Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Minuet by A.M. Leibowitz

Title: Minuet
Series: Notes from Boston
Author: A.M. Leibowitz
Publisher: Supposed Crimes
Release Date: 1st September 2019

Full disclosure: I beta-read Minuet (along with books 2 and 3 - Nightsong and Drumbeat), which doesn't make any difference to what I will say - I'd love this series just as much had I read it in the usual way. But it has given me an insight beyond each novel, as I've kept in mind how the various arcs fit together and developed strong feelings towards certain characters. Those feelings don't always run in line with 'heroes' and 'villains', although...the one uber villain, well, let's say he gets his comeuppance quite satisfactorily in Minuet.

Central to this instalment are the characters Mack, Amelia and Jomari, and I must admit that I still don't feel I know Jomari as well as the other two, purely because I've known him for a shorter period of time. In some ways, he's more closed off than Mack, although there's an interesting on-page dynamic that hints at Jomari's greater openness in the company of some more than others. just wonderful. True, in Minuet she has moments where she wobbles a bit (understandably) but in so doing reminds us that she is human after all, as she's usually so strong, wise and dependable. It was good to see that other aspect of her personality.

And then there's...Mack. Oh, Mack. I really didn't care much for him - for two whole novels! But the way he supported his friends in Drumbeat picked holes in my ambivalence, and by around the midpoint of Minuet I could honestly have read an entire novel focused on him.

Along the way, we drop in on the characters from the previous novels, which is one of my favourite things to read - much like cameos of characters from one book appearing in another, although in Notes from Boston they're all part of the same crowd, so they're always there in the background.

Best of all? The characters are queer - in all flavours - which is wonderful! Minuet, like the rest of the Notes from Boston series, showcases romance, love, friendship, family and everything else that goes into a substantial slice of life, through rainbow-tinted lenses. And music, of course.

Minuet possibly works as a stand-alone read, but I recommend reading the series in order to get the full benefit of watching the characters and their relationships evolve and deepen.

I've linked the books/series titles to the publisher's pages, but here are some more links for where you can buy Minuet:

Amazon • Barnes and Noble • Kobo • iBooks

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Not My Christmas - novella out today #HBTC #bisexual #women #romance #ownvoices

Not My Christmas by Debbie McGowan
Published: 25th December, 2019
Length: 18,000 words (approx.)
99c from Smashwords • Amazon

Christmas at the Davenports has never been a relaxing affair, so when the opportunity for a little alone time with a beautiful, available woman comes Charlie Davenport’s way, she takes it, breaking several family traditions and risking the wrath of her siblings. But it’ll be worth it, right? And she can always make it up to them later…or next Christmas.

A stand-alone story from the world of Hiding Behind The Couch.

LGBTQ+, ownvoices, romance, family, bisexual women, Christmas, humour

Monday, December 09, 2019

Rainbow Award for The Great Village Bun Fight

Woot! My 2018 novella The Great Village Bun Fight won an award this weekend. :)

The Rainbow Awards are an annual/bi-annual event, run by Elisa Rolle, celebrating LGBTQ+ books across all genres.

Entrants make a donation to an LGBTQ+ charity of their choosing, and this year, the awards raised over $12,000.

A huge thank you to Elisa for all her hard work and dedication to the awards and the contributions they make, not just to writers and readers but to the LGBTQ+ community.

All’s fair in love and war. But not in baking.

A humorous story about baking and village life. Also includes a rockin' reverend, cakes and bunting.

Do what you do best.

So said Henry’s grandad a year ago to the day as he handed Henry a small, red-foil-wrapped box that gave a metallic rattle when he shook it. Inside: a large bunch of mismatched keys held together by a ring the size of a bangle.

The keys to the bakery.

Henry’s bakery.

No going back. Definitely not after Margaret changed the sign on her shop so it read:

THE Village Bakery & Grocery
Home of the Banton Bun

Not THE Banton Bun, mind you—Margaret doesn’t have the Joneses’ secret family recipe—but a reasonable approximation.

As for Henry doing what he does best… Henry Jones the Ninth is no baker, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t even know how to assemble a Banton Bun, let alone bake one. But he does know his way around computers, accounts, managing staff and stock inventory. And he rides a mean tricycle.

You might wonder how that could be a good thing. Read on, and all will be revealed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Fifty at fifty! Meredith's Dagger

OK, so I missed it by a few minutes in BST as it's technically now the 21st August, but let's assume it's still the 20th for me as it still is for many of you.

Today I released Meredith's Dagger - my fiftieth novel - on my fiftieth birthday! Both of those facts are quite hard to believe. I made it to fifty! Woot! And fifty books? Well, I wrote most of them in the last ten years, not sure how...

I'm going to keep this short and give a little background to Meredith's Dagger, which I originally wrote in 2011 but then set it aside while I did further research into the relevant local history. Then I got caught up in all that research and it was a bit overwhelming, so I let it rest awhile to work on other books.

I've come back to it several times over the years since and made it through the first few chapters before I reached the point where I wanted to slap Julian - you'll reach that point too, but he's not so bad really once you get to know him. ;)

This year, I've essentially rewritten the entire novel - expanded the characters so they're deeper and more well-rounded. I've also fictionalised the setting, so whilst a lot of that historical research underpins the events, the entire work is fictional with a few 'inspired by reality' moments. Well, the bit about the cholera epidemic is true.

I hope you find Meredith's Dagger entertaining first and foremost, but there are some important historical truths within the story too, relating to the treatment of women in general and specifically within psychiatry.

On that note, I'd like to acknowledge and thank a few people, not least Vicki Coppock, my lecturer for the Politics of Mental Health, whose teaching provided the empirical evidence for what I had long believed was wrong with psychiatry and taught me the real 'art' of feminist critical thinking. Thank you also to Andrea, Nige, Amy, David, Michael and Jor for polishing this novel into the shiny, lovely thing it is, and for your encouragement and support. You are wonderful!

I'll post again later in the week and share jewellery sketches by Emma Pickering, which I'd hoped to include in the book. Alas I couldn't clean up the images, and the originals have been lost to the passage of time.

I was keeping this short, so I'll leave you with the purchase links:
BTP eBook:
BTP Paperback:

Thanks for reading!
Deb x

Monday, July 08, 2019

Keeping House - New Release from Jeanne G'Fellers

Title: Keeping House
Author: Jeanne G'Fellers
Publisher: Mountain Gap Books
Series: Appalachian Elementals (#2)
Genre: Appalachian Paranormal Fantasy, LGBTQ+
Purchase Links:

Centenary Rhodes is caught in a deal she didn’t make. Thanks to her eternal lover, Stowne’s, quick thinking, she’ll live forever, but there’s a hitch. Cent’s now fey, and three months out of the year she’ll live on the other side of Embreeville Mountain among the Hunter Fey, serving their king, Dane Gow.

As Cent begins wading through the anachronisms that come with being a Hunter, she learns that nothing is what it initially seems. Cent shares several past lives with Dane, who wants her back, and Stowne’s lied to Cent so many times that she’s having doubts about their marriage. To make matters worse, the past Hunter Kings are influencing Dane’s behavior, and the youngest Hunter, Brinn, might well be the most dangerous of them all.

It’s going to be a cold, dark spring, and Cent needs to unite both sides of Embreeville mountain before her eternal life, her relationship with Dane, and her marriage to Stowne come permanently undone.

Another rich Contemporary Appalachian tale about fantastic people and the magic they possess, including LGBTQIA+ characters Human and otherwise.

My Review:
What a brilliant second instalment in the Appalachian Elementals series.

Without looking at my review of Cleaning House, I don't know if I've said this before, but I really appreciate the glimpse into a culture that is at once distinct from my own and yet eerily familiar. My heritage is English with a hefty dose of Scots and Irish, and so much of the language, customs - right down to particular slang words - have carried over the centuries in both British English and Appalachian culture. The author's use of old Scots' dialect is both entertaining and used very effectively as a narrative device - a visible tracker for subtle changes in characters. At one point, I spotted the shift in language and found I was muttering oh god, oh god at my screen because the other characters were still in the dark. I do so love being in the know as a reader. :)

Aside from the wickedly biker-goth setting, there is, of course, Cent's life journey and the situation imposed on her at the end of the first book. While most readers could probably follow what's happening in Keeping House without reading Cleaning House, the connections and dynamics between the characters, human, elemental and otherwise, are all well established, so I wouldn't recommend jumping straight into book two. Why would you want to when this is such a grand story?

What I loved most of all about this book is how it took my stance on all of the different characters (i.e. I loved Stowne and Rayne, wasn't sure about Pyre and hated Dane with a passion) and kicked the feet out from under it. So, yes, Dane is much more than I credited her with, and Stowne and Rayne, well, it's complicated.

A great ensemble cast, atmospheric scenery and some quite terrifying moments all culminate in a great read (and a fair bit of thumb-twiddling while I await book three).

About Jeanne G’Fellers:
Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, Science Fiction and Fantasy author Jeanne G’Fellers’ early memories include watching the original Star Trek series with their father and reading the books their librarian mother brought home. Jeanne’s influences include author Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert.

Jeanne lives in Northeast Tennessee with their spouse and five crazy felines. Their home is tucked against a small woodland where they regularly see deer, turkeys, raccoons, and experience the magic of the natural world.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Smashwords sale, new novel soon, plus stepping away from the writing conveyor belt

Every now and then, I remember I'm supposed to let my readers old and new know what I've been up to, what's on the horizon and all that jazz.

Well, this is going to be a short (but hopefully informative) post. :D (OK, not that short. I don't really do short.)

We're midway through 2019 - the first year in many (since 2013) when I haven't already written at least one novel, and I'm OK with that. I realised a couple of years back that I'd somehow ended up on the book factory line, which isn't a bad thing, as it comes from readers actively asking for more.

For instance, I wrote Checking Him Out in 2014, and enough people wanted Noah and Matty's story, so I published Taking Him On in 2015 (and Checking In because people wanted more of Sol and Adam too), and then there was Jesse and Leigh's story, The Making of Us, which I released in 2017. During those three years, I also co-wrote the Seeds of Tyrone series with Raine O'Tierney (three novels), six short stories, seven novellas and seven novels. (I have no idea now how I did it.)

My plan is still to release one final novel for the Checking Him Out series, plus a crossover novella. Also in the pipeline is the final novel in the Gray Fisher trilogy, the next instalment in Hiding Behind The Couch and a collaborative project with David Bridger.

It perhaps goes without saying that I really needed a break from the rapid write-edit-publish-repeat cycle, not so much due to burnout, although I've found it harder to write during the past couple of years. It's more about the way my brain works. I miss having a decent amount of time to rework stories before publication - a costly luxury in the current indie publishing climate. Readers have so many books to choose from, most writers fear losing vast swathes of readership if they leave it too long between books.

Don't stop asking for more, though!

For the time being, I've slowed down a bit, though I haven't been idle. I'm busy with my day jobs (publishing and university), and I've also been working on Meredith's Dagger: the novel I originally wrote in 2011 for NaNoWriMo, which means it was stuffed with redundancies. Note: was stuffed. I've essentially rewritten it, and I'm about to send it to my proofreaders, ready for release next month. I'll say more nearer/at release date time. However, you can preorder a copy from:

I've also written a couple of shorter pieces this year, both of which are available for free (either on this blog or via the external links below).

Nina, Pretty Ballerina

Part of Play On... A FREE Valentine's Day collection of short stories, poetry and prose, inspired by the songs of ABBA.

Highlights (co-written with A.M. Leibowitz)

The one where Notes from Boston’s Amelia Roberts takes a much-needed vacation to England and runs into Shaunna Hennessy from Hiding Behind The Couch—a fortuitous meeting for both.

In conclusion, I haven't stopped writing, nor intentionally paused, and I could reach the end of this post and suddenly be struck by an irrepressible urge to stay up writing all night for the next month. But as it stands, the stories likely won't come as thick and fast in future as they did during the past seven years.

If you've only just discovered my writing, you can find the full list of all my stories on this page on my website:

And throughout July, my stories are heavily discounted (some are free) in the Smashwords sale. Visit:

Thanks for reading,
Deb x

Friday, May 17, 2019

#FlashFriday The Sound of (Never) Silence #SparklyBadgers

Dear Tinnitus,

My constant companion: I love how you mix it up once in a while and change frequency, never content to be just an E that’s about twelve octaves above middle C, and when you added in that sub-bass, well! For a while you had me wondering what kind of lunatic learner pilot clocks up flying hours at four in the morning, but no. It was only you.

Remember the days of twenty bell lyres knocking out ‘Scotland the Brave’ in an enclosed space? Of course you don’t; that was your gestation, and you’ve been composing your own harmonies since.

Sometimes you almost drown out the birds, and on a late-spring late morning, that’s no bad thing. For this year, the days are done when the blackbird lures me from sleep with his sweet love song, which, incidentally, I only recently realised is reminiscent of Cinderella’s theme in Into The Woods. Clever chap, that Sondheim, seeing as blackbirds are not native to the USA. Perhaps he visited this fair isle and was inspired to capture the melodies of a British dawn chorus.

But I digress, for this morning, the blackbirds squawk, parent–child, child–parent, and in these days when I share my life with a cat, my only thought is oh, god, what is he terrorising now? He’s a mercifully poor hunter who, in three years, has gifted me several live butterflies, a hawk moth, half a dragonfly, a starling, a blue tit and two live toads.

The toads, he dropped outside the door…

Meow, meow! [I’m pretty sure it’s dead…it’s not? Oh—oy! Don’t let it go! I just spent ages catching that!]

The blue tit he carried through the open window, set it down on the floor and lay next to it…

Meow, meow! [BEHOLD! I, the tiny tiger, have brought home dinner for all!]

See, I always said I wanted to learn a second language. Who knew I’d become fluent in Felinese?

MEOW, MEOW, MEOW, MEOW! [Where are the people with warm beds? I am home and I need you! I’m here, I’m here, I’m here—ah, there you are.] Purrrrrrrr…

Meep, purrrrrr, meep, purrrr… [Focus, will you? I’m trying to boop you. Oh, look I can type! How do you spell tuna? Yes, now, please, then I’ll leave you alone, I promise.]

All I can say is thank goodness the dogs can’t jump up onto the table. Well, they probably could if they weren’t so ‘busy’ alerting every other dog in town to the fact that somebody somewhere just knocked on a door.

I’d imagined working from home would be productive, QUIET, stress-free, heavily caffeinated… Alas, you, my squealing-buzzing friend, thrive on caffeine, and I simply cannot permit you to add any more lines to your three-part not-even-a-harmony.

So it’s just you and me, dear Tinnitus, give or take a bird or two, the cat, dogs and I do believe that is an actual plane flying over. Or is it?

Monday, May 06, 2019

New Release - Resolve by Emily Alter

For a relationship to work, it is not just love which is demanded. Resolve is, too.

Cole has his senior year of college and a photography business to worry about, so he could really do without the multiple sessions with physiotherapists his parents force him to go to. It leaves little room to consider romance as a choice for him.

Pool instructor and avid swimmer Justin has always been his twin’s shadow. Where Aaron goes, he follows. He may not have much of a social life outside of his twin, but he loves his job and all the extra swim time he gets. He doesn’t think that he’s lacking anything.

Then Justin’s booked for a photo shoot with Cole. Being together, as right as it feels, also means they’ll have to come face to face with their belief systems. They must find the resolve to be their own person, or they could lose it all –themselves included.

Resolve is the 2nd book of the Demands series. Although they can be read as stand-alones, characters from previous books will make multiple appearances throughout the series.

Resolve (Demands, #2):
Trust (Demands, #1): (Trust is going on sale this week and will be available for 0.99 only. It’s your chance!)

(I love these! They say so much about the characters. :))
Justin’s Playlist
Cole’s Playlist

Justin is all about swimming, but he’s also very introspective. He wants songs that don’t make him lose focus, which he can chill with, so not even all of them have vocals.

Cole’s music taste is… Edgy is not the word, but… He likes powerful lyrics and guitars and songs he can feel understood by, even though he’s not fully hardcore (there are a couple of songs which are “edgier” for the times he’s really mad at the world, but he doesn’t allow himself to be that mad for too long).

Emily Alter is a pansexual author of LGBTQ+ romance. She lives in Spain, although most of her time is spent in an imaginary world with her characters.

A hopeless romantic, and a psychology student, writing characters has always called to her. Writing romance, the kind she is represented in, seems the perfect combination of the three things she’s the most passionate about.

Patreon: (become a patron and get four exclusive sketches by the end of the month, along with all the benefits Patreon offers)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Nina, Pretty Ballerina - a short story

Part of Play On... A FREE Valentine’s Day collection of short stories, poetry and prose, inspired by the songs of ABBA.

Nina, Pretty Ballerina
© 2019 Debbie McGowan

I didn’t like her. Not at first. She was too pretty. Too perfect.

The box belonged to my sister, a pink, fluffy, glittery little thing—the description suited both—from a boy in her class. I remember her ripping off the paper, squealing in delight and then casting it aside, concerned only with the accumulation of Valentines, not sentiment.

She wouldn’t let me see what was inside, but that had never stopped me before.

Back then, though, all I knew was the box had two keys.

One was for a tiny, pointless padlock that hung from the front like a little robot Scotsman’s sporran—Kick me in the goolies, I dare ye. Oh, dare accepted, my good wee McMan.

The other key stuck out the back and would, inevitably, bring about the end of the world.

I waited, biding my time for just one opportunity to get at that box. Then I would destroy it, tear out its tinkling innards before it triggered the apocalypse.

Of course, I had not reckoned on falling in love.

I boinged her once.

Several times.


But that was before. Mostly.

Any time my sister was at Brownies, later Guides, invited to tea with a friend—high tea, no less, she thought she was hoity-toity, all that and a bag of Monster Munch—and then, finally, boyfriends, I’d be straight in her room to pick that pointless padlock, prepare a pillow and suffocate that stupid little box until it fell silent. Then I would lift it, quite reverently, and place it on top of the quilt, press my finger to the side of her head, push, push, push…and release.




It was really rather cruel—not to my sister. She had new toys, new friends. And I…

I had nothing but my mindless torture of this tiny, ridiculous creature and her perpetual pirouette.

Until one day I didn’t.

The day I watched her dance, and when her dance was done, I wound the Doomsday Key and watched her dance again. And again.

And again.

I couldn’t stop, willing her on through her cyclical decay, delighting in the enthusiasm with which she embarked upon every new dance as if it were her first.

She had become my everything.

It was, ultimately, my undoing and hers.

One twist was, in the end, all it took. One twist and a click, and the key would turn no more.

I shrank away, backed up against the wall as, in horror, I realised what I had done. I had overwound the mechanism, and this was it; her last dance.

How could I go on without her? No, I would not think of it.

I watched, more attentive than ever before, as she spun, and spun, and spun. All my boinging had left her slightly off-centre, giving the illusion of motion on two planes, a freedom of movement beyond her miniature plastic form.

As we entered the decay, I drew close, my tears captured in her tiny dancer’s mirror.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, my breath misting our reflections. “I killed you.” The weight of my guilt, my loss, was too much, and my head fell forward, burying my face in the quilt. As the final notes of her melody twanged out, I cried, “I’ll miss you!”

Inconsolable, hysterical, caught in my own cycle of she’s gone forever and I need to get rid of the evidence, I lost all sense of time and reason, or else I would, perhaps, have greeted what came next with greater incredulity.

Boing. My neck cricked with the sudden push on the side of my head.

Boing. And again.


“Hey! That hurts!” I whipped my hand out from under my face and made a grab for my assailant, but she was too quick.

“Tell me about it.” She shimmied, rustling the nets of her pink tutu, and smiled. “Thank you.”

“For killing you?”

“For setting me free.”

“Right.” I wasn’t going to ask.


I still haven’t, yet here we are, three years later, in a nightclub on Valentine’s Day. Every so often, it rains glitter and confetti; in a net high above our heads, red heart-shaped balloons await release. But we’re not here for any of that. We’re celebrating Nina’s birthday.

“Another drink, my love?” I offer, knowing she will refuse. She is frustrated by the dancing all around her. Strangers stare at the wheelchair and her blanket-covered legs, but no-one ever asks. A head injury is what we’ll tell them if they do.

“Let’s go home,” she says with a wide, happy smile, which I endeavour to return. I’m as excited as Nina for what the rest of the night holds, but I’m nervous too. She’s a born performer, while I’m a heavy-handed klutz, but she’s promised she’ll be patient, so I’ll give it my best shot.

We arrive back at our apartment, and I help her to her feet.

“I’ll just get changed,” she says and whirls away to our bedroom.

I’m still dithering in the doorway when she emerges some time later. She rolls her eyes. “Who’s the tightly wound one now?”

My laughter trembles with first-night jitters. I take them with me to the corner of the room, where I’m all set up, and I tell myself I’m ready for this. After all, I’ve practised for three solid years to get to this night. But I feel sick, and my palms are so sweaty I’m ashamed when she takes my hand.

“I know what you need,” she says. “What will help calm your nerves.”

“You do?”

“Yes.” She backs off a few feet and, making sure she’s facing me, positions her arms above and slightly forward of her head. “Boing me.”

“I can’t.” Even though she’s come clean and told me she liked it.

“Just once, for old times’ sake.”


“Come on.” She’s not giving up on this.

Reluctantly, I step towards her, and she nods, egging me on. I still don’t want to do it, but…


Down she goes, right down, her head mere inches from the floor. She’s rebounding before I can fully go into a panic about whether her spring is up to it.

“Again!” she cries, still caught up in after-boings.

“Just once, you said…”

“Again!” she insists.


“Woohoo! Again!”



“No more!” I say, and I see the blur of her scowl as she gradually comes to a standstill. I point behind me to remind her how we got onto boinging in the first place.

“Oh, yes!” She ruffles her tutu, straightens her tiara. She’s so pretty, my Nina. So perfect. And I love her.

I return to my previous position, no nausea, no sweaty palms. They’ve been lost in the boing, and while a few jitters linger, they don’t incapacitate me.

“Ready?” she asks.

“Ready,” I say, and I pick up my glockenspiel mallets.

The End

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Highlights - a short story


The one where Notes from Boston’s Amelia Roberts takes a much-needed vacation to England and runs into Shaunna Hennessy from Hiding Behind The Couch—a fortuitous meeting for both.

Co-written with A.M. Leibowitz

Copyright © 2019 A.M. Leibowitz and Debbie McGowan
Cross-posted at:

Prefer an ebook?
ePub | Mobi | PDF | Smashwords

* * *

A quiet afternoon at Young at Heart hairdressing salon. Hayley—Shaunna’s boss/salon owner—chats away to her client while Shaunna perches with phone in hand on the high stool next to the counter. Her attention flits between the murmured conversation, a text interchange with BFF Adele and watching for her “two o’clock” to arrive—a new client—Amelia Roberts, according to the diary; she’s the only other appointment this afternoon.
The door opens, and a dark-haired woman, curvy but tiny in stature, steps in. She’s not alone, but one of her companions says something in a clearly American accent to the effect of “we’ll just be out shopping while you’re pampered.” The dark-haired woman looks around, maybe a little unsure about proper etiquette.
Gotta be her. Shaunna smiles and slides down off her stool. “Hiya. Amelia?”
“Yes, that’s me. I have an appointment?”
“You sure do! I’m Shaunna. I’ll be tending to you today. Come in, make yourself comfy and we can chat about what you want—get to know each other a bit.” Shaunna gestures Amelia toward the three chairs—two empty—in front of the mirrors that span the wall to their right.
Standing side by side confirms what Shaunna noticed when Amelia arrived; Shaunna’s a couple of inches taller but otherwise they’re the same build—“womanly,” her mum used to call it, or “hot as all get out,” according to Andy. She hears his words in her head, a sexy, low murmur that makes her smile then blush and laugh a little when she realises Amelia’s watching her in the mirror. “Sorry. I was miles away.” She gestures again to the chair—“Have a seat”—and pulls the other chair closer before sitting herself, catching a glimpse of her reflection. Could I be any redder? Oh, the joys of being a ginger. “So what can I do for you today? Actually, never mind that for now—would you like a cup of tea before we get started?”
“Ooh, you serve tea to your clients?” Amelia grins, but her smile slips sideways. “Um…I suppose my American is showing, huh?” She eyes the gorgeous woman up and down. Shaunna’s older than she is, but Amelia can’t tell by how much. Around her friend Izzy’s age, maybe mid-to-late thirties? Regardless, she’s gorgeous. Amelia’s not sure if she’s actually getting a hetero vibe or if it’s more a cultural difference, but she’s pretty sure flirting won’t lead anywhere other than a good cut-and-colour. Still, the view is awfully nice, and it’s definitely a pleasant change from being around the men all the time.
“Only the ones we like,” Shaunna says with a cheeky wink. “We’re pretty informal here, aren’t we, Hayles?”
“Absoludely!” Hayley confirms, then to her client, “Is that all right for you?” From the shelf, she collects a black-handled mirror shaped like a paddle and holds it behind the woman’s head so she can see the shape of her new bob cut. The woman nods, all smiles, and clasps Hayley’s hand over her shoulder. She’s still gushing thanks as she leaves five minutes later.
“I’ll pud the keddle on,” Hayley says heading back through the salon to the storeroom.
“Hayley’s the boss,” Shaunna explains once she and Amelia are alone.
“She seems nice,” Amelia remarks.
“She is. So…you’ve been here five minutes already, not that there’s any rush, hun, but…should we talk about your hair? Which is beautiful, by the way. Talk about making my job easy.”
“Well…my friends are getting married, and I thought while I was on vacation I’d get something new.” Amelia gestures to her long, wavy hair. “I need to keep it longer so I can put it up for work. But maybe more style, less just-got-out-of-bed? Maybe highlights?”
“Remember when bedhead was all the rage? I miss that trend.” Shaunna sighs nostalgically and blows at the one stray curl that’s escaped the clip securing the rest of her hair which, this morning, was less just-got-out-of-bed than just-been-dragged-backwards-through-a-hedge. “Okay. Mind if I take a look?” She waits for consent and then wheels her chair around to Amelia’s side, lifting a section of her hair. It’s healthy, midway down her back, with a natural curl that’s much looser than Shaunna’s, and the colour of dark chocolate. Hershey’s Kisses…must be the accent. She tried them once, way back, and couldn’t make up her mind if she liked them, although she’d eaten the entire bagful trying to figure it out so thought she probably did.
“Yeah, highlights would be stunning on you. With the right level of lightness, they’ll really show off your complexion and make your eyes pop—oh!” She grimaces, no idea if that translates. “I mean, it’ll accentuate the blue.”
“Great. I figured that’s what you meant.” Amelia smiles, seeming more at ease now. “I’m completely in your hands.” And was that flirting?
“She’ll look after you, sweedie.” Hayley reappears with two mugs, which she deposits on the trolley next to Amelia, digging in her pocket and pulling out a handful of sugar sachets and a teaspoon. She drops those onto the trolley too. “I’ll be out back,” she says and rolls her eyes. “Paperwork, ack.”
Shaunna smiles in sympathy. “Thanks, Hayles, and good luck!” Hayley gives her a withering glance and disappears through the storeroom door.
“Help yourself,” Shaunna invites, giving Amelia first choice on the drinks before picking up the other, which, coincidentally, is the mug Shaunna usually chooses for herself anyway. “You said your friends are getting married?” She sips casually, never sure how questions like her next will be received, but years of living with a bi guy…well, she’s heard it all before. Amelia’s not giving off a homophobe vibe, though—quite the opposite—so Shaunna just asks. “The two women who were here earlier?”
Amelia laughs. “Oh, no. Those two are straight as arrows. Uhm…” She flushes, though it delights her to think of Marlie and Nia as a couple. She wonders if she should explain the relationship between her friends—and their boyfriends. Clearly Shaunna doesn’t have a problem with same-gender couples, but polyamorous relationships? That’s always anyone’s guess. She decides to play it safe. “It’s my friend Nate and his boyfriend. They’ve always wanted one of those really fabulous events.”
“And they’re getting married here?” Shaunna looks incredulous.
“Back home in Boston. This was a girls’ week to visit my friend’s cousin.”
“Cool. It’s weird, isn’t it? When you live somewhere, you don’t really pay attention to the touristy type stuff, but there’s quite a lot to see and do around here. And you’re stuck in a stuffy salon for the afternoon…” Taking another quick mouthful of tea, Shaunna leaves her mug, reluctantly, and begins preparing what she’ll need for Amelia’s highlights. No pressure ever in this salon—a big part of why she’s always loved working here—they just subtly move clients along, more often than not without them consciously realising. Hairdressing by stealth, her friends call it; she can guess exactly which one came up with that description.
But stealth mode’s not working today. Amelia is pensive, tracking Shaunna’s prep, yet not at the same time. It sounded like there was a lot more to Amelia’s hesitance in mentioning her friends who were getting married, like she wants to share but is worried what Shaunna will think. They’ll be spending a good chunk of the afternoon together; time to throw out another lifeline.
“My ex and his boyfriend are getting married…at some point. It’s a bit complicated.”
Amelia is startled by this revelation, and yet somehow not. Relationships among her friends have always been complex too. She nods, thinking what to say next. “This was more or less my friend Marlie’s idea. She thought we could use a break from the men. They have been ridiculous while planning this wedding, bickering over the littlest nonsense.” She laughs and rolls her eyes. “Better them than me, I guess. Last I knew, we’d left Marlie’s boyfriend arguing about napkins with his…uh, his…” She falters.
“Go on,” Shaunna says. “I’m listening.”
Amelia bites her lip and peers at Shaunna. “No judgement?”
“None at all.”
Nodding, Amelia says, “Okay, well…” Deep breath. “Marlie and my other friend, Nia, their boyfriends are…boyfriends. And Marlie’s guy, Trevor, has an occasional partner too. That’s who he was snipping at about the napkins. Jamie’s got a bit of a stubborn streak on top of thinking Trevor has absolutely no sense of style. Which, to be fair, he really doesn’t. Just ask Jamie’s boyfriend. And…oh, dear god. This is like trying to explain a spider web. I like your word, complicated.”
“Wow, you can say that again.” Shaunna laughs, relieved to meet someone else with a whole mess of relationship stuff going on, because hadn’t she been there two years ago, when she and Ade… Well, if she’s honest, they ganged up on Kris “for his own good” and in the process spun their very own spider web. Tattered, weather-beaten, still hanging in there. But Amelia won’t want to hear about all that nonsense.
“That’s men for you.” Shaunna isn’t sure where to go from here, wishing to neither pry nor discourage Amelia from sharing or venting or whatever she needs—along with her highlights. “Tell you what. Let’s get you in foils—give us something else to think about for a while? How does that sound?”
While Shaunna applies the chemicals to her hair and wraps it in foil strips, Amelia finishes her tea. It’s cooled a bit, but it’s still good. She thinks the stereotype of the tea being better on this side of the ocean might really be true. Something Shaunna said tugs at the corner of her mind.
“You said your ex and his boyfriend? Is he— Oh, I probably shouldn’t be asking that. I’m sorry.” And she knows better anyway. A woman whose ex is now with a man isn’t that unusual in her group of friends and definitely doesn’t mean he’s gay. Izzy was married to a woman too, and now he only has eyes for Nate.
She slightly changes the subject. “Do you miss being with him?”
“Yes,” Shaunna answers right away, no need to think; she’s done plenty of that already. “And yes, he’s bi if that’s what you were asking. Not confused—or not about that. We split up after he had an affair, but not because I kicked him out. Sure, I wish he hadn’t cheated on me. I wish he’d told me, like he did when he met Ade, but by then it was different. We weren’t a couple anymore. I think that’s where his confusion lies—he loves me, and he loves Ade, but he’s so fixed on the idea of monogamy he can’t see how he can have both. Or could have had both before…” Shaunna squeezes her eyes shut. “See the poster over there?” She points blindly to her left and loosens the tension on the section of hair she’s holding just enough she can feel Amelia’s head turn.
Amelia’s eyebrows shoot up. It’s not the sort of thing she would typically see while in a stylist’s chair. She’s not exactly sure what to say, although it really does nothing to mute her appreciation for Shaunna’s beauty. “It’s…nice?” she tries, knowing she’s blushing. She hopes Shaunna doesn’t think she’s being rude; she simply doesn’t have the right words, nor does she know what she’s expected to say. Everything in her head sounds like either oversharing or not enough.
“Is that him?” She’s managed to unstick her tongue enough to get back to the conversation they were having. She still hasn’t taken her eyes off the poster, though, and something tells her she already knows the answer to her question is no.
Shaunna stifles a giggle at their matching pink faces. “For the record, I so didn’t want a picture of me all naked and massively pregnant in here. It was taken for a magazine feature. Kris—my ex—is an actor, as is Ade. Their PR woman thought the feature might stop the press hounding them…us. Would you believe Hayley emailed the photographer and paid God knows how much for that photo? Seriously, it’s like Athena porn caught in a time warp. So…anyway, that’s Andy—the guy I’m with now, who’s all free love and hippie surfer dude but also really competitive? He’s an oddment. A sexy one, though, or I think so.
“Oh, and he does that guy thing, you know? Sees me talking to an attractive woman and gets one of those daft grins on his face, like I could just turn it on. He doesn’t get that we’re not all like him. He’s totally open to new experiences—he even says he’s okay with us having an open relationship, with one really, really major exception.”
“Your ex?”
“Bingo! I think it just makes me want it more. But that’s enough about me…unless you want me to keep talking?”
“Ugh, I feel you on that ‘guy thing.’ I have a friend, a woman, I sometimes hook up with. The men are one hundred percent not invited for that.” She sighs. It’s reminded her of the main reasons—both of them—why she needed this vacation. “I also very much feel you about wanting it more when it feels off-limits. Sounds a lot like what I’ve got going on.” She closes her eyes.
“Have you ever gotten together with the same guy your…partner? person-thing? was also seeing?”
“Err…not knowingly?” Shaunna hedges. After all, lack of communication about teenage sex was how Charlie—wearing her PR hat—talked her into doing the magazine feature in the first place. Who knew what those boys were doing when they weren’t doing her? But Shaunna can get quite militant about it when she’s on a roll, and now is not the time. Or maybe it is always the time—for women and girls, at least. “Is that what’s going on with you right now?” she asks, then adds, in case Amelia is merely curious, “If I’m prying, tell me to shut up.”
Amelia sighs for the thousandth time, this one more out of relief. Finally, someone entirely not invested in the outcome who she can talk to without worrying it will find its way back to anyone she knows.
“More or less,” she admits. She figures anyone with a naked picture on their salon wall isn’t likely to judge her or even comment on her various partners, so she forges ahead. “It didn’t start off on purpose. My friend Mack and I have this relationship where we tell each other everything, and then we have sex. He’s aromantic, so it’s not going anywhere else, and I’m good with that. But then we both started hooking up with a mutual friend— I think I’m getting ahead of myself.
“I spent the night with a casual friend. It was fun. Then Mack spent the night with him after meeting up in a bar. That would’ve been the end of it, but we both kind of…kept doing it. Meeting up with him, I mean. And, well, it’s become a problem, but not probably for the reasons you might think.”
“Hmm…” Shaunna’s second-guessing what Amelia expects her to think. “I’m not sure I think anything, but…from experience? I’d probably guess…” She shakes her head and laughs. “Sorry. I don’t know, honestly. I mean, when the three of us were living together, Kris was the only one who had a problem with it, and I’m pretty sure it had more to do with all the times he’d fended off people telling him he was just greedy. I tell you, if Ade was bi too, it would’ve saved… No, actually, that’s stupid. I love Ade to bits, but we’re way too much alike. All I’m getting at is if all three of us had two lovers each, it would have been more fair? D’you know what? I should shut up and let you talk. We’re about done with the lightener, by the way.”
“Okay.” Amelia thinks for a moment how to respond. “Well, really, it would’ve been fine. Mack and I have been best friends for years. He’s known all along he doesn’t want a romantic relationship, and I assumed I didn’t either, until I met Jomari. JoJo is everything I’ve ever wanted in a partner but didn’t realize. He’s warm and sweet and we have so much in common…” Amelia trails off, knowing her face must be crimson. She’s never said it out loud before, but here she is, about to reveal it all to a complete stranger in another country. “Uh…and there, as I’m sure you can see, is the problem. Mack might not be in love with JoJo—but I am.”
She sits up a little straighter. “I said it, and the world didn’t end. I’m in love.” Her shoulders slump. “But I have no idea what to do now.”
“Well…right now?” Shaunna swiftly secures the last piece of foil, intervening before Amelia’s mood nosedives through the floor. “I propose another cuppa while Mr. Schwarzkopf works his magic.” She thumbs at the storeroom door. “There’s a packet of chocolate digestives in there with our name on it. That is, if you eat biscuits—oh, they’re something else, aren’t they? Cookies. Chocolate digestives are delish, especially when you dip ’em in your tea, and…that’s all the advice I’m giving. Dunk your digestives. I could also tell you a story about a friend of mine who fell in love when he was seventeen and didn’t realise for twenty years. Imagine that! So you’re not doing so badly, and of course, we could all see he was in love, so maybe JoJo already knows?”
Amelia smiles. “Chocolate anything sounds awesome right now. And someone who was in love for twenty years and didn’t know? That’s…wow. Well, I sure hope there’s time for that story.” She slides off her chair. “Honestly, JoJo knows. I think he’s been waiting for me to say it. How we’re going to make it work with Mack between us is anyone’s guess. But at least I know I can tell JoJo the truth, the thing I’ve been too chicken to say.” She wonders if being real with both of them will make it easier. Hiding didn’t seem to do anything other than make all of them miserable. If only she knew a way they could all have what they needed. Maybe in time.
Any further talk about their “unconventional” love lives is put on hold when Hayley re-joins them. “Oh! Tea and bic-bics? Don’t mind if I do!” She leaves Shaunna little choice, but perhaps it’s for the best. Hayley’s wonderful, but she has her limits, not to mention it’s virtually impossible to talk over the shower’s spray as Shaunna rinses the bleach from Amelia’s hair. As for the dryer—a pneumatic drill couldn’t be any more intrusive, but at last silence reigns once more. It’s the moment of truth, those few seconds when, even after all these years, Shaunna’s so nervous her hands shake. God, I hope she likes it.
Amelia stares at her reflection so long she’s afraid Shaunna will think she hates it. It’s exactly the opposite. Her hair is shorter than it was, but not so much she can’t still throw it in a ponytail for work. Now, though, the soft chestnut waves frame her round face. The highlights accentuate the natural shades of her hair, and the strands almost glow as she turns her head back and forth in an effort to see it all. She lets out a tiny gasp and reaches up, but she doesn’t want to touch it and ruin anything, so she drops her hand.
“Oh,” she says. “It’s amazing. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” Phew! Shaunna conceals her relief with a smile that’s genuine enough but a little beyond her control. Funny how some clients have this effect on her—not so much that they’re more important than the rest, but she feels a connection here, an affinity. Likeminded women brought together by chance.
They’re finishing their second cup of tea and the biscuits when the door opens, and Amelia pauses mid-laugh to wave to her friends. She loves the way Marlie’s jaw drops, and Amelia shakes her head just a little to make her wavy hair sway.
Marlie turns to Nia. “I knew I should’ve made an appointment too! That right there is pure hair magic.”
Nia shrugs. “I think your cousin would understand if you wanted to come back here. Also, she freaking told you that already, but you didn’t listen.” Nia steps closer to Amelia. “Your friend know anyone with that skill who can take care of afro-texture hair?”
“Ask her yourself,” Amelia says. Turning to Shaunna, she says, “These are my friends, Marlie and Nia. Guys, this is Shaunna, worker of hair miracles.”
“Lovely to meet you.” Shaunna smiles at the newcomers, and Amelia is struck again by how beautiful she is. And by how it’s too bad she’s all the way on another continent usually.
On the other hand, there is social media. Amelia notes that Marlie is, in fact, pulling out her phone, likely to schedule her own appointment. Which means another trip here, something for which Amelia isn’t sorry in the least. She feels a bit bad for Nia, though she knows her friend has a stylist back home practically on speed-dial.
“So,” Amelia says, trying to be casual. “Shaunna, maybe I can find you online? You know, stay in touch.” She allows one teeny, tiny almost-wink, even though she’s positive Shaunna’s not interested.
“Fab!” Shaunna doesn’t need asking twice. She whips out her phone too. “Okay…” Yay for social media. Amelia is gorgeous and fun, and yes, Shaunna’s nosey; she’ll hold her hands up if pressed. But she also wants to hear all about the wedding. She wants to see how things pan out for Amelia and her guys. More than anything, she hopes she’s made a new friend.

The End

About A.M. Leibowitz
A.M. Leibowitz is a queer spouse, parent, feminist, and book-lover falling somewhere on the Geek-Nerd Spectrum. They keep warm through the long, cold western New York winters by writing about life, relationships, hope, and happy-for-now endings. Their published fiction includes several novels as well as a number of short works, and their stories have been included in anthologies from Supposed Crimes, Witty Bard, and Mischief Corner Books. In between noveling and editing, they blog coffee-fueled, quirky commentary on faith, culture, writing, books, and their family.

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About Debbie McGowan
Debbie McGowan is an author and publisher based in a semi-rural corner of Lancashire, England. She writes character-driven, realist fiction, celebrating life, love and relationships. A working class girl, she ‘ran away’ to London at seventeen, was homeless, unemployed and then homeless again, interspersed with animal rights activism (all legal, honest ;)) and volunteer work as a mental health advocate. At twenty-five, she went back to college to study social science—tough with two toddlers, but they had a ‘stay at home’ dad, so it worked itself out. These days, the toddlers are young women (much to their chagrin), and Debbie teaches undergraduate students, writes novels and runs an independent publishing company, occasionally grabbing an hour of sleep where she can.

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