Don’t MEWL On Me!

On the Threshold, Edmund Leighton

Lately I’ve indulged in escape reading, primarily Regency romance. In the past, I’ve read a few of this subgenre but in the last couple of months, it’s been a book a day. This is me refueling for my next phase of writing.

But what I wanted to say is, please, STOP using pat words/phrases like ‘come apart’ and ‘carnal’ and especially ‘mewl.’

Oh my god. Mewl. Do writers using this word not understand that the first definition of ‘mewl’ is that it’s the sound of a baby? As in, “cry feebly or querulously; whimper.” Or of a cat or bird?

From Merriam-Webster: Mewl: to utter feeble plaintive cries. Eg, The tiny kitten mewled for its mother.

Synonyms of mewl: bleat, pule, whimper

Words Related to mewl: fuss, sniffle, snivel, snuffle, whine, peep, squeak, mumble, murmur, mutter, groan, moan, sigh, aaaand you get the idea.

Granted, when writing about sex and the sounds, smells, and other details involved, it’s difficult to make it ‘new,’ especially in a subgenre like Regency where women are supposed to be virgins taken utterly by surprise at the sensation of sexual activity. One could argue that mewling like a baby or kitten is exactly the best way to describe her reaction when big strong hero man sticks his tongue in her mouth. Or elsewhere.

It’s just that after x-number of books with ‘mewl’ in key passages, one can hardly suppress the urge to vomit.

As for ‘carnal,’ well, yes, it’s a useful word in portraying the mindset of women of those times. The meaning of it sums up the idea a woman might possess about something she’s been taught to fear and repress. It neatly describes sexual needs and activities. But hey, how about giving readers a break? Here are some useful synonyms: sexual, sensual, erotic, lustful, lascivious, libidinous, lecherous, licentious, physical, bodily, corporeal, and fleshly.

I admit that the first four in that list, at least, would hardly occur to a sexual novice during a time when one must not use the word ‘leg’ or ‘breast’ in referring even to a roasted chicken, but rather must use the more delicate term ‘limb’ or ‘white meat.’

Then there’s the phrase ‘claim her mouth.’ Maybe the first few times I read this, I’m thinking Sylvia Day before she priced herself out of my range, the phrase held power to excite. After all, in claiming her mouth, the hero stakes out his territory and the reader knows seduction is underway. But time after time as it’s been overused, any power that this phrase might have had has long since been lost. How about seize, demand, require, win, or take? Or something else entirely.

  • But he didn’t move lower in his kisses, instead coming back up to thoroughly claim her mouth.
  • It was only a matter of inches before he could bend his head and claim her mouthwith his.
  • Eyes intense, he leaned in to claim her mouth, one hand at her nape, the other supporting her shoulder as he eased onto the bed to stretch his length, their bodies touching at breast and hip.
  • She shivered when he trailed kisses down the side of her neck, then back up to claim her mouth
  • She had broken out in a fine sweat; he licked it from between her breasts and her throat, working his way up to claim her mouthin a kiss as heavy and demanding as the ridge of flesh he pressed against her hip.

But I repeat myself.

As for “come apart,” I’d like to point out that this metaphorical concept of a woman totally losing it in the throes of orgasm is, at first, a reasonable use of language. But after years of overuse? Shall I demonstrate?

  • That night when he’d held her and she’d come apart in his arms.
  • Need pulsed through him, sending blood screaming to his groin, but he held back, wanting to feel her come apart in his arms, to watch as she gave herself over to his complete control.
  • Nothing was more important at that moment than seeing her come apart in his arms.
  • She wanted to come apart in his arms, and let him be the one who put all the shattered pieces together again.
  • Unable to look away, she pictured him in the McDaniel’s stables, touching her, making her come apart in his arms.
  • And as he took her like a man possessed, and she started to come apart in his arms, his name a keening cry on her lips, his only thought was that he had finally come home.

And so forth.

While I’m on this rant, let me also say I’m just as guilty as the next writer in using worn-out phrases and words. In the heat of writing the scene, it’s a real challenge to think beyond what happens next. It’s later, under the cold eye of our internal editor, that we must cross out the tired stuff and think of something new. That’s as much a part of our job as thinking up the story in the first place. Otherwise, we’re boring our readers. Or making them nauseous.

At best, writers reliant on these and many more familiar phrases routinely used in sex scenes hope the reader is so caught up in the story, in these characters finally – despite all odds – able to satisfy the desire that has been hovering over them since the opening pages of the novel, that mere word choice hardly registers. For many readers, this surely must be true. Yet how many readers come to ‘mewl’ and can’t stop themselves from throwing the book across the room?

For now, I’ll try really hard to refrain from remarking on his ‘cut muscle’ or ‘sculpted muscle’ or her inevitable ‘swoon.’ We already know these men have scent of leather and, variously, pine, soap, shaving soap about their person, or taste of salt. That his shoulders barely clear the door frame. That he towers over her and her hands twist in her lap.

I’m not the first or the last who will comment on the unique language of romance novels. Well, hardly unique in reality, but perhaps unique in the broader world of literature. There are books, I tell you, entire books on this subject. An internet search also turns up useful word-usage blog posts.

From a blog post in 2015, “The Most Ridiculous Sexual Phrases from Romance Novels” written of course by a guy. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/16/romance-novel-phrases_n_7545244.html

A great way to expand your sexy vocabulary is presented by blogger Sharla Rae in her Sensual Word Menu: https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/sensual-word-menu-2/ What a fabulous resource! Thank you Sharla!

So go out there, make your characters suffer and whine, but PLEASE don’t make them mewl.

And–before I forget–READ OTHER GENRES.  There are entire libraries full of other books, all of them making fabulous use of all 26 letters.

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Why, Mark? Why?

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

A couple of years back when you decided to go public with Facebook, you made drastic changes to pages set up by authors to promote themselves to the public. You eliminated the newsfeed. You curtailed distribution of posts. You started cluttering up the page.

You evidently think that your average run-of-the-mill author has buckets of cash sitting around just waiting to spend on Facebook promotions.

I have nearly a thousand followers for my author page. Previous to your money grab, virtually all my followers saw my posts. Now, the average distribution on my posts is 7-10 viewers. SEVEN TO TEN! If I want to go past a dozen viewers, I have to spend money. For me, that’s not an option.

Aside from this craven manipulation of data flow to choke free interchange of ideas, you’ve also mucked up the intercommunication between authors and followers by eliminating page newsfeeds. The newsfeed on my author page used to be a way to communicate not only with my followers but also with other authors. I enjoyed seeing other authors’ posts. We had a community. Now that’s gone. If I want to other author pages, I have to visit them singly. No room for dialogue, no community.

So much for your touted goal of “giving people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” What you mean is giving people with money power to whatever.

Yes, in theory I could ‘friend’ other authors from my personal page—which I have done. But that’s my personal page. It connects with member’s newsfeeds. There, the dialogue isn’t just professional talk. It’s mixed in with mostly personal stuff like kids, food, sickness, politics, and much more that has nothing to do with writing. What’s the point of any page if we can’t function through Facebook in a particular professional role?

Then there’s the mess you’ve made of the page itself. In order to actually see the content of my page, I have to scroll past over-sized boxes giving me choices of what I want to post—create an event, create an offer, advertise my business, start a live video, public a job post, and more. What’s wrong with regular-sized choice boxes like on my personal page? Or a freaking list? At any rate, all these choices are available on the sidebar. WHY cram up the timeline?

Once I scroll past this mess, then I’ve got another big section showing stats for this week and, once again, offers in big button boxes for “more page likes,” promote your website,” “boost a post,” “continually reach more people,” “get more page likes,” and “promote ‘shop now’.” None of this is necessary. It’s easy to accomplish any of these promotional tasks by heading to the left menu or the options across the top of the page. These obstructions are here strictly to get in my way, force me to slow down and stumble around the Facebook obsession with money money money.

Still scrolling down, trying to see actual feedback on my latest post, I’m confronted with a huge blog of photos. Photos I have posted. Why do I need to see this on my page? There’s a photo section I can pull up if I want to see photos I’ve posted. This is more bullshit in my way to functioning efficiently in my goal to communicate with people about my writing. I don’t have time for this!

Then finally we get to my posts. But WAIT! Only a couple, because this is yet another teaser. Once I see the latest two posts, then there’s another big box for events. As in, a chance for me to create an event. And SPEND MONEY!

You know, if I wanted to know about events, I could visit the left side of my screen and click on ‘Events.’ If I want to schedule an event. Or see what’s already scheduled. This is just one more barrier to efficient use of my page. One more in-your-face, poke-in-the-chest assault by Facebook.

Then, FINALLY, I can scroll down through my posts. Sadly, this is no longer the community I once knew but rather dismal evidence that five or seven or ten people saw the post. No dialogue. No fun. Nothing of the promise of what a page is supposed to offer.

So, hey, why not just kill author pages entirely? Why pretend Facebook offers anything more to struggling writers than a way to spend money? Because that’s what you’ve done. Aside from a very few more successful authors who can afford to drops hundreds of dollars to blast their latest post out to thousands of Facebook members day after day, none of the rest of us starving artists get a damn thing from having a page.

Would it kill you to distribute my posts to my followers without squeezing me for money? When and if some of us scrape together enough money to boost a post, we’d still boost. We do want to grow our audience and spending money on Facebook is a good way to do that.

But since your policy changes, we face a situation where we can’t afford to promote our work, meaning we’re selling less than ever, and you’ve thereby decreased our chance to ever have the money to pay for a boost.

Maybe other Facebook member pages aren’t like those of authors. I don’t know all the options for members who set up pages. I just know that you’ve hurt us, taken away one key resource that gave us a chance, and that impact is rippling through the entire indie-author community.

It’s cold. It’s mean. And it’s not making you or your stockholders any richer.

Writing Advice

The most fascinating writing I’ve ever found are the works of M. John Harrison. He’s a British author, taciturn and enigmatic in the proper style. He’s also a wordsmith of stunning skill. I aspire to write like he does, but I despair I’ll never catch up.

He reached early acclaim with the Centauri Device, his third novel. I actually haven’t read that. What I lust after are his Viriconium series and his later Kefahuchi Tract series. Look him up on Wikipedia.

But aside from ranting about his work, I want to share one of his blog posts where he talks about writing fiction.

1. Don’t write what you don’t want to read, Elmore Leonard says. For me, that would include anything that wastes time establishing “motive”, fauxthenticating a “world”, or assuring the reader of the author’s ideological correctness & general decency; along with those scenes in which the righteous anger of sympathetic characters is vented on unsympathetic ones on behalf of the reader getting her rocks off.
2. All plots are weak, & no-one alive now knows the difference between character & action anyway. Not even Elmore Leonard.
3. But I really agree with his eighth rule.
4. Never give advice to other writers, especially about excluding from their fiction stuff that is “ordinarily found in non-fiction”. (Shortly after performing this exclusion, Elmore recommends Annie Proulx, lately the queen of local history quasi-fiction, see “The Indian Wars Refought”, or “Dump Junk”, in which character is created as much by listing the paper trails, objects & architecture people leave behind, as by “characterisation”. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Then there’s William Boyd’s hilarious “Lunch” [Fascination], written as a sequence of expense invoices; & Ballard’s skeletal “Answers to a Questionnaire”, from War Fever.)
5. Always listen to the advice of responsible figures in the publishing industry. That way you will write a book with broad appeal & massive sales potential, & your work will be recognised, bought & published immediately. Like Richard Adams or JK Rowling you will be on your way to celebrity within months. You will not have to self-publish Watership Down, or hawk Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Magic Nice Stone around London for a long time, & be turned down by every fantasy editor in the industry before finding a publisher.
6. Never show the reader a morally unpleasant thing, then remind her it’s a morally unpleasant thing three or four times just in case she doesn’t realise you think it’s morally unpleasant too & writes a blog post saying how misanthropic you are. If you do I am coming with a machete & chopping the left half of your face off before you know what happened. & you know, I won’t care when one of your eyes is looking at the other where it dangles over your cheekbone. Are you ok with that ?
7. Reading is important to the writer. Never read anything good, in case you get the idea that you might want to do something like that too. If you do decide to read something good, here’s a tip: make it Maxim Gorky’s Fragments from My Diary. That will be all you need. Don’t read any of Gorky’s novels because they’re not good.
8. Joseph Campbell turned myth into the fiction of narcissism & self-glorification, enabling Hollywood to swaddle an entire culture in the same triumphalist story over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over &
9. The narrative structure is the story. Don’t think you can change anything by pouring different content into it. If you use the same narrative structure every time, you too will be writing the same story over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & & over &
10. You’re responsible for yourself. Get your head together. Write or don’t write.

The above advice should not be taken as advice. If you take anything that appears on this blog as advice, your aspirations may not be met by the publishing industry. This disclaimer was brought to you from the kitchens of the Ambiente Hotel. We don’t have a returns policy on the Squid Surprise, but you can sometimes come to an arrangement with the boy who serves in the back bar.

Amid his blog post cited above is a link to another post with advice from several other writings. This is excellent material, dosed with a rich icing of humor. 

 

Writing is Growth

When I started writing erotic romance, sex was the focus. Glorious uninhibited sex scenes with all the descriptive words that made the action come alive. (Heh–no pun intended) For a person like me emerging from a very conservative, religious family, this was a breakout moment.

Now, looking back, I’m not completely thrilled with the result. Oh, don’t get me wrong—the sex scenes are smokin’. But that’s simply not enough.

Stories of any kind are about people. And people are more than sex. While I managed to create compelling sex scenes, I didn’t manage to create compelling life scenes.

So I’ve decided to dive into revising a couple of my early novels with a greater focus on the personal struggle facing the characters. I’m adding scenes that show how they deal with adversity. I’m showing how they grow in the process of facing difficulties, how they develop more self-confidence or come to grips with challenges both internal and external.

This is a thrilling process, delving into the character with greater willingness to sit at my desk and think about them to let their personalities take full form. Before, although there were strong storylines and situational drama, there wasn’t as much depth to the characters as they needed. I’m letting myself feel them now, where they came from, what they worry about, care about, more than the person with whom they’re having sex.

My previous mindset about all this was that sex was the key motivating element. Sex was the transformative event that broke the character from his/her previous point of view and propelled them into a new paradigm. Yes, this is important.

But it’s not enough to be the main thing. I admit it kind of breaks my heart to say that because I’ve always seen sex as having the potential to do exactly that. It still does have that potential, but it’s like a really lovely slab of chocolate cake. It doesn’t make a meal.

It’s exciting to dig deeper and important enough that I can justify taking the time to go the next mile with revision rather than plunging into yet another new story. This learning process about creating stories with rich character and complex plot lines is an important one for any author.

Writing is a multi-phase, multi-layered endeavor. Creating something meaningful out of thin air isn’t an easy pursuit, and it is as much about looking deeper into oneself as it is about thinking up story details. After all, inside our minds and our life experience is where our stories come from. I’m happy to see where I stand on the long road toward ‘great.’

And yes, ‘great’ is my goal!

Happy writing in the new year, everyone.

Sex as Liberation

One of my best friends gets completely sidetracked by the sex scenes in my romance novels. Not in a good way. I get that sexy romance novels are not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m positive that if she wasn’t trying to be a friend, she’d never read sexy romance. So there’s that.

But what triggered my recent, well, shock, was an email where she said I’d do just about anything to upset my parents.

It’s hard to hear something like that from a best friend. I’m stunned at her total lack of understanding about why I write sexy stories. Or, more importantly, why I’ve lived my life the way I have. We’ve shared experiences from our earlier lives and I’ve been honest about my adventures. She’s been aghast but not condemning.

I thought.

I want to sit her down and emphasize that my choices about sexual behavior have nothing to do with rebelling against my parents. But then, I really don’t think she can ever understand. Although she hasn’t specifically stated this in so many words, I’m pretty sure she’s only ever had sex with her husband.

That’s her choice and I haven’t made any judgment about her for limiting her life experience to one man. Or judged any other woman for any decision she’s made about how to live her life.

Unlike my friend – well, let’s say I lost count somewhere around seventy. This was over a four year period in the early 70s and maybe a few after-divorce flings in my mid-40s. (Okay, I’m old.) This information blows my friend’s mind and apparently causes her to decide (a) that I’m a hopelessly immature minx forever rebelling against my parents (my dad has been dead since 2004, but I guess that didn’t factor into her analysis) and (b) that I’m a unrepentant slut. A dear friend slut, but nevertheless…

I have to guess that this is probably the way she’d see herself if she enjoyed sex with multiple partners.

For me, sex with multiple partners has been the most educational and liberating thing I’ve ever done. I actually consider it an essential part of my growing up to become who I wanted to be. Writing explicit sex in my novels continues that essential effort, my personal mission to free other women from millennia of patriarchy, just as it freed me.

I took part in the free love movement, the cresting wave of the sexual revolution that occurred in the 60s and 70s and continues in some measure even today. In 1961, birth control pills entered the marketplace and assured women they could have fun just like men—without fear of pregnancy.

Also, hooking up for a roll in the sheets was an important healing counterbalance to riots in the streets, assassinations, and the Vietnam War. But it was more than that.

Sex served an important role in liberating women from the traditional degrading view that we were only valuable as baby machines and housekeepers, subordinate to men in all ways. Women weren’t ‘capable’ of making important decisions like handling money or owning real estate. Thus men were required to maintain firm control on the ‘weaker sex.’

More to the point, while men could go out and get ‘experience’ with multiple sex partners, women who did so were unredeemable sluts. Women required strict supervision both by men and by society’s rules. Those who stepped over the line merited our worst condemnation. This is the narrative that seems to run in my friend’s head.

Sex was a dirty act to be hidden behind closed doors. Or it was a holy rite reserved to those sanctioned by church marriage and under the control of the male partner, preferably indulged only for the production of children. If you ventured away from the sex-only-for-babies concept, you at least limited sex to a chosen partner whom you ‘loved’ and with whom certain promises had been exchanged. Largely, those promises had to do with fidelity to the chosen partner.

The sexual revolution blew the doors off this Victorian mindset. Sex isn’t dirty. Sex shouldn’t be hidden behind doors. Sex is an option for any and all kinds of relationships. Sex is a joyful experience, a supreme human pleasure, and could serve as a path to spiritual awakening and connection. Sex is beautifully transformative, opening its participants to the connection we share with all humanity. Sexual intercourse allows its participants to soar beyond words and rules.

To interact with someone through sex means stripping away surface judgments about appearance, clothing, or hair style. It’s a way to say ‘Hi, nice to meet you’ without the games. Whether a one night stand or the beginning of a passionate affair, such interactions can be and often are the foundation of lifelong friendships. With the trappings of civilization stripped away, nothing stands between us but our inhibitions.

Looking into someone’s eyes while lying next to each other naked is a damn good way to get acquainted.

For me personally, and what I’ve tried to explain to my friend, is that sexual freedom gave me my life back. Stolen from me since the day I was born female, my life had been narrowed, judged, and denigrated by the mere fact of my gender. I could never be ‘equal’ to a man, never aspire to lofty goals. Rather, I should content myself with a wife’s role and be forever penitent that I embodied the Eve who introduced sin into the world. After all, God was a He.

Well, fuck that. I rebelled against that entire sexist narrative from my earliest memory. I questioned church teachings about women by the time I was eight years old. As soon as I left home at eighteen, I never again set foot in a church. But that didn’t mean the weight of all that crushing propaganda suddenly lifted.

As with many women who have sought to move beyond the confines of tradition, I struggled with confidence. Sex fixed all that. As I pursued my desires, I became skilled at picking up men I wanted instead of shrinking into a corner waiting for a guy to make a move. I gained assurance about how I looked and about the fact that it didn’t fucking matter how I looked. I realized I could meet another person on a level playing field. I slowly acknowledged my value as a human being.

My experience in one-night stands and short-term affairs freed me from the constraints put on me by patriarchy and its religious teachings meant to keep women barefoot, pregnant, and silent.

None of that prevented me from falling in love, getting married, having children, and leading a fulfilling life as wife and mother. But by then I had no qualms about starting my own business in a career dominated by men. I didn’t hesitate to participate in or take a leadership role in advocacy projects that sought to bring about social change in a variety of pressing issues.

I accept no boundaries in writing explicit sex scenes, some of which go way past what I ever personally experienced and which explore some of the darker chapters of domination, submission, and sado-masochism. I write females with the chutzpah to do whatever they want including pursuing a career as a dominatrix or happily fulfilling her desires as a masochist submissive. I write group sex when it fits the story. I write ‘normal’ romance when that’s what the characters demand. Whatever sexual preferences and activities thread through my writing, I see them as the vital organs, the blood veins, of humanity, just as important as how we treat our children and neighbors.

In my view, I owe this freedom of thought to my willingness to break through barriers of sex norms. Norms are what we make them. I’m so proud of how much the ‘norms’ have changed during my lifetime so that now we can openly accept same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and transgender identities — whatever makes us happy.

Maybe someday I’ll tell my friend.

The Childhood (and Parents) Lurking in our Writing

Recently I wrote a guest post on another romance author’s blog (shoutout to Delilah Devlin!) about how my male and female characters elicit very different responses from me as an author. For male characters, I am able to quickly get in their head and emotions. For females, it’s damn near impossible.

I’ve noticed this for years now, how my heroines are standoffish and overly analytical, while my heroes are full of angst and sympathetic conflict. This is not a good thing. Most readers of romance are women, and readers must be able to identify with the heroine in order to enjoy the story.

As in, feel her pain and understand her emotion.  Which doesn’t happen very easily if the heroine is standoffish and analytical.

Here’s part of what I wrote:

I’ve always had a soft spot for guys. In high school, I enjoyed hanging with a group of guys, not that I didn’t also have female friends. I did. But with the guys, I felt more relaxed.

There was also something about the conversation with males that I preferred more than conversation with females. It’s hard to exactly pin down what specifically annoyed me about chatting with females—maybe that there seemed so little substance to it. With guys, conversation tended to be more to the point. And the point seemed more substantive. And there was less conversation overall, which suited me fine.

Throughout my life, I’ve found less to like about women than about men. Women can be unbelievably cruel, vindictive, and easily provoked to violence. Verbal violence, that is, things like character assassination, gossip, and vicious bad-mouthing.  I seldom see the same kind of hatred spewed by men that I’ve seen from women.

No question that both sexes dish out their share of ugly remarks, but in my experience, men tend to walk away from that kind of confrontation whereas women can’t get your face long enough to suit them.

Maybe there’s some truth to the theory that while early man was out silently stalking game, women were talking up a storm around the campfire. By necessity, women had to develop words for every aspect of their close-knit lives that centered around children, food, and textiles. That setting bred endless options for intrigue, jealousy, nitpicking, and other negative traits for which women are infamous.

Men didn’t need words to signal other hunters about the elk he spotted or to carry dead animals back to the cave. If he used words, it would spook the game he planned to eat for dinner. Once he dragged the carcass home and turned it over to the women, and as long as everybody played fair, male tribal members just wanted everybody to get along. …

Things seem so much simpler with men than with women, at least, that’s how I see it. Maybe that too is part of my sympathetic affection for men. I tend to write my male characters that way, big, charming galoots with not much to say but determined to follow his heart. Not complicated, not conniving, not spun out over the least assumed slight, not changing his mind or mood every fifteen minutes…

Sooo… After I wrote the guest blog post, I started thinking about why my writing turns out this way. Why do I have this kind of attitude about women? Because without a doubt, there’s something off balance about my attitude. (Or maybe not…what do you think?)

Then I thought of my parents. Ah ha! My dad was my emotional support, the understanding one, the person who was there for me no matter what. It was my mom who always had something critical to say. Without thinking about how her words would affect an insecure, near-sighted daughter, she said things like how my knees were ugly or I was clumsy (her term was ‘slew-foot’), or how she and her mother laughed when, at fifteen and miserably sporting an optimistic A cup, I insisted I needed a bra.

So there—with volumes more that could be said about my lifelong difficult relationship with a woman who never ceased to amaze with her well-intentioned yet hopelessly hurtful interactions with others—is the key to my struggles as an author and with female characters in particular.

This revelation portends a hopefully fruitful introspection for me both as an author and a woman. I need to dig deep to see how I have internalized my mother’s attitude and determine what if anything I can do about it. Meanwhile, I’m going to try really hard to write more warmth into my female characters instead of recreating the strained and painful impact of my relationship with my mom.

This means I have to try to understand more about my mom.

Rainy Morning

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Rain spattered on the rock walkway around the outside garden. Rose turned in the bed, lifting her face to the narrow window opening to inhale the scent of wet grass. Misty gray dawn. She smiled.

With the covers tucked over her shoulder, she snuggled against the pillow. In another time, Jameson would have been behind her in the bed, awakening to her stirring. His big hand would settle on her waist, warm and reassuring. He would cuddle up behind her, bringing his hot silken skin against her back, her buttocks, and inevitably, his morning wood would press between her thighs.

Jameson. The one man she had loved without limit, without reason. She could see him now, suntanned, his chest wide as he stood with his fists on his hips wearing nothing but cutoffs and a straw cowboy hat that shadowed his face and its rugged features. His blue eyes penetrating the brim’s shadow in a heated gaze that spoke of his love, his promise.

His hand would slide up her side, inexorable as it traveled toward her breast. Already her nipples would have peaked, anticipating. The grip of his rough hand spoke of ownership but also affection, belonging, shared memories and a future yet to unfold. As he pressed her nipple between his thumb and forefinger, the gentle prod of his cock spoke of its need to find its natural home.

Rose turned, resting on her back to stare at the ceiling. Rain continued its drone on the roof, on the rock walk. Just yesterday the narcissus had bloomed, pale yellow blossoms releasing intoxicating scent. Over the last week, the yard had erupted in vibrant green. Dogwood and redbud dotted the woodland with their blossoms. Another spring.

Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes as memories of prior springs flashed like a slideshow in her mind. Jameson walking naked across the yard, grinning ear to ear as she ran then let herself get caught. Jameson sitting beside her on the porch in fragile sunlight, not yet hot, not yet summer. But not winter. Not cold.

Jameson, the father of her children. Jameson, the only man who brought her repeatedly to the pinnacle of pleasure. Jameson, the man who shared her dream of life.

She’d always love Jameson.

Twenty years since she sent him away. Twenty years living alone, remembering, wondering. How could it have been different? How could she have helped him reach inside himself to gain the strength he needed? How could she have changed, somehow, to accept his anger, his disease, in a way that didn’t destroy her?

There was no going back to a time when she might have taken a different path. When the dark side of Jameson would have told her to run and never look back. By the time the realization came to her, it was nineteen years on with three children and lives so intertwined that separation inevitably tore parts off of everyone.

Rose threw back the covers and stood up, shivering in the rainy morning air. Outside, fog had crept into the woodland, strangely luminous in the reflection of green from the nascent grasses.

Another spring. Another morning. Alone.

Jameson could never again be part of her life, but she could still admit she loved him. Nostalgia could sweep her away, make her sad about what no longer existed. Nostalgia crowded out the ugly truth, that Jameson hardly ever woke to touch her or murmur words of love. He bolted out of bed already angry—at the crying child who woke him, at the rooster crowing outside, at a job he hated.

That was the real Jameson. Young, eager to make her dreams come true, she had seen what she wanted to see, what she needed to see. As long as she could cling to her fantasy, she could avoid the truth and ignore the inexorable drip of poison slowly eroding her ability to live one more day with a man who hated himself.

Rose turned on the shower and waited for the water to steam warmth into the small bathroom. This was her life now, not a fantasy. Not misty memories that mostly weren’t true. She stared in the mirror. Aging, yes, no youthful beauty there. But strong, an experienced, determined woman. Weathered by storm, by life, by Jameson. But not beaten.

She grabbed the shower door and stepped into the hot spray. Behind her, Jameson waited.