Story Time Saturday: The Ugly Truth Exerpt

The friendship between Seth and Gabe is a formative relationship for both young men in each of their respective stories. The following excerpt is taken from THE UGLY TRUTH and is Seth’s recollection of the origin of his friendship with Gabe.

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WAY BEFORE

The Thing About Trust . . .

Miss Warner, my fifth-grade teacher, smiles at me, but it doesn’t ease my anxiety at being asked to remain indoors to speak with her during recess. Her smile might be a trick even if Miss Warner has never been tricky. I feel like I’m in trouble because that’s how I feel every day at home. It would be the first time at school, though. I shudder thinking about what my dad would do if the school called home.

“Did you hear me?” she asks.

Standing in front of her desk in the classroom, I try to concentrate on her words, but they sort of sound like gibberish in my head. I stare at her pretty face. The pleasant pink of her cheeks over pretty golden skin and the way her hazel eyes look all different sorts of colors, mixed up with browns, greens, yellows and blues like when I use all of my crayons.  She continues smiling with nice white teeth. I like her.

“Seth?” She tilts her head and her smile slips.

“Yes, Miss Warner?”

 “Are you okay?”

 “Am I in trouble?” I ask and glance from her face to the strange boy at the end of her desk. He’s a boy my age, but I haven’t seen him before today. He’s got dark hair and tanned skin, but not like summer tan, like every day, all-the-time tan. He’d been brought in by Principal McPherson right before recess, the whole of the class dropping into silence. I’d been thinking about the basketball tournament my group of friends had planned, watching the exchange at the front of the room. Mrs. McPherson’s hand on the new boy’s shoulder. She smiles at Miss Warner, but we can’t hear the words. Then the principal leaves, Miss Warner excuses us to recess but asks me to stay.

 I look back at Miss Warner and wonder if she knows. Is that what Mrs. McPherson talked about? Do they know about my father? A constant fear is if someone knows. Does the new kid? Did he see something? I tug at my shirt making sure the bruises on my back aren’t showing.

She laughs.

I don’t.

Her laugh is a pretty sound that I wonder if my mom ever made.

“Of course not. I just wanted to introduce you to our new student. I thought about you: How well you know your way around and how you are so nice to everyone in our class.  Maybe you can help our new student feel comfortable today?”

I glance at the boy again. He’s looking down at his feet. I can tell he’s uncomfortable too, like me. He’s buried in clothing too large for him. His curly dark hair is cut short. When he glances up at me, I’m struck by the lightness of his eyes, a contrast to his darker hue of his skin. They are a light blue, like a barely blue sky on a hot summer day.

“This is Gabe,” Miss Warner says. “He’s new to Cantos.”

“Hey,” I say.

“Gabe, I’d like to introduce you to Seth.”

“Hi,” he replies.

“Seth, why don’t you take Gabe out to recess with everyone else. Maybe introduce him to some of your friends and play?”

Gabe follows me from the classroom, out the hallway and the heavy metal door of the school building into the filtered light of a gray day. There isn’t any rain, but I shrug into my rain jacket anyway to cut the wind that whips through the yard in bursts of cold. Gabe doesn’t have one and pulls his sleeves over his hands.

“Where are you from?” I ask him.

“Portland.”

“Wow. Why did your parents pick Cantos?”

“They didn’t.” The way he says it is like we’ve reached the edge of a cliff and there’s nowhere to go but over.

“Want to play basketball?” I look toward the blacktop where most of my friends are playing, but friends is a bit generous of a description. They are my friends at school. I’ve been invited to birthday parties, and a sleepover now and again, but no one has come to my house. They don’t know my secret. There’s only one friend I ever told, and she’s gone now.

He nods.

Turns out, the new kid is really good at basketball, and now we have enough players to play three-on-three instead of two-on-two with a sub.  It works out that Gabe is a perfect addition to the crew. He’s good at everything we play, and is pretty funny, but there’s something a bit different about him. It isn’t just that he lives at the hardware store with the Daniels who aren’t his parents, or that he refuses to talk about his real ones. It’s more than that. It’s the way he drifts when he thinks no one will notice, but I do because I understand the call of a daydream, though mine are day-mares. It’s a similar look when my mind returns to the fear of my dad, when I think about what he said or did the night before, when I feel the twinge of a new bruise, or the ache of a muscle that caught his anger. I recognize myself in Gabe.

A few months later, as the summer stretches into longer days and I’ve spent nearly every day with Gabe at the hardware store, I take a risk and invite Gabe to my house. It’s a day when it is safe - no father since he’s picked up an extra shift every weekend all month. Gabe rides his bike into the driveway and I meet him outside. “So, where’s this famous fort?” he asks as he leans the bike against the side of the house.

“This way.” I take him next door to Nana Bev’s.

“Is this your yard?” Gabe asks.

“No. It’s an empty house. Nana Bev used to live here, but she’s gone now. Moved to Arizona. I guess new people are moving in next month.”

“You won’t be able to cut through the yard anymore.”

“Yeah. Probably not. Maybe we can make a passage from my yard.”

“Loosen a board on the back fence?”

“How did you know about the fence?”

“A guess.”

“It’s this way” I say.

I lead him down a narrow path situated between a thicket of bushes with thick broad leaves. The plant flowers once a year and then the rain makes the fort impossible. It gets too muddy and the leaves drop leaving the structure exposed. Our feet crunch over the earth, dried branches and the soft padding of decomposing vegetation. Eventually the path gives way to a meadow, “almost there,” I say and trot through the tall grass. “Imagine if we were being followed by a rogue agent.” I say.

“A what?” Gabe asks.

“Never mind.” That is one thing that makes Gabe difficult to play with. We often have to stop to explain things to him.

“What does rogue mean?” he asks.

A good thing though: he catches on quick. I never had to explain much to Abby, but she is gone now, probably forever. She is in Hawaii, and I will never see her again now that Nana Bev has moved away. She doesn’t have a reason to visit now. “Rogue is like a rebel.”

“Like from Star Wars?”

“Yeah!”

“Duck!” Gabe yells. “Incoming!”

I flop to the grass, and Gabe makes an explosion sound with his mouth as he lands near me. “Agent S are you okay?”

“All good. 10-4,” I reply.

“What about the weapons?” Gabe asks in a lowered voice.

“They are in the safe house about 10 klicks over the ridge.”

“We have to get there first, secure them.”

On our bellies, immersed in the characters, we find our way across the meadow and shimmy into the cover of the trees. Several more yards of darting from tree to tree, peppering our imaginary foe with finger bullets and barely making it to safety, we summersault into the fort.

“This is cool,” Gabe says and draws up to a crouch. It is impossible to stand all the way up. It’s dark in the space but for the light that comes through the walls and the ceiling made of leaves and branches. I had stumbled upon the hideout one day while hiding from my dad in one of his moods. It was perfect and turned into the ideal place to escape. The magic of it was how the summer built it, but as the winter descended, the fort disappeared, even if the branches remained. I’d found myself hiding out here many occasions, waiting until I knew my father was passed out and it was safe to return home. Abby and I had dragged a bunch of junk into the space to make seats, a table among other amenities.

“It doesn’t work very well in the winter though. The rain.”

“But we could fix that,” Gabe says. “Dale would give us some stuff,” he adds referring to Mr. Daniels, his foster dad.

I look at it through his excited gaze and smile.

We spend the next four weeks weather proofing our hideout. Boards, nails, tarps, wire among other things Mr. Daniels provides us from the store.

“I think we did it,” Gabe says.

“Abby would have loved this.”

“Who’s Abby?”

“A friend. She and I found this place.”

“Does she go to school with us?”

“No.” I shake my head. “Her grandma was Nana Bev.”

“The one who moved away.”

I nod. “She won’t ever come back.”

“Well,” Gabe says and sweeps away some stray branches from the path we’d cleared. “You never know.”

Suddenly the sound of my father yelling my name pierces the peace of the day.

“Oh no.” I say. I feel the blood drain from my face and shiver.

“What is it?”

“You stay,” I say. “Hide.” And I run from the fort. The last thing I want is my dad finding the fort and lose the life raft. I also don’t want Gabe to see my dad, hear him. I’m able to make it across the meadow, closer to the path near Grandma Bev’s place before he finds me.

“What are you doing?”

“Playing, Sir,” I say and keep my eye on the ground.

His eyes narrow and he looks around. “By yourself?”

“My friend Gabe was with me earlier. He went home,” I lie.

“What were you doing?”

“Playing army.”

He makes a huffing noise through his nose. “Help me with the yard.”

I follow him back through the path and learn that there is a hidden gate in our back fence I didn’t know about. Then I spend time working on the yard. His idea of me helping is me doing it while he gets deeper into his drinking. I rake the last bit of grass and rush to put it into a bag thinking about Gabe and wondering if he’s still at the fort or if he’s gone home. I lay the rake down on the ground and tie up the bag. It’s so heavy with cut grass since the last time we did the yard was at the beginning of the summer. I drag the bag, too heavy for me to carry toward the truck.

“Dammit, Seth,” my father yells. I freeze. “You’re tearing the bag.” He stalks toward me and I shrink where I stand. When he gets to me, he slaps my face, his ring opens a cut under my eye. “Jesus,” he slurs snatching the plastic trash bag from my hands. He carries it and tosses it into the back of his truck. I haven’t moved even with blood dripping down my cheek, afraid to, and as he walks back across the lawn, he doesn’t see the rake, trips on it and sprawls face first into the freshly cut grass. “Fuck!” He screams and slams a fist against the earth with a thud. My muscles tense as I consider bolting, a scared rabbit, but then I think of my mom. Where is she?

He gets up and looks at me. “Can’t you get anything fucking right?” It isn’t loud. It’s the even sound of hatred: slow, deliberate, and seething like a pot on the verge of boiling. He moves toward me, rake in hand. I know what’s coming, and it is likely something gets broken besides the rake. 

“Jack,” my mom calls from the back porch. Her eyes dart from him to me. She holds a fresh beer bottle. “Ready for another beer?”

He says something about discipline.

Mom is coming down the steps and across the grass.

I’m frozen.

“Jack,” her sing-song voice belies the fear of her wide eyes. She’s looking at me. “Fred called.”

He pauses and looks at her, a bit unsteady.

“Said something about going down to that place on Smith Street.” She holds out a beer to him.

He takes it.

She takes the rake and looks at me. Go, she says with her eyes and nods her head.

I don’t wait.

“Let’s go call him back,” I hear her say.  “I bet he’d love to hear from you.”

I move through the new gate and run through the meadow as though the hounds of hell were chasing me. Tears of anger fall and when I finally get to the fort, Gabe is still there.

“Oh shit,” he says. “What happened?”

I’d usually say something like I fell, but that isn’t what comes out. Unfiltered I say through angry tears, “My dad.”  I don’t know why I tell him the truth, but it comes tumbling out. “My asshole dad. He’s a drunk and he hits my mom and me.” The tears stream down my cheeks and I wipe them with my hands. My left hand is smeared with blood. “I got this for tearing the trash bag.”

 He looks around and finds a stick. “Here,” he says holding it out to me.

 I take it in my hand.

 He doesn’t say anything and just waits for me to do something.

 “What am I supposed to do with this?”

 “Well, you could use it as a weapon on your dad. Or you could go beat the shit out of that bush over there.” He nods his head at something behind me.

I turn around and attack the bush, yelling and swinging. Eventually Gabe joins me and before long we’ve destroyed the shrub. Its limbs litter the ground around us. I’m breathing heavily and look at Gabe who’s equally spent. He smiles and suddenly we’re laughing.

The sun is on the verge of going down. “I have to go home,” Gabe says. “Want to come to my house?”

I do. I’d like to run away and never return home, but there’s my mom. “I better not,” I say instead.

We walk back through the woods toward Nana Bev’s hoping to avoid my father in case he’s still around, and then I sneak into my yard to get Gabe’s bike. “Tomorrow then,” he says and holds out his hand.

“Tomorrow,” I hold my hand out and we complete the handshake ritual he’s taught me. I watch him ride his bike toward the center of town, away from my house, and I hope beyond all hopes that I’ll be able to see him tomorrow. When I turn to look at my house, the light inside peeking out between the slats of closed blinds, holding in its secrets, and I’m afraid. I don’t know what I will find inside.

Look for Gabe’s Experience meeting Seth in THE BONES OF WHO WE ARE coming in October (2019).

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In the Wait: Matt

In Swimming Sideways, Matt is Abby’s feisty brother, a twin to Nate. A part of the soccer team with Seth, he’s the first one to find out the news about Seth’s accident. He also goes to the hospital with Abby and their dad. I’ve often wondered about Matt and how Abby’s story impacts him. We get to see small glimpses of it in Swimming Sideways, but I’ve always thought there is a lot more story to be explored. So here goes . . .

A series of vignettes to go with Swimming Sideways, The Ugly Truth and the upcoming The Bones of Who We Are. Matt is one of Abby’s twin brothers. He is featured in Abby story  Swimming Sideways

A series of vignettes to go with Swimming Sideways, The Ugly Truth and the upcoming The Bones of Who We Are. Matt is one of Abby’s twin brothers. He is featured in Abby story Swimming Sideways

Matt’s Choice

(This story contains spoilers to Swimming Sideways)

Abby, my older sister, jumps up from her chair in the waiting room and draws my attention with her as she rushes across the space. I follow her with my gaze and watch her throw herself in the arms of Gabe Daniels who has walked in. It feels wrong to see him here, somehow what I think I know not connecting with the actuality of the moment, as if the power has been disconnected and the computer’s waiting to reboot. What I’m picturing are video images of a fight between him and Seth playing over again in my mind. The fight all over IG and Twitter along with other crappy, ugly things said about it - about Gabe. Hashtag: CrucifyDaniels.  I don’t know the history between him and Seth, but it seems strange that he'd be here if there’s bad blood between them. 

There’s obviously more to this moʻolelo than I know.

When I got the text from Williams this morning about Seth, the first person I thought of was Abby. She and Seth are close, have always been in my memory, though I’m not sure how close beyond the summer trips to Oregon when we were little and their reconnection since we moved. When we were little, Seth and Abby would play Spy Games with Nate - my twin - and me; we were always the bad guys. Nate and I rarely knew what was going on other than it was a version of hide and seek in the backyard behind Nana’s house. They always found us and took us to jail where we had to stay until they told us to pretend to escape. When we moved to Oregon from Hawaii a few months ago, Abby and Seth reconnected and started hanging out once again like no time had passed. Maybe it was more than friends for a minute, but it always seemed like Abby was carrying a weight that kept her distant from everyone, including us. 

Now, she has her arms wrapped around Gabe - and he around her - in the middle of a full waiting room where everyone can see. I slump a bit lower in my seat, glance away from their embrace and look at my teammates.  I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does especially when one of my soccer teammates, Williams whispers to Carter, “What the fuck is he doing here?”

Carter - team captain with Seth - is watching them. His green eyes are sharp like the peaks of the Koʻolaus and his jaw pulses, clearly upset by the display; but I don’t understand the context. I’m not sure what Abby and Gabe have to do with him. What I do know is that Carter and Seth are best bros.

Was the fight about Abby?

My gaze slides back to her. They’re stuck together like opihi on a rock.

“I don’t like what I’m seeing,” I hear Carter say. “Makes me sick.” He stands up and leaves the area where we’ve been sitting. I watch him weave his way across the room to sit against a far wall. The rest of the team follows.

And I’m stuck. Team? Family? It feels like an impossible choice. But here’s the truth of me: I always feel caught in the middle. If it isn’t between Abby and Nate, or my mom and my dad, it’s between choosing my family or the team - a different kind of family. It’s about fitting in here in Oregon or remembering what I’m missing from my homeland of Hawaii. It’s like a constant tug-o-war over who I am when I’m not even sure yet.

It makes me feel like I’ve got a bitter taste on my tongue.

Sometimes it feels like Abby doesn’t think about anyone but herself, like she doesn’t consider how I feel or how Nate feels about how her actions affect us. If the roles were reversed, however, she’d call me out. I know I shouldn’t care what other people think, but this is my team and she is my family. Anger surges inside me because I’m unsure what am I supposed to do about my sister dating the Freak everyone hates? But the thing is, I don’t hate him. Gabe’s actually pretty cool. He and Abby have become friends. He’s nice, actually, and athletic as fuck, which for me is like the Bible of Existence. 

I know my dad would say we always choose ohana - family over everything - but there’s a lie in there. He hasn’t always. He only just found his conscience to come back to us. So I’m calling bullshit on that, but I also know there’s a vein of truth in it too. Abby would choose me and Nate even if she’s made personal mistakes and even if she doesn’t always think of us. I might give her a hard time, but I love her. I know she’s got my back. 

I’m a simple guy, unlike my twin, Nate, who feels way too much. Maybe we are the yin and yang of a whole being. I see the end, I walk there in a straight line; easy. Nate, though, sees all the possibilities and takes us around bends and over hills. He tires me out; but he’s my other half. In all honesty, my short-sightedness usually makes me kind of a dick, but it works because Nate checks me.  Like when that whole video came out and I unleashed on Abby, our older sister. Nate stood with me, but he was like, “Brah, she’s our sister. We should figure out who that guy was and have his ass taken out. We can call our boys back home.”

“Ask Abby,” I’d snapped at him.

“She’s not going to say. She’s embarrassed.”

“She should be.”

“Why? For being drunk as fuck and then getting taken advantage of? You telling me if a girl was drunk like that you’d help her strip tease for an audience? That you’d film it?”

He was right. I might be a dick, but I wouldn’t do something like that. Ever.  

Nate and I chose to stand by our sister, but I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy at first. The girl I was checking out dropped me. Going to practice and hearing all the bullshit about my sister got me into it a few times with teammates, and Brock was the worst. I’d had to actually throw blows with him. Gave him a black eye and told him to shut the fuck up or it would be worse. Everyone took a step back after that and my life on the team got better. Maybe got some weird kind of cred from it? Seems stupid, but I’m a simple guy.

I pull out my phone to text Nate. He’s already sent a message.

Nate: Any word? He okay?

Me: None yet. Sounds bad. I need help.

Nate: What with?

Me: My team is icing Abby and Gabe. I feel stuck.

Nate: Stuck? Why?

Me: Having to choose.

Nate: You already know the answer bruh.

He’s right. I do. I glance over at the team clumped up in a corner now and slump lower into my chair, arms crossed over my chest to follow my mantra: What would Nathan Do?

When Abby leads Gabe and the woman I assume is his mom over, I take his extended hand and offer him a dude hug. “Hey,” I tell him and move a few seats down into the space my team just vacated so Gabe can sit next to Abby. I glance at her. She smiles at me and mouths, Thank you. I’ve made my choice. Family over everything. 


Hawaiian words:

moʻolelo (moh -oh - leh - loe): a story

Koʻolaus (Koh - oh - la - ow): Mountain range on the North side of Oahu

opihi (oh - pee- hee): A small sea urchin that clings to the rocks. Hawaiians collect it to eat. It is a delicacy.

ohana (oh- haw- naw): Family

Abby’s story

Abby’s story




In the Wait: Carter

In The Ugly Truth, Carter is one of Seth’s best friends. Soccer teammates, Carter shows up a few times in Seth’s story as a part of his journey. One of Carter’s most important scenes is in the cafeteria when Seth takes his big risk. But he’s an underdeveloped character. This made me wonder how he would feel learning that his best friend and teammate had been in a life threatening car accident. How would he respond? Here is Carter’s In the Wait vignette. Like Sara, I wonder what kind of social repercussions will occur because of his actions…

A series of vignettes to go with characters in Swimming Sideways and The Ugly Truth

A series of vignettes to go with characters in Swimming Sideways and The Ugly Truth

Carter


Williams’s text has thrown me off, in a big way. I’d planned to get to school early and work out. It’s what I do, after all, because I’ve got goals. My phone went off a few minutes before my alarm and when I opened my messenger app to read it, I figured it was a prank.


Williams: Seth’s been in an accident

Me: FO, you prick

Williams: Srsly bro


I’d sat up in my bed, brought my knees up and rested my elbows on them, phone in my hands.


Me: For real?

Williams: Yea dude. My dad picked him up early this morning. Alive. Said it’s bad

Me: WTF!?!?

Williams: I’m shook

Me: hospital?

Williams: Yeah. Headed there soon. Texting team

Me: C U there


I scoot to the edge of my bed still looking at my phone to try and find information and rereading the texts. Then I sit on the edge in shock, figuring something’s off. I scroll through IG. Several videos of Seth and Gabe’s fight the day before are there. Twitter. Someone’s posted: 


Peters in critical. WTF? #Freakchallenge messed him up. #crucifydaniels


The idea of Seth in the hospital isn’t adding up in my head. I get up, drawing on some joggers, a t-shirt and my team jacket. 

After brushing my teeth, I go downstairs.

“Morning, Carter,” my mom says from the kitchen bar. “You just missed, Dad.”

I back up and glance through the doorway. She’s holding a cup of coffee. 

“Something wrong?” She asks as her brows shift over her eyes.

“I just got a text from Williams. He says Seth is in the hospital.” Saying it out loud doesn’t make it any more real, less perhaps. I picture Seth - team captain, scoring leader, jokester - full of life. He’s my best friend. There has to be a mistake.

“What?” My mom sets down the coffee mug. “Is it serious?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her and step fully into the doorway instead of leaning around the jam. “He said his Dad took Seth in and it’s bad. I’m going to the hospital now.”

“I needed you to take Michelle this morning-” Mom starts referencing my little sister and then shakes her head. “No. That’s okay. I got it. Want me to meet you there?”

I tap the door jam with my fist. “No. That’s okay. I’ll text you.”

“I’ll call the school and let them know.”

I pause not having thought about that. I nod. “Yeah. Okay.” I turn and grab my keys from the dish in the hallway. 

“Text me,” Mom calls after me. “As soon as you hear something.”

When I get to the hospital and find out where to go, I’m numb, like I’m not in my own skin but just watching my body walk through the spaces. The hospital is teeming with people, but they’re all faceless entities. When I step into the waiting room, I see a lot of people. Matt Kaiāulu - freshman on the varsity team - gets up from a center group of chairs and walks toward me.

“Hey,” he says and holds out his hand.

I take it and we offer one another a one armed hug while our hands are still connected. 

“This is messed up,” he says as he draws away. He has an accent in his voice which I think has something to do with being raised in Hawaii, but it isn’t because he speaks Hawaiian. 

“Heard anything?” I ask him.

“Not yet.”

“Williams just said it was ‘bad.’”

“Yeah. That’s what I heard too.”

I glance past him and see his sister, Abby. She’s curled up into herself and holding onto their dad. I recall the fight yesterday, the instagram stories - Gabe and Seth trading blows - Abby on the periphery of it.

“There’s room,” Matt tells me, and I follow him into the chair grouping. He introduces me to his dad. 

We talk about soccer which seems a strange thing to grab onto, but is like grabbing hold of the earth when gravity just failed. It’s like I’ve touched a live wire and everything around me, movement, sounds, visuals, are bursting like cartoons. I don’t feel like I’m here.

I glance at Abby when I pass her on my way to a seat. She doesn’t offer me any words but raises her dark eyebrows over her brown eyes in acknowledgement. We haven’t talked much before, so I don’t interpret her interaction as rudeness. I’m reminded again how pretty she is - her soft brown skin, cute freckles across her nose and those brown eyes - and understand why Seth has it bad for her.

I remember when we all first saw her, the way we laughed and teased one another, because she was new and mysterious. Seth trying to be nonchalant but looked like an opened-mouth fool. The memory makes me smile. Then I think about her walking through the hallways with the Freak lately, sitting with him in the cafeteria. I frown. My boy’s been hurt, and because of that, my loyalties lie with him.

Matt and I sit and talk and as we do more people arrive.

Sara - who looks like her world has been crushed - gives Abby the evil eye when she walks in. I look at Abby again, who isn’t even paying attention to Sara, but I know they’ve got bad blood. Abby went after Sara after the video was shared. I didn’t get it from Sara, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it started with her.

Coach arrives, teammates and we clump up in the center grouping of chairs. Waiting.

“He said that the front of Seth’s truck is crushed,” Williams says. “Head on collision with another car. They had to get a second ambulance for that driver. Seth wasn’t responsive.”

I swallow down the nausea climbing the walls of my stomach into my throat hearing the details. It’s easier not to know. “He was alive though?”

“Yeah.” Williams nods.

“Any news, yet?” Someone asks.

Someone else says, “no.”

Silence descends, and I figure we’re all contemplating the big What If. I know I am. What if Seth doesn’t survive?

Someone changes the subject to school - wrestling and basketball tryouts coming up. Safe.

I see Abby jump from her seat out of the corner of my eye and look up. Gabe Daniels has walked into the room. My stomach dips toward rage. I don’t know why, really. Daniels has never done anything to me (we were once friends), but I’m thinking about that fight yesterday. I’m thinking about the way he’s got his arms around Abby and his head buried against her neck. I’m thinking about my boy, Seth, who’s fighting for his life, and it isn’t fair. How does this guy get to be walking around and acting like he fucking cares. It makes me want to puke.

I stand and my teammates' faces swing toward me which I suppose is how things will go for a while. Seth is captain, and with him down, someone has to take the lead. “I don’t like what I’m seeing,” I say. “It makes me sick.” I move across the room. The team follows. 



In the Wait : Sara

Sara is one of those characters in Swimming Sideways and The Ugly Truth that is easy to hate. She’s petty, vindictive, self-centered and does some really shady stuff. But I’ve been wondering why she’s like that because while I think there are probably instances of people just “being bad” I don’t think that’s the case all of the time. Experiences shape perspective for the most part. This made me curious about Sara. Here’s a snippet from Sara while she waits in the hospital. (I do wonder, what kind of consequences will be set in motion because of the choices Sara makes).

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Sara

I slump into the green chair against the ivory wall of the waiting room. My mother sits down next to me. I push a hand through my dark hair and move locks around to find a place the strands feel perfect that way if anyone is watching, it can’t be said I don’t take care of myself. I glance around the room to see who’s here. Many of the faces in the waiting room are strangers but many are not. Carter is by Freak 2 and it makes my stomach churn with hatred. Maybe if I’d put out a slutty video of myself on the internet, all the guys would like me too. Anger slithers through me looking at her, rolled up into a ball on her seat, her head against a large man’s shoulder - her dad probably - if she has any right to mourn Seth. She looks like shit. Her dark hair drawn into a messy bun, dressed like she just rolled out of bed. I don’t understand why Seth - 

But I push the unfinished thought away. I don’t want to think about that now. I’m sitting in a hospital where Seth is and I don’t know any more than what Britney’s call had told me this morning: Seth was in a car accident. He’s at the hospital. I’m here to be what a girlfriend would be - even if that isn’t what we are. Right now.

“Are you okay, Babe?” My mom asks. She places her warm hand on my arm.

I shake my head and whisper, “No,”  instead of what I want which is to scream: NO! Seth is in the fucking hospital. MY SETH. That bitch doesn’t deserve to be here!

I close my eyes shutting out what’s around me and picture him: his beautiful golden brown eyes, his brown hair streaked with sunlight. His dimpled smile. I remember that night - our first night together - when he’d finally seen me. It was all I’d ever wanted: to be seen by Seth Peters. It had been at a summer party - end of June - at the lake. I’d ridden up with Cara. Drank. Danced. Bumped into him. He’d smiled at me.

“Hey there, Sara,” he’d said and leaned forward to give me a light hug. He smelled spicy and my heart leapt being so near him. He’d been wearing a white t-shirt stamped with a rainbow and the word Hawaii; the cloth stretched around his lean body, the cotton taught in all the right places. I was sure he could hear the breath catch in my throat.

I offered him my own version of his smile. “Hi,” I’d said. “I haven’t seen you at any other parties this summer.” I’d pressed my lips against his ear to tell him because the music was loud. It hadn’t actually been necessary, but it allowed me to get closer to him, my hand on the bare skin of his arm. His hand was on my waist - my skin exposed to his because of my cropped top - and the warmth of his hand on me caused sunbursts to explode in my chest and heat my nerve endings. 

“You’ve been looking for me?” He asked, the whisper of his breath on my cheek. I could smell the alcohol spinning a magical spell between us. 

I leaned back so I could see his eyes and smiled. I didn’t care that he knew I’ve wanted to see him. We were both alcohol loose and I wanted to jump into this ride and follow the loop-de-loops. I wanted him. I’d wanted it for so long. He was the reason I’d attended every party I’d ever been to. Seth. He was looking at me.

He tugged me closer, and we danced. He held my hips to his and we moved with a rhythm I’d once only imagined. The music wrapped around us like a blanket and everyone else seemed to disappear. The stars were out, bright and twinkling in the night sky. I thought about the water of the lake, and other revelers  in it, doing their own dance and wondered if Seth would ever see me like that - as someone he’d want to slip into the cool water with. I’d been infatuated with him since eighth grade when my girl-clan had clumped at the edges of the basketball court watching our crushes and hoping they would look our way. That night he did, both of us tipsy. His hands slid over my body and I wanted him to. I kissed him so he wouldn’t wonder about my want. 

Opening my eyes, I return to the hospital waiting room from my mind and glance around again. The bitch who messed up everything is across the room. Abby with a-last-name-no-one-can-even-pronounce. More of the soccer team has congregated around her while I’m alone against the wall with my mom. They should be with me instead of an internet whore. I’m popular and he was MY SETH, not hers. 

Tears burn against my eyes and then fall. My mom holds out a tissue to me. I take it and press it to the corners of my eyes. 

Seth and I had been fine before she showed up.

That first kiss had been everything I’d imagined. The feel of his tongue. The rhythm of the way we could work together. It turned out I was a girl that Seth could see slipping into the water with. It hadn’t happened that night, but at a summer pool party I’d thrown a week or so later. After everyone else had left or passed out, we slipped into the pool and then up to my room. My heart still trips around in my chest thinking about his hands on my body, the way we connected, the cadence and sway of our bodies together. Then I became the girl he held at every party after that. And sometimes - when I invited him over - he’d show up at my house and we’d find one another again in the frenzy of want. Always us. Seth and Sara. Sara and Seth. Exactly as it was supposed to be. Sure - we were always drunk, but it made it hotter and sort of perfect.  He was finally my Seth just like I’d always wanted. All summer and into the first weeks of school. 

Until that day in the hallway at school a couple weeks after classes started and he said:  Look Sara, we aren’t really together-together. My heart crashed into my chest and then he’d offered hope when he showed up at my house one more time. Hungry for me and what I could give him. Me. Then he stopped talking to me, stopped seeing me as if everything between us had dried out. He started seeing the bitch, brought her to a party even, and I tried to get his attention back, but even then, he was jaded by her.

I was left behind in the wake, floating untethered to anything as if a strong wave had rushed through and broke me. I couldn’t find anything to hang onto. I’d given him my everything - every part of me. I wasn’t ready to let it go, so when I found that horrible video of her. How could I not share it? I was certain it would bring Seth back - away from her. It hadn’t gone the way I imagined.

Then, unexpectedly, Seth showed up at my house. He’d thrown pebbles at my window to draw me out to the pool house. I’d been shocked but that part of me who still wanted Seth and Sara was elated. He’d talked strange and disjointed. That conversation a few weeks ago has been running like a loop in my mind since.  This was after his surfing accident, after I’d shared bitch’s internet shame that made her Freak 2, after everything had changed. He’d asked me that stupid question: Why do you like me? 

A fresh bout of tears start thinking about it, and faces in the waiting room swing toward me. I turn my face into my mother’s shoulder and her arm comes up around me.  

Why do I like me?

The truth was I couldn’t believe that he liked me, that he ever had, but when he kept coming back, I could feel the stitching of the parts of me fortified. I’d always liked him. He was Seth Peters. I’d written his name on my folder and signed my name as Sara Peters in my diary. I’d imagined he and I together because it just was what I’d constructed in my mind. He was perfect. Good looking. Popular. Athletic. Funny. And his question - his stupid question - opened up a fissure inside me because why would he like me? I’d thrown the same question back at him. And then instead of saying why he might have liked me, he’d said: I’m sorry I used you, for hurting you. The gap had widened and suddenly I was falling through. 

But I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. He’s my Seth. Has always been MY SETH!

There’s movement across the room drawing me back into the waiting room, and I look to see who it is.

Freak 1 - Gabe Daniels - steps into the doorway and Freak 2 gets up and walks into his arms. They cling to one another like they have a right.

My eyes narrow. 

The rumors have been burning about them leaving everything else smoldering with smoke. Freak 1 and Seth got in a fight the day before. Was it about her? That stupid bitch who’s ruined everything. Why the fuck does Freak 1 think he has any right to be here? What if it’s his fault Seth is here in the hospital?

Freak 2 is clinging to him like she’s an extension of him. What about Seth?

I pull out my phone and text Cara and Bri: you wouldn’t believe who has the nerve to show up at the hospital.



The Ugly Truth: Read Aloud

First, April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month as well as Alcohol Awareness and Prevention Month. Both of these issues are heavy weights the protagonist of The Ugly Truth, Seth, carries through his narrative and contribute to his struggles.

That said, The Ugly Truth is the second book in a series of three inter-connected books of the Cantos Chronicles that follows Seth on his journey. The first book is Abby’s tale in Swimming Sideways (Seth and Gabe are important parts of her narrative). The third and final book in this series will be published later this year and will explore Gabe’s adventure. Ultimately, all three of these books ask us to understand that what we see isn’t always the whole picture of a person’s truth.

One of the difficulties of writing The Ugly Truth was the darker content which explained Seth’s perspective, a glimpse of what we were able to see in Abby’s story (Seth wrote a letter to readers which also provides a glimpse into this character. You can read that here). The following is an excerpt taken from two chapters which explore Seth’s relationship with his parents and the emotions which fuel his actions. Some things to keep in mind:

1) The narrative of Seth’s story isn’t told linearly. Instead, it jumps between the present and the past. This excerpt starts in the past and will return to the present.

2) In the present, Seth’s consciousness and soul is outside of his body observing the world happen around him and powerless to do anything to impact it.

The Ugly Truth Read Aloud

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Swimming Sideways: Read Aloud

Swimming Sideways is the first book in a series of three. Abby Kaiāulu who’s been given the opportunity to start over with a move from Hawaiʻi to Oregon is hiding a secret. In the midst of redefining herself, however, she recognizes she’s losing sight of who she really is . . . As everything around her falls apart, Abby must discover the truth of who she is as a daughter, a sister, a woman, a Hawaiian, a friend.

The following excerpt is from the novel.