Friday, May 30, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #15

Tommy insisted on teaching Natalie a card game some friends of his had made up in college, just to keep her at the house a little longer. While Claire put Sammy to bed, Paul fussed in the kitchen, making coffee and clearing up the last few plates after their dessert. He decided to be amused, rather than irritated, when Natalie used the opportunity to ask about the preparations for the accessibility awareness walk scheduled for that weekend.
"Tomorrow is for organizing," he said, only sparing half his attention for the card game. "Putting together the information packets, getting the volunteers paired up with their handicaps."
"Like who's going to be in a wheelchair, who gets a walker, who gets a white cane?" she asked.
"Yeah. Who gets goggles for limited vision, who gets an arm tied behind their back. Ought to be a riot, watching people figure out how to steer a chair for the first time. Kind of like putting me behind the wheel of a car."
A little chill raced up his back when Paul didn't react to that line. Tommy felt guilty for giving him something new to worry about. No one deserved to have his high-flying buzz from learning about a coming baby crash and burn so soon after getting the news.
"Anyway," he continued after a moment of silence. "Saturday is when we hit the streets. Literally. We figure a lot of people will be off work and out running errands or just playing all day, so we'll be more visible."
"I hope you'll let me join in the fun, not just stand around and watch."
"You won't be allowed out if you don't pretend to be a gimp. Right, Paul?"
"Yeah, right." Paul gave them a thin smile and walked out of the kitchen.
"I'm sorry," Natalie murmured.
"For what?" Tommy grinned, pleased more than he thought possible that she seemed to be thinking along the same lines as him.
       "I feel like I brought trouble on your family, even though I know it isn't me. If anybody, it's Franky, but even he didn't do anything."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #14

On his way to the kitchen to snatch a sneak preview of whatever was on the lunch menu for the senior meals program, Natalie stopped him. He was surprised to see her, because she was supposed to be walking through downtown Tabor today, talking with the people on the street, getting a feel for the town, and hopefully gathering open and honest views of the Mission and the accessibility awareness campaign.
"Got a minute?" she said, with that cute little frown that put three wrinkles between her eyebrows and a hint of a dimple in the right corner of her mouth.
There was someone he could vaguely recall with the same dimple when they frowned. A she, he thought. He couldn't be sure. Now that he decided there was a resemblance, it was going to drive him nuts until he remembered who.
"Twelve -- and eighteen seconds," he added, after glancing at his watch.
"Can we talk somewhere we won't be overheard?" She glanced up and down the hallway. They were at the intersection where the gym hallway met the main hallway and the office lobby.
"Step into my office." He gestured down the gym hallway to the open door leading out to the playground, a bright rectangle at the far end. Something in Natalie's eyes, a somberness he didn't like seeing, made him push a little harder and roll a little faster. After all, they were running against the clock.
"You're sure nobody will come up on us and overhear us?" Natalie asked, once they were outside and she settled down at the picnic table set up in the shade of the building, overlooking the parking lot.
        "Why? What's so serious? Unless you're going to propose and sweep me off my feet?" He pressed both hands under his chin and fluttered his eyelashes. "Oh please, pretty please?"

Monday, May 26, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #13

Tommy gladly dove into his end-of-the-day chores, just to put some distance between him and Natalie. She didn't look horrified or stunned or even amused by Sammy's matchmaking tendencies, and that made it hard for him to come up with a response. Was he supposed to reassure her, tease her out of her misgivings? How could he smooth over the awkwardness when he couldn't tell what she felt about the idea of her and him… together? What made it really awkward was that he felt comfortable with Natalie. He didn't feel like she stood behind a wall of wheelchairs and braces and white canes, trying to see him through the equipment and other barriers. Sometimes, some of the things she had said, her quick responses, it was like they had known each other for years and their brains were almost in synch.
Which was impossible, he knew. Still, that was the only way to explain or even try to understand how he felt when she was around. In less than a day.
He braced himself to learn she had gone to her temporary apartment, when he finished overseeing the release of everybody over the age of three and returned to the office. Tommy wasn't sure he liked the momentarily breathless sense of relief that washed over him when he saw Natalie sitting on the spare desk, talking and laughing with Claire, while Sammy sat on the bench along the glass wall at the front of the office and worked on homework. They looked comfortable together -- Natalie looked like she belonged there.
"Hey." Paul stepped up behind Tommy. "Coming or going?" he asked, resting his hands on the handlebars on the back of his chair.
A handful of quips clogged on Tommy's tongue. He just shrugged and moved the rest of the way into the office, unblocking the doorway.
"Everybody ready to go home?" Paul said, stepping around him to lean on the counter and look over it at Claire.
"Please!" Claire stood up.
Tommy caught the way she hesitated a moment, bracing herself with one hand on her desk. He didn't like the slightest hint that she forced her smile. What was wrong with his sister? And why wasn't she doing anything about how she looked so pale sometimes, and couldn't eat other times?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #12

They didn't have long to wait. At least, not long enough for her to catch her breath and then wonder at Tommy's silence. Puck appeared, with a wide gap before and behind him. The Dalmatian walked slowly, and Natalie realized a little, pale-haired girl held onto his collar, chattering away as she trudged up the sidewalk.
"Gee, what's taking you so long?" Tommy called.
"Uncle Tommy!" the child crowed. She let go of Puck's collar and raced down the path, nearly skidding on the asphalt as she tried to turn the corner. In moments she had scrambled up Tommy's legs and perched on her knees on his lap, facing him. "I got three gold stars today!"
"What'd you do, steal them?" He slid the backpack off her shoulder with practiced ease and slung it over the handlebars on the back of his chair. Natalie marveled at how he did it without looking.
Sammy laughed. "Nope. I got them because I'm smart! Teacher says so. I can write my whole alphabet and multiply my five times before I mess up. Hi." She turned to Natalie as she scooted around so she sat on Tommy's lap. "Are you Uncle Tommy's new girlfriend?"
"Whoa!" Tommy wrapped one arm around her waist and pressed his other hand over her mouth, nearly hiding her from the eyes to the chin. "What did your mommy and daddy tell you about playing matchmaker? Huh? Speak up. I can't hear you." He shook Sammy a little, which just earned peals of muffled laughter from the child.
"You have to take your hand off her mouth," Natalie offered, trying to sound disgusted, or at the very least bored. Anything to muffle the startled thudding of her heart.
        What exactly had this bright, elfin child seen in those few seconds to make her ask a question like that? Natalie hoped she wasn't blushing. The totally unexpected question startled her more than she would have thought.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #11

"I can't count how many times I've pulled into a parking spot marked for a van, and by the time I get out and slide open the door to lower the ramp, someone pulls into the spot that is clearly marked with diagonal yellow lines, meaning don't park there. One time, this oblivious jerk pulled in so close, he actually snagged my shirt with his side mirror. I got so angry, as he swung his door open to get out of the car, I actually unfolded the ramp, stopping it just short of hitting his window and blocking him in. Of course, the one who's in the wrong is always the loudest and in his case, the most foul-mouthed. Tommy wheeled up to the doorway and leaned out and drowned him out, pointing out the very visible sign in front of his car that even said, no parking. Do you know what that idiot said, when we had proof that he was in the wrong?"
"He threatened to sue you if you didn't get out of his way? Did you come back to your van to find it keyed?" Natalie guessed.
"We've had that happen when we've had altercations with people." Claire sighed and leaned back in her desk chair. "He said that he knew the owners of the shopping center didn't care… ahem… diddly squat about the handicap parking regulations, and nobody was going to ticket him, so if we didn't want to be blocked in, we had to move, because he wasn't."
"What did you do?"
"I just stood there. Tommy, who can out-lie every politician ever born, pulled out his cell phone and told him we were friends with one of the owners, and offered to call and have him come over and state the shopping center's policy. When mister potty-mouth called Tommy a liar, Tommy picked up the controls for the lift and started lowering it."
       "Scratched the jerk's paint?" Natalie was surprised and amused to realize she hoped that was what happened.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #10

"You're kind of quiet," Franky said, once the van exited the off-ramp from I-71 and headed down Sackley Road towards the Hyburg-Tabor Heights border.
"Lots to think about." Tommy lifted his head and rubbed at his temples. He had worked himself into a headache. There was something about Natalie that gnawed at him, a sense that they had met before, but he couldn't seem to resurrect the memory or latch onto any detail that would help him pinpoint the time and place. It irritated him.
"Good show?"
"What do you think?" He tipped his head to one side, using the rearview mirror of the van to see Franky's face, several feet in front of him. "Didn't you see my act?"
"Umm… no. Sorry. I just needed some fresh air. That place reminded me too much of -- well -- I don't know."
"Where you used to hang?" Tommy guessed. He met Franky's gaze in the mirror. "Sorry, didn't even think of where I was asking you to go."
"No, it's cool. You don't have to worry about that."
"But if doing me a favor puts you back in a place you don't want to be, that's not good."
"It's cool." They slid up to a stoplight and Franky looked over his shoulder. His wide eyes made a lie of his lopsided grin. "I was glad to help you." He glanced forward, then back to Tommy. "So, who's the girl you were talking to?"
"Like I said, a reporter."
He shrugged, his grin wobbling for a few seconds. "Guess I wasn't really listening. Don't know what's wrong with my head."
         Something about the crackle in Franky's voice -- and now that he thought about it, the forced casualness of his first question -- made Tommy think he was relieved to get that particular answer.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #9

Today is the Cyber Launch Party for WHEELS.
Wanna win a PDF copy of the original script for "MacGyver" that eventually turned into this book?
Hop on over to the Cyber Launch Party blog (, or the Cyber Launch Party Facebook page, and find out how!

"Oh, yeah. Marriage. Freaky concept. I mean, come on, you can barely get a basketball player to commit to a two-year contract without promising him the moon -- and you expect bozos to commit to a lifetime sentence?" Tommy decided he wouldn't use that bridge anymore. It worked for the moment, and he was pleased since he had made it up on the fly, but it didn't get the response he wanted. "No, really, I don't understand marriage. It starts right away with the marriage ceremony. That poor girl ought to be warned right from the beginning -- the honeymoon is over before they even get out of the church. Because no matter how hard she worked to find the perfect guy -- no matter how sure she is that he's the one -- there's always some other guy there called the Best Man."
The laughter got a little louder, but not enough to warrant continuing with the eight more lines on the absurdity of marriage that he had prepared.
"Like I said before, there are a lot of things in life I don't understand. Life just isn't fair." Tommy felt the audience quieting. He waited a few beats to snag their attention a little more, then schooled his face into his most somber, Walter Cronkite expression. "With my luck, Led Zeppelin was right, and there really is a stairway to heaven."
Total silence. He could feel the pressure of all those gazes switch from his face to his wheelchair. Sometimes he lost the audience when he made blatant remarks about his wheelchair and anything relating to physical handicaps. Some people had even grown angry in the past and told him he had no right to make light of his "condition." Tommy always felt that he had more right than anyone.
          Two seconds shy of the "I'm dead" moment, as the pressure of the silence and held breaths grew strong enough to create a tingling on his skin, laughter roared through the room. Tommy pretended amazement, when his first reaction was to sag back in his chair in relief. He tipped his chair back and bent forward, his version of a deep bow, then pivoted while he was still in the shuttle position, and zipped off the stage. He liked working at Chuckles just because they had an actual curtain he could disappear behind when his gig ended.

Friday, May 16, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #8

Tommy realized the audience had fallen below that safety threshold of quiet. If he didn't say something in the next two seconds, he would lose them. What was wrong with him, letting his thoughts wander? Usually he was able to send his mind in multiple directions at once without the slightest difficulty or flub. Maybe he was more worried about Claire than he thought? Or nervous about the handicap awareness campaign? Or his upcoming interview with a major magazine? Or maybe all three combined?
The tall, slim Amazon sitting at the front table on the far right end of the curve of tables caught his gaze again. Tommy had been watching her, trying to figure out what she was up to. If she was trying to steal his routine for another comedian, she wouldn't have that notepad on the table in front of her in full view -- she would have a microphone aimed at him, to record every nuance, and it wouldn't be visible. Other than the fact she was a good head taller than most of the people around her, she didn't really stand out. Dressed casually: jeans, lacy blouse and blazer. Not that he knew much about fashion, but he thought the blazer was just a little too warm for mid-September. Every time Tommy met her gaze, she smiled at him, and sometimes even winked. He was used to girls flirting with him, but that usually stopped when they got close enough to see over or around the table or half-wall that hid him, and they saw his wheelchair. Sitting up on stage where everybody could see his natural four-wheel drive, except maybe for people in the last two rows, there was no way she couldn't notice. So what was she up to?
"Hey, babe." He winked and leaned in her direction, waggling his eyebrows. The best way to deal with fear was to attack it head-on. The little follow spot that the manager rarely used when Tommy was on stage, just because he didn't harass the audience like most comedians, slid over to light up the girl in profile. She flushed red. His equilibrium slid back into place. "Whaddaya say we go drag-racing after I get finished with this set?"
         Everyone roared, including the girl. She shook her head and made a shooing motion with the hand not holding the pen. Tommy considered making a quip about her taking notes, but tossed it before the thought was solid in his mind.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #7

"Hey, why can't we do that?" Tommy blurted, startling Nikki and Brock, who sat on a bench on the edge of the playground at the Mission. "Sorry." He grinned unrepentantly as they turned around to look at him, and gestured at the picture on Nikki's tablet.
He had come up behind them, planning a joke about how marriage should have cured their need to spend every waking moment together. Then he looked over their shoulders and saw the pictures on Firesong's website. All five members of the band clowned with wheelchairs, crutches, white canes and dark glasses, with the caption, "ADA Day in the Windy City."
"Send you to Chicago?" Nikki said, managing to hold onto a sour expression, while Brock just grinned and shook his head. "Sure. If you don't mind us shoving you out of the cargo bay door with a parachute."
Gray had got up from his spot at Nikki's feet and now put one huge paw on Tommy's knee, threatening to get up in his face. Nikki had given him the signal to lick Tommy's face so often, the big Akita probably thought it was standard procedure whenever he saw him.
          "The disability awareness thingy," Tommy said, gesturing at the picture on the tablet. "Why can't we do a gimp-a-thon? I've been reading about other cities doing that, putting people in wheelchairs or having them get around with canes, to make people more aware of just how bad it is for the handicapped."

Monday, May 12, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #6

 Stacy's advice stuck with Tommy. She configured the email program to take Jarod's emails to the Mission and church staff and put them in storage, and set up a flag to let him know when one came in. Tommy could decide what to do with the email bombs after he looked at them. The next Monday, he went to see Pastor Wally as soon as the elderly minister came in to work.
"See, the thing is, Jarod keeps talking about our father and I've been thinking about him more than I have in years and…" Tommy shrugged. "I don't want to think about him."
"You can't exactly make yourself stop thinking about someone," Pastor Wally said after sitting in silence, contemplating his clasped hands on his desk blotter. "It's like telling yourself not to think about pink elephants."
"I'd rather think about blue elephants, thanks very much."
His quip didn't earn a chuckle from Pastor Wally, and that warned Tommy that he was about to be hit with something he might not like very much. In a way, though, he decided that was comforting. At least Pastor Wally was taking this as seriously as he did.
        "Last year was healing for Claire, in some ways. Not just the satisfaction of seeing Jarod rejected as a liar and an intruder, but realizing that she was finally safe, that she was among people who wouldn't side with anyone who spoke badly about her." He chuckled. "And having Paul ready to step in and defend her helped a lot, too. But my point is that you might just need to confront your father to find some healing of your own."

Saturday, May 10, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #5

"Hey, little girl," her father said, startling a yelp out of her. "Sorry." He chuckled and stepped into the room and reached to pick up the stress ball painted like a globe that she had dropped. "Deep in thought, huh?"
"Very." Natalie took the ball and set it on the nightstand, then dropped onto the side of her bed. "You really believe him, don't you, Dad?"
"Yeah, well, I have to," he said with a shrug, after just a moment of hesitation. Natalie noted that he didn't ask who she was talking about. "If not, how can I expect you and your mom and brothers to believe me when I say I've changed?"
"That's different."
"How?" He crossed his arms and leaned into the frame of the door, visibly settling in for a long talk.
"You didn't destroy our lives. You didn't walk out on Mom just because she finally stood up to you and called you a hypocrite."
"You're absolutely right. I broke down and cried when she did it."
"Huh?" Natalie shook her head, positive she hadn't heard right. "Mom--"
"Called me a hypocrite. Thank goodness she never really needed to 'finally' stand up to me. She's stood up to me plenty of times when I really needed it."
"Dad…" Natalie sighed, feeling a sudden aching, heavy weariness in her arms and legs. "Is it hard to forgive for something so… awful?"
"It's been a struggle." He tipped his head to one side, studying her. From downstairs, her mother's voice came to them faint and distant, calling them to supper. "You think I shouldn't have?"
"I'm thinking of Tommy."
        "Yeah." He grinned and leaned into the room to snag hold of her hand and pull her to her feet. "You always were."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #4

Natalie lay down and turned on her tablet to check her email. She made a habit of checking in every time she stopped to get gas or just stretch her legs, so she was fairly sure at this time of the day there was nothing vitally important, requiring a prompt answer.
"Wrongo," she murmured, when she opened up her office email account and saw the forwarded message in the subject line. There was no other mail to claim her attention, after she deleted the junk. Another invitation to sign up for a single Christians dating service. Another request for help from an alleged persecuted/dying Christian who wanted her help to pass on a fortune to people who needed it.

Dear Editorial Department:

I really hate pestering you like this, but it's urgent I get in contact with one of your reporters, Natalie Schaeffer. We were roommates at Southeastern Christian College in Iowa. Maybe if I explain why, you'll help me? I'm afraid that if you forward my letter to Natalie, once she sees my name she'll delete it, unread. I don't blame her. But I really need to get through to her. Can you maybe flag this email so she'll at least read it to the end?

"Huh?" Natalie took her finger off the delete button, poised to tap the moment she figured out what the latest scam was, disguised as a request.
         Usually the main office of America's Voice was very good at weeding out the crackpots and weirdos and didn't forward their emails or letters to her. Sometimes, though, the person screening emails didn't pay attention. Since her name started appearing in America's Voice, Natalie was used to people demanding she tell their story and put it in print. At least a third of them made the mistake of listing all the previous reporters who had turned them down because they couldn't provide a single verifiable fact. Then there were the people who wanted her to ghost write their book, and promised her a "very generous" twenty percent of all profits for her work on their behalf. Usually they made the mistake of admitting all they had were some ideas, and she had to do all the research as well as help them promote the book.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #3

Four more deep inhales and exhales got her to the front door. Natalie toyed with the idea of using the key her mother had sent her the day they took possession of the house. Her parents were expecting her, but she still might surprise them, and her experience had taught her that most surprises weren't that pleasant. Still, it felt odd, almost cowardly, to ring the doorbell.
"Nat?" Her mother laughed when she opened the door, and spread her arms wide to embrace her. At least she didn't chide her for not walking in. Natalie knew she had chosen the right strategy.
Her mother asked her about the drive as she led her from the front door to the great room at the back of the house and the stairs leading to the second floor, to get Natalie settled into her room. Off the great room was a smaller room that could function as an office or bedroom. Natalie knew that because of the detailed floor plan her parents sent her. This room was now her father's private domain, but not for TV watching. The fifty-two-inch TV sat in the great room opposite the massive raw stone fireplace. Five years ago, her father had experienced a spiritual renewal and a growing hunger for Bible scholarship. According to her mother, every time he finished reading one book, he bought two more. She paused and glanced at the door that hung open four inches. A glimpse of movement made her take a step closer to the door before she realized that was the back of her father's head. He turned as if he felt the weight of her stare. Their gazes met. He let out a bark of laughter and flung the door open.
"There's my little girl!" He swept her up and spun her around once, setting her down again with a bouncing little thud.
Natalie forced her smile, when everything inside her went hollow, just for a moment. It was ridiculous to feel chilled, disappointed, when her father didn't lift her to the ceiling. He hadn't been able to lift her above his head since she was in middle school.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

WHEELS, Excerpt #2

She hit the brakes when she got to the place where the cul de sac should have been. Heart racing, she looked left and right at the new side streets that had been built in the intervening years. Where was their old house? Where was Tommy's house?
It used to be right there, where Sinclair Avenue had appeared, with eight houses on the right, nine on the left, and what looked like room for half a dozen more.
Natalie hadn't thought about Tommy and the house on Lincoln in years. At least, not intentionally. Lately, she had been noticing a lot of small human interest stories dealing with handicapped people, especially those in wheelchairs. That made it kind of hard not to think about the boy she had adored and wonder how he was doing, condemned to life in a wheelchair. While she sat there, staring at the street, her eyes filled with tears and for a moment she could see once again the big, friendly house almost directly across the street from hers. There had been a time when she and her brothers had been able to go in and out as if they were family.
"Stop it," she said through clenched teeth, took a deep breath, and turned left, cranking the wheel as tight as she could. No way was she going to drive where the Donnelly house used to be.
Natalie had herself completely under control by the time she got out of the old neighborhood and found her way to the newer development on the other side of town. She had seen enough pictures of her parents' new home, she recognized it from halfway down the block. Remembering how excited her mother had been over the space, the recent updates that meant she didn't have to decorate much, and the chance to reconnect with old friends helped Natalie get rid of the last of what she called the "oogies" over returning to Owens Forge.

Friday, May 2, 2014

WHEELS Excerpt #1

Natalie Schaeffer took deep, slow breaths as she drove down the semi-familiar streets of Owens Forge. Knowing for the last two years that her parents had moved back to her childhood home didn't seem to dilute the strangeness. When she was ten, her father had yanked their family out of their church, then took a new job in another state, and swore he would never go back to Owens Forge. Yet here they were, settling back in, rebuilding old friendships, even going back to their former church. It didn't make sense. Natalie hadn't wanted to press for answers, even though her father's explanation for the change hadn't been satisfactory at all. If her boss ever found out that she walked away from digging down to the truth, she would never hear the end of it. She was an investigative reporter, after all. If she wasn't honest in her own life, and didn't apply her work principles to her personal life, what good was she? Sometimes it reeked, working for a Christ-based magazine. When management proclaimed they were a family, they meant it.
She spotted the sign for Lincoln Street, flinched, and let out a low growl of frustration. Even after so long, she automatically headed down Lincoln, but her family didn't live there anymore. It made no sense, because she certainly hadn't been driving when they left town and only knew the routes between church and home, and school and home. Why would she take the old way home -- to a place that wasn't home?
Natalie drove down the street, planning to turn around in the cul de sac instead of pulling into someone's driveway. The daylight had faded enough that her headlights came on automatically, and she hated turning around and flashing her lights in someone's front window.
She hit the brakes when she got to the place where the cul de sac should have been. Heart racing, she looked left and right at the new side streets that had been built in the intervening years. Where was their old house? Where was Tommy's house?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May: Starting WHEELS Month

This month, we're going to start something new. Instead of giving you excerpts from Tabor Heights books on the "day" the events happened, from now on each month is going to be devoted to excerpts from either Year Two of Tabor Heights, or the Quarry Hall books.

The 4th Tabor Heights book, WHEELS was just released, and the 4th Quarry Hall book, DARCY, is due out in June. So we're not going to have any repetition for quite a few months. In fact, by the time we use up what has already been published, there will be 2 more books out.

Excerpts will run on even-numbered days, so look forward to fifteen excerpts from WHEELS.