alpha-gal ain't no superhero but she’ll have upcoming events regardless

So for those who don’t follow me in all the other places where I hold court on the Internets: we finally discovered what is causing my hives. I have an alpha-gal allergy, which doesn't mean that I'm allergic to super heroes.

Due to a tick bite last year, I can no longer eat red meat. Essentially, my diet is restricted to chicken, fish, and vegan food. As a woman who loved roast beef and bacon, this wasn't happy news to me. Fortunately, though, it's something that I can adapt to and might even make for a healthier me, so while I weep and wave good-bye to my favorite foods, I will also probably lose weight and feel better. Here’s to a new phase of life!

In spite of hives and adjusting to a new diet, I had the opportunity to attend MystiCon in February and RavenCon in April. Both were wonderful events, where I got to meet up with some old friends and make some new ones.

Then I came home, and a couple of weeks ago, another tick bit me. This one was an assassin. It tried to kill me with Lyme disease, which I was diagnosed with last Friday. We're in the antibiotic stage right now, and I'm feeling much better this week; although I still suffer some extreme bouts of fatigue.

I'm taking it easy until I get my strength back, because I have a couple of events mid-May and early June that I'm really looking forward to attending.

Greensboro Unbound
May 16-19, 2019
Events will be held in downtown Greensboro, NC

Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 12:30 -- I’ll be joining authors Jenna Glass and Sheree Renee Thomas for a panel about The Real and the Unreal: Speculative Fiction. This particular panel will be held at the Greensboro History Museum, 130 Summit Avenue, Greensboro, NC. If you’re local to the Piedmont Triad area and you’re going to be around, I hope to see there!

ConCarolinas 2019 / Deep South Con 57
May 31-June 2, 2019
8629 J M Keynes Dr., Charlotte, NC 28262

My schedule for ConCarolinas / Deep South Con 57 is now live! If you're a fan local to the Charlotte area, I hope you’ll drop in!

A little farther out is AtomaCon in the Charleston area (one of my very old stomping grounds), November 22-24, 2019. I'll be posting more about that as we get closer to the date.

If you want to keep up with my appearances and dates, you can check out the Events page on my blog.

When I'm not being attacked by killer ticks, I'll be busy working on edits for the next Los Nefilim novel, Carved from Stone and Dream, and working on writing the third novel. I'll share the cover art and blurb for Carved from Stone and Dream as soon as I can. I’m very excited about this one, because you get to see more of Rafael.

Be safe, watch out for ticks, and if I don't see you at a local event, I'll catch you online!

Watch for me ...

The Silence: a review from the deaf perspective

This isn’t going to be a long review, because I wasn’t able to get far into the movie. Two things I want to get out of the way up front are: first, I love Tim Lebbon’s books, and second, in terms of plot and cinematography, The Silence might very well be an excellent movie. I don’t know, because I wasn’t able to get past the “deaf” character’s actions. In other words, this review is about how poor representation ruined what might have otherwise been a good movie for me.

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Nor is this review an attack on Ms. Kiernan Shipka or her talents as an actor. Ms. Shipka seemed to do well with the material she was given; however, it appears she wasn’t given much. I understand that she learned ASL for the role, but as I’ve stated in other posts, there is much more to being deaf than knowing sign language.

As with all my other posts from the deaf perspective, I also want to point out that this review is written from my perspective as a deaf person, which can and will differ greatly from those of the Deaf community, or from people with a different type of hearing loss. In other words, your mileage may vary, which is fine.

Viewing the movie as someone who loves horror films, I can say that my gripe with The Silence began before Shipka’s character, Ally, ever hit the screen. I’ve spoken of this particular issue in novels, and it’s no less annoying in a movie: the need to leap too fast into the action without any attempt to cultivate tension. The opening scene could have been a claustrophobic buildup of horror. Instead, it was delivered like an awkward prologue that was over so quickly, it felt like an aside.

Then we meet Ally, who tells us how smart she is because she learned to lip-read so fast after her accident … and I flinched, because that is not how it works. Even so, I gave the film a few more minutes, because I wanted to see how the story would explain that particular skill.

Essentially, Ally’s backstory is this: she was in a car accident with her grandparents three years earlier. Due to the traumatic head injury inflicted during the accident, Ally was rendered completely deaf. In addition to recovering from whatever other brain trauma she might have endured during the accident, Ally is now perfectly healthy, except she is deaf. In three years, she has learned ASL and how to lip-read and moves through the hearing world without the annoying dizziness, vertigo, or tinnitus that burdens the rest of us.

At no point are we led to believe that Ally moves in anything other than a world of silence. She doesn’t wear either hearing aids or a cochlear implant. This tells me, as a deaf person, that her hearing is completely gone, and due to whatever injury she sustained, assistive listening devices do not help her.

Within the first five minutes with Ally, we see her taunted from behind by a group of her high school classmates, who are actually acting like they’re twelve. That was just weird.

Immediately after Ally is taunted by her classmates, she walks down the middle of a street…

—let me pause here to say that deaf people, who can’t hear cars coming NEVER walk down the middle of any street without constantly looking over their shoulders—

…her boyfriend approaches her from behind and puts his hands over her eyes.

And I almost shut the movie down then, because that is the most horrible thing you can do to a deaf person: sneak up on them from behind. Seriously, you scare the crap out of deaf people when you do that. It’s horrible. Don’t do it. Ever.

But this is Ally’s boyfriend, who will soon be getting his drivers’ license, and Ally informs him that her parents will probably never let her drive because she’s deaf …

Dear Ally’s parents and the producers of this movie,

Deaf people drive all the time and we’re probably safer drivers than hearing people, because we are paying attention with our eyes.

Thank you,
Me

Then Ally arrives home and my nitpicking reaches monumental levels. The usual systems designed to help deaf people pinpoint noise (for example: doorbells, phones, fire alarms, or loud noises) are large bulky boxes that indicate why a light is flashing. They could have been there in the background and I just missed them, but after going to all the other lengths to show Ally’s deafness, the director doesn’t bother to show us that her home is equipped for a deaf person.

Ally’s family uses pidgin sign language to communicate. As a family having to adjust to a late-deafened child, it’s possible they’re doing the best they can. They also make asides that Ally can’t hear, and although unkind, I found this plausible as well.

Still, it bothered me that Ally follows conversations with ease. Even with lip-reading and signing, most deaf people are moving on a delay and the faster the topics change, the more frustrating communication becomes for the individual. Also, to lip-read with Ally’s accuracy, one needs to have some residual hearing.

Later that evening, Dad comes into her room and at one point, they forget to sign, but Ally has no trouble following the sudden topic shift, and that was it for me. I’d watched about all of the movie I could watch, because I realized from that point forward I would be doing nothing but critiquing Ally.

Those critiques turned into my biggest issue with The Silence. Whereas A Quiet Place presented a moment of ableism in the lack of captioning during the spoken parts between hearing characters, The Silence is the ableist viewpoint on full display. At no point did I believe that Ally was actually deaf, and if you can’t make me believe in your characters, then I’ll never buy into your story, no matter how good the film.


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Frohock has intricately woven a unique reinterpretation of history. Eloquent prose accompanies a lyrical theme amid prewar tensions, enriching this imaginative historical fantasy. –starred review, Publishers Weekly

Where Oblivion Lives is available at Scuppernong Books | HarperCollins | IndieBound. You can find links to Amazon and B&N at the HarperCollins link. If you're an audiobook fan, we've got you covered: the audiobook is narrated by the talented Vikas Adam and is available from Audible.

A few people have asked if you have to read the novellas first in order to enjoy Where Oblivion Lives. The answer is no, BUT if you want to read them, you can find the Los Nefilim omnibus at HarperCollins, as well as links to the individual novellas right here.

How to write strong male characters, or writing non-toxic heroes

Okay, that title is a tweak on all of the numerous blog posts I once read (and to be fair, wrote) about writing strong female characters. Remember those? Back a few years, you couldn’t swing a dead rat without knocking down a blog post on how to write a female character. I enjoyed those posts, not simply because what the authors were saying was true, but also because of the empowerment those essays gave to both the authors and the readers.

However, when I floated the idea on Twitter of writing a similar post about male characters, I was met with some snark, such as a recommendation to gender-flip everyone, or make all of the characters female. Frankly, the suggestion of gender-flipping the characters and suddenly all-is-well-with-the-world-and-bluebirds-sing as a solution tells me the individual in question hasn’t been around toxic women, which is another blog post altogether, but suffice to say that gender-flipping isn’t a cure and completely avoids the toxicity of some male characters.

Another individual advised me to write a gender-balanced novel, which tells me they haven’t read mine.

For the record: the male/female ratio from Where Oblivion Lives is 17 men and 15 women. This is a rough count from my style sheet and omits anyone who is/was an actual historical person.

With a bisexual protagonist married to his gay partner, I was highly conscious of the number of females and their roles as I wrote the story. Whenever possible, I made the supporting characters females in high-profile jobs (such as Sofia, who is the chief of Guillermo’s spy unit, and Carme, who is more badass than all the men put together) wherever and whenever possible. However, we’re not here to talk about them.

“Toxic Masculinity” and Why I Dislike the Term

The term “toxic masculinity” is mutable, depending on the time period, who is defining it, and whether it is the product of popular jargon or actual gender studies. No one denies that male violence and sexism are issues that need to be addressed on a cultural level; however, the cause of those issues aren’t necessarily masculinity. Men do not burst from the womb loathing women and fighting the other babies in the nursery. Misogyny and violence are learned behaviors, and one of the many places where men learn those toxic behaviors is by reading books with characters who make misogyny and violence an acceptable part of being male.

Also, I’m not here to lead a discussion in gender studies, because I’m not qualified for that. I’m a writer and we’re here to talk about writing characters that provide positive role models not just for young men, but also for young women. So rather than “toxic masculinity,” I’ll be talking about the toxic behavior we normally ascribe to men, and how I avoided making the men in my novels behave in ways that would make violence and misogyny seem appealing.

I gave the toxic behavioral traits of glorifying violence and power-structures to my antagonists, Jordi and Karl. They believe they are “destined for greatness,” and that by virtue of birthrights and poorly constructed ideals of male dominance, their place is assured. Stylistically, I approach these aspects of character through their actions and by what the other characters observe of Jordi’s and Karl’s behavior.

For example: we never go into Karl’s point-of-view, but we see him through Diago’s eyes as Diago walks through a drawing room, looking at pictures of Karl standing triumphantly over big game animals he has killed. Diago notes that “Karl likes killing things.” However, it’s not so much about killing as it is about Karl’s need for dominance over other creatures.

Does this mean that Guillermo and Miquel don’t possess toxic behaviors? No.

The difference between the Jordi/Karl and Guillermo/Miquel dynamic is that Jordi/Karl see nothing wrong with their behavior and make no efforts to change. Guillermo and Miquel, on the other hand, tend to listen when confronted about their behavior, and they do make sincere efforts to modify, not just their actions, but also the thought processes that lead to those actions, thereby making an active effort to break the cycle of toxicity.

WRITING nontoxic heroes

Is not as hard as it sounds; although it takes a lot more than just adding more women to the cast. The women have to be proactive and possess agency of their own, and the men need to respond to them as equals.

One of my favorite scenes from Where Oblivion Lives is the dinner scene, where Guillermo’s eight-year-old daughter, Ysabel, decides to make her stand for independence. Her mother, Juanita, is in full support of her daughter and coaches her from the sidelines. Guillermo’s behavior is toxic in that he wants to control the situation, and he uses manipulative means to do so. At the same time, this particular scene is the catalyst for some of the subsequent changes in Guillermo’s personality later on in the novel.

I’ve edited the scene down to its essential parts, but it all begins after dinner when Ysabel asks if she and Rafael and can go outside and play fútbol:

Guillermo traded a calculating look with Juanita. “I don’t see the harm in it.” Before Ysabel could move, he pointed at his jubilant daughter. “But it had better be fútbol and not that spy game you’ve started playing. No more of that. I don’t want you creeping around the compound listening under windows. Do you understand me?”

With her round face and thick auburn curls, she was an eight-year-old version of her father, right down to the way her face belied her guilt when caught flat-footed in a scheme. “How am I ever going to be a proper nefil if I don’t learn how to gather information?”

“If you want to be a proper nefil, you’ll follow orders and I’ve just given you one.”

Ysa showed no sign of letting the argument go, however. “You said you learned on the streets when you were younger than me.”

“That was a different time.”

“Not that different,” Juanita said.

Guillermo’s cheeks flushed pink. “Whose side are you on?”

As cool as her milk-pale skin, Juanita rested her chin on her hand and met her husband’s glare. “It’s not about sides. If she was a boy, you’d be complimenting her on her acumen.”

“That’s not fair,” Guillermo shot back. “I give my experienced female Guards the same respect and assignments as I do the males.”

Ysabel seized the opening. “How did they get their experience?” She didn’t give him a chance to answer. “By doing the work.”

“They weren’t eight years old.”

“I want to learn, Papá.”

Seeking to help his friend, Rafael said, “Ysa is really very good at it, Don Guillermo, and she is very careful.”

High praise indeed, given that Rafael spent his first six years on the streets. Nonetheless, Diago touched his son’s arm and whispered, “Be still.”

Guillermo ignored everyone but Ysabel. “This has nothing to do with your gender. You’re my daughter. If something happens to you, my heart will die.”

An appeal to the emotions. Nice save, Diago thought, taking mental notes in case Rafael developed a sudden interest in proving his value to the Inner Guard through espionage. Fortunately, his son seemed more intent on picking the almonds off his plate with his fingers.

Ysa stood her ground and retorted, “I’d be in a lot less danger with your guidance.”

And touché. Diago wondered what prompted her to challenge her father today. A quick glance at Juanita told him that whatever the reason, she supported Ysa’s cause, because she assessed her daughter’s attitude with the eye of a maestro watching her student deliver a master performance.

Juanita said, “She has your craving for knowledge, Guillermo, and she is ready to begin learning about the family business.”

Guillermo’s cheeks reddened again, but this time from chagrin rather than anger, because everyone at the table knew Juanita spoke the truth.

She continued, “Besides, she’s right: it’s better she work under your supervision rather than running amok on her own.”

* * *

Although I don’t actually state it, a couple of things can be noted from Guillermo’s behavior:

  1. He doesn’t immediately deny Ysabel’s request and send her to her room. The closest he comes to an ultimatum is “If you want to be a proper nefil, you’ll follow orders and I’ve just given you one.” However, he doesn’t cut her off when she continues the argument. This shows he does respect his daughter’s opinion as well as her personal autonomy.

  2. Nor does he treat her like a child. He tries to reason with her on an adult level, and even though he’s manipulative at one point, he knows in his heart of hearts that both of the women in his life are right. That much is evident from his actions. As much as he wants his little girl to stay a little girl forever, he recognizes the fact that she isn’t mortal and that he is going to have to eventually teach her the family business, ugly though it is.

As Guillermo’s character arc develops, we see him proactively working toward changing how he views his daughter and her place in Los Nefilim. Ysabel blossoms into a strong leader in the second novel, primarily because of her parents’ partnership and mutual respect for one another.

Any character (male or female) can certainly possess toxic behaviors—in this particular scene, it’s Guillermo wanting to be overprotective to the point of crippling Ysabel—but the key to making the character non-toxic is having them resist that impulse to lash out and exert dominance over others based on nothing more than the power dynamics of the relationship. Guillermo exhibits a willingness to listen, and subsequently, a willingness to change. These two points are what elevates him over his brother, Jordi.

GIve the toxicity to your antagonists

As the antagonist, Jordi and Karl exhibit the classic toxicity often associated with male characters. They are abusive, violent, and in their reasoning, the world belongs to them. They feel justified in their excesses. And I deliberately give them those characteristics, because by showing toxic behavior in all its ugliness, I have the chance to contrast the two types of men.

Why saddle THE WOMEN with the responsibility
of SHOWING MEN THEIR TOXICITY?

Parenting is a partnership, where the spouses play to one another’s strengths and weaknesses. In this case, it just happened to be Juanita nudging Guillermo in the right direction. Later on in the same novel, Miquel has his own ideas of how to raise Rafael, which Diago ignores, so it’s not about women but about spouses.

It also just so happened that I needed a character arc for Guillermo and the issue of Ysabel’s upbringing fit his personality perfectly while showing that men make good parents. Which brings me to my final point …

Words have power

… and our characters exist through our words, so they, too, have power. Writing a story requires being conscious of the world around us, but also of the world we want to see. In stories, we shape our worlds through our characters and their interactions, which often mirror our own. Fortunately, we don’t always have to show our readers the world as it is, but we can explore the world as we’d like to know it. Shifting the toxic behavior normally associated with men from the heroes to the antagonists gives us a chance to reshape our world.


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Frohock has intricately woven a unique reinterpretation of history. Eloquent prose accompanies a lyrical theme amid prewar tensions, enriching this imaginative historical fantasy. –starred review, Publishers Weekly

Where Oblivion Lives is available at Scuppernong Books | HarperCollins | IndieBound. You can find links to Amazon and B&N at the HarperCollins link. If you're an audiobook fan, we've got you covered: the audiobook is narrated by the talented Vikas Adam and is available from Audible.

A few people have asked if you have to read the novellas first in order to enjoy Where Oblivion Lives. The answer is no, BUT if you want to read them, you can find the Los Nefilim omnibus at HarperCollins, as well as links to the individual novellas right here.

A few random thoughts

Before I begin, I want to take a moment and thank everyone who has taken time from their busy schedules to either rate or review either Los Nefilim (the omnibus or the novellas) and Where Oblivion Lives. I know your lives are just as busy as mine, so please know that I appreciate your time! Knowing what you love, or hate, helps me steer the series in the right direction. I won’t sacrifice the story I want to tell, but if there is some small way I can make the series more enjoyable to its fans, I like to do that.

Which brings me to the Los Nefilim Snippets (see the sidebar). I haven’t been around much, but it’s mainly because I’ve got several things going on this year. I’m promoting one book, editing a second, and writing a third. It all tends to take up a bit of time. I wrote the first post in what I hope becomes a series for the fans of quiet moments in the novels: Los Nefilim Snippets. There are only two right now, but I’ll probably add one a week or every two weeks as time allows. They’re fun for me to write—more fun than coming up with blog post topics.

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Author’s copies finally arrived for Where Oblivion Lives! That means I can now come up with some ideas for a contest to give away a few copies. So watch the blog, my newsletter, and my Twitter and Facebook feeds for those.

I also discovered that I can leave annotations with Goodreads through my Kindle Notes and Highlights. There were about eight things I wish I’d had space to note within the text, so I compromised and waited for publication. You can go to Goodreads and read the annotations. The last two are spoilers and concern Rudi. I’d suggest you finish the book before reading those. I used spoiler tags so they’d be hidden and no one would accidentally stumble on them.

The next book in the Los Nefilim world is called Carved from Stone and Dream. I’ve been busy locating photos that evoke the essence of that novel’s story for the cover art, as well as coming up with cover copy (blurbs, etc.) for it.

If you want a hint (and a teeny excerpt) about Carved from Stone and Dream, the key refrain will be: “Don’t blink:”

Miquel stared back, projecting a calm he didn’t feel. This was another interrogation trick: mention a loved one and watch the source carefully for a twitch, or a tear, or a blink. Anything to indicate the jab hit a nerve. Miquel knew that if he showed the slightest interest in Diago’s welfare, Benito would use Miquel’s fear as a cudgel. Don’t blink.

I’m also getting a great deal of glee every time someone signs off one of my social media accounts or a review with “Watch for me.” You guys are made of awesome.

I’ll be around.

Watch for me.

Schoolyard brawl ... Los Nefilim Snippet

A lot of you—seriously, more of you than I ever expected—said you’d like to see slice of life vignettes with the Los Nefilim characters. Little stories along the lines of “A Rose, A Dragon” aren’t hard to write, and these little shorts also work as characters studies for me.

So I added a category for Los Nefilim Snippets in the sidebar. That way, if you miss one, you can find it easily.

The following snippet has floated in the back of my mind from time-to-time. The sequel to Where Oblivion Lives is called Carved from Stone and Dream, and it takes place several years after the events in Where Oblivion Lives. In Carved from Stone and Dream, Rafael is fourteen and he plays a much more prominent role in the story. As I wrote his character, I thought a lot about the difference between Diago’s and Miquel’s personalities and their parenting skills.

Miquel is angel-born and more likely to use martial means to solve his problems. Diago tends to fall back on diplomacy. In Carved from Stone and Dream, we see the end result of Diago’s and Miquel’s parenting. But before Rafael grew into an emotionally stable youth, he suffered his own growing pains.

Here, we see the diamond in the rough:

Santuari, Spain
March 12, 1933

The front door opened and then snicked shut quietly. In the kitchen, Diago glanced at his watch. Across the table from him, Miquel stubbed his cigarette in a tin ashtray. They exchanged a glance. It was too early for Rafael to be home, yet Diago recognized his son’s soft tread on the floor.

And he’s sneaking … which never indicated good news. Diago lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. Please don’t let him be in trouble again …

Miquel leaned back in his chair, so he could see into the living the room. “Rafael? Why is school out?” A frown creased his husband’s mouth. “What happened to your face?”

“Nothing.”

Diago dropped his hand, alarm spreading through his chest. “What’s wrong with his face?” He rose and went to the kitchen door.

Rafael had already crossed the small living room and stood at the hallway’s entrance. At eight, he’d finally begun to acquire some height, though he was still small for his age. Dust coated the wild curls surrounding the lacerations on his face. His shirt was torn and his pants ripped.

He paused and smoothed first his hair and then his shirt with one hand. With the other, he twisted the strap holding his schoolbooks together. A large bruise blackened one eye and the side of his face.

Swallowing hard, he met Diago’s gaze. “It’s okay, Papá. Doña Juanita says it’s just a bruise and it’s already healing and it’s okay.”

Miquel joined Diago, standing just behind him. “Wow, that’s a shiner. What does the other guy look like?”

Diago nudged Miquel silent with his elbow. “Why were you fighting?”

“Georgio called me a monkey again.”

“And then you hit him?”

“No, I did what you said. I tried to be nice and I asked him to please stop calling me a monkey and then he started singing that I was a monkey from Morocco, and when I told him to shut up, he shoved me.”

Diago winced. “So why did you get sent home?”

Rafael glanced at Miquel. “Because this time I hit him back like Miquel told me to do, and it felt good, because I was really mad, so I hit him again. And then Emilia hit me to make me stop hitting Georgio, so Violeta hit Emilia, and then Ysa hit Georgio with a rock … at least, I think that’s what happened, because Ysa had her slingshot in her hand and Georgio was yelling and there was blood everywhere …”

Diago lifted his hand. “You may stop now.”

Rafael exhaled and looked down, feigning contriteness that wasn’t reflected in his eyes. “I’m really tired and my head hurts. May I go to my room?”

The play for sympathy fell flat with Diago. If Juanita had examined Rafael, then she gave him aspirin. If he thinks Miquel is going to smooth this over for him, then he has another thing coming. “Where was Father Bernardo during all this?”

Resigned to his interrogation, Rafael exhaled a long-suffering sigh. “Inside the church grading papers. He came out and broke up the fight when Georgio started screaming about murder; although I don’t think Ysa was trying to kill him.”

“She should have,” Miquel snapped.

Diago elbowed his husband again, more sharply this time.

“Ow!” Miquel put some distance between them. “What was that for? Georgio is twelve years old and in his second-born life. He is almost as big as I am. He has no business picking on Rafael.”

Knowing he had an ally in Miquel, Rafael nodded. “Father Bernardo broke up the fight. He pulled Georgio off me and I think that’s when my coat ripped, and oh”—he reached into his jacket and gave Diago a note—“Father Bernardo wants to talk to you and Miquel. I think you’re in trouble this time.”

“I’m not in trouble.” Diago took the note and shot his husband a poisoned glare.

Miquel stiffened. “What do you want? That Georgio beats him up everyday? Rafael needs to learn to fight back.”

Diago scanned the note. “You can explain that parental philosophy to Father Bernardo when we meet with him in an hour.”

Miquel shrugged. “You can handle it. I’m meeting with Guillermo.”

Diago gave the note to Miquel. “Not anymore. Guillermo is going to be there, too. See?” He snapped the paper with his fingers.

Anger flashed through Miquel’s dark eyes as he glanced at the page and then back to Diago. “Why are you looking at me like that? This isn’t my fault.”

“Who taught him to fight?”

“I taught him to stick up for himself.”

“Really? After you promised me—”

Rafael fidgeted. “Are you two going to fight now, because—?”

“We’re not fighting,” they said in unison.

The phone rang, jolting them all to silence. Miquel went to answer, jerking the handset from the cradle. “Miquel.” He closed his eyes as he listened. “Yes … yes … he’s fine … no, we were just talking about that … of course. I’ll see you in an hour.” Replacing the handset, he stood for a moment with his head bowed. “That was Guillermo. I’m going, too.”