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CHAPTER 1

I woke up just as the truck pulled to a stop not three feet from where I stood. The window was open and the face that peered back at me was both familiar and unknown. Hazel eyes—eyes that I recognized, but didn’t—peered out from under the bill of a ragged, reddish baseball cap that had seen better days. The stare was delivered with an intensity that was somehow both welcoming and fear-inducing.

A quick scan of my environment revealed what I somehow already knew. I was standing at the foot of a dirt and gravel driveway. Across the top of the truck, a hundred yards away, and separated by a thin line of overgrown weeds and reed-thin saplings, stood a single story home. Although I couldn’t recall ever seeing the structure before, my subconscious seemed to know it well, and dismissed its existence without a millisecond’s worth of consideration—just another prop in the everyday, mundane existence of life. Fields—an empty one, filled with knee-high grass to the left; another one full of tall, late-summer corn, to my right—boxed in a red-brick house that I couldn’t see, but which I knew stood behind me. The acre it commanded was overgrown and untended, littered with a scattering of abandoned cars, tires and old appliances in varied states of decay. The shutters that flanked the windows, once painted a bright white, were now tinged yellow, the paint flaking with age and covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt. A screen door—absent most of the screen—hung at a slight angle across the front entry on loosened hinges that threatened to release their hold on the rotted wood.

These things I knew without turning around because this was my home.

And yet… it wasn’t my home.

Understanding dawned bright and clear, and all at once.

I was dream-hiking again—attached at the consciousness with some unknown person. My host. That’s what I call them—the people whose consciousness I find myself sharing—my hosts.

“—listening to me, dipshit?”

The question yanked me back into my host’s present as he returned his focus to the piercing eyes of the driver.

“Yeah, James,” my guy replied with a nervous, unsure chuckle. “Sorry, I spaced out there for a minute.”

“Well, get your shit together, Dean-o. We got places to go, people to see.” James’ eyes never left ours as he spoke. Even when James leaned forward and spat a stream of brownish Skoal-fueled spittle through the window, his eyes never strayed. Dean danced quickly to the right to dodge the foul discharge. It was clear James was the alpha and Dean—my guy—me—the underdog.

Dean’s being was filled with a strange mixture of emotions and fleeting thoughts, and I caught them all as if they were my own. Excitement, anxiety, a desire to follow, and an overarching need to please this man were all present. Foremost though, was a sense of dread and uncertainty. There was no telling what kind of trouble James would be getting them into today.

It was clear my host knew James well. And feared him.

I’d just met the asshole, but my emotions took their cue from Dean, and I couldn’t help but share his sense of dread and fear.

My instincts yelled at me to turn around and run away but I had no control. I was an unwilling observer, firmly rooted in the passenger seat of Dean’s mind. I couldn't take control whenever I wanted during a hike. For now, all I could do was witness Dean’s interactions from behind and over his right shoulder—my normal position when waiting for the push.

Dean turned right and took the first of a thousand steps that dragged him toward the back of the truck and around, past the open tailgate, and to the far side. His feet felt numb as they scuffled across the dual lane blacktop, but he pushed onward and they delivered him finally to the passenger door. Lifting against what seemed like the weight of a thousand bodies, he raised his right arm and managed to grasp the rust-spotted door handle. With the tiniest of groans, he lifted his thumb and depressed the button that released the door’s latching mechanism. He gave a final sigh of resignation, hauled the door open, and climbed inside.

I watched. Worried. Waited for the push.

CHAPTER 2

James slowed the truck and, with a slight nodding bob of confirmation indicating he had found the right spot, turned left into an unpaved, weed-riddled drive. He braked to a stop just inside the entrance and peered at the track ahead with an intensity that renewed my earlier misgivings. The truck idled with a hitch that indicated a need for new spark plugs, or a timing adjustment, or some such similar disease that any decent mechanic could probably diagnose easily. Not being a mechanic, I went with bad spark plugs and left it at that.

The single lane was lined on both sides by wooded forest, green with the spring rains. The woods ran all the way to the nearest neighbor’s property, a quarter mile to the east. To the west… who knew? Dean certainly didn’t, which meant I didn’t either. One thing was certain, however. We were deep in the sticks, a couple of miles up a winding mountain road.

After a long sixty-second wait, James took his foot off the brake and the truck began a slow, five mile per hour crawl. Five minutes of twisting turns and unfilled potholes later, the drive delivered us to an opening that held a dilapidated mobile home nestled in a yard of neatly trimmed grass. In the center of the yard stood a child’s swing set. Firmly ensconced on the middle swing, a young blond-headed girl of about five lazily kicked her feet to keep her tiny body moving back and forth.

When the girl heard the truck’s engine, she immediately dropped her feet to the ground and looked toward us with eyes so blue, they looked like the sky. She didn’t seem startled or scared, though I somehow knew she should be both. I wanted to shout at her to run, but I was still seated in the passenger seat over Dean’s right shoulder. To his credit, Dean wanted to issue a similar warning. He didn’t know what James had planned, but he understood that most likely, it wouldn’t be good. Unfortunately, his relationship with James kept his mouth firmly clamped.

Our hesitant mood was confirmed when James reached across the width of the truck and opened the glove compartment. His eyes never left the front of the mobile home, but he easily reached into the compartment and retrieved a gun. Although my host had no clue, I instantly recognized it as an older 1911 model 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

James leaned forward and tucked the weapon into the back waistband of his jeans. Taking his eyes off the home for the first time, he turned toward Dean and me and winked.

“A’ight, Dean-o,” he whispered, the low volume intensifying the country in his already-intense southern accent. The hazel eyes sliced into us for just a moment before turning their gaze back toward the home. He yanked up on the handle to his left and rammed his left shoulder into the door, forcing it open. The door gave way with a protesting squeal of metal on metal and he slipped off the seat, stepped slowly to the ground. He shut his door, then turned back and settled those eyes on me again through the open window. “Let’s get this done.”

I watched, ready for the nudge I knew would eventually come as Dean opened our door and stepped out of the truck. The nervous fear was still present in our gut, growing larger with each second that passed.

“Da-a-d-d-y-y-y,” the girl yelled from her perch on the swing. “Somebody heee-uh!”

“Why ain’t you a purty little thang?” James called to the girl. I watched across the hood of the truck and he quickly covered the thirty feet to where she sat. His steps reminded me of a tiger—languid, dangerous movements cloaked in a veil of casual grace. “Where’s your daddy? Is he inside?”

The little girl bobbed her head and pointed a single, tiny digit over her shoulder at the mobile home.

“He wath goin’ poop when I came out,” the innocent announcement was accompanied by a shrug. “He uthsually take a while, though.”

James chuckled and reached out to brush his hand across the girl’s head. He gently wiped an errant strand of blond from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. I could only watch and cringe.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Lindy,” the girl responded without hesitation.

“You want me to push you while we wait for your daddy, Lindy?” he asked. She grinned and nodded with an exuberance that is reserved for only the most innocent, trusting souls. “Okay, turn around and face the house. That way we can see your daddy when he’s finished taking his shit.”

“Ohhh,” the girl snickered and lifted a hand to her mouth. “You thaid the Sth-word.”

The little girl had a minor lisp, so her “s” sounds were delivered with healthy doses of “th” mixed in.

“Oops,” James grinned. “Sorry about that.”

“Thath’okay,” she replied with another shrug as she dropped to the ground, moved around the swing and reclaimed her seat. She now faced the trailer and nodded her readiness to be pushed. “My daddy thays it all the time.”

James rested his hands gently on Lindy’s shoulders and released a tiny sigh. Dean and I could only watch as the man ran his hands lightly and slowly down each arm to the elbow, then back up. From a father the caress would have seemed tender and loving. Coming from James, it was twisted and sick.

I tried to impress my will onto Dean, but my involvement didn’t work that way. Until I got the push, all I could do was watch. As a result, we were rooted to our spot next to the truck. Dean was unwilling to protest or object. For the time being, I was unable.

A movement from the front of the home caught our attention and we turned our gaze just as a man—Lindy’s dad, presumably—exited the mobile home. It was apparent from the look of anger on his face, he wasn’t happy to find two unexpected visitors in his front yard.

“What the hell are you doing here, James?”

The father jumped down from the small wooden porch that fronted the mobile home and began stomping his way toward the swing set. His movement stalled into a faltering, swaying stop and I looked over at James to see why. James pushed Lindy gently with his left hand. In his right, he casually gripped the pistol he had taken from his waistband.

“I haven’t seen you around lately, Ronnie. So I decided to make a house call. See if you had my money.”

“Um… I uh…I don’t have it on me, man.” Ronnie swallowed hard. His previous, angry manner had quickly morphed into one of suspicion, fear and doubt. “I can bring it to you next week.”

“Dude, you sound like a bad movie,” James replied, shaking his head. “Every scene where the guy owes money, it’s the exact same thing. I’ll have it next week.”

He gave Lindy an extra strong push and the girl squealed with delight as she flew into the air. It was apparent she was oblivious to the scene playing out around her. Ronnie took a step toward his little girl, but James raised the gun and pointed it at the little girl’s back. The father immediately stopped where he was and raised his hands to his sides in a silent plea.

“The problem with that scenario, Ronnie-boy, is this ain’t no movie and I can’t wait until next week! Which means we got a problem. Or, should I say…you’ve got a problem.”

At this point, Lindy figured out something was wrong and looked back over her shoulder at the man pushing the swing. I noted her eyes as they spied the gun. The joy of swinging higher than she’d probably ever gone before was immediately replaced by the same type of confusion and fear that Dean and I felt. The smile turned into a quiver that threatened to become a bawl, but James didn’t wait for that transformation. On her next back-swing he lifted his right leg and his booted foot caught the child squarely in her tiny back. Her backward motion combined with the nonchalantly delivered kick easily dislodged her from the swing, sending her small body forward in a pin wheeling tangle of arms, legs and blond locks.

Dean stepped forward, his heart (and yours truly, watching uselessly just behind and to his right) urging him to intercede. But his brain and his fear stopped him before he took a second step. Dammit, Dean! Do something, I yelled, enraged by what we were witnessing, but of course he couldn’t hear me.

Ronnie rushed to his daughter’s limp body and cradled her head in his lap.

“Baby! Honey!” he bent over her, stroking her hair, and pleaded for a response.

The only response he received came from James, and it arrived in the form of a hammer being cocked and the barrel of the pistol being jammed roughly against the top of his skull.

“You’re dead mother fucker! And so is your little girl, if she’s not already.”

And then suddenly. Finally.

I was in the driver’s seat.

CHAPTER 3

“Wait, James!” I stepped around the front of the truck and moved toward the trio. My hands were open and down by my side, palms facing James. The last thing I wanted was to present myself as a threat.

“Yeah, I’ll wait for the count of three,” he spat, grinding the business end of the pistol into on the crown of Ronnie’s bowed head. For his part, Ronnie just sat limply on the ground, fully cowed by the monster now standing over him. He whimpered and gently rocked his daughter. “One! Say goodbye to your little girl, shit stain.”

“Before you pull that trigger, think!” I pleaded, stalling for time, anxious to stop this lunatic. My feet stopped moving once I’d covered half the distance between us, unwilling to approach any closer until I got James's attention. Crazy people don’t typically like others invading their space, and with a gun in play, that was a norm I intended to respect for the moment.

“What’s there to think about, Dean-o?” James turned his attention to me, which was kind of a good thing. It meant he was no longer focused on the two people he towered over. On the other hand, the hazel-eyed stare drilling into my being sent a serious case of heebie-jeebies rolling down my spine. For just a moment, I couldn’t help but consider this lunatic’s thoughts on leaving witnesses. “Nobody steals from me and gets away with it. We’ve talked about this. Two!”

The wild, hazel stare slid away from me and returned to the two crumpled forms. He shuffled a half-step backward from the pair. He then shifted his left hand to the gun where it joined the right in a dual-fisted grip.

I took another step forward, driven by a mixture of rage, helplessness and urgency. This guy was going to execute two people, and I was the only one who could stop him.

“Just wait one second, Jimmy!” It was a desperation cry, but I had to try something. Surprisingly, it worked.

“Nobody calls me Jimmy, Dean-o,” the would-be murderer snarled as his head snapped up. The eyes were on us again. Progress. Dean knew that would get through. He was in the background, but he was helping, and I was grateful for the support. Unfortunately, the barrel of the 1911 was now turned in our direction.

“I had to get your attention, James. That’s all.” The gun being pointed in our direction was unnerving, but at least it postponed James reaching the count of three, if only momentarily.

“Well, you got it. Now what?” he asked. The barrel of the gun drifted back and forth between Ronnie and me/Dean.

I urgently scanned Dean’s memories for anything I could use; anything that might help end the situation without any dead bodies.

I found something. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

“Consequences,” I announced. My hands were still held out by my side, open and non-threatening. “Let’s take a moment and think this thing through before we kill them.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Dean-o? There ain’t nothing to think through. This shit ass stole from me. So he dies. Here and now.” He punctuated his words with angry jabs of the gun. Most of the jabs were at Ronnie, but a few were directed my way.

“I’ve got no problem with killing them, James.” It was a lie, of course, but I had to clear a trail through this weed-tangled jungle if I hoped to reach the far side with all the players intact. “I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life on lock down because we screwed this up. You know?”

“What—” I didn’t let him finish his sentence. Forged ahead.

“Does anyone else know he stole from you, man?” I already knew the answer, courtesy of Dean. James hadn’t been exactly quiet about the situation that led to us being in Ronnie’s front yard. In fact, he had complained long and loud about Ronnie to several folks at Shooters Bar just two days earlier.

“Maybe,” he offered quietly. I could see the gears turning inside his rage-filled, ball cap-covered noggin as he began to connect the dots. The gun barrel dipped to face the ground. “But it’s still gotta be done. Consequences be damned!”

“I agree, man,” I nodded and pointed at Ronnie. “This asshole needs to pay for what he did. He doesn’t deserve to live. All I’m saying is we need to think through the situation and decide on how we do it.”

James took another step backward and lowered the gun to his side. He was thinking.

“I’ve got an idea.” I plastered a grin on Dean’s face and tried to make it look as devious and evil as possible. “Let me do it.”

“You?” James considered me with a sidelong glance. He was doubtful. “You got this in you?

“I do, man. I’ve been wanting to pull the trigger on real target for a lo-o-ong time. I mean, I’ve hunted deer, groundhogs and such… but nothing like this.” I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet and rocked my body side to side, trying to heighten the illusion of eager excitement. I pointed to the pair on the ground. Ronnie had stopped whimpering and seemed to be listening. He still cradled his little girl, who was now beginning to stir. “This seems like the perfect opportunity.”

“Hmm.” He was unconvinced. “So, you pull the trigger. I pull the trigger. What’s the difference? Folks will still know it was me.”

I rubbed my hands together, widened the grin, and laughed.

“That’s the beauty of the plan, man. No one will know it was you because you’re gonna have an airtight alibi!”

“Come again?”

“You’re going to head to Shooters. Make sure you’re noticed and that everyone knows you’re there. Hell, maybe you could even start a fight and get arrested.” I allowed the words to spill forth, anxious to get James moving in a direction that offered him a rock-solid alibi. “I’ll stay here until midnight, then put the finishing touches on these two. When they’re taken care of, I’ll torch the trailer, take off in Ronnie’s car, and leave it at the bus station in Midtown. That’s fifty miles from where you’ll be. There’s no way they’ll be able to pin this on you, man.”

“How’d you get so smart, all of a sudden?” It was apparent the idea had appeal, was beginning to win him over. All he needed was a few final prods.

“I watch a lot of CSI, dude. You can learn a lot about how to get away with shit from those shows,” I explained, still putting on the eager beaver act. “Never thought I’d get to use any of that knowledge for real, though. Looks like today’s my lucky day.”

“You can do this?” he asked, pointing at Ronnie and Lindy. His eyes bore into mine and I held the gaze without flinching.

“It’ll be my pleasure. Once I'm finished, I'll take Ronnie's car and leave it at the bus station. Police will think the shooter hopped a ride out of town.”

Ronnie released a low, wailing groan at the announcement and hugged Lindy tighter to his body. She had regained consciousness and was now sobbing softly. The groan seemed to settle the issue for James. He walked over and handed me the 1911.

“Don’t fuck this up, Dean-o.”

“What’s to fuck up? It’s as easy as point and shoot.” The entire scenario was weak, a house of cards built on a shaky table, but I had pushed all in with my hand like it was a winner and James folded. He was psycho, but fortunately, he wasn't the genius type of psycho.

I thumbed the magazine release on the 1911 and let the magazine drop into my hand. I looked it over, noted it was fully loaded, and tucked it calmly into my shirt pocket. A quick, firm pull on the weapon’s slide caused the chambered round to fly upward and to the right. Without thinking, I casually reached out and snagged the ejected bullet from the air. It was a move that Dean could never have managed on his own, but hours and hours at the shooting range had allowed me to master the maneuver. I then retrieved the magazine from my pocket, returned the round to the top of the stack and reseated it into the pistol. Another rack of the slide put the round back into the chamber.

My performance wasn’t done to show off. I learned at an early age that blatant displays of proficiency often help convert doubters into believers. Once I engaged the safety and tucked the pistol into the back of my jeans, mimicking James's earlier movements, I looked over to the man. The open-mouthed stare and vacant nod he offered indicated he was suitably convinced that I knew how to handle a weapon.

“It’s five o’clock,” I said, after a glance at Dean’s twenty-dollar watch. “If you hurry, you can be at Shooters before six. That gives you a six-hour window to establish your whereabouts. Remember, if you’re in a cell when midnight comes, there’s no way anyone can put this at your feet.”

“Um. Okay.” For the first time since meeting James, he seemed at a loss for words. He quickly overcame the deficiency with a final, “Don’t fuck this up, Dean.”

He walked to the truck and I walked over to where Ronnie and Lindy sat. Neither was making a sound now.

James started the old Ford, and shifted into reverse. He waved a final good bye and I delivered a kick to the back of Ronnie, knocking him forward across Lindy’s body. I then smiled and waved as the truck turned around and left us.

I waited until the sound of the Ford’s engine dwindled, then reached down and squeezed Ronnie’s shoulder. He flinched away from the touch.

“Sorry about the kick, Ronnie. I had to make sure James felt good about being on his way. How’s Lindy doing?”

“Wh— what?” He wasn’t ready to talk yet, still in shock and fearing for his life and the life of his child. I couldn’t blame him.

“Where’s your phone?”

Still confused by what was happening, Ronnie vacantly reached into the front pocket of his shirt, retrieved an old flip phone, and handed it up to me. I opened the phone, quickly punched in 9-1-1, and waited for a voice to answer.

With luck, the police and the paramedics would be here shortly.

I knew I wouldn’t be. The edges of my vision grew dark and I knew it was time.

I felt bad leaving Dean to set things right on his own, but the dream controlled my schedule and my five minutes were up. Besides, he had pretty much brought this on himself. The fallout was his to sort through, and put right.

“Um… hello… we need help,” Dean muttered into the phone.

The connection we shared faded. As if being dragged backwards into a deep, long tunnel, walls of darkness circled around me until all light disappeared and left me alone, surrounded by nothing.

CHAPTER 4

I opened my eyes to a dark room, and instantly knew where I was. I assume my experience waking up from one of my “dream-hikes” is much like anyone else’s when they wake up. Familiar surroundings, everything just as you would expect it to be. I was in my own bed. In my house. Lying next to Natalie, my wife of seventeen years. Her deep, regular breathing and slight snore told me she was sleeping. She wasn't aware of my hikes, no one was.

I rolled onto my right side, lifted my head off the pillow, and looked at the clock on my night stand. The red digital glow showed 3:13. Plenty of time to go back to sleep and get a few good hours of rest before the alarm went off.

The dream I’d just experienced played start to finish inside my head, and I wondered if Dean was a real person—someone who actually existed. Or was he just some imaginary fabrication that my mind—the mind of Benjamin Thomas Watkins, aged 40—had created? As real as the events of my dreams felt while I was inside them, I couldn’t help but have doubts upon waking up. Not that it mattered. I wouldn’t change how I approached the dreams. I was there to help.

Most of my dreams—the ones I remember, anyway—follow a pattern. My host is under stress and needs help. Sometimes, it’s a little thing. Other times—like with Dean tonight—the situation is more dire. And though not all of my experiences dream-hiking are so intense, they are all important in their own way to my host.

It’s as if I drop into each person at a key moment in their lives and have to figure out how best to help them through their ordeal. At least, that’s how I’ve managed to rationalize things in my own head. After years of experiencing hundreds of dreams, it’s the best I can come up with.

I know how crazy this all sounds. Believe me, it’s not lost on me. I mean, who the hell am I? There’s nothing special about me. I’m just an ordinary, forty year-old guy who has his own problems and issues to deal with. I plod through life as a mid-level manager at a major consulting firm. My two sons are standard, teenage know-it-alls who have recently come to think I’m an idiot. And despite how much I love my wife, my marriage has been a bit rocky lately. Normal, normal, and more normal.

But rationalization is what we humans do. We find ourselves in unusual situations and we try to make sense out of them. Even if everything is just in my own head, what difference does it make? What’s the harm in approaching my dreams as if I’m actually helping others? None. No harm at all. If anything, it helps me retain my humanity and perspective on life, and that's a positive.

These things ran through my head, as they always do, after an intense dream. With luck, they wouldn’t keep me awake all night, which happens quite often. Making notes about my dreams helps me get back to sleep, so I worked myself to the edge and snaked my hand down to the gun safe I keep under my side of the bed. The safe is compact and operates on fingerprint recognition. In addition to the Taurus PT100 9mm I keep there for home defense, I also keep a dream journal. I don’t go around telling people about my dreams. Not even my wife knows, and I don’t plan on telling her. But I try to make a journal entry whenever I remember a dream well enough.

Most times, I only recall snippets—the significant pieces of the dream-hike, or the overall feeling the dream left me with. Other times, I wake up knowing I’ve had a dream, but the details remain elusive, just out of reach. Tonight’s dream was a rare event. I remembered it like it was one of my own memories. In a way, I suppose it was.

The gun safe was exactly where I expected it to be and my fingers quickly found the grooves set into the top. It was a well-practiced movement that took only a couple of seconds. I swiped my fingers across the print readers, and heard the resulting “click” as the locking pins retracted, allowing me to open the small door. I reached inside, found the leather bound journal I kept there, and pulled it out, along with the pen tucked with it.

A glance at my wife showed her facing away from me, so I felt better about turning on my bedside lamp. I leafed through the journal to find the first empty page, gathered my thoughts, then touched the pen to paper.

The clock read 3:43 when I put the journal back in the safe and turned off the light. I'd been dream-hiking for as long as I could recall, certainly since I was a teen. I only started documenting my hikes about ten years earlier as a way to try and make sense of my nighttime excursions. Now the process seemed like second nature.

I scooched over to the center of the bed and spooned my body into Natalie’s. I wrapped my arm around her waist, buried my nose in her hair and inhaled deeply. Married for seventeen years and her smell was as pleasing as ever—one of the small things that solidified my connection to her.

Things might be rough, but they weren’t on the rocks. At least not yet. I promised myself to go the extra mile beginning tomorrow.

Sleep didn’t feel close—the Dean and James show kept replaying over and over in my head—but I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

CHAPTER 5

My morning workout finished—three miles on the treadmill, followed by a run-through of weight exercises to build my core strength—I shaved, showered, and dressed for another day at the office. I was mentally preparing myself for the sixty-minute commute from our house in the western suburbs to my office in downtown Chicago as I entered the kitchen.

The angry glance and subsequent cold shoulder were brittle reminders that Natalie and I hadn’t gone to bed seeing eye to eye. Again. Her desire to fill up our evening calendar with social engagements with friends, family and neighbors didn’t readily coincide with my already-limited time at the gym. I worked out with sparring partners three night s a week so on my off nights, all I wanted was to spend evenings alone at home as a couple, watching movies on Netflix or sharing a bottle of wine. She was a social being who desired external involvement and personal interactions outside the home. I was not.

It also didn’t help that she was a stay-at-home mom, who no longer needed to stay at home, while I worked fifty-plus hours a week trying to get ahead and keep bread on the table.

The differences in our social proclivities hadn’t been apparent when the boys were younger and basic parenting absorbed nearly every shred of Natalie’s attention. Evening baths and diaper changes were replaced with bedtime stories and nightly tuck-ins, which were followed by endless after school activities like soccer, baseball and sleep-overs. Her life revolved around the boys, their care, and keeping up our home. In those days, we were relieved to simply get a night out by ourselves, sans kiddos, every now and then. Dinner and a movie were social luxuries we mutually appreciated.

But now Jeremy and Justin were in their mid-teens—sixteen and fourteen, respectively—and (theoretically, at least) able to take care of themselves. Neither boy had any interest in after-school activities or sports these days—unless you counted skateboarding with their friends a sport, which I didn’t. It was an activity, a hobby, but not a sport. Anyway, as a result, Natalie had much more discretionary time on her hands. This meant the differences in how we wanted to spend our evenings were becoming more and more pronounced. I felt pressured to go out and enjoy her newfound freedom. She felt cooped up and caged in a four-bedroom, three-bath, twenty-eight hundred square foot house.

The latest fight had been over her insistence that we schedule a weekly happy hour event for us and some of the folks in our neighborhood clique—most of whom were merely good acquaintances. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy happy hour just as much as the next guy. Just not a scheduled event on an ongoing, weekly basis. To me, that’s too much like a regular meeting at work—not enjoyable. When I go out, I want it to be a spontaneous, fun event that feels right, not a standing obligation that I’ve been signed up to attend once a week.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Steven L. Hawk spent six years as a Military Intelligence Specialist with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division before joining the ranks of corporate America. He is currently employed as a VP for a Fortune 500 company. This is Steve's sixth book. He is also the author of the popular Peace Warrior Trilogy and "Son of Justice", which was previously selected for publication through the Kindle Scout program. You can find out more about Steve at his website: www.SteveHawk.com.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
I've got the usual places where readers can learn more about me, but my web site is a good place to start: www.SteveHawk.com. I'm also on Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn. And then there's my author page on Amazon.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
I may be biased, but this book represents some of my best writing. It's my first endeavor writing in the first person, which was a bit difficult. Fortunately, the story demanded to be told, and the words almost wrote themselves. For a writer, that's usually a good sign the story is worth telling.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
No one's life is perfect. We often get stuck in jobs, relationships, addictions, etc. that can keep us from moving forward. This book takes two completely opposite characters, who are each stuck in their own lives, and swaps them to see how they react when placed in the other person's shoes.

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