Somewhere I Belong

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Chapter 24: Trenton, North Carolina - November 16, 2017

That Thursday morning, I awoke to find a whole stack of envelops with my name written on them on the coffee table. Each had the name of a literacy agency on them. Nervously, I ripped into the first one. It was a rejection letter. I tossed it to the side, opening the next one. Same thing. I got through the stack of seven and each one was a rejection letter. The empty feeling I had been running from returned as I stood up from the couch. I should have known better than to try and get something published. It was pointless. I wasn’t good enough for them. No matter what I tried, it would never be what they were looking for. I had set myself up for failure on this one. I had no one to blame for feeling like this than myself and I knew it.

The last stack in the pile of letters was from the life insurance company in charge of Michael’s policy. I ripped it open and found a check for some of the money that was owed to me from his death. Groaning, I shoved it back into the envelop, not wanting to deal with that quite yet. It was for $120,000 but I just didn’t want to think about him, his death or anything involving it. Bad enough, I still had all those thoughts in the back of my mind. I didn’t need a daily reminder each time I checked my bank account. It was like having a dark, heavy cloud lingering over me with each step I took. It was unbearable sometimes, mostly at night. I was beginning to have dreams about Mike. Some were of us when we first started dating. Others were of us in the city. Each ended, however, with his laying in a pool of his own blood in the middle of Times Square, clutching Tiffany in his arms. I’d wake up, drenched in tears and sweat and shaking. It was like reliving that moment repeatedly each night.

Walking up the hallway, I dumped the stack of letters on my computer desk in my room. I glanced at my bookshelf. On the top of it was the book I had received with my published short story. Walking over, I picked it up and thumbed to the 125th page. My name was written on the page, followed by the story. It was a sweet one I had written about my parents falling in love. The two had met when they were in school and fell in love. Momma’s mother didn’t approve of Daddy though so the two broke up towards the end of their senior year. Momma married someone else while Daddy did a very brief period in the Army. When he came back from overseas, he reunited with Momma who had been hurt by her husband They fell back in love again and were married just a month later. I came nine months after that. The story had been a project I had submitted for the creative writing assignment in English class. Cory had stolen it from my locker when we got them back to submit it. It was the only thing I had managed to have published and was one of my proudest moments.

An idea struck as I leafed through the first couple of pages. The editors name was written on the second page. Kerri Lawrence. Maybe she was still working for the literary agency that had accepted my short story. It could help me get my foot in somewhere. Pulling my cell phone from my hoodie, I did a quick internet search for her. She was still one of the agents for Penguin Publishers. I found her contact information and dialed her number. It rang twice before she answered.

“Good morning. This is Kerri Lawrence from Penguin Publishing. How can I help you?” Her voice rattled off quickly.

“Hi Miss Lawrence. My name is Abby Winters...I mean Oliver. You published one of my short stories a few years ago. I was wondering if you were accepting new pieces to be considered.”

“We are. You need to follow the proper channels to get it done though. What was your name again? Oliver?” She asked.

“Yes. Abby Oliver.”

“Hold on.” I heard some clicking on a keyboard and some papers moving. “Okay. I found you in our system. Seems like your story was the most popular one in our edition that year. We had a lot of inquiries about it. You’re still writing?” She sounded a bit more cheerful now.

“Yes. I took some time off but recent events have made me come back to it. I have some manuscripts I could send to you if you’re interested.” I offered.

“Yes. Send me the first ten pages of a few of them. I’ll go through them and see if they are what we are looking for. I gotta tell you that our genres have been narrowed lately but I really like your style. It’s honest and true to the human emotion. If you have anything like that, send it to me ASAP. My email address is on the website. If you can get it to me today, that’d be great.”

“I will! Thank you so much for your help.” The phone clicked and I ran over to my computer. Turning it on, I went over to my bookshelf and grabbed a USB drive that was tucked into the first shelf. When I started high school, I began to type up all my stories to keep them safe and in some where easier to store. I plugged it into the slot in my laptop and pulled my stories up. I found the address she told me about and attached seven or eight of my stories to it. I slapped the query letter in there as well to make it look good before hitting the send button. Turning off my computer, I headed back out into the living room. The sound of my cell phone chirping from my pocket made me pull it out. The screen read that Sarah was video calling me. Smiling, I slid the arrow over. Her face appeared and she was smiling.

“Hey, girl! How are you?” She asked. Behind her, I couldn’t really see much of what was going on. I knew she was walking and her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

“Hey! I’m hanging in there. You?”

“I’d be better if I was getting to see my best friend every day.” She replied.

“I know. I miss you too. But I get to see you in just a few days. I hope you’re ready for it too. It’s quite the different than the city.”

“You could say that. Not a single coffee shop in the joint.” I looked at her confused.

“How did you know that?” She smirked as the doorbell at the front door rang. Walking over, I pulled open the door, revealing Sarah. I let out a little shriek, engulfing her in a tight hug. “Oh my god! What are doing here?” I exclaimed. She giggled, pulling away. She looked fabulous as ever, dressed in black yoga pants and an expensive black sports jacket. Black ankle boots adorned her feet and behind her she was wheeling her suitcase.

“I decided to fly in early to surprise you! And this town is just the cutest little thing. I’m pretty sure I saw an apple pie on a window sill on my way to your house. How cute is that!” Rolling my eyes, I stepped aside to let her in. She walked by me, setting her bag by the stairs. She looked around, smiling. “Oh, it’s so nice in here. I see why you are quite the interior designer.” Grinning, she turned to face me again. “You look great, Abby. I really think this vacation was a good idea for you.”

“Me too. It’s still hard but I don’t think I’d be able to function if I hadn’t come back home. How’s the company?”

“Great! I actually have some good news. Annie called me while I was on the plane heading down. As of noon today, we are at 100% houses sold! We have no pending sales and no backed-on contracts.”

“Sarah, that’s amazing!” I exclaimed, hugging her again. This was something we had been trying to achieve since we opened. Being 100% means that we have nothing hanging in the air and nothing that’s waiting for some kind of approval. It’s an 100% buying, selling and move-in rate, something that is rare in the city. “You and the team are doing such an amazing job.”

“Girl, you helped too. Hell, you made up 65% of those sales. We did it.”

“I guess we did. I’m so glad to see you. I actually have some news myself. Come here.” I motioned her to follow me up the hall and out the back door. Together, we walked over to the back house. I unlocked the door and let her in, flipping on the lights when I did. She gasped when she looked around.

“This is definitely your handy work. Did you redo the furniture plan?” She asked, sitting on the leather couch in the living room. Since Sarah and I were going to be staying here while she was in town, I had my furniture from the city delivered here. It fit in nicely, matching with the colors we had picked out for the house.

“No. It used to be our storage garage. My dad asked if we could gut the whole thing and make a rental space out of it. Just a month ago, it was falling down. Now, she’s my baby.” I explained. She looked at me, raising her eyebrow.

“Whose we?”

“Huh?” I asked.

“You said ‘we’ when you mentioned gutting it. Like, you and your dad?”

“No. Cory and me. You’ll meet him sooner or later I’m sure.” I said, shrugging. “But what do you think?”

“I think I want to hear more about this Cory person. Is this a friend of yours?” She asked, sitting on the edge of the couch. That’s Sarah, the gossip queen for you.

“Yes. He’s my friend.” I replied, walking into the kitchen. Everything had been fully installed in here. The stove was in place, the gas just not turned on. The stove, fridge and the dish washer were brand new and stainless steel. It made the colors of the kitchen pop more and feel bigger. Opening the fridge, I grabbed a water I had left in there and shut it.

“Uh huh.” She said, putting her hands on her hips. “Have you seen his penis?” She asked as I took a sip of my water. In shock, I sprayed it out of my mouth, a laugh coming from her as I did. Wiping my mouth, I glared at her. I could feel my cheeks burn red as I tried to hide it.

“I’m not answering that.”

“Oh, you totally just did.” The sound of my cell ringing had never felt more welcomed.

“Hold that thought.” I said, glancing at the screen. A number I didn’t recognize read across the front of it. Pressing the green button, I brought it to my ear. “Hello?”

“Abby? It’s Kerri from Penguin Publishers. Do you have a minute to chat?” Miss Lawrence’s voice said in my ear.

“I do! How can I help you?”

“I was reading through your submissions. I have to tell you that I loved each one of them! They are some great pieces and I can’t wait to read the rest of them. Would you be able to send me those and anything else you might have?”

“Absolutely! I’m glad you enjoyed them. Does this mean that you’re going to sponsor me?” I asked.

“I would love to sponsor you. I’m going to send you a copy of our contract with your information in it. It’ll explain how thing swill work and everything. Sign that and send it back to me before sending me the rest of your work. I’d like to submit these to our editors who will do a sweep of these to check for grammar mistakes. Once that’s done, I can start putting together a portfolio to send out to my boss. If he likes it, I think we are going to be in business.”

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