Sunday Bookends (on Monday): Good music, scary or depressing movies, books about chefs and summer activities


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

I didn’t finish this in time for a Sunday posting, which is why it’s being posted on Monday instead. Obviously. *wink*


What I/we’ve Been Reading

I have been reading but quite slowly. I was rotating between three books and I still haven’t finished one of them so this week I am going to focus on Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and when that is finished I am going to finish The Heart of the Mountain by  Pepper Basham and then I will go back to Anne of the Island from the Anne of Green Gables series.  The Heart of the Mountain is the first book I’ve read by Basham and I am enjoying it. So far it’s not a cliché Christian fiction romance and I am grateful for that. It releases on July 1.

A description for those who are curious about it:

Can True Love Weather a World of Differences?

To escape marriage, Cora Taylor runs away from her home in England to join her brother in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, but not even her time as a nurse in the Great War prepares her for the hard landscape and even harder lives of the mountain people. With the help of Jeb McAdams, a quiet woodcarver, who carries his own battle scars, she fashions a place for herself among these unique people. But the past refuses to let go, and with dangers from within and without, can hearts bruised by war find healing within the wilds of the mountains?

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is the book that blew Bourdain into stardom and details his journey working at the lowest levels in kitchens up to the big time. If you don’t know who Bourdain is, then you really missed out (though you didn’t miss out on his potty mouth. *wink* He was known to be a bit crass, crude, and rude at times, but he was also a brilliant writer and food connoisseur. So warning: there is swearing in this book but not constant swearing ).

 He was a chef who became famous when he traveled the world for the Travel Channel tasting and discussing food from countries all over the world, all while giving the viewers a bit of history and culture lessons during each episode.

A description of Kitchen Confidential for the curious:

Anthony Bourdain, host of Parts Unknown, reveals “twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine” in his breakout New York Times bestseller Kitchen Confidential.

Bourdain spares no one’s appetite when he told all about what happens behind the kitchen door. Bourdain uses the same “take-no-prisoners” attitude in his deliciously funny and shockingly delectable book, sure to delight gourmands and philistines alike. From Bourdain’s first oyster in the Gironde, to his lowly position as dishwasher in a honky tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown (where he witnesses for the first time the real delights of being a chef); from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, to drug dealers in the east village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain’s tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable.

Kitchen Confidential will make your mouth water while your belly aches with laughter. You’ll beg the chef for more, please.

Bourdain committed suicide in 2018. My family and I had been watching his show for years. When we heard the news it was like losing a friend. A foul-mouthed, jokester, who loved life so much you couldn’t believe he’d choose to end it type of friend. Many of his shows are available on a variety of streaming services and I highly recommend them. If you are sensitive to seeing animals killed or hearing course language, maybe avoid them, but neither of those items are consistently present in his earlier shows and are present more, but still not constant, on his show that ran on CNN a few years before he passed away.

This is my first time reading a book by him. It is the first of several he wrote, including a couple novels.

The Husband is reading Fade Away by Harlan Coben.



What’s Been Occurring

Little Miss has been excited to jump on our neighbor’s trampoline but has been sorely disappointed that Mom and Dad won’t jump with her. Big brother isn’t that interested either and her friends from Texas are now gone home so she had to be content with jumping for us instead of with us.

We spent a few nights last week up the hill on the trampoline, me reading a book or watching her while she jumped.

Our roses are still blooming which has been so exciting for me. I can’t remember if they bloomed this long last year or not and I figure we will lose most of them this week or next so I am simply enjoying them while I can.

The Husband is on vacation this week, but we don’t have any big plans. We are going to visit a couple of local state parks and hopefully go on a train ride near us and spend time with my parents.

Yesterday we kicked off The Husband’s week with a cookout with my parents and jumped in the pool for the first time after my son and dad worked hard to clean it out.

What We watched/are Watching

I watched a rerun of the K-Love Fan Awards early in the week.

The link to the entire show can be found here:

My favorite performances included:

TobyMac Promised Land (made even more powerful to me since Toby lost his son to suicide two years ago)

Phil Wickham House of the Lord (such a fun and worshipful performance. He’s fairly new to me as of this year, but I’m enjoying his music):

CeCe Winans and Lauren Daigle, I Believe For It (two Christian powerhouse singers):

Katy Nicole, In Jesus Name (God of Possible). This one just broke me down pretty hard for various reasons. It was the first time I heard it. Powerful stuff.

I also loved when Matthew West won for best male vocalist of the year. You can tell he had no idea. He was floored, emotional, and he just deserved it. I love following him on social media, his music and listening to his podcast. He’s just a sweet man and we need to be praying for his heart and that he can continue to impact the world for Christ.

This week I watched Streetcar Named Desire for the first time at the suggestion of Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs. She and I will be watching classic movies we suggest for each other this summer. I have been rubbing my hands together at this prospect because I am a huge fan of classic, or old, movies. I love picking out movies I enjoyed to share with others and I also love to receive suggestions from others.

I will give you my impression of Streetcar on Wednesday. I suggested Double Indemnity for Erin and she will be sharing her impressions of that movie on Wednesday as well.

Also this week I watched A Quite Place with The Boy, a movie I told him I would not watch because I hate horror-type movies. I finally caved in when Little Miss and The Husband had a day out on Saturday. It turns out this movie was different than other “horror” movies and was more of a psychological thriller. I was very impressed and enjoyed the storytelling of it. The Boy and I both feel that the movie should have stood for itself and there was no need for A Quiet Place 2 but The Boy, who has already seen that movie as well, said that he actually enjoyed A Quiet Place 2 and jumped more during that movie than the first one. I told The Boy I would watch the second movie with him sometime soon. The key for movies like these are finding a time Little Miss won’t be in the room with us. Obviously, I’m not letting her watch these types of movies with us at the tender age of seven.


The Husband and I finished Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, which was a three-part miniseries based on an Agatha Christie book and directed by Hugh Laurie. It was very good. I would have liked some more Emma Thompson, but you can’t have everything.


What I’m Writing

I’ve been working some on The Shores of Mercy and hope to be more strict about carving out writing times to work on it next week.

I shared two posts on the blog this week in addition to Chapter 8 of The Shores of Mercy (which is being called Mercy’s Shore on here):


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.

How to improve dialogue and capture your readers’ attention

This appeared first on the Hope, Hearts, and Heroes blog.



For some writers, dialogue is their biggest challenge, not necessarily because they don’t know what they want their characters to say, but because they don’t know how to present that dialogue well.

Today I thought I’d jump off a topic our own Kelly Barr touched on a couple of weeks ago on the blog when she wrote about the difference between action beats and dialogue tags.

As a new fiction writer, I am among those writers who sometimes don’t do the best job of presenting dialogue in my stories.

One of the traps that we new writers fall into is adding descriptive words to replace “said” after every part of dialogue. Instead of simply writing “said”, writers often try to break up that monotony by replacing “said” with terms like “exclaimed,” “declared” or “shouted.” Sometimes these replacements work, but sometimes, if read in successive dialogue exchanges, these descriptive words can be completely awkward.

Here is an example:

“Jenny, are you going with me to the dance?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know! Stop asking me!” Jenny exclaimed.

“Gosh, sorry,” Jack extolled. “I didn’t realize wanting to take my girlfriend to a dance would be so upsetting.”

“I’m sorry,” Jenny sighed. “It’s just — I’m tired and things haven’t been great at home. My parents are fighting again.”

Instead of writing words like asked, exclaimed, or extolled, we could instead add what are called “action beats.” Action beats are when the writer has the character who is speaking doing something before they speak, to show the reader who it is that is speaking.

So, let’s try the above example again, by using action beats. We’re also going to take out the word “asked” because I once heard author Jerry B. Jenkins say he felt the word was unnecessary if there was a question mark already at the end of the sentence. It’s clear a question is being asked. There’s no need to reiterate that the person asked a question by writing “he/she asked.”

Updated example:

Jack leaned back against the row of lockers next to Jenny’s. He turned his head to look at her. “Are you going with me to the dance?” (We don’t have to add Jenny’s name since we already said he was standing next to Jenny’s locker.)

Jenny tipped her head back and groaned, slamming her locker door closed. “I don’t know! Stop asking me!”

“Gosh, sorry.” Jack held his hands, palms out, in front of him. “I didn’t realize wanting to take my girlfriend to a dance would be so upsetting.”

Jenny signed, hugging her books to her chest. “Sorry. It’s just —” She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again. “ I’m tired and things haven’t been great at home. My parents are fighting again.”

Sometimes we writers even write “said” way too often. There is no need to write “she said,” or “he said” after every word our character speaks.

So that it doesn’t sound as if I am slamming other new writers, I thought I’d pull some examples from my first attempts at writing fiction to show how distracting it is to write “said” after every part of dialogue and how equally distracting it is to try to come up with new superlatives to attribute a quote to a particular character.

The following excerpt is from my first book, A Story To Tell. It’s since been revamped and re-edited, but this is how it was written before I knew more about how to write dialogue.

“She’s too young for dances,” Daddy said, sitting in his chair, reading the local newspaper, not even looking up.

“Well, Edith is going to be there,” Mama offered, mentioning my older sister.

“Is this meant to comfort me?” Daddy asked.

 Edith walked into the living room in a flared blue skirt and a white blouse with the top two buttons unbuttoned. “Oh, good grief,” she said. “She’s 17, Daddy. She’s old enough for dances.”

Daddy looked at Edith disapprovingly.

“Is that what you’re wearing?” he asked sharply.

“What’s wrong with it?” Edith looked down at her skirt and smoothed it with her hands.

“It’s fine if you want to wait on a corner in the city,” Daddy mumbled under his breath.

I knew Edith didn’t hear him, but I did.

“It looks lovely,” Mama said quickly. “At least it’s longer than the last skirt you wore. Are you going to wear your pearls with it?”

“Pearls aren’t in fashion right now, Mama,” Edith said.

Later I rewrote this part and tightened up the dialogue a bit more, taking out some of the “saids” and “askeds”.

 “She’s too young for dances.”

Daddy was sitting in his chair, his eyes focused on the paper.

“Well, Edith is going to be there,” Mama offered.

Daddy peered over the paper, one eyebrow crocked. “Is this meant to comfort me?”

Edith flounced into the living room wearing a flared blue skirt and a white blouse with the top two buttons unbuttoned. “Oh, good grief. She’s 17, Daddy. She’s old enough for dances.”

Daddy glanced at Edith disapprovingly.

“Is that what you’re wearing?” His voice was sharp.

“What’s wrong with it?” Edith looked down at her skirt, smoothed it with her hands.

“It would be fine if you were standing on a corner in some city,” Daddy mumbled.

I knew Edith didn’t hear him, but I did.

“It looks lovely,” Mama said hastily. “At least it’s longer than the last skirt you wore. Are you going to wear your pearls with it?”

“Pearls aren’t in fashion right now, Mama.” Edith waved her hand dismissively, shifting her attention to me. “Come on, Blanche, let’s find you a dress and see what we can do with your hair.”

In addition to not adding too many adjectives to your dialogue tags, another way to avoid stilted dialogue is to simply take out the dialogue tags altogether. This is easy to do if you only have two people in a scene, as long as you only do it for a short exchange.

If you have two people talking back and forth about a subject, it isn’t really necessary to keep saying “he said,” and then “she said.”

We get it. The two people are talking to each other, so for a selection of lines, you could simply share what they are saying to each other.

I’ll show this, using an example from my third book, The Farmer’s Daughter. First, the way I wouldn’t do it now that I know more about dialogue:


“You have a degree in computer programing, Alex,” his dad had said over the phone in his familiar depreciating tone. “We could use you here in the IT department. And from there, maybe we can move you up into — ”

“Thanks, Dad,” Alex said. “I’m good here.”

“Farming?” his dad asked. “Really? This isn’t what I had in mind for you when—”

“When you what?” Alex asked. “Abandoned Tyler and I all those years ago?”

“That’s not what happened, Alex,” his dad said. “When you get older, you’ll understand that life isn’t always easy.”

“Yeah, okay,” Alex said. “Listen, Dad, I have to go. Mr. Tanner needs me to clean some cow poop out of the stalls, and I’d rather do that than talk to you.”

Now, the cleaned-up version from the book:

“You have a degree in computer programing, Alex,” his dad had said over the phone in his familiar depreciating tone. “We could use you here in the IT department. And from there, maybe we can move you up into — ”

“Thanks, Dad. I’m good here.”

“Farming? Really? This isn’t what I had in mind for you when—”

“When you what? Abandoned Tyler and I all those years ago?”

“That’s not what happened, Alex. When you get older, you’ll understand that life isn’t always easy.”

“Yeah, okay. Listen, Dad, I have to go. Mr. Tanner needs me to clean some cow poop out of the stalls, and I’d rather do that than talk to you.”

Looking at this now, I’d love to clean it up even further, by changing the first sentence to: “You have a degree in computer programming, Alex.” His dad’s tone on the other end of the phone was depreciating. As usual.

None of what I am suggesting here means I am some expert at writing dialogue or haven’t made some insanely silly blunders in my dialogue. I’m nowhere near an expert and looking back over my last two books, I can see some major errors, including how I over-explain in between dialogue and offer too many action beats.

There is always room for improvement, no matter where you are in your writing journey so if you are doing some of what I’ve mentioned above — making what some call “writing mistakes” — it’s not the end of the world. Writing is a journey, and you can always improve whether in your next novel, novella, or short story or by editing the story you’ve already written.

Not only can, and will you improve, but some readers aren’t as bothered by these so-called mistakes as fellow writers are. Do your best to tighten your writing, but don’t let what you think you are doing wrong, stop you from continuing to write.

Learn more about the best way to use dialogue in the following articles:

Fiction Friday: The Next Chapter. Chapter 3

I almost forgot to put this up today. I haven’t had a chance to go over this chapter well, so bear with me. It will definitely change before I finish the final version of the story.

To read the first two installments of this story go HERE.

Chapter 3

“Blanket, car seat, paperwork, duffle bag . . .” Molly Tanner twisted and scanned the hospital room with narrowed eyes, turned again at looked at the infant car seat on the floor at her feet. “Newborn in car seat. Check. Okay. Looks like we have everything.”

Liz smiled at the flush of red spreading along her friend’s naturally pale complexion, a sign that she was flustered, yet trying to act like she wasn’t. Molly had been a literal Godsend from the beginning, there for Liz every step of the way, from bringing her ginger tea and lemon water at work when the morning sickness kicked in, to helping her out of bed in the morning when Liz had become too round to roll out of it herself. 

Molly had even moved in with her six months ago, which hadn’t been a huge sacrifice considering she should have been out of her parent’s house and on her own long ago. It had at least been a small sacrifice, however. One, because Molly was still working on her family’s farm and in their farm store. Living in an apartment with Liz in town meant Molly had to drive twenty minutes around 5 a.m. each morning to help milk the cows. She also had to drive fifteen minutes from the farm store on the days she worked there. More of a sacrifice than any of that, though, was that Molly was now delayed an entire 20 minutes from seeing her boyfriend, Alex Stone, in the barn each morning.

“I can handle not seeing him as often as I used to,” Molly had said one day when Liz had teased her. “Don’t be so dramatic.”

Luckily, she wouldn’t be delayed in seeing him today. Alex had come with Molly to help carry Liz’s gifts and belongings to the car. He’d carried one load of gifts, flowers, and balloons to the car already.

Liz stood and winced, every muscle in her body screaming in protest. Her labor hadn’t been as long as some, but she still felt as if she’d run a marathon two days before. “I hope you didn’t bring that truck of yours to drive us home.”

Molly looped the duffle bag over her shoulder. “Give me a little credit. I borrowed Ellie’s car. I can’t have you trying to climb in a truck in your condition.”

Liz sighed. “In my condition? Do I look that bad?”

“You don’t look bad. You look tired. Rightly so. You just pushed a human being out of you.”

Alex reached for the duffle bag as he appeared in the doorway. “I’ll take that.”

“Liz is the one that had the baby.” Molly leaned away from him. “Not me. I can handle it.”

“No, I’ll carry the duffle bag and that last vase of flowers and you’re going to carry the baby.”

Liz smirked. “Shouldn’t the man carry the baby? That seat is probably the heaviest thing here.”

She enjoyed the way Alex glanced at the sleeping newborn like she was a rabid dog. He swallowed hard. “Well, I think a woman should carry a baby. I mean, women are more gentle and . . .” He glanced at the baby seat again and shrugged a shoulder. “Maternal. 

You know.”

Liz laughed. “You’d be carrying her in a baby seat, not cradling her.” She folded her arms across her chest and leaned toward Alex, lowering her voice. “You do realize that birth isn’t catching, right?”

Alex scowled, sliding the duffle bag off Molly’s shoulder and reaching for the vase. “Yes, Liz. I’m aware of that.”

He ducked out of the room before she could harass him even more.

Molly gently nudged her elbow into Liz’s side. “Leave him alone. I think he’s nervous he’ll hurt her somehow. He’s never been around a newborn before.”

Liz’s chest constricted. “Neither have I, for very long anyhow.”

Liz’s sister Tiffany had five children, but she lived several states away, so when Liz did see her nieces and nephews it was only for a few days or a few hours. Even then she barely held them. Tiffany or one of the children’s grandparents whisked them out of her arms within minutes, either wanting quality time with the children or, Liz wondered, were they afraid her recent black sheep behavior would rub off on them?

Today, looking at the tiny bundle in the baby seat, she battled second thoughts. Maybe she should have placed this baby for adoption like she’d considered when she’d first seen the two lines on the pregnancy test. Molly’s brother, Jason, and his fiance, Ellie, couldn’t have children — or at least that’s what it was looking like. They might have adopted Isabella. They’d most likely be better parents. Ellie was more organized and definitely more maternal. Her entire career was built on educating and supporting young children. She was a teacher at the local preschool. 

It seemed cruel to Liz that she might not be able to have children because of endometriosis. If anyone should be a mother, it was Ellie Tanner.

“Hey. You okay?”

She looked at Molly, wishing her best friend wasn’t as perceptive as Matt was. It was as if Molly could read her mind most days.

“Yeah, it’s just —”

“You’re going to be a great mom, Liz. God chose you to be Isabella’s mom. Okay?”

Liz nodded and took a deep breath.

Molly looped her arm under the handle of the car seat and the other under Liz’s arm. “Now come on. Your Mom and Dad are waiting at the apartment for us. They’re cooking you some lunch and your mom has ‘spruced up’ as she likes to call it.”

Liz’s chest constricted. Her parents. They hadn’t brought her up to live the way she had been living for the last couple of years. Moving in with an emotionally abusive boyfriend, starting to drink and take pills, and then, the coup de grâce — having a baby out of wedlock.

She grabbed Molly’s wrist. “Wait, Mol, I need to talk to you, before Alex comes back.” She looked at the doorway. “Matt was here yesterday when the nurse wanted to fill out Isabella’s birth certificate. He gave her his name as the father.”

Molly’s eyebrows shot up and she set the seat down gently. “Why would he do that?”

Liz pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and shook her head. “I don’t know. He said he wanted to protect us from Gabe.”

Molly sat on the edge of the bed. “But he’s leaving for the state police academy in two months. Does he think — I mean, does he want to be her father?”

Liz shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know what he was thinking. When I asked him, he said not to worry about it and that it was just to keep Gabe’s name from being connected to Isabella’s. Then I had to nurse Isabella, he had to get to work, and I haven’t seen him since to talk to him more about it.”

Molly chewed on the back of her thumb, a usual move for her when she was thinking, her eyebrow furrowed. “But are you and Matt —”

“We’re not dating.”

“You should be.”

Liz jerked her head up. “Excuse me?”

Molly smirked. “Matt has been there for you almost from day one since he found out you were pregnant. Most guys would have taken off when they found out the woman they’d gone on a few dates with was pregnant by another man. They wouldn’t have picked up your groceries for you, booked you a day at the spa, or been with you when you went into labor. Which reminds me. You need to fill me in on that story sooner rather than later.”

Alex leaned into the room. “Okay, ladies. We ready?”

A nurse stepped past him. “No. They are not. Not until we fill out these discharge papers and Liz sits in the wheelchair outside the room so she can be pushed to the car.”

Liz scoffed. “I’m not sitting in a wheelchair.”

The nurse smiled and winked. “You sure are. Hospital policy.”

Alex chuckled. “I’d be glad to push you, Liz.”

Liz narrowed her eyes. “I’m sure you would. I think I’ll ask the nurse to push me instead to keep you from pushing me into the street.”

Alex laughed. “What would give you that idea? Just because you interrupt me and Molly every time we have a minute alone doesn’t mean I want to get rid of you.” He looked at the car seat with a grin. “Besides, who would take care of the baby if you weren’t around?”

Liz’s smile faded and her gaze drifted to the sleeping baby. Right. Taking care of a baby.

How did she do that again?

***

Ginny flung open the freezer door and stood in front of it, lifting her shirt, glad she was alone in the house since Stan had a late afternoon showing. As if gaining weight wasn’t enough, she had to deal with hot flashes and a hundred other aggravating side effects of perimenopause. Whatever that was. She wouldn’t even have known about perimenopause if Rena Lambert hadn’t asked her if she thought she might be in the middle of it — six years ago. 

 Good grief, she didn’t understand why menstruation didn’t just end abruptly instead of dragging women through up to ten years of hormonal upheaval like a lion leisurely dragging a pray through the Serengetti to devour. Not all women suffered the way she was, she knew that, and she despised those women for it.

“Oh gosh, I never even had those,” Jan Ellory said with a small laugh and a wave of her hand one day at ladies’ group. “One day my period just stopped. Snap.” Jan snapped her fingers with finely manicured fingernails. “I never felt happier or lighter than I did that day. My 50s have been amazing! Weight has fallen off like butter falling of an ear of corn on a hot summer day and I have so much energy.” She emphasized the word energy with a little shake of her head and a smile. “And —” She smiled and winked. “Things have been amazing in the bedroom. It’s like David and I are newlyweds again.”

At that moment Ginny had considered how bad it would look if she throat punched Jan during ladies group. Bad. It would look very bad. Especially right after they had discussed how to look at each season of their lives “as an opportunity to reveal God as the anchor of their souls.” 

Yes, it would have been bad, but yet . . . it might have also felt good. 

Ginny wasn’t sure how this season of sweat, crankiness, anxiety-induced trembling, and out-of-control emotions was an opportunity for much of anything other than to hopefully have a valid excuse when she actually did deck someone.

She tipped her head back and let the rush of cold air spread across her chest and then sighed. She snatched a pint of chocolate ice cream from the freezer door, jerked open the silverware drawer, grabbed a spoon, and headed toward the living room to watch a Hallmark movie. Passing the mirror on the wall between the dining room and the living room she caught sight of her uncombed hair and paused. She’d fallen asleep after work, thankful the library closed early on Saturday afternoons. Her hair was sticking out in various directions, long and unkempt. Dark circles painted the skin under her eyes, and she was sure more wrinkles had etched their way into the skin along the edge of her eyes overnight.

Dragging her hand through her hair, she sat the ice cream carton on the table under the mirror, and lifted her hair off her shoulder, propping it on top of her head. 

She needed a haircut. Maybe she’d dye it too. She needed something — anything — different at this point. Pressing two fingers against each side of her face she lifted her cheeks and pulled them back. She tried to eliminate the pooch of skin under her chin with the movement. It wasn’t working. Maybe she should consider a facelift. She stuck her tongue out at the face in the mirror – a face she was starting not to recognize each time she looked at it — and spun herself around and toward the living room.

“We’ve got to get rid of this stupid mirror,” she grumbled, snatching the ice cream carton up again.

Her cellphone buzzed as she sat on the couch. She glared at it, uninterested in a conversation with anyone, but then noticed the caller ID.

Wisconsin. She’d better answer this one.

“Hey, Mom. How’s it going?”

She fanned her chest with the folded-up newspaper she’d snatched from the coffee table. “Oh, just fine, hon’. How are things there? Are we having another grandbaby yet?”

Her son Clint chuckled. “Ah, no. I think five is enough, don’t you?”

“I don’t know. I have room in my heart for a few more.”

“Well, maybe you can have one of your daughters provide those down the road because Tiff and I are done at this point. No, what I called about was to let you and dad know some other news. Some news I hope you will all be excited about.”

Ginny set the ice cream carton on the coffee table and leaned forward slightly in anticipation.

“We’re moving back to Pennsylvania.”

Her mother senses alerted. This was either for a good or a bad reason. Why did her intuition tell her it was bad?

“Are you? Why? What’s going on?”

Clint hesitated. She heard it. He could deny it, but she heard the pause, the clearing of his throat, if ever so softly on the other end of the phone. 

“Everything’s fine, Mom, but I got laid off from work last week. I didn’t want to tell you until I had something else.”

“Laid off?”

“Well, not exactly laid off. My job was eliminated. The industry is changing, and the economy isn’t doing great, so they had to cut back. I was the low man on the totem pole, so . . .”

Ginny’s heart thudded with alarm. He had five children and a wife to support. “What are you going to do? Do you have a job out here?”

“Yes, actually. A colleague put me in touch with a finance company about an hour from you actually. They offered me the job on the spot. It’s a step-down, a cut in pay, but we’ll be closer to our family, and I really think that’s something we could use right now.”

Ginny tried not to read between the lines. Something they could use right now. Why? What did he mean? Was something else going on? She resisted the urge to pepper him with more questions.

“Do you have somewhere to live?”

“No. Not yet, but Tiffany’s parents have offered us a place to stay.”

Ginny felt a tinge of jealousy that they had talked to Frank and Marge Cranmer before her, but, then again, it wasn’t like her house would hold seven more people. Two or three maybe, but not two adults and five children between the ages of a year and 10-years of age. The Cramner’s had a large two-story, five-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home, despite having raised only two daughters.

She’d often wondered why they needed all that space, but it wasn’t her business.

“Oh. Well, okay. When does all this happen?”

“We’ve already started packing and hired a moving company,” Clint said, screaming and giggling in the background almost drowning his voice out. “Max, Twyla. Please. That’s enough. I’m on the phone. No. Because you’ve had enough ice cream today.”

Ginny eyed her own ice cream and hoped it wouldn’t melt before she could get back to it.

“Sorry about that, Mom. Anyhow, I’ll give you more of a timeline when I have more information.”

When they’d said their goodbyes and Ginny leaned back against the couch again, she tried to decide how she felt about her son’s news. She scooped a heavy helping of chocolate ice cream onto her spoon and swished it around on her tongue, staring at the turned off TV.

She was happy her family would be living closer. 

Yet, also nervous. She and Stan saw so little of each other already. Would more visits from the grandchildren mean even less time together?

She scoffed. “Not like we spend any time together now.”

Her frown tilted upward as her gaze drifted to the photographs of her grandchildren on the mantel over the fireplace. 

It would be nice to see the children grow up in person instead of through photographs. She’d envied her friends all these years. They’d been able to hold their grandchildren, take them to the park, spoil them with sweets and send them back home to mom and dad.

 She and Stan visited Clint and Tiffany a couple of times during the year but mostly communicated with them over the phone and through video chat.

It was time to perk up. This was good news. Having the grandchildren closer would mean she’d have something to think about other than the mundane — work and feeling like a third wheel to Stan and his job. 

She took another bite of the chocolate ice cream, savoring it. 

Yes, this was good news. Very good.

Flash Fiction Fun in 60 words. No more. No Less.

I’ve joined a new “social media” site, which is more social than other “social media” sites. It is not as active, but it is friendlier. My dad calls Facebook a social discord site, rather than a social site. I agree with that. So I have joined MeWe, which seems a lot calmer in many ways. (Full disclosure, I have a FB account again for a few writing groups but I am not interacting on a personal basis there and log off after I look at my writer’s or reader’s groups.)

On MeWe, I joined a couple of writers and readers groups and in one of them the administrator (Kelly) is challenging us to write 60 words of fiction from a word prompt.

I thought I would share a few of the flash fiction pieces I have been sharing there here on the blog today, including the words used as the prompts.

Buggy

“This what you’re taking me to the church in?”

Emily felt like she’d been transported a hundred years into the past. Or into the Amish community down the road.

Her dad grinned, gestured at it. “I thought it’d be unique.”

“It is. I don’t know any other modern bride who was driven to her wedding in a horse and buggy.”

Market

The smells and sounds of the market overwhelmed her. She lost sight of her mother long ago and now she was alone among the bustling crowd, panicking.

That’s when she saw him. Again. The man with the piercing blue eyes and the scar above his right eye.

She should have been afraid but instead, a strange peace settled over her.                      

Washline

The paint-chipped back porch was old and falling apart. As an adult she had weird nightmares about it where someone was always falling off it. As a child, though, it wasn’t a scary place. It was where the cats slept in the winter and where her mom hung clothes from the washline, which hung between the porch and chicken coup.

Mules

He climbed in the odd looking vehicle and looked at her skeptically.

“And what is this vehicle called?”

She grinned at his rural naivety. “It’s called a mule.”

He cocked an eyebrow and smirked. “Seriously?”

“Seriously, Liam Finnely. We ride a new kind of mules on dairy farms these days.”

He shook his head. “I Learn something new every day.”

Tractor

He’d been plowing the ground an hour when he saw her standing along the edge of the field, a hand on her hip. She was grinning and the wind had caught her reddish-brown curls, sending them out behind her like a veil.
“Hey,” he said when he reached the end of the row. “You think my tractor is sexy?”

English

“This what you’re taking me to the church in?”

Emily felt like she’d been transported a hundred years into the past. Or into the Amish community down the road.

Her dad grinned, gestured at it. “I thought it’d be unique.”

“It is. I don’t know any other modern bride who was driven to her wedding in a horse and #buggy.”

Market

The smells and sounds of the #market overwhelmed her. She lost sight of her mother long ago and now she was alone among the bustling crowd, panicking.

That’s when she saw him. Again. The man with the piercing blue eyes and the scar above his right eye.

She should have been afraid but instead, a strange peace settled over her.                      

Washline

The paint-chipped back porch was old and falling apart. As an adult she had weird nightmares about it where someone was always falling off it. As a child, though, it wasn’t a scary place. It was where the cats slept in the winter and where her mom hung clothes from the #washline, which hung between the porch and chicken coup.

Mules

He climbed in the odd looking vehicle and looked at her skeptically.

“And what is this vehicle called?”

She grinned at his rural naivety. “It’s called a mule.”

He cocked an eyebrow and smirked. “Seriously?”

“Seriously, Liam Finnely. We ride a new kind of #mules on dairy farms these days.”

He shook his head. “I Learn something new every day.”

Tractors

He’d been plowing the ground an hour when he saw her standing along the edge of the field, a hand on her hip. She was grinning and the wind had caught her reddish-brown curls, sending them out behind her like a veil.
“Hey,” he said when he reached the end of the row. “You think my #tractor is sexy?”

English

“You know why I’m here. I’m here to meet your good looking cousin. So, where is he?”

Cecilia jerked her head toward the back door. “In the house making tea.”

“Making tea?” Emily raised an eyebrow. “Like iced tea?”

Cecilia rolled her eyes. “No, like tea and crumpets. He’s #English, remember?”

Emily’s mouth formed an ‘o’ shape. “Oh. That English.”

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 3

I totally forgot I was going to post Chapter 3 of The Farmers’ Sons earlier today. So here it is, although late. For those who followed Jason’s story when I originally posted it with Molly’s story some of this will be a bit of a repeat, but it has been reworked some.

To catch up on the rest of story, click HERE or find it under the Fiction Friday header at the top of the page.

You can read Molly’s story on Amazon in ebook form.


Chapter 3

Jason loaded another set of weights on the barbells and laid back on the bench, gripping the bar tightly.

Why did I let her think I was going to propose that night?

He grunted under the weight, pushing up until his arms were straight, then slowly lowering the bar again, counting under his breath. His muscles strained under the weight.

I should have never waited so long to talk to her.

He pushed up again.

And when she assumed I had actually intended to propose, I went along with it like a complete idiot.

Down, breathing hard.

Ellie had every right to be angry at him. Not only for his non-proposal but for the secret he’d held on to for so long.

He straightened his arms, set the bar back in its place and lay there on the bench breathing hard.

He came to the gym a few times a week to work off some stress. Lately, though he’d only been finding more stress as his mind raced not only with thoughts of Ellie, but also of keeping the farm running.

When he focused on Ellie, his mind always walked him back to the night he had planned to tell her what he’d should have told her when they’d first started dating again, the night that they got engaged instead.

***

Seven months earlier

His heart had been racing, his palms damp with sweat. His stomach was tight and nausea spun in his stomach.  What had he been thinking? Was he really going to do this tonight? Was he really going to tell his longtime girlfriend about his past and let the chips fall where they may?

He had taken a deep breath and tightened his hands on the steering wheel until his knuckles faded white. Yes, he was. He was doing this because he needed the burden off his shoulders, and he needed to know how Ellie would feel about him after he told her. He couldn’t keep waiting, torturing himself with worry of what might be.

He and Ellie had gone to school together since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year he really noticed her, or she had noticed him, or he guess he would say they noticed each other. It was in history class and Mr. Prawley had placed them in a group together to work on a project. Before that they’d seen each other at 4H meetings or when Robert took Jason with him to pick up equipment he’d borrowed from Ellie’s dad Jerry.

Late one night after working on their project about Pennsylvanian history they found themselves laughing about their shared interest in old movies.

“Cary Grant is the epitome of old fashioned suave and charm,” she’d said, pretending to swoon, her hand against her forehead when they watched North by Northwest together at his parents.

He grinned, a teasing glint in his eye. “I agree, but I’m the epitome of modern suave and charm, right?”

She’d tipped her head back and laughed and he wasn’t sure if she was enjoying his humor or mocking him.

“Ginger Rogers was a very underrated actress,” he’d announced after they watched Vivacious Lady at her parents’ house.

“I agree,” she had said and smiled.

Wow. That smile.

That smile that was for him and only him.

It took his breath away.

That smile and her soft, long black hair against that pale skin, those large dark eyes and her sweet round face — what a knockout combination.

He’d taken her to the movies twice, dinner once, lunch three times and attended youth group with her every Wednesday for four months before he’d finally worked up the courage to kiss her. And now, here he was working up the courage to ask her to marry him, but first he had to tell her about what had happened during the break they’d taken when they’d both been in college – at two different colleges.

Those two years in college when he’d been without her, when she had decided they should take a break from dating and see “how things developed” as she had said, were the loneliest and most confusing two years of his life. He’d felt like a ship out at sea without a compass. Returning home from college, to the farm and to her had anchored him again. He couldn’t even imagine losing that anchor again.

God, please don’t let me lose her.

 He caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head to see her stepping off the front porch, down the steps, watching him as she walked. Her smile was broad, captivating.  His breath caught in his throat, his eyes followed the length of her body as she walked, and he chewed his lower lip hungerly. Even after all these years her beauty still took his breath away.

His voice fell into a whisper; he barely realized he was talking out loud. “Oh God, I can’t —”

“Hey.” She slid into the truck seat and had her arms around his neck and her mouth on his before he could finish asking God for strength. Once she was in his arms, his mind was clouded by her kiss. She smelled of lilac and vanilla scented shampoo. She curled her fingers in his hair and held his head down to hers.

“We should probably head out to the restaurant,” she said breathlessly a few moments later. She tipped her head to one side, her hand against his chest, and winked. “Before we go too far.”

Jason cleared his throat and nodded. “Right. Of course.”

He grinned as he turned back to the steering wheel and she hooked her seatbelt. “But it wasn’t as if things were going to get too far with us parked outside your parent’s house. Not before your dad shot me.”

Ellie laughed. “Jason, Daddy wouldn’t shoot you.”

He pulled the truck out of the driveway, onto the dirt road. “I beg to differ.”

Ellie shook her head. “He loves you. You know that.”

“But he wouldn’t like me making out with you in my truck.”

“No, probably not.” She shrugged, folded her hands in her lap, and looked out the windshield. “Unless we were married, of course.”

Jason swallowed hard.

Married.

There it was.

The one word hovering in his mind 24/7, waking him up at night, giving him near panic attacks daily. And she’d just said it. Because it was probably on her mind too.

“Right.” He pushed his foot on the accelerator, willing his truck to move them faster toward the restaurant where they could talk about the food, the weather, the farm, anything but marriage.

The drove in silence for a few moments, farmland and trees and open fields blurring into green and yellow out the window.

“Jason?”

Hurry up, truck.

“Yeah?”

“Are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”

Jason’s hand jerked on the steering wheel. The truck swerved over the center line and then back  into the right lane. Ellie gasped and clutched her hand around Jason’s bicep as he regained control of the truck.

Her voice trembled when she spoke. “Oh gosh. Sorry. I just — I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that, but I knew if I didn’t say something now, I would lose my courage.”

Jason slowed the truck down and pulled off into an empty parking lot in front of an abandoned convenience store. He slid the gear into park and turned to look at Ellie.

Was she reading his mind? They’d been together so long he wouldn’t be surprised.

His eyebrows knit together. “What would make you ask that right now?”

“I — I don’t know. I just —” Tears rimmed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Jason. Are you angry?”

Jason shook his head. “No. Not at all. I’m sorry.” He reached over and took her hand in his. The frightened expression on her face sent stabbing guilt shuddering through him. He let go of her hand and cupped his palm against her face.

“It’s not that at all. It’s just that I was actually going to talk to you about that tonight and I was surprised that it was on your mind too.”

A tear slipped down Ellie’s cheek and his heart ached even more. He swiped at it with the palm of his thumb.

“Of course, it’s on my mind, Jason. I’ve wanted to marry you since high school. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to have your children. But sometimes I feel like you don’t want any of that at all.”

“No, El, that’s not true. I do want that. All of it.”

“Then why aren’t you asking me to marry you?”

“I — well, I was going to —”

Ellie’s eyes grew wide, and her eyebrows shot up. “Oh! Were you going to ask me tonight and I totally ruined your plans?”

“Well, I —”

“Oh, Jason! I’m so sorry! I ruined your plan.”

“No, that’s okay. It’s just —”

Her mouth was on his again before he could explain. The expression of sheer delight on her face when she pulled back, her arms still around his neck, sent warmth bursting through his chest.

“You know I don’t need a big fancy proposal. All I want is you. Of course, I’d say ‘yes’ no matter how you asked.”

She was kissing him again and he was forgetting what he’d been going to say. Her body was so warm and solid against his and her lips so soft. Her hands were in his hair again; he couldn’t focus. Slowly his thoughts began to clear and that’s when the panic set in.

Wait a minute. Did she think he had just proposed, and she was saying yes?

She peppered his cheek and neck with kisses. “Oh, Jason! I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for this moment for years!”

 Yes, she did think he’d just proposed, and she was saying ‘yes’.

“I know. I have been too, but I —”

She cut his sentence short again. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry I ruined the surprise.”

“No, it’s okay, I mean — It’s just that I —”

Her large brown eyes were watching him with hopeful expectation, with joy, with complete and utter adoration. There was no way he could tell her about his past now; ruin her night completely.

“I don’t have a ring,” he blurted.

She tipped her head back and laughed. “I don’t care about a ring, silly! We can worry about that later, or not at all. You know I don’t care about stuff like that.”

“But it’s a symbol and it’s important, El. I should get you a ring.”

Ellie kissed him gently and shook her head. “Later. I just want us to enjoy this moment together for now.”

Jason swallowed hard. He wanted to enjoy the moment too, but he knew he couldn’t keep his secret forever. Ellie needed to know sooner rather than later. He wouldn’t tell her tonight, though. He’d already made his mind up about that. They would go to dinner, celebrate their engagement and then later, another day, he’d tell her what she needed to know and let her make up her own mind about whether she still wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.

Only, that had never happened. She’d overheard him talking to Alex and that’s when the manure, so to speak, had hit the fan.

***

A deep voice startled Jason from his thoughts and he recognized it immediately as belonging to Cody Bracken— Spencer’s fire chief.

“Jason. Bud. You okay?”

Jason sat up, barely missing smacking his forehead on the metal bar. “Yeah. Sorry. Have you been standing there long?”

Cody laughed, tossed his duffle bag on the floor next to the wall. “A few seconds. Saying your name. You were totally gone, though. Got a lot on your mind?”

Jason guzzled the rest of the water from his sports bottle and shoved it in his bag. “Yeah. You could say that.”

Pulling off his sweatshirt, Cody unloaded a couple of the weights off the barbells Jason had been using. “I don’t have the muscle mass you do.” He winked. “Need to talk about anything?”

Jason shook his head. “Nah, but thanks.”

He stood and Cody wiped the bench with a towel. “Don’t want your sweaty germs.” He elbowed Jason playfully in the ribs. “Seriously, you got a minute?”

Jason wasn’t in any hurry to get back to the farm and talking to Cody would take his mind off Ellie for a few minutes at least. “Sure.”

“I don’t want to add anything else to your plate, but we had a meeting of the fire company the other night and we were talking about the need for more volunteers. Your name came up, along with some other men around town.” Cody sat on the bench and leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “As you know, we are an all-volunteer company, other than my position. It’s been tough the last couple of years to find volunteers and we’re in need of some younger, strong men to at least be trained in case we need some additional hands in an emergency. I told the board I see you at the gym sometimes, so I’d ask you if you’d be interested.” He grinned. “So, would you?”

Jason leaned back against the wall and pushed his hand back through his hair. “I am interested but things have been pretty busy with the business lately, so I don’t know if I would really be available much.”

Cody nodded. “I understand. This wouldn’t have to be a full-time commitment by any means. We’d just like some guys to be trained in case they’re needed. At the most you’d be committing to, well, 100 hours of training, but it’s broken up into a few week nights and a couple of weekends over the next few months. Once your training is complete you can hold on to the certification and we’d call you only when we are short men. You’d only respond when you’re able to.”

Jason rubbed his hand along the scruff growing along his chin and jawline. Shoving training into his regular chores on the farm and work at the farm store would be tough, but it would also be the perfect way to distract himself from constantly focusing on the situation with Ellie.

“Think about it,” Cody said. “You can let me know later if it —”

“I’ll give it a try.”

Cody raised his eyebrows. “You’re sure? I don’t want to add more to your plate. I know how tough the farms around here have had it.”

Jason shook his head. “No. It will be fine. If I start and it gets to be too much, I’ll let you know, but I’d love to be able to help out my community. My uncle had a fire on his farm a couple years back and you guys were a big help. Consider this my way of paying you back.”

Cody reached out his hand and Jason took it. “Thanks, Jason. We appreciate it. I’ll give you a call when we have the first training session scheduled. Probably about two weeks.”

Climbing into his truck, Jason wasn’t sure he truly wanted to split his time between farming and fire fighter training, but again, the more he could shove into his days, the less time he had to think about Ellie.

Creatively and Faithfully Thinking: God Can Fill In the Gaps

What I like about writing is what I like about photography. In photography you create your vision through the lens, including composition and framing. After you create the image in the camera, you transfer it to your computer and in your computer you can use various programs to further transform the image and complete your vision, if you so choose.

In writing you start with a rough draft, and that rough draft is the basic foundation of what you want to write. It’s essentially the skeleton of your blog post or short story or novel or book. The second, third, fourth and final drafts are building around that initial frame until you have a final product that is well built, polished and pretty to look at. Well built, polished and pretty to look at it doesn’t mean what you photographed or wrote has any feeling to it, though, and here is where I run into problems as a creator.

When I was attempting to be a professional photographer, seeing my services to families, people wanted well-polished and pretty. They didn’t care so much about emotion, and that’s where the disconnect came for me. I cared more about emotion and storytelling than well-polished and pretty. I find I have this same issue in writing. I’m not always great at being technically perfect in my writing. I don’t always add the descriptions or flowery language that others do. I don’t always explain myself or my story well. It’s not always “technically perfect”. I’m more concerned about emotion and the story than nitty-gritty details.

I have to learn to slow down in writing and focus a little more on the description, though, because in writing, descriptions help the emotion and the storytelling. We all have areas to improve on in our creative endeavors and there are times I focus too much on what I’m not doing well instead of on what I hopefully will do better in the future.

Sometimes I worry, like so many of us do, that the shortcomings I possess when I create will affect how God uses my creation. The good thing is that God can use anyone no matter their shortcomings, or the shortcomings they perceive they have. Dallas Jenkins, writer and director of The Chosen series, talks often about how he is giving God his loaves and his fishes, and that God will multiply what he gives for God’s glory. He is, of course, referencing the story in the Bible where there were only five loaves of bread and two fix and Jesus multiplied that food so there was enough to feed a multitude of people.

What an amazing idea that God can take our offering, no matter how small, and multiply it so it touches someone else. When God gets ahold of what we create, even if it isn’t technically perfect and pretty, he makes it beautiful, powerful, and exactly what we need to convey his message of hope and love to a hurting world. If he can create beauty out of ashes, then he can create something outstanding out of what we perceive as barely standing.

Of course, we should always strive to improve, to learn more, to hone our craft, but while we do, we (I) have to remember that God will fill in the gaps and make our meager offerings even more than we could have ever hoped for.

Quarantined Release Date and is Quarantined a horror story or a romance?

For those who have been following the Quarantined story, I thought I’d let you know that the Kindle version (edited and in some places rewritten) releases on Oct. 20, 2020.

Someone asked me this week if Quarantined is a horror story or a romance. Of course, I saw the humor in the question, under the circumstances our world has been facing, but no, the novella is not a horror story. But is it a romance? Well. . . yes, in a way. A romance without the “guy meets girl, guy falls in love with girl” part of the story. The main characters of Quarantined, two married couples, have already met and fallen in love and in the case of one couple, have fallen out of love (or at least it appears they have).

I don’t see a lot of romances out there these days where the couple is already married and is now hoping to reconnect, or maybe has no interest at all in reconnecting.

This idea for Quarantined came to me during the start of lockdown back in April. I was stuck inside my house with my husband and children and for the most part it was a pleasant experience, but online I read about women who were unhappy to be stuck at home with a spouse they couldn’t stand. I began to wonder about people who would were quarantining with a person they didn’t want to be married to anymore. What would that be like? Would the situation push them further apart or would they realize they still loved each other and decide to fight for their marriage?

Looking for a way to distract myself from the stress of the daily news, but also from our move, which had been turned upside down at the time, I started sharing the story of Liam and Maddie on my blog. Later, though, I added the story of Matt and Cassie (I have since changed her name to Cassidy because I was finding that switching between Maddie and Cassie confusing and figured readers might as well).

So, Quarantined is a romance in the sense there are affectionate feelings between a man and a woman and there are kissing scenes that might make a non-romance fan roll their eyes. But isn’t a love-at-first-sight romance that will lead you through the detailed story of a how a couple meets and falls in love. This is a story about what happens after those new love feelings fade and grow instead into a deeper, long-lasting, yet still passionate (at times) love.

For those who haven’t yet read the story, here is a description of the novella:

Liam and Maddie Grant are set to sign divorce papers any day now. Liam is already packing to move out. Their plans are put on hold, though. when Liam comes home to tell Maddie he’s been exposed to a new virus that is shutting down the country and part of the world. He tells her that since he’s exposed her she’ll have to be in quarantine as well. Now the couple is locked down for the next 14 days. During that time they find themselves face to face with the issues that split them apart in the first place. Before it’s all over they’ll have to decide if they want to sign the divorce papers or try again.

Across the city, Liam’s brother United States Senator Matthew Grant is quarantined with his wife and children, wondering if his marriage could end up on the same path as his brothers. While stuck at home, Matt realizes he’s lost sight of what really matters since becoming a senator. He and his wife Cassidy have drifted apart and he wonders if he has put his family at risk by serving as a senator during a hyper-political time for our nation.

Now he must decide if he wants to run for re-election, continuing to try to help his constituents, or walk away from the job that has brought his family stress and heartache.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 7

Catch up with the rest of The Farmer’s Daughter, a continuing story, at the link at the top of the page or HERE. You can also read my short romance story Quarantined about Liam and Maddie Grant, an estranged couple who get caught in quarantine together.


“I had to explain to the woman that CBD oil is not pot and she will not get high off of it,” Liz said, sliding her shoes off and sliding her legs under her on the couch. “I mean, what did she think, we were selling pot plants in the store? So, she said she’d think about buying the oil the next time she’s in. I don’t know, at least the conversation with this lady was way tamer than the one with that guy with the rash . . .”

Liz shuddered at the memory.

“I did not need that much detail about how fast his rash had spread, or where it had spread to.”

Molly handed Liz a glass of iced tea and sat next to her.

“You certainly have some interesting stories from that health food store,” Molly said, shaking her head. “I’m afraid my stories aren’t that exciting – unless you want to hear about the udder infection one of our cows had and how I had to apply udder cream on her every morning for two months.”

Liz’s face scrunched up in disgust.

“That’s right up there with the rash dude,” she said, grimacing.

“So, Liz, tell me – what’s up with you and Matt?”

Liz shrugged. “We’ve gone out twice now. He’s nice, I guess. Even if he is a friend of your dorky brother.”

“He is a little older than you and I’d hate to see you rush into anything,” Molly said. “It’s only been a couple of months since you —”

“I know,” Liz interrupted. “Since I told Gabe to get lost. Matt and I have just gone to a couple of movies and bowling. We’ve talked, hung out, but neither of us is really interested in anything serious.”

Molly sipped her tea, sitting next to Liz. “I don’t mean to be nagging, or too motherly. I just don’t want to see you get hurt again.”

“Oh, Molly, don’t worry about it. I know you are just trying to protect me. That’s what friends do.”

Gabe and Liz had dated since their senior year of high school. They’d taken a break while Liz attended a two-year business course at the local community college and Gabe had decided to attend a four-year college four hours away. The relationship picked up, gaining intensity when Gabe graduated and opened a physical therapy office in town. The relationship was tumultuous at its best, chaotic at its worst.

The day Liz called Molly, sobbing into the phone, Molly knew it was over. Liz had finally had enough of Gabe flirting with other women and was certain he had cheated on her after she’d agreed to move in with him.

“It’s not my bra,” she’d told Molly. “It’s someone else’s bra, in our apartment. How could I have been so dumb?”

“You’re not dumb, Liz,” Molly told her. “You may have ignored your intuition but you’re not dumb.”

Molly helped Liz move out of the apartment, back to her parents and had also helped her resist picking up her cell when Gabe tried to reach her. Liz had sunk into a deep depression for three weeks after the break-up, feeling as if she’d walked away from everything her parents had taught her and she’d learned at church when she moved in with Gabe. Molly reminded her there was forgiveness and healing from any shame she felt.

“You know, I don’t know how I would have made it without you,” Liz said, sitting her glass down on the end table by the couch. “I’d probably still be in that apartment listening to Gabe tell me that it would never happen again – for the twentieth time.”

“Not necessarily,” Molly said. “You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. You would have finally had enough and cut him off, even without me.”

Liz placed her hands together on her lap and focused on Molly.

“Enough about me. It’s time to talk about you, Molly. It’s time to get you out and about a little bit. The annual summer benefit dance for the fire company is coming up in a few weeks. Let’s find you a date and go together. Maybe I’ll take Matt.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “You know I don’t go to dances.”

Liz laughed. “No one dances at that thing. Not really. It’s mainly for eating, talking and, for some people, an excuse to get drunk.”

Molly scooped her hair up in her hand and wrapped a scrunchy around it.

“I don’t even know who I’d go with. But I don’t mind tagging along with you for fun. Even if I do hate socializing with – well, anyone.”

Liz and Molly both laughed.

Liz’s eyebrows raised and Molly knew that meant Liz thought she had a brilliant idea. “Molly, why don’t you ask Alex to go with you?”

“Liz, no.” Molly shook her head, holding up her hands in front of her as if to stop that suggestion right in its tracks.

“Why not?”

“It’s just – I don’t know – he’s my brother’s friend and we work together and —”

“And that’s enough excuses,” Liz interrupted. “He’s good looking. He’s funny. It’s not like you’re asking him to get married. You’re just asking if he wants to go to the banquet with you.”

“He’s also older than me.”

“By like five or six years, not twenty,” Liz said. “You should just ask him.”

Molly drank the rest of her iced tea and walked toward the kitchen.

“I’ll think about it, but I don’t think so. He won’t want to take me. He hates dances as much as I do.”

Liz sat back against the arm of the couch and slid her feet up on the cushions, sighing.

“What we really need to talk about is what you brought up the other day at sewing club. About how you’re thinking of spreading your wings and branching out from the farm. What about asking Liam Finley at the Journal about some freelance work or writing a column? Or you could start a blog. That could be a way of branching out without making a drastic change.”

Molly’s face scrunched up in disgust at the mention of Liam Finley. In some ways, he was the stereotypical small-town newspaper editor – sleazy, unshaven, frequently intoxicated and a womanizer. He was not, however, balding, or fat. She also didn’t necessarily see the Spencer Journal as the highest form of journalistic integrity, but then again, it was better than some in an age of declining integrity overall for journalism.

“I never even finished my degree,” Molly said.

Liz shrugged. “I doubt Liam would care and you could raise the quality of that paper if you submitted a column.”

Molly didn’t like the idea of writing for the small newspaper in the town neighboring hers. She’d always imagined writing for larger publications, but everyone had to start somewhere she supposed.

“How do you know Liam anyhow?” Molly asked.

Liz rolled her eyes. “He was a friend of Gabe’s.”

Molly grimaced. “That doesn’t make me feel any better about submitting any of my writing to him then.”

Liz shrugged again. “Eh. He’s okay. A little messed up but he’s more level headed than I’d expected. He and Gabe mainly went out drinking a lot together. And he only made a pass at me once. He’s good at what he does, though, and seems to be able to separate the personal from the professional.”

“Well, I’ll think about it,” Molly said. “Who knows. Maybe doing something different means leaving Spencer.”

Liz leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “Molly Tanner. You are not seriously considering leaving me alone in this God-forsaken dump of a town, are you? Don’t you dare.”

Molly sighed and tipped her head back against the couch. “I don’t know, Liz. All I know is I feel so . . . stuck. So stagnant. So . . . I don’t even know what.”

Molly didn’t like the smirk on her friend’s face.

“Maybe you need a little excitement,” Liz said, raising her eyebrows. “And asking Alex to that dance certainly would be exciting.”

Molly playfully tossed a pillow at Liz, laughing. “Liz, stop it! Why don’t we just change the subject? Are you going to go with the ladies group with Tuesday?”

“You can change the subject, lady, but I’m going to keep on you until you ask Alex to take you to the banquet,” Liz said, sipping her tea. “And yeah, I think I’ll go this week. Jane cut the hours for the store back on the weekends now, so I don’t have to be there late anymore.”

“Good! It will be nice to have you there,” Molly said. “I’m not sure what we’re discussing this week, but it will be a good time for fellowship with other women.”

Liz grinned. “Molly, you sound so ‘holy’ anymore. Listen to you. ‘Fellowship with other women.’ Why don’t you just say, ‘We’re going to hang out with some other women.’?”

Molly laughed. “Yeah, I guess I am starting to use a lot of,” she made quote marks with her fingers. “Christianese these days. I’ll try not to do that anymore.”

“It’s okay,” Liz said. “As long as you don’t try to pray a demon out of me.”

Molly almost snorted tea out of her nose. “I don’t think there is any chance of me doing that.”

She leaned forward, reaching for the remote. “Hey, let’s take advantage of your day off and watch a movie.”

“As long as it isn’t anything with Russell Crowe, I’m fine.”

“What’s wrong with Russel Crowe?” Molly asked, looking through her brother’s old stack of DVDs.

Liz rolled her eyes. “He was Gabe’s favorite actor and we had to watch every movie he ever made. Now I can’t see a clip of Gladiator without thinking of Gabe.”

Molly slid a Harrison Ford movie in and sat back on the couch, but found herself unable to concentrate on the movie as she considered Liz’s suggestion about asking Alex to the banquet. Still struggling with how to interpret Alex’s recent change in behavior, she couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of sitting next to him at a banquet, trying to make small talk without making it obvious everyone else would think they were on an official date.

Of course, asking him to go with her to the banquet could clarify the matter and then she wouldn’t have to wonder anymore. Then again, it could also complicate the situation even further. If she was honest with herself, she was terrified to find out why Alex had been acting strange around her. What if he was simply toying with her to have a story to tell his friends at the bar? She knew he couldn’t be interested in her romantically. She definitely wasn’t his type. Her hips were three times the size of the women he usually dated. Molly glanced at her chest. Well, her chest might be about the same size. She shook her head, trying to focus on the movie again.

Maybe Alex wasn’t acting differently at all. Maybe her restlessness was distorting everything around her, including her friendship with Alex.

She pushed her thoughts of Alex away, forcing herself to figure out what Harrison Ford was telling his female costar. She needed to worry more about what direction her life was taking, or wasn’t taking, than Alex Stone. It would all work out eventually — when she figured out what direction she needed to take to help her feel less . . . Less what? Trapped? Yes. Trapped. That’s how she felt. Trapped in her stagnant, boring life.

So, trapped that she was starting to hallucinate and see things that weren’t even there – like a change in the way Alex looked at her and a change in the way she was seeing him. It must be stress causing her to notice his smile more, the way his eyes sparkled in the sunlight, his long fingers and strong hands, the way his jeans fit . . . She closed her eyes and bit her lower lip, trying to stop her thoughts from spiraling out of control. What other explanation of her confused thoughts and feelings was there than stress? She couldn’t actually have feelings for goofy, obnoxious Alex.

“Harrison Ford still looks amazing for his age, doesn’t he?”

Liz’s comments broke into her thoughts.

“He certainly does,” Molly agreed. “I never thought I’d think a man in his 70s was attractive, but he has proven me wrong.”

With a small laugh to herself, she pushed the thoughts about Alex aside and instead joined Liz in commenting on the movie and admiring Harrison Ford. She could figure out how she felt about Alex and her life on the farm later. 

Quarantined: A Short Story Part 5

I feel like I’m overwhelming my blog with fiction (and posts in general), but, oh well, I guess. People seem to be following along and enjoying the stories so I’ll keep going. Plus, it’s good to give readers a lot of options that aren’t related to current events.

Quarantined was not a planned project. It came to me very fast and just poured out of me so I thought I’d share to my fiction loving readers (thanks for following along, by the way.) You can find the rest of the parts at the following links: Part 1, Part 2,Part 3, and Part 4. I’ll be posting the final part Sunday or Monday. For other fiction, you can check out the 35 chapters of A New Beginning, which will be published at a later date on Kindle (so you don’t have to click chapter to chapter if you haven’t been following along) or A Story To Tell, which is on Kindle now. By the way, this blog is not aimed at selling products, so I don’t mean to share about my book on every fiction post. My books are priced very low but I wanted somewhere I could place them where people could read them in full instead of skipping from chapter to chapter and I chose Amazon because I have a Kindle. I have found some other options since then for future books. Anyhow…let’s get on with the story, shall we?!



 They hadn’t spoken to each other for four days, other than for her to ask if the doctor had called and him to say ‘not yet,’ and him to ask if she wanted some lunch or dinner and her to say ‘I’ll make my own.’

He’d locked himself in his office, dealing with the fall out for his brother’s delay in quarantining himself after his interaction with the ambassador; writing press releases and using video chat features to do interviews with major news commentators.

She’d locked herself in the bedroom, writing bits and pieces of her novel in between pouring over news sites; scrolling through social media feeds for personal stories from those who had had the virus and were recovering. She wondered if she and Liam would eventually face the same situation, or would they be worse with one of them admitted to an ICU somewhere.

In the evenings she binged watched Parks and Recreation while eating ice cream or popcorn, grateful she’d stocked up on groceries even before Liam had told her about the quarantine. Liam spent his nights straightening boxes, speaking to his brother through video conferencing and binge-watching Bosch, the crime show about a rugged, hard-edged Los Angeles Police Department detective just what he needed to distract him from the restlessness he felt.

“So, how’s it going with Maddie?” Matt had asked via video messaging on night seven of their quarantine as he’d leaned back on his couch and cracked open a soda. His gaze wandered off to one side, toward something behind his computer before Liam could answer. “Jason. Stop hitting your sister. I don’t ca—you know what, just go outside. In the backyard. You’re allowed to go in the backyard. . . . I don’t know. Hit the ball. Chase the dog. I don’t care. Just get out for a while. Take your brother and sister with you . . . Hey! I’m still in charge around here. Do what I say!”

He looked back at Liam through the screen. “Fun times over here. I can’t wait until this thing is over.”

Liam scoffed. “It’s only been three days for you, dude. If you can’t handle three days with your wife and kids, you’re in serious trouble.”

Matt grinned. “Yeah. I know. First world problems, right? Anyhow, what’s up with you and Maddie. I see you’re still alive, so she hasn’t stabbed you yet.”

Liam winced and rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. “Not for a lack of wanting to, I’d imagine.” He sat back against the headboard of the bed, arms across his chest. “We had it out the other night. The stuff she accused me of doing — you wouldn’t even believe it. Affairs, spending more time at work than with her, not supporting her after the miscarriages. It was all a bunch of crap.”

“Well?”

Liam scowled at his brother. “Well, what?”

“Did you do those things?”

“You know I didn’t, Matt.”

“Then why is it bothering you so much? Don’t be so defensive. You know you didn’t do anything wrong so let her rant.”

Liam shifted on the bed, focusing his gaze out the window. “I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t support her like I should have after the miscarriages. And she’s pretty accurate about working too much too.”

“And the affairs?” Matt asked.

“No!” Liam snapped, looking back at his brother. “I didn’t have an affair.” He paused, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I could never do that to Maddie. You know that. We haven’t been getting along, yes, but I . . . I could never hurt her that way.”

He furrowed his eyebrows and leaned closer to the screen of his laptop. “Do you really think I could do that?” he asked his brother.

Matt laughed. “Liam, no, I don’t, and I don’t know if Maddie really does either, but she’s scared. She obviously doesn’t feel secure in her relationship with you to think that. I don’t think you or Maddie really want this divorce. You’re both just afraid to do the work it will take to keep this thing going. It’s going to hurt, little brother, but I think you two need to work things out. I think you still love your wife or what she said to you wouldn’t have hurt so much.”

Liam shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Matt Grant. The hard-headed, some might say, pig-headed, youngest-ever head of the intel committee showing that he’s also a marriage counselor.”

The brothers laughed easily together.

“Seriously, though, Liam,” Matt said, leaning closer to the screen now. “Let me give you some brotherly advice: make darn sure this divorce is truly what you want before you sign those papers. You and Maddie have something special. Always have. I don’t want to see you throw this away without really thinking it through. Okay?”

Liam let out a long breath, tapping his fingers along the touchpad of the laptop.

Matt pressed him further. “Promise me you’ll think really hard about all of this while you two are locked up in there, okay?”

Liam nodded. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Matt.”

Three nights later, on the tenth night of quarantine, Liam packed it in early, shutting off his phone and laptop around 10 p.m. and sliding under the covers, drained and glad he hadn’t yet experienced any coughing, muscle aches, or a sore throat. His mind was racing, filled with thoughts of work, thoughts of what this virus might mean to his parents, his older aunt and uncles, and anyone else whose health might be more vulnerable.

 His thoughts were also filled with Maddie.

She was sitting in the room down the hall, but she might as well have been thousands of miles away with all the interaction they’d had this past week.

Matt was right. Liam still loved Maddie and he was beginning to wonder if she had any love left for him.

Sleep had just begun to slip over him when he heard a soft knock on his door. He didn’t answer. He rolled over and closed his eyes tighter.

The door squeaked open and then footsteps, soft across the floor. What did she want? He was too tired for another fight.

“Liam?”

Maddie’s voice was barely audible. He ignored her.

She spoke a little louder. “Liam?”

He ignored her again.

She sighed in the darkness, he felt, rather than saw, her turn back toward the open doorway.

“What?”

Silence fell over the room and he heard a breath drawn in deep and slowly let out again.

“Will you hold me?”

He rolled over, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out her face to decide if she was serious or not.

“Just hold me. Nothing else.”

He wondered if this was some kind of trick. He squinted again, trying to see if her hand was behind her back; if she might suddenly draw a knife from there and stab him.

“Please?”

She seemed to be serious. Very. He heard a vulnerability in her tone that he hadn’t heard in a long time.

“Um . . . yeah. Okay.”

She lifted the sheet and comforter, sliding next to him, her body warm, her feet cold. Her feet had always been cold and she’d always slid them up his legs to warm them, making him squirm but laugh at the same time. Sometimes he’d asked if she needed the rest of her warmed up too and often she’d say yes and he’d snuggled close and nibbled at her earlobes.

He wasn’t going to ask her tonight if she needed warming up.

She laid her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest over his heart and closed her eyes. She remembered how comforting the soft thump of his heartbeat had been for most of their marriage.

They laid in the dark listening to each other breathe until she whispered: “I tried to stay away from the news but it’s like watching a train wreck. I can’t seem to look away.”

“I know,” he said softly.

“People are scared.”

“Yeah.”

“They’re convinced they’re all going to die.”

“They’re not. Fear does crazy things to your mind.”

Silence settled over them again.

She laughed softly again. “Yeah. Like that time you had that spider on your arm when we were driving to my parents and you almost drove us into a river.”

Liam snorted a laugh. “Well, spiders are scary, what can I say? All those legs. . .” he shuddered. “It’s just creepy.”

Silence settled over them again.

“Liam?”

He stared into the darkness, at the light of the streetlight bleeding in under the blinds. “Yeah?”

“If this kills one of us —”

“Maddie, this isn’t going to kill either one of us. I already told you we don’t even know if my test is positive. And most of the cases are mild, especially in our age group. We’re not in the highest risk age group. Okay?”

“But if it does . . . I want you to know. . .” Maddie took a deep breath and spoke fast and softly as she exhaled. “I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t like you.”

Liam laughed softly.

“Thanks. I guess.”

“And, Liam?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought you had to fix me. Only God can fix my broken heart.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Silence settled over them again and he laid his hand over hers, over the one laying on his chest.

“Maddie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought I didn’t care. I’m sorry I let my career become more important than our marriage.”

He had been trying not to be aware of her body warm against his, of the smell of her shampoo, of how soft the skin on her arm felt under his hand, of how her closeness made his heart rate increase. But he was aware of it. All of it. Much more than he wanted to be.

He slid his hand slowly up her arm, resting it just below her shoulder, squeezing gently.

He gently pressed his lips against the top of her head, her closeness suddenly intoxicating. “I love you, Maddie. Despite it all. I love you.”

He listened to her breathe and for a moment he thought she had fallen asleep.

 “I’m so tired. . .” she whispered against his neck, her breath warm. He could tell she was fading fast.

“Sleep,” he said softly. “We can talk more in the morning. It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”

She slept but he couldn’t. Not now with her tucked against him soft and warm, kicking his thoughts into high gear. He hadn’t expected her to come to him for comfort. He hadn’t expected it, but he welcomed it and loved having her so close, even if it was only physically.

 Had she meant what she said? That she still loved him? Maybe it had been the stress and the worry talking. The exhaustion even. He wasn’t sure but what he was sure of was that those words had sparked a warm, comforting fire in the center of his chest. He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her hand over his heart, trying to switch his brain off and knowing he’d meant it when he’d told her he still loved her.