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

In My Lifetime

My day never goes as expected. Which may be just as well. My life hasn’t either.

This morning, I discovered a dead chick in the brooder house and realized that because of the abundant rain, swampy muck, a seriously confused bumblebee, and a terrible smell, the surviving chicks needed to be moved to a fresh pen. And I was just the person to do the job. Oh, joy.

Did they appreciate my hard work and kindness as I carried them out of a messy situation to a clean, warm, safe new home? No, they squawked like I was an ax-wielding maniac. I tried to explain that I was harmless, but they fluttered and flapped like there was no tomorrow. Of course, being about twenty times their size, swooping down upon them like something from horror flick…and when I think about their future…I guess I can understand their anxiety.

Once that job was done, I washed up and made zucchini bread, potato salad, and deviled eggs for Saturday’s piano recital. Several of my kids will be playing, and there will be “fellowship” afterward. As far as my kids are concerned, this might as well be revolutionary France and the guillotine awaits. Well, maybe not quite that bad. But close. When I remember my youth and having to perform in public…I get it.

After cleaning the bathroom—hey, it needed to be done—a couple loads of laundry, a quick shower and a change of clothes, (whaddya expect after my morning?) I ate lunch with the younger kids. Next, I decided to check out my connections on an online dating site.

Surreal.

I just gotta say that if anybody thinks that men feel heartbreak and anxiety any less than women, they haven’t spent quality time reading through dating site profiles. Gosh, golly. Naked heartfelt vulnerability abounds. Yeah. I get it.

Of course, I did chuckle at one message, “Must love golf.” Ooookaaaay. And another gentleman simply wrote, “Hi” with twelve exclamation points. I think it was twelve. I lost count after ten. I lost interest after two. Then there was the Google translator message, “After my parents’ demise…” Demise, eh?

I’ve only dated one person after my husband’s death, and that relationship succumbed to the reality of different life visions. No one’s fault. But painful never the less. Being an unrepentant optimist, I have focused on what is good in my world, grateful that I actually have a life, kids, a beautiful home, critters that may drive me mad but also make me laugh.

In a world dominated by technology, online dating seems to be the fastest and most efficient means of finding a future spouse. Our grandparents would probably choke on the very idea. But there is no going back. It’s like when cell phones came in and all the old telephone booths were pulled off walls and taken from street corners. Now you better have a cell phone or you’ll die on the roadside waiting for help.

This is not the view I expected in my lifetime. Raising a large, beautiful family in the countryside as a single parent, cleaning brooder houses on a rainy spring morning, checking out messages on an online dating site, writing a weekly blog for a world audience. But this is my life. And unlike the chicks, I am grateful. I’m not flapping my wings anyway.

As J. R. R. Tolkien said…

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

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

Face the Cranberries

“Cranberries are the best food on the planet. And aliens are set to invade Earth any day now.”

I waited; my hands clasped around a bag of red berries in an attitude of perfect composure and watched my dearest husband add the final touches to his miniature boat. Well, it was Johnny’s boat. Or so the story goes… The perfect gift for an eleven-year-old boy who was all thumbs. A boat building kit. His dad couldn’t get the box open fast enough.

I cleared my throat. “Jack?”

“Huh?”

His big brown eyes peered at me as innocently as I’m certain he felt. He had no idea he was ignoring me. Or that I had a rotten day. Or that Jonny couldn’t care less about boats. He was simply focused. On his work…or his hobby…whatever.

I wanted to whap him with my bag of berries. But he wouldn’t have understood that either. Time out.

“I need some sugar. Going to Beth’s place for a bit.”

That caught his attention. “Way over there? She’s not a grocery store. Besides, I’m getting hungry and—”

“The chicken is in the oven, and there are crackers and cheese on the table. Have a snack. I’ll just be a bit.” Feeling ever so justified in leaving him to his newest pet project, I sauntered out the door and roared off in my mini-van with music blaring right through town. The only reason I didn’t close my eyes to deep cleanse my psyche lay in the curvy road and the glory of swiftly passing spring fields.

Beth had amazing kids. One was a doctor, another an astrophysicist, and the middle kids were all-purpose miracle workers. The youngest two stayed at home and managed the farm while her husband recovered from a…broken arm…or was it a leg? Appendicitis? Something.

Anyway, no matter how bad my day might have been, just stepping into Beth’s house offered me perspective. Like a clown on an analyst’s couch, I knew she’d listen to my dire groans and sprinkle witty inspirations and clever parenting tips upon me no matter how ridiculous I looked.

Or maybe not.

When I swept into the kitchen, Beth’s red-rimmed eyes bespoke some kind of serious dark matter in the Kilroy universe. My heart skipped a beat. “Something wrong?”

Beth’s eyes widened. With horror or stupefaction, I couldn’t tell. She seemed so surprised. I was surprised. After all, I’d been barging into her house, getting free analyst sessions for years. We were close friends. Like sisters. No warning phone call. No knock on the door. No loud call from the foyer. Just—

Beth broke down, lumbered over to me, and started sobbing on my shoulder. The sky could’ve fallen, and I wouldn’t have noticed.

I half carried, half dragged her to the kitchen table and maneuvered her into a solid wood chair. Always loved those chairs. Practically indestructible. Sorry…I digress.

I put on a pot of water for the clearly needed cup of tea. “Herbal or something stronger?”

Beth looked up and waved a limp hand. “I don’t care. Whatever.”

Gee. That wasn’t like her at all. Bodysnatchers? My hands shook as I assembled the cups, brown sugar, and perched the English teabags in the cups just so. I leaned over and peered into my friend’s swollen eyes. And waited.

“Terry wants a divorce.”

The jolt that ran through my system could have electrified a city. “What? That’s crazy. Terry loves you. You love Terry. You love your kids. Your kids love you…” I sat back, my gaze stuck on her face.

“He’s not the man I married. After his heart attack, That was it! he says he wants to retire and travel to exotic places, have some fun…live before he dies.” She dropped her head onto her hands and sighed. “What have we been doing all these years? Play acting?”

The irony of our role reversal was not lost on me. Being the one expected to offer helpful advice pricked my conscience like angry hornets. After all, my oldest kid was only a teen, and I had three compared to her six. And Beth had been married nearly thirty years while Jack and I had a mere fifteen anniversaries tucked under our marriage belt.

I slumped down on the chair and tried to gird my loins. Ridiculous phrase but being biblical, it seemed to fit. I certainly needed supernatural assistance. Any time, Lord.

“I can’t believe that Terry told you that he wants a divorce. It’s just not like—”

“Oh, not in so many words. Of course not! He just scattered pamphlets, brochures, travel books all over the place and started listening to Spanish radio. He went shopping and bought casual shirts and jeans for crying out loud! Jack never wears jeans. He’s an office man who can’t leave the office—even when he comes home.”

I blinked. Suddenly I saw the universe from an entirely new angle. “Uh, Beth darling, do you think that perhaps you are misreading Jack? I mean, perhaps he is kinda tired of being the office guy and wants to have a little fun. Doesn’t mean he wants a divorce. Why would he scatter the travel paraphernalia under your eyes if he wanted to leave you behind?”

“Why didn’t he just tell me?”

“Have you ever mentioned an interest in traveling?”

“I’ve been too busy raising kids for thirty years. And doing a darn good job of it I might add. Who’s got time for frivolity?”

My throat had gone as dry as Mars. The singing kettle saved me. As I poured the steaming water into our mugs, Beth skedaddled to the counter, snatched a handful of pamphlets and slapped them on the table.

“See what I mean?”

I stirred sugar into my tea with one hand and browsed through the offending material with the other. Hmm… Yep. Terry wanted a little fun. Looked like a lot of fun. I tried not to turn green with envy.

I took a long sip and sat down. Then I reached over and patted my friend’s hand and said the only thing that might save her universe. “Go have fun, Beth.”

Beth’s eyes widened.

I stirred two scoops of sugar into her cup and nudged it closer. “If it makes you feel any better, you can learn Spanish before you go.” I leveled my gaze at her. “But go.”

~~~

I didn’t turn on the music on the drive home. I need to think and pay more attention to my pounding heart than a pounding pop song. By the time I stepped into the kitchen, my brain was clear enough to take in the wonderful aroma of cooked cranberries.

Jack stood at the head of a table, which apparently had been set by visiting gremlins since the knives and forks were scattered at awkward angles and the plates and glasses marched up wobbly lines on either side of the table. But a roast chicken and mashed potatoes did sit comfortably in the middle of the table near the glorious bowl of cooked berries.

I glanced at my husband. My throat had returned to Mars. And after three cups of tea, too. “Uh, Jack?”

Jack smiled at me through such proud eyes I thought my heart might burst right through my chest. “The kids and I fixed dinner. Course, you had the chicken in the oven already. But we did the rest.”

Standing around the table, the kids looked like miniature versions of their dad. It took me a moment, but I did eke out a coherent, “Thank you, guys!”

Jack peered at me, his smile fading. “You okay?”

And at that moment I knew with unerring certainty what I needed to do to make my universe perfect. “Yep. Everything is great. But I do have one request.”

Jack and the kids looked at me. God only knows what they were thinking.

“Show me your boat after dinner, okay?”

Jack’s smile returned, and I could finally face the cranberries.

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

Eternity Come to Earth

Frying chicken has its hazards. Tom stood back and considered the state of his kitchen. Flour covered the counter, grease specked the stovetop, blood dripped down the side of the sink, and the smoke alarm was blaring.

His eldest daughter, Katie, jogged forward, snatched a towel off the drainer and started waving it under the alarm. She glanced back at her dad. “You could take the fryer off.”

Tom sighed, dropped the last piece of chicken onto the serving dish and pulled the smoking fryer off the hotspot on the stove. He looked around as three more kids sauntered into the kitchen. He waved to the youngest. “Set the table, would you, Meg?”

Rolling her eyes and slouching her shoulders as if she had been asked to drain a swamp, Megan lumbered over to the cabinet and started piling plates into her arms.

Without comment, her older sister Martha placed knives and forks at each place with surgical precision.

Joey leaned against the wall. “I’ll be helping at the Lawson’s after school this week. So if you need something, you’ll have to tell Carl.”

Tom shut out the image of a stack of wood that needed to be split and his eleven-year-old’s last attempt to wield an ax. He frowned. “Where is Carl?”

“Out in the woods…as usual.” Meg simpered. “He wants to be a Nordic invader.”

Katie grinned as she sliced a warm loaf of homemade bread. “Don’t be silly. He wants to be an explorer…travel to distant lands and—”

Martha placed her hands on her hips, her brows drawn down in severe lines. “He needs to get practical. Joey found a good job…Carl could do the same. If he tried.”

“Like you work so hard!” Megan threw up her hands and blew a strand of hair away from her face.

Rubbing his temple, Tom slid onto his chair and dropped his head onto his hands. “Guys. No quarreling. You know how it makes me feel.”

Dead silence filled the room.

Tom felt Katie’s firm hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been working hard, Dad. Eat some dinner, and we can clear up.”

Fighting back tears, Tom waited a moment to gain his composure. Breathing through a quick prayer, Tom lifted his head at the sound of footsteps running into the room.

“Sorry, I forgot the time. Is that fried chicken?” Carl’s face lit up in boyish joy.

Tom waved to the sink. “Wash your hands first.”

As the chicken, mashed potatoes, a green salad, and canned slices of peaches were laid on the table and just as quickly consumed, Tom toyed with his food. He knew he needed to drop a bomb, but he wasn’t sure how to do it.

Finally, he cleared his throat. “Uh, kids, I’ve got something to tell you.”

All heads rose and five pairs of eyes focused on their father.

“I’ve decided to put the house up for sale. We’re going to move to Wisconsin to be closer to Grandma and Grandpa.”

Silence.

“I know you love this place, but—”

Katie stood up. “You can’t, Dad!” Tears filled his eldest daughter’s eyes.
“It was bad enough the younger ones don’t get to grow up with a mom, but you want to take them away from the only home they’ve ever known. How could you?” She flung herself out of the kitchen while every gaze dropped to the floor.

Tom’s stomach churned. The chicken he had forced down seemed to flutter about as if it was still alive. He exhaled a long breath and reviewed the rest of his despondent clan.

Martha wiped her hands with her napkin and pushed away from the table. “It’s gonna be hard, but I think you’re acting sensibly, Dad. We can’t take care of this place, and besides, there are better high schools up there. We’ll have grandma and papa to help so you can go to work without worrying all the time…”

As his second child began to clear the dishes, Joey silently stood and started for the door.

Tom cleared his throat. “Nothing from you, then?”

Joey shrugged. “I like helping out at the farm, but Wisconsin has farms too. And the city has… things.”

Tom felt tears flood his eyes again. “Like what?”

“Museums…a zoo.” He glanced at his little brother. “As long as we can get to nature once in a while…see some animals…it won’t be so bad.” He bunched his hands into his pockets and opened the door. “I’m going out.”

Tom nodded and watched his eldest boy lumber across the threshold. His gaze shifted to his two youngest. Carl sat slump-shouldered and unmoving. Meg peered up and met his gaze, her eyebrows raised.

“You have a question, Meg?”

“Are you going to get a new job?”

“Kind of. I’ll still do the same work, but there’s a new opening at the branch in Madison. You’ll get to be around more of the family. Lots of kids on the Leonard side…”

Meg slid from her seat and stopped before her father, pressing her body against his knees. “It’s okay, dad. I get it. Joey had to find another home for Molly cat last year.”

A laugh strangled his cry, as Tom hugged his daughter. Brushing her hair away, he stared into her deep-set blue eyes. “I love you.”

Meg grinned. “Yeah. Me too. I mean, love you, too, dad.”

Martha beckoned her little sister. “Come here, twerp, and help me do the dishes.”

Her grin widening, Meg tugged a towel off the rack. “I’ll beat you to the last dish.”

Martha shook her head. “I’ll wash; you dry. Then I’ll put them away. But tomorrow, you gotta set the table for breakfast.”

Meg stuck out her hand to seal the deal.

Tom leaned back on his chair, the heavy rock of depression lifting ever so slightly from his chest. He eyed his second son. “You okay, Carl.”

Carl shrugged.

Tom leaned on his elbows and clasped his hands. “Joey is right. There is a great zoo in the city. We went there once when you were small. You probably don’t remember—”

Carl fixed his gaze on the floor.

Katie stepped into the room, opened the closet and pulled out the broom. She started sweeping.

Tom watched and waited. He bit his lip. He started to open his mouth, but he could hear his wife’s voice in his mind. “Give ‘em time, Tom. Big changes are made of small moments.”

As he stood, he pressed Carl’s shoulder. “Let me know…when you want to talk about it…questions…anything.”

Tom stepped from the kitchen into the lamp-lit living room and peered through the front window into the evening horizon. Joey stood against a setting sun, his body outlined in crimson.

Loneliness engulfed Tom, though he wasn’t really alone. Catherine lingered in his mind and soul, and his kids tugged at every sinew in his body. Still, he had to make the hard call, the necessary decisions. He was the dad. God’s appointed to protect and provide for his family.

He felt Katie stop beside him, her broom in her hand. She shuffled her feet. “Sorry.”

“It’s hard. I know.”

Katie gripped her broom like a soldier about to enter the battlefield. “Go on…get Carl and walk that invisible line between day and night. Mom used to say that it was Eternity come to Earth.”

Tom opened the front door, felt a surge of fresh air enter his lungs. He called into the kitchen. “Come on, Carl. There’s wood to stack, and tomorrow you’re going to help me chop the rest of the pile.”

Carl stepped forward, blinking and hesitant. “You sure?”

“Yep. Let’s do what we can tonight. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.”

 

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

It Makes All the Difference

As far as I was concerned, the whole world was on a fast train headed for destruction, and I didn’t want to watch. Humanity might party on the way, but the crash wouldn’t be pretty. It would be painful. Very painful. I couldn’t think about it.

So I did the next best thing. I invited myself over to my sister’s place in the country. She has one of those mini-farms with cute domesticated animals, a huge garden, fruit trees, and a stack of firewood big enough to make Paul Bunyan envious. And, yes, they and their assorted young’uns eat bacon, eggs, and pancakes with homemade maple syrup every Saturday morning.

I got there on Friday night, just to be on the safe side.

Right off the bat, Leslie laughed at me.

I carried a cup of herbal tea to the counter, pulled up a wooden stool, and harrumphed. “Hey, I’m being serious. The planet is being poisoned beyond repair… we’ll likely nuke ourselves soon…and then aliens will decipher one of our stupid transmissions and figure that we really ought to be decimated just to end the drama.”

With complete indifference to my dismal prognostications, Leslie sloshed her hands into a sink of dirty dishes, steaming water, and soapy bubbles. “You need to lighten up. Tonight you can bunk with the girls; they don’t snore much. In the morning, we’ll all eat a healthy breakfast and then, while I brandish a chair and whip to keep the kids from following, you can take a long rambling walk in the woods. After that, I’ll put you to work helping me clean the basement, we’ll play a rousing soccer game, afterward, go to Mass, and by the evening, Jasper will join us for a family-feud Ping-Pong tournament. By Sunday, you’ll be a new person.”

Heck, I thought, by Sunday it won’t matter where the world is heading, I’ll be dead.

~~~

True to her word, the girls didn’t snore. Much. With carefully placed pillows smashed against my skull, I managed to fall into a deep sleep in the wee hours of the morning. When Leslie clanged the outdoor bell calling her screaming kids and a much too happy husband to the breakfast table, I managed to stumble down the stairs with a modicum of composure. The fact that I felt like road kill didn’t appear to dampen anyone’s spirits.

But a glorious breakfast and a strong cup of coffee worked a miracle. For the first time in days, I actually felt glad to be a human. With Jasper’s assistance, Leslie managed to hold the kids back while I made my escape, and I practically skipped across the cow pasture, carefully sidestepping unmentionables, into the woods. A fun fantasy escape just for me.

Except it wasn’t.

Deer inhabited the woods and terrorized my thumping heart into regions it did not honestly belong. Stupid deer. Who knew such innocent creatures could look so darn ferocious up close and personal?

Brandishing my water bottle, I backed up toward the old Tobin place and decided to investigate the ancient ruins dating back at least…well…fifty years. It was a squirrel that ruined everything. That little scoundrel scurried into a hidey-hole by the back entrance, enticing me to follow when I suddenly felt my footing give way.

After I found myself flat on my back at the bottom of a muddy, brick lined, thank God not-full well, I said words I’m glad my nieces and nephews weren’t around to hear. Then I tried to sit up and found that I couldn’t. I tried to breathe instead.

That accomplished, I felt a tiny bit better. But I was still on my back at the bottom of a well, far from human habitation. Even if I could yell, no one was around to hear me. Well, I figured, no use straining myself. Just lie still and wait for someone to rescue me.

Did I mention I was feeling a little depressed before I fell down the well?

By the time the sun set, I was suicidal. And really hungry.

As the stars flickered on one by one, (I knew they don’t actually flicker on…but I was practically hallucinating at that point, so I wasn’t picky on the details) I wiped what I was certain would be my last tears off my face. I discovered that if I tilted my head just so, I could see more stars than I had ever seen in my life. The Big Dipper shone in splendor and since I’d never been one to stop and stargaze, I was rather amazed it actually existed. I’d heard of it, of course, but I’d never stopped to actually see it—outside of the kids’ picture book anyway. It took my breath away.

At that moment, I was glad I had breath to take away.

Then something ran across my hand. I shrieked and sat up. I’m sure I surprised whatever it was that scurried into the blackness. But even more, I amazed myself. I had been convinced that I was broken beyond repair.

Apparently not.

Did you know that stars actually move? That the sky turns? That you can see the universe from the bottom of a well?

When I heard voices calling my name, I winced. Part of me was ready to kiss the first person that pulled me out of the hole. But part of me felt a pang of regret. It was like I had made friends with some unseen universal force that sat with me, glimmered and danced before my eyes, silent yet speaking of wonders I could barely grasp.

Turned out it was a nice fireman who helped me out of the hole. And, yes, I did kiss him. On the cheek.

My sister hugged me so tight; I knew that if I hadn’t broken a rib in the fall, I broke one then. But I didn’t care. I was alive. I could breathe. And I had seen the stars for the first time in my life.

As I now stand on my apartment balcony, remembering snoring kids, bacon and egg breakfasts, rambling woods, and scary deer, I can’t help but stare up at the faint night sky. I can’t see the stars like I did at my sisters’ place. But I know they are there.

And it makes all the difference.

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

Start in the Clouds

“Just put me out of my misery now, would you?” Wearing a pair of worn work jeans, a plaid shirt, and mud splattered tennis shoes, Kevin pushed back from his laptop desk and swiped a large coffee mug off the side table. “I might as well try fishing for tuna at the Skinner’s pond.”

His bulky frame positioned before his ancient computer, George grinned and thrust out his empty mug. “Since you’re getting a refill?”

“What do I look like? A serving—”

“Ah, ah! Careful. Don’t lose your nice boy demeanor the moment you get offline. After all, a good woman can smell a fraud all the way across the cyber universe.”

“Sure, she can smell fraud…but can she see decency, kindness, and everlasting patience?” Kevin plowed his way through the cluttered office, scattering stray papers in his wake.

The overhead light glinting off his bald head, George leaned back on his chair, the rollers squeaking in useless appeal, and propped his scuffed boots on the corner of his desk. “I told you that this online dating thing was a waste of your time and talent. No good woman will put her face on a dating site. And those that do will only see you’re an unmarried farm boy with four kids. Not a romance in the making, my boy.”

Sloshing coffee into his cup, Kevin shook his head. He yanked a paper towel from the rack and wiped up the spill. With a steadier hand, he filled George’s mug brimful. “Look, this isn’t exactly St. Louis. Small town America has lots of land and sky but few people. Not a lot of unmarried options around here.”

“You could try the big city…visit your friend…the cool one with the long ponytail and suave attitude. He’s probably got women lining up—”

Passing George’s mug safely into his friend’s hands, Kevin perched on the edge of a ripped couch and blew on the steaming coffee. “Not really. He’s struggling as much as I am. Says that every woman he goes out with has this list…an impossible list by the way. A guy has to split the bill…or he’s a Neanderthal. Except for the ones who expect him to pay for everything, or he’s a selfish jerk. And women like beards…or hate them. Got to have a decent job that pays well, you better revere your mother, and God forbid you have a strong opinion about religion or politics.”

George snorted. “Just to be fair…”

Kevin stared over his cup. “Yeah? What?”

“Well, I happened to notice that you put on your profile that you live with your mom.”

“She’s sixty-eight years old and would be in a nursing home if I wasn’t helping her out.”

“Not exactly chick-bait, my friend.” He swallowed a sip of coffee and shrugged. “Though I admire your honesty, did you have to mention that you got laid off last year?”

“The harvest was terrible. Besides, I picked up carpentry work and made more money in the long run…”

“I know and you know…but listen, buddy… You’re going to have to explain every bloody detail or learn to leave some stuff out.”

“I suppose I should leave my kids out?” Kevin’s jaw hardened as he returned to his desk.

“Naw. I think you should tell the truth about them upfront. Your wife died. You’ve done a great job with the kids…and any woman who isn’t open to that isn’t worth your time anyway.”

“Like anyone wants to deal with…”

“What?”

“Anyone’s real life.”

George sighed and dropped his feet to the ground. “Now, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.” George folded his hands in his lap and leaned forward. “Look. Back in my day, a guy met a gal at a school dance or got set up by a friend…or maybe saw a nice girl at church or something. Heck, it just sort of happened. We had movies and stuff, but we knew that wasn’t real. Least most of us knew.”

Kevin propped his head in his hand. “But now?”

George flicked a finger at the computer screen. “Well, now, everything is done online. Shopping, banking, even this dating thing. And it’s all in the head. Works for numbers…but not so good for the heart. How many women have you reviewed just this week, say?”

Kevin shrugged. “Maybe twenty profiles…”

“See? That’s exactly what I mean. Twenty! Lord, have mercy; they all get to looking alike after five. No one can get excited about meeting woman number seven or eight…or fifteen. We’re just not built that way. We’re social beings…our attraction is filtered through our senses. All you got to go on is a few pictures and a carefully worded bio.”

Kevin dragged his fingers through his hair. “Times are a changing, my friend. I’m long past school dances, my friends are married—hanging on for all they’re worth—or divorced and bitter. And the average age of women at my mom’s church is about seventy.”

George squinted at Kevin. “You looked at twenty profiles? Really?”

“Or so…”

“And not one of them caught your eye?”

“Several did…but one gal had a weird sense of humor, another was three years younger than me, two were going to nursing school so they’ll never even think about staying home with kids, and besides…can you imagine the school loans? And the rest either had kids or had ticking clocks or—”

“Sheesh! And I thought women were picky!”

“Aw, quit! I just don’t want to get entangled in another messy family. You remember Brenda’s sister? Issues, man. Major drama. And I’m hardly in a position to take on anyone’s financial mess…”

“Do you happen to hear yourself when you talk?”

Kevin tapped his keypad and glared at George.

“Hey, just saying… You’ve decided all this stuff without one conversation, right? Or maybe one or two conversations…”

“Who wants to wade into quicksand?”

George snorted and glanced at his watch. “You do, pal. You do. You want a relationship with a woman…expect quicksand. Expect drama, financial stress, scary family closets, sick kids, bad-mood days, lonely nights, and a few headaches to boot.”

Kevin stared at his screen. “Sounds charming.”

“Yeah. But that’s only part of it. There are also the quiet talks on the couch, holding hands, smiles from across the room when you both know what the other one is thinking, the kind of hug that holds your heart in place when nothing else in the world can…” George stood and plodded across the room. He patted Kevin’s arm. “Hell, look at us. You hate how I decorate the workspace, whine about my filing system, undermine my authority every chance you get, and act like an overgrown puppy half the time. Do I mind? Yeah. But do I put up with you? Sure. And we make a great team.” He leaned down. “Now add in a great—”

George put his hand in front of George’s mouth. “Stop now. Save yourself. And me.” He shifted and glanced at his friend. “I get it.”

“Good.” George put his empty mug on the sideboard and headed for the restroom. “After work, check out a couple profiles, chat to some lucky woman. And bring yourself back to earth, man. Even if you do have to start in the clouds.”

Kevin watched his friend stride out the door. He shook his head…and grinned.

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

Supernatural Synchronization

So today I sat in the car waiting for kid #8 to finish her piano lesson while a CD daughter #1 put together with a variety of music played in the background. I finished saying the rosary, and then I watched the wind run rampant over the yard, tugging at ribbons tied to posts, and setting tree branches dancing. A strange synchronization of music and rippling grass made me sit up and take notice.

I’ve been reading Christopher West’s book Theology of the Body, which delves into the mysteries of the human experience as body and soul and God’s manifestations of love through His desire to unite with us. The concept of “Spiritual Communion” in terms of the human race, past, present, and future is familiar to me, so I wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the profound sense of unity I experienced as the wind and music swept over me.

What did raise my heart beat was when I started thinking about how this world is full of mysterious gateways and then the literal gate directly in front of me broke free from its constraint and bounced wide open. Now that startled me. But I had to smile.

As the music slowed and the song ended, a cloud swept overhead and darkened my little part of the world. At that same moment, the wind disappeared. All was quiet, dark, and still. My heart pounded a little harder.

When the next song started, the cloud vanished; sunbeams streaked across the ground, and the wind rose up and animated everything in its path. The glory of music and nature along with this supernatural harmony was impossible to miss.

I’m sure there are many explanations for the beauty of those moments. But as I drove my daughter home and reentered the “real” world, I didn’t care about explanations. I felt as if I had encountered a moment of spiritual lovemaking, and I wasn’t going to mess it up with words or rationales.

Sometimes, I suspect, the reason we humans get so lost and depressed isn’t because no one knows or loves us. It’s simply because we don’t know ourselves, Whose we are, and accept the love that is staring us in the face.

I started out this morning convinced that I was a failure on a hundred levels. I sat in a car and allowed something mysterious to happen. I did not will it. I did not deserve it. But I sure did accept it.

I’m home now and there is no music and little wind, but my heart is still beating, and I’m smiling.

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 and 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