Title: Beyond Any Experience
Author: Anne E. Terpstra
Release Date: 05/31/2022
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, lit/genre fiction, women’s fiction, LGBTQ+ literary fiction, women’s domestic life fiction, romance, mothers and children fiction, lesbian, occupational therapist, age-gap, children, hurt/comfort, over 40, grieving, PTSD, family drama, autism, neurodiversity, interracial/intercultural, #ownvoices, tear-jerker, parenting
Olivia Northman’s world shattered the day she lost her wife to a drunk driver. Three years later, she still struggles with grief and the demands of being a single parent to their autistic son, Ben. After her first attempt at a new relationship crumbles, Olivia retreats to the simple, the predictable. It’s what’s best for her son and her heart.
Ellie Vasquez isn’t simple or predictable. In fact, she’s charmingly impulsive, as well as gregarious, confident, and attracted to Olivia, which she reveals in an unguarded moment. Olivia doesn’t know what’s more surprising—Ellie’s interest, or her own—but a quiet conversation over drinks soon spins into something more. As Olivia’s caution gives way to hope, she sees another chance at love, both for her, and for Ben, who takes to Ellie with a tender openness. Ellie is fearless about love in a way that makes Olivia want to be brave, but the deeper their passion, the closer she gets to drowning—in grief, in fear, in guilt. To have a future with Ellie, Olivia must come to terms with her past. If she can’t, she risks losing the second love of her life.
Anne E. Terpstra’s Beyond Any Experience is an intimate, emotional debut that explores grief, parenting, neurodiversity, and the vulnerability of love after loss.
Beyond Any Experience
Anne E. Terpstra © 2022
All Rights Reserved
When frustrated, Olivia’s son doled out words the way a miser handed over coins—one at a time, and with a begrudging curtness—so she read him by the semaphore of his body and the tenor of his movements. Today, the angry clatter of silverware sounded the first warning. Setting the table usually soothed Ben. He loved a fork lined up on its napkin, a plate rim unmarred by chips. This chore needed no prescribed checklist, no adult confirmation. He could see for himself it had been done correctly, and he orchestrated it to the particular rhythm of his internal metronome.
A cabinet door slammed, and she twitched. Chair legs growled against hardwood. Huffing through his nose, Ben fussed with his glass, centering it on the line where the table leaves met. Even the way he flopped into his chair—toes scraping the floor in irritated sweeps—broadcast his discontent. She piled fettuccine Alfredo on his plate and sank into her seat.
Silence settled around them. Tempting. Easy. They had passed wordless meals more times than she liked to admit in the three years since her wife’s death. At first, quiet dinners provided a fragile oasis after hours of grief-fueled rages. Now, on some days, speech was simply beyond them, Ben drained by the cajoling at school and therapy to “use his words,” and Olivia numbed by phone calls and meetings at work.
The empty chair across the table chided her with memories of Sophia’s gentle but determined efforts, the artful way she could coax Ben from a gloomy mood. His head hung low, dark bangs skimming the bridge of his nose, and he poked at his pile of noodles.
“Wasn’t art class today?” Olivia started with a direct question to keep him from sinking beneath a sea of possible answers.
Ben ignored her, nibbling on a single strand of pasta.
“It’s the big end-of-year project, right? Everyone works on the mural?”
“Murals are stupid.”
“You didn’t think so this morning. You were excited.”
“Did Jamal think they were stupid?” How his best, and only, friend took things often set the tone for how he handled them.
“He was sick.” The first clue to his mood tumbled from his lips. Seeing Jamal was the main reason she could get him out of the house in the morning.
“I’m sorry. I know you hate it when he’s not there.” She chewed slowly as Ben pushed his fettuccine into clumps, tines screeching across the plate. “How’s the Alfredo?”
He dropped his fork with a rattle.
“I need words, okay? How’s dinner?”
“I don’t like it.”
“But it was your request. Because you liked it so much last week.”
“It feels funny on my tongue.”
“It’s the same recipe. Same everything.”
“It’s too THICK!” His eyes snapped up for a burst of contact. An ugly flush crawled across his pale cheeks.
“Hey! Your attitude isn’t appropriate.”
“BUT I HATE IT!”
“Remember our agreement?” She fought to keep her voice even. “If you choose the meal, you have to eat it.”
Tears welled in his tea-colored eyes. “You don’t understand!” He ran from the table and bolted up the stairs. The hollow thump of his steps rattled the old house.
Olivia rubbed her face, then dropped her chin to her palm. A long, slow sigh leaked from her lips. This was a too-familiar choice. Allow Ben to lose a meal to the consequences of his own rigidities and boiling emotions, or erase the tenuous line she had drawn, hoping to pack more calories onto a thin frame that some days didn’t seem strong enough for the double demands of autism and grief.
She got up from her plate and climbed the stairs, taking them two at a time. A wet snuffle sounded from Ben’s room, where he hunched in a crouch between his bed and the wall. Her back twinged as she squeezed her long frame next to him, but she ignored the warning spasm and tapped his knee.
“Seems like you had a tough day.”
He jerked his leg away.
“I know it’s hard when Jamal is absent. That part I get. But art class doesn’t make sense. Can you help me understand?”
He tapped thumbs to fingertips in quick succession, pinky to index, index to pinky.
Hoping to catch his eye, she leaned forward, but her overgrown hair spilled across her face. She raked it back impatiently, then played her only hand. “If you tell me about art class, we’ll discuss a different dinner option.”
He froze, index fingers to thumbs in a weak suggestion of the okay sign.
“But they have to be your words. No making me guess.”
“I don’t know where to start.” The mumbled admission signaled his acceptance, and her shoulders relaxed. She would trade food for information any day, given how little he revealed at times.
“Start at the beginning. That’s always easier. You ate lunch, then you went to art.” She knew his schedule cold. The moment her caller ID flashed his school’s name, she could guess the problem from the time. Tuesday at 11:13? Gym class. His aide forgot his noise-cancelling headphones, and overwhelmed by the ricochet of sound, he exploded halfway through a game. Thursday at 2:32? He refused to eat lunch, and in a moment of hunger-exacerbated emotionality, he burst into tears during a dreaded spelling test.
“I went to art…there was a substitute. She was mean! I hated her!”
“You hated her immediately, or—”
“No! Mrs. Garibaldi promised I could paint trees, not cars, on the mural because cars are hard. I like trees.”
“I know you do.” She had a drawer full of trees—tall, thin trees with lacework branches, broad trees squatting under a crown of heavy limbs. The form calmed Ben, a succession of orderly lines forking across the paper. They looked like trees when he finished, as opposed to cars or people, which his crude attempts couldn’t approximate.
“The substitute said all fifth graders had to draw cars. And I couldn’t help if I didn’t. It was so unfair. Mrs. Garibaldi promised I could help with Lincoln Park!”
Making a vise of her thumb and middle finger, she squeezed her throbbing temples. His educational team had discussed this weeks ago. The entire school was painting a mural of the Chicago skyline, and while Ben’s class was assigned a traffic scene on Lake Shore Drive, his teacher had agreed he could work on the park in the background. “Where was your aide?”
“But another woman helps during Ms. Rickard’s lunch.”
“She was sick. They said to do art by myself. But I couldn’t make the substitute understand, she didn’t let me help, and now everyone but me will be on the mural!”
“Okay, okay, buddy. It must have felt terrible to be left out.” When she slipped a cautious arm around his shoulders, he collapsed against her, crying harder. The unrestricted contact said more than his tears about how devastated he was. Times like this were the worst, when what should have been the highlight of his day turned sour. “Did they finish the mural?”
“No. It’s really big.”
“So next week, when Mrs. Garibaldi is back, the class will still be painting it?”
His head popped up. For the first time, his face lost its tight, strained look. “Yes.”
“Maybe you can add trees then?”
“I’ll email your teacher, okay?”
“Okay. I used my words. I did!”
“I believe you.” She lifted her arm as he squirmed free. “But remember how I said that even when you use your best words, some adults still might not understand?”
“If I’m using the best words, they have to understand.”
They had circled this issue so many times, but it still eluded him. “The important thing is, you tried as hard as you could. The trying makes me proud.”
“You can’t be proud. It didn’t work!”
“You never know if it will work. Which is why trying is the brave part, the proud part.”
He wiped his face on his shirt, tears staining the fabric.
“You know what else I’m proud of?”
“All the words you gave me right now. Good words that helped me understand.”
“So, I don’t have to eat fettuccine?”
“Not tonight. But remember, it’s unfair to ask for something and then not eat it.”
“Can I have applesauce?”
“Yes, but not just applesauce. You need protein.”
She stifled a grin at his hopeful expression. “Do you think after refusing to eat what I cooked, you’re getting ice cream?”
His lower lip budged out, and his shoulders slumped. “Probably not.”
“How about cottage cheese?”
“Okay.” He scrambled across the bed. “I’ll get the applesauce packs!”
As he tore down the stairs, she thumped the back of her head on the wall. Ben’s emotions surged and retreated so rapidly, leaving her exhausted from picking her way through the minefield of his day. This time, at least, her patience had been rewarded with clarity. She puffed out a sharp sigh and pushed to her feet.
Meet the Author
Anne E. Terpstra (she/her) writes heartfelt, sex-positive fiction that is grounded in realism and centers LGBTQ+ characters. Her debut novel, Beyond Any Experience, will be published in 2022.
Anne graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has degrees in journalism and technical theater. She has worked as a copy editor/proofreader, and she is a member of the Chicago Writers Association. In addition to being an author, Anne is a potter and photographer. In all of her pursuits, she enjoys exploring the unexpected angle or unappreciated detail.
Anne and her wife live in Chicago with their son. When she isn’t writing, throwing pots, or taking photos, she procrastinates by baking and gardening.