Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm still alive!

Wow, it has been AGES since I posted on this, and now that I have some time and some energy to spare, I'd like to say a huge hello and thank you to anyone still reading this.

Let me take a minute to fill everyone in on my life the past five months.

Hubby, Kiddos, Cats, and I moved to the Gulf Coast in Texas at the end of last August.




I absolutely love it here--I love the warm winter (it's been in the 60s and 70s this week). I love the laid-back, small-beach-town atmosphere. I love getting to go to the beach, and I love all the activities there are to do around here. Hubby and Kiddos love it too, and Daughter is very happy because she adores all creatures great and small, and the seaside is flouring with all sorts of life. When we moved here, she got a tank and some land hermit crabs, and she's been taking excellent care of them.

Granted, there are some things I could do without--like the huge wolf spiders that race like speed demons across the floor when they get in the house, or the scorpions (fortunately, the scorpions here are not deadly, unless you happen to be allergic to them like some people are allergic to bees), or the giant cockroaches. But other things more than make up for that. Like the cute little tourist shops that sell mugs like this (which Hubby got for me because it was perfect for me):





But. The first few months after the move were really hard, because Hubby had to be gone most of the week for work. He transferred here to open a store, and the opening of that store got pushed back a lot further than anyone had expected, so for two and a half months, he had to work out of a store several hours away. This was hard on all of us, because even though he got to come home two days a week, we missed each other like crazy for the other five days. (My hat is off to all of you people who are separated for much longer than this for work or military duty.)

By the time November rolled around, I didn't have the mental energy to focus on anything writing-related. Actually, at that point, I couldn't even think about writing without working myself up into a giant mess of tension and panic--and my writing partners all reassured me I just really needed a break. I'd been going and going all year long on my editing jobs and writing, plus stuff like being a wife and mother and homeschooler, and then moving on top of it all, and I had barely stopped to breathe.

So I took half of November and all of December off from writing. I read some books. I did stuff with my family. My kids were in a Christmas play. My in-laws came to visit, and then took the Kiddos to Disney World. I did some editing, because I did still have some stuff on my plate. I watched movies. (I got to see Frozen in the theater twice, and it was just gorgeous. I've had the songs from it stuck in my head for weeks, probably in part because Daughter bought the soundtrack and we've played it a lot. A LOT.)

And I finally got to the point where I could think about my book again without wanting to curl up in a little ball, which is especially good, because last year, I wrote a YA fantasy novel. It was super fun to write, and then I put it through the beta-reader/CP gauntlet, and then I sent it to my agent, Natalie Lakosil. Natalie read it and got back to me in September, right after we'd moved, with a list of things to work on in the rewrite--which led to me realizing I need to pull it apart and rewrite about half the book. I got about 30,000 words of the rewrite done (original draft was about 84,000 words), and then took my break.

Not long after I got to the point where I could start thinking about my book again, I got one step further--I could look at the book with excitement! All of the words didn't look like a jumbled mess! It was like an after-Christmas miracle! Or, you know, a refreshed brain finally getting some clearer perspective.

So now I am back in the writing game, and it's just so nice to have words again. Hopefully I'll finish my rewrite before too long and I can send it back to Agent Natalie for further perusal.

And also, Hubby and I celebrated our twelfth anniversary this week. :D

There you have a very short summary of my life since August, and why I haven't been blogging. I'm going to try to be better about it. :)

I'm sure I've missed a million and one things on the blogosphere over the past months, so if anyone has any news to share, please let me hear it! :)



Oh, and on the EXCITING NEWS front, I'm celebrating with two of my writing partners.

First, Barbara Kloss's third book in her trilogy, Breath of Dragons, was released yesterday. The first book, Gaia's Secret, is available for free for a limited time on Kindle. Her writing is awesome and the series is beautiful and just gets better and better with each book. :D

Second, E.K. Johnston's debut novel, The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, releases in less than two months and is receiving excellent reviews in the publishing world. I'm excited to read the published version, since I haven't read it since its early draft days.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CassaStorm by Alex J. Cavanaugh

Today, it's my pleasure to participate in introducing Alex. J. Cavanaugh's third book, CassaStorm, to the world!

Comment on Alex’s blog this week for a chance to win a Cassa mug, mousepad, magnet, and swag!

I got to ask Alex one question for this blog, so check that out:

Q: What has been your favorite part (or parts, if you can't think of just one) of writing this series?

A: Seeing the changes in Byron. He was rather unlikeable in the beginning of CassaStar. I guess he’s still a bit distant and tough by CassaStorm, but his values in life underwent a huge transformation during the course of three books.

CassaStorm
By Alex J Cavanaugh

From the Amazon Best Selling Series!

A storm gathers across the galaxy…

Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.

After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.

Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle…


“CassaStorM is a touching and mesmerizing space opera full of action and emotion with strong characters and a cosmic mystery.” – Edi’s Book Lighhouse

"Cavanaugh makes world building on the galactic scale look easy. The stakes affect the entire known universe and yet Cavanaugh makes it intensely personal for our hero. The final installment of this series will break your heart and put it back together."
- Charity Bradford, science fantasy author of The Magic Wakes



$16.95 USA, 6x9 Trade paperback, 268 pages, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Science fiction/adventure and science fiction/space opera
Print ISBN 9781939844002 eBook ISBN 9781939844019

$4.99 EBook available in all formats

Find CassaStorm:



Book Trailer!!





About Alex:

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of the Amazon bestsellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

Website
Twitter
Goodreads


Monday, July 8, 2013

Spirit Online Launch Party/Scavenger Hunt

This evening, I'm participating in Lauren Ritz's Online Launch party. This is one stop on a scavenger hunt, and it's going on tonight only.
 
There will be prizes, but in order to win them, you'll need to answer one or all of the following questions to earn points. Don't post your answers here! Instead, you'll need to find the answers (huzzah, scavenger hunts!) and go post the answers on Lauren's Launch Party Facebook page here:
 
 
 
Answer any or all of the following questions, but remember that those with the most points will win the prizes (there will also be more questions at the launch party site, and at other stops on the scavenger hunt, for a chance to get more points):

1/2 point: Give one English word that you think Google wouldn't know (then Google it. If Google really doesn't have a definition, you get a full point for this one)

Question from Lauren's book, "Spirit" (1 point): Why does Val call Frank Mr. Thumb? Find the answer in the sample pages here.

Question from my book, "Rising 1: Resistance" (1 point): What unexpected thing was Alphonse's neighbor born with? Find the answer in the sample pages here.
 
 
 
The next stop on the scavenger hunt is Donna Weaver's blog, so be sure to check that out for more questions and chances for points.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Guest Post - Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone (Introducing "Waiting Fate" by W.B. Kinnette)

Today on my blog, I get to introduce "Waiting Fate" by W.B. Kinnette, who is one of the sweetest, loveliest people I know, and talk to her a bit about her experience in writing it.


 



Sometimes Fate hides in plain sight while you stumble through darkness.
 
Ivy escapes from an abusive husband, finding peace with her daughter in her childhood home. She’s determined to keep her past a secret to protect those she loves.
 
Archer has been in love with the same girl since seventh grade. When Ivy comes back into his life—bruised, broken, and haunted by secrets—he knows he can’t lose her again.
 
But Ivy made a promise to her daughter. No one would hurt them again. She’s afraid to trust, afraid to be wrong again, and afraid that the one man she’s loved forever will break her heart.
 
Fate might take its time, but it won’t wait forever.
 
Buy: Amazon
 
:--:--:--:--:
 
 
This was a difficult book for W.B. Kinnette to write, so here are her thoughts on it.
 
 
First of all, thank you Laura SO MUCH for letting me visit. Readers, Laura has been my guru since I took my first step into publishing and had no idea what I was doing. I would be so lost without her!
 
So Laura suggested I post about writing outside my comfort zone. Waiting Fate is about escaping from abuse and finding new love, and it was much harder to write than I thought it would be. Many tears were shed. Many nightmares were had and memories revisited – memories I would prefer to leave forgotten.
 
Did it make me stronger? Was it therapeutic? At the time, I thought no. I thought it was dragging me back to a place that I didn’t want to be and was making me that person again. But now, I see that it did make me stronger. Also, exploring that side and how to write about it made me a stronger writer, as well. It isn’t easy to write while IN your comfort zone. It’s mentally exhausting even when you’re having the time of your life. But writing outside your comfort zone is a whole different experience, and your writing changes a bit.
 
How did I do it? I relied on my adorable husband to tell me I could. I had awesome writer friends talking me through the hard parts. I had friends and family who had no idea what I was doing but offered their prayers and support. Basically, I wrote outside my comfort zone by leaning on the strength of others. I know that’s not how most do it. Maybe I’m an odd little duck, but it worked for me!
 
It doesn't make you sound odd to me, W.B.! I think a lot of writers lean on the strength of others when writing--I know I do, at least! What about the rest of you writers out there?


And now, a little bit about our lovely author and how to connect with her!
 
 
W.B. Kinnette was born and raised in Utah, the baby of the family and spoiled rotten. She lived briefly in Texas and Alaska before coming back to raise her family only a few miles from her childhood home. She’s loved writing since she was small, because daydreams demand to be written down. She believes that dreams must be chased, if only so she can tell her children honestly that dreams do come true if you work hard enough – and never give up! 
 
 
Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Website

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grammar Daze - Special Guest Post on Punctuation by Donna K. Weaver, Celebrating the Release of Her Book, "A Change of Plans"

Today, I'm super privileged to be hosting Donna K. Weaver on her blog tour for her debut novel, A Change of Plans. I had the honor of reading this book in one of its early versions, and I'm so happy for Donna that she can no celebrate its release. We also have a Rafflecopter entry for a giveaway at the end!

Before we get to the delicious details of the book, Donna has a post for us on the importance of punctuation.

:--:--:--:--:

So you don't think punctuation is important?
Version 1
Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy--will you let me be yours?
Gloria

Version 2
Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Yours,
Gloria
:--:--:--:--:
Donna makes a great point. Punctuation is so vital, don't you think?
Now, onto Donna's book!



When twenty-five-year-old Lyn sets off on her cruise vacation, all she wants is to forget that her dead fiancé was a cheating scumbag. What she plans is a diversion uncomplicated by romance. What she gets is Braedon, an intriguing young surgeon. He's everything her fiancé wasn't, and against the backdrop of the ship's make-believe world, her emotions come alive.

Unaware of the sensitive waters he navigates, Braedon moves to take their relationship beyond friendshipon the very anniversary Lyn came on the cruise to forget. Lyn's painful memories are too powerful, and she runs off in a panic.

But it's hard to get away from someone when you're stuck on the same ship. Things are bad enough when the pair finds themselves on one of the cruise's snorkeling excursions. Then paradise turns to piracy when their party is kidnapped, and Lyn's fear of a fairy tale turns grim.





About Donna K. Weaver:
Donna K. Weaver is a Navy brat who joined the Army and has lived in Asia and Europe.

Because she sailed the Pacific three times as a child, she loves cruising and wishes she could accrue enough vacation time to do more of it with her husband.

Donna and her husband have six children and eight grandchildren who live all over the world.
At fifty, Donna decided to study karate and earned her black belt in Shorei Kempo.

After recording city council minutes for twenty years, Donna decided to write something a little longer and with a lot more emotion--and kissing.
Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter   |  Website
There's also a giveaway going on, so check that out!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Bomb to Help Teenage Boy

Today, there's a Book Bomb going on--people buying a book from author Dave Farland, whose son, Ben, was in a bad accident and is currently in the hospital. The family doesn't have insurance, and hospital fees are expected to rise above a million dollars. And so the Book Bomb is to raise money for Ben's treatment.

Donna K. Weaver has a whole blog post about the book, where you can buy it, and how you can just donate if you want to do that instead, so I'm going to send you over to her blog if you want more information. You can check that out here: Help Ben Wolverton

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rising Book 1: Resistance - now on sale!

With the recent release of Rising Book 2: Rebellion, Rising Book 1: Resistance is now on sale for a limited time at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can purchase a copy for only $0.99, so if you want a fantasy book to read, now's a great time to purchase it. The series is only two books long, so it is complete now. :)

Rising Book 1: Resistance for Kindle

Rising Book 1: Resistance for Nook


Need a little more info on the book? I'll post the back blurb and first chapter below, or you can always read the first few chapters in the ebook samples on the website. :)



Blurb:

All Alphonse wants is a quiet summer at home before his final months at university. What he gets is a half-dead stranger on his doorstep and the task of delivering a package to the leader of his home country. Not long after he boards a train toward the capital, he's attacked by knights, elite soldiers of the neighboring king.

Alphonse is temporarily rescued by Mairwyn, a mechanic with a haunted past and a deep hatred of knights. Together, they attempt to carry out Alphonse's urgent errand, only to learn that if they fail, countless people will die.

And even if they succeed, they may not be able to prevent the war that lurks on the horizon.

(Book 1 of 2)


First Chapter:


Chapter One


Alphonse hadn't spent time imagining what his homecoming would be like, but if he had, it wouldn't have involved being chased by a herd of angry cows. To be fair to the cows, he had cut through their field. Had he known it was occupied by such easily enraged animals, he wouldn't have climbed the fence.

Oh, Alphonse, he could almost hear his mother sigh, didn't you stop to ask yourself why there was a fence?

He'd noticed that Miller Stovkin had built a fence at some point in the two years he'd been gone, but since he had crossed through this field for most of his life, it had seemed of little importance.

It was now, however, very important as he tore across the field, his cloak flapping behind him and his travel bag banging painfully against his leg. The weight of all his books slowed him down, and the crashing noise of the cattle pursuing him grew louder as they gained on him.

The nearest place of safety was a large tree jutting out of the field like a finger pointing at the sky. Alphonse clambered up onto the lowest branch faster than he had ever climbed anything.

Fortunately, this ended the cows' pursuit, although Alphonse half expected one particularly irate-looking cow to ram into the tree just out of spite.

Unfortunately, in his haste to get off the ground, his bag caught on a sharp little branch. With a loud ripping noise, the seam split open and dumped out all of his belongings.

Dismayed, Alphonse watched as his books, clothes, food, and a few other items hit the ground. Loose parchment slowly bounced across the field in the light breeze. The books opened at odd angles, bending some of the pages. Alphonse groaned loudly when one of them landed right in a pile of cow dung. The cows all stood around nonchalantly, as though he no longer warranted their attention, except for that one cow Alphonse swore was glaring at him.

His eyes swept the ground, frantically looking for one book in particular. He spotted it resting against the base of the tree. "No! Bad cow! Shoo!" Alphonse waved at the cow that was now attempting to chew on one of his books. "That's not food! What kind of demented cattle are you? Why don't you act like the Banders' cows? They never chased me and tried to eat my books!"

The cow, at least, agreed that his book was inedible and rambled over to munch on some grass. Alphonse's gaze moved back to his most treasured book. It was very old and worn, as it had belonged to his father and had been read countless times over the years.

Welcome home, Alphonse. Stuck in a tree less than a mile from home. Way to go. If only he had told his mother he would be arriving a day early, she would have been there to meet him at the train station and he might have avoided this. Instead, he had decided to surprise her.

Alphonse narrowed his eyes and gauged the distance between the branch he was clinging to and his favorite book below. He might be able to reach it. He shifted on the tree branch, hooked his knees around it, and carefully leaned backward until he was hanging upside down. His glasses slipped off his nose and dropped to the ground before he had time to realize they were falling.

"Great. Just great." His vision was so blurred that he could make out nothing in front of him except a fuzzy, green and brown smear of the dirt and grass. He blindly reached out and his fingertip scraped his glasses, but they were just out of reach. And he couldn't even see if the cows were getting angry with him for dangling in front of them.

"Hey! Who's in my field? You'd best not be trying to steal my berries!"

Though Alphonse hadn't heard that gruff voice in a couple of years, it was unmistakable. "Mr. Stovkin!" he called, relieved. "It's me, Alphonse Redding!"

The sound of whirring mecha met his ears, followed by guffawing. A blur of brown moved into Alphonse's vision, and Miller Stovkin's amused voice came from right in front of him. "Alphonse? Why in the blazes are you hanging upside down from my tree?"

Alphonse's head was beginning to hurt from all of the blood rushing into it. "Mr. Stovkin, do you, um, see my glasses there?" With the turn his afternoon had taken, it was almost inevitable that Mr. Stovkin was going to step on them.

"These?"

Alphonse's glasses were pressed into his hand, and he put them back on, holding them firmly in place with one hand. Mr. Stovkin came into sharp focus. His hair was grayer and his brown face more wrinkled than Alphonse recalled. He wore a huge smirk half hidden by his bushy mustache. Carefully, so that he wouldn't again lose his glasses, Alphonse twisted and dropped down. His head spun and spots danced in front of his eyes as the blood flowed properly again.

The cow that had been glaring at him was gone, and the other cows were meandering innocently nearby, as though they were not at all responsible for sending him up a tree. Right beside Mr. Stovkin was his rusty old open-air vehicle, hovering several feet off the ground. The mecha looked as ancient as it had when Alphonse had last laid eyes on it, and part of him wondered how it was still holding up.

"I don't think your cows like me very much," Alphonse said as he picked up his father's old book. It didn't seem to have been damaged from its fall. Some of his other things, on the other hand…

He woefully eyed the book in the pile of manure.

"Ah, they just don't know you. Smart cows, these ones. 'Course, could be some of them know they're about to be turned into food and it's made them a mite ornery. Come on, stick your stuff in my HV. I'll give you a lift to your mom's place, if that's where you're headed."

"Thank you. I'd appreciate that." Alphonse used his ripped bag to pick up the book stuck in the manure and wrap it up carefully until he could get it home and clean it. He knew several of his classmates who would have squealed in disgust, but it was a perfectly good book, aside from being very dirty at the moment. He couldn't just abandon it to cow slobber and cloven hooves. He picked up the rest of his belongings and set them in the back of Mr. Stovkin's two-seater hover vehicle before climbing into the passenger seat.

Mr. Stovkin jumped up into the driver's seat, and then they were zooming off across the field, around the cows. "Your mother mentioned you were coming home for the summer. She's been terribly thrilled."

Alphonse clutched the side of the HV as Mr. Stovkin drove across his fields and out a gate. They soon went through a thin patch of trees, and Alphonse's family house came into sight. It was just as he remembered it—the stone house, the well outside, his mother's birdfeeders and birdbath and carefully tended flowers. He nearly choked on a sudden wave of homesickness. Oh, he had seen his mother when she'd come to the university to visit him during holidays, but there had always been something to keep him from coming home, even during his last summer vacation: an exciting project, a trip to the northern caves to study the newly found drawings within, a chance to study with a renowned visiting professor. Maybe he should have made time to come home sooner.

I'll be out of university in six months anyway, he thought as the HV pulled to a stop in his mother's backyard.

And then what? Would I come back here? There's the program that Professor Inkler has been talking about, and there's that research grant…

"Alphonse!" His mother's startled voice brought his attention to the back door. There she was, standing in a patchwork dress, a bandana tied around her mess of black curls. Her face lit up and she limped barefoot across the lawn as fast as she could to meet him. He jumped out of the HV and she wrapped him in a tight hug. She smelled like flowers and bread. Like home. She stepped back, her hands on his shoulders, and beamed up at him. Her apron was dusted with flour. "Oh, I'm so glad to see you! I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow!"

"I found your boy here hanging from a tree in my cow pasture." Mr. Stovkin sounded no less amused than he had when he'd first discovered Alphonse in the field.

Alphonse pulled all of his belongings out of the back of Mr. Stovkin's vehicle, setting the wrapped book on the ground until he could get something to clean the manure. "Thank you for the lift, Mr. Stovkin."

"My pleasure. It's good to see you." Mr. Stovkin drove off back through the woods.

Alphonse turned to see his mother picking up the bag-covered book. She wrinkled her nose and held it at arm's length. "Dare I ask why this smells like dung?"

Alphonse rubbed the back of his neck. "I had a bit of a mishap in Mr. Stovkin's cow pasture."

"Oh, Alphonse." His mother sighed, but her eyes were twinkling and she waved him toward the door. "Why don't you take your things to your room and change out of those travel clothes?"

Alphonse carried his belongings into the house. The kitchen was the same, with its old wooden table and benches, dried flowers and herbs, and a counter that was currently covered in flour and dough. His feet found the familiar grooves in the well-worn stone floor as he walked toward his old bedroom. His mother hadn't changed anything inside of it in the past two years, though the lack of dust indicated she had kept it tidy for him. He set his armload of stuff on his bed and turned in a slow circle, taking in the desk, the bookshelf, all of the encyclopedias, old projects, and papers he had left behind. The model HV his father had helped him build when he was seven still hung from the ceiling.

Alphonse turned back to his bed and changed into the extra set of clothes he had packed. He went back out to the kitchen to discover that his mother had cleaned off the manure-covered volume and set it to dry.

"Mom, you didn't have to do that!"

"It was no trouble at all," she replied cheerfully. She rolled out the dough on the counter and nodded toward the table. "Sit down and talk to me." She had set out a plate of cheese and fruit, along with a cup of water. She began to make the dough into biscuits as he thanked her and downed the water. "How has school been? How are your friends?" His mother looked over at him and he saw the mischief in her eyes when she innocently asked, "I don't suppose you've become attached to any of those lovely young ladies I met last time I was there?"

Alphonse groaned. "Mom."

"I have to ask these things. You're my only child. How else am I going to know when to expect grandchildren?"

"Is there a polite way to tell you that having children is the very last thing on my mind?"

His mother laughed. "I don't think you need to tell me that." Still, he thought she looked a little wistful. More than that, it struck him that she looked lonely, and it made him feel worse that he hadn't been home sooner.

Later that night, as Alphonse was finishing organizing his belongings from the summer and preparing for bed, his mother poked into his room and picked up the only other outfit he had brought with him. "You didn't bring any more clothes home with you?"

Alphonse looked at her blankly. "I can only wear one set at a time, and if I had brought more, I wouldn't have had room for all my books."

"You sound just like your father," his mother said fondly. "The countless hours he would spend with his nose in his books, always talking about this artifact and that research paper." She gave him a tight hug. "Good night, Alphonse. I'm so glad to have you home."

"Good night, Mom."

She limped into her bedroom and closed the door, and Alphonse collapsed onto his bed. It was smaller than he recalled it being and his feet dangled off the end of it. He was too tired to care. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

The next thing he knew, he was falling out of bed, banging his head painfully on the wall. He tried to figure out where he was and what he was doing. It slowly dawned on him that he was sitting on the floor of his childhood bedroom and that someone was pounding on the front door.

He went into the hallway and found his mother coming out of her room, wrapping a robe around herself. Alphonse's brain finally jolted awake, but he still couldn't figure out why anyone would be banging on the door at this hour.

"Mrs. Redding! Mrs. Redding, are you home?" Though the male voice calling through the door was vaguely familiar, Alphonse couldn't quite place it. "Please be home! It's Nella!"

Alphonse pinpointed the voice. It was Bryce Derrin, one of his old classmates. Nella had been another classmate, and he recalled that the two had been very taken with each other during their school days.

Alphonse's mother's eyes widened and she ran to the front door to open it. "What's going on?"

Alphonse couldn't see Bryce with his mother blocking the doorway, but he was frantic when he answered. "She…she…she's leaking all over and she's in tremendous pain. It's time, I'm sure of it, and her mom's visiting her grandfather for the weekend…"

"Calm down, Bryce," Alphonse's mother said soothingly. "It's going to be just fine. I'll come right over. Is there anyone else there to help?"

"N-No, ma'am, you're the closest neighbor and I didn't want to leave Nella alone, but I didn't have any choice," Bryce replied.

"Wait right here. I need to get a few things." Alphonse's mother turned away from the door. "Alphonse, I want you to come with me. If nothing else, you can keep Bryce calm." She took him by the arm and pulled him into the kitchen, where she gathered a few jars of herbs.

"Um, why am I keeping Bryce calm?"

"Because it seems his wife is in labor."

Alphonse froze and his face slowly drained of color. "Wh-what? I can't…I mean, there's nothing I can do…" She expected him to go to a house where a woman—no, one of the girls he had grown up with—was having a baby? The very thought of it made his stomach swim nauseatingly.

"You can carry this." His mother shoved a stack of linens in his arms. "Now, if you please, Alphonse."

He certainly didn't please, but he numbly followed her back toward the door, where he got his first look at Bryce. He paced back and forth and twisted a straw hat around in his hands. He had once been taller than Alphonse, and was now half a head shorter. He looked momentarily startled when he saw Alphonse but managed a nod and a mumble that might have been a greeting.

When they reached Bryce's house and went inside, a very pregnant Nella was doubled over in the front room, groaning. Sweat rolled down her face and plastered her red hair to her cheeks. Alphonse took one look at her and turned to walk back out of the house. His mother grabbed his arm and halted him in his tracks.

"I need those linens and then I need you to sterilize a knife for me. Bryce, boil water. And do you have a heater?"

"Yes, Mrs. Redding."

"Get that out and turn it on, and bring it into the bedroom."

Alphonse's mother led Nella out of the room, presumably toward the bedroom, and Alphonse's legs became too weak to hold his weight. He collapsed into the nearest chair and stared at Bryce, wondering if he looked as pale as Bryce did.

At least Bryce was on his feet and moving as quickly as he could to follow Alphonse's mother's instructions. It would have been much handier if their small town had indoor plumbing like all of the major cities, universities, and even many other little towns, but Hale was behind on some things. Bryce ran outside to the well with a bucket in hand, leaving the door wide open. He returned shortly with water. In his haste to get it on the stove, he sloshed half of it on the floor and had to go back for more.

Alphonse was glued to the seat. He tried to stand up at one point, and then Nella screamed from the bedroom and he sank right back down again.

"So, um, Alphonse," Bryce stammered after he finally got the water heating up on the stove. "It's been a while. Back from university?" He dashed to a cupboard and pulled out a mecha heater, typically used for heating beds during the winter. He pushed a button on it to get it warming up.

"For the summer," Alphonse replied.

Another scream from the bedroom, and Alphonse had to resist the very strong urge cover his ears. Either that, or flee. Fleeing sounded like a very good option right then.

Knife. He was supposed to be sterilizing a knife and keeping Bryce calm. Right. Who was supposed to keep him calm so he could keep Bryce calm?

"Where do you keep your knives?"

By the time Alphonse had finished sterilizing the utensil, Bryce had disappeared into the bedroom, so Alphonse took the liberty to run out the door. He would have gone home, except he was afraid his mother would need him (he prayed she wouldn't), so he sat on the ground and leaned against the side of the house.

He cursed the misfortune that had brought him home right when a neighbor had decided to give birth. Not that any other time would have been any better, but if it had been another night, maybe Nella's mother would have been there so that he wouldn't have to be. If only he had waited until the next day, when he was supposed to come home, he could have been comfortably in his dorm room at the university.

Even being outside didn't drown out the noises Nella was making, and Alphonse tried to focus on something other than the sounds. Anything else. He ran through historical events, calming himself by going through names and dates. He would have thought going through the finer points in his country's history would have given him more than enough material to get through a baby's birth. Apparently this was going to take longer than he expected. When he had caught up to the present day in his mental history recollection, he jumped over to mathematical equations. Every time he dozed off, he was jolted awake by the sudden noises from inside.

By the time an infant's cries pierced the air, the sun was rising and Alphonse was ready to fall over—whether from exhaustion or relief that it had ended, he wasn't sure.

"Alphonse!" his mother called. "Alphonse, I need that knife!"

Alphonse dragged himself to his feet and ran into the house. He located the sterilized knife and took it to the bedroom door. When he knocked tentatively, his mother said, "You can come in. Meet our new neighbor."

Yes, because he wanted to see Nella for the first time in two years after he'd spent half the night listening to her labor pains. "I'd really prefer to stay out here."

The door opened and Alphonse's mother held out her hand for the knife. She looked exhausted, but there was both amusement and happiness on her face. "Very well. Thank you for staying close. You can—"

"Mrs. Redding?" Nella sounded equally exhausted and there was a sudden fear in her tone that made Alphonse's mother turn quickly, the knife in her hand pointed down.

This was the worst thing she could have done, for it gave Alphonse a wide view of the bedroom and the bloodied cloths and sheets. He got a glimpse of Nella on the bed, holding a baby whose umbilical cord hadn't yet been cut. Coupled with the sweat and blood smell wafting from the room, Alphonse's nausea and dizziness overwhelmed him and his vision went black. The next thing he knew, he was opening his eyes from the floor, his glasses pressed uncomfortably against his face.

"Alphonse, are you all right?" his mother asked.

"I'm…unnnghh…" Alphonse scooted backwards out of the bedroom. He must have only been out for a second or two, because the conversation within the bedroom continued as though he had not just fainted like a coward at the sight of blood.

Blood…

Alphonse pressed his face to his knees and decided maybe he should wait a moment before trying to stand up again. Though his mother might not know it yet, her chances of ever having a grandchild had just dropped to zero percent.

"What are these?" Nella asked. "These bumps on her back…is something wrong with her? Is my baby all right?"

There was a heavy silence, in which Alphonse imagined his mother to be examining the newborn. "Oh," his mother breathed. "Oh, Nella…these aren't bumps."

"Then what are they?" Bryce spoke this time, and he had more dread in his voice than fear, as though he already knew the answer and was afraid to say it.

His mother's reply was so quiet Alphonse almost didn't hear it. "They're wing buds."