2021 Reading Challenge

2021 Reading Challenge
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Excerpt: So Happy Together by Deborah K. Shepherd

About the Book
When Carolyn Mills flees her unhappy childhood to attend the University of Arizona, she meets Peter MacKinley accidentally, but they connect immediately—in the ending-each-other’s-sentences way. Caro is bright, vivacious, and a gifted writer. Peter is kind, quiet, and shows tremendous talent as an actor. They balance each other and are soon inseparable, sharing their love of classic movies, 19-cent bean burritos at Taco Bell, and even painful memories. Caro falls hard. She believes Peter is her everything, and Peter hopes he can be.

Set amidst the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll of 1960’s Tucson, when Caro earns recognition as a budding playwright, and then later in the 1980’s New York suburbs, when she’s married to someone else, and her creativity is buried beneath the demands of motherhood, SO HAPPY TOGETHER is a moving exploration of friendship and love, acceptance and tolerance, forgiveness, and honoring our authentic selves.

Excerpt
SO HAPPY TOGETHER
By Deborah K. Shepherd

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

May 4, 1970: The news was terrifying that day. Suddenly, a place no one had ever heard of was on the minds and lips of everyone—like My Lai, six months earlier, only these two syllables were in America. Kent State. Four kids were dead, ten others seriously wounded. On a college campus in a little Ohio town in the United States of America. Shot dead by the National Guard of the State of Ohio, in the United States of America.

We were both horrified. By evening, I was still weepy, but Jack was subdued.

I was ready to leave the country, but, instead, red-eyed and spent with crying, I was dressing to go to dinner at Jack’s parents. It was taking me forever. Jack was impatient.

“What are you putting on your arm?”

“It’s a black armband. I’m in mourning, and I’m protesting.” I struggled to tie the armband I had cut from the hem of an old black skirt. I was not adept at one-handed tying, so I was holding one end of the strip in my teeth.

An expression of something I couldn’t quite pin down flitted across his face. Was it regret? Resignation? But it only lasted a moment.

“Don’t you think you’re carrying this a bit too far, Caro? You look like…like you’re about to shoot smack…and I hardly think that’s an appropriate addition to your outfit, under the circumstances.”

In spite of his words, I could see longing in his eyes.

The circumstances of which he spoke were that he had cut his hair, shaved his beard, and was now working in his father’s firm. I had envisioned him defending the Black Panthers and war resisters. He had envisioned a roof over our heads and dinner out a couple of times a month. The circumstances were also that my father-in-law was still Nixon’s biggest cheerleader, and I knew that wearing my politics on my sleeve would be rubbing his nose in it. But the circumstances were also that four of our comrades were dead.

“Appropriate? Appropriate? You know who you sound like, don’t you? Except for an accident of time and place, that could have been us, Jack! Us and all of our friends. They weren’t doing anything we didn’t do. Don’t you understand in some ways it was us?” I was sobbing again, but I had succeeded in tying the armband.

“Oh, come off it, baby. It wasn’t us. We never would have been that stupid. Those guys had loaded guns, for Christ’s sake. Now take it off and let’s get going.”

“I’m not taking it off. I can’t believe you’re asking me to do that.” But he wasn’t asking me, he was ordering. We had purposely deleted the word “obey” from our marriage vows. What was he doing?

“My God, Jack. Wasn’t it only two years ago that we were willing to get tear-gassed and who knows what else in Chicago? You were right beside me then, remember? The last time I looked, this was a free country. The armband stays on.”

My arrows had hit home, I saw. He looked wounded, but I was standing my ground, even though I knew what it would cost him to show up at his parents’ house wearing his radical persona.

It was the first time I had stood up to him, and he didn’t know what to make of it. Given a few moments to see the folly of my ways, would I give in? I could see him weighing the alternatives. He turned to leave the bedroom.

“I’m going to call my folks and try to bow out of this evening as gracefully as possible. I’ll tell them you’re not feeling well…” He paused to see if this threat would sway me. It would not.

“No, on second thought, if you persist in being so stubborn, I’m just going to go myself. Well…?”

“You’d better hurry, then. You don’t want to keep your parents waiting.”

He gave me an incredulous look. I stared right back at him, unwilling, unable to give in. We were both stuck, and neither one of us knew how to come unstuck. Without another word, he left the room. The apartment door slammed behind him. I held my breath. He couldn’t be doing this. In a minute, he’d cool off. He’d be back. But then I heard the elevator door open, and he was gone. I waited by the door for a few minutes, imagining him getting into the car and maybe debating with himself about moving it from the miraculous right-in-front-of-our-building- alternative-side-of-the-street parking space I had found that morning, the one that would be good for the whole weekend. But after ten minutes, I knew he was heading north on the Henry Hudson Parkway. I took off the armband, threw it in the trash, and got into my nightgown.

We had had our first fight, and I couldn’t help but feel a little proud for not caving. But Jack had gone off without me, and I began to spar with myself. Would it have been such a big deal to take the armband off? Why did I have to be so stubborn? Would it have been so awful if I had commiserated with my husband’s no-win situation and played my part as supportive wife? Now I had something else to cry about.

#

I spent the evening in bed with my transistor tuned to the all-news station. Every 22 minutes, the events of the day were replayed…67 shots fired…four dead…14 wounded…Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder, Sandra Scheuer…by 11 p.m., the names were as familiar to me as my own…and every 22 minutes I couldn’t help wishing that the old Jack was here beside me, vowing to take it to the streets. 11 p.m…My husband had still not returned. Had he left me? We hadn’t even been married a year yet. The tears wouldn’t stop, but I wasn’t sure if they were tears of anger or chagrin. Did I even want him in my bed that night? For the first time in our relationship, I would feign sleep.

About the Author
DEBORAH K. SHEPHERD was born in Cambridge, MA and spent much of her early life in the New York area. Before retiring in 2014, she was a social worker with a primary focus on the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the provision of services to survivors. During an earlier career as a reporter, she wrote for Show Business in New York City and for the Roe Jan Independent, a weekly newspaper in Columbia County, New York. She graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan, and holds a BFA in drama from the University of Arizona and an MSW from the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. Deborah lives with her husband and two rescue dogs in mid-coast Maine. Find her online at deborahshepherdwrites.com

Photo of Deborah K. Shepherd by Henry Wyatt.

So Happy Together releases in the US on April 20, 2021.

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