bad advice

Advice is a tricky thing.

I gave some bad advice recently. I didn’t mean to, of course, it just happened. A writer in my local NaNoWriMo chapter asked a broad question with a vague description of what she meant, and I gave her the “best” answer I had.

Which of course, was the wrong one.

Our group kept chatting–more information came out about the specifics and how those changed the best answers. I was wrong. It was bad advice.

We live in a culture that wants you to believe you need all the answers. Now. Give the wrong answer quickly and loudly, and you’ll be better received than if you research the correct answer murmuring.

With a few exceptions (the medical field and law), anyone can authoritatively give advice. In fact, despite laws that prevent the sharing of legal and medical advice outside of certain circumstances, many people are happy to say “oh, you can just do this.”

Problem is, when you get bad advice, you’re the one to deal with the consequences of acting on it. In the end, our actions belong only to us.

I’ve let this roll around in my head for a few weeks. not just how I can give out better advice–when I choose to give it–but how I can decide whether I actually know enough about a situation to correctly asses whether or not I should be giving advice in the first place.

Again, it’s tricky. Since I host a writing seminar once a month, there is pressure for me to answer any and all writing questions. After all, if I’m qualified to write up a three hour presentation on aspects of fiction/wordcraft, then I must be qualified to follow up with a Q&A, right?

Right. Problem is, one extra piece of information can change the answer.

The question becomes, when we’re asking for advice, what all do I need to include in my question to get a good answer?

I use this all the time when I run into problems in a story. I’ll open up my NaNo group chat and start typing away at the question or problem I have. Before I’ve gotten to the actual question, the answer has made itself clear to me… because all the time spent articulating the problem makes me realize I was stuck on the wrong thing or that I know what I want the answer to be.

Here’s some tips for getting good advice:

  1. Be honest with yourself about the answer you want. Questions that require a crystal ball–no clear-cut answer–are unfair for everyone. No one can look into the future and tell you which path will wind up being the right one. Should I do this, or this? Sorry. Getting advice on that is probably not going to make you feel any better about making that decision.
  2. Choose someone qualified to offer advice. Personally, I’d be happy to answer your fantasy fiction questions all afternoon. But don’t ask me about romance or literary frau-frau, because I have no idea.
  3. Refine the question and choose relevant background information. This is probably the trickiest part, because how do you know what’s relevant? The answer, for me, is keeping the question in the back of my mind for a time. Oh, and google.

How about doling it out?

  1. Check your qualifications. There’s this pressure to avoid saying “I don’t know,” and just to wing an answer, but honestly, it’s really okay to say so. Better yet–it’s fine to say, you really need to ask a lawyer/veterinarian/dietitian about that.
  2. Check your bias. We all have opinions and beliefs that form our world-views and how we respond. Being aware of these biases can help shape the answer, and alert the person seeking advice that we’re coming from X perspective. I’m not saying don’t include your bias–in fact, quite the opposite. I seek advice from certain parenting communities because their answers will skew toward my style, and when I offer advice in those communities, they know where I’m coming from, too.
  3. Ask probing questions. Make sure the person seeking advice is truly asking the question they meant to ask, and get all the relevant information you can to give a solid, confident response.

What advice do you have about advice?

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no bake energy bites, super cocoa edition

recipe adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Super Cocoa No Bake Energy Bites

1 c old-fashioned oats
2/3 c coconut, shredded
2 tbsp chia seeds
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 c natural creamy peanut butter
1/2 c flax
1/2 c chocolate chips
1/3 c honey
2 tsp vanilla
1-3 tbsp whey or yogurt, if necessary

mix. if mixture is too dry to ball, add the whey. roll into balls. eat.

the “roll into balls” stage isn’t actually necessary. i may or may not be guilty of skipping this stage and eating it straight from the storage container. just sayin’.

these are quite filling. i love that. the peanut butter and honey give the cocoa a rich, almost heady taste, and it satisfies even my worst chocolate cravings. this recipe is flexible, too! chia seeds are optional, chocolate chips can be substituted with nuts, nuts can be added, whatever you feel.

enjoy :)

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marco tempest: tedtalks

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my parenting style in one little anecdote

when i was eight or nine, my mother told me i was too old to play with dolls.

i don’t really remember how i reacted. my mother was my idol. she had been sick, very-sick, and sometimes less-sick. this was a less-sick time of her life—it had to have been or we wouldn’t have been out shopping—and i know i wanted to make her happy.

then later, we were at the grocery store. i want to say it was just me and her, and those moments were even more rare than the less-sick moments. she said she changed her mind about dolls, that if i was still having fun with them, then i should play with them, because you’re only a kid once.

this has profoundly affected my parenting philosophy.

1. parents make mistakes. they fix and apologize for their mistakes.

2. kids grow at their own pace.

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cake batter mocha

I have a problem: cake batter.

Add those two simple words, “cake batter,” in front of anything remotely dessert-like and I won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

The wonderful thing about the internet is that Google is quite helpful for ideas, but one thing I haven’t seen is a recipe for cake batter coffee.

I owed myself a special coffee one afternoon, but it wasn’t worth going out in a blizzard. So I improvised with ingredients we had on hand. This isn’t truly a mocha, but it works in a pinch and tastes enough like treat coffee to hit the spot. And let’s just say I find myself “in a pinch” every couple of days. ;D

Cake Batter Mocha

1 cup milk
1 tbsp espresso powder
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp yellow cake mix
3-4 drops butter flavor

Heat milk, add ingredients. Mix really, really well. If you drink it slowly, you may have to stir once in a while to keep some of the powder and mix from settling.

I made this cold the other day by heating up 1 tbsp milk and whisking dry ingredients into a syrup, then pouring that into the cold milk.

Can be made without cocoa powder–result is tad less rich, but the butter flavor is more prevalent.

Enjoy!

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angelhide: an excerpt

I’ve added a new page to my header for Angelhide! There you can find buy links, an overview, and an excerpt of the first 25 pages.

angelhide

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Aggie couldn’t wait to return to Earth. Heaven wasn’t bad or anything, but it wasn’t Earth with all its sights and smells and—best of all–people. For the past two months, she’d been limited to the dusty corridors of Angel Academy and her plain dorm room. But today, yes today, was her final trial, where she would prove herself and become a true guardian angel.

She held herself still in the stiff plastic chair outside Departures, ignoring the stabbing pain that lanced up her back. She didn’t want Isaac, who sat two seats away, to think she was anxious by shifting constantly.

He took up more space than he deserved, legs spread and crossed ankle over knee. The embroidered pony on his polo shivered with each tap of his polished dress shoes. Tap tap tap. He was more grating than the buzzing of overhead lights, half-dimmed where the bulbs burned out in the empty hallway.

Aggie clasped her hands in her lap. “You’re not nervous, are you?”

He smirked. For a blissful moment, his foot stopped, then he shattered the silence with his voice. “Of course not. Why would I be?”

She closed her eyes and gave him a serene smile. She’d spent weeks practicing her ‘angel’ face–sweet and innocent and pure. Not to brag, but she was pretty sure she nailed it. “This is a big day.”

“Not really. We’re just going down to Earth to fill out some paperwork.” Isaac resumed his tapping both feet, louder than before. “We’re Level Fives, not Fours. We don’t get any of the fun jobs.”

“If the Good Lord sees the task fit to be done…” Aggie trailed off her quip with a shrug. The better assignments would come after she proved herself capable with small ones, complete with promotions.

“Oh, please. You really think you can brown-nose your way through the ranks just like you did in Academy?”

“Jealous much?”

“Hell no. Just because you’ve got your nose in books doesn’t mean you have what it takes to be a guardian angel. I bet you’ll fail the first time you run into a situation requiring some common sense.”

“Well, I bet you’ll fail because you didn’t study enough.” Aggie sniffed and stuck her nose in the air.

Isaac raised one eyebrow. His eyes shone with a deviousness only the Devil should have. “What are you willing to place on that bet?”

Her cheeks burned and her throat tightened. “What? No. That’s…” Aggie searched for the right word. Sacrilegious? Blasphemous? Wildly inappropriate? No, none of those things. “That’s not a bad idea.”

“And here I thought you’d be too scared.” Isaac paused, his eyes on the yellowing ceiling tile as he thought. “I know. If you lose, you have to be my servant for a week: laundry, cleaning, cooking, the whole nine yards. In one of those skimpy maid costumes.”

How predictable.

Aggie needed something that would humiliate Isaac worse than a maid costume for a week. Clearly, he didn’t know her that well if he thought that would bother her. “If I win, you introduce me to God.”

He snorted. “That’s it?”

“Complete with every honor, award, and gold star I’ve earned the last six months in Academy. I’ll lend you my scrapbook–you’ll need to take notes.”

The annoying smirk on Isaac’s face melted into a frown as the weight of her demand settled on him. “But… that’ll make me look like an idiot. Nobody cares about your gold stars.”

“Are you scared to lose a friendly little wager, Isaac?”

“You’re on.” He thrust out his immaculately manicured hand. “First angel to file paperwork in Receiving wins.”

They shook on it.

“May the best angel win,” Aggie said.

Raymond, the head of Academy poked his head out behind the old door. Light glared off the lenses of his horn-rimmed glasses, obscuring his eyes. He gave them a weak smile. “Right on time. Isaac, you first.”

Aggie leaned back in her chair, which sent another sharp pain seizing all the way up to her shoulders. She didn’t want to be scowling when Raymond called for her, so she practiced her prayer face with palms clasped in front of her chest.

Maybe she was a little nervous. Even if she was going down to Earth ‘just’ for paperwork, it was God’s paperwork. She had to earn her reputation as a reliable angel, and that started today.

Aggie calmed herself. She aced Meditation 210, after all. Moments passed, and she lost track of time.

A burst of heat caught her face as though the furnace suddenly clicked on. She ignored it with closed eyes until something like twinkling holiday lights glowed through her eyelids, and then she simply had to see what it was.

Her fingertips glowed as ten votive candles, vibrant and gold. Aggie gasped and the light was gone almost as quickly as it appeared. The warmth dwindled slowly, and if it weren’t for that persisting heat, she wouldn’t believe it really happened. Level Fives weren’t supposed to have any special abilities, not yet. Perhaps a promotion was in her very near future. Could it be? She was almost afraid to hope.

The door scraped open again. She shuddered in surprise, despite expecting it. Raymond left the door open, disappearing into the dark room.

Aggie twisted as she picked up her purse, trying to stretch the knot in her back from these God-forsaken chairs. She took one last look down the hall, with its portraits of former presidents and generous donors collecting layers of dust on the walls and the scuffed tile and the clouded glass in the doors. She would kind of miss being a student. Kind of.

No matter. The Good Work called and she would answer. Aggie entered Departures. Several rows of comparably uncomfortable chairs filled the room. Blinds were drawn and only one overhead light illuminated the room, right over Raymond’s square, bald head. The archangel scowled as he jammed his thumbs against the keys of his phone.

She stopped several feet before the podium just like the first time she was sent to Earth for her internship. With her head bowed and her voice low she asked, “Is something wrong, sir?”

“Minor emergency in the Divine Intervention Center.” He typed without looking up at her, and it didn’t sound like a minor emergency at all. “If you don’t mind, I need to make this quick.”

“Of course,” Aggie agreed. “I can’t wait to make the world a better place.”

That drew his attention. He smiled as he gazed on her, finally. “Ah, Agnes. My sweet little lamb, always willing to help. You know, I have a very special assignment for you.”

Her heart pounded. Her cheeks warmed as she blushed and stammered, “Thank you. I’ll do my best.”

With one hand, he drew a second phone from his pocket and flicked it towards her. “I’m sure you will. This is important: your job is to save Nicholas Bayer. He’s in desperate need of your help. He’ll die if you don’t intervene.”

Aggie took a deep breath to steady herself. Saving lives was for Level Threes and higher. And Raymond thought her able? She would prove herself able. “I won’t return until my assignment is complete.”

“Good girl.” He stepped over to the Departures chamber, which looked a lot like an ancient brass elevator. A large keypad hung next to the door. It beeped every time Raymond punched a key, putting in the codes that would send her down close to her assignment.

Aggie put the phone in her purse without looking at it. All the information she needed was there, but first she had to survive the trip to Earth. The metal latticed door groaned as it shut. She clutched the grab bar, hoping a deep breath would relax her a bit. Only a little. She was going to save Nicholas Bayer’s life! How could any angel be calm in the face of such great responsibility?

Raymond gave her a thumbs up. The booth vibrated, first gently and then wildly, making Aggie’s teeth chatter. A large roar overwhelmed her ears, and her eyes watered into a blur of colors. The air imploded with a pop. Her insides dropped to Earth first, then a moment later the rest of her followed.

FEATHER

Aggie was deposited on Earth several feet above the floor. With a series of thumps, she landed butt-first, head-second, hip-third. She yelped in surprise. Her stomach turned. She swallowed hard and willed the urge to vomit away. Nausea was normal for traveling between realms. Falling was not.

“Aggie?” A tenor voice called softly. “Aggie, is that you?”

Thready, dull carpeting smooshed her cheek. A line of books spread out inches from her face, each boasting a Dewey Decimal number in the 619 range. Not just any books–veterinarians’ reference books. She was on the third floor of the library at River Valley Community College. She’d been here once a few weeks ago, when she was sent down for her trial to observe a young human named Sam–

Sam, who happened to be offering his hand to help her up. He smiled as he bounced on the balls of his feet, eagerly waiting for her response.

“Sam. Hi.” Now what? He was the last person Aggie expected to find, especially since she should have been meeting Nicholas Bayer. And how did he remember her? In Academy, she learned that a fog clouded the minds of humans after they encountered angels, so they would remember little–if any–of the encounter.

She glanced past him. She had to find her assignment before he left. This aisle was otherwise empty. On the other side, a study area overlooked the quad. The windows were decorated with plastic evergreen garland. Beyond, fluffy snowflakes dribbled through the sky, bright as they fell around the glowing yellow star atop the giant Yule tree.

A mass of two bodies writhed on one chair, their faces obscured by a search for each others’ throats. The girl had a pink stripe in her platinum hair. The boy wore a Sox cap. A page shelved books just a few feet away, blissfully ignoring them. Another college-aged student with a carroty crew cut drooled on a textbook, mouth open with a soft snore. Even in sleep, his freckle-stained face was furrowed in worry.

That must be him, she thought. He looks like he needs all the help he can get.

While her assignment slept, she had a moment to talk to Sam. “I’m surprised you remember me at all.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He tipped his fedora. “You saved my life. How could I forget that?”

Aggie bobbed her head down, as though making herself smaller might trivialize her actions. “It was nothing. Anyone would have helped you in my place.”

“You think too highly of people if you think ‘anyone’ would have done that. We’d just met, and you stayed with me all those hours… holding my hand at the ER, telling me it was all going to be okay. Your words pulled me through. I never got a chance to thank you.”

“I’m just glad you’re alright,” Aggie said. She wanted to peek around the corner again to check on Nicholas but Sam stood so close to her. His breath was warm with peppermint and heavy like incense.

“Me, too. I have a reason to live and it’s all because of you.” Sam, always the melodramatic musician. He cleared his throat, hung his head. “That sounds so corny. But it’s true, ya know? You’re like my guardian angel, or something. I just wanna say thanks. Let me take you out for coffee.”

If only he knew. She actually was his guardian angel, but no longer. She was protecting someone new, and that someone was hopefully still sleeping on the other side of the bookshelf.

“I can’t. I’m very busy.” Aggie frowned. There was no rule against fraternizing with past assignments that she knew of, but only because he should not remember her, let alone be insisting on coffee. Something had gone wrong.

“Don’t tell me you’re too busy with school. The semester’s over and the mini-mester doesn’t start till next week.” He beamed. “I’m not taking no for an answer, Aggie. No excuses.”

Say no, she thought. Say you can’t. You have a job to finish that has nothing to do with Sam. But when she opened her mouth, she said, “Alright. I’d like that.”

Coffee didn’t sound half bad, anyway.

“Terrific.” Sam grabbed her hand, his callused fingertips rough on her skin. “You know Loaves N Fishes, don’t you? Meet me at noon and we can have lunch.”

Somehow, a cup of coffee had evolved into a meal. Aggie smiled despite herself. Sam’s cheerful mood was contagious. “Sounds good.”

He snagged a receipt from his pocket and shoved a pen into her hands. “Write down my number and take it with you. You’ll remember it better that way.”

She took down the numbers, doing her best to ignore how he peered over her shoulder, standing so close their coats whispered together. With her breath held, she gave the pen back and glanced at what she had written.

The numbers were ridiculously cute. Loops and swirls on letter tails, a heart where the dash should have been. The mark of a girly-girl. Aggie stuffed it into her purse–the front pocket was a big pink flower–and nodded, praying she wasn’t blushing furiously at how feminine her persona was, or worse, how well she wore it. “See you tomorrow?”

“I can’t wait.” He opened his arms like he might hug her, only to falter and let his hands fall back to his sides. “I’m late for practice, but it was worth it. See you tomorrow!”

Sam hopped away, his cracked military boots squeaking. His calves were bare under his green corduroy shorts. He turned to wave before he disappeared around the corner.

Aggie took a deep breath. Foolish angel, she chided herself. Foolish. Making dates with mortals. This can’t be good. Why couldn’t I just tell him no?

She’d never been trained to deal with that kind of situation. Her weakest grades were in classes that required improvisation or fast thinking. No wonder Isaac wagered she couldn’t handle a real assignment. Her first moment on Earth and she’d made a date instead of first contact.

She’d have to let Divine Intervention know something strange was happening with Sam’s memories, but first she had to find Nicholas Bayer. Aggie rounded the corner, taking a deep breath as she prepared to wake her assignment.

The study room had emptied. The necking couple, Nicholas, all gone. No. This couldn’t be happening. Aggie hadn’t dallied that long–how could he just disappear on her like that? Stay calm, Aggie. You can still track him down. It’s not too late.

His ‘pillow’ remained at the table, a pool of saliva wrinkling the wall of text. She gingerly lifted the corner to see the title: Roman Invasion: The Fall of Hairy Gaul.

That would explain why he fell asleep.

The book was a clue; her assignment could be a history major or writing a paper for English Comp. Everyone had to take that. Then again, Sam said classes were over for now. Maybe he was just passing through, using a sure-fire way to cure his insomnia.

Aggie pressed her face to the window. The quad below was covered in a fine layer of snow. Only a handful of footprints marked recent passage. The campus was nearly deserted.

There was still hope. She tore through the library, ignoring the page who raised an eyebrow as she ran by.

Then she came to a halt, whirled around, and squinted at his name tag, to be thorough. Not Nicholas. Not Bayer. Not her guy. She took off again–past the elevator, down the stairs, around the microfiche and through the foyer.

Three tracks trailed away, two of them nearly buried in new snow which meandered down in tiny flakes. A pair of narrow feet made small steps. Another pair of heavy boots, headed out towards the music building. A final pair of worn sneakers with a wide, left-heavy stride.

Her breath froze in puffy clouds. The air cut right through her thin jacket. Aggie hugged her arms and followed Leftie’s tracks.

The footprints stopped and shuffled briefly in front of the giant Yule tree, then continued in larger strides on the sidewalk. She followed them until they disappeared into a jumble of other feet leading into the cafeteria, a square building with more windows than walls.

The throughway was empty. Cafeteria workers on the far side bobbed their hair-netted heads as they made final cleanup efforts for the night. Only a handful of students lingered at the tables, and none had the orange crew cut she was looking for. A large round clock read 8:27. Had she really been on Earth for almost fifteen minutes, already?

Aggie looked one more time, only to bump into a large campus security guard. Johnson flashed across his brass nameplate right at her eye level. He crossed his arms which made his utility belt squeak.

“I’m sorry, sir!” she said as she stumbled back.

Johnson’s broad chin bore a five o’clock shadow. He regarded her with bushy black eyebrows furrowed down. Crow’s feet around his eyes wrinkled as though he spent more time scowling than smiling. “Are you lost, miss?”

“No…” Aggie fumbled for words. Her nose was uncomfortably stuffy, and she found herself fidgeting. “I’m supposed to meet my study partner here, and I guess he didn’t show.” She tried not to wince at how terribly incompetent she sounded. Pathetic. “I haven’t checked the bookstore yet. He may be in there. Have a happy Holy Day, Officer.”

Johnson said nothing, though his face said it all. He detected bullshit.

His eyes burned on her back as she ducked into the shop. Aggie peered around a cascade of stiff backpacks, waiting for him to leave. He took his time, stalking up and down the hall, a black walkie to his lips. The door finally slammed behind him.

It was like he knew she didn’t belong here.

The shelves of the bookstore were acutely ill-stocked, so checking for her charge was simple. Not a single customer in sight.

Aggie needed a new plan. The library didn’t close for another hour and a half, which gave her plenty of time to do some research. She jogged quickly this time so she didn’t get as cold, but the air stung her lungs. She burst into the warm building with a phlegmy cough.

At the desk, Officer Johnson leaned over the counter towards the librarian. She twirled a pen in her fingers and pursed her cherry lips, clearly enjoying the attention. Not like there was anything else to do–the library was empty. Aggie’s entrance caused them both to turn her direction. The rent-a-cop glared.

She froze like an idiot, mentally screaming at her feet to start moving. And when they did, she hurried to the elevator and smashed the button until the door eased shut.

Her skin was coated in a film of sweat. Her toes wanted to curl. It was that damned Johnson. She itched the longer she thought about him.

No matter. As a security guard, he must have rounds or something to make. In a few minutes he would be gone, and Aggie could sweet-talk the librarian into handing over Bayer’s information.

Aggie leafed through Nursing for Dummies, delving into the intricacies of vein-finding for all body types. When she was on Earth, she masqueraded as a nursing student. And since Aggie liked to be prepared, she studied all the books she could find in Heaven. She could talk shop on current dermatology issues like nobody’s business, even name all the layers of skin and describe in detail what they looked like. If anyone actually cared.

After a half hour had passed, she took the elevator back down. Unless Johnson was a total slacker, he’d be long gone.

The total slacker was staring at her before the doors slid open–like he could sense her presence. He shouldn’t have been able to do that.

Aggie pressed forward since it was too late to do anything else. Her stomach stayed on the elevator right along with her wits. Think, Aggie. Jerk Johnson can only ruin this for you if you let him. Humans want to help angels. Be charming.

The librarian straightened as Aggie approached, acting very much the stiff and distant professional.

“Hi.” Aggie’s tongue was suddenly too big for her mouth. Charming flew out the window, replaced by total awkward with a splash of inept. “My, uh, study partner was supposed to meet me tonight for our independent research project… but I can’t find him and I don’t know if he’s got the book or not.”

“What’s the name of the book? I can tell you if it’s in the building.” The librarian wore a badge clipped to her low-cut blouse, bearing the name Jen. She tapped on her mouse, glancing at Aggie once the computer warmed up.

Aggie smiled big and let her shoulders fall. “I feel so silly, Jen. I didn’t get the name of the author or the name of the book. We flipped through it the other day. It was several inches thick, red and green on the spine… and it was a history book…” She clutched her purse strap and fiddled with the pink flower. “If I told you my partner’s name, could you verify he checked it out?”

“Sure. What’s the name?”

Aggie tried not to look too eager. She was half-way to a win. The next step was his phone number and address. “Nicholas Bayer.”

Officer Johnson’s hands shuddered on the counter. He stood straight, one hand hovering over his pocket. “What did you just say?”

She ignored him, looking straight to the librarian. “I think it’s B-A-Y-E-R.”

“Miss, I need to see your ID.” The officer held out his square hand.

“Why?” Aggie blinked. This had never happened before. She was able to get a freaking social security number from accounting with a smile and a pretty please the last time she was on Earth. “I don’t see why that’s necessary. I’m just asking about a book my study partner checked out. Could you look him up, please?”

Jen stepped away from the console, her eyes on the man she’d been flirting with. “I’m sorry, I can’t give out patron information.”

So much for that.

“Your ID.” Johnson shoved his hand further into her personal space. “Now.”

“Fine.” With an exasperated sigh, Aggie unzipped her purse and pulled out a matching denim wallet that folded out pink. It was empty save a couple of generic photos where her ID and plastic should have been.

Could this get any worse?

Johnson tapped his foot as if his hand wasn’t enough of a reminder he was there and waiting. She tossed the wallet on the counter, digging through the rest of her barren purse, fingers shaking. Two tubes of lip balm, a napkin with a pizzeria logo, and a tiny hairbrush. Where had all her stuff gone?

Her throat was tight. She had no idea what to do, and she couldn’t stall forever. “I must have left my ID in my other wallet. New purse and all, sorry.”

For good measure, she opened the front pocket. It, too, was empty, save the receipt with Sam’s number. Johnson snapped the thin paper from her fingers and inspected the front. “Shopping at Pipes Plus, I see. Incense, a mega-pack of lighters, and 24-hour cleanser? Sounds like you’re a fine, upstanding citizen.”

Aggie’s jaw dropped. Of all the junk Sam carried in his pockets, he had to give her that. She snatched the receipt back and folded it neatly into her purse, trying to sound snotty instead of defeated. “My life is my business.”

“What’s your name?”

“Agnes Halcomb.”

“Come with me, Ms. Halcomb.”

“I don’t see why that’s necessary.” Aggie clutched her empty, useless purse to her side as though it offered her protection. “I’ve committed no crime. All I did was ask for help locating a book my study partner has–”

“Nicholas Bayer isn’t your study partner. He’s not even a student at RVCC.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just do, okay.” Johnson shoved his pointing finger into her face. “Why are you looking for him?”

Her head spun. Sam should not remember her and this man should be jumping through hoops to help her. “Because he’s my study partner,” she said dumbly. It was the best she could come up with.

“You’re lying.” His voice held a defiant flatness. “Why are you here?”

“I’m a student here. I don’t have my ID on me, that’s all. I left it in my other purse.”

The officer put his hand on her arm. “Come on, I’m escorting you off the property.”

“No need, I’m leaving.” Aggie shied from him, wondering what campus security could actually do to her. He didn’t have a gun. He didn’t have a badge. This gave her courage. “Take your hand off me before I file a complaint with the real police.”

He retreated immediately, hands half in a gesture of surrender before he brought them down clenched into fists. Defeat made him sound bitter. “I’ll be watching you, ‘Ms. Halcomb.’ Leave, or I will have the right to detain you.”

Aggie took off before the situation worsened. The wind was even colder now that the snow stopped. It cut through her jacket like she wore nothing at all. She wrapped her cuffs around her fists and shoved them into her pockets. At least fleeing Johnson kept her pace brisk. His footsteps clomped as he brazenly followed her towards the southwest exit.

The stoplight and crosswalk beckoned. Aggie ran once she reached a shoveled sidewalk and smashed the walk button until her thumb hurt. At this time of night, with no traffic in any direction, it should have changed immediately.

Johnson glared from where he leaned against a light pole, as though he could warn her to never return with his posture.

The light changed. Aggie rushed across, confident that when she returned, she’d have a student ID. That jerk wouldn’t bother her again.

Chapter 2

Aggie walked across East River City, absorbing cheer from all the decorations on the streetlights and windows. The block and a half of downtown boasted bright packages and films of spray-on snow. By sidling along the boutiques and shops, she avoided the worst of the wind.

Downtown gave way abruptly to a plaza of big box stores glowing like a bug lamp. Big L’s parking lot was packed. Families tossed armloads of bags into vans and cars, rosy-cheeked with hats and mittens and gloves. Shopping carts were strewn everywhere, abandoned in piles of snow.

The automatic door groaned open and a welcome blast of hot air thrust her hair back. Classic holiday music played over a static-charged radio, half-covered by the frenetic beeping of checkout scanners.

She grabbed a red basket and weaved through a dozen fake evergreens until her lungs stopped stinging. No sense fumbling with her PDA when she couldn’t feel her fingers.

Once she felt thawed, she pulled out her divine device and hit the power button. The loading screen lasted for several minutes, long enough that she began to roam the store. It finally flashed NICHOLAS BAYER: NO INFORMATION. The rest of the screen was blank.

Using the tiny keyboard underneath the screen, Aggie took time to craft a message. Some angels used txt speak and shorthand, but she didn’t.

Hi Raymond, I’m sorry to bother you but I ran into some trouble. I need a new persona, a winter coat, a pair of gloves, a pair of boots, and some petty cash. I also lost my assignment at first point of contact. Could I please get a new appointment?

After proof-reading it twice, Aggie hit send. Her screen flashed and flickered:

UNABLE TO CONNECT. PLEASE TRY AGAIN LATER.

Odd. She meandered through the store, making sure another five minutes passed before trying again. The pixelated hourglass spun and spun. UNABLE TO CONNECT. PLEASE TRY AGAIN LATER.

Aggie stamped her foot, which made the poorly-laid tile pop. No one was watching her, in fact, everyone in sight was also attached to their phones. One smacked into an end-cap with her cart, spraying plastic ornaments and candy canes through the air, while she yelled at the person on the other line.

Perhaps Heaven should consider a different provider. I seem to be the only one with connection problems.

She waded through the aisles of green and red decorations, hitting send every few steps and getting the same error a few clicks later. When she made a full round through the mess of ornaments, fifteen minutes had passed. PLEASE TRY AGAIN LATER.

It was time to call the hotline.

Angels had a special 911. Aggie never called, having been warned it was for true emergencies only. When Raymond told her about it, she scoffed, secure in the knowledge she would never need it.

“Thank you for calling Divine Intervention,” an automated, saccharine voice said. “All of our representatives are busy at this time. Please stay on the line. Your prayer will be answered in the order it was received. Your prayer is important to us. This prayer may be monitored for quality assurance purposes.

“Thank you for calling Divine Intervention…”

Aggie rolled her eyes before a stand of greeting cards, half-demolished and overflowing onto the floor. The automated voice droned on. And on. She read the backs of a handful of cards, from ambiguous Winter Cheer to verses from the Good Book. When a clerk passed her a third time, Aggie moved on and ‘shopped’ in the accessories aisle. Yellow and black sales tags glared underneath electric quilt warmers and blankets-with-arms. New for this year: blankets-with-feet.

Your prayer is important to us.

Your prayer is important to us.

Your prayer is important to us.

Another static-filled voice fought for her attention, this one curt and resentful. “Attention valued customers, the time is now 10:45 and your local Big L’s will be closing in fifteen minutes. Please take your merchandise to the front of the store…”

Her phone beeped. Aggie turned to the screen, heart jumping to her throat in hope the mail message had gone through.

LOW BATTERY.

“We will open again tomorrow at 9 a.m. for your shopping convenience. Thank you for shopping Big L’s. Have a safe and pleasant holiday.”

Beep-beep-beep. LOW BATTERY. Aggie put the phone back to her ear. “All of our representatives are busy at this time. Please stay on the line. Your prayer is important to us–”

Beep-beep-LOW BATTERY. POWERING DOWN. Oh, God. This can’t be happening.

Aggie stared at the phone in disbelief for a long moment before shoving it into her purse. She also rifled through her meager personal belongings just in case she’d missed something relevant the first two times. Still empty, unless she could get creative with some lip balm. Her ridiculous handwriting with Sam’s number on that receipt screamed at her, obvious proof of her inappropriate behavior. She put it carefully in the pocket of her jeans. It seemed safer there, though that was silly. The jeans were as much property of Heaven as the purse.

She couldn’t call him. Sure, he’d probably pick her up and let her crash at his place. But then there’d be questions. Why did she need a place to stay? Not like she could just tell him that Heaven made a clerical error, forgetting to assign her an apartment and a bus pass.

The clerk gave the five minute warning for the store.

Aggie left, certain she didn’t want to face the wrath of disgruntled seasonal workers, and paced outside on the sidewalk. Think, Aggie. Come up with a plan.

During her academy trials, she’d been sent to Earth with everything she could need and then some. She didn’t even have to ask. They’d been granted as part of the assignment, waiting for her. Shower gel, fluffy towels, toothbrush, and a whole wardrobe of in-season clothes. Even if that apartment was still hers–and it hadn’t been for months–she had no way to get into it. Or even get to it.

But… The library foyer back on campus was unlocked. Though the space wasn’t heated, it would be warmer than anything outside. The holiday decorations would offer cover from security, provided she could sneak in.

How shameful. A guardian angel even more lost than her assignment. No home, no food, no winter coat, with no choice but to spend the night in the library foyer.

But tomorrow was a new day. She could find another angel and borrow his phone charger, send that message, talk to Divine Intervention. Hopefully Nicholas Bayer would be alright for another day. He would, right? Surely Raymond sent her down with ample time to get herself situated. Tomorrow, she would get it all straightened out.

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angelhide-a modern fantasy

angelhideIt’s a story about an angel who wishes she was human, fleeing a demon who wants to be an angel and an archangel who would be God.

And if that made any sense, this might be the book for you.

Angelhide, a modern fantasy

Fresh from Angel Academy, Aggie can’t wait to facilitate God’s Will. All the other graduates are filing paperwork while Aggie is charged with saving a man from certain death. Hallelujah!

Except… she’s not saving anyone. First she loses her ward, Nicholas Bayer. Then her phone dies after hours on hold with Divine Intervention. And thanks to a clerical error, Aggie is stuck on campus without a winter coat, a place to stay, or a dollar to her name.

When a demon attack nearly gets her killed, she learns that she knows absolutely nothing about her job. Real angels have swords, special prayers, and a slough of bureaucratic forms to wade through. Worse, her search for Bayer brings up more questions than answers: Why does Heaven deem fit to preserve a violent criminal stalking his family?

But Aggie isn’t giving up. She doesn’t need wings or a halo to rescue Nicholas Bayer, and she’ll keep him alive, even if she has to save him from himself. She just has to find him before the demons find her.

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