If You Want To

Edith never had any intention of painting her forearm olive green. It just sorta happened to happen. She stood under the afternoon sun and stared at the husky built man before her with utter defiance seething through her pores.

Aden only laughed.

“For your information, I was helping my son spray paint his crossbow.” Edith flicked her finger toward the woods behind the man. “He wants to blend in with nature. Makes perfect sense to me.”

Shaking his head, Aden strolled across the grass to a camp chair set before a fire pit. “His idea makes sense. Your arm on the other hand… Don’t you ever read directions?”

Edith stomped across the yard to the brooder house. “I read them. But they never mentioned anything about accidentally brushing your arm against freshly painted crossbows.”

Aden plunked down on the folding chair before the flickering fire, stretched, and leaned back. “I can’t leave you alone for a few hours without some kind of mishap or another.”

Edith stopped at the chick house door and considered her retort, but her eldest son, Cal, strode forward carrying a load of wood and dumped it at the base of the fire pit. “This should keep us for a while.” He peered at her arm. “Hey, what happened to—?”

Edith waved him off. “Don’t ask. I was just helping Nick with the manly arts of crossbow decoration—something you could’ve been doing—big brother.”

Cal blanched, his gaze flickering to Aden. “Hey, I mowed the lawn this morning, straightened the barn door, and turned on the outdoor well pump.” The young man crossed his arms in an attitude of defiance.

“And he got us an armload of wood. I’d say the kid has earned his pay for the day.” Aden gave Cal a nod of approval.

Edith shot Aden a sneer. “Unlike some people…”

Aden’s grin widened. “I’m here on vacation; remember? You’re the one who said that country life would relax me…take all the tension outta my overstressed body.” He clasped his hands behind his head. “Well, I’m relaxing. And you’re right, I’m not feeling a particle of stress at the moment.”

Edith rubbed her forehead. He had her, and she knew that he knew, that he had her. How could she admit, even to herself, that she had been entertaining fantasies of leaving her to-do list in the dust as they played games of volleyball or went to the movies? She glanced at the half-mowed yard and sighed. “I gotta take care of these chicks, or they’re going to expire, and we’ll have to eat pork chops all winter.”

Cal nudged Aden. “Want something cold to drink? I’m going in for a soda; I can bring one out.”

Aden nodded. “Sounds good.” He grinned as he met Edith’s gaze.

Edith swung on her heel and smothered a string of naughty words.

~~~

As the sun sank below the horizon, painting the summer field crimson and sienna, Aden stacked an array of used paper plates and tossed them on the low burning embers. He collected four crushed soda cans and lined them on the nearby picnic bench.

Edith watched his slow, deliberate motions as if viewing them from Mars. Her whole body ached in weariness, though it was a pleasant ache, like a drug-induced state of utter relaxation. Her body could take no more, so she simply had to give in to rest. As she licked the last crumb of chocolate cake off her upper lip, her eyes meandered over his muscled arms. “Uh, oh. You’re working… I thought that was against the rules.”

Aden chuckled. “It’s not work if you want to do it. I happen to like stacking paper plates and lining up soda cans.” He dragged his camp chair near hers and plopped down, the fabric straining against his weight. He lifted her limp hand and caressed her fingers. “You know, not all physical exertion is work.”

Edith groaned. “Don’t play with my mind.”

“It’s not your mind I was thinking about…”

Edith forced her body into an upright position and stared at Aden. “You’ve been here the whole weekend, and you’re clearly feeling better.”

Aden nodded, his gaze focused on the horizon. “That’d be putting it mildly.”

“Good.” With a sigh, Edith leaned forward and clasped her hands. “You know, I only want what’s best for you. But it never dawned on me that for us…I have to want what’s best for me as well. All work and no play makes Edith a grumpy girl.”

Aden sighed.

Edith pushed through her hesitation. “When I visit, you work like a madman to manage your job and keep me and the boys entertained. When you come here, I run the situation in reverse.”

A hound dog ambled over and nudged its nose into Aden’s lap.

“Seems like there should be a happy medium somewhere, doesn’t there?” Aden rubbed the dog’s head, his gaze wandering to the first stars blinking in the firmament. “Maybe we should do some projects together?”

Like a puppet yanked by invisible cords, Edith flopped back onto her chair, a boulder pressing on her shoulders. “Like Habitat for Humanity sort of thing?”

Aden snorted, rose to his feet, and stepped around the dog. He scooped the cans into an empty box. “No. Well, maybe down the road we could do something like that. But in the meantime, I could help you here, and you could help me at my place. Seems silly to be always trying to entertain each other when we’ve got more work than any single person can do.”

“It’s not work if you do it together? Is that what you mean?”

Aden stepped behind Edith’s chair and rubbed her shoulders. “I watched you scurry about this place like a rabbit running from a fox. Cal’s a great kid and even Nick helps out. But I couldn’t help but wonder—am I running through my days, rather than living my life?”

Warm peace seeped into Edith’s body. “Join the club. Human beings need to justify our existence…one way or another.”

“Though pleasant distractions also work well to pass the time.” He rubbed Edith shoulders a little harder.

Cal stepped into the faint circle of glowing light. “Hey, hate to break up your fun, but it looks like Nick might have stopped up the sink. Something about washing the leftover instant potatoes down the drain.”

Edith slapped her forehead. “Oh, Lord. I knew I should’ve made baked beans.”

Aden stepped away from Edith and clapped Cal on the shoulder. “Come on, kid, I’ll show you a new trick. It’s called plumbing with potatoes.”

Cal snorted and marched alongside Aden, his gaze focused on the kitchen light ahead, his smile widening.

Edith rose with a groan. In a state of happy exhaustion, she peered at the gloriously star-speckled sky and shook her head. Her life rotated with the universe—work, rest, and plumbing with potatoes.

She laughed.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter  https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Whispering In My Ear

There is no end to the reproductive abilities of my to-do list. As soon as I send half a dozen items into obliteration, it squares its shoulders, huffs like an angry rhino, and spontaneously combusts fourteen new items for me to get done before the end of the week. I can hear them pop into existence all the way from the kitchen.

So this week, after I whittled my list down to a mere four items, I decided to play a trick on my merciless taskmaster; I drove to the lake and stared over the rippling waves, where no list could follow. The sound of the wind would surely block any distant popping.

And ya know, it worked. For awhile.

Unfortunately, that did not stop my brain from working over time. As I soaked up the warm sun, and my skin prickled under the influence of a cool wind, I noted that life is full of inexplicable ironies.

For example, we got our chicks nicely ensconced in their outdoor pen. Two of my children are their primary guardians during their growing season. After approximately seven weeks, the chicks go from adorable hopping balls of yellow fluff to ugly Gallus gallus domesticus. (I kid you not—that’s their scientific name—ask Google.) And astonishingly soon, they are the main course at dinner.

How is it possible that on one day, I feel protective of the little featherheads, and in a short time, I’m…well…you know? Basically, the answer has a lot to do with the fact that chicks grow into chickens. And my family needs to eat.

Consider the more challenging irony of being born to die, loving people even when it hurts like hell, how good intentions can go so very wrong, and a host of other questionable realities. I may have silenced my main taskmaster, but life is never done whispering in my ear.

This morning, my to-do list sent me to the Salvation Army, but it took a deep longing to steer my car to the lake, a full heart to soak in the warm sunshine, and a grateful mind to accept the temperate breeze. As I stared at the waves, time slowed, birds screamed at each other, and I smiled at their antics. Eventually, God and I conversed, though I did most of the talking. And all the while, the Earth continued to spin on its axis, and all of humanity lived their lives without me.

But by the time the sun started its downward journey, my stomach was rumbling, a faint pop sounded in the distance, and life—with all its ironies and perplexities—called to me.

I’m home now and the chicks are running about their pen like the carefree Gallus gallus domesticus they are. The sun is still shining and the breeze is stronger than ever. I’m still talking, and God is still listening. And my to-do list can reproduce at will.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Topic Sentence

Kimberly wondered if there wasn’t an easier way to earn a living. Not that she was earning anything beyond a few get-out-of-purgatory-free-days and a mammoth headache.

As a volunteer tutor at a local college, she happily offered her writing skills to those in need of literary assistance. Her gaze shifted from the screen in front of her to the student beside her. Kimberly clenched her jaw and tapped her lips. Hmmm. How does one tell an anxious student that you can barely make out the meaning of her first sentence?

Kimberly cleared her throat. “Could you tell me what you’re trying to say here? I mean the general point of the paper?”

The girl was about twenty and apparently—from the way she kept writing her hands—desperate to get her paper reviewed in a hurry.

“It mean, like, we all God’s children. Science not know that. Can’t test faith. You know what I mean?”

Oh, yeah. Kimberly nodded. Yep. She understood perfectly. Clearly English was a second, maybe even a third, language. So what to do?

The girl smiled. “It’s kind of you. To help me. I know it’s bad…” She shrugged. “Never got practice much.”

Squaring her shoulders, Kimberly faced the sentence again. Yeah, it was tangled in a heap of words…but tangles can get untangled. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard. “So, let’s start with your topic sentence…”

~~~

As she settled onto the couch with a hot cup of tea and a glorious chocolate chip cookie, Kimberly glanced up.

Her husband, Ron, entered the room, tossed his work bag on an end table, and groaned, “I love my job…I love my job…I love my job.” He stumped to the couch, flopped next to Kimberly, threw back his head, and slapped his hands over his face.

Kimberly licked the crumbs off her lips and nodded. “So what you’re saying is—you love your job.”

Ron dragged his fingers down his face and glanced aside. “Yep.”

“Well, that’s a great topic sentence. Care to offer any supporting evidence?”

Ron practically melted as he stretched out, his legs sprawled under the coffee table and his arms limp at his sides. He looked like a beached whale. Kimberly figured she wouldn’t mention this fact at present.

Spluttering a long exasperated sigh, Ron, obviously using the last bit of his strength, lifted a feeble hand, a finger slightly raised above the others. “One, I have a great boss.”

Kimberly took another bite out of her cookie and suppressed an indecent groan of pleasure.

Ron’s second finger wavered upward. “Two, my co-workers are terrific people.”

A sip of tea almost undid Kimberly’s composure. Who knew that Earl Grey could burst with such savory perfection?

Like a depleted Olympic long-distance runner barely making it to the finish line, Ron’s third finger joined his digital mates. “I actually like commercial design. Creative. Fun. A constant blast of innovation.”

Kimberly peered at the last piece of her cookie. Should she share it? She pursed her lips as she glanced from the pathetic figure to the chips gleaming from the cookie crust. Dang, it smelled so good. She hesitated.

Ron glanced over and fixed his gaze on the sweet treat. “Any more of those?”

Kimberly popped the delectable morsel into her mouth and chewed quickly. “Uh, well…”

With a near sob, Ron hoisted himself off the couch and stared down at his wife.

She grinned in innocence. “I didn’t want to ruin your appetite. Dinner’ll be ready in an hour or so.”

“Yeah. And you love me, too. I get it. Thanks.” He slogged his limp body toward the kitchen.

A tug of regret pulled at Kimberly’s cookie-happy tummy. “Wait. You never told me the summary.”

Ron propped himself in the doorway. “The what?”

Kimberly sat up and brushed incriminating crumbs from her shirt. “You know. How it all ends. To restate how much you love your job.”

“Oh, yeah.” Ron rested his head on the doorframe. “Did I mention that my company has been bought out, I’m getting a new boss, a completely different position, one I know practically nothing about, and nearly all my co-workers are being transferred overseas?”

Kimberly closed her eyes. The savory sweetness in her mouth had turned dry as dust. She stood there, guilt and grief tangling her thoughts. Footsteps padded near. She felt strong arms wrap around her.

Ron murmured in her ear. “I may have lost the job I love and missed the last bite of cookie, but surely, I have something left to live for?”

Kimberly snuggled into her husband’s embrace as a distinctly new sweetness swept over her. She opened her eyes and stared into his eyes. “Certainly, my love. Glad to help. Now, let’s see if we can write a new topic sentence…”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Love Anyway

I’ve never been particularly good with suffering. Avoidance? Insecurity? Hyper-control? Sure. Then my all-star qualities shine bright. But being insecure, hyper-controlling, and trying to avoid pain doesn’t a happy life make.

When I was twenty-one, I had the chance to meet my father after long years of separation at—of all places—the Art Institute of Chicago. I was meeting his second wife for the first time. And to make matters even more relaxed, I didn’t know a thing about modern art. But I did discover a latent sense of humor, which apparently shot to the surface like a geyser when under serious pressure.

I amused my dad, his wife, and even myself. Seeing absurdities in the uncomfortable world before me kept my eyes averted from haunting ghosts and garrulous gremlins. Our conversation never veered toward my mom, my brothers or sisters, loss of childhood, alcoholism, substance abuse, or neglect. The conversation stayed right where it needed to be, focused on pictures hanging on walls, which none of us understood.

Contrary to every psychological theory I knew at the time, communication was not the key to our relationship. After that initial reunion, I visited my dad regularly. He attended my wedding, got to know my growing family, and became a steady fixture in my life. Even at the age of ninety, we still connect at least once a week. He may not remember my name some days, but he always remembers that he loves me. And that I love him.

Over the years, we did have a couple of hard conversations about our family and the things that went so very wrong in our lives, but they were not all that productive. His simple admission, “I’m sorry,” was all I ever really needed to hear. And my, “I love you anyway,” was all he really needed to know.

In recent years, I have lost a husband, a brother, several friends, (I have a visitation to attend this weekend), my sense of worth, and even my heart, but in experiencing these losses, I have discovered that there is no fixing pain. There is only, “I’m sorry.” And “I love you anyway.”

Being truly sorry when someone is suffering shares the burden. It is one of the greatest acts of generosity that a human being can undertake.

Loving anyway explodes the walls of control, doubt, fear, hurt, avoidance, and insecurity. Love is not doormat material. Love demands decency, honesty, integrity, and heroism. But it doesn’t demand those qualities all at once in perfect order.

After a particularly brutal loss recently, my imagination conjured up the image of a wounded woman rising after tumbling down a hill. Not unlike Sam at the base of Mount Doom. How’s that for an “I’m sorry, and I love you anyway” scenario? But Sam rose again. Even when it was hopeless to do so. Even when pain had the upper hand. Even at the end of Middle-earth, he rose and loved anyway. And he wasn’t alone.

Pain and loss are twin hells that human beings experience in umpteen versions throughout the course of our journey toward heaven. We can’t fix reality, stop the hurt, make everything right, control outcomes, or even avoid tumbling down hills. Personally, I can crack a joke and laugh at absurdities to keep the ghosts and gremlins at bay, and that helps. Some.

But mostly, I can be sorry and love anyway.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Live and Learn

Thelma stared at her daughter and wondered if perhaps aliens had abducted her child and sent a brainless bot in her stead. She crossed her arms over her chest knowing full well that it was a defensive posture. “So, you’re going to move in with Brad without even a promise ring? A hint of a proposal? Without asking me what I thought—”

Bea grimaced and leaned against the kitchen counter, her hands cupping a mug of hot coffee. She shook her head, took a tentative sip, and then met her mom’s gaze. “Oh, Lord, Mom. I’m a grown woman, for Heaven’s sake. Brad and I are both starting out, and we don’t want to hike across the city just to meet up on weekends. Besides, it’ll save on expenses, and that’s a good thing. You’ve always been the thrifty one. You should be proud of us for saving money, not tossing religious dogma at us.”

The ache that had started in her throat had now risen to Thelma’s eyes. She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation. Where was the girl who had extolled C. S. Lewis as a brilliant Christian thinker? Who argued the merits of sincere religious faith over vacuous feel-good reasoning? The kid who went to Mass faithfully each week and Holy Days of Obligation? The one who—

“Earth to Mom…”

“Don’t you believe in marriage…the sacrament…what it stands for?”

Bea pulled a kitchen chair away from the table and plunked down with a sigh. She took another sip—a longer one—closing her eyes in apparent savory pleasure. “This is good, Mom. What kind—?”

“Don’t change the subject. I asked a simple question.” The morning sunlight hit Bea’s golden hair, highlighting it like a halo over the girl’s head. Thelma closed her eyes against tears.

Exhaling—a patient teacher waiting for her stubborn student to catch on—Bea tapped her fingers on the table. “Sit and relax, Mom. You’re getting worked up over nothing.”

Resentment burned her tears away. Thelma plunked down across from her daughter, her back ramrod straight.

“You know I haven’t been going to church for years. I still believe most of the stuff you taught me. And I like what the faith says, but I have to find my own way. I’m my own person. Brad’s a good guy. I really like him, and he really likes me. Sex is a natural part of our relationship, and I don’t think God disapproves of our enjoying each other. We’re human. God knows that. He made us this way. Your hang-ups about sex and marriage are from a different era. A time when women had no rights apart from a man. I’m not that kind of woman. So let me enjoy my life, okay?”

Thelma didn’t even know where to begin. Nothing in her homeschooling manual had prepared her for this conversation. After all the years of Catechism and spiritual nourishment, how could things turn out like this? How could all her loving examples and heartfelt teaching be wiped so effortlessly away?

The sensation of drowning overwhelmed her. From the crucifix on the wall to the painting of Archangel Michael above the archway, she sought support…inspiration…hope of any kind. O, God, have I believed an illusion?

As she clasped her hands, her attention fell on the faded white skin around her ring finger. Ron had died two years ago, but she could still feel the symbol of their love. Her thumb pressed against the soft flesh. She peered at her daughter. “The day your dad proposed, he knelt on one knee and held out a gold ring, his hands shook so hard, I was afraid he’d drop it. He didn’t. But the ring wasn’t the important thing…his declaration of love and fidelity was.”

Bea leaned back, her eyes scrolling the kitchen ceiling as if begging patience from the white stucco.

Thelma leaned forward. “Marriage isn’t about a piece of paper or an ancient ritual. It’s about what human beings believe and are willing to sacrifice for. You’re right; God created us as sensual beings, and I’m sure He highly approves of a union based on love and respect. So much so that He wants us to treat our relationship with great honor.”

“Save the lecture, Mom. I’ve heard all this before. I’ve read the manual on marriage and the whole John Paul II Theology of the Body thing. I just don’t want to be tied down to rules. God is bigger than rules.”

A cloud swept in, obliterating the glorious rays of sunshine.

Thelma stood and poured herself a cup of coffee. She doused it with brown sugar and creamer and then leaned against the counter. “But, you, my dear, need rules. You’re not God. Neither is Brad. As it stands now, you two are simply using each other. And that works for a while. Until it doesn’t anymore. What about when one of you gets laid off…or sick…or bored? What if Brad sees another woman who’s more attractive to him? Or you find another man? What then?”

The line of Bea’s jaw hardened. “I know plenty of divorced Catholics. Their marriage vows didn’t save them.”

“But they should have. If they had lived marriage as it’s meant to be.”

Bea offered an exaggerated yawn. “The unbreakable union between God and His people…yadda…yadda…yadda. Yeah, I know. Sounds good. But, frankly, Mom, you’re not listening. I don’t care. I want to live with my boyfriend. I don’t need a long-term commitment. I just want convenient sex and a man I can rely on—”

Thelma’s jaw ached. “You’re not listening to yourself. You want someone to rely on without being honest about what it takes to depend on each other. Relationships are hard. They take work, sacrifice, and commitment.”

“Maybe for you. Not for me. I find relationships easy. Maybe that’s your problem, Mom. You ruin love by overthinking everything.”

The knife went deep, and Thelma knew she couldn’t pull it by herself. She set her cup on the counter and strode out of the kitchen. As soon as she was out the front door, she started walking toward the only answer she could depend upon.

It took nearly an hour to reach St. Bridget’s on foot, but she didn’t care. At least, she had stopped weeping long enough to wipe her eyes and enter the Adoration Chapel with a semblance of composure. An older man, probably in his 80’s, sat in a chair before the Monstrance, his hands clasped, his eyes closed. For a moment, Thelma wondered if he was awake. She couldn’t see his chest rising or falling. Oh, God, could he—?

The man opened his eyes and met her gaze. He blinked and grinned. “I concentrate better with my eyes closed.”

A blush rose over Thelma’s face. She bowed, made the sign of the cross, and then sat three seats away.

The man straightened and cleared his throat. “My granddaughter was supposed to be here today, but she broke her hand in a game yesterday. Stupid accident. I warned her, but the young never listen to the old. Think we’re fools and has-beens.”

Thelma nodded through a forced smile.

“Everyone’s got to make their own mistakes. Live and learn…then face God with the balance.” He sighed. “I didn’t listen to my grandpa either. Probably why I’m doing so much time in church now, eh?” He rubbed the small of his back. “Could you take the next hour till Judy comes?”

Thelma nodded. She hadn’t listened to her mom much either. Funny how that goes. She knelt down and bowed her head.

Later that night, Thelma dialed Bea’s number. She leaned against the counter and waited. When Bea answered, she knew that they wouldn’t talk about marriage, boyfriends, or God. There was only so much a mother could do. Even as she listened to a catalog of her daughter’s eventful day, the old man’s words rang in her ears: Live, learn, and face God with the balance.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Along the Roadside

Early this spring, I was taking my usual walk, and I couldn’t help but notice three beer cans in my path. Annoyed, I picked them up. And then I picked up an empty whiskey flask, a crushed cigarette pack, and a slimy soda bottle… By the time I made it home, I had an armload, and I really needed a shower and a change of clothes.

So then began a weekly stroll farther and farther along the roadside, picking up whatever garbage caught my eye. Yesterday, I completely ignored the fact that it was windy and that we had had a rainstorm the night before. I sauntered out with three trash bags in hand. What can I say? It was sunny, and I was feeling ambitious.

Pumped with the sensation that I could at least do this little thing well, I began to pick up bottles, cans, broken car pieces—though I was momentarily stumped when I came to a hubcap and a bumper—couldn’t fit those into my bags.

Cars passed, and at first, I’d look up and wave. Occasionally I could see the face of the person driving. Clearly, they weren’t sharing my joy. On the contrary, they looked either concerned or bewildered.

As I shuffled along and my bags got heavier, I pondered the situation. I tried to see what I looked like from a driver’s perspective. Then it hit me. I could easily be mistaken for a vagrant, someone doing community service for a traffic violation, or a disgruntled do-gooder. After all, my wave and smile had disappeared after the first quarter mile.

By the time I reached the edge of town, I knew I had to turn back. Actually, common sense would’ve had me turn back a half mile ago, but picking up bottles and cans can be amazingly addictive. It’s like finding another prize to add to your collection. You just have to ignore the fact that your toes are squishing in muck, and your hands don’t smell so good anymore.

A neighbor stopped on my return trip and offered to take the bags in his truck, and I, like the complete idiot I can sometimes be, waved him off. I thought I could just finish the north side of the road, and besides, home wasn’t that far away.

Yeah. Right.

Did I mention that heavy rain can turn fields into sucking quicksand, and strong winds over an open field are nothing to sniff at? Well, once my bags were full to the bursting point, turns out that they also equal the weight of a bloated elephant. And lo and behold, I was carrying three bulging sacks, creating a wall that just demanded to be knocked down.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I made it home and sorted the cans and plastics, and I even took them to the recycling center. But as I pondered my aching shoulders today, I had to consider why this whole scenario seemed so bizarrely familiar.

How many times in life have I tried to pick up the trash along the roadside of life, and in the process, got a few weird stares and a bit messy? Did I mention aching arms?

It seems that following an inspiration to do some small good in the world does not necessarily equate with enjoying the sensation beyond the first few moments of self-satisfied pleasure. More often than not, I have found that following up on a good-deed involves all sorts of complications and grimy realities I never considered on the outset.

If I listen to my shoulders, I’ll never take a trash bag down the road again. But then as I returned home from the recycling center, a beer can lay there, sprawled on the ground like an intoxicated groundhog, and I knew I’d be back.

After all, it was the only one…

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Romantic Soul

Kathy loved hot tubs. But she couldn’t admit that to a living soul. She also loved chocolate chip mint ice cream, but she rarely indulged. And as for mystery novels…well, if there was a bit of romance thrown in, so much the better. But God forbid anyone ever caught her reading a trashy novel. No, she kept those squashed under a tower of historical biographies detailing the late-greats of the nineteenth century. So far…no one ever caught on.

It was a perfect spring day. The cherry and peach trees were in full bloom and if the sky glowed any bluer, she’d break into song…and that would never do. Lord have mercy. Kathy’s heart swooned, but her body stayed as ridged as a cliff facing turbulent ocean waves.

Elliot had no idea what he was doing to her insides. But then Elliot had better things to do than worry about his frazzled Catechism assistant. As a director of social services for the county, he had people with real problems to deal with. Unwed mothers, abused kids, out of work fathers, drug-addicted teens. The list was endless. People’s problems were endless. Yet Elliot always managed to smile at his hyperactive class of Catholic kids and act like he was having great fun just being with them.

Kathy’s heart melted at the mere memory of Elliot’s face. She pulled open the door to the Sacred Heart Community Center and stepped into the quiet interior. No one else had arrived yet. Good. That gave her time to arrange the material for today’s class and set the player on the right episode for tonight’s theme—Who Do You Say That I Am?

As she brushed by the front desk, she noticed a half-empty water bottle. Elliot’s? Probably. No one else used this classroom during the week. She picked it up and stared at it as if its previous owner would magically appear to take back his property. She jumped at the sound of a woman’s voice.

“Staring at it won’t bring it to life, honey.”

Kathy turned around and faced the matronly figure of the Pro-Life Director.

In her early fifties, with salt and pepper hair that she kept tied in a neat bun on the top of her head, Chika might look like a schoolmarm of old, except that she wore jeans, hiking boots, and an oversized plaid shirt, which would have fit a lumberjack.

A blush spread over Kathy’s cheeks.

Chika moved into the room like a ship’s captain taking the helm. “I’ll be delivering the main address today. Elliot asked me to come in and highlight some behavior issues he’s concerned about.”

Kathy bit her lip. “I thought we were doing Who Do You Say That I Am?”

“Well, we are…sort of. Just add in the consequences of unregulated lust and rampant promiscuity, and we’ll have tonight’s theme.”

Kathy thought her face might have caught on fire. “Oh?”

Chika grinned. “It’s a talk the kids need to hear…but, not you. In fact—” She wandered to the front of the room, pulled a key out of a deep pocket, and unlocked the cabinet. “I think you could do with a little more romance in your life…not less.”

Embarrassment combated with fury as Kathy stood before the chalkboard. Undiluted anger won. “Oh, really?” An edge sharpened her voice as it rose to a squeak.

Chika shook her head. “Come on. Be honest with yourself. You like Elliot. And I think he likes you…but you give that poor man not an ounce of encouragement. It’s time to step off the sidelines and make your move.”

“That’s hardly my place! I’m a modest woman and I—”

“What’s modesty got to do with it? Look in the Bible, honey, and get with the times. God made man and woman for a reason!”

“I’m perfectly well aware of that fact, but I’m hardly about to throw myself—”

Chika grinned. “No one suggesting anything radical. Would be amusing to see you get a little radical, I’ll admit. But—” She leaned in closer. “Since you’re the two shyest people on the planet when it comes to romance…I’ll just ask God to do His thing and give you two a little nudge.” She nodded to a foot high statue of Jesus with His sacred heart glowing in his chest. She grinned. “Author of romance, don’t you know?”

Completely flummoxed by this unorthodox reasoning, Kathy snorted a tiny puff of dragon’s breath and retreated across the room.

The sound of pounding feet turned both women to the doorway.

His eyes wide with anxiety, Elliot rushed into the room. “Call 911 and get Jason’s mom. He’s having an asthma attack. I can’t calm him down.”

With flashbacks of her own childhood asthma trauma flooding her brain, Kathy rushed to the hallway and found Jason slumped against the wall. His face flushing bright red and his hands fluttering in a panic as he dragged a ragged breath from his chest.

Kathy dropped to her knees and braced his body upright. She stared into the boy’s face. “Look at me, Jason, and squeeze my arms. Breathe. Slow in…slow out…look at me…everything is going to be okay. I’m here. You’ll be fine. Relax. Let your breath come…one in…two out…”

His shoulders relaxing as he clasped Kathy’s arms, Jason closed his eyes and exhaled.

A bustling movement forced Kathy aside. She got out of Jason’s mother’s way. The harried woman handed an inhaler to the boy who gripped it in both hands and soon had it pressed to his mouth, his mother continuing to count out slow breaths.

Kathy stepped aside and stood alone as the blare of an ambulance sounded in the parking lot. Her heart pounded, but she sucked in a deep breath and then exhaled releasing the tension. A firm hand pressed her shoulder.

Elliott leaned in and whispered in her ear. “You’re amazing. Thank you.”

With only a slight turn of her head, Kathy met Elliot’s gaze. A blush warmed her cheeks. The smell of chocolate-chip mint ice cream filled her imagination. As she swallowed hard, a figure across the room caught her attention.

Chika raised her eyebrows, a knowing smile on her lips. She pointed to the figure of Christ. A rose lay at His feet. Kathy blinked…and then squinted. It was one of the plastic roses used to decorate the room. Well, okay, it was a romantic gesture…giving God a rose.

Elliot’s hand still rested on Kathy’s shoulder. It felt warm and comfortable there.

A shocking thought raced through Kathy’s mind, sending a shiver down her back. Does God have a romantic soul?

Perhaps He likes chocolate-chip mint ice cream too.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00