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Radiation: The Dirty Dozen

I had my 13th radiation session today, but “dirty dozen” is much more clickable than “baker’s dozen,” don’t you think?

I met with Dr. Spiderman on Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and he asked me, “So, how is radiation going? Is it better or worse than you thought it would be?” And I told him it’s much better. That I’m not really getting the fatigue I’d heard about, and the skin that’s being radiated looks exactly the same as the other, non-zapped side. Spidey, resplendent in a fuchsia button-down shirt, said, “Fine. Be that way.”

I joked back, “Are you sure the machine is plugged in?”

Just in the last couple of days have I started to feel tired. Like fall-asleep-on-the-couch-before-dinner tired. I don’t know if it’s the radiation, but it probably is. I haven’t been keeping track of my protein intake at all, and it’s supposed to be 60-90 grams per day. My appetite has been rather crappy, in fact. And speaking of crap…yep, it’s still cha-cha-cha all day err day. Not sure wtf I’m talking about? Click here. I’m not even sure I care all that much anymore. It’s just the way it is.

cha cha cha

Hair update: It’s fuzzy and dark! It looks like hair!

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102 days post-chemo

Meanwhile, it’s the holiday season! I’m trying to be super excited, like when I was a kid, but I don’t think it’s possible as an adult. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at Snoqualmie Lodge, but driving back I was missing the old days when we (my mom, dad, brother and I) would go to my uncle’s house. We didn’t go home after the meal, but played board games and watched football and told stupid jokes until it was time for pie. Of course a couple sets of divorce and kids growing up changed all that, but each holiday I feel like something’s not quite right. Yes, some of the magic was recaptured when I had kids, and having a small person in the house who still completely believes in Santa and flying reindeer is about as good as it gets in Adult World. But I’m always unsatisfied on some level. Maybe everyone feels that way when they grow up?

This year, cancer and midlife crisis and my natural melancholy personality are combining to make…not Captain Planet, but something much worse. Let’s call it Captain Blah. And I feel guilty because there’s this expectation that I should be particularly hashtag blessed to have another Christmas with my family. And I AM, but…it’s just the same old shit. The same getting and spending. The same search for a ‘wow’ gift that the recipient will shove in a closet somewhere. I move a mountain of plastic garbage from the store to plastic bags to stockings and boxes (and eventually into a landfill). I organize the family into some kind of gathering and half-hearted gifts are exchanged and I get the feeling that no one really wants to be there; they’re just going through the motions because it’s what you do. Or they’re humoring me. Have I been forcing my desperate Christmas on my kids and parents all this time? I think I may have. The whole thing feels phony and wasteful, but I still try really REALLY hard to get into the twinkle lights and the music and the peppermint/pinetree holidaygasm. Does anyone over the age of 10 have magical Christmasses anymore? Are we all faking it? I’m not going to stop doing it, but I guess I’m just wondering if I’m alone in my Grinchdom.

Christmas isn’t the only thing I’ve been angsting over. Spending time in the city I grew up in (because that’s where I get treatment) has led me to drive past my old high school (remodeled and unrecognizable), the place I used to line up my quarters to play Donkey Kong (now a vitamin store), the parking lot I learned to drive in (now a –spit between my fingers to ward off the Evil Eye–Wal-Mart). I was even recently near my uncle’s old house where I had so many wonderful childhood holidays. It feels like a lost world. Like a place I can never return. I guess childhood is like that. But then as I was driving past my alma mater I remember that when I was going to school there I would often have the feeling that my life was just a dress rehearsal. Merely a preamble until my ‘real life’ began. I’m not sure when that feeling truly ended, but I know it lasted into my twenties.

Xmas75

Christmas 1975

And now here I am feeling as though my childhood was the real deal and I’m living some inferior reflection. Or something. And it’s difficult for me to engage in this shadow-world. It doesn’t feel quite real. I’m having trouble spotting the small joys because I’m drowning in the hate and violence (and I don’t even watch television news!)

Honestly? I think about death a lot. Every day. Why go back to school, or start a new career if I’m just gonna die? Why do anything for that matter? What, if anything, will matter once I’m gone? Please note: I have no reason to believe that I’m going to die in the near future. I mean,  yeah, I have a better chance of dying from cancer in the next five years than people who haven’t had cancer do, but I have no indication of imminent demise.

Am I happy? No. But am I supposed to be? Whoever came up with the idea that the goal in life is happiness? Human history is a steaming pile of not-happy. What makes us so fucking special that we think food and shelter aren’t good enough? Why are we compelled to gather designer shoes and iGadgets? Why is our grandest ambition to be on fucking TV?

This post kinda went off the rails. Sorry for that. So yeah. Radiation’s going fine. I almost worked on my book today. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and plotting, which is a good sign. And, lucky me, I have a new writing assistant: the naughtiest kitten in the world. Maybe this should be my new author photo?

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Radiation: First impressions

I had my fifth dose of radiation today. For that, I win an x-ray! I mean a regular x-ray, not the kind that kills potential cancer cells. Apparently this happens every five treatments so they can make sure the positioning is still accurate, etc. Of all of my courses of treatment, radiation is the most mysterious to me. It’s also the…I want to say “scariest” but that’s too strong. It’s more anxiety than fear that I experience. It doesn’t hurt at all, but I think it’s the combination of being awake and alert (as opposed to being unconscious during surgery) and all alone (as opposed to being surrounded by other people during chemo) that sets my mind to pondering just what the hell is going on. Here’s what a typical radiation session looks like:

  1. I arrive at the radiation oncology office and swipe my card to check in. I sit in the waiting room until a tech comes to get me. I’ve never waited longer than five minutes.
  2. I undress from the waist up and put on a hospital gown so that it opens in the front.
  3. The tech asks if I want a warm blanket. I always do. She gets one out of the warmer and follows me into the treatment room/x-ray den/lair of cancer slaying.
  4. I confirm my name and birthdate on a large monitor and lay down on the narrow table. I shrug my arms out of the gown, and put my arms over my head, both hands on a handle behind me. The tech covers me with the warm blanket, leaving my right boob exposed.
  5. A second tech puts a large rubber band around the toes of my shoes to prevent me from jiggling them and moving around.
  6. Together, the techs use the thin cloths under my body to shift my position so that it lines up perfectly. Satisfied that I’m in the right spot, they leave the room.
  7. The room is cold and white. There are faded nature photos on the wall to my left and overhead. The snow-covered mountain to the left is backlit, but I’ve never seen the blossom-covered branches on the ceiling lit up. Soft music is playing. Sometimes it’s jazz. Once it was a strange cover of Journey’s “Faithfully.” These are the moments I have weird thoughts about what if the world ended while I was in here. What if I emerged to find all the people gone? OR, what if Skynet comes online and makes the linear particle accelerator try to kill me? I’m not strapped down, but how the fuck would I know if the beam was toggled from ‘cure cancer’ to ‘terminate’?
  8. The machine starts to hum and grind. It’s doing stuff, but I can’t see anything because it’s underneath me (did i mention the thing I’m lying on is 3 feet off the ground?). I only found out two sessions ago that they are radiating my lymph nodes from the front and back.
  9. The machine is quiet again and I wait. I try not to think about itching my nose or coughing, or that I might need to pee. I hold still and attempt to focus on the snowy mountain. It usually just makes me cold.
  10. The machine hums and clicks. It’s on the move. I’ve been told to keep my face turned to the left (“We don’t want to get your chin!” GET my chin? What now?) so I can’t see it, but the “Imaging Arm” is rising up over the horizon of the table like a cold mechanical dawn. It looms above me at high noon, inches from my face. It comes to rest on my left side, maybe half an inch from my elbow. It hums with menace. I can see the green light grid and my right breast reflected in it. I can clearly identify the slice of boob that’s about to get beamed. It’s sort of like having the Death Star up in my grill, and my tit is poor Alderaan. Destruction_of_Despayre-TEA
  11. The Death Star fires its weapon. The only way I know it’s doing its thing is the noise. It looks and feels like nothing, yet it took me until the fourth session to keep my eyes open.
  12. The Death Star returns to high noon and rises up out of my way and the tech returns to the room to release me from my rubber bands. I get off the table and say “See you tomorrow.”
  13. I put my clothes back on and leave. OR if it’s Friday I see first Nurse Rad and then Dr. Spiderman. They ask me if I have pain and take my temperature, pulse, and blood pressure.

So, as of today I’m one-sixth of the way done with radiation. I don’t see any changes to my skin yet. The nurse told me I probably wouldn’t feel the fatigue for a couple of weeks, and one of my friends who started radiation before me said it took three weeks for her to feel tired. But she didn’t have chemo, so I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve had moments of extreme fatigue. Not hours of tiredness, just these maybe ten or fifteen minute waves of energy depletion. Kinda like a burst of jet lag, or as if I inadvertently passed through some sort of soul-sucking field. A sinkhole of blah. Walking through a mist laced with NyQuil. It’s weird. I have a head cold too, so maybe it’s not even the radiation. Anyway, if it IS the radiation and just a taste of what’s to come, I’d better do all my Christmas shopping early this year!

FullSizeRender (13)So it’s been three months since my last chemo. My hair is growing back, and I bought a teeny bottle of expensive Bumble & Bumble shampoo that smells like chocolate. It only takes a tiny drop to lather up my whole head.

My guts are still fucked up. The radiation is actually kinda making me hungry and I’ve been pretty good about eating healthy-ish protein. On the other end, the cha-cha-cha is unrelenting. When I had my latest Herceptin infusion last week, on of the nurses said that is really unusual and talked to Dr. Captain America about it. He ordered a test for C. diff, which is a bacteria you can get after using antibiotics. Basically, antibiotics (I had surgery in October, remember) can kill off your good gut flora, and Clostridium difficile moves in. So…yeah. I had to take this plastic tray into the bathroom and fit it on the toilet, attempt to get liquid poo (but not urine!) into it, and then pour it into a sample cup and deliver it to the lab. There was a lot of muttering, cursing, gagging, and then I emerged from the bathroom with a small jar of shitquid (that’s liquid shit) that I’d shrouded with a paper towel. I take it to the lab. They don’t want it because it’s got no sticker. Back to the infusion suite for a sticker, then the lab to drop off the offering.

I get a message from Dr. Cap that night. Negative for C. diff, but it’s okay to take up to EIGHT Imodium each day. Awesome. Also, he wrote, my magnesium is still hella low, so keep taking the supplement. Grr.

I feel guilty that I still feel weak and shitty. I can see the end of the tunnel (I’ll be done with the major cancer treatments by the end of the year), but there’s no light there. I will need to begin my life again, and I’m very fuzzy on what that looks like. My brother asked me a few days ago, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And though I’ve written about this before, months later I’m even less certain of anything. When you focus so narrowly on just getting through something, arriving at the end is scary. I feel lost, not triumphant.

Suddenly, cancer

Six days ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Dun dun dunnnnn.

How did this happen? Beats me. All I know was that I discovered a lump, waited a month to see if it went away, and then showed it to my primary care doctor. She sent me for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.

*NOTE* I’m 46 years old and I’ve never had a mammogram. A few years ago—maybe even before I turned 40—a study came out saying that the benefits of regular mammograms before age 50 didn’t outweigh the extra costs, anxiety, and false positives. There are other schools of thought that disagree. Because this one helped me avoid the tit-press, it is the one I chose to believe. Me, to my doctor: “I thought I didn’t have to have them until I’m 50. Doctor: *eyeroll* (She’s cool, and I’m paraphrasing). The lady who actually operated the tit-press rolled her eyes the same way.

So, there was the lump on the mammogram, all nice and bright. It existed. An ultrasound revealed that it was solid. If it had been fluid-filled it would probably be a cyst and therefore no big deal. But although 80% of these solid boob blobs also turn out to be no big deal, you gotta stick a needle in them to be sure.

Me, to radiologist (who looks like a movie star, btw): “Can you stick a needle it in right now?”
Radiologist: Naw, I think we’ll set up an appointment.

So, because I’m a regular taker of ibuprofen and aspirin for headaches and whatever else hurts (but not my boob, which had no pain until I found the lump and then “felt” (I say, because I’m pretty sure it was psychological) like a spikey burr of potential death) which are blood thinners, I had to wait five days until the blood thinners GTFO’d.

*NOTE* Intra-parenthetical parentheses, Christa? Really? Shut up. I have cancer.

The biopsy was scheduled for Monday, March 9. I spent most of the days in between the two appointments lurking in the forums at breastcancer.org and consulting Dr. Google. That, and playing iPhone games and watching TV. Nothing else got done. Nothing. The kid would have starved to death if my husband hadn’t been doing everything. At this point, my older daughter becomes suspicious. I’m waiting for phone calls and casually mentioning doctor’s appointments, two things she knows I hate. So, I admit (with the preamble “Don’t freak out…”), that I found a lump yadda yadda and we we’re checking it out and no big deal.

During the biopsy, there are times that I am just chilling in the room, lying on my side, staring down the blob on the ultrasound. I’m memorizing it. Because I’ve been told I will not have the results of this biopsy until Thursday. If I’d had my phone with me, I’d have captured it for future perusal, but all my stuff was in a locker in the dressing room thing. I looked deep into its tumory soul and I did not like what I saw there. It looked like a soft-serve turd, complete with a fuck-you swirl like Bob’s Big Boy hair. In the lines and shadows I thought I saw an evil little face. I drew it for my older daughter like this:

turdythetumor
Dr. Movie Star came in, gave me a shot to numb up my boob and then stuck a little hollow needle in the tumor three times—each time withdrawing a tiny chunk with a ka-chunk sound like a stapler. They bandage me up and send me home where I convalesce on the sofa with more binge-viewing. My plan is to wait out the results this way: distracting myself with other people’s drama.

After a lazy day on the sofa, I’m awake until 3am, doing research on my phone next to my snoring husband. I Google stuff like “characteristics of benign tumors,” and “ultrasound differences between benign and malignant tumors” and I come up with some good stuff:

  • My tumor is rounded not spiky. (Cancer is spiky as fuck)
  • My tumor is wide, not tall. (Benign tumors grow with the grain of the breast, cancer goes wherever the fuck it wants)
  • My tumor has clear borders. (Cancerous growths often appear fuzzy or blurred at the edges—it doesn’t want to be contained)
  • My little soft-serve turd tumor is probably benign! Hooray!

The next morning, I tell my husband and older daughter of my medical research, and how I feel quite relieved. My daughter goes to her dad’s and I tell her I will text her when I hear back from the doctor on Thursday. “Don’t worry,” I tell her. “It’s going to be fine.”

Around five o’clock that evening I see a missed call. It’s a private number. I listen to the voicemail and it’s Dr. Movie Star. He wants me to call him. I’m heading for the privacy of the bedroom and searching frantically for something to write with so I can jot down the number and call him back. The phone rings again. Dr. Movie Star really wants to talk to me.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this…”

It’s cancer. Here are the notes I took during this call.
cancernotes
My husband comes into the room and I give him the thumbs-down.

Now, a week before this, I wouldn’t even have known to ask about hormone receptors or HER2 status, but now I know that the particulars of the cancerous fuckwad will tell me how aggressive it is and how we will fight it. But Dr. Movie Star reveals that the full pathology report hasn’t come back, just the headline “Yup, It’s Cancer.” He’s already called my primary care doc and the breast surgeons that he thinks are the best.

He apologizes again. “I really thought it would be benign,” he says and I say “I know, it was curvy instead of spiky!” He sounds genuinely bummed and surprised and I find myself saying “Don’t be sad. Thank goodness you decided to stick a needle in it.”
*Note* Comforting other people about my cancer diagnosis has already become a familiar thing.

I walk out to the living room with my piece of paper. I give my husband the details. I don’t cry. I have to tell my daughter and I don’t want to. She’s going to freak out. I don’t want to put this burden on her. I make jokes, downplay. This, too, will become a familiar flavor.
calliemessage
I send her a message and, hilariously, “ductal” auto-corrects to “ducktail.”

She’s only been gone a couple hours, but she comes back. “I want to be with you,” she says. Which, if you have teenagers you will know is a rare and marvelous thing. Like a unicorn. She comes home and sits next to me on the sofa, holding my hand.

*NOTE* Here is where I get clever. I know she’s interested in healthcare professions and she’s not…super motivated yet. I ask her to be my cancer buddy, my assistant, my amanuensis. She’ll go to appointments with me and be an extra set of ears. Take notes. Help me keep track of my stuff. This way she knows what’s going on first hand AND y’know if it stimulates her interest in the field, then bonus.

I call my dad. This is difficult. A year ago he had a quadruple heart bypass and still isn’t 100%. I tell him “Uhhhh I guess I have a little bit of breast cancer.” Talking to your father about your boob is weird. He agrees with me that I should wait until my mom gets home from Hawaii before I tell her. Because why ruin her vacation, right?

That night, lying in bed in the darkness I have an odd sense of relief. I’ve been afraid of getting cancer my whole life. I always suspected that this would happen, and it’s as if that other shoe has finally dropped. Part of me has been dreading this for so long that for ten or twelve hours I am almost at peace.

Wednesday I text my son (who is 23) an invitation to come over for dinner. I have to tell him, and I figure in person will be better. He doesn’t want to come over. I text that I need to tell him something. Should I just go ahead and do it in text? He replies “sure.” I am stymied. I don’t know how to begin. It was easier with my daughter because I’d laid the groundwork of what was going on.

I turn to my husband and daughter. “What do I say?”
My husband says, “Put ‘I have breast cancer.’”

Simple, right? But four words that change a person’s world. He’s my baby boy and I don’t want to cause him pain and worry. I type the words into my iPhone and I can feel the reality settling in. I. Have. Cancer.

Naw. Not possible. Someone’s going to call me and say there was a mix-up. My little soft-serve tumor-turd wouldn’t do me like that. He’s curvy and swirly! Someone mixed up the pathology reports. Everything will be put right tomorrow at the consultation with the breast surgeon. He’ll come in with a file chuckling and shaking his head, “Mrs. Charter, there’s been a mistake…”

My husband and daughter accompany me to the breast surgeon. He’s the first person to look me in the eye and talk about my cancer. He’s the second doctor to tell me that because I have big boobs I’m a good candidate for lumpectomy. (They take out the tumor and some stuff around the edges instead of removing the whole boob.)
We take a look at my pathology report. Turdy the tumor is estrogen positive. Okay, that means we can fight his ass with hormone therapy. If we cut off his supply of estrogen (through drugs or sometimes removing the ovaries) we may be able to starve him out.

The report on HERS2 antibody is inconclusive. They have to run another test. If it’s positive it means my cancer is more aggressive, BUT it will give us another weapon to fight him – antibodies. So, more waiting.

Ki-67. This, I hadn’t read anything about. Basically, it determines what percentage of the cells in your tumor are actively dividing (to make copies of themselves). It’s normally about 7 or 10 percent. A high rate would be over 20%. Turdy is at 50%. He’s growing like a motherfucker.

My surgeon, who is basically the hot-shit surgeon that other surgeons send their wives and daughters to, tells me that what we’re probably going to do with Turdy is throw everything we’ve got at him. I have found it useful to think of this in Star Wars terms.

death star

  1. Destroy the Death Star. That’s Turdy, and cutting him out of my boob. Lumpectomy.
  2. Go after the tie-fighters and any spacecraft that might have made a run for it. This is radiation.
  3. Scour the galaxy for any Imperial drones or outposts. This will be the chemo.

Another thing we’re waiting on is the genetic testing to find out if I’ve got the breast cancer gene. Because if I do, there’s a big chance that it will recur and that’s when we start talking about lopping off everything.

So. Status report. I have stage IIa breast cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma in my right boob. The tumor is 2.6 cm. As of this moment there is no indication that it has spread anywhere else, and that is a good thing. If this cancer stays in my boob, it cannot kill me. If it gets out? If the Empire makes its way into my bones or lungs or brain? Then I freak out.

But for now, I am thinking of this as a problem that is fixable. If I lose a boob (or two) and my hair…well then, whatever. Better to be bald and flat-chested than six feet under, right? I have an appointment with the oncologist this week, and a breast MRI (to see if any of my lymph nodes light up under radioactive dye. And yeah, I already asked if I could get superpowers from this.), and then appointments with more people and more doctors. Basically, we’re assembling the cancer avengers and we’re going to knock this fucker out.
AvengersAssemble_052113_1600
This is really long, sorry. Here are some questions you may have:

Why are you even blogging about this? It’s TMI.
Because writing is how I process things. I’ve blogged about every other damn thing, so why not this? Plus, as soon as I became aware that I needed a biopsy I searched for a breast cancer blog so I could learn something via human experience versus a bunch of numbers. If you’re creeped out, go ahead and unsubscribe. No hard feelings.
Is this a cancer blog now?
No. I am not my cancer and I have a million and one things I’m interested in besides this. My intent is to keep blogging about writing and stuff with some cancer sprinkled in as needed. (As needed by me. Your mileage may vary.) Honestly though, I’m not making promises because I don’t know how I’m going to feel.
You’ve scared me. What if I have breast cancer too?
Then finding it early is your best weapon. Get a baseline mammogram as soon as you turn 40. If your mom, sister, or aunts have had breast cancer (or you know you have the breast cancer gene) you need to start getting mammograms earlier. Like ten years before the age your relative was when diagnosed.
Are you going to die?
Yes. We all are. My intention is to live into my nineties like both of my grandmothers. If that isn’t in the cards than I will fight like hell to get as many years as I can. My youngest child is only 5 and still needs a lot of mothering.
What do you need? What can I do?
Um, nothing right now, thanks for asking. I don’t feel sick yet. If we know each other and you’ve been through this yourself, I’d love to hear from you. As a new pledge in this shitty sorority I could use a big sis.

Why holiday birthdays suck big boughs of holly

christmas_baby_2-wideI was born on Christmas Eve. Just an hour and 45 minutes later and I’d have been a full-on Christmas baby, so it could have been worse. Here are the top five suckiest things about a Christmas birthday.

1. You will never ever have a real birthday party on your actual birthday. People are spun up about holiday stuff and ain’t nobody got time for you. Not when you’re eight and not when you’re forty.

2. Your twenty-first birthday will not involve bar-hopping and drunken debauchery. Because no one will go out on Christmas Eve! Sure, grandma might finally let you have a glass of wine, but you can forget about tequila shots and table-dancing. You know where I spent my 21st birthday? At dinner with my then-boyfriend’s family in Jackson Heights, Queens where all the New Yorkers examined me like a strange specimen from the wild west.

3. Gift-fuckery. I.e. everyone and their dog will give you joint gifts. Which is a goddamn rip-off. “This is for Christmas AND your birthday!” they say. And you will thank them and mutter to yourself. Okay, I’ll just screw YOU over when your birthday arrives in June. “Hey, remember that Christmas gift, buddy? That was for your birthday too! Wheeeee!”

4. Everyone who sees your identification will coo “Ohhhh a Christmas baby!” I know it’s not terrible, but it gets old.

5. No one will ever forget  your birthday. Even when you’d like them to. It’s too memorable. So for the rest of your life people will remember that it is your special day and yet will not celebrate with you and probably give you a bullshit joint gift.

To all my fellow sufferers, I feel your pain.

 

Win a copy of Griefed in this Goodreads Giveaway

The third Lexy Cooper mystery is now in paperback and you could win one of three signed copies! Just enter the giveaway by August 17th for your chance to win.

Enter to Win Here

Griefed paperback

Backstory: Don’t Blow Your Load

003-easy-connect-dotsI’ve seen some writing advice that suggests would-be writers know their characters as well as they know themselves. To come up with a complete dossier on their background including their family tree, the name of their first pet, favorite color, college minor, and blood type.

Bullshit.

That may be a fun exercise, but it’s a stall tactic. It’s shit you do to avoid the real work of writing. The other reason not to do it is that if you know every freckle on your hero’s ass, you’ll be tempted to catalog them for your reader because you don’t want to waste it. So you’ll end up breaking up the flow of your story with some lengthy aside about how Bobby summered every year at Lake Beelzebub where he and his six brothers would build forts and found a stray dog and named him Fleabite and all his brothers were brunette and tanned easily but poor Bobby had ginger hair and freckled all over and the last summer before Mom and Dad divorced (and Mom ran off with the redheaded UPS delivery guy), two of his brothers held him down in the grass while another one played connect the dots on his ass with a permanent marker. Poor Bobby. At this point your reader is wondering what this has to do with the International Space Station and Near Earth Object number 55436-X. So unless you’re going to bring back Fleabite as a ghost dog (or zombie!) or have UPS Delivery Dad swoop in for a last-minute space rescue…just don’t.

Dossier

Leaving your protagonist’s backstory unwritten gives you the freedom to fill in the blanks when you have need of them. For instance, if you write a series and you want to set one of the books in another country, well, look at that, it turns out Brenda did her junior year abroad in that very country! She’s got old friends who live there. Maybe an ex-boyfriend she’s never gotten over. And yay! She speaks the language! If you’d blown your college wad in book one going over Brenda’s entire collegiate experience, you’ve removed your flexibility. Because if you try to give Brenda a junior year in Italy when you’ve already said that was the year she had a showdown with her evil resident advisor and nearly burned down her dorm…your readers are going to come after you with pitchforks.

TL;DR: Leave some holes. Even if you don’t fill them in subsequent books, leave wiggle-room for your reader’s imagination

Day Sixteen – Amarillo, TX to Albuquerque, NM

More adventures from the road. This time: Route 66!

Victory Lap

Today we drove 285 miles.

Amarillo to Albuquerque Two states, two time zones.

We started Day Sixteen with a trip to Cadillac Ranch. I’m a huge Springsteen fan and poor Dana and Allison had to listen to me sing the song all morning. A nice couple gave us their leftover spray paint so we could make our mark on this iconic public art installation.

10256696_10152071403682616_184178627462537381_o “Tearin’ up the highway like a big ol’ dinosaur!” (don’t sue me, Boss)

Allison found it frustratingly difficult to depress the button on the spray can, so Daddy had to help. She was happy with the end result though!

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Dana also commemorated his visit (and the reason for the Victory Lap).

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Next, we took off on the legendary “Mother Road” – Route 66. It doesn’t look all that momentous, but it was a really cool moment for us. The beginning of Phase Two of the Victory Lap. This is…

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Day Ten – Tallahassee, FL to New Orleans, LA

You haven’t seen anything from me for a while because my family is on a month-long road trip to celebrate my husband’s retirement from the Marine Corps. Join us on our “Victory Lap.”

Victory Lap

On the tenth day of our journey we traveled 385 miles.

Day 10 Tallahassee to NOLA

And crossed three state lines.

three state lines

But our day started with a visit from the Easter Bunny, who left some goodies for Allison in the hotel room AND the car.

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Unlike most days, we needed to arrive at a particular place by a particular time. The place was Rivista, a cafe/bakery owned by a friend of mine from high school and her husband (Lisa and Chris Barbato), and they close at three p.m. on Sundays. So, we packed as much as we could on Saturday night and managed to get on the road by 7:45 Easter morning.

What we failed to take into account was that we left the Eastern Time Zone somewhere along the way and entered the Central Time Zone. This caught us off guard but it wasn’t a problem. The weather was rainy through Florida, but…

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My 4 year old video game assistant

Princess Isabella Rise of an HeirMy 4 year old video game assistant

Check out my column Crawl, Walk, Game over at The Married Gamers. In this installment, I wrote about playing games on the PC, iPad, and DS with my 4-year-old daughter. Not kids games; MY games.

Read the first chapter of Schooled! Free!

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Here’s chapter one of Schooled, the first Lexy Cooper murder mystery. Probably NSFW. Don’t say I never gave you anything for free. 🙂

Schooled (Lexy Cooper Mystery #1)

Chapter One

 

Kenny Longworth walked the perimeter of building D on the Xenon corporate campus. It was the beginning of his security shift at seven a.m. Thursday and he wasn’t supposed to be drinking coffee as he made his rounds, but Kenny was the only guy on duty this early, so as he walked he sipped his extra-hot, extra shot, soy mocha latte. Soy milk tasted like shit and he’d read on the Internet that it made men grow tits, but milk gave Kenny slow-rolling tuba farts, so he stuck with the soy.

He was thinking it was kinda funny that his beverage was a blend of three kinds of beans (soy, coffee, and cocoa) when crows began making a racket over in the narrow tract of wetlands that bordered the north edge of campus. He rounded the corner of D and saw that the crows were fighting over something. Because the half-mile wide by three-mile long wetland was a protected area there was a fair amount of animal activity. Wildlife of all kinds came to sample the waters of Bear Creek; Xenon employees had spotted deer and even an occasional coyote out there. More than that, though, Kenny just had a feeling.

He set his Starbucks cup on the curb and hoped to return for it later. He nodded to the driver of a black pickup truck pulling into the parking lot. These video game folks kept odd hours; some of them came to work at six a.m. and took two or three hour lunches off-campus. Others showed up just before noon and stayed until long after Kenny’s shift was over. Sometimes they stayed all night. Kenny counted eighteen cars in the Building D lot including the black pickup. Fourteen were covered with dew and had been there overnight.

That wasn’t alarming. Xenon Corporation made the Xenon24/7 game console and the online gaming service Xenonline. He’d known teams of developers that had been in the office for two, three days straight writing code or squishing bugs—whatever they did. Kenny hadn’t played a video game since his 1983 high score on the Joust machine at the 7-Eleven back in Alliance, Ohio.

He stepped over the low wooden fence that bordered the wetlands and felt his boots sink slightly into the damp earth. Although it was the first day of summer the sky was overcast and drooped like a dirty duvet. It wasn’t raining, but it had rained yesterday and probably would again before long. Kenny headed toward the creek where the crows had congregated. As he got closer most of them flew off into the treetops but for a few bold bastards that stuck around.

He didn’t smell anything off; just damp leaves, soil, and a remnant of coffee on his own breath. Expecting a deer carcass or maybe a former raccoon, Kenny was unprepared to see a bare pink foot poking out of the long grass beside the creek. His grandmother would have called it a “crick,” though why that popped into his head just now he couldn’t say. The foot was attached to a naked woman lying face down in the mud. One hand trailed in the water like you’d hang your hand from a rowboat on a sunny day letting your fingers leave a tiny wake. Her hair was blonde and dirty.

“Shiiiiit,” said Kenny.

He couldn’t see any crow-damage, but he wasn’t hanging around for a closer look. At nine-and-a-half bucks an hour he wasn’t about to play CSI. He backed away from the body and reached for his cellphone.

Detective Mike Malick parked his unmarked police car at the back of Xenon Building D. The parking lot held roughly twenty civilian vehicles, two Redmond Police Department patrol cars in front, and one in back.

The windows of the three story buildings that looked out on the wetlands were filled with artifacts and advertisements from video game and nerd culture: Mario levels created from Post-It notes, action figures, and life-sized cutouts of Star Trek and Star Wars characters. Malick didn’t understand these people who despite jobs and families, didn’t seem to grow up.

A uniformed officer approached with a Xenon security guard and introduced him as Kenny Longworth.

 “You found her, huh?” Malick asked.

“Yep.”

“You…”

“No, I didn’t touch anything.” Kenny shook his head.

“Can you show me?” Malick asked. Kenny nodded and led him through mud, dead leaves, and small shrubs to the creek.

“Crime scene should be here any minute. So. Tell me about this.” Malick said, taking his notebook out of his suit jacket and patting himself down for a pen.

“I got to work at oh-seven-hundred. Since reception doesn’t get here until nine I walked the perimeter.”

“See anyone?”

“Just a guy in a black pickup about ten after. He parked and went right in through the rear door. I saw him swipe his ID badge. I’ve seen him around. He’s legit.”

They were getting closer to the body now.

“I was coming around the east end of the building and saw a bunch of crows over the creek. A couple dozen of them, squawking, flying away, and coming back. You know how they do.”

Malick nodded. Kept writing.

“So I get out there in the wetlands by the creek and I see her.” By this time they were just about where Kenny had been when he’d called 911. He pointed out his boot prints in the mud. “I was standing right there. Didn’t go any closer.”

“You didn’t check for a pulse?”

“Like I said, I didn’t go any closer. It was obvious to me that she was dead.” They looked back at the office building.

Officers draped yellow crime scene tape along the wooden fence. Malick saw the meat wagon arrive followed by the medical examiner.

One of the young uniforms—Rogers—hollered from across the parking lot, “M.E.’s here!”

Malick cringed and motioned for him to send the medical examiner into the wetlands. A handful of Xenon employees loitered by the rear building entrance. Two of them held up cellphones either shooting video or taking pictures.

“Shit,” Malick said.

The young woman from the King County medical examiner’s office made her way through the muck to where Malick and Kenny stood. She took pictures and made measurements. “Help me roll her, Detective?”

Malick and the forensic investigator gloved up and slid their hands under the body, rolling her face-up, away from the creek.

Malick crouched down next to the woman’s head.

“You ever see her before, Ken?”

“Yeah. She works here. One of the Barbies.” Malick noted that Kenny crossed himself discreetly.

“Barbies? Cause of the hair?”

Kenny nodded. “There’re four or five of them. All in marketing or public relations or something. Good-looking girls with nice clothes. They stand out in a place like this.”

Malick asked, “Do you know Lexy Cooper?”

Kenny looked surprised. “Lexy? Yeah I know her.”

“You ever see her with Barbie here?” Nodding toward the body.

Kenny looked up to the right. Accessing memory. “Yeah,” he said. “In the cafeteria a couple times a week.”

“Okay.” Malick braced his hands on his knees and stood up. “You’ll be documenting all this for Xenon?”

“Oh yeah. I’m looking at a lot of paperwork.”

“I’m going to want copies of everything. Try not to make new footprints on your way out.” Malick handed Kenny a Redmond Police Department card that read “Michael R. Malick. Detective, Homicide.” He shook Kenny’s hand. “Nice work, man,” he said.

Kenny nodded and moved off.

Malick watched the woman from the medical examiner’s office work for a minute or two and then pulled out his cellphone.

 

Lexy Cooper rolled over in bed, burying her face in the extra pillow. It still smelled like Nate. She smiled. A sleepy, satisfied smile full of secrets. The night before, she’d been reading in bed and half-watching a Law & Order rerun when her phone had begun playing Naughty by Nature’s song “O.P.P.” –Nate’s ringtone. He sounded just lubricated enough to bring out the Texas in his voice.

“Sexy Lexy…”

“Hey, you.”

“What’re you doin’?”

“Just laying here thinking about you.” She turned off the TV with the remote.

“Mmm. I have something for those luscious lollipop lips of yours.”

She smiled. “Do you deliver?”

“I’m five minutes from your place.”

Lexy brushed her teeth, exchanged her Power Rangers t-shirt for a white tank top, and aimed a spritz of perfume between her breasts. She lived alone in her two-bedroom apartment but he tapped quietly at the front door as if trying not to wake anyone. It was a little past one a.m.

When he kissed her she tasted tequila. She sucked the flavor off his lower lip and nipped at him.

“Ow! Bad girl.” Nate touched his lip and checked his finger for blood.

“I’m your bad girl,” Lexy said, pressing up against him, looking up at him from under her lashes.

“That’s it. C’mere,” he said and led her to her bedroom.

Later, after he’d fallen asleep, she lay awake. She didn’t stare at him as he slept—that would be psycho. But she peeked frequently. He was so fucking beautiful. Way out of her league. Prettier than most women, but with a gym-hardened body, tattoos, and knuckles scarred from bar fights. He had a heat coming off of him that women couldn’t resist. The few times she’d been out with him in public, girls had tried to pick him up right in front of her. The second dumbest thing she’d ever done was fall in love with him. There was no happy ending with Nate, but she was going to take the ride as far as it went.

She drifted off for a while until Nate woke up and pulled her on top of him. After round two it was four a.m. and he had to go. He got dressed, put his boots on, and she walked him to the door in her bathrobe. She didn’t want him to leave; she never knew when she’d see him next. But she also wanted him to leave so she could think about him. And sleep.

“Sure you don’t want a quick shower?” she said, trying to sound casual. Not naggy. Not worried.

“I’ll be fine.” He kissed her goodbye, got into his black pickup and drove away.

She smoked a clandestine cigarette on the patio thinking about his hands on her. Then she went back inside to sleep.

At 7:45 a.m. her phone rang. It was Uncle Mike.

“Are you okay?” she blurted.

“Yes. Lexy…”

“Is my dad okay? Kent?”

“Yes. Listen to me please.”

This was serious. She sat up in bed. “I’m listening.”

“I’m at your office. At Building D. Something’s happened and I need you to come down here.” Her mind raced: A break-in? Corporate espionage? Drug bust? But Mike was a homicide detective.

“Are you there…officially?”

He went into Cop Mode. “Lexy. Get in your car and come to work. I’m waiting for you in front of the building.” Lexy pulled on her jeans as he talked, flinging t-shirts from the floor to the bed. Shit, she needed a bra. Where the hell could it be?

“Okay, I’m leaving as soon as I find my shoes.”

“Thank you.” He hung up.

She brushed her teeth. In the mirror she took in large green eyes, smooth skin, and a tumble of long brunette curls. The “Hello” on her Hello Kitty t-shirt was stretched to read “Hellllllllllllo,” but she knew the guys at work wouldn’t complain. There was no time for make-up, but she wet her hands and ran them through her hair to dampen the rolled-out-of-bed-after-being-rolled-around-the-bed look. At the door she grabbed her purse and keys and shoved her feet into flip-flops.

The 1968 Karmann Ghia convertible parked outside her apartment was just the largest of Lexy’s twenty-eight years of questionable purchases. Uncle Mike called it the Hitlermobile and said a convertible in Seattle is about as useful as a prick on a priest. It was constantly in the shop and the roof leaked, but it was green and Lexy thought it matched her eyes.

She parked in the spot reserved for the Employee of the Month. She often did this because the Employee of the Month was usually too scared of her to complain. Mike was standing in front of the office building, talking to a couple of uniformed cops.

At forty-three, his good looks and thick, dark hair still made women of all ages stand up a little straighter and unconsciously pitch their voices a little higher. If she had a nickel for every time one of her girlfriends told her that her uncle looked like “that cop on TV” she’d, well, get that fancy Japanese hair straightening treatment and be done with the mess on her head.

Lexy strode toward him pulling down the hem of her too-small shirt. Flip-flops had been a really bad idea. Her toes were freezing. Mike motioned her over and dismissed the cops with a wave. They turned to go, but not before one of them checked Lexy out. Mike caught him at it and raised his eyebrows. The younger cop scurried off to his patrol car.

“Uncle Mike. What’s happening?” Lexy leaned into his side and he gave her a one-arm hug.

“Hey kid. Sorry about this. What I need you to do…” He stopped and looked at her ensemble. “Lexy, what the hell? You can’t go out in public like that.”

“I was in a hurry!” She hadn’t been able to locate her bra and had a bikini top on under her t-shirt. She blushed and folded her arms over her chest. Goddamn Uncle Mike.

Mike looked around, and spotted one of his officers. “Rogers! Bring my niece a jacket.”

Officer Rogers brought a blue windbreaker with RPD stenciled on the back and absolutely kept his eyes off Malick’s niece. Lexy put the jacket on and walked with Mike around the back of the building. When she saw an ambulance parked at an angle with the back doors open next to a patrol car, she stopped.

“What…?”

“We found a body, Lex. I need you to tell me who she is.”

“A dead body? Like, dead?” That wasn’t possible, was it? Just a couple of days ago they’d had a barbeque and steel drum band back there. People couldn’t die where she’d been laughing and drinking beer with her co-workers, could they?

“I need you to be a big girl. Just look at her face and tell me her name. We know she works here—the security guard recognized her.”

“What…what happened?” She looked him in the eye, trying to telepathically get him to let her off the hook. He took her gently by the elbow and walked her toward the ambulance.

“We don’t know yet. She was found by the creek.”

“Did she drown?”

“No. Now, I’m going to uncover her face and you look as long as you need to. If you know her right off, I’ll cover her up again and this will be over.”

They were at the back of the ambulance now. Lexy took a deep breath and shuddered. Mike unzipped a dark blue body bag. She saw the pretty face, the blonde hair of her friend.

“Oh, Jesus. It’s Callie.” Her heart pounded. The edges of her vision dimmed.

“Callie who?”

She started shaking. “Callie Caldwell. Calliope. She’s in PR. We…we started the same day at Xenon. We were in New York together last week! What happened to her?”

“Does she have family here?”

“Yes. No—I don’t know. I don’t feel good…” Lexy swayed and Mike started to sit her down on the tailgate of the ambulance, but thought better of it. He led her to a wooden bench between the parking lot and the fence that bordered the wetlands.

“Put your head down between your knees if you feel like you’re going to pass out.” Lexy put her head down and took some deep breaths.

“You were friends with this girl?”

Lexy looked up. Mike had his notebook out. “Seriously? This is real?”

“Sorry kiddo. It’s my job to find out what happened to Callie.”

“Do you think someone killed her?”

“Yeah, honey. Listen, I’ve got a team out there looking for her clothes and any other personal belongings. What did Callie carry with her? A phone? Purse?”

 “Her phone for sure. It’s an iPhone 4 in a red leather case. Her bag is big and red. Fendi. She loved that bag.”

She could see that Mike was writing ‘red fendy purse’ in his notebook. “Why don’t you go home and get some rest and we’ll talk later. How about dinner at Angelo’s?”

Lexy let out a long breath. “Okay, Uncle Mike.” She suddenly looked up. “Shit what time is it? I have to go to work.”

“No work today, Lex. We’re sealing the building. Now, you feel okay to drive? You want me to have Rogers drive you home? I’ll make sure no one jacks the Hitlermobile.”

She shook her head, and stood up. “I can drive myself home. I just want to go to bed. I was up all night.” And, she noticed with a surreptitious sniff, she smelled like sex. She took a step back from Uncle Mike. Too late; he’d seen her guilty look.

“Not that married prick?” Scanning the parking lot.

“He’s not a prick.” She mumbled.

Lexy got home, showered, and found her bra. She tried to sleep but was too wired, so she got online. All three local news outlets were featuring the story on their webpages. KING had “Body Found on Xenon Campus,” and KIRO’s was “Woman Dead at Video Game HQ.” KOMO was already calling it murder even though the body probably wasn’t even at the morgue yet: “Video Games Are Murder at Xenon Campus.”

She checked her social media streams for anything from co-workers but so far there was nothing. Callie’s name, once it got out, wouldn’t mean much to gamers, but everyone in the industry knew her or knew of her and it would be big news in their incestuous little world. Lexy wondered what Uncle Mike was doing right now. Was he trying to reach Callie’s family? She supposed Xenon had all that sort of stuff on file.

She decided she’d better check in with work.  The only person who wouldn’t be expected to work remotely today was Callie Caldwell. She picked up her cellphone and opened the email application. Yep, there was the mail from Facilities. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Xenon campus and all offices are closed and unavailable for the day. Please work remotely.”

There wasn’t a lot of email in her inbox yet. A few messages had come in overnight from the team in Europe and local overachievers. One of her co-workers had sent a “WTF” missive to the Xenon.com team alias on top of the official “Stay the fuck out” email.

Lexy was a member of the Xenon.com editorial staff. Her domain was the community of Xenon customers. She wrote articles, covered video game events, ran the forums, and devised and managed events and promotions for the Xenonline service. It was her job to make sure that the fifteen million customers who paid sixty bucks a year for access to Xenonline always had something fun to do. The marketing department called this “customer retention.” Lexy called it “having fun for a paycheck.”

She grabbed her phone and flicked over to SMS messages to see if there was anything from Nate. There wasn’t. However, there was something from Callie. Lexy’s heart sped up. It had come in at 11:45 p.m. It said:

< Dude. LOL. Check it out—you’ll freak. ❤ > 

Check what out, Lexy wondered. There wasn’t a photo or file attached. She scrolled back in the message history, but it was the only thing new since last week. Check what out?!

Lexy switched back to the laptop and checked her Xenon email account. Searched for Callie’s name. Nope, nothing from Callie since before the New York trip.  Frustrated, she picked up her phone again and started to reply to Callie’s text before remembering that she was dead.

Dead. How could she be dead? And what the hell had Callie wanted her to check out? Lexy fired up Facebook and pulled up Callie’s page. She scanned her updates but saw only the usual: Foursquare check-ins at Westside hot spots, LOLcats pictures, and messages from friends along the lines of “Hey girl can’t wait to get mani-pedi this weekend.” There was nothing indicating anyone knew she wouldn’t be around to like their posts. Did she have any updates from yesterday? Just one: At 6:15 p.m. she’d posted from her phone “Leaving the office early. Time to get my freak on… LMAO. :D”

She should probably let Uncle Mike know.

 

Lexy sat in a deep, dark upholstered booth at Angelo’s, their favorite Italian place on the Eastside. Uncle Mike was late and she sat drinking water and fooling around with her phone. She kept coming back to Callie’s text message. Making sure she hadn’t imagined it.

She had a new text. It was from Kim, her fellow Xenon.com editor.

< Did you hear about Callie Caldwell? >

She sighed and tapped back:

< Dude. I had to identify her. >

Her phone chimed softly whenever a text message arrived. She switched it to silent and read the new text from Kim:

< holy shit. Is your uncle on the case? >

< don’t know if I can say >

< I saw her in Belltown Tues nite >

< Who with? >

< Kate, Mandy and Chad. At See Sound. >

< Was she happy? Having fun? >

< Yeah. Drinking, laughing, center of attention. Lol >

< In her element. I’m glad. See you tomorrow? >

< Yep >

Lexy put the phone away when she heard Mike’s voice chatting up the waitresses. He was a regular, and a favorite here. After five minutes Lexy leaned out of the booth and waved at him when she caught his eye. He wrapped up his conversations with a pat on the arm or shoulder squeeze for each woman and headed her way.

He was smiling as he slid into the booth. As if he hadn’t spent the day with a dead twenty-five year old. “How you doin’ kid? Get some sleep?”

“Not much. I’m super hungry though.”

“Got it,” he said with a wink. He ordered veal marsala for two and a scotch for himself. Lexy stuck to water.

“So, um…did you talk to Callie’s parents?”

“It’s just her mom. Dad died a few years ago.”

“Oh. I didn’t know. How was it? The telling her mom part?” Lexy couldn’t imagine having to tell a parent their child was gone. Especially violently. She shuddered.

Mike took a slug of his drink. “Same as it always is. No better or worse than the hundred times before.”

“Does her mom live here?”

He shook his head. “Cleveland. You weren’t close, huh?”

Lexy shrugged. “We worked together. We gossiped. It felt like we were friends, but I didn’t know where she was from—or I didn’t think it was important enough to remember. I don’t remember her talking about her family. But I guess I don’t talk about mine at work either.”

They were silent for a bit. When the food arrived they tucked into it. Every time the waitress came over Mike smiled and was charming and when she left he was silent again. Lexy had never really thought about what his job entailed. She’d been excited when he graduated from the police academy and had celebrated his promotion to Detective, but she’d never thought about the things he’d seen and the phone calls he had to make to families.

Mike suddenly looked up. “Listen…” He smiled. “Our boy Dino.”

The restaurant sound system played a selection of Italian crooners and coming through the overhead speakers was Dean Martin singing “Innamorata,” a favorite of theirs.

“I had a dream about Dino the other night,” Lexy said. “We were working on John Kennedy’s campaign together and he pulled a bait-and-switch on me with a Boogie Nights prosthetic.”

Mike’s face squinched up. “What?”

“You know, like when Marky Mark had a fake schlong? Dino had one of those.”

He shook his head. “You are twisted. Finish your veal.” He tipped back the rest of his scotch and put the glass down firmly on the table. “Dino would never have a fake one.”

It felt good to laugh.

After the plates had been cleared and dessert decided against, Mike pulled out his notebook and patted his jacket pockets for his pen. “I have a few questions. About Callie. Okay?”

“Like official questions?”

Mike nodded. “Relax. We’re just talking here.”

“Okay.” Lexy took a deep breath.

“Let’s start with the last time you saw Callie.”

“That was Sunday night at SEA-TAC airport. We’d just come back from a trip to New York.”

“What was in New York?”

“We were doing an event at the Toys R Us store. She was handling the press people and I was covering it for the web site.”

“How long were you there?”

“We flew in on Thursday night and the event was Friday. We stayed Saturday because…it’s New York, and we flew home Sunday.” Lexy took a last bite of veal and drained her water glass.

“Anyone else with you on the trip? She bring a friend along?”

“There were people from event planning, and a couple of executives but we didn’t hang out with them.”

“Anything strange or upsetting happen in New York?”

“No. She said she was supposed to hook up with some guy on Friday night, but it didn’t pan out. I think he bailed on her.”

“You know the guy’s name?”

“She didn’t say.”

“Okay. So on Sunday, your plane lands, you go to baggage claim…”

“Carry-on only.”

“Right. So the last place you saw her…?”

“Parking garage.”

“How was her mood?”

“She was mad at me. We’d been arguing.”

Mike looked up. “About what?”

Lexy cleared her throat, uncomfortable. “It was idiotic. She got upgraded to first class and I was pissed that she took it instead of staying back in coach with me. She was mad at me for being mad.”

“How did you leave it with her?”

“We were polite. There was no screaming or hair-pulling. I said ‘See you back at the ranch,’ and she waved and got in her car.”

“And that was the last contact you had with her?”

“Yeah. Wait, no!” She pulled out her cellphone. “I got this text from her last night.” She brought up the message and slid the phone across the table. “I didn’t notice it until this morning.”

Mike squinted slightly at the tiny letters. He’d be needing glasses soon. “Explain this to me, Lex.”

She swung around the booth to sit next to him. They looked at the message together.

< Dude. LOL. Check it out—you’ll freak. ❤ >

“Please tell me you know what ‘L-O-L’ is.” Lexy teased.

“’L-O-L’ I get. What’s less-than-three?

Lexy chuckled. “It’s a heart on its side. Love.”

Mike looked at her. “So she forgave your hissy fit.”

Lexy’s eyes teared up. “Guess so. Yeah.”

“What did she want you to check out?”

“I don’t know. There was no attachment. I checked my work and personal email accounts, instant messages, Facebook, and Twitter and there was nothing else from her. Uncle Mike, what could she want me to see?”

“I don’t know, but we need to find out. If the ME’s right, she sent this an hour or two before she died.”

 

Find out what happens next… 

 

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