This is an unedited, not cleaned up scene which will probably make into the novel I’ve been working on for the last year or so. Would love your feedback ! 

Image courtesy Constantin Brejak http://www.freeimages.com/photo/katya-1-1486803

The last time I saw Brenna was her sixteenth birthday, September 14, two years ago.

The day before her birthday was a Friday. I’ll never forget the cool of the winter to come; it was merely a hint in the breeze as I stepped out of the school.  I took a look down the covered walkway, slung my back-back over my shoulder and began walking toward the parking lot where Brenna and I were meeting up. I had stayed late for extra help in chemistry.  She’d stayed late for the drama club.

I barely had a second to see Jake Fennel and his underdeveloped sidekick Matt, before Jake slapped me upside the face in a attack that was as sudden as it was unexpected. Jake was an oversized boy with a pea-sized brain: always a little red in the face, always quick with a harsh word for anyone who didn’t fit his idea of the acceptable. I’d known him since elementary school, and I can close my eyes now and hear his sarcastic, harsh voice calling me bitch or faggot or any one of a thousand cruelties.

“Hey, little bitch!” Jake said.

I tried to pull away, and Jake roughly shoved me against the wall again, grabbing the front of my shirt. Real hate peered from those half lowered lids, and he whispered, “What do you think you’re doing telling Mrs. Read I was bothering you? You must have a fucking death-wish, huh?”

Matt, his sidekick, spit on the ground, and said, “Bitch is right.”

“I ought to kick your ass,” Jake said.

Tears were way too close to the surface.  I just wanted to run, or sink into the ground and disappear. I’d tried to be invisible in the three weeks since high school had started.  Not so much luck. I’d hoped high school would be better than middle school had been.  Maybe the people who had made middle school miserable for me would find someone else to bother, or they would mature, or the lessons of a hundred seminars on bullying would sink in and they’d embrace brotherhood with people who were different than they.

Failing that, I’d be invisible.

Brenna was never, ever invisible. At that moment, she burst out of the doors of the gym, saw me thrown up against the wall, and marched over toward us. Her body was tense with anger the moment she saw Jake and Matt.

She didn’t say much, just walked over to Jack and Matt, then slapped Jake across the back of his head.  “Let go, little jerk.”

A flash of fear crossed Jake’s face, reinforced most likely by the biker chain Brenna had hanging from her belt, the combat boots, and the crazy purple spiked hair. A deep, almost blue green jewel pierced her right nostril, almost the same color as her eyes.

She leaned a little to match Jake’s height, and whispered, “I’m going to jam my boot right up your ass if you don’t run away right now.”

Jake let go, pushing me one last time against the wall.  He backed away, saying, “You won’t always be around to protect the little freak, you bitch.”

For once, I can say Jake Fennel was right.  Brenna wouldn’t always be around to protect me.  Not anymore. But I didn’t know that then, and when she turned to me after Jake and Matt’s retreat, I just hugged her.  “Thank you,” I said.

She didn’t reply at first, nor did she return the hug.  I stepped back, and that’s when I saw she was shaking.  She whispered, “What are you going to do when I’m gone?  Don’t you think it’s time you learned to stand up for yourself a little?”

“Gone?” I asked.  “What are you talking about?”

She averted her eyes. “Never mind.  Let’s go.”

I didn’t like the answer, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. We walked out to the parking lot. Mom was there, sitting behind the wheel of her green Dodge Caravan, reading a paperback while waisting for us.

“Hey guys,” she said when we got in the van, Brenna in the front seat, me in the middle.  “How was your day?”

“Okay,” Brenna said.

“Fine,” I replied.

She shook her head and gave a wry smile. “I should know better than to ask teenagers anything.”

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In three days, Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

It’s difficult for me to describe the level of concern I have. It’s so difficult to describe that I haven’t even tried to write about it. I’ve been glued to the headlines since sometime last spring, watching his improbable rise in the Republican party as he destroyed political norm after political norm and re-awakened the kind of public discourse we haven’t seen in this country in decades.

What I want to do in this blog post is describe the conclusion I’ve reached regarding the 45th President, explain how I got there, and then ask you to join me. Because this is not a normal situation. This is not a mere political difference, with the other party has been voted in and we have to deal with it for a few years. What we face is far more serious, far more subversive, far more dangerous.

I’m going to set aside, for today, the fact that the Trump administration has appointed people who are clearly enemies of labor, of the LGBTQ community, of civil rights. Let’s set aside for just a moment the fact that he has made it clear that he will appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe V Wade and will also likely turn back the clock on same-sex marriage. For just a moment, let’s set aside the fact that we are about to see the largest assault on civil and human rights in this country that we’ve had in decades, and that may take decades to repair the damage.

I want to set that aside for the moment because we face a much bigger danger than that.

The fact is, there is a strong and credible case to be made that the next President of the United States colluded with the Russians to spread propaganda and subvert free elections in the United States. Worse, thanks to the decades of incessant attacks on the media from conservative punditry, most Americans have lost any faith at all in the news media, leaving us vulnerable to continued propaganda (see this excellent piece in the NY Times about the dangers of kompromat to democracy).

Ironically, the Russian propaganda machine, centered around the RT network and Sputnik (both Russian government funded entities) has been aided and abetted by the right wing media. Stories made up in a Russian propaganda office have been mass retweeted by bot-farms on Twitter, then picked up by for-profit Pro-Trump fake news purveyors, some of which never even bothered to hide the fact that they were pure fakery. Those stories got linked enough that they reached circulation on large sites in America, purveyed by conspiracy-theory promoting sites like Infowars and white0supremacist dominated Breitbart news. Otherwise intelligent people— people who I’ve considered friends most of my adult life—have spread lies and propaganda not realizing what they were doing.

There’s no question that the Russian propaganda machine pushed and inflated stories that helped Trump and hurt Hilary Clinton.  And it continues: just this morning, Putin was quoted in an interview saying that the Obama administration was undermining Trump. Not to be outdone by the likes of TASS, Sputnik and RT (all official outlets of the Russian government), the right-wing American news sites are gushing with praise for Putin and Trump. Daily Caller has several stories attacking the firm responsible for the Trump dossier. Brietbart, along with headlines suggesting that rioters will descend on DC this weekend, bears the headline “Putin Says Obama Administration Targeting Trump.”  Infowars claims “Leftists Claims Trump is Putin Puppet, Ignore Saudi Arabia funding Clinton,”  “Trump Open to Ending Sanctions on Russia” and “Russia Invites Trump to Upcoming Syrian Peace Talks.”

The fact that Russia operates a massive propaganda network is not in dispute except amongst some of the blindest followers of Trump. But the case for direct collusion is also strong.

First, there is the much-discussed dossier which made its way into the public last week. We don’t have any way of knowing which statements, if any, in the dossier were true. There is good reason to doubt the veracity of much of it. However, there are two things which stand out about it: first, it was deemed to be important enough that both the President and the President-elect were briefed on its contents. The various statements found in it, explosive as they are, represent the unchecked work of a retired intelligence officer who was seeking incriminating information about Trump. It has to be taken in that context. But we have other clues which provided a much deeper context for Trump’s involvement in Russia.

First, we have Trump and his sons’ own statements. In 2013, Donald J Trump publicly stated that he had a strong relationship with Vladimir Putin. We can, of course, assume he was just bragging. However, it’s clear that Trump and his organization working to expand investment from and business ties with Russia. Trump’s son stated that investment money was “pouring in” from Russia, and that Russian investments made up a large proportion of the family business.

Trump’s pursuit of Russian deals and ties with Russia are not recent. In fact, they go back to the mid-1980s.  Trump wrote in his own book about pursuing a partnership with the Soviet government after meeting Soviet Ambassador at lunch in New York in 1986.

Trump closely partnered with Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official and business mogul who was arrested in Turkey for operating a underage-prostitution ring on his 450-foot yacht. Reportedly, businessmen paid between $3,000 and $10,000 per night for sex with young models (some of them underage) on the yacht. Arif was eventually aquitted of the charges.

In the 2000s, the Trump organization sold millions of dollars worth of properties in Florida to Russian investors. Further, following multiple bankruptcies, Trump was unable to gain financing from American banks.  The result?  Foreign lenders, including the Central Bank of China, Alpha Bank (Russia) and others have loaned a reported 1.8 billion to Trump.  And we don’t even know how much he has in direct investments and joint ventures, because he never made any of his records public.

Second, there is the case of the mysterious server. A story appeared in Slate in the fall of last year, not long before the election, describing a group of computer scientists who were raising concern about a server operated by the Trump Organization which appeared to communite almost exclusively with a server owned by Russian owned Alpha bank. Several other news outlets posted potential refutations of this story, so it’s not a clear slam dunk. It’s worth reading the original story here, as well as Slate’s followup and some of the criticism linked to in the followup article. Snopes, a popular fact checking site, rates the claims as “unproven.”

Third, there is a laundry list of Trump advisors who have been paid Russian consultants and lobbyists. Paul Manafort, formerly Trump’s campaign chairman, quit in August over controversy resulting from his work for a Moscow leaning former President of Ukraine who was ousted for corruption. Manafort denies it, but Ukrainian authorities have accused him of taking $12.7 million in secret payments. Carter Page, another senior Trump advisor, quit over Russian links in September. Richard Burt, an ex-US ambassador to Germany, drafted a major Trump foreign policy address while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars as a lobbyist for a Russian pipeline. Finally, there is Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, fired by President Obama and roundly seen in Washington as a conspiracy theorist.  Flynn has been paid by RT Network and recently admitted to spending the day on the phone with the Russian ambassador on the same day US sanctions were levied against Russia.

Fourth, last year a joint counter-intelligence task force was created to investigate intelligence that indicated money was coming from Russia into the US Presidential campaign. That task force sought FISA warrants to intercept electronic communications between the campaign and two Russian banks. The FISA court twice rejected the request, finally approving it in October, three weeks before the election. As of yet, we don’t know the results of that investigation. But on Friday, the agents conducting the investigation will have a new boss – Donald J. Trump.

These various ties to Russia might not be enough to convince you. But that’s not all.

At the Republican National Convention, Trump’s team intervened to change the platform of the convention to remove condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and removed the call in the platform to help arm Ukraine. There has been a clear pattern of Trump and his people realigning our country.  This week it has only escalated, as Trump has made it clear that he is willing to dynamite the Post World War II European order including the EU and NATO.  Trump has stated that the United States might not defend NATO countries which are invaded by Russia.

Trump has called the Atlantic alliance “obsolete” and argued that “maybe NATO will dissolve, and that’s OK, not the worst thing in the world.”

Let me remind you that it has been NATO and the European community which have prevented a repeat of World War II.  Let me remind you that in 1945 much of Europe looked like Aleppo does today. Let me remind you that Vladimir Putin seeks to discredit and weaken that European order because it is a rival to his own ambitions. He has killed opponents, jailed reporters and apparently Trump has no problem with that (he stated during the primary campaign that “our country does plenty of killing also”).

Russia intervened in an American election, to get the candidate they wanted, a candidate who is financially beholden to them and who will support their policies – policies which represent a direct security threat to the United States. If Donald Trump was a democrat, Republicans would be crying treason. Instead, many of them are sitting back and doing nothing, or worse, they are justifying foreign espionage against the United States because it helped their team.

What does all this mean?

First, it means that we need to hold our Representatives feet to the fire.  We cannot allow them to roll over and die.  The only check left on Trump (and Putin) is Congress, and right now Congress is doing exactly nothing to hold him back. If you live in a Democratic district, call them, raise hell, send letters, and demand to know exactly what they are doing to protect our country.

If you live in a Republican district, make sure they know that they’ll be punished at the ballot box for covering for a foreign asset in the White House.  Give them the political cover they need to do actual oversight. Right letters. Raise hell. Demand to know exactly what they are doing to protect our country.

We stand at an unprecedented place in American history, and the only thing between American democracy and the abyss is a Congress dominated by Republicans.  If they roll over and let the Russian-led White House undermine our country’s values, the damage might be too severe to repair.

Don’t let them do it.

Hold them accountable. Write them letters. Call them.  Every day if you have to. Show up at their town hall meetings and ask them to investigate Trump’s Russia connections.

Raise. Hell.

Introducing Matt & Zoe.

When Army Sergeant Zoe Welch learns of the tragic death of her parents in a car accident, she has one concern: the care of her eight-year-old sister Jasmine. Once discharged from the Army, Zoe travels home from Tokyo to a life she never planned on.

Matt Paladino is Jasmine’s 3rd grade teacher. Handsome and athletic, Matt’s deeply concerned about Jasmine’s welfare. But Matt has secrets, hidden in the dark three-ring circus of his past.

When Matt and Zoe’s lives collide, they seem made for each other. But will the pasts that haunt them both keep them apart?

Now Available

Matt & Zoe released early! It’s already available at Amazon, Google Play and Apple, and coming soon everywhere else!

Amazonhttp://amzn.to/1QbGnC1
Apple iBooks: http://apple.co/1KfoKia
Google Play: http://bit.ly/1XnoboC

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Google Play

 

Todo el mundo debería tener algo en contra de que rebelarse… Crank Wilson salió de su casa del sur de Boston a los dieciséis años para formar una banda punk y consumir su rabia en el mundo. Seis años más tarde, todavía está en desacuerdo con su padre, un policía de Boston y no le habla a su madre. La única relación que realmente le importa es con su hermano menor, pero cuidar de Sean puede ser un trabajo de tiempo completo. Lo único que Crank quiere en la vida es que le dejen en paz para escribir su música y llevar a su banda al éxito. 

Julia Thompson dejó atrás un secreto en Beijing que estalló en un escándalo en Washington, D.C., que amenaza la carrera de su padre y que domina la vida de su familia. Ahora, en su último año en la Universidad de Harvard, está obsesionada por una voz de su pasado y se niega a perder el control de sus emociones de nuevo, especialmente cuando se trata de un tipo.

Cuando Julia y Crank se conocen en una protesta contra la guerra en Washington en el otoño de 2002, la conexión entre ellos es tan poderosa que amenaza con hacer trizas todo.

Em breve: Thompson Sisters novelas em Português

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It’s here!

Dylan and Alex’s story, released today.

***

A View From Forever releases April 20, 2015.  Order now: Amazon | Google Play | Apple iBooksDylan Paris is a working class kid from Atlanta. A former high school dropout who is trying to clean up his act, Dylan is stunned to be selected for a six-week foreign exchange program to Israel.

Alex Thompson is the daughter of a wealthy US Ambassador. Several weeks overseas with an exchange program is just what she needs to get out from under her over-controlling parents.

They only have five weeks before they go back to their homes.

They have completely different lives.

The last thing either of them want or need is to fall in love.

****

A View From Forever takes the Thompson Sisters back to the story that started all, with Dylan and Alex’s love story.

A View From Forever this week only for $2.99. The price will increase to $3.99 in one week.

You can pick up A View From Forever here:

Amazon
Google Play
Nook
Apple
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Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25127374-a-view-from-forever

A View From Forever releases April 20, 2015.  Order now: Amazon | Google Play | Apple iBooksA Preview of A View From Forever

Alex doesn’t say anything. She just stares forward.

I frown. I wasn’t expecting her to jump at me or to throw flowers at me as if I were her champion or some- thing, but a simple thanks might have been nice. What the hell? Instead, she’s sitting there, not looking at me, not saying anything. She looks angry.

Then she stands. And walks to the door and out. What. The. Hell?

I jump to my feet. “Excuse me, guys; I’ll be back.” The door bangs open as I get out onto the street.

This is a crappy little street, lined with fast-food joints and a few electronics and convenience stores. Alex is already fifty feet away and moving at a fast pace. Where does she think she’s going?

“Hey! Alex!”

She doesn’t stop. Christ on a crutch. I run after her.

“Where are you going?” I ask when I finally catch up.

“Back to my host family, of course. Where else am I going to go?” She’s almost in tears.

“What the hell, Alex? What did I do wrong?”

She stops and turns toward me. “What did you do wrong? More like, what did you do right? You don’t own me, Dylan Paris. You don’t even really know me. We aren’t dating. We aren’t anything.”

I want to say: we could be. But I don’t. Instead, I say, “I was just trying to help.”

***

Dylan Paris is a working class kid from Atlanta. A former high school dropout who is trying to clean up his act, Dylan is stunned to be selected for a six-week foreign exchange program to Israel.

Alex Thompson is the daughter of a wealthy US Ambassador. Several weeks overseas with an exchange program is just what she needs to get out from under her over-controlling parents.

They only have five weeks before they go back to their homes.

They have completely different lives.

The last thing either of them want or need is to fall in love.

****
A View From Forever takes the Thompson Sisters back to the story that started all, with Dylan and Alex’s love story.

More details, and order links (already live on some sites):

Amazon
Google Play
Nook
Apple
Kobobooks
Smashwords
Scribd

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25127374-a-view-from-forever

telaviv4

 

A View From Forever releases April 20, 2015.  Order now: <a href="http://amzn.to/1BDEIrr">Amazon</a> | <a href="http://bit.ly/1CCyMUd">Google Play</a> | <a href="http://apple.co/19ompjk">Apple iBooks</a>

A View From Forever releases April 20, 2015.  Order now: Amazon | Google Play | Apple iBooks

The knock on the door is followed by the appearance of John, one of my new bunkmates, who opens it and sticks his head in, his short, extremely curly hair still wet from the shower.

“Yo, Mike, Dylan,” he barks, loud enough I’m startled. “Let’s head into town.”

I look up. I’m laying on my bunk in the Tel Aviv Youth Hostel, splayed out and resting. My bag, which finally caught up with me this morning, is open on the floor next to me. We spent the day on a tour bus, going from a museum in the morning to a school in the afternoon, followed by a brief bus tour of the Old City of Jaffa. I was disappointed we couldn’t get off the bus then, because it looked fascinating, and far more ancient than modern Tel Aviv.

Unfortunately, we were whisked back to the hostel for dinner. But now, we’ve been released to our own devices.  I sit up.  “What are your plans?”

John shrugs.  “Walk down the street and see what we see.”

“Let’s go,” says Mike, who currently sits across the room from me, his arms and legs stretched out comically on the one chair in the room.

“I’m in,” I reply. “Who else is going along?”

“You know Elle?”

I shake my head.

John waggles his eyebrows and makes a scrunching motion with his hands that leaves little room for mistake about what he thinks of her appearance. “That Elle. She’s from New York. Her roommates are coming too. Not sure who they are.”

John is crude.  But I have to admit, it doesn’t hurt my eyes when I look at Elle.  A few minutes later I’ve changed, we’ve gathered our things and we’re on our way out the door.

In the lobby, we meet up with the girls. I nod toward Alex and casually say, “Hey.”  I don’t trust myself to say much more than that.  Seeing her fills me with desire and anxiety and attraction and more than a little bit of lust. I barely know her, and she barely knows me, and even if we did know each other, we’re only here for a few weeks.

So I keep my distance. Instead, I walk along next to John, who I only met as we were getting situated in our rooms last night.

John Modesta is from Long Island, New York. He’s brash, quick with words, a little loud, a little obnoxious. I’ve never spent so much time around people from cities up north. But he’s not rude. In fact just the opposite—he’s been one of the friendlier people I’ve met thus far on this trip. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the most outgoing person on earth—I like people all right, but I’ve never gone out of my way to make friends. And my background is very different from most of them.

I keep pace with him while he launches into a lengthy monologue. He starts by talking about the differences between New York and Tel Aviv (at least the half a dozen square blocks of Tel Aviv which we’ve seen so far). New York is dirtier, more crowded, busier. But it’s also more interesting, livelier and more artsy.  He then moves on to the comparative smells (New York smells much worse, he claims, describing the smell as “dead bodies” versus the smell of rotting garbage in Tel Aviv).

The street we walk on—Dizengoff Street—is lined with sidewalk cafes, open restaurants and stores and far more. But it doesn’t have the look and feel of a tourist area like some of the part of New York I saw during our brief stay there. Just the opposite, really. The cafes are lined with people, out in large numbers with friends and family.  I hear laughter and see a lot of people of all ages.

Along both sides of the street are signs, primarily in English and Hebrew, but a smattering in other languages—French, some Arabic, other European languages I would guess might be German and Spanish. The signs are colorful and modern looking.

Alex Thompson walks along talking with Elle LaDuke, a girl from the New York delegation. Elle, the object of John’s crude affection, is petite, with shoulder length black hair, all black clothes and very pale face. The only spot of color on her is her eyes (blue) and her lips (painted bright red). I can hear her questioning Alex—where does she go to school? What did she think of New York? Elle’s voice has a world-weary weight to it, like a jaded, experienced traveller coaching along a much younger friend. I keep an ear open to their conversation as Elle begins to talk about the week she spent in Paris her freshman year in high school.

“It was really duller than I thought it would be,” she says. “And the hotel accommodations were disappointing. But really, nothing helps one become more—cultured—than travel. I’m sure you’ll feel much the same after this trip.”

Alex’s eyes cut over to me.  I can almost hear her screaming inside.  I chime in, “Alex told me she felt the same about Moscow, that it was much less interesting than when she lived in China.”

“Only because of the snow,” Alex says. “Moscow is really cold in the winter time.”

“Oh,” Elle says. “You’ve been to Moscow?”

“Yes, but our stay was cut short, we were only there for a year.”

“And China?”

“Three years in Beijing. I was pretty young, though; I don’t remember as much as I would like.”

Elle swallows. Her face is actually flushed red. I say, “Alex’s father was a U.S. Ambassador, so she travelled a lot.”

That silences Elle.  Actually, it silences the whole group.

So I say, “I, on the other hand, have never been anywhere, except one week in Destin, Florida.  Outside of that, this is my first trip out of Georgia.”  I don’t know why I said it.  Except it was an uncomfortable moment for everyone, and guess I felt like I needed to rescue the situation.

“Really?” John says.  “I wouldn’t have guessed. I assumed a Georgia native might be a little more… backward.”

“Oh yeah?” I say.  Maybe I’m too sensitive, but Elle and John both … I really want them to shut up. I half-expected this—let’s be honest, sometimes people are idiots. Just a little. But what the hell? In for a penny, in for a pound. “Was it the Klan hood that threw you off, or maybe the lack of shoes?”

John stops in his tracks.  “I didn’t mean to say—”

I reply, “You didn’t mean to say… what?”

He shakes his head. “Sorry man. I didn’t mean to be an asshole.”

“Yeah,” Elle says. “Me neither.”

“It’s okay,” I say almost at the exact same time Alex says, “Don’t worry about it.”

“What do you say we stop and grab a drink?” John says. “I feel bad now.”

“We should just get wasted,” Mike from Chicago finally chimes in, his first contribution to the night’s conversation. He’s so gangly I bet it only takes half a beer to get him drunk.

“I’m all for some coffee,” I say, “but I don’t drink. Don’t let me stop you, though.”

They all look at me like I just said that I live on Mars. Then they move on, as if I hadn’t even said it. “I heard there’s no problem getting served here,” John says.

“Getting drunk is probably ill-advised,” Elle says. “I don’t think the program would like it.”

“Whatever.” John shrugs.

“Wait, what’s that?”  Alex asks.  She’s pointing down the side street. In the distance, the street just comes to an end… the beach, apparently.  Off to one side, a lighthouse.

“Jaffa,” Alex says.  Unlike modern Tel Aviv, Jaffa has buildings which are hundreds, some of them thousands, of years old. Without anyone saying a word, we all turn toward the side street and the buildings ahead.  A hush falls over the group—for a few seconds—but that is broken when John cracks a joke and the girls laugh. I don’t catch the joke, whatever it was, but not knowing the content makes me feel uncomfortable. Like they’re laughing at me.

Realistically, I know they aren’t. It doesn’t make any sense. They don’t know anything about me. But every time I see their expensive sweaters and boots, their phones and gadgets, I know I am different. After all, it hadn’t been that long since I’d been a dropout living on the streets.

We are getting close to the water now. I can smell it, a strange smell, salt and something else I can’t quite pin down. I’d never been to the ocean before my week in Destin last year. This is all unfamiliar territory for me.

Especially the girl who approaches me as we reached the water.

Alex Thompson.

She has her arms crossed over her chest, and I ask her, automatically, “Are you cold? Can I give you my jacket?”  I don’t have much of a jacket on me, just a lightweight windbreaker, but it’s better than nothing.

“No, thanks,” she says. “I’m okay.”

“Look at this!” John shouts, gesturing at the surf.  He let out a “whoop!” as he runs for the pier that leads far out into the Mediterranean. Mike and Elle and the other girl, who hasn’t been introduced, follow.

Alex sits down on the stone wall and looks out.  I drop onto the wall next to her.

She speaks in a steady, inquisitive tone, “I’d pay a million dollars to know what you’ve been thinking about the last few minutes,” she says.

Heck, she probably could. I try not to think about that. “My thoughts the last few minutes haven’t been worth a million dollars.  Wait a while, and I’ll let you know when I can make that worth your while.”

She lets out a low laugh.  “Two shekels, then.”

“Well, in that case,” I say, after I finish calculating the exchange rate,  “I was thinking that I’m not like everyone here. That I don’t belong here.”

“Why not? Because you used to be homeless?”

I nod, once. “That, as much as anything.”

She shrugs. “I think that makes you better qualified than most of us on this trip.”

I grunt, because I have nothing to say to that.

“Tell me your favorite color,” she says.

“Green,” I reply.

“Any particular shade?”

I say, “Let me see your eyes.”

Even though it’s dark, I can still see her skin flush in the street light.  See, I can do some things right. I feel a little light-headed as I say the next words: “That color.”

She shakes her head and looks out toward the water.  There is an awkward pause. “What about politics? You a Democrat? Republican?”

I shrug.  “It’s all bullshit if you’re poor.  Both sides want you to vote for them, but poor people are too tired and stressed to learn about politics.”

“You sound like you know something about it.”

I smile grimly.  “I generally like the way the Democrats treat people and the way the Republicans treat defense.”

“You think invading Iraq was right?”

I shrug. “Given the information we had at the time, sure.”

“What about… gay people? Do you think they should marry?”

I chuckle.  “I could care less if they marry or not.  I’m not gay, it don’t mean a hill of beans to me.”

She nods.  “What about here? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“Well, it seems like most of our friends here are committed Zionists.”

Her mouth twists up on one side.  “See—you keep saying you don’t belong here, like you aren’t as smart as these people. I bet most of them don’t even know what a Zionist is.”

“It’s a damn shame,” I say, “since most of them will go on to be the kinds of people who decide what our country does. Don’t you think that’s sad?”

She smiles.  “I do.  Though I know a lot of people involved with our foreign policy.  People like my dad. He knows his stuff—he works hard, and he cares about doing the right thing.”

I shrug.  “My dad’s probably in jail.”

She slaps me on the shoulder.  “So what do you think about this place?”

I shake my head. “Hell, I don’t know. It’s too early.  I’ve read a few books—fiction. Leon Uris and Amos Oz. Susan Abulhawa. Just because I was curious what I was getting into.”

“I know about Leon Uris,” she says. “Who are the others?”

I raise an eyebrow.  “Amos Oz is Israel’s leading novelist. He’s really good.  Abulhawa wrote Mornings in Jenin. It’s brilliant… follows a refugee family through four generations.”

She smiles.  “I’d bet you’re the only student on this trip who has read this much.”

I shrug. “Maybe. There’s no point in coming all this way if I’m not ready to learn something. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m not gonna waste it. Plus … I want to be a writer. You don’t get to be good at that without paying attention.”

She arches an eyebrow. “Your reading doesn’t give you any conclusions?”

“Not yet. What about you?”

“Well, my father would say that Israel has a right to defend itself. That it’s a tiny state surrounded by enemies.”

“That’s pretty much what everyone’s been saying since we got here.”

“What do you like to do in your free time, Dylan?”

“Write stories. And the occasional poem. What about you?”

“I play violin some. Not as well as my sister Julia, though. She’s really good. And… I like to think about the future.  I read about interesting things. I want to do interesting things.”

“What sort of things?”

“I’m planning to go to law school. I want to work for the ACLU or Amnesty International. I want to help people who need it.”

Now I smile at her. “What does your father think of that goal? Didn’t you say he was a bigwig with the Republicans?”

“Not really. He’s big with the government, and got himself involved in McCain’s campaign. But really, he doesn’t get into electoral politics that much. Though he is super conservative.”

“It’s good to have a little rebellion,” I say.

“Do you rebel against your parents—I mean, your mom?”

I quickly shake my head. “That’s all over with for me. Mom’s my biggest cheerleader and ally.”

She take a deep, shuddering breath. “I envy you for that.”

“What about you?”

She shrugs. “My mother’s a little crazy, if you want to know the truth. The only thing that makes her tolerable is the meds she takes to keep her anxiety and emotional fuckery under control.”

Emotional fuckery. There’s a term. I want to write that down somewhere. She continues, unaware that I’m admiring her phrasing.  “That’s basically it.  Dad’s gone all the time—I haven’t seen him in months.  Mom’s a basket case. With my older sisters gone, that leaves me to fend for myself and protect the twins.”

I do some math in my head. She’s mentioned two older sisters, and two younger twins.  “Didn’t you say you had three younger sisters?”

She nods. “Yes. Andrea—she’s the youngest—lives with our grandmother, in Spain.”

“Really? Why?”

She shakes her head sadly.  “That’s the million dollar question. None of us know. I guess Mom and Dad do, but they aren’t telling anybody.”

“Weird,” I say.

“Yeah,” she responds glumly.

Time for a change of subject.  “Have you heard any details about your host family?”

She shakes her head.  “Just a name.  Ariel Jabarin.”

“Same here. Nothing but a name. Dari Peretz.”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” she says.

I nod.  In the morning, we meet our host families for the first third of the exchange program.  I’m not really looking forward to that. See, when I was in between homes, I spent a lot of time couchsurfing. I’d stay with one friend for a few days, then another. I’d crash in a basement, or on a sofa.  The one thing I never had during that period was my own place.  Even if it’s only for a few weeks, the idea of going back to being a guest all the time is difficult to get my mind around. But I don’t really have any choice.

She says, “Will you let me know how it goes?”

“Of course,” I say.  “I don’t know how…” I trail off.

“Facebook, silly.”

“Is that kind of like MySpace?”

She nods, but sort of winces at the same time. “Yes, but not as obnoxious.”

“Oh, perfect. I don’t have an account, on MySpace or Facebook. But I guess I can set one up if I can get to a computer.”

“How about you set one up when we get back to the hostel.”

“Okay….” My voice trails off again.  She says it casually. I know there are a couple of computers in the common room.  But I’ve never done social networking of any kind.

A cynical thought passes through my head. I wonder if Spot has a MySpace account. I bet she does, and I bet if I had one, I’d know where she is today.  More enthusiastically, I say, “Yeah. I’ll set it up tonight.”

“And I get to be your first friend,” she says.  The smile on her face shows a row of broad, white teeth. It’s hard for me to pull my eyes away from her.

Hours pass before we decide to head back to the hostel. At one point Elle says, “Well, you two sure are getting along.” But she says little else.

Technically our curfew was ten p.m.—it’s almost that late now. But as we walk back up the street, along the outskirts of the Old City, I see what looks like an ancient stone building. It’s dark, with nothing but holes where the window and doors should be. I stop, trying to see in.  Most of the building doesn’t even have a roof.

“Let’s check it out,” I say.

“No way, man,” John says. “Place looks like it would collapse around you.”

Mike shakes his head.

I frown.  “Come on, it’s just a building. It looks ancient.”

They look at me like I’m crazy.  I shrug.  Then Alex says, “I’ll come with you.”

Instantly I feel a rush of emotion. Because after the others refused, I was hoping she would say that. I grin and invite her in.

I step forward, and through the arched opening.  It’s dark in here, but I can see light from the moon, and a little from the streetlamp, flooding through a hole in the roof. Alex steps in beside me.  I can feel her presence in the dark next to me.

“What are we doing?” she whispers.

“I don’t know… exploring?”  I respond in the same whisper. I don’t know why.  But I take a slow step forward, and she stays beside me.  Beyond the front room, there’s a small hallway.  Everything is dusty stone, undoubtedly tan.

“This place is really old,” she whispers.

From the door, John or Mike slowly makes a mournful wolf-howl.

“Asshole,” Alex calls back to them.  Then she grabs my hand.  I suck in a quick breath. Her hand touching mine has a weight all its own. We keep walking forward.

“Watch your step,” I say.  It looks like steps leading down, not far.  Then we pass through another archway, and we’re in a courtyard.

The courtyard is lit only by the moon, but it’s lit well enough to tell that it was once a garden. Now, it’s overgrown with vines and bushes, flowers everywhere.  The fragrance is overwhelming.

“Oh my God, it’s beautiful,” she whispers.

“Yeah,” I say.  I squeeze her hand, then both of us let our hands drop, like we’d been stung by bees.

We only stay for two or three minutes.  From the street, Elle calls, “Alex? You okay?”

“Yes!” Alex responds. “Be right out.”

She sighs after a minute.  “I don’t want to leave,” she says.  “It’s magical.”

I smile at her, though she probably can’t see that well.  Five minutes later, we get back out to the street.  John says, “What was in there?”

“Nothing,” Alex says, apparently wanting the same thing I so, to keep the courtyard a secret. “Just dust.”

Our eyes meet, and she gives me a faint smile, and we continue on our way.

A View From Forever is available now at a special pre-order price of $2.99:

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Author website: http://sheehanmiles.com

Photo courtesy unsplash.com

 

A View From Forever releases April 20, 2015.  Order now: Amazon | Google Play | Apple iBooks

Blah, blah blah.

That’s what the speakers have been saying for the last forty-five minutes at the reception at the American-Israel Friendship League.

Blah blah blah.

First they’ve been thanking people none of us have ever heard of for making cooperation between the two countries possible. A retired ambassador speaks, followed by someone from the Anti-Defamation League, then two speakers from the Council of Great City Schools. On and on and on.

“Check that girl out,” Mike from Chicago says, his voice none too quiet.  His eyes are on one of the girls from the Milwaukee delegation. She’s probably a junior, and she’s leaning forward with one knee crossed over the other.  She stands out in this crowd of preppies:  colorful spiked hair, a black leather jacket and bright pink combat boots. She’s cute, really—if anything, she kind of reminds me of Spot, a girl I used to know who hung around the Masquerade and a few other lesser alternative clubs. Spot—I don’t know what her real name is—was creative as hell, smart, cute, and addicted to painkillers.  Her parents had kicked her out, and there were a few times we ended up shacking up together. Not out of lust or attraction—she was strictly a lesbian—but out of a need to stay warm on cold, homeless nights.

Yes, homeless. See, my Mom is a parent of the tough-love variety, and when I dropped out of high school, she gave me an ultimatum. Go back to school and quit drinking, or get out. I couch surfed for a while—after all, I had plenty of friends. But parents of sixteen year olds become curious—too curious—when a sleepover turns into an extended stay.

I found occasional work in the fall—landscaping, day labor. Show up at the 7-11 in the morning and stand in line with the illegal immigrants and other homeless looking for a day’s backbreaking labor for 25 bucks.  Then I’d go hang out with the guys and smoke pot.

I met Spot the weekend before Thanksgiving.  I was standing with a couple of guys behind the dumpster in the back of the Masquerade having a smoke when I heard a short, muffled scream. I got up and walked down the alley, my friends trailing behind me.  In the dark I could barely make out what was happening—a big guy, maybe six feet, and built, was shaking a girl who stood maybe five-feet two and probably weighed 95 pounds.  Her head was flopping back and forth as he shook her hard, using his massive strength to shake her like a rag doll.

“Stop!” she squeaked.  He pulled his fist way back, about to slug her.

He didn’t get to throw the punch: Snatching up a loose brick, I lunged forward and hit him in the back of the head.  He went down, and the alley fell silent.

“Mother fuck,” one of the guys said.  “That’s Lonnie Wallace. Dylan, get the fuck out of here before he wakes up. I’m out.”

“Who is he?” I asked

“Dealer.  Dangerous man. Really dangerous. I’m gone.”

I shrugged, then looked at the girl.  “You okay?” I asked.

She looked at me, a little dazed. “Yeah,” she whispered.

I had my doubts. But I didn’t have anywhere safe to take her.  “You got any place to go? Someone we can call?”

She shook her head.

I sighed.  Then I said, “Let’s take a walk. Get away from here. I’m Dylan.”

“Spot,” she said.

Weird.  Whatever. Lot of people used street names. I grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s go. I don’t want to be here when he wakes up.”

“He’s got a gun,” she said.

Shit.

That changed things, didn’t it? I crouched down and touched the guy’s shoulder.  He wasn’t moving. I hoped he wasn’t dead. I leaned close enough to see and hear that he was breathing.  I rolled him over and, sure enough, a pistol was stuffed in his waistband. Automatic, I guess—I didn’t know much about guns other than what I’d seen on television and the one or two times when I was a little kid that my dad took me hunting. But we didn’t hunt with automatic pistols.

Dad had taught me basic weapons safety.  I slid the pistol out of Asshole’s waistband.  It took a minute trying to figure out how to eject the magazine, then I found the button and ejected the magazine, then pulled the slide back.  The chambered bullet went flying.

“Come on,” I said.  I left the ammo on the ground and threw the pistol in the dumpster. Just to slow him down, if he ever woke up. Then I grabbed her hand and we ran.

A month later on Christmas Eve, I ran into Spot downtown, not long after the trains stopped running for the night. It was raining and cold, and my jacket did little to keep me dry. I was looking for a good sheltered spot to sleep when I ran into her.  We walked together and finally huddled under the bridge under I-20. I’d slept there before, and knew the dozen or so semi-permanent residents who kept tents, clotheslines, mattresses and personal items stored there.

When we got there that night, a blazing fire was going, and two families were huddled around the fire.

“It looks warm,” she said.

“Come on, then,” I replied, and pulled her over to the fire. I could feel the heat against my skin, and the heat of Spot as she leaned against me.

Sometimes I wanted to track down her asshole father and punch him until he couldn’t see. I was just as homeless as Spot was, but I was homeless because of something I did—not because of who I was.  She, on the other hand, was a good kid with bad parents. They had kicked her out because she was a lesbian. Not because of anything she’d done—they kicked her out because of who she was.

That’s when it hit me. I could choose to go home any time I wanted. All I had to do was stop the drinking and pot.  All I had to do was go back to school.

Spot couldn’t go home. She had no one.

The mother of one of the two families who lived under the bridge began to sing. Her voice was clear and beautiful and the moment she heard the singing begin, Spot began to shiver. Then to sob.

 

Silent night, Holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin, mother and child

Holy infant, tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

 

Silent night, Holy night

Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

 

Silent night, Holy night

Shepherds quake, at the sight

Glories stream from heaven above

Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.

Christ the Savior is born,

Christ the Savior is born.

 

I’ll be honest. I cried just a little too, as I held Spot and she sobbed.  I wished right then that I could find a home for her, find someone who loved her. But it wasn’t really feasible.  I had no resources, no money. I had nothing.

A few weeks later, I had signed up to go back to school. I had quit drinking and cleaned up my act. I had moved back home. And then I had gone looking for Spot. There were a dozen weekends over the months after that, when I went and looked for her, searching at clubs and under bridges—searching everywhere.

But I never saw her again.

Now, I’m slow to come back to the present. Now, my missing friend Spot seems far more real than the kids here in New York.

“Hello?” Mike from Chicago says, waving a hand in front of my face. “Are you awake?” I’ve heard him introduce himself that way to half a dozen people now. Hi, I’m Mike. From Chicago. It’s become part of his name.

I shake my head slightly. “Sorry. I guess I was stuck in a memory.”

He chuckles.  “Must have been a good one.”

I don’t answer. I go through the motions for the remainder of the reception, listening where I need to and saying what I have to, but never really focused on the present. I’m interested in the foreign exchange program, but sometimes it is difficult to maintain my sense of reality. I’m surrounded by people who think hunger was not being able to get your favorite appetizer and who flaunt clothing which is unimaginably expensive, just because they can. They’re public school kids just like I am, but they’re public school kids with backgrounds I don’t really understand: tutors and test-prep programs, expensive extracurricular activities and parents who sponsor scholarships, academic camps and God only knew what else.

I don’t belong there.

I don’t belong anywhere.

 

A View From Forever is available now at a special pre-order price of $2.99:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1BDEIrr
Google Play: http://bit.ly/1CCyMUd
Apple: http://apple.co/19ompjk

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25127374-a-view-from-forever

Author website: http://sheehanmiles.com

1420389_59805980Hasn’t everything already been written about love?

I don’t know. You see,
Love isn’t just about all flowers and shit.
it ain’t about the dance, or the ring,
it’s not about the house, or the romance.

Love isn’t lavender,
It’s not poppies
Or tulips,
Or delicate white roses.

It’s not the flesh of that first kiss
It’s not when you lose your virginity
It’s not the oh so sweet taste of the beautiful maidenly breast
And it ain’t a battlefield either

And you know what else? Love doesn’t always feel good. In fact sometimes it fucking hurts

Love is:

2 o’clock in the morning, when you’re wiping shit off a sick kid
reaching outside of yourself
learning how to say I’m sorry
and really meaning it

Love is:

learning from your mistakes
so you don’t make them again.
love is being patient, it’s letting people make mistakes
love is giving up something you want so someone else can have something they want

What I’m saying is:

Love is not a feeling

Love is not something that happens to you

Love is not something you find in a singles bar
as if somebody left it lying around to be picked up.

Love is not to be mistaken for lust, or that heady feeling you get when you’re infatuated

What I’m trying to say is: love is not a thing at all

It’s an action

Love isn’t something you find
It’s something you give

It’s not something you can lose,
it’s something you have to give away

Love isn’t giving a dollar to a homeless shelter.
It’s giving your name to a homeless person

Love doesn’t matter
Unless you do something about it