A Close Encounter with Magic Mike (and I’m not talking about the movie)

I went to an all nude male review once when I was eighteen. I used a fake ID and walked in holding my best friend’s hand in one hand and a Zima in the other. I felt out of place. Very out of place. Someone was getting married or turning twenty – one or something note worthy, so I tagged along.

It wasn’t fun. There were no Channing Tatums or Matt Bomers. They were too skinny or too chubby or too hairy or just all together too . . . wrong. When what I can only assume was a grandfather came out in a tuxedo thong, I bolted for the door, tossed my Zima into the trash and waited in the car for my friends. There was absolutely no way I needed to see Peepaw’s pee pee. My eyes still burn from the pee pee’s I did see. I swore I would never ever darken the door of a stripping establishment again. Ever.

A few years later, my friend Ronnie got engaged. We planned her wedding with painstaking detail, which was way far out of my norm. I don’t really do details. Her sister/maid of honor was taking care of the bachelorette party. It would take place at their parents’ house, and there would be tequila and food and lots of fun games, and then after, we would hop in a limo and head to a night club to dance . . . which anyone who knows me knows I love dancing. A lot.

I arrived right on time to the party. I gave Ronnie a big hug. We toasted a tequila shot and danced around in her mother’s living room which had been transformed into a cute little dance floor with Spanish tile lit up by a retro disco ball.

As the night grew later, I wondered when we might leave for the dance club. Did I mention I love dancing? My friend’s sister strutted into the room and shushed all of the ladies, saying, “I have a huge surprise for you and for you, mija.” She looked at Ronnie who’s red stained lips spread into a wide toothy smile. The lights dimmed, and the first few beats of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On,” blasted through the surround sound speakers. When the lights came on, center stage (or living room) stood a six foot five beautifully cut man in blue jeans and no shirt. His head was down, looking at the floor. My eyes traveled from his bare feet to the v in his waist line that shone just above where his jeans hung perfectly loose against his light brown skin. I took in the definition of his abs, his chest, his shoulders. Then our eyes met. He didn’t react, kept his eyes set on me and started moving his hips. Dancing to the slow beat.

My heart thudded hard in my chest. I gasped. Audibly. Out loud.

This beautifully crafted specimen of the male species, this man who was trailing his long fingers down his chest to the buttons on his faded wonderfully fitted jeans, this man who was now in a cobalt blue silk thong,  this man who was watching me, eyes gazing into mine, biting his lip. Sexy as hell. This man. This very almost naked man. Was my.

My high school boyfriend.

My very first love. The first boy to do . . . everything first boys do to girls. And he was dancing in a thong thrusting his self into the air, grinding a make believe something in my good friend’s mom’s living room. And staring at me while he did it.

I’m pretty sure I died. But nope, that wasn’t the end. He started moving around the room. I sat on the end of the couch, and he sauntered right over to me, walk dancing to the beat of the music. He stopped in front of where I sat. I shook my head silently telling him, “No, don’t do it. Please don’t do it.”

But then he did it. He put one leg on the arm of the chair and started bucking the air between his . . . self . . . and my face. I slumped down on the couch, and slipped right under his legs, making a bee line for the door. I sat outside in the scorching sun and waited for someone to come and get me, to tell me this incredibly weird dream was over.

A few minutes or hours or days passed, and then he finally came outside.

“What’s the matter? Why did you leave?”

I couldn’t even speak.

“Don’t be embarrassed. You’ve seen me before.”

Still nothing from me.

We broke up on excellent terms. He and I were still friends. We talked at least a couple times a month, but this little detail of his life remained a mystery to me.

Finally my brain connected to my voice, and I said, “When did you start . . . ” cough ” . . . um . . . ”

“Stripping for bachelorette parties?”

“Yep. That.”

This was apparently a fairly new gig for him. He was working to earn some extra cash to buy a new car. We laughed about how awkward the entire situation was and then went inside and had a drink together. He ended up joining us at the night club for dancing (since he’s a professional), where we promised to keep each other informed of any new career moves.

We still keep in touch and not just because he posts shirtless photos on Facebook all the time, but that helps.

Male Review

He looks . . . smart.

Pages of Paige

“Write the best story that you can, and write it as straight as you can.” Ernest Hemingway

I kind of like Ernest Hemingway, so I take his advice as often as possible. That’s what I tried to do when I created Paige and the rest of her story in Dear Stephanie. I tried to write it as straight as I could. And I think I did.

If you’re in the mood for a read that will take you on a shockwave ride of emotions, get your copy today. It’s live, and I’m very proud, but don’t take my word for it.

Here’s what people are saying about my newly released debut novel:

LizziDear Stephanie is a tale of a woman’s battle against mental illness and her own efforts to self-sabotage her entire existence. In spite of her privileges and mind-games, Paige’s story is one of connection and relationship and self. It’s a tale of maybe true love and definitely true love, and loss, and hope, and wonder, and deep, indescribable pain.

It made me laugh.

It made me cry.

It made me angry.

BethDear Stephanie breaks molds.

The realities of the main character – Paige Preston- and her struggles with mental illness and drug abuse are not prettied up, and no bush is beat around. You start out not really liking her, until you do, mostly because she starts to resemble you, with vulnerabilities and fragility. She is human. She is broken.

Castle handles this subject matter with realism and care, never glorifying or exaggerating, which I find admirable. I was genuinely swept away in the story. I laughed out loud, I teared up, I worried, and I felt. You really can’t ask for more than that.

HelenaI was moved to both laughter and tears by this book, which I read all at one sitting, never tiring of the wonderful prose — Castle’s character, Paige Preston, was a delightful narrator, speaking to her audience in a voice that was real and believable.
I’d recommend it to anyone who likes character driven stories and appreciates good writing.

DanaFrom the first chapter, I was hit by the hot mess that is Paige. I often decide immediately whether I like a character, but Paige reveals herself over the course of the novel, and my investment in her grew as I read. She is real, flawed, and heartbreakingly human, and her story stayed with me for days after finishing the book. Even now, over a week after I read it, I am still thinking about it. For me, that is the sign of a good book. It seeps into your pores and settles in.

Chrissy: In my head, I was Stephanie. Paige was writing to me.

She’s confident. Demanding. Beautiful. Flawless. But NOT without flaw. Because no one is. Depression is real, and this character exudes everything and nothing all at once. 

So much happens in so few pages, that I can’t even begin to spoil this for you. I didn’t devour this novel, so much as I was consumed by this novel. I couldn’t put it down (even at work, I kept sneaking a page here and there – sorry boss!).

ReneePaige Preston is ALL THAT – just ask her.

She is every man’s wet dream.

She is also completely hollow and bitterly cold inside, or so it seems.

But sometimes you have to give people a chance to show you who they are.

LisaCastle creates a character who is so substantive, so engaging, that you can’t help but be drawn to her, despite her many flaws and violent demons. You will find yourself breathless several times throughout the tale, right up to the very last unbelievable word.

AndraDear Stephanie is a departure from my usual reading routine, an example of trying something new to shake up a reading rut. At first, I disliked Paige Preston so much I wanted to stop reading. I’m weary of books constructed around unlikeable, unreliable narrators. But Paige wove her spell. She is a well-crafted, deep and disturbed character, manipulative enough to charm even me. 🙂 You won’t be sorry you gave Paige a try.

Dear Stephanie Final eBook cover Laura

Paige Preston wants to end her life. After an unsuccessful attempt, she lands herself in mandatory therapy with a sexy psychiatrist. When he and an even more alluring friend begin to help her break down the walls she’s spent a lifetime building, Paige begins to see something bigger than herself. Is it enough to pull her out of her dark world and help her finally feel like a human? Or will letting someone in be the final step toward her demise?

Dear Stephanie is a sinfully addictive walk through a world of beauty, affluence, and incidental love that effortlessly moves the reader between laughter, tears, heartache, and hope with the turn of every “Paige.”

So, what are you waiting for? Read the book (click here for kindle or paper back), and then let’s have a book club discussion. I can’t wait to hear what you think. Oh, and if you want to win a signed paperback, comment here. If you want a double chance, share something on Social Media with the hashtag #DearStephanie. Thanks for playing!

Thank you to all of the people who have read my book and left reviews. I am forever in your debt, and I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for all of you.

Postcards from California … an excerpt from Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume 2

If writing is my first love, reading is my mistress.

What’s better than diving into a journey full of love and heartbreak, hope and despair, suspense and certainty? My favorite stories have all of that, and today, I’m letting you peek at another tale told by everyone’s favorite dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquait.

She wanted to share more, but I said, “No, let’s leave them with a little bit of a cliffhanger.” I know my readers love my cliffhangers, so here’s a special gift from me to you. You’re going to want to read the rest of this story because love, heartbreak, hope, despair, suspense, certainty…all of it. So make sure and click that little link below and pre-order your copy.


Postcards from California … an excerpt

 “Here’s one from Santa Monica Pier,” Penny said, handing me one of the many postcards that had poured out of the manila envelope. My ex-boyfriend and would-be rock star had been keeping them for me, for years it seems, and I suppose getting a postcard out of the blue a couple of weeks ago prompted him to put them all in a package and send them to me. I honestly hadn’t heard from him in years, but a phone call on my birthday brought him back into my life, if only for five minutes.

With that unwelcome re-entry came a flood of memories, not all of them pleasant.

I said that I’d been a fool, but if I was a fool, than it was only because she made me one.



 I’d long ago stopped being angry with her, but seeing her handwriting, reading the messages in her delicate script sent me spiraling backward through time. Reading the text – so carefree, so oblivious to the hurt she’d caused – just made me feel the pain of being discarded all over again. She had no idea – she was so full of herself; so selfish.


I felt like a little kid again, and part of me experienced a twinge of guilt. Before I’d left for California, I’d promised little Penelope (not yet a Countess, at the age of ten she was always Penny Arcade to me, or, sometimes Penny Dammit when her mom was out of earshot) that I’d someday take her for a ride on the Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica. There I was, on the Ferris Wheel, Maya laughing along with me. Robert was off at some … wherever yet again, and I had to fill my time somehow. So I called Maya.

Maya was different from the other fast-moving crowd in L.A. Sure, she attended all the same parties I did, and would stay out all night dancing – but at the same time, she always seemed peripheral – like she was there and not there at the same time. If wanderlust is a communicable disease, I’d say that I contracted a rather nasty case of it from Maya, and I’ve yet to find a cure. Sometimes I think that the death of my sister and brother-in-law and my subsequent guardianship of Penny is the only thing that slowed me down and kept me in one spot for longer than a year or two at a time. But not unlike with Morphine withdrawal, every once in a while, I still get that itch.

Maya must have constantly felt that itch, because she always looked like she was getting ready to leave. I should have noticed that earlier, but frankly, I was having too much fun.

We ate at the best restaurants, danced the night away at the swankiest clubs, went for long drives at high speeds, Maya going on and on about the places she’d been, the things she’d seen, the cars she’d owned, the men she’d dated. I was enraptured. She’d lived a life I could only dream about, been to places I’d only ever read about, had experiences I could never afford.

And yet, for all that glamour, all that luxury, all that opportunity, I just couldn’t wrap my head around one thing. She seemed so restless, and often unhappy. I wouldn’t have said that at first, but after I’d spent a few weeks with her, I began to see a sadness in her eyes that I hadn’t noticed before. In all fairness, I probably didn’t want to see it.

One night, over drinks (I had my customary vodka and grapefruit while Maya drank only Guava juice – she never drank, never smoked, never did any drugs) I asked her: “What do you do?”

I had assumed that she was either on vacation, or an actress or model or something. Someone who had an open schedule and a lot of money.

“What do I do?” she asked, with a bit of a sour smile.

“Yeah,” I said curiously. “I mean, what do you do when you’re not picking up strange girls and spoiling them rotten? Do you have a career? Hey – are you someone famous in disguise? Are you slumming it with me?”

She didn’t seem to be amused at my teasing.

“I do anything I want,” she smiled at me through pursed lips.

“Yes, but surely you want to do something – play music, write, paint, make Lego castles for underprivileged kids, I don’t know – something.

“And what do you do, Helena?” She asked me.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I haven’t figured it out yet. But you have so much opportunity! You could do whatever you wanted!”

“And I do,” she replied. The smile was fading from her face. “I do whatever I want. Today, I wanted to eat sushi with you and watch boys play beach volleyball. Who knows what I’ll want to do tomorrow?”

“So, this, then?” I asked, unaware that I was on very thin ice. “This is what you do?”

“Yes,” she said, picking up her keys and standing up. “And sometimes I do this. Good-bye, Helena.”

And then she left me sitting there, not quite sure what had just happened.



If you want to read more, BECOME A FAN at PUBSLUSH and pre-order Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two and Penelope, Countess of Arcadia

Available now! image06 JESSICA image07

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettanteThe enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter@HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE






Lovepocalypse – The End

You’re about to read the ending of a three part story. If you haven’t read Lovepocalypse Take 1 and Take 2, you’re behind. Click here for Take 1 and here for Take 2.


It started with a wink, an infatuation, a genuine, deep, and inexplicable connection.  And in my young inexperienced world, it took flight, soaring with eagle wings and crashing straight into my heart.  That summer, in the cool intimate darkness of my apartment, I would venture into a new world, exploring uncharted territory, uncovering new feelings in my heart and with my body, and on that journey, Brendon would teach me what it felt like to be adored, to be cherished, to be loved, to be treasured. To be a woman. Those three unnecessary words never escaped our mouths.  But I knew. I had no doubt.


As the days grew shorter and the leaves began to lean toward fall, I started my second year of college.  Optimistic and happy but financially strangled, I was forced to take a second job.  Between classes, studying, and working two jobs, free time was scarce.  We still managed to sneak in a lunch, a cup of coffee, a beer if I wasn’t too tired, and other sprinkles of precious moments, but the days of jumping in his jeep and spontaneously driving to the lake for an afternoon disappeared.

The leaves fell around us, and whispers of winter cooled our ears and our noses as we celebrated his birthday in early December.  Strangely, he couldn’t see me on his actual birthday due to family obligations, so we had a quiet celebration at my place the next night after I got off of work. I had to travel to my brother’s house for Christmas, so we celebrated early at my apartment in front of a tiny tired tree where he gave me a charm bracelet with a single charm (a grand piano) and a stuffed teddy bear, which I didn’t quite understand but accepted graciously.   On New Year’s Eve, I worked at the piano bar, which forced us to bring in the new year apart.

Icicles littered the buildings on campus, and winter fell harshly around us, and before I knew it, candied hearts and bouquets of roses lined the aisles of every single store announcing in bright red letters “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

It was on a Saturday that year, and the piano bar was not only celebrating Valentine’s Day, we were celebrating the anniversary of its opening, so the owner, Karl, a short stout ginger headed man, made a huge fuss about all of the preparations. He wanted big and over the top.  Instead of waitressing, he gave me his stool at the piano for several songs. This would require a great deal of rehearsal and even more of my already depleting time, but I couldn’t say no.  Karl had become like a second father to me reaching into my scared little girl soul and pulling out a confident performer.  If he trusted me on his piano that night, there was no saying no.  I would rock that grand piano.

Brendon and I made plans to celebrate the next night.  No big deal.

So Saturday, the day of the huge Valentine’s Day Extravaganza arrived, and I decided that since I wouldn’t see my boyfriend on the day of love, I should at least drop by and give him his gift. I awoke early to a cool gray day, rubbed my tired eyes, showered, clothed, glossed my lips, spritzed on some perfume, and headed over to Brendon’s place.  When I got there, I knocked on the door, but he didn’t answer.  I thought it was strange since his jeep was in the driveway, but I figured it was early.  Maybe he was asleep.   I decided it would be nice if I left him a note for a change, so I pulled one of my college spiral notebooks out of my backpack and sat in my driver’s seat trying to summon the right words to say that I both loved and missed him without saying that I loved and missed him.  I slumped over the notebook staring at the blue lined sheet, waiting for the words to spill from my pen.  I managed to write “B” before I heard a knock on my window.

I let out a huge annoyed sigh and looked over to see a wild haired, dark eyed girl staring at me.  She knocked again.   The motor was burned out on my automatic window, so I opened the door to see what she wanted from me and why she was so frantically knocking on my window.  Then I recognized her from the hospital.  Adriana from Respiratory Therapy.  She barked, “What are you doing here?”

I looked around.  What was I doing here?  “I just came by to drop off Brendon’s Valentine.  I have to work tonight, so we won’t be able to see each other,” I answered.  The “none of you goddamned business” was implied in my tone.

“Oh.  I didn’t realize you guys were such good friends.”

“Um….er….well,” I said confused.  Who was this chick?  “We aren’t friends.  We’ve been seeing each other for a while.”

“For how long?”  She folded her arms across her chest, raised a black eyebrow, and tapped her sneaker on the concrete sidewalk.

“Since this summer,” I responded wondering why it even mattered to her.

She blew a stray curl out of her face offering me a death stare as she said, “That’s funny.  He never bothered to break up with me.”  Then she grabbed my hand and said, “Come on.”

“Oh.  He’s not home.  I just knocked on the door,” I said as she pulled me toward his house.

“He’s here.  Trust me.  I just left to get us breakfast.”

What the fuh?

She pulled a key out of her purse and opened the door.  His mother greeted us in the doorway.  (Did I not mention that he lived with his mom?   Yeah…awesome.)  She looked at Adriana and then at me.

She said to Adriana, “You can come in, but she has to go.” And pointed her fat index finger at me.

I turned to walk back to my car when Adriana gripped my forearm and pulled me back inside.

“She’s not the one who’s been fucking two girls.  Where’s Brendon?”

His mother folded her arms and stood protectively in the doorway.  I stood there wondering where the lady who made me jalapeno muffins was and why all of a sudden she was making me feel like a whore.

She has to leave, Adriana.” She nodded with her head toward me.  She never even addressed me.  I was third person to her.

I threw my arms up in the air and mumbled something incoherently as I turned and bee-lined it to my car.  Adriana ran after me.  “Give me five minutes,” she said.  “I’ll go in there and see if I can get him to come out here and face us together.”

I sighed, slumped back into my car, and waited obediently per her request.  I was young and dumb and incredibly naïve.  Clearly.

It could have been ten or a hundred minutes later, but finally she emerged from the house looking dour, with swollen eyes and a red nose.  “He won’t even look at me,” she cried.  I naturally reached out my arms and pulled her into a hug.

“We should go,” I said after her sobs became quiet hiccups.

“Where should we go?” She asked me.

I was thinking this would be where we parted, where she went back to her place, and I went to the bar where Karl would wrap his chubby arms around me and tell me how wonderful I was and make everything all better, but Adriana had other plans.  She walked around my car and got into my passenger seat.

“Do you need a ride home?”  I asked her.

“I don’t want to be alone right now,” she replied and continued to cry.  “What’s your name?” She asked through snorts as I started the car.


“I figured.”

I’m not quite sure how, but we ended up at my apartment.  I pulled out two glasses and made us each a heavy rum and coke.  We cheered to assholes and downed the first glass.  Then I poured another. It was 9:00 am.  After the second, and some awkward conversation, I invited her to rehearsal with me.  “Where there’s a bar, there’s booze,” I said, “Might as well drink to assholes all day.”

When we arrived, we told all of my coworkers about our twisted love triangle, which earned us glasses running over with various assortments of spirits.  Over the course of the day through many drinks and lots of Adriana’s tears, we learned all about the clever little game our Brendon played.  Turns out my busy schedule worked right into his infidelity.  On nights where I worked, he stayed with her.  On nights that I didn’t work, he stayed with me and said he was at his mom’s.  He spent the holidays with her, and his birthday, well, it wasn’t “family” obligations.  He told her that I was a good friend who he had met at the hospital and that I was really lonely because my boyfriend was in the military and stationed in some other country….and she bought it.

As we compared notes, I couldn’t help but notice a very familiar bracelet with a solitary diamond ring charm dangling from her wrist. He gave it to her for Christmas promising to marry her when he completed his degree. That one pierced my heart a little.

Between rehearsal and the actual show, she asked that I take her home so that she could change clothes and make herself decent.  When I walked into her house, the first thing I noticed sitting on her couch was the exact same teddy bear that he bought me for Christmas.  I almost punched it.

She came to the show, which was wonderfully fantastic in spite of my being incredibly tipsy by that point.  I took out every ounce of anger and despair on those keys, closed my eyes and let the music that pounded through my fingers take me to a different world, a world where I ignored the piercing pain boiling in my chest.  Billy Joel’s carnival piano had nothing on mine that night. (But don’t tell him that.)  After I took my bow and the curtain came down, we decided to seek a tiny bit of revenge.

Because he had frequented Blues (the bar next door to the hospital where we all three worked at one time) with both of us on numerous occasions, we thought it might be funny to pop in together.  We laughed as we jumped up on the bar stools and ordered drinks from Craig, who never seemed to have a night off and had served us both on the arm of Brandon.  He looked at us strangely but poured our drinks with a smile.  As immature as it was, we wrote his name all over the bathroom wall in sharpie saying things like, “If you love herpes, you’ll love Brendon” and then added his number.

At the end of the night, I dropped Adriana off at her cottage style house where we shared numbers and promised to chat again soon.  I drove home exhausted, depleted, and heart broken.  I had yet to shed a tear.  I sullenly walked through my apartment and went straight to my bed, sunk into the sheets that still held traces of his smell, and passed out.

The next morning, as I sat at the piano in front of an entire congregation of my dad’s church, the anguish finally caught hold of me, and I ugly cried, sobbing big giant tears that dripped onto my fingers as they danced robotically across the black and white keys.  When I got out to my car, there was a note on my windshield.

I’m so sorry, kiddo. ~B

I crumpled it up and threw it in the parking lot.

Anger ate at my soul for a very long time. I grew bitter and cynical and lost, but only temporarily. At some point, I realized that I was too good for resentment. I was too valuable for all of the anger. I chose to learn from the experience, to let it help me become better.

Brendon taught me a lot of things. He helped me understand what I want and what I’m capable of giving. He helped me to learn that being a woman is wonderful and empowering but sometimes heartbreaking. He showed me that red flags were everywhere when I finally opened my eyes to see them.

I’m no longer mad at him. I no longer feel hatred toward him. We were young. He made mistakes, lots of them, but so have I, and as much as I want him to be bashed for what he did, I also know that he’s human and that there was a big reason he came looking for me.

I will, however, never celebrate Valentine’s Day again. He forever ruined it for me.

Have you ever been heartbroken? On Valentine’s Day? Do you have an epic love story that ended tragically. Share them. I like to wallow in my own self pity, but I’d rather not do it alone.

~Come back next week to see what happened after the heartbreak.

Valentine’s day was never a big deal to me.  Never a sappy girl who needed roses and love notes, it always passed with little attention.  Still to this day, I don’t care to celebrate.  I don’t need a holiday to show me that I’m loved.

Lovepocalypse Take 1

It started with a glance from across the lobby, a slight upturn of his lips, a sexy wink.  He introduced himself with a handshake that lingered a little too long.  His pheromones danced through the air mixing with mine, releasing a thousand tiny butterflies into my stomach.  Instant chemistry.  I walked away, giddy.  I reached up with my fingers to touch the perma-grin on my lips and said to my co-worker, “I want to marry him one day,” as little prickles of excitement scattered across my skin.

I purposely passed through the hospital lobby where we worked at every opportunity, stealing as many fleeting moments with my potential future husband that I could.  He often had patients at his desk, but when I walked through Admitting, he always stopped, said, “hello,” and offered me that naughty wink.

Just like that, I was hooked.

Every single time I saw him, he pulled me in even more, always remembering unnecessary details about short conversations we had in passing, laughing with his entire body about something that I said, flirting with me to no end.

Then one night, a car collided with mine, which left me with a broken pelvis and forced me to take a long leave of absence from my job at the hospital in order to recover.  I never went back.

Once I could walk again, I took a job at a piano bar.  The opportunity to work as a waitress at a bar seemed much more glamorous than pushing sick people around a hospital.  When the owner discovered I too could play the piano, he gave me a standing gig:  Every Monday and Wednesday during happy hour, I tickled the ivories of a beautiful grand piano for strangers.  Best.  Job.  Ever.

One day, many months later, I happened to be at my mother’s house, taking advantage of a free meal, when the phone rang.  “It’s for you,” my mom said.  I figured it was a bill collector and told her to tell them I wasn’t available.  She looked at me like I had a frog growing from my head, rolled her eyes, and handed me the phone. “Pay your bills,” she whispered.  I frowned at her and raised the phone to my ear.

“Hello.” I said annoyed that I was going to have to give some schmuck at least $25 that I didn’t have.

“Hi.  It’s Brendon.”


“From the hospital.”

“Oh, hey, Brendon,” I said visioning Brendon, a nurse in the emergency room who always bought me beers at the bar next door that we frequented after our shift even though I was under age. “What’s up?”

“I heard you had an accident.”  I looked at the phone confused.  ER Brendon was there in the emergency room the night of my accident.  Too there, in fact, because when I came back to consciousness on the ice cold table in the ER, the first thing I noticed was my lack of clothes.  I was completely naked, as in no clothes at all, and ER Brendon, my beer buddy, was standing over me.  SEEING MY GOODS!!!

“Um, Brendon.  Are you high?  You were there the night of my accident.”  I couldn’t decide if I was happy or horrified that he didn’t remember.

There was a long pause.

“I think you’re confused.  This is Brendon from Admitting.”

I dropped the phone and jumped up and down whisper screaming to my mom, “ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod.”

I picked the phone back up, with my heart jump-roping in my chest.  “Oh, okay.  Hi, Brendon from Admitting.”

“Are you better?”  He cleared his throat.   “I’ve missed you.”  My entire body tensed, shoulders raised to my chin, eyes wide with excitement.  I happy danced in my mom’s kitchen, as she watched me bewildered.  Brendon from Admitting was on the other end of the phone, and he just said he missed me.

Heart beat

That night we had our first date.

hearts notes

Originally posted 2/6/14. 

One Night in Bangkok, or, Quite Possibly My Last First Date

It’s not very often that I invite guests over to my place. It’s pretty sacred to me, so I only open the door for the very special ones, and today (darlings) I’m sharing a very talented, very intriguing writer with you. You may have heard of her. Drum roll, please.

Helena Hann-Basquiat

This is the fourth part of her story, so you’ll want to run over to the adorkable Lizzi’s first, then to the beautiful Gretchen’s, and then to the sexy/sultry/vixen Samara’s. (Looks like my guest chooses good company, too.)

While you all read the other posts, I’m going to get my place set up for my guest. The other girls got out the good wine for her, but I tend to follow the road less taken, so I’m going with a hunch here and pouring my friend, Helena,  a Mandi made Greyhound, and I’m not afraid to say that I make a fantabulous, drinkgasm worthy Greyhound. Here’s how: I fill a glass to the rim (never less because liquor melts the ice) with square ice cubes, and then add a generous pour of Grey Goose Vodka (The rule is to count to five. I count to 7.) Now come close and lean in as I whisper my secret to the best Greyhound you’ve ever had…I only use fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruits. It only takes a minute to squeeze the juice. Don’t be lazy and buy the processed shite. Fill the glass to the rim with the grapefruit juice, and enjoy.

And remember (darlings), don’t drink and drive.

Now sip your drinks while you relish the next part of this swoon-worthy story.

Helena, the world’s your oyster.


After that night at the club — after that dance — we began talking to each other every night on the phone, like a couple of teenagers. Just chatting, talking music, talking movies, so that by the time our coffee date rolled around a week or so later, all the chit-chat was over.

I still wasn’t sure what he was thinking — I’m nearly ten years older than he is, and have, therefore, nearly ten more years of train wrecks and car crashes and heart break and hang ups. Nearly ten more years of lost jobs and one night stands and dabbling with self-destruction. Nearly ten more years of disenfranchisement, of disillusionment, nearly ten more years of the seeds of misanthropy growing inside me and threatening to rot me from the inside out. I don’t have baggage, darlings, I have luggage — a steamer trunk full of ex-boyfriends and alienated friends, of abusive parents, dead siblings and failed suicide attempts.

All of this paints a picture of a Helena that is completely broken — damaged goods, as the kids say — and therefore undesirable. Everything I said to him, though not always so blunt and direct, was basically a variation on the theme. You don’t want me. You can’t possibly want me. What’s wrong with you, if you are so stupid as to want me?

And yet he still called me, said he was on the road from Toronto, and would I like to meet for coffee?

I’d grown comfortable talking to him. I enjoyed it, even, the same way I might enjoy speaking with any of the many faces on the Internet. Even so, I hesitated in saying that I would meet him. I was excited to see him again and yet terrified of ruining what had already become something warm and comfortable. Like an expensive pair of shoes that look great around the house, but that you don’t want to get all scuffed up by taking them out on the street.

Penny practically pushed me out the door, and I was glad she did.

Spenser called and said he’d pick me up, and asked if I’d eaten yet. I’d only just gotten home from work, and was arguing with Penny the whole time about whether I should go or not, so no, I hadn’t eaten, darlings. I was starving, but I wasn’t about to disclose that.

“I could eat, I suppose,” I conceded.

“Oh, good,” he replied. “I’m starving! I wanted to beat rush hour traffic, but I guess I missed my window. I’ve been sitting in traffic for an hour and a half, and my fingers started looking appetizing.”

It was supposed to be coffee, I reminded myself, and told Penny I’d be home early. She made some lewd gestures at me while Spencer wasn’t looking, and said she wouldn’t wait up. Of course, when I strolled in at four o’clock in the morning, she was eating Cookies and Cream ice cream and sipping Bailey’s Irish Cream, and waiting to hear all about my night.

“That was the longest fucking coffee I’ve ever heard of!” she cried excitedly when I crept in the door, hoping to enter undetected. I nearly jumped out of my skin, not expecting to be verbally assaulted so soon after my return.

“Jeeebus, Penny!” I screeched, and then I couldn’t help myself, darlings — I broke out laughing, and the sound of my own laughter brightened my heart.

I jumped over the back of the couch and plopped down beside my favourite niece (Penny insists that at this point I remind you all that she’s my only niece, and I counter by insisting that she’s my favourite only niece) and gave her the biggest squishy hug I could manage, until she was crying for mercy.

“So,” she said when she recovered. “It went well, then?”

I composed myself and feigned boredom.

“It was okay, I suppose.”

“Do I need to go to the drug store for a pregnancy test?” she asked cheekily.

I smacked the back of her head and asked her exactly what kind of slut she thought I was.

“I never really thought about it, Helena,” she answered, courting death with fearless abandon. “I suppose more research needs to be done as to how exactly to quantify and qualify sluttiness.”

“And just for that, I’m not telling you anything,” I said, standing to go to bed. Of course, I was just teasing, and I suspect the Countess knew it, because she called my bluff.

“Okay then,” she yawned. “Nighty night. Sleep tight.”

“I was completely unprepared,” I sighed, sitting back down beside Penny and putting my head on her shoulder.

All week long we’d discussed music — it’s not often I get to talk music with someone who knows it as well as I do — and discovered that, among other things, we shared a love of Tom Waits. It made sense, of course, him studying Jazz — all that early Tom Waits is neck deep in barroom jazz, mixed with American folk and blues, run through the electric conduit that is Tom himself. His storytelling, his characters, his many voices, plucked right out of Tin Pan Alley and set on a gin-soaked stage, have held me captive for years. When Spenser told me that he had a few Tom Waits songs in his set list, I was tempted to just ask him to find a piano and play for me all night — but that would have to wait for another night. This was just supposed to be coffee.

We got in his car — nothing special, just four wheels and an engine, as he described it — and he popped in a CD of all his favourite Tom Waits songs.

“Where are we going?” I asked, and he kind of tilted his head, like that dog from the old RCA ads.

“You know, I’m not sure yet,” he said, and I didn’t believe him. Later, he’d try to convince me that he really didn’t have a plan that night, that everything really was spontaneous, but I remain unconvinced. But only because I don’t like being wrong, darlings. You understand.

We drove for an hour, down toward Niagara. It was only supposed to be coffee, but at some point, Spenser got in his head that he wanted to take me somewhere specific.

“Do you like Thai food?” he asked, and I may or may not have jumped up and down in my seat, screaming like a five-year-old that Helena loves Thai food! Yummy yummy!

Okay, I probably didn’t. I may have grinned, which gave away my position, and so any attempt at downplaying my enthusiasm was futile.

This wasn’t supposed to be a date. It was just supposed to be coffee. And yet somehow, we ended up at the greatest restaurant ever — though you wouldn’t know it from the outside.

“This is kind of a dodgy neighbourhood,” I remarked, as we parked in the lot of a convenience store, which was right across from a Bingo Palace on one side and a hospital on the other. It was not even dark out yet, but there were already ladies standing by phone booths and stopping cars as they came out of the Bingo Palace’s parking lot. They might fool other people, but I’ve seen too much not to recognize prostitutes when I see them.

Spenser laughed. “Yeah, it kind of is. But I promise you won’t regret this.”

I thought that was pretty confident, considering the restaurant looked like it should be condemned from the outside.

But then we stepped inside, and my jaw hit the floor.

I’ve never been to Thailand — never even been anywhere close to Southeast Asia, but it was everything I imagined Thailand would be. Two effeminate twelve-year-old boys were selling sexual favours to American tourists as we came in, and in the corner, you could get cheap plastic surgery, no questions asked. In a back room, Leonardo DiCaprio was drinking snake blood and Yul Brynner took the stage singing “One Night in Bangkok.”

“Hang on a minute!” Penny interrupted. “I think you’re getting carried away here. Yul Brynner? Isn’t he dead?”

I stared at her, thinking back to all the stories that Penny has told me over the years, and smirked.

“Really?” I asked. “That’s where you draw the line? With Yul Brynner? What about the rest?”

“I’m willing to concede the possibility of the rest of your story,” the Countess said through a mouthful of cookies and cream. “But dead is dead.”

“You know what?” I said, ignoring her. “This is my story, and I will muddle the details as I see fit. Now, where was I?”

“Zombie Yul Brynner was telling Moses something about The Magnificent Seven.”

“Oh, so you do know who Yul Brynner is,” I said.

“Was,” she corrected. “Still dead. And of course I know who Yul Brynner was. He was the King of Siam. Geez, Helena, what kind of uncultured swine do you think I am?”

I considered echoing her response about sluttiness from before, but instead, launched into a chorus of Getting to Know You from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I.

I may not have been completely accurate in my description of the Thai restaurant in my previous statement, darlings, and so I hope you can find it your sweet little hearts to indulge and forgive me. The restaurant was, in fact, lovely — beautiful wooden tables carved out of sections of large trees, dim lights and candles. This was not coffee. This was a date. This was romance.

We were brought to a booth, and it looked unusual to me at first, until I understood. These booths were on elevated platform, so that you sat on the floor, with your feet dangling beneath, with the table low to the ground. They were very private, with curtains around them, and satin pillows in the corners.

Our waitress came, and placed one of the satin pillows down to kneel on. She was dressed in whatever the Thai equivalent of a kimono is, and poured tea for us, and took our order. I felt like royalty. Spenser must have seen the shock and delight in my face, and though I hadn’t said anything, he smiled at me, eyes wide, and nodded.

“I know, right?” he laughed. “Isn’t this place amazing? Wait until you try the food — make sure you get some lemongrass soup — I’ve never had anything like it anywhere but here.”

It was ridiculously amazing food, and we joked and made fools of ourselves, sharing dishes back and forth, daring each other to try spicier and spicier dishes. I couldn’t believe I’d ever been nervous or afraid of this. I’d never felt so at home with anyone so quickly in my life. He accidentally dropped a tiger shrimp in his lap, and I laughed at him — I mean, I laughed at him the way I would laugh at Penny if she’d done it. Completely bad etiquette for a first date — and I’d completely forgotten that that’s what this was — but I laughed at him, and he laughed back, and stole a shrimp off of my plate to replace the one that had fallen on his lap and on to the floor.

And I let him.

We ate so much food that we were both slightly comatose, and after the waitress came around to re-fill our tea for the third time, we kind of got the idea that they wanted the table.

He paid the bill — I tried to pay for it, but he insisted that he’d invited me, and that I’d only been expecting coffee. Then we walked out of the magical restaurant full of brass and silk and darkly stained wood and candles and strange exotic paintings, back out into the street, where Bingo night was in full swing and the sound of traffic threatened to spoil the magic.

The sun was going down, but the night hadn’t yet arrived. I didn’t want the day to end, and I told him so. He looked at his watch.

“It’s not even nine o’clock yet,” he said. “What do you want to do?”

I thought about where we were, and suggested maybe going for a walk by Niagara Falls.

You may think that sounds perfectly boring, but personally, I liked the idea of just going for a walk with him, darlings, so you think what you like.

Spenser agreed that would be nice, and so we got back in his car and started driving again, taking back roads and listening to more Tom Waits, until we came to a crossroads, and at that crossroads was something I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager.

We could turn left and head toward Niagara Falls, or we could turn right and go to the Drive In movie theatre, which was just starting up.

“So you went to the Make Out Movie Theatre,” Penny said with a grin.

“Well of course we went to the theatre,” I said. “But there was no making out.”

“What?” Penny said, spitting ice cream out of her mouth in most ladylike fashion.

We decided on that Planet of the Apes movie and whatever else was playing with it, I can’t remember. We parked the car, got some popcorn, leaned our seats back, and watched the movie. We chatted some, without feeling the need to fill the silence with words, and other than incidental touches, he didn’t try anything. We finished the movies, and I confess I was beginning to worry that maybe I’d disappointed him somehow, or that maybe he wasn’t attracted to me, or that he was gay, but when we pulled out of the lot, he asked me if I minded if he took the long way home.

“Because I’m having a really good time, and I just don’t want to take you home any time soon.”

I laughed, and secretly melted inside. “You’re totally going to kill me and drop my body in a ditch, aren’t you?”

“Never,” he deadpanned sincerely. “I always eat my kills.”

“Well, okay, then,” I agreed, settling in for the drive.

“We ended up getting lost along the way,” I told Penny. “We got turned around somewhere where the highway changes direction or something, but we didn’t mind, we just kept driving until we figured out where we were, and then he dropped me off here.”

Penny looked at me in confusion.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute,” she said, waving her hands at me like a crazy person. “You mean to tell me that you were out all night with this man, and he didn’t try anything with you?”

“Okay, well, I lied — he did hold my hand for about ten minutes during the second movie. It was sweet.”

“Oh, that is sweet,” Penny said, uncharacteristically doe-eyed. “So are you gonna see him again?”

“Oh, you better believe it,” I told her. “And next time, he’s going to try something, by god, or I will!”




The enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.
She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming.
She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them.
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

Earlier this year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and has finished Volume Two and is in the editing process.

Volume One is available HERE in e-book for Kindle or HERE in paperback.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat

True Story…

According to my husband and my best friend (of thirty years), I’m a really good liar. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing, but it works well for me. I love to tell people outrageous stories and lure them into my web of lies, watching their eyes grow, their heads nod, that sharp intake of breath when they begin to trust my tale only to turn around and say, “No, I’m just kidding,” with a completely straight face. Continue reading

A Stalker, But No Ninja

Aussa Lorens is a bonafide Hacker Ninja Hooker Spy, and I may or may not have a huge cyber crush on her.  I’ve had a long spell of writer’s block, and in a recent conversation, I mentioned rather casually that I once had a stalker, which led to her insisting that I blog about it, so here it is….my stalker story. Continue reading

Lovepocalypse Take 2

That phone call set my heart to flight.  Brendon, who I had a huge high school girl crush on, just called me at my mom’s house and asked me on a date.   It was Friday.  He suggested that we go to dinner on Saturday night, but I had to waitress at the piano bar, so I begrudgingly said “no.”  He thought for a second and then told me that he already had plans that night with some friends to meet at Blues, the bar next to the hospital.  He invited me to join them.  He didn’t know my age.  18.  He offered to pick me up, but I told him I would meet him there.  I was nervous and socially awkward, and I wanted my own car in case I needed to bolt if my anxiety got out of hand.

I drove to my apartment giddy with excitement about our impending date.  I appealed to my best friend/roommate to find me the perfect outfit since I had/have zero fashion sense, and Brendon had never seen me in anything but my hospital uniform:  Green polo shirt and khaki Dickies.  She found something she said was perfect “first date at a bar” attire that most definitely would make him swoon.  I looked at the outfit, bit my lip, and shrugged my shoulders.  I had only been on a few dates and had very little experience with men, and Brendon was a man.  A beautiful Latin man.  So I took her advice and donned something other than my usual t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

I walked into the bar feeling out of place without my normal gang of hospital friends, tugging at my shorts that I was certain were at least 2 inches too short and pulling at the shirt that hugged me a little too tightly.  Then I saw him.   He was sitting at the bar, drinking a Bud Light wearing a white Nike baseball cap, a perfect contrast to his tawny skin.  He turned around and noticed me standing in the doorway.  His smile reached all the way to his dark eyes as he walked over to greet me.  He pulled me into his chest in a surprisingly comfortable hug.  “Wow.  You’re here,” he said offering me that killer smile.  “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”  What?  He wasn’t sure I would come.

He guided me to the bar, his hand barely grazing my lower back.  He ordered me a Bud Light and another for himself, and we sat side by side sharing familiar and easy conversation.   We talked about college and classes.  He told me he was 23 and almost finished.  I hesitated but told him I was only 18, that I had just completed my second semester.  He looked at me and said, “You’re just a puppy, Kiddo.”   “Kiddo” would become his pet name for me, a name that I would grow to love being called.

He introduced me to his friends and his brother who met up with us later, and we all talked and laughed, and I found myself floating in his attention.  He was smart and funny and unbelievably sexy.  We closed down the bar.  He insisted that I let him drive me home…in his jeep…with the top off, which took his hotness D&B to a whole new level.  On the drive home, we learned that we shared a passion for music of all kinds.  When we got to my apartment, we sat in his jeep in the parking lot, listening to Fleetwood Mac.  When the last song ended, I reluctantly said, “I better go in.”  He walked me to my door where he planted a soft, sweet kiss on my lips and said, “Goodnight, Kiddo.” He pulled me into him in a warm embrace and let out a quiet sigh that went straight to my…ahem.   I wanted to invite him in, but I didn’t know how.  I was young and dumb, and incredibly naïve.   I opened the door and walked into my apartment, trying to summon the words to tell him that I didn’t want the night to end, but the words never came.  Instead, I just said, “Goodnight.”  He winked and turned to walk to his jeep.   I went to bed smiling, with his scent still lingering on my skin.

The next morning, my roommate drove me to my car.  I started to pull out of the parking spot when I noticed something on my windshield.  A note.  From him.

Can’t wait to see you again. –B        

Just like that, he hooked me even more, and I was in my first “grown up” relationship.  We took advantage of every free opportunity we had to spend together. It was challenging since I worked most nights, but we made it work.  We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, we cherished the time.  We shared a twisted sense of humor and spent most of our time together laughing.  He had the best laugh, and anytime I said something funny, he would grab me either by my arm or my hand, and hold me while he shook with laughter at something witty that I said.

His touch ignited my skin.

He told me I was way too funny to be a girl, which was even better than all of the times he told me I was pretty and smart and perfect.

He took me to his childhood home, introduced me to his mom, and called me his “girlfriend.”   She made us jalapeno muffins and told Brendon to be nice to me when he made fun of something that I said.   After she went to bed, we cuddled on the couch and watched some old movies on her big screen TV.

Another night, he took me to an abandoned mansion rumored to be haunted.  We crawled through the window and crept through the dark empty rooms, waiting for a ghost to jump out at us, my heart pounding in my chest.  But nothing made my heart stutter more than when he pushed me up against the grimy wall, wrapped his arms around my waist, and kissed me.

We spent countless hours at our favorite music store, standing side by side at the listening stations, ears covered with huge plastic headphones, smiles plastered on our lips discovering new music together…all before iTunes and immediate internet downloads.   Our love of music became our bond, another pull to my heart.

He often surprised me and showed up at the piano bar to listen to me play, which was a huge adjustment for me since I preferred to play for strangers.  That first night, he sat at a table by himself.  He didn’t order anything to eat or drink,  just sat there.  Listening to me.  I forced myself not to look in his direction.   I didn’t even notice that he left before I finished.  I was hugely disappointed when I discovered his empty chair until realized later as I counted my tips that he snuck  a comment card in my tip jar that said:

I didn’t think it was possible for you to be more beautiful, until I heard you play. ~B

That night, when I left the bar, he was waiting by my car.

“I got you this,” he said and handed me a CD.  George Winston:  December.  “It’s really a Christmas album, but I think you’ll like it.”

I suggested that we hop in his jeep and go for a drive to listen to it.  As we drove through our West Texas town, the sound of George Winston’s piano mingled with the warm summer breeze.  Then I heard a familiar song, Variations of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon.  He said that he loved this version and that it was his favorite song to hear on the piano.  We drove for hours that night until he took me back to my car.  He gave me a simple kiss, and said, “Goodnight, Kiddo,” handing me the CD.

I drove home listening to my new album and made it my mission to learn his song.   I listened to it incessantly, always playing it in my head.  I spent hours at my parents’ house practicing it over and over.  When they went to bed, I went to the one place that I knew never closed, the hospital chapel, and I banged my way through it until it was…perfect.

The next time he came to listen to me play, I surprised him and played it for him.

That night, I didn’t have to invite him into my apartment.  He practically pushed me through the door.