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  1. THE INFINITE MATTER OF KAT WATBURN T.E. Bean Twenty-Two Minutes Before ထ Eight days ago, space and time were things to be relied upon. Universally speaking. Now I sat perched in a far-flung cave halfway up a near-vertical ravine, huddled with my boyfriend, Som, in a fading pocket of light as the sun moved behind a mountain, drawing angles of golden polygons among the sacred ruins before us. Fingers entwined, our backs propped against a monolithic altar, we clocked the morning half-light climbing the empty sky: a fuse igniting life in the crystals embedded within a stone temple. The entire planet plugged into one dazzling circuit. By putting myself at risk, I was putting us all at risk. And despite that being mere minutes away, I couldn’t help but laugh while assessing the chip on my left big toe. Cornflower blue. The woman attending the counter at Walgreens had said the color—royal blue with a purple undertone—would highlight the flick of violet in my hazel eyes, make my toes look fun. Other women had fun toes. I’d never had fun toes. I wanted fun toes. And considering how much not fun my feet had been through this past week, the nail polish had held up reasonably well. I’d have to let the cosmetician know…if I ever made it back to California. In the wake of June 10, Som and I had lived in continental drift for eight days—not quite having fled home but certainly having left in a hurry. And as our beatnik trail followed the sun below a line of distant horizon, we’d watched the thin veil of reality flutter, as if caught by a breeze, right before infinity, bit by bit, came crashing through. Like a tiny tear in the universe slowly pulling everything toward us. My name is Kat Watburn, and eight days ago my brother, Jay, dragged me to a sound bath meditation. But it’s only now that I can admit: on some level, I always knew it would come to this. Chapter One June 10 Eight Days Before ထ I shook the bottle of to-be-applied nail polish. It was early June, and flip-flop season was in full effect. “Does everyone wear bathing suits?” I asked. “There’s no actual bath involved,” Jay groan-laughed. “There’s no water. A sound bath is a figurative bath. We’re bathed in vibrations of sound, which have a healing effect on the link between our astral being and our physical body. I like to think of it as nutrition for the umbilical cord connecting me to my soul.” I threw Som a withering look, then leveled a stare at my brother and smiled a slow smile, blinked a slow blink. “So if I severed your soul’s umbilical cord, would that constitute metaphysical abortion?” I had no intention of going that night. In our late teens Jay had dabbled in the world of transcendental meditation; then, at some point during my university years, he’d joined a group called The League of Consciousness Explorers. These days, when he wasn’t on tour with his band, Billion Watt Burn, he met them at various locations around Joshua Tree for the purpose of doing something that looked, to me, an awful lot like doing nothing. There seemed, to be generous, no actual point. That’s not to say I was opposed to meditation. I wasn’t. It was more, I think, that I’d just gotten used to saying no to it. When we were children, our family moved often—three different countries by my eleventh year. Jay had been my peer-group continuity and I his. Though he was nearly a year older than me (and diametrically contrary in most ways), we’d always been close. Best friends. Forever bound, we turned and twisted in unison, each tied in opposition to the other like a double helix. I was accustomed to setting boundaries with the free-form way he’d leap headfirst into whatever wavy-gravy flower-child trope crossed his path. Over time, saying no to my brother had become an involuntary twitch. A reaction to stimuli, not unlike how tweezing my left eyebrow always made me sneeze. You see, I’d spent a lifetime respecting Jay’s limits—butterscotch, sleeping with his head facing north, board games with Pop-o-Matic domes. But my limits—hitchhiking, polyamorous self-help gurus with non-ironic ZZ Top beards, all people who said The Man and/or did fist-bump hand explosions—Jay felt very much at ease trampling all over. Always had. Because of that, and as much as I loved and embraced the alternately mystical and overripe affectations of his manifest-destiny-hippie-rock-star swagger, I’d long ago learned that if I didn’t occasionally show him some resistance, I risked finding myself sleeping in a barley field outside Fresno, hoping (and failing) to bear witness to the formation of a crop circle. Just a little something I knew from personal experience. From my scholarly perspective (and with that wood tick night terror in mind), meditation looked to be less enjoyable than passing a kidney stone—but with considerably fewer benefits to my physiological well-being. A celebrated therapeutic tool founded on a lack of self-criticism, meditation’s achievements (undiagnosable in any substantive way) had—by finding its way onto smartphone apps—ballooned into a billion-dollar pile of overhyped group psychosis. Like any obedient cult member, Jay had casually tried to indoctrinate me for years. And it had been easy to refute him. My one-off shot at hot yoga had, after all, ended in barf. But everything changed when Som and I moved to Joshua Tree for the summer. It was then Jay decided mine was a balloon in need of popping. “I say this with love, Kat. Left unchecked, your life-force trends toward anemic.” “I can only imagine what that would look like said without love.” Yeah, my life-force was not anemic. That was just Jay being Jay—dramatic with a splash of narcissism, espousing his state-of-flow, hive-mind drivel. The truth was, I was the happiest, most centered I’d been in years. “What’s so wrong about me that I need meditation?” I asked. Jay pulled a long face and spoke out one side of his mouth. “It’d be more expedient to ask what’s so right about you that you don’t need meditation.” “Bit harsh.” Som stole the words from me. “I don—” he started, but Jay waved him off with a rakish grin. “Seriously, Kat, it’ll be fun. And good for you to elevate your vibrational frequency. To seek a higher plane where all is great.” “Jaaay…” I rolled my eyes at his bohemian rhetoric. “Everything can’t be great. If everything were great, nothing would be great, because everything great would seem mediocre without everything normal, bland, and shitty contrasting it.” “You’re only solidifying my case,” he said. “Why does my perceived state of being—my frequency—even interest you?” I sang the word and made air quotes, abandoning the bottle of nail polish when an alert on my phone caught my eye—that one thing that can make any girl squeal and blush with elation: a new paper by Toshimi Tanaka on twin-prime conjecture that promised to establish a pattern exceeding the known threshold of 388,342 digits, extending into perpetuity. As a mathematician, I was intrigued, eager to dive straight in. After plucking my phone from my hand and swatting me away, Jay read the alert, sighed like he was blowing out a candle, then stepped between Som and me, wrapping an arm around each of us. “I only wish for everyone I love to vibrate at my level? C’mon, Kat, the three of us, we’ll go together.” Som scratched his stubble. “I’d love to try a sound bath.” To Som: “Then the two of you should go, flourish in harmony with the clouds.” To Jay: “I’ll stay here alone, enchanted by my earthbound involvements.” “There are synergizing benefits to attending as a trio,” Jay said. He tightened his grip and squeezed my shoulder, his bluster picking up steam. “The Triad. Trinomials. A triptych. You know, the harmony of balanced coefficients, base three power—and all that.” I drew back enough to lock eyes with Jay. Among his stratagem, a system of tools to be brandished like bottle-rockets, employing half-baked algebra to compel me was a lever he only pulled occasionally. Which spoke to how determined he was. “And if I were to agree to your sound bath, what’s next?” I flung his arm away and broke free. “Walking on hot coals? Creative movement classes? How about ear candling? Oh, hey—let’s chain ourselves to a tree!” I was getting worked up. “I know how this ends with you, Jay: it never ends! It’s best to break the chain right now.” “The chain keeps us together, little sister.” “I’m not your little—” “She’s a quarter inch taller than you; he’s ten and a half months older than you—we’ll call it a draw,” Som said with a smile. The three of us had been in close quarters for nearly a week: Som and I outside the rhythm of UCLA, Jay between band commitments. Back in LA, the two of them had bonded, become fast friends; now, living with us in the Yucca Valley ranch house where Jay and I had grown up, Som had slid into our sibling power-dynamic, grabbing the conversational wheel and pulling us away from the ditch, as required. “This is Jay’s last night,” Som said. “Oh, come on. They’re playing, like, three shows—” “Four shows,” Jay said. “I’ll be gone ten days.” “A ten-day tour celebrating your greatness is hardly cause for a guilt-laden farewell.” When Jay interlaced his fingers in appraisal of my armor, I curled my lip and glared at him. “Maybe I already have plans tonight?” I gestured toward my phone and the assertion of twin prime’s ice-wall breakthrough. “Math is insensate,” Jay said. “Live life lighter.” “Is that your counterargument, or are you quoting Pottery Barn throw pillows at me?” Jay’s mouth pressed closed; Som considered his sneakers; I pushed a fistful of golden-brown waves out of my face. No one spoke for several seconds. “I won fair and square, Kat,” Jay finally said, changing tack. “It was so long ago I barely remember what the bet was about.” “Your failing memory does not negate the terms of our contract.” I rocked back on my heels. “And you’re willing to submit me to forced meditation?” “Yes.” My brother was in peak aesthetic: bell bottom jeans and a tie-dyed shirt with the words THINK BELIEVE ATTRACT RECEIVE in descending order down the front. The wash of colors picked up a glimmer from the prismatic bracelet a fan threw to him on stage at Red Rocks when his band opened for some big legacy act waging a short-lived reunion. Within a certain subset of the population, Jay was a celebrity. But to me, he was my overconfident sibling whose neo-psychedelia fetish had spiraled out of control. “To scale this summit of wonder,” I said, stepping with caution, “would I have to dress in a flowing robe with love beads? Wear a daisy in my hair?” “Wear a latex catsuit with Bedazzled tube socks and a cowboy hat if you like. Whatever you feel comfortable in. It really doesn’t matter.” Som gave me a look, his mouth hitching up on one side. “Do you own a latex catsuit?” Ignoring the question—though making a note to revisit the topic when we were alone, but not because I was curious (I absolutely was curious)—I let the silence stretch while I held my nose to the wind, scenting for a falter in my brother’s tenacity. When we were kids, Jay wiggled with neophilic energy; a performer in search of his spotlight, an experiential rush, transcendence—preferably all three at once. Try as I had to keep up with his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants outlook, my deeply pragmatic personality had never contained enough sharp lurches, freefall plummets, and hairpin turns for his liking. Once I’d moved to LA, being geographically elsewhere from my dad and brother for the first time—big personalities that blocked out most of the sun—I’d slipped wholeheartedly into the structure of university. Rules. Ones I could identify and learn. Rules founded on undeniable logic. Rules, where they existed, I’d always been good with. That’s why I’d sought a life of purposeful mathematics in the first place: the order and clarity of formulas, no room for interpretation or error in an equation, terms in black and white, zeros and ones, functions and forms. Of course, a lot had happened in the intervening years—the jagged edges of adolescence sanded down and the latent energy from the past shaken off. Since meeting Som and falling in love, I’d undergone a bit of a pattern reset. I’d made real strides toward not overthinking every tiny decision—reigning in my internal monologue before it formed a caucus, a council of voices and opinions trying to undermine my authority. After considering that, I tamped down my reluctance. Jay was right, meditation might be fun. Relaxing even. Toshimi Tanaka’s paper could wait a few hours. “Fine,” I said slowly, as if I were trying the word on, still working out if external coercion to seek internal mindfulness even made sense. “We’ll go tonight. All three of us. Let’s meditate.” * * *
  2. Hello everyone. This is the first chapter of my manuscript, women's fiction with speculative elements. This story began life in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. I had to write a 2500 word story with the prompts, ghost story, butler, and paralysis. The characters wouldn't leave me alone, so I turned it into a 4000-word short story that won first place in Writers Digest's Popular Fiction Awards, in the romance category. And they still wouldn't leave me alone, so now I am writing their entire story. lol Another attempt at a Pitch Three years after the car crash that killed her husband, 32-year-old photojournalist Emma Hill is floundering. She's lost her passion for her work—for her life. No one knows what really happened the night Danny died, and Emma plans to keep it this way. If Jane, her best friend and late husband's sister, ever found out, it would destroy their friendship, and Emma couldn't survive without Jane's support. But hiding the truth is wearing Emma down. On the anniversary of Danny's death, a very drunk Jane tells Emma it's time to stop wallowing and orders her to make a wish on the first star of the night. The word Nantucket randomly pops into Emma's mind. What follows is a string of impossible coincidences involving Nantucket that convince Emma something important is waiting for her there. She travels to the island, unsure of what to expect, and is thrilled when the island's haunted history rekindles her love for photojournalism. An old butler with mysterious ties to her past, and a young widowed author in a wheelchair with secrets of his own, help Emma realize she wants more from life to simply exist. But the only way to escape the ghosts in her past and have a chance for the happiness she longs for is to risk revealing her shameful secret. Chapter One Why is it that the best days burn by like the flash of a shooting star, but the ones you want so desperately to forget drag on for an eternity? I check my watch, heart sinking when it's only six o’clock. I swear, the more I will time to speed up, the slower it creeps by. I’m so done with this day, I'm ready to scream like a banshee. Somehow, espite the excessive amount of alcohol I’ve consumed, I manage to control this primal urge. Instead, I sink into the butter-soft embrace of my best friend Jane’s leather couch and blow out a long breath. Tugging at the edges of my navy-blue cardigan, I close my eyes and imagine being wrapped in Danny’s arms. Three years of almost constant wear have reduced my husband’s sweater to a tattered shell of its former self, and only the vaguest hint of his pine-scented aftershave lingers, but I can’t bring myself to throw it away. A hiccuping breath escapes as I swallow a sob. I flutter my lashes to halt the tears I've been trying so hard to suppress, but they come anyway. I drag a fingertip under each eye to remove the moisture, hoping Jane doesn't see. I promised her I wouldn't cry today. Jane walks into the room, catching me. “Oh, no. Don’t you dare. If you start, I will too, and then there’ll be no stopping us.” She places the open bottle of wine she’s carrying beside the box of tissues placed strategically on her sleek glass coffee table. She plucks a tissue out and hands it to me. “I’m sorry. I really thought this year was going to be different.” “Did you, though?” She drops to the couch beside me and gives one of my unruly auburn curls a gentle tug. “Come on, Emma. You cry at dog food commercials.” I huff, indignant. “I do not. I cry at the SPCA commercials. The ones with the sad-eyed puppies and kittens. A completely understandable reaction.” Despite her teasing, I know Jane doesn’t begrudge my tears. Danny was her brother, after all. She introduced us back when we were roommates in university. She misses him too. Jane’s my life preserver, the one who has kept me afloat these past few years. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Guilt flares, sending an involuntary shudder rippling through my body. If she ever discovers what really happened the night Danny died, she’ll never forgive me. None of her family will. “Only a few more hours to go.” She slides closer and lays her arm across my shoulders. “You’ve got this.” “Thank you,” I whisper. Her eyebrows arch. "For what?" “For, you know.” I give a helpless shrug. “Everything.” She squeezes my hand. I douse the flames of my guilt with another sip of wine. Jane always takes the day off work on the anniversary of Danny’s death, to make sure I’m never alone. No easy feat, considering she’s an anesthesiologist in high demand. And I’m endlessly grateful for her sacrifice. The first year she showed up at my place with a case of wine and three boxes of tissues. Not the healthiest coping mechanism, but I craved the oblivion alcohol promised. Since that first year, our wine consumption has dropped off, and we’ve realized home is not the best place for me to be. Now, we spend the day here, in her apartment, watching sappy chick flicks. So far, we’ve watched Valentine’s Day, Leap Year, and Sleepless in Seattle. We’ve just finished Crazy Stupid Love, one of our favorites. I defy anyone to not fall in love with that movie. The scene where Steve Carrel is cutting the lawn in the dark, and Julianne Moore is watching him from the dining room window, talking to him on the phone and pretending to need his help with the furnace. God, that scene guts me every time. It’s such a perfect representation of love. The pure, understated kind of love you know with unwavering certainty will never end. The kind of love I had for Danny. After a few more minutes of sniffling and snuffling, Jane jumps to her feet. She wobbles, a little unsteady. Small wonder. At five foot two, she’s a good six inches shorter than me and lighter by at least thirty pounds, but she’s matched my wine consumption glass to glass. Her cheeks are bright pink like they are every time she drinks. She tells me it’s because of her Japanese heritage and a missing enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. Thankfully, she rarely consumes this much, only when the occasion warrants the consequences. Like today. She clears her throat and speaks, her words slurring a little. “Okay. Listen up, Emma Hill.” Blinking, she swallows audibly, and I wondered if she’s on the verge of vomiting. I shift away, hopefully out of range. “Give me a minute,” she adds and swallows again. Danny’s last name was Matakoro, but I didn’t change my name when we married. Lately, I find myself questioning my decision because if I had taken his name, it would be like keeping a little part of him alive. Jane clears her throat, and, apparently no longer in danger of spewing, announces, “I hereby proclaim today shall henceforth be known as the official End-of-Emma’s-Wallowing Day.” She raises her glass in a toast. “Time to make a fresh start, move on, begin a new chapter…take the first step in the journey of the rest of your life.” I blink, trying to focus on the two images of my best friend wavering back and forth in front of me. When they finally merge into a single shape, I say, “Going for the world record for the greatest number of clichés in a single sentence?” She tosses her head. A curtain of silky black hair swings across her face and she flips it away, glaring at me. “Laugh all you want, but I’m serious. I mean, just look at you. You’re a mess.” Her gaze travels up and down my body. “When was the last time you had your hair cut?” I tuck an errant curl behind my ear. “Long hair doesn’t need the same attention a short bob like yours does.” “Maybe not, but it needs to be trimmed once in a while. And washed and conditioned. Pretty sure neither of those happens on a regular basis.” She yanks on the sleeve of my cardigan. “And this. You’ve been wearing this piece of crap sweater long enough. Let it go.” I wrap my arms protectively across my chest. “It’s Danny’s. I can’t just throw it away.” “Yes, you can, Emma. It’s time. Time to move on.” Tears slide down my cheeks, because how can I? I close my eyes, trying not to think about the last conversation Danny and I had. Well, no. Not a conversation, a fight. Memories strain against the restraints I’ve carefully set into place. My chest contracts with a crushing pain. A band tightens around my lungs, turning the simple act of breathing into a battle. My pulse thumps in my temple. I force myself to take a slow breath in through my nose and out through pursed lips like my counselor taught me. I will my muscles to relax. Jane misinterprets my reaction as simple grief, and her gaze fills with commiseration. “I’m not telling you to forget Danny. He’ll always be your first love. But you’re only thirty-two. Your life is an open expanse of sparkling blue water, spreading out before you in a sea of endless possibilities.” I swipe at my eyes and let out a snort of laughter. “Seriously, did you just read a book on clichés for everyday life?” She drops back to the couch beside me, takes my wine glass and sets it on the table, then reaches for my hands. “I love you, Sissy, and it’s breaking my heart to see you like this. You’re not living, you’re existing. That’s no way for anyone, let alone someone as brilliant and beautiful as you, to spend their life. And you know Danny wouldn’t want this for you.” She leans closer and lowers her voice theatrically as if she’s imparting the secret of eternal life. “I read somewhere chronic sadness wreaks havoc with your immune system, but a healthy serving of nice robust sex has the exact opposite effect.” Her eyebrows wiggle up and down suggestively. I bite my lip to stop myself from laughing at her maniacal expression. “And what, pray tell, is nice robust sex?” “You know, vigorous, plentiful … satisfying.” She narrows her eyes. “I’m telling you. You need to get laid.” I burst out laughing. “Not everyone is as obsessed with sex as you are, Jane. Some of us do just fine without it.” She blows out a puff of air through compressed lips. “Yeah, right.” Ignoring her disbelief, I say, “And I’m not just existing. I have a job, and, friends, and I do…things.” "What friends? As far as I know, I’m it, and lately, you won’t answer my texts or phone calls unless I freak out and yell at you. I’d also like to point out that this is the first time in three months you’ve been over here, and we both know if this wasn’t the day, you wouldn’t be here now.” I don’t bother to argue, because she’s only speaking the truth. “And what things do you do?” she continues. “The only time you ever go out is when I drag you kicking and screaming.” She grins. “And considering my size, that is an extraordinary accomplishment.” “I do not scream, or kick.” I try to sound offended but fail miserably. Jane can always make me laugh. “Not much, anyway.” “Come on, Emma, help me out here. There must be something that brings you joy. Something you’ve always wanted to do but never found the time, or courage to try.” I purse my lips, giving her my best contemplative expression. “Well, I’ve always wanted to bake an angel food cake from scratch,” I say, hoping to lighten the mood, which has become far too intense for my liking. Jane swats my arm. “You are the most infuriating woman I’ve ever met.” She laughs and pulls me to my feet. “Come on. I have an idea.” She drags me out through a pair of white-trimmed French doors to her balcony. Jane’s apartment is large for the west end of Vancouver where real estate is at a premium, but it’s pretty basic. Tiny kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a monochromatic color scheme in shades of gray. The stone-colored walls, weathered hardwood floors, and smoky gray furniture are not my taste at all. I prefer colorful surroundings. Her balcony, though, that’s what makes her place spectacular. It’s massive, running the entire length of the building, and overlooks English Bay. When Jane’s elderly aunt was ready to sell two years ago, I had a chance to buy the apartment. I could have afforded it, thanks to Danny’s substantial insurance settlement, but I refuse to touch a penny of that. It feels too much like blood money. Not to mention that selling the house Danny and I scrimped and saved to buy would have felt like a betrayal. Jane, however, had jumped on the chance. Now, as my house slowly falls to pieces around me, I suspect she might have been the smart one. The heavy perfume of night-blooming jasmine engulfs us, cloyingly sweet and intense enough to make me sneeze. “Ugh. I can’t fathom how you actually enjoy this smell.” Five terra cotta containers filled with the flowering plants rest against the far railing. I’m surprised the stupid things are still blooming this late into the fall. Jane arches a single, delicately shaped eyebrow in an effortless movement. “Do not insult my precious babies.” I feign a gag. “Why did you drag me out here? It’s certainly not for me to enjoy this repulsive stench.” I scan the sky. “Not that I don’t enjoy your view.” The night is clear, the sky deepened to cobalt. A deep, rich color, so saturated you can almost taste it at the back of your tongue. The crisp breeze holds only the vaguest hint of the coming winter. In the distance, I can just make out the lights of container ships waiting in the harbor. A perfect October evening. Or at least that’s what Danny would’ve called it. He was all about the atmosphere. Candle-lit dinners, moonlit walks by the ocean, a shared bottle of wine with soft jazz playing in the background. A pain stabs in the center of my chest, and I force my thoughts back to the present, a much safer place to be. Emotionally, at least. Jane points a scarlet-tipped finger at the single, white star shining beside the full moon. “There. The first star of the night. There’s magic in that Emma, mark my words. Enough to make your dreams come true.” “Magic?” “Yes, magic.” Jane turns to me, eyes wide. “Powerful magic.” “Good lord, Jane. You really need to cut back on the Hallmark movies.” She slaps my hand. “Repeat after me.” “What?” She ignores me and continues, “Star Light. Star Bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might. Have the wish I wish tonight.” I burst out laughing. “A children’s nursery rhyme?” She frowns. “Humor me, okay?” Her expression is so serious I relent and repeat the words back to her. “Okay, now make a wish. But you can’t wish for Danny back. That’s not how this works.” “Oh, do tell,” I say with a chuckle. “How exactly does this work?” She’s being ridiculous, but she’s so adorably earnest my heart fills with love for her. “Think about something that would bring you joy,” Jane says, “then wish for that.” The excitement in her voice makes me wonder if she believes in this wishing business. Either that or she’s drunker than I thought. She gives me a little shove with her shoulder. “Just do it.” God, if only it was that simple. One wish, and poof, all the misery would just disappear forever. What I wouldn’t give for that to happen. Guilt is an exhausting burden. While I’m probably one of the last people on earth who deserves to have a wish come true, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for Jane. So I say, “Fine,” and blow out a long-suffering breath. Closing my eyes, I empty my mind. Waiting for an idea to drift into my consciousness. The distant cry of a gull drifts up from the water, a boat engine revs as it speeds past, and waves crash as the boat’s wake hits the shore. Time unspools so slowly it’s as if I’m lost inside a dream. Like maybe a little of that magic Jane believes in has surrounded us. A tiny flicker of hope warms my heart. The wrinkled face of my Nana Jo appears behind my closed lids. The corners of her mouth lift in an odd smile and her faded azure eyes sparkle like she’s about to share a secret. The balcony tilts beneath my feet, forcing me to take a step to stop from toppling over. I open my eyes and grab the railing, then I speak the random word which has inexplicably appeared in my mind. “Nantucket.”
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