Would you have believed her then?

It’s convenient, they say, that it’s only coming out now. Just weeks before the election. She’s doing it for attention. To disrupt the campaign. Because she was paid by the opposition.

If she had spoken out when it happened, would you have believed her then? She would have been put under a microscope. What was she wearing? Was she flirting? Who else has she had sex with? Where does she meet men? Was she drinking? Would you have believed her then?

“It’s a lie. She’s not pretty enough for me,” he would have sneered. He’s right, they would have said, he’s incredibly wealthy and has important friends. He’s always surrounded by beautiful women, why would he want her? Look at how plain she is. He would never stoop so low. Would you have believed her then?

“It won’t do any good,” she might have said, “men seldom are held accountable for these things.” There was a boy at Stanford. He wasn’t rich. He didn’t have important friends. He was nobody. He was caught in the very act of rape. He spent less than a summer vacation in jail. Who would hold a wealthy man with political connections responsible? Who would have believed her then?

“I don’t have the energy to fight, I just want to forget it ever happened,” she could have said. She would have tried to bury the memory. To wipe away the feel of his hands and his mouth on her body. To expunge the scent of his cologne from her nose. To erase the sound of his voice. She would have wanted to eliminate every detail of that day.

If she never told anybody about it, never said it aloud, it could almost be like it never happened. She could try to go back to her life. To be happy and carefree. To not cringe if a man stood too near her. To not panic if a man walked behind her for more than a block. To not flinch at the accidental touch of a stranger in a crowded space. She might have forgotten it all.

Until she saw her monster on television, vying to be President of the United States. Until she felt compelled to try to stop this monster from becoming one of the most powerful men in the free world. Knowing she would be criticized, and picked apart, and hated, and ridiculed, and blamed, and shredded, and shamed. Knowing all of this, she would need to stand up. And she would feel emboldened when she saw others, like herself, telling their stories. And she would finally find the courage to speak her truth

Would you believe her now?


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Dogs and Heaven

Dog owners know how their canine family members have this magical ability to ease pain. Whether you’re sick, hurt, or emotionally in knots, a dog’s companionship soothes and comforts whatever ails you.


The final weeks of our beloved dog’s life held some of the hardest, most painful moments of my life. Just about four months shy of his fourteenth and Golden Birthday, Kokanee stopped eating like he used to. Then he stopped eating at all, or threw up immediately after trying. We took him to the vet, expecting the worst.

My husband and I had the difficult conversation of where to draw the financial line. It’s hard to balance the worth of diagnosis and treatment at the end of life. Kokanee was our faithful companion for well over thirteen years. Our children (9 and 11) had never known life without him. We wouldn’t let him starve to death, but we wouldn’t give up on him without trying to make him well. Until he stopped eating, he seemed ageless – a puppy trapped in an old dog’s body. We couldn’t easily let go of that, but he was nearly 14 and any life-saving attempts would buy us only a short time.

The x-rays and blood tests within budget ruled out anything obvious. Aside from weight loss (which he didn’t need), all of his health indicators looked good without any red flags. The vet checked one more thing and Kokanee tested positive for Lyme disease. This could explain his symptoms, but the vet cautioned me there was no guarantee. We had a glimmer of hope – Lyme disease is treatable.

After a steroid and antibiotic injection, he seemed to perk up. He even ate, and kept down, an entire bowl of boiled hamburger and rice. Perhaps he’d make it to his Golden Birthday after all! We all knew that two things needed to happen to make it that far: he needed to take ALL of his medication, and he needed to keep eating. The day after the vet, we were still positive. We tricked him into eating all of his pills, and he was still eating the burger and rice mix.

The day after that didn’t go as well. He didn’t eat much and spit out the pills. He turned his head away from peanut butter because he knew we’d put the meds in it. Peanut butter!! We had to try to hand feed him to get him to eat something. If you ever need your heart pulverized, try listening to your daughter beg her dog to please, please just eat something.

The next day I came home from work early and immediately checked on Kokanee. He looked up at me from his blanket on the laundry room floor, and I burst into tears. In that instant, I saw in his eyes that he was ready. It was time. We weren’t going to get him to eat or take his medicine. He was done. That night, we let the kids try to feed him anything he would eat. A few licks of ice cream, a couple of meatballs. Maybe, just maybe?

I called the vet the next morning. They said I could bring him in that day or the following morning (Saturday). I couldn’t take him while the kids were at school – we hadn’t told them yet that he wasn’t going to get better. They hadn’t said goodbye. I couldn’t do that to them. I cried all day. When my son got home, the first thing he asked when coming through the door was whether the dog had eaten that day. I cried again and he knew. “When?” he asked. “Tomorrow,” I said. And we sobbed together.

We didn’t tell my daughter until after her hockey game that night. The kids cried themselves to sleep on the couches that night. They wanted to stay downstairs to be close to him. I didn’t sleep at all. My whole body ached with the pain of a broken heart.

The next morning I sat on the floor of the vet’s office, with Kokanee lying beside me on a soft quilt. I had cried a million tears in the past four days, but there were still more. I stroked his ears after the first shot that numbed his whole body. I whispered to him how much we all loved him. I promised him it would all be over soon. I told him it was ok for him to go now.

Then, just like a dog would, he took my tears and my pain away. He took them with him when he left this earth. I don’t know how he did it, but when the vet checked for his heartbeat and told me he was gone, I felt at peace for the first time in weeks. And that’s when I knew: Dogs don’t go to heaven. Dogs ARE heaven.

To me, heaven isn’t a place with gates and a ruler. To me, heaven is pure love and everything that is good in this world. And there nothing with more unconditional love and true goodness than a dog’s heart. Every time a dog kisses your tears away or nuzzles his way into your heart, be grateful that you have your own slice of heaven right now on earth.

The day we said goodbye to Kokanee, we visited a litter of lab puppies. Every puppy kiss, every puppy sound, every puppy smell was like glue on the pieces of our broken hearts. My son said it best when he said the only thing you need when you lose your dog is your dog’s love. They take the pain and turn it into love.

Dogs don’t go to heaven. Dogs are heaven.

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Unpopular Opinions

I started this a long time ago. The hot topics in the news have obviously changed and some of these opinions aren’t quite so relevant today. But I still feel it’s all worth saying…


I’ve been pretty silent lately, so I thought I needed something strong to restart me in the writing mode. While some people may not believe it, I try to keep certain opinions and comments off of facebook, knowing that facebook is rarely the time or place to engage in divisive debates. That said, I have been biting my tongue for far too long on a few topics and lately feel a strong desire to share – even if it does not end well. I’m quite certain that I will lose a few friends in this next election season, so we might as well get the ball rolling now!

I’ll start light with my first unpopular opinion: I really do not like that Shut Up and Dance song. Even before it was overplayed at every opportunity on every possible radio station, I just didn’t like it. I don’t have a reason on this one, just an opinion: I hate it.

This next bit is going to be a harder for some people to swallow. There are three popular music artists that I really can’t stand: Sara Bareilles, Sam Smith, and Bruno Mars. I know! I’m sorry!

I haven’t like Sara since her first song, King of Whatever it was (it really is a dumb song), but I tried really, really hard to turn it around with Brave. I know that song has a great message and inspired so many hospital-based YouTube videos, but I can’t do it! I know it’s me and not her, but her voice actually hurts my ears. I have to change the station immediately.

And I know so many of you love Sam Smith, but I. Just. Can’t. Again, something about his voice just rakes my spine. I know it’s all deep and lovely and what have you, but honestly, I feel like I’m getting Rick Rolled every time I hear him on the radio. Truly.

What can I say about Bruno? I think that it may have all started with the Lazy Song, which never seemed like a real actual song that should be played on the radio, but I can’t be certain. I have seen him perform a couple of songs live, and if you can remotely tolerate his terrible songs, I’m sure he puts on an amazing show! The worst part is that my kids love Uptown Funk, so I’m forced to endure listening to those nonsensical lyrics far more than should be allowed by the Eighth Amendment.

If you haven’t decided to unfriend me yet, I do appreciate it. It’s possible we could work through our differences…except there’s one more thing I have to say. I probably shouldn’t even say it. This could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m afraid if I say it out loud (well, ok fine, “put it in writing”) then I really will lose some friends. But if I continue to keep it bottled up, it will just eat away at me until I am an empty vessel of sadness.

First, please understand that I have tried so hard to reverse my opinion on this subject. I know that I am on the wrong side of history here, I do. But in my heart, I cannot stop it. There are certain songs that come up on the radio. And my first reaction is, Oooh! I really like this song! And then my second reaction is to look to see who sings it. One Direction. Every time. I know! I KNOW! 1D! It’s not good. It’s shameful. But I can’t help myself. I like almost all of their songs. My only consolation is that I’m pretty sure they don’t write any of their own songs, so in reality I am appreciating the real song writer’s talents. And also, those goofballs really can sing. Don’t worry though, I won’t be going to any of their concerts. Probably.

So there you have it. I’ve spoken my piece. If you’ve made it this far and we are still friends, thank you for accepting me as I am. Know that in civilly discussing our differences, we can all gain more knowledge and better understanding of humanity in general.

When you speak, speak to explain not to convert.

When you listen, listen to understand not to judge.


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I don’t think anybody who was aware of what was going on could ever forget that day. But what we seem to have already forgotten is what happened in the days and weeks following 9/11. You see, it wasn’t Democrats or Republicans who were attacked. It wasn’t liberals or conservatives; it wasn’t black lives or police; it wasn’t welfare recipients or millionaires; it wasn’t fat people or skinny people; it wasn’t Muslims, Jews, Christians, or atheists who were attacked. The death toll was high, but still a tiny percentage of our country’s population, yet we knew it was the entire United States of America that had been attacked. And we came together as human beings, and our differences weren’t strong enough to divide what tragedy united.

Once a year we share pictures of buildings and flags, and the rest of the year we tear each other apart. We say not all of our citizens are worthwhile or deserve the same rights; we say those with more struggles and less success are doing something wrong and therefore don’t deserve our help; we shame and insult people who don’t parent, eat, exercise, look, love, or act like us; we attack science and education and religion; we blame and judge entire segments of the population based on the actions of few who appear to share the same traits; we accuse, we distrust, we spit vitriol and death threats from behind the anonymity of the internet; and then we tell people if they don’t like it, they can leave our country.

#NeverForget that we were attacked. More importantly, #NeverForget that we are Americans, and our freedom — even obligation — to speak out does not have to divide us if we remember that our neighbors are not our enemies. None of us are immune — we all have our hot buttons; but if we continually strive to keep our discourse and disagreements respectful and honest, we won’t have to try to remember how it felt when we were truly united. It will be how we live every day.

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Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is the freedom to travel to your place of worship and commune with others who share your ideology and faith without fear of persecution, violence, or censorship from the government.

Religious freedom is the freedom to speak openly and publicly about your beliefs and invite others to join you in dialog and worship without fear of persecution, violence, or censorship from the government.

Religious freedom is the freedom to walk into a store, a bank, a bakery, a florist, a restaurant, a service station, a dentist’s office, a salon, or any business and get served as a paying customer regardless of your faith without fear of persecution, violence, or censorship from the government.

Denying a member of your community those opportunities because they are different from you is not religious freedom, it’s just being an asshole. When the government validates that behavior, it turns discrimination into oppression. It erases the centuries of fighting for justice and the basic human rights of all our citizens and gets us one step closer to the tyrannical nations we claim to despise. So congratulations, Extremist Right-Wingers, if you continue down this path you will rightfully earn your place in history alongside the Taliban and Nazi Party.


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Life Lessons from a Child


Last year, in first grade, my daughter’s teacher had the students write in a “Life Book”. Throughout the school year, students brought in pictures or other meaningful items that could be pasted in the book and then wrote stories or descriptions about them. It was amazing to not only see the progress from the beginning of the school year to the end, but to get an extra glimpse into the mind of your six and seven year old.

Toward the end of the year, my daughter started a book within the book, called Life. Her first entry was a picture of her class with the following caption (spelling corrected):

Life is short, so we need memorable moments. Like think back when you were in first grade. Who were your friends?

I asked her where she got her inspiration for this. What made her think that life is short?

“From a sign at McCoy’s [Pub],” she replied. “It said, ‘Life is short. Eat cookies.'” Then she giggled, “Eat cookies.”

I had to giggle, too. The thought that such a profound idea was inspired by a trip to our local family-friendly semi-divey bar and restaurant put a smile on my face. The knowledge that, in her youthful innocence, she could glean such wisdom from a humorous wall hanging made my heart swell with pride and amazement.

This little girl of mine is almost eight now, and I wonder every single day where the time has gone. She is absolutely correct. Life is short. And I am so incredibly lucky that I have her to help fill it with memorable moments.

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Twelve Healthy Habits (or Shoes)


We’ve all heard or read that it takes two weeks to form a habit. The logical, data loving side of me assumes there have been studies that yielded some quality statistics and probability that demonstrate that if, on average, you maintain a behavior for two weeks, the probability of you maintaining that habit for the long-term goes up significantly. But the other side of me screams, “Hang the math, I need something relatable! Give me a metaphor! (Or a simile, whichever seems more appropriate for the situation at hand!)”

New habits are like new shoes.

Sometimes, when you buy a new pair of shoes, they fit nicely and feel great right away. You can immediately start wearing them every day, without any trouble or side effects at all. But more often than not, a new pair of shoes takes a little breaking in. You know they fit and are just the shoes you need, but they need to be broken in. You might have some blisters and may have to wear band-aids or an extra pair of socks a few times before the shoes conform comfortably to your feet. And then, let’s be honest, there are some shoes that are never very comfortable at all. You wear those only for short times and for certain occasions, but they’re necessary for a specific reason. For example, my winter boots are awful for walking long distances or standing all day, but they keep my feet toasty warm in the coldest of Minnesota conditions.

Habits are the same. Some habits are easy to come by and become a part of your daily routine with minimal energy or thought. Others are more difficult and take some time and serious effort before becoming an integrated part of your life. And there will be a few that are always a bit uncomfortable and never part of your natural disposition. Hopefully, as with the shoes, those habits are the ones you need less often but for very specific reasons.

This year, I am going to get one new pair of healthy shoes per month.

January: Tracking and water. Look how I lied immediately. I said one healthy habit per month and I’m starting with two! But I’m only starting with two because, for me, water is one of those super comfy pairs of shoes. Slippers, really. Honestly, it’s easier for me to get into a water habit than it is to explain why I get out of the habit of drinking water. As long as I have a glass/mug/bottle of water in front of me, that’s what I drink. My other focus for January is tracking my food and exercise. This one is always a bit harder, although I know it’s a critical brick in my foundation for a healthy life. The self-awareness alone always yields positive results, even without actively changing any habits. My goal in January is not only to track, but to figure out the best way to track in order to make this a sustainable habit throughout the year.

February: Exercise. I have two goals in regards to exercise. For the past few months, I have been pretty good about making it to boot camp on Wednesday and Friday mornings. There is a class on Monday as well, but I am a bit sketchy about making it on Mondays, so my first goal is to make it Mondays (today I started my own hashtag #makeitMonday – I’m hoping to use it 51 more times in 2015). My second goal is going to be another challenge, but one that I have proven to myself is more than worth the effort for both my physical and mental health: get back to running. I’ve used it in the past to effectively help manage my depression and I’ve fallen off the wagon over the past year. I plan to run two to three times a week – doesn’t have to be a great distance or a crazy amount of time, I just need to get out and pound the pavement.

March: Stretching. This kind of goes along with exercise so I wanted to keep them close together. I am not sure yet how to get more stretching into my daily routine, but I definitely need to work on my flexibility. Ideally, after establishing a more consistent exercise schedule, it should not take much extra effort to work in more stretching.

April: Sleep routines. Sleep is a critical, but often overlooked, aspect of health. I know this for myself, even without the studies that say so. The problem is that I do not sleep well at all. I’ve done a sleep study that only confirmed that I do not sleep, but didn’t give me any medical clues as to why. I know that I can be much better about planning evening routines and setting up a relaxed atmosphere in the bedroom. Over the next few months, I will research other factors that could help improve my sleep situation so that I am ready with a plan come April.

May: Meal planning. One of our biggest downfalls for both financial and physical health is the fact that we eat out out all the time. Between work and activities, we are frequently busy in the evenings and it’s often easier to go somewhere or pick something up rather than cook a meal at home. I just got a programmable crock pot for Christmas and need to make sure we get a lot of use out of it this year. This is one of the more important healthy habits, but I think it will be one of the most challenging and I will need to do a lot of research (revisit Pinterest??) to get ready for May.

June: Fruits and vegetables. Early summer is just the time to start increasing our fruit and vegetable intake. Following up a month of meal planning, it should be pretty easy to plan in plenty of servings of fresh farmer’s market produce. I should start learning how to shop by season and may consider another attempt at planting some of our own.

July: More whole foods. This is really just taking June one step farther and adding in fresh meats or other protein. Honestly, it’s almost cheating to do this in July since there’s nothing better than grilling in a Minnesota summer.

August: Vitamins/supplements. I might have to revisit this one since I’m already pretty good about taking daily vitamins, but I think after a few months of changing my food intake, it could be a good time to evaluate what (if any) supplements and vitamins are needed. Or maybe it’s just a review month.

September: On the go/healthy snacks. Back to school and hockey means we will be back to busy, busy, busy! Part of the reason I want to get healthy is to make sure that the kids will develop healthy habits while they are still pretty young. With us always on the run, we need to have quick, healthy food to grab and go on the way to school or the rink.

October: Daily activity. Winter will be on its way, which means it will be a great time to make sure that every day has plenty of activity, in addition to the planned exercise (running and boot camp). I can start evening walks with the family, taking the stairs at work, or other little ways to sneak in movement during the day. Building up the daily activity will help offset any missed workouts once cold and flu season and those dark, dark morning arrive with winter.

November: Measuring portions. This could be done earlier in the year, since it is an important part of the foundation. I expect I’ll be doing some measuring throughout the year as part of tracking, but I figured just before the holidays would be the perfect time to get out the scale and measuring cups and spoons to ensure that my eyes are not bigger than my stomach.

December: Celebrating without excess. I don’t believe in deprivation. I will not be giving up chocolate, or wine, or cheese. But I do need to focus on enjoying these things without going completely overboard and erasing a year’s worth of hard work and dedication. What better time than Christmastime to focus on a healthy enjoyment of the little things in life!

Underscoring all of this is the most important factor for success: positive self talk. I didn’t assign it to a month because I need to actively practice it each and every month. It’s hard to find the right balance within oneself to forgive mistakes while pressing forward. Over the years I’ve oscillated between being overly harsh (What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just do this? You’re disgusting.) and letting myself completely off the hook (Go ahead and eat that whole pizza if it makes you happy. It doesn’t matter. You can start over again later). It takes constant practice to say the things I really need to hear (You can do this. You deserve to be healthy and feel good. Forget about the overindulgence from last night, just don’t stop moving forward. Don’t worry about how you look in a bathing suit right now — do this so you can ride a bike to the market in Nice when you’re 70. You are strong and amazing in so many ways.) Trusting yourself, loving yourself, and knowing you are doing this all for the right reasons are shoes to put on every single day.

One(ish) healthy habit per month. Healthy. Sustainable. And totally achievable.

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Hello, Square One, my old friend. You haven’t changed much since the last time I was here. You know, I truly believed the last time was going to be THE last time, and yet here we are again. I wonder how many more times we will cross paths in my lifetime?

I will tell you this: while it may appear I haven’t changed much either, that would be an illusion. I am not the same person I was in our last encounter, which is why our current reunion will be a brief one.

The most important change is that I now have the power to drown out your taunts of failure and disappointment. When I hear your negative voice creeping into my consciousness, I turn up the volume on the cheers from my dear friends, Jaime and Tina, who have made careers from their passions around health and fitness, and who are two of the most supportive and encouraging coaches I know. When your murky clouds of shame and defeat start to wear me down, I reach out to my sisters, who are masters at sympathizing with me while pushing me to keep moving forward.

Yes, it’s true I haven’t had the courage to revisit my own thoughts in Reaching the Perfect Weight, because I fear your power is greatest in the space where I thought I had finally left you behind for good. But I’m working hard to not let you use my past successes to weigh my present down. I’m learning to let go of should haves, could haves, what ifs, and so closes. There is only right now and what’s next; and what’s next right now is take another step away from you.

This time when I leave, I won’t promise  myself it’s the last time. We may meet again — in a year, or two, or five. If we do, I will have learned more and grown stronger than I am today. You will have less and less power over me as the years pass. And when you are nothing but a blip on the radar, or a pit stop in my journey to overall health, then I will have beaten you once and for all.

Because coming back to Square One is not the failure. Staying here is.

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Life After Santa


“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Her exuberant cries grew louder as she neared the bathroom where I was getting ready for work, “Guess what?! Another elf came – a girl elf!”

“Really?” I feigned surprise, trying to match her enthusiasm.

“Yes! Look!” She held out the two Elf on the Shelf books and a note Marty (our elf) left. She showed me how the new book had a picture of a girl elf, while the other book had a boy. She read me Marty’s note, “Please welcome and give a new name to my cousin. xoxo, Marty”!!

I looked over at my son standing behind her. Eyes gleaming, he had his hands clasped beneath his chin – a gesture he’s had since he was a toddler that tells us he is bursting with excitement! It’s possible that he was even more excited than his little sister, but for a very different reason. You see, it was his idea to get a second elf.

Last year, just a few weeks before Christmas, he asked us if Santa was real. As a logical, literal fourth grader he had been asking a lot of pointed questions that we explained away for the benefit of his younger sister. But when he asked directly, I knew we had to have the “Santa talk” and I called my husband up to the room. We told him the truth, we read from some of those letters everybody pins to use for this very moment, and we cried because he cried.

Later that night, I shared with facebookland that we had crossed that milestone in my son’s life. I got a lot of sympathy and support from all my friends. Most of it was around how hard it is for us parents when our children grow up; and some was specifically about how sad it was to lose Santa. But the truth is, Santa gets way too much credit when it comes to Christmas. We haven’t lost any Christmas magic — if anything we’ve gained magic.

I should have expected it. I haven’t believed in Santa since 1983 and I love everything about Christmas: the music, the movies, the food, the lights, wrapping presents, the smell of the tree, and all the hustle and bustle. Santa is magic; but once you know he’s not real, YOU become the magic. And this year, I’ve watched my son become the magic.

He’s been nagging me all week to get a female elf for his sister. He’s already planned something for Christmas morning to explain why the elf didn’t respond to the first note she wrote him this year. He’s helped move the elf and then watched with real excitement over imaginary magic while his sister hunts in the morning. It’s been amazing and heartwarming and has brought my Christmas spirit to new heights.

It’s hard when our children grow up – it comes with a sense of inevitable loss. Gone are the days of baby snuggles, wet toddler kisses, and early childhood curiosities. But what we gain in the people they become overshadows that loss in unimaginable ways. Leaving Santa behind is a step away from childhood, and it’s hard. It is also a step closer to the amazing people our children will become, and a glimpse into the imagination they will use to change the world. And that is where the real magic is.

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Fiction Fun Time

I’m all blogged out lately. I’m just worn out from all the opinions on the internet – even those with which I agree are exhausting at the moment. So here’s a break from all that with another chunk of a story. And THANK YOU to all my facebook friends who helped me find the name of my main character. Although I didn’t use any of the names specifically mentioned, the brainstorm sent me down the right path. Here, you’ll get to know her a little better. (And I’m not proofreading anything here, so forgive (or let me know of) any typos.)


“Ella, right? Can I join you?” I looked up from my books to see Blaze pointing at the chair opposite me.

“Uh, sure. But it’s Aella, not Ella.”

“Eye-uh-la?” He sounded out slowly, sitting down.

“Almost, but the first sounds are almost one syllable.”


“Close enough.” I said.

He shook his head and started paging through his book, “You don’t make it easy, do you?”

“Some of my friends call me Sky. That might be easier for you,” I offered with attitude.

“Sky? As in the air above us?” He asked in a way that pissed me off even more.

“Yeah. So? You’re named after fire. How is that any better?”

“I’m just not sure how you go from Aella to Sky.”

“You don’t,” I said shortly, “I like to fly and it’s a nickname from my mother that just stuck.”

“Hmm…” he mumbled, staring over my right shoulder. I thought about punching him while he wasn’t looking, but that would probably be frowned upon during study hour. “What’s Coach’s real name? Does everybody really just call him Coach?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said. I tried to think what his real name was. Surely at some point over the past four years I would have heard someone call him by name. But I couldn’t think of it, he was just Coach to everyone who knew him.

“Sky for someone who flies, and Coach for someone who coaches. Huh.”

“So, what, a descriptive nickname is no good?” I was seething. “We should all just pick nicknames that are practically the same as our real names? From Blake to Blaze is the only way to go?”

“Blakely is my middle name. My first name is Zinan,” he said, turning his attention back to me, locking his eyes onto mine.

“Oh,” I said lamely, not sure where to go with that and feeling trapped again by his gaze. “Coach said your name was Blake.”

“That’s what all the paperwork says. Very few people know my real name.”

I swallowed hard. Why was he telling me something that very few people knew? Between that and the stupid eye-trance, my anger was quickly deflating. “So then Blaze is because…you like fire?”

“I like the rebirth that happens after fire burns away everything rotted and decayed. Phoenix would have probably been more representative, but that seemed a bit much.” He smiled.

I smiled back. “It’s a bit ironic that your name means fire when your eyes are the color of deep water.”

“It’s all part of my mystique,” he said with a wink.

Shit. Did I say that out loud? I frowned, trying to get a grip on my thoughts so I could change the subject. “And where you learned to fight – is that part of your mystique, too?” I could see his jaw clenching as he looked away from me. “Because, ” I continued, “that’s not machine sector street fighting, that’s serious training.”

I waited for a response but he just shrugged and then went back to his book without looking at me again. “You know, ” I said, “being evasive is not exactly the same as being mysterious.”

He sighed and looked at me. “You know,” he said, mimicking my tone, “being curious is not exactly the same thing as being friendly.”

My face burned. “I wasn’t trying to be friendly. And I am curious where you learned to fight like that.” We glared at each other for a few moments. Then he shrugged and closed his book. Without another word, he stood, gathered his things, and left me staring after him. Steaming from the emotional roller coaster he had just put me on, I shoved all my books into my bag and stalked off in the opposite direction, heading straight to the flight lab.


I closed my eyes to mentally replay my third and final simulation, as was my ritual. What could I have done differently? Would that have affected the outcome? Could I have achieved victory more quickly than what I recorded in this session? I relived and considered each moment of the flight

So I didn’t notice that he was standing right behind me.

“Wow,” he said, “I thought you were good on the mats, but that was — wow.”

I nodded without turning around, instead I watched my hands as they slid across the controls. “This is my center,” I replied. Whenever I flew (or fake-flew in a simulation), everything around me fell away. There is nothing but me, my aircraft, and my mission. No hurt feelings, no questions, no complications of day-to-day life; only what is in front of me. The adrenaline during the flight energizes me, sharpens my reflexes, and focuses my thought. But after the flight, everything subsides to an all-encompassing calm. That calm could last for hours following an exercise, or days if everything is going well. If he left right now, I could keep my calm; it hadn’t been disturbed yet.

Then he pulled up a chair and sat next to me. I frowned, wishing he was just a figment of my imagination, hoping that if I closed my eyes and opened them again, he’d vanish like a puff of smoke. When I turned, he was still there. His eyes were glowing with excitement, and he was sitting on the edge of his chair, looking at me.

“Seriously, Aella, where did you learn to fly like that?” He asked.

“My father taught me.”

“Is he a pilot here on Gemini?”

I tensed, as I always do when I have to say it out loud, “He died when I was thirteen.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said, and I could see in his eyes that he really was.

I shrugged, “It was a long time ago.”

“So, if he was your teacher, you must have started early.”

“I’ve been flying for as long as I can remember. My mom always used to say that when I was a baby, the only time I wasn’t crying was when I in the sky.” I smiled at the memory.

Blaze smiled back and asked, “Was he an instructor?”

“No, a pilot. He could fly anything. Huge cargo planes, military transports sometimes. But mostly he flew chartered passenger flights.” He nodded but said nothing, somehow compelling me to continue. “My mom worked long hours at her hospital, so whenever it made sense, my dad would take me with him. I sat in the jump seat, absorbing everything I could, until I was old enough to sit in the copilot seat – if there wasn’t already a copilot. As soon as I turned eleven, I got my license. After that, we’d go to the airfield together and he started to teach me more complex maneuvers and patterns. He was never an instructor, but, man, he was the best teacher.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how did he die.”

The familiar sting pierced my heart. “One day he chartered the wrong people and someone shot them all down.” After all this time, it was still nearly impossible to get through that short explanation without my voice wavering. I cleared my throat and looked at him again.

“So,” he asked, “how did you end up here?”

“About a year later, Fleet came to the house to recruit me. My mom resisted for a while, but there weren’t a lot of options for fourteen-year-old to fly, and she could see how it was killing me being grounded for so long. Fleet promised live flights and simulations would be part of my daily education. So finally she said ok, just so I could get back into the sky. I came up on the next transport after my fifteenth birthday and I’ve been here ever since.”

I wanted to ask him what his story was. How did he end up here? And why did he go to the machines first? But he spoke again before I summoned the courage.

“Can you teach me to fly like that?”

“Uhh, no.”

“You can’t teach me to fly?” He sounded disappointed.

“Oh, I can teach you to fly,” I said. “I can teach anyone to fly. I just can’t teach you to fly like this.”

“I see,” he said, “because you’re so amazing I couldn’t keep up?”

“Your words,” I smiled.

The bells for first dinner seating echoed in the hall. “We should go,” I said. “First seating always has the best desserts.”

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