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Friday, February 28, 2014

February 28: THE FAMILY WAY

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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

February 27: THE FAMILY WAY

      "I just wish I knew why," Lisa whispered as quiet settled in a thick blanket through the cabin.
      "Why what?" Karla said, her voice so soft it blended with the howl of the wind.
      "Why did he ask if the baby was his?"
      "That's definitely King Arthur's fault."
      "You think he's been telling Todd I'm fooling around behind his back?"
      "Oh, no, he'd never say anything like that outright. He just hints and asks innocent little questions that only come up with one answer. He killed our mother that way."
      "What?" Lisa flinched as she jerked upright. "I thought your mother died in a car wreck."
      "She did. She was running away before her loving husband could have her committed to the psycho ward."
      "Committed?" She had no trouble believing that. There were times she thought Todd would drive her crazy. Or at least drive her into eating whole half-gallons of ice cream in one sitting.
      "When Mom was pregnant with Charli, he treated her so good. I remember. And I remember how he ignored me, and kept talking about his son. And then Charli was born and he... he didn't want Charli. He was so cold to Mom. He said she cheated on him. And he made a big production about forgiving her, as if she had done something wrong in giving birth to a girl instead of a boy."
      "What happens if I have a girl instead of a boy?" Lisa whispered.
      "He'll accuse you of cheating on Todd, same as he accused Mom of cheating on him every time she had a girl. Until she got Todd. I saw how differently he treated her after Todd, and I knew he was nasty to her when I was born, too." Karla raked her fingers through her hair. In the shadows from the fireplace, she looked pale, with deep circles under her eyes. "He was so nice to her... until the doctors said Mom would die if she had another baby. He wanted more sons. He tried to sue the hospital for not taking care of Mom. Then he got nasty. He decided it was all her fault, that she had committed some huge sin so God only let her give him one son. And... she had a nervous breakdown just before Todd's second birthday."
      "She ran away from the hospital?"

      "No, not really. I remember the doctors gave her medicine and she came home and she was very quiet, but she smiled more and he left her alone. For a while. And then he started in again, making her cry. Never yelling. Never arguing. But all the little things he would say... When he said he was sending her back to the hospital, she couldn't take it. She hugged us and said she was going somewhere she could get her thinking straight, and then she would send for us. She got in a taxi. And we never saw her again."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 26: THE FAMILY WAY

      Todd's phone rang at five the next afternoon. Lisa sat back in her chair in her office and arched her back a little as she listened for a message. She had spent so much time in her office, she wondered if her chair would become a permanent part of her anatomy. Todd's message played, then the machine beeped to signal the caller to leave a message.
      No one spoke. That struck Lisa as odd. All of Todd's friends left messages. His sisters left messages. His father left blistering lectures. Who would call and not leave a message after listening to the outgoing message all the way through?
Maybe the mystery caller was changing his schedule? Surprisingly, she didn't feel that chill that usually came when she let herself wonder about the stranger. Maybe she was too tired, too headachy about other problems, to let that bother her anymore.
      Twenty minutes later, the doorbell rang. Lisa jerked, nearly leaving a bright pink streak across the bottom of the panel where Katie priced cribs and Bob wandered off through the store to look at the baseball equipment. Sighing at the near miss, she got up and went down the short hall to the front door.
      "Hi. You're being kidnapped," Karla announced the moment Lisa opened the door. Charli stood behind her, grinning ear to ear. Both sisters wore blue jeans, plaid flannel shirts and vest jackets.
      "Huh?" Lisa found it a little difficult pulling her mind away from Katie and Bob's arguments to focus on the present.
      "You need a night out with the girls, and we are the girls to do it," Charli said. "Where's that brat, Todd?"
      "Todd, we're kidnapping Lisa and you can't do anything about it," Karla called, stepping further into the apartment.
      "Denver." Lisa sighed as she said it.
      "What?" Charli's mouth dropped open. "Todd went out of town without telling our father?"
      "How do you know that?" Lisa would have laughed if she didn't feel so strangely out of step.
      "Father always complains to at least one of us about how badly the company mistreats Todd, sending him everywhere around the country. Then in the same breath he gloats about how important he is."
      "So," Karla continued, taking up the narration, "if Father didn't gripe, then he didn't know Todd was away. When did he go?"
      "Yesterday." Her voice caught. "The coward left a note that I didn't even find until last night," she added, and didn't care what it sounded like.

      Lisa was tired of supporting Todd and making him look good, swallowing her pride and hurt feelings a dozen times a week for his sake. If the whole world knew she wished she had never married him, that was fine with her.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February 25: THE FAMILY WAY

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

February 24: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

      "There isn't something funny going on between you, is there?" Amy paused in sliding out of her chair.
      "Of course not! What kind of man do you think I am?"
      "Don't ask me to judge men's character right now, after Kat's stepfather molested her--"
      "He what? When?" Daniel nearly roared, and Bekka echoed the sound with a groan.
      "When she was little. Everything came out at Christmas. He was all over her. In front of her mother, to make things worse."
      "I'll kill him. If he ever lays a hand on her again--"
      "Kat sure doesn't tell you everything." Amy's exasperated tone and her smug grin put a halt to the fury boiling through him, as surely as a dip in an icy pond. "Her mom divorced the pervert in January." She was obviously delighted to be the bearer of such news.
      "Really?" Daniel sank down on the edge of the desk again. He felt a little breathless at the lightning-fast changes in his emotions. From worry to killing fury to -- hope? Relief? A sense that all his prayers were about to be answered?
      What kind of a man was he, really? He should be furious for his daughter's sake. And for Lynette's, too. What had they endured, living with Mike Tyler all these years, and nobody ever knew?
      "She got everything. I'd have thrown him in prison for the rest of his life. I mean, no wonder Kat won't keep a steady boyfriend. She can't trust guys," Amy rattled on.
      "She can trust me!"
      "Yeah, but you're different."
      "I hope so." Daniel swallowed hard. "Amy, do you believe in second chances?"
      "If I didn't, Joe and I would have split forever years ago."

      "That's all I needed to know." He snatched up his briefcase and headed for the door.

*****
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Sunday, February 23, 2014

February 23: DETOURS

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

     "Yeah, you guys have fun," Shane said, and backed away. He couldn't seem to pull his gaze away from that arm draped casually around Bekka like it belonged there. "Gotta go to work."

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 21: THE FAMILY WAY

      The wastebasket sat at the foot of the couch by the door. Todd saw it was full, and remembered his decision to take care of the garbage without Lisa reminding him. He grabbed up the wastebasket and headed into the kitchen. The tall black garbage can liners Lisa used were in a box under the sink. He opened one and up-ended the wastebasket into it.
      A clump of wet papers stuck together in the bottom. Todd sighed and gritted his teeth and reached in to pull them out. Wallpaper samples. Cloth samples. A few catalogues. He smiled, remembered how happy Lisa was when she redecorated the apartment.
      Wait. He didn't recognize any of the samples. Lisa wouldn't throw them out until the project was finished, would she? A heavy feeling filled his stomach as he slowly pried apart the sticky pages of the catalogue and saw the baby furniture inside.
      Lisa had to be really angry with him, to throw away all that hard work.
      He wished she had waited for him to come home before she started on a big, important project like that. Todd usually didn't know blue from green, but decorating their baby's room together would have been fun.
      Right now, he had the horrid suspicion she wouldn't let him help with the baby's room. He remembered the plans and promises they had made to each other, just a few weeks before their wedding. They would take Lamaze classes and pre-natal and childcare classes together, and he would help change diapers if she promised not to make him get up for the midnight feedings.
      Todd suspected Lisa remembered all those happy dreams and plans, and the memories didn't make her happy.
Was that really his fault? She chose to stay angry with him.
      He continued digging. That floor plan didn't look right. He pried apart a few papers and found the specifications for the dream house. It was for rent? Todd nearly dropped the wastebasket as the entire picture came together in his head. Lisa wanted the dream house for their baby. She had already started plans for decorating it.

      And she had thrown everything away.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February 20: THE FAMILY WAY

     Todd overslept in the big hotel bed. That amazed him, since he never slept well on any business trip. From the first night of marriage with Lisa, he had been unable to sleep decently unless she was next to him. It was proof how important Lisa was in his life.
     That night after the debacle in the Mediterranean, Todd tossed and turned and stared at the clock for minutes at a time. He thought he saw every hour and half hour change in those ridiculous red numerals. Then, somewhere between five a.m. and being late for work, he fell asleep.
     He still couldn't think clearly when he got to work. His thoughts kept going back to the restaurant, rewriting what he could have said, rewriting what Lisa should have said, until he couldn't quite remember what had happened. All he knew was that his father and sisters weren't talking to each other, again, and Lisa had gone home without him.
     For all he knew, she didn't go home, but stayed with Karla and Kevin. He hadn't called the apartment. He knew he should have. He had reached for his cell phone sitting on the nightstand five times, but stopped each time he remembered that he had forgotten to call Lisa on his last business trip. She was probably angry about that, too.
     Why hadn't he called her? He always called her when his plane landed and he was settled in his hotel, and then on his last night before coming home. It was one of their many rules. They always made plans for what they would do their first night back together.
     Why had he forgotten to call her? Through the growing headache, at only nine a.m., Todd admitted he hadn't exactly forgotten. He hadn't called Lisa because he was angry. Over what, he wasn't quite sure, but he had a growing certainty, as strong as his growing headache, that his anger was somehow connected with her.
     For what? What had Lisa done?
     Nothing. That was the problem. He was angry with her, yet he knew she was innocent. Somehow that made him even angrier. It was stupid. He hated feeling stupid. Somehow, Lisa was responsible for that.
     So he hadn't called her.

     Now, sitting in his office, his second day home, he still hadn't done his laundry or given Lisa her chocolate covered cherries and colored pencils. Lisa had kissed him when he came in the door, but he hadn't kissed her yet. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 19: DETOURS

      Bekka was still thinking about Lisa and about the Valentine's Day flowers when she got out of class that morning. She stopped at the post office and found an acceptance letter for some devotionals she had submitted for single girls. Lisa would understand why it was such good news. Bekka made a detour through Stay-a-While and picked up chili and burgers for the two of them, instead of going home to study before she went to work at Common Grounds for the afternoon.
      She rang the doorbell twice, and when no one answered, she decided maybe Lisa had broken her routine and gone out. Lisa opened the door just as Bekka turned away. Her face went pale and she wobbled a little bit. Either she was faint from hunger, or her pregnancy was affecting her already. Either way, she needed food or company or both.
      "Guess the angels were whispering in my ear again." Bekka laughed as she shifted her bags to one arm and reached out to steady Lisa. "You've been ignoring everything else for some big splash of inspiration again, huh?"
      "Yeah, sort of." Lisa managed a smile and stepped back, gesturing for her to come in.
      "We are celebrating." Bekka set her bags down on the table. "I just sold a dozen devotional pieces to that anthology I was telling you about, the one for single girls written by single girls."
      "That's great."
      "And I figured I could bribe you to let me cry on your shoulder for a little bit, too."
      "Cry on my--" Lisa shook her head. "Bekka, what happened?"
      While they set up their lunch, she narrated how she had been alone on Saturday and came home and saw the flowers Kat and Amy got from their boyfriends, and then the secret admirer flowers she got later. Lisa smiled in the appropriate places and looked sympathetic, but there were shadows in her eyes that didn't belong there.
      "What's wrong?" Bekka said as they both sat down.
      "Wrong?"
      "You're always so happy when Todd gets back from one of his trips. Usually, you'd be so excited about something you'd have interrupted me five times by now -- not that you're rude or self-centered or anything. Not like that jerk you married." Bekka shrugged.
      "You think Todd is a jerk?" Lisa looked like she might cry.
      "Lisa, you nearly worship the guy. You're so happy doing the most menial thing in the world, because it's for him. Half the time, when you talk about what you're doing, you seem more excited about telling Todd what happened than any other part of it. And he doesn't seem to notice half the time. He forgot Valentine's Day, didn't he? And I bet he didn't apologize or do anything when he got home, didn't he?"

      "Among other things."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 18: THE FAMILY WAY

      "Lisa?" Todd's voice at her door startled a squeak out of her as she came awake. She wrapped her arms tight around herself, expecting the door to bow and give way under one thunderous blow.
      "Go away, Todd." She smiled, proud of how calm her voice sounded. As if all the aching twisting through her was so tangled it couldn't get up into her voice.
      "Come on out and let's talk about this."
      "Talk about what? You think I'm a whore. What's there to talk about?"
      "I didn't say--¾"
      Silence. She couldn't hear anything, not footsteps stomping away or a hand fiddling with the doorknob. What was he doing? Leaning against the door in frustration or the weariness that had enfolded him in a dull blanket?
      Exhaustion flooded her, too. Was that the problem? They were both tired, both prone to depressing thoughts? Had Todd meant to say something else, but his tongue had twisted, the words came out wrong, and then she had blown it out of proportion?
      His father constantly accused her of that when she made the slightest protest to something unkind or critical he had said.
      "What's wrong with us?" Lisa whispered. She choked, refusing to weaken and give in to tears now.
      Todd had hurt her. She wasn't mistaken about what he had said.
      She wasn't going to let him smooth things over without an apology or an explanation. Not this time.
      "You didn't say what?" She struggled out of the couch. She advanced on the door, as if it were the enemy and not Todd. "What were you saying when you asked if my baby was yours?"
      Silence from Todd, though she waited until the quiet ran thick though the entire apartment and she could hear the ticking of the old mantel clock on the bookshelf.
      "I just wanted¾--" he began softly, muffled even more by the wood in the door.
      "It's always what you want! What you think! What you're feeling. Do you have any idea how much work I put into a fancy dinner for you? I missed a lot of work I could have gotten done, to put together a celebration for when you got home, but do you care? Your father has nagged me since the day we got married to give you a baby, and it is yours, but--" She choked, feeling as if she would vomit.

      Todd said nothing while she gasped for breath. She refused to let out one sob, one more tear. Never again. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

February 17: THE FAMILY WAY

      The sound of her fax machine chirping and then the hum of paper feeding through it woke Lisa at seven the next morning. She rolled over and stared at the clock on the bedside table, on Todd's side of the bed. Who could be faxing her so early? And how had she managed to sleep in so late?
      Could it be her pregnancy affected her body already? Lisa giggled as she swung her legs out of bed and felt around with her big toe on the cold linoleum, trying to find her slippers. With luck, Todd would be one of those expectant fathers who would treat her like glass, at her beck and call, ready to massage her feet and carry her everywhere.
      It would be a nice change, wouldn't it?
      Her smile faded and Lisa firmly pushed aside the discontent that had been festering for months. Todd used to insist on a night out every weekend, bought her flowers two or three times a month, and took her on long rides along the shores of Lake Erie at the drop of a hat. Nowadays, his idea of a fun night together was take-out Chinese, a rented movie, and eating out of the ice cream carton together while they sprawled on the couch. And that didn't happen very often.
      Things would change, now that she was pregnant. Everything was going to be perfect.
      The fax machine beeped, signaling it had finished printing and the phone connection ended. Lisa scurried down the short hall to her office and scooped up the scattering of papers on her floor. She remembered Genevieve's calls now, and laughed again. Her agent had certainly lived up to her threats.
      She turned on her computer and sorted through the faxed papers while she waited for it to boot up. Her heart stuttered as she caught the gist of Genevieve's news. Somehow, though, it wouldn't gel into a cohesive, understandable whole. She had to read the papers three times.
      Then, to be doubly sure, she got online and looked for Genevieve's promised email.
      "A contract for books," Lisa whispered. She pressed both hands over her mouth, positive she would let out a whoop that might wake everybody in the apartment building and half of Tabor.
      She wanted to get up and do a little dance, but her office was too crowded. She wanted to scream and run down the hall and grab Todd and tell him the good news, but he was in Sacramento. Besides, it was only a little after four a.m. in Sacramento, and she knew better than to wake Todd before six-thirty.
      Lisa settled for wrapping her arms hard around herself and grinning until her face hurt. She smiled at her wide-boned face framed in sleep-tousled, straight, dark brown hair in her computer monitor, and shuddered with silent laughter.

      Who would have thought it?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 16: THE FAMILY WAY

      Todd got up later than he intended Sunday morning, and knew it was too late for him to call Lisa before she left for church. She didn't have a cell phone, and even if she did, she wouldn't have it turned on during either class or the service. He didn't feel like searching the phone book to find a church to attend, and his co-workers were still asleep and probably wouldn't stir until it was time for a football game to start. He decided to take a chance that the mall would be open.      The first store he saw was just rolling the cage security door up into the ceiling -- and it was an art store. Inspiration struck. What were those fancy imported French colored pencils Lisa drooled over, but never bought for herself? He would be a hero if he came home with those pencils. And chocolate. His sisters always insisted that chocolate was a necessary part of asking forgiveness. Not that he ever had to ask Lisa to forgive him. She knew he loved her. She always forgave him. Still, it wouldn't hurt to hedge his bets by investing in some chocolate along with those pencils.      Todd couldn't figure out the map of the mall, and had gone down two wings, trying to find the candy store before he realized there was a second floor -- that was why he couldn't find the candy store where it belonged. He finally located the escalator and got upstairs and had the candy store in his sights when the cell phone rang.      "You are quitting that job if they don't have the sense to give you duties that let you stay at home," Mr. Montgomery growled before Todd could finish saying hello. "That selfish--"      "Dad, please don't. Not on a Sunday." Todd had learned a long time ago that appealing to his father's sense of propriety stopped quite a number of diatribes on the launch pad. "What happened?"      "That wife of yours refused Sunday dinner with me. She made up some flimsy lie about doing church work to avoid her duty to me as your father. She knows I'm watching her, to make sure she doesn't embarrass you while you're out of town. Rebellious, that's what she is. Lying, devious, rebellious little--"      "Dad! Stop. Lisa always helps with the Autumn Fellowship luncheon at church on the third Sunday of every month. That's why we never have lunch with you on that day. Every month. Regular as clockwork." Todd sighed and settled down on the edge of a planter. He had been feeling fine until the phone rang.      "She has no business traipsing all over town while you're away," his father said, barely breaking rhythm. "She doesn't care anything about you."      "Lisa loves me. Dad, she put chocolate and a card in my suitcase, so I'd have something for Valentine's Day while I was out of town."      "That's her duty as your wife." He snorted. "She's only doing it to trick you into trusting her. Or out of guilt."      "So if she didn't give me little gifts and show me all the time how much she loves me, then that means she really does love me?"

Saturday, February 15, 2014

February 15: THE FAMILY WAY

      Lisa sighed as she put on her coat and grabbed her purse. Was it just her imagination, that life would be so much simpler if she hadn't married Todd?
      No, Todd wasn't the problem. It was his Pharisee of a father. Lisa had known what kind of man Mr. Arthur Montgomery was before she agreed to marry his son. Prominent lawyer in Tabor, hand-in-glove with arrogant Judge Foggerty, long-time deacon and officer at Tabor Christian Church, head of the group that believed good Christian women shouldn't wear pants or hold a job outside the home.
      Lisa had walked into her marriage and joined the Montgomery family with her eyes wide open. Pastor Glenn and his pre-marital counseling had made sure of that. She loved Todd, and believed she could put up with a lot because he loved her.
      Mr. Montgomery had to believe she was a good Christian wife when she presented him with his first grandchild.
      A boy, she knew. The first grandchild had to be a boy, or she would never, ever earn her way into his good graces. If Mr. Montgomery even had any good graces.
      The phone in the kitchen rang just as Lisa turned to pull the apartment door closed. She immediately glanced at her watch. Ten a.m. on the dot. Despite knowing better, she listened. The answering machine clicked on and Todd's cheerful voice ran through the greeting. After the beep, nothing. Not even heavy breathing. Then the hard clatter as the person on the other end slammed the phone down.
      Did the caller know Todd was out of town? Lisa shivered. She didn't like the thought that the caller knew anything about her and Todd's schedules or their lives. Every weekday, and on weekends when Todd was out of town, ten a.m. and two p.m., someone called and never left a message. She had tried using star sixty-nine a few times, but the number was always blocked. And that wasn't a good sign.
      This time, she would tell Todd about the routine calls and make him believe her. If only she could figure out his old-fashioned answering machine and prove with the series of recorded hang-ups and the date stamp that they did happen, the same time every day. Todd would have to believe her. Somehow, though, whenever she tried to play back the recorded hang-ups, the date and time stamp always got erased. She wouldn't even touch the answering machine until Todd came home. That would ensure the calls stayed there.
      After all, if they were having a baby, they had to make triply sure of the security of their apartment. They had to make changes in their lives.
      Things just had to change, right?

      "Please, God, let things change," Lisa whispered as she locked the door and hurried down the hall to the elevator.

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14: DETOURS

      That was when she noticed the flowers. Big bouquets of roses. Two of them. Meaning despite walking around in a daze ninety percent of the time, Kat's current interest, Guillermo, had remembered to bring flowers when he showed up for the double date with Amy and Joe. Bekka decided the guy might just be serious, judging from the size of that bouquet. Too bad he had been hanging around with Kat for two weeks now before their first date -- it meant he only had one date left before he was yesterday's news. She sniffed appreciatively at the arrangements, then hit the remote and stretched out on the floor. In honor of Valentine's Day, she decided to pick the most romantic movie she had seen since The Ghost and Mrs. Muir -- True Lies.
      Just as the opening credits finished, the phone rang. Sighing, she hit the pause button. She would have to get up and go across the room to answer it, wouldn't she? She had used up all the tapes for the answering machine while gathering evidence against Elberts, and no one had thought to replace the tapes yet. She groaned and got up on her knees and crawled across the room to pick up the phone, catching it on the fourth ring.
      Her brain didn't shift into gear until she had already answered several questions.
      Yes, she was Bekka Sanderson. Yes, she had sent a children's fantasy novel, Turn Left at the Moon, to four different publishing houses more than a year ago. Yes, she had notified them that her phone had changed back in October.
      No, no one had contacted her yet about purchasing the book for publication.
      "Wait a minute," she interrupted, when the very brisk young woman on the other end started using words that were still quite sensitive: contract, copyright, promotions, publication and the like.
      "What was that? Sorry. I just got home from a really bad day and my mind isn't in gear. Where are you from? Did you say you wanted to buy my book?"
      She could hardly hear the answer over the rapid thudding of her heart. Bekka tried to think back to who would know the names of all the publishers she had submitted her book to.
      "Very funny, Greg," she interrupted, as the young woman resumed her prepared speech. "You're really good at disguising your voice, but I know it's you. You have a lot of gall--"
      "Miss Sanderson," the woman cut in, "this is a legitimate offer to purchase your manuscript. Now, you indicated in your cover letter that you had ideas for several more books in the same vein, exploring the adventures of other children in the same village. Would you be willing to discuss those ideas with us?"

      That was when Bekka believed. She hadn't told anyone but the editors receiving the manuscript that she wanted to make it a series. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sneak Peek: KATHRYN

From the new Quarry Hall novel:

Regina sat in a chair. The wheezing of air escaping the cushion was loud in the waiting room. Kathryn looked at the white door and listened for the sound of approaching feet.
Nothing.
"Hello?" she called.
A muffled voice responded from the back of the office. Kathryn couldn't make out the words. She heard a distant, soft thump, then the squeaking of rubber soles on linoleum.
"Sorry," a man said as the door swung silently open. "I was in the back making lunch."
Dr. Jeff West -- if he was the doctor -- was a young man, maybe five years out of residency at the most. His curly brown hair hung long in the back, but was clipped short around his face; likely in deference to the old-fashioned element in town, Kathryn thought. He wore jeans -- dark enough to be new, and neatly pressed -- a green plaid shirt and a bulky, baggy white sweater with more pockets down its front than a sweater had a right to own. Kathryn grinned as she noted the notepad in one pocket, tongue depressors in another, pen in yet another, stethoscope peering out of the pocket below the pen, a pocket for bandage strips, and even one for a candy bar. There was one enormous pocket at the hem that didn't look like it held anything. Kathryn wondered what he saved it for.
"Can I help you ladies?" His chocolate brown eyes reflected his smile. It couldn't have been forced, even though they had interrupted his lunch.
An enormous lunch. Kathryn wondered how he could hold his sandwich in one hand. It almost rivaled the sandwiches Dagwood used to make in the Sunday comics.
"My friend hurt her head pretty bad," Kathryn said after a barely perceptible pause. She gestured at Regina.
"Just your head?" Dr. West's smile flattened a little and the gleam died from his eyes. He sat down on the chair next to Regina and gently slid the baseball cap off her head, revealing the bandage. Some blood had seeped through in spots. He started to lift the other hand to touch the bandage, then paused and looked at the crammed sandwich in his hand as if he had forgotten it was there. With a sigh, he slid it into the largest pocket.
Kathryn bit her lip against a grin. So that was what that pocket was for. She hoped Dr. West was as prepared for their appearance as he seemed prepared for everything else.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sneak Peek: KATHRYN

From the new Quarry Hall novel:

"He'll just cause trouble if you tell him someone was shooting at me." Her tone wasn't as argumentative as it had been.
"You remember that much?"
"Isn't that what your friend told you?"
"Yeah." Kathryn took a deep breath to still the sudden leap in her pulse. What had she expected from Regina's words? All the answers dumped in her lap, along with Regina's returned memory?
She leaned forward, reaching across her passenger to tug open the glove compartment. A sigh escaped her when Regina jerked backwards, eyes widening.
"One more thing before we go inside," Kathryn said. She wondered what had brought that reaction. Had someone hit Regina recently? Or was it just a general nervousness brought on by injuries and amnesia?
Kathryn brought a full packet of fish hooks from under the pile of maps, flashlight, notebook and discarded fast food napkins in the glove compartment. The cellophane wrapping was torn, but she hadn't removed any of the new hooks from the cardboard. She hadn't needed them since she replenished her supply three months ago.
She fought a mischievous grin when Regina stared, a puzzled expression replacing her pout. She wove the small hook, just the right size to slide around her thumb, into the underside of her blue plaid jacket collar. The clean silver glimmered in the sunlight glancing in through the truck window. Kathryn turned her collar back down into place and smoothed it.
"Okay, now we're set." She opened the door and gestured for Regina to do the same. Kathryn gestured for Bea to stay still, hit the locks, and closed the door. It amused her a little that her companion never said one word, though her curiosity had to be itching at her.
One mud-spattered red truck passed, carrying three men dressed for hunting, and three dogs leashed into the back bed. No one and nothing else moved on the street as they walked the few yards down to Dr. West's office. Kathryn tried to calculate if that was normal for Millersburg at this time of day or if something unusual was going on -- and if it had anything to do with Regina.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sneak Peek: KATHRYN

From the new Quarry Hall novel:

Navy blue letters edged in gold splashed across the top of the storefront window, advertising Dr. Jeff West, GP. His office hours in smaller gold and blue letters were in the lower right hand corner of the window. Kathryn grinned and acknowledged her momentary fear that the office would be closed on a Friday. In a small town like this, who wouldn't start their weekend early?
She saw a black car pull out of a slot five spaces down from the doctor's office, in front of a drugstore with a huge mortar and pestle painted in the front window. There were plenty of empty spaces directly in front, which meant the doctor had no visitors right then. Kathryn preferred to throw little distractions in the way of any casual watchers. No one would remark on a stranger going into a drugstore, but they would wonder about two strangers walking into the doctor's office.
"Are we there yet?" Regina said, rousing from her slumped posture of the last half hour, when she stared with glazed eyes out the side window.
"Here." Kathryn nudged Bea with her shoulder and the Akita moved backwards, taking her nose from the open window.
She rolled up the window and reached into the back compartment for her backpack. Regina watched her, frown changing to confusion when Kathryn dumped out the thermos and first aid kit and put her cell phone and wallet in the front pouch.
"What are you going to tell him?" Regina stared at the wide plate glass window of the drugstore, filled with Styrofoam coolers and folding chairs, posterboard advertisements for groceries and the lunch special for the day -- tuna salad sandwich and bean soup.
"The truth."
"But--" She shook her head and looked again at the store window in front of them. "This doesn't look like a doctor's office." She leaned forward until she almost pressed her nose against the windshield. She tilted her head to the side, probably trying to see the second story. That was what Kathryn would do, assuming the doctor was on the next floor. Regina blinked rapidly, losing the last sulkiness from her face when her gaze landed on nothing, and most likely realized there was no second story. Her pouty look vanished for a few seconds when she turned to stare at Kathryn, her eyes begging some explanation.
       "It isn't."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sneak Peek: KATHRYN

From the new Quarry Hall novel:

Jane Doe frowned, her lips drooping in a pout, and turned to Kathryn.
"I remember something."
"That's good." Kathryn glanced at her companion and her smile halted half-formed. Something about the woman's expression and the tone of her voice struck her odd, but she couldn't identify what exactly it was.
"My name is Regina," she said with a lowered tone and a touch of what Kathryn thought was reluctance.
Wouldn't someone who remembered her name after even a few hours of amnesia be glad?
Regina -- and judging by the silence after that announcement, that was all the name she had right now -- was most likely a spoiled brat. Not that Kathryn wanted to slap a label on her, but she knew the signs. The young woman in her charge was one of those people who punished everyone whenever she was unhappy, as if the world existed simply to make her life better. Someone had to pay for her misery.
Kathryn had too much experience with snots. Starting with the face she saw in the mirror every day. No matter how long ago the character renovation had come, it would never be long enough ago to suit her.
"It's a start," Kathryn said, forcing her smile to stay on her face.
Movement caught at the corner of her eye jerked her attention off the road and Regina. She glanced in the rearview mirror, trying to identify what she saw. Something moved among the trees. A deer, perhaps? Kathryn thought she saw something metallic green, but it could have been a trick of the light.

"Well, Regina," she said, as the road curved again and put the patch of trees behind them, "everything's going to be all right."

Friday, February 7, 2014

February 7: DETOURS

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

      To her surprise, Bekka laughed. She really wanted, needed to talk to someone about the whole Elberts debacle. Someone who had no idea of her background and how long she had been trying to get published. Maybe Shane could give her some perspective. He certainly seemed interested.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PREVIEW: The new Quarry Hall novel: KATHRYN

Another excerpt from KATHRYN:

Kathryn woke with the dream still swirling through her mind. She lay perfectly still in the motel bed and kept her eyes closed, holding onto the fragments of the dream. Some details stood out perfectly clear, illuminated by the flashes of lightning.
Thunder rumbled far in the distance and she jerked, startled to find the storm had followed her out of her dream. Kathryn grinned at her foolishness.
A blond tumbling down a muddy mountainside. Falling into a stand of trees. Smashing her head on a trunk. Trucks flying up and down the curve of the mountain road. Obviously searching -- for her? To help? To rescue? To hurt?
The fragments didn't fade as she sorted through them, trying to find some meaning, but drowsiness wrapped around Kathryn within a few minutes. She sighed and rolled over, dragging the blankets up over her head to go back to sleep. Maybe clarity would come if she gave the dream a chance to resume. She still hadn't opened her eyes. A few more rumbles of thunder penetrated the blanket and returning sleep.
Kathryn jerked and groaned at the chirping ring of her cell phone. She tried to tell herself it was someone else's phone even as she climbed out of the deepening well of warm, comfortable, well-earned sleep.
It couldn't be her phone -- she had tested it several times during the day, on the off chance the constantly retreating and attacking storm had cleared the atmosphere and reduced interference. Nothing.
The phone chirped again as she struggled free of the tangle of thick, clean white sheets and faded quilt, with the green thermal blanket from her truck thrown on top. She stubbed her fingers on the nightstand and dislodged her pack of colored pencils, the Concordance, and notebook before she found the slim shape of the phone in the darkness. A twist of her wrist snapped it open in the middle of the fourth cascade of chirps.
"'Lo," she mumbled, voice thick.
"Please tell me you haven't been having any weird dreams," Vincent said.

"Weird for normal people, or weird for me?" She grinned, even as she rubbed her eyes with her fist.

Monday, February 3, 2014

PREVIEW: The new Quarry Hall novel: KATHRYN

Excerpt from the upcoming Quarry Hall novel: KATHRYN

A thin rivulet of storm water traveled in ripples down the curving asphalt mountain road that night. Lightning flashed, turning the dark stream silver, outlining pebbles and branches and wind-torn leaves in stark relief. Then darkness enveloped the road, hiding the steep slant of shattered rock and mud and moss on one side, the clumps of trees and drenched grass on the other. Thunder barely made itself heard through the screaming of the ripping wind.
A tiny avalanche of mud and sludge and sharp wedges of rock slithered onto the berm. The wind slowed a moment, almost enough to let the gasps and whimpers grow audible, coming from a battered young woman coming down the slope on her muddy hands and torn knees.
Regina fetched up against the rusty guardrail on the inside of the curve and huddled in the minimal shelter, choking on the rainwater and mud streaming across her face. Coughing, she struggled to clean her hands so she could wipe her face. Mud obscured the rips and tears in her jeans and sweater, and sealed the bloody scrapes on her hands and knees. Her hair ran with muddy water, washing blood from the cut on her right temple almost as quickly as it oozed through her makeshift handkerchief bandage.
Lightning crackled across the sky, extending tines in every direction as if the night cracked to let through the coming daylight. Regina watched it, too tired to feel frightened by this display of nature's violence. She clutched the guardrail and hauled herself to her feet.
Two more lightning flashes illuminated the road, showing where it curved to the left as it went up the mountain, and to the right as it went down. Regina leaned against the guardrail, blinking away water, looking down at her legs and the guardrail and struggling to break the mental and physical block that kept her from climbing over it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

PREVIEW: The new Quarry HALL novel -- KATHRYN

My February release from Desert Breeze Publishing: KATHRYN, Quarry Hall Book Three.

Kathryn still needs some thinking time to deal with her illness and pending death. It's hard to contemplate dying of some unknown, genetically engineered illness created for someone else, when she is feeling fine. Most of the time.

Her quiet retreat in the mountains, to relax and think and prepare for whatever life brings next is interrupted by the destruction of a hidden laboratory nearby. Fire in the night, thunderstorms, explosions, murder, and a missing young woman are just some of the complications. Kathryn is called in to help, but there is very little information to work on. All she has to do is find the young woman who fled down the mountain in the middle of the storm and take her to safety -- and oh yeah, don't trust the local authorities. Someone is a traitor.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February 1: DETOURS

      Elberts left an angry phone call Monday afternoon, presumably after his mail was delivered and there was no contract from Bekka. Her grandparents called Monday evening to report he had again badgered them for money and only went away when they asked to see the contract Bekka had supposedly signed.
      He called again on Tuesday, sounding even more angry. He called three times Tuesday, and Bekka was home all night, trying to study. She flinched every time the phone rang. When the third call ended, filled with threats to destroy her career and anyone foolish enough to try to publish her in the future, she took the tape out of the answering machine and replaced it with an empty one. She called Chuck Winter's Los Angeles office and left a message reporting what had happened and that another evidence tape was on its way.
      Wednesday and Thursday were repeats of the same -- angry phone calls to Bekka, angry visits to her grandparents, innuendos of trouble that quickly turned into outright threats of legal action against them and Bekka.
      Then Friday, nothing happened. No phone calls. No visits to her grandparents.
      Chuck Winters called Saturday while Bekka was at work, to report that Barney Elberts had been arrested on over a dozen counts of fraud and intimidation, and other victims of his publishing schemes in the past were being contacted to testify against him. The police had searched his home on a warrant signed by Winters and had returned the sample of Bekka's manuscript along with over three dozen others -- Elberts' current crop of hopeful young writers who were about to be taken for a very expensive, painful, enlightening ride.

      Bekka ordered herself a pizza and curled up in front of the TV alone to celebrate the end of her fears, her near escape from financial and literary disaster -- and the death of a dream. She promised herself she would never complain ever again about how long it took for legitimate publishers to work their way through the slush pile to find her manuscript. Short cuts, as she had discovered, were actually one-way streets to disaster.