Just like the title says, my literary romance novel A Shot at Us is free through Christmas Eve on Kindle here. A modern retelling of It’s a Wonderful Life, A Shot at Us follows Gwen Irving, a loving mother and wife, as she battles the harsh reality that her illnesses have kept her family in poverty. Days before Christmas, she disappears into a cold Montana night contemplating suicide as her husband desperately tries to find her and convince Gwen her life is precious. It’s a somber look at the mental and physical costs of a modern life, but is ultimately a story about hope and the kindnesses we offer along the way.
Here’s a brief snippet to entice you (usual warnings about my strong language apply):
* * * * *
Gwen tried not to shout. She really did. They were in a hospital, after all, and she hated big emotional scenes in public. Even PDA sometimes made her uncomfortable in a crowd. But as she listened to Malcolm’s story about the bikes, she clenched her fists and felt the words boiling up through her throat.
“Are you nuts?” she shouted. Damn it.
It was late in the afternoon and Malcolm was just passing through on his way to his second job. Christmas Eve would be coming soon, and all she could think about even as she was yelling at her husband was the hair falling off the doll she’d gotten Roslyn from a dollar store. It had come out not all at once, but like a dog shedding its fur. By the time she wrapped it, Gwen realized the doll was completely bald. Glue hadn’t helped. Now it just looked patchy and sickly. A perfect representation of Gwendolyn herself.
“Look, I know it’s a bad time, but-”
“Bad time? Malcolm, even with you working extra hours, I don’t know if we can pay our rent. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact. We. Cannot. Afford. This.”
“It’s… we can maybe…”
And for Marley, a truck with wheels that didn’t aim quite true. She was also horrifyingly sure it was the same dollar store truck she’d bought for him last year. She could hear him screaming at her now. At least he’d have something good to eat at her parents’ house Christmas Eve and morning. That, he’d love.
“No. There are no more corners to cut. This is it. We are completely tapped out. Holy fucking shit, Malcolm. Did you not get the entire gist of what we were arguing about last night?”
Malcolm stumbled towards a chair. “But we had a thousand in the bank. We should be okay.”
It wasn’t the presents that mattered, but the continual, crushing disappointment in her children’s eyes about their meals, their hand-me-downs, their lives. They deserved so much better than this pitiable existence, stuck in their mother’s orbit of misery and shame and helplessness.
“With a rent check still out and a credit card payment that’ll be posted tomorrow!”
“Oh,” he whispered.
“Oh? That’s it? Oh?”
“I didn’t know. I thought… you know, we were both being dramatic, and…”
“You didn’t know? You didn’t know that times were tough and our kids are furious because we can’t afford anything better than endless fast food, spaghetti, and pizza your boss lets you scrape into a box? You’re not really this stupid, are you?” Gwen laughed into her hands, her fingernails digging deep into her cheeks. “Oh my God. I don’t know what to do.”
And Malcolm. Her sweet, silly husband who still tried to smile for her, who still tried to make her smile. Whose biggest crime was loving their children. And she was constantly, consistently dragging him down, cutting away at him with the bitterness she really felt towards herself. How much better would his life be without her? How would all their lives be better without her?
“I’ll talk to Dinah and Thea. Maybe… I can get paid an advance, or…”
“We ask my parents,” Gwen said, her voice thick.
“What? No. We agreed. We do this ourselves.”
“Baby, we don’t have the luxury to be proud anymore. We have to ask them.”
“What about my parents? We could talk to them first.”
“Your parents are stretched as thin as we are.”
“We’re not asking your parents,” Malcolm said, his voice near a shout. “We’ve gone this long without it. We’ll figure something out.”
“You’re right. We’ll figure something out. Maybe we’ll run into a leprechaun or we’ll find a winning lottery ticket or something. Jesus, Malcolm, stop being so blind!”
“Yes, blind! You keep getting us into these idiotic jams and I can’t fucking be sick and deal with it. Taking care of you is ten times more work than taking care of the kids. ‘Oh, here’s a wall, I’m going to ram my head against it.’”
“Yeah. Keep calling me stupid. That’s… wow. Thanks, honey.”
“Well, if the shoe fits…”
Malcolm shook his head. “My fault.” He said it as a statement, not a question.
The door to the hospital room popped open, and a nurse poked her head in. “Hey, guys, we can hear you down the hallway. Um, please try to keep it down, okay?”
“Fine,” Gwen snapped at her, and the door closed hurriedly.
They stared at one another for a long, long time, until Malcolm looked away, ashamed. Gwen thought back to a long-ago argument they’d had about him going to work on time and taking it seriously. He’d looked so whipped then, she thought, but now he looked… broken. And with that, her anger vanished and was replaced by a caustic, deep self-loathing. Oh, no, what had she done? Why had she said all this?
“I’m sorry,” Malcolm said. His hands fell in front of his lap and his back had never seemed so stooped. He looked fifteen years older than he actually was in that moment. So much weight on their shoulders. On his. Gwen wanted to throw herself out the window.
“No,” she said finally. “I’m sorry. This is… drama aside, it really is all my fault.”
“It is, though, isn’t it? I’m the one that’s always sick. Always here. Think about how much gas money we’d save alone if you didn’t have to drag me here, what, every other week?” She laughed bitterly and it turned into a cough as if to prove her point. “And that’s not even touching the hospital bills.”
“We apply for more financial aid.”
“There is no more,” Gwen said. “We’ve accepted everything we can. I did the math today while you were at work. This whole argument, it’s pointless. I don’t think… the bikes matter. There was no way we were going to make rent next month regardless.” She blinked at him. “We can’t climb out of this one, honey.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He came to her, held her. All the energy left to Gwen disappeared. So tired. But the self-loathing disappeared too, replaced by…. warmth. Not a healthy warmth, not the warmth one would feel near a cozy fire, but a false one, the kind a person gave into just before succumbing to the cold.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” she whispered back, her scratched and battered heart swelling. “I love you so much.”
“Please. Just let me hear the words.”
“I love you.” He wrapped his arms around Gwen and kissed her. They stayed like that for a while, him staring at the window, thinking, her trembling with the effort of staying upright. “I want to stay with you, but I need to go.”
She nodded, smiling again. She couldn’t blame him for wanting to get away from her. Malcolm deserved peace. They all did. “Hey. Tell the kids… tell the kids I love them, okay?”
“I will. I’ll bring them by in the morning before work.”
“Okay,” she whispered, but she didn’t think she would see them. Because an idea had formed in her mind, an awful idea, and she thought of Hugh in that bathtub again.
I fucked up.
It’s all your fault.
This is the way the world works.