Hidden Under Irony

“I’ve lost my sense of humor and all reason to live.”

Sylvia closed her eyes and sighed. Lord in Heaven, if it is possible, let this cup pass… The shattering sound of crockery shocked her eyes open. She made a one-eighty and stared at a splintered flowerpot, spilled dirt, and a pathetic Dahlia sprawled like a wounded soldier on the floor. She glanced at her assistant dressed in a long flowered skirt, a light blue blouse, and lacy sandals, wincing at what she knew she would see.

Yep. Karen had one hand over her wavering lips as she blinked back tears. What a mess. Sylvia stepped forward with a raised hand. “You get the broom; I’ll save the bloom.”

Karen’s expression hardened, her eyes drying like a swimsuit under a hot desert sun. “You think that’s funny or something?”

Sylvia swallowed back a retort with a cleansing breath. “I had no intention of being funny, or even alluding to an alliteration…” Oops. What the heck? “I’m not trying to speak in rhymes today…” She paused, perched her hands on her hips, and stared at the woman fifteen years her junior. “Look, I know it’s been hard. Breaking up with your fiancé, the loss of your grandmother, the move to a new city…you’ve had a lot on your plate. Life is challenging. But you can’t let things get you down. You just gotta face the day and be strong—”

“I’m not an infant. I’m a grown woman.”

Keeping her face impassive, Sylvia nodded. “Yep. Got me there.”

A cat padded near and sniffed the dirt.

Scuttling forward, Sylvia shooed it away. “Don’t you dare track this mess all over my clean store.” She glanced up. “Get that broom, would you? I’ll repot the flower and put it in the south window. That way you won’t have to knock anything over when you water it.”

Karen retreated, taking her personal storm cloud with her.

With a shake of her head, Sylvia carried the limp plant to the back room, passing the classics section, the romance nook, and finally, the kids’ corner. Books of all shapes and sizes perched on shelves, sat on end tables, cluttered corners, sagged comfortable couches, tottered in towers, and even hugged the walls in uneven stacks.

She pulled a tall clay pot off a shelf and, with dexterous fingers, dug through the soft potting soil and laid the afflicted plant in its new home.

A familiar thrill swelled in her chest as she glanced around. Her crowning glory, this beautiful bookstore, thriving despite economic downturns and all the nay-sayers’ dire predictions. She hadn’t closed within a year…or even ten years.

After pouring a comforting stream of water over the buried roots, she cradled the pot in her arms and retraced her steps, quickly arriving at the south end of the store. Like a mother showing off her prodigy, she set the plant just so in the window seat between a first edition Harry Potter and the framed picture of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Next Monday, she would celebrate ten years as proprietor of the most successful bookstore in the city. Perhaps in the whole country. Any why? Because she—

“Excuse me?”

Sylvia peered down. There, standing before her, had to be the tiniest woman she had ever set eyes on. Considering her own Amazonian stature, this was something of a novelty. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Karen wiping the floor with a damp towel. She certainly had cleaned up the mess—gotta give the girl that.

“Are you busy?”

Sylvia shook herself. “No, of course, what can I do for you?”

“Well…” The tiny, well-dressed matron jutted her chin toward the old-fashioned teapot sitting on top of an antique dresser with an ornate mirror reflecting the glory of happy book buyers.

A round table dressed in lace and surrounded by plush chairs announced a comfortable corner for any book lover just needing a place to cozy up with his or her newest acquisition and a spot of tea. To the left, a no-nonsense black coffee maker stood at attention on a low table with a carafe of creamer, a dish stuffed with a variety of sweeteners, and a jar of luscious cookies, available at the reasonable donation of seventy-nine cents. The jar was stuffed full of one dollar bills. It was so much easier to drop in a bill than to dig through one’s wallet for the needed four pennies.

After settling the elderly matron in a chair with a warm cup of tea and a cookie, Sylvia waited. She clasped her hands on her knees, one eye following Karen, though she couldn’t help but be curious about this commanding little personage. Of course, old women were notoriously lonely, and they frequently begged a cup of tea and a moment’s “rest,” which often involved relating all sorts of stories about relatives that Sylvia didn’t honestly care a fig about. Still…

“So are you from around here? I don’t think I’ve seen you in the store before.”

“No…you haven’t. Not, at least, if I could help it. I mean; I’ve been here…a few times. Checking up, so to speak. I came first, years ago, before you even bought the store.”

Prickles raced over Sylvia’s arms. “Oh?” She sat up and tried to keep her heart from galloping through her chest.

“Yes. You see; I wanted to know if you were the kind of person who could make a go of such a thing.”

Sylvia wondered if an earthquake actually rocked the room or if it was merely her imagination. “What do you mean, exactly?”

After wiping her fingertips free of cookie crumbs, the woman stretched out her hand. “I’m your birth mother. Matilda Scott. I gave you up for adoption when you were just a wee thing…but I never lost track of you. I’ve followed your progress through babyhood, high school, college and right into this business here. In fact, I was the anonymous donor who helped to pay for your tuition, and I also spearheaded the citywide revitalization project, which is what gave you the support you needed to do—” She waved her hand at the posh space. “All this.”

The expression, “You could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” suddenly embodied Sylvia’s very existence. She stared hard at the old lady, wondering if the person before her was a psycotic illusion. “You must be—”

“Oh, don’t say mad. That wouldn’t be very nice.” She pulled her little black purse onto her lap. “I have all the proof I need, right here. A copy of your birth certificate, the adoption papers…even clippings from every—”

“Oh, God!” Sylvia shot to her feet and wondered if she would make to the back room before she threw up. Her whole body trembled as her self-image tottered on the edge of an abyss.

Matilda reached out and, with surprising strength, gripped her arm. “Take a deep breath, and calm your self. I know this comes as a shock, but it’s not exactly the end of the world.”

Sylvia could not open her eyes any wider. She blinked to return the world to some sense of normalcy. “Are you sure?”

Her eyes twinkling, Matilda chuckled. “See! That’s why I knew you could do this. Your humor and your tenacity are a rare combination. It comes from your dad…and me, I suppose. We were a rare combination too. Until he died. I knew that I could never take care of you. Unwed…and all that. But I knew you had our blood flowing in your veins. Our spark in your soul. So…I’ve always believed in you.”

A sob rose and burst the dam of Sylvia’s self-control. “Oh, Lord in heaven. I knew I was adopted…but I never knew…not a thing about you…or my father.” She plopped down on the chair. “My biological parents, I mean. My real parents were—”

“Yes, I know. And I’ve stayed out of the picture all these years to give you space to live…to…how shall I say…to discover your own identity.”

“But why—? Why tell me at all?”

“Through the years, I ‘d stop in now and again. Look and listen. See how you’re getting on. Discover what kind of woman you’re turning into.” Matilda glanced aside at the dropping figure behind the counter. “I overheard your comment today. How your young friend shouldn’t let things get her down. She hasn’t been so lucky as you. She’s lost a great deal in a short time.”

Sylvia swallowed a lump in her throat.

“You see, you’ve been watched over and cared for in ways you’ve never known. But that girl there…maybe she hasn’t been so lucky. Maybe life is impossible for her. Maybe she has lost her sense of humor…for good reason. And perhaps, she might wonder why she’s alive.”

“But doubt and despair won’t help. No matter what the situation, I did the hard work…no matter what. And like you said, it was my spark…my humor and tenacity—”

“Yes, but also my love and your parents’ compassion. Your words were right…but your attitude is wrong.” Matilda laid the stack of yellowed papers on the end table by the cookie jar. “I’ll leave these for you to look over when you have time.” She glanced at the old fashioned clock on the wall. “I should go now. But don’t worry, I’ll be back, and we can chat again.” Her gaze peered into Sylvia’s eyes. “If you want me.”

Sylvia nodded. Her voice lost in a whisper. “Yes. Please.”

Matilda toddled to the door, smiling at Karen as she passed.

Sylvia scurried ahead and tugged open the ornate glass door. She stepped aside.

Matilda patted her daughter’s arm and grinned. “It’s been lovely to meet you…after all these years. I’ve dreamed about this moment…and it has not been a disappointment.” She waved to the tea table. “Oh, but a word of advice…make the donation offering a dollar.”

Sylvia’s world swirled again. “Why?”

“Because, my child, it’s what you really mean.” She turned and stepped into the summer sunshine.

As the door shut, Sylvia turned and met Karen’s gaze.

Karen pursed her lips into a twisted smile. “I think I just found my sense of humor.”

Sylvia sighed. “I bet you have. Hidden under irony, I’m sure.”

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

So What’ll It Be?

Margery stared at her reflection in the mirror and wondered if the hairstylist could read her thoughts. Naw…

Good thing, too.

At the moment, she was battling a strong desire to call her boss and quit her job. And then there was the issue about dating three guys at once. Who knew that would get so complicated? Eeney…meeney…miney…moe…

“So what’ll it be?”

Margery lifted her gaze and met Shasta’s piercing blue eyes.

“Same as usual. Just a trim.”

Shasta snipped the scissors, her eyes fixed on Margery. “I mean…the choice you’re trying to make. Come to a decision yet?”

A shiver ran down Margery’s spine. “Whatda’ you mean? What choice?”

“Look, honey, people come in here every day wanting a new look, a fresh style, a whole passel of unrealistic expectations. Hey, I cut hair, you know? But you, you come in and just want a trim…but I can see in your eyes…you’re contemplating something serious. Deep. You know what I mean?”

Yep. Margery knew. Uh huh. She had been reading self-help books and posts with themes like “Managing Your Life, So You Can Fall In Love Without Regret.” But even though they often made sense, she had a hard time applying popular wisdom in her particular orbit.

Shasta started to snip. Apparently, she didn’t need answers to cut hair.

A woman with a model’s figure, holes in her jeans in all the right places, a glorious tan, a tank top that could knock Miss Universe off her pedestal, and a perfect pout swung onto the chair next to Margery.

Jealousy never reared its ugly head. A sudden desire to evaporate—maybe.

Shasta snipped her fingers in the newcomer’s direction. “Be with you in a minute. You’re early.”

The walking advertisement for beauty shrugged. “I’ve got nothing better to do. Thought I’d bug you for a while.” She dropped her head onto her sculptured hand. “Get so lonely sometimes…you know?”

Margery strangled the scream rising in her throat. She just managed to eke out the words, “Lonely? You?” She let her eyes roll over the woman’s figure to highlight her point.

Shasta tapped Margery’s shoulder. “Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover, hon. Gale here deals with a lot.”

Margery lowered her eyes and clasped her hands. “Sorry. That was rude. I just figured that with your body…lots of guys…”

“I try too hard. Scares men silly. Actually, I’ve got a degree in social work and a minor in Spanish, so I have a good job, and I make friends easy enough. I dunno…I just can’t seem to keep things going over the long haul. People get too serious or move away…or have a crisis of some kind.”

Shasta tapped Margery’s head to get her to tilt it to one side. “It’s this dang modern technology. Everybody’s so plugged in they forget to touch base…and they lose what’s really important.”

Gale wrinkled her nose like a rabbit about to sneeze. “That’s the trendy answer. But really, it’s the same ol’ same ol’. People don’t pay attention to anyone else. They want everyone to pay attention to them.”

Margery glanced in the mirror and stared into her own eyes. Yep. Convicted. She might as well have a sign with a number on it hanging around her neck. Though most prison photos didn’t look this good. She pursed her lips. Whoa. For a second there, she actually looked hot.

With a nudge, Shasta made it clear that her job was done.

Margery stood and brushed off her shoulders.

Gale slipped to the edge of her seat.

Shasta held up a finger. “Hang on one sec while I sweep up this mess. She reached for her broom and began to tidy up.

Gale climbed to her feet and faced Margery. “You’re a pretty gal. I bet you don’t get lonely.”

Margery ran her fingers through her hair, shaking off the cut ends. “Funny, but I do. Or at least, I get bewildered. If only someone really understood me…” She glanced from Shasta to Gale. “But that’s not really anyone else’s job, is it?”

Shasta laughed and dumped the dustpan full of clipped hair into the trash. “You know how it is…we search for what we’re afraid to find cause we love the chase more.”

Gale plopped down onto the waiting chair as Margery pulled a couple bills out of her wallet and laid them on the table.

Shasta snipped her scissors. “What’ll you have today? A whole new look or—”

Gale glanced at Margery. “What did she have?”

“Just a trim.”

“Then give me a trim. It’s time I stick with something for once in my life.”

With a nod and a wave, Margery turned and strode out the door. The sun shone and the breeze rippled her hair. She didn’t need to look in a mirror to see that she looked almost exactly the same as when she went in.

She grinned. But then again, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

 

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

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

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

Surprised Everyone

Marge sat in the corner near the window and let her mind wander. Not that it didn’t usually wander these days. Old memories ran riot over her soul and left her empty and depressed. If only life wasn’t so dreary, that would be a nice surprise.

Three CNAs strode into the nearly empty dining room. They started clearing away the last of the lunch dishes, pulling off tablecloths, scrubbing down the tables, and rearranging the condiments in preparation for the next meal.

Sitting hunched in her wheelchair and half hidden by a leafy palm tree, Marge rested her head on her good hand and watched the interaction. She knew each person by name since she made a point of paying attention. Made the place a little more human, if not humane.

The tall guy, Jamie, wearing a silver earring and sporting a series of tattoos on his left arm grinned at the little lady, Lula, with dark skin, serious muscles, and a perpetual “Don’t mess with me” look in her eyes. The older man, Reggie, with a grey ponytail and easy going demeanor, chuckled at the other two.

“You two never quit. I swear, if you both get to heaven, they’ll have to put you in different corners just so the angles can get some rest.”

Lula snorted. “Who said anything about getting to heaven? Heck, I’d be happy to stay out of the hothouse…but I don’t expect any special treatment. Besides, I’d be bored silly hanging out with angle types. I’m just not comfortable around clouds and all that—”

With an expert flick of his wrist, Jamie pulled off a stained tablecloth and tossed it onto a rolling table at his side. He nodded like a sage professor encouraging a slow student. “Yeah, you’d probably beat up the angles and fall through the clouds, missy. Sides, God’s probably doing something more fun. Bet he’s got friends all over the universe. Just making the rounds could take eons.”

Reggie wiped down the salt and pepper shakers, straightened, and then rubbed the small of his back. “Jesus has friends, but he’s with his Father…not playing games. Think of all the messed up people who die every day. God, he’s probably worn out listening to all the complaining and whining. You seriously think people go from being screwed up here to being perfect over there?” He shoved a chair in place with a grunt. “Doubt it.”

Her lids grew heavy; Marge closed her eyes. Her mom’s face rose in her mind. Such a kind woman…always thinking of others, except when she was drinking. Then she wasn’t so kind. Died peacefully though. No struggle. Just sort of expired. Not like her dad. Marge shut the last image from her mind and swallowed back bile. She opened her eyes again.

Jamie was laughing.

Marge frowned as she scanned the scene. What—?

Reggie was staring at Lula through flashing eyes. He pointed his finger. “I’m a good Christian Baptist, and I know what scripture teaches. You, my girl, don’t believe in anything. You don’t even know God…so—”

“If I recollect right, Jesus hated righteous old guys throwing everyone into hell.”

Jamie lifted his hands and stepped between the two. “Hey, now. Make love, not war. You know my motto…Jesus loves everyone…sinner and saints alike. We just have to love each—”

Lula shook her head and smoothed down a fresh tablecloth. “Yeah, right. You love everyone…how many boyfriends did you go through last month, stud?”

Jamie squared his shoulders, his face turning dark red. “Cruel, girl. Real cruel.”

Lula flung her hands on her hips. “As I see it, you’re cruel to yourself, buddy. Don’t get on me for saying things straight out. You go from manic on Friday to suicidal on Monday. Don’t expect me to think that’s healthy.”

Enough was enough. Marge cleared her throat.

Three pairs of eyes widened as they fixed on the crippled woman.

Using her good hand, Marge tapped the arm of the wheelchair. The disease that was killing her left her with little strength and even less mobility. She could barely lift her voice. “You all got different gods.”

Reggie’s gaze slid over to Jamie who swung his gaze from Lula to Reggie. Lula tromped over to the wheelchair. “We didn’t see you there, Ms. Henderson. Hope we didn’t disturb a nap or something.”

Marge tipped her head. “Naw. Just remembering. Wondering…”

Lula caressed Marge’s arm. “Bet you got all sorts of happy thoughts to take you back…”

Marge waved her good hand. “Not enough.” She gripped Lula’s arm. “Make some good memories…for yourself and others. You may never have another chance.”

Lula maneuvered the chair away from the window. Her voice rose high and tight, “You got that right, Ms. Henderson. You’re a right smart woman.” She circled around the two men. “I’ll take her back to her room. Time for her meds.”

Reggie nudged Jamie’s arm. “Better get this room done.”

Jamie nodded and pulled another tablecloth free.

Marge closed her eyes and grinned. She pictured her God. The one they all argued about. The one who surprised everyone. Maybe life wasn’t so dreary after all.

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

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