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Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28: THE FAMILY WAY


              When Todd came back from a lunch he couldn't eat, he found Pastor Glenn waiting in his office in the chair facing his desk. For two seconds, Todd felt tempted to turn around and run. Maybe leave word at the main desk that he was taking the rest of the day off. That impulse made no sense. Why would he be afraid to talk to the senior minister of his church? Maybe it was the somber expression Pastor Glenn wore, the frown wrinkles around his mouth and creasing his forehead. Something made Todd think the reason for this visit, especially without an appointment, couldn't be good. Then Pastor Glenn raised his head from contemplation of his hands and saw Todd standing in the doorway.
            "Hi." Todd swallowed hard and stepped around to sit down at his desk. "What can I do for you, Pastor? Finally decided to get that software system I offered to design for the church? It'll do everything but fix the plumbing and mow the lawn."
             "No thanks, Todd. We prefer to employ fallible people at the church. The human touch." Pastor Glenn smiled, but his usual rumbling chuckle was missing. "I just came from seeing Lisa at the hospital."
             "How bad is she?" His voice caught.
             "Just three stitches to close it up. Because it was her head, they made her stay for observation. She'll probably be home waiting for you tonight."
             "Probably." He knew that was the key word. "What do I need to do?"
             "Talk to me, Todd. Karla says you pushed Lisa, so she hit her head. Lisa wouldn't tell me anything. Your sister wants to report it to the police."
              "It was an accident," Todd whispered.
              "I believe you. Why did you miss your counseling session? That just makes last night's injury all the more serious. You wouldn't have scheduled counseling in the first place if there wasn't some problem. For you to miss without any explanation… What am I to think?"
              "It was an accident." The repetition sounded lame and the chuckle caught in his throat. "I got called out of town for an emergency."
              "You didn't tell Lisa. The fact that she was caught unawares says something about the value you placed on the appointment… and, I'm sorry to say, on her. She waited at church. She didn't say anything, but the hurt in her eyes spoke volumes."
              "I didn't mean to -- I left a note, but she didn't find it."
              "Todd, things like missing counseling sessions and going out of town for a few days aren't things you leave to notes. Believe me, as someone who has had to leave the house for emergencies at all hours of the day and night, your wife would much rather lose a few hours of sleep and be told face-to-face, rather than read about it in a note. Or worse, hear about it from someone else."
               "I know." He felt like he had when the coach scolded him about cheating in basketball.
               "You know, but you don't act on it. Todd, your wife is the sweetest, most giving person I've met in a long time. You have to put her through an inquisition to find out anything about her life -- she never puts herself into the limelight. A lot of people in our church love her because she's so giving and supportive. They'd be horrified if your marriage fell apart. Lisa wants this marriage to work. The question is, do you?"

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27: THE FAMILY WAY


            "I should probably tell you something, Lisa," Karla said.
            It was past midnight and the winter wind howled down the chimney. The Montgomery cabin was warm and snug, full of deep shadows made darker by the flickering light of the fire. The other three sisters were asleep, curled up in their sleeping bags on mattresses on the hardwood floor.
           "We liked you so much when we first met you, we nearly warned you not to marry Todd."
           "Huh?" Lisa smiled sleepily and snuggled down a little further in her sleeping bag. Funny, but this was the first time she felt really comfortable and warm in weeks.
           "We just thought you were too good for Prince Toddy. Father complained the minute you left the house, saying you weren't good enough for him. You were too thin, your hair was too long, you wouldn't be a good cook, you were an artist and that meant you were unreliable. On and on."
           "Well, when he told me Uncle Benjamin was going to walk me down the aisle and give me away, instead of Dr. Holwood, who has been like a father to me the whole time I was at BWU, I kind of got the idea he thought I was brainless." She laughed softly, and that amazed her.
           "We figured Todd needed you. Maybe with enough time, Father's influence over him would fade." Karla sighed. "With all the dirty tricks he's been pulling, I guess we were wrong."
            "If he'd just say he was wrong and he's sorry, I could forgive him."
            "He probably doesn't even remember that he did anything to hurt you." She rolled over and sat up. "Father's been pestering you from the beginning to have a baby, hasn't he?"
            "Every Sunday at dinner, he asks about my health and says I'm not eating enough and I can't get pregnant if I'm not healthy."
            "I decided not to have children because I didn't want him getting his hands on them."
            "What?"
            "Sshh. Don't wake up the others." She glanced at her sisters, lying in shadowy lumps on either side of them. "Charli was anorexic all the way through high school and college, thanks to him nagging about her figure. He said she was built like a hooker. Too many curves. So she tried to skinny down, you know? Andrea miscarried twice. Nerves, the doctors said. The four of us have pretty much decided not to expose innocent children to him."
            "That's horrid." The odd thing was, Lisa wasn't shocked by the revelation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26: THE FAMILY WAY


           "Hi. You're being kidnapped," Karla announced the moment Lisa opened the door. Charli stood behind her, grinning ear to ear. Both sisters wore blue jeans, plaid flannel shirts and vest jackets.
           "Huh?" Lisa found it a little difficult pulling her mind away from Katie and Bob's arguments to focus on the present.
           "You need a night out with the girls, and we are the girls to do it," Charli said. "Where's that brat, Todd?"
           "Todd, we're kidnapping Lisa and you can't do anything about it," Karla called, stepping further into the apartment.
           "Denver." Lisa sighed as she said it.
           "What?" Charli's mouth dropped open. "Todd went out of town without telling our father?"
           "How do you know that?" Lisa would have laughed if she didn't feel so strangely out of step.
           "Father always complains to at least one of us about how badly the company mistreats Todd, sending him everywhere around the country. Then in the same breath he gloats about how important he is."
           "So," Karla continued, taking up the narration, "if Father didn't gripe, then he didn't know Todd was away. When did he go?"
           "Yesterday." Her voice caught. "The coward left a note that I didn't even find until last night," she added, and didn't care what it sounded like.
            Lisa was tired of supporting Todd and making him look good, swallowing her pride and hurt feelings a dozen times a week for his sake. If the whole world knew she wished she had never married him, that was fine with her.
           "Uh oh," Charli whispered. "Girlfriend, you definitely need a night out. Come on, change your clothes. We're going to the cabin. Bring a sleeping bag and warm pjs while you're at it."
           "But –" She stopped short and shook her head. Lisa realized she had been about to say no, that she had to wait for Todd to call or come home. Why should she?

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25: THE FAMILY WAY


            Noon came and went. Todd never showed up. She went downstairs to the lobby to watch for their car. No sign of it. Their appointment was set for twelve-thirty. She debated going upstairs to call Todd's cell phone and find out when he would arrive, but she had done that twice before when they were running late for something, and each time Todd had been pulling into the parking lot when she reached him. By the time she got downstairs again and climbed into the car, they would be officially late. She decided to simply wait.
             At twelve-twenty, Lisa decided to get moving. Maybe Todd forgot he was supposed to pick her up, and she would find him waiting -- impatiently -- in Pastor Glenn's office. She stepped outside in the gusting, icy wind. Todd had made it clear he wasn't happy about going for counseling, and she didn't want to give him any excuse by her absence to turn around and leave at the last minute. She moved as fast as her new boots would allow, expending her nervous energy so the usual twenty-minute walk across the center of town to Tabor Christian Church only took ten minutes.
             When she reached the church, there were few cars in the parking lot by the office door. Todd's car wasn't among them. Lisa settled down in the little waiting room outside Pastor Glenn's office and folded her hands and waited.
            At quarter of one, Pastor Glenn and Dr. Harris both came out of their offices, looked at each other, then glanced into the waiting room where Lisa sat all alone.
            "Lisa?" Pastor Glenn gave her that uncertain smile that always made her feel good. It told her he was human and didn't have all the answers, and wasn't about to judge her.
            "I guess Todd's running late," Lisa said with a shrug. "Maybe we should get started without him?"
            "Sorry, that's not... ethical," Dr. Harris said. She tugged a strand of silvery hair back into the tight crown of braids wrapped around the back of her head. "The worst thing we can do toward solving your marital problems is to talk to one spouse without the other one there to hear what's said. Marriages that might have been mended have dissolved because unethical or careless counselors appeared to side with one spouse against the other."
             "Oh." She nodded. "I guess that makes sense."
             Lisa walked home, though Pastor Glenn offered to drive her. She wasn't up to making small talk. She couldn't take the idea of his sympathy. Silence with someone she liked and trusted would be unbearable.
            She found Todd's note that evening when she dropped her napkin at dinner and bent down to retrieve it. Lisa read it twice through. Nothing about missing the appointment. Nothing about being sorry. Nothing to indicate when he would get home. And there had been no message on her office answering machine from him, meaning he hadn't thought about her once all day.
            What had happened to his habit of checking in with her, just to talk, every time he went out of town? She supposed that sweet habit had vanished about the time he decided she was carrying someone else's baby.
            "Fine," she whispered, crumpling the note. "Don't bother coming home at all."
            Lisa couldn't finish her dinner. She took the meal storage container to the sink, turned it over, and ran the disposal a long time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February 24: THE SECOND TIME AROUND


            Taking a deep breath, he finally reached for the door handle. The birds paused a few seconds when the door of his six-year-old Beretta creaked open, then they went back to looking for bugs. Daniel took twenty feet of sidewalk slowly, fists clenched, gaze fastened on that closed front door. Not a sound penetrated the thick walls of the house. The entire neighborhood was quiet with that chill sense of waiting, balanced on a razor's edge, either falling back into more winter ice and gloom, or spilling forward into early spring. Daniel chose spring. It helped to realize there were probably no witnesses around, early enough in the day for the children to still be at school and most adults to be at work or out shopping.
             At the front door, he took a deep breath, bracing himself before he reached out to press the doorbell. Daniel yanked his hand back just before he touched the button and sprinted back to his car with his heart racing. He dove halfway into the back seat, emerging a few seconds later with an enormous paper-wrapped bouquet of hothouse-grown wildflowers, wrapped with a satin ribbon. He cradled it as if it were made of glass as he strode back up the driveway and nearly punched the doorbell.
            He shifted his feet a few times, waiting for the door to open. Seconds ticked by. Daniel glanced around the neighborhood and took one step backwards to his car when the heavy panel flew open.
            "Daniel?" Lynette gasped. She blushed and immediately yanked the blue bandanna off her hair.
            She had a smudge of dirt along her nose, and another longer smudge on her cheek. Her sleeves were rolled up and her baggy blue sweatshirt was spotted with water and dust and smears of more stubborn dirt.
            No fancy designer clothes and just-from-the-shop hairdo. Daniel wondered if she had decorated herself that way for Mike, and this was the real Lynette. It struck him that she was no longer the girl he loved at the university, with those shadows under her eyes and the fine wrinkles around her mouth from worry and anger and stress.
          He stared at her for a few more seconds, deciding she was the most beautiful thing he had seen in a long time. Especially when it finally sunk in that she was in the middle of packing or cleaning the house or doing something related to that wonderful 'For Sale' sign in the front yard. She wasn't dressed up as Mike Tyler's trophy wife. She was leaving this house.
          Thank you, Lord, Daniel shouted deep inside. He offered a grin. Telling Lynette she was beautiful was probably not a smart move. She probably felt grubby and awkward right now. How many times had Mike had the intelligence to tell her she was beautiful when she didn't feel that way?
          Probably not often enough, maybe never, Daniel decided.
          To his wonder, Lynette smiled at him, and her smile grew with each second of silence that passed. Her blue-gray eyes widened a little, and there was a glow to her makeup-free face that Daniel swore grew a little brighter the longer they looked at each other.
          This was going to work. She wasn't going to throw him out a second time.
          Daniel finally remembered the flowers, jerking a little as if waking from a dream, and handed them to her.  The man who could do improv in the worst situation on stage couldn't think of a thing to say. Lynette blushed, but her eyes sparkled as she held out her arms and took the flowers. Then she stepped back, inviting him into the house.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23: DETOURS


           "Who are they?" Nathan Lewis asked, looking over Shane's head and down the main hall as the first service let out.
            Shane turned and saw the two new guys who had been spending a lot of time with Dr. Morgan the last few days. He hadn't met them yet, and he decided it might be good to welcome them to Tabor Christian. Then he realized that dark head in between the two tall blonds, that barely reached their shoulders, was Bekka's.
           Worse, she was laughing and walking arm-in-arm with them. Both of them.
           "Hey!" Bekka waved, gesturing for Nathan and Shane to come over. "Just the two I was looking for." She led her two tall charges toward them.
             Shane realized too late that Bekka had seen him. That meant he couldn't pretend he hadn't seen her. He followed Nathan, calling himself a dozen names for wimp.
             "I'll believe that when I see it," Nathan said when the two groups met. "Do you guys need rescuing?"
             The two blonds stared at him a moment, then Bekka cracked up and they grinned. Shane managed to nod and grunt a greeting when she introduced the McGregor cousins. He didn't feel any better when Bekka explained she wanted the cousins to meet some of the guys at church. And when she asked if he and Nathan could help her get a gang of the Singles together to go out after church, Shane felt even worse. He had to work, after all.
             "They're in the theater department," Bekka said, when Shane excused himself to head back to his place to change clothes and get his homework before he headed over to work. "Look for Shane around the scene shop. He's always wearing that hat. I swear, it's sewn to the top of his head."
             Shane felt some of that leaden pressure leave his chest. Bekka noticed!
             "Buck Jones," one of the cousins said -- Shane couldn't be bothered to tell them apart.
             "Red eye," Bekka said, twisting her voice into a Western drawl. The cousins cracked up.
             "I don't get it," Nathan said, grinning anyway.
             "Lines from an old Bill Cosby album." She shook her head. "Forget it. You had to be there."
             "Bekka's been an angel," the other cousin said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. He barely had to lift an arm to do it. "She's been helping us get settled, find our way around town and campus, and in return we've been torturing her with our antique record collection."
             "Torture, nothing," she said with a snort and dug him in the ribs with her elbow. "These guys have the most incredible old-time radio show collection. Oh, I have a great idea. Move the party to your place, instead of going to a restaurant."
             "Yeah, you guys have fun," Shane said, and backed away. He couldn't seem to pull his gaze away from that arm draped casually around Bekka like it belonged there. "Gotta go to work."

Friday, February 22, 2013

COMING SOON: Cooking up Trouble


The next Tabor Heights: Year Two book is titled COOKING UP TROUBLE.

What kind of trouble?

All kinds!

First, there's the persistent paparazzi trouble that comes from having the son of a celebrity living in Tabor Heights -- Steve Vincente, Max's half-brother.

Then there's the challenge of putting together Max and Tony's wedding without the entire world finding out all of the details. As the daughter of a Hollywood legend, Max suddenly has no right to privacy. Well, that's what the paparazzi and her nasty next-door neighbor think, but they're going to find out they're very wrong!

Then there's work-related problems for Audrey Hathaway, a cast member at Homespun Theater. She's been cast opposite Steve in "Romeo and Juliet," and there's a spy at the restaurant where she works, who is reporting everything she says to the gossip rags! Throw in an assistant manager who goes by the book even when common sense disagrees, and who insists that Audrey's extremely popular baking skills aren't needed, and the nasty co-worker sabotaging her ... you get a recipe for troubles around every corner.

And oh, yeah ... some romance. Of course. What else would you expect from a story set in Tabor Heights?

Check in here and at Desert Breeze Publishing in May for the release of COOKING UP TROUBLE.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21: THE FAMILY WAY



           The wastebasket sat at the foot of the couch by the door. Todd saw it was full, and remembered his decision to take care of the garbage without Lisa reminding him. He grabbed up the wastebasket and headed into the kitchen. The tall black garbage can liners Lisa used were in a box under the sink. He opened one and up-ended the wastebasket into it.
            A clump of wet papers stuck together in the bottom. Todd sighed and gritted his teeth and reached in to pull them out. Wallpaper samples. Cloth samples. A few catalogues. He smiled, remembered how happy Lisa was when she redecorated the apartment.
           Wait. He didn't recognize any of the samples. Lisa wouldn't throw them out until the project was finished, would she? A heavy feeling filled his stomach as he slowly pried apart the sticky pages of the catalogue and saw the baby furniture inside.
            Lisa had to be really angry with him, to throw away all that hard work.
            He wished she had waited for him to come home before she started on a big, important project like that. Todd usually didn't know blue from green, but decorating their baby's room together would have been fun.
            Right now, he had the horrid suspicion she wouldn't let him help with the baby's room. He remembered the plans and promises they had made to each other, just a few weeks before their wedding. They would take Lamaze classes and pre-natal and childcare classes together, and he would help change diapers if she promised not to make him get up for the midnight feedings.
           Todd suspected Lisa remembered all those happy dreams and plans, and the memories didn't make her happy.
           Was that really his fault? She chose to stay angry with him.
           He continued digging. That floor plan didn't look right. He pried apart a few papers and found the specifications for the dream house. It was for rent? Todd nearly dropped the wastebasket as the entire picture came together in his head. Lisa wanted the dream house for their baby. She had already started plans for decorating it.
           And she had thrown everything away.
          The bathroom door opened. Todd shoved the soggy papers and scraps and catalogues into the garbage bag and stood up. Lisa didn't come into the kitchen. He emptied the kitchen wastebasket into the bag, then went into the bathroom.
          It only took a moment to recognize the pieces of the pregnancy test in the bathroom wastebasket. His hand shook a little as he reached for the snapped fragments of the wand. He couldn't tell if Lisa had used it or not. He couldn't find enough pieces of the little instruction sheet to determine if there was any sign for either positive or negative.
          "What is this supposed to mean?" he demanded, shoving the bedroom door open.
Lisa froze in the middle of pulling a pair of jeans out of her drawer. Her mouth flattened a little more and she backed up a step to match the one he took toward her.
          "This." He held out the snapped pieces of the test wand. "You threw it out without using it, didn't you?"
          "You know," she said, so quietly he almost couldn't hear her through the thuds of his heart in his ears, "there is something really wrong with people who go through the garbage."
           "You didn't take the test, did you?"
           "No."
           "Why not?" He shoved the pieces into the garbage bag. His fingers cut holes in the black plastic.
           "It doesn't matter anymore."
           "Of course it matters! Lisa, why are you doing this? Aren't you excited about our baby?"
           "My baby." Her whisper hit him like a two-by-four. "It's not yours, remember?"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20: DETOURS



            "Bekka?" Morgan stuck his head out of his classroom as Bekka walked past, trying to calculate if she should go to the cafeteria or pick up something to eat at Common Grounds when she put in her afternoon shift. "Can you help me a minute?"
            "Sure." She bit her lip against a grin as she decided that was about all she could spare, a minute or two.
Bekka stepped into his classroom and found herself facing the two very tall, very tanned, very blonde young men she had seen wandering around campus that morning. They stood out in her memory, despite being in a rush to get to class, because they were so very tanned. It just wasn't a normal sight to see in February in Ohio.
            Morgan introduced them as Rufus and Jake McGregor, cousins, who had transferred in from San Diego. A slight shake of his head and a roll of his eyes told Bekka not to ask, at least not right now, why they had transferred in two months into the semester.
           "They need someone to help them navigate town, get their bearings, that sort of thing. You don't have classes the rest of the afternoon -- could you play tour guide?" he finished.
            "Ah, yeah, normally that'd be fine." Bekka panicked the moment those long, angular, innocent-looking faces brightened, then felt guilty in anticipation of what she was about to say. "But I have to get to work. I'm filling in at Common Grounds, babysitting the office while Hannah is getting things put together."
            "That's perfect," Morgan said, as Rufus and Jake's smiles dropped. "They're renting the upstairs of the house three doors down from there. You can give them a running tour on the way to work -- you're not riding your bike today, are you?"
            "Ah... no." She decided he was joking. "Okay, I was trying to decide where to get lunch. If you guys haven't had lunch yet, we can make a quick run down Main and I'll point out all the places to get everything you need. Does Mrs. Gordon have a washer and drier in the basement of your place, or do you need to find the laundromat, too?"
            "Basement. But no soap," Rufus admitted.
            "I don't suppose you've found Heinke's yet, either."
            "They're helpless. Brilliant playwrights, but no street smarts," Morgan said, earning crooked grins from the cousins. "You're the only one I'd trust to help them land on their feet."
            Fifteen minutes later, the Bekka and her blond shadows turned the corner from Sackley to Main and she launched into her tour guide spiel, pointing out the Bookworm, the Toy Box, Penny Pincher, and on down the street as she led them to Stay-a-While. She pointed out the side street that would take them to Heinke's, and mentioned Gold Tone Gym. If they were surfer dudes like they looked, they would probably want some place to exercise to stay in shape. Bekka wondered if there was surfing on Lake Erie. She had never thought of it until now. They both laughed when she mentioned it, as they walked through the door of Stay-a-While.
            "We're more interested in getting in on the ground floor of a movement to set up a new Hollywood," Rufus said. "Surfing is fine, but I never really saw the point in it."
           "New Hollywood? Where?" she had to ask.
           "Right here in Cleveland," Jake said. He laughed when she gaped at him a moment. "No, really. There's a movement going on. Of course, there are movements across the country. But we're part of a group trying to take Hollywood for the Kingdom, and we figure, why concentrate on the geographical Hollywood? It's the spirit of Hollywood we want to reform."
           "Kingdom?"
           "Kingdom of Heaven." He tipped his head to one side, studying her, visibly waiting for a reaction.
           Bekka knew that look, because she had worn something like it when she took a stand, even if a tiny one, in classes or during group discussions. She silently laughed at herself for that moment of panic, wondering what Morgan was doing, giving her these two newcomers to look after. He knew what he was doing.
           "If you're looking for a great church, I know just the place."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19: THE FAMILY WAY


           The sounds of the radio alarm clock and Todd banging around in the bathroom woke her. Lisa stayed curled up on the couch, surprised she had been able to sleep after all. She listened to him thudding around the apartment, making the same sounds he always did in the morning. She smelled the toast he burned and wondered what mess she would find in the kitchen. She waited for him to knock on her door. She expected him to act as if nothing had happened last night, and demand his good-bye kiss.
           Lisa waited, listening to all the usual morning sounds except Todd's voice. She waited until she heard the door close, sounding much the same as it always did when Todd ran late for work, his first morning back from a business trip.
           No farewell. No apology. No pretense that everything was all right. Just silence. That, she decided, was an improvement.
           Lisa moved slowly, wincing as she convinced her body to unbend and get up for the day. The morning light sliding through the old-fashioned Venetian blinds looked as cold as Lisa felt.
           She opened the door and forced herself to go through her usual morning routine. It was hard, when most of the mess she neatened was Todd's. As usual. Did she really want to spend the rest of her life cleaning up after a man who thought so little of her? It had been easy when she was in love and dreaming; now it felt like a death sentence, punishment for the crime of being stupid.
           Toothpaste globs in the sink. Water spilled across the bathroom counter. Shaving cream can lid sitting in the corner by the toilet. Towels on the floor. Water dripping in the shower stall. Lisa considered leaving all Todd's mess for him to clean up, but that could take days and she was the one who stayed most of the day in the apartment. Besides, the towels were hers. The decorations in the bathroom were hers. She had wallpapered and painted and re-grouted. She had made over every room in the apartment, to make this a nice home for Todd to come back to every day. She had done it herself, with her own hands, buying at discount stores to save as much money as possible.
           Mr. Montgomery had criticized the expense and time spent, 'wasting' Todd's money on a home that didn't belong to them. When Todd got irritated enough to tell his father Lisa had spent only her own money, his father then lectured them on the need to save that money for their children, for private schools and college. Then he went on to criticize his two married daughters and Lisa for not giving him any grandchildren yet.
            "Now what are you going to complain about?" Lisa whispered, stopping to press her hand over her stomach when she felt a surge of nausea. She hadn't experienced morning sickness yet, but considering how everything was falling apart around her, she probably would soon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18: THE FAMILY WAY



         "Lisa?" Todd's voice at her door startled a squeak out of her as she came awake. She wrapped her arms tight around herself, expecting the door to bow and give way under one thunderous blow.
         "Go away, Todd." She smiled, proud of how calm her voice sounded. As if all the aching twisting through her was so tangled it couldn't get up into her voice.
         "Come on out and let's talk about this."
         "Talk about what? You think I'm a whore. What's there to talk about?"
         "I didn't say--"
         Silence. She couldn't hear anything, not footsteps stomping away or a hand fiddling with the doorknob.           What was he doing? Leaning against the door in frustration or the weariness that had enfolded him in a dull blanket?
          Exhaustion flooded her, too. Was that the problem? They were both tired, both prone to depressing thoughts? Had Todd meant to say something else, but his tongue had twisted, the words came out wrong, and then she had blown it out of proportion?
          His father constantly accused her of that when she made the slightest protest to something unkind or critical he had said.
         "What's wrong with us?" Lisa whispered. She choked, refusing to weaken and give in to tears now.
Todd had hurt her. She wasn't mistaken about what he had said.
         She wasn't going to let him smooth things over without an apology or an explanation. Not this time.
         "You didn't say what?" She struggled out of the couch. She advanced on the door, as if it were the enemy and not Todd. "What were you saying when you asked if my baby was yours?"
         Silence from Todd, though she waited until the quiet ran thick though the entire apartment and she could hear the ticking of the old mantel clock on the bookshelf.
         "I just wanted--" he began softly, muffled even more by the wood in the door.
         "It's always what you want! What you think! What you're feeling. Do you have any idea how much work I put into a fancy dinner for you? I missed a lot of work I could have gotten done, to put together a celebration for when you got home, but do you care? Your father has nagged me since the day we got married to give you a baby, and it is yours, but--" She choked, feeling as if she would vomit.
          Todd said nothing while she gasped for breath. She refused to let out one sob, one more tear. Never again.
          "I have a book contract, you selfish jerk! We should be celebrating, but do you care?" She waited, but he gave her no answer. "Well, I don't care either. Not anymore."
          Lisa stepped back, waiting, hearing a ringing through the silence, like an emergency broadcast signal on the radio. But there was nothing. No sound. No reaction. Again.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 16: THE FAMILY WAY


Todd got up later than he intended Sunday morning, and knew it was too late for him to call Lisa before she left for church. She didn't have a cell phone, and even if she did, she wouldn't have it turned on during either class or the service. He didn't feel like searching the phone book to find a church to attend, and his co-workers were still asleep and probably wouldn't stir until it was time for a football game to start. He decided to take a chance that the mall would be open.
The first store he saw was just rolling the cage security door up into the ceiling -- and it was an art store. Inspiration struck. What were those fancy imported French colored pencils Lisa drooled over, but never bought for herself? He would be a hero if he came home with those pencils. And chocolate. His sisters always insisted that chocolate was a necessary part of asking forgiveness. Not that he ever had to ask Lisa to forgive him. She knew he loved her. She always forgave him. Still, it wouldn't hurt to hedge his bets by investing in some chocolate along with those pencils.
Todd couldn't figure out the map of the mall, and had gone down two wings, trying to find the candy store before he realized there was a second floor -- that was why he couldn't find the candy store where it belonged. He finally located the escalator and got upstairs and had the candy store in his sights when the cell phone rang.
"You are quitting that job if they don't have the sense to give you duties that let you stay at home," Mr. Montgomery growled before Todd could finish saying hello. "That selfish ..."
"Dad, please don't. Not on a Sunday." Todd had learned a long time ago that appealing to his father's sense of propriety stopped quite a number of diatribes on the launch pad. "What happened?"
"That wife of yours refused Sunday dinner with me. She made up some flimsy lie about doing church work to avoid her duty to me as your father. She knows I'm watching her, to make sure she doesn't embarrass you while you're out of town. Rebellious, that's what she is. Lying, devious, rebellious little ..."
"Dad! Stop. Lisa always helps with the Autumn Fellowship luncheon at church on the third Sunday of every month. That's why we never have lunch with you on that day. Every month. Regular as clockwork." Todd sighed and settled down on the edge of a planter. He had been feeling fine until the phone rang.
"She has no business traipsing all over town while you're away," his father said, barely breaking rhythm. "She doesn't care anything about you."
"Lisa loves me. Dad, she put chocolate and a card in my suitcase, so I'd have something for Valentine's Day while I was out of town."
"That's her duty as your wife." He snorted. "She's only doing it to trick you into trusting her. Or out of guilt."
"So if she didn't give me little gifts and show me all the time how much she loves me, then that means she really does love me?"
"Don't you sass back at me, young man. I'm looking out for your welfare. You have no business spending so much time away from home, so young, so early in your marriage. Until you have her trained, until she gives up her ridiculous scribbling and settles down and devotes herself to her duties as your wife, nothing is certain. Do you have any idea what she does while you're out of town so much?"
"Yes, Dad. I know exactly what Lisa's doing right now." He checked his watch. "She's in the kitchen at church, packing up the leftovers from the luncheon to take over to the Mission. Go on over to the church and check. It's the same routine, the third Sunday of every month. She'll be there until two-thirty, then she'll take the leftovers to the Mission kitchen. If it's nice weather, she'll walk. Then, she'll go home and… if I was at home, we'd spend the afternoon on the couch relaxing, watching TV or working a puzzle or reading."
"If you were at home. But you're not, are you?"
Todd couldn't remember what he said to get his father off the topic of Lisa doing something irresponsible while he was out of town. He found himself on the shuttle bus to go back to the hotel with the pencils and a box of chocolate covered cherries, so he had managed to take care of his errand to the candy store, even though he couldn't remember doing it. The pounding had returned to his head, and the heaviness had settled back in his gut.

Friday, February 15, 2013

February 15: THE FAMILY WAY


"You okay?" Bekka tucked her pens into the crook of her arm with the pencil boxes and the drugstore bag and reached out her free hand to grip Lisa's shoulder. "You look kind of shell-shocked. Something wrong?"
"No. Everything's… fine." Lisa reached for the drugstore bag, barely stopping herself before she snatched it out of Bekka's grasp and started another avalanche.
"Are you heading back home right away? Could I hitch a ride?"
"I don't have the car. Flat tire." Lisa breathed a prayer of relief and gratitude as Bekka slid her bag and boxes into her grasp without even looking at the all-too-visible label.
"Let me guess. Saint Toddy is too busy helping his father with something to fix the tire, so you had to take the bus downtown on a day like this." She laughed as they headed down the aisle for the register.
"He's out of town. He had to get a ride to get to the airport."
"Tell you what. Buy me a hot chocolate at that donut joint on the corner, and I'll help you change your tire when we get back to the apartments."
"You are my hero," Lisa groaned, earning laughter from Bekka and a grin from Takeishi, when they reached the register just that moment. "No, honestly, you are saving my life," she said, continuing the conversation after they had both made their purchases and stepped out into the sharp, cold gusts of wind that came straight from Lake Erie, down the canyons formed by the buildings. "The car is Todd's domain, and I never learned how to change a tire or the oil or do anything more complicated than add windshield washer fluid."
"It's the least I can do for a neighbor." Bekka took the big, dark green Knickerbox bag from Lisa's hands as she struggled to slide the drugstore bag inside it, holding it until the mission was accomplished. "And an expectant mommy," she added, handing the bag back to her.
Lisa stumbled, and an especially hard gust of wind nearly knocked her against the building they walked past. Bekka slipped an arm through hers, holding her upright, and nearly pulled her down the sidewalk for a few steps, until Lisa got her feet underneath herself again.
"Please -- don't tell anyone."
"My lips are sealed. I just love keeping secrets from my roommates. And you have no idea how hard it is to keep something hidden from those two snoops. They made my Dove dark chocolate hearts evaporate less than a day after I bought them."
"They're not who I was thinking about, but thanks, now that you mentioned it." Somehow, Lisa was able to breathe again. Maybe it was the understanding light, warm in Bekka's eyes despite her crooked grin.
"You know, once Kat finds out, she's going to insist on the most extravagant, pink, frilly baby shower in the entire world. And Amy will drive us crazy for weeks, experimenting with cakes until she gets just the right combination and texture and shape. How she manages to bake all the time and stay so skinny, I'll never know."
"Umm, you know, I was thinking about doing the nursery in ponies. If she can find a pony cake…" Lisa broke off with a gasp that turned into laughter, and all the tension that had been turning her stomach into knots and stiffened her joints fled, as if brushed away by the icy lake effect winds.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14: DETOURS

             In honor of Valentine's Day, she decided to pick the most romantic movie she had seen since The Ghost and Mrs. Muir -- True Lies.
             Just as the opening credits finished, the phone rang. Sighing, she hit the pause button. She would have to get up and go across the room to answer it, wouldn't she? She had used up all the tapes for the answering machine while gathering evidence against Elberts, and no one had thought to replace the tapes yet. She groaned and got up on her knees and crawled across the room to pick up the phone, catching it on the fourth ring.
             Her brain didn't shift into gear until she had already answered several questions.
            Yes, she was Bekka Sanderson. Yes, she had sent a children's fantasy novel, Turn Left at the Moon, to four different publishing houses more than a year ago. Yes, she had notified them that her phone had changed back in October.
            No, no one had contacted her yet about purchasing the book for publication.
            "Wait a minute," she interrupted, when the very brisk young woman on the other end started using words that were still quite sensitive: contract, copyright, promotions, publication and the like.
            "What was that? Sorry. I just got home from a really bad day and my mind isn't in gear. Where are you from? Did you say you wanted to buy my book?"
             She could hardly hear the answer over the rapid thudding of her heart. Bekka tried to think back to who would know the names of all the publishers she had submitted her book to.
             "Very funny, Greg," she interrupted, as the young woman resumed her prepared speech. "You're really good at disguising your voice, but I know it's you. You have a lot of gall--"
             "Miss Sanderson," the woman cut in, "this is a legitimate offer to purchase your manuscript. Now, you indicated in your cover letter that you had ideas for several more books in the same vein, exploring the adventures of other children in the same village. Would you be willing to discuss those ideas with us?"
              That was when Bekka believed. She hadn't told anyone but the editors receiving the manuscript that she wanted to make it a series.
             "Sorry," she said, her voice cracking, "but someone tried to scam me a little while ago and I'm a little sensitive about offers that sound too good to be true."
             "We heard." A little warmth touched that all-business voice. "That's partially why we're calling you. Word gets around the publishing industry. Anyone that Jocko Smyborg tried to swindle obviously has talent. The man has twice the taste, just to make up for his lack of ethics."
             "Who's Jocko Smyborg?"
            "You knew him as Barney Elberts. We wanted to get hold of you before someone else remembered you had submitted a book, and contacted you about it. Now, we'd like to send you a contract to look over."
            "Could you send it to my agent, please?" Bekka snatched up the phone set, holding it tight against her chest as she dashed into the kitchen -- nearly yanking it from the wall plug -- and found Chuck Winters' business card, attached to the refrigerator with a unicorn magnet. "That's one good thing that came out of this mess." It helped that the woman laughed and agreed with her. She had to sit down as she recited the address to the young assistant editor, because the only part of her that didn't tremble was her voice.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Year Two


           He asked Stacy about Max and Tony's upcoming wedding, what she knew about it, as he pulled out the sandwiches and cookies, cartons of chocolate milk, and a big deli tub of potato salad. Her tongue momentarily stumbled when he pulled out two forks and stabbed them into the container when he opened it, and she realized first, there were no plates, and second, he expected them both to eat out of it.
          That was Drake -- so practical, yet so oblivious to the little things that were important. She thought about reminding him that it was the cough and cold season, and they might be infecting each other, then decided not to bother. Drake was one of the healthiest people she had ever known.
          He was also the most skilled interrogator she had ever met. He kept her so busy talking about the Mission, about the new programs and the renovations and repairs that were possible through the Arc Foundation's money, she was barely halfway through her sandwich by the time he finished his and reached for the bag of choco-melt cookies.
          "Don't you dare," she said, gesturing as if she would slap his hand.
          "Hey, I paid for them. I ought to be able to eat them when I want. Not my fault you're the slowest eater in the world." He stuck his tongue out at her, making her laugh.
          "Yes, it is your fault." She took a big bite and gestured with her sandwich while she chewed.
          "Sorry, don't know sign language. Sorry -- again," he added, when she laughed and choked on the bite she had been about to swallow.
          "You -- eat too fast," she rasped when she caught her breath. "Gram was always -- saying you'd inhale your hand, you eat so fast."
          "Well, I guess it's your job to keep me in line now." He reached for the bag of cookies and she did slap his hand this time. "Hey!"
          "Your turn. You talk while I eat, and we'll eat the cookies together. Otherwise I'll only get one."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Invitation to a Wedding -- Year Two


           For just a few seconds, they were face-to-face, so close together she felt the warmth from him radiating through the cold air to envelope her. Stacy's face heated. She stepped back and seriously considered forfeiting lunch to run back to her nice, safe office. She had a peanut butter sandwich and carrot sticks in the refrigerator, after all.
           Drake must have guessed what she was doing -- how else could she explain the way he hooked his free arm through hers and half-dragged her for the first few steps down the path to the greenhouse?
           "So... what's the gang at church doing?" he said after they had gone half the distance and the gold-tinted panels of the greenhouse loomed over their heads.
            Bekka Sanderson and Shane Hopkins were at the top of her thoughts, since she had spent the evening with Rene and Bekka just the other day. Stacy gladly talked about their engagement, and Xander Finley and Hannah Blake's winter wedding, and the upcoming wedding for Chief Cooper and Angela Coffelt. That required backing up and talking about the whole White Rose Killer incident, even though Drake knew many of the details and it had been settled nearly a year ago.
           Inside the greenhouse, Drake led her to the fountain courtyard, which was empty of people and blessedly humid and warm. Stacy was glad to have an excuse to yank her arm free of his so she could take off her coat. She wasn't sure why she felt so prickly at that contact with him, even with the padding of their coats and sweaters.

Monday, February 11, 2013

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Year Two


       Stacy's stomach chose to growl -- loudly -- at the same moment she caught Drake's reflection in her computer screen. His eyes, locked on hers, widened and he looked around with that panicky expression she had never believed all through their childhood together. Despite the heat in her face and the silent shout inside her head to run away, she laughed. Somehow she could still smile as she turned her chair around to find him standing at the very edge of her chair mat, despite the totally unreasonable suspicion that it was no accident that she was more than an hour late getting away for lunch.
          Nope, not a conspiracy. Just rotten luck. Please, God, what have I been doing wrong lately, to have so much... Stacy sighed and crossed her arms and met Drake's grin with one of her own, in spite of the quaking deep inside. "To what do I owe the honor? Two days in a row, after months of silence."
         "Years," Drake said. He raised one arm and plunked a bag with Stay-A-While's rocking chair coffee cup logo on the only clear spot on the edge of her desk. "I figure this is our only chance to catch up while I'm in town, so I'm hijacking you for lunch. You haven't eaten yet, have you? Please say no. I had to get down on my knees to get Allen at Stay-A-While to make those deluxe toasted cheese turkey subs like we used to get. They aren't on the menu anymore -- can you believe that?"
         "Toasted cheese turkey?" Stacy's mouth watered and her stomach growled again. She loved those sandwiches, despite the high fat content -- which was probably why they were dropped from the menu. Thick slabs of smoked turkey, dill mayonnaise, Swiss, cheddar and mozzarella, layered with Vidalia onion relish, bacon, and dried cranberries on long, soft honey oat buns that were specially made for Stay-a-While by Rick's Bakery.
          She stopped herself just short of snatching that bag and diving in head-first. Toasted cheese turkey, balanced against avoiding having to tell Drake that she wasn't coming to his sister's wedding reception tonight. Which was worse? Avoid one and lose the other.

Friday, February 8, 2013

February 7: DETOURS


"Hey." Shane seemed to appear from nowhere, as if he had risen up through the scuffed wood floorboards of the coffee shop.
"Hi." Bekka looked around him, wondering where his pregnant girlfriend was.
Shane turned, looking behind himself, then back to her. "Are you waiting for someone?"
"No -- I mean, yeah, I am, but I was just wondering--" She groaned and framed the bottom of her coffee mug between her hands. "I just wondered where your girlfriend was."
"What girlfriend?" Shane tipped his Stetson back with one hand, and set his mug down on the table with the other.
"Ahhh, the pregnant one?" Her heart skipped a few beats when Shane's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open for a few seconds, and then he let out a few barks of laughter.
"She's not my girlfriend. She's my roommate's -- well, my ex-roommate's sister. What made you think she was my girlfriend?" He settled down in the seat opposite her, grinning.
Bekka's mouth hurt, and she realized she grinned right back at him, probably wide enough he could see her back teeth.
"Well, I see you walking with her a lot around town. Shopping. That sort of thing. And you have your arm around her and..." She shrugged.
"Uh, hello? It's kind of icy. Don't want her to fall. Duke'd kill me if I let her get hurt." He tipped his head to one side. "So... you've been looking for me, maybe?"
"No. I just... see you a lot." Bekka hoped the shadows hid the blush she could feel burning across her face. Shane's expression didn't change, so maybe he didn't see it.
"I hardly ever see you. It's like you can't sit still when you're not in class."
"Busy. Work and... problems." She shrugged.
"Like what?"
"Book problems."
"What? Your bookie is after you?" He grinned, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table.
To her surprise, Bekka laughed. She really wanted, needed to talk to someone about the whole Elberts debacle. Someone who had no idea of her background and how long she had been trying to get published. Maybe Shane could give her some perspective. He certainly seemed interested.

Friday, February 1, 2013

February 1: DETOURS



Elberts left an angry phone call Monday afternoon, presumably after his mail was delivered and there was no contract from Bekka. Her grandparents called Monday evening to report he had again badgered them for money and only went away when they asked to see the contract Bekka had supposedly signed.
He called again on Tuesday, sounding even more angry. He called three times Tuesday, and Bekka was home all night, trying to study. She flinched every time the phone rang. When the third call ended, filled with threats to destroy her career and anyone foolish enough to try to publish her in the future, she took the tape out of the answering machine and replaced it with an empty one. She called Chuck Winter's Los Angeles office and left a message reporting what had happened and that another evidence tape was on its way.
Wednesday and Thursday were repeats of the same -- angry phone calls to Bekka, angry visits to her grandparents, innuendos of trouble that quickly turned into outright threats of legal action against them and Bekka.
Then Friday, nothing happened. No phone calls. No visits to her grandparents.
Chuck Winters called Saturday while Bekka was at work, to report that Barney Elberts had been arrested on over a dozen counts of fraud and intimidation, and other victims of his publishing schemes in the past were being contacted to testify against him. The police had searched his home on a warrant signed by Winters and had returned the sample of Bekka's manuscript along with over three dozen others -- Elberts' current crop of hopeful young writers who were about to be taken for a very expensive, painful, enlightening ride.
Bekka ordered herself a pizza and curled up in front of the TV alone to celebrate the end of her fears, her near escape from financial and literary disaster -- and the death of a dream. She promised herself she would never complain ever again about how long it took for legitimate publishers to work their way through the slush pile to find her manuscript. Short cuts, as she had discovered, were actually one-way streets to disaster.