It seems that every time I introduce a new chapter of the new Sophie book, CHAOS, DECEIT & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE, it’s accompanied by more news about my son. I suppose that makes some sense since being a mother and a writer are two of my six main roles in life. The other four are being a wife, a daughter, a friend, and a conscientious, contributing citizen.
That last role, citizen, is the role my son has decided he wants to explore more deeply for himself. A while back he applied for Americorps NCCC and a few days ago he received his invitation to serve the Southwest region based out of Denver, CO. Allegheny College took about two seconds to approve his request to defer his attendance for one year so that he could take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what Americorps NCCC is, it’s one of the primary programs under the umbrella of the Corporation For National And Community Service (CNCS). Young adults between the ages of 18-24 are placed in teams of 10-12 and over a 10-month period and under a somewhat military style structure, are sent out to serve their country by working with various non-profits, National Parks and disaster relief efforts. A typical 10 month stint in Americorps NCCC would involve:
1) Building houses with Habitat For Humanity,
2) Working with foster kids, helping out inner city schools and/or working with the Boys & Girls Club
3) Being trained by the IRS then going out into the community to help low income families file their personal taxes.
4) Removing invasive species of plants, planting trees, building trails in a National Park
Each mission (or as they call them, Spikes) lasts for about two months. The team lives in VERY modest conditions near their current project (in other words, he’ll only be in Denver periodically), have mandatory physical training, are trained on how to use the tools/power tools they’ll need, are educated about the reason for the need for every one of their missions, are responsible for keeping their living quarters and uniforms neat and so on.
It’s not going to be easy. There will be lots of 8hrs-plus days of demanding manual labor. But it’s such an amazing program and he’ll be helping his fellow citizens and our nation in very tangible ways. Here’s a video of one of Americorps NCCC’s recent projects:
Anyway, that’s what’s going on in my world. Now let me give you a peek into what’s going on in the world of Sophie! Please remember, if you haven’t read the first four chapters yet, you can find them all by clicking here! Enjoy!!
“You can reject Robert Frost’s advice and choose the road most traveled, but it’s still going to lead you to some unexpected and dangerously rugged detours. No one gets to stay on the paved road for the whole trip.”
–Dying To Laugh
It says something about my friendship with Dena that I was unsurprised to find her absently doing bicep curls with giant dildos at the end of a work day, one black, one pinkish. She was standing in the middle of her store, Guilty Pleasure, studying a collection of colorful ball-gags hanging from hooks in the wall, her thick, Sicilian eyebrows scrunched together adding drama to her otherwise kittenish features.
“Ready for dinner?” I asked as I maneuvered around two giggling twenty-somethings hunched over the edible panties display.
Dena looked up, my voice pulling her out of her thoughts and then glanced at her wind-up watch, a subtle form of rebellion against the technification of the city. “Since when do you arrive anywhere early? That’s Mary Ann’s thing.” She glanced back up at the wall. “I’m thinking about moving these further back and doing a vibrator display here instead.” She held out the giant mechanical penises for my inspection. “I have these in eight different skin-tones now. Diversity.”
I nodded and tapped the black one. “You should put the darker ones up front in honor of Black History Month.”
Dena blinked down at the vibrators. “That’s fucking brilliant.”
“Do you have any black, Jewish dildos?” I asked. “To celebrate both sides of my racial and cultural identity?”
Dena held up the phallic device so it was eyelevel with me. “It’s circumcised, isn’t it? But if you’re asking if I have any black dildos that will fuck you while playing Hava Nagila the answer is no.”
“The limits of technology,” I sighed as my eyes wandered over to a shelf holding a smiling, silicon creature with antennas. Its packaging read, Flexi Felix for Anal Fun Days! “Do you know if Mary Ann is still friends with that nurse who works at St. Dominique’s Hospital?”
“Jenna?” Dena asked, following my gaze “What about Flexi made you think of her? Oh, is it because she’s a tight ass?”
“What? No, I…okay, first off, ew. I was just thinking she might be able to help me with something.”
Before I could continue, the chime of the front entrance alerted us to Mary Ann’s arrival. She was half walking, half skipping in our direction, her chestnut curls bouncing enthusiastically around her shoulders giving her the look of a model from a shampoo commercial.
“Oh my God, I’m so glad you could come out tonight!” Mary Ann said, as she gave me an enthusiastic hug and then Dena a more tentative one as she carefully avoided contact with the dildos in her hands. “I have news!”
“Is it something I won’t believe?” Dena asked, giving me a sidelong glance.
“Seriously guys!” Mary Ann’s porcelain complexion flushed with excitement. “I’m going to have a baby!”
I froze in utter shock. Dena looked down at the black dildo as if it was somehow responsible.
“You’re going to be a mom,” I whispered. Then squealed, “You’re going to be a mom!” It was enough to attract the attention of the giggling girls who looked up from the flavored lubes in their hands.
“I didn’t even know this was something you were thinking about!” Dena said, the traces of suppressed emotion bringing her voice up an octave.
“Well, Monty and I have been talking about it for a while and we’ve decided it doesn’t make sense to wait any longer. Now’s the time!”
“We have to celebrate!” I stated firmly. “What should we do?”
“We can start by not going to happy hour,” Dena gave Mary Ann a stern look. “No way in hell are you drinking during your pregnancy.”
“Oh, I’m not pregnant,” Mary Ann said, blithely. “I can have at least one cocktail. We have to toast this!”
Dena scrutinized her cousin and then looked over at me to see if I was as lost as she was.
I cleared my throat and shifted my weight from foot to foot. “Sooo…are you adopting?”
“No, what makes you think that?” Mary Ann looked at me, then Dena. “Oh, I see where the confusion is!” she added with a laugh. “I’m not pregnant right this second but I’m going to be pregnant. Probably by tomorrow.”
The corners of Dena’s mouth twitched “So your news,” she said, gently putting the dildos down next to the anal beads, “is that you’re going to fuck your husband tonight.”
“That is so crude,” Mary Ann said, irritably. “I’m going to make a baby with my husband tonight. It will be the first time I’ve ever had sex without any contraceptives.”
“Ever?” Dena and I asked in unison.
“Nope. I’ve never had sex with anyone without a condom,” Mary Ann further clarified. “I’ve never wanted to be pregnant before.”
“My God,” I whispered. “I’ve been friends with you for almost two decades and I never realized you were the most responsible woman on earth. Dena,” I said, a little accusatorily, “you must have known. How could you not share that?”
“Because I didn’t know!” she snapped and then gave Mary Ann a not so gentle smack on the arm. “You have never bought a condom from me! I have latex, polyisoprene, vegan-friendly condoms, condoms with cockrings, glow in the dark, extra thin, everything! It’s like a fucking condomcopia in here and you never once hit me up!”
My phone started vibrating in my bag as Dena continued to rail against her cousin’s refusal to involve her in her sex life. I didn’t recognize the number but I was more than happy to use it as an excuse to step away. “Hello?”
“Is this Sophie Katz?” a girl asked. The young voice was familiar but she spoke so quietly it was difficult to make out her words.
I moved several more feet away to better hear and to get myself out of the line of fire just in case Dena started hurling cock rings. “This is Sophie, who is this please?”
“It’s Cat, Aaron London’s daughter.”
“Oh! I’m so glad you called! Look, it was a total misunderstanding back at the hospital. I’m not dating your dad. But I was with him when he…when it happened.” I moved aside to make room for two more customers who were headed towards lingerie. “How is your dad?”
My mouth dropped open and my fingers tightened around my cell. Behind me the new customers were chuckling. In front of me Dena was still gesticulating and yet all the sound in the room was now couched in a kind of ringing silence. I took a step forward as if movement would help. As if there was some corner of this adult toy store that would be appropriate for receiving this kind of news. “But…the surgery? Didn’t it work?” I asked, stupidly.
“I just thought you should know,” she said, opting not to humor me by stating the obvious answer.
Again, I found myself struggling to find words. London’s ring was in my purse, waiting for him to put it back on. I was sure he would put it back on. I honestly hadn’t expected he wouldn’t be able to. I hadn’t really believed that I could be talking to a man one minute and then have him just…die. Not from a gunshot or some sudden violent act but from something much quieter. A silent killer slithering through his veins.
Look at me. Use your eyes and see me dying. You’re witnessing my murder.
“Is your mother with you?” I asked, urgently. “I need to talk to her. There are some things she should know.”
“My mother is never going to talk to you.” Catherine’s voice was almost steady. “Not in a million years.”
And then the line went dead. She was gone.
London was gone.
I watched mutely as Dena turned away from Mary Ann and started walking toward her office. Dena’s limp was less severe than it used to be but still detectable. Odd, seeing Dena, the petite, athletic woman I’ve known since high school, limp with each step. It was a bullet to the back that had done it, years ago. A physical manifestation of a twisted metaphor. The things that scar us are never the things we see coming.
I hadn’t seen this coming.
Mary Ann came bounding over, clearly unfazed by Dena’s rant, but when she saw my face her expression immediately changed. “What’s wrong, Sophie?” she asked.
“Someone died today,” I whispered.
Mary Ann’s hands fluttered to her face. “Who? Who died?”
“No one you know. I didn’t really know him either. But…but he asked me to help him. I refused. And now…” my voice trailed off.
Mary Ann wordlessly pulled me into a hug. She was such a slender, small-boned woman you would think that a fierce hug might break her. And yet when her arms wrapped around me they felt reassuringly strong. I rested my chin on her shoulder and squeezed my eyes closed as I tried to just absorb the comfort she offered and block out the reason I needed it. It’s like I had made it happen. I had wanted an adventure. A mystery. And now a man was dead.
Dena came back out and when she saw us in an embrace she let out an audible sigh. “Seriously, she spent her entire adult life having sex with cheap-ass condoms. It’s sad but it’s not a tragedy.” But then Dena too took a good look at my face. “Something happened.” A statement more than a question. “Come on.” She gently took my arm as Mary Ann released me. “Let’s walk and talk.”