Happy New Year!

2016

I simply wish 2016 to be a better year for each and every one of us – subjective and obscure as it may sound. For those of us suffering, I hope we find the strength to heal and move forward. For those of us away from someone we love and miss, I hope we find our way to them. For all of us who still have dreams to fulfill and goals to reach, I hope this year brings us closer to everything we desire. For those of us ready to give up, I hope someone or something to offer support and motivation comes along as soon as possible. For those of us who can still find it in ourselves to enjoy the beginning of yet another year… have lots and lots of fun! 🙂 .

Happy New Year, whatever you need it to mean for you!

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Now

As lights flicker, it feels like past and present merge, leading to an immediate future, only seconds away, when we can travel back and vividly touch the almost palpable fabric of our memories. You can feel the snow under the soles of your shoes, you can smell the cold winter air only by looking at an old picture or even at an ornament depicting a white Christmas. How long does it take until you start missing that white Christmas? How long does it take until you drown into those visions of frozen beauty, wishing that now was then?

No, we are not having a white Christmas in my little corner of the world. In fact, it’s beginning to look a lot like spring (I hear there’s a lot of that going on in many parts of the world) and a great number of people decry the lack of snow. I won’t deny, I wouldn’t mind watching a few flakes fall slowly or even a thin blanket of snow covering some of the ugliness of the world for a day or two… but more than that? No, thank you! It’s funny how many of the same people hoping for snow covered holidays would also be among the first  to complain about the countless disadvantages that much desired beauty brings about.

A strange, depressing type of nostalgia seems to have taken over. Everywhere I go, people of all ages can’t help going down memory lane and concluding that it was better ‘then’ – whenever and whatever ‘then’ may be. Many of us might have seen better days, there’s no argument about that. Many of us may have had more and may have been happier. I’m sure a great many things have been in many ways better. But how about the ones that are better now? What about everything we do have now and take for granted simply because it is a normal part of our lives, while back then it may have been a distant goal or a dream? So if we’re going to reminisce, let’s make an effort to remember the bad with the good as well, so we might enjoy some of the ‘now’, now… not in some obscure future, after it will have become ‘then’.

In response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: For this week’s challenge, take a moment to notice your now, and share a photo of it.

Someone’s Birthday

It’s someone’s birthday today… a very special someone… No matter how pouty or grumpy he might get on this particular occasion, I know he actually likes it when people remember and acknowledge his birthday 🙂 . So, to the man who never tried to change me, to the man I never tried to change, to the man who appreciated me for my flaws, not in spite of them, to this unique man I now wish a Happy Birthday and that special brand of contentment he and I understand so well.

Happy Birthday!

Christmas Gathering?…

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Is famine about to strike? I don’t think so, I would’ve heard something about it on the news. Are shopping centres about to meet their demise? Allow me to have my doubts about that one too. Oh… wait… that’s it, this is the last weekend before Christmas. And I had to go to the mall, didn’t I? No, no, no last minute Christmas shopping, I know better than that. I just wanted my shampoo, a certain shampoo that I can find only in a certain shop. I’m not delusional, I expected it to be crowded, that’s why I started with the most remote part of the parking lot, the one where you always find a spot, no matter how busy it is or how close the holidays may be. Well… not today… Is it me or is it getting worse each year?

Half an hour later, I’m still spinning in circles, trying to avoid crazed shoppers and furious drivers. Just as I’m wondering how bad it would actually be for my hair to use dishwashing liquid instead of shampoo until after Christmas, there it is – the holy grail, also known as a parking space. Once inside, everything is fine. I don’t mind crowded places, as long as the parking issue is solved and I always find the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle rather invigorating. I also find it fascinating to observe how fast and abruptly we switch from generosity and enthusiasm to anger infused consumerism. Christmas spirit becomes seasonal anger, frustration, selfishness and hateful, vengeful greed in the blink of an eye. Or is that what Christmas spirit is supposed to be these days? Who knows anymore?…

I was going to take a small break from Christmas today, hence the photo; I wasn’t planning on mentioning any personal tradition for the holidays, I’ve already done that on several occasions this month. All I was going to say is that there are eleven more months in the year, so if we don’t get to spend any or enough time with those dear to us in December, we can certainly make up for it on other occasions. We need to keep that in mind, in spite of all the pressure we all have to bear when it comes to spending the holidays in a certain way. But, like I said, I had the ill-conceived idea of going to the mall today – and we all know how that can be. So I am only going to say this: perhaps we should also remember that we can buy, buy, buy everything in sight during those other eleven months of the year; that way, we might be able to spend less time in December hating everybody who’s managed to buy more and faster than we have and actually enjoy the holidays. And if we absolutely must behave like animals uncivilized, uneducated creatures, we might want to remember that many of them (like the ones in the picture) are a lot more peaceful and mild-mannered than we can be around the holidays…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Gathering.

 

 

Two Years, A Thank You And A Christmas Gift

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It was brought to my attention that two years have passed since I reluctantly started this blog. I didn’t expect to keep it for more than a few weeks, much less to actually enjoy it and have fun with it. So thank you all for making it such a pleasant, relaxing experience! Thank you for your encouraging and flattering words! Thank you for your support and understanding! Thank you for making me addicted to some of your blogs (yes, you know who you are)!

anniversary-2x[1]

Like I said, I reluctantly started this blog, trying – and feeling inadequate for it – to introduce an ebook I had just self-published. It become something else in a very short period of time, a mixture of thoughts and photos, of fiction and reality. But I like it, so I will keep going 🙂 .

Since Christmas is near and since it all started with a book, here’s my small gift to everybody who enjoyed those sample fragments and didn’t get a chance to download it yet. You can get it for free until the end of the year using the following links:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

https://www.overdrive.com/media/1613540/parallel-lives

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/1ac546fe-cc7e-480c-bba7-8c7f34c72830

https://www.scribd.com/book/202758410/Parallel-Lives

(And of course, on it’s on iBooks as well.)

Whether you get it for yourselves or for somebody you think might like it, I hope you enjoy my small gift!

Happy reading and happy holidays!

Oops… Where Did The Lights Go?

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We’ll have a nice dinner in a nice, romantic restaurant… and maybe drinks afterwards. Oh, right… you’re driving… well, then I’ll have a drink for you too. Desert? Sure, why not… I’m on vacation, after all. Right… you’re on a diet… coffee it is then, a nice espresso after dinner will be just what we need. We’ll stay out late, right? Tomorrow’s Saturday, we can sleep in late. But you had to go to work today… oh well, we’ll just go home when you feel tired. Anyway, none of that really matters as long as we go and see the lights. Of course after dinner… a pleasant walk in the cool night air, hand in hand, watching the lights in a town none of us knows very well. We’ll talk about Christmases past, present and future, I’ll stop to hug you once more, because I’m so happy to be here with you, then you’ll kiss me and tell me you love me. Did I mention we’ll walk hand in hand and marvel at the beautiful lights? It’ll be so romantic! Yes, they put up the Christmas lights and they’re supposed to be spectacular, some say the best in the country. Well, if the internet says so, then it must be true…

Easier said than done – clearly we weren’t the only ones with that sort of a plan in mind. The nicely lit up capital is swarming with traffic of all sorts, vehicles and pedestrians alike are determined to get somewhere, somehow on the early December Friday night. His job is to try and drive through the madness, keeping us – and those around us – alive. My job is to find our way and deal with the opinionated GPS lady, keep an eye on the map and another eye on the road and make sure we can figure out the correct turns in time. But GPS lady has had a bad day and her grumpiness and delayed reactions have gotten us lost several times, so it doesn’t come as a surprise when she does it again. Never mind, nothing that cannot be fixed… by driving the wrong way on a one way street. Now we know why nobody was heading this way. Wait, wait, wait, I actually know where we are – and it’s exactly where we want to be.

Ok… now we can relax a bit, we can drive around and look at the lights for a while, until we find some place we can park and then go for that walk we’ve been talking about. They’re nice, aren’t they? Not bad, but I’m sure there must be better to be seen, our expectations are quite high after what we had read about the festive display. Now for parking… While my eyes are desperately seeking an empty space or some sign directing us to nearby parking options, I can’t help feeling something has suddenly gone terribly wrong. It takes me a moment or two to assimilate the change – the boulevard in front of us has all of the sudden gone dark. No, not dark, just significantly less lively and colourfully lit up than it was just seconds ago. Where did all the Christmas lights go? Is it a power cut? But the street lights are still on. Strange… Never mind, look, there’s an underground parking over there, we can figure it out after that. But walking through throngs of people on averagely lit up streets doesn’t help us understand what went wrong and why all the Christmas lights went out exactly at midnight.

My plan had fallen apart quickly and pathetically, I concluded. And since I was quite fond of my plan, I felt a wave of rage taking over me. I wanted my romantic walk under the Christmas lights and I wanted it then and there. The control freak in me was just about to start stumping her feet and throw a tantrum the size of the so-called Christmas tree, that deplorable, pathetic metal shape standing in front of us, all dark and gloomy. He was holding my hand and by the look on his face, I knew he was on the verge of throwing a tantrum as well. Normally I am the one to calm him down, but not this time. I need to vent and yell out my frustration about traffic, parking, crowded places, bad organisation and a million other things. And that’s when I hear him burst into laughter… I forgot how you can rant… go on love, you’re brilliant! And he keeps laughing and laughing, point at which I cannot do anything else but laugh as well. The night is actually too beautiful to be angry and frustrated. So are the lights on that five star hotel on the other side of the street – their Christmas lights are on all night, they don’t turn into pumpkins at midnight. There’s the romance we plan and there’s the romance we stumble across when we least expect, in the most frustrating of situations…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘Tis the season to revel in photographic (and/or photogenic) disasters.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 14

Ana Linden

“You do realise that’s a person you’re talking about, right?”

“Yes, and the person in question is completely aware of my feelings, I don’t pretend he means much to me, just as you don’t pretend not to be married. There’s a difference, however: he knows exactly how things stand between the two of us, he knows exactly who I am and what my conditions are, and he has the choice of accepting them or not. He decided he was desperate enough in order to accept anything, as long as once in a while there’s room for him in my life as well; but he is free to leave whenever he wants. Can you say the same about your wife, though? Does she know exactly who you are? Does she get the choice of accepting you or not, or does she just have to live with a nice, cosy lie about…

View original post 178 more words

Transition

I am not a patient person. I can fake patience, I can control myself and I can talk myself into behaving in a patient manner (I am a reasonable individual… when  I choose to be), but this is a virtue I know I will never truly possess. Yet there are certain transition periods that we can hardly notice; it takes time and perspective in order to perceive their evolution and results.

All too often I don’t feel certain changes, all too often I feel the need of something radically different. But sometimes I get lucky, I get that fortunate moment of clarity – either by interacting with somebody I haven’t seen in a long time, or by looking at old pictures, or by simply watching the seasons change – and see the evolution, perceive all the differences, big and small, and accept transition for what it is, constant and inevitable. If I do have the right state of mind, I let it sink in. I congratulate myself on my progress or console myself for the losses. I dare to move on, even if I know I may never get where I want to be, because I would rather try and manipulate transition into following the path I choose, rather than let time and life pass me by.

But let’s be honest… Those are rare moments that I need to focus on noticing and enjoying, because, after all, I am not a patient person…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – For this week’s challenge, share an image that depicts transition. Let life itself be your muse.

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 13

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

“Excuse me? What the hell does that mean?”

“Did you ever have a pair of those woollen socks that grandma knitted for you?”

“Of course, several of them, I might still have one or two in some drawer, somewhere. What does that have to do with anything?”

“They’re the kind of thing that you don’t really need, you don’t really wear, but you can’t get yourself to throw them away, because of what they are. Sure, they’re ugly and the rough wool makes them unpleasant on your skin, but the truth of the matter is that you have worn them a few times, perhaps on a really cold winter night, or when you went to the mountains and the cold was too much to bear… you wore them and they proved to be exactly what you needed at that moment, in order to achieve a certain relative amount of comfort. So you can’t bring yourself to throw them out, you might need them again someday. Plus, there’s also the emotional factor – they mean something because grandma made them, you can connect them to certain memories you aren’t ready to let go yet – and that’s how they end up being kept on the bottom of some drawer, to be taken out once in a blue moon, when the situation is critical. But you would never think of wearing them in public, with your nice, Italian leather shoes, would you? And in fact, you probably wouldn’t even miss them much if you were to finally get rid of them when you cleaned up your wardrobe more carefully…”

Robert was almost laughing at her analogy. I can’t believe how much sense her idiotic idea makes… She actually perceives another human being – one who, by all accounts, cares about her enough not to notice such obvious things – as nothing more than some sort of outdated accessory to be trotted out and tucked away only according to her needs, with no saying in it whatsoever… He didn’t know what he believed about that, he wanted to disagree with her and disapprove of such an attitude, but the truth was he admired her bluntness, he was forced to accept that he himself had treated people no better than that, perhaps even worse, more than one time. But she seemed not to see anything wrong with it because she made no effort to hide it.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Three Is Not Always Perfect

I coincidentally found out that she divorced him. The same way I had coincidentally found out the two of them had gotten married in the first place. The same way I found out they had a beautiful daughter.

I didn’t congratulate her on her wedding or on having the baby she was dreaming to have ever since she was a child herself and I didn’t comfort her during her divorce. She didn’t invite me to her wedding, she didn’t let me know that their little family was becoming a trio and she didn’t bare her soul to me when her dream family proved to be just that – a mere illusion. None of us did any of those things, because we were about eighteen when we last spoke, and the last time we were close friends was even a while before that.

Her marriage and pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise. The kind of man she chose to marry didn’t surprise me either. But her finding the strength to leave him did – I was impressed and I was happy for her… and for a moment I could see that stubborn little girl she once was.

We are the same age and we spent the first years of our lives playing and growing up together. Then school separated us, but only in a certain way, because we shared that kind of bond and friendship that seem indestructible at that age. We were both competitive, we were both stubborn and opinionated, we were both convinced we had all the answers, but we were completely different and we appreciated each other exactly because of it. We had constant access to each other’s world, but the older we got, the less use we wanted to make of that access.

Being different slowly became having nothing in common. I didn’t feel comfortable among her friends and she felt like a stranger among mine; so of course we both acted up and those people became the enemy. But we could even accept that about each other – it would be just the two of us when we met, sharing everything and supporting each other during those confusing, complicated and painful years. However, a time came when not even the family drama that always brought us together managed to be a strong enough link. And what a cliché the reason appeared to be – nothing else but boys.

Yet there was so much more to it than that trivial fact – we were making our choices regarding the paths we were going to follow, the kind of life we wanted, the kind of treatment we considered we deserved. I had a boyfriend who worshiped me and perceived me as the centre of his universe, while I wasn’t necessarily always kind to him. Her take on a ‘real man’ was somewhat different than mine… to say the least. Jealousy, violence and control were what she perceived as the main attributes of the guy worthy of her love. Her boyfriends became more and more questionable, until I finally had to refuse meeting one of them. High school girls all over town knew how violent he was and stories about how his family got their fortune were whispered in secretive, fearful tones. No, that was not the kind of guy whose interest you wanted to awaken. But she knew all that… and that was when I was politely informed that I had no business talking about relationships, since I had never been in a real one. After all, a real relationship was one in which the guy set me straight, not let me be myself and do whatever I wanted, the way my boyfriend did.

She firmly believed I deserved to be slapped around a little bit, just to finally understand what real life and a real guy feel like. It was our first and final fight. We still talked once in a while afterwards, mostly agreeing to disagree. But I understood it was time for the two of us to keep our distance, because there was no way the three of us (she and I.. and the dubious boyfriend she would not leave for anything in the world) could be friends. Sure… I understood the appeal when it came to bad boys, but within limits… life-threatening was not and will never be sexy in my book.

Yet.. I understood her… how could I not, when I knew her story? Nothing and nobody taught her that loving a person means so much more than owning their body and soul and disposing of them the same way one does regarding any other type of personal property. Growing up with an alcoholic, occasionally aggressive and mostly unemployed father that both she and her mother adored had taught her what a ‘real man’ should be. Without such a ‘real man’, she herself could not reach her full potential as a real woman… Her mother never left her father, no matter how badly he treated her. He was the most important person in her life; she came second and the kids came third. She worked two jobs to support the family; and when she lost those two jobs, she finally gave in and started drinking too. Once they were sharing the same vice, they became strangely happy, in spite of everything they had to deal with. But her mother never left her father…

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I found out she divorced her abusive husband, putting her daughter and herself above the ‘real man’ she had desired for so long. I don’t know the details, but I am glad she stopped perceiving three as being the perfect number for the family she had built in her dreams as a child. We will never be friends again; we will probably never talk again, even if we might still coincidentally find out all sorts of things about each other. But we have never been enemies either, we simply followed our own separate ways. This is why I can now say I respect her for having the power to open her eyes and understand both she and her daughter deserve more. She will never know this about me, the same way I will never know many things bout her, but it makes no difference. All that matters is that we both have the memory of what once was a beautiful friendship, belonging only to the two of us.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: What comes in threes?

 

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 12

Amalia turned her head towards him; she couldn’t continue to admire the scenery that was unravelling outside the car window while sinking into her own thoughts on the matter, appearing to listen to him absentmindedly. She had had that conversation with other people before, including a couple of very close friends, and everybody – from the new guys she met who wanted to sleep with her, to her family – seemed intent on figuring out just that particular matter, ending up being more puzzled than they were initially.

“You really like labels: married, single, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend… It’s really a matter of perception for me, even if some people see me as having what they might call a boyfriend, I happen to believe it takes more than tolerating a person for a few years, allowing him to be part of your life when there’s nothing else better to do and no one else better to be had. It takes more to call it a relationship and no, in my book that doesn’t mean I have a boyfriend.”

“So you do have a boyfriend.”

“I see you’re just about as unable to understand as most of the other people are.”

“I’m teasing you, really. It’s just that people are known to build life-long marriages on less than what you just described there. So what’s wrong with this boy, that you think so little of him? And why exactly does he allow you to behave that way? Come on, tell me what your story is, I want to know.”

Robert’s voice betrayed his curiosity, but there was a hint of something else behind that half smile. She ignored it though; he wanted to know, then he would know. Amalia needed to figure out up to which point she had been right in assessing him and his character, just as she needed to be accepted exactly for who she was, and narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy were not flaws that she could tolerate.

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Of Victory and Loss

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Victory

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Every new place I get a chance to discover is one more victory for me. Sometimes it can even be one more battle won against my own ignorance. It can be a mere small victory or it can be a victory so big that it will fill my soul of warm sensations and my mind of delicious memories for years to come.

There are places you dissect like a thorough student, wanting to learn their story and understand their system. And then there are those places that simply speak to your heart, they get under your skin and whether you knew it or not, you actually always wanted and needed to see them.

They are the places where your soul, your entire being can wonder, not only your mind. They are the places where you know you will always want to return. They are the places where you know you will eventually find your way back no matter what, no matter how long it might take. They are the places that constantly grow and regenerate, yet preserve their essence, their core is their constant strength. Some of that essence you take with you when you leave. And some of yourself you leave behind as well, a tribute for the gift of knowledge that you received… because victory also implies loss. That place may have offered itself to you, yet you were the one who was conquered – and for it, you will be forever grateful.

Paris was such a place for me – cliché as it may sound – a place of love and true romance, dream and reality at the same time, a source of culture, emotion and discovery. It was the strength I so desperately needed at that time, even if I didn’t really know it beforehand. What I had always know was that I wanted to see it, and when I finally did, it crept into the depth of my being. So when I read “Victory” Friday evening, I thought… personal victories…travel… Paris. I had more cheerful pictures in mind and a romantic story to go with them. Then Friday night happened – a cruel, tragic, unexpected reminder of how loss is one side of the coin and victory the other.

We are flawed, we are subjective, we are human… Yes, some unspeakable tragedies make our heart sink deeper and our eyes tear up more than others. Yes, we are not always fair. But as long as we still have the ability to feel empathy and be outraged at least by some of these acts of destruction, we can still call ourselves humans. So, to all of you who perceive what happened in Paris as tremendous loss and pointless destruction, and not as a victory, I can only say I share your sorrow. To those who have lost somebody in that inferno… I wish I knew what to say… I wish there were words able to make it better, to turn back the time…

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 11

Not that again… But some things are unavoidable, she thought, and apparently it was a valid question when people meet other people, especially when a certain type of interest arises between two persons; and she couldn’t really blame her dislike of socially acceptable small talk on him.

“I get the feeling there’s a completely separate conversation going on in your head.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“How else would you explain the lack of continuity when jumping from one topic to another, entirely unrelated one?”

“Just accept the fact that I’m used to getting my answers,” he grinned at her, suddenly staring her in the eyes. “Why do you make such a big deal out of answering the question anyway? It’s almost as though you were ashamed…”

“You tell me… Do you have a girlfriend?” Her voice was somewhere between flirty and annoyed and he knew it wasn’t shame he had sensed in her evasive reaction, but he couldn’t quite figure out what else it might have been either.

He instinctively shifted his look from her eyes to his wedding ring and as he replied, trying to decide whether she was just mocking him or not, he noticed Amalia was aware of his awkward pause.

“First of all, I’m married, as I’m sure you must know, and I tend not to hide this particular piece of information; as for a girlfriend, I don’t have one at the moment, but I’m not adverse to the idea, and I make no secret of that either… well, maybe only as far as the wife is concerned, she might disapprove of my extracurricular activities.” Robert was pleased to notice her laughing at his little joke. “But I believe things are somewhat different for you… there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be seeing somebody.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Ornate, Creepy or Tacky?

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:In your photo this week, share something unabashedly ornate — where it’s clear that the creators pulled no stops and went all out.

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The things you get to see when you stop overthinking your own issues, look up and notice what you’re walking by… While ornate is definitely not my style, I do appreciate the beauty of nicely decorated buildings – in some cases. But this one left me speechless – am I the only one who finds it somewhat creepy? I had a similar sensation years ago, when I saw a building’s façade decorated with sculptures of baby heads…

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 10

“I do know some of the out of town… let’s call them attractions… Most of them I can vaguely remember since I was a child and I’d spend my summers here, my mother’s friends helped me get acquainted with such places, since she wasn’t much of a nature person herself.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy our little touristy escapade today.”

He realised it was best not to ask her whether she had inherited her mother’s dislike of the outdoors, no need to spoil the afternoon when there was still some shred of hope that his plans weren’t completely inappropriate for her. It was a shot in the dark anyway, he knew it as soon as he noticed what she was wearing, but he wasn’t ready to accept that a person who had reached maturity in the same old place where he had spent several nice years as a student would be devoid of any sense of history and would shutter at the mere idea of an afternoon away from the noise and oppression of the modern town in which they crossed paths. Her old home town still lived on the shaky mirage of history, nature and culture intertwining in a desperate attempt to take the next step into the reality of the present-day. Robert tried to ignore the obvious detail that he had mistakenly left out – she appeared to be more than pleased to have left that place for good.

“So… do you have a boyfriend?”

Not that again… But some things are unavoidable, she thought, and apparently it was a valid question when people meet other people, especially when a certain type of interest arises between two persons; and she couldn’t really blame her dislike of socially acceptable small talk on him.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Careful

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, show us careful — a photo taken with care, a person being careful, or a task or detail requiring care.

Some roads need to be approached carefully, extremely carefully. So do certain situations. Unfortunately, there aren’t always warning signs to prevent and protect us from what lies ahead; and even when such signs cross our path, they are rarely as noticeable or easy to comply with as they may be when driving up and down a hillside. As for the view, let’s just say it often leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to life’s sinuous trails…

Papallel Lives – Sample Fragment 9

Afterwards? After what? The fear was back, suffocating her a little bit, pointing out to the fact that she was in a car with a virtual stranger, having no idea where they were heading, relying strictly on her instincts telling her nothing bad would happen and that the thrill she was feeling should be that of the new, not of fear. She had the innate ability to avoid men that no woman would be safe with and her instincts were always correct in assessing the men with whom she interacted, so she breathed in and closed her eyes tightly for another moment, taking the leap of the person who knows they are always right, the leap from fear to almost forced excitement.

Let’s just see if he proves to be gas station coffee – a colossal disappointment – or Italian espresso… She was annoyed by the tacky gesture of offering her that lousy cup of coffee, but the fact that he clearly had something in mind, he had already planned the afternoon, intrigued her, and that was much more relevant at the moment. She desperately needed to be intrigued, she desperately needed a man who could amuse her in any other way than by prostrating himself at her feet like a big, sheepish dog.

“How long is it that you have been living here? A couple of years already, I think you said last time…? Did you get to know the area well enough?”

“Yes, it’s been a few years now, and I did get to the point of knowing the place better than I actually knew my old town.”

“You see… I was referring to the area in general, not necessarily to the town…” She tried to catch a glimpse of his eyes, but he had decided to pay attention to the road as they were clearly about to drive out of town, so she couldn’t really get a clue what his mysterious destination was.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

(Extra)ordinary

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Mundane and meaningful objects. Beautiful everyday things. This week, surprise us with something or someone (extra)ordinary.

You travel. You arrive in a new place. You want to experience everything this place has to offer. All of the sudden, even the most banal sights have a charm of their own and you endeavour to find a hidden story behind the most ordinary of things. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and now that you finally are on that other side – whichever and however it may be – not a moment can go to waste.

We tend to overlook one thing: that place so special and new to us is somebody else’s everyday routine. One person’s ordinary can always be someone else’s extraordinary. A tree is often just a tree at home, but there are so many shades to be discovered in those leaves in a foreign place… It’s all about our subjective perspective, I got to understand a long time ago, when I met a woman able to see her home town through the eyes of a stranger – she still saw every beautiful façade, every interesting little corner as though it was the first time. As we were walking through her town, she was recounting bits of history as though they were part of her own life.

At the time, I didn’t see my home town the same way she saw hers. I perceived it the way we generally perceive our own lives, placing all the flaws in foreground, while the positive aspects are carefully tucked away and forgotten in the background. I am definitely one of those people who always think there’s room for improvement and that often gets in the way of enjoying what I have, but at least now I know to remember to stop and look around once in a while, to go through my own history and not disregard personal victories simply because things could have also turned better. And when I tend to forget this, I know I am bound to eventually go thorough pictures from various places I’ve visited; that’s when I inevitably come across some ridiculously ordinary, uninteresting shot of mundane, dull things and once I’m done wondering, ‘What were you thinking?’, I tell myself that the most ordinary object, situation or person can seem or really become extraordinary under the right circumstances.

 

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 8

“Wear something comfortable,” he told her on the phone.

“I don’t do comfortable.”

Her dry reply played back into his years while he was looking at her approaching his car. Something about this woman made him think that no matter how much comfort he might find in any sort of a relationship with her, he would never be completely comfortable in front of her silent, drilling and draining looks. He smiled to himself, getting out of the car to say hello to her, as she was only a few steps away now. She was wearing a long, flowery dress that clung nicely to her body, making her look tall and accentuating her figure, without being tight or revealing. The heals were lower this time, he thought, so that must be as comfortable as she gets; the sun glasses hid her cold stare, but – oddly enough – they made her look even more distant, in spite of her smiling when seeing him. Clearly he wasn’t right to hope it would be any easier to find a way of approaching her today, but the idea of trying seamed even more tempting under these circumstances.

“You did say comfortable, right?” Her smile was full of sarcasm when she made it clear she noticed him measuring her up. “I do hope I won’t be out of place, wherever we’re going.”

“Oh, you will be.” And he burst into a friendly laughter, closing the door on her side of the car, then getting himself behind the steering wheel. Game on, he told himself again. “Your coffee, miss,” he uttered offering her one of the coffee paper cups to go, which he had picked up from the gas station on the way over. “I was thinking a less traditional coffee cup could be a nice break from the routine.”

“Funny, what you call a nice break from routine, other people call cheap.”

She does have a comeback for anything, doesn’t she? But that was refreshing; in fact, he wouldn’t have been too pleased if she were actually impressed by some cheap gas station cup of coffee, offered to her by a man she hardly knew, while they were driving away in his car.

“It’s a really beautiful day and I don’t know about you, but I thought it would be pleasant to enjoy it somehow other than just by having drinks on a crowded terrace. Don’t worry, you will get a decent cup of coffee, to your heart’s content, afterwards. But I think you might find our little trip interesting, it will certainly give us a chance to talk about all sorts of irrelevant things.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Instant Happy Place

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WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

Buy your dream home, the sign read… the same sign that went up before the building itself was errected. As months went by, I got to see how the place where one can buy one’s dream home became reality. Nothing special, really… Just an average apartment building, not too big, not too small. I had high hopes – after all, it’s not every day that one can see that Eldorado of homes growing right in front of them, right? Once the building was coated in an awful colour, the eyesore dream finally became reality. Only one question remains – whose dreadful dream was that to begin with?

Silly me… I keep forgetting, I’m getting old. I must be getting old, or at least older, since I still hold on to this demented idea that a home is something you make, not something you buy off the shelf, identical in every respect to many others, its price and its location in the trendiest areas making it a dream come true. Complete with the same furniture and fittings filing all the other ideal homes in the building, those cold, depersonalized walls practically surpass one’s wildest expectations. Why bother having a personality when you can buy one for the right price? There’s even a small array of choices available to fit a choice of budgets. Don’t worry though, that’s the only painful choice you apparently have to make – and even that one is actually made by circumstance, not by you. All that’s left to do is move into your ‘perfect home’ – who cares what happens between those trendy four walls, now that you’re there, your life is perfect.

It’s not a case of sour grapes. I’m not a hypocrite, I like pretty things as much as any other woman (perhaps a lot more than some) and pretty things do not come cheap. But above that, I appreciate beauty, and that is often free and unexpected. I appreciate it just as much as I value character, and that is not something that can be bought. I’ve said it before, my home is my safe haven. I wouldn’t call it my happy place, I find happiness to be a brief experience, deep yet often fleeting, residing in the most unexpected of places and moments; contentment however is more stable.

‘Home’, no matter where that happened to be, has entangled a lot of emotions for me over the years, from fear to bliss, from loneliness to fulfilment, from hatred to love, from rejection to acceptance, from despair to happiness. It finally means peace, shelter, a place to regroup and find solace, a place where I grow and fail, a place where I find the strength to be get up and move on, a place entirely of my own, a place who is me, not only mine.

I lived here for years before this place actually became home. I had to accept that I needed to grow roots. Then I made it belong to me; then I made it mine – slowly, piece by piece, the same way I built myself over the years. Slowly, the same way I managed to accept that having a home is not necessarily a bad thing, loaded with resentment and hatred. You see, I grew up in a different town – oh, but it was in the best part of town, in one of the apartment buildings envied by most. My room had an exquisite view of vineyards and sunrises; the other rooms overlooked parks bathed in romantic sunsets. That apartment was and still is the apple of my grandmother’s eye, no person ever came close to the place it held in her stone cold heart. As a teenager, I would often sneak on top of the tall building at night and watch the stars with my friends, all of us hoping to escape that life as soon as possible. I felt more at home in the parks in the area or on top of the building under the starry sky than between the four walls that harboured mainly hatred, lies and resentment.

That’s how I know you cannot buy your dream home… you can’t even buy a home, all you can do is hope to be able to make the place you live in become your home, whatever that might mean to you. From that point of view, the teenager I used to be managed to see her dream come true – far away from the hatred-filled building with the great view and in a cosy, warm place by the sea, all of her own, where failure and success are acceptable, where she can be happy, where she can fall apart, where she can be herself; where she can grow roots, where she can always come back, no matter how far away she travels. A happy place, a sad place, her personal space…

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 7

“Do you have any plans for this afternoon or could we meet for coffee?”

She liked that he hadn’t even alluded to the summer job as a pretext for him to see her, even if his call came as a bit of a surprise – she was pretty sure he would call her, she was pretty sure he was interested in the same kind of interaction she was thinking of, but he was clearly a lot more determined than her and there was no room for doubts as far as he was concerned. She was quite sure of knowing what she wanted too, but the difference consisted in her lack of actual experience on that territory – there are steps that might be more difficult to take than others and she had been oscillating on a very thin line ever since they had met, trying to decide whether to jump or not. It wasn’t any moral issues holding her back, she knew that the only immoral thing would have consisted in being deceitful to herself, given that she was surreally aware of the world she lived in, with all its implications, with all its joy and lies. But it was the side of the coin where everything was happening openly and open-mindedly, so there was no problem with that. It was the going back to that side of the world she had known up close as a child, with all its beautiful excess and spirals that made her nervous, she had to wonder whether she could belong as well as she thought she naturally would. She could never be bothered to fit in, to merge with an environment that did not respond immediately to her needs and to her personality; that would have only meant surrendering one’s character and personality, and she just moved on as soon as it became obvious she didn’t belong there. But not belonging to his environment was not something she was able or willing to accept, that would have translated into a landslide of severe proportions in her world of values, and a re-evaluation of her entire system of ideas was the kind of undertaking she was unwilling to assume; because she knew his world was her world too and nothing contradicting that conviction was an acceptable variable. There is a certain type of emotion which only results from considering yourself in control of what you want and value, and that was exactly what took over her anxiety, culminating in her closing her eyes tight and accepting to meet Robert that afternoon.

“Wear something comfortable,” he told her on the phone.

“I don’t do comfortable.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Boundaries

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, let’s explore the creative potential of limits, borders, and dividers of all types.

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I was just trying to get to my car. I saw her with the corner of my eye, but I was hoping… No, no chance. Over years of being such an annoying presence in people’s lives, she has perfected the art of stopping them on the street, cutting right in front of them, so they cannot escape her incessant talking. I never ask her how she is because I never really want to know; yet she never fails to regale me with all the details of her life and more… Her medical history, her personal history, her relatives’ lives, her acquaintances’ lives; all the private details about everyone she knows, including herself, she will share with anyone crossing her path. A friend of hers died of cancer, she says. I don’t want to know all the gruesome details. I don’t have a choice. All she cares is that the poor woman wanted to be cremated and her family are following her wishes instead of having her buried ‘like a good Christian’. By now she is so close to me that I can feel her disgusting breath on my neck. She never has any respect for personal space. I hate that I was raised to be polite to people, I instinctively act civilized and this is where it gets me. But making that family’s tragedy into one more gossip topic… One step back, one unfriendly look and she finally stops touching my arm; but she still doesn’t stop spouting out religious nonsense. I don’t care about religion! I don’t go to church anymore! I believe each and every person is allowed to believe in whatever god they choose… or in no god at all. There, I’ve said it! And she is finally quiet. I can see it on her face – But she looked like such a nice woman… I was just trying to get to my car, she should have let me. Good day! And perhaps have some boundaries next time… or if not, respect those of others.

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 6

The heat of the early summer and the salty air had always been a promise of future pleasure, one could actually believe in the possibility of a carefree, beautiful time of sensorial depravity, and Amalia was breathing it all in, focusing only on the sound of her heals on the almost deserted pavement. The lazy afternoon hours, when people would either enjoy a brief siesta or would still be trapped in their stuffy offices, and the peace she could get from the short walk pushed her to decline his offer to drive her home; besides, she felt she needed to escape his sight as fast as possible, the need of being alone was always more overwhelming than anything else. Just as some people have an innate fear of being alone with themselves, certain other individuals feel the burden of human company and forced socialization so heavily, that they need to create their personal escape routes, they need to run away as fast and as far as possible, so they could preserve their sanity.

When the parking lot where she had waved a quick goodbye to him while rushing away was no longer in sight, she finally slowed down, breathing deeply and finally relaxing her tensed body a little bit, allowing the latest sensations of the afternoon to sink in, so she could split each one of them into the smallest fractions, analysing every potential implication and cataloguing any shred of emotion. One often knows that certain situations are inevitable and in spite of telling yourself it was all sorts of coincidental actions that threw you in the middle of that particular instant of life, the truth is constantly close to the surface of your thoughts: you went looking for such a context, because – whether aware of it or not – you needed it to define yourself, as it was part of you even before having the chance to pursue it. People often deny it, first and foremost to themselves, but the buried urge is still there, a tormenting and guilt-inducing presence, pushing to surface at the most inappropriate times; she wouldn’t deny it though, she knew that certain things were bound to happen to her and that she would go chasing certain others, her upbringing and education didn’t allow her to hide under the shade of stale propriety and biased morals. The thrill of the new and the chill of fear dug deep into her chest as she was slowly walking home, realising that her desire to run and hide was more powerful than usual: she had promised herself a summer free of her old constrictions, she had promised herself a summer of feeling as young as she actually was – for how long would she still be that young anyway? – and now that it was there, she felt she didn’t want it anymore, she didn’t want anything anymore, other than to get home, close the door behind her, and be left alone, without having to see or hear from anybody.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Not Only Seasons Change

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, show us a change in progress.

It looks like autumn, but it feels like summer… or is it the other way around? It’s that ambiguous time of year when it feels like you go through two, maybe three seasons within twenty-four hours. Early autumn mornings are quickly followed by warm summer days, completed by late spring or late summer evenings and fresh early autumn nights.

Decadent delight, to burry my toes in warm sand and to feel the waves against my legs this late in September. This weekend I thought I’d take the last barefoot walk on the beach. I wasn’t having too great a day. I needed to drown my thoughts in the sound of the waves just as badly as I needed to feel like a kid playing with my toes in the sand. It’s almost hard to believe that less than too week ago the beaches were still full of tourists – it always amazes me how fast any sign of summer fun and glory disappears, literally from one day to the next, as though the waves wash away everything and anything.

The view, the fresh air and the noise of the sea worked their magic instantly. I was obviously not the only one in need of such magic. We had finally taken our town back from the hoard of holiday makers and the weather was good to us, so there was nothing better to do than enjoy this simple fortune.

I know many women dread taking walks by themselves. Personally, I often need it, it helps me sort out my thoughts and find balance in a way I never can if I have to focus on the person(s) accompanying me as well. It’s all about thinking of everything and nothing, about people watching and also ignoring everybody at the same time.

It felt fitting, it made sense that I take stock of the summer past. Sometime at the end of June I had decided on a selfish summer. Did that feel good… I will only say this much: detaching yourself from those people who do nothing but consume your energy, taking everything you can offer and more without ever giving anything in return, not even the slightest sign of appreciation, much less a kind word or help can be such a relief… Especially when some of those people are related to you… It may not have been the most spectacular one ever, but my all-about-myself summer was just what I needed and the change was definitely beneficial.

Late September, late afternoon and there were still people sunbathing or swimming. I couldn’t blame them, the water was warm and tempting. The pretentious summer crowd was replaced by a few tourists taking advantage of the great weather and their low-cost vacation, but mostly by a variety of locals of all ages taking in the sun and the salty air.  Young couples were enjoying the thrills of early days romance and passion, oblivious to the world around them. Children, parents, grandparents, dogs, they were all enjoying the beach alike. After a summer ruled by appearances, money and extravagance, the beach was again a place where everybody felt at ease. Flip-flops and shorts, bathing suits, dresses and sandals, jeans and t-shirts, shirts and ties, rolled up sleeves, jackets casually held on their owners’ arms or shoulders, anything and everything felt appropriate, because nobody could be bothered to care. It summer often feels like a time when everything is allowed, this time of year feels like everything is acceptable.

Just as I was congratulating myself for taking a short break, just like everybody else, not caring about my outfit or my looks, I was abruptly brought back to earth by a face I couldn’t quite place… I didn’t know her, yet I had the feeling I had seen her many times. Oh yes… that’s why… The local starlet, so-called model, often invaded the TV screen, as she was better known for her affinity for plastic surgery and for her countless liaisons with obscenely rich and/or dubious men.

They must touch up those photos quite a lot, was my first thought, thus encouraging my inner bitch to wake up and take note. Hmmm… she has put on weight… was that why she had disappeared into public oblivion or was it the other way around? My-my… how the mighty have fallen… On my way back I couldn’t help noticing she was improving her artificial tan on the beach belonging to a rather cheap hotel. And since nobody seemed interested in taking pictures of or with her, poor thing had to rely on herself and take pouty selfies. Good thing a girlfriend had accompanied her, otherwise social media might have been deprived of sensual images of her in a damp bikini. Oh yes… my female ego was having a great, if petty day, noticing the changes she seemed to have undergone; besides I looked younger and was in much better shape, although from what I know, we are the same age. The small things that please us… Yet, to give credit when credit’s due, her hair looked amazing in spite of the wind and high humidity, while mine felt and looked like I had spent the better part of the day teasing it.

Once my ‘mean girl’ moment passed, I could go back to my calming walk. Nothing and nobody can be immune to change. I could feel the early autumn evening was about to replace the summer warmth and I was finally ready to go home. My mood had altered, the way it always does when I feel like it’s just me and the sea. As for the rest, who can tell what changes are to come next?…

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 5

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“I apologize, that was rude of me. But I tend to be a curious person by nature and I have the feeling you might know a lot more about me from your friend than I know about you.” Game on. He decided honesty was the best choice for the time being. “Most of the people who work with me – not for me – are friends of mine and we socialize in various contexts that aren’t work-related in any way. Whether we decide to collaborate in the future or not, you strike me as an… intriguing person and I would enjoy getting to know you.”

I’m very curious, I’m sorry… I’d like to know you better… At least he didn’t say “you’re an interesting person”, which she felt was his first instinct, but he managed to overcome it just in time. She normally didn’t go for that kind of approach, but she sensed he had meant the clichés he had just uttered, he was playing his one card left after the inappropriate question – directness would score him some points. He was clearly a spoiled man, used to being blunt in his sentimental approaches, not because of a certain lack of imagination or poetry, but because he felt that such endeavours belonged to a period in one’s life that he had already passed or overgrown.

“Anyway… would you mind if I called you sometime soon, to reach a decision about the summer job?” She kept staring him in the eyes without saying a word, so he decided there was nothing more to be done or said then and there. He was slightly annoyed by her superior, know-it-all look and he wasn’t going to pursue the issue any further, the intriguing brat could make up her mind about him all on her own. “Or you can call me whenever you prefer, in case that’s more convenient to you.”

He hadn’t meant to utter the last sentence, but what’s done, is done, he thought, while he was watching her heading out. Not wanting to completely give in to her, he figured that finding a middle ground was his best option, since she was clearly not going to respond to his “hot and cold” play. Yes, summer was looking up… for sure… And as she was walking away, he felt a pang of unadulterated enthusiasm and challenge, the same way he used to feel when living in the old university town which had also been her home… like there was purpose in life and everything and anything became possible.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 4

Amalia was staring straight into his eyes while she was offering him basic information about her and her studies, about her summer plans and all sorts of other trivia he felt he needed to know. It wasn’t about a part-time job that would reduce the number of boring hours a week over her summer holiday, nor was it about supplementing her income or providing additional experience for her resume. It didn’t matter that she was still using a very distant, neutral and polite tone of voice, Amalia already knew that those warm, boring summer hours would be filled with something else, perhaps more exciting than the tedious tasks of an assistant. Yes, it was the right moment to finally have an affair with a married man, with the married man in front of her, and while they were both debating university and job related matters, they became aware that they knew more than enough about the person they were looking at from their mutual friend, the one who enjoyed idle gossip so much. She had no doubt he felt the same, and even if he hadn’t, her arrogance still wouldn’t have allowed her to think otherwise. Amalia found Robert intelligent, intriguing and strong enough in order to consider him the one to make the final cut; besides, she welcomed the new challenge he presented and the change of direction he was bound to bring into her life.

“So do you have a boyfriend?” The sudden, rudely intrusive question almost shook her new resolution to the core – could she have actually misread him so badly? Was he really that ordinary and if so, how come she had missed all the signs that normally accompany such stereotypical individuals?

“I find that people tend to have a very personal, subjective image of terms such as the one which you’ve just mentioned. I do know men and boys, and some of them are even friends of mine, while others are something else altogether; and some are just acquaintances. Regardless of whether this is relevant to the topic we were discussing or not, I hope at least it answers your question.”

Actually, it hadn’t. He had uttered the out of context question without even thinking of what he was saying, during a very brief intermission in their conversation and he could now see very clearly that it had been ill-received, judging by her vanishing smile and the very vague and cold answer. Other girls… women… girls… would have tried to act coy, some would’ve tried a flirty response, their egos hugely tickled by his awakened interest, whereas she dismissed him with a non-answer, clearly penalizing his lack of finesse.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Monochromatic

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – This week, share with us your monochromatic images.

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It can feel like such an easy, desirable options sometimes – a monochrome life… One colour, no complications, no hidden meaning, no mystery. Yet, when we are presented with such a reality, we take it in, we may even enjoy it for a while – for as long as it takes to rest our weary eyes – but we eventually start craving something else. Any stain of a different colour becomes a desirable alternative – anything to disturb that dull monotony. We need more than shades, we need an entire colour scheme to stay our hunger for adventure and growth, the same way we need a vast array of feelings in order to feel alive.

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 3

When Robert noticed Amalia entering the sun-bathed restaurant, he suddenly became aware that he was hoping she would be the woman he was supposed to meet. He was expecting a girl, but something about her made you think “woman”, in spite of the youthful features of her face. And he realised exactly what it was – she looked cold, on the torrid summer day, she looked cold. The clinging noise of her heals on the wooden floor became louder as she was heading towards his table and he felt he had to find a way to keep her close, at least until he could decipher whatever accounted for that cold layer and what was hidden by the elegant, well-organized, attractive look. The long legs, the slim figure, the poised posture and the beautiful face were an additional incitement, if any such thing was still necessary, and as he stood up to offer her a chair when she was only centimetres away from the table, he could sense her perfume and her cold, silky hand shaking his after the quick, polite introduction. “Expensive” was what came to his mind, and before he had any chance to decipher the implications of that thought, she was speaking to him about the reason why she decided to meet him; but the words he was more focused on were her very first ones.

“Hello, I’m Amalia. I assume our mutual friend already told you a few things about me and my educational background.”

But he was no longer interested in her educational background or in the fact that he had set that meeting to find a girl who would be willing to be his assistant for a few hours a week, for the rest of the summer. Yes, actually, he did want to know things about her background, he thought, but he wanted to know everything about what made her tick. His old, perverted curiosity took over and he realised he wanted to break her down into little bits of information and figure out whether there was indeed something different about her or she was just one of the many who managed to put on a nicely carved facade. She was now talking about her BA and the thesis she was preparing and she suddenly became full of life, so he felt contagiously alive too, like he was back in time, back in his student days, in that far away, quaint university town, where – as it turned out – they had both spent years of their lives, not knowing of each other’s existence, probably not even at the same time. The urge to ask her when exactly she lived there was immediately repressed though, he had no intention of feeling old again, he would hold on to that surge of youth for as long as possible.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169