Angela Amman

Halftime

birthday letter to my daughter Dear Abbey,

We started the day with birthday waffles, piling sweet bits of chocolate and sprinkles and whipped cream onto waffles that soon resemble morning cake more than breakfast. My photos blur again and again. I need a new camera, true, but you’re animated and silly and utterly you when you’re home with us.

Later, we talked to you about the concept of “halftime,” this point in your life when you’re halfway to eighteen. You talked about it in the sense that you could basically make all of your own decisions, and my stomach hurt when I thought about the possibility that you’ll be making those decisions somewhere away from home.

The thing about this halftime birthday hides somewhere between the wispy outline of your future and the concrete reality of now, where we watch you grow and change a little each day. It’s impossible to explain to you that eighteen isn’t a magical age where decision making happens easily and cleanly; we need to do our best to let you make decisions all the time, balancing that with our desperate wishes to keep you smiling and safe and untouched by the messiness of missteps.

Nine feels magical, though, just like each of your birthdays exuded their own kind of magic. You love dancing, on stages and in the living room, in costumes, in character, and in a pair of shorts and old t-shirt from Vacation Bible School. I appreciate your moments on stage, of course, seeing the results of your concentration and practicing, but lately there’s something extraordinary about getting a glimpse of you dancing in the playroom on your own. You love music and movement so much, even without an audience to cheer you on.

I try to let you navigate your class projects on your own, even when I have to sit on my hands and bite my tongue. Still, as you worked on a character report this month, I loved chatting with you about A Wrinkle in Time. Your perspective made the story new again, and not in the abstract way children make everything seem fresh and new. We were able to really talk about the book and about bravery and fear, and I hope you and I will always find a way to connect about tough topics.

You’re kindest to your adoring brother when no one’s watching, and I’m in awe of your relationship with him. I hope you always love purple and glitter, singing loudly and laughing with your eyes squeezed shut. I hope you make silly faces and pick up slugs and worms even when you’re wearing something fancy.

One day I might figure out how to be the best mom I can be. I’m learning as we go, my love, and I know I make mistakes — and I know you’re getting old enough to see them. One thing I hope you always know is how immeasurably loved you are. You, Abbey Rose, are more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined in a daughter. May the second “half” of this amazing game be filled with love, laughter, and celebratory chocolate.

Love always,

Mommy

Holiday Detour – The conclusion

holiday fiction

Continued from Part Eleven — or start at the very beginning with Part One. Thank you for your patience this year!

Margot spread her hands on the table in front of her, eyes resting on her wedding with a goofy grin that wouldn’t leave her face. Vance followed her eyes and traced the band with his finger.

“I guess I should be glad you didn’t toss this in the Mississippi, huh?”

“Don’t be melodramatic,” Margot said, still smiling, “I would have sold it and traveled the world.”

“Speaking of,” Vance started, his brow furrowed as he clicked around the phone nestled in his palm, “I don’t think we’re going to be flying out of here tonight.”

Margot didn’t bother to confirm his words. Emotional whiplash should have rendered her exhausted, but Vance’s news held the promise of a future she hadn’t been sure she believed in any longer. Adrenaline and contentment battled in her brain, but though she couldn’t stifle her yawn, she couldn’t imagine falling asleep either.

“Christmas in Chicago?” she asked. They’d been to the city in another lifetime, back before they flew across the country more frequently than they spent time at home.

“Maybe,” Vance said.

Margot recognized the noncommittal tone. “Or?”

“Well, I know we’re expected home at some point,” Vance said.

“Some point like tomorrow,” Margot said. “Christmas Eve and then Christmas, remember?”

“I know,” Vance said.

“But?”

“Well, you asked what we were going to do, and I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot,” he said.

She wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear what he had planned.

“Do you remember Josh?” Vance asked.

“CPA Josh or cage fighter Josh?” Margot asked.

“CPA Josh,” Vance said. “Though I’m pretty sure cage fighter Josh gave that up about three years ago and went to the police academy in Atlanta.”

“So, why do I need to remember CPA Josh? Didn’t he disappear into some little town upstate?”

“Not exactly. Little town, yes. But it’s not too far from our place, actually. Drivable, for sure. On the water.”

The ease with which he spoke of their little apartment settled comfortably in her chest. “And Josh has something to do with what you want to do next?”

“He wants to open a finance firm. Small. Maybe firm isn’t even the right word. But he wants to help local businesses manage their money, and he needs help. He’s good with numbers, better than anyone I know, actually. But he’s helpless with all the rest of it, the tech, the promotion, the daily running of a business.”

“And we can do that,” Margot said. “We’re kind of fantastic at that.”

“We are, indeed, fantastic at that.”

“We’d have to leave Buffalo?”

“It’s an hour away, I think, we can map it out. Maybe we could commute for a while,” Vance said.

Margot thought about their apartment. She could barely picture what they’d put on the walls. The only thing she could conjure was the smell carried on Vance’s hair.

“Or maybe we could try something new,” she said, reaching to bury her face in his neck.

Vance’s eyes brightened. “I don’t want to make a decision without weighing all our options. But I had this idea that maybe we should ditch the return flight and just rent a car and drive over to this little town and see how they do Christmas.”

Surprising herself, Margot smiled and laced her fingers through Vance’s. “Let’s do it.”

“Really?” He asked, and for the first time in countless long months, she felt her stomach flip with excitement about the future.

“I think,” she said, slowly, “if we’re together, anywhere might feel like home.”

Elemental Awakening – A review

Elemental Awakening a Mandy Dawson book

Writing groups can be funny things.

I chat with mine daily, and that means ideas get tossed around, drafted, tightened, fretted over, and fawned over. And sometimes those ideas grow into something more than a story in our minds.

Elemental Awakening came to life at the hands of Mandy Dawson, and I loved reading the novel that develops an entire world — and promises more to the story Dawson begins in her first novel.

I want to be friends with Helen Browning, the midwife main character who finds her life upended when her touch brings a long-trapped soul back to the realm of the mortal world. She’s tough, sassy, and lovely, like so many heroines, but she’s also stubborn and a little flawed, and those traits are the ones that draw me to her and her story.

Helen has been drawn to the ancient statue called Sarlic, since she saw a photo as a child, but she never expects to unearth what she does when she crosses a museum barrier for a single touch. When her fingertips break the shackles of an ancient curse, she needs to come to terms with the truth about her connection to Luke, her role in a war she doesn’t understand, and the secrets about some of the people she’s loved her entire life.

Despite the supernatural elements in the story, Helen and Luke’s relationship feels refreshingly down-to-earth. Helen’s reluctance to sacrifice her sense of self for the pull of a new-to-her love will resonate with every woman who’s tried to integrate a relationship into a life that seems pretty full already. I found myself rooting for Helen and Luke as a couple, but rooting for them on her terms, despite the undoubtable pull and power he holds over her — for better or for worse.

As Helen and Luke struggle to find a balance between the ancient forces that hurled them together and the life Helen has built for herself in the present time, a battle brews around them. Helen isn’t the only one dealing with Luke’s awakening, and the powerful evil that overtook him years before is on her way back to finish the job.

Elemental Awakening covers all the bases of an utterly satisfying read: strong characters, a strong plot, and just enough of a conclusion to make the first book in a trilogy feel complete while leaving readers dying to know what happens next. Something to note — and one of the things I admire most in books — is the consummate balance Dawson manages between character motivation and plot. When building an entire mythology, keeping all of plotting and the rules straight while maintaining solid, authentic character development can be a struggle, but Elemental Awakening does it seamlessly.

Dawson might tell you she’s a romance author, but she’s more than that (not that there’s anything wrong with being a romance author). Elemental Awakening, though, is more than a romance story. In it, Dawson shows she’s also a world builder, a mythology maker, and perhaps most importantly, a storyteller. No matter what your favorite reading genre might be, the story in Elemental Awakening will keep you turning the pages until your eyes get gritty with the need for sleep. The only good thing about the book ending is that the story will be continue in Dawson’s second book.

Keep up with Mandy Dawson

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Purchase Elemental Awakening here

Holiday Detour – Part 11

holiday fiction

Continued from Part 10 — or start at the very beginning with Part One!

Margot’s gut twisted at Vance’s exasperation. Ever since she’d seen his eyes, she hadn’t been able to keep up with her conflicting emotions, let alone the way his mood had bounced all over the place. His hands had warmed hers when he’d grabbed them, just like they had so many times since the first time they’d linked fingers in the chilly Buffalo air.

“I didn’t read through everything,” she said. “I was leaving for the airport by the time I got it, and then I just didn’t feel like dealing with them in public.”

She couldn’t understand why he was smiling.

“Well, could you take a minute and open them now?” he asked. “Maybe I should have done it this way in the first place, waited until we were together.”

“They’re in my bag. My checked bag,” she said.

He laughed. “Of course they are. Since when do you check a…? Never mind. I guess it doesn’t matter.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” Margot asked. “I think it matters! Our lives are completely changing.”

“Well, yes,” Vance said. “But not the way you…”

“Margs,” he started again, reaching for her hands. “I didn’t send you divorce papers. I sent you the papers for the sale of the company.”

Margot swore all of the blood in her entire body dropped into her chest and then climbed back into her face. Flaming red with embarrassment, she started to piece together what had happened. How could she have actually believed Vance would send over divorce papers by mail? She would have buried her face into her hands if they weren’t still clasped in her husband’s.

“The sale…” Her voice failed her.

“Yes! I finally found a buyer I thought made sense for us, and I had the papers drawn up as a kind of holiday surprise. You’ll need to sign off, of course, but since you’ve been talking about this for so long, I figured you’d be thrilled.”

“I would be… I am…”

“I also kind of figured you’d open the envelope and not assume I wanted to divorce you,” Vance said.

Margot felt her face get even hotter, though she hadn’t thought that was possible a moment before. “I can’t believe I thought that. Oh God, Vance, are you livid?”

She could see the combination of laughter and relief in his eyes as he pulled her off the chair and into his embrace. He held her face in his hands and kissed her, neither of them caring about the close quarters of the quickly crowding airport bar.

“I’m just still shocked that we could get tangled up in this kind of misunderstanding after everything else we’ve navigated together,” he said. “I mean, we run a pretty successful business.”

“Ran. We ran a very successful business,” she said.

“You haven’t signed anything yet,” he teased.

“I’d sign them right now if they weren’t buried in a plane somewhere,” she said. “Are you sure, though?”

“Of course,” he said, his lips pressing into her hair. “I let them know we’ll be available to consult for six months, but that anything they need from us has to be addressed in New York.”

Margot pressed her forehead against his chest and breathed him in for just a minute before leaning back to look into his face. She could see the certainty in his eyes, and she knew he was at peace with his decision.

“But what are we going to do?” She asked.

“I thought you’d have that planned,” Vance said, laughing.

“Part of me didn’t think you’d ever sell,” Margot admitted. “So I guess I didn’t have much of a plan.”

“Well,” Vance smiled. “I actually have a seed of an idea, but I’m not sure how you’re going to feel about it.”

to be continued

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