Cleo Peitsche

The Secrets That We Keep

The secrets that we keep.jpg

Even though it may seem like my life is an open book to those of you who read my blog, I have a few skeletons in my closet. No, nothing really deep, dark and mysterious, just your garden-variety embarrassments and lapses in judgment that come with a typically misspent youth.  We all have secrets. Not the kind that would make us good blackmail subjects, hopefully, but stuff we'd rather not have broadcast to friends and family indiscriminately. And if we are very lucky, we have one or two friends who know all of our secrets. I know I do. And thank God for that. If I know anything it is that we're only as sick as our secrets. And, in truth, I don't have any. Not really. There isn't anything about me that at least one other person on this planet doesn't know. And how awesome is that?  There are people out there that have seen me in the most unflattering light possible and still love me. For a long time, even.  In the words of Pia Cuelebre of Thea Harrison's Elder Races fame, I am so, so lucky.

Why am I contemplating secrets and friends right now?  Because I'm just about finished with Cleo Peitsche's Sharkshifter paranormal romance series (five novella-length books), which has been the most perfect vacation reading ever, by the way--light and hot and not too demanding-- but thought-provoking nonetheless. And Ms. Peitsche has highlighted an important aspect of a truly wonderful life-- friends who will keep our secrets safe and who we can trust with our very selves. No matter what.  

In the Sharkshifter series, Koenraad is a guy with secrets. And not just that he can shape shift into a 20-foot Great White Shark (which is pretty cool--I haven't come across the whole shark shifter sub-genre of paranormal fantasy before, and I'll be on the lookout for others in this category). No, Koenraad has many more secrets than that-- the kind of secrets that would get him into hot water with the Shark shifter ruling council and could cause his son to be summarily executed. Koenraad labors under many burdens, but the good news is that he has a best friend, Spencer, to stand by him and keep his secrets, no matter what.

As you all know by now, I don't have a ton of friends, but the ones I have mean the world to me. I've known some of them for the vast majority of my life (since I was two, four and six, respectively). When someone has known you that long, they know everything. I don't have sisters, but I imagine it's like having a sister you've chosen. We don't have to stay close, but we want to. These women are the sisters of my heart. As I've written about before, they knew me before I knew myself. There is absolutely no hiding from them. And it is such a blessing to be known for exactly who I am and the multiplicity of thoughts, words and deeds that make me tick.

 In the series, the most notable aspect of Koenraad's and Spencer's friendship is Koenraad's unshakable faith that Spencer will stand by him, and keep his secrets. No matter what. There is no fear of betrayal, no doubts, just the certain knowledge that this friend of his heart has his back, even when it's uncomfortable for him to stand firm. It's the most amazing feeling in the world. In the paranormal genre, the situations are exaggerated, of course, to make a point, so the situation with Spencer and Koenraad is life and death, but it makes the feelings between them crystal clear.

 Recently, I was given an opportunity to realize just how valuable and fundamental to my existence these relationships are to me, and how much that unshakable faith defines my identity. While I was away on vacation, I got a text from my oldest friend. She asked me to contact her immediately, which was unusual, so I dropped everything and called her. She was almost inarticulately upset (and she is incredibly articulate), asking me why I betrayed her. Then it was my turn to become inarticulate. In the end, it turned out to be a major misunderstanding/miscommunication that was resolved relatively quickly. But the pain from the phantom limb lingered.

I was shocked at how much my world tilted in an awful roller-coaster kind of way when I thought my friend believed I'd betrayed her trust and broken the sacred girlfriend code of silence (the Mafia has nothing on lifelong friendships among women). Thou shalt not mention youthful indiscretions, old boyfriends, embarrassing anecdotes that involve heavy drinking, or anything having to do with quasi-illegal activity.  The girlfriend code covers all. No exceptions. I was horrified to think she thought I'd broken the rules. She was horrified to think I had. We both had trouble wrapping our heads around any of it--hence the nonsensical babbling that erupted from both our mouths.  It rocked our worlds in a way that said a lot about our friendship and also who we are as people--we are women who have the ability to trust another person so completely that the possibility of betrayal basically scrambled our brains. That says a lot about both of us. It also meant that we immediately looked for alternative explanations for the snafu, which we found.

In Cleo Peitsche's Sharkshifter series, her depiction of the relationship between two old friends who would do anything for the other ranks as deep truth in fantasy fiction, which is my favorite paradox, wrapped up in a bow just for me. For you, too, whether these books inspire us to contemplate true friendship or aspire to it, the stories make us better people. And I'm grateful for the reminder. Not to mention the fun story and provocative erotica. A trifecta of goodness.






There is something seriously wrong with us. I thought it was a western world kind of problem, but I'm now convinced the contagion is limited only to the United States. I've been traveling in Spain for the past week. Absolutely spectacular country--my new favorite European destination. We've gone from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic via the Pyrenees and the land and seascapes are magnificent. I'm in awe. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the beaches, and, more specifically, the women on the beaches. They come in all shapes and sizes, and, almost without exception, they are gloriously, confidently, beautifully comfortable in their own skins. Practically no one wears a one piece, and I've yet to see a tankini. All the girls and women sport bikinis, some with tops and some without. I've seen bodies of every conceivable age and variety. And no one seems remotely self conscious.

Let's contrast that with how I felt walking down the beach. I'm fifty years old, and I've given birth to twins. I don't exercise as much as I should, and I don't eat as well as I could. Despite all of that, I know I don't look bad, for a middle aged woman with kids who works for a living and doesn't attend to my appearance like it's my job. But, having said that, I am painfully aware that my skin isn't nearly as tight over what muscles I have left, and, as my son told me a number of years ago (and the trend is not going in a good direction), my midsection is "squishy."  In other words, I won't be gracing any magazine covers or be mistaken for a trophy wife any time soon. I was completely self conscious walking on a beach in Barcelona until I noticed that no one else was.


It was true. I saw stretch marks, surgical scars, melting wax thighs, sagging boobs and women blithely bending without a thought to the rolled flesh on their bellies looking like stacked sausages. No one cared. It was a revelation. And I wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn't share that degree of insouciance.

All of which led me to think about finding answers in the current series I'm reading by Cleo Peitsche called the Sharkshifter Paranormal Romance series. The author was recommended to me by a friend, and I'm enjoying the series, which is light and entertaining with incredibly hot sex scenes. I'm in, of course. But as I was searching Amazon to buy the rest of the series after reading the first book, I noticed that the books were described as "BBW Paranormal Erotic Romance". Curious, I looked up "BBW."  And learned that we are totally screwed. And not in a good, erotic, paranormal way.

The good news is that I had no idea what "BBW" stood for because that aspect wasn't highlighted in the novel itself. The bad news was that the publishers, or Amazon, or maybe the author felt the need to warn/entice/inform me that I was about to read a book where the heroine--the object of lust and love in this erotic romance--was a Big Beautiful Woman. It's as if they were telling me, "Danger--larger women having sex--don't freak out or get disgusted."  WTF?!

I wasn't sure what to think, except that maybe I was being given a hint that I should be happy that women who don't wear a size two and have full C cups to go with their petite asses can also find happiness in love. I haven't been a size two in a long time and I've never had large breasts, so, good to know, I guess. But how incredibly, unbelievably outrageous that I'd need to know ahead of time that Monroe, the leading lady of the shark shifter books, was "big" (which I really didn't get from the novel itself; she is described as having "generous curves"--nothing wrong or "big" about that).

So, now I understand a little better why my not-size-two (but definitely normal-size, healthy BMI) body is a cause for self consciousness, especially when a lot of it is on display--even at anonymous beaches in Europe. How can I not feel inadequate because my tummy isn't taut and my thighs jiggle a bit?  I'm being told--all over the place, in fact--that not being tight and small is an occasion to comment--and again, not  in a good way. Wow. Sucks to be me. Actually, sucks to be all of us.

I'd much rather be one of the beautiful Spanish women, strutting my stuff on the sands near the sea, confident of my allure and easy in my body, no matter what it looks like. I'm not quite sure how to accomplish that without moving to the Mediterranean, but I'll give it some thought. I may have to stop reading "BBW" paranormal fantasy for a while, and avoid books like Gerry Bartlett's Glory St. Clair series, where Glory is always going on about her weight (real vampires have curves, dontcha know?) I need to spend more time remembering that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and comfort and confidence in our bodies is the most attractive thing in the world. We are so critical about ourselves and there is absolutely no need. At least that's what I'll keep telling myself as I strive to feel beautiful regardless of what Madison Avenue, MTV, and publishers of BBW romance novels tell me.