Jennifer Sienes

Tread Lightly

“Are you sure you want to come with me?” My fifteen-year-old daughter couldn’t miss the doubt in my tone. Nikki thought exercise was on par with slow death by torture. My weekday trips to the gym were always a lone experience. Aside from my job as a middle school teacher, I taught the 5:00 am aerobics class at the gym and no one wanted to join me on those early mornings. But this was mid-morning on a Saturday. Still, given her disgust with anything that might cause her to sweat…


“Yeah. I haven’t spent much time with you lately.” She shrugged into her sweatshirt, snatched up an over-sized water bottle and looked at me expectantly.


“Okay, let’s go then.” Doubtful or not, I was grateful my teenage daughter still wanted to hang out with me. I assumed once she hit high school, I would no longer be considered cool. I suddenly had visions of Nikki as my new workout partner. We’d be mother/daughter gym rats and build a whole new relationship based on our mutual love of exercise.


The ten-minute drive to the gym went without incident as Nikki chatted about a school assignment and her classes. We parked and walked into the two-story structure. It was fairly crowded, as expected. Universal machines, racquetball courts, aerobics classrooms and the administrative office were on the first floor.


“I’m going to head upstairs to the treadmills. What’d you want to do?”


“Treadmill, just like you.” She headed for the stairs, and I followed.


The treadmills were lined up around the perimeter of the loft-like second story, overlooking the first floor. Behind the treadmills, weight machines, dumbbells and weight benches were set up in front of the mirrored wall—congested, mostly with men. I always found it a little intimidating to lift weights in that atmosphere, which is why I preferred the treadmill on busy Saturday mornings. As long as the men were behind me, I could ignore them.


We found two treadmills, side by side. I placed my water bottle in the holder, hung a face towel over the handrail and took off my sweatshirt. Nikki’s water bottle was too large to fit into the holder, so she set it on the floor and climbed onto her treadmill, confusion knitting her brow.


I stepped over to her and gave a quick rundown of the controls. “You might want to clip the safety key to your shirt,” I instructed her.




“It’ll stop the treadmill if you fall.”


She rolled her eyes. “That’s not going to happen.”


I knew from experience it was useless to argue with her. And really, I’d never actually seen anyone fall off the treadmill before, so I figured she had a point. I glanced at her sweatpants. “Do you have shorts under those?”


“Nuh uh.” She fiddled with the controls.


“You’re going to get pretty warm,” I warned her as I climbed on my own machine.


“I’ll be fine. How fast do you go?” She watched me set up my workout.


“Just start slow, kiddo. You’re not used to working out.” Not only that, but she wasn’t the most graceful girl. Even though she was slender, she tended to walk with a heavy step, so running would only be that much harder on her body.


Nikki was never overly competitive, so it surprised me to realize she was trying to mirror my workout. When I increased my speed, she increased hers. Sweat began to pop up on her forehead and upper lip and her cheeks were turning a bright shade of red. Then I noticed her looking at the water bottle she’d set on the floor.


“Don’t do it,” I warned.


Her gaze flicked up at me. “What?” she managed to huff out.


“Don’t reach for that bottle while you’re moving. If you need a drink, stop the treadmill first.”


With a grimace and head shake, she ignored the water bottle and continued at a fast pace.


I increased my speed to a running gait and focused on measured breaths. In through my nose…one, two, three; out through my mouth…one, two, three. Then I heard a loud thwump followed by a rhythmic thump, thump, thump… It took a moment for me to realize the noise wasn’t coming from behind me, but beside me.


Looking over at my daughter, I was struck by the bizarre sight of her running on her knees. Thump, thump, thump…She had one hand clutching the handrail for dear life and the other holding the water bottle. Panic filled her eyes while she desperately attempted to keep the pace on her knees. If she let go of the handrail, she’d take quite a tumble.


I jumped off my own machine and rushed to hit the pause button on hers. The treadmill slowed and Nikki’s knee-run slowed with it, until it finally stopped. I helped her stand as she hugged the water bottle to her chest.


“Are you okay?” I took her free hand. It was a good thing, after all, that she didn’t wear shorts. “Do your knees hurt?”


“I’m fine,” she said with a frown, her face beet red—probably a combination of exertion and embarrassment.


A grin split my face and laughter bubbled up from my chest. I tried to stop it but couldn’t. It gained momentum and the harder I tried to contain it, the worse it got.


“Seriously?” Nikki said, her own lips twitching.


“I’m sorry,” I choked out. “But if you could’ve seen yourself running on your knees…” After a few moments, I was finally able to control myself.


“That was quite a move,” said a male voice from behind us.


We both turned to see a young body builder sitting on the weight bench behind us.


“What d’you call it?” he asked with a good-natured grin.


Nikki’s face turned a brighter shade of red as she ignored the question. “Can we go home now?”


That was the last time Nikki ever joined me at the gym. My dreams of having her as my lifetime workout buddy dwindled in one moment of mishap. Her exercising days were over.


Susan K. Beatty

What I Learned from Research

My friends thought I was nuts, but in high school, I enjoyed research assignments. That was so long ago, practically the dark ages, I had to find information without the aid of the internet. (Gasp!)

Today, as a writer, I’m grateful for the internet and the speed in which I can locate background data; however, it’s caveat emptor, buyer beware, so I can’t rely on one entry. Checking multiple citations often means following rabbit trails. You never know what you’ll find.

Two novelettes and my upcoming novel include breast cancer as part of the story. My first source of information was my daughter, a breast cancer patient, who taught me a lot, including about metastatic breast cancer of which there is no cure.

Did you know genetic testing can detect whether someone has a gene that puts them at higher risk? The gene mutation is BRCA 1/BRCA2. My daughter has the BRCA2 gene which she inherited from her father. Unfortunately, she didn’t learn about the gene until after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As I wrote, I wondered how long genetic testing for the BRCA genes had been around. Turns out, I learned clinical services to test for this gene mutation began in 1996 and was the first cancer risk test to become available.

Some women, including actress Angelina Jolie, use this information before a diagnosis to take preventative measures, usually a double mastectomy.

After my daughter’s first diagnosis, they advised her to undergo this procedure. Two of my characters, Isobel in Isobel’s Mission of Courage and Olivia in Faces of Courage, undergo this surgery within the pages of their respective books. My daughter’s expert consultation provided me details to realistically portray their reactions. (Without being too graphic.)

An author often gathers an incredible amount of material that never gets used. This was true of my research into metastatic breast cancer (MBC). Between my daughter’s research and personal experience (she is an MBC “thriver”), plus my own investigation, I amassed a great deal of information, but I haven’t used it so far. My character Marissa in House of Courage has MBC, but the story doesn’t focus on it, rather it tells about her and her family’s attempt to save the family home during a severe weather event. Therefore, while the MBC findings weren’t necessary, exploring the weather was.

In House of Courage, Marissa and her family endure Santa Ana winds in the fire-prone canyons of Orange County, California. I’ve experienced these often-ferocious winds, but have not endured a resulting fire, so exploring the facts and reading first-hand accounts helped me write about the family’s experience.

Internet data is often just cold facts. Stories and interviewing people who have experienced said situations make stories richer.

I’m grateful I learned to like research in high school; it prepared me to be a writer. If I want to take it to the next level, someday, I may even write historical fiction.