Sean sat at the bar and nursed his final cup of coffee for the night. He had been cutting back on caffeine and wondered if this was the reason he was not getting anywhere with his story. Coffee and writing for hours nonstop used to go together, but he found that having more than five cups a day made him edgy. He could not afford to lose his cool and not stay tuned in to what his girls needed.
He scrolled through his emails and ignored the daily missive from his agent who had begun to countdown to his submission date when the month began. Sean thought about asking for more time, but he doubted it would be granted. His fourth Gravity Jones novel was already a year late.
When Helen had gotten sick from the virus, he had shut down his computer and focused solely on his girls. The trauma of not being able to visit their mother in hospital in her final days had been excruciating. He had dropped off an Alexa device for her room, programmed to play sounds of the girls singing and reading stories. Sean had contributed a few voice notes of his own reading her favorite bible verses and playing very badly on a guitar. It had not been enough. Helen, who had poured so much care into every patient in the ICU, had died while they had recovered and gone home to their loved ones.
Sean was about to close the laptop when an email popped up from the school.
Didn’t this woman sleep?
He opened the email which invited him to click a link to review the girls’ assessments. Once he logged in, a quick scan of the report showed that Riley and Reagan were ahead of their grade level. This was no surprise as the private school they had attended in Spain was the top one in the nation. Sean paused at the emotional assessment section of the report and groaned.
The report flagged Riley’s essay in which she spoke about feeling lost without her mother and concern that her father was depressed. Reagan’s essay had revealed a similar concern. They were both worried about him and that made Sean feel even worse. He thought he had done a decent job of hiding his pain and making sure they adjusted to life on island. Granted, the extended lockdown had made going to the beach and touring the various national sites an impossibility, but they had as much opportunity to play outdoors and be entertained as he could pile into each day.
He was failing his girls.
Sean entered a short comment thanking their teacher for the report and submitted the response which was a prerequisite for leaving the system. As he was about to log out, the messenger alert inside the parent portal beeped.
It was a message from Cassie. Her face immediately popped into his mind and that made him smile.
Cassie: No pressure but I hope Gravity Jones is the reason you are up.
So, she knew who he was. He thought of denying it, but she already knew that his kids thought he was depressed. There was nothing worse than that.
Sean: Gravity has gone to bed like other civilized people and doesn’t want to play with me.
Cassie: Pity. I’ve been waiting to read her next adventure.
Sean: So have I.
There. He had admitted it. Sort of. He was stuck and did not know how to be unstuck.
Cassie: Are you having trouble with the story? Maybe I can help. She is my favorite mystery character.
Sean: I wish it were that. There is no story. I have writer’s block.
Cassie did not respond immediately. Sean could see she was writing but then no response came. Why had he said that? Writer’s block. There was no greater crisis for an author with a publishing contract than to be unable to complete his manuscript.
Cassie: I don’t believe in writer’s block. Believing it exists is what causes the block. Maybe you need a new approach.
Sean sat up on the stool and almost toppled off. No writer’s block? Millions of writers could not be wrong.
Sean: You can either write or you can’t. When there are no words flowing that’s writer’s block.
Cassie: What’s your usual process for writing?
Sean thought for a moment. It would be difficult to type all of that.
Can we talk instead? Would be easier to explain than write it all down.
He paused before clicking send. He hoped she would not think him forward. After all, she was his daughters’ teacher.
She responded with a thumbs up and he breathed a sigh of relief. Sean quickly brushed his hand through his hair and smoothed his beard. He really needed to shave. His hair? That was another story.
He clicked the camera option and waited for it to open.
He smiled as Cassie’s face came up.
“Hey,” she replied.
Sean could see she was sitting on a couch and was backlit by a lamp off to her left.
“Well. My writing process is fairly simple. I know where I want the story to end up and just go from the start to the finish. I just haven’t been able to get a handle on where Gravity needs to go and so I’m stuck. It also means the drawings are stuck too.”
Cassie bit her bottom lip and furrowed her brows.
“Um. I appreciate the assessment report on the girls. I will do my best to keep a positive attitude around them. I wasn’t aware that they were getting depressed vibes from me. It’s a tough time for them and I want them to do well here.”
He felt like he was rambling, but he needed to fill the silence. He was regretting revealing his concerns about the book. Not even his agent knew that the book was in trouble. Sean figured he had time to get it together. He worked best under pressure anyway.
“It’s a tough time for you too, Sean. Your girls are very aware, and it often isn’t what you say or even what you do. They are a part of you, and I am sure they feel your sadness. Do you talk to them about it?”
Sean shook his head.
“Sadness is a genuine emotion. You all have suffered a great loss and it is okay to feel that loss. It is also okay to tell the people you care about how you are feeling. The good and the bad. You will actually help the girls to deal with their own pain when you admit to having the same struggle.”
Sean shook his head. “I can’t. They don’t need to take on my pain. It’s my job to make sure they are okay, and they have what they need. Their mother would want them to be happy. I am doing the best I can to make sure they are.”
“What’s your definition of happiness?”
Cassie looked calm as an island breeze on a Sunday morning and Sean felt like his insides were going through a hurricane. Why had he asked to speak with her? This was not a good idea.
“Look. I think this conversation is going into territory I would rather not cross. Thanks for your time.”
Cassie looked stunned but then nodded.
“Good night, Sean.”
He mumbled a response and disconnected the call.