Falling in love was never part of the plan...
Friday, June 18, 2021
Monday, June 14, 2021
Excerpt - Prologue:
The pains came more frequently now. Even with the help of Edwina, it was a struggle to run. In the cramped darkness of the tunnel, she tried to maintain her footing, an impossible task with the burgeoning weight of her belly. Time was of the essence. They must not be caught, but the spasms were nearly unbearable.
“I can't go on,” she gasped, a sharp pang taking her breath away.
“Just a little bit further, Your Highness,” the enchantress coaxed.
Every step down the seemingly endless passageway was sheer torment. Queen Ivy willed herself to continue. She was the last hope for her people, and she must not fail.
Edwina stopped so abruptly; the queen stumbled into her back. The enchantress pulled the weakened monarch through a narrow gap in the wall. They crossed the threshold of a doorway into the depths underneath the forest. A tangle of tree roots filled the cavern, their sinuous forms dwarfing the fairies. A robust scent infused the air with bark, stone, and earth.
Queen Ivy, a Volant used to the skies, reeled at the unfamiliar smells and fell to her knees.
The enchantress, more experienced with Groundling habitats, remained unaffected and surveyed the area. She assisted the queen in a nook hidden between the sides of two large tree roots, which soared overhead out of sight to meet the tree's trunk somewhere way above.
“Wait here,” she instructed, a moot directive to her incapacitated companion.
While Edwina disappeared the way they came, Ivy settled down her awkward frame. How had it come to this? The past few months had turned her world upside down. Having one's sister hunt you like prey was horrifying enough, but targeting her baby for death rocked her to her very core. Instinctively, her hand flew to her stomach, the muscles again tightening with the tremors of labor.
Her friend returned, hair disheveled, wings drooping, and announced, “As far as I can tell, we may have lost them in the maze of tunnels. I have used cloaking measures along the way and put a spell on the door to keep others out. But your sister's powers are strong. If she were to find us…”
“She will find us. It is only a matter of time,” the queen declared. Dahlia learned enough in dark magic to track even a covered trail.
“Well, it is time for this baby, so here must do.”
Queen Ivy sighed, resigned to the situation. When she discovered she was with child all those months ago, she had not envisioned giving birth in a dark hole underground. The enchantress spread a blanket on the earth for the queen to lie down. She checked the progress of the baby and nodded.
“It is time. You need to push.”
Above all, the baby must survive. Otherwise, the prophecy would remain unfulfilled, and the kingdom would never be restored. The monarch braced herself against one sturdy root; the surface felt surprisingly warm and smooth. Under the calm direction of her lifelong friend, she delivered the child.
Edwina laid the baby girl into her arms. Ivy admired the feathery blond hair and the round little nose. Tears welled in her eyes at the sheer perfection of the infant. The enchantress finished tending to the mother and turned her attention to the newborn. After a quick examination, she ripped a length of fabric off Ivy's skirt to wrap her. “You could not have asked for a healthier daughter. Now, what shall her name be?”
“Her name?” the queen pondered. "I’ve not thought of one. All I have thought of is her safety.”
Before Edwina responded, they heard it—the rattle of armor. Soldier’s footsteps approached, their faint clinking unmistakable. Both women froze in terror.
“She has found us,” Ivy whispered in dread, her arms tightening around the baby.
“Perhaps not. Perhaps it is King Theros on his way to tell us he defeated Dahlia.”
The footsteps grew louder.
“No,” the queen affirmed. “It is my sister. I feel her presence. You must take the baby to the other world and keep her safe until the time is right. Dahlia cannot follow you there.”
The soldier’s armor rang loudly in their ears. They came to a halt right outside the doorway.
“Come then,” the enchantress conceded, holding out a hand to help her friend rise.
“No. I must stay and try to defeat Dahlia. Take her.” She thrust the infant into Edwina’s arms. “Go now.”
Loud hammering filled the air with the enemy’s attempt to break the door down.
“But My Queen, she will show you no mercy. I will not leave you here to die.”
Queen Ivy leaned forward and placed her hands on her friend’s, which cradled the child. She slipped the crystal-bound amulet inside the swaddling. “Yes, Edwina, you must. I command it. Take her now and keep her safe.”
The enchantress desperately tried to think of another way. Axes and spears crashed upon the door, weakening her spell with every stroke. Sadly, she stepped back and conjured the words to transport her between the worlds, a power only she possessed in the entire kingdom.
The new mother watched the toss of the seeds, and Edwina’s frantically whispered spell. A cloud of dust encircled her friend and her baby. Too weak to even stand, she blinked through her tears. Just before the two vanished, she said, “Lina. I want her to be named Lina.”
Edwina nodded, the final wish heard, and with a poof, they were gone.
The door finally gave way, a multitude of soldiers pouring in, their armor dark as night. Queen Ivy turned to see her sister step through the broken threshold. Dahlia scrutinized the scene, the queen’s deflated belly and the cloud of dust on the ground. Her eyes narrowed in malice. The baby was beyond her reach—for now. She met Queen Ivy’s eyes and despised the look of triumph in them.
“Kill her,” Dahlia ordered.The queen whispered one last anguished prayer for her daughter before an arrow pierced her heart.
Friday, June 11, 2021
“I didn’t mean what I said earlier, about turning you over to Sixgun. I was just…” He struggled for the words.
“Hurt?” I offered, and he nodded. “I know. I have a talent for pushing people away.”
“I still shouldn’t have said it,” he muttered near my ear, his arm tightening around my shoulders to hold me closer.
“Do you really think I’m stupid?” I asked.
“No, I think you’re the smartest person I’ve ever met,” he said, with all the conviction with which he said everything else. I smiled against his shirt. “Did you really climb into my bed because you thought I was upset about the train?”
“No,” I croaked, hiding my face as best I could. “I don’t have nightmares when you hold me.”
“I don’t have nightmares when I hold you either,” he admitted.
So I let him. I let him hold me all night. We didn’t speak, we just leaned against each other until the sky began to lighten and the shadows of our pasts seemed to fade into the distance.
About the Authors:
Lauren Sevier and A. Smith are longtime friends and co-authors from southern Louisiana. Guns and Smoke, their first joint publication, began as a “short” story after having too much wine on girl’s night.
Nine years later it is now the first novel in a Dystopian/Western Romance series.
The duo has plans to publish several series together in the future. A. Smith spends her time with her two rescue dogs and rescue cat surrounding herself with books and Labyrinth paraphernalia.
Lauren Sevier collects antique tea cups and tries
to stay sane, though as the mother of a toddler she fails brilliantly most
days. She also has a growing collection of crowns and tiaras and likes to act
silly on TikTok. Look for more thrilling novels from The Fools Adventure series
in the future!
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Growing up in a small town in the 1980s and 90s meant growing up with the ghosts of the Gilded Age. Edwardian buildings lined our streets, often still in use. Newer corner stores took the place of older ones, and they still looked much the same as they always had. Going to visit friends or family often meant climbing century-old staircases and treading on century-old wooden floorboards. And if you were in the right place at the right time, you could stumble on fading artwork from the turn of the 20th century. Liminal spaces could still be found under bridges and in alleyways, and they offered you the chance to enter the Belle Epoque, to really feel it all around you. It always felt eerie and oddly comfortable, like visiting someplace you’d forgotten.
To be totally honest with you, I don’t know for sure why I’m drawn to antique advertising and packaging. It could be the fact that it was always there from my earliest memories, or that I was exposed to those liminal spaces and they worked on me on some deeper level. There might even be some weirder explanation. But I found my way back to this aesthetic a few years ago and it’s still a big part of my life. In trying to figure out ways to play with that aesthetic and make it useable in my life, I stumbled on cabuchon jewelry and magnets. Now I can make a lot of my own Mary, Everything swag, from bookmarks to pendants, and it looks better than a lot of what I could find if I used, I don’t know, Redbubble or something.
I won’t be able to give you a full DIY tutorial complete with pictures because of time constraints (I’m so sorry!) but I can tell you roughly how it’s done, tell you about my own artistic process, and give you ideas about where you can find tutorials and materials if you’d like to try for yourself. It’s a skill you can learn fairly easily, and with time and practice, you can get away from the kinds of mistakes that will ruin a piece and force you to start over.
What you’ll need:
-Ultra high quality prints of the art you want to use (Go to Staples and order these from the print counter - you’ll thank yourself!)
-Glass cabuchons in the shape you want (Get these from Amazon or Etsy stores that specialize)
-Glamour Seal glue from Annie Howes (Get this specifically; there’s no alternative. Anything else will discolor and ruin your piece.)
-E-6000 clear epoxy (like $6 US for a good sized tube at Jo-Ann)
-A good pair of scissors
-(For magnets) Your choice of fabric to use as a backing. I like unbleached muslin for a lot of magnets but some pieces demand colorful calico prints instead. Use what speaks to you - you really can’t make the wrong choice.
-(For magnets) - The actual magnet itself. I’ve been getting neodymium magnets like these - they work well for 1” squares as well as smaller tile magnets.
-Adobe Photoshop (I use it for everything so for me it’s indispensable)
-Clear nail polish (for basic office paper - i.e. if you didn’t go to Staples and have your stuff printed on their medium-weight paper)
-Folders to store your image prints
-Plastic organizer containers to store backings, findings, ribbon, fabric, and half-finished pieces
-A box to store everything in. You’ll end up with a lot of supplies, so it helps to have it all stored in one place. I bought one of those boxes that look like a suitcase (without handles) from Jo-Ann and decorated the inside with printouts of Edwardian and 1920s ads. I call it my “Edwardian Box”.
-Spray adhesive if you want to try lining the backs of your pendant trays with nice fabric
Getting Your Bearings
Firstly, the links I provided are just to give you a jumping-off point. I encourage you to shop around - there are so many sizes and shapes and finishes out there, so make sure you find the look (and price) you want. That being said, I’ve loved everything I’ve bought from Annie Howes; you can rely on her for quality. Plus, she’s got the puffy square glass tiles. I kinda dig those and I haven’t found the puffy ones anywhere else.
Also, a basic search on Etsy will provide you a rabbit hole you will easily get lost in without hope of getting back out. There’s basic graphics and there’s the junk journaling collage stuff, among other things. It’s quick and easy to buy digital downloads of art - sometimes too quick and easy - so before you hit the “pay now” button, make sure you have exactly the art you want. If you like part of a collage but not the whole thing, you might want to take a few minutes and see if you can’t find the original, the way it was before it got put in someone else’s collage. They had to get it from somewhere, right?
Alright, so you have your high-resolution printouts, your magnet piece, your glass, your Glamour Seal glue, and your fabric. Let’s do this.
Get that glass handy and make sure it’s clean. Squeeze a dab of that glue onto your art. This is kind of a trial-and-error thing - there’s no one right size. It depends on your piece. But there is kind of a Goldilocks zone - too much and you oversaturate your piece and get it everywhere, too little and it won’t stick. But the first time doesn’t matter as much - put a dab on there and rub it in with your finger. The Glamour Seal stuff is water-based and non-toxic - it’s a lot like Elmer’s glue. Get the area you want to use good and covered. Now squeeze another little bead of it over the area you’re using - and then drop your glass onto it. This is where that “learned skill” I mentioned comes in. What you’re gonna do is start gently pressing the glass down and squeezing the glue out. Flip it over and start using your fingers to flatten the paper against the glass, gently massaging the glue bubbles out. You want to get it as flat as you can. What makes Glamour Seal special is that it dries completely transparent, as long as you don’t have too much of it. If you do have too much of it, you’ll saturate your paper and it’ll fall apart on you when you start pressing it against the glass. If you have too little inside, you can lift your paper just a bit and squeeze a little more in there - just don’t pull your paper all the way off the glass. You’re committed now, for better or worse, so don’t remove it completely.
Once you’ve flattened it and it looks fairly good (you might still have a few tiny pockets of glue but that’s alright - those will dry and fade), leave it to dry for about twenty minutes or so, paper side up. Once it’s dry, grab those scissors and cut around your glass. You won’t want the paper sticking out too much - it should be neat and flush.
Now is the moment of truth. Did you go to Staples and have your stuff printed on their medium weight paper? If you didn’t and you’re using basic thin office paper, you’ll need to coat the back of the paper with a layer of clear nail polish. The reason for this is that the E-6000 we’re about to use will discolor your piece so bad it’ll barely be recognizable when you’re done. It’s harsh stuff for inkjet prints. But if you’ve got good quality medium-weight paper, it usually resists the ravages of epoxy.
Squeeze a small dab of E-6000 onto your fabric and put the paper side of your piece onto it. We’re doing the same thing we did last time, except that you won’t have to worry about the same level of delicate craftsmanship. Just smoosh it on there and rub the fabric in. Make sure the entire back of the fabric, at least the area that’s touching your glass and paper, is wet with the E-6000. Also make sure there are no bunches or anything in the fabric - you want it smooth and taut and flat. Wipe any excess epoxy off of the glass side and leave your piece to dry, fabric side up. This time we’re gonna give it 10-12 hours. It takes E-6000 about 24 hours to set fully, but these last steps won’t matter so much for that.
Come back in about 10-12 hours and cut your fabric neatly to match the shape of your glass. You’ll want it flush with the edges. Once you’ve done that, add another tiny dab of E-6000 on the middle of the fabric and drop your magnet on it. Get it smooshed on but don’t smoosh all the glue out from under it - you’ll still need a little between the magnet and the fabric to keep the magnet attached. Wipe off some of your excess and leave it to dry, magnet side up, for a good 24 hours.
When you come back, the magnet should be attached firmly and your piece should be ready to stick on the fridge.
Like I said, I couldn’t take a ton of pictures of the process because of time constraints but it’s a fairly simple process. Once you’ve made a magnet, doing stuff with jewelry trays should be pretty intuitive. And if you’re still confused, Youtube has a bunch of tutorials.
Once you have your stuff set in trays, you can attach them to ribbons for bookmarks, or to jewelry findings to put on chains to wear as pendants or bracelets. There’s so much you can do with this.
Surround yourself with your aesthetic!
The crosswalk is the busiest place in town any time of the year, and even if Braddock has a fraction of the people in the summer, it’s still bustling. As I’m coming up, I spot a girl approaching from my left. She’s ghostly pale like me, with auburn hair cut in a short bob around her soft jawline. The most striking thing about her is her narrow, almond-shaped eyes. I’ve always thought chicks with eyes like that are really cute. They catch mine as I approach, and there’s a kind of click; two people in a crowd with matching energy. She greets me with a narrow, witty smile. I return hers in my usual unintentional way, soft and genuine and a little bit sad-looking without ever meaning to seem that way. And we stand there for a minute, waiting for the traffic to clear.
“Say, is it gonna be dry like this all week?” she asks.
“Um…” I wish I had a better answer ready. “I think so? I haven’t really checked the weather.”
“Why, I sure hope it is.” She stares back across the street at the shade of College Green. “Anything I hate is rain in the summer.”
Roll my eyes in agreement. “Ugh, totally.”
I sneak a look at her. She’s wearing a brown bell-shaped hat, the kind that were popular in the 1920s. She’s wearing a 20s style dress, too: green, knee-length, with a round-cut neckline and loose cap sleeves. She’s even wearing old-fashioned brown stockings and brown heels. It catches my eye and I stare for a second or two; it’s a hot day for stockings, especially the old-fashioned silk kind like that. And her shoes are really retro, like old church grandma shoes. She must shop at that vintage thrift store all the way up at the far end of Court Street; it’s the only place around here where you could get clothes like that, unless she goes thrifting in Columbus.
She’s standing here next to me, watching the street, not self-conscious at all. Like she wears stuff like that every day without even thinking about it.
Then she looks at me, glances away, looks at me again a little longer. Her eyes linger on my top and on my legs, and she looks away again, blushing. I’ve always been a little bit empathic and I can feel curiosity in her glance. And…attraction?
Nah, that can’t be right - girls are never into me. Maybe I look too preppy, I don’t know. I’m a D&D nerd, raised on video games from the age of five, but because I wear an Abercrombie hoodie or Hollister shorts or flat iron my hair, people assign me a whole package of expectations - Courtney is a bitch, Courtney’s stuck-up, Courtney’s a backstabbing gossip, Courtney’s rich. Courtney is heterosexual...? Look, I’ll be honest with you, I’m gonna have a hard time living up to all of that. Maybe not the bitch thing - because yeah, I’m probably a bitch - but the rest of it?
Sorry, no can do.
The traffic finally stops from the other direction. I give her one last smile - which she returns warmly - and step onto the street. A few quick steps take me to the other sidewalk. I stop and look at my slender Fossil watch, making a pretense to turn in her direction again for one last look. She’s awfully cute, and I love her chic vintage style. I wonder if she’d think I was creepy if-
There’s nobody there. I glance around to see if she took off in another direction. Nothing. There are plenty of people around, walking dogs, wearing flip-flops, riding bikes. But no girls with vintage clothes.
She’s gone. It’s like she was never there.
But she totally was there! I talked to her!
Unless I’m finally losing it?
I rub an eye with the heel of my hand, not really caring that I just stamped dry mascara on my skin. Maybe I need to get out more. Maybe I need friends. I stand on the busy sidewalk for a moment, completely disoriented, before remembering that I was looking for a place to sit down and eat my salad. But even as I make my way onto College Green and up toward the Civil War statue, looking for a place to sit, I can’t get that girl out of my head. Not just because she was cute. Something about her, that weird click when we saw each other.
Eh, maybe I’ll see her again. I shove a straw through the lid of my drink. Nobody just vanishes.
I wish you could just disappear.Though I guess if you wanted to disappear, this would be the place to do it. Outside the city limits, the nights are dark and old, and people who vanish are never seen again.
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Thursday, May 27, 2021
Although the schedule at the Ravenswood Metra station said the commute was only 54 minutes, the ride felt much longer. Adam was seated with a window view, heading north on the Union Pacific line towards Great Lakes, to the wealthy shore side suburb of Lake Bluff, a place he’d only read about and heard others mention.
It was early but Adam had made a point of buying a large cup of coffee at 7-Eleven before jumping on the commuter train. The coffee warmed a chill inside of him he hadn’t been able to shake since waking up.
While Stacey was still passed out, Adam had stumbled around the tiny apartment, half asleep and full of lingering concerns. He showered, got dressed, ate a bowl of instant oatmeal, and headed to the train station. He checked his phone more times than usual. No voice mail or text from Victor.
Maybe I should’ve let him stay last night. I could’ve woken up in his arms, next to his warm body. We could’ve made love for hours.
Adam barely took notice of the sights as the train continued on its snow-filled journey to the North Shore. Instead, he sipped his coffee, listened to overly sentimental love songs on his iPod, and tried to imagine what life would be like if he and Victor made a commitment to each other. He knew, more than ever, that’s what he wanted. Being with Victor made sense. Like so many people had said before, they made a great pair.
Questions and fears heightened Adam’s anxiety, racing through his mind at the same speed of the train. Were they too young to be so serious? To be exclusive? What if Victor decided he was bored and restless and wanted to date other people? What if he was tempted and unfaithful? That would leave Adam hurt and damaged beyond repair.
His phone buzzed.
False alarm. It was Stacey. I can’t wear my new shoes today because it’s snowing outside. I hate February. But I love you. Where you be?
He texted back. On a train heading north.
She responded within seconds. I hope you’re not running away from home just because the rent is due.
He smiled and texted back. Job interview. Wish me luck. Otherwise it’s noodles and tap water for us until March.
The train was nearly empty now. A young woman wearing a red knitted scarf and matching cap was sitting a few seats away. A business man in a gray suit was reading a newspaper he’d folded in half. He was balancing a leather briefcase on his lap. His black-framed reading glasses looked as if they’d slip off the tip of his nose at any second.
I wonder what their lives are like. Is she in love with someone she can’t have? Is he unhappy in his marriage? Are they terrified of dying alone someday?
Adam glanced down at the pleated slacks, button-up Oxford, black pea coat, and Italian leather shoes he was wearing. He was dressed like a preppy boarding school student. He felt like an impostor. He’d assumed someone else’s identity in Chicago and was now on his way to fool a rich family into believing he was one of them.
They’ll see right through me.
Adam wondered why Dario Vassalo had extended the invitation to him. Given they’d only spent a few minutes together in Becca’s new office and their conversation had been brief, Adam tried to figure out what it was he’d said or done to inspire the wealthy man to consider him for the tutoring position. Was he replacing someone who’d been fired or quit? Were ulterior motives at work? Was the position created just for Adam as a way for Dario to see him again?
Adam shook his head, silently dismissing his absurd theories. Yet, in the back of his mind, he knew there was a thread of truth to them. He’d felt an instant heat for Dario. It was powerful and intense. He was almost certain the attraction was mutual.
Get that ridiculous idea right out of your head. He’s a married man. You have Victor now. And, you love him. You need the job. If you have to flirt a little to get it and keep it, you’re only doing what needs to be done. You can make this situation work for you until graduation.
Even if the train ride is forever and these stupid shoes are already killing your feet.
Adam finished his coffee. He looked out the window at the passing neighborhoods, wondering what was happening inside the houses and apartments within eye line of the tracks. Was someone brewing coffee, cracking open eggs, pouring pancake batter over a buttered grill? Was a child running late for school, worried they were going to miss the bus? Did someone decide to call in sick for the day, add another log to the fire, and curl back into bed with a good book and a cup of peppermint tea? Maybe a car wouldn’t start. An alarm didn’t go off. A husband didn’t come home.
The train pulled into the quaint, historic Lake Bluff station. Adam said a silent prayer, stood, and exited. Outside, the biting morning air was even colder than it had been in the city. There was a thin mist, floating and mingling with the falling snow flurries like a tentative ghost trying to decide whether or not to make an appearance.
Adam slid both hands into the pocket of his pea coat, cursing himself for not remembering to wear gloves or a scarf. He moved around the crowd of Chicago-bound commuters waiting to board a southbound train and made his way to the front of the train station.
Adam checked his phone and reread the instructions his mother had texted him.
A cab will be waiting for you at the station. Don’t be late.
On the train, Adam worried there’d be too many taxis to figure out which one was for him. He was relieved when there was only one idling at the curb.
There was an older woman standing next to the cab. She was short and squat. She was wearing a purple windbreaker, powder blue polyester slacks, and a pair of blinding white sneakers. The strange ensemble was completed with a white visor she wore low, just above her eyes. Her hair was short and tightly permed. It had an Easter blue tint to it.
She looks like an over groomed, mean poodle.
She glanced him up and down, cracked a sunflower seed between her front teeth, and spit the shell out on the sidewalk. “You Adam?” she asked. Her voice was nicotine stained and coated with a thick New York accent. At once, she gave off a strong vibe that even though she was short and could’ve been someone’s grandmother, she was tough and shouldn’t be messed with.
Adam was hesitant with his answer. “Yes. That’s me.”
“Name’s Myrtle,” she said.
“Myrtle?” Adam repeated, trying to hide his amusement.
No one is really named Myrtle, are they?
“Myrtle Brubaker,” she said. “You heard of me before?”
Adam couldn’t tell if she was joking. Was she a gangster or a cab driver?
Myrtle Brubaker had been through some hard times. It showed on her face. She looked weathered like someone had left her outside for too long in the snow. Beneath her haggard appearance and red, blotchy cheeks there was just a sliver of the attractive young girl she probably once was. Yet, it was clear Myrtle had never been a debutante. Adam imagined she spent her nights on a bar stool, shooting the breeze, chain-smoking, and killing off a bottle of bourbon. Or two.
“Get in,” she instructed. “You don’t wanna keep the missus waiting. She’s got a busy schedule.”
Adam complied. He slid into the backseat of the cab. It was like sitting in a closed box of sweet-smelling cigars. He rubbed his eyes, coughed a little, and asked, “What does she do?”
Myrtle found his eyes in the rearview mirror. “Who?”
“The missus,” he said, already speaking Myrtle’s language. “Mr. Vassalo’s wife.”
“That’s pretty,” he said.
“Doesn’t even do her justice, if you ask me. She’s a knock out. You’d think her husband would pay more attention to her, but whadda I know?”
Adam grinned. “You seem to know a lot, Myrtle.”
“I love three things in this world,” she said.
“Is one of them bourbon?” Adam guessed.“As a matter of fact it is,” she said. “I love bourbon, a good horse race, and Nancy Sinatra.”