Short Story – Anne and Renee

Anne and Renee: The Soulmate Series

 

 

 

Renee slammed the bedroom door and kicked her stilettos toward the closet. She ripped at her black lace garter and stockings, tearing them off in frustration and throwing them into the trash. The little black mini dress got balled up and thrown on the floor. She stomped into the bathroom and started the shower. As steam filled the master bath, she sat down on the toilet seat and let the tears come. The love of her life, her soulmate, and partner simply did not want her, no matter how hard she tried. Stepping in front of the full-length mirror, Renee took off her black push up bra and used it to wipe away the fog that was already clouding her reflection.

Her breasts were still full and firm. Admittedly, they were a little lower than they were the first time Anne had taken her, up against the wall in the bathroom of Catch-22, the previous incarnation of The Kitty Klub. It was ten years ago today, in fact. Halloween. Anne had been pursuing her for weeks, but Renee had held off. She was fresh out of bad relationship, and she was dead set against getting involved in another one. Anne was gorgeous and charming. She was older than Renee by a couple of years, but sometimes she seemed ages wiser. She had a compassionate and kind air about her and a simmering sensuality that seemed to thrum under her skin. Renee guessed that most people didn’t realize the depths of feeling under the quiet exterior. When Renee met Anne, she was alternately intrigued and anxious and she did her best to keep Anne at arm’s length. Renee claimed they were better off as friends, but every time Anne’s hand slid over Renee’s neck as they were hugging hello, the tremors would start in her toes and shudder through her body like lightening.

Finally, Renee agreed to a date. They decided to go as a couple to a mutual friend’s giant Halloween party at the club. Renee wanted them to dress as something sexy, but Anne wanted to be playful and funny. They ended up dressing as ketchup and mustard. Renee wore a red mini dress and red tights, with a big K on the front and Anne wore a bright yellow t-shirt with an M, and jeans. They had pointy hats to match their costumes and they won second place in the contest and everyone laughed and wanted to try on their hats. Anne was charming and funny and Renee found herself laughing more than she could remember laughing in years. When the contest ended, Renee somehow found herself in the club bathroom, backed up against the wall, with her ketchup dress around her waist and Anne’s mouth locked on hers, as Anne reached down and slid her fingers inside of Renee, getting them wet before moving them up to her clit and circling it until Renee came hard, her teeth locked into Anne’s neck to keep from screaming. It was a hell of a first date.

Renee shook herself out of the past. There was no sense dwelling on a part of her life that was obviously over. She let her eyes slide down her naked body. She wasn’t bad looking, even now on the downhill stretch to forty. Her hips were full, she was a little rounded at the belly. But she had looked like this when she and Anne met and Anne had always wanted her then. The mirror was fogging up again, so Renee shook her head and jumped in the shower. She reached down with her fingers as she let the hot water run over her head. If Anne wasn’t going to give her any, at least she could give it to herself. She stroked her clit softly, then harder. It got hard under her fingers and she reached out one hand to brace herself against the wall as she quietly made herself come. She felt released, but sad. Renee had always loved masturbating, but doing so because she couldn’t get Anne to make love with her was a lonely business.

It wasn’t as if their sex life died all at once, either. They made love constantly in the beginning. Anne would sneak up on Renee while she was making dinner and kneel on the ground behind her, running her tongue up the length of Renee’s thighs, searching between her legs. Renee would go weak at the knees and drop, allowing Anne full access. Sometimes Renee would put her head on Anne’s lap in the car, biting and pulling on Anne’s jeans with her teeth, then pressing one hand hard against Anne’s cunt, rubbing it through her jeans, trying to make her come while Anne tried to keep her eyes on the road….

 

Do Anne and Renee get their groove back? Want to read the rest of their story? Check out the erotica series “The Soulmate Series” by Olivia Craft on Amazon.com. Free for Kindle Unlimited Users – only 99 cents for everyone else.

 

 

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Jennifer

Many years before The Love Sucks Club was even on my radar, before I had even entertained the idea of writing any novels at all, I wrote a short story called “Dreams.” It started in high school, with a short story about a woman who told her dreams to her partner every morning when she woke up. The main character was Jennifer and my teacher found it fascinating – as did I – it stayed in my head for almost twenty years until I wrote the following story.

A few years after writing this story, a conversation with my best friend Aj led to the idea of The Love Sucks Club and Jennifer popped into my mind again. Something about her appealed to me and though I didn’t see her having her own book, I wasn’t quite ready to put her in the bottom of the dead ideas pile. I pulled it out, polished it off, and opened a novel with it. Jennifer from this story became Esmé in The Love Sucks Club and the narrator became Dana.

I found this story again tonight while going through the old “fragments and short stories never published” folder and decided to bring it out to show how sometimes the writing process really can take over twenty years from start to finish.

 

Dreams

       It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “This is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.”

Jennifer looked a bit like a teenage boy. She was slim and long. Her legs seemed to bend at strange angles when she sat and somehow, she always seemed in danger of knocking something over with her elbows. Jennifer’s deep brown hair, longish over the face, short everywhere else, stuck up in impossible pieces all over her head. Yet, there was something so female about her, something in the curve of her jaw, or the length of her neck, or the perfect shape of her ears.

I saw Jennifer for the first time at a beach bar on Strand St. I was sitting alone with my notebook, nursing a beer. I heard the men in the bar muttering to themselves, but I didn’t pay much attention. On an island as small as this, any new girl is a reason for a press release. I continued to scribble dream worlds in my notebook. I fancy myself a writer, some cross between Robert A. Heinlein without the nipple fixation and Robert B. Parker without the testosterone.

I didn’t look up again until a few droplets of water across my page interrupted my thoughts. I blinked against the glare which was outlining the most striking woman I had ever seen. I don’t think I thought she was beautiful, or even hot, not then, but she left me stunned. Her mouth was full and smiling, and her face completely open. Her eyes, hazel, with flecks of gold were full of amusement and vitality. I just looked at her, my face impassive.

“Hi, I’m Jennifer.”

I nod. Look pointedly down at my notebook and back up at her.

“The guys at the bar told me not to talk to you.”

“They were probably right,” I answered, looking back down at my notes.

“They said you believe that your dreams tell the future.”

I ignored her and  sat, trying to write, trying to think of anything that could take my attention, while she stood there for several moments. I could feel her eyes on the top of my head and I fought against every impulse in my body that was telling me to look up. Finally, I heard her leaving. I waited a few minutes, then got up and left. They know me here, I spend enough time at this table, drinking their booze and eating their overpriced fried food to warrant a tab that I pay on a monthly basis. There are advantages to being the local celebrity.

Three days later, I took my morning coffee onto the deck and Jennifer was sitting on a lounge chair. I glared at her.

“You’re on private property.”

“I asked the bartender where you live. She said I couldn’t miss it. She was right. It’s beautiful up here, do you live alone?”

“I live alone because I prefer to be alone, “ I snapped. “What do you want?”

“I read Annabelle’s Lies,” she said quietly. “I had a dream that we met and fell in love.”

I sat down, and passed a hand over my eyes. Annabelle’s Lies. I didn’t want to be reminded of Annabelle or her lies. I glanced at Jennifer, resisting the urge to straighten the hair that was blowing across her face.

Several hours later, Jennifer was still occupying my space, drinking my booze and rummaging in my refrigerator. She moved constantly, opening and closing books, looking at my artwork, touching the glass frames. Her hands were always in motion, she had a frenetic energy that kept me in a constant state of anticipation. Everything she said, everything she did seemed like a prelude to something else. My head was spinning.

Five days later, she hadn’t left. I took her back to her hotel to get her clothes. I took her to K-mart, the island’s only store to stock up on bathroom supplies and makeup and postcards. She cleaned my kitchen and cooked for me. I didn’t eat fried bar food for five whole days.

During the day, we went to secluded beaches and snorkeled and swam. On shore, she fed me fruit and wine from her picnic basket, while I rubbed her pale skin with suntan lotion. She jet-skied while I watched.  She went diving. She jumped off of a cliff. She learned how to kite surf and parasail and skydive, and I paced obsessively on the shore, sure she was never coming back. At night, I made love to her on the porch, under the stars and let her gently mock my awkward fumbling.

“It’s been three years,” I muttered. “And there was no one before Annabelle.”

“I know,” she whispered back. “I know.”

Every morning, she made me tell her my dreams, sure that there was meaning in every one. She quoted to me from my novel, in which I wrote about my dream of the Old Man and the Sea. I was a young boy, and I sat in a boat, and the old man wanted to tell me something, but I could never understand what it was. After Annabelle died, I finally figured it out, but it was too late. I talked about the old man, but I wouldn’t talk about Annabelle. I wouldn’t talk about those dreams. I talked about all of the others, though. Jennifer loved to hear about my dreams, and I elaborated on them, weaving her into my tales of lucid dreaming, precognition, and fairy tale worlds.

Five days.  This morning, I refused to tell Jennifer about my dream. I didn’t want her to leave the house today, but she insisted we go out and be among people. Jennifer didn’t want me to be a hermit, she didn’t want the others to hate me, to tell the tourists not to talk to me. She wanted to go snorkeling, she wanted to be in the water. Jennifer insisted. It is important to remember that Jennifer insisted.

It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “this is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.” I breathe hard into her mouth, then switch my hands to her sternum. I fall into the rhythm of the CPR. Push, push, push, breathe, repeat. The familiarity weighs on my shoulder. I breathe into her mouth over and over, until the ambulance shows up and the EMTs take over. This is it, this is the pattern of my life.

I don’t think I will dream tonight.

Are you a real writer?

I belong to several online writing groups. Some are geared toward feedback, some are instructional, and some, the bulk of them, are simply places for writers to get together and talk about writing. Online groups are an excellent way to connect with other writers when a live writing group isn’t a possibility.

Lately, I’ve found a disturbing trend happening in my groups – maybe it has always been there, but I’ve seen it a lot recently… People telling other people that they aren’t real writers. I have been seeing it constantly in my groups and it is pissing me off. Some new writer who is just learning to break out of the cage of self-doubt and flex those creative skills is going to read these judgmental posts and slip right back in. These are just a few examples of what I mean:

  • You aren’t a real writer if you don’t write every day.
  • You aren’t a real writer if you don’t feel compelled to write.
  • You aren’t a real writer if you aren’t almost overwhelmed by your ideas.
  • You aren’t a real writer if you haven’t studied the craft of writing.
  • (My personal favorite) Writing is hard. If you tell me you love writing, I’m going to assume you aren’t a real writer.

 

I’m a writer. I don’t write every day. I don’t always feel compelled to write. I am sometimes overwhelmed with ideas and sometimes, I stare at the blank screen for an hour paralyzed with the fear that all of the ideas have dried up forever. I have studied the craft of writing. I continue to study the craft of writing. I can’t imagine I will ever stop studying the craft of writing. There are a lot of ways to do that and they don’t all involve going to college and many of them are free. The fact that I have a degree in Creative Writing doesn’t make me a more genuine writer than anyone else. In fact, I think I’ve learned more about the craft of writing over the past year than I did in my years of school.

I love writing. I also hate it. Sometimes, I’m afraid of it. And sometimes, it even bores me. It’s a job, it’s a life, it’s a passion, it’s an addiction. It’s a dream come true and a way to make a living. It’s creating worlds and it’s forgetting to move the laundry to the dryer because the story is so compelling, it can’t be stopped until the end. Some days, it’s deciding all the heating vents in the house need to be cleaned because that’s easier than writing. Writing is hard and sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes writing is busting out an incredibly brilliant short story in twenty minutes and sometimes it’s laboring over a submission with a deadline for three weeks.

There is one thing that makes someone a real writer. They write. They write when they can, they write when they’re able. They write. End of story. If you want to be a writer, write.

Now, if you want to be a published writer or a freelance writer or a working writer or a novelist or a blogger or —- Well, that’s a different story.

But whatever you do, don’t sit in judgment of someone else’s writing process. A real writer is too busy focusing on their own work to point a finger at everyone else.

 

Conference Call

The incredible Bella Books and GCLS anthology Conference Call is a delightful collection of short stories by some of the best writers in lesbian fiction. The proceeds go to the Golden Crown Literary Society, an organization designed to promote, education, and recognize lesbian literature.

 

https://www.bellabooks.com/9781594935749-prod.html

 

I contributed an intense story about an affair – written in first person collective which puts the reader in the audience with the rest of the conference goers. And that is just one among many. It is worth a read.

 

 

Excerpt from Conference Call

This is the excerpt from my short story in the Bella Books anthology “Conference Call.” All of the proceeds from this anthology go to benefit the Golden Crown Literary Society. If you want the rest of the story, buy the book – available July 20th here.

It was an affair. It was a tawdry affair between two women who should have known better. That’s what we all thought. We watched it happen at the Golden Crown Literary Society conference in DC. There was a palpable energy between them that the most sensitive of us noticed immediately. We sat in the lobby with our coffee, water, and breakfast sandwiches and watched as Maddie walked past the registration desk. Her eyes scanned the room and we held our breath, wanting her gaze to fall on us, to pick us out of the crowd. Maddie moved through the conference with the grace and confidence of someone who felt at home at the con and we all watched her. But Justine sat up like a prairie dog and Maddie’s eyes landed on her. Time froze, or we did, as the electricity between the two of them exploded into a million pieces in front of us.

Justine stood and crossed the room, her eyes locked on Maddie as she walked. They hugged and somehow, we all felt the press of their bodies, felt the way their arms wove around each other, their hips pressed together. From that second on, we were invisible. We sat in on their author readings and we went to their panels, but we were invisible. Oh, Maddie still smiled and laughed with us, and she answered our questions, but her mind was always somewhere else. When Justine walked in the room, a lightning bolt of energy sizzled between them and the rest of us disappeared. Though Maddie would turn back to talk to us, a secret smile remained, and we knew Justine had somehow touched a part of her that no one else ever had.

We stood next to them at the lunch buffet, watching as they carefully didn’t touch. Their bodies craned toward each other until they caught themselves and rearranged the space between them to an appropriate distance. We could feel the pull as they found seats next to each other at a table. They made conversation with people nearby but their arms somehow kept touching or they bumped hands as they ate.

We whispered words like adultery and cheating and homewrecker. It was an affair and we didn’t approve. We heard whispers that Justine was emotionally abused at home and we nodded righteously. Justine was married and we didn’t care how unhappily. She should leave first. There’s no excuse for adultery.

Maddie was partnered and we didn’t know if there were long, lonely nights crying in bed. It didn’t matter. It was an affair. That’s what we all thought. But we watched them laugh together at shared jokes no one else found funny. We felt the emotion underneath the attraction. It was starting to look like something more.

We saw them standing close, heads bent together, having a quiet, intense conversation. Justine blinked out a tear and Maddie brushed it away softly, her fingers lingering on the smooth skin of Justine’s cheek. They didn’t see us, though we passed quite close.  Love of my life, we thought we heard one of them mutter. We overheard them talking several times, and we marveled at the conversations. I’ve never felt so accepted in my life. I can’t remember ever being so heard.
We sat behind them at the movie and watched the way their shoulders touched as they leaned together. We nudged each other knowingly when Maddie put her arm around Justine, secure perhaps, in the invisibility of the darkened room. We ended up at the same table during karaoke and we watched the ways their eyes flicked toward each other whenever someone butchered a particularly sappy love song. We heard the sighs, we saw the longing, and we felt the pain and ecstasy. We started to smile at them during master classes and some of us were whispering the word love.

One day we walked behind them through the garden path of the hotel, and we saw their hands come together. Their fingers entwined and they looked at each other. For a second our hearts stopped. We questioned our own lives. We wondered if it could happen to us. We thought about our own long lonely nights and bitter tears. We remembered the deep love we felt for the friends and partners we’d met at the conference. We touched the hands of our lovers and smiled, wondering if Maddie and Justine felt what we felt. We wondered if they had experienced that jolt, that moment of recognition. We remembered the instant we had looked into each other’s eyes and knew that somehow, after all of the years of feeling out of sorts, we finally felt the last piece of the puzzle slipping naturally into place. We looked at their faces and thought, if only for a minute, that just maybe they were feeling the same thing we felt when we knew we had finally found the one.

It was an affair. That’s what we all thought.

Eating Life excerpt

Eating Life CoverLater, as they were lying in bed eating yogurt and granola, Anna asked Brilliant why she always laughed when she reached for the dildo.

“I never told you that story?”

“Come on,” Anna said. “I want to hear it.”

Brilliant opened her mouth and Anna obliged by spooning some yogurt in. Clearing her throat, Brilliant straightened up a bit, stretching one long leg over Anna’s thigh. “Columbus Gay Pride, 1996. I was there with a hot butch mechanic.”

“I forgot you date butches, too,” Anna said, smiling. “Is that weird?”

“I like women, Anna. Butch or femme or, like me, something in between.”

“I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just strange to picture you with anyone that isn’t me,” Anna replied.

“Yeah, imagine how I feel,” Brilliant said.

“We made a pact that we wouldn’t talk about Megan,” Anna said, shifting slightly away from Brilliant.

“I’m sorry. I keep breaking the rules. First I fall in love with you. Then I start a dialogue about your partner. Next thing you know, I’ll be asking you to leave her.”

“That can’t happen,” Anna said. “And I don’t want to have a dialogue about it.”

“Everyone leaves me, Anna. Everyone. My parents, my grandparents, my brother. Why don’t you just promise to stay with me?”

Anna glared. “Why don’t you start dating women who are unattached?”

Brilliant sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe I would rather date someone I know is going to disappoint me than put my trust in someone and be let down again.”

“Are we going to process your bad relationship choices all day?” Anna asked.

“We’re lesbians, Anna.” Brilliant grinned. “We process everything.”

Anna leaned over and tweaked one of Brilliant’s nipples. “Process this,” she said.

“Ahem. Continuing my story,” Brilliant said, pulling Anna snugly against her. “Gay Pride. Some dude in a leather thong was walking around selling raffle tickets.”

“Okay.” Anna giggled. She dipped her finger into the yogurt and smeared a bit on Brilliant’s nipple. Leaning down to lick it off, she motioned for the rest of the story.

“Of course I bought a few. They were only a dollar. I had no idea what they were for, but I couldn’t resist a man in a leather thong selling raffle tickets for a dollar apiece. It was so stereotypical gay pride.”

“I can see that,” Anna said, releasing the nipple. “So, what happened?”

What happened? Pre-order Eating Life on Amazon or ask for it at your favorite local bookstore and find out

New Year’s Resolutions

This year, I will not make any resolutions that imply I am anything other than perfectly wonderful just the way I am. I will not make any resolutions meant to make me feel bad about myself, nor will I make any sweeping pronouncements about how I want to be thinner, smarter, better, more.

This year, I won’t make any New Year’s resolutions that aren’t expressly intended to make me or my loved ones feel good about themselves.

This year, I resolve to practice self-care. This year, I’d like to treat my body with loving care. I want to spend more time at the farmer’s market and less time at big box stores. I would like to walk more, bike more, eat more vegetables. I would like to spend more time dancing. I want to save the money for a few pedicures. I want to make sure my sex life stays fresh and loving and invigorating. I want to sleep soundly. I resolve to hug my dog daily. I resolve to spend more time playing with my cat.

This year, I want to connect more. I resolve to send more paper letters. I want to reach out to someone who hasn’t heard from me in a long time. I would like to smile at more people. I want to compliment strangers. I want to tell my friends when they are wonderful and let it go when they are not. I want to appreciate the people who love me. I want to continue to be grateful for calling a partner into my life who loves me and shows me in a billion different ways. This year, I want to talk to my mother more often. I’d like to have more women come to my house for talks and coffee and shared breakfasts. I’d like to touch my friends more, hold their hands, hug them, ask them if they are lonely, or if they are living their dreams. I want to help people who need help.

This year, I want to spend time focusing on my career. I want to finish my fourth novel and start my fifth. I would like to submit at least one more short story this year than last. I want to find ways to market my self-love classes to a wider audience. I would like to network with other writers and teachers. I want to find a job teaching online with a college or university.

This year, I would like to stress less about paying bills. I don’t want to buy more stuff, but I would like to be able to pay the electric bill and my mortgage in the same week. I don’t want to be rich, but I want to be unafraid of where the next groceries are coming from. This year, I want to put some effort into making enough money that I can make decisions about spending, rather than reactions. This year, I’d like to make enough money that I can donate some of it to causes that touch my heart.

This year I want to stay informed about political decisions that can harm myself and my family without letting the news drag me into a depression. I want to act to protect myself and my loved ones without allowing myself to be silenced about that which is important to me.

This year, I want to be myself. I want to do what I want to do. I want to follow the calling of my own soul. This year, I resolve to be proud of myself. I resolve to follow my dreams. I want to love freely and live openly.

This year, I will cherish what I have, rather than pursue what I don’t.

Happy New Year.

 

 

Shame

It isn’t your fault, you know. I know somewhere deep inside, you still believe that it is. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about. You have shame about something – there is something you are afraid to tell people because you worry if they knew the whole truth, they would think you’re disgusting or pathetic or unworthy. They might stop loving you.

Shame. Shame is that dark place that we hide, where it festers and grows and causes that pit of anxiety in our guts or in that place right behind the breastbone that gets tight and makes it hard to take a deep breath.

Your shame is your own, I’m not saying it isn’t. But friend, let me tell you, it isn’t unique. Whatever you are hiding, I promise that one of us is hiding the same thing.

Sometimes, despite years of self-work and activism and self-love, a small, still voice inside of me says that if I had behaved differently, I wouldn’t have been raped. And again.  Is that the scariest contradiction? I no longer have shame around being raped, but I have shame around the fact that somewhere deep inside, I can’t let go of the possibility that it was, on some level, my fault. That’s shame.

Sometimes, when people ask me about money, I lie and tell them that everything is all right. Really, I am drowning, and when I try to figure out what to do about it, I get such anxiety that I have to stop and ask myself if I’m having a heart attack or just a lot of anxiety. That’s shame.

Sometimes, I eat way more than I wanted to, and after, I feel sick, not physically, but emotionally, as if there’s something seriously wrong with me that I am still fighting with my demons surrounding food.

Sometimes I have panic attacks so bad that I can’t breathe and in the depths of those attacks, I start to wonder if anyone really loves me, *really* loves me, just the way I am. Sometimes those panic attacks are so horrific, I think I’m actually dying. And I think there’s something wrong with me that I can’t control them, so I’m afraid to talk about them because I think everyone else will think there’s something wrong with me, too.

Sometimes, I remember those voices of all of the people who have called me fatty, lardo, pig, disgusting, sick, whoa-my-god-she’s-coming-toward-me, and know that somewhere deep down inside, I still carry them. Shame means I’m afraid to talk about it because I think that if I tell someone about it, they’ll start to see it, too.

Your shame may not be the same as mine. Maybe you carry shame about alcohol use, or things you did when you were addicted to drugs that hurt other people. Maybe your shame is about how you wet your pants in the second grade and everyone laughed and sometimes, you still hear the laughter, and while most of the time, you remember that it’s just one thing, long ago, in the deepest, darkest parts of your soul, you shrivel up remembering. Maybe your shame is getting so overwhelmed by all that you have to do that you do nothing but sit at the computer and play solitaire and then go to bed crying because that means so much more to do tomorrow.

Your shame may be about being abused, about wondering if there was something you could have done, if you had locked the door, if you had behaved yourself. Your shame may be around your body or your intelligence or your very existence. You may have shame about your education or your upbringing or about your failed relationships.

Maybe your shame is simply that everyone thinks you are such a together person and your dirty little secret is that you have self-love meltdowns just like everyone else.

Your shame is your own and it’s not my place to tell you what to do with it, except that I am going to tell you that until you talk about your shame with someone, it’s going to hide and it’s going to bubble up in your darkest hours, and it’s going to grow bigger until you think you can’t possibly bear it anymore.

Friends, let me tell you this. You are not alone. And it isn’t your fault. It isn’t your fault because we have all of this pressure on us from birth to death and sometimes the weight of that is too much to carry. It’s not your fault because you’ve been called names or told you weren’t enough and it’s hard to hear all of that all of your life and not let it absorb into the core of your being. It’s not your fault because your parents told you that no one would ever love you unless you (fill in the blank) and it’s probably not even their fault, because someone told them the same thing. It’s not your fault because even if you were drinking, you still didn’t deserve to be raped. It’s not your fault because even if you were yelling and out on control, you didn’t deserve to be punched. It’s not your fault.

It’s not your fault.

Your shame is your own. But I am giving you mine, right here, open and laid out before you. It may not be your shame, but it is still yours. You are not alone.