Excerpt for Awake by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


a writer’s romance

Keanan Brand

Copyright © 2015 Keanan Brand

All rights reserved.


"Awake" formerly entitled "Dog Breath and Minty-Fresh Kisses"

She is asleep when he returns.

She lies, knees bent, hands nestled against her throat, still wearing that old denim jacket, faded at the collar and frayed at the cuffs, her Birkenstocks splayed on the hardwood floor at the foot of the bed. Who else wears socks with sandals?

Cale crosses the hall to his bedroom and sets his shoes on the rack, shoving his feet into an ancient pair of misshapen leather loafers. In the kitchen, he makes a fresh pot of coffee—perhaps the aroma will wake her—and starts dinner.

Twilight turns to night, he eats alone, and still she sleeps.

Taking a steaming mug of coffee, black, into the den, he sits with his feet stretched toward the natural gas flames in the fireplace, leans his head back against the sofa, and stares up at the shadowed ceiling. Beside weekly phone calls and almost daily e-mails, he and Penn meet once a month or so for conversation—or debate—over dinner and a gallon of strong coffee.

Tonight on the doorstep, she had yawned in the middle of saying hello. He offered to postpone; the neighbor had asked his help moving a massive antique wardrobe.

“Go.” She waved a hand. “I’ll take a nap on the couch. Fifteen minutes, and I’ll be set for hours.”

“The guest bed’s more comfortable,” he’d tossed over his shoulder, stepping onto the path across the yard, as casually if this had happened before and would happen again.

Once colleagues at a local nonprofit, they'd become friends, and she works there still, writing novels in her spare time. She encourages his photography, but it seems ordinary next to her imagination. Not nearly as rewarding as the youth center but much more lucrative, his current job robs his energy, sucks his focus. He has little time for hobbies. Just as well. His last few rolls of film were pure crap, and using the digital camera feels like cheating.

If he sits here brooding much longer, he’ll wake up with a stiff neck and cold coffee. And the dog needs to be fed. Cale slides the mug across the kitchen counter and grabs his jacket.

“I don’t like chickens.”

He flicks on the hall light and stands at the guest room door.

Her eyes are closed. “Dogs’re nice. Horses. And there should be pirates.”


“Grog. Peanuts. Maybe parachutes.”

“So, Penn, what’s the new novel about?”


He leans a shoulder against the jamb and crosses his arms. “Where do they live?”

“Africa. Antarctica.”

He chuckles.

She turns her head on the pillow, mumbling.

“Hey, Penn.”


“Marry me.”

“Only if”—she mutters something inarticulate—“kiss me.”



Smiling, he pulls on his jacket and steps out to the backyard.

“Hey, Frederick.” He rubs the chocolate lab’s chest, avoiding the enthusiastic tail. “Frost tonight.” He picks up the food and water dishes. “C’mon, boy.”

Frederick galumphs through the house, skittering on the slick wood floors, taking all of five seconds to discover the spare room is occupied.

Good. Maybe she’ll wake up.

Returning the jacket to its hook, Cale admits to annoyance. How can she sleep away a planned evening, leaving him waiting and with too much food to put away—

He makes no effort at silence as he cleans the kitchen. Still lukewarm, the coffee is sludge, but he drinks one cupful and pours another, standing with his hip leaning against the counter. After a few moments of staring at nothing, he dumps out the coffee and goes to bed.

Where am I?”

He tosses aside blankets. “Penn?”

“Who are you?”

He steps over Frederick lying in the doorway and sits on the edge of her bed. “It’s me.”

She is a rigid, upright shape in the pale gleam of a distant streetlight. “Cale?”

“Yeah.” He touches her arm. The denim feels buttery, warm, like fabric skin.

“It’s dark.”

“It’s five in the morning.” He shoves away Frederick, whose breath borders on rancid.

“Gardeners in the Sahara. Because there’s a drought at sea.”


“Science fiction.”

“Of course.”

She lies down again, her breath even and unhurried. Will she remember any of this in the morning?

Relationships are not discussed. Hinted at, skirted around, but not part of their friendship. Not for the first time he feels the subtle sting of jealousy. Who else might know she writes stories in her sleep?

Cale brews fresh coffee then wanders the house, a mug in his hand, the down-at-hem bathrobe flapping around his ankles. He stops at the living room window, watching the sky gray then striate with ribbons of color.

Rummaging in the closet, he finds the camera. Damn. Still loaded with black and white. There's always the digital—

He stands once more in the doorway of the spare room. Penn lies on her side. Morning glows soft behind white blinds.

Frederick sprawls beside her, his hind legs spread wide in canine abandon, probably depositing dirt and hair on the heirloom chenille. Thank God, Sis isn’t here to see the desecration.

Cale sets up the tripod, turns off the flash, shoots a few pics of the dog, then of Penn and the dog, then of Penn.

The focus tightens. The shutter clicks with muted efficiency.

An outflung hand like a half-furled leaf. A languid wave of hair across a pillow. An almond eyelid rimmed by arched brow and fanned lashes. A three-quarter mouth punctuated by a freckle.

Quiet satisfaction grows until he no longer denies it. Good stuff.

Green eyes open, close, open again.

Lowering the camera, he sits back on his heels and meets that waking gaze.

She stretches, smiling.

“Hey, Penn.”

“Hey, Cale.”

Her nose wrinkles, and she props herself on one elbow, scowling behind her at the snoring dog.

Cale snaps the photo. The camera hums, rewinding the film.

She sits up, yawning, and scratches her head, further mussing long brown hair.

Grinning, he gestures with the camera at Frederick. “How long has this been going on?”

She throws a pillow. He ducks. The tripod crashes. Frederick raises his head, blinking at the humans, then lies back down.



“Sorry about last night. Long week—” Another yawn.

He sets the camera on the nightstand, gathering thoughts, words, courage. “I’ll make a deal with you. You finish your novel about dragons in Antarctica”—her brows twitch then her eyes widen; he smiles—“and I’ll submit portfolios to a few galleries.”

Head tilted to the side, she studies him. “I talked in my sleep, didn’t I?”


“It must have been pretty profound to finally convince you.” Her smile seems puzzled. “I wish I knew what it was. Might be useful in the future.”

“You really don’t remember?”


“But you recall the dragon stuff?”

“A little.”

He stands, relieved and disappointed at the same time.

“What was it?”

“Sure you wanna know?”

She laughs. “How can I gloat if I don’t know what I said?”

Sitting on the bed, he takes her hand, looking at it, looking at her. This could be the end. But faint heart never won, or some such saying.

“Last night, while you were sleep-talking, you said— I asked—”

Something glimmers behind her eyes. Memory? “Not about the book.”

He shakes his head.



“Umm, next Friday?”

His thumb caresses the inside of her wrist.

Her breath catches.

“Whaddya say, Penn?”

Her gaze drops to his mouth. Her free hand cups his scruffy jaw. She traces his lower lip.

His heart stumbles. Just say it!

“My teeth feel fuzzy.” The freckle disappears into a dimple. “But I think— I mean, I did promise.”

“If it doesn’t work out?”

Like a negative exposed too soon, will friendship blur? Darken? Disappear?

“Never, ever”—she leans forward; he can’t breathe—“set yourself up for failure.”

Lips touch. Hesitate. Gazes meet.

Frederick pushes between them with an imperative woof, his foul breath choking the air.

Damn dog.

Laughing, Penn stands, stretching again. “Spare toothbrush? For me, not him.”

“Medicine cabinet.”

“Back in two minutes.”

Her fingertips trail along Cale’s jaw. He shivers. Damn.

Frederick, tongue lolling, pants in his face.

“Yeah, yeah.” Cale lets the wriggling canine mass out the back door. “I don’t care how cold it is, you’re staying outside.”

Frederick hikes a leg and graces a shrub.

Chuckling, Cale shakes his head and turns.

Penn watches him from the hallway. “Saharan gardeners.”

He walks toward her. “Parachuting pirates.”

“Arctic dragons.” She meets him halfway, slipping her arms around his neck.

“Dog breath and minty-fresh kisses.” He bends his head. “It’ll be a bestseller.”

About the Author

Keanan Brand is the pseudonym of an award-winning writer and editor who currently resides in Oklahoma. He is at work on several novels of speculative fiction, including space opera, and urban fantasy. He recently published the first half of The Lost Sword duology, Dragon's Rook, and hopes to release the conclusion, Dragon's Bane, in early 2016.

"Awake" is one of several award-winning and/or previously unpublished short stories.


Adventures in Fiction

Penworthy Press


Keanan Brand

official Website:

Keanan Brand

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