Nine hours later and Cassie still felt the abrupt ending to her conversation with Sean in her heart.
She cooked a small pot of oats and sliced up a banana to drop into the steaming bowl for breakfast.
Last night, she had pushed too far. That was always her issue. She used a big stick in a situation which called for a feather. She had been fully prepared to focus on the Gravity Jones story as she had ideas for character development and plot lines. If Sean had not broached the subject of the assessment, she had planned to leave it for another time. But he had, and she could not let him go on believing that he did not deserve to be happy and that feeling sad was abnormal.
She still felt sadness at times when she thought about her parents. The fact that they had been dead for twenty-one years made no difference. She still missed them. She missed the idea of them as well and often wondered what it would have been like to be able to call them up and show them what she was doing with the students. Both of her parents had been teachers and they had been very progressive in how they helped students to discover ideas.
Reagan and Riley losing their mother at such a young age was a pain all its own. Being able to express that pain or to see your father also in pain and bottling it up could not be easy for the girls. Cassie needed to find a way to help them. That she could do. Maybe along the way, their father would find his own path to processing his loss.
After cleaning up her kitchen, Cassie moved to her worktable and began to switch on all her devices and the lights. Science was the first subject of the day and she wanted them to explore refraction and how to bend light.
She greeted each student as they logged on. Riley was her usual flamboyant self, in a colorful T-shirt that expressed her status as a future queen. Reagan wore a plain yellow T-shirt that read Book Nerd.
Cassie dived into the lesson, showing them with the use of glass and other materials how light diffused depending on the environment. She then sent them off to find examples in their own house of how light operated.
While she waited for them to complete their portion of the assignment, Cassie’s thoughts turned to Sean. Dealing with his wife’s loss was not a road she would venture on any time soon. However, she could help him with his writer’s block.
His writing process was flawed. While it clearly worked for him to produce three young adult best sellers, it failed when he needed it most. If his writing were flowing, Cassie was quite sure he could pull himself the rest of the way out of depression. The overwhelming sense of loss and inability to see progress in any area would trip anybody up. She could help him with that.
Having to script hours and hours of content for her online classroom had given her a system that never failed her. She was sure it would work for Sean. But how to get him to try it?
“Daddy, can you help me please?”
Sean looked up from the screen with a cursor that seemed to be shouting his inadequacies back at him.
Reagan stood at the entrance to his office, fidgeting, seemingly unsure of whether she should enter.
“Sure, sweetheart what do you need?”
Reagan approached and handed him an exercise book.
“Teacher says we need to come up with a short story to teach a child in Africa about life on St. Michaels. But I don’t know where to start.”
Sean pushed back his chair and allowed her to get comfortable in his lap. He took a moment to squeeze her and inhaled her raspberry-scented shampoo. After playing in the pool for a couple of hours once school was over, he had washed their hair and plaited it the best he could. He needed use this lockdown to practice more hairstyles. They weren’t going to remain in lockdown forever.
“Well, the best place to start is at the end.”
“Yes. You need to be clear on how the story will end before you begin. It will help you decide what your characters need to go through to get there.”
“But how do you know where you want it to end up? Your Gravity Jones books always end with another mystery starting.”
Sean smiled down at the face looking up at him in earnest.
“True. But that’s because I know there will be more stories. In your case you don’t need to worry about another story. What would you want your friend in Africa to know about where you live?”
Reagan leaned back on his chest and thought for a moment.
“I would want her to know about our volcano, the foods we like to eat and the games we play.”
“Do you want her to feel excited about coming to visit some day? Maybe you want her to know she’s not alone and that you have similar dreams and challenges like she does.”
“I need to decide all of that before I write the story?”
Sean paused. “Yes, it helps. It will give you a goal to work towards.”
“Miss Maxwell says we have to write an outline for each chapter. Answer the question of what do we want to say to move the story along.”
“That’s a great idea.”
“Do you do that, Daddy before you begin to write?”
Again, Sean paused. He did not. He knew in his head where the story would end and even some semblance of what the next mystery would be. However, he relied on his instinct and sitting down to his computer to figure out how his hero would get out of the various messes she often found herself in.
“Honestly, Reagan. I don’t. I usually let Gravity tell me where she wants to go.”
“But what if she doesn’t know? You are the writer, so you get to tell her where to go.”
Sean buried his nose in Reagan’s hair. She was right. He was the boss. The writer. He alone had control of the narrative. Even when he felt as if Gravity was in charge, he had the power to let her have her way or reel her in. So far, he had just hoped things kept going as they had. His process clearly did not work in the middle of a pandemic or with tragic loss. Writing was not just a means to feed his family, it was a necessity for his own sanity and joy. Not being able to write had induced bouts of anxiety and frustration. What would he be or what would he do if he were unable to write? It was less about whether other people liked his work, which was a plus. The very act of writing was a necessity for him like breathing.
“You are a brilliant, beautiful and brave young lady. I am the writer and I do get to tell her where to go. Show me what your teacher says you need to do to write your story.”
Reagan reached up and kissed his scruffy chin.
For the next thirty minutes they discussed her story idea and mapped out the ten chapters she wanted to write. For each chapter, Reagan wrote a brief sentence on what it would be about and a list of up to ten things that should be in each.
By the time she yawned, Sean could see that it would be easy for her to complete the story because she knew what elements were needed to move it through to the end.
After reading both girls a story and tucking them in, Sean grabbed a notepad and went out unto his verandah. A pale half moon danced over the waves he could hear crashing against the cliffside below. He did not spend enough time outside. Their groceries and other supplies were delivered weekly. He only ventured outside to check the sprinkler or to toss a ball with the girls. He needed to do better.
For the better part of two hours, Sean handwrote an outline for his newest book. His agent had required him to deliver a brief blurb on each story in his five-book series. So, he knew what adventure Gravity would go on next. Following the same process as Reagan had, Sean wrote an outline for each chapter in the book and ten subtopics for each. By the time he was done he had filled twenty pages of notes and he could feel a new excitement about writing.
A yawn took over and he shoved down the desire to go to his laptop. It would be there in the morning. He now had a plan.
At some point he would need to tell Cassie that her outline strategy had helped. For now, he would wait until he had put some words on the screen so he would not be a liar even to himself.
To Be Continued