40 comments

Fiction Contemporary

On an otherwise unremarkable Saturday morning, I did something rather impulsive. I bought my dream car. Well, it wasn't my dream car yet. I paid the nice lady who was selling it the full asking price of five hundred dollars, signed the paperwork and prayed that the damn thing would start. 

It did. Even more impressive, it only stalled out once during the ten mile drive across town. I was grateful for the relatively short drive, as the interior's thick smokey smell was nearly choking me by the time I reached my destination. 

I parked my impulse purchase in front of my dad's garage. The ancient engine made a concerning racket as I killed the ignition and got out. I saw the tendrils of smoke sneaking out from under the hood, but willfully ignored them. 

My dad walked up and stood in the open garage door. He wiped his grease stained hands on an equally grease stained rag, while giving me and my new ride a suspicious side-eyed look.

"Ta da!" I said, displaying my prize like Vanna White. 

"Good God, girl. What have you done?" he said, walking slowly towards the part turquoise, part tan 1966 Chevelle SS. 

"Exactly what it looks like. You know how long I've wanted one of these. Isn't it great?" I said, unable to hide my excitement. 


My dad walked slowly around the vehicle as he appraised the magnitude of my mistake. His expression remained neutral, but his eyes still looked wary. 

"If you paid more than a grand for this thing, I'll disown you," my dad said evenly. 

"Please," I said, rolling my eyes. "I paid half that. Last I checked, you didn't raise a fool." 

He nodded without looking at me, but I could tell he was pleased. 

“Pop the hood, then,” he said once done with his exterior assessment. 

“Can we talk about the body first?” I asked, trying to keep the note of desperation out of my voice. 

He met my gaze without saying a word. I sighed and opened the driver’s side door so I could release the hood latch. This was going to be my greatest challenge. I’d really hoped to get him on my board with the superb quality of the body first. I stayed in the driver's seat as he took a look at the mess under the hood. After a minute of preparing myself for his reaction, I joined him. 

“Listen, Dad. I know it’s bad,” I admitted. 

“Bad? You're joking, Leigh. It’s a goddamned blue eyed miracle you got it here at all. This… ” 

“It’s going to be a total rebuild," I interrupted. "I know, Dad.”

He slowly turned his head to look at me. His green eyes seemed to study my brown ones with genuine curiosity. 

“You sure you wanna take that on? You know it’s gonna take a lot of time… and money… if you're really wanting to do it right,” he said with a hint of concern. “Anyway, I thought you were saving for a house across town.”


It was my turn to study his expression. My dad has always been careful not to express his opinions about my life choices as an adult. On occasion I'd pressed him to tell me what he thought, but his response was always the same. 

"What I think doesn't matter, girl. What do you think? You're the one who has to live with your decisions." 

This meant that his support of me has been unwavering, even when he thought I was headed for disaster. Like with my marriage. He'd asked me several times if I thought it would make me happy, but never told me straight out what he thought. A few weeks before the wedding, though, he’d sat me down for a talk. It was the closest he’d ever come to giving me advice.

“Marriage is like socialism,” he’d said. “For it to work, all parties have to be committed to the betterment of all parties. If one person has that mindset, but the other doesn’t, it can turn into a dictatorship real quick.”

He’d been right of course, and though I’d heard him out that day, I’d been too deep in denial about my relationship to let his words really sink in. When they finally did, I was already six years into a very bad marriage. 

Still, I’d made it out of that disaster only slightly the worse for wear. My dad's support had been equally solid when I filed for divorce, too. 


As I looked at my dad, standing next to my new project, I thought I saw a hint of hope in his eyes. He’d retired ten years ago, and now spent most of his days either tinkering in his garage with his buddies, or volunteering at the hospital. He said he was happy and fine, but sometimes I suspected it was a lie for my benefit. 

It'd been a rough three years for him since my mom died, despite his efforts to convince me otherwise. They’d spent forty-nine years together and their marriage had been one of those pure socialism types. They were as different as could be, yet took delight in making the other smile and helping each other reach their goals. 

When things got really hard, they circled the wagons, welcoming support from all who were willing to provide it. When things improved, they made it a priority to provide that support to others. They made each other laugh and challenged each other. And somehow, they made their kind of love seem like an everyday type of thing, rather than how it seemed to me now - like some rare and priceless gem few got to see in real life. 

After Mom died, my younger brother and sister moved out of state with their spouses and kids. Meanwhile, I was still stumbling about, trying to rebuild my confidence and find my place in this post-divorce chapter of my life. I'd been looking at houses on the other side of town, when I came across this car for sale. 

Just seeing it brought my priorities into sharp focus all of a sudden. I realized that I wasn't in a big rush to be a homeowner after all. I'd been dragging my feet because some part of me wasn't sure I wanted to make this decision right now. It wasn't like this was my only chance to buy a house. On the other hand, I didn’t know how much more time I could reasonably expect to have with my dad. 


“Nah, I'm fine where I am. Who wants to deal with moving anyway?” I replied. “What I really want is this car… all restored and magnificent. And I just happen to know an old, unemployed dude I can bribe into helping me.”

I winked at him over the exposed engine and tried not to smile as his eyes lit up. 

“Well, why don’t you show this old dude the interior so I can see exactly which flavor of hell you’ve gotten us into?” 

“Oof, just wait," I said as I unlocked the passenger side door. "The interior is going to make the engine look good.” 

I got into the driver’s seat again as he got in the passenger’s side. I rolled the window down on my side and expected him to do the same when confronted with the smell. Instead, he just sat there, looking off blankly into the distance. 

After a bit, I asked him if he was okay. 

“Man, that smell. It’s really taking me back,” he said quietly. "It’s pipe smoke."

“Really? Not cigars?"


Either way, it meant the interior had to be stripped, and I was surprised he hadn’t started ribbing me about it yet. 


“Nope, not cigars. Did I ever tell you that my dad smoked a pipe?” he asked.

“No, you don't talk about your people much. I know you left New Port News, Virginia when you were eighteen years old and that you only saw your mom once after that, at your dad's funeral.” 

He gave me a sad smile, “I wish my parents could have met you, Leigh. You know, you remind me of my dad sometimes.”

I raised an eyebrow at him, unsure how to take this remark. 

“Your character, I mean," he said, laughing. "My dad was a quiet, gentle man, but he had a wicked and dry sense of humor that few people understood. I've told you how he worked nights down at the shipyard? Every day but Sundays, we'd eat dinner and then he’d tell me to get his pipe and meet him on the front porch. He’d smoke his pipe and we’d talk before he left for work. Even as a kid, he’d really listen to me, you know?”

   I felt hypnotized as I listened to him to talk about his childhood. He rarely talked about his life in Virginia, and never like this, with such obvious emotion. I wanted him to keep going. 

   “Why’d you leave Virginia, Dad?” 

   “There wasn’t much work where I grew up, unless you wanted to work in the shipyard - and I didn’t.” He paused and sighed at the memory. “That was only part of it, if I'm being honest with you, Leigh. I started running with a rough crowd in my teens. The last time I remember this pipe smoke smell, I was sitting on the porch with my dad and he was saying, ‘If you stay here, son, I’m afraid you’re going to end up in jail or dead.’ 

"Somewhere deep down, I knew he was right, and it scared me. So, I packed a bag and left that night. Rode my bike all the way to Kansas City. My buddy, Robby, had moved out here and found work. He was the only person I knew who'd ever left our town, and boy, was he surprised when I tracked him down all the way out here.”

He chuckled to himself at the memory. 

"And that's when you met Mom?" I asked, though I was pretty sure I knew this part of the story. 

His lips turned up slightly as he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. 

"Yeah, well. You know she had a bright red Mustang back then, and it's true that she brought it to the garage where Robby and I worked." 

"Right… and?" I said, sensing there was more to the story than I'd previously heard. 

"Well, she didn’t come by the shop because her car needed work. She came by because she was dating Robby. I was always tagging along with them, since I didn't know anyone else in KC." 

"Dad!" I said, shocked. "So, you show up on Robby's doorstep, unannounced, with nothing. Robby takes pity on you, gives you a place to stay and even gets you a job in the same garage where he's working, and you repay him by stealing his girl?"

He shrugged, but didn't stop smiling. 

"It worked out. Six months later, Robby was my best man." 


We sat in silence for a few minutes, each of us lost in our own thoughts. I wondered if he was thinking of Mom, too. I wondered if he was feeling her absence with the same acute pain, like a sudden kick to the chest, just when you thought you'd finally caught your breath. 

She'd been the source of gravity for our family, drawing us all into effortless orbit around her. Without her, my family felt untethered and disordered. More like occasionally passing comets than members of the same solar system. 


"I can't believe you picked this up for five hundred, girl," Dad finally said, shaking his head. He ran a hand over the dash fondly. 

I swallowed the grief back down, and turned to look at my dad. He pulled a clean handkerchief from the front pocket of his coveralls and dabbed the unspilled tears from his eyes. I followed suit, using the sleeve of my sweatshirt with less grace.


"So. You really want to do this, huh?" my dad asked, bringing us both back to the present. 


"I'd like to," I said, then dropped the gauntlet. "I mean, if you're still up for it, that is. You're getting pretty gray, old man. I'd understand if you weren't up for such a huge undertaking." 


"First off, young lady - this," he said, tugging at his long white beard, "isn't gray. You might wanna get your eyes checked. And second, you're just lucky that my schedule recently opened up. We just finished Johnny's Volvo yesterday." 


As if on queue, a silver Volvo wagon pulled up next to us. Dad and I got out of the car, leaving the past and pipe smoke behind.

Johnny, an old bearded biker, much like my dad, rolled down the wagon's windows and let out a long low whistle. 

"Hey Leigh," Johnny nodded in greeting. "I'd love to hear the story that goes with that ugly hunk of steel, but we gotta go. Those hospital wheelchairs ain't gonna fix themselves." 

"Keep your pants on," Dad said dismissively to Johnny. 


Dad came around the front of the Chevelle and enveloped me in a giant hug. It was a bit out of character and surprised me. But not as much as what he whispered in my ear next. 

"I know what you're doing, girl. I love you for it, but don't you go putting your life on hold for me, okay? I'll be okay, you don't gotta worry about me." 


I stood there, stunned into silence as he gave my forehead a quick peck and let me go. When I turned around, he was already in Johnny's wagon. 

"Later, Leigh!" Johnny yelled as he put the car in gear. 

"Keep out of trouble, you two!" I yelled in response. I could hear their laughter through the open windows as they drove away. 


I got back in my car, turning over my dad's words in my mind. I tried to decide if he'd been giving me advice with his last comment. I hadn't put my life on hold. Well, not exactly. But I had been feeling fragile after the divorce, and even more so when Mom died a few months later. Maybe I'd been a bit more closed off than before, but some of that was grieving. 

Some of it was also this anger I felt every time someone mentioned how it was time for me to move on. Move on was usually followed by a thinly veiled recommendation to "find a new guy and start a family because - tick tock - your window for motherhood is closing, dear."

 What I'd done instead was take some of that precious time to figure out what I actually wanted moving on to look like. Eventually, I decided that moving forward with life could, and maybe should, look different to different people. Those things some of my friends wanted for me - like finding a partner, having kids, or buying a house - might happen. But then again, they might not. 

At the end of the day, my dad was right. I was the only person whose opinion mattered on this topic, because I was the only person who had to live my life. 

After some thinking, I came to the conclusion that for me, in this moment, moving on would need to include building my dream car with my dad. 

As I got the noisy car running again, I wondered about my pipe smoking grandfather who died in Virginia long before I was born. Before today, the only thing I'd heard my dad say about him was that he marched to the beat of his own odd sounding drum.

If my dad saw that same quality in me, I was okay with that. I pulled the car into the now open spot in the garage. Before getting out, I closed my eyes and tried to memorize the pipe smoke smell. I wondered if one day I'd smell it again and find myself transported back to the memory of this day. If so, I’d be okay with that, too. 





September 30, 2020 05:11

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40 comments

Len Mooring
01:27 Oct 08, 2020

Absolutely superb, Katina. I loved every bit of it. I knew you had to be a socialist and living in a strange land.

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Katina Foster
03:38 Oct 08, 2020

Thanks! Socialist in a Strange Land sounds like a great band name.

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00:11 Nov 02, 2020

Katina, Len Mooring is a treasure. I highly recommend his writing :)

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Thom With An H
21:48 Oct 01, 2020

My dad smoked a cigar and drove a 71 super beetle. My friends always said it looked like he was driving a Volkswagen train as the smoke puffed out the window. Thank you for this story. Thanks for reminding me of my dad. I almost hate to ask because reading your story is self contained. It was recommended by Laura Clark. She was absolutely right it was right up my alley. With that being said can you check mine out. It’s called “The Natural” and you just might like it. 😀

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Elle Clark
05:38 Oct 02, 2020

I knew you’d like this one Thom. Katina has such a beautiful writing style and this self contained personal story is quite similar to your wheelhouse. A word of warning, Katina, for when you read Thom’s: I cried twice.

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Katina Foster
06:33 Oct 02, 2020

Yes! I read it on my deck tonight while drinking my tea before turning in and several neighbors walking by stopped to make sure I was okay. It's so hard to explain that you're sniveling and crying over characters from a short story without sounding slightly nutty. Pretty sure they think the old lady on the corner has finally lost her marbles. Just adds to my mystique.

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Elle Clark
07:03 Oct 02, 2020

I think - unless I am forty years off my guess - you’ve got a while to go before you qualify as an ‘old lady’!

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Katina Foster
09:21 Oct 02, 2020

Age is just a number. It's all about you how young you feel and act now. I work hard to cultivate this mindset - don't kill my vibe, Laura! ;)

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Elle Clark
11:11 Oct 02, 2020

Oh, my apologies! I wasn’t thinking about your inside age! Mine is 45, I think. Wait, what age do you lose the desire to be relevant and want instead to stay in your nest doing cosy things? I’m that old.

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Thom With An H
13:33 Oct 03, 2020

I’m touched by this comment. You made my day.

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:15 Oct 01, 2020

This was brilliant!! I'm particularly intrigued because it's got a very different, slower pace to most short stories and yet I was thoroughly absorbed in spite of that. Or maybe because of it. Often, 'slower pace' is a polite way of saying boring, but not in this case. At all. And I'm not even sure how you've done it (feel free to share because I would love to know). Part of it is the structure - you start with Leigh and the car then bring in her dad and only once firmly established as characters, do you go into the backstory. Part of it is...

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Katina Foster
15:19 Oct 01, 2020

Putting Silence of the Lambs on my reading list. By the way, my library didn't have any of the Haruki Murakami books you recommended 😕, but I just finished his short story collection "Men Without Women" and enjoyed it. My favorite was "Samsa in Love." A whole new take on the bizarre life of Gregor Samsa. Thank you for your kind words. It was a new direction, in a way. Trying to capture a feeling instead of plotting with a twist or reveal in mind. I really appreciate you taking the time to read it & giving me such detailed feedback. I mus...

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Jonathan Blaauw
17:21 Oct 02, 2020

That is amazing!!! OMG! The mom's in Dark Places and Sharp Objects were the main trouble causers, so it'd be fascinating to know what Gillian's real one is like! Even if you only get a brief word of encouragement, that'd be unbelievable. Imagine being so famous your very existence gets people excited. We'll get there... In many short writing advice pieces I've seen Thomas Harris' books used as examples to illustrate techniques, so Lambs is worth a read for that alone. Also Red Dragon and Hannibal (the latter to a lesser extent, but after...

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Katina Foster
03:12 Oct 05, 2020

You are the only person who has responded appropriately to this story about Gillian's mom. Thank you, Jonathan. 😆 Looking forward to your next story! I loved Thom's story, too. Reedsy is cool that way.

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Jonathan Blaauw
17:19 Oct 05, 2020

I didn't even know you knew Thom! What a small world! I kind of implied in a conversation today that a friend of mine knows Gillian Flynn... I mean, it's not untrue. Right? I saw your comment in the other thread, but that trail of comments has become so tangled I can't navigate it on my phone. So I'll reply here (there are two parts to this): 1) I thought your evil twin was Katrina 🤣 what is your superpower? I bet it's better than mine... Trade? B) Do you really, actually use "y'all" when speaking in real life? That is wonderful and in...

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Katina Foster
20:31 Oct 05, 2020

It's not really lying to say I know Gillian - I mean her mom IS maybe going to have a conversation about me, so it's pretty much the same thing. I've been reading Thom's stories for a bit - he frequently makes me cry. So then I have to go read one of yours as a pick me up. I'm kinda making y'all sound like drug dealers, aren't I? 1). I thought so, too. But then a sudden rash of Karinas broke out - both on here and in my other life (where I see the people I'm talking to). So I dunno, I have several evil twins (triplets?) it seems. Also ...

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Katina Foster
20:43 Oct 05, 2020

I've got to tell you one more funny twin story. When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I was in New York City with my cousin and this kid ran up to me and asked me to sign a picture of Alyssa Milano (she was an actress on "Who's the boss?" back then, just in case you are too young or South African for the reference). I was too confused and embarrassed that I didn't understand what was happening, so I just did what he asked. I signed my name and he ran off . We walked for three more blocks before my cousin finally told me that the kid thought I...

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Elle Clark
17:35 Sep 30, 2020

I’m sorry it’s taken so long but I’m finally here! This is a fantastic story and I really enjoyed it. The introduction felt a little slow on first read but on second it actually fits perfectly with the overall tone. I don’t think I would change it at all. I love the relationship between the protag and her dad and you explore the nuances of it so well, too. United by their grief and trying to help each other at the cost of their own happiness is a thing that people do often do when the love is that deep but I really enjoyed how you u...

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Katina Foster
21:48 Sep 30, 2020

That was quick! Thank you so much Laura. You give such thoughtful feedback - I sincerely appreciate it. I always feel like I'm learning something from your comments. I don't know if it's a teacher thing or Laura thing, but it's awesome.

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Elle Clark
22:01 Sep 30, 2020

You’re welcome! I really enjoyed reading it so I’m glad I could give you something nice (though shorter and less delicately crafted) to read too.

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Beth Edgar
23:02 Oct 08, 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I swear I could almost smell the pipe smoke. I loved that not only the smell of the pipe brought back memories, but also brought about the culmination of two separate journeys to a crossroads and new paths. You do an excellent job not only bringing characters to life in a short story, but also in your story telling in general. You make it seem so effortless. That is real talent.

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Katina Foster
23:56 Oct 08, 2020

You are too kind! I feel like I'm still finding my way around short stories and writing in general, so thank you for the encouragement. 😊

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John White
22:28 Oct 08, 2020

Thanks for the great story, Katina. Your ability to develop characters is inspirational. The dialog, as well, is quite engaging and flows so naturally. The reminiscing of her father about her grandfather reminds me of my grandfather who smoked a pipe and the smell when I would get in his Chevy Impala with him. :)

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Katina Foster
23:45 Oct 08, 2020

My dad recently rebuilt a '63 Impala! Those things were enormous. But also, very cool cars. Thanks for the kind words. You never know what will resonate with others, so I appreciate it. :)

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Yolanda Wu
05:17 Oct 08, 2020

Wow, you pack so much into this story, Katina! I loved the opening paragraph, it really captured the Leigh's witty voice, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading throughout. The relationship between Leigh and her dad. The dialogue and everything was spot on. You incorporated smell into your story so well which really hits the prompts. This was such a real and captivating story. Amazing work!

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Katina Foster
15:13 Oct 08, 2020

Thanks so much for reading, Yolanda!😊 <- that's me blushing

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Andrew Krey
03:21 Oct 04, 2020

Hi Katina, I enjoyed your story; it was a great take on the prompt. I liked that it wasn't the main character taken back by the smell, but then you reintroduce the concept with her speculating that she may have a similar moment as her father in the future. Really cool way to give your story a past and a future. I liked the introduction of a dream car that only costs $500 then as we read on we realise part of the dream is also the process of restoring it with her father. It's a great example of with-holding information to keep us curious a...

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Katina Foster
03:22 Oct 05, 2020

It really is my dream car. I have this recurring dream where I ride around in a classic black Chevelle fighting crime. Or maybe I'm engaging in crime? Who knows. Either way, it's a cool car and an exciting dream! If you are into space, search for the "Butterfly Nebula" (NGC 6302) picture that hubble took this year. It's amazing. As always, thank you for your thoughtful feedback. Hoping to catch up on some stories on here this week.

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Andrew Krey
14:56 Oct 05, 2020

After not hearing of the car, I was watching Good Will Hunting and they just mentioned it! Lol Yeah you should turn it into a story, a lot of my ideas come from dreams if I’m not writing for a prompt. If you flesh out the character, the plot might write itself :) I checked out the Nebula, looks amazing. When they overlap the different filters/light waves space looks beautiful, rather than the dark fridge it is lol You’re welcome as always.

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Katina Foster
20:50 Oct 05, 2020

I was just going to read your new story and saw you're working on a novel in your bio. Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? If you are or decide to sign up, let me know your username or add me as a buddy on there. My username is KatinaFoster

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Andrew Krey
21:35 Oct 05, 2020

Yeah I finally decided to write a bio on here. I wasn't planning on doing it tbh; I tried a couple of years ago with a whole new story, but fizzled out after about 6k when I realised I didn't have a proper plot outline. I'm really trying to get a writing routine so may do it, but just to a set word count rather than complete. I've done 45k for what I expect to be 120k, so plenty left to play with lol but I'll defo let you know if I do. Are you doing something new for it this year, or something you're already working on?

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Katina Foster
23:11 Oct 05, 2020

I finished my first attempt at a novel in September & was thinking I'd use nanowrimo to do my second draft/rewrite. I might also use it to do a novella I've been thinking about. I suppose I should really have this figured out. This is all new to me, honestly. Just feeling my way through. Before this year, the only writing I'd done was academic articles on restorative justice and mediation, so I basically have no idea what I'm doing, but it's fun.

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Lynne Street
00:17 Oct 15, 2020

AS ONE WHO has lost her Mum and still misses her, and has made a couple of life mistakes, this story totally hit me. So well told, in a finely scripted way - dialogue used well to convey character personality, is part of the craft of writing, and this story shows you have that gift.

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Katina Foster
05:35 Oct 15, 2020

Thank you for the lovely comment, Lynne 😊

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