The Meeting #JensSecret #ShortStory #Series

Our short story series continues. I hope you’re enjoying Jen’s Secret as much as I am! Don’t forget to read PART 1 and PART 2 before you dive in. Enjoy!

♥♥♥

The quiet unnerves me as I toss and turn, each movement causing the metal springs of the mattress to squeak, which along with the whir of the ceiling fan is the only thing that breaks the silence. I sigh and open my eyes, giving up on the sleep I desperately need and shuffle over to open the patio door. I take a deep breath and let my eyes skim over the shimmering aqua blue pool. A strong breeze rustles the towering palm trees along the back fence of Mrs. Posada’s property and wind chimes create a tinkling melody, relaxing the tension from my shoulders.

These moments of peace seem stolen. Whenever I feel them, guilt swiftly follows. The brief peace I sometimes get is probably far less than that motherless child who’s been haunting me for years ever has. I bite my lip and wrap my arms around myself. I force myself to think of the barbecue we’ll have when the girls get home from church. One of Mrs. Posada’s grandchildren wants a pool party for her birthday. I imagine the squeals and laughter only children in a pool on a hot day can produce. It brings a smile to my face. But it quickly fades as other horrible thoughts enter my mind.

I know sleep won’t find me now. I probably should have gone to church with Mrs. Posada and the girls. I know she took them because she thought she was doing me a favor by giving me time to rest, but time alone is the last thing I need. My plans of sleeping in, taking time to bathe without rushing and actually reading a book dissipate. I know what I need to do. Maybe today I can get one step closer to it.

♥♥♥

Taking an Uber for anything other than grocery shopping feels like an unnecessary luxury to me. But what I want to do today is necessary, so I shake off the guilt and hop in the car. Thankfully, the driver is not a chatter. He asks me what I like to listen to and that’s pretty much the only thing he says. We cruise up PCH listening to a pop station that has an affinity for Taylor Swift. I look out the window, watching the scenery change from electic store fronts to clean modern boutiques, always with glimpses of the sea peeking through between buildings.

Soon, the spaces between buildings get larger and larger, until we’re winding up narrow two lane highways with cliffs on one side, and the wide expanse of the Pacific on the other. The wind from the open car windows whips my hair around. I can almost let myself forget where I’m going; almost let myself get caught up in the spirit of possibility a drive along the ocean brings.

Almost.

It’s not until we pull off the highway that my anxiety returns. The Uber stops at the restaurant I picked as my destination, and I ease out of the car, already feeling out of place on this busy street full of trendy shops, an art gallery, a yoga studio, a community garden. To keep up appearances I head inside a juice bar/bakery, though I doubt if the driver is thinking twice about me. I duck into the restroom and try to pull myself together. I wet my hands and run my fingers through my hair, trying to tame the frizz that the wind created. I smooth the long white t-shirt I’m wearing and pick lint off my black stretch pants. I roll the sleeves of my gray cardigan up and finger the simple gold-plated jewelry at my throat and ears. I spare a glance at the printed gray Nike’s I bought at the thrift store last week. Had some part of me known that I would do this after the breakdown I had at work? Why else would I go out of my way to put together a typical suburban housewife ensemble?

I swallow and close my eyes against the sudden dizziness that overwhelms me. I’m come too far to back down now. Besides, today is not about anything except satisfying my own bizarre need to see who she is, how she lives, what her life is like after…well, just after.

Enough of this.

I stroll out of the restroom with calculated casualty and stop to buy a bottled water. The clerk says it’s $4.99. I wish I would pay that much for 16 ounces of H20! I politely put it back and duck into a 7-11 across the street. My ‘disguise’ complete I walk about a mile into a residential neighborhood lined with an interesting combination of new modern mansions and standard 1950’s stucco houses. Regardless of size, all of the lawns are manicured and well maintained.

There are a lot of things you can learn from internet sleuthing. These days, hoards of people put a play by-play of their every waking moment online. She’s not quite that bad, but she did post a copy of her daughter’s birthday party invitation last year, her address displayed for the world to see. She probably didn’t think twice about it, but I did. When I saw it, I knew I didn’t have any excuse for not doing the right thing. Not that I ever did.

I power walk past the house, moving like I’m out for exercise. But I take in the robin’s egg blue shutters, the large two-story white stucco with bay windows and perennials in the yard. It’s picture perfect, and I know instantly that something like what I did was not ever supposed to happen to someone like her. Someone who lives in a house like that, who’s brave enough to have another child after losing one in such a tragic way, who manages to go on with her life and plant flowers, and plan birthday parties.

Someone who posts a picture of her baby boy every year and vows to find the person who ran him down in cold blood.

I turn the corner, my breath coming in short spurts. It’s not from the walking. I do that everyday. It’s the shock. He should be riding his bike up and down this very street, living the life he was meant to have. I make myself keep moving. What did I expect to accomplish by doing this? Did I think torturing myself by learning the details of her life would make a difference? For three years I’d obsessed over her life on social media, wishing I had the courage to give her the answers she wants so badly. Wishing that I could give her what she deserves, while also giving my daughters what they need.

But I can’t. It’s impossible. Still, I circle the block, go back for more. When I turn the corner, there’s a car pulling into the driveway. Without thinking, I quicken my pace, timing it so that I approach as she exits the SUV and circles around to her trunk. She pushes a button that lifts the hatch and glances up right as my foot turns beneath me. The last thing I see as I hit the ground is the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant smile of neighborly friendliness before her expression changes to horror as she hurries towards me.

♥♥♥

 

Things happen quickly after that. She’s by my side in an instant, her hands on my arm and my back as she helps me sit up. The concrete burns beneath me, hot from the sun that’s been warming it all day, but her hands are like fire. Through the fabric of my shirt, they scorch my skin and my conscience. She’s helping me. The realization of how absolutely wrong that is propels me to my knees where I awkwardly attempt to stand by putting all of my weight on my good foot.

“Stan!” She booms. For a tiny woman, she’s got a commanding voice. Almost instantly, a large man races out of the house. It’s just like the stereotypes on TV. She’s delicate and petite. He’s big and brawny. “Help me get this poor lady in the house.”

He lifts me to my feet, or really, foot, like it’s nothing as she hurries ahead to hold the door open. His help, I can tolerate. Barely. He supports my weight as I hobble and try to stand.

I dust my clothes off and stammer, “I’m fine. Really. I’ll just head home and put some ice on it.” I say it in a way that makes it seem as though I live down the street.

She stops holding the door. “Well, at least let us give you a ride home. You’re in no shape to make it back the way you came.”

Briefly, I consider letting them drive me to some random house and waving them off before I get to the door. But I can tell that they aren’t the kind of people to drive off until I’m safely inside. And she’d probably come by the next day with some gift, trying to check on me. The thought makes me sick. For her to do anything for me…it just turns my stomach. “Really, I’m fine. See?” I put my bad foot down and grimace through the pain that shoots up my ankle.

“Poor thing, you’re trembling. Come inside and sit down for a few moments. Please.”

And with that one word from her, this women who should never be in a position to plead with me for anything, I lean against her husband and allow him to guide me inside.

♥♥♥

Say whaaattt? What do you think Jen’s motives are in spying on the woman whose child she accidentally killed? Remorse? Guilt? Obsession? All of the above? I promise y’all I’m learning about all of this at the same time you are. I just show up and write! I can’t wait to see where this story takes us next. 

 

©Faith Simone 2018

Advertisement

Tuesday Morning #RandomActsofKindness #ShortStory

I thought I’d do something a little different today and share a short story!  I hope you find it entertaining, as well as inspirational. 

♥♥♥

21 cents. That’s exactly how much money…um change, I have in my bank account. The relief I feel at the fact that I’m not in the negative is short lived as I push the button on the side of my phone that makes the screen go black. Thank God for free wi-fi hot spots, or I wouldn’t even have been able to get online. My phone’s been cut off for over a week. I stuff it in my pocket as the bus pulls to a stop in front of me, sending a whoosh of hot air and exhaust fumes my way. I force a smile at Jerry, the kind, always joking bus driver as I climb the steps and slide my pass through the card reader at the top of the stairs.

“G’morning, Jen. Did you hear the one about the donuts?” he booms, with a grin as I clear the final step.

I pause next to his seat. “No, but I guess I’m about to.”

“A pile of donuts went out to the club last night. A fight broke out and when the dust settled, one of them was detained by the police . The cops asked him what happened to his buddies and the donut says, ‘ I do-nut remember a thing!'”

I shake my head and walk away as Jerry bellows with laughter. He’s so corny, I can’t help but chuckle despite how juvenile his jokes are. He did succeed in making me forget about my problems, if only for a second, and I think that was his goal.

I find a window seat and sink down into it as I stare out at the storefronts whizzing by. Most of them are still closed, as night slowly gives way to dawn. It’s gray and dreary, due to the fog rolling in off of the Pacific, which perfectly matches my mood. I try not to nod off, but after being on my feet for the last eight hours stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, I can’t help myself. I never fall asleep on anybody’s bus but Jerry’s. I know he’ll look out for me, so I let my eyes drift shut, succumbing to the bone weary tiredness that only working two full-time jobs can bring.

♥♥♥

I feel something hit my shoulder and jerk awake, my breath catching as my eyelids stick together each time I blink. The woman who shook me retracts her arm and gestures with her head towards the front of the bus. I catch Jerry’s eye in his rear view mirror, offering a smile. He winks and nods, acknowledging my thanks. I gather my purse, an unnecessary accouterment if there ever was one, and hustle down the steps of the exit doors at the rear of the bus. Wind and salt air hit me in the face. The sun is rising over the ocean and I would love the luxury of having enough time to lean over the guard rails lining the cliff, to just take in all that beauty. But I can’t, I have responsibilities that trump admiring the divinity of an ocean sunrise on a foggy morning.

I speed walk the five blocks home, grateful that one perk of getting off work from my second job at 5 AM is that there are no men loitering around waiting to harass me. I guess they’re all somewhere sleeping it off at this hour. I stop in front of a Spanish style adobe house, two stories, with plants and flowers overflowing from the windows and hedges. Two benches flank the front door, and I sit down on one of them. I do this every day. Take a moment to breathe before I step into another role in the full roster of people I have to be in order to survive.

The minute’s up, so I drag to my feet, head up the long driveway, through the huge patio area, around the pool to the converted garage apartment I’ve rented for the last three years. The owner, Mrs. Posada, is a widow who was forced to turn her guest house into a source of income after she learned that her husband left her swimming in debt. It was the only way she could save her home, and I’ve never been so happy for someone else’s misfortune. She’s the reason I’m able to work the hours I do without going insane. She looks in on my girls, and it gives me, if not peace of mind, asylum from constant worry.

I close the door softly behind me. I don’t know why I bother, I’ll have to wake them up in a minute anyway. But those few seconds when I see the three of them all tangled up together on the pull-out sofa bed are what keep me going. Jasmine, my middle girl, sleeps with reckless abandon, arms akimbo, mouth wide open, drooling and snoring softly. Teresa, my oldest, sleeps on her side, her arm draped protectively over her sisters. And my baby, Sienna, sleeps on her stomach, butt in the air, exactly the way she has since she was born.

My heart aches with the love I have for them, but also the shame I feel for what I cannot give them. They deserve so much more than what I have to offer. I shake my head and squeeze my eyes shut to stop the tears from starting. I don’t have the luxury of crying.  I skirt the bed where my sleeping angels rest (they’re only angels when they’re asleep, any mother will tell you that), and step into the kitchen to see what I can make them for breakfast. The pantry holds a few canned goods, some hot dog buns and a box of rice. My shoulders sink. I thought we had a canister of oatmeal to tide us over until I get paid in a couple of days. I check the fridge, knowing that I won’t find much there, either. A chunk of moldy cheese, and a jar of salsa.

I’m a failure as a mother. What kind of person can’t plan ahead enough to make sure they have enough money to feed their kids? It doesn’t matter that I’ve been juggling bills so much that I lost track of an automated draft that came out of my checking account to keep the lights on. Or that the payroll department at the daycare where I work during the day miscalculated my hours, shorting my last paycheck an entire day’s wages; which caused me to incur overdraft fees that ate up my meager funds even though they issued me a check to make up the difference the next day. Or that Sienna caught a bug at pre-school which meant I had to take her to the doctor and pay out-of-pocket for expensive antibiotics.  A responsible person would have a savings account for times like these. How I’m supposed to save when I have to use every penny to survive, I’ll never know.

No time for pity or anger at the fact that I didn’t make these kids by myself, and therefore shouldn’t be taking care of them alone, either. I think fast and decide to toast the hot dog buns and cook some canned peaches on the stove with sugar to make a sort of jelly. Jasmine will complain and I’ll snap at her, even though I won’t mean to. Sienna will refuse to eat at all, and Teresa will not only eat it, but will compliment me on my cooking and clean up, too. No 10-year-old should be that accommodating, but I keep telling myself I’ll worry about that later.

I’ve just turned the flame on under the peaches when I hear Mrs. Posada’s lilting accent over the intercom. The girls stir, rubbing their eyes and yawning as I press my ear to the antiquated intercom. I press the talk button and yell, “What was that, Mrs. Posada?”

Her response comes back crackling through the speaker, “I said, my grandchildren spent the night and I made too much food for breakfast. I saw you just got home. You and the girls come on over.”

The tears I’ve been holding back all morning finally spill over. I’m weak with relief and gratitude. I wipe my eyes and take a deep breath. “We’ll be right up.”

People like Jerry and Mrs. Posada will never know how much their random acts of small kindnesses can make the biggest difference in the lives of those they touch.

♥♥♥

 

My goal with this little story is to cause everyone who reads it to think about the ways that they can make a difference through simple acts of kindness. You never know what the people you see in passing are going through, nor the impact you can make in their lives. 

Also, we may be seeing a little more of Jen and her girls in the future. Stay tuned!

 

 

© Faith Simone 2018

5 Simple Ways to Increase Your Blog Traffic

I wrote this how-to article initially as a guest post for my girl, Nigeria Lockley.  But, I recently stumbled across it in my computer files, while putting together my  writing portfolio for my new freelancing business. If you haven’t checked out my freelancing services, what in the world are you waiting for? In the meantime, my advice on increasing your blog traffic is still relevant two years later. Enjoy!


Blogging is not for the faint of heart, but it doesn’t have to be super difficult either. At its root, blogging is intended for two things: sharing a person’s personal thoughts on a variety of subjects and connecting with others. That’s it in a nut shell. But we all know that many folks use their blogs as a way to sell products, make a living by working with sponsors and/or building a platform for future endeavors. So whether your goal is to make connections, money or both, you need a steady flow of traffic from online visitors. Here are a few ways to help make that happen.

BE CONSISTENT–Nothing alienates a following more than posting inconsistently. Whether you post daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly do it regularly. The best practice is to clearly state your posting habits on your blog near your subscribe button. But keep in mind that you should under promise and over deliver.

PRODUCE GREAT CONTENT–They say knowledge is power, and blogging about subjects you’re an expert in is a great way to build, and keep, a solid audience. Invest time in researching and sharing relevant content on a regular basis. You should also focus on being entertaining. Plenty of blogs generate a lot of traffic simply because the blogger shares their personal life on a regular basis. If you have an engaging personality and you’re able to translate that with pictures and writing, you have all you need to keep people coming back for more!

TAG YOUR POSTS CORRECTLY–Neglecting to take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) is something many bloggers overlook. Tagging your posts with key words consistently is a great way to put you at the top of Google and other search engines. For example, if you blog about easy quick food recipes, it’s probably a good idea to tag all your posts with the words ‘food’ and ‘recipes’. Then add specifics like ‘easy’, ‘enchiladas’, ‘30 minute meals’, etc. Do this often enough and your blog will be one of the first to populate in specific searches. When I first started blogging I Googled my name and I wasn’t even on the top few pages of the results. Then I started tagging every single post with ‘Faith Simone’. Now, my blog posts span the first couple of pages for that search. It works, try it!

COMMENTS–One sure way to increase traffic and comments is to comment on other blogs. Especially blogs that cover similar information to yours. Bloggers love comments like a mother loves her kids. I’m serious. Bloggers spend time and effort producing content for their blogs and usually don’t get a whole lot of feedback for it. A thoughtful comment makes a blogger’s heart sing. It means that not only is someone actually reading their content, but they took time to respond intelligently to it. Do this often enough and you’re on your way to building a sincere relationship with the blogger whose posts you comment on and with their loyal followers. Keep in mind that comments like ‘Great post!’ won’t fly. Be sincere and only comment when you have something meaningful to contribute.

SHARING– I was late to the party on this one, but I’m so glad that I recently came to understand the gift of sharing content. Taking just a minute to share a great post by a fellow blogger on Twitter or Facebook is an awesome way to build a relationship with fellow bloggers. Plus, it gives your social media followers access to more great content. It’s also reciprocal. Once you share a blogger’s content they’re more likely to share yours. You’re both helping each other reach new audiences. Sharing is indeed caring.

So that’s it folks: consistence, good content, effective tagging, sincere comments and social media sharing. Put those elements into practice and watch your visitor stats grow!


Are you a blogger/influencer? How do you drive traffic to your blogs and social media posts?

 

Confessions of Faith: How I Fell Into (And Got Out Of) The Comparison Trap

The other day, I came across this post by one of my writer friends on Instagram.

Screenshot_2016-04-05-19-04-34

And then, last week, I came across this AMAZING blog on identity by my good friend Simone. Seriously, click the link. You’ll thank me later.

They both spoke to me and reminded me of a time not too long ago when I fell into the horrible habit of comparing myself to others. I thought I had kicked that nasty pesky inclination in high school. But there it was again, rearing its ugly head in my 30’s.

And this time, it wasn’t about anything superficial like my looks or fashion sense. This was intense and deeply personal. This time I was comparing my God-given talent for writing to other authors. This time, the whole situation was personal.

I’m the type of person who is genuinely happy when good things happen to other people. I don’t have a hateful bone in my body. The way I see it, if God did it for them, He will certainly do it for me. So don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t mad at them for succeeding. I was mad at myself for not doing all that I thought I was supposed to be doing.

You see, I kept thinking that having one full length novel published wasn’t good enough. My author buddies were putting out books left and right, and I was still struggling through the first draft of my sophomoric effort. I kept thinking ‘what’s wrong with me?’

When comparison takes root, despondency is not far behind it. I went from wondering how other authors were able to do so much, to beating myself up for not doing enough, to wondering if I’m really cut out for this author thing after all.

That’s when God’s counsel stepped in and told me in no uncertain terms to pump my breaks. Who did I think I was questioning His plan and His pace? How dare I even consider neglecting my gift simply because things weren’t progressing the way I thought they should?

God’s conviction is so much lighter than our conscience’s condemnation. Because His conviction comes with clear instruction and hope for the future.

God's conviction is so much lighter than our conscience's condemnation. Because His conviction comes with clear instruction and

I stopped comparing myself to other writers and started reminding myself of who God says that I am and what He promised me for my future. Long before I ever had the courage to pursue this writing dream, I stood on the promises of God for years. He said that my gift would make room for me and bring me before great men.

He’s been faithful to that, so it’s only right that I remain faithful to Him.

My point is this: don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. You don’t know what it cost them to get where they are and you don’t know how hard it may be for them to keep going. Focus on you and what you were purposed here to do, and then do it with all your might.

I promise that the payoff will far exceed your wildest dreams.

XoXo,

Faith

A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men. Proverbs 18:16 

Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go. Ecclesiastes 9:10

Why I’m Writing Fearlessly in 2016

Hey y’all, it’s been two weeks since I last checked in. I had my gallbladder removed and the recovery was bruTAL. Had me looking for a Dr. Kevorkian copycat up in here. But, thankfully, I’m well on the road to recovery now.

Anyway, lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what writing fearlessly means. When I wrote my first novel, I wrote fearlessly but published terrified. When the Real Thing Comes Along was never meant to see the light of day. I wrote it for me, without any intent for anyone to read it other than my sister and a few close friends.

fearlessly

When I decided to publish I was anxious, to say the least. I figured that everyone would think WTRTCA was about me. So I painstakingly edited it, hoping that I could avoid the inevitable. When it dropped, of course everyone who knows me saw characteristics of me in Jacelynn, the main character, no matter how much I tried to disguise or deny it. That experience taught me some things.

First of all, writing from a place of fear stifles creativity. Anticipating that others will think that everything you write is about you, and allowing that to hinder you, is no way to live. I’ve finally accepted that everything I write is about me, to a certain extent.

When I pour myself into my writing, it touches others. Readers are discerning, and authenticity has a farther reach than any marketing plan. As I continue to write and build my brand, I want to be known for emotional, heart tugging literature. I can’t do that if I’m writing from a place of fear.

My next novel tackles some hard-hitting issues. One of those issues is emotional eating. Do I necessarily want people to know that when I’m stressed out, anything chocolate makes my world okay? Um, no. But I do want anyone who’s struggling with some sort of eating disorder to know that they are not alone; and that there is hope for them.

AnaisStanding in the light of my truth is the only way I can have a hope of guiding someone else into their’s. For me, that’s what it’s all about. My mantra for the last few years has been “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” That’s what I strive to do every time I sit down to write.

How do you find the courage to write fearlessly?