Exit Haven, Upmarket

Name: Erik Fernando Cruz

Genre: Adult Upmarket


Word Count: 81,000

Themes: #ownvoices, Interracial, Mental Illness, LGBT


Your 35-Word Pitch:

When Payton Castillo’s father dies, a summer in Singapore finally allows him to live for himself. But his relationship with his girlfriend at home suffers…and can never be repaired after tragedy tears her away forever.


Your first 500 words:

A warm hand grazed my neck. Her slender fingers made their way around the collar of my shirt and down to my solid red tie. She straightened it, smiled and said, “Much better. Have to be honest, it’s driving me nuts.”

I stood still in front of the mirror, my closed eyes aimed at the ground. “Thanks,” I weakly replied, trying to smile. She grabbed my arm and rested her head on my shoulder. We must have remained like that for nearly five minutes in complete silence. It was comforting, because she was around, yet depressing nonetheless.

“Payton, I really wish I could say a magic word to make you feel better. But I’ve never lost someone so close to me, so it’s impossible. All I can do is be here for you.”

I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated it but I was unable to open my lips. I didn’t want to talk about any of this, yet so is the nature of funerals, you respect the departed while freaking out over your own eventual demise. I remember thinking, What’s wrong with me? My father passes away and I’m worrying about myself. Well…humans are self-centered like that. I’m no exception.

“Talk to me. You’re not alone, you know.”

I nodded and finally responded, “I know, Keontra. I should get going and check on Candace and Michelle. I’m not the only one who lost a father.” I grabbed her hand and led her out of my bedroom, past my old Sammy Sosa poster. That room, and especially that poster, always bothered me when I was growing up. It’d take a while longer before I allowed myself to realize why.

We headed to Candace’s bedroom around the corner from mine, the open door displaying bright lilac walls. She sat on the bed, struggling to brush Michelle’s hair. The moment Michelle saw Keontra, she got up from the floor and ran over to her. “Yes! Thank God you’re here. Keon, I want braids, and Candace sucks.”

My dear sister reacted in a way fitting a teenager; she threw the brush at our seven-year-old sister, hitting her smack-dab in the back of the head. Grabbing the brush from the royal-blue carpet as Michelle stared down her bigger sister, Keontra asked, “Why do you want braids? Your hair is gorgeous like that! I wish I had long straight hair like yours.”

“I’ll trade it for your curls,” Michelle replied, shuffling her feet with a big smile on her face.

“Let’s go to the bathroom. I’ll see what I can do,” Keontra responded, probably noticing that I wanted to speak privately with Candace. She always picked up on my hints, even when I didn’t realize I was displaying them.

“Was that really called for?” I said the moment Candace and I were alone.

“Yes! She’s been bugging the fuck outta me nonstop since papi died.”

“She’s a 2nd grader!” I said, shaking my head. “It’s what we do at that age. You were always annoying the crap outta me when you were seven.”


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