38 comments

Oct 20, 2020

Fiction Romance Suspense

The first thing you realize when you’re about to die is that, presumably, the day started out like any other. For me, it began with the taste of honey and lavender.


***


“Good morning Bugsy,” I heard Henry’s cheerful baritone call out from across the bedroom.


Cracking one hesitant eyelid, I squinted as the thin rays of daylight seeped through the curtains. Stretching, I let out a small groan and quickly noticed the unmistakable scent of bacon and pancakes. Slowly pushing myself up into a half-seated position, I glanced at the clock on the nightstand before collapsing back into a stubborn ball. Shivering, I pulled the duvet up to my chin as I turned over on my side, sleep still clinging to the corners of my mind like tangled spiderwebs.


Although tempted out of bed by the scent of Henry’s breakfast tray, I was still exhausted from last night. We had been trying to conceive for nearly half a year. And according to my calendar, the past 24 hours had been our best shot this month to make it happen.


“Come on babe,” I heard Henry chuckle as I felt him climb back into bed with me. I couldn’t help but smile as he slid underneath the covers and wrapped his strong arms around my waist, his fingers tracing small circles around my bellybutton, “the Carsons are going to be waiting for us.”


Immediately a headache began to pull at the corners of my temples. The thought of having to negotiate prices of various floor varnishes immediately caused a surge of adrenaline to course through my veins. I let out a small, condescending laugh as I realized that even the mention of the Carsons had the ability to trigger my fight or flight response. Even now, a year after getting married and moving into the old manor, I was still fighting them for my flooring and cabinet handles.


Lured from my aggravated thoughts by Henry’s touch, he began planting light kisses on the back of my neck, his warm breath tickling the space behind my ears. Relaxing into his chest, Henry pulled me in tighter, letting out a low, sensual growl as he felt me shiver at his gentle touch. If I wasn’t careful, this morning would turn into a replay of last night.


“Henry, we both know we don’t have time for this right now.”


Ignoring me, Henry turned his lips from my neck to my ear, nibbling on my lower lobe in a way that he knew caused my breath to catch in my chest.


“For Heaven's sake, Henry,” I let the words slip out breathlessly. Inhaling deeply to steady myself, I once again could smell the bacon and pancakes on the tray across the room. Motivated by my own hunger, I turned in Henry’s arms, facing him with a stern look, but was taken aback by the mischievous expression in his baby blues.


“Yes?” he laughed.


Slightly annoyed by his roguish attitude, I was interrupted by my stomach growling before I could respond. Henry must have heard it too, because the moment I felt the rumble, he leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on my lips, ignoring my horrible morning breath, before slipping out of bed to fetch the breakfast tray from the vanity.


Sitting up against the headboard, I couldn’t help but admire my husband as he fiddled with the tray. For a moment, the flickering fireplace in the corner illuminated his frame with such a romantic affect that I found my heartbeat quicken. But the glow faded as he ambled back with the breakfast he had prepared. 


“I made your favorite,” he said, setting the tray across my legs. Picking up a small pitcher of handmade syrup, he slowly poured it over the stack of pancakes on my plate. As I watched the golden liquid trickle slowly from the jar, I realized that I had taken it for granted for quite a long time.


“You’ve never told me how you make this stuff.”


Henry cocked his head as a smile tugged at the corner of his lips.


“How about instead of telling you,” he replied, “I take you with me to the hives next Fall and we make it together?”


I nodded in agreement as I eagerly took my first bite, savoring how the cake melted on my tongue, and how the sweet tartness of the syrup replaced any trace of morning breath.


We ate and showered quickly. I threw on a casual pair of jeans and a sweater before brushing my teeth and tying up my hair. Our dalliance in bed had caused Henry and I to run late for our meeting with the Carsons across town.


Running down the main staircase, I was careful to avoid the weak step in the middle. The old manor had been a beautiful find below market value, but it still had some dangerous character flaws that Henry had yet to fix. Grabbing tight to the handrail, I jumped over the step on the way down to the foyer and made my way to the sofa to give Sonya, who was still sleeping on the couch, a kiss on her furry head before calling out to Henry as I grabbed my purse.


“I’m going to wait in the car!”


Without waiting for his response, I stepped outside and shut the front door behind me. The late morning sky hung overcast, heavy with the scent of looming rain. The late autumn wind chilled the tip of my nose, and as I heard the dry leaves being pushed around on the ground by that same bully breeze, I noticed from inside the manor the sound of Henry thumping down the stairs before stepping out to join me on the front steps.


“What’s the rush Bug?”


I had always been outdoorsy. Henry said I was a nature bug, part of why he called me Bug or Bugsy. And this chilly autumn time had always been my favorite.


“No rush, I just wanted some fresh air.”


“Well in that case,” he said as he put his arms around me, hugging me from behind, “how about we head to the Reserve after our meeting with the Carsons?”


“Really?”


“Yeah. We can grab lunch from somewhere and take it with us. I’ve already got blankets and umbrellas in the trunk.”


“Can we come back and get Sonya first?”


“Sure. While we’re out, we should pick her up a new ball too.”


Excited by Henry’s picnic offer, I turned and kissed him, still tasting the faintest trace of honey and lavender syrup on the edges of his lips. Pulling back and grabbing his hand, I interlaced our fingers and pulled him towards the garage. The faster we met with the Carsons, the sooner we could get to the Reserve.


As Henry pulled out of the garage, I noticed a gnawing thought in the back of my mind; it caused the same uncomfortable sensation one gets when they leave a sweater behind at work. As Henry continued to navigate the busy streets heading towards the city center, I ruminated on what it was that I was forgetting until it dawned on me – I had forgotten the portfolio of varnishes. My stomach sank.


“Henry, turn around.”


“What?”


“Turn around, we need to go back.”


“Bugsy, I know you hate dealing with the Carsons, but as soon as we get the floors and the cabinets taken care of we don’t have to work with them any –"


“No, babe, I forgot the samples and the files.”


“Won’t Olivia bring samples with her?”


“Yes, she probably will,” I felt myself growing frustrated, “but I need my files. All of my notes and pricing indexes are in there. I can’t have this conversation without them. Please, turn around.”


Henry was silent for a moment. I could feel him deciding whether or not he would be frustrated by my mistake. After a minute, I heard him flick the turn signal before pulling a U-turn at the stoplight. As Henry turned the car around, I pulled out my phone and sent a quick text to the Carsons letting them know we’d be an hour late.


I stayed quiet for the rest of the car ride home, angry at myself for being so eager to finish the meeting that I forgot my notes. But as we pulled into our neighborhood, I noticed a thick, hazy cloud of smoke in the distance.


“Henry, look,” I pointed in the direction of our street.


“What the…” he trailed off, accelerating as we drew nearer to the manor. As we approached our street, the smoke grew closer, darkening in color. Now only a few blocks away, my heart sank as I realized that the closer we got to our home, the closer we were getting to the smoke.


“Henry, is it – ”


“I don’t know.”


Finally, we turned onto the street that housed the entryway to our mile-long driveway. But I already knew that the source of smoke that we had seen from the road had to be the manor.


“Bug, call 911.”


Fumbling with my phone, my hands shook as I tried to press the numbers. Pulling up to the curved drive, Henry put the car in park and took the phone from my hand before getting out. Unfastening my own seatbelt, I stepped out and gazed up in confusion at the entire right tower of the manor that was engulfed in flames. It was the bedroom.


Frozen in horrified fascination, I struggled to understand how I could feel the heat from the fire on my face from so far away. In the distance I could hear Henry’s voice as he spoke quickly to the 911 operator. It took a moment for me to notice Henry’s hand on my shoulder pulling me backwards.


“Bug, get back. You’re too close.”


“What happened?” I felt myself asking.


“It must have been the fireplace.”


I watched as our home began to fall apart. The flames grew as they curled around the side of the tower and crawled across the roof, sending silent tears streaming down my face. Henry pulled me to his chest, my sobs shaking us both. As I buried my face in his shirt, I felt a slight tickle on my nose. Fighting off a sneeze, I pulled back to brush away the dog hair, but upon seeing the red strands of golden retriever fur, I felt myself begin to panic. My cheeks flushed, and my vision grew slightly hazy as my heartbeat pounded in my ears.


“Henry – Sonya’s inside!”


Instinctually turning towards the manor, I broke from Henry’s grasp and made a dash for the front door, ignoring my husband’s shout. Kicking in the weak lock, I was immediately hit by the haze that had taken over the entire house and began to cough. Even though there was no fire in front of me, each room had been submerged into a thick and inescapable layer of smog.


“SONYA!” I cried out. Immediately I heard her weak barking from upstairs.


“Babe?”


I turned to see Henry, his shirt pulled up over his mouth. He had followed me.


“She’s upstairs, Henry. She must have gone up to get in bed after we left.” I felt myself slipping into frantic anguish as Henry grabbed me by both shoulders.


“I’ll get her, Bug. Go outside and wait for the Fire Department.”


Nodding, I took a step back and watched as Henry slowly began making his way up the stairs, coughing into his shirt. Casting a glance over my shoulder towards the open front door, I hesitated. I found myself unable to leave Henry alone in the burning manor. Copying Henry and pulling up my shirt over my mouth in a makeshift mask, I turned to follow Henry’s path up the stairs. With every step, I felt the air inside growing warmer as the flames from the hallway began creeping along the banisters and spilling down the wall. We were running out of time.


Ignoring the screaming voice in my head telling me to do as Henry instructed, I pressed forward, cresting the top of the stairs and turning the corner only to find the end of the hallway completely engulfed in flames. Henry was nowhere to be seen.


“Henry?”


Fear gripped me as only the intense roar of the cackling, burning wood of the old manor answered my desperate shout.


 “HENRY?”


Pushing forward, I felt as if my scalp was beginning to melt, and I tucked my hands under my arms to keep the skin on my fingers from burning. Ignoring the pain, I pushed down the hall towards the bedroom. I had to get to Henry. As I neared the flaming bedroom doorframe, Henry burst through with Sonya on his shoulders.


“GO, GET OUT,” he screamed. His tone – a mixture of pain, fear, and urgency I had never heard before in my husband’s voice – scared me.


Retreating to the top of the stairs, I ran down ahead of him to ensure the front door was still open before a scream stopped me in my tracks. Spinning, I turned to see that Henry had fallen through the bad step on the staircase. The same one we made sure to skip over each morning.


With Sonya still on his shoulders, even through the haze it was easy to see that he was in terrible pain.


I scrambled as quickly as I could over the debris of the collapsed staircase to his side, ignoring the searing pain in my lungs and my watering eyes. His right leg had fallen completely through the stairs to the waist. He was trapped. Coughing, he lifted Sonya off his shoulders and set her down gently, letting out a roar of pain before taking both of my hands in his.


“Get her out and stay out! Wait for the fire department!”


“Are you crazy Henry? You’re hurt!”


“Go, Bug. There’s no time!” Henry lifted his burnt hands to my face and caressed my cheek, pulling me closer and leaning his sweaty forehead against mine, “I love you”.


Gently pushing me away before descending into a coughing fit, Henry pointed at Sonya who had collapsed on the ground, panting. Crawling down to Sonya, I picked her up and dragged her out, gasping and hacking as the fresh air outside hit my singed lungs. Carrying Sonya as quickly as I could down the drive, I set her gently by the car before turning back to the manor, my eyes widening in horror. The entire roof was now engulfed in flames, and thick smoke poured out of every window.


I sprinted back to the manor. I’d be damned if I let that stubborn man die without me.


Pulling my shirt up over my mouth once more, I dropped low to the ground, and moved slowly back towards the stairs, using my hand to feel the way as I could no longer see through the thick black smoke. My eyes stung and my lungs burned. I flinched, feeling the heat from the foyer walls that were now on fire singeing the hair on my arms and face. Finally feeling the edge of the first step, I crawled up until I felt Henry. I reached around his chest and beneath his shoulders and began to pull.


“Wait! I think my leg is broken.”


I could barely hear him over the scream of the fire and the shattering of glass from somewhere nearby.


“Come on, Henry. On three, give me whatever you’ve got left, okay?” I shouted. Nodding as he coughed, Henry braced himself.


“One, two, THREE!”


Pulling as hard as I could, I felt Henry’s body shift as he strained to lift himself, letting out pained cry. Slowly, I felt him slide from his position wedged between the boards of the collapsed staircase until finally he was free of the debris.


As we both coughed and wheezed, I pulled Henry beside me, putting his arm around my shoulder. Grunting, we crawled side by side, Henry leaning on me for support until we reached the bottom of the staircase. Finally, we could see the outline of the open front door through the smoke.


Suddenly, a loud metallic bang caused me to glance up just in time to watch as one of the two rods securing a massive iron light fixture snapped as flames licked its chains. As I heard the final rod above us shatter, I closed my eyes and thought about the taste of that honey and lavender syrup as I pushed Henry as hard as I could towards the open door.


***


The first thing you realize when you’re about to die is that, presumably, the day started out like any other. For me, it began with the taste of the syrup Henry makes each Fall, but since the fire we’ve both lost our desire for honey and lavender.


The first weeks of recovery were difficult, and I don’t remember much. But I do remember the first time I woke up in that hospital bed, because the moment I saw Henry staring back at me I knew that although Death had wanted to greet me, Love wasn’t done with me yet.


Now, nearly three months later I’m finally back in my own bed in our new home, and I’m comforted by the warmth of his body pressed against mine. Feeling his hands cradling my stomach, I gently pass my thumb over the scars on his wrists and fingers, recalling once more the taste of honey and lavender. Allowing the memory to fade, I focus on Henry’s rhythmic breathing and let out a relieved sigh, causing him to instinctively pull me closer in his sleep. I smile and allow myself to fade into my own drowsiness, desperate for a bit of rest before the morning sickness forces me out of bed at sunrise.

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38 comments

02:28 Oct 27, 2020

This was soooooo good! I could feel the suspense and I am just so happy you ended this happily cause I woulda cried! I loved how you wrote this, I honestly have never seen anyone write like this and I am really loving it! Just the way you wrote the story really just gave me a nostalgic feeling. I really enjoyed the story it was very hooking and kept me wanting to read more! I honest truly enjoyed reading this good job!!

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03:04 Oct 27, 2020

Oh my gosh thank you so much for your kind words!! I am thrilled that you enjoyed Henry and Bug’s story :) I loved writing them into existence and sharing their trials with you!! I appreciate you taking the time to comment as well. Cheers!

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03:12 Oct 27, 2020

Of course, it was soooo good!

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09:37 Oct 26, 2020

At first, I didn't think Sonya was their dog. I just thought it was their child and I was wondering why they'd leave her alone. That is not important, yes. What is important is the writing style. You perfected the slow act of bringing your characters into the light. That was good. I've had that feeling before, where I feel like I had forgotten something and then realizing what it was halfway through my journey. The story is beautiful, that's it.

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14:45 Oct 26, 2020

Thank you so much for your feedback Abigail! I took note of the potential ambiguity of the dog situation and will think about ways to execute that more clearly in future stories - I'll likely update my master copy as well. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, I appreciate it!

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14:08 Nov 07, 2020

I saw the dog ambiguity as well. I knew it was a pet, but I couldn't decide until a few paragraphs later whether it was a dog, a cat, an weasel, or maybe a muskrat. XD

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Aveena Bordeaux
01:11 Oct 26, 2020

This was good, woah. I had my laptop propped up on a pillow and I was leaning forward, not able to turn away. I loved the way you wrote the scene in the beginning - it allowed us to build a connection w/ the characters before the life or death situation so we genuinely cared about what would happen. The ending part, too. It came around in a circle, back to the honey and lavender and I really liked that. Read it through more than once and I didn't see something to critique here. I loved this!

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01:27 Oct 26, 2020

Thank you Joy! You are so kind! I’m elated that it kept you intrigued and motivated to keep reading! I appreciate you taking the time to read through (more than once?!) and leave your commentary :)

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01:28 Oct 26, 2020

PS I’ve followed you so that I can stay up to date on your work. Looking forward to reading more of your stories!

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Alina Manha
05:25 Nov 02, 2020

OMG this story is so good. I just enjoyed it very much.🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩 It kept me hooked till the end. You have done an amazing job. 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻 My mind is blown. 🤯🤯🤯🤯

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05:30 Nov 02, 2020

Thank you so much Alina! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate you taking the time to read through and leave your review :) I'm working on another piece featuring Henry and Bug for this week's prompts, so stay on the lookout!

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Alina Manha
05:40 Nov 02, 2020

My pleasure!. 😊 OMG that's great. Sure!

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Echo Sundar
15:11 Oct 28, 2020

Wow! This story is breathtakingly amazing! I cant wait to read more of your work!

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16:52 Oct 28, 2020

Thank you Rachel for your kind word! I so appreciate you taking the time to read through and leave a comment :) I have two other stories out right now - "Greenspace" and "The Night Raven Chronicles". Feel free to check them out! I hope they can provide some entertainment as well :)

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Kate Ashton
00:10 Oct 28, 2020

I've never been a big romance reader, but this was a love story to root for. As I read, I was dying to aid the couple in their struggles. AJ- I was hanging on your every word. I absolutely adore it!

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01:04 Oct 28, 2020

Kate...THANK YOU for your kind comment. I so appreciate you taking the time to share your reading experience and I am ecstatic that Henry and Bug’s story brought you joy!! They were a joy to write into existence, and I have a feeling we’ll see more of them in future prompts ;)

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Rayhan Hidayat
10:31 Oct 26, 2020

The whole time I was just waiting for the fire to come. Good job on building suspense. The fireplace at the start and the little prelude were great foreshadowing tools. Kudos 😙

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14:50 Oct 26, 2020

Thank you Rayhan! I'm so glad that you felt that suspense that I tried to play with in delaying the actual fire...I had hoped someone might pickup on that little bit of foreshadowing ;)

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:55 Oct 26, 2020

No worries! Feel free to check out my latest story if you're down! :)

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Julia Boddie
22:30 Oct 25, 2020

This story had me interested the entire time I was reading it! Things I liked the best: The descriptions, the plot in general ( It made me happy and sad, and I love a story that can do that!), etc. Once again, I loved the story and will definitely read more of your work!

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00:45 Oct 26, 2020

Thanks Julia! I’m grateful for the time you took to leave a comment with your thoughts. I’m thrilled I kept you interested!

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Julia Boddie
01:00 Oct 26, 2020

No problem!

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Princemark Okibe
22:17 Oct 25, 2020

Romance is normally cringey to me but you pulled this one off without cringing me. Your descriptions paint the scenes clearly in my mind and your story was engaging all through. Here are my edits. I know you can't edit the story but it is for you to note for your next story. This sentence is structurally sound but does not easily flows with the preceding and succeeding sentences. [Lured from my aggravated thoughts by Henry’s touch, he began planting light kisses on the back of my neck, his warm breath tickling the space behind my e...

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23:10 Oct 25, 2020

Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback! I do not often write romance so this was definitely a stretch for me. And I appreciate your grammatical suggestions, I’ll absolutely apply those in my next story!

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Princemark Okibe
23:15 Oct 25, 2020

You are welcome.

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A.dot Ram
17:58 Oct 25, 2020

Yes, this was an engaging yarn. I appreciate that you were able to tie this story together at the end and speak to the persistence of love and life (I like that you're basically describing the first day of her pregnancy--it adds another layer of significance). Very sweet, like the syrup. Here's my critique: With all of the suspense and build-up, and the real extreme danger they faced, it's difficult to believe that everything worked out perfectly. Yes, there are scars on his wrists. What about her scars, physical and psychological? It would ...

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18:26 Oct 25, 2020

Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback! I agree 100%...Henry and Bug’s story definitely isn’t over yet - they’ve still got several hurdles in front of them ;)

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Lara Rose
17:09 Oct 25, 2020

This is so beautiful!! Again very vivid and descriptive, excellently written. I was rooting for the characters since sentence one. Great story!

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18:24 Oct 25, 2020

Thank you so much Lara! I so appreciate your comment!

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Ashley Patterson
07:35 Oct 25, 2020

Omg!!!! I was almost in tears this felt like I was watching a movie so glad she went back in there after him now that's true love thanks for writing such a beautiful story

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15:16 Oct 25, 2020

Thank you for your kind feedback Ashley! I’m so glad you enjoyed the read! :)

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14:33 Nov 07, 2020

First of all, awesome work on this! Everything is connected and foreshadowed well, tension slowly building up to a great climax and resolution. I think this is my favorite of your stories so far. :) As Abigail said, the character development is masterful. The few things I have to say... First, we never learn Bugsy's true name. This struck me as a very small gap. It really isn't important to the story, it just made me want to know her real name. ;) And I tried to review mental notes to find if there was anything else I was gonna a...

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15:09 Nov 07, 2020

Thank you Leo! As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read through and give feedback. This was one of my favorite pieces as well. My father is a fireman so I felt particularly connected to this piece. If you’re interested in Bug’s name, go check out my latest story Angel Paint ;) I deliberately left her name out of this one knowing I’d reveal it later. As for outlining, I actually don’t outline any of my Reedsy stories. I use this platform as a true opportunity to stretch my creative muscles. I don’t follow any of the same pro...

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15:13 Nov 07, 2020

Oh and if my stories require research (I did a TON of it for the Night Raven Chronicles), I do that before the 2/3 sentence description once those seedlings are swirling around. So for example in TNRC, I knew I was basing all of the magic off of Wiccan traditions and Hereditary witchcraft or the modern era, so I spent time researching those two practices and have like three pages of selected research written down that I kept open in a separate document as I wrote so I could reference as I went.

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15:41 Nov 07, 2020

Neat. :) I'm a complete pantser for everything I write. XD No research, no outline, vague ideas only.

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Austin Mccreary
03:10 Dec 31, 2020

May i just say, this was absoulutly beautiful and had so much suspence but you also had so much detail that you were able to picture yourself as one of the characters in the story! It was amazing, and i could see the realationshop between Henry and Bug! It was so amazing i cant even put in words how i feel about it!! ❤️

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18:21 Jan 05, 2021

Thank you so much Austin! This review has left me totally floored! I appreciate the time you took to read and leave your impression. You rock!

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18:21 Jan 05, 2021

Thank you so much Austin! This review has left me totally floored! I appreciate the time you took to read and leave your impression. You rock!

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