My plan for 2018 is to release six books. Yeah, I know. That’s a lot more books than I’ve ever released in a single year before, but it’s the goal I decided on, and I’m not backing down.

I released my first book of 2018 late – Dished came out just last month. Needless to say, I’m going to have to step up my game if I’m going to beat my self-imposed deadline.

This month I’m using the power of an external deadline to help. I’m working on a short book for a collection of holiday lesbian fiction stories with several other authors that will be coming out later this year. It doesn’t have a firm title yet, but right now I’m calling it “Drove Me Wild“.

Today’s snapshot story comes from that book, and I used two prompts for inspiration: Your MC keeps waking up at the same time every night . . .  and “New life.”

Here’s the story.

“Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust. Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.”
Paulo Coelho

Clean Home

The next night Jesse woke up again at eleven o’clock on the dot. The same sensation jerked her awake and she lie in the darkness until her eyes adjusted enough for her to get her bearings.

Her daughter, Wyatt, sighed and turned over beside her in the little bed. Jesse eased out from under the cheerful, yellow quilt and into the slippers she had left on the floor, unplugged her phone, and slipped out of the room without waking either of the kids.

She was glad she had set them both up in the same room for now, because if either of them woke up and she wasn’t in the room, the presence of the other would soothe them that everything was as it should be. She would transition the crib into the next room eventually.

She walked down the hallway toward the half-finished kitchen. The furnace grumbled as she passed it. “New life, new strife,” she said aloud to no one.

When she got to the kitchen, she stopped in the doorway and took in the progress she had made. Both windows were covered with curtains her grandmother had made before she died. Her ex-husband, Chaz, had never liked them because they weren’t hypoallergenic, and Jesse was glad to finally have these personal touches to remember the woman by.

Where her mother (and Jesse) had been forever beholden to a man, her grandmother had been infinitely capable of taking care of herself, and had done so since her husband died when Jesse’s mother was a child. Jesse had never missed having a grandfather because her father’s father had been such a boisterous family man, but Jesse’s mother always seemed to dwell on the void.

Jesse let her eyes linger on the curtain over the big window along the back wall for a moment more, then dropped her gaze to the table. It was a little thing tucked into what Jesse could only call a breakfast nook. Misha’s highchair sat on the side, well-loved but clean from the heavy scrubbing she had given it after dinner. The whole room smelled like lemon oil from her nightly ritual, but it eased her mind to know everything was clean and safe for the two most important people in her life.

A desk sat in a corner with Wyatt’s busy work for the next day. Jesse knew she wouldn’t have time to teach either of the kids a proper lesson at least until the whole house was put together, but Wyatt loved worksheets, so Jesse had them at the ready for transitions to keep the little girl happy. Misha’s bag of Lincoln logs, letter blocks, shapes, and stimulus toys sat neatly against the desk’s leg.

The rest of the kitchen was taken up with a fridge, pantry, island, stove, sink, and cabinets that would have been at home in the 1960s. Jesse knew that was where she would start with the renovations. Clear, open cabinet doors through which she could see her orderly stacks and rows of dishes would help keep her happy through her own transition from their old life in the city to the new one so far removed from the nearest Starbucks that the app on her phone didn’t know which store to suggest.

She went to a box on the island and peeled open the top. A stack of white plates wrapped in two layers of tea towel waited to be unloaded into one of the dark cabinets, and she set to work. She had already wiped down every surface in the kitchen, so now it was just a matter of putting everything in its place.

It didn’t take her long to unload one box, then the next, and she was on her sixth when her phone chirped in her pocket. She finished unloading the box, broke it down and put it on the stack with the others, then settled down in her chair at the breakfast nook to take a break.

Despite her dislike of most social media platforms, she had three apps on her phone, and all three had notifications for her to check. She didn’t check two of them, because she knew they would just give her more ideas she couldn’t afford to put into action in the house yet. She would go through those for inspiration later. The third had a bunch of notifications, and she guessed before she opened it how many would be from only two people – her mother and Chaz.

She was right. Her mother posted asking how they were getting settled, when she was going to get to have a video call with the kids, and how soon she could come visit. Jesse grimaced. She loved her mother, but part of the move was to get away from her overbearing family.

She replied that they were settling in okay and that the kids would call her the next day, but ignored the question about the visit.

Chaz had posted a new album of pictures. Jesse groaned. The first in the line was of them at their junior-senior prom. They had thick glasses to match, both had used too much hair product, and Jesse’s dress had been bright orange with puffy sleeves. She didn’t know how her friends had let her leave the house like that, but she made a point to tag a few of them in the picture and ask.

The second picture was Chaz standing behind Jesse with his chin on her shoulder and his hands on her rounded belly. They both looked so happy. Jesse wrapped her hand around her waist without realizing it and flipped to the next picture. Chaz had Wyatt on his shoulders and the toddler was clinging to his head with her little hands and had a wide, wet smile on her face.

The next was Wyatt holding Misha for the first time, her face serious with wonder and strapped with her first pair of glasses.

Jesse clicked out of the album and went to the next notification. Chaz had posted that he hoped they were settled in and to call if they needed anything. She knew he was trying to sound nonchalant, but the message was coming across loud and clear. He wished they were still together, and he was willing to let her come back anytime.

She sighed, then typed an impersonal reply and got out of the app without checking the rest of her notifications. She put down her phone and stood up. All her break had done was sap her energy and make her wonder how she had spent so long in a one-sided relationship with a man like Chaz.

She shook out her arms and legs, then bent in half, wrapped her arms around each other, and let blood drain to her head while her back stretched. Then she got out of the stretch, walked across to the boxes, and pulled her little essential oil kit to her on the peninsula.

She opened the top and the melding smells hit her like a wave. She closed her eyes. Breathed. Then she opened them again, took out a bottle, unscrewed the top, and tilted it upside down with her finger over the stopper. She put a dot behind each of her ears.

Satisfied, she put the bottle back into the kit, closed it up, and slid it back where it would stay indefinitely.

“What’s next?” she asked the quiet house. The furnace growled itself on again. “Yeah, I know. There’s so much left to do,” she answered, and went back to unloading the boxes.

 

This story continues later this year. More details will be available as soon as I have them. Keep your eyes on this space (or just subscribe!) to find out the release date of the collection.

 


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5 thoughts on “Clean Home [Free Short Fiction]

    1. Thanks, Bree! I’m not big on physical descriptions, so this book is helping me get more of that in the first draft. I’m glad you liked it!

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