Category Archives: Novels

Chapter 4: New Year’s Eve | Part 3: The Countdown | Any Other Way But Together

“The problem isn’t that we’re different from each other. It’s that we’re different from the people we were when we first met,” Isobel tells Caroline as they fill plastic cups with grapes. The New Year’s Eve countdown in Times Square is playing on the TV in Caroline’s living room while the Rivas family prepares to ring in 2017.

The decor of Caroline and her wife Lisa’s home is in line with Miami interior design trends of the late 90s. The walls are painted yellow with large, colorful oil paintings by Cuban American artists. The floors are covered with terra-cotta colored ceramic tiles that match the ceramic backsplash and countertops in the kitchen.

“I mean, you guys met each other in college, so of course you’re gonna have changed since then,” Caroline says. “Not everybody grows at the same rate… especially men.”

Isobel laughs. “That’s for damn sure,” she responds as she pours a refill into her champagne flute. “Did you and Lisa go through this type of thing?”

“Of course we did. We still do.”

“But you guys look like you’re so together. Like, in every sense.”

“Dude, we go through our ups and downs just like everybody else.” Caroline takes a sip of her scotch and leans back against the counter. “You guys have been together for a while, but kids throw the original relationship equation out the window. It’s totally normal for you to hate each other some days. Especially when the kids are still little and driving you crazy. Most of the time it’s just the exhaustion talking.”

Isobel places her palm on her forehead. “Honestly, between my dad’s health issues and the energy the kids suck out of me on a daily basis, I literally just feel like crying whenever I have a moment to myself.” Her eyes water as she finishes her statement.

“Aw honey, it’s okay to cry sometimes. Life’s a lot harder than people make it seem – especially in Miami,” Caroline says. She gives Isobel’s shoulder a squeeze and begins helping her with the grapes. “You guys should leave the kids here and take off for a weekend. You need some time to relax and reconnect as a couple. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that sometimes you need to get away from the daily routine and look at your life from a different perspective. If you’ve had more ups than downs in the past year, you’re doing pretty good. If not, you got stuff to work on.”

Isobel thinks back on 2016 as Caroline organizes the cups of grapes on a pewter serving tray. She started it breastfeeding and trying to get rid of baby weight while Xavier focused on growing his business. The year took an unexpected turn when Esthie moved in, but the company was a welcomed distraction for Isobel.

Now that Esthie will be moving out again, she wonders what it’s gonna be like to when things go back to normal at home. With the amount of hours Xavier works, she feels so isolated most of the time that she can’t say she’s looking forward to things going back to the way they were.

Nonetheless, she has experienced more highs than lows in the year, so it can’t be too bad. And the fact that Esthie is going to become a mother in 2017 makes Isobel feel like she’ll finally have someone who understands her. If she could do anything to her improve her life in the coming year, she would go back to interior decorating in her spare time.

Even though guilt made her choose to become a stay-at-home mom over continuing her professional career, it didn’t erase her passion for decorating. But with no economic reason for her to return to work, she feels like she has to justify the pursuit of her passions to her husband – a source of tension in their relationship that has yet to surface as an actual argument.

“We’re doing fine. Your brother just doesn’t get the physiological difference between who I was before and after becoming a mother. Sometimes I envy the fact that you and Lisa each carried one of the boys.”

Caroline laughs. “Those years were a shit show. Trust me, you don’t even wanna know how crazy that was in this house. Not to mention what we had to deal with from society when we left the house. That was before it was even somewhat acceptable to be a couple of lesbians giving birth to baby boys.”

Isobel covers her eyes and laughs with Caroline, suddenly feeling insensitive. “Sorry, I know I shouldn’t be complaining about my life at all.”

“You can complain to me anytime, Hon,” Caroline reassures her. “You guys are gonna be better than fine. I know that he can be a handful, but Xavi loves you and those kids more than anything. I’ve never seen him look more proud than when he walks into a room with you guys.”

Tears begin to fall down Isobel’s cheek. “I know he loves us. It’s not that. It’s just me,” she says as she folds a cocktail napkin and dries her tears carefully, trying to avoid smudging her eye makeup.

“Like, whenever we do stuff with the kids I see these moms with their hair blown out and their outfits looking great and I feel like I can never live up to that. I’m always late, my hair’s always a mess. I just can’t keep up anymore. And I also feel like a terrible feminist for giving up my career to stay home with the kids.”

“Iz, you can’t hold yourself to an impossible standard like that. I know for a fact that you spend more time with your kids than those bitches who spend hours getting their hair and nails done. You’re a great mom and you are an accomplished woman. There’s nothing wrong with taking time off from work. Anyone who says you can have it all is leaving out the fact that you can’t have it all at the same time. Trust me, you’re gonna be happy you spent time with them at this age. When they become little monsters in their preteens you’re gonna be grateful for the warm and fuzzy memories you’re making with them now.”

Before Isobel can thank Caroline for the kind words, the kids run into the kitchen to ask if it’s time to start counting down yet. Xavier walks in behind them and asks Isobel if anything’s wrong.

“I’m fine, Babe,” she assures him and hands him his cup of grapes. “I’m gonna go check on the baby before the countdown.”

Part 2: Don’t Call Him Mr. President Tonight   Contents   Part 4: Fireworks

Chapter 4 New Year's Eve Part 2: Don't Call Him Mr. President Tonight (photo: Dan Watson)

Chapter 4: New Year’s Eve | Part 2: Don’t Call Him Mr. President Tonight | Any Other Way But Together

After a quick but steamy shower, Isobel wipes down the bathroom mirror with her towel so that she can begin applying mascara. Running a few minutes late for Xavier’s sister’s New Year’s Eve dinner, she has her hair in large blue curlers with a black bra and black sequin leggings on.

“I don’t need you to tell me how to talk to my sister,” Xavier says sharply. He is changing Rudy’s diaper on their bed with a pair of white boxer briefs on and his outfit set out by his wife on the bed next to him.

She rolls her eyes as she starts pulling her hair out of the rollers, even though he has his back to her. Isobel would like to avoid an argument with her husband before spending the night with his family, but she can’t help herself. “I don’t expect you to get it, but seriously. It’s not funny to anybody but you. Tonight is about spending time with your sister and your parents. Don’t ruin it by being a… you-know-what,” she chooses not to name the male appendage she would like like after glancing at Rudy out of the corner of her eye.

“You need to relax. I’ve known my sister a lot longer than you have.”

Xavier’s sister Caroline is a decade older than he is, so his relationship with her is a cross between a big sister and a young aunt. While he was attending an all-male Catholic school in his teens, she was starting a family with her wife Lisa. Even though his family is conservative, they were accepting of the relationship and went on the treat Lisa as a member of the family. This made their family like harmonious and inclusive, but it made Xavier’s life at school a challenge. Even though he played sports and always had a steady girlfriend, he was still alienated for having a modern family before it was seen as a novelty by most Americans.

Caroline and Lisa live in a Spanish style home in Miami Shores with their two sons. They host a New Year’s Eve dinner for their families every year complete with catering and a live band. Xavier’s nephews are in middle school and he now serves as their male role model and godfather, a job he takes very seriously. Having been with Xavier for a decade, Isobel has formed a close relationship with Caroline based on their similar worldview.

“Oh, but just because you’ve known her longer doesn’t mean you know her better,” Isobel says before calling for Emilia to put on a winter white cardigan over her periwinkle dress. New Year’s weekend brought a slight chill to Miami and with a chance of rain, Isobel wants to make sure her daughter was properly covered up.

“Whatever bro,” Xavier says, shaking his head as he buttons down his tartan plaid shirt. While temperature has remained close to eighty in Miami for most of December, it has been a very cold month in his household. He expected things to go back to normal after the contentious election cycle divided his family based on political ideology, but he can still feel the effects as they prepare to welcome a new year.

He and Isobel have always felt like their political differences balanced out their relationship. And the fact that his wife and sister are on the same side of the political spectrum bonded them in a way that Xavier couldn’t relate to. This dynamic has helped Isobel form a tight bond with his sister, but the events of 2016 have made him feel alienated once again, albeit for different reasons than when he was a kid.

“Momma, is Aunt Esthie coming?” Emmie asks as she walks into the bedroom with her cardigan on.

“No baby, but you’ll see her tomorrow.”

With Zika transmissions no longer a threat in her area, Esthie has begun the process of moving her things back into the apartment she shares with Dominick. This shift in the household dynamic is welcomed by Xavier, who feels like the odd man out in his own home. He gets along with Esthie for the most part, but he can’t help but feel threatened by the fact that his wife has a clone in the other room.

“Are you excited to have your room back, Princess?”

Emmie frowns and turns to her mother, who is facing the mirror putting her hair in a french braid. “Why does she have to go?”

“She’s not going far, baby. You’re gonna see her all the time.”

Once her hair and makeup are done, Isobel puts on a navy blue silk top with a neck tie over her sequin leggings and steps into her stilettos. “Alright, lets start getting in the car, we’re already late.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed while Rudy roams around the bedroom, Xavier scrolls through sports stats on his smartphone before starting the process of getting the kids in the car.

“Come on, Mr. President,” he says with a grin.

Isobel smiles at him as she sprays on her white floral perfume. She regrets the day she decided to dress her kids up as the presidential candidates for Halloween. Election 2016 is something that she would like to move forward from, but her husband doesn’t show any signs of letting it go.

“You used to find me hilarious before we got married,” he remarks as they turn off the bedroom light and walk down the hall.

“You’re a lot funnier when you’re not trying so hard, Babe.”

Part 1: The City Beautiful   Contents   Part 3: The Countdown

Any Other Way But Together Novel Chapter 4 New Year's Eve Part 1: The City Beautiful (photo: Brandon Grigga)

Chapter 4: New Year’s Eve | Part 1: The City Beautiful | Any Other Way But Together

Esthie is riding in the passenger seat as Dominick drives them down Miracle Mile, a stretch of Coral Way that serves as the unofficial main street of the city of Coral Gables. Just a couple miles up from Isobel’s house in Coconut Grove, the Gables is one of the few places in South Florida where you find a high concentration of Mediterranean Revival architecture from the 1920s amongst oak canopies and green golf courses.

Aside from the chain restaurants and luxury residential buildings on the Mile, there are also many bridal shops where women from Miami take their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and sisters to pick out the wedding dress of their dreams. Esthie spots the bridal shop where Isobel said yes to the dress just before they pass the Corinthian colonnade of the historic City Hall building on Biltmore Way. Esthie will never forget the unexpected tears that came as she saw her sister in her wedding dress for the first time. Isobel had dreamed of that moment since she saw her first Disney movie and her wedding looked like something out of the Enchanted Forest.

Esthie always felt like she would put Isobel in charge of her wedding in the event that she would ever have to plan one. She and Dominick spoke about marriage on the last night of the trip to India that brought them together. At the time, Esthie felt like Dominick was trying to get an idea of how serious she was about getting into a relationship and she she’s always felt like she screwed that conversation up because she told him the truth. She said that she had never really thought too much about getting married and that her ideal relationship looked more like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s than the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge who had gotten married the year before. She felt, and still feels, that a committed long-term relationship is more meaningful when there is nothing binding the commitment but love.

The surprised look on Dominick’s face that night, one she has come to know very well over the years, made her feel like she had said the wrong thing and that his interest in her would fade as soon as they got back to Miami. They haven’t spoken about marriage since and now that they are about to become parents together, they have been bombarded with questions about when they will be getting married. Though they successfully evaded questions about their relationship over the holidays, the questions still linger as she and Dominick prepare to spend New Year’s Eve together in a hotel suite with no distractions but the fireworks at midnight.

After a huge increase in her rag doll sales from being featured in the Miami Herald over Thanksgiving weekend, Esthie spent all of December filling orders and sewing dolls to meet the high demand for the holidays. Though she can barely keep her eyes open after working so many hours without any coffee due to the baby growing in her belly. Drained and in need of a romantic getaway that wouldn’t take her far away for too long, she decided to book a room at the Biltmore Hotel for New Year’s Eve so she and Dominick could reconnect and relax.

“I haven’t been here since we came for that wedding a couple years back,” Dominick says as he grabs his backpack and Esthie’s carrion.

Hearing him bring up a wedding before they get to the lobby makes her wonder if it was a good idea to spend New Year’s here. When you enter the Biltmore you are immediately greeted by the chirping of tropical birds flying around in large antique cages in the center of the grand lobby. It is a beautiful place to get married and Esthie hopes the romantic setting doesn’t prompt Dominick to continue the wedding talk during their stay. 

Her ideal night involves eating room service in robes and watching the ball drop in Times Square before going out onto the balcony to look at the fireworks. Esthie would like to make it through the year without having to process yet another monumental shift in her life. Although she has extreme anxiety about giving birth and isn’t sure how she is going to keep up the momentum her small business is starting to see, she feels like she is ending 2016 on a high. The storm cloud that she felt was following her over the summer dissipated over the fall. Though winter in the tropics looks like summer in northern latitudes, Esthie knows that the hard work is only beginning for her because after the spring her life will never be the same. 

Chapter 3: Thanksgiving   Contents   Part 2: Don’t Call Him Mr. President Tonight

table in candelight

Chapter 3: Thanksgiving | Part 4: A Feast on Scraps | Any Other Way But Together

When Isobel was a kid she would help her mother set the table for Thanksgiving dinner, making mental notes of what she would do differently when it came time for her to host. The holiday combines two of her passions, eating and decorating, so it has always been her favorite. She appreciates it even more as an adult because it doesn’t require her to stay up late setting out gifts for her kids.

This year she has set up a long rectangular table under a tent in her backyard with a white knit tablecloth and linen runner. Her inspiration for the decor is early twentieth century English countryside, so she has brought out her brass candelabras and the blue and white porcelain china she usually has on display on her kitchen. The tall floral centerpiece combines green and white hydrangeas with curly willow branches for a touch of whimsy.

The temperature outside is uncharacteristically cool for an autumn night in Miami, making it rather pleasurable to dine al fresco by candlelight. By the time Iso is ready to sit down and feast, the candles have melted down to white stubs and all of her guests have already finished eating. While Marge and Emilia, Xavier’ mother and Emmie’s namesake, walk around picking up the empty beer bottles and crumpled up napkins, Iso pours herself a glass of red wine and walks over to the buffet table, ready to dig in.

“Babe, everything was amazing,” her husband assures her as he sips his favorite scotch and smokes a cigar with his father and sister.  

“Thanks, Baby. By the way, our daughter seems to think she’s getting a pool in her backyard soon. You wouldn’t know where she got that idea, would you?”

Xavier immediately takes a sip of his drink, trying to figure out the smoothest way to respond.

“Now where would she get a crazy idea like that?” Xavier asks with a big smile. His father laughs to himself and takes a puff of his cigar.

She can tell that the scotch and cigar smoke have reached her husband’s brain, so she shakes her head and moves on to the buffet table. With all of her guests served, Isobel picks up a large blue and white dinner plate and prepares for her tradition of feasting of the scraps of her Thanksgiving dinner. Having tasted the turkey and savory side dishes while preparing them earlier, she begins by filling her plate with desserts.

Only a sliver of sweet potato pie remains, left there by Esthie who decided to go inside with Dominick after her family began interrogating them about their plans for marriage. She had thought that being pregnant would take the pressure off her this Thanksgiving, but it only prompted more intense questioning. Willing to sacrifice the last piece of pie to avoid another conversation about her future, she excused herself from the table to go put her feet up on the couch.

Once there is no more room on her plate, Iso takes a seat next to her father, Edward. He has been on a strict vegetarian diet since his heart surgery, so Thanksgiving has become a spectator sport for him. She pats him on the knee when she sits down and her heart sinks when she feels how skinny his thigh has become. Memories of bashfully hugging his thick legs when she was a little girl flood her mind as she places her napkin on her lap and takes a sip of her wine.

“So, how did you like the vegan pumpkin pie I made you?” she asks.

“Aww Izzie, it was the best pie I ever had, but I told you not to make anything special for me,” he says. With a USMC cap and camouflage shorts on, Edward Egret stands out amongst the the more formally dressed dinner guests. His wardrobe used to be dictated by his wife, but after his health issues began, he decided to dress for comfort. His penchant for tube socks and old sneakers drives Marge crazy, but Iso loves seeing her father’s rebellious spirit reflected in his quirky clothing.

“I love you, Daddy,” she says, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Isobel has experienced just enough of life’s difficulties to make her appreciate the sweetness of moments like this. As she spoons caramelized sugar over a fluffy piece of flan, she realizes that she is surrounded by everything she is thankful for.

Part 3: Thanksgiving Meal Delivery   Contents   Chapter 4: New Year’s Eve

islands

Chapter 3: Thanksgiving | Part 3: Thanksgiving Meal Delivery | Any Other Way But Together

“Right now I’m only trying to focus on what’s actually in my power to change. My father always says if you have time to feel sorry for yourself, you’re not working hard enough,” Dominick says as he pulls up to the Government Center Metrorail station in Downtown Miami. He is dropping off a fellow volunteer after a long day spent preparing and delivering meals to underserved families around the city.

“Your old man has a good point,” the young man responds. He thanks Dominick for the lift and wishes him a happy Thanksgiving before getting out of the car to catch the metro.

As he pulls back onto Biscayne Boulevard toward his apartment, Dominick thinks about all the changes he has had to deal with in his life. His exotic upbringing began in Miami, where he was born to Jamaican parents working in the hospitality industry. After ascending the ranks of a large hotel chain with properties all over the Caribbean, his father decided to invest in his own boutique property in St. Thomas, USVI. The family relocated to the island permanently and a couple years later Dominick was sent to an international boarding school where he spent the rest of his adolescence.

The holidays are a busy time in the tropics, with snowbirds flying south to shake off their winter doldrums with frozen drinks in the warm turquoise waters. Dominick has spent Thanksgiving weekend with friends since moving back to Miami for college. His family is usually busy tending to guests and preparing for tourist season, so they spend most of their time together as a family during hurricane season. The last time he visited his family was the weekend before Esthie’s twenty-ninth birthday.

Dominick tries to fly home as often as possible, even though it forces him to increase his carbon footprint more than he would like. Life in the islands vibrates at a different frequency than life in the continental US and sometimes he just needs to turn his internal clock back. Seasons don’t change when you live close to the equator. The mountains stay green all year, the sun comes out unless there’s a storm and nobody is ever in a rush to go anywhere. But as much as he would love to lay on the sand counting the little white rooftops poking up through the trees on the mountainside, the responsibility of becoming a father weighs heavily on him.

As he opens the light blue door to their apartment he remembers Esthie peeking her head in with green cat contacts on looking all crazy. When she finally told him she was pregnant, his initial reaction was shock. He had always been careful in the past and found it difficult to imagine that one night of passion could result in pregnancy when so many of their friends have struggled to conceive. Even though he had assumed Esthie was happy based on her recent bout with baby fever, he made sure she knew that he would support any decision she made regarding the matter. Once it was confirmed that he was about to become a dad, he felt a tightening in his chest that hasn’t gone away since.

With an outbreak leaving the mother of his child quarantined in Coconut Grove and the future of his climate change initiative threatened by a drastic change in political leadership, Dominick can’t figure out how to move forward. Should he listen to his brain that’s telling him to stop being so altruistic and take a high paying position to provide for his family? Or should he listen to his heart that’s about to explode with a desire to fight for what he thinks is right?

Section 501(3)(c) of the US tax code prohibits his organization from endorsing a political candidate, so Dominick feels the responsibility to remain neutral when it comes to politics, only sharing opinions on public policy with regard to climate change. His mission is to create a consensus about saving the planet in the hearts of students before they become registered voters. He has made progress toward that goal, but it has not resulted in significant financial success. And while he tries to remain optimistic about future, he sees a dark cloud looming over the progress the country has made toward taking responsibility for its carbon emissions.

With only a few minutes untill he needs to head to dinner with Esthie, Dominick shifts his focus to getting ready. Before getting into the shower, he reaches for his phone to let her know he’ll be on his way soon.

Hey beautiful. Just got home from meal delivery. Gonna shower and head over in a few.

He sets his phone on the side of the bathroom sink, then picks it up again to for an addendum.

I have a really good feeling about this article coming out about your dolls. All of your hard work is gonna pay off soon, you’ll see.

He adds a muscle Emoji and some fireworks for effect. Even though he hasn’t had any premonitions about her business booming, Dominick figured he would put it out there. Planting that seed of positivity in her head would at least boost her confidence and if nothing else make her happy for this brief moment before Thanksgiving dinner.

Part 2: Croquetas and Cafecito on Calle Ocho   Contents   Part 4: A Feast on Scraps

espresso machine

Chapter 3: Thanksgiving | Part 2: Croquetas and Cafecito on Calle Ocho | Any Other Way But Together

Calle Ocho intersects Douglas Road just a few miles north of Coconut Grove, so it doesn’t take Xavier long to get to his family’s favorite Cuban restaurant for Thanksgiving breakfast. He would have been only thirty minutes late if it weren’t for a last minute diaper change in the car.  

As soon as he has Rudy in his stroller, Xavier rushes down the parking lot into the crowded restaurant. He is greeted by the same smell that has come from the kitchen since the early seventies, a mix of cafecito, Cuban bread toasting in the oven and a potpourri of deep-fried delights. The walls are covered in mirrors with floral motifs and the wait staff is dressed in formal black and white uniforms that harken back to more civilized times.

The busy hostess greets him in Spanish, something that is always intimidating to Xavier. Raised by first generation Cuban Americans in the suburbs of Miami, he spoke English at home unless his grandparents were visiting. After years without speaking the language often enough to stay fluent, he keeps his sentences short and his smile big when he does.

Emmie follows right behind him as they are guided through the maze of tables, transported in time by the familial elegance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

Xavier finds his parents, his older sister and her family and his grandmother finishing their breakfast at a table in the back room near the kitchen. He hopes his family isn’t annoyed by his usual tardiness.

“Nice of you to join us, Xavi,” his sister Caroline says while their parents dote over the kids. Heavyset and a decade his senior, she is seated at the end of the table next to her wife and their teenage sons. The table in front of them is littered with white napkins, torn up straw wrappers and crumbs from the Cuban toast and flaky pastries.

As soon as the waitress returns, Xavier orders an assortment of favorites to share with his kids. A former pre-k teacher, his mother spends most of breakfast chatting with Emmie about what she’s learning while Xavier discusses the property value of his home with his father and sister.

“I’m gonna talk to Iso about building a pool in the next couple years,” Xavier says. As soon as the word pool leaves his mouth Emmie’s ears perk up and he immediately wishes he hadn’t put that idea in her head. “But we’ll see,” he says, hoping that she doesn’t tell Iso about his idea for the backyard before he does.

Xavier turns to his grandmother to spend some time catching up with her before he gets caught up in the Thanksgiving frenzy. An octogenarian that hasn’t forgotten her sense of style, his abuela is wearing a navy blazer with gold buttons and a white blouse with a large gold coin suspended over it from a gold chain. She gives him a big kiss on the cheek and her gardenia scented perfume transports him to his childhood for a moment.

Mi nieto lindo,” she says as she rubs her red lipstick off his cheek, just as she has for as long as he can remember. He stumbles over his Spanish with her for a few minutes, reminiscing about his late grandfather and their family trips to the Florida Keys while sipping his café con leche.

Even though he barely has a grasp over the language and only eats Cuban food once a month, Xavier feels at home sitting in the buzzing restaurant with four generations of his family. He finds comfort in knowing that their doors are always open to offer him comfort in the form of fried food.

After a few minutes of eating and an hour of sobremesa, a Spanish term for the time spent relaxing at the table after a meal, the waitress comes by with the bill.

Aquí tienen la cuenta,” she says, placing a black check holder on the table.

“I got it since I was late,” Xavier says.

“No, no. Let me have that,” his father says, handing Rudy over to him. “You take this guy, I think he’s got a surprise for you in his diaper.”

As Xavier wipes the drool from Rudy’s chin, he wonders if this place will be around long enough for his son to pick up of the check for breakfast. With the amount of cultural landmarks Miami has lost to development, it’s hard to tell which will stand the test of time and which will be demolished to make room for new construction.

Part 1: I Never Thought I’d Be Calling in Zika   Contents   Part 3: Thanksgiving Meal Delivery

pineapples laptop and pumpkins

Chapter 3: Thanksgiving | Part 1: I Never Thought I’d Be Calling in Zika | Any Other Way But Together

Esthie thought her race against time had ended after she found she was pregnant, but she finds herself under the gun again trying to make her small business profitable before she gives birth. Carrying a child has already changed her life, as the Center for Disease Control has restricted expectant mothers from traveling to her neighborhood, located just outside of Wynwood. The restrictions also ban travel to South Beach, where she teaches yoga. This has left her feeling rudderless once again. Esthie is now officially exiled at her sister’s house to avoid a mosquito bite that could potentially give her baby, now the size of a peach, birth defects as severe as microcephaly.

She is sitting on a barstool at the counter that divides the kitchen in Iso’s house from the dining room with her laptop open in front of her. Cyber Monday is around the corner and now that Esthie can’t make sales at the street fairs in Wynwood or Miami Beach, she has to make up for them with e-commerce. Her relationship with Dominick is back on track even though this virus outbreak has limited their time alone together. With her morning sickness finally getting better, she finally feels like she can put all of her focus on work.

“Can you at least help me with Nana’s Pecan Pie until Mom gets here?” Iso asks as she bastes the turkey in the oven. It’s midmorning and Ella Fitzgerald’s greatest hits are quietly playing from a bluetooth speaker that is hidden behind piles of ingredients on the kitchen counter. She has been up since before the sun preparing to play hostess to fifty of her and Xavier’ closest friends and family members under a tent in their backyard.

Thanksgiving is the only night of the year that Iso allows herself to forget about the baby weight and carb intake, so everything has to be delicious. She takes the preparations seriously, having taken over hosting duties from her mother after her parents moved away. She has added her own traditions over the years to honor the memory of family members they have lost. Her beloved Grandma Nora passed away just weeks before Iso would host her first Thanksgiving dinner, so she made her favorite pecan pie recipe to honor her memory at the table and has done it every year since. When Xavier’ Abuela Maria died the following year, her flan was added to the yearly menu.

“Okay, give me fifteen minutes and then I’ll stir something. I swear.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Iso says.

“I really hope this writeup in the paper helps with sales this weekend. I’m gonna lose my mind if I don’t figure out a way to make this business grow at the same pace as the baby.” After telling Dominick she was pregnant, they discussed the changes that would have to be made in their careers to cover all of the additional expenses that were adding up already in the form of insurance plan changes and medical bills. They decided to give their business ventures up to the end of the second trimester to cover their additional expenses. If either came up short, they would discuss taking higher paying, less fulfilling jobs to meet the financial needs of their young family.

“If not I think you would be an amazing elementary art teacher. You’re totally qualified and you can’t beat the schedule. Especially once the baby starts pre-k.”

Esthie gives her sister the side-eye. “Well, I’m hoping it won’t come to that, Sissy,” she says, annoyed by Iso’s lack of faith in her efforts.

“I know, I know. I’m just saying I think it would be perfect for you. By the time you’re in your third trimester you’re gonna want something lined up. Trust me,” Iso says as she prepares the bain-marie for the flan. “It feels a lot different.”

“Okay, spare me the gory details and I promise I’ll crack an egg.”

Iso rolls her eyes at Esthie just as Emmie storms into the kitchen with a brush and an orange ribbon for her hair. Xavier is running late for breakfast with his parents, who have flown in from New Jersey for the weekend. They have a tradition of breakfast and cafecito at a Cuban restaurant on Calle Ocho to hold them over until Thanksgiving dinner. Iso usually stays back to cook, letting her husband get the kids up and ready.

“Daddy’s a mess,” she says to her mother. Iso wipes her hands on her hips and kneels down to brush her hair out. Xavier is dressed in jeans and a red button shirt with Rudy in one arm and his smartphone in the other.

“You look beautiful, Princess,” Xavier says, trying to get his daughter in the car as quickly as possible. “Babe, I was supposed to be there ten minutes ago. We gotta go.”

Iso pulls her daughter’s curls through a hair tie and adds the orange ribbon, giving the baby a kiss as she sends them off through the garage door.

“Okay, don’t forget to bring your mom back here with you after breakfast. She’s gonna help me with the arrangements.”

Xavier gives her a thumbs up as the garage door slams shut behind him. Iso turns back to Esthie, who is looking at her sonogram with a hand over the small belly that is forming just below her belly button.

“This is happening,” she says, as if realizing it for the first time.

Chapter 2: All Hallows’ Eve   Contents   Part 2: Croquetas and Cafecito on Calle Ocho

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Chapter 2: All Hallows’ Eve | Part 4: Skimbleshanks’ Understudy | Any Other Way But Together

Still dressed as her cat, Esthie is standing at the front door of the apartment that Dominick and Skimbleshanks are currently sharing in her absence. Her smartphone is out of battery, so she wasn’t able to text Dominick that she was coming and she is debating whether to use her key or to knock.

Esthie feels that if she’s secure in her relationship, she should feel free to open with her key, but she also feels funny about just barging in on him. She decides to knock while opening with her key to expedite the process of getting into the apartment and initiating her conversation with Dominick.

“Knock knock,” she says as she peaks her head in, regretting it immediately after remembering she’s still dressed up as Skimbleshanks. Luckily Dominick is as she hoped he would be, lying back on the couch wearing black boxer briefs and playing a video game. A momentary sense of relief rushes over her, followed by the awkwardness she usually feels when she’s back in the apartment.

Dominick jumps up and greets Esthie with a tender kiss on her neck. “To what do I owe this surprise? I thought you’d be out with Lindsay and them after I didn’t hear back from you earlier.”

Esthie rolls her eyes, annoyed at how he sees right through her. “Well, surprise! I’m here,” she says, looking around for her cat.

“Skimbleshanks, you remember this crazy girl?” Dominick asks, walking to the bedroom to open the door for him. Perturbed by the noise, the cat peeks out, stares blankly at Esthie for a few seconds and bolts back into the bedroom.

“Well, he hasn’t changed much,” Esthie says, suddenly feeling insecure about being the only one in a costume. “Hey, can I borrow a t-shirt?”

“Sure,” he says before going into the bedroom at returning with two t-shirts. Esthie is sitting on the couch looking out the window, hoping the find the right words to say to him. She chooses the baby blue band t-shirt, her favorite of his shirts, and he puts on a plain white t-shirt.

Esthie takes a breath. “So, I wanna talk about us and what happened this summer and, like, where we’re at now. I feel like some weeks we’re together and then some weeks I go back to my sister’s house and don’t hear from you and that has me a little confused.”

Dominick remembers what Xavier told him in the morning about taking the hit, but he resists. “Come on. The phone works both ways. When you leave to your sister’s house I assume it’s because you want your space, so I give it to you.”

Esthie sighs. “When I go back to my sisters and stop reaching out it’s because I’ve given up.”

“Given up on what? On us?” Dominick asks, his eyebrows raised like a child that is hoping he has misunderstood.

Esthie’s eyes well up. She realizes that she needs to take her sister’s advice and tell him how she really feels in this instance. It may be her last chance to tell him what she really needs from him before their relationship takes on an entirely new dynamic. “No,” she responds, taking the cat ears off her head and stretching the t-shirt over her knees to get more comfortable. “Not on us. On trying to get you to notice me.” Esthie tries to find the right words. “I know you don’t see it, but sometimes you just get sucked into your work life and it’s like I become your roommate not girlfriend anymore. This past month you’ve been focused on Haiti and before that it was protesting the pesticide spraying South Beach.”

Dominick interrupts her. “But come on, that’s my job. If there were more people willing to help then maybe I wouldn’t need to work so much, but you know what I have to deal with.”

“I know and I don’t want to get between you and your career goals, Dominick,” she says, wiping a tear from her cheek. “I just wanna be seen. That’s really it. I want you to make me feel sexy like you used to. Like you actually want me around.” Another tear falls from her eye and she immediately turns away from him so he won’t see her cry. Esthie feels like her emotions are betraying her with every tear that falls. “Do you know how awful it feels to be lonely when you’re sleeping next to someone every night?”

Without saying a word, Dominick leans in and gently pulls her face toward him, placing his forehead against hers and looking deep into her eyes. He had always assumed that Esthie was willing to make the sacrifices required of their relationship for him to be able to follow his dreams, but he is now aware that hasn’t shown his appreciation to her for it. He finally feels like he knows what he has to do to make things right with her again. “I see you, okay? I see you. I’m sorry.”

Esthie is so happy to hear those words that she lets herself cry on his shoulder for a few seconds. She finally feels like she was able to get through to him. It makes her wish that she could end the conversation there. “There’s something else,” she says, reaching for a cocktail napkin on the side table to wipe away her tears.

Dominick looks surprised. A second ago he was the road to getting his relationship back on track and now there’s something else. “What happened?” he asks.

“So… earlier,” she begins, “I kinda realized that I was, uhh, late.”

“Okay…” Dominick says, hoping she means she’s late in another other way but the way he’s thinking. His mind immediately goes back to their hookup at the end of the summer and he tenses up.  

“So my sister took me to the pharmacy to get a test…”

“Uh-huh,” he repeats, leaving his mouth open in anticipation.

Esthie can’t get herself to say the words to him. As soon as she says it out loud it will become real, and she isn’t ready to let go of her current reality just yet. She figures the only thing she can do is show him, so she pulls the pregnancy test out of her bra and hands it to Dominick.

Part 3: No Rose Emojis   Contents   Chapter 3: Thanksgiving

two jackolanterns

Chapter 2: All Hallows’ Eve | Part 3: No Rose Emojis | Any Other Way But Together

After spending the evening trick-or-treating with her grandchildren and documenting every moment for her husband back home, Margaret Egret lowers the volume of the Halloween music playing on the living room television so that Xavier and Rudy don’t wake from their sugar comas. Xavier is lying flat on the couch with the red cap from Rudy’ costume over his face. His exhausted son is out of his costume and in a diaper as he drools on his daddy’s arm. Marge walks into the kitchen with a plate of pizza crusts to find Emmie Facetiming with her husband and the twins’ beloved father, Edward Egret.

“Wanna see a picture I drew for you today, Grampa?” she asks.

“Edward, please don’t fall asleep without taking the pills I laid out for you by the sink,” Marge interjects. She is her husband’s full-time caregiver after a cardiac event impacted his health a short time ago. After months spent shuttling him across Miami for doctor visits after his hospitalization, they made the difficult decision to move to Florida’s Gulf Coast so that Edward could focus on his rehabilitation in a less frenetic environment.

“Alright, Margaret. Put my granddaughter back on, wouldya?.”

Marge hands the phone back to Emmie, who has ditched the itchy blonde wig and pulled her light brown curls back with the pumpkin headband she wore to school earlier. Emmie runs to her room to show her grandfather the picture as Marge dumps the pizza crusts into the trash and begins pulling cleaning products out of the cabinet under the sink.

“So Esthie, you haven’t mentioned a certain someone tonight,” she says while her daughters sit at the kitchen table arguing over the last sugar cookie as they have since they were Emmie’s age.

As soon as the words leave Marge’s mouth, Esthie lets her sister have the last cookie, an act of good faith meant to remind Iso to diffuse the relationship talk. If Esthie let her, Marge would attempt to solve all of her relationship issues before making the drive home in the morning.

“Mom, we talked about this,” Iso says, referring to the text message she sent her mother earlier telling her to take it easy with Esthie. Still in full costume, she pulls the fork out of her red wig and adjusts the purple seashell bust of her mermaid costume.

Esthie is dressed up as her beloved and misunderstood cat, Skimbleshanks. The costume required hours of matching the pattern of his fur to patches of fur on her bodysuit and shopping online for the perfect green feline contacts and cat ears. She originally wore the costume for a formal party she attended with Dominick, who only attended at the behest of one of his donors. She decided to don it again because she missed her cat and thought it more appropriate for the kids than her naughty nurse costume, which she only keeps around for private moments with Dominick.

“I’m only trying to help. You know, I never see you girls anymore so we have to take advantage of every moment,” Marge says as she sprays down the countertop. “Isobel, these products may be wonderful for the environment, but you really need to get the stuff that works.”

“Mom, I didn’t ask you to clean, though,” Iso responds, turning to her sister to find the familiar glow of the screen of her smartphone illuminating her face.

Esthie has just received a text from her friend Lindsay indicating that her current Halloween plans include staying home with her heating pad and dealing with menstrual cramps. She feels a sudden panic as she opens her calendar to check for the last time she placed a rose Emoji on it, indicating the beginning of her cycle. A cold chill runs down her spine when she has to go back to August to find one.

She looks up at her sister and hopes that mouthing the words no rose Emojis and pointing at her calendar would be enough to communicate to her that she may need to go buy a pregnancy test. Her stomach sinks just thinking about what the results could be.

It takes a few seconds for Iso to figure out what she is looking at. Then her jaw drops. “Mom, watch the kids. We’re gonna go get ice cream,” she says, grabbing her purse and pulling her sister toward the garage door before their mother can object. She had wondered why Esthie hadn’t asked to borrow any feminine products since they had been living together. Iso had just assumed that her sister was using some environmental alternative to tampons. The idea that Esthie could be pregnant fills her with eager excitement, but she tries not to let on because she knows that her enthusiasm will freak Esthie out.

When Isobel found out she was pregnant for the first time she called her sister before her husband, more as a reflex than anything else. Xavier always jokes about it in a way that makes Iso feel like he’s resentful about it. She has tried to explain the sisterly bond to her husband on many occasions, but it’s not something that can be easily understood.

After a silent drive down the block with the windows down, Iso and Esthie walk into the brightly lit 24-hour pharmacy on the busy intersection of US-1 that connects Coconut Grove with the rest of Miami.

“You could have left the wig at home,” Esthie says to Iso as they walk down the center aisle past the snacks and sale items.

“Then people won’t get my costume.”

Esthie shakes her head and wishes that her sister weren’t enjoying this moment so much. She feels sick to her stomach, wondering how it didn’t occur to her earlier that she might be pregnant. She wonders how many glasses of wine she’s had in the past few weeks as she searches for the right section.

“Okay, I’m gonna go get bug spray and meet you by the bathroom,” Iso says once they find what they’re looking for.  

“What do you need bug spray for?”

“It’s not for me. If you’re pregnant I’m not letting you step foot outside without spraying yourself down,” Iso warns. She has read many news stories about the virus that’s being transmitted locally through mosquito bites that causes birth defects in the children of pregnant women who contract it. The idea that a mosquito bite can severely affect your child’s health before it’s even born frightens Iso and she hopes her sister takes the threat seriously it turns out that she’s pregnant.

Esthie rubs her temples in anxious annoyance. “I can’t deal with you right now.”

After paying for her test and a large bottle of electrolyte water that she bought just in case she needs fluids, she walks back to the bathroom, tucked away in the storeroom area in the back. Iso is already holding the door open with the toilet liner in place and the bug spray on the sink.

“Don’t worry, I have hand sanitizer in my purse,” she says as Esthie rips open the cardboard packaging of the test.

“I wasn’t, but thanks.”

Isobel and Esthie fill the time it takes for the results to appear with insensitive jokes about the situation that would be deemed completely inappropriate in any company other than their own. It’s the way they’ve coped with uncomfortable situations since childhood.

“If I’m pregnant he’s gonna think I inseminated myself with a turkey baster, I swear. We’ve barely done it since the summer. I don’t even remember the last time we…” Esthie stops herself, having figured out the last time she and Dominick had sex.

“How many weeks ago was Labor Day?”

Part 2: You Know Me and Halloween   Contents   Part 4: Skimbleshanks’ Understudy

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Chapter 2: All Hallows’ Eve | Part 2: You Know Me and Halloween | Any Other Way But Together

Crandon Park, on the north side of Key Biscayne, is one of the few places where you can experience the flora native to South Florida in close proximity to Downtown Miami. Athletic events are held there on most weekends and during the week it is frequented by Miamians that take their fitness outdoors.

It’s seven thirty on Halloween morning and Dominick and Xavier just completed a bike ride that took them over the Rickenbacker Causeway and back to the parking lot of the public park where their vehicles are parked. After throwing his bike into the trunk of his green SUV, Xavier is leaning against the side door taking a sip from his water bottle while Dominick mounts his bike onto the back of his hybrid sedan.

“So what’s it gonna take for me to get you to check out a hybrid? You’re making me look bad, man.” Xavier is on the board of Dominick’s climate change organization and is well aware of the fuel inefficiency of his vehicle, but having it paid off makes it very difficult for he and Iso to think about getting a new car and adding to their monthly budget.

“Bro, give me a few more years. This is about the only thing that doesn’t suck money out of my bank account on a monthly basis.”

“I hear ya.” Dominick secures his bike and checks his smartphone. “I’m trying to figure out what to reply to Esthie about tonight. She texted me at 2 am with Happy Halloween and asked what my plans were.”

“Was it a friendly text?”

“Pretty friendly. Emoji at the end.”

“Yea?” Xavier seems skeptical. “I don’t know, Emoji’s can be misleading. Especially coming from a girl like Esthie.” Xavier warns.

Dominick laughs. “What do you mean a girl like Esthie?”

“I’m just saying if she’s anything like her sister, she’s probably using it to lure you in so she can tell you how she really feels. In this case, I bet she’s pissed you didn’t make Halloween plans with her.”

“Man, she knows I hate Halloween. I feel like a total jackass in a costume.”

“I mean, feeling like a total jackass is a big part of being in a relationship. You can’t play it cool and keep a woman happy for too long. It’s usually either one or the other.”

“I don’t know about that,” Dominick responds. Being from the same city and having met halfway around the world made his relationship with Esthie feel like it was destined to be. They rarely fought and had an easygoing relationship until they started discussing their plans for the next five years. Dominick plans to spend all of that time dedicated to his startup, putting off starting a family for as long as possible.

Even though Esthie wouldn’t admit it, Dominick feels like she wants to have a kid much sooner than five years from now. As much as he would like to give her what she wants to solve their current problem, he isn’t ready to turn his five year plan into a lifelong pursuit. He can’t conceive of a way to make his ambitious career goals work while being present in his kids’ lives.

Xavier squeezes a stream of water into his mouth. “You are still interested in her, right?”

Dominick furrows his brow. “Of course I’m still interested.” He looks out just past the round leaves of the sea grapes that line the water’s edge toward Biscayne Bay, sparkling in the morning sun. “I’m just sick of her running away from me whenever she’s unhappy instead of just talking to me. She acts like she’s afraid of telling me things, like I’m gonna freak out on her or something. I don’t get it.”

Xavier shrugs his shoulders. “Dude, one of you has to take the hit and say you’re sorry. If not, I’m gonna be declaring Esthie as a dependent on my taxes next year.”

Dominick throws his water bottle into his car and pounds Xavier’ fist. “You’re lucky you didn’t get stuck with the cat.”

Xavier winces. “Nah man, that’s all you!” he says as he drive away.

Just before noon on the fiftieth floor of an office building in Downtown Miami that overlooks Biscayne Bay, Dominick is dressed in a gray tailored suit, staring at his smartphone as he waits for a potential donor to finish with a client. He has only a few minutes to figure out what to respond to Esthie before spending the rest of the day in meetings. He moves his thumb around in circles over the keyboard in the hopes that any given letter will help him find the right words to type. He knows Esthie only sent the Emoji as a smoke screen to conceal her true emotions, but he doesn’t know how to respond to it.

“Mr. Clarke, he’ll be with you in just another minute. Are you sure you don’t want a coffee or some tea?”

“I’m alright, thank you.” he says with a smile, then looks back down at the blinking cursor on the screen. As much as he wants to have Esthie back home, he isn’t ready to forgive her for just packing up one day and not coming back home to address their issues. He felt betrayed. Their relationship ended not with a heated argument or words that went too far, but a fundamental disagreement that led to a rupture in their relationship… one that was still gaping.

Dominick tries to think of what they would even do for Halloween on such short notice. The idea of spending most of the night in traffic surrounded by people under the influence made him decide very quickly that today is not the day he is going to give in and try to win her back.

You know me and Halloween.

Part 1: Costumes   Contents   Part 3: No Rose Emojis