinking, Thomas?” she whispered.

Maggie had been to Paris several times so didn’t need to visit the tourist spots; she and Annelyse immediately started up their familiar habits, drinking coffee all day and wine all night long. Thomas quietly tagged along. Maggie chalked up his quietness to jet lag and the malaria pills. She made an effort to speak as much English as possible so as not to exclude him but she and Annelyse often lapsed into French without realizing it.
            “This is a side of you I haven’t seen in a long time,” Thomas said one night as they laid on the pull-out sofa in Annelyse’s living room.
            “What do you mean?” Maggie asked. She was sleepy from the late night and the wine.
            “You’re acting like you’re still in college, drinking and staying out late.”
            “I’m having fun with my best friend. And we’re on vacation. In Paris.”
            “Maybe,” he said. “Maggie,” he went on, then stopped suddenly. Maggie struggled to keep her heavy eyelids open.
            “Mmm,” she mumbled.
            “It’s nothing. Good night.”

Two days later, on the morning they were to leave Paris, Maggie awoke early. She was alone in bed. The apartment was freezing. She stood up, stretched, pulled a sweater on over her pajamas, and, thinking warm thoughts of Africa, double-checked the itinerary sitting on the coffee table: Nairobi, Kenya, to Mount Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. She would be warm by the end of the day.
            Maggie smelled fresh coffee, which surprised her since she knew Annelyse wouldn’t be up yet and Thomas never made it. 
            “We need to talk,” Thomas said, handing her with a hot coffee mug as soon as she entered the kitchen.
            Maggie paused, mid-sip. She sat across from him at Annelyse’s tiny kitchen table. “Okay,” she said, slowly.
            “I don’t want to go to Kilimanjaro.”
            “Okay,” she said again, furrowing her brow.
            “I don’t want to hike for a week,” he continued. “I don’t want to not take a shower for a week. I want to want to do it, for you. But what if you make it but I can’t? I’m not going to pretend I’m as fit as you are.”
            “You can do it. Lots of people do it. The guides are there to help you.”
            “No, I’m not doing it. I’ve already made arrangements to meet some friends in Italy. I need to leave for the airport in a few minutes.”
            “Italy? When did you make those plans?” Maggie demanded.
            “It was sort of a last-minute thing. I got a message from one of my friends a few days ago.”
            “A few days ago? Like when you tried to tell me something the other night right before I fell asleep?”
            “Yeah.” He looked down at his fingers playing with the edge of a napkin.
            “When did you pack for Italy?” Maggie asked. “You’d need some different clothes.”
            “I’m taking the clothes I’d packed for the safari. The Kili gear is still in my backpack in the other room.”
            Maggie frowned, noticing Thomas’s small carry-on bag sitting by the door.
            “What does this mean for us?” she asked.
            “I love you. I just can’t do this trip with you. Go do it, have fun, then come home and marry me,” he said.
            “I feel like you’re telling me to grow up and get something out of my system, then marry you and settle down.”
            Thomas hesitated.
            “You’ve known me since college, Thomas, and none of my habits bothered you until we were engaged.”
            “I thought being engaged would make you more,” he paused, “serious.”
            “Serious?” she said. “About what? I have a good job. I pay all my bills on time and have a savings account. I never drive after I’ve been drinking. I’ve been faithful to you. What else do I need to be serious about?”
            “That came out wrong,” Thomas said. “I love you and I love that you are nothing like the world I come from. I envy your sense of adventure. But I don’t want to go on this trip. I wanted to make you happy. I’ve been dreading it, though.”
            “I won’t go. I’ll go to Italy with you.” Maggie was angry with herself as soon as the words left her mouth.
            “No,” he said. “You want this too much. You’ve put so much time into planning it and preparing for it. I’m okay. We’re okay.”
            Maggie didn’t know what to say and that was unusual for her. She often chose to stay quiet but she was rarely at a loss for words. She didn’t feel like they were okay. The strange feeling that something isn’t right. If Annelyse was awake and could hear them from her bedroom, Maggie was certain she was sending that message telepathically just then.
            “How long have you felt this way?” Maggie asked. “If you couldn’t mention it before now, then something isn’t right.”
            Thomas stood up from the table.
            “I’m fine, but I have to leave for my flight now.” He took her hand and pulled her up to stand next to him. “I love you.” He hugged her tightly. 
            “Maggie?” he said, when she didn’t respond to him.
            “We’re through,” she said.
            “You’ve been acting funny since we got engaged. You planned a secret trip to Italy. You could have said something much sooner about being reluctant to climb Kilimanjaro. I don’t want to come home and marry you.”
            “Maggie, don’t say that.” Thomas looked hurt and confused now.
            “I’ve been reluctant to fully move into your place,” Maggie said. “You’re even less into wedding planning than I am and you couldn’t even tell me that you didn’t want to go on this trip.”
            “How can you do this right now, when I have to leave?”
            “You were doing the same thing to me! You were just hoping for a quicker getaway.”
            A car honked from the street below. “That’s my taxi,” Thomas said.
            “You have my spare key. You can move my stuff back into my apartment before I get back.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
            Thomas raised his hand toward her shoulder but she stepped back from him. Instead he put the hand over his forehead and closed his eyes for a moment, sighing.
            Then he turned, grabbed his suitcase, and walked out. Maggie closed the door behind him and watched the street from the kitchen window. Thomas looked up and waved at her, then got in the taxi and was gone.


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