Self Love Study: Portrait from “Owning Your Worth” by Bex Saunders


“You shouldn’t have to be “perfect” in order to be deserving of self love.” – Bex Saunders

bex 2


“Self love is a difficult journey but its ultimately the most important journey one can do. It’s not an overnight journey; it may take years or even a life time. Once you love yourself, you are unstoppable. No one can bring you down. You are capable of truly anything. You become the best version of yourself.” – Bex Saunders


Artist Bio: Bex Saunders is a 23 year old multi award winning photographer from the south of England. She specializes in conceptual work, with an emphasis on self portraits. You can follow her Instagram @bexsaundersphotography 

“A Journey” Milicent Fambrough

A Journey photo
“A Journey”
Blaring like the sirens
What is wrong with me?
Atomic dreams
What is wrong with me?
A spark
Warmest wishes and tenderness
soft and sweet
This is right with me
Artist Bio:  My current work centers on self examination and expression. My influences are many spanning from turn of the century into contemporary. From classic to modern I love artwork in all forms. My three most favorite are Art Deco, abstract, and pop art.
I draw mostly from pop culture and the city I call home San Antonio Texas.
My day consists of tending my home, networking with preforming acts and checking in with good friends. Painting daily and sketching with the odd doodle mixed into a routine of sorts. Early mornings, late evenings, lots of interesting outings make up my life. Photography is another passion for me being a person who observes more than the usual.
Born on the west coast. I grew to adulthood on the third coast. I still have yet to see the east coast. The eldest of a single parent household. College educated and formally trained for graphic design. Growing up I was mentored by my grandmother an oil painter and hobby artist.
My pace is a constant flow of new mediums or art traditions. Switching them back and forth to keep the artwork fresh.
This is my digital portfolio.
My social media links
Hashtags #milicent210 #milicent_fambrough #art #creative #visualartist #satx #sanantonioart #sanantonioartscene

“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” by Don Herald



A middle-aged man stands alone on a darkened stage. A bright spot holds him in its cone. He is immaculately dressed in a well-tailored, light grey suit. A silk tie, deep red, nicely compliments an expensive shirt. There is a small flower on his lapel, a lighter shade of the tie. All of it is understated, elegant.

Silent, the man gazes out toward us, occasionally pulling at his French cuffs, more out of habit than nervousness. Several times, he touches his right cheek as if sweeping away an unseen fly.

He smiles. It’s as if he is remembering something important he wants to share with us but is unsure if he should.

He pulls down upon his suit coat and then casually re-folds his hands in front.

He begins to speak to us.

The voice is cultured; his words soothing and confident. It’s a voice each of us has heard before but can’t remember when, where or who.

_________________ 0 _________________

When I look into the mirror every morning, I’m reminded of other times. And, if truth be told, it was both the best and worst of times.

Back then, whenever I entered a room, heads would turn. It seemed that women of all ages wanted to talk to me. Immediately. Urgently. Not wishing to sound too full of myself, I must tell you that more than a few just couldn’t help themselves. They’d find any excuse to lightly touch my arm, perhaps a shoulder. I remember once – a sophomore as I recall – even stroked my hair much like she would have done with a favoured cat.

Olivia, my mother – God rest her soul – often called me pretty.

‘You’re a pretty lad,’ she’d say, ‘Sure to break many hearts in the years ahead.’

She’d always tell me about the latest fashions, showing me photos in gentlemen’s magazines. High style was her thing, that’s for sure. Now you might think it odd for a mother to do that with a son. But I just accepted that’s the way any mother would talk, especially if her son was pretty like me. These days, I guess the more acceptable word would be handsome.

‘Remember this, Vincento,’ Olivia was too fond of saying. ‘Clothes make the man. People, my darling, may not remember what you say, but they will surely remember if your shoes were shined, your pants pressed.’

One day, I think I must have been about nine or ten, I was watching her putting on makeup. I must confess that back then, I was genuinely fascinated by the entire process. It was just magical. My mother – well, she was what you’d call a natural beauty. Anyone who ever met her would undoubtedly say so. But when she had on her makeup, to put it simply, my mother was a knock-out. Strange as it may seem, I remember being very jealous of all that love and attention she attracted.

Anyway, she saw me watching and invited me to sit beside her – both of us side by side in front of the round cosmetic mirror over her makeup table in a tiny space she liked to call her boudoir.

‘What would you like to try, Vincento? Lipstick? Perhaps some eye shadow? Or maybe just a whisper of rouge on those pale cheeks?’ Her fingertips delicately brushed my cheek. I can still feel her touch to this very day.

With each offering, Olivia would hold out the item in the palm of her delicate hand.

I decided on the rouge powder. My heart felt like it was going to burst right out of my chest.

‘Excellent choice, my precious. Here, on one cheek, let me show you just how to do it, so there’s only just a hint of …’ She hesitated, not able to find quite the right word.

‘So there’s only just a hint of…’ she paused again, ‘…invitation.’

Admittedly, it was a most unusual word to use in that situation. But then again, in her life, my dear mother was all about the invitation.

With practiced strokes, she rouged my left cheek then leaned back to admire her handiwork.

‘Now, Vincento dearest, you do the other.’

And I did. As I recall, I didn’t do too bad a job of it either.

‘Beautiful, Vincento. You’re so pretty. Yes, so very pretty indeed.’

She kissed me lightly on the forehead.

‘My blessed heart, you look so handsome. No girl in her right mind will ever be able to resist you.’

Looking back now, I think that was the start of it.

From that very moment, I truly believed I was pretty. ‘Stunningly handsome,’ I recall my mother saying as I innocently posed this way and that – just as I’d seen her do so many times – in front of the full-length dressing mirror.

I chose to believe in my beauty, so it came easily for me to act the part. Confident. In charge. Worth getting to know. And when I was older, definitely worth loving if you were found to be in my favour.

I wore fine clothes; bespoke suits of only the most beautiful cloth. Soft leather shoes, hand-stitched, always polished of course. A gold Rolex. French cuffs, always accented with ebony links, the initials ‘VM’ embossed lightly on the dark bone.

But, as you well know, there’s far more to living the high life than just being a sharp dresser who’s always easy with his words. Sadly, I must report my flattering mother never revealed the secret to me. I had to learn that life lesson the hard way.

Standing here, I do confess to you that over the years, I’ve had many women – passionate, loving, attentive – in my life. For each, I was the irresistible light, and she was my delicate, summer moth. Now you may think that sounds outrageously conceited. But it is the truth of it.

Which, of necessity, brings us to Helen.

She was my soul mate. We spent eighteen marvellous months together. First, in San Diego where she had a thriving practice as a much sought after fashion photographer. Then the final six months when we were living on Canada’s Pacific coast.

Back then, Helen was big into yoga. When a teaching position at the famous yoga centre in one of the Gulf Islands came her way, she joyfully walked away from her glamorous life in California. Of course, I went along with her.

Looking back now, I sometimes wonder if she’d gradually become my light, and I was just her beautiful summer moth.

Of course, someone as attractive and socially adept as me found it easy to mix in with the yoga crowd. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I was very popular, particularly with some of the younger female students.

That said, I’m sure you’ve already figured out how all this is going to end.

In my defence, let me just say that I was well and truly loved. I trust that now you can see that such behaviour was just in my nature. For the most part, Helen was forgiving. Oh, I’ll admit there were tensions between us at times about – what shall I call them – my overly familiar relationships with her students. But in spite of it all, Helen remained my soul mate.

Eventually, Helen had enough. One rainy night in late summer, we had a spectacularly noisy row. Hurtful words stripped bare our very hearts. Hidden feelings were drawn out between us; our relationship shredded beyond repair.

The next day I left on the first ferry out of Long Harbour. I headed for Victoria and a new life without Helen.

One week later, while riding a friend’s Harley on a section of twisting highway up the Pacific coast toward Tofino, I was side-swiped by a skidding Benz. Thankfully, I was swiftly airlifted to the Royal Jubilee in Victoria. The surgeons there did a great job of patching me up.

But my face… well, let’s just say that I’ll never be quite the same again.

_________________ 0 _________________

The man unconsciously touches his right cheek. The fingers linger for several heartbeats then return to his side. To some, it seems that this simple act is innocent, not full of subtle meaning. To others, it seems as if it may be an invitation, perhaps to forgive the man his many trespasses.  

The man turns slightly away from us as if to leave, then pauses. It appears as if he still may have more to say. In the white cone of light, a long, jagged scar is faintly visible beneath cleverly applied makeup.

He nods slightly, then steps abruptly into total blackness beyond.

The cone of light slowly fades.

The stage is dark.


Artist Bio: Don’s work has been published online in the US, UK and Canada. His stories often feature flawed characters who decide to do the wrong thing for themselves and others. A retired social worker and workplace behaviour consultant, Don lives in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. He is a co-founder and active member of the Writers’ Group of Peterborough. Don’s published stories are available at

He is Beautiful Like a Rainbow by Mercury Marvin Sunderland

He is Beautiful Like a Rainbow

he is beautiful like a rainbow

this was never a story of pride parade floats

this was a rebellion created by black trans women throwing bricks at cops

stonewall was a riot

my love is not celebrated by supreme court legalization of monogamous marriage,

or flags held up in business windows to attract money

it is not found

in your rainbow capitalism

when historically those same places have always held us down

beaten us and thrown us out in the streets


he is beautiful like a rainbow

and right now i am sitting on the street where i went

to a nightclub

with my friend from band

and i remember how that night i was reminded for a second

of orlando

because i am a gay trans white man and she is a straight cis peruvian woman

and together as one gay trans and one latina we made up the three groups that had been targeted


he is beautiful like a rainbow

and when he smiles, my world flourishes

and his laugh can echo its way into my heart

with a love of books and disney and cats

i couldn’t be more grateful to find him

but the truth is

something you care for becomes more meaningful when you have to fight for it

and us gays

have always been fighting harder than you have

yet you complain

because you want your straight pride parade

because you think our world is nothing but a party in a pink triangle

but you never think

of the way that the pink triangle originated in our own genocide


he is beautiful like a rainbow

and my love as a man to other men was never made for your consumption

i was never meant to simply be your favorite porn category

your token friend for whenever you need your full queer resource center

i have my privacy

that you do not respect

but i don’t tendril into your’s

you say you’re not homophobic

but the way that you go out of your way to not acknowledge my partner’s gender

even though i have explicitly stated it numerous times the same way you’d mention your’s

shows me otherwise

the way that you flinch when i mention my relations

shows me otherwise

you visibly jump

at the sound of it

because i didn’t know you were a faggot

god forbid

that i shatter your hetero world


he is beautiful like a rainbow

and the way that men love other men should not be foreign to you

you think of yourself as strong and intelligent

yet you get so confused and don’t understand

when i say that i’m gay

i really don’t think

that’s a hard concept

to understand

that i can be a man

who loves other men


he is beautiful like a rainbow

i walk with him across rainbow crosswalks

reach him miles away

my love fights harder than yours

every activist campaign

is brought in

because we love ourselves and our friends and chosen family

who know the angry police raids

and the gunfire shots

staining our blood in pride month

it used to be believed that blood was blue in your body

and red outside

funny how that mixes and creates purple

when it stains the dance floor

but that isn’t true

blood remains red no matter where it is

every rainbow begins with red

because our rebellion originated with our sorrows

and how we loved something different

funny how

every fight for justice is always started by injustices

it’s almost as if

we just wanna have human rights

every fight

in its time

is seen as unreasonable

but yet generations later they pretend they were with you all along


he is beautiful like a rainbow

and my love is not easy to find

it isn’t easy to find the right one

but here i have found him

in a mess of everything else


he is beautiful like a rainbow

a man who wasn’t your pride parade gimmick

instead he is another man i never knew i’d know

stronger than the stuff of fairytales

because fact is stranger than fiction

and reality is stranger than fantasy


he is beautiful like a rainbow

the man who i can’t express enough about having found,

a cutesy antique found on the shelf

my love cannot be found in the same space as your’s

it is usually found hidden away in the dressing drawer or cupboard so no one will see

but i would like to use the space you’ve always taken away from me

you give me an inch and claim that’s enough

but you’ve always had the bigger and upper hand

always preferred more

if i have to see another forced unnecessary no chemistry hetero story again

i think i will puke

because you think we see ourselves everywhere

but just for once can at least we be everywhere

because you’ve had a lifetime of everywhere

but we’ve had a lifetime of hidden


he is beautiful like a rainbow

my love is more than just your stereotyped view of grindr profiles and a different home,

my love is men who are gentle and soft

and don’t find straight people romanticization of abuse funny

my love is the man who majors in literature and wants to travel the world in disney parks

and always has a kind ear

and holds me into a safety found nowhere else

my love is beautiful like a rainbow

he isn’t made for your consumption


he is beautiful like a rainbow

a quiet walk in a forest that doesn’t end

winter leaves rot and a world grows from it


he is beautiful like a rainbow

the man i never thought i’d know

who measures his money in how many bags of dollar-store candy can one buy

who tells me not to buy a thirty-dollar crate of gushers off of amazon

because then i’d be called the gushers guy

for the rest of my life


he is beautiful like a rainbow

and now i finally do understand

the songs and stories

i wish i could find myself in the songs and stories

i finally do understand

a thing as simple as the small sketchbook covered in drawings of rainbows and cats

given for christmas

i finally do understand

why all the hardship is so much more worth it

i wish i didn’t have to go through it though but

i finally do understand


he is beautiful like a rainbow

and now i finally do understand.


Artist Bio:

Mercury Marvin Sunderland is a Greek/Roman Wiccan transgender autistic gay man who uses he/him pronouns. He’s from Seattle. He currently attends The Evergreen State College, and his dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He can be found as @Romangodmercury on Instagram and Facebook.

Mercury is a 2013, 2014, 2015 winner of ACT Theater’s Young Playwright’s Program, a 2015, 2016 selected playwright for ACT Theater’s 14:48 HS, a 2016 winner of the Jack Straw Young Writer’s Program, a 2016 selected participant for the Seattle Talent Show hosted by Rainier Beach High School, and was hired as a paid representative of Youth Speaks Seattle in 2016. In 2017 alone, he was selected for and won the 2017 Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam, and went off as one of the top five youth slam poets representing Seattle at Brave New Voices 2017, an international slam poetry tournament treated as America’s national tournament, and was selected to perform slam poetry alongside former Seattle mayor candidate Nikkita Oliver at the University of Washington. In 2018 his illustrations were selected for While Supplies Last, an art show hosted by Anthony White, a Cornish College of the Arts graduate. In 2019 he received his first literary journal acceptance from Northwest Missouri State University’s Fearsome Critters Literary Magazine Volume Two, his second from the February 2019 issue of Arcadia University’s Marathon Literary Review, his third and fourth from Across & Through Literary Magazine, his fifth from The Dollhouse Literary Magazine, his sixth from University of California Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, his seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth from The Paragon Press and his eleventh from Not Your Mother’s Breast Milk Magazine. That same year, his art was featured by the UglyDolls company and one of his comics was accepted for Memoir Literary Magazine. He was also selected as a 2019 Editor’s Pick for the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest.

This was PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED by The Dollhouse, The Paragon Press, and Not Your Mother’s Breast Milk, all given with full ownership to him as the author to republish as he pleases.

Social Media Links:

The Poet and the Preacher by Rebecca Holland

The Poet & The Preacher:

A Love Story in Four Micro-poems


Love Poem – from a Poet

I love you more than poetry

How can it be

that my heart didn’t create you?

When you are the deepest








Prayer –from a preacher

Our love is a sacred


And I would gladly lie

down upon your altar

My heart bare for all to see


Say that you love me.

Lord- hear my prayer


My Prayer of Confession

Dear God-

I’m sorry.

But let me explain…



The Best Sermon I’ve Ever Written:

(And I’ve penned thousands)

Is love.


Artist Bio:

Rebecca L. (Torres) Holland is a visually impaired Filipina writer, disability advocate, and ordained minister who lives in Pennsylvania. She holds a Master of Divinity and is particularly fascinated by the intersection of faith, disability, race, and gender. She has published a chapbook entitled, Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse and her work has most recently appeared in Bold Blind Beauty, The Drabble, and Women Writers & Women’s Books.  Rebecca blogs about literature and disability awareness at  Find her on Twitter and Instagram @BeckieWrites.   

It Goes a Little Something Like This by Stella B. James

It Goes a Little Something Like This

It isn’t that complicated, but kind of is. I mean, we see this kind of thing in rom coms and silly television shows on a regular basis. And we always assume we know how it’s going to end. Until you’re in the middle of it, and there are suddenly all these equations you never considered. It’s just, well, it goes a little something like this: he loves her, she doesn’t even know he exists, and I am crazy for him.

Now this could go one of three ways in my head. They could fall madly in love and make me want to lose my lunch every time I see them together. I could finally become brave enough to admit my feelings for him and we end up together. Or all of us continue living our lives, pining over the people we can’t have.

“Is it a deal?”

I roll my eyes and look over at Kyle, this black haired, blue eyed, snarky bastard who thinks he has my predicament all figured out. See Kyle, he isn’t a regular player in this scenario. I don’t even know where he came from. That’s a lie; he goes to my gym. He’s also lives in the apartment across from mine. And yet, here he is, offering me his unwanted help.

“Let me guess, you like Claire Russo too?”

“Who doesn’t? Anyone guy with a-“ I clamp my hand over his mouth before he can finish. He licks my hand, a completely juvenile move I might add, and I wipe his slobber off on his shirt.

“I don’t want to pretend to date you. You’re not my type and it’s such a played out lie.” I turn to finish unlocking my door, but he jerks me around with a laugh and shakes his head.

“Oh no, not dating. We don’t want to become suddenly unavailable to them. We’ll act like we’re hooking up. Having a little harmless fun.” His hand lands on my hip, and he pulls me closer. “Everyone knows I have a strict no girlfriend policy.”

I smack his hand away, groaning in disgust, and make my way into my apartment. Unfortunately, he does as well. “And how will this make Zack fall for me and Claire fall for you?”

“Claire secretly likes me flirting with her. It’ll put her off if I ignore her for someone like you.” I throw the sandal I just took off at his head. He ducks with a laugh and catches the next one in midair. “Hey, no offense, but you don’t exactly try to impress anyone.”

I look down at my loose tank top and sweats, shrugging a little. Class is too early to try to look cute. It’s not my problem if Miss Morning Person Claire Russo makes sure her hair is perfectly styled and her make up is done up without looking like it’s on, and her yoga wear accentuates every desirable curve on her body. Crap, do I also have a crush on Claire?

“And Zack? How will me supposedly smashing you make him want me?”

“Didn’t think you were into wrestling, but hey, if you are, it’ll make my job way more fun.” He nods towards my bottom half, and I look down at which sweats I chose for today. Sure enough, I am wearing Zack’s high school wrestling sweats. “He seems pretty possessive of you. Pretty sure he wouldn’t want anyone taking what’s his, even though he doesn’t know it yet.”

“You think I really have a chance?” I hate how hopeful my voice is. Like, how much more desperate could I sound? Kyle makes a small grunting noise and nods. His eyes are looking around my apartment, maybe trying to find other signs of Zack’s presence.

Zack is over almost every day, but to be fair, it isn’t always to see me. I live with my brother, Nate, which may sound terrible, but he’s my twin. We aren’t the joined at the hip kind of twins, but we don’t like being too far from each other either. Nate and Zack have been best friends since high school, and I’ve been crushing on Zack for just as long. I almost convinced him to be our roommate, but our apartment is only two rooms. Apparently, he didn’t want to share a room with Nate, or with me. Unfortunately.

“It’ll never work.”

“Trust me. It will.”

I can hear yelling, but not the angry yelling that Old Man Kroger blesses us with every afternoon during his game shows. No, it’s a happy whooping, and I’d recognize that loud laughter anywhere. Nate is down the hall, and it sounds like Zack is with him. I turn in a panic towards Kyle, and choke on the air I take in too quickly at seeing him shirtless and undoing his pants.

“What the hell do you think-” His hand claps over my mouth, his jeans hanging off his hips a little, and he shushes me with angry eyes.

“I’m making the decision for you.” His hands pull out my pony tail and he flips the strands around. He gently pinches my cheeks and the door opens just as his lips latch onto my neck.

My head flies back in surprise, and I hear two bags hit the floor near the couch. Kyle pulls away from me with a secret wink and fixes his jeans. I am too shocked to do anything but turn an embarrassed glance towards Nate. He has something balled up in his hand and throws it at Kyle, all while glaring at me. Zack is looking anywhere else but us.

“Thanks.” Kyle puts his shirt back on, watching me all the while with his stupid secretive smirk. His hands are back at my hair, smoothing it out a little, and his fingers stroke one strand as if he just can’t tear himself away from me. And before I can smack him, or apologize to the two guys who are still standing a few feet from us, Kyle locks his lips over mine.

Maybe if I had been more prepared, I could say if the kiss had been good or bad. It was unexpected, so there was more bite than softness to it. He kissed me hard, maybe to warn me not to ruin our little charade that I’m still not sure I agreed to. And then, he steps away from me, leaving me breathing a little heavier than I wish, as if his stupid kiss left me breathless and wanting.

He saunters over to the door, nodding to the two guys as if this is an everyday occurrence. Before leaving, he turns back to me with a wicked smile, and I am almost afraid of what he has thought up next. “My place next time, then?” And with that, he leaves me to deal with this mess.

The second, and I mean the millisecond the door closes, Nate is in my face. “You have got to be kidding me, Natalie. Kyle Richards? Really? He’s the biggest player ever. No way is my sister hooking up with that walking STD cesspool.”

“Nathan, you can’t really think…”

“I saw what I saw. What we saw. Oh, gross, I need to go wash the image out of my eyes now.” Nate toes off his shoes and shoots Zack a wary look. “I’m going for a quick shower. We can grab a bite after.”

“Yeah, whatever, man.” Zack jumps over the back of the couch and plops down, grabbing for the remote. “I’m good.” Nate throws me one more exasperated look and disappears into his room. I hear the tv turn on, some basketball game, and shift uncomfortably. Deciding that my humiliation has exceeded capacity for today, I also turn to disappear in my room.

“Hey, Nat!” Zack calls from behind me. I stall for a second, not believing my ears, and turn back around. His eyes rove over me with something I’ve never seen in them before. He smiles softly and pats the spot next to him. I hesitate, for maybe a split second, and all but gallop to sit down. His arm falls over the back of the couch, but I think I can feel his fingers brushing the ends of my hair.

We sit in silence, and every minute that passes feels more charged with something, like anticipation or dread, not sure which to act on yet. I hear Nathan’s door opening and can feel Zack inching away. My heart falls, and I think that maybe I imagined there being some kind of moment between us. Zack moves to stand up, but before he straightens, he bends down towards me.

“Nice sweats.” His lips brush against my ear, causing me to shiver, and I look up at him, my face probably reading in shock. He looks calms as he catches his car keys from Nate, who won’t even look at me, and they leave without another word.

I finger the emblem of the battering ram on the blessed sweat pants and look back at the door, where just outside of it and across the hall is Kyle’s door. By God, he was right. The smug asshat knew what he was talking about.



You can guess what happened next. Or can you? If you guessed that I started hooking up with Kyle every chance I got to make Zack jealous, all I can say is, what the hell kind of girl do you take me for? But if you guessed that Kyle and I went to great lengths to make it look like we were hooking up, well then kudos to you. Because that is exactly what we are doing.

“You have to quit giggling.” This only makes me giggle louder, and Kyle rhythmically thumps the wall harder with his hand to drown me out. “No one giggles while having sex with me. That’s just insulting.”

“How much longer do we have to stay in this closet?”

“I have a rep to protect still. Not exactly a two minute man, alright?” I nod with a sigh and close my eyes.

I’m pretty sure Zack saw us “sneak” off into the closet, but Claire is also at this party and I really don’t want to give them more alone time than necessary. He has been trying to hang out with me more without Nate around this past month that I’ve been supposedly hooking up with Kyle. Though not completely trustworthy, the man’s a genius.

“Okay, almost done. You just need to say my name. Make it sound real.” I try it out, but the few beers I had earlier make me laugh at how ridiculous our situation is, and to shut me up this time, he kisses me. We’ve kissed a lot, have pretty much had to sell this lie in public. But he’s never kissed me in private before.

It starts off hard, but once I’ve quieted down, he softens the kiss. And then his hands are cupping my cheeks, his lips caressing over mine in such a way that I moan for real. My eyes fly open, and his are closed, which surprises me. I would’ve taken him for a creepy, watch you as he kisses you, kind of guy. I close my eyes again to not be that creepy girl, and find myself fisting his shirt, practically climbing him to get a better taste. What the hell is wrong with me?

He breaks the kiss and smiles a little, moving my hair behind my ear. “Good girl. You look good and tousled now. That almost sounded real.” My face reddens as I realize a little too late that I had been making sounds, obvious enjoyment sounds. I shove away from him and run my hands over my jean skirt before escaping the closet.

A few people whistle, and I see Zack looking troubled, but I could care less. I kissed Kyle, really kissed him, and I felt something. I wanted more. Oh crap, I wanted more and he didn’t feel a thing. He all but patted me on the head and congratulated me for a good performance. Beer. I need another beer.

I avoid Zack. And Kyle. And Nate, who might be avoiding me in turn. Even though he accepted he can’t tell me who to date or whatever, he made it abundantly clear that he does not approve. Where to go when you don’t want to be found? Garage, with a stockpile of beers just in case.

“You can’t be serious, Kyle!” I hear a girl’s harsh whisper as light floods the darkened garage. Oh, didn’t I mention I’m hiding in the dark? I shuffle from behind the Cadillac and peer around the fender. Kyle is kissing up Claire’s neck, reaching behind her to shut the door.

“Shh, all the other rooms are taken.” My stomach flips, and the beers feel like a bad idea. I manage to stay hidden, squeezing my eyes shut, even though I couldn’t see them if I wanted to.

“Kyle, no. Just stop.” I hear their feet moving and his heavy breathing.

“What the hell, Claire, you kissed me.”

“What’s going on with you and Natalie?” She sounds angry and I swallow hard. I wasn’t aware she even knew my name.

“A bit of fun.” His voice sound lazy and full of confidence. I want to puke. It’s always been for fun, to win other people. Why am I feeling this way?

“I know what you’re doing. I know what you’ve been doing. Running from girl to girl. Making sure I notice.”

“Paying close attention, huh?” I hear wet smacking sounds, like they fell into a spontaneous make out session. But then out of nowhere comes his cry of indignation, and I crane my neck forward a little.

“I broke up with you months ago. Almost a year now. You have to move on. This isn’t you.” My breath catches in my throat. What is going on? Am I hearing correctly? Mister I Date No One was Claire Russo’s boyfriend once upon a time?

“I’m not me without you.”

“Well, that’s just pathetic.” Light floods the room, and I’m not sure if they both leave, or just one of them. I don’t exactly wait to find out either. Instead, I bolt out and throw up in the bushes on my way out of the house.




It shouldn’t surprise anyone that somehow, Zack and Claire ended up together. But, what might surprise you is this happened after he kissed me one night on my couch and I felt nothing. No butterflies or tears of happiness. Instead, it felt like kissing my brother, or close to it. And we both agreed that we were better as friends anyway.

I helped him get Claire’s attention. Figured out what yoga class she attended religiously, and talked him into going. He cursed about his sore muscles a lot those first couple of weeks, but he has her massaging out the pain now. Sometimes on my couch, which I do not care for. I mean, get a room, and in your own apartment!

Also, unsurprisingly, Kyle didn’t seek me out after that party. I haven’t been able to face him myself. And I’m not looking forward to any kind of run in with him, which is why I’ve been coming and going at odd hours. But can you blame me? The guy used me, not to hook up with the girl every guy seemed to want, but to get back with his ex-girlfriend, possibly his first love.

It shouldn’t bother me. Learning that he has a heart in there somewhere, and that heart had once belonged to her, maybe even still does, should not affect me in the least. But it does. And I don’t like it, or even know what it means. When did this happen?

Was it the late night movies we watched to make it seem like we had multiple rounds of mind blowing sex? Or the way he held my hand in public, but softly stroked my thumb with his to help me relax? Or was it that one time he wrapped me up in his hoodie when I complained his apartment was way too cold? Or that closet kiss. The first kiss where I quit pretending.

No, can’t think about this.

“How long are you going to subject me to this?” Nate stumbles out of his room, rubbing his face with the palm of his hand. I look at my watch, noting that it’s only 5:23 am. I’m running later than usual, but why should that bother him? “Go. Talk. To. Him.”

I stumbled on my way to the front door and look back at him in confusion. “What? Who?” Okay, I know who, but I’m hoping I’m wrong.

“Oh, for the love of!” He throws his hands up and walks back into his room, slamming the door closed. I smile, a small insincere thing, because he’s kind of right. But I can’t. No way. I don’t even know why I’m upset with Kyle. I knew where things stood. I can’t like him. Ugh, no.

And as if the universe called out to him, Kyle is walking out of his apartment just as I open my door. And like the coward I never denied being, I go to shut my door. But he’s quicker than I am, and his foot blocks the way. I open my mouth to protest, but his hand finds mine and I am pulled into the hallway with him.

“You’ve been avoiding me.” It comes out as an accusation, and does he sound upset, or could my sleep deprived ears be tricking me? Ugh, I am losing sleep over this guy. I must really like him. Instead of giving in and admitting to my cowardly behavior, I cross my arms and jut out my chin.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, so you’ve always gone to the gym at 5 in the morning?”

“It’s less crowded.”

He crowds me, placing both hands on the wall to cage me in, but I don’t lose my defiant edge. “I don’t believe you.”

“And I should care?” I turn my face away, biting my lip before I can say more. I hate how his body is barely pressed against mine. And how good he smells, even first thing in the morning. I especially hate the way his breath hits my cheek at the same rate of my frantic heart beats.

“Don’t you?” And now I hate the tears that spring to my eyes. I don’t allow them to fall. Instead, I push at him until he backs away. “Hey!” He catches my hand before I can walk away. “Hey.” A little softer this time, and my heart is breaking out of its steely resolve. He reaches up, tucking a stray fly away behind my ear, and his lips press against mine.

I let out this pathetic sound, a cross between a needy whimper and a relieved sob. He groans in return and presses me into the wall, kissing me harder. No. No, the last time I really kissed him, I learned the truth. I can’t forget. I will never forget what I found out about Claire. And about how he really loves her. Only her. God, why do I care?

I shake my head, and shake him off of me. “I know all about Claire. You lied to me.”

“I did.” He looks solemn as he nods his head, but he has a small smile in place that angers me. “But not about that.”

“Oh, there’s more?” It comes out sarcastic, but deep inside, my heart is cracking. I don’t want to know anymore. I’m not sure if I can take it.

“We knew you were in the garage that night. I wanted you to hear that she had been my girlfriend once, that she had broken my heart.” I was right to be wary. He knew, and he never apologized. The tears come without my permission, but I don’t run.

“But why?”

“I needed you to see that I wasn’t this heartless jerk you made me out to be. I’ve wanted you for a while.”

“I am not a hook up kind of girl, in case I didn’t make that clear before.” He grabs my elbow, keeping me in place, and I just wish this weird moment would end. But he won’t let it. Why won’t he just let me leave with the tiny bit of dignity I have?

“I know. I like that about you. Don’t you get it, Natalie? I like you. I’ve liked you for a long time.” My head spins at this new piece of information, and I slump against the wall.

“What about Claire? And our plan?”

“That was all… Look.” He stumbles on his words and scratches the back of his head, as if he can’t figure out how to explain himself. “Yes, Claire and I were together and when she broke up with me, man, it hurt. I got angry, and then sad, and then just reckless. I moved here and drank a lot and slept with a lot of girls. I got sick of that, and I wanted more. I missed being myself. I started working out and that’s when I saw you.

“But you wanted nothing to do with me, and I can’t blame you. I can’t blame you for thinking I was a player. I kind of was at one point. Claire and I talked, agreed to be friends, and she even came up with this whole pretending to hook up thing to make your crush jealous. How do you think she even knew your name back in the garage?”

Okay, process time. Kyle likes me. Has liked me for months, before I even noticed him. And he prefers me to the Claire Russo. Who he dated. And had his heart broken by. And they planned the whole garage thing. But wait a minute.

“You said you weren’t yourself without her. You… how is that supposed to make me want you?” He has the decency to look sheepish now and a small blush graces his cheeks. It is not, I repeat, not adorable.

“I, uh, kind of had too much to drink after you ran out of the closet. I thought you regretted kissing me, like a real boyfriend. She knew you were in the garage, I found out after. But she really thought if you saw that side of me, that you would change your mind. Kind of backfired, huh?”

“It might have been better if you just told me.” I nod in agreement, and wipe my cheeks with the back of my hand.

“I’m not that kind of guy.”

“And what kind are you?” He smirks at my question and leans into me, pressing his forehead against mine.

“The kind that makes the girl he’s crazy about pretend to hook up with him to make the guy she likes jealous on the off chance that she might fall for him instead.”

I close my eyes with a content smile and wind my arms around his neck. “Sounds like you’re just the guy for me.”

“Thank Christ.” And his lips find mine once more, but I don’t fight it or try to read into it this time. No, I savor it. I relish it. Because if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you should never take for granted the things that go like this.



Artist Bio: 

Stella B James runs on coffee, chaos, and Southern sass. You can find her latest short story at SunLit Fiction. Check out her Instagram @stellabjames, where she shares her writing and inner musings.


“Three Little Words” by Daniel Pannebaker



three little words so many times i have come oh so close to saying those three little words. my mind is filled with thoughts of you. my arms are longing to be filled with you, too. i i




Artist Bio:Daniel W Pannebaker has always had a love for language and has a firm belief in the power of words. He has had works published in several literary journals and, in 2014, published a volume of his own poetry, Easter Egg and other poems of faith, hope, & love. Authors who have influenced his writing include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Lucy Shaw, and Madeleine L’Engle. Daniel lives in South Amboy, NJ with his husband and a fearless miniature pinscher.

“Rivers” by Eloise Typewriter


Love never promised
to span rivers,
two people standing
on the edge of separate
banks with a handful of
hope but no swimming lessons,
pebble promises stuck
in the heels of our shoes.
I would tie cinder blocks
to my heart if it could
part the water and grant
you safe passage…



 Artist Bio: Eloise is a 20-something poet that believes words can heal the wounds of the world. She received her M.A. in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University. Her work often focuses on mental illness and unique love narratives. Eloise has been published in several poetry anthologies, including Splintered Souls by A.B. Baird Publishing and North Carolina’s Best Emerging Poets by Z Publishing. When not sipping coffee or collecting typewriters in Charlotte, North Carolina, you can find Eloise on Instagram at eloise_the_typewriter.