When they woke the next morning, they packed an overnight bag and headed north on I-17. Eliot was amazed at the view out his window, craggy rocks and towering saguaro cactus eventually giving way to the pine trees of the Coconino National Forest.
In Flagstaff they stopped for gas, and both of them shivered at the cold bite in the air. They ran by a sporting goods store to buy some fleece pullovers, and Eliot goofed off with a couple of plaid hunting caps, complete with fuzzy earflaps. He grinned at Loren, trying to keep the hat from falling forward into his eyes.
“You look about twelve years old,” Loren said drily. “That hat swallows you whole.”
As Loren reached out to take it off of him, he stroked his thumb along Eliot’s cheek.
“I love to see you smile, to see you happy,” he whispered. He grabbed a simple knit cap and pulled it over Eliot’s head, fussing with it a minute before saying, “Much better.” Eliot scanned the room and, not seeing anyone, stretched up to give Loren a kiss.
Soon they were on the road again heading north, and Loren took Eliot’s hand, twining their fingers together and resting their joined hands on his knee. Eliot could sense Loren was turning something over in his mind, so he just waited.
“Are you happy, El?” Loren finally asked. “I’ve seen so many different incarnations of your moods, but I honestly don’t know if I’d recognize happiness in you.” His voice held a faint note of apology for asking, and Eliot glanced at him, surprised but pleased by Loren’s candor.
“I don’t know if I’d recognize happiness either, Loren,” he admitted, rubbing his thumb over the back of Loren’s hand when he threw Eliot a stricken look. “Hey, hey,” Eliot said reassuringly. “I don’t mean that the way it sounds.”
Eliot blew out a breath, thinking about how to explain this. Loren waited, but his lips were pressed together in a tight line, and Eliot squeezed his fingers.
“Usually when I wake up in the morning, I’m afraid,” he said slowly, and Loren opened his mouth to speak but then didn’t say anything. Eliot glanced at him again, then continued, “I feel the craziness, the madness lurking, just waiting for me. It feels like it’s attached to me, that when I get out of bed, I’m dragging it with me. It’s always there, ready to pounce and swallow me up.”
“Oh, El,” Loren whispered achingly.
Eliot stroked his hand. “And this morning when I woke up, I wasn’t afraid. I think that’s what it feels like to be happy. It’s enough for me.”
Loren didn’t say anything, but a lone tear slid down his cheek. Eliot reached up and wiped it away with his thumb, stroking Loren’s jaw tenderly.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
Just then the sign for a scenic lookout appeared, and Loren took the exit, parking the truck. He stared through the windshield, blinking fast, more tears welling up.
“The thought of you for all those years, waking up afraid,” he whispered brokenly. “And I wasn’t there, Eliot. I wasn’t there.” Eliot could see Loren’s throat working as he fought not to cry, and with a soft exclamation, Eliot opened his arms, gathering him close. He stroked Loren’s hair, feeling the hot wetness of tears against his neck.
“But you were there, Loren. Shhh,” he murmured.
When Loren calmed a little, Eliot pulled back and took Loren’s face in his hands, forcing him to meet his eyes.
“I’ve been in a lot of therapy over the years, and they always ask me the same thing, what my best memories are, what memories do I have of feeling happy or safe. I’m supposed to bring them to mind when I’m stressed or scared or angry. It’s part of cognitive therapy, learning to readjust your thinking, to focus on good things and not negative things.”
Eliot caressed Loren’s face. “And Loren, there’s a lot I don’t remember, but what I do, every single one of those types of memories is about you. Being kids, riding our bikes, playing with toys, laughing at stupid jokes. Then later the way you held me in the dark after a nightmare or sat with me when I was so sad and hurting that I wanted to die. The way you—the way you loved me, loved my batshit crazy and fucked-up mess.
“You’ve always been with me, Loren, through my memories. Always.”
Loren completely lost it then, and Eliot let him cry it out, murmuring to him, rocking him, reveling in being the one to comfort, to soothe, of being able to shore up the man he loved when he needed it.
Finally the storm passed and Loren pulled away, sitting up and scrubbing his hands over his face.
“I’m glad, El,” he said hoarsely, clearing his throat several times before starting the truck and pulling back onto the interstate. “I’m glad I’m your best memories.”
Unquiet by Melanie Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is book # 3 in the Resilient Love series. This book can be read as a standalone novel. It is better for reader understanding, and further enjoyment of the book if read in companion with the rest of the series.
Loren and Eliot knew each other from age 6. They grew up next door from one another. They did most everything together. Once in high school, they realize the friendship has grown to something more.
For Eliot, stability with his illness is key. But getting him the correct diagnosis is hard. Anyone around him finds him fun and silly. Loren just loves him and wants to be with him. When tragedy strikes, Loren is lost.
This story has so much to it! I was so pleased with how the mental illnesses are portrayed and told. I loved the character development and the real feelings that were expressed. This is a book I wish all could read.
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Definitely court reporting was the hardest. Sometimes you’re sitting in one place for hours at a time, and it’s nothing but repetitive motion of the hands and wrists so it’s physically taxing. But the emotional toll could be huge, too. I’ve sat through murder trials, seen horrifying crime scene photos, had to listen to rape and molestation victims testify, reported stays of execution, on and on. It was also exciting because, as a freelancer, I didn’t go to the same place every day and I met so many interesting people.
2. What was your favorite book as a child?
I was a voracious reader, even as a child, and my favorite books were the Nancy Drew mysteries! My mom had a set of first editions and I read those over and over.
3. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you ever make playlists for your books?
I don’t listen to music while I’m actively writing, only because it’s too distracting. And I don’t make formal playlists, although I usually have a song that speaks to me about the book I’m writing. With Signs of Life, for example, it was the song No Air by Jordin Sparks. The lyrics, ‘Losing you is like living in a world with no air. Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air’ helped me channel Jeremy’s grief over losing his husband.
4. Our readers love to get to know our authors! Is there anything we do not know about you that you would share just with us?
My uncle used to do sound editing work for movie and television studios, and he won an Emmy for his work on MASH. I actually got to visit the MASH set, and since I was an obsessive fan, that was one of the highlights of my life! I also got Alan Alda’s autograph, and that is very rare since my uncle told me he doesn’t generally give out autographs. So I had a small, very small, brush with fame!
5. Your books are about those struggling with some kind of physical ability that makes them more real. What got you started writing about those?
Since I’ve lived around military culture my whole life, I’ve met lots of people who have been affected by the various wars, even as far back as Vietnam. I’ve known people who came back wounded, both physically and emotionally. I wanted my first story, Everything Changes, to be about an amputee, and someone suffering from PTSD, and how the intense experiences they went through as combat teammates turned their friendship and loyalty into love.
While I was writing that, there was a story in our local newspaper about how a man and his pregnant wife were in a car accident. The husband had minor injuries, but the woman was killed instantly. They were able to deliver the baby alive, but he tragically died too a few days later. This man’s family was wiped out in the blink of an eye, just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time while going out to lunch. That was my inspiration for Signs of Life, my interpretation of what it might look like when someone suffers unimaginable loss but yet is able to go on and even find love again.
With Unquiet, my cousin, who suffered from bipolar disorder, took her own life a few years ago. I remember her telling me once that she didn’t feel worthy of love, that every day, when she woke up, she teetered at the edge of a cliff, and depending on what happened that day, that’s what would determine whether she would live or die. One day she stepped over that cliff, and our family’s lives will never be the same. I wrote Unquiet for her, since she never had the chance to find her Loren.
I loved these questions! Thank you so much for hosting me today!