Category Archives: Books

“From Highbury with Love” Coming April 21, 2021!

My latest novel is with the editor, and it’s time for the fun stuff: covers and giveaways and sneak peaks!

I’ll be doing a giveaway at Austenauthors in April, that’s my other primary blog spot, but if you’re in a hurry, I’ve got another giveaway active this month at Austenprose! There’s also a sneak peak at the novel there, an excerpt I haven’t shared elsewhere. Fun times!

When Lizzy Bennet spends the winter in Highbury, it will be anything but the dull visit she expects. Particularly with Mr. Darcy visiting his friend Mr. Knightley!

Between dueling with Emma over Harriet Smith’s future and discovering secret love letters to Jane Fairfax, Lizzy is soon invested in her new friends. Then she becomes an unwelcome witness to Lady Catherine warning Emma not to think of Mr. Darcy!

From there it is a carousel of mistaken affections, relentless gossip, repressed emotions, and fateful decisions.

How will the new knots ever be untangled?

Between winter balls, outdoor frescoes, and fireside chats, the Highbury community is in for all the drama their village can hold.

My First Bookbub Feature…and #3 on Amazon!

I was very excited to get a feature with Bookbub for January! They are pretty selective and I have been applying off and on for about six years. I was shocked when I received their acceptance for A Lively Companion as applying had become a habit, not an expectation!

Generally I try not to obsess about Amazon or other rankings–readers make a career, not rank–but I am making an exception and doing a big happy dance today!

Thanks for all the reads, purchases, comments, and encouragement over the years!

Also #5 in Canada and #16 in the UK! (Canadian readers don’t intimidate me, but British ones do. <Corrie waves nervously, knowing she’s doing it wrong.>)

In other news, my Emma/Pride and Prejudice crossover is also up for pre-order and the wonderful lady who edits for me, Gabriella at editforindies.com, will be starting on it in March before it goes live in April.

G’night folks!

Corrie

Worst Martian Playlist: A short novel of space exploration and survival

My latest science fiction offering is live on Amazon! It was a ton of fun to write this summer (harder to get further from lockdown than Mars), and its been a lot of fun to get it ready for publishing. As always, much thanks to Gabriella at Edit for Indies who did the copyediting. Hyphenated words and adjectives are the bane of my existence, and she helped me get all the spaceships and terms consistent. I tend to get excited and little details like NAMES get lost in the mix, which is no good for the poor reader.

So what is it about? In my head, I’ve been describing it as a mashup between The Martian (by Andy Weir) and Smart House, a fun campy Disney movie from my tween years. Lol, make of that what you will! It took a lot of twists and turns from the original premise, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

Here’s my description from Amazon:

If you love tense, survival sci-fi, join a pair of shell-shocked astronauts on a catastrophic day of dangers in Worst Martian Playlist, a short novel exploring trust, identity, and loyalty.

The first caverns of the new Martian base were dug by rovers, but when the first long-term crew is on its way, catastrophe strikes. Miranda Oceveda and Caleb Wexler are the sole survivors.

In the caverns and tunnels that comprise the new base, Caleb and Miranda have soldiered on for months, but it’s frustrating and exhausting with only two people. Their AI assistant helps with day to day tasks, but it can’t replace a living crew.

And Miranda isn’t at all sure that Caleb hasn’t cracked under the pressure–he’s angry and aggressive in a way he never was before. Of course, she isn’t sleeping well either, and they both probably have PTSD and adrenal fatigue… But they only have to hold out until the Respite crew arrives.

But with only two weeks to go, one fateful day of storms, solar interference, and human error, their survival will depend on trust and intuition… and neither has much to spare.

Thanks for reading, go check it out!

Interview over at Poseidon’s Scribe

Thanks to Steven Southard for hosting me for a guest interview over at his blog! He had some good questions that made me think and some that made me laugh. Go check it out!

Meanwhile, I’m getting closer on publishing Best Martian Playlist, coming December 1, and working on an untitled Emma/Pride and Prejudice mashup. Good times!

Thanksgiving dishes and Jane Austen men… !

This post first appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on September 13, 2020 by Amanda Kai. I thought it was pretty great! Click here to read it in full.

Here in the United States, we are preparing for one of my favorite holidays coming up in a couple weeks: Thanksgiving!  Where I’m from, we have many traditions around this holiday involving gathering… Personally, I plan to watch the Macy’s parade, cook a big meal for my family, and after we’ve all stuffed ourselves, have an Austen movie marathon.  Which got me thinking, what if the Austen men were Thanksgiving dishes?  Now, there are a LOT of men in all of Austen’s books, so to keep it simple, I included the main leading men, the secondary leads, and the rakes, plus a couple others, for fun.  Austen wrote some very yummy male characters, and I just couldn’t help but compare them to some of my favorite foods.


Veggie tray- Mr. Elliot (Persuasion)

On the outset, it seems like a good option, right?  After all, veggies are healthy!  Until you realize that you’re adding all those extra calories by dipping everything in Ranch dip…not unlike the way Mr. Elliot turned out to be a real weasel.  Besides, who eats veggies on Thanksgiving with everything else there is?  Pass the mashed potatoes please!

Tossed salad- Mr. Elton (Emma)

Salad is another one of those dishes that likes to masquerade as a healthy option. And it can be– when it’s not loaded with fancy toppings and rich dressings.  Mr. Elton, too, initially looks like a decent catch, but his haughty attitude and petty behavior is no different than drowning a good bowl of veggies in bacon, cheese, fried toppings, and full-fat creamy dressing (though to be honest, that sounds pretty tasty!  Maybe I’m a closet Mrs. Elton…)

Ambrosia salad- Captain Benwick (Persuasion)

The flip-side to a Jell-O salad: an Ambrosia salad.  They come in many varieties, usually with different types of canned fruit, marshmallows, shredded coconut and whipped cream.  My sister-in-law makes an amazing one she calls “Heavenly Hash” that has maraschino cherries and pineapple in it, along with the other stuff, and we always beg for more!  Captain Benwick reminds me of this salad: chock full of sweetness and good things.  He’s a character that I wish we could have seen more of in the story.  I would have liked some scenes of him reading poetry to Louisa Musgrove.

Green bean casserole- Edward Ferrars (Sense and Sensibility)

A crunchy exterior of fried onions, but underneath, the mushy goodness of green beans and cream of mushroom.  Edward’s shy nature and untold secrets makes him a bit hard to get to know, but underneath that crust is a man with a soft nature and a heart of gold. Besides, aren’t the fried onions kind of the best part of the casserole anyways?

Deviled eggs- Mr. Wickham (Pride and Prejudice)

I remember my Nana used to make deviled eggs every year for Thanksgiving.  Perfectly hard-boiled, the insides scooped out and mixed with mayonnaise, mustard, and spices, then stuffed back in the egg whites and dusted with paprika.  Mr. Wickham’s one tasty devil too– charming to a T, handsome, but just waiting to give you trouble, like those eggs that have been sitting out way too long on the buffet counter, breeding salmonella…

There’s a ton more, plus all the pictures! Go decide what your favorites are and let me know. 🙂

Corrie

Best Martian Playlist — My Latest Sci-fi Story!

After finishing An Austen Ensemble, I was ready to venture back into the world of speculative fiction. I love carriages, phaetons, barouches, curricles, tumbrils, and farm wagons, and all the details that go along with historical novels, but I was more than ready to MAKE SOME STUFF UP by the time I was done.

So… Thus came about my near-future story on an underground Martian base (as I blow a kiss to Elon Musk!) which takes place on a single terrible day in the lives of two astronauts.

I just got the book back from my wonderful editor, Gabriella West over at Edit for Indies, so I am just whipping it into shape before publication. I am also learning how to use Adobe InDesign for covers, because writing a novel for NaNoWriMo this month was not enough. (I peer dubiously at the schedule written on my hand… Was this the plan?)

Anyway, cover and blurb to follow soon! But here’s an excerpt while I get things ready.

Thanks for reading,

Corrie

Best Martian Playlist

Tenacity Base, Tharsis Montes, Mars

“You should allow yourself to rest,” the AI assistant said, “as the vehicle is in crawl mode. You can close your eyes. Caleb is taking a surface walk to the solar array.”

Miranda half-reclined on the driver’s seat of one of the huge rovers, her feet propped on the locked steering wheel, her head tilted back. She stared at the line between the foil sheeting that partly coated the Martian tunnel and the raw rock beyond, her eyelids heavy. A few feet further and the tunnel disappeared into blackness. She tapped her tablet and spoke to the AI, Ero, through a painful yawn. “Shouldn’t I use the time he’s gone? You said you had a list of options…”

“Steps may be necessary today, but you’ll need to be rested. Shall I begin another album? I can make suggestions based on your profile.” Ero was originally one of Amazon’s proprietary personalities, so he was always trying to get them to try new music or binge-watch new series.

“No, just play the mix I listened to last night.” Miranda felt her shoulders ease and she relaxed for real, getting as comfortable as possible in the bucket chair as she sipped citrus-flavored water out of the tube in her suit. Her position would be ridiculously uncomfortable on Earth, but in the low Martian gravity, it was workable.

The tunnel was twenty feet tall; that was the current calibration on the digger machine that had gone through this tunnel first. And the walls, though still lined from the teeth of that machine, were relatively smooth, half-melted from the high heat that was used to fuse rock and dust into firm walls.

If the caves were natural, they’d be considered quite beautiful. Parts of the rock seemed to hang in long, vertical folds like the finest drapery on a Michelangelo statue.

The thick layers of magnetic foil sealed themselves to the magnetic crust of Mars and crinkled faintly as soft wheels pushed them into place. She could hear it in the pause between one of her songs and the next.

The rock wasn’t perfectly smooth, and the aluminum sheeting wasn’t shiny like kitchen foil, but Miranda could make out the wavy image of her own red and white insulated suit reflected back from the roof of the tunnel. Her reflection was surrounded by that of the huge maroon construction rover, which she affectionately called Ironman.

Miranda felt a sneeze coming and wiggled her nose futilely before sneezing three times in succession. She tried to point her face down to avoid splatter on her faceplate, but having just reclined, she didn’t entirely make it. Ugh…

Miranda released the double-locking ring at her neck with guilty pleasure, rotating it counterclockwise, and gratefully removed her helmet. These suits were streamlined, vastly improved from the first bulky EMU suits early astronauts wore, but a mask was still a mask.

Her hair was in a ratty ponytail, sweaty, and she used her hand to flick a little water from the reservoir tube over her face. She rubbed it over her forehead and cheeks with her gloved hand. Relief. Without the connection to the helmet, the purified air blew from an open valve past her neck. She used the tablet to shut off the suit and preserve its store of liquid oxygen.

With a low rumble, Ironman jolted sideways like a crab, repositioning further down the tunnel. Its spotlights illuminated the front and back rollers applying the foil sheeting up the walls and across the ceiling. Its flat center held the cylinders of aluminum foil like colossal rolls of metallic wrapping paper, and a large robotic arm slotted the next roll into place while magnetic clamps unwound a new section.

“You shouldn’t have your helmet off,” Caleb called down the tunnel.

Miranda flinched. As he came into the lights from Ironman, she saw he was suited in neon green, one of the upper-surface suits which were easier to spot on satellite or in the dark. “Shouldn’t you be at the array?”

“No. Ero just had me servicing tanks in the basin this afternoon.” He came down the tunnel like a lightning bug in the dim glow of her machine, his walk the weirdly bouncy one that they’d grown used to in Mars’s light gravity. His reflection bounced along with him on floor and ceiling as though he were skating on ice.

Miranda gripped the steering wheel, wondering why Caleb would lie, or if she truly was just going crazy.

With her helmet off, she couldn’t ask Ero, but even as she thought the question, her tablet lit up. A brief message from Ero read, “I apologize. I did not realize he chose to ignore the array assignment. Drones are recharging.”

Yeah, Ero would have told her if he knew Caleb was coming her way. She wished she could hit the gas on Ironman and drive away. Or maybe drive right over Caleb. “Do you need something?”

“Yeah. I need you to put your helmet on.”

Miranda used a rag to wipe her face shield before putting the helmet back on.

“Thanks,” Caleb said. “Ero’s telling me there are three new messages, but he won’t display them until you’re there.”

Astronaut in a space-suit looking at starry sky

My House is Me and I Am It: Musings On Austen and an Excerpt

(My post today from austenauthors.net)

My kids have a great picture book called, “The Big Orange Splot” that I took this title from because it fits so well the intimacy that homes and houses represent in Jane Austen’s books.

There’s Lizzy running into Darcy at Pemberley, arguably the best scene in any of the movies!Mr. Knightley walking into Emma’s house at all hours (plus the pivotal scene of his reprimand happening at his estate). Captain Wentworth’s sister moving into Anne Elliot’s house. The symbolism of Barton cottage compared to Norland Park. Jane spending several days of sickness at Netherfield…

It’s only practical, of course, that many scenes would be set at one or other of the character’s homes, but there’s definitely a sense that a new level of intimacy occurs when the love interest visits (or lives!) in their significant other’s home. This is particularly true with the more reserved characters. Bingley is friendly and gregarious, so we tend to feel that he and Jane would have been totally fine without that house visit. With Darcy, on the other hand, Lizzy starts to feel that she’s violating his privacy before they even get to Pemberley! Anne Elliot, as well, is quiet and introverted, and the knowledge that Frederick will be walking around her house is enough to make her (and my) heart flutter. Then there’s poor Fanny Price, essentially homeless as she fits neither with her uncle nor with her family, who ends up with only a single, cold room to call her own, which she eventually fills with her books and plants and personality. It’s the room where she feels safe, and of course, only Edmund is a welcome visitor, which makes it all the more painful when she must listen to him praise another woman there.

And beyond personal identity, there is also the fact that being in someone’s home creates uncomfortable intimacy. That’s the tension us romance readers crave, amirite? It’s the basis for so many romance tropes like arranged marriage or the governess angle. Leaving Jane Austen for a sec and moving to the Brontes, I don’t think any book did it better than Jane Eyre. No matter what you think of the romance, the fact that Jane can’t easily avoid Rochester forces her to face what she feels for him. Over and over.

Some people just call this angst, but I confess I can’t get enough of it in the romance books I read. I want to feel the heart of the character’s emotional dilemma, and nothing does that like being unable to escape their S.O.’s presence or the intimacy of having them in their home.

In that vein, here’s a short excerpt from the second of my Austen Ensemble series, A True Likeness. In this book, in the interest of using the “forced to live with your crush” trope, I made Georgiana’s love interest a portraitist, hired by Darcy and Bingley to paint Lizzy and Jane before the wedding.

Georgiana felt restless with her brother gone, and when she felt restless, she played the piano. This pianoforte, in Miss Bingley’s style, was noticeably fashionable. The wooden panels were decorated in the Chinese style, with strange shapes and patterns. The edges of the panels were lined with black, glossy wooden trim. The tone of the instrument was… well enough. Nothing to scoff at, but still not to compare with the sound of her pianoforte at Pemberley. That one was of plain blonde wood, well-crafted and perfectly toned, but nothing extraordinary to look at.

Mrs. Annesley slipped in with some white work in her hands and settled down across the room near the window.She played several scales and arpeggios, mindful that she had not truly practiced in many days. Eventually however, she let her hands go to her favorite pieces.

Georgiana didn’t immediately notice when another figure paused outside the door, not until he shifted. Then she saw Mr. Turner leaning against the door frame, listening.

She smiled a little and somehow, when one song led to another, found herself naturally playing her favorite pieces, even the romantic sonata she had played for Wickham.

As the notes fell like raindrops from the instrument, Georgiana felt that two paths were opening up before her. There was Mrs. Annesley, who represented everything peaceful and proper in her life: a woman Georgiana genuinely loved. Then there was Mr. Turner. He represented something else, something exciting, challenging, and profound.

Mrs. Annesley could not see him from where she sat, nor could Mr. Turner see her companion. Georgiana was balanced between the two. He did not enter the room but continued to lean against the threshold with his eyes shut, enjoying the music.

She loved his square face and smudged hands and broad shoulders. She loved his intense beliefs, his self-control, and his gentleness. She loved his art and skill and humility. She loved him.Georgiana loved him in that moment, but she knew she could not choose him. Her future, like every young lady, was not her own to give away. But her heart was hers, and she could acknowledge what she felt for Mr. Turner. For John. Because she was in love with him.

She would not fancy herself a tragic character—many women loved when there was no hope of marriage, or like her cousin Anne, chose to marry without love—but she was quietly glad to acknowledge it was real. It was far more real than the giddy infatuation Wickham had encouraged in her. Perhaps someday she would feel something like this for another man, and she would know it was worth pursuing…

Thanks for reading!

Corrie

“My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” – “The Big Orange Splot” by Daniel Pinkwater

Austen Authors… and me!

A little while ago I was contacted by one of the awesome ladies who runs Austen Authors, a group blog dedicated to all things Jane Austen, and she asked if I was interested in joining. Was I?? Absolutely!

The Pantiles, Royal Tunbridge Wells

As I was finishing my Austen Ensemble series–and obsessively checking details as I went–I’d often stumble upon helpful posts at Austen Authors and then use those to refine my searches and research. I already knew this was a lively and fun community so I pretty much couldn’t say yes fast enough!

And today I get to have my debut post over there! Since my first Ensemble book is set in Tunbridge Wells, a charming little town I knew nothing about, I focused on that for my first post. Go check it out!

Pride and Pantiles: A Jaunt to Tunbridge Wells

Free day for Manipulate, and a Jules Verne anthology

Manipulate SMALL slap a spaceship on it

The first ebook in my Alien Cadet series is free today (ends at midnight!) so grab a copy if you haven’t read it yet!

Also, I am excited to have a story included in an anthology celebrating 150 years since Jules Verne published his famous novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That book was published June 20, 1870, and it has inspired countless scientists, engineers, and explorers. And Captain Nemo, with his tragic past, murky motivations, and terrorist tendencies, is a conflicted (anti?) hero who honestly fits right in to our world in 2020!

20KLeagues_Front CoverThis anthology is full of stories that pay tribute to Nemo and/or his ship the Nautilus, and it’ll be available June 20, exactly 150 years to the day! You can pre-order now on Amazon.

In other news, I hope everybody is hanging in there with lockdowns and quarantine. In the US, it seems like a lot of places are opening up and I hope that will mean more jobs will return, and hopefully we have learned enough to control any major Covid-19 spikes! Here in Los Angeles, things are a little slower to open, so I will continue to sit tight with my four kids while we make mazes, sketch pretty doodles, or watch the Holderness channel and laugh.

Don’t forget to pre-order soon! Happy reading, everyone!

Corrie Garrett

 

Nine Ankle Fractures, or A Modern Fairy Story

My sister found this link to an old short story of mine, but it wasn’t working anymore, so here is the story! She wants a novel out of it, but I don’t know… would this be paranormal romance or what? Also, I think I gave away hundreds of copies of this story on Instafreebie a long time ago, so if it looks familiar to my readers, that’s probably where you saw it! I also flirted with starting a romance penname, but ultimately decided that was way too much to keep organized. Enjoy! -Corrie Garrett (a.k.a. Ann Lanmon)

FairyShoescoverflat

Nine Ankle Fractures

The worst day of my life started with a Christmas dress. I was only thirteen, and my mom had gotten me a new dress to wear to school, and to the ballroom dance lesson I had afterward. It was the last lesson of the year, and she wanted me to go ahead and enjoy the dress. If only I’d been the kind of kid who took up knitting or crossword puzzles instead of ballroom dance (with parents who weren’t living kindly and vicariously through my activities), I could have just worn my pretty dress to school and avoided a whole world of unpleasantness. Unfortunately, I wasn’t and I didn’t, and now here I am nine years later going to another lesson. It’s table tennis this time. I have no life.

My roommate grunted when my alarm went off and flipped her hair over her face so the light wouldn’t get in her eyes. My lesson is at eight a.m. which, on a Monday, is like waking in the middle of the night. Especially as a senior. I am so done with early morning classes.

I’d taken table tennis this semester purely to get my physical education credit so I can graduate in the spring, and because archery was canceled. (I like sports where you keep your feet still.) Now the semester is almost over, and I’ve got three finals to prepare for, plus my table tennis final. (Yes, I am wicked prepared for adult life.)

The athletics building is usually overheated, so I slipped on shorts under my sweats before I go out. It hasn’t snowed yet, but it’s still too cold, particularly when I come straight outside from my warm bed. The campus is gray and foggy this morning, though the mist will burn off by mid-morning. It’s vaguely shocking how many people are already up this early – jogging or going to breakfast before class. Do people still do that? I’ve been here too long.

After about six weeks in this P.E. class, one of the assistant coaches offered to give me a few one-on-one lessons to help me find a work around for my disability.

Usually when a coach or gym teacher gets to this point I politely decline their help, letting them off the hook. Most of them are busy anyway, and don’t need the bother of helping one more moderately disabled student achieve subpar results. And usually they give me an ‘A’ for effort and leave it at that.  But this assistant coach who was teaching my class…. Well, he’s hot, okay? He’s not dating anybody, as I’d discretely ascertained, only a few years older than me, and funny. I’d been having a great time in his class, despite being bad at it.

In short, I was not opposed to a few extra lessons. We’d met once a week for the last month or two (the only reason I was willing to get up this early as a senior). Sadly, Phil hadn’t shown the least interest in me. He was friendly, we had a great time… and then he always said, “Have a great week, Kara. See you later.” Huzzah.

I know I should be more bold if I’m interested in somebody… but that didn’t work out for me so well the one time I tried it.

Phil was already waiting for me this morning. Well, waiting sounds passive and he was actually bouncing a ping pong ball against the far wall. What do you call it when someone can’t sit still and starts playing a game with a wall? Sparring? Volleying? (Seriously, what is it with sports people? They’re always in motion.)

I watched him bounce the tiny ball one more time before he caught it. Although he was good at it, you could tell table tennis was one of the least active things he did – you didn’t get built like that by fiddling with a paddle.

He grinned at me. “Five minutes early, that’s the spirit.”

“Am I? My clock might be fast.”

He handed me a paddle and reminded me of the pointers we’d learned in class on returning a serve. “Pretend you’re clearing the table, see? Swipe it across and imagine you’re knocking every last thing on the floor. Or this way… yes, harder, push the air out of your way like water… okay!

“Now for your feet… Let’s have you keep your feet planted today, to limit your ankle movement, but if you’re feeling firm, you can shift carefully. Normally that’s not… well, the way to compensate for limited footwork is to play further back. Let the ball come to you; you don’t lunge for it. It’s a more conservative game, but you can work it.”

I planted my feet as he indicated, and he went to the other side of the table, starting with a nice, slow serve.

We volleyed comfortable three or four times before the ball spun towards my left edge. I was so focused on the ball, I stutter-stepped left and went down on one knee.

“Woah, you okay? That’s what I’m talking about. You could let that one go, keep your feet planted.” He came around to check my ankle.

I pulled myself up with a hand on the table, “Right, I forgot, sorry.”

He stared at my legs, not (sadly) in an admiring way, but the way everybody with any knowledge of physical therapy stares at my legs – with frustration and doubt. The problem was that they could almost identify what was wrong, it lingered intuitively on the edge of their understanding, but it didn’t make any rational sense, so they never quite got there.

Which brings me to the worst day of my life: That rainy day in December with the dress.

I was at my ballroom dance class with about ten other kids from school, and I was dancing with Robert, the teacher’s son. He was fifteen and a good sport about filling in as his mother’s assistant sometimes. He was a fantastic dancer (possibly gay, we suspected), and whenever I danced with him I was suddenly ten times better than normal. When you’re thirteen that is some heady stuff.

Well, we were talking and I was sort of flirting with him that day (also heady) and his mother kept shooting me odd looks. She was an extremely elegant and polished woman. The kind whose exquisitely tight top knot gives them a temporary facelift. Robert ignored her looks and I mostly did until the end of class. I was putting my warm snow shoes back on for the walk home when I realized Robert and his mom were arguing.

I was the last student left. Robert was leaning against the piano, but his body language said he was mad, and their voices were getting louder. Awkward.

I walked as inconspicuously as possible toward the door, but suddenly she turned to me and pointed.

“May your feet be cased in iron!” she said in a ringing voice. “And may you never dance again.”

“No!” Robert said. “She’s perfect.”

“It’s done,” his mother said. Her face was pearly white beneath her black hair and Robert’s face was as gray as the clouds outside.

I stared at them. “Um. Okay. Sorry.” When in doubt, apologize. That’s always been my standard response, but in retrospect I sure wish I could take that one back.

I stumbled out the door, not quite processing the fact that my feet were not working right. I was on the sidewalk trudging home before I could think through what she said. I think when you see a fairy lose control it sends you into shock.

Anyway, when I came out of the mental fog, I realized that I could barely walk. My calf muscles were burning and my feet were dragging. I stopped on the sidewalk, breathing heavily. I was outside of a laundromat, and the short winter day had already turned dark. I looked at my reflection in the lit window of the store, and that’s when I saw them.

Iron shoes. Under my black velvet skirt, my feet seemed to be incased in clunky, old-fashioned ladies’ shoes (with lots of buttons) made of metal. I reached my hand down gingerly to touch them, but felt only my thick athletic socks and snow boots. But my reflected fingers were touching the top of heavy, iron shoes.

Well.

Two near drownings, seven ankle fractures, and nine years later – I’m standing at the ping pong table and watching Phil frown at my feet.  I shifted back into place and he looked up at me, forcing his frown away. My ‘disability’ makes no sense to people, because they can’t see what’s weighing my feet down. My legs are strong and toned (lifelong resistance training, woo!), but it makes my clumsiness look that much more odd.

I’ve learned to compensate for my ‘disability’ quite well, for the most part. (I don’t swim, for instance.) But quick, small moves of my feet can still trip me up, particularly if I’m concentrating on something else, like slapping a tiny ball with a paddle.

Large motions are actually easier. A step is easier than a slide, and a lunge is easier than a shift. Tiptoeing is out of the question. I obviously never danced again. Robert and his mother disappeared that same week with no explanation.

Phil smiled. “Right. Let’s try again.”

After half an hour my serve was actually improving, and I was getting better at gauging which balls to let go, and which to swing at. I hadn’t moved my feet much, which was always a plus.

“You’ve made some great progress this semester,” Phil said finally. “We want to stop while you’re ahead, or else you’ll get tired and start engraving mistakes.” In class he was always talking about ‘engraving’ perfect moves and ‘deep practice’ and ‘focused reps.’ I found his enthusiasm endearing, though usually I’m a rather cynical person. (I can’t imagine why.)

“Since it’s our last lesson, want to go grab breakfast?” he asked. “I didn’t really eat yet and I was going over to Moody’s.” Moody’s was a campus café, a popular alternative to the cafeteria.

I subdued a high-pitched squeal. “Sure. That’d be great. What do you like there?”

He held the door from the rec room open for me. “If Marie is working she’ll throw together a great Reuben sandwich. Sauer kraut is good for you.”

“Eh, but for breakfast?”

“You can have eggs any time of day. A good Reuben is a thing of beauty.”

I grimaced as we skirted a basketball court where two guys played. “Sauer kraut isn’t my favorite, gives you such bad breath.  I mean, not you, personally– ”

“Hey, heads up!” one of the guys yelled.

From the corner of my eye I saw a basketball flying toward my head. I instinctively raised my hands, which was good, but I also instinctively tried to pivot towards the ball, which was not. My weighted feet moved badly, tangled – and I fell to the ground with a grinding pain in my left ankle. And the ball still hit me in the head. Typical.

Phil squatted next to me. “You alright?”

I winced. “Mostly.” He gave me a hand up, and I awkwardly got to my feet, putting most of my weight on my right foot. I tried to step and… “Shoot.”

“Your left ankle?” Phil lifted my foot up gently and I put a hand on the wall to keep my balance. He twisted it carefully one way and then the other. “Tell me when it hurts too much.”

“It’s – ouch, right there. Another sprain,” I told him. “I’m used to it.”

The basketball guy stood hesitantly nearby. “Really sorry,” he said. “Bad luck.”

I tried to shrug it off. “Not your fault, I have bad ankles.” And bad feet. Stupid, jealous fairies.

Phil’s hands felt cool against my ankle as he set my foot down. “Let’s go to the clinic. They store all the athletic gear there and I can get a wrap for your ankle.”

“Right.” I started to hop in that direction, but Phil laughed. He unceremoniously picked me up, under my knees and behind my back, and started carrying me back the way we’d come.

“Oh, hey, it’s okay, I can hobble in there.” Not that being carried wasn’t everything I wanted it to be… because it totally lived up to its reputation. Nothing makes you feel small and feminine like being carried, and Phil carried me really well.

“It’s no problem. I helped carry Marcus off the field during our last football game, you know, and you’re a lot lighter than him. Anyway, it’s just around the corner.” He smiled and I admired his chin which was most of what I could see of his face from this angle.

He backed through the clinic door, to avoid banging my head on the doorjamb, and set me carefully on a bench. For a moment we made eye contact, our faces only inches away. The silence in the room rang like a tuning fork, and I felt a tingle in my back.

Then Phil blinked and straightened up, looking bemused. He turned his back to me and started rummaging through a drawer.

“There’s, uh, some ace bandages or… an ankle brace might be better. But these are too big…” He muttered disjointedly, sorting through the supplies.

Eventually he turned back to me, his smile and composure back in place. “Sorry, you’d think I’d never dealt with a sprained ankle before. Here we go.”

I slipped my sock and tennis shoe off and he gave me an ace bandage and a couple butterfly clips.

“You should get this checked with your doctor this week,” he said. He looked up after helping me secure the end. I swear, the silent-tuning-fork thing happened again, and we both vibrated in the stillness. And then he leaned forward and kissed me.

Only for a moment, seriously half a second, and then he jerked back. “Wow. Sorry. I shouldn’t – we probably shouldn’t even be alone in here. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

He sort of blindly shoved some crutches in my direction. “I’ll just be in the hall if you need help.”

I sat still for a second, savoring the moment, even the tension in my stomach. This wasn’t my first kiss, but it was the first time I’d been kissed as an adult, by another adult… who I really, really liked.

I shortened the crutches and got to my feet. I was very good at these. In fact, I had my own crutches stored under my bed, so I could return these before I left for Christmas. Maybe I could still go to breakfast with Phil, and then maybe… I planted the crutches and swung forward with my good foot.

I almost fell over. Oh. My. Goodness. I strangled a yell of excitement.

Was it possible…?

I flopped back down on the bench and stared at my feet. I pointed my toes. It still hurt, but who cared? I lifted my good foot and then my hurt one. They were so light. I’d forgotten what it felt like not to have invisible weights pulling me down. I felt like I could fly, like I could float, like I could dance…

A boy appeared next to me. Like, right out of thin air, teleportation. He was handsome and pale and I would have recognized him anywhere. I’d replayed that scene so often in my head.

“Robert?” I gasped.

He took in my crutches and my expression and a smile lit his too beautiful face. (I hadn’t exaggerated that in my adolescent mind, as I’d sometimes wondered.)

“I made a note to find you, when you were free.” He took my hand. “Will you dance with me?”

“Will I dance – ?” I stuttered.

“With me?”

“With you?” I seemed to be afflicted with repetition.

Phil pushed the swinging door open, “Are you okay? Did you say something?”

He looked right at me, his eyes didn’t even flicker in Robert’s direction. I looked between the two of them and he still didn’t look. Phil clearly didn’t see him.

“I – Just a second.”

The door swung shut and Robert pursed his lips together.

“I see,” he said. “How predictable of Mother.”

He touched my lips with his fingers and I jerked my head away. “Don’t touch me.”

“You’ve been marked.” He sighed. “You would have been perfect. Goodbye, Kara.”

He disappeared as fast as he’d come, and I came as near as I’ve ever come to fainting. Fairies are freaking overwhelming, they sort of suck the oxygen out of the room.

When I finally pulled myself together and came out, Phil was still waiting in the hall.

“Look, I apologize. I was really out of line. I could lose my job for this. Not that I’m telling you not to report me – I mean, if you feel you need to, I understand. But I don’t want you to think… I mean, I’m not some grabby coach that harasses students. I really didn’t mean to take advantage of you.”

I stopped him with a hand to his arm. “It’s fine. It’s – let’s just forget about it, and go get breakfast. What do you say?”

He looked uncomfortable. “Thanks, but I… I should go get some work done. See you later.”

He walked away, calling back over his shoulder, “Don’t forget to go see your doctor.”

Well. Our university had had some issues with coaches a few years ago. Nothing like the horror stories you read sometimes, but I guess Phil had suddenly gotten cautious.

I did go see my local doctor, and he gave me some pain killers for my ankle. It was a little anti-climactic, as apparently the life-changing transformation I’d experienced wasn’t immediately obvious to him. I tried to explain that I really thought something was different, but he just urged me to be cautious. Whatever. I knew I was free and I knew why.

I went to my table tennis final the next Wednesday and Phil gave me a vague smile, without meeting my eyes. He took roll while the actual teacher paired us up and told us to start playing. He would observe and give us a final grade based on our effort, improvement, blah, blah, blah. He didn’t match me up with anyone.

Phil also wandered through the tables as he usually did, though he didn’t give pointers, since everyone was supposed to show what they’d learned. Eventually he got to me, where I was leaning against the wall with my crutches.

“You don’t have to stay for this,” he said. “I marked you present, but there’s really no point since you can’t play. I explained to Coach Burnett about your sprain.”

“I know. I thought I’d just hang around and watch. Someday I’m going to be good at this game.”

He looked at me quizzically. I’d never shown any incredible enthusiasm for table tennis, and my confidence probably seemed nuts considering his knowledge of my ‘handicap.’

“Um… well, can’t fault that attitude.” He gave me a slightly less awkward smile. “When you’re off the crutches, we’ll see what you can do.”

I grinned at him and he grinned back, briefly, before he remembered that he was flirting with me and walked away.

I leaned against the wall, smiling like a fool, and feeling the freedom in my feet. It was the feeling of a broken curse. And if I knew anything about fairy tales, this meant one thing for sure:

Phil was totally my man, he just didn’t know it yet.

After an hour, when everybody was slipping sweats and coats back on, I crutched my way over to the door. He was saying goodbye to a couple students and I waited until he was done.

“Hey, I have a favor to ask. I need to move a few things to my car before I take off this afternoon. Would you mind giving me a hand?”

Yes, I was totally playing the injured, helpless girl card. Go ahead and judge me. But if he was at all interested in me, he wouldn’t mind…

“Oh. Sure. I do have some time now. Is your stuff packed up?”

Ha. Take that. “Yeah, that’d be great.”

I can’t say I pushed my crutching skills hard during that walk. It was starting to snow, so I did need to be careful, but I may have gone slower than I needed. It usually took me about six minutes to walk to my dorm and we took at least a quarter of an hour. Phil was talkative and friendly as ever, but he kept glancing off to his right, as if something was bothering him.

“Everything okay?”

“Um, yeah. Fine.”

In my room, he hoisted the box I needed and grabbed the handle of my suitcase. “So, where are you headed for Christmas?” he asked.

“Back to Maine, my parents live in Augusta.”

“Nice. There’s great skiing up there. I went with some friends a couple years ago. Oh. But I guess skiing’s not your favorite activity.” He smiled apologetically. Then he glanced behind him again.

Seriously, what was that about? “No, not really. Too cold anyway. I’d like to learn to scuba-dive, actually. Sort of the opposite.”

“I don’t know, I think the opposite of skiing is hiking. Scuba-diving is the opposite of… parasailing?”

“That works. But what’s the opposite of table tennis?”

He laughed. “That’s a hard one. Maybe bowling?” He put the box on the hood of my car while I unlocked it. “I’m teaching a bowling class next semester at the local alley, should be fun.”

“Yeah.” I clicked the trunk open and he moved my things into it, slamming it shut.

“You going anywhere for Christmas?” I asked.

“My sister’s place,” he answered shortly, glancing behind him. “Um… I couldn’t help but notice that guy watching us. All the way from the gym. Is he… is that why you asked for my help?”

I searched behind him in surprise. “What guy?”

“Right there. Black hair. Twilight-y.”

I snickered though it wasn’t entirely funny. That guy had ruined my life. Up to now.

“Oh, him. No, that’s not why I asked for your help… but, it doesn’t hurt either.”

I smiled at Phil and he looked at me, still concerned I could tell. What a good guy. If I was every going to be bold, this would be a great moment for it. “Um. If you wanted to make sure he knows to back off, that’d be really awesome.”

I saw it click, and he smiled. “I could probably do that.”

He kissed me again, and when I briefly looked over his shoulder, Robert was gone.

***

The second best day of my life began the day after we got married, when Phil gave me my first scuba-diving lesson on our honeymoon. Fairy tales are not what they’re cracked up to be, but personal training totally is.

THE END…