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Friday, May 31, 2013

May 31: THE SECOND TIME AROUND


     Steve Coheny, one of the new technicians at Homespun sat in a booth with Tony Martin. Daniel was a little surprised to see the two young men together. During the production of Shrew, and afterward, Steve's interest in Max had brought out some latent jealousy in Tony. Daniel had approved of the jealousy and hoped it would lead to another step upward in Max and Tony's relationship.
     "Morgan, this is... well, you know Steve," Max said as they approached the booth. "And this is--"
     "Daniel, it's been a long time," Carlo Vincente said, leaning out from behind Steve. He held out a hand, which Daniel gladly shook.
      Carlo Vincente had been a romantic lead in Hollywood thirty years ago. He had starred in half a dozen movies with Emily Keeler-Randolph. One of the elder statesmen of Hollywood, he worked behind the scenes nowadays, promoting education and charitable efforts and bringing dignity to an increasingly hedonistic profession.
      "You know each other?" Max, Tony and Steve said almost in unison.
      "Yes. Daniel was stage manager when I worked that summer stock production in Long Island... oh, sixteen years ago, wasn't it?" Carlo smiled and nudged Steve. "Get a chair for him, would you? You can stay and talk a while, can't you?"
      "I'd love to," Daniel said, and snagged a chair from the table behind him before Steve could get up. "It's been a long time. What are you doing in Tabor? It's great to see you again."
      "Now you've gone and spoiled all my fun," Max grumbled.
      "Fun?" Daniel looked at the four at the table and felt that odd little shiver up his spine, warning him that he had walked into something extremely interesting.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


One time when Audrey and Max went through a Juliet-and-Nurse scene, Steve stepped to the wings and looked out over the auditorium. There was something spooky, yet exciting about the empty seats, half-hidden in shadows. He was at the right angle not to be blinded by the half-adjusted stage lights, and movement in the balcony caught his attention. There were a couple auxiliary prop rooms upstairs, more like cupboards tucked under the sound and lighting booth that looked over the balcony, so Steve assumed someone was up there getting props just like Max had done for him and Audrey.
During the scene where Friar Lawrence made his arrangements with Juliet, Steve looked up to see Riley saunter down the aisle and squat next to Joel's seat. Steve had met him just that Sunday over breakfast, and learned he was the midnight show host at the local Christian radio station, The Eagle. He guessed Riley had stopped in on his way to check on the sound system, which he helped with during performances. Joel and Riley talked for a short time, during which Joel kept his gaze on Max and Audrey, until he glanced once at Riley and nodded. Then Riley stood and hurried up the aisle, vanishing through the lobby doors. A few seconds later, the house lights in the balcony came on.
The increased illumination revealed a man standing in the middle of the balcony seats, pointing a camera at the stage.
"Riley," Steve shouted, pointing at the intruder, just as the radio man appeared in the left balcony door. "Stop that guy!" He jumped off the stage and headed for the right side of the auditorium, to head off the intruder if he went down the right hand stairs.
                He saw Riley running toward the man, who vaulted over a few seats to get to the aisle, before he passed under the balcony. Behind him, he heard Joel shout to Max. Steve ran for the lobby door leading to the balcony, hearing the distinctive thudding of feet on the wooden stairs, then the blare of an alarm. He yanked the balcony stairs door open and looked down, following the sound. The fire exit hung open, the alarm screaming and the red light flashing. Through the snow and the parking lot lights, Steve could make out a dark shape fleeing into the night.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


"That settles it. If I ever get married -- and I'm not, despite that psycho claiming we were secretly married--"
"That's on page two."
"What is?" He felt a cold, empty sensation settle into his gut.
"Phoebe got upstaged by the wedding plans, but according to Chuck, the story about you marrying her in a secret ceremony in Italy is one page back in the same tabloids."
"Oh, just great..."
"But get this -- the reporter with the inside scoop decided to investigate. They're calling her a deluded, heartbroken child, living in a fantasy world, because they have proof you haven't left the country in six years, and there is no wedding license in your name."
"Nice to know people can track you down so easily." Steve decided to laugh about it. Act II in the battle with Deirdre/Phoebe/Serena was a success. He wondered what she would do in Act III. "If I ever get married, I'm eloping. Leaving the country, not even showing my face in public for a year afterward. Maybe getting plastic surgery before I come back."
"You are an idiot." She shook her head. "Have I told you lately how much I like having a big brother?"
"Never get tired of hearing it."
"So, who are you considering marrying? Since you're making plans, I mean."
"Nobody. It's just good to have details in place and ready for when you need them. Speaking of which." He stood, picking up the notebook and his sketches and tossed them onto Max's desk, which faced Joel's. Steve judged it was time to change the subject. "I've been thinking of the whole dinner theater thing. Moving it indoors."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


"Did Chuck call you?" Max greeted Steve when he showed up at Homespun Theater just after lunchtime.
"About?" He dropped his sketches for arranging the back yard for the dinner theater on Joel's desk and slid down into the seat, since the older man was nowhere to be seen.
"Reggie has been in automatic denial mode since about five this morning, when the first rag hit the streets," she said, referring to their father's public relations manager. "For every call he answers, there are about two who leave a message. Everybody's demanding confirmation that the wedding will be there in the fall. Since Chuck is my agent, people are pestering him, positive he'll be the weak link."
"How much of Audrey's crazy story did they print? And how much was word-for-word?" He laughed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk.
"Let's put it this way -- a lot of important people who can't get through to Reggie are playing the hurt feelings card with Chuck. 'Carlo has been a friend of ours since the early days of his career. We're hurt, just hurt, that he hasn't booked our restaurant for his only daughter's wedding reception.' Or their florist shop isn't providing my flowers. Or their garden isn't the site of the wedding. The only people who haven't called to gripe is your church."
"Maybe they're too busy fending off calls, demanding to know the wedding date, and exclusive rights to sit in the balcony and get it on film."
"I have a lot of apology letters to write." She smirked and leaned back in her chair.
"Let me guess -- you're getting a book idea out of this?" Steve barked laughter when she stuck her tongue out at him. "Have I told you lately how much I like having a little sister?"
"Not for the last five days. You're getting better." Max chuckled. "If only we could have as much success getting everybody here for the wedding without half the tabloids in the country following them."
"I keep telling you, if you'd just elope--"
"But Mom is having such fun making my dress." She sighed, her smile fading.
               "What? Tell your big brother what's really bothering you."

Monday, May 27, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


"You and Max are more alike than you realize," she offered, as he spread out some of the papers among their cartons of food and dishes and mugs of tea. "She does gobs of research, whether it's for her books or her scripts. I'll bet you did research into the historical roots of the Romeo and Juliet story, and even the meaning of their names." She laughed when Steve just blinked a few times and shook his head. "Am I right?"
"You know... people warned me there was a lot more beneath your dizzy blond surface mask," he said slowly, settling back against the sofa and clasping his hands across his stomach.
"I'm not blond." Funny, but she knew he wasn't serious even a little bit.
"Thank goodness. I'm allergic to blonds, whether they're natural or manmade. Speaking of which--"
"You brought it up, not me."
"I took some steps so people wouldn't realize, at least not right away, that you're why I'm visiting. Bekka and Shane are going to meet with me regularly in town, where people can see us together. And I'll be spending time with Morgan at the U, and playing chauffeur for Kat and for Bekka when Shane is busy. Hopefully, people will think I'm visiting them when I come here."
"Look out James Bond." She quelled a momentary urge to kiss him. "I get the feeling you like this cloak and dagger stuff."
              "Survival tactics. I learned from the best -- my dad," he added, when she frowned, not quite catching on immediately. "Misdirection to protect the innocent." He inhaled deeply and sat up. "Anyway -- you're right -- historical research into the roots of Romeo and Juliet."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


The intercom from the lobby interrupted as she was saying good-bye to Desmond. That always took at least twenty minutes, as he had a bad habit of remembering vital things at the last minute. She asked him to hold, and stepped over to answer it.
"Hey, I know I'm early -- sorry, it's Steve," he said, laughing. "I had a better idea. Can I come up?"
"Sure. Door's open." She pressed the button.
"Who was that?" Desmond demanded.
"Romeo."
"Oh, the lady's finally getting some action?"
"Hardly. We're doing Romeo and Juliet, and I'm Juliet and we're doing some research." She closed her eyes, knowing what was coming a heartbeat before Desmond let out his "nyuck, nyuck, nyuck," taunt. "If you want your groceries fresh and beautiful, you'll stop right there."
"Yes, ma'am! Is he a decent actor, so he doesn't make you look bad?"
"Uh, is the son of Carlo Vincente good enough for you?"
"Passable. But he better treat you right, or I'll show him all my fancy knife-work." The laughter left his voice for a few brief seconds, then warmed again as they made their goodbyes.
Audrey closed her cell phone and heard the flat ding of the elevator as it reached her floor. She tucked the phone into her jeans pocket as she walked to the door, and opened it when Steve was two steps away. He carried a backpack over one shoulder, and in his hand a large bag with the logo of the Green Dragon.
"Hope you don't mind," he said, hefting it to eye-level. "I caught sight of somebody hiding in the bushes by my place. The stalking is starting up already. I can go out the back door when I leave here, and this gives us a lot more privacy. I mean -- gives you some privacy."
"I love Chinese. How about we eat in here, where we can have room to spread out?"
               Funny, it hadn't occurred to her until now, as Steve took steps to shield her, that the paparazzi would eventually focus on her because of her association with him. It helped that she did love Chinese, and she would prefer privacy to laugh and argue as they worked on their roles. And she wouldn't mind being spared another trip out into the cold tonight, too.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


"Kept me waiting long enough, ducky dumpling," Desmond snarled when she identified herself.
Audrey tipped her head back and laughed. During their second year, while out on a shopping expedition for a class project, they had stopped at a Panera for coffee. A rotund man in a wrinkled, oversized raincoat had spent ten minutes arguing with the clerk that despite her assertion that the morning rush had used up all the cream, they did have cream and didn't have to wait another half hour until the scheduled delivery. He had addressed the clerk as "Honey," with almost every sentence. Audrey and Desmond had wavered between being amused and irritated, and speculated in whispers that the man was a relative of the poor clerk. He probably told her on a regular basis she could do better than tend the counter -- she had Audrey's intense sympathies. Then the manager had joined the argument, and the customer addressed her as "Honey" as well.
"Wonder how he'd like it if someone he didn't know addressed him as ducky dumpling," Audrey had snarled under her breath.
Desmond had nearly fallen over laughing. It broke up the disagreement and drove the bull-headed customer away, his face redder than the scarlet beret Desmond insisted on wearing when they went shopping. Ever since that time, he called Audrey "ducky dumpling" whenever he either was in a furious snit, wanted to irritate her, or he was in high spirits.
"Some of us have to work for a living," Audrey chirped. They both knew it was a lie, but she loved calling herself a working girl, and Desmond understood. "If you had called me on my cell phone, I could have talked to you at work. Not that I would have stopped in the middle of making my tri-color pinwheels to talk to you, but I would have called you back sooner." For good measure, she crossed her fingers, because she had indeed stopped to talk to Steve.
              "Yeah, and which cell phone number is it this time, babe?" Desmond let out that rumbling laughter that always made her think of someone two feet taller and three feet wider.

Friday, May 24, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


Two messages were on her answering machine when she got home. Audrey studied the blinking light while she peeled off her coat and scarf and stocking cap, and debated whether to listen to them now, or after she had washed off the smell of cooking and changed her clothes.
Better to get it over with now, she reasoned. She was long overdue for a call from Aunt Caroline, calculated to instill guilt and remorse in her heart. Or at least give her a headache that would try to put her in her bed for several days.
"Hey, babe, it's the bane of your existence," a cheerful bass voice ground out. "A month ago, I would have said where the hey-ha is Tabor Heights, Ohio? Well, hon, I'm heading your way, and I'm giving you a heads up advance warning. Pull out your secret recipes, warm up your mixing bowls, and make me a map to the best grocery stores in a twenty-mile radius. And for heaven's sake, call me!"
"Desmond." Audrey scrambled to get her message pad and pen from the other side of her kitchen, where she had been scribbling ideas for some experimental baking for the weekend. She reserved her every-other-Saturday-off specifically for "fun" baking.
She grinned as she wrote down his cell phone number and email, even as she sighed over the necessity of changing her phone number every ten months or so. The klutz field attacked her cell phone at regular intervals, sending it into the hands of someone who would rack up exorbitant phone bills. She had learned, as soon as she lost a phone, to cancel the number and get a new one. This meant that people who hadn't spoken to her in more than four months had her unlisted landline number, and used that first when they wanted to contact her. Then she would give them her cell number, until she lost it again. Audrey had given up trying to have an unlisted number where her aunt and brother were concerned. They had the connections to get around rules. On the plus side, she always let her answering machine deal with them. If they got hold of her cell number, she deliberately lost the phone and started over. It was expensive, but for peace of mind and heart, worth it. What else were trust funds for, except to provide security and a semblance of tranquility?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE


"Hot date?" Jorge asked, when she slipped her cell phone into her pocket.
"Rehearsal." She stomped over to the sink to wash her hands.
"Yeah? What are you doing?"
Lying wouldn't do her any good. Joel and Max had commenced the PR campaign, with news releases and photos to every media outlet that cared what Homespun Theater did. That number had doubled from this time last year, after Emily Keeler-Randolph reappeared, and the existence of Carlo Vincente's unknown daughter was revealed. Sometimes, Audrey felt sorry for Max. She knew what it was to live in the spotlight and have people focus on the circumstances of her birth. Max was lucky to have a family who didn't blame her for being illegitimate.
"Romeo and Juliet. If you don't mind, I have a ton of work to do." She finished drying her hands and stepped back over to the table.
For the next twenty minutes, she got away with responding to Jorge's questions and comments with "hmm" and non-committal shrugs, while she rolled out the three flavors of cookie dough, layered them, rolled them into a thick pinwheel log, then cut thin slices and put them on the cookie sheets lined with baking parchment.
"So, anyway, this Steve Vincente guy?" Jorge said, coming back from filling one of the soup kettles behind the counter.
"What about him?" Audrey wished he had gotten bored enough to give up the question. She supposed this was proof he was in the pay of someone. Jorge had never stuck with anything this long in the face of obstacles and being ignored -- unless he was getting something out of it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 22: DETOURS


     Bekka hurried into the office to meet Shane for lunch, and nearly tripped over Xander kneeling in front of Hannah, who was sitting on the side of her desk.  Hannah looked as startled as Bekka felt. Neither of them noticed Bekka standing there, slightly sweaty and trying not to breathe like a stevedore. Xander's attention was focused solely on Hannah's face, and Hannah stared at the ring he held out to her.
     Bekka knew about the agreement between Xander and Hannah, that they would date for six months before taking the next step in their relationship, which meant there were still seven weeks of dating to go. She decided to cheer for Xander, that he didn't want to wait any longer.
     "Yes," Hannah whispered, and her stunned expression changed to a blush and a shaky smile.
     Bekka waited for Xander to get to his feet and pull Hannah into his arms before she backed out of the office. She almost forgot to reach up and catch hold of the bell over the door so it wouldn't jangle and interrupt. She muffled laughter, realizing that Xander and Hannah certainly hadn't heard the bell ring when she came in.
     "Hey, you," Shane called, pulling up to the parking spot right in front of Common Grounds' door. "I sure hope that big grin is for me."
     "Well, yeah. Kind of." Bekka stumbled when she wondered what it would be like to kiss Shane, just like Hannah and Xander were doing right that moment. At least, she assumed that was what they were doing.
     "Kind of?" Shane looked over her head, frowning at the front door of the office. "Something wrong with your bosses?"
     "No, why?"
     "Looks like he's holding her. Is she crying or something?"
     "I don't know. I don't see Hannah as the type who cries when she's happy." Bekka sighed and swallowed down a giggle that tried to emerge. "I think they're kissing."
     "Are you allowed to do that at work?"
     "It is if you just got engaged."
     "Oh." A slow grin brightened his face and Shane tipped his head to one side, studying her. Bekka felt her face get much warmer than the exertion of riding all over town had done.
     "What?"
     "Nothing."
     "Liar." She punched his shoulder. "What are you thinking?"
     "Believe me, you don't want to know."
     Bekka opened her mouth to protest that yes, she did want to know. Then it occurred to her that if Shane was thinking about something even remotely similar to what she had been thinking a moment ago... maybe it was better if neither of them mentioned it. At least, for right now.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

COOKING UP TROUBLE: New release

The NEW Tabor Heights novel (Book 2 of Year 2) is now available at Desert Breeze Publishing.

Stay tuned! For the rest of the month -- whenever there isn't an excerpt from a previous book, showing what's happening in Tabor Heights "today," you'll be getting snippets from COOKING UP TROUBLE.

Today's excerpt:


Audrey rolled out dough on the long marble counter, debating if she should pretend not to have heard him. Her cell phone rang, granting her a temporary reprieve. It sat on the shelf over her worktable, so she went up on her toes to see over the bowl and canisters of baking supplies, to check out the number. The area code was unfamiliar -- probably a telemarketer. Whatever happened to registering for the Do Not Call list? It was a tossup between ignoring the phone and having to answer Jorge, or picking up her cell phone, arguing with whoever wanted her money, and then having to clean her hands before she went back to work.
Her brain was nearly as blank as her to do list, which she had been steadily wiping clean of items. She was in no mood to make up stories right now. Audrey found her tongue was much more agile when she was peeved and fresh. Peeved and headachy or just plain weary led to stumbling over her tongue. Better to put up with a stranger than Jorge. She reached for the cell phone, snatching it up just before it rang for the fourth time.
"Hey, Audrey, I'm sorry for interrupting you at work," a semi-familiar voice said.
"I'm sorry -- who is this?" She turned her back on Jorge and crossed her eyes in frustration. Definitely, she should have let the phone go to voicemail. The first rule of phone survival was to never admit the telemarketer got hold of the person he or she wanted.
"I am mortally wounded, fair Juliet."
"Steve." She laughed -- then realized she had just negated her ability to lie to Jorge. "Let me guess -- you want to place an order for rehearsal tonight?"
"Not a bad idea. No, I was wondering if you wanted to get together and do some work ahead of time. Have dinner, talk about our characters. Get on the same page?"
"Sounds good. I have one more dessert to get baked and cooled enough to portion out, and then I'm free."
"Dessert? I'd kill for those cream cheese brownies you brought Tuesday. Got any more?"
"I might." She turned around in response to a prickling up her back, and found Jorge creeping closer. He stopped with a foolish grin spreading across his face, and bent over to rattle among the baking pans on the shelf next to her. She almost didn't hear what Steve said next.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May 12: BEHIND THE SCENES


     "Is that him? That young man in the dark blue shirt, with his jacket sleeves rolled up to his elbows?"
     Winters studied the young man in question, only a dozen yards away, talking and laughing with a group of brightly dressed people who all seemed to be hanging on his every word. Right now, he had his back to the two men, but his blond head and wide shoulders looked familiar enough to have Winters nodding. Then he turned and put his arm around a tiny, dark-haired girl with the face of a Madonna and big eyes that clearly spoke her adoration, and one glimpse of his face confirmed that partial identification.
     "Jake Holt. Just like we suspected. You didn't actually meet him face-to-face, did you?"
     "Oh, yes. I made a point of watching for the finalists and greeting them last night. Your Mr. Holt made a point, in his turn, of telling me how often his mother talks about the movies she made with me."
     "It amazes me, sometimes, how someone with so much talent and creativity to carry off the roles that he does on stage... doesn't have the brains to think his way out of a wet paper bag. Does that idiot think he can actually get away with pretending to be Max Keeler? The first time someone asks him to write a script, his scam is blown." Winters quelled the urge to stomp over to that laughing, chatting group, and see that arrogant assurance fall off Jake's face the moment he recognized him.
     "Maybe all he wants is Max's prize money, and then he'll fade into the woodwork."
     Winters shuddered. "No. If he only wanted the money, he would have stuck with having his agent accept the check for him. He's here for a reason, wearing Max's name." A dozen acts of petty nastiness he had witnessed Jake committing in the past two years flared before his eyes. What could that arrogant snot deliberately do to Max's reputation before her career began?
     They both watched Jake, who continued holding court with the knot of admirers. In the falling volume of the ballroom, his laughter came through clear and loud and rather coarse.
     "I've been told that he has already attended two single-day writing conferences as Max Keeler," Carlo offered. "And the press office has found me three newspaper and online interviews, with pictures, where he has passed himself off as Max Keeler."
     "It's gone too far already. We definitely can't handle the problem quietly." Winters turned his back on Jake and his knot of admirers and led Carlo out of the ballroom. "You'll straighten out the committee?"

Saturday, May 11, 2013

May 11: BEHIND THE SCENES


      "Miss Emily?" Steve stepped through the stage door into the living room. "I got your message."
      "Thank you for coming." Emily looked up as Joel stepped in from the kitchen. She gestured at the sofa opposite her, and put aside the lap desk full of notes for the upcoming production of Our Town. "I want to thank you for being such a big help during our crisis."
      "I'm just glad I could be here." Steve waited until Joel sat down next to Emily before he settled into the couch.
      "I'm curious, Steven... did your father send you, or are you here on your own?" A tiny, gasping laugh escaped her when he froze, the widening of his eyes his only movement for ten long seconds. "Yes, I finally figured out who you were, when I remembered your mother's maiden name."
      "Guess it runs in the family, huh? Max and me, both of us going by our mothers' maiden names." He shrugged and slouched back.
      "Are you here because of your father?" Joel caught Emily's hand in his.
      "Yes and no." Steve grinned. "I heard him talking with Mom the day he got the finalists list from the fellowship directors. I know Dad, how he works. His first and biggest concern was that anything he did could ruin Max's career. He didn't want to cause her trouble -- of course, at the beginning, Dad was saying 'him.' I know how much this was bothering him, and after what I put him through... well, I figured I should do a little scouting, figure out what was up. It was just luck that I'm friends with Buddy Sanker, and he had mentioned Tabor and Homespun and I made the connection." He shrugged. "Didn't tell Dad."
       "So he doesn't know you're here?"
       "Chuck Winters gave me a lecture when he was here. He said he'd keep my secret as long as I reported directly to him, everything going on here, and I looked out for all of you."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Upcoming Release -- COOKING UP TROUBLE


Steve sat back and watched the regular cast and crew of Homespun Theater as Joel read off the list of plays and musicals they would be producing in the next year. They would cast Romeo and Juliet tonight, with opening night on February seventeenth. After that, they would be working with student playwrights from BWU, to stage their productions in mid-April. Joel announced the late spring and summer productions were still up in the air and would depend on what interns Homespun accepted, and a project currently under consideration: a venture into dinner theater, with the scripts yet to be chosen.
Steve caught Audrey exchanging grins with Max. Interesting. He debated interrogating his sister to find out what that was about. Or maybe he should pester Audrey, since she seemed to be in the know? Maybe that was what they had been talking about when he came downstairs?
He muffled a chuckle, remembering what Nicky had told him about Max's phone call. Just the thought of getting a little back at the gossip-mongers and supermarket rags that tormented his family lately -- and Max's -- gave him a warm feeling that almost made up for the icy weather threatening Northeast Ohio.
The fall productions would be The Alcestiad and then J.B., wrapping up the year and the holidays with the usual Christmas production in partnership with Tabor Christian Church.
"J.B.?" he muttered, as several in the front row responded when Joel asked for comments.
"Archibald MacLeish," Audrey said.
"Still doesn't help."
"Sort of a post-modern impressionistic dramatization of the book of Job." She glanced at Max as she said it, frowning a little.
"You don't like the script?"
            "Hmm?" Audrey finally looked at him, and blushed. "Sorry. I was wondering where they're going to fit in a wedding. Max just told me it would be this spring." 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 9: FORGIVEN


     "Maybe I should apply for his job," Brock told Nikki as they headed for their now-regular walk through the Metroparks. It was Friday night and all the details of the case had finally been wrapped up.
     "What? Give up your accounting work? But I thought they liked you at the Picayune."
     "They do, but I've got things so straightened out, I worked myself down to a part-time job. I could probably keep collecting full-time pay and goof off half the day but... it just wouldn't be right." He slid his arm around her waist, once they stepped into the shelter of the shadows on the winding, sloping park road. "What's that smile for? Don't tell me I made you proud again?"
     "Again. Actually, I was thinking that you'd probably love spending your days with the kids, but it just isn't the job for you."
     "I could do both, I bet. From what I saw of Rich's work, he turned a part-time job into a job for three people. I've never seen anyone work so slow or make such a mess and such a fuss out of such simple things."
     "There's going to be a whole lot more work to do, once we start expanding facilities and bring in more staff."
     "We?" Brock stopped them short. "Arc is coming on board?"
     "Full support. The Board even thought of a few things Pastor Wally and the trustees didn't think to ask for, outreach opportunities, uses for the empty rooms once they're repaired."
     "That's great!" He hugged her, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around twice.
     Behind them, Gray whined, as if jealous to be left out. They laughed at him. He rubbed against their legs, nearly knocking them off balance until they relented and gave him some brisk petting.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May 8: BEHIND THE SCENES


     "Take it easy!" Tony yelped, when a round blue pillow split open, sending a rain of foam rubber pieces across the floor.
     "Why?" Max dropped the pillow and picked up a square red one with gold pompoms. She knew from experience it gave a good, solid wallop.
     "If you kill me, you have to finish the book by yourself."
     "Horrors!" She dropped backwards onto the couch, clutching her chest in mock heart attack.
     Tony flopped down next to her, gasping for breath. For several seconds they lay sprawled there, grinning, sweating, and catching their breaths.
     "You know," he said, after swallowing hard a few times. "I really will miss having you around all the time."
     "Yeah -- now you have to shout across the street instead of up the stairs."
     "No, I mean it. It's a good feeling, knowing you're always around."
     "Wish I could say the same for you," she returned, smiling sweetly.
     "Guess I earned that, huh?" Tony chuckled and pivoted so he put his back against the end and his knees up, feet on the cushions only a few inches from her leg. "So, that means you'll kill me if I ask you to marry me again?"
     "Tony!" She reached for a pillow, then decided the effort was too much.
     He grinned at her. If he was joking, why did his words put that strange, achy feeling in her chest? Too many of her dreams lately had been about Tony kissing her.
     "Besides," Max hurried on, "I couldn't put up with your snoring."
     "What snoring?"
     "Should I have Jeremy put a tape recorder under your pillow tonight? When you were in Mom and Dad's room, the sound used to rattle my windows."
     "I don't snore!" He made a move to snatch up a pillow and restart their fight.
     "Besides, I don't do laundry."
     "Who said I was looking for a housekeeper?" He settled more firmly into the couch. "I think I proved I'm pretty easy to live with."
     "Oh, yeah? We were ready to strangle you."
     "Well, it's different when it's your own place."
     "I guess." She tilted her head to one side and studied him. Why did Tony look different, all of a sudden? He was still teasing about marriage, wasn't he? So why didn't he look like he was laughing, despite the grin?  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Upcoming Release -- COOKING UP TROUBLE

From the newest Tabor Heights Year Two book:


"So what are you doing here?" Audrey lowered her voice as she and Steve came down the stairs on the left side of the stage and headed for the rows of seats across the front of the theater, where it looked like a little less than half of the regular cast and crew had already arrived.
"Still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up."
"You look kind of grown up to me." Audrey knew he was in his early thirties, because he was at least five years older than Max, but that was about all she knew.
"I know. Sad, ain't it? I really liked working here last year, so I thought I'd try it again, see if I'm better at live theater than film." He stopped at the second row from the front and gestured for her to step in and take a seat ahead of him.
Audrey sat down without thinking, and got that little jolt in her chest again when Steve dropped down next to her.
"So what are you planning on doing?"
            "Whatever the boss gives me to do." He glanced around at the others trailing in and taking seats. Leaning closer to her, he lowered his voice and asked, "What exactly do you call him, anyway?"

Monday, May 6, 2013

May 6: BEHIND THE SCENES


     "Beth?" Max backpedaled out of the hospital room where she expected to find her mother. She had come over straight from work to pick up Joel, who had been there all morning visiting Emily. They had a dozen errands to run before they prepared for tonight's performance. "Where are my folks?" The sight of Emily's empty bed hadn't been that frightening, because her mother had been able to get up and sit by the window the last few days, and even managed to walk to the lounge at the end of the hall on Sunday.
     What worried her was the total absence of Emily's books, her sewing, and other little personal items, in among the greenhouse's inventory of flowers and potted plants that filled the room. Max refused to let her mind pursue the implications.
     "In the lounge." Beth stepped around the side of the nurse's station and wrapped her arms around Max for a quick hug. "Isn't it great news?"
     "What is?" She tried not to let her voice rise, but it was hard.
     "There you are." Tony bombed out of the elevator, pushing an empty wheelchair. "Good. I was running out of room in my car. Yours has more room."
     "Room for what?"
     "I'll take all the flowers, and you can take your folks. Or maybe your dad can't sit in the back seat with that cast on?" He frowned as he hurried past her, heading for Emily's room.
     "Room for what?" she demanded, turning to follow him. She had a hard time processing most of what he had just said, for some reason. Maybe it was the panic that made her heart race.
     "Max!" Joel called, leaning out of the door of the lounge. He beckoned with his cane. The joy brightening his face took away half her apprehension, but Max still shivered a little as she hurried down the hall to join him.
     She nearly wept when she saw Emily sitting up in a wheelchair in the lounge, looking serene, with good color in her face -- and dressed in her favorite dusty blue sweatsuit and sneakers, instead of her robe and slippers. It was the sight of the neon yellow scarf wrapped around her head, hiding the bandages and most of her hair, that made something click in Max's head. She dropped to her knees next to the wheelchair and grabbed her mother's hands.
     "You're coming home?" Max wasn't ashamed when a few tears escaped.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

May 5: BEHIND THE SCENES


     "Lovely," Rose said with a sigh as she gazed out over the back yard.
     It was only twenty feet by forty feet, but the grass was luxuriant and dark green, and the entire area was enclosed with thick, tall bushes and pines to enforce privacy. The only gap in the wall was a six-foot section where the path led to the gravel parking lot and the scene shop.
     "This is just May, Rosy. Wait until you see Tabor Heights when summer is in full bloom."
     "Do you think I'll still be here?" She kept her profile to him, a wistful smile making her look tired.
     "Of course you will. Where else would you go?" He coughed, not liking how that sounded. "The kids would send the police out after you if you abandoned us. You're family."
     "I know." Rose turned enough to look up at him. She patted his knee -- chuckling when she got his cast. "I don't regret for a minute leaving Boston."
     "But?" he prompted, knowing that look of weighty problems in her pursed lips and narrowed eyes.
     "But ... there's Max ... and Tony."
     "Max and Tony? Something going on I don't know about?" Joel knew he was taking less pain medication, so he couldn't have been in that much of a fog.
     "I wish something was!" Rose picked up a cookie from the plate and toyed with the edge, smearing chocolate on one fingertip. "I swear, that boy is in love, but despite those wonderful books he's written, he doesn't have clue one on how to let Max know how he feels. Joel!" She glared at him when he burst out in roars of laughter.
     He laughed so hard he started to choke. Rose's anger faded into concern. She scrambled back to her feet and stepped behind him to pound on his back until he got his breath back. Joel snorted, struggling to stop laughing, and picked up one of the glasses of lemonade to sip it.
     "Sorry -- but you--" He snorted again, then coughed when the lemonade went up his nose, burning. "Rosy, if you only knew--" Joel shook his head. His mouth ached from grinning.
     "I wish you'd share the joke with me." Despite her tone, she smiled back at him and picked up the other glass.
     "Some boys never grow up, Rosy. Maybe I'm making up for thirty years of not picking on you. Then again, maybe all this enforced closeness finally got my two favorite writers thinking in the right direction."
     "Joel Aaron Rubenstein..." Rose whispered, as a delighted smile crept across her face. She leaned back against the porch railing. "Are you playing matchmaker?"
     "I've been, but that little girl of mine is convinced no man in his right mind would look twice at her."
     "So you picked Tony as a future son-in-law?"

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May 4: FORGIVEN


     Sunday afternoon when Brock showed up at the house and asked her to walk with him, Nikki didn't hesitate to accept. She hadn't told him yet about the news from the foundation and the Board's offer, and she felt guilty about it. Then on top of everything else that had happened, the 'ugly rumors' were spreading through town with gale force speed. Nikki was glad to see that the people who really mattered at church weren't listening to the rumors. They treated Brock as they always had, willing to wait until proof came before letting judgment fall. There were others, though, who didn't hesitate to speak their feelings -- to Brock and anyone who would listen -- and urged others to act against him. They were the same people who told her she got what she deserved when she lost her baby, so Nikki regained calm by reminding herself to consider the source, and ignored them as inconsequential. It still hurt, though, to see Brock treated so badly by people who claimed to be Christians.
     They walked through downtown Tabor, stopping at Rick's Bakery to get some cookies, Nikki's favorite blueberry scones, and cans of iced tea. It was nice to walk in silence and enjoy the warm weather and sunshine. Gray ran ahead of them as they turned down the road to the Metroparks entrance.
     "Funny how things work out, huh?" Brock finally said, as they strolled along the side of the road, through the thick shadows cast by the tall trees. "I was all set to leave town to protect everybody and now... Some folks are ready to run me out of town."
     "They don't count."
     "Everybody counts. That's what I forgot for so long. Well, at least one good thing came out of this." He waited until Nikki turned her attention from the sloping, curving road to look at him. "I came here to town to win you back, and you're sticking with me stronger than anyone else."
     "Brock--"
     "How come you never told me about those two cops you were named after?"
     "Huh?" She stopped short, more stunned by his lopsided smile than by the unexpected question itself. "I did."
     "Yeah, the bare bones. Not the details. The scary details. They gave me a good lecture on how they're your adopted uncles and they're kind of careful of your feelings. Then they told me how you stood up for me. Especially when that phone call came in with that false witness."

Friday, May 3, 2013

May 3: BEHIND THE SCENES


     "Everything that comes near to suiting me is either too expensive for the size, or too far away from here." Tony put aside his grapefruit and picked up his toast. "Guess I'm spoiled."
     "Oh, really?" Her face grew warm from the heavy sarcasm in her voice. Max wondered why it irritated her so much that Tony was picky about finding a new place. His attention to details was what made him such a good writing partner.
     "It's been great, being so close, being able to work on our book or just talk about things whenever we feel like it."
     "Whenever you feel like it," she retorted. Max picked up her glass of milk. "I have to admit, it's nice not having to call you and hope you're at home when I need to talk."
     "I don't want to lose that convenience, I guess."
     "You don't want to lose the good cooking around here."
     "Yeah, that too." He shrugged and took a bite of toast. He grinned, eyes sparkling.
     "What?" Max wanted to thump him when he just grinned wider, shook his head and finished chewing and swallowing.
     "We should get married."
     "What?" She flinched at her near-shriek and hunched down in her chair, darting worried glances at the door into the living room. "Are you sick or something?"
     Had Tony learned to read minds? Or had Brenda broken every rule of confidentiality in the battle between the sexes and told him that Max wanted a white picket fence?
     "No, I'm serious. Then we can be together all the time and work on our writing whenever we want. If I get an idea in the middle of the night, I don't have to wait until morning to tell you."
     "Anybody who wakes me up in the middle of the night to work on a story is going to get a black eye." Max hated the heat in her face. "Besides," she forced herself to say over the sudden racing of her heart, "there isn't even enough room in my bedroom for me, let alone you."
     "You could move in with me when I get my new place," he said with a shrug.
     "If you ever get a new place. You're the most finicky man I've ever met."
     "Does that mean you won't marry me?" He twisted his face into a mournful mask.
     "That's the most ridiculous -- until this moment, I doubted you even knew I was a girl!" Max picked up her milk to drink and cover her flustered feelings. It was a mistake, with her hand shaking and her face growing hotter.
     "Oh, yeah. I've noticed for a long time." The laughter had left Tony's voice. She was afraid to look at him. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May 2: FORGIVEN


     Another siren started up. Nikki concentrated on it, trying to tell through the echoes in her room where the sound came from.
     Definitely the fire station on the corner where Span crossed Horizon. The sound of the siren traveled up Span Street. Nikki counted softly and slowly, and this time she could hear how the sound changed slightly as it passed Church and continued toward the fairgrounds, following the previous siren. It sounded like it was heading toward Sackley now. And stopped.
     Where?
     Her cell phone rang. She jumped, the sound jangling up and down her nerves, loud enough to deafen her. Nikki cracked a grin, ashamed of her edginess, and dug the cell phone out of the bottom of her purse, which was under her bed, half-buried under the decorative pillows she took off it when she settled down to write up her report. How could any sound penetrate all those layers? Yet it did, loudly enough to scare her out of her wits.
     "This is Nikki," she said, even as her heart skipped a few beats. Who would be calling her? Who had her cell phone number?
     An emergency with another Arc Foundation sister? Someone who needed help, and she was closest? She didn't recognize the number. Who had she given her phone number to, here in town?
     "Nikki, it's Brock." He paused and she could hear tense male voices in the background, and the hiss and metallic echo of voices on a police radio. "I'm at the Mission. You'd better get here. There's a--"
     Sounds came muffled through the radio, and Nikki guessed he had put his hand over the speaker. Who was he talking to?
     "Nikki, it's Uncle Todd." Officer James used his 'official' voice.
     "What happened?" She was amazed she didn't shout.
     "There's been a break-in." He paused as a siren started up, piercingly loud through the phone.
     The siren in the distance returned. Nikki shivered, feeling the ice dig deep into her stomach. Now she knew where the squad car and rescue vehicle had gone.
     "What else?" she demanded. "Is Brock all right?"
     "Yeah, he's fine. But Pastor Wally's -- Just get here, okay?"

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1: BEHIND THE SCENES

     What was Steve doing, giving her desk the eagle eye?
     Steve stomped on the creakiest board of the doorway -- it had to be deliberate, because she had seen him avoid it with the grace of a dancer, even going at full speed. She saw him crack a grin as he crossed the Green Room. She followed, cautiously.
     Jake stumbled over Joel's swivel chair and staggered for the refreshment table. Max leaned against the shelving, watching how Steve adjusted his path with double the grace and looking far more convincing. He nodded to Jake, snatched one of the paper cups of ice water Rose kept filled for the cast, and continued to the men's dressing room. Jake nodded to him, almost spilling the cup of water he snatched off the table. Max fully expected him to mess up his costume. He wasn't due back on stage for a good ten minutes.
     Plenty of time for him to try to dig through her desk.
     What if he got into the business records for the theater? She and Joel had nothing to hide, and the sensitive information like passwords were locked up, but it was the principle of the thing that irritated her.
     She counted slowly from the time the men's dressing room door closed behind Steve. At eleven, Jake tossed the half-emptied paper cup into the trash and headed back to the office alcove. Max wondered how he could be so oblivious not to look around to make sure he wasn't being watched. Or was it arrogance?
     Jake didn't dig through her papers sitting in the filing boxes like he had the last three times she caught him invading her privacy. She shivered when he opened the bottom drawer of her desk. There was nothing in it but her fellowship information and invitations to speak at various writing conferences across the country, just because she was a Gabrielli finalist. Max choked down a shout when Jake pulled out a folder and opened it on her desk.
     "What's your excuse this time?" she spat.
     "Aren't you supposed to be directing?" Jake shot back, going dark red under his makeup. She swore if he sweated and ruined all that makeup, she'd boot him and give Joe his role on the spot. Joe could take over as Lucentio tonight, if she had to undress Jake herself and stuff her brother into his costume.