Sunday Bookends: Keeping it low, blooming flowers, quiet books

Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’ve been reading, doing, watching, writing and listening to.

What’s Been Occurring

This week we had some difficult news about someone we knew so we laid pretty low and tried to focus on our mental health. I wandered my yard and took a lot of photos of our flowers, which I shared in a post earlier this week.

Last Sunday Little Miss and my dad planted some gladiolus bulbs around the garden.

Friday Little Miss learned how to ride her bike without her training wheels, and she spent almost all day yesterday riding it.

We really didn’t do much else this week because I preferred to hide away from people. Little Miss’ friends who were visiting from Texas left to go back this week and that left us both down. I’ll miss those little girls running up from their great-grandma’s to play with Little Miss every afternoon and them playing together until the light outside was almost too dark to see their hands in front of their faces.

Remember when I was complaining all winter about it being too cold out? Well for two days this week the temperatures were lower (in the 60s!) and I loved it! On Saturday it was spring weather and I was all for it. I loved curling up under the covers with a book and wearing my sweater. I’m not a fan of hot, sticky summer weather so if it is like that in July and August for us, I’m sure I’ll complain a time or two about it on here.

What I/we’ve Been Reading

I am reading quiet books for now.

I am reading The Heart of the Mountains by Pepper Basham on the Kindle.

I am reading Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery in paperback.

I usually read a Kindle book at night when all the lights are off and a paperback during the day.

This week I will be reading Pepper’s book slowly for a book tour that isn’t until late July and Anne’s book slowly because I enjoy taking my time with it.

I am also hoping to start a mystery book of some sort this week or next but I am not sure which one yet.

Little Miss finally let me read Anne of Green Gables to her instead of The Long Winter from The Little House series at night this past week. It’s been a nice break (since this is our second time through the series), but I have discovered she doesn’t fall sleep as fast when I read Anne. Anne speaks very quickly and excitedly and because I do all the voices, Grace gets into the story even more than the other books.

“You speak very fast, and it wakes my brain all up,” she told me Friday night.

I read The Long Winter after that, and she dropped off to sleep in five minutes. Anne might have to be a book we read during the day if this continues.

What I’m Watching

The Husband and I started Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Friday night. It is based on an Agatha Christie book and is a mini-series. We are enjoying it so far. We have two more parts to finish.

My husband either had to work or go to play practice every night during the week so we didn’t watch much else together. I actually didn’t watch much alone either. I had a hard time focusing on anything for very long.

I did rewatch some of As Time Goes By, which is a British sitcom I’ve watched a few times now.


What I’m Writing

I wrote some blog posts to distract myself this week and also worked a little on Mercy’s Shore.

What I’m Listening To

I listened to some Jack White music this week. I needed something different than what I had been listening to. Jack White is a bit too weird for me sometimes, but I love his guitar work. I wouldn’t say I’d recommend listening to him all the time but when you feel a little pissed off at the world (for lack of a better way to explain it right now) it scratches an itch.

Now it’s your turn

Now it’s your turn. What have you been doing, watching, reading, listening to, or writing? Let me know in the comments or leave a blog post link if you also write a weekly update like this.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 1

As you can tell, I’ve decided to try blogging my next book.

I can’t guarantee I’ll have chapters every week, but we will see how it goes.

As always, this will be a work in progress, chapters will not have been proofed and at the end, I’ll create a book that will be self-published.

The last book I presented this way comes out on Amazon/Kindle on Tuesday and I have set the price at 99 cents to allow my blog readers a chance to get it cheap. If you prefer to have a free copy in exchange for a review, leave me your email address or send it to me at lisahoweler@gmail.com and I’ll send you a Bookfunnel link with a copy of the book.

I hope you enjoy the first chapter of Ben Oliver and Judi Lambert’s story. As always, comments are welcome.

Chapter 1

If mentally unhinged and obnoxious had been Ben Oliver’s type Judi Lambert’s fluttering eyelashes and head tilt might have worked to calm him

But neither of those things interested him, which was why his heart was racing and a vein had popped out on the left side of his neck.

He gestured aggressively toward the tree his BMW was now wrapped around.  “You didn’t see the stop sign?”

Judi twisted a strand of straight, blonde hair around a finger and avoided eye contact. “Yeah, I saw it, I just —”

“You just what? Thought the stop sign was a suggestion?”

She blew her gum into a bubble, popped it between her lips, and sighed. “Calm down. I’m sure your car is —”

“Totaled, Judi. My car is totaled.” He tapped the screen of his cell phone. “My car is totaled because you thought you could beat me through the intersection.”

Holding the phone to his ear, he paced in place, waiting for someone to pick up.

“Hello, Attorney Ben Oliver’s office.”

“Cindi, hey, yeah. It’s me. I’ve been in an accident.”

“Oh my gosh, Ben. Are you okay?” The concerned voice of his middle-aged secretary sent a flurry of frustration rushing through him.

“I’m fine. I just need you to call Judge Stanton’s office and tell him I’m not going to be able to make court today.”

“No, problem. Should I call anyone else for you?”

There was no one else to call, other than his parents, and he could talk to them later.

“No. Thanks. See you later this afternoon.”

He slid his thumb across the screen of the phone and turned back to what was left of the car he’d purchased last year to congratulate himself on the opening of his own law office.

No, the office wasn’t in a big city, like he had thought it would be. It was located in a town thirty minutes from where he’d grown up in rural Pennsylvania. It was a law office, though, and it was his.

When he turned from inspecting the car, the lanky blond standing across from him slid her hands in the back pockets of her jeans and pushed out her chest at the same time she pushed out her bottom lip. Behind her was the red convertible she’d been driving, completely unharmed, of course.

She tipped her head to one side. “I’m sure we can work something out, right?”

No way. Was she seriously trying to seduce him?

She winked.

Yes, she was trying to seduce him. Luckily, he knew what a train wreck she’d turned into after high school. He wasn’t about to fall for her overplayed act.

“Work what out?” The more he yelled, the more his head throbbed. “My car is destroyed because of you.” He tossed his hands in the air. “There’s nothing to be worked out!” He pointed a finger at her. “You better hope your insurance covers this.”

She held her hands up in front of her. “Dude, calm down. You’re bleeding from the head. It can’t be good for you to be screaming like this.”

Ben practically growled as he took a step toward her, wincing as pain sliced through his ankle. “I know, I’m bleeding!” He spoke through gritted teeth. “You don’t think I know I’m bleeding?! My head bounced off the windshield when I swerved to miss your car!”

He pressed his handkerchief to his forehead as blood dripped into his eye with one hand, dialing 911 on his cellphone with the other.

“Yes, I need to report an accident,” he answered when the dispatcher asked what his emergency he was.

“Location?” the dispatcher asked.

He swiveled to look for the road signs at the intersection but when he stopped moving the rest of the world didn’t.

“Sir, can you give me a location?”

Black encroached at the edges of Ben’s sight, and he bent forward, propping his hands on his knees. The phone clattered to the dirt surface of the road.

“Sir? Are you okay? Sir?”

When he came to, Judi was leaning over him with his phone against her ear.

“Yes. He’s opening his eyes now. How far out are they?” She rolled her eyes. “Okay. I’ll try but he’s very stubborn.”

Judi held the phone to the base of her throat, slightly above her cleavage, still leaning over him.

“Ben, the dispatcher says you need to stay still until the ambulance gets here. It shouldn’t be long, ‘Kay?”

Kay? Yeah – kay. Where else was he going to go? His head was pounding, pain was shooting up through his ankle, and every time he tried to open his eyes the world — and Judi — spun into a whirl of colors. He clenched his eyes closed against the pulsating agony sliding back and forth from the front to the back of his head.

The next thirty minutes was a blur, voices fading in and out, images merging together, lights bright in his eyes. He didn’t know how much time had passed when the world came into focus again and the beeping of monitors drowned out his muddled thoughts.

“There he is. I think he’s coming to.”

What was Judi doing in his bedroom? This could not be a good sign. “Hey, buddy. How you feeling?”

Wait. He wasn’t in his bedroom. Thank God. That meant Judi wasn’t either.

A deep voice boomed across his thoughts. “I know it’s family only. I’m his father.”

Ben struggled to open his eyes, blinked in bright fluorescent, and squinted. He searched the room of hospital equipment, nurses, and Judi to find his father’s face etched with concern.

“Dad?”

“You’re awake. Thank God.”

His dad’s voice was thick with emotion. He stepped past the nurse and stood at Ben’s bedside, reaching out a large hand to clasp his son’s shoulder.

Ben closed his eyes briefly, trying to remember how he’d ended up here, IV needles sticking out of his arm, nodes glued to his forehead and chest. A vision of his car wrapped around a tree filled his mind and his eyes flew open, his gaze falling on Judi again.

It all came back to him, including the anger.

“What is she still doing here? She didn’t do enough by making me wreck my car?”

His dad looked at him through disappointed dark green eyes, lowering his voice. “Ben, she’s been waiting here for you to wake up. She easily could have left. I’ll cut you some slack since you’re injured, but I hope to see a little more kindness when your head is clearer.”

In his father’s words, Ben felt the sting of the reminder that he would never be as good, or as kind, as Maxwell Oliver.

How did his dad even know he was here? He certainly hadn’t called him. Then again, maybe he had. His brain was a little fuzzy on the last — how long had he been here?

“I need to call the office. I have a client coming in at 2.”

A smile tilted his dad’s mouth up. “It’s well after two, kid. Cindy already called and rescheduled. You need to lay back and relax. I’m going to find a doctor and see what the verdict is on that head injury of yours.”

With his father gone, Ben took the time to look around the room, his gaze settling once again on Judi, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, dark red lipstick freshly reapplied, finely manicured nails showcasing pink nail polish as she held her phone and texted furiously. She was sitting in a chair, one leg crossed over the other, her foot bouncing.

“Go home, Judi. I’m fine.”

She didn’t look up from her phone. “I have to stay. Matt McGee wants my statement about the accident. He said he’d meet me here.”

Ben shifted up on the hospital bed, looked down at his arm with the IV, his white button-up shirt stained with blood, and his khakis with the knees dark from when he’d fallen in the mud climbing out of the car.

Maybe it was the painkiller running into his bloodstream, maybe it was the exhaustion or the head injury, but a laugh came out of him.

“And what are you going to tell Officer McGee? The truth? That you completely ignored a stop sign and drove straight through the intersection and in front of me?”

Judi looked up, pursing her lips, and studying Ben for a few minutes before speaking. “Are you going to sue me?”

“Excuse me?”

“Just let me know if you’re going to sue me. I’ve got tons of bills already, okay? I need to know if I’m going to have even more to pay if you sue me.”

He sighed and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. “No, Judi. I am not going to sue you. The worse I’m going to do is have my insurance company send a claim to your insurance company.”

“Okay. Well, you’re a lawyer so, I wasn’t sure what you’d do.”

Ben made a face as he lowered his hands. “Lawyers don’t sue everyone just because we know how, Judi.”

Judi shrugged a shoulder and looked back at her phone, tapping her finger across the screen. “Just checking.”

“Mr. Oliver. How are we doing?”

He heard the voice before he saw the doctor who swept into the room. He tried to follow the imposing figure with his eyes, but they wouldn’t focus so he tipped his head back against the pillow instead.

The doctor flicked a light into his eyes quickly then held up a finger. “Can you follow my finger?”

Ben tried but his eyes kept going where he didn’t want them to.

The doctor dropped his hand and glanced over his shoulder at Maxwell, who Ben noticed had stepped back into the exam room. “That’s pretty consistent with what I suspected.”

“What’s the verdict then, Jim?” Maxwell asked, arms folded across his chest, expression serious.

“Pretty clear grade three concussion. I’d like to do an MRI to confirm.”

Ben tried to focus on his father and the doctor as they conversed but moving his gaze back and forth proved to be too much to handle and he eventually closed his eyes.

He listened to the conversation, not in the least surprised his father knew the doctor by his first name. It seemed like there wasn’t anyone in this smalltown Maxwell didn’t know.

“For now, I think we should keep him overnight for observation and if all the tests come back normal, he should be good to go in a couple of days.”

Ben opened his eyes, squinting in his father’s direction. “You two are aware that I’m right here and an adult with all my facilities?”

Maxwell laughed. “Sorry about that son. Jim and I went to high school together. I was already talking to him outside about your head injury, so we were simply continuing the conversation.”

Ben tried to nod, then winced. “Okay, well, listen, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I don’t want to stay here overnight. I have a court case in the morning and —“

“There’ll be no court for you for a while, kid.” His father’s stern voice overlapped his. “In addition to that head injury, Jim’s pretty sure your ankle is broken. You’re going to need some time to heal up.”

Maxwell pushed his hands into his front pant pockets and tipped his head down, looking over his gold-rimmed glasses. “Listen, I know it’s going to be hard for you not to be on the move, but I have a feeling you won’t be cleared to drive for at least a couple of weeks so I think you should stay with me and your mom while you recover.”

“Dad, come on, that’s —“

“Probably a good idea,” the doctor said. “We’ll see what the MRI shows but even if it doesn’t show anything worse, your head is going to need some time to heal. Driving could put you and others in danger. I’m going to call a nurse and have her finish cleaning out that gash and then we’ll sew it up for you.” He turned to Maxwell and held out his hand. “Max, good to see you.” He turned his head toward Ben while still holding Maxwell’s hand. “You’ve got a good dad here, Ben. I hope you know that.”

Ben leaned his head back again, eyelids drooping. “Yeah. I do. I certainly do.”

Sleep overcame him a few minutes later and when he woke up, he was in a hospital room, alone except for a nurse pressing buttons on a blood pressure machine next to the bed.

He patted his chest, then reached toward the bedstand next to the bed. “Is my phone around here?”

The nurse nodded toward the bedside table. “Over there charging. Your dad said you’d want it when you woke up.”

“How long have I been out?”

The nurse smiled as she turned to leave the room. “Sometime since yesterday. The morphine hit you hard.”

Ben winced as he pushed the button on the side of the bed, lifting the top so he could sit up. His head and ankle were throbbing. He glanced under the blanket and saw a temporary cast on the ankle, which probably meant it was broken after all.

“Great. Just what I need.”

He reached for the phone, wondering how many calls he’d missed while he was out.

Ten all together. Two were from clients, one was from his secretary. The last one was from the Spencer Valley Police Department, which was most likely regarding his statement about the accident.

His finger hovered over the last voice mail. He didn’t recognize the number, but the phone had already transcribed the first few lines of the message and it had done a horrible job. All he could make out that made sense was parents and birthday. Whose parents and whose birthday?

He pressed play on the message, groaning softly when the familiar voice started speaking.

“My parents sent you an invitation to Amelia’s party and I just want you to know that they sent it, not me. I don’t want you there. One call a year on her birthday doesn’t make you a father, Ben. So, just . . . just ignore the invitation.”

Muffled voices followed. Angie must have forgotten to hang up the phone. Ben heard what sounded like Angie’s mother in the background, then it was Angie again. “Yes, I did call him.  . . Because I didn’t ask you to contact him. . . . I understand he’s her father, but he’s never wanted to be in her life before, why would he now?”

The voicemail ended abruptly, and he sat staring at the screen for a few seconds, his thumb hovering over the delete button.

Taking a deep breath, he moved his thumb away from the button. He was under the influence of some heavy-duty painkillers. Maybe he’d better listen to the voicemail again when was more alert.

Then again —

His thumb moved back to the delete button and he tapped it.

Listening again wouldn’t make any of what Angie had said less true. He hadn’t even seen the invitation yet, but if he did, he knew what to do with it. Toss it in the trashcan like he had with all the other invitations he’d been sent for the last four years.

Comfort reading with The Cat Who . . . book series

I’m a stickler for books set in smaller towns with a large cast of fun and quirky characters, if you couldn’t tell by the stories I share on here for Fiction Friday.

I mention The Cat Who books by Lilian Jackson Braun from time to time and when I do I write that I am reading one as “comfort reading.” I consider them comfort reading because I used to read them when I was a teenager. For me, reading about James Mackintosh Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Koko and Yum-Yum, and the cast of characters around them, feels oddly like coming home.

I call them The Cat Who . . . books because all of the book titles start with The Cat Who . . . followed by something the cat did.

Examples include The Cat Who Played Brahms, The Cat Who Sang for the Birds, The Cat Who Lived High, and The Cat Who Sniffed Glue. There were 29 books written between 1966 and 2007. There were 18 years between the third and fourth book and after reading that in an article while researching for this post, I started to wonder what the delay was all about. What did Braun do in between and what made her pick up the series again? I did some digging and learned there were a few reasons for the break, including the death of her husband and the fact that she was working at The Detroit Free Press as the “Good Living” editor during that time, and for 30-years, retiring in the late 70s. The other, bigger, reason for the break, though, was that when she turned in the manuscript for the fourth book, the publisher said they were interested in books with more sex and violence.

Luckily Braun was able to find a publisher in the future who recognized that not every reader wants books full of sex and violence.

As a writer who has started writing fiction fairly “late in life,” I found it interesting that Braun published her first fiction book at the age of 53. She was 97 when she passed away and her husband told a newspaper that her biggest regret was dying before she could finish her 30th book, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke.

When she did release a new book in 1986, after that 18 year break, it was called The Cat Who Saw Red. It was published under a new publisher and nominated for an Anthony Award and an Edgar Award in the best original paperback category. The new publisher also re-released her other three books.

The original cover of the first The Cat Who book.
The second book with the original cover.
The third book with the original cover.

The books always offer a mystery, of course, usually in the form of a murder or two, but woven within the mystery are hilarious anecdotes about the people of Pixax, the town James Qwilleran, a retired crime beat journalist and columnist, has settled into.

The series started out with Qwilleran working “Down Below”, as the country folk call the city of Chicago. After inheriting some money from an eccentric distant relative (who, if I remember correctly he wasn’t even biologically related to), he ends up moving to the tiny town where many of his mysteries occur, which makes me ask, “how many criminals live in this one tiny town?” That thought always makes me a bit paranoid, since I also live in a small town. After reading one of these books (or watching an episode of Murder She Wrote) I start looking at my neighbors in a different light.

“Do you think Mrs. Smith down the road is capable of murder?” I might ask my husband, but I don’t actually since there isn’t a Mrs. Smith down the road.
Or sometimes I think, “What does Mr. So-and-So have in those containers in his back yard? Compost or . . . bodies?!”

Anyhow, back to the books. Not all of them aren’t all winners, a couple of them are stinkers, only saved by the cats and quirky characters. Still, I keep reading them, enjoying the feeling of coming home, in a way, much like I do when I read and re-read the Mitford books.

It isn’t only the quirky characters and pets that captures my interest in the books. Being a veteran of the journalism world, I also find myself drawn to the parts of the stories that involve reporting and the newspaper office. The characters of the small town newspaper are about as odd as some of the people I used to work with, but not quite.

When the subject of reporters and journalists come up in a conversation, I often comment that a newspaper’s newsroom is full of people who are two clicks away from being certifiably crazy. Then I remember I was once one of those people and wonder what that means about me. I guess it means I was the only sane person in the four newsrooms I worked in over my 15-year career.

Braun’s own career in journalism helped her to become a prolific novelist, releasing one or two books a year. She said she was used to continously writing after doing it for 50 years. I can relate to the idea of being used to writing often and a lot, since that’s what I did when I worked at newspapers, but of course I only did it for 15 years, not 50!

When I picture Qwill in my mind he’s a cross between Sam Elliott and a former boss of mine (who incidentally no longer has the mustache he used to have). Qwill is an old school newshound with a passion for digging up the answers to mysteries, even after he stops working as an investigative reporter and knows it isn’t his place.

How I picture Qwill but without the long hair.

Getting to the bottom of something was my favorite part of being a reporter. I loved to dig for the news, but I was nowhere near as good at is as my husband is. He’s like a dog with a bone. When he gets a tip, he’ll dig that thing out of the ground and bring it in the light no matter who tries to stop him.

He isn’t as obsessed with it as I am, though. I remember laying awake at night wondering what the local school board or district attorney was hiding from me while he comes home, drops the mystery at the door, picks up a book and doesn’t pick up work things again until the next morning. Usually anyhow. Some nights he does lay there worrying about work things, but not necessarily a story he is working on.

Throughout the books, Qwill ages from his late 40s to his mid-50s. He is a divorced, slightly overweight, former alocholic who now declines offers to drink any alcohol when the books first start. He loses the extra pounds as the series progresses.

Women find him irrestible, Braun writes, and one reason they do is because of his “luxurious mustache.” He also has salt-and-pepper hair, but it is the mustache that is the most intriguing, not only because of it’s appearance.

An excerpt from an article on Wikipedia describes the role of the mustache perfectly.

Whenever Qwilleran gets a suspicion that something is wrong or his instincts are right, he will get “a tingling sensation on his upper lip.” Depending upon the strength of the sensation, he may be seen “stroking it with his fingertips” to “pounding [his mustache] with his knuckles”.

Characters in the books (especially women) are also drawn to Qwill because of his willingness to listen, a skill he picked up in his job as a reporter. It’s a skill I picked up as well. I found that the more I let a person talk, the more they would tell me, without even realizing they were telling me it. Idle chitchat also helped relax the subject of a story or the person I was interviewing. I never felt like I was manipulating the person. I was simply reminding them that I was human too and helping them to feel comfortable with talking to me.

Qwill uses this tactic in his reporting, but also in his sleuthing. It may appear to the reader that the character is simply telling Qwilleran about the new decor in their homes, but Qwilleran might hear something quite different, including the fact that the person who designed the new look for their home new the victim in a recent crime.

Now, I would be very remiss if I did not mention that Q’s cat Koko helps him solve his crimes in unusual and distinct ways. Koko sometimes yowls at the guilty person, flips a book to a page that offers a clue, or leads Q to a clue when they go on their walks, with Koko on a harness and leash.

Koko’s full name is Kao K’o-Kung and he is named after a 13th-century Chinese artist of the same name. He was once owned by an art critic who Qwill used to work with at the Fluxion, a newspaper Down Under. His first owner fed Koko a gourmet diet of lobster, chicken, and other fancy meals, which means he won’t eat normal cat food.

Qwilleran later adopts Yum-Yum, another Siamese, and ends up having to feed both cats expensive food on his sometimes meager salary, which of course expands when he inherhits a fortune and mansion later in the series.

While locals often credit Qwill when he solves a crime, there are some who know Koko is the real brains in the operation, as shown by this exerpt from The Cat Who Played Brahms:

“Qwilleran’s Siamese cat was a celebrity at the Press Club. Koko’s portrait hung in the lobby along with Pulitzer Prize winners, and he was probably the only cat in the history of journalism who had his own press card signed by the chief of police. Although Qwilleran’s suspicious nature and inquisitive mind had brought a few criminals to justice, it was commonly understood at the Press Club that the brains behind his success belonged to a feline of outstanding intelligence and sensory perception. Koko always seemed to sniff or scratch in the right place at the right time.”

In addition to the newspaper angle, I, of course, like the way the books nail the personality of cats, especially Siamese, right on the head. I had a cat that our vet said was part Siamese and he was a very interesting cat, so I relate to the way Braun writes about cats as well as the mysteries.

Being a cat lover, and the owner of two Siamese herself, Braun certainly had first-hand experience about the behavior of cats.

Braun with the Siamese she named after her literary cats.

The good thing about these books is that they are fairly simple and straight forward. They aren’t raunchy, have very little to no swearing, and don’t feature grotesque or detailed descriptions of violence. They are almost completely void of romance, other than a very tame, chaste storyline involving Qwill and town librarian Polly Duncan.

I have been having fun snatching books from the series up at book sales but have also purchased a few through my Kindle. I don’t know why, but I prefer reading The Cat Who books as hard copies, maybe because that’s how I started reading them when I would sign them out at the local library.

So, how about you? Do you have a series of books that are like “comfort reading” to you? I would love to hear about the series.

Fiction Thursday: ‘A New Beginning’ Chapter 16

I don’t know about you, but the news has been depressing lately me (what? You couldn’t tell by my post yesterday? Ha!). I’m doing my best to avoid it, but sometimes it can’t be helped and it filters in. To try to offset the depressing news, I thought I’d offer a distraction by sharing an extra chapter this week, although this chapter may start a little depressing, it will end on a happy note. Chapter 17 will be on the blog tomorrow for Fiction Friday.

You will find a link to the previous chapters I have posted HERE or at the link at the top of the page.

You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. 


Chapter 16

Sam’s left eye was swollen shut and bruises spread out from under the bandages around his middle. An IV stretched from a bag of fluid to his arm and an oxygen cannula was pressed under his nose, the hose hooked over his ears.

Sitting on a chair across from his bed I watched him sleep and thought about the first time Emmy had told me about meeting him. She’d called me when I was still with Hank, gushing about the boy with the brown hair and dark eyes, the strong jawline and determination to become a police officer. She’d met him at the small community college an hour from home and at first, he’d only asked if she’d like to study history with him. From that point on I heard stories about his hand accidentally touching hers and how it had made her feel, long looks into each other’s eyes and, finally, Sam asking her if she’d have coffee with him.

The afternoon of their wedding the rain fell hard and heavy on the roof of the church, almost drowning out their voices as they said their vows, but unable to mask the smiles on their faces or the look of adoration in Emmy’s eyes at each word Sam uttered. Emmy had always been worried about Sam’s job and the danger it put him in and now here she was with those fears being realized.

Dark circles streaked the skin under his eyes, his face almost as pale as the sheets on the hospital bed. I ached to hear his laughter and see his eyes light up when he shared one of his latest work-related escapades.

“Oh, Sam . . .”

Emmy’s voice was soft behind me and I stood to take the wheelchair from the nurse. The nurse nodded sympathetically and patted my arm as she turned to leave.

“I think he looks worse today than yesterday,” Emmy said, tears rimming her eyes.

“You know bruises always look worse the second day,” I told her, helping her into the chair next to the bed.

Emmy slid her hand into Sam’s, watching him closely as he slept. His fingers were limp against her palm as she lifted his hand and kissed the back of it.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” she asked. “Having a baby and watching your husband recover from being shot all the span of a few days? It seems like a wonderful dream and a horrible nightmare rolled into one.”

I touched the top of Emmy’s head, leaned over and kissed it, then hugged her close. We’d been friends since seventh grade when she had moved here from North Carolina; as close as sisters, spending nights together giggling about our favorite actors, sometimes our favorite book characters. Looking at her now it was hard to imagine her as the innocent preteen, laying on her back on her bed, her dark hair spread out over the pink bedspread, wondering if she’d ever get married or have children.

She was more like Edith and most other girls. I was always the odd one out, rarely considering a future of marriage or children. None of that interested me. A domesticated life with a good man seemed so foreign and unattainable to me. Not to mention I wasn’t really fond of young children as a preteen or teen. The only future I pondered was full of exploring, learning and reading, maybe even travel. I daydreamed about big adventures far from home while Emmy and Edith filled scrapbooks with wedding ideas and window shopped for wedding dresses.

“It’s going to be okay, Emmy,” I told her as she cried against me.

She nodded, unable to speak between the sobs. I wasn’t sure why I had told her it was going to be okay when I really wasn’t sure it was going to be okay.

“What has the doctor said?”

Emmy leaned back in the wheelchair and reached for a tissue next to the bed. She wiped her eyes and face with it.

“He said there’s still a chance there has been spinal cord damage. The bullet was so close to that area. It could be weeks before we know for sure if he will be able to walk again.” Fresh tears slipped down her cheeks. “Or we could know within days. Whenever he wakes up.”

I helped Emmy back to her room before I left the hospital, passing her mother and Sam’s parents on my way out. After quick hugs and updates, I sat in Daddy’s car with my hands on the steering wheel, feeling selfish as I pondered if I would ever have a connection with someone the way Emmy did with Sam. I’d never really had that connection with Hank. Our connection was more physical than emotional and though I longed for the physical connection with a man again, I ached almost more for an emotional one.

I pushed the thoughts aside, closing my eyes and saying a prayer for Sam before I pulled back onto the road to head toward home.

***

“The mother was a junkie,” Edith said slowly as she picked at the edge of the tablecloth in our parent’s dining room. “The agency said she has been in rehab and picked us to adopt her baby. They want us to go down to meet her.”

Mama took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, okay… how do you two feel about this?”

Jimmy reached over and gently held Edith’s hand. They smiled at each other, tears rimming Edith’s eyes.

“We’ve been praying and we think it’s what we should do,” Edith said softly.

“But we’re still nervous,” Jimmy admitted. “The birth mother could change her mind at any point before the adoption is finalized. And with this being an open adoption — well, we aren’t sure what involvement the mother will have, but at this point, the agent we are working with said she isn’t interested in any involvement. She’s simply too young to be a mother.”

I knew Mama well enough to know her furrowed eyebrows and downcast eyes were caused by worry that Edith and Jimmy might have to face the unimaginable pain of having the child taken from them if the mother changed her mind.

Still, I also knew our parents would support my sister and Jimmy in whatever decision they made.

“We will be praying,” Daddy said, reaching across the table to take Edith’s hands in his. “We all know you two are going to be amazing parents.”

Edith let out a shaky breath. “I hope so, Daddy.”

“We know so,” Mama said brightly. “Now, no more of that worrying and wondering. I’m excited to be a grandma again so let’s just cast down all imaginations and bring all thoughts captive to Christ like our favorite verse says.”

Mama smiled and pushed a piece of pie across the table at Edith. “Now, eat some more pie and let’s make this a celebration!”

Laughter broke out around the table as I stood to answer a knock at the door.

“Sorry I’m late,” Marion said standing in the doorway.

Her smile was broad, her skin appearing younger than I’d ever seen it. She walked inside and I helped her take her coat off. “Stanley and I went for some coffee after church and I lost track of time.”

“Stanley, huh?” Mama called from the dining room. “Come on in here, Marion and fill us in on how things are going!”

Marion’s cheeks were flushed and she sheepishly smiled as we walked into the dining room.

“Grandma!” Jackson rushed toward her and tossed his arms around her waist.

Marion kissed the top of his head. “Hey, sweet boy. What are you up to today?”

Jackson looked up at her with bright green eyes and grinned. “Grandma, Aunt Edith says you have a new boyfriend. Am I going to have another grandpa soon?”

While my face burned with embarrassment, Marion tipped her head back and laughed heartily, hugging Jackson to her.

“Oh, my boy,” she giggled like a young woman. “You are so funny and smart. But let’s not rush anything. Stanley is a good friend and that’s all for now, okay?”

Jackson sighed. “Okay, Grandma, but I don’t like you over at that house being all lonely. I think you need a man to keep you company.”

My family snickered at my son’s words while I stood in bewilderment wondering who had indoctrinated my child to believe a woman needed a man to survive, but also finding it sweet he was concerned about his grandmother’s potential loneliness.

“Jackson, I think it’s time to go sit have some of Grandma’s pie and let the adults talk now,” I told him, kissing his cheek.

He sighed again. “Okay, Mama, but I swear, you just never let me have any fun.”

Mama’s face was red with laughter when we sat back at the table. “Oh, Blanche, this child’s sass is total payback for the attitude you gave your daddy and me when you were growing up.”

Daddy grinned. “And it’s so sweet to watch.”

“Why don’t you two just eat your pie and interrogate Marion about Stanley and leave me out of it?” I laughed.

After dessert, I walked Marion to her car, sliding leftovers Mama had packed for her onto the passenger side seat.

“So, you’re enjoying your time with Stanley?” I asked.

Marion leaned back against the closed driver side door of the car and looked out at the sun setting, the orange glow pouring across her face almost like a spotlight. Her smile was peaceful, wistful even.

“He’s much different than I ever expected, Blanche. Much different that you probably expected too. He’s gentle and thoughtful, calls during the day to check on me. Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges about some things, after all these years in newspapers but it hasn’t jaded him the way I thought it would have. He lost his wife you know.”

“Yes, Thomas told me.”

“He really loved her and at first he was afraid to talk about her, but I let him know it was okay. I wish I could have met her.” Marion laughed and shook her head. “Although I guess that would be awkward now that I’m dating her husband. I hope she would have liked me – if she had met me.”

“You just used the word dating,” I teased.

Even in the fading glow of the sunset, I could see the red flushed across her cheeks. She pressed her hand to her mouth and giggled like a young girl.

“Oh, I did, didn’t I?”

I felt awkward asking my ex-mother-in-law about her dating life but, at the same time, I couldn’t seem to stop my curiosity.

“So… has he kissed you?”

Marion laughed and looked away for a moment then back at me with a broad smile.

“Yes, and it was wonderful.”

I hugged her and we laughed together, the warmth of the sun still on us.

“Oh, Blanche,” she leaned back to look at me. “There can be love again after heartache and hurt. I want you to know that. I want you to know there will be love again one day. Pure, gentle love. Not every man is hard and hurtful. There are good men out there. Don’t be afraid to love again someday, okay?”

I laid my hand against the face of the woman Hank’s father had bruised with his fists many times and saw in her eyes genuine joy, joy I hoped I could have within myself someday. I nodded to let her know I understood her message to me, hugged her again and opened the car door for her.

Standing in the driveway long after she left, I watched the sun slip behind the hill, an orange and pink glow spreading along the horizon’s edge. I basked in the happiness I had felt radiating off her when I finally walked back to the house, letting it carry me through the rest of the evening.

Oh. So that’s why writing book two has been such a challenge.

I have been having a hard time writing the second part of Blanche’s story and I think it is because I had so much fun sharing the first part on my blog and interacting with some of my readers about it as I went along, and I haven’t been doing that with this book.

A-Story-to-Tell

I was able to go back and make changes before I published the book on Kindle, but sharing it in pieces and receiving feedback as I wrote it, was fun. I’ve heard this is similar to how Wattpad works, but I don’t know if I’m really interested in sharing it with that many people. I don’t mind sharing it with the few people who read my blog, however, because my blog readers are cool people, with similar tastes, who aren’t afraid to give me polite pointers.

I’ve also been struggling with Blanche sharing with me the second part of her story like she did the first part. I’m fairly certain I just heard many of you say to yourselves: ‘I’m sorry what? You think your character is talking to you? How many drugs are you on?” I know. It sounds weird but, yes, sometimes I feel like my characters tell me their stories in bits and pieces and I wake up (because they don’t tell me when I’m awake apparently) and jot down what they’ve shared with me, flushing it out later.

The first part of Blanche’s story came out pretty quickly, but now I’m struggling with what happens since she’s (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST STORY) left Hank and come home to live with her parents. I already have plenty of ideas and a few chapters in rough draft form, though, so it is coming together. The second part of the story will introduce a few new characters but also continue the story of other characters in Blanche’s life.

Will Hank find redemption, like my dad is vying for? Or will he disappear completely from the scene? We will have to wait and see – including this writer who hasn’t totally decided what will happen with Hank yet.

And what about the arrival of Blanche’s friend Emmy’s cousin? What role will Judson “J.T.” Waignwright play, if any? And then there is Edith, Blanche’s older sister. How is married life (and parenthood?) treating her? When we left her she was expecting. Hank’s mom was also on scene, hoping to have a relationship with her grandson, and searching for her own healing from her own abusive marriage.

What will happen to Emmy and who is Stanley Jasper?

We’ll see every Friday, starting this Friday when I start sharing chapters from “A New Beginning,” the sequel toA Story to Tell.”