My first novel, AWAKENED, is available now on Amazon. In the sequel to Sleepwalking, Leah McAllister is starting a new job in a bland maze of tan cubicles where she hopes to blend in with her surroundings – she’s had enough attention for one lifetime. What she never expects is to find herself working under Morgan, a mesmerizing woman who turned her world upside down when they met one year before.
Read a bonus scene below.
LEAH TALKS ABOUT HER TRAUMATIC PAST
“Oh! Did I just hear you say it? You like girls?” Chelle teased, grabbing onto Leah’s arm and taking an excited little skip down the sidewalk. “I wish I’d recorded it.”
“Shut up,” Leah said, giving her a snarky little smile.
“Seriously, though? Love is fucking hard no matter who you’re with.”
“I know,” Leah said. “I just think it would be better if I didn’t make things even harder on myself.”
“You don’t get to choose who you love – man or woman,” Chelle said.
“That’s the truth, or else my mom wouldn’t have stayed with my dad for so long,” Leah said with another long sigh. She’d had just enough alcohol to make her pensive, and now that the adrenaline rush of being with Christy was wearing off, all she had left of the beer in her system was a propensity to run at the mouth.
“He was an alcoholic, right?” Chelle asked delicately.
Leah almost never talked about her father, and in the three years she’d known Chelle, he’d come up in conversation only a handful of times – one of which was during the week when she had to miss all her classes to help her mother make funeral arrangements.
She hadn’t found the news of her father’s death surprising, or even particularly emotional. When you spend your childhood turning in your dad’s empty Budweiser cans for the meager change the recycling center offered – which was the only way Leah ever got luxuries like chocolate milk or an extra cookie with her state-sponsored school lunch – you learned to temper your expectations. Leah had been waiting years for her father’s addiction to kill him, when the news came she accepted it with stoicism.
“Yeah,” Leah said to Chelle, “and a mean drunk, just like the stereotype.”
Leah remembered many weekends spent at the neighborhood branch of the library, or the dollar movie theater – anywhere that wasn’t home. When she could get away, she did, and when it wasn’t possible, she retreated to her room and clicked the flimsy lock on the hollow door that would prove no challenge at all if her father got it in his head to beat down the door.
Most of the time, though, the illusion of privacy was enough, and Leah felt safe in her room. She’d lay on her bed and stare at the plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars taped to the ceiling while music from her Walkman streamed through a pair of chunky, noise-cancelling headphones. Or else she’d curl up in the ratty old wingback chair that just barely fit under the window, reading whole novels in a single sitting, her physical reality fading away until she disappeared into better worlds.
Disappearing became an important skill. The more Leah could fade away at home, the less her father’s drunken tirades were aimed at her. The more she could disappear inside her books, the less she needed to acknowledge the world around her – the deteriorating condition of the house, the slurring, staggering way her father moved around it, and the purplish-yellow bruises that her mother was always trying to conceal with a thick layer of foundation, but which always peeked through her fair skin.
When they lost the house, Leah started disappearing at school, too.
Her mother worked long hours but without her father’s income, it wasn’t enough. They downgraded from a ranch house in the suburbs to a trailer in the worst part of town, and overnight Leah became untouchable at school.
It was surreal, that first day after the move. It felt like walking around with a giant sandwich board over her chest, screaming in red, angry letters, OUTCAST! POOR! DRUNK DAD! Leah never did find out how the whole school managed to come to a unanimous decision about her overnight, but somehow they all seemed to know exactly how her status changed, and they didn’t want anything to do with it, like the breakdown of the family unit was contagious.
One by one, all her friends distanced themselves from her. They made new friends, had parties she wasn’t invited to, stopped having her over for dinner, and slowly slipped away. No matter what she did to try and shed the screaming label on her chest, it was indelible. So she became invisible, relying on those old tricks to fade into the background, unremarkable and unnoticed, in order to survive the rest of high school.
It wasn’t until college that Leah finally saw a fresh start waiting for her.
She jumped at the chance to live on campus, out of the cramped trailer and away from the stench of poverty and undesirability that seemed to linger on her. And as long as she kept working hard to conceal the real Leah McAllister – the one who lived in a grimy trailer and had no friends and an alcoholic father – people seemed to buy it when she made a new sandwich board that read NORMAL.
That was why she couldn’t risk taking on any other adjectives that would make her stand out from the crowd. Any crack in the mortar might make people look deeper, and then they would start to see those real descriptors that she tried so hard to conceal.
Leah had tears forming in her eyes by the time she explained all of this to Chelle, and she scooped Leah up in a bear hug as soon as she finished. “You’re not an outcast. Your shitty childhood doesn’t define you.”
Leah opened her mouth to object, but Chelle took her head in her hands and looked sternly into her eyes.
“Listen to me,” she insisted. “No one worth knowing is going to judge you for being yourself. No matter who that is.”
Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.