• T.Kactus

7 Years = 7 Pages


7 years ago today, I published my first novel and I have been on a hiatus ever since. But no more! I've been told that writing a novel is like entering into a torrid love affair. It should be passionate, messy, and fleeting. If you do not pour yourself onto the pages quickly, chances are you will stall and never finish. So here we go. First 7 pages done!


You are under no obligation to read any of this! I don't plan on putting the whole novel on here. I am merely holding myself accountable. So now you know I'm writing a novel. And if you see me out on the street, you can say, "Hey how's that novel coming?" And I can tell you to mind your own business.

But actually, I am looking for a cheerleader who doesn't mind reading a few pages a week and saying something like, "Keep going!" I don't need criticism or feedback or suggestions. Just a virtual hug, by someone who is alive and paying attention. Apparently, I'm needy like that. Lemme know if you 're interested!


Untitled - Novel -



Laila Malik


5256 likes. Why did the number keep slipping? Laila looked at the Instagram post with a critical eye. Her butt looked amazing. Her lashes framed her almond shaped eyes to create that mysterious, come-hither look, and the filter she had used was super subtle. Normally an underwear pic with a crop top garnered a minimum of 10K in likes. But not this week. She had been marked an ‘unfluencer.’ As in, it was trendy to unfollow her. Laila scowled across the room at her cousin, “This lawsuit is ruining my life. I’m losing followers left and right.”

Her cousin Sasha walked across the room and looked over at the laptop, “Oooh girl, and these comments are not kind.”

Laila didn’t even bother looking she knew what they were saying by heart:

“Cringe”

“Trying way too hard to be cute.”

“Not even her real nose or cheeks. Fillers and botox baby.”

“Cancer-stick sell out!! Hope she burns in hell!”


ASOS and Madmax hadn’t responded to her emails about her subsidiary checks. She was owed a minimum of $5K. She had been posting their products non-stop for the past two months. Leopard Leotards hadn’t asked her to post any pics of their fall line-up. She was scrambling to cover the rent this month–again!

“I didn’t know those lipsticks contained carcinogens in them. I’m an influencer not a scientist. I’ve worked with TrixieBrands before and it was no big deal.” Laila stood up and paced in their tiny 900 square feet apartment, feeling the walls closing in on her.

“Well, you’ll have your day in court to explain yourself.” Sasha said as she took out the juicer.

“And in the meantime? Do I lose my income? No one wants to work with me anymore. They’re branding me unethical and greedy. I don’t even have a lawyer to defend myself.” Laila nervously chewed her thumb nail and re-checked the stats on her latest YouTube video. Also down by 50% compared to last week.

“What about the public servant lawyer defending all of you?” Sasha began cutting up the cucumber, cilantro and apples in perfect precise slices.

Laila rolled her eyes in exasperation, “He couldn’t even pronounce my name, let alone defend me.”

Sasha cleared her throat uncomfortably, “Well maybe, you could consider getting a real job until this thing blows over.”

Laila’s mouth dropped open in shock. “I have worked for years to get my content to where it is. I can’t just turn my back on that –”

Sasha snorted, “Laila, you’re 22 and you dropped out of college to be an influencer. Let’s not get too high on that horse, shall we?”

Laila’s nostrils flared in agitation, “I’m gonna go for a run to clear my head,” she said, yanking her shoelaces with unnecessary force. Before she stepped outside of the apartment, she checked her outfit out in the full length mirror by the hallway. Lulu Leggings, with matching sports bra, subtle hoops, touch of lip gloss, bb cream with tinted glow, light mascara, hair in a high ponytail. Squinching her eyes and lips she checked for any wrinkles that weren’t there the night before. Satisfied with the thorough examination, she slipped on her air pods.

Jogging down the pier by Redondo Beach, she tried to shake off the last nine months of bad luck. It all started with Charlie. The idiot had broken up with her claiming that she had become “self absorbed and narcissistic” whatever that meant. She had stopped paying attention after he mentioned he wouldn’t help out with her phone bill and car note. The following month, the asshole had repossessed her car claiming that because it was under his name it was “technically” his. Completely forgetting the number of blowjobs she had given to earn that car.

Laila was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t see the rectangular object sticking out of the sand and ended up tripping over it and landing on her right knee. “What the hell? Ow!!” she moaned pitifully to herself. The other pedestrians on the pier ignored her. Laila scowled at the black rock that had tripped her. Except it wasn’t a rock. It had a cloth-like finish to it. She picked up the object and brushed the sand off. Her eyes widened as she realized she was staring at a classic Chanel flap wallet which retailed for over a thousand dollars. Her fingers of their own volition unclasped the gorgeous work of art.

The driver license of Irene Shah stared back at her. Irene Shah with her wire rimmed glasses and her classic french bob from Chicago, IL. Pretty, in a librarian type of way. 34 year-old Irene Shah had an American Express Black Card along with multiple other platinum credit cards. $133 cash, a breath mint. Membership to the Art Institute and Botanic Garden. A keycard to The Luxury Pavilion Apartments slipped out of one of the flaps and landed in Laila’s palm. Her fingers curled around it possessively.

“Who are you Irene Shah? And why do you have such nice things?” Laila murmured to herself. An idea began to form in Laila’s mind as she stared at Irene’s photo. A small smile played around her lips. Maybe sweet little Irene Shah was the end of her nine month losing streak.



6 Months Earlier

Irene Shah


Act cool, be cool. It’s fine. He’s just a guy. A normal guy. With the most perfect golden colored skin, and dimples, and his hair has that wavy messy thing happening. But you’re married! Say it with me. I’m married. But not dead– we can look. Just not touch.

He glanced at his phone and muttered in Spanish, “Ay Dios Mios.”

Her eyes strayed to his lips–yep definitely can’t touch that!

He looked up and caught her looking at him, she quickly swivelled her head to look at the elevator panel.

“Hola, I’m Gabriel Angeles, I live on the third floor, I’ve seen you around but haven’t had the pleasure of introducing myself yet,” He held out his hand for a handshake.

She tentatively shook it, promptly forgetting her ‘no touching’ rule. “Irene Shah I live on the 12th floor–”

“The penthouse,” he interrupted her smiling, “Everyone knows.”

Right, of course they did. It was a small community. And the co-op had very little to talk about except it’s tenants and all their faults.

“Forgive me for overstepping, but I have a small group of students and friends dropping by later this evening. You’re welcome to join us,” he hesitated, “You and your husband, of course.”

The elevator doors had opened at the third floor, but neither one of them felt the urge to move, “Students?” she inquired, because her brain refused to form complete sentences.

“I’m a Professor of Art History at Northwestern. I recently become tenured. We thought the news deserved a celebration,” he stepped onto his floor but lifted his arm to hold the elevator door open as he waited for her response.

“I appreciate the invite, but unfortunately we have plans,” she lied with a tight smile on her face, having no intention of putting her husband within 50 feet of this walking sex God.

He tipped his head in understanding as the elevator door closed.

Irene leaned back against the elevator and closed her eyes. Professor Gabriel Angeles, she turned the name over in her head.




Present Day

Laila Malik


“Is that a yacht? Is she on a freaking yacht? Are you kidding me?” Laila replayed Irene Shah’s insta-story.

Sasha read over my shoulder, “Bonjour France, I’m so glad our paths croissant again!”

Laila shuddered in horror, “Well the puns are super tacky.”

Sasha rolled her eyes, “I mean, she is old. It’s cute that she’s trying. Oh my god, is that the latest Tory Burch bag? Ugh!! I think I’m in love!”

“I’m telling you Sash’, this woman's life is perfect. This is her condo! That gold statue in the corner could probably feed us for a year. Look, last month she was at a ‘Feed the Kids’ luncheon to help the at-risk youth of Chicago. Only rich people attend luncheons for poor people,” Laila clicked her acrylic nails impatiently on their cheap Ikea table top. She had never noticed how cheap her dining table was. Not until she compared it to the Boca Do Lobo masterpiece in Irene Shah’s house, The ornate gold finishings had her drooling. And she didn’t even look at furniture that way!

“Oooh, look at the husband,” Sasha let out a low whistle, “hello Zaddy!”

“Meh, if you’re into the whole silver haired, blue eyed, tailored suit thing,” Laila shrugged nonchalantly. But yes, John Shaw’s (interesting that the last name was phonetically similar, but not the same as Irene’s) piercing blue eyes were definitely intense.

“How long are they gonna be out of the country for?” Sasha asked.

“I mean at least a week, right? Maybe two since they’re chartering a freaking yacht off the coast of France,” Laila chewed her lower lip anxiously and looked at Sasha, “Do you think Irene and I look similar? I mean if I cut my hair and got some glasses.”

Sasha looked at Laila sharply, “Not in the least. Why are you so obsessed with this lady anyway? Didn’t you turn her wallet over to the police last week?”

Laila cleared her throat uncomfortably, “Well, I meant to, however, I just wanted to learn a little bit more about her. And now that I know this woman is filthy rich. I realize she maybe wouldn’t notice if someone who was down on their luck borrowed a few things,” catching Sasha’s look, Laila rushed out, “I mean she is a champion for ‘at risk youth.’ Who is more ‘at risk’ of going to jail than I am? I’m her cause–come to life.”

Sasha looked up at the heavens, “Am I going to regret asking this? Laila, what are you planning?”

“Sash, I am being served for $46,000 in damages over this stupid lawsuit. I have a lawyer who won’t answer any of my calls. And this lady sneezes out $46K in her sleep. I just need to go in and snag a few things to help me get through this situation. It's a super simple– impersonate a woman I’ve never met, grab some fancy shit and be back in LA by dinner time- type of thing,” Laila tried not to wheeze out the last couple of words. Because her breathing did feel a bit constrained when she thought about what she was about to do.

Sasha’s mouth had dropped open and she began walking back and forth in quick jerky motions on her worn yoga mat, “So you mean to tell me, you’re going to commit a crime to get out of a crime that you unintentionally didn’t mean to commit?”

Laila pursed her lips and tried to formulate her thoughts in a way where she sounded logical, “So, is it a crime if in that moment I believe I’m Irene Shah and I’m just collecting my own things to sell for money? Because then I don’t think it is a crime. More like a delusional case of mistaken identity, ya know?”

“Laila! Why would you tell me this? Now I’m an accessory to a crime. Oh my gosh! You have roped me into your evil, conniving, self-serving ways–

“Hey!” Laila interrupted, hurt by her assessment.

“I can’t go to jail, Laila! I’m too pretty to go to jail. They would eat me alive. Do you see this shimmery golden brown skin that is exfoliated on a daily basis and then hydrated with vitamin c sugar serum so that it glistens in the morning sun?” Sasha had begun babbling to herself, “There will be no more glistening because there will be no more sun. Oh my gosh! What am I going to do?”

Laila had gone to their tiny kitchenette and pulled out a pair of scissors, “You’re going to cut my hair and give me that mom-bob, so that I can go back to my evil conniving ways.”

“Not a chance! I don’t support this. I don’t agree with this. What you are about to do is not only dangerous but incredibly stupid.” Sasha walked away from Laila and her scissors.

Laila took a deep breath, “I’ll bring you back a Birkin.”

Sasha immediately pivoted back to the kitchen, “So how many inches are we talking about here? 4 or 5? Girl, let me get a closer look at that photo.” Sasha pushed her face closer to Laila’s phone as Laila tried to hide her smirk.

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