Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 17 Part I

This chapter will need a lot of work before the final publication. It could be cut altogether in the end too. This book is giving me a lot of trouble, to be honest.

As always, this is a work in progress and there may be typos, plot holes, etc. and the final story is always subject to change before I later publish the final version. To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Chapter 17

Stan was sitting in his car outside the abandoned building when Matt pulled up in his truck.

He climbed out of his sedan and stuck a hand toward Matt as he walked toward him. “I appreciate you coming, Matt. I know it’s not in your jurisdiction, but I didn’t think the staties would come out this far to check it out.”

Matt’s eyes darted around as he shook Stan’s hand, taking in the dilapidated building, the vines stretching up the side, the broken windows, a partially caved in roof. “No, problem. I figured I’d do it off duty just to eliminate the appearance of the Spencer police stepping into the state’s territory.”

He wasn’t sure how much poking around he could do since Stan wasn’t sure who the property belonged to. He didn’t have a warrant, but Stan had expressed concern about the back door looking like it had been broken into. He could at least take a look and decide then if a search warrant was needed.

“We’re hoping to find the owner and sell this property.” Stan talked as he followed Matt. “We have a commercial company interested in this whole area. The owners of the properties adjacent have already signed. I’ve got my secretary combing through deeds records at the courthouse.”

Matt pushed a branch out of his way as he walked through the high brush toward the back of the building. “Oh yeah? What do they want to put in?”

“Distribution center of some kind.” Stan ducked under a tree limb. “It could bring a lot of jobs to the area if it works out.”

Matt stepped into a clearing and looked up at a small flight of stairs leading to a metal door, a bolted lock on a chain hanging from it, leaving the door slightly ajar. The sight of the open door placed him on edge and he hoped it was only from all those horror movies he watched as a teenager.

He wasn’t sure how much further he should go, since entering the building might be considered trespassing. He took in the outside of the building again. The place had clearly been abandoned years ago, maybe even a couple of decades ago. There was a good possibility someone was squatting or the door had simply been jammed open by some teenagers look for a place to smoke and drink.

Stepping up the stairs he peered through the gap in the doorway. From what he could see the building looked empty other than some old tables and chairs, and a few pieces of old machinery, maybe from whatever business used to be here. On the far side of the room there was a longer table, maybe the remnants of a conveyor belt. The tarp covering it drew Matt’s attention and he hoped it was only covering more equipment or machinery.

“I probably shouldn’t go any further until we find out who owns this.”

Still, that tarp drew his eye, and he had a sudden urge to look under it, even as a larger part of him wanted to take off back to his truck and alert the state police to it instead.

“Stay here, I want to check something out.”

Stan nodded, clearly uneasy as he slid his hands in his dress pant pockets and stepped a couple of steps down from the door.

The concrete floor was still in good shape, even under several thick inches of dust. A bird flew out of the metal rafters and Matt flinched but kept walking toward the tarp.

“This is stupid, Matt,” he said outoud as he walked. “No one is going to leave something like drugs under a tarp in an unsecure building.” His arm bumped a large board sticking out of one of the tables and knocked it to the ground. The clatter of it hitting the concrete floor bounced off the walls and ceiling.

“You okay?” Stan called from the stairs.

“Yeah. Just a board. All good.”

It would be stupid for there to be anything criminal under the tarp, but the building was several miles outside of town and in the middle of nowhere. He needed to at least double check and if he found anything his first call would be to the state police. He’d have to explain why he was trespassing on someone else’s property while off duty, but he had a feeling the troopers would simply be happy to bust one of the many drug rings that had cropped up in the area recently.

Lifting the tarp, he found himself praying this wasn’t really like a moment in a horror movie, that there wasn’t a dead body underneath, even a dead animal.

“Be a man, McGee,” he told himself. “Lift the tarp. Also, stop talking to yourself. This is getting weird.”

He lifted the tarp gingerly and peeked under. It only took one look to know he had to pull the tarp all the way off while reaching in his pocket for his phone.

“State Police Barracks, Benford County, Trooper Banfield speaking.”

“Hey, Officer Matt McGee from the Spencer Police Department here. I need to be transferred to Trooper McCallister, drug unit.”

 

***

Olivia had been home a week now and Ginny still hadn’t been able to pin her down and get a straight answer about whether she’d dropped out of college or not. Every time she tried to ask Olivia waved and said, “Going to meet up with Melody” or Avery, or Trish, or one of her other many friends who were still living in Spencer. Ginny was determined to corner her daughter today.

She heard footsteps on the stairs as she placed two plates on the table, one with vegan pancakes and some kind of vegan sausage, the other with bacon, eggs, and a waffle.

“Hey, Liv. I made you breakfast.” She called the words out before her daughter could slip out the door.

Olivia peeked into the kitchen. “Thanks, Mom, but I —”

“Sit down, Olivia.” Ginny pointed at the chair opposite hers. “You’ve been avoiding me all week. It’s time we talked. I even made vegan food for you. It took me 20 minutes to figure out which fake sausage to get so you’re going to at least sit down long enough to eat it.”

Oliva sighed as she entered the kitchen and sat. Her gestures as she begrudgingly picked up a fork reminded Ginny of when her daughters had been teenagers and had tried to skip breakfast so they could slip out early and meet up with the boys they liked. Oliva had used to meet up with Brent, before she decided he was “too small town” for her.

Ginny stirred creamer into her coffee. She usually didn’t have coffee but this morning she decided she needed the extra pick me up. She’d made sure to add only half a cup of coffee so she could fill the rest with creamer and sugar. “Time for some tough talk. Did you drop out of college or are you on an extended break?”

Oliva kept her eyes on her plate. She pushed the pancakes around her plate, soaking up the syrup.

“You need to tell me the truth.” Ginny prodded her daughter, knowing she needed an answer so she could decide how they would break the news to Stan without him having an aneurysm.

“Fine.” Oliva rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “I dropped out.”

Ginny took a deep breath to keep herself calm. “Why?”

“I told you. California just isn’t for me anymore. I don’t even know what I’m doing there. I’m wasting your money by working toward a degree that I don’t even know if I’m going to use anymore.”

“If you’re not going to get a degree then what are you going to do?”

Olivia shrugged. “I don’t know yet.”

“Olivia. Seriously?” Ginny tried to keep the anger she felt gnawing at her insides outside of her voice. “You can’t just drop out of school and —”

“How come you cut Liz Cranmer slack but not me?”

Ginny’s eyebrows raised. “Excuse me?”

“Dad says you’ve been hanging out with her for months now. What’s so great about her? She got knocked up by some jerk and everyone knows she was a total alchey and pill popper.”

“Olivia!” Ginny stared at her daughter in disbelief. “When did you become so judgmental? Is this how you learned to act out there? Liz has worked hard to get back on her feet. She’s a wonderful mother, she’s working toward a degree in social work through online courses, and she just took a job as the children’s librarian. Just because she made some mistakes in her past doesn’t mean she’s a horrible person.”

Oliva slid down in her seat and closed her eyes, wincing softly. “Yeah. I know. Sorry.” She let out a breath and looked up at her mom. “I don’t know where that came from.” She shrugged a shoulder. “I guess I’m jealous.”

“Of Liz?”

“Yeah. I mean, she’s had all your attention lately. You two have fun together. It’s like you replaced Liv with Liz. Dad said you watch movies together, go to lunch, attend art classes.” Oliva picked at the fringes on the cloth placemat under her plate. “You never did that stuff with me.”

Ginny set her fork down and set her hands under her chin. “I tried, Olivia. Maybe you’ve forgotten but you never wanted to be around me as a teenager. I embarrassed you. I would gladly have done all those things with you and would do them with you now if you wanted to. Liz needed some extra support. Things have been tense with her parents, she was trying to figure out how to be a new mom. I just wanted to help and, well, we do have fun together. She makes me forget that I’m a dried up old lady with a very dull life.”

Olivia scoffed. “Mom, you’re not a dried up old lady.” She reached across the table and covered her mom’s hand with hers. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Ginny waved a hand dismissively. “It’s probably just some midlife crisis thing. I’ll get over it eventually. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed my time with Liz. If you’re going to be home for a while I’d love to have you join us when we go out or get together for a movie night.”

Olivia’s tone softened even more. “I’d love to, Mom.” For the first time in a long time Ginny heard sincerity in her voice.

“Don’t think that this conversation about you dropping out of school is over, though. You know how upset your dad is going to be. There will be conversations about what you’re going to do for a job, where you’re going to live.”

“Can’t I live here for now?”

“For now, but do you really want to be almost 21 and living at home with your parents?”

Olivia made a face. “Yeah. I didn’t think about that. Guess I better start making some real plans.”

The back door opened as the women finished their breakfast. Ginny noticed a flush to Stan’s cheeks as he strode across the kitchen and reached for the coffee pot. She raised an eyebrow as she and Oliva exchanged a look.

“Uh-oh.” Ginny mouthed the words.

“Hey, Dad. Busy morning already?”

“Hmm?” Stan reached for the creamer on the table. Ginny could tell he was distracted again. Probably thinking of another real estate deal. “Oh yeah. Busy.”

He sipped the coffee and cleared his throat. “Listen, I need to talk to you two and I don’t want you to go all crazy on me.”

Ginny’s muscles tensed around her neck like they usually did when Stan said he needed to talk. It was usually about a big property he was working selling or telling her he wouldn’t be able to attend this or that.

Stan sat at the table, the coffee mug cupped in his hands. “I wasn’t going to tell either of you about this, but then I thought about how you’d probably find out from someone else.” Ginny rubbed a hand against the back of her neck, trying to loosen the tightness and distract herself from the thoughts racing through her mind. “Last week when Matt and I went to that property, Matt discovered a stash of heroin.”

Olivia sat back in her chair, her eyebrows raised. “Whoa. Seriously? In Spencer Valley”

“Yes.” Stan stirred the creamer in the coffee and took another sip. “Matt says heroin has been big around here lately. It’s replaced meth as the dominant drug industry. He called the state police and I had to stay for questioning.” Stan starred into the cup of coffee for a few silent seconds as if waiting for a word of wisdom. “They called me in again this morning. I couldn’t offer them any information beyond what Matt and I saw, unfortunately. None of this has hit the papers yet, but I have a feeling it will soon. I just hope my name will be kept out of it.”

Ginny swallowed hard, her muscles even tighter now. “I’d never really thought about real estate being a dangerous job before.”

Stan grunted and stood. “It’s not. This is the first time I’ve ever encountered anything criminal in the 25 years I’ve been doing this job.”

Apparently, she wasn’t even permitted to worry about him now.

He opened a cupboard and reached for a travel mug to pour the rest of the coffee in. “I’ve got to head back to the office. I have two potential clients coming in.”

A small smile tugged at Olivia’s lips. “Dad, aren’t you worried the drug dealers will come after you?” Her voice quivered with a stifled laugh.

Ginny shot her a scowl. “This isn’t funny, Olivia. This could be really serious.”

Stan laughed. “Not that serious. They left the door to the building open and a tarp loosely covering them. Whoever is running this stuff obviously isn’t a criminal mastermain..” He pressed the lid down on the mug. “So, no. I’m not worried.” He headed toward the back door again. “I won’t be home for dinner but if you could make me a plate, that’d be great. See you both later.” He pointed at Olivia. “Especially you. We need to talk.”

Olivia slumped back against her seat. “Yeah, I knew that was coming.”

Ginny raised her hand. “Stan, wait. Keith is back in town and wants to know if we’d like to go out to dinner with him.”

Stan paused in the backdoor doorway, stepped back, and peered around the door. “Keith?” His eyebrow quirked questioningly. “Your old boyfriend Keith?”

“Yes. He’s moved back and running his business from a cabin a few miles out of town. He invited us to dinner on Thursday.”

Stan stepped back into the kitchen, brow furrowed. “When did you run into him?”

At the grocery store, at an art class, and outside the library.

She decided to pick just one. “At the grocery store a few weeks ago. So, what should I tell him?”

Stan looked above her head for a moment, frowned, and then nodded. “Yeah. I should be able to make that. Where at?”

“Antonio’s in Clarkston.”

“Yeah. I’ve heard that place is great. Sure. I’ll probably have to meet you two there. I have a meeting at six. Shouldn’t take more than a half an hour.”

“He suggested 6:30. I can ask him if 6:45 is okay.”

Stan shifted the travel mug to his other hand, a stack of papers under his arm. “Sounds great. I’m looking forward to it.”

Ginny cocked an eyebrow as he walked through the doorway, then narrowed her eyes. Well, that was interesting. He’d been saying he was too busy for anything she suggested for months now. One mention of dinner with Keith and he could make it? What was that all about?

Our flag is still there

Many times in music it is not about how well the note was hit or how high it went but the inflection on a word or line. When Natalie Grant hits the line in the Star Bangled Banner about our flag still being there it is the way she says it, not the way she hits the note so perfectly. She reminds us in that one line by singing it like it is a gospel song that no matter what hits our country, no matter the division, confusion, bitterness, and hate, our flag and what it represents is still there. It represents freedom and unity among all people and even when we fail to reach those goals we keep fighting, we keep trying and we reach it more times than we realize.

The media’s version of our country right now is dark, nasty, stinky, and full of hatred, but at the foundation of our country are its’ people who look beyond what we are being told we are and instead show time after time that we are a country founded on the principals of our Heavenly Father, on love for all people of all ethnicities, on free will like that which God gave us.

Our country falls short often but what is never lost is the fight to keep working to improve ourselves, the fight to remember and strive toward what the founding fathers always hoped it would be. Each time I hear Natalie sing that line I break down because no matter what tries to hide the good that is in this country, our flag rises above, still waving, still reminding us that we are better together, better when we remember that the one thing that unites is that we are all Americans, living in one of the greatest countries of the world. May we never forget the good, even when the bad swirls all around us.

Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 16

Welcome to Fiction Friday where I post a chapter from my current work in progress. There are often typos, plot holes, etc. in these chapters that I will fix in the future before I self-publish the book.

To catch up with the story, click HERE.

Chapter 16

Keith slid his sunglasses back on as they stepped outside the community hall.  “Well, that was fun. I’ll have to try this again sometime.”

Ginny tossed her art bag into the passenger side of her car. “It was. I haven’t sketched a live model since college.”

Ginny looked across the parking lot for Liz as she closed the car door. She saw her driving out of the parking lot and raised her hand in a quick wave. Her brow furrowed when Liz kept driving, looking straight ahead.

“I hope everything is okay with Liz,” she said, watching the car turn out of the parking lot. She turned and watched Matt climb into his truck. Had something happened between them? She’d have to ask Liz later.

Keith straddled his motorcycle and zipped up the leather jacket. “Ginny, I’d love to get together with you and Stan for dinner sometime.”

Ginny turned away from watching Liz’s car to look at Keith, trying to picture him and Stan sitting next to each other at a table. The thought made her a little woozy. “Oh, that would be nice.”

Keith winked before he slid his helmet on. “I’ll give you a call and we can find a day that will work for all of us. Tell ole’ Stan I said, ‘hey’.”

Ginny nodded then watched him drive away before sliding behind the steering wheel and letting out the breath she realized she’d been holding. How would that go down? Telling Stan her ex-boyfriend sent his greetings? She hadn’t even told Stan that Keith was back in town. Then again, Stan didn’t seem to hear much she said these days so it probably wouldn’t matter.

It had been nice to see Keith and even nicer how he’d noticed her haircut and complimented her. She knew she shouldn’t have enjoyed the dimple in his cheek when he smiled at her or the jokes they’d shared during the class, but she had. It was the most — how could she explain it?

Noticed. That was the word.

It was the most noticed she’d felt in years.

Her phone rang as she pushed the key in the ignition.

“Sorry I didn’t say goodbye before I left.” Liz sounded tired. “I guess I was preoccupied.”

“I wondered what was going on. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just — yeah. It’s fine really.”

“Well, I tried to catch you before you left. I was wondering if you have time to stop by the house before you head home. I wanted to talk to you about a job idea.”

“Sure.” Liz sounded a little more cheerful now. “I have time.”

Ginny’s phone rang again as she pulled out onto the road. She tapped the speaker button.

“Hey, hon’. Just letting you know I won’t be home for dinner. I’m meeting Matt out at that property the commercial company is interested in.”

Ginny bit her tongue. How was this any different than any other day lately? “Okay.” She clipped the word out. She didn’t feel like saying much else.

“Talk later. I’m running into a dead zo—”

Ginny scowled at the phone and tossed it on to the seat next to her. Pulling into her drive a few moments later, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She really needed to pray about her attitude toward Stan. Having this much anger for one’s spouse wasn’t healthy or what God would want.

“Lord, help me calm down,” she whispered as she shut off the engine. “Or I might just smack him.”

She noticed the inside screen door was open as she walked up the front sidewalk and she knew she hadn’t left it open. Maybe it had been Stan.

Walking inside she glanced around the living room for anything out of the ordinary and all appeared well until she spotted a suitcase on the floor by the doorway leading to the dining room.

She recognized the black and brown case as the one they’d given Olivia when she’d left for college the year before.

Before she could call her daughter’s name, she heard the clink of glass against a countertop. She found Olivia in the kitchen pouring lemonade over ice in a tall glass.

“Olivia! What are you doing here?”

Olivia raised an eyebrow as she listed the glass. “Well, thanks, Mom. What a nice way to greet your daughter.”

Ginny embraced her youngest and stepped back. “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie.” She took in Olivia’s blond hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, her heavy eyelids and make up free face. “I just wasn’t expecting you for a few more weeks. Is something wrong?” She didn’t need to ask really. She knew the answer.

Olivia sighed, sipping the lemonade. She shrugged a shoulder. “I just don’t fit in in California anymore, Mom.”

Ginny tipped her head slightly and looked at her daughter quizzically. “But you love California.”

Olivia shrugged her shoulder again. “Maybe not as much as I thought.”

Ginny tossed her bag onto the kitchen island and slipped easily into mom-mode, without realizing what she was doing. “Livvie, have you dropped out of school?”

Olivia opened her mouth to speak at the same moment Liz called from the front of the house.

“Ginny, are you here?”

Ginny kept her gaze on Olivia as she answered. “In the kitchen, hon’”

She didn’t miss the quirk of her daughter’s brow when she called Liz hon’.

Liz stepped into the kitchen with the car seat looped over one arm. Ginny took it from her and set it on the island in front of her. “Hello, little Bella. Did you have a good nap at our art class?”

She began unhooking the safety harness, anxious to hold the little one she’d come to love. “We were just at an art class. Bella’s mama and I have been taking art classes and today we had to sketch a live model.” She cradled Bella in her arms and smiled, delighted to see Bella trying to smile back. “Olivia, you know Liz.”

Oliva nodded. “Yeah. Hey, Liz. Nice to see you. I heard you had a baby. She’s beautiful.”

Ginny thought she heard slight tension in her daughter’s words, but she didn’t have the mentally energy to deduce the reason.

“How has California been?” Liz asked sliding onto a stool. “Your mom says you love it.”

Oliva sighed and reached for a cracker from a box open on the counter. “I think love is in past tense now. Honestly, I think I made the wrong decision.”

Liz winced. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”

A brief silence settled over the room as Ginny continued to talk to Bella. Olivia munched on a cracker and Liz pretended to straighten the books sitting on the edge of the island.

Olivia cleared her throat. “Well, I don’t want to interrupt you two. I’m bushed from the trip anyhow. I’m going to head up and crash for a bit.”

“You don’t have to leave.” Ginny turned her attention away from the baby to Olivia. “I just wanted to talk to Liz about a job opportunity at the library.” She stretched one arm out to hug her daughter. “I’m so glad you’re home, Olivia. We can talk about everything else later, okay?”

Olivia nodded and walked toward the stairs, carrying her glass of lemonade. “I’m sure we will. I’d better rest up for this one. Where’s Dad?”

The muscles in Ginny’s face and neck tightened at the question and she hoped neither of the women noticed. “He’s looking at a property and then I’m sure he’ll be home.”

Oliva snorted on her way up the stairs. “Some things never change. That man is a workaholic.”

Ginny let out a slow breath and sat on a stool next to Liz. “That was certainly a surprise. I had no idea she was coming home. I’m happy to see her, but . . . Well, anyhow, you don’t need to hear about all that.” She winked at Liz. “I wanted to talk to you about a possible job at the library. It would only be part time for now, but we need someone for the childrens’ story hour. You’d help create programs for the story hour and other special events during the month and then fill in on Sara’s day off. What do you think?”

Liz made a face. “Oh gosh. I don’t know. I’m not good with children.”

Ginny laughed. “You’d better start practicing. You have one, you know.”

“Yeah, but she’s mine.” Liz laughed. “I just don’t like other people’s children.”

Ginny sat Bella back in the seat and walked to the cupboard for some tea. “At least think about it. It probably won’t be enough to support you and Bella, but it could help until you can find a full-time position.”

“I’ll definitely think about it. I really appreciate the offer.”

Ginny pulled out a box of tea and two mugs. “It will have to be approved by the board, of course, but they had already asked me to start putting out my feelers for someone. They asked about a month ago, but I got distracted with planning the fundraiser. That’s next weekend, if you want to come. It’s an afternoon tea and silent auction. Not the most adventurous event I’ve ever planned but I am still resisting the wine tastings they want me to do.”

She dropped tea bags into the mugs and filled the kettle. “The board thinks a wine tasting is a hip and progressive fundraiser, but they haven’t thought ahead to what can happen when some of the members of the community decide to do a little too much tasting, if you know what I mean.”

Liz sighed. “I definitely know what you mean.”

Ginny bit her lower lip, mentally chiding herself for bringing up the topic of drinking. Liz had already mentioned to her that alcohol had been a vice for her when she’d been living with Gabe. Time to change the subject. “So, everything okay with you and Matt?”

Her back was to Liz, but she desperately wanted to turn around and gauge Liz’s expression when she asked that question.

“Yeah. It’s fine.”

Ginny knew that defensive tactic well.

It’s fine. Code words for, “Things are not fine.”

She turned and slid a plate of cookies toward Liz. “You seemed upset when you left today. Are you sure things are fine?”

Liz took a bite out of a cookie and chewed slowly, her gaze focused on the window over the kitchen sink. It took a few seconds for her to answer. “Matt’s as nice as can be and I guess that’s the problem right now. He seems nice but he lied to me about something, and it’s really been bothering me. I just haven’t had a lot of time to figure out how to address it since I started classes.”

Ginny sat back on the stool while she waited for the water to boil. “What did he lie about?”

Liz glanced at her then at the stack of books in front of her. She hesitated a few seconds before speaking. “He never told me he was the responding officer that night in my apartment.”

Ginny’s eyes widened as she realized she was the one who had spilled those beans. “Oh, Liz. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“I would have found out eventually. What bothers me is that Matt never told me. He let me believe another officer had responded. I mean, I should have guessed. Spencer only has six officers and Matt works the night shift a lot. The odds that he would be there were pretty good.”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, watching Bella kick her feet and smile. “I didn’t have just have a fall that night. I know it’s what a lot of people think, but it wasn’t a normal medical emergency.”

She bit her lower lip, her eyes glistening. Ginny’s chest constricted. She’d known there was more to Liz’s story, but she’d never wanted to ask. The pain etched on Liz’s face was evident and while Ginny felt honored that Liz wanted to share the truth with her, she also wanted to blurt out that Liz shouldn’t feel the need to confess anything, that whatever happened that night wasn’t as important as how Liz was trying to live her life now.

“I tried to kill myself.”

Even though Ginny had already started to fill in the blanks, it didn’t make hearing the words any easier. She decided to not be a mother and pepper Liz with questions or pull her into an embrace, instead letting her share as much or as little as she wanted.

“I took five pregnancy tests. I couldn’t believe it. I thought about all I had done in the last year and a half that had gone against who I was, how disgusted in me that my parents already were, how disgusted I was in myself. I panicked.” Tears slipped from the corners of Liz’s eyes, rolling down her cheeks. “I just wanted to make it all stop. The shame. The voices in my head telling me I was horrible, and I’d always be horrible. I knew I couldn’t have a baby. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I took a handful of the painkillers I’d had left over from my knee surgery and waited to fall asleep, but within seconds of swallowing them I was panicking again.”

She let out a shaky breath and looked at Ginny. “I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want the innocent life inside of me destroyed. I tried to throw the pills up while I called 911. I threw up some but not enough and I was already blacking out when I heard pounding on the door.”

She closed her eyes and gasped in a breath. “I’m so ashamed Ginny. I’ve never told anyone else what happened that night. I lied to my parents, to Molly and to Matt and after awhile I even started to believe the lie myself. I’ve tried to pretend that I didn’t do any of that, but I can’t pretend anymore. It’s all unraveling and what I don’t understand is why Matt keeps sticking around. I’m messed up. He knows that. Maybe he just pities me.”

Ginny shook her head. “No. I don’t believe that. He cares about you, Liz. We all do. I’m so sorry you’ve held on to this for so long.”

Liz wiped at the tears on her cheeks and then accepted the tissue Ginny handed her and blew her nose.

The whistle of the kettle brought Ginny back to her feet. She pulled the kettle from the burner and poured the water in the waiting mugs. “The way you need to think about it is that Matt knows all these things about you, yet he still cares for you. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? It’s kind of like how God cares about us despite our failings.”

Liz narrowed her eyes, a small smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “Ginny Jefferies, did you just compare Matt McGee to God? Seriously?” She laughed through her tears. “I mean, I know half the town thinks he’s a saint, but come on. Let’s not push it.”

Ginny laughed loudly, her hand against her chest. “Oh no. I didn’t even realize how that sounded. No, of course I am not comparing Matt to God. Matt is a man. He’s not perfect and he was wrong to lie to you about that night, but Liz.” She leaned forward and covered Liz’s hand with hers. “You need to talk to him about it. I’m sure he had a good reason. He loves you. You may not believe it, but I can see it. He loves you and if he doesn’t tell you soon, I’m going to kick him in his behind as motivation.”

Liz mocked gasped. “Ginny! I thought you were a sweet Christian woman and here you are talking about kicking people in the butt.”

Ginny winked. “Well, sometimes even sweet Christian women reach their limits.”

Liz shook her head and laughed softly. “Matt and I are friends, Ginny. That’s all. He’s a good friend. He’s been there for me when I’ve needed him the most and that’s why it bothers me so much that he was there that night and didn’t say anything. It’s just yet another humiliating experience of mine he’s witnessed.”

Ginny smiled as she watched Liz blow her nose again and accept another tissue to wipe the tears from her cheeks. Someday this young lady was going to wake up and realize what she had right in front of her and Ginny hoped it didn’t take years for it to happen.

Dropping a spoonful of honey in her tea, Ginny stirred it slowly and thought about how she’d reached her limit with more than just Matt McGee not admitting his feelings for Liz. She knew she should practice what she’d preached to Liz and tell Stan how she was feeling. Unfortunately, Stan hadn’t been very open to conversations lately and telling him how she felt might have to be done during a full-on blow-out argument at this point.

Randomly Thinking: Honest homeschoolers, friendly only in winter, overused book tropes

Welcome to my random thoughts. Read on at your own risk.

***

As many of you know,  I am a homeschooler and shortly after becoming one, I figured out there is an entire homeschooling community, a good portion of it on social media. Many of those on social media, sharing their journey, are simply sharing their journey to connect with other homeschoolers so they can learn from each other. There is another segment, however, that has made a business out of homeschooling. They are homeschool influencers, I guess you would say, many of them posting photos on Instagram of pristine areas of the home where they conduct their learning, homemade school desks carved from wood by their father/grandfather/amazingly talented uncle; elaborate field trips, children wearing perfectly matched clothes, perfectly organized shelves, and large, almost mansion-like homes.

I was telling a friend this week that I’d love to see some more honest posts from these types of homeschoolers. Something like kids with their hair uncombed and their faces dirty. Photos of children in cute little matching outfits covered in mud, chocolate, or poop while the mother — her hair sticking out in all different directions  — drags them to their cute, little homemade desk. Maybe a photo of Mom trying to teach the 15-year-old math while in the background the 7-year-old spills a container of Legos all over the original hardwood floor and the 3-year-old drags a screaming cat by its tail across the kitchen linoleum.

***

My 7-year olds favorite word right now is “ineffective” and I don’t know where she heard it. Last week she told me that my tricks to get her to take her allergy medicine would be ineffective on her.

No idea.

I don’t use that word often and I don’t even know where she heard it. I’m glad she’s reading and learning more words, but I do wish she’d stop using them correctly and against me.

***

Here is a character attribute I am tired of seeing in books: A female main character who absolutely loves to read and spends three paragraphs telling the reader of the book she is in why she loves to read. Yes, I get it, writers like to read so they think their characters should too. Yes, I did this in my first book, but no, I don’t want to keep reading about main characters who love to read and hide themselves in corners to read and ignore other people so they can read.

It’s cliché and completely over done and I will most likely do it myself in a future book. Also, I like to read, but I don’t fall in love with the characters to the point I am completely out of touch with reality so if the author is trying to help me relate to his/her characters, it’s not going to work.

***

Our older cat Pixel is very aloof in the warmer months. She comes in from outside for a pet, eats some food, and heads back outside to hunt then repeats the process every couple of hours. In the winter, she goes outside for a much shorter time and when she returns, she often crawls up on my lap for a pet and a brief kneading session on my chest. Then she curls up in a chair the rest of the day and at night she’s back on my chest for a cuddle. It is for this reason that I sometimes favor winter more than the warmer months.

Our kitten (Scout), on the other hand, is affectionate at the most inopportune times, like at 5 in the morning when she walks up onto my chest and lays down under my chin, cutting off my air.

The kitten has also spent much of the last couple of weeks finding the best sprawl pose near our woodstove.

***

The other night my husband turned on Knight Rider for old time’s sake. I have to admit that I watched it very little as a kid and hadn’t seen it in years but it brought back a memory for me of a poster of David Hasselhoff I saw at a yard sale near our house and bought after begging my mom for it.

My mom finally agreed with a big eye roll, asking me, “Are you sure you want that?”

When I insisted I did, she let me buy it, and then there he was — David Hasselhoff with his shirt unbuttoned several buttons, wearing a leather jacket and leaning on Kit. I hung him on the wall right next to my bed. The poster looked a little like this:



My brother says he doesn’t remember this at all, but I swear he came into my room after it was hung and said, “What the heck?! Why do you have a poster of a grown man on your wall? MOM! WHY DOES LISA HAVE A POSTER OF A GROWN MAN ON HER WALL?!”

My brother says this never happened, but he is getting old so he probably forgot. *wink*



***

A former friend once bragged about how much better Australia was than the U.S. Lately I wonder if she thinks the same thing now that they have no freedom left to speak of.

***

Last Sunday an ice storm moved into our area so we decided not to drive the five miles to my parents for lunch like we usually do on Sundays. I didn’t want my mom to think we didn’t want to come, but I wanted us to be safe so I called her and she said if we did come she’d be worried about us driving back in the dark.

We finally agreed we would stay home. She said, “okay, good. I just didn’t want you to think I was rejecting you.” Then I said, “I didn’t want you to think I was rejecting you.”

And that’s when I realized, yet again actually, that this family needs to see a therapist. We worry way too much about offending each other and other people.



***

I thought I’d share a couple of humorous memes I came across recently. I find them humorous but my son says they are “so 2016.”

***

So those are my random thoughts. How about you? Share your random thoughts in the comments.

Educationally Speaking: New reading course, Biology is like hard, and less arguments after winter break

The kids and I started back to homeschool last week after being sick and our Christmas break. I don’t know if they felt this way, but for me, it was nice to get back into a routine after being sick for almost a month and a half.

We got back into the swing of things and oddly Little Miss didn’t argue at all about her lessons. She actually seemed interested and excited some days. That was very refreshing. I don’t know how long it will last, but I am going to enjoy it while I can.

She and I started a new unit for reading, also from The Good and the Beautiful. The lessons are longer but she’s breezing right through them. The book features  four or five pages words for her to study the entire unit but she breezed through all of the words on day one. I have a feeling we might jump into the next level before the year is out.

We are finishing her math unit from Kindergarten and will start first grade math the week after next, I think. She catches on to math quickly so I have a feeling we might move through the first grade math faster than we did kindergarten. We got a late start last year on this particular curriculum and also broke it up with CTC Math, which is an online program.

Science is our biggest issue because I can’t seem to find a science curriculum I like. We are doing some very simple science books for now.

History is a little bit of a challenge as well because she really can’t remember everything I read to her at her age, but we do our best and at least she’s learning something about the founding of our country.

The curriculum we have (Our Star Spangled Story from Notgrass) also includes literature so it allows me to cross off history and English/Literature in one shot.

We are currently reading Freedom Crossing about a pair of siblings who are hiding a runaway slave sometime in the mid-1800s.

The Boy is making his way through Geography (Social Studies) and Economics and barely through Biology. Biology is going over both our heads and I’m beginning to wonder if the curriculum I have is for college level. It claims it is for tenth grade so I thought The Boy would be okay since he is in ninth grade but, wow, the definitions and concepts that are taught are extremely complex and a bit overwhelming. Hopefully we will survive the next few months.

We just finished Blood Brothers, which is a selection from the literature part of his Social Studies course. There was another book that we were supposed to read but I didn’t feel he would really enjoy it so I decided we will wait until the next until when a new book is assigned.

I’m considering introducing him to poetry this week which should induce some mocking from him but that’s okay. That’s what kids at this age do but hopefully they will come to appreciate it later on.

He is still continuing CTC Math for his math and he’s also doing a grammar course through Fix It Grammar.

The kids had a lighter day on Friday of last week when it snowed. I let them play in the snow, or in The Boy’s case shovel the driveway. He still had to do school work but I think the break for some time outside was welcomed.



I don’t have any major outings or projects planned for January, but I hope to get us out of the house more in February and March. So far this year I am glad we stuck to homeschooling. The schedule is flexible and allows us to have more time with my parents, including my son working with my dad on various projects around the house and community. In addition to a flexible schedule, we don’t have to worry about masks, the kids being pulled in and out of school for closures because of You Know What, and other issues facing public schools at this time. This is not a slam on public schools at all. These are just some challenges that they are facing right now and we are glad we currently don’t have to face them.

If you are homeschooling, how is it going for you this year? If you aren’t homeschooling, how is school going for your children or grandchildren this year? If you don’t have children or grandchildren, then how are YOU doing? Let me know in the comments.

Some favorite blog posts from around the blog world

I’ve been very behind on blog posts recently but as I get caught up I am astounded with the writing talent out there in the blog world. I just love getting to know other bloggers and seeing the world through their eyes.

I started a list of some of my recent favorite blog posts about two months ago, before Covid hit us, and decided to simply add others I’ve found since then to the list, picking up where I’d left off.

Here are a few of my favorite blog posts from the past couple of months:

Heidi Gray McGill had me hooked on this post entitled PEBKAC can’t be fixed.

I liked this part: “Even when I haven’t invited God into my life’s decisions and plans, He is still working remotely, keeping me from utter destruction. Even when I feel like I’m having a one-way conversation and He isn’t holding up His end, I see things changing before my eyes.”

Fuel for the Race: Ornament of You

For His Purpose: A Cord of Three Strands

C.S. Wachter on Hopes, Hearts, and Heroes with The Speed of a Thought (about not letting anyone pressure a writer into writing faster than they need or want to).

Ways to Fight Or Flight Response by Brainless Blogger

Thrills for Hope by Mama’s Empty Nest

Every Small Voice with Five Pieces of Trash

Houses (a short story for Christmas) by Manitoba Mom

Our Little Red House: A Little Break Now And Then Is Okay . . .some fun Christmas shows to watch

Golden Critical Care: Omicron and My Best Imperfect Understanding of Where We Sit with Vaccine Efficiency

Do you have any good posts you’ve read lately? Let me know in the comments.

Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 15

Welcome to Chapter 15 of A New Chapter. I have a lot of work to do on this one later and hesitated sharing it today, but since I don’t have a ton of people who follow the story, I think it will be fine. It will be rewritten before I publish it anywhere. I like where the story is going at least. If you want to catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.

Chapter 15

Ginny looked at the post office front door through the rain-speckled windshield of her car. She needed to just get out of the car already and go mail this package. Instead, she’d been sitting in the car for ten minutes with no motivation to do anything. Even walking the few feet into the post office seemed too much. She didn’t look forward to possibly running into anyone she knew today, not with the way she felt — depressed, stuck in a deep, boring, frustrating rut.

Unfortunately, she needed to mail a package and she had also promised Liz she’d attend an art class with her. Liz definitely needed cheering up right now. They both needed cheering up, actually. Maybe this class would help do that. They were sketching a live person in this class. Hopefully, it would take her mind off the fact that Stan was at the golf course to celebrate his win with his fellow agents and Liz’s mind off the fact she was out of a job.

It was official. Stan was Real Estate Agent of the Year. Again. Sixth time in the last 15 years. Only this time Ginny hadn’t been there with him to celebrate. Instead, she’d taken off her nice dress, wiped the make-up off her face, changed into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, and watched a Hallmark movie while sitting on the couch alone, eating a pint of chocolate ice cream.

Stan had arrived at the end of the movie, presented her his award, kissed her cheek, and announced he was bushed and heading to bed. He’d woke up early the next day, dressed for the course, kissed her cheek again, and marched out to his car for a morning and probably afternoon of golf.

She was left home to answer Olivia’s tearful call at 8 a.m., a call full of doubts about her major, her relationship with Vernon, her relationship with Brent, and how maybe she shouldn’t have ended it simply because “he was an uncultured country boy”, and then, last of all, her sincere doubts if California was really where she belonged after all.

The conversation had ended with Olivia announcing she was late to her philosophy class, and she’d call back later that evening. That call was followed from one by Clint letting her know their arrival date had been moved up by a couple of weeks and they would be there at the end of the month. Well, not there at her home. They’d be at Frank and Marge’s and Clint would commute to his job two hours away each day until they found a home to move into.

She sighed. Time to get over herself.

She was the mother of three wonderful, grown children, the grandmother of four, and the library director of a small-town library with a good board that supported her and sometimes even praised her. Her life really wasn’t so bad.

She took a deep breath and opened the car door. Time to mail this package, go to the art class, and find joy even if she didn’t feel it at the moment.

Walking inside the post office she lost the motivation she’d tried to stir up when she saw Floyd Simpson behind the front counter. Trying to buy a book of stamps from Floyd, especially now that he was almost deaf and refused to wear his hearing aid, would be difficult enough, but shipping a package? She internally groaned. Maybe she’d just come back another —

“Ginny! What can I do for you today?”

Shoulders back. Smile on.

“Floyd! My goodness! Still here, huh? Not ready to retire yet?”

“Fire? Was there a fire?”

She raised her voice. “I said retire. I was surprised you haven’t retired yet.”

Floyd made a face. “Why’d I want to do that? The only people who want to retire are the people who are ready to lay down and die, that’s what I say.” He shuffled closer to the counter. “What can I do you for today?”

Ginny pushed the package onto the counter. “Well, I need to mail this to my sister in New Jersey and then I need a book of stamps.”

Floyd scowled at the package like it was contaminated. “New Jersey, ya’ say? Too bad your lovely sister moved there. That governor of theirs? What a buffoon he is.” He shook his head and looked at the keyboard, pondering it before poking at the keys with his index finger, the tip of his tongue appearing between his lips. He poked at a few more keys, slipped his glasses to the end of his nose, and looked up at the screen. “Yep. Sad thing your sister is there.”

Ginny wasn’t sure if she should guilty for letting her sister move to the offensive state, or not.

“Yes, well, she loves the area she lives in. It’s a rural area similar to ours, but —“

Floyd chuckled and glanced at her, his glasses still on the tip of his nose. “But it’s still New Jersey.” He chuckled again. “You ever hear about how Pennsylvania was looking for new slogans and one of the suggestions was ‘At least we’re not New Jersey.’” The elderly man tipped his head back and laughed loudly. “At least we’re not New Jersey. Gotta love it.”

He continued to chuckle softly as he entered the address into the computer. Ginny tapped her hand gently on her side in rhythm to the faint country music drifting from the speakers overhead. The click of the keys seemed to follow the rhythm as well until finally, after five long minutes, Floyd looked up again.

“Okay, young lady, I can ship that out for you at $14.50 media mail and lovely Lavina will get her package Wednesday. Does that work for you? If you want it to go faster, it will be about $22.50.”

“Media mail is fine.”

Floyd cupped a hand around his wrinkled ear. “What’s that now?”

“Media mail is fine!”

Floyd nodded, pecked some more at the keyboard, and waited for the label to print out from the printer next to the computer. He stared at the printer for several seconds then start drumming his fingers on the counter.

Several more seconds passed as the printer began printing, slowly. Very, very slowly.

Ginny glanced at her watch. She should have left the house earlier and she would have if she’d known Floyd was going to be behind the counter.

“So, business good over at the library?”

She nodded. “It is. The weather is getting colder which often brings us more patrons, of course.”

Floyd smiled and chuckled. “Yeah, those pigeons are always looking for somewhere warm to roost this time of year.”

Ginny furrowed her eyebrows. “Oh. Well, yes, I suppose.”

The printer groaned as the paper slowly inched out. Floyd folded his arms across his chest and glared at it.

Ginny cleared her throat. “So, um, has business been good at the post office?”

Floyd kept his glare focused on the machine. “Yep. The missus is good. Got a touch of arthritis in her right knee but still manages to play the organ down at the Methodist Church.”

“No. I said —” Oh, never mind. She raised her voice again. “That’s good to hear about Martha. I hope she feels better soon.”

“Nope. Can’t eat butter anymore. Doctor says it’s bad for my cholesterol.”

Ginny sighed. “JUST TELL MARTHA I SAID HELLO!”

Floyd aimed his scow at her. “No need to shout, young lady. I’m not deaf!”

He turned back to the printer and pulled the label off, then looked over his shoulder and winked. “But I may not hear as well as I used to.”

Guilt hit Ginny as she watched the man reach for the label.

Here she was annoyed at how he couldn’t hear and how slow he was, yet he’d been a staple of this community for some 60 years. He’d served his neighbors faithfully all that time, coming in no matter how bad the weather was and staying late if another employee couldn’t make in.

Sure, maybe he complained from time to time and grumbled about governors or politics and maybe once or twice he’d mumbled a not-so-nice word, or had less than friendly customer service, but he’d still cared enough to greet each person who came in, chat with them, and help them the best way he knew how.

He might not always be amendable, but he was dependable.

Ripping the label off, he fumbled with the glue on the back for several seconds, unable to peel the backing away. Ginny held her hand out.

“Those things can be a real pain, can’t they? You have to have nails to get them loose sometimes. Let me help.”

She thought he might reject her offer but instead he smiled a partially toothless grin and handed the label over.

She smoothed the label in place and slid the package toward him.

“Not too shabby, Mrs. Jefferies. I mean, it’s not as good as I would have done it, but ya’ know.” He winked at her. “It works.”

“Thank you, Floyd.” A smile tugged at her mouth. “That means a lot coming from you.”

Walking outside the post office a few minutes later she realized she felt less on edge than she had before. On the drive to the community center, she sang along to a song on the Christian radio station and noticed the tension in her muscles had disappeared. She’d needed that distraction from her situation and now she hoped the art class she was attending with Liz would be even more of a distraction.

***

Liz tucked Bella into her car seat before lifting it and walking toward the community center. She hoped Ginny was on her way. She really didn’t want to attend this art class by herself. Molly was supposed to come but one of the girls at the store had called in sick, so she was filling in for her.

She paused near the front door, glad that the temperature hadn’t dropped as low as forecasters had originally said it would. Little girls in dance shoes skipped past her, their hands being tightly held by attentive mothers and fathers. A little girl with dark skin and pigtails stopped, tugging at her father’s hand. She looked up at Liz and smiled.

“I’m going to dance class!” Her dark eyes sparkled in the afternoon sunlight.

“Are you now?” Liz leaned forward slightly, propping her hands on her knees. “I’m guessing by that smile you have fun at dance class.”

“My teacher says I’m very towelented!”

The little girl’s father laughed against his hand. “Honey, I think the word is talented.”

Liz grinned at him then turned her attention back to the little girl. “You have fun tonight, sweetie. Dance your heart out.”

When she straightened and watched the little girl and her father walk into the community center lobby, she wondered if she would be doing the same with Bella one day.

What would Bella be like at 6 or 7-years old? Would she be a girly-girl, which Liz had somewhat been for much of her life or would she a bit more of what some people called a tom-boy, like Molly? And would it only be Liz leading her into a dance class if she chose to attend one? Or would she have a father figure to lead her inside like that little girl had?

Her throat thickened with emotion and weakness spread from her neck down through her arms. She closed her eyes, laid her hand on her stomach, and practiced the breathing exercises she’d looked up online the night before. She tried to remember the quote she’d read one time, probably on one of those inspirational posters at the health food store.

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” 

She opened her eyes at the sound of a car pulling in. Ginny smiled through the windshield as she shifted the car into park, but Liz saw the sadness in the smile. Liz still could not believe that Stan hadn’t taken Ginny with him to his banquet. After all their hard work picking out an outfit.

Ginny hooked her art bag over her shoulder. “Well, you’re bright and perky this afternoon.”

“I went to the gym this morning for the first time since Bella was born. It was so nice to be able to work out again.” Liz lifted the car seat and hooked the handle over her arm. “I mean I’m in total agony and when I get home I’m going to pass out on the couch, but, you know, I felt like a little more of my normal life is coming back again. Anyhow, tell me, did you ever talk to Stan about how him giving your ticket away made you feel?”

Ginny sighed and leaned her side against the door of her sedan. “No. I didn’t. I guess I should but he’s just so — well, clueless. He’s out at the golf course again this weekend celebrating his win.”

Liz’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Sadly I am.” She pushed herself off the car and headed toward the front door.

Liz followed her. “Did he ever even notice your hair? Or your dress? Anything?”

Ginny shook her head. “He didn’t say a word about any of it. Not last weekend and not all week.”

Liz couldn’t believe it. That man! How could he have ignored Ginny after she’d had her hair cut and styled and put on a beautiful dress and — “Oooh. I could just slap him.”

Ginny laughed. “Liz!”

Pink blushed across Liz’s cheeks. “Sorry. Did I say that out loud?”

Ginny laughed again. “Well, I can’t lie. I thought about doing the same thing, but chocolate ice cream has been soothing the savage beast.”

Liz shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah, that’s been my go to comfort food too this week.”

Ginny raised a finger. “Oh. That reminds me. I have something I need to talk to you —”

“Ginny! Hey! I didn’t know you’d be here.”

Both women turned at the sound of a male voice. Liz glanced past Keith through the glass front doors and guessed that the Harley Davidson parked out front was his. It matched his sunglasses which he slid off as he smiled at Ginny. It was like a scene in a 50-somethings TV drama, the way he smiled at Ginny like she was the only one in the room. Ginny visibly gulped and stared at him with wide eyes and Liz wondered if she was captivated by his blue eyes or horrified that he was looking at her with such obvious interest.

“Keith, um, hey.” Ginny’s voice had a tremble in it that let Liz know that the woman might have been captivated by the man’s eyes and smile, but she was also insanely uncomfortable. “What brings you to the community center tonight?

Keith slipped the sunglasses into the front inside pocket of the jacket. “I saw a sign for tonight’s class when I was leaving the supermarket the other day. I thought it might be a nice way to relax after a full day of online meetings. What brings you here?”

Liz shifted the car seat to her other arm and watched the conversation like a tennis match.

“Well, I happen be coming to an art class myself actually.” Ginny’s tone was cheerful, showing she’d recovered from her shock of seeing Keith.

“Really?” There was Keith’s charming smile again. Was that a dimple on his left cheek? “Which one?”

“The sketch class. It’s the only art class tonight. The other classes tonight are a knitting class and a children’s dance class.”

Keith made a face. “Oh gosh. Glad I chose the sketching class then. I definitely haven’t got a clue how to knit.” He laughed. “Or to dance. Not that I really know how to draw either, but I think I can handle a pencil better than a knitting needle.” He turned his charming smile to Liz. “Good evening, Liz. We met the other day.”

Liz reached around the seat and took his outstretched hand. “Yes. We did. Nice to meet you again.”

“How’s the little one? Sleeping through the night yet?”

“I wish but I’m sure we will get there eventually.”

Liz had to admit that it was hard to look away from Keith when he was smiling.

“It will come soon enough,” he said. “I remember it took some time with our son, but eventually it happened. In fact, the first night it did, my wife and I were in his room every hour on the hour to check that he was still breathing.”

He moved his attention back to Ginny. “You’ve cut your hair.”

Ginny touched a hand to her hair. “Yes. I have.”

“It looks amazing.” Liz watched as his gaze moved over every inch of Ginny’s hair as he spoke.

Pink flushed across Ginny’s face, and she smiled, tipping her head down. “Well, thank you. That’s very nice of you.”

Liz’s attention was pulled from Keith to a woman with short, red hair wearing a flowing dress covered in flowers standing in the art room doorway.

“Are you three coming to my art class?” Alexandra Dupre asked, sweeping across the floor toward Keith. She’d moved to Spencer 20 years ago, from where Liz wasn’t sure, but she’d kept the slightly French accent all these years, an accent no one was sure was real or not. She kept her gaze focused on Keith. “I know Liz and Ginny, but I haven’t met you before. You must be new.”

Keith nodded and smiled. “New to the community center, yes, but old to Spencer.” Liz glared at his dimple. There was just too much charm in that man. Something was off.

If Keith had been a piece of chocolate, Liz had a feeling Alexandra would have gobbled him up in one bite. Maybe all the rumors she’d heard about the woman over the years were true.

Alexandra smile slyly, her eyelids heavy. “Well, I’d love to learn some history of Spencer someday if you’d like to share it.”

Keith’s smile faltered briefly as he appeared to have caught her drift. “Yes, well, I  — uh —”

“Isn’t it time for class to start?” Ginny asked and without waiting for Alexandra to answer she walked toward the classroom.

Liz and Keith followed Ginny. Alexandra slipped into the room a second later, her dress flowing behind her like the wisp of smoke off the end of one of those long cigarettes she smoked in the courtyard in between classes.

Keith gestured to the table Ginny lead them to. “Is it okay if I sit with you ladies?”

“If you don’t mind the small whimpers of inadequacy which eek out as we attempt to be artistic,” Ginny responded with a wink.

Liz mentally rolled her eyes as Keith smiled and said, “I can’t imagine there is anything inadequate in your work, Ginny.”

What was this guy’s deal anyhow? Didn’t he know Ginny was married? Give the heavy flirting a rest already.

A few moments later Alexandra stood at the front of the room and clapped her hands twice. “Okay, my artistic friends, I have a new challenge for you this week. Live model sketches. I think you’re going to love it, especially after I introduce you to our model.” She smiled with raised eyebrows and raised her hand, waving at the back of the room.

When Matt walked past Liz, heat rushed into her face and she immediately looked for the exit. What was he doing here? He was not going to be —

“Yes!” Alexandra’s expression showed her delight as she clapped her hands. “Officer Matt McGee, Spencer’s favorite police officer is our model today.”

  The room of mostly women clapped and one of them wolf-whistled from the back of the room. Matt raised his hand in greeting, his cheeks flushed, clearly embarrassed at the attention.

“Is he going to wear all those clothes the whole time?” Millie Baker called from the back of the room.

Liz’s eyebrows shot up. Millie was 76. Was she serious right now?

Alexandra tipped her head back, laid her hands against the base of her throat, and laughed loudly while Matt’s cheeks and ears turned an even deeper red than they had been.

“This is a family art class, Millie,” Alexandra said with a smile, as the laughter in the room dissipated. She raised an eyebrow, held a hand up to her cheek, and winked. “Maybe another time.”

Matt shot Liz a terrified look and though she wanted to laugh, she inwardly groaned.

No way. She was not going to sit and stare at Matt for the next half hour, even if it was for an art class.  She glanced at Bella peacefully sleeping in the car seat. If there was any time for her to wake up and have a fit, it was now.

Please, Bella. Come through for, Mama. Give me an excuse to —

“Well, now, isn’t this interesting?” Ginny looked at her with an amused smile, leaning her arm on the table, and propping her finger against her cheek. 

Liz scowled. “Hush.”

She turned her attention back to Matt who had taken a seated position on a stool at the front of the classroom.  What had possessed him to agree to this?

He looked at her, a small smile pulling at one corner of his mouth. She wanted to smile back but suddenly all she could think about was how he’d been at her apartment that night and never told her. She looked at the blank paper in front of her instead.

“Are you going to use charcoal or pencil?”

It took a few seconds for her to realize Ginny was talking to her. “Oh.” She looked at the tray of pencils and charcoal in front of her absentmindedly. “I don’t know. Which one are you using?”

“Charcoal.” Ginny raised an eyebrow. “You okay?”

Liz nodded and reached for the charcoal. “Yep. I’m good.”

Nope. I need the floor to swallow me up right now.

She didn’t want to draw the man who knew way too much about the worst moments of her life. Her hand trembled as she held the charcoal over the page.

She hadn’t heard a word Alexandra had said. Something about sketching shapes and then filling in details?

Blowing out a long breath she looked up at Matt and found him watching her, his brow furrowed.

“You okay?” He mouthed the words.

She nodded like she had with Ginny and looked away quickly, at her blank page. She chanced a look up at him again and this time he wasn’t looking at her. He’d fixed his gaze somewhere over her head, maybe on the exit sign. The sign that spelled freedom for her.

She found herself tracing the shape of his face with her eyes, hoping she could transfer it to paper so Ginny wouldn’t suspect how uncomfortable she was. Like she had when they’d dance at Jason and Ellie’s wedding, she noticed the small scar under his lower lip, his long eyelashes, the mouth he’d kissed her cheek with more than once over the years, usually before he left her apartment, or she climbed out of his truck.

Not for the first time she thought about what it would feel like if that mouth kissed her lips instead of her cheek, then willed the image from her mind. This was too weird, just too weird and way too intimate for her comfort.

Scanning the room, she thought about how it was also weird that the room was full of women sketching Matt too. Some of them were biting their lower lips and turning to the women next to them, winking and whispering.

Liz’s stomach burned. What was this feeling rumbling in her? Disgust? Anger?

Oh, good grief.

Not jealousy.

She was not jealous. Sure, she didn’t like these women ogling her — her what?

What was Matt to her?

Her friend. He was a friend at least.

“Enjoy him while you can ladies,” Alexandra called from the back of the room. “Our favorite police officer will be leaving us soon to become a state trooper.”

The collective “aw” from the women around her made Liz want to gag, but Alexandra’s announcement also reminded her that, yes, Matt knew a lot of intimate details about her life, but soon he’d be gone to the academy and out of her life. She wouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable and awkward around him for much longer now. She wished that thought comforted her more.

Keith leaned closer to Ginny, lowered his voice, but Liz could still hear the comment. “This guy’s a real ladies’ man, huh? Some of these women seem too distracted to finish their portraits.” He shook his head. “I don’t think sketching people is for me. The poor guy is starting to look like a jack-o-lantern on my page.”

The sound that came from Ginny could only be described as a giggle and it made Liz lean forward and look at her through narrowed eyes.

Ginny didn’t notice Liz’s scolding expression but instead had focused her attention on Keith’s sketch. “It’s not that bad. His nose is a little bigger than in real life, but that can be fixed.”

The end of class couldn’t come fast enough for Liz. When Alexandra announced it was time to clean up, Liz told Ginny she was going to the bathroom to wash her hands. Ginny reminded her there were sinks at the back of the room, but Liz’s heart was hammering, and she knew she needed a private place to bring it back into normal rhythm.

After she washed the charcoal from her hands, she slipped into a stall.

The sound of the door opening was followed by the sound of women’s voices chatting and laughing.

“Isn’t he just lovely?” one of the women said.

“He really is,” another one said.

“I still can’t believe he had a baby with Liz Cranmer.”

“He did?”

“Yes. Didn’t you see the birth announcement a couple of weeks ago? He was listed as the father. He’s out there now holding the baby.”

“No way. I’ve seen the two of them together a couple of times but I never would have guessed there was anything romantic between them.

“Poor Matt. I think she must have tricked him or something and now he’s just doing the right thing.”

“I don’t think Liz is like that —”

“Oh, I do. She’s not like the rest of her family, you know. She lived with that physical therapist for a couple of years. I hear he was heavily into drugs. Probably still is. It all about broke her mother’s heart the way she acted.”

“What a shame,” the other woman said, her voice merging with the sound of the door opening again. “Some people just don’t think about how their decisions are going to affect others.”

The door shut again, and Liz pressed her face in her hands.

Well, that was just great. Now she knew for sure that people in town thought she’d tainted poor Matt. She also knew what they thought of her.

She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point, but she knew she couldn’t hide forever in the bathroom, no matter how much she wanted to.

Walking back toward the classroom she saw Matt through the doorway, holding a smiling Isabella who must have woken up.

Several women had gathered around him and Isabella, smiling and rambling along in their best baby talk.

“She’s just precious,” Mallory Benson said.

“She really is,” Alexis Vandermark agreed.

The women cooed over her baby like they hadn’t just been in the bathroom trashing Liz and practically calling her a manipulative hussy.

Liz walked through the group and reached for Bella. “Okay, now that everyone has admired her, it’s time to get this little one home and ready for bed.”

The gaggle of women broke apart with a few soft and good-natured protests. A few of the women wished Matt good luck and one of them even touched his shoulder, looking at him like a love sick puppy and told him how much she’d miss him patrolling the streets.

Matt reached out for the car seat after Liz buckled Isabella into it. “Here, let me take that for you.”

He scooped the seat up before Liz could tell him that she’d be fine and could carry the seat on her own. He walked toward the door and Liz followed, glancing over her shoulder to see Ginny chatting and laughing with Keith.

Outside a cool breeze rushed past her and she pulled her sweater around her, wondering where the warm sun had gone.

“Which side do I put her in?” Matt asked, standing next to the car.

“The base is on the left.”

Watching Matt place Isabella in the car, she almost forgot how frustrated she was with him and also how embarrassed she was at what the women in the class had said about her.

“Is this hooked right?”

Leaning in front of him, she inspected the way he’d hooked in the seat. “Yep. Looks good.” She leaned back again and noticed he hadn’t stepped back. She bumped his arm with hers and caught her foot on his boot. He reached for her arm as she started to fall and jerked her back toward him to keep her from hitting the ground. She braced herself with her hand against his chest and then, like a cheesy romance novel, their faces were inches apart.

She pulled back quickly, though, not letting the moment linger.

“Thank you for the help,” she said, stepping back toward the front of the car, averting her eyes from his.

“No problem. I’ll call you later?”

She slid quickly into the front seat, still avoiding his gaze. “Sure. That would be fine.”

Guilt needled her as she pulled out of the parking lot, but she couldn’t look at him, couldn’t see him smiling as she left, knowing what he knew about her, knowing at least part of the town thought she’d somehow led him astray.

Tips for anyone who catches Covid this winter

After fighting COVID from mid-to-late November, I wanted to give some COVID survival tips to my blog readers who might face a similar battle at some point.



I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know a lot about COVID until I got it. I knew the politics of it, but not the actual physical effect of it on the body. Most people I knew who had it said it was physically draining and like a really bad flu, but I had no idea it could affect your breathing or oxygen levels without you even knowing it was until it was too late. I thought people could feel the tightness in their chest every time. I had never heard of silent hypoxia until I had it.



Silent hypoxia is when the oxygen level in the blood is very low, but you feel fine and the pulse ox machine isn’t even showing your oxygen as low as it actually is. You feel fine until it’s too late and you’re turning blue. I happened to notice a lower number on my pulse ox and that’s how I ended up at the emergency room at Memorial Hospital, diagnosed with silent hypoxia and Acute Respiratory Failure. Even the nurses said my color looked good and they felt I didn’t have silent hypoxia. I must have caught it just in time. Thank you, Jesus, literally.



Honestly, it wasn’t until I was out of the hospital that I realized how bad I had been and how if I hadn’t gotten to the hospital when I did, I wouldn’t be here right now writing this, hugging my kids, and husband and being with my family.



So here are a few tips for those facing Covid this winter (though this will hopefully change as the virus mutates and maybe doesn’t attack the lungs as easily):



The most important tip from my point of view is to buy a pulse oximeter and watch your oxygen levels – especially 5 to 10 days after you’ve tested positive. I took a turn for the worse on day ten. A pulse oximeter is a small device that can be purchased for anywhere from $20 to $50 and clips on your finger to measure your heart rate and the amount of oxygen in your blood.



Take slow deep breathes while measuring. Don’t be like me and hold your breath which messes up the reading for up to thirty seconds and might send you into a panic. Your levels should be between 95 and 100, though some nurses say 94 is okay.



A second tip: if you have a cough, but even if you don’t, lay on your stomach for at least an hour every four hours. Several articles I read, plus the nurses and doctors at the hospital, said they have found this opens up the lungs even more. You can prop yourself up with a pillow so you’re not mashed flat into the mattress or floor while you do it and you can sleep or watch tv, read a book, or whatever.



I tested this out my first night in the hospital when I was hooked up to a 24/7 pulse ox machine. My oxygen wasn’t dropping super low since I was on supplemental oxygen but when I laid on my stomach, even with the hospital bed propped up, the O2 number would rise.



Third, and about as important as monitoring the pulse ox, drink as much water and fluids with electrolytes that you can stand. If your stomach isn’t affected, try to eat as well, even if you have lost your sense of taste and smell. Your body needs energy to fight the virus off. I had a fever for eight days that Tylenol did nothing for and it ended up leaving me dehydrated more than I should have been.



Fourth, don’t base your experience with Covid on someone else’s, good or bad. If someone says Covid was a breeze for them, don’t expect it will be for you. If someone says they almost died with it, don’t expect the same will happen to you. Most people feel awful but don’t end up in the hospital with Covid as I did. Know that Covid can be serious but try not to panic (like I did). Also know that going in the hospital does not mean you’re going to be vented. Doctors do all they can now not to vent patients and many patients do not need that kind of intervention.



One other piece of advice is to not Google when you have Covid. In my case it was both good and bad. It was bad because I focused more on what Covid could do to me or the rest of my family than taking care of myself. It was good because I had never heard of silent hypoxia before reading about it on Google and therefore knew I might have it when my pulse oxygen began to drop into the low 90s. Also, stay away from the mainstream media, which almost exclusively focuses on the bad outcomes versus the good. Fear sells. Never forget that.



My hope is that Covid is mutating to the point now that most who catch it in this new year won’t have to worry about these tips or at least the ones related to the oxygen. I also hope doctors begin to focus less on eliminating the virus (because that isn’t going to happen) and more on how to treat it at home and in the hospital. How this world went two years without more efforts to treat this virus with therapeutics at home is beyond me.



Another thing, if you are unvaccinated for whatever reason, and do have to go to get an emergency room or hospital, don’t assume you will be treated worse because of your status. I think I was asked once about my status and never again. As far as I know, I was not treated any differently because of my vaccination status. I am unvaccinated for a personal, legit medical reason and If I am judged for that so be it, but I felt no judgment in the hospital beyond one doctor who was annoyed at a medication I had taken briefly. That’s another story for another day.



If the hospital staff wanted me to die as some on social media suggest are the attitudes of hospital staff when it comes to the unvaccinated, then they did a poor job of killing me off. They were kind, attentive in checking vitals, and did their best to alleviate any fears I had.



The final tip: don’t expect to just bounce right back from Covid. Some will but some might be exhausted, weak, and suffer from a cough for weeks or months after Covid leaves their system. I am very impatient. I want to feel better now but it’s not going to happen on my timetable. Give yourself some grace while your body heals. I’m trying to do the same.