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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30: FORGIVEN


            "How does somebody get involved with Arc?" Brock asked, as they waited for a long stream of printouts to finish. "It sounds like you get recruited instead of applying."
           "Basically." Nikki smiled, remembering her surprise when Joan suggested she come to live at Quarry Hall and work for the foundation.
           "Do they recruit everybody they rescue?"
           "Not all the time, but it seems..." She remembered the stories of some of her adopted sisters, the trouble they had been in, the danger they had escaped. How some had decided to dedicate their lives to serving God and others, and the foundation had found them. How others had come to Arc for help and new lives, and had been asked to join. "It seems like one way or another, you have to come through the fire. There are people at all levels, working for them. The people who take care of the little details and run rescue missions, the administrators who are there for phone calls in the middle of the night, the people who run legal clinics like Xander Finley."
           "And then there are the ones who live on the road, like you," Claire said. "How do you get that job? I don't know if I envy you or feel sorry for you."
           "Me, neither." Nikki could feel Brock watching her, intense, as if he held his breath, waiting for her answer. "Those of us who travel are Arc's eyes and ears. We seem to find problems to solve no matter where we go. But I've only had a few assignments, and most of them were working as courier. This is my first big, post-graduation assignment, I guess you could say."
            "Could you use somebody who knows money?" Brock offered. His voice sounded almost casual. Almost. His smile went flat, and he didn't meet her gaze but busied himself with papers that didn't need straightening. "I mean, if I could find a dozen ways a month for Ringo to hide his profits legally, I can unearth the same tricks other people are using. I know how to raise funds, how to direct money where it will work the best, make the most impact. You see a lot of that, even doing the things I was doing."
             "I'll ask. We always have more needs than workers and resources." She caught her breath at the sudden flash of relief -- maybe hope? -- in Brock's eyes. Had he been afraid she would refuse? Maybe he thought he didn't qualify?
             If anyone qualified, Nikki thought Brock had. He had gone through his own fire, hadn't he? Prison had taught him things he needed to learn about himself. He had put his life on the line to protect her from Ringo, hadn't he? He was involved in a Bible study here in Tabor, making friends, getting settled, trying to make something worthwhile out of his life. Even if it was to prove to her that he was truly changed, it counted, didn't it? His losses had been a refining fire. Just like her pain and shame and losses in the last few years.

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29: BEHIND THE SCENES


          He spotted Steve darting around on the catwalk with two other stage technicians, checking cable connections, and kept an eye on him as he and Bekka talked. Winters was relieved, however, when a small crisis at the prop table on the other side of the stage drew Bekka away. He got up and headed over to the ladder Steve would have to climb down. He didn't have long to wait, and held his peace until his target had both feet on the ground.
          "Steven." Winters didn't bother hiding his smirk when his words, coming out of the shadows, made Steve jump about five inches. The young man stared, then looked around, gesturing Winters to silence. He gestured with a tip of his head and walked to the Green Room, and Steve followed him. They went out the front door, so they could have some relative privacy.
          "Are you going to tell my father?" Steve asked.
          "Hmm, no questions about what I'm doing here, or why I'm here. Did you think I came looking for you?"
          "That'd be kind of arrogant, wouldn't it?" He managed a crooked smile. "I'm guessing you're a friend of the family." He put extra emphasis on the last word, and something clutched at Winters' heart.
           Did he know the truth? Carlo had given no indication that he knew his oldest son was here, spying on Max and her family.
          "Why are you here?" Winters asked, and didn't care about the weary tone of his voice.
          "Checking out suspicions. Looking after people." He wrapped his arms around himself, then leaned back against the house. "I remember Miss Emily from when I was a kid. I really liked her. I blamed her when Dad went to France and didn't take me with him."
           That childhood connection had never occurred to Winters. He guessed that he had forgotten Steve ever knew Emily.
           "Why are you here? Did your father send you?"
           "Dad thinks I'm working on an indy film out where there's no cell phone access."
           "Which brings me back to my first question."
           "Is Max my sister?" Steve whispered, without looking Winters in the eyes.
           "You'll have to ask Emily." He mimicked Steve's pose. "What are you doing here, Steven? Besides using your mother's maiden name?"
           "Helping out where I'm needed right now. Don't worry." He managed a sigh of laughter. "I won't cause trouble. These are nice people. I like them a lot."
           "Is that your way of asking me not to tell your father what you're doing?"
           "They don't need any more problems right now."
           "That's true." Winters closed his eyes, wishing he had arrived earlier, so he could have taken a hotel room. No, scratch that -- so he could have visited Emily and Joel. He would have to do that tomorrow before he headed home. "Okay, here's the deal. I'll hold my peace and trust you to look after everybody here and report to me if there's even a hint of trouble. Got me?"
            "Just like they were my own family." Steve held out his hand to shake and seal the deal. His expression was deathly serious.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 28: DETOURS


          Bekka was helping Amy at the returns desk of the library when Kat came in with an armful of books to return for Morgan, accompanied by a tall young man wearing a black beret. They chatted as they slid the books one by one into the return slot. Every time he put on a fake French accent, Kat laughed. Bekka tried not to listen, but their chatter was so ridiculous, pretending to be students in France, talking about what sights they would see that afternoon, pretty soon she and Amy were giggling along with them. By some miracle, there were no staff members close by to hush them.
          Then Marco walked into the library. He paused in the doorway, looking everywhere. His hopeful little smile drooped when he heard Kat laughing and turned to see her yank her companion's beret off his head. She squealed when he wrapped his arms around her, holding her dangerously close until he could wrest the beret from her hands clasped behind her back.
          "Talk about moth to the flame," Amy murmured, as Marco wandered over to the other side of the return desk, trying not to watch the game only ten feet away and failing miserably.
          "We gotta do something," Bekka said, stepping a little closer to Marco. But what could she do to help? Short of brainwashing the young man to forget Kat?
          "We should see about those deprogramming people they use to rescue kids from those weird cults. This whole problem is because of her slimy stepfather, you know. After how he treated her..." She sighed and shook her head as Kat and her new friend scurried out of the library, arm in arm, planning to visit the Louvre after lunch.
           "His name is Roger Alcott," Marco said. "He claims it's French, but he's about as French as a french fry.
           "She isn't doing it on purpose. Hurting you, I mean," Amy offered.
           "She doesn't know I'm alive."
           "It's not that," Bekka said. "Kat is so busy looking for Mr. Perfect, she doesn't sit still long enough for a guy to audition for the part."
           "Perfect?" He stood up a little straighter, his eyes widening as the thought visibly vibrated through him.
           "Kat doesn't know what sticking power is, with guys." Amy winked at Bekka. "If you really want a chance, you have to show her."
          "Thanks. I think." Marco managed a smile for them and left the library with a little more energy than he had shown coming in.
          "You think that's really going to help?" Bekka asked. "I know I told him to wait a while, until their first date was lost in the shuffle and then try again, but..."
          "Kat doesn't know herself what she's looking for, but when she realizes Marco is really serious, who knows?" Amy smiled and nodded for punctuation and went over to start processing the armloads of books Kat and Roger had brought in.
          Bekka bit her lip against laughing. It was rather ironic that Amy, whose own love life was so rocky, considered herself an expert in others' needs.
           Of course, who am I to criticize?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 27: FORGIVEN


          Sunday morning, Pastor Glenn waylaid Nikki on the way into the sanctuary and asked her to meet him in his office. She complied, not really mystified. Since Tabor Christian had started the Mission, she assumed the senior minister wanted to know how her evaluation was coming along. Nikki imagined Pastor Glenn hadn't heard enough about the Arc Foundation and wanted to know exactly what her friends could do for the Mission. She smiled, anticipating his pleasure in all the possible improvements and expansion in both facilities and outreach.
          "Thanks," Pastor Glenn said, coming in with Rita. "I'm glad your family always shows up early, Nikki. I just haven't been able to get hold of you the last few days, what with everything going on with the Randolphs' accident, and this is something we need to talk about."
          "What is?" Nikki smoothed her skirt over her knees and gave Rita a questioning little frown. The woman just shook her auburn head and gave Nikki that patented unruffled minister's wife smile.
          It reminded Nikki of the month the Holwoods were out of town taking care of Doria's sick mother and she had stayed with the pastor and his wife, while the other foster children had been split up among other foster families in the church. Nikki had been fourteen. Rita had worn that look when she told Nikki some people had arrived who believed they might be her relatives. They had an infant girl kidnapped about the same time Nikki had appeared in Tabor. It had been a false alarm and Nikki had been grateful, because the people she met rubbed her the wrong way. But Rita had worn the same concerned, determined-to-be-calm-and-supportive look.
           "We're having baptisms at the end of the service," Pastor Glenn began. "Several people are joining the church. We thought you should be warned that Brock is joining."
           "Oh." She gripped the arms of the chair and waited for some reaction. Maybe she just felt numb. Maybe she felt it was a little letdown after expecting something earth-shaking. "Thanks. I probably would be surprised. I mean, he could have told me..." Her face heated a little. She and Brock hadn't really had the opportunity for personal discussions the last few days. They had been busy with Mission business or comparing notes on incidents when they thought Angelo and Marcus had been spying on them, anything unusual in the neighborhood, and what the police had passed on to Nikki through Pastor Wally.
           "I want to assure you, Nikki, I am convinced Brock is genuine about his salvation and about joining this community and becoming an active member." Pastor Glenn folded his hands a little tighter on his desk pad and glanced down at his fingers a moment. "I'm also convinced, just from the things he doesn't say, that Brock is here to win you back."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Scene from COOKING UP TROUBLE

From the upcoming May release from Desert Breeze Publishing:


Feet thumped on the stairs coming down from the Green Room, and a male voice laughed, breaking the thoughtful silence that fell between them. Then a few seconds later the man stepped into view at the bottom of the stairs, holding a cell phone up to his ear. Audrey felt her heart give a little skip, recognizing Steve Vincente.
What was he doing back in town? He had been here for most of the summer, helping out while the Randolphs recovered from their accident. The last Audrey knew, Steve had gone back to Los Angeles, working on pre-production for a film. That was what the gossip sheets claimed. Not that she read them, but it was hard not to listen when the people talking around her mentioned someone she actually knew.
"Yeah, yeah, put your money where your mouth is. Look, I have to get off. Say hi to Mom and Dad for me and tell them I'll call tomorrow night. Okay. 'Bye." Steve flipped his phone closed and shook his head, laughing. "You want to tell me what you just told Nicky? He's got it scrambled, but it sounds hilarious."
"I definitely have too many brothers," Max groaned.
"Awww, you know you love us." Steve winked at Audrey. "So, what's the real story? Who says you're coming to LA to get married?" He blinked and shook his head when Audrey raised her hand.
"Audrey thinks she finally found the leak who's been giving insider information to the gossip sheets. She sabotaged him with a big, convoluted story about our secret wedding plans. As soon as one of those rags comes out with that same story, we have the proof."
"Can I kill him?" Steve rubbed his hands together. "Anything for my little sister's honor."
"Puh -- lease," Max groaned. She tucked her computer under her arm and hurried to the stairs. "We have a meeting, people!"
"Thanks," Steve said, gesturing for Audrey to go up the stairs ahead of him.
"Umm … I don't know if I helped or made things worse."
"Consider that if the story flops big, that leak will be plugged because nobody will pay him for any more information." He followed her up the stairs.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25: BEHIND THE SCENES


          "Hey, are you Max Randolph?" A flicker of movement caught Tony's attention, despite his resolve to practice quantum physics and hope the power of his belief would make the intruder fade away.
          He looked around and saw the source of the voice, immediately pegging him as a not-quite-there-yet photographer, bohemian wannabe, dressed all in black, with silver piercings in his eyebrow and nose. Tony prayed there wasn't a piercing in his tongue. Who could eat with that in the way? He had two cameras slung around his neck, and a fanny pack that sagged with the weight of what was probably more equipment.
          "Nope." Tony continued to the back door.
          "Where is he?"
          "Work, probably."
          "Who are you?"
          "Somebody close enough to the family that if I call the police and make a complaint about trespassing, it'll be legal." He nodded toward the big sign that Joel had installed five years ago, when patrons of Homespun Theater kept trying to come in through the kitchen door. It clearly said the back parking lot was private and residential and off-limits, and politely asked anyone who was not a friend or member of the family not to trespass.
           "You one of his brothers?"
           Tony sighed and bit his tongue to avoid asking aloud what part of 'close enough to the family' didn't this bozo with his Captain Jack Sparrow eyeliner understand.
           "Definitely not."
           "So... what'll it take to get an invitation inside?" The paparazzi raised his camera with one hand and hooked a thumb at the house with the other hand.
           "Buy a ticket for opening night." Tony breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the back porch. He heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel and put down the grocery bags with a synchronized thud. Pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he turned and glared at the photographer. The guy kept coming, so Tony hit a speed-dial number. "Hey, yeah, Dispatch, it's Tony over at Homespun. Got another intruder complaint to make." The photographer stopped short. "Hold on a second." Tony didn't bother to hide his smirk as he held out his camera and pressed a button. "Say cheese." He wondered what kind of drugs this paparazzi was on, that he just stood there and stared, his eyes getting wider with every second. "Yeah, I even got a picture of the guy to add to the official complaint. It'll make it easier to make the charges stick. I can probably even get his license plate number if you hold on for a second."
            Now the intruder ran. Tony held still, listening, until he heard the roar of an engine gunning and the rattle of gravel as the car pulled out of the lot. A moment later, he saw the red Jeep, which he had thought belonged to one of the college volunteers, race down a side street. If there were any justice in the world, a Tabor Heights patrol car would be close enough to get the guy for speeding in a residential zone. Sighing, he clicked the red phone icon, cutting off the voicemail message he had been leaving on Max's cell phone. Tony hoped they would be able to laugh about the trick he had pulled. He didn't even know how to use the camera function on his cell phone yet -- but that paparazzi didn't know that. The bottom line was that Tony would do anything to protect Max's family.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24: DETOURS


          Shane found great satisfaction in working himself ragged, scrambling between work and school and helping out behind the scenes at Homespun Theater. It seemed like half the drama students at BWU had volunteered to help with the production of Taming of the Shrew. The set still had to be built, the lighting hung, the programs designed and printed, and costumes altered as a few parts were rearranged. Shane didn't care that he was fired from his evening job for canceling out two solid weeks of work -- it was more important to be on the lighting crew at Homespun and be there for Joel Randolph, just like the man had been there for him.
          It also didn't hurt matters any that Bekka had been drafted as Max's assistant, coordinating traffic behind the scenes. Shane didn't mind that he didn't have more than a few minutes at a time to talk with Bekka, and never privately. Right now, what mattered was quantity of time with her in his sights. He figured the more time she spent at the theater, the less time she spent with this musician, Zane. And if he was such a good friend of Joe's, how come Shane had never met him?
          "I never saw Morgan as a comic actor," Shane commented, as he and Bekka and the last third of the cast exited the theater after that evening's rehearsal. He gestured at Morgan who had just opened up the door of his car for the pretty auburn-haired lady who had been prompting him in his lines.
          "He's great," Bekka said. "I saw his yearbooks from Northwestern -- he had them open in his office one time when I was working for him. He was the star half the time, and had big supporting roles the rest of the time." She sighed and shared smiles with Shane. "Max couldn't have chosen anybody better to fill in for her dad."
          "Who's the lady with him?"
          "Kat's mother."
          "Yeah?" Shane whistled. "You think they're... you know?"
          "I hope so."
          The richness in Bekka's voice roused his curiosity. Before he could ask, Audrey called for Bekka to hurry up. She lived in the same apartment building as Bekka, and they rode together to rehearsals. Shane said goodnight, and thought about Bekka's reaction when he eventually offered to drive her home, and she saw his motorcycle. When he offered, not if. He just had to find the right timing. He didn't even know if she liked motorcycles. Sometimes that was the make-it-or-break-it point in asking a girl out.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 23: FIRESONG


            A little past midnight, Dani woke and scooted down in her bed so she could see out the low window that let her look down on the side yard between the Gibson house and the barn that served as Firesong's studio. Just as she thought, light seeped through the old boards. Andy's truck sat inside the pool of floodlight between the barn and house. That hadn't been there when she got home two hours ago and argued with Kurt.
            She lay still several long moments, listening to the quiet of the night. A faint whisper of keyboard music came through the chill air and the closed window. Andy dealt with his heartache and questions with music. He had taught her that trick. She should have known he would come back to the barn, after all that had happened today.
          Dani got up, wrapped a blanket around herself, and slid her feet into her sneakers. She grabbed the notebook that always sat open on her desk, with sticky notes all over it and filled with notes in pen and pencil.
         When she stepped into the barn a few minutes later, the music had stopped. Andy leaned over the keyboard, both elbows resting on the surface just clear of the keys. From the few chords Dani had heard, he had been working on the song everyone simply called 'the wedding song'. It had no title yet. Andy had been working on it ever since Dani could remember. He had the basic melody notated back when he first suggested Dani help him write words for his music. The song had been there without a name all these years, and Andy had started working in earnest on it after he proposed to Katie, to play for her at the wedding.
          The irony of the connection between their parents' deaths and Katie's illness nearly choked Dani. She paused several moments in the doorway, waiting until she could be sure she wouldn't burst into tears. Andy needed her. She had to be strong for him, and for Katie.

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22: BEHIND THE SCENES


          Joel was sitting up when they reached his hospital room. He didn't have a roommate yet, and Max was grateful. She didn't want anyone to overhear their family's personal business, to repeat to the newspapers. Her stepfather was sitting up in bed, reading a newspaper and raking a hand through his iron-gray mop of hair in irritation. He looked almost normal, except for the bruises and cuts, the puffiness marring his square-cut features and the dark circles ringing his eyes. And the cast from his toes to his hip.
          That, and the absence of her mother sitting beside him, comforting and teasing him back to health.
          Emily was upstairs in ICU, but Max refused to take Rose to see her until she was sure how the woman would fit into their family. If she would fit at all.
         "Up for some visitors?" Max asked, voice cracking a bit.
         "Hey, my favorite people." A grin brightened Joel's face. He slapped the newspaper down onto the blankets covering his lap and the cast. "Jeremiah, is that a black eye?" He affected a gruff tone, but he didn't have the strength for acting. His arms opened wide.
          Jeremy ran to his father, hugged him hard, then skittered backwards a little, panic on his face. Joel just laughed and held out his arms for Max. Then the laugh broke when he caught sight of Rose, hovering in the doorway.
          The hunger on the woman's face made Max regret her suspicions. If she wasn't looking at love and sorrow and years of hurting, she knew she would never recognize them again.
         "Rosy?" Joel pushed against the mattress to sit up straight. "He let you come?"
         "Not exactly..." Rose shook her head and let out a wobbly little laugh. "You look good, considering."
          "Yeah, considering." He managed to keep smiling, but Max saw the struggle.
          Her stepfather had so much to overcome, emotionally and physically. Joel wasn't the kind of man who dwelled on losses and pain, but Max knew the accident would haunt him. Anything that helped him recover, she would welcome.
         "Aunt Rose said she came to help us out," Jeremy offered, when the silence stretched a few seconds too long.
         "That's great." Joel cleared his throat and rubbed at one eye. "Well, do I get a hug from my big sister, or don't I?"
         He met Max's eyes over Rose's shoulder. His look held pleading and implicit trust in her, mixed with his pain. Max nodded. Yes, she would make sure everything was handled as he wished. She promised to accept Rose -- for his sake.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 21: BEHIND THE SCENES


          "Mr. Winters?" Gloria, his secretary, stuck her head into his office and gave him a trembling smile, her brown eyes bright. Her shaggy mane of platinum hair seemed to fly around her face with excitement.
           "Something going on?" Winters asked. He looked at his blunt hand, dusted with coarse white hairs, still resting on the phone from hanging up. All the muscles in his arm tensed under the tan. He forced himself to sit back in his chair, straighten his new polo shirt and run a hand through his graying chestnut hair. There was nothing he could do for Max or her brothers that he couldn't do from his desk chair. That hurt.
            "Carlo Vincente just called." She scurried across the carpeting and deposited the phone message slip on his desk with all the reverence of an acolyte at the altar. "I mean, it was him, personally, not a secretary or assistant or anybody."
            Winters sighed and bit his lip against a smile. If he could have been as vital and attractive at sixty as Carlo, he wouldn't have minded getting older. But then, he reflected, he hadn't started out as a leading man or even comic romantic interest. He had always been a supporting actor until he realized his forte was in moving the power behind the scenes.
             Maybe he was losing his grip. What was Steve -- using his mother's maiden name, for some unfathomable reason -- doing in Tabor Heights? Why had he gone to Homespun? Did his family know where he had gone? Had he gone as an advance scout? Or had he and his father had a fight, like they hadn't had in a dozen years, and he was off on his own quest? If Steve knew about Emily and Max, then chances were his father had seen the Gabrielli paperwork and made the connection between Max Keeler and Emily Keeler. The news spread through the Hollywood grapevine about Emily's sudden return to public notice almost as fast as the Internet. He had more than three dozen alerts just that morning about news feeds and videos and clips appearing on the Internet relating to Emily Keeler.
            Winters closed his eyes and let out a cleansing breath, then sat back in his well-padded chair and looked at the note in his hand. One problem at a time. That was all he could handle. Or maybe not.
            "What does old Carlo want?" he muttered. He did grin when Gloria gave him a dismayed look, just before she retreated from his office and shut the door.
           The grin died.
           He should have been expecting this, he knew. With all the fuss the media made at discovering Emily Keeler's whereabouts and solving the 'mystery' of her disappearance from Hollywood, it was expecting a miracle to hope Carlo Vincente wouldn't be curious. Especially since all press releases were coming from Winters Representation Services.  Winters had been a mutual friend of Carlo and Emily, 'way back when.' He had been relieved when, after Carlo finally returned from France and Emily was nowhere to be found, Carlo hadn't asked him anything about her.
           Winters didn't like lying to his friends, even when another friend begged him to do so.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 20: FIRESONG


         "You okay?" Kurt asked, finally daring to slide across the wooden bench in the hospital hallway.
          Dani turned to look at him, and for a moment, he was positive she didn't recognize him. Maybe she wasn't even there, mentally. She had dark smears under her eyes, as if she had been sitting vigil for days, not an hour or two.
          "Fine. Thanks." She tried to smile, and turned her head to watch Max leave the big waiting room filled with friends from the university and college. For some reason, she had been unable to sit in the waiting room with everyone else who had come to support the three Randolph children and wait for news on Joel and Emily.
          Kurt vaguely remembered Max Randolph, who followed two doctors down the hall with her brothers to another room. The somber looks on the faces of both doctors made him feel helpless and useless, and made him ache to be able to do something.
           Not because he was particularly concerned about the Randolphs -- he was, but not as much as Dani. He wanted to fix things because she seemed so distraught by the whole situation. Maybe he was selfish, but he didn't like the way she seemed to shrivel up into herself, growing paler with every passing hour. As if those were her parents in the hospital.
           Maybe Dani was reliving the days after finding out her parents were killed? Kurt could only imagine what it had to be like for her, to be slapped so hard with the news and have no hope. At least Max had hope.
            Dani had changed after her parents died. She was still strong and focused, but some of the happy-go-lucky had fled. She had grown quiet and didn't reach out to every stranger who came to the church. Kurt hadn't liked it -- the few times he spared any thought for the quiet girl who seemed more Katie's shadow than her twin after that.
           "Please, Lord, don't let her..." Kurt flinched, surprised to have his prayer become audible. Dani didn't react, all her attention on the door that Max, Joe and Jeremy had passed through. "Sure looks like the whole church is here, doesn't it?" he said with a forced chuckle. "Who's that?"
          He pointed at a dark-haired man in a BWU sweatshirt, leaning against the wall in the hallway, accompanied by a gray-haired, bearded behemoth in a green beret. They watched the door, waiting for Max and her brothers, too.
          "Dr. Morgan and Dr. DeFiore. They teach theater at Butler-Williams with Mr. Randolph." Dani attempted a smile. "What do you want to bet they take over building the set, so Homespun's performances start on time?"
          "That's the way things are done in Tabor Heights, isn't it?" Kurt murmured. "You don't realize how great a place is, and how much you miss it, until something like this happens."
          "You never do," Dani whispered, "until it's too late."

Friday, April 19, 2013

April 19: BEHIND THE SCENES


            "Max Keeler anywhere around?" Heavy footsteps crunched in the gravel of the yard behind the scene shop at Homespun Theater.
            "Who's asking?" Max Randolph finished putting the freshly sprayed copper plates down on the wire drying rack her stepfather had created decades ago. The chemical stink of the spray paint made her feel a little dizzy, which was why she took advantage of the nice weather to do her spray painting chores outdoors.
            When she had a hard time working on a scene for her latest book or screenplay, she put in a few hours in the scene shop or the printing shop. Today, she worked on props for The Taming of the Shrew, which Homespun would be producing in a little more than a week. She had been doing a lot of scene shop chores since her writing partner and best friend, Tony Martin, went to UCLA to do his writer-in-residence stint. If he didn't come back in mid-May as promised, her writing career just might be stalled out permanently.
             "I'm Steve Coheny," the stranger said.
             "Sorry, don't know the name." She stood up, careful not to wipe her paint-smeared hands on her jeans. Max turned around and nearly staggered backwards into the damp plates. A jolt of adrenaline drove away the paint fumes headache that threatened to turn into a bout of nausea.
              She knew that face, but fifty years older. The face that haunted her worst nightmares had similar coarse curls, but shorter, tighter, gray-frosted, not dark chocolate. Steve Coheny wore Carlo Vincente's face -- or an unreasonable facsimile, as Tony would say. He was taller than Carlo; his shoulders were wider, and his complexion not quite so Mediterranean dark.
               Max took a deep breath and felt some of that tension tying her guts into knots loosen and fade. No, he looked a little like Carlo, but not as much as she thought on first glance. It was more her imagination than his bone structure. She had to find a way to get her mind off that problem she had been gnawing since the mail from the Gabrielli Film Fellowship came yesterday.
              I have got Carlo Vincente on the brain, she silently snarled.
              It wasn't Carlo's fault that he was single-handedly shredding her latest triumph. He had no idea she even existed, and Max preferred to keep it that way. For the rest of her life, if possible.
              Okay, God, I admit I was stupid choosing my mother's maiden name for my screenwriting name, but do You have to keep rubbing my nose in it?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18: FIRESONG


               Friday morning meant a breakfast buffet in the building attached to the auditorium where Firesong had performed. Dani had a room in the girl's dormitory on the far side of the quadrangle formed by auditorium, library and two dormitories. The guys were housed in a dormitory next to the auditorium. She didn't mind the walk across the misty, tree-filled green to the building, even though she did grumble that the guys got an extra ten minutes of sleep. When she got to the building, she found a few people picking through the buffet tables, but no family members.
               She wasn't surprised. Even though they all grew up on a farm, all the boys -- especially Andy -- were disgustingly flexible when it came to sleeping in.
               Taking a deep breath, knowing the inherent smell and mess of male-dominated dormitories were part of the reason she went to a two-year commuter college, Dani stepped into the dormitory to hunt for the guys. If she let them go hungry, she would hear about it until lunchtime. Keeping them on schedule really was part of her job description, after all.
              "I'm a doggone babysitter," she mused, and nearly burst out laughing when a young man wearing nothing but boxer shorts, lying on his back on a couch with a pile of books in the lounge, gave her an odd look.
               The guest rooms were down a flight of stairs, so Dani didn't have to go through the fire door with a huge sign listing the hours the opposite sex was allowed inside. This was a Christian college, after all. She hurried down the steps and prayed for no more doors or stairs to deal with. A right turn in the little lobby filled with couches and vending machines led into the laundry room. A left turn brought her into a hall lined with doors. Dani paused, trying to remember what rooms Andy said they were in.
             "Stupid." She took a deep breath. "Breakfast!" she called, pitching her voice to penetrate.
             "Dani?" A door creaked open and Tom looked out, rubbing his eyes. His hair was a tangled mess. "What time is it?"
             "The sun is up and has been for an hour. The food is out, and if you slugs don't hurry, there won't be anything to eat." She smiled brightly, turned on one heel and got out of there.
             The less time she spent in a male dormitory, even on a Christian college campus, the safer her reputation.
             Dani had thought long and hard about her resolution last night. If she set up a routine and a pattern of behavior, no one would believe a word of scandal anyone tried to raise against her. She thought of Pilgrim's Progress, where people threw mud at the pilgrims dressed in clean white clothes. The mud slid off without leaving a stain. Dani resolved to be like that.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April 17: FORGIVEN


              "Hey, pal." The rich, quiet voice sent a chill up Brock's back. He paused with one foot on the bottom step of the fire escape leading up to his floor at the boarding house.
              The man stepped from the shadows of the poplars. Sharp cheekbones, wide-set, deep, dark eyes, skin the color of molasses, shaven scalp. Brock could hear Mandy's TV set in the house next door. If he shouted, she would probably call the police. That was the nice thing about Tabor; small, and the section where he lived was close to downtown and the police station. Brock just never thought they were needed in a place like Tabor.
             "He doesn't recognize us," Angelo said, and his smile bared his teeth. The faint lilt in his voice brought back memories, rattling through Brock's mind.
              Then a thickset man in faded jeans, baggy blue work shirt and greasy, iron-gray hair stepped out of the bushes. His face was flattened, like it had been hit with a shovel. More memories slipped into place and Brock fought a shudder that was part nausea and part chill.
               "Angelo. Marcus. I really never thought I'd see either of you again." He thought about the note Nikki had left for him, and how his contact at the DEA had laughed and told him he had nothing to worry about. The authorities believed Ringo's two henchmen had been killed in the smoldering battle over his territory, rather than falling off the grid.
               Obviously, the Arc Foundation's connections and sources were right and the DEA was wrong. Brock wished he had been brave enough to bring up the concern in Bible study, to ask his new friends to pray about it.
               "You hoped." Angelo rested a hand on the fire escape rail. "Been watching you a few days now, brains. You got a nice set-up here. Your finger on the pulse of the town, so to speak. Newspaper and the rescue mission. Sweet. What's the scam? How much did you take so far? Enough to share with your old friends?"
              This was worse than the deepest, darkest fever dreams Brock had in the prison hospital, after Ringo had been captured. He had thought he would be free from reprisal when his former employer died. Without him to give orders and do their thinking for them, Brock had hoped Angelo and Marcus would fade from his life. He was wrong. The slim Jamaican and his ever-silent partner were out to survive, and he could imagine they blamed him for their troubles.
               "There's nothing to take." Brock took a deep breath and fought the urge to run up the stairs. They could and would follow. Even if he locked his door, they would batter it down -- and batter him. Besides, how could he explain to Mandy the damage to her door without endangering her? The fewer people who knew Angelo and Marcus were around, the safer the whole town would be.
               He had to make sure they didn't know Nikki was here. They blamed her for Ringo's downfall, even after they found out about Brock's deal with the DEA. Brock hoped Gray was as deadly a bodyguard as he looked.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Opening Scene: COOKING UP TROUBLE

From the upcoming May release from Desert Breeze Publishing:

Monday, January 5

Audrey Hathaway wrinkled up her nose at herself in the staff bathroom mirror at Stay-A-While as she finished pinning up her waist-length auburn hair.
"On the bright side, nobody can see you back here," she told her reflection, and tugged the hair net into place over enough bobby pins to set off an airport metal detector.
Naturally, the hair net -- her last one -- caught and tore. Sighing, she silently begged it to stay together until after work. She would just have to stop at Beckley's Drugstore around the corner and get another supply on the way home. A glance at her watch told her she had two minutes and some odd seconds to get out into the kitchen and start the first batch of coffee perking. Today's breakfast special was a western omelet bagel sandwich, which meant two dozen eggs in the blender to start out, and enough green and red pepper and onion chopped up to get through the morning rush. Before the counter staff showed up.
Before that, she washed her hands with plenty of soap and scalding water, silently counting to sixty as she did so. Audrey prided herself on her cleanliness. She firmly believed it made up for the "klutz field" that clung to her.

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15: FORGIVEN


            Tuesday afternoon, Nikki was surprised to see Todd James and Mike Nichols, in uniform, saunter into the lobby of the Mission. She sat in the office with Claire, sipping iced tea and proofing the newsletter that went out to the volunteers and people who donated regularly to the Mission. The two policemen saw her and gestured for her to come outside. A tiny shiver of apprehension went down her back as she hurried to get up from behind Claire's desk in the office and go out to meet them.
            "Got a problem. The Chief sent us over personally to check with you," Nichols said as the three of them stepped out the door. They stayed in the shade of the big entryway of the former school.
            "The Chief?" she echoed.
            "Got some complaint about a guy who's hanging around the Mission, harassing people and spying on you," James said, taking up the conversation. "Said you were in some kind of danger from this guy. Considering the source, we figured ... well, we weren't too worried until we checked into the guy and found out he's a convict."
            "Brock." Nikki felt that shiver sink into her gut and turn into a knot. Who would make a complaint against Brock, and how had they found out about his past so quickly?
            She wished she hadn't let him join her, when she took Gray for a walk around Poe Lake at lunchtime. The day was so bright and warm, the air smelled so good, and her thoughts from last night were still uppermost in her mind. When Brock caught up with her, carrying a paper sack of what was obviously his lunch, and his smile said that seeing her was the highlight of his day, how could she refuse? They had talked about the chaos of the newspaper staff as they settled into their new office and the friends he was making. He had mentioned there was a project Pastor Glenn was giving him for the church, but he hadn't gotten the call yet. She was genuinely pleased that he was getting involved in the church and had come back to the Mission in a good mood that Rich Thomas's sulks and pointed looks couldn't dampen.
             "Brock was released on good behavior," she hurried to say, feeling slightly irritated that she had to defend him to her adopted uncles. For a fleeting moment, she wondered if Rich had seen her walking with Brock and not only guessed that she had gone to the lake to avoid him, but he had filed the complaint against Brock. She wouldn't have been surprised. "He worked with the DEA and helped clean up a drug ring, and he's a Christian now." She shook her head, slightly dizzy from all the thoughts and suspicions and regrets swirling through her head. "Uncle Todd, what's going on?" 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 14: FORGIVEN


            Nikki met Bekka's roommates, Kat and Amy, when they showed up to help move Lisa from her apartment over Rick's Bakery to the cottage Todd had rented on Kiln. It was almost comical how the two girls wouldn't talk to Todd, much less look at him. During trips to the cottage, which Lisa confided she had referred to as the 'dream house' since she and Todd were engaged, Bekka explained. Amy and Kat were in roller coaster relationships and at the moment were in their 'all men are dogs' phase. That could change in a day, depending on whether Amy's regular boyfriend, Joe showed up with flowers or teased Amy into laughing, and if any one of the dozens of boys who wanted to date Kat showed up at their apartment on his knees. Both girls had been heartily in support of Lisa leaving Todd and suing him and his father for emotional battery and false advertising.
         "False advertising?" Nikki didn't know if she should laugh.
         They reached the cottage then, and Bekka waited until she had parked the Jeep and they gathered up their first armloads to carry inside, before she explained. The door was open because Lisa's sister-in-law, Lindsey, had taken the afternoon off work to stand guard and organize what everyone hauled over. The two brothers-in-law were helping Todd haul Lisa's big furniture pieces over, and then haul his furniture back to the apartment.
          "They figure that Todd promised one thing and delivered another, when he was dating Lisa and asked her to marry him. The problem is, Lisa broke up with Todd a couple of times over the very problems that are at the root of the troubles they're fixing now." Bekka nodded at the open door. "Kind of like someone buying a bowl with a big crack in it, knowing there's a big crack in it, and then suing the manufacturer when it leaks."
          "Love makes us blind -- or we want to be blind because we think we're in love," Nikki offered.
          "Yeah, well, there are a bunch of things I wish I hadn't seen." She crossed her eyes at Nikki when they reached the door and stepped inside.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

April 13: FORGIVEN


           "So, how about going out to dinner with me?" Rich greeted Nikki, when he met her in front of the church that morning.
           "Can't." She tamped down another flare of anger. The service was about to start, and she had been standing out here with Aurora, waiting for him, for nearly half an hour.
           At least the little girl was too busy chattering at her plush bunny to notice her father's arrival and the tension flaring in the air. She kept putting the toy as big as her head in and out of the Easter basket Doria had put together for her at the last minute. It wouldn't have been nice for Aurora to have nothing to do, no basket to fill, when Brandy and the boys scrambled around, hunting for their Easter baskets and then ran around outside in the dawn chill, hunting for all the plastic eggs Nikki and Dr. Holwood had hidden just moments before.
           "You are always busy. What's wrong with you?" Rich snapped, stomping one foot so hard his battered loafer nearly came off.
           "What's wrong with you? It's Easter. I'm spending it with my family. Don't you have plans with your mother?"
           "Oh. Yeah." His face twisted as he visibly fought anger and embarrassment. "Hey, Rory, ready to go?" He bent and scooped up the little girl, putting her astride his hip with enough force to knock the basket out of her hands. "For Pete's sake, can't you shut up just once?" he blurted, when the little girl let out a wail and tried to leap from his arms to retrieve her treasures. "I should have left you with your grandmother last night."
           "Wasn't your mother out of town?" Nikki said quietly.
           "No. Where'd you get--" Rich let Aurora slide down to the ground again. "Oh, yeah. Look, things changed at the last minute. And Rory was so excited about staying with you, so I figured, what would it hurt?"
           "Nothing." She swallowed down the shiver of uneasiness that crept up from deep inside. "But considering our past, I think focusing on honesty would be good for both of us."

Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12: FIRESONG


            Not even a rehearsal with a lot of clashing chords could drag her older brother away from his fiancĂ© right now, and that was saying a lot. Dani envied Andy and Katie, but there was no jealousy. She would never do anything to thwart their happiness. She simply wished she could know what they felt. Just once.
           "What's wrong?" Lisa whispered. "It's finally hitting you that you're losing your brother?"
           "Losing him, nothing!" She shook her head and leaned back in her chair, too. "I'm gaining a bathroom. No, gained. He moved into their new place yesterday. Besides, Katie is my best friend. I'll see her more often than ever once they get married. I just wish sometimes..." Dani saw the wistfulness in Lisa's eyes. "So, how are things going with you and Todd?"
           "Better. We have counseling scheduled with Pastor Glenn and Dr. Harris every week. Todd couldn't have cared less when I was decorating our apartment. Now, he's practically taking over my plans for the baby's room. He insisted on doing all the work, when we switched places. So, I'm living in the dream house and he has my apartment over Rick's. I used to think he didn't know the difference between baby blue and Little Boy Blue." Lisa shuddered, and for a moment, all the snubs and abuse she had endured in two years of marriage gleamed harshly in her eyes. Then she forced a smile. "Todd loves me. He's agreed that we won't live together again until Pastor Glenn and Dr. Harris and I are all convinced he's mended his ways."
            "The old Todd would just laugh and say he goofed up a little and get mad if you didn't let him come home."
           "The old Todd would never admit he was wrong." Lisa shook her head. "Todd is changing. It's like he was living in this tiny box and now he sees there's a whole world out there that doesn't care one way or the other about him." She rested her chin in her fist, elbow on the table. "It's very freeing. When you realize the world doesn't depend on you to keep going, it takes a lot of stress off."
           "Stressed isn't how I would have described that husband of yours." Dani stopped before she dredged up more pain. Lisa and Todd were putting their marriage back together, and not just because of the coming baby.
           She sighed. Everybody was in love except her. She wished she didn't feel so alone and left behind. Seeing her friends falling in love, getting married and having babies, Dani felt incomplete and hated it. Like nightmares where she went to the first day of college without a schedule and found herself standing at the front of a full lecture hall, suddenly a teacher, without any notes, half-naked, and trying to figure out what class it was supposed to be. There was something she was supposed to do, something she was supposed to know, but what?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April 11: FORGIVEN


         "What would Mercy Grace think if I didn't at least try?" he asked.
         "Huh?"
         Nikki flinched. Her mind flashed to Lisa's cartoon strip, and the dream sequence of the baby's ghost begging her mother to forgive her father. Did Brock have to be dead for her to completely forgive him?
          "Our little girl is in heaven, and I don't want anything bad between us when we finally see her someday." Brock forced a smile, but his eyes glistened with pain. "I hope she looks like you."
          "If you're trying to guilt trip me--"
          "Whatever works, whatever it takes..." he offered with a shrug, ducking his head and looking away for a moment.
          "You haven't changed. In some places. Which is good... I suppose." Nikki felt too tired to hold onto the shreds of her hurt. One counselor had suggested she held onto her anger to help fight the guilt she felt. He told her that when she could finally forgive everyone involved -- Ringo, Brock, Angelo, Marcus -- she could forgive herself and get on with her life.
          "So will you go out with me? At least once?"
          "Okay," she whispered. Then, louder, "But not tonight. I have plans with my friends."
          "Saturday?"
          "I'm working here. As usual."
          "Toughest nine to five job I've ever seen." He smiled a little wider.
          "Worth it."
          "Yeah, I'm learning that." He tucked another strand behind her other ear, and brushed her cheek with his thumb before drawing away. "Sunday? Just sit around and talk? Or walk around town and see all the places you used to tell me about."
          "That sounds nice, but..."
          "But what?"
          "Well, Sunday is Easter. Daddy and I have all these plastic eggs filled with candy for the kids, for an egg hunt. And Mum's corsage. And Easter dinner and..." She shrugged. It startled her a little to realize she wanted to invite Brock to join her family for dinner, but she couldn't. That would give him the wrong idea.
          "I forgot. Glad you reminded me." Brock tried to smile, but the corners of his mouth trembled just a little. Seeing it made her ache for him. "I volunteered to go to the City Mission and help serve dinner, hand out care bags."
          "Oh." Funny, but now she was disappointed. Nikki wondered if it would help to bang her head against the wall a dozen times when she got home that afternoon. Something was definitely loose inside her brain and causing short circuits.
           "Rain check on the walk?"
          "That sounds good."
          The funny thing was, Nikki realized later, she really did like the idea.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April 10: FIRESONG


          "So... what's with you and Rich?" Dani said, as she helped Nikki inventory the closet off of the gym that held furniture and tools dating seemingly from the Civil War.
          "Nothing, I hope." Nikki straightened up from digging through a box that looked like it held nothing but scraps of wood and dust. She slapped her hands together and stepped away from the cloud she generated. "I went out with him last Thursday, but..."
           "It's complicated?" She wondered if she should have registered her complaints about Rich a long time ago, even if she did sound like a back seat kid, complaining that 'He's looking at me!'
           The entire Rich Thomas problem might have been fixed, and Nikki wouldn't have to deal with that ghost from her past on a daily basis. If he was trying to start up a relationship with her right from the day she returned to town, was that a good thing? All Dani knew was that Rich had been practically invisible around the Mission for the last three days, keeping busy with work instead of loitering in the halls.
            Meaning he was straightening out because Nikki was in town. Was that a good thing, or bad?
           "Major complicated. Then there's the whole baby problem."
           "Aurora's adorable, but yeah, I can see how you wouldn't want to get stuck with someone else's responsibility."
           "Huh?" Nikki went pale, then a moment later went red. Then the glisten of tears touched her eyes.
           "Hey!" Dani caught hold of her hands and led her over to a splintery bench splattered with enough different colors to have survived a paintball war. "What's wrong?"
            "Nobody knows, do they?" She wiped at her eyes with her clean wrists and leaned back against the wall for a few moments. "Arc does a fantastic job, keeping things quiet. I was terrified of the gossip when I came home, but..." She sighed.
            "Knows what?" Dani sat down next to Nikki and dug in her pockets. No luck -- no tissues.
            "You heard about the big mess, when I was trying to come home?"
            "Yeah, you broke up with Brock and left him, and then his boss kidnapped you to use you as a shield for some deals he was trying to make."
           "Brock was working for the DEA, getting evidence to use against Ringo. It turns out all the witnessing Mum and Daddy did when he was here did have some effect. Delayed, but..." Nikki closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tight around herself. "I was pregnant, and Brock ordered me to abort, so I left."
            "Good for you," Dani whispered.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 9: FORGIVEN


        Vincent was waiting on the front steps of the Holwoods' house when Nikki got home that afternoon. She didn't even see him, hidden in the shadows, until Gray shifted from amble to gallop and sped away from her. There was only one person who could get her companion to race away from her like that, and she wasn't surprised to see Vincent emerge from the shadows as Gray reached him. He was slim and elegant like always, with his shaved head and trim goatee, and his cocoa-toned skin letting him blend into the shadows around the house. The security chief for the Arc Foundation was down on one knee, giving Gray a brisk rubdown when Nikki came up the sidewalk.
         "I'd ask what took you so long, but I'm guessing you've been playing invisible and checking out the neighborhood the last few days," she said.
         "You'd think so, but I've been trying to pick up the trail where our missing men vanished." Vincent gave Gray one final hard rub and shoved him away. "So, how have you been doing?"
         "It hasn't exactly been like I expected."
         "Never is, short-stuff." He slung an arm around her shoulders, drawing her in for a one-sided hug. "You up for a walk-through of the neighborhood?"
         "Would it matter if I wasn't?" She tried to make her voice and expression sour, but failed utterly when Vincent tipped his head back and laughed.
         While they walked up Church Street and the side streets, then to the Mission and around the central business district, he filled her in on the new information that had trickled in since she had spoken with Joan on Sunday. There was little that was new, and it only expanded on the useless details. Vincent asked more questions than he answered, pumping Nikki's memories of the encounters she'd had with Ringo's henchmen over the two years she had been on the road with Brock. Even fragments of what she considered useless information might turn out to be helpful in predicting who might come after Brock, their approach, and what they might do when or if they showed up in Tabor Heights.
          Vincent entertained her family with stories of training the Arc Foundation's dogs during dinner that night. Nikki knew better than to relax and think she had escaped one of his punishing workouts -- 'refresher courses,' he called them. She was proven right when Vincent responded to Davie's question about what else he did besides train dogs.
         "I teach self-defense." Vincent tipped his head in Nikki's direction. "Has she shown you all the neat Bruce Lee moves I taught her yet?" He pretended to be hurt and dismayed when the boys responded with gleeful negatives. "Okay, Nikki. You and me. Back yard. One hour."
         "What if I don't show up?" she retorted, deciding it was easier to play the game than resist and disappoint the children. Besides, her parents were trying not to laugh. Better to treat it as a game than a punishment.
         "I know how to find you." He waggled his eyebrows like a melodrama villain.

Monday, April 8, 2013

April 8: DETOURS


         "Hey, who's that guy with Bekka?" Shane pointed, and nearly knocked a hat off the guy going down the row of seats in front of him.
         "What guy?" Kat stood up and tried to look past the people. "Oh, that's weird. I thought Joe and Amy were going to the game today. That's Zane, Joe's writing partner. Maybe Joe couldn't come -- he probably decided not to go because Amy hates baseball. You should have heard her razzing me Saturday night. Zane probably got the tickets from Joe and asked Bekka out. Everybody was gone before I got back from class, so I have no idea what's going on." She settled down again and flipped open the program. "Bekka and Zane get along pretty good. Maybe they'll start dating."
           Shane fought the urge to bang his head against the seat in front of him. Or better yet, the concrete step at the end of the row. Obviously, despite what Kat had said, Bekka did like baseball.
           Or maybe she just liked the guy she was with enough to sit through a baseball game for the chance to be with him.
           Okay, God, maybe I wasn't specific enough? I don't want just any girlfriend. I want Bekka. What do I have to do to spend time with her and actually talk, without anybody breaking in or giving us grief?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April 7: FIRESONG


               "Come here often?"
               Fortunately, Dani turned around before she shot back with her elbow to connect with the male form looming up behind her. It was a natural reaction, after putting in a full day working at the Mission, with Rich Thomas breathing down her neck every time she left the classroom. There was a reason she surrounded herself with children whenever possible, while at the same time avoiding the classroom where Rich's daughter, Aurora, spent her days. She hoped one of the first changes Nikki made at the Mission was to either fire Rich from his position as custodian, or make him wear a bell around his neck -- or issue pepper spray for all the single, female workers. The problem with complaining about Rich was that he never said or did anything that could be specifically pointed to as threatening. He worked at the Mission, he was the janitor, hence he was everywhere.
            If that slime-dog had followed her from the Mission to Heinke's Grocery, she could lodge a legitimate complaint with Pastor Wally, at the very least.
            The problem was that Dani didn't want Rich to get into too much trouble. He had a daughter to support, after all. Then again, he had been an absolute jerk, romancing Nikki when they were in high school, giving her a pledge ring when he went off to college -- and then jumping into every bed he could as soon as he got half a state away from Tabor Christian Church. That was how he ended up being a single father. Her broken heart had been the main reason Nikki had fallen for Brock Pierson.
            Now that Dani thought of it, maybe she wouldn't have to say anything to Nikki to get her to fire Rich. There was no way Nikki could have any feelings -- at least, not any good ones -- remaining, where Rich Thomas was concerned.
           Then she finished turning, prepared to defend herself with a plastic shopping basket to the mid-section.
           The man grinning at Dani and the basket she held out in front of her was definitely not Rich.
           "What?" she finally said.
           "You must be as tired as I feel." Kurt gestured with his half-filled basket. At a glance, it looked like he was taking advantage of the prepared meals-for-one that Heinke's Grocery offered in the deli area. "Busy day? What do you do, anyway, in between concerts?"
           "College. And Jill-of-all-trades at the Mission," she added after a moment's hesitation.
           "Doing what?"
           Somehow, they ended up heading down the outside aisle of the store, moving from the bakery to the produce section.
           "Anything and everything. Fixing office equipment, filling in on the playground, helping the nurse, replacing light bulbs, helping in the kitchen."
          "Sounds like you spend all your time making life easier for everybody else, so they can get their work done." Kurt snagged a box of chocolate-frosted chocolate donuts as they rounded the corner.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6: THE FAMILY WAY


                There were only two cars in the parking lot. One was Pastor Glenn's. Todd parked and ran from his car to the office door. It was locked. Panic made him pound on the door until he split a seam in his leather glove. He had to talk with his pastor before everybody else showed up for the meeting. Then it occurred to Todd that the meeting was probably to discuss what to do about all the vacancies in various boards and committees and the deacons, now that his father had quit the church so abruptly.
                Pastor Glenn appeared in the hallway, still wearing his hat, his raincoat slung over one arm. He turned on a light outside and one inside the doorway and pushed the door open.
               "What can I do for you, Todd?" he asked.
               "Have you seen Lisa lately?" Todd blurted. "Do you think she'd forgive me if I asked her again?"
               Pastor Glenn grinned. Then he started to chuckle. Beckoning, he led Todd to his office.
               "Lisa brought these over today before church, to get my final approval before she sends them off." He held out a sheaf of papers holding Lisa's cartoon panels, for Todd to see.
               One caught his eye. Katie sat in her room, crying herself to sleep. It turned into a dream of a little baby coming down to visit her in the arms of an angel. In her dream, Katie's tears stopped. She smiled and took the baby into her arms.
The story continued in the next panel. Katie and the baby talked. The baby was sad because Katie didn't love Bob anymore. The baby wanted her parents to love each other, no matter how mean they had been to each other.
                "Lisa's sending this out?" Todd asked. His hand trembled a little as he shuffled the paper to the back.
                "First thing tomorrow morning," Pastor Glenn said, nodding. "Did you know she has a book contract she's working on?"
                 "No, she never .." Todd groaned as he recalled, through all the anger and pain and harsh words, something Lisa had mentioned about a contract. She had told him that he didn't care. Well, maybe she had been more right than either of them realized. "I'm glad for her," he said, after swallowing hard and fighting the pressure of hot tears.
                   He continued reading.
                  The next panel showed Katie crying again, assuring her baby she did love Bob and she missed him and she wished she could tell him. The baby hugged her and smiled and said she would tell her daddy when she went back to heaven.
                 "That's not¾" Todd choked. He put down the papers to wipe at his eyes. "That's not theologically correct, is it?"
                 "I don't think God minds if we take some artistic liberties, do you?"
                 "Do you think it's the truth?" he whispered.

Friday, April 5, 2013

April 5: DETOURS


              Bekka helped chaperon the Middlers class when they took a trip to Put-in-Bay, despite being exhausted after the fundraising concert Firesong had done at the Mission the night before. She regretted agreeing to help, because Nikki James was back in town, on an assignment with the Arc Foundation, and she had hoped to spend some time with her friend. It was amazing how little they talked since Nikki came home to Ohio. Akron and Quarry Hall might as well be ten states away instead of forty-five minutes.
               Still, Bekka had agreed to help with the children's outing. They had earned the trip by raising money to help the summer missions project that would send the senior high students to help Habitant for Humanity. The younger children couldn't go on a four-week work project, but their teachers had promised them an adventure of their own. Unfortunately, those same teachers got sick. Rene Ackley was called on to help, and Bekka volunteered when she heard her talking with Hannah about it at the office.
               She was pretty sure she was the only one who recognized Morgan and Lynette Tyler sitting together on a forward bench on the upper deck of the ferry to the island. Morgan's arm rested along the top edge of the bench and Lynette leaned against him. He was talking, but the wind off the lake whipped away any words Bekka might have heard. She turned away right after seeing Lynette's face light up and both of them burst out laughing.
                Please, God -- they both deserve somebody fantastic. Kat loves them both more than anybody in the world. If they could get together. Or get back together? Please, if what I'm thinking is true, haven't they waited long enough to fix things?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April 4: THE FAMILY WAY


                 Lisa saw Todd's car sitting in front of the church office entrance when she went to church for her afternoon counseling session. For a moment, panic had her heart racing, but she wasn't quite sure why she should be afraid. Since meeting up with Todd at the dream house on Saturday, she hadn't seen him anywhere in town. It didn't make sense to her that he would be here in the middle of the day just to try to find her, but there was his car. Dr. Harris was waiting at the front desk when Lisa reached the office and ushered her back to her office immediately. Lisa half-expected Todd to be waiting for her, like he had been waiting when she stepped into Pastor Glenn's office that disastrous afternoon only a few weeks ago.
                 "Actually, I'd like to talk to you about that," Dr. Harris said, when Lisa confessed her mix of disappointment and relief at not seeing Todd. "I think he's progressed enough that the two of you can have a counseling session together."
                 "You think I won't have another hysterical fit, you mean," Lisa offered with a wry twist to her mouth and voice.
                 "You were under physical stress, and you were essentially ambushed. I think Pastor had the right idea, but… well, let's just say I've never seen eye-to-eye with your father-in-law and his interpretation of scripture, and leave it at that." She shook her head and got up from the seating group in the corner of her office to cross to the table set up with a carafe of hot water for tea. "You and Todd need to start talking. With a referee, if that will make you feel secure."
                  "Am I ready?"
                  "From what you've told me about that accidental meeting last week, yes." She offered with a gesture to make tea for Lisa, who declined. "The love is still there. On both sides. You didn't fall in love in silence and being absent from each other, did you?" She sat down again and put her mug of tea on the coffee table between them. "It was silence that made your love die. Just like we can't grow spiritually if we don't have regular devotions and prayer and meeting for worship, love can't grow if there isn't communication."
                    "That's how we got in this mess in the first place," Lisa murmured. "Okay. When?"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April 3: FORGIVEN


                 That morning, after the drop-off traffic had slowed, Nikki was surprised to see Officers Todd James and Mike Nichols saunter into the lobby of the Mission. She was still in the office with Claire, checking the attendance sheets and watching her new friend struggle with the accounting program on the computer. The two policemen saw her and took up identical poses in front of the office door, hands on their hips, shoulders hunched, glaring at her. She stifled a chuckle and hurried to get up from behind Claire's desk in the office and go out to meet them.
                 "You, little girl, are in a heap of trouble," Nichols said, pointing a long, calloused finger at her. "Get over here," he added, when she paused just out of arm's reach.
                "Didn't do nothing," she grumbled, then burst out laughing and opened her arms. All three laughed as she hugged first Nichols, then James.
                 "Why didn't you tell us you were home?" James said, holding her by her shoulders after he hugged her, and shook her twice. "Why'd we have to see you walking down the street this morning?"
                 "Why didn't you turn on your siren and pull me over?" she shot back.
                 Nichols laughed and James blushed. He had pulled that trick on her when she was fourteen and had punched a bully picking on two kindergarteners on the way home from school. The bully had been all bluster and mocked Nikki, holding a hand against his bloody nose and telling her she would get thrown into jail for punching him -- until she addressed the officer as 'Uncle'. Then the boy had gone white with terror and looked like he would burst into tears.
                  "Can I assume you know each other?" Claire said, coming out into the lobby.
                  "Just checking on our favorite delinquent." Nichols froze when Gray strolled around the corner of the office and tipped his head to one side to look up at the two officers. "What in the world is that?"
                  "My bodyguard and bully repellant," Nikki said, fighting not to laugh.