Pre-orders of the Writing Bloc anthology are officially available now! As a treat, I’m offering my readers a sneak peek of my story, “Aspirant.”
Let me know what you think and make sure to reserve your copy before the price goes up January 1!
“Sister Trái đất thơm, will you create the Facebook page for our young retreatants?” Sister Yêu asked in her calm Vietnamese accent.
“Of course,” Sister Trái đất thơm said. She had received the name, which meant “Fragrant Earth” when she’d accepted the mindfulness trainings. The other sisters, mostly Vietnamese, had oohed and ahhed over her new name, but the young woman had been slightly disappointed. Her native language was English, and “fragrant” didn’t necessarily have good connotations. “Fragrant Earth” made her think of the landfill down the street from her family home in Victorville, a city of about 120,000 in what felt like the middle of nowhere, Southern California. The other sisters had gotten names that meant things like “Open Heart” and “Pure Soul.” She wasn’t sure why the Elder nuns thought she was some smelly dirt.
Sister Trái đất thơm looked around at the room full of young people, all ages 18-30, who had come for the monastery’s annual young adult retreat, and smiled back at their smiling faces. Even to these people, who had chosen to come to a five-day mindfulness retreat, she knew she was a freak—though she was 22, she was most certainly not one of them. They saw her as something cute and quaint— like a little mouse— something to be taken care of and to gain wisdom from. Like a little Yoda or something. She knew. It was the same way she had seen the monastics when she’d first arrived.
“Thank you, Sister,” Sister Yêu bowed to her, then turned back to the retreat goers. “In this way, you will be able to remain connected to each other, and, we hope, to your practice. When you use Facebook, you will be able to take a mindful breath and say to yourself, ‘My dear, breathe. You are online.” Sister Trái đất thơm smiled slightly, remembering how lame the mantra had sounded when she’d first heard it.
“Will you add me as a friend?” Aaron asked. He was tan and muscular and his scent was oddly familiar and attractive. Though he was from San Diego, he felt very East Coast to Sister Trái đất thơm— no-nonsense, tough but kind, a dry sense of humor.
“I will,” Sister Trái đất thơm said and smiled. She reached a hand up to feel her bald head, then recentered herself in the moment, noticing her feelings. She was attracted to Aaron— she had been all week. She could imagine his arms around her. He was so genuinely interested in what she had to say. She realized she was flirting— something she hadn’t done since she’d begun the ordination process six months ago by submitting her letter of intent.
The feelings of guilt, of shame, swept over her immediately. “This is how you ended up getting raped,” she heard a small familiar voice in her head say. She was proud that a louder voice— the one she had been nurturing since she’d come to the monastery said, “It’s just a thought, Julie. Thoughts aren’t facts. You’re thinking.”
Aaron smiled at her. “Awesome!” he said. “I’ll look forward to it.” He paused and laughed. “I mean, I’ll do my best to be in the present moment. But I’ll be happy when you find me!”
Sister Trái đất thơm laughed too. He saw her as a person, not some sage. He could tell she was a regular person who had just decided to come here and do this. Maybe he could imagine her with hair.