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When Gracie Met The Grump

When Gracie Met The Grump PDF

Author: Mariana Zapata

Publisher: Mariana Zapata


Publish Date: September 16, 2022

ISBN-10: 1953262023

Pages: 570

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Oh boy, my stomach hurt.

Grimacing, I pressed my hand against my abdomen as I tried to stop panting… but fuck, that didn’t feel right. It wasn’t a cramp. It was a twisty kind of pain that made me push my hand harder against my abdomen like that would make it better. All day my stomach had been feeling funky, but the minute I’d walked outside, it had gone straight into kind of painful.

Running already wasn’t my favorite thing to do in the world. I wouldn’t say it was in the top ten. Really, it wasn’t even in the top twenty. If I had to rank it, I’d put it after scrubbing my bathtub. Maybe even after cleaning the baseboards, and nobody liked doing that. But I could probably count on two hands the number of times I’d taken the day off from squeezing a run in over the last fifteen years.

Just thinking I had been doing it for so long in the first place made my stomach hurt even more.

But that was beside the point.

Unfortunately, running was one of those things anybody could do anywhere, so it was hard to come up with a legitimate excuse to skip going for one that didn’t leave me feeling guilty afterward. It was too easy to picture my grandma tilting her head to the side and piercing me with one of her signature glares as she silently reminded me why I had to suck it up and go.

If I ever had to run, I was going to have to run. Not jog. Not sprint. Run like my life depended on it, because it would.

So, slacking off wasn’t really an option, even though I wished it could be. It was bullshit, but it was what it was—reality.

I winced as I tried taking a deep breath, pressing my hand tighter against the middle of my stomach. Yeah, that definitely isn’t a cramp. And that couldn’t mean anything good either. The last time it had hurt like this….

Stopping right where I was, in the middle of my long driveway, I did a slow circle, looking around. I listened, but there was nothing other than some crickets somewhere in the distance. The usual.

I’d had a grilled cheese with bacon sandwich for lunch. Maybe it was gas? The cheese had only been expired about a day, but….

I listened again.

Slowly, I turned in another full circle, taking in the trailer sitting in the middle of the five acres that made up the property I’d been renting for the last three years. Next, I stared at the greenhouse building, then focused on the small shed set off to the side. There were bushes scattered around, but most of them were right along the fence line, giving the mobile home some privacy from the road.

Then I listened some more.

There wasn’t anything out here.

Which was exactly how it should have been. I’d been careful. I was always fucking careful. Cautious might as well have been my middle name. I was just being paranoid.

Taking another deep breath in through my nose, I let go of my stomach and palmed the pepper spray I’d stuffed into my pocket after I’d turned into the driveway at the end of my run. I should probably stop doing that. I should keep it in my hand the whole time, at least until I got inside and locked the door. I didn’t love running at night, but I hated waking up early, and I sure as hell hated running in the heat. Temperatures in New Mexico were no joke.

Keeping my ears peeled, I finished catching my breath the rest of the way down the driveway, but there really wasn’t anything or anyone out there other than the crickets. Even the clouds were hiding the stars, and if there was a member of the Trinity up in the sky creeping on me, I couldn’t see them. The thought almost made me snicker as my stomach suddenly hurt a little more sharply.

It’s the cheese. It has to be the fucking cheese, I thought as I unlocked the door and went inside, engaging the dead bolt and the flimsy bottom lock that was mostly for decoration. There was a gallon of rocky road ice cream in the freezer that I’d been dreaming about tearing up all day, so my stomach needed to quit its bullshit.

After toeing off my sneakers and setting my keys and pepper spray on the nightstand, I picked up the towel I’d left there and wiped myself down before slipping my hoodie from earlier back on so I wouldn’t sweat up the couch. Only then did I take a nice, deep, even breath, and almost immediately stopped in the middle of it as I eyed the coffee table. Specifically, the map I’d left on top of it before I’d gone outside, telling myself I needed to get my run over with. I wanted to watch some TV while I cooled down. Then I’d have dinner, shower, squeeze in my last lesson, maybe finish reading my book while I ate that rocky road, and finally go to bed.

Just like every day.

And if that made my chest get a little tight, then it made my chest get a little tight.

C’est la fucking vie, right? But even knowing that, I couldn’t help peeking at the atlas, which was almost as old as I was, as I circled around the couch and plopped down in the middle. Right in front of it.

It was already open, just waiting for me.

I can do this.

All I had to do was choose somewhere. Fucking anywhere, or just about anywhere, as long as it was within the continental U.S.

Eyeing the stained pages, I tried to decide if I should close my eyes and randomly point at a place or eeny-meeny-miny-moe like I’d used to when I’d been a kid and my grandparents had let me pick where we’d head to next. They’d tried to make moving around as much of a game as they could, at least at the beginning. To be fair, I hadn’t really seen it as too much of a chore until about middle school. Bouncing from town to town had been fun for a really long time.

Then, in high school, it had become a necessity.

Now, it made my eye twitch.

And made me want that ice cream even more.

But I knew I needed to move, and I really was planning on it. It was just easier said than done. Six months ago, I’d told myself I couldn’t leave because I wanted to harvest my garden first. I’d put so much work into it; I couldn’t let it go to waste. Then, I had convinced myself that I should wait until after the holidays. Moving during winter would suck. What if it suddenly snowed? My car wasn’t all-wheel drive, so I needed to take that into consideration too.

Then there was the biggest factor: I hadn’t been able to pick a place yet.

It might have not helped that every time I’d sat down to make a decision, I’d done the same thing I had tonight—I spent all of two minutes total looking at the map before I’d come up with something else that needed to be done that was just as important. Like running. Or folding the mound of clean laundry that always seemed to pile up even though I was the only person in the house and I usually wore my pajamas all day unless I had video lessons with my students. Then I got real fancy and put on a nice shirt while I sat in front of my computer in sweatpants or shorts.

It wasn’t like it mattered where I went. It was time to bounce.

It was one of the rules I’d been raised with after all: Don’t stay in one place for too long.

Lifting the back of my palm to my face, I dragged it across my forehead before dropping it onto my lap as I blew a raspberry with my mouth.

My stomach clenched again.

It doesn’t mean anything. It was a coincidence; my body was being annoying and had nothing to do with me moving. There was no reason for me to believe I needed to panic, get in my car, and peel out of here. It had been a long time since my stomach had done this funny shit. It doesn’t mean anything. It was the cheddar. Or maybe it was a sign that, yes, I needed to get out of here at some point in the very near future.

That made sense.

Maybeee… I could spice it up and move east. As long as it wasn’t anywhere warmer than here, I might even be able to run during the day instead of risking my life every night. I had never been farther east than Texas.

I needed to think about it a little longer to be on the safe side.

But just a little longer. A day or two max. No more than three. It was a good plan, I thought, as I picked up the glass of water I’d left on the edge of the table and took a big gulp. In the middle of taking another drink, I grabbed the remote from beside the map and turned on the TV.

“…I’m tellin’ you it was got-damn ANGELS! The po-lice tried to say it had to be some weather phenomenon. Call it whatever the h-e-double-l you wanna call it, but that weren’t no storm out there. It were angels!”

The reporter on the screen blinked, and at the same time, the corners of his mouth twitched almost unnoticeably, but I caught it. “Sir, why would you think it was angels and not a member of the Trinity you saw through your window?”

The elderly man lifted his arms and let them drop at his sides. Behind him was an arid landscape with some blurry horses in a corral. “Come on, boy, use some common sense. Ain’t no lightnin’ blottin’ out the got-damn sky the way this’un did. D-uh. Tried to tell me too it was one of ’dem cape-wearers. What them ‘heroes’ gonna be doin’ around here? Nothin’! That’s what! Lived here my whole [beep] life and never have I seen one of ’dem comin’ ’round these parts. We ain’t got no crime worth dealin’ with. Puh-lease. This here was HUGE! You couldn’t see nothin’ but this light in the sky. No reason it woulda been one of ’em Trinity. They can’t do that kinda thing. Folks been watchin’ too many movies.”

That was… interesting. I remembered one of them had been spotted in Albuquerque helping with a fire, but that was nearly three hours away and about a year ago. There was crime here, in the town I lived, like everywhere else, but nothing that kept me up at night.

It was one of the benefits of living in Chama, New Mexico, population about 1,000.

Which was exactly why I lived here.

On the screen, the older man’s hands moved animatedly as he went on to say that his neighbors had claimed to have seen something out of their windows, but by the time they had gotten up to look, there hadn’t been anything out there. It was only because he’d been washing dishes and had a window above the sink that he’d seen the “big ol’ glow move across the sky.”

I’d always wondered if angels were real. Some people said they existed—and I mean, if you really thought about it, there were superhumans or whatever the Trinity were, why wouldn’t there be angels? When I was little, we lived in a house that my grandma swore was haunted. But angels?

I changed the channel, trying to decide if I was in the mood to watch a movie or not, but I paused on the footage that seemed to have been recorded on a cell phone.

“The Primordial made a rare appearance today at a hospital in Chicago. Workers said the hero spent several hours at the facility, distributing gifts to children.”

Taking another sip, I eyed the woman standing beside a hospital bed, smiling at a little girl tucked into it.

Rumor had it she was six foot two or three, but it wasn’t like anyone had ever held a tape measure against her. She had broad shoulders rounded with muscle, and beneath the dark green, skintight suit that covered everything from her throat to the tips of her fingers and toes, the most well-known member of the Trinity was r-i-p-p-e-d. Everyone had, at some point, watched the footage of her holding up the Golden Gate Bridge when an earthquake had done the unthinkable and nearly caused it to collapse ten years ago.

I wanted to be her when I grew up.

If I magically became superhuman. And grew over a foot and gained forty or fifty pounds of muscle. And had magnificent bone structure and flawless skin.

Miracles could happen.

The incredible woman had hair so brown it couldn’t be mistaken for any other color and a skin color so golden, if she had any human in her, which was widely debatable, I was pretty sure a DNA test would have come up with a mix of ethnicities to pinpoint how it came to be. The face of the strongest woman in the world could only be described as striking.

She was a beacon of strength, femininity, and just plain being amazing, for not just little kids but for people of all ages. They all were, if you wanted to get technical. Most of humanity thought the three superbeings, called the Trinity for that reason, were incredible.

Not plain, normal people with a million lies on which they’d built their lives.

I was going to play myself a sad little violin.

“…among outcry from the families of those who were injured during the fire that left dozens hospitalized. Newly recovered security footage shows The Defender arriving ten minutes after….”

And here I’d literally just been thinking about that fire. I couldn’t believe they were still going on about it. It was a miracle he had even been able to help in the first place. He’d saved so many people. I rolled my eyes and switched the channel one more time before freezing.

There was a man with rich, brown skin surrounded by at least four heavily armored police officers moving toward one of those vehicles that SWAT teams used. “The trial for Camilo Beltran began today. Otherwise known as El Cerebro, the former drug lord and leader of the Arenas gang is finally being brought to justice on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, and bribery….”

Swallowing back the anger and the little bit of fear that suddenly built up in my throat, I pressed the button on the remote again and decided I might as well eat now and watch a movie. That would be good. I had some time to kill before my lesson with my newest student, a twenty-three-year-old named Jo Ji-Wook who was moving to Toronto in a few months. His English was improving every week, and I was really proud of how far he’d come. What I should do was fold laundry while I sat there, but suddenly I felt extra tired and bummed out.

I’d spent half the day trying to replace the garbage disposal that had stopped working. The online manual I found claimed it would only take thirty minutes, but that hadn’t been the case. One of the screws had arrived stripped, and it had gone to shit from there.

Which was basically the story of my life. When You Think Things Can’t Go Any More Wrong, Hold Your Horses: The Gracie Castro Story. Coming to theaters never. Shinto Studios would shoot the screenplay down before they even finished reading the title. Gracie Castro: The Sorceress of Secrets might work, I thought glumly. Except I didn’t have any powers, if you didn’t count my rare but epic stomachaches.

Like the one I had right then, that I hoped was actually gas or just uneasiness about moving.

I cast a long look around the living room of the mostly bare single-wide trailer that had been home for years. Then I probably sighed for the tenth time in the last ten minutes and settled deeper into the couch for comfort. It was the closest thing to a hug I was going to get anytime soon, after all.

I missed hugs. I missed them a lot. Hugging yourself didn’t release any oxytocin in your body, so it didn’t have the same effect as getting one from another person.

I knew that from experience.

Squeezing the remote, I eyed the atlas on the coffee table one more time and sighed again. If I followed the instructions my grandma had left me, I should have relocated a year ago. For a while there, during high school, we had bounced around every semester. After I’d graduated, we had milked our stays for a year. Then we’d upped it a little more after that. Two years maximum, mi corazón. As long as you keep your head down and tell no one, you should be okay.

That was another rule: keep your head down.

I had. It was a lot of work to keep it that way, but I was alive, and that was the point. That had been the point of all this shit.

But this place was the closest thing to home I’d known in forever. I’d settled in. I had found peace and, honestly, part of myself too while being on my own. It wasn’t exactly at the top of the list of places I would want to live, but I still didn’t want to leave. I was comfortable. I didn’t want to start over for the twentieth time. But….

There was always the chance one day I wouldn’t have to. That’s what I kept hoping for. It was just another miracle I could dream of.

And maybe, eventually, someday, things might change. Maybe I would be able to get a passport and travel and meet someone awesome who didn’t ask too many questions. Find a companion… a friend. More than a friend would be great.

If I had to pick, that would be at the top of the list of things I’d want—someone.

He’d have to be okay with me being… me. Just shy of thirty. Mostly nice. I had a mostly steady job, even if I was never going to be rich. I could have done worse in the face department, I thought. I could have done a lot better, but I could have been unluckier. There was plenty of other stuff I could complain about, so facial features and the size of my waist weren’t worth worrying about.

And that was part of my problem. The source of all my problems actually. There wasn’t a plastic surgeon in the world who could fix my problems with a surgical knife.

I needed a whole new life, new DNA, for that shit.

I was in the middle of thinking that depressing shit when I saw it out of the corner of my eye.

A flash of pure purple light through the blinds that had me flinching it was so damn bright.

And it was a split second after that, that I felt it—the rumble. The frame of the single-wide shook. My cup rattled. The walls trembled.

What in the hell was that?


The interview on the TV suddenly popped up in my head.

Was it… an angel?

No, no. It wasn’t.

Was there a meteor shower tonight? Was a plane falling apart?

Oh shit. Oh shit, shit, shit.

Did that explain the blinding light? No. I was pretty sure nothing other than a spotlight could glow that brightly, but what the hell did I know? Did it explain the mini earthquake that had just rattled the trailer? Maybe…? But there was something, and whatever it was, it had to be big to make the ground shake. I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head that could be that big, other than Godzilla, but kaijus weren’t real, so….

There was nothing to be scared of unless it really was chunks of an airplane falling out of the sky, on the verge of crushing me.

Forcing myself to get up, I headed around the couch and went straight for the front door. I grabbed my flashlight, unlocked the door, and peeked before going out there.

But in the same way I should have expected, in the only way that seemed to work in my life, what I expected wasn’t what I actually got.

Down the steps of my tiny deck, I looked around the yard and didn’t see a thing. I hadn’t imagined the light or the shaking. Had I? I’d always wondered if I’d end up going nuts since I spent so much time by myself, but no, I was too young. And there weren’t active tectonic plates around here; I was pretty sure. I went around the side of the trailer and stopped. Midstep and everything because….

Oh shit.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

Tiny purple fires were scattered across my yard.

Hand already shaking, I lifted my flashlight and aimed it at the center of them.

I gulped.

I turned it off, then turned it back on, thinking I’d imagined it.

I hadn’t.

I fucking hadn’t.

There was a body there. On the ground. In the dirt.

A human body.

A big one.

My hand shook like crazy as the beam of light settled on what looked like a piece of cloth spread out under what I was fairly certain was a male frame from the muscle proportions I could see.

A piece of cloth that looked an awful lot like… like… a cape.

A cape.

Oh shit.

A fucking cape that was torn and tattered, but it was either a tablecloth or that.

And it was attached to a half-bared chest by a wish and a prayer.

My hand shook even more as I took in the color of it.

Oh boy.

Oh no.

It had been years since the last time I’d done the sign of the cross, but I did it right then.

I recognized the color of the suit that was more than half ripped off the body there.


I knew exactly what shade of blue the cape was too.

The whole world did.

Cobalt fucking blue.

There was only one person who wore a cape and a suit with those colors, and it wasn’t a character from a Shinto Studios movie or comic book.

It was….

It was….

One of the members of the Trinity.

It was….

The Defender.

It was The fucking Defender.

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