They Had Their Chance

Gianna sat in her living room before a shoebox filled with memories and stared at an old, taped together letter. Anxiety scrambled after fear, chasing horror along the byways of her mind. How could he have done such a thing? But now she knew—for once and for all—she had done the right thing.

The screen door squeaked open. Her youngest, Janie raced into the room followed by her hyper-excited pup, tracking newly mown grass across the floor. “Mom! Guess what! There’s a new cat in the neighborhood. It’s black and white so I’m calling it Moonie.”

After dropping the letter onto a stack of family photos, Gianna shoved the box into a wooden cabinet and shut the door. She prayed that she could do the same with the images filling her mind.

Pup raced around the room, dove onto the couch, and flopped down, her tongue lolling. Janie laughed and joined her partner in crime.

In perfect imitation of a miffed prison guard, Gianna crossed her arms, peered down at the two innocents, and growled, “Think you can wander in here carrying all outdoors with you, eh? Suppose you’ll be expecting lunch, too, no doubt.”

With some kind of child’s extra-sensory perception, Janie scrunched her nose and tilted her head, listening for a hidden something.

Gianna relaxed her pose, returning to ordinary-mom.

Happy again, Janie tipped back her head and boldly proclaimed her really important news, “Dad says he wants grilled cheese, chips, and pickles for lunch.”

Gianna rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen, glad for the distraction. “Oh, yeah? He wants your favorite lunch?” She hunched her shoulders in dejection. “And here I planned on liver and gizzards with a side dish of boiled onions. Oh, gee. I never get what I want.”

Janie and her sidekick bounced off the couch and followed in close proximity, perhaps to make double-sure that mom hadn’t gone to the dark side. She even scooted to the refrigerator and yanked out the cheese package just to be safe.

The puppy lapped up a bowl of water, while Janie propped her head on her hands, sitting at the kitchen counter, her eyes following her mom’s every move.

Pushing every thought away, except how to make extra-good grilled cheese sandwiches, Gianna performed mom-magic and prepared a delicious, healthy lunch just in time for her husband to tromp in, stomping a pile of cut grass and weeds on the doormat.

Matt looked up sheepishly. “Sorry, but I had to do a lot of cutting, or we’d need a compass and a map to get through the backyard.”

A waterfall of gratitude sluiced Gianna from head to foot. She could barely get out her words. “Thanks, sweetheart.”

With a perplexed frown, Matt peeled off his shoes, padded in his grungy socks across the room, eyed the lunch spread, and shot a hi-five to his daughter.

Janie giggled.

Pup slept curled up in her corner. A perfect picture of creature comfort.

Gianna sat next to her husband, and they clasped hands as they said grace over the meal, their heads bowed. Then everyone dug in, filling their plates. Suddenly, the imaged of the torn and taped letter flooded Gianna’s mind. Choking back a sob, she ran out of the room.

~~~

The July sun finally released the day, and dark coolness settled over the bedroom as Gianna readied for bed.

Matt hadn’t said anything since she had told him to leave her in peace for a bit. She had cried for over an hour, and her eyes were still puffy at dinner time.

Matt had taken Janie to his parents’ house where they fed the assortment of dogs, cats, and hummingbirds awaiting their return from Mount Rushmore. He had simply offered a quick kiss on Gianna’s cheek and roared off with a squealing-happy Janie down the road.

Thank God.

Alone in the house, Gianna pulled out the old shoebox and tipped it upside down. She spread out the photographs, putting them into chronological order: her parents wedding photo, her brother’s fifth birthday party, Thanksgiving with Grandmother and Papa, her sister’s third birthday party, Christmas with Aunt Selina. Her baptism. Everyone had looked so happy, smiling so bright for the camera.

There were no photos of the fights, the drunken spells, the rampages. No copy of the divorce decree. Only the one letter. Torn into pieces. It had been taped so that the edges matched, and the words, though dim, were clear enough to read.

“I love you…”

Gianna plunked down on the edge of her bed, her gaze straying to the fireflies sparkling just outside the window.

Matt padded in and sat down next to her, their shoulders touching. “You ready, yet?”

She nodded, tears filling her raw eyes again. “He loved her. He really did. And I never knew.”

“This has to do with that box you found at your mom’s, doesn’t it?”

She nodded. “All the old photos and a love letter—from dad to mom.”

Matt didn’t shrug or murmur. He just clasped his hands, his head bowed, listening.

“I never knew them as a happy couple. I only knew the fights and all the nasty stories they told about each other. When Dad died, mom seemed relieved. She never once said a kind word about him. When she died, I only grieved for what I’d never known.”

Matt cleared his throat, pausing, parsing his words carefully. “It bothers you that he once loved her? That they loved each other—long ago? Like maybe that’ll happen to us?”

Gianna glanced over and saw a wrinkle of concern on her husband’s forehead. “No. Not that. I understand that what tore them apart is on them. It’s not us.” She sniffed back her pain and straightened. “No, what got me was that despite everything, I still believed in marriage. I dared to hope.” She took her husband’s hand and caressed the ring on his finger. “By some miracle, we did what they couldn’t.”

Matt nodded and clasped her hand in his. “Or wouldn’t.” He stood and led her to the bed, pulling the soft sheet back and letting her slide under the coolness. He leaned over and wiped away the last vestige of a tear. “What’ll you do with the letter?”

She sighed as she leaned back on the pillow, expectantly awaiting her husband at her side. “I’ll put it away. After all, they had their chance.”

Matt climbed into bed and wrapped his arms around her.

Gianna snuggled in close. “Now it’s my turn.”

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/old-letters-portrait-old-letter-436502/

For the First Time

Zuri stomped forward, Melchior’s house silhouetted against the late afternoon sunlight behind, and grabbed the Cresta by his bio-suit. “Where is she?”

A line of sweat dripping from the side of his face, his golden eyes red-rimmed, and his suit smeared with road dirt, Tarragon reared back. “Don’t handle me!”

Abashed at his impetuous move, Zuri clamped down his anger, dropped his hands, and tried to form coherent words. “Where is my daughter?”

Brushing imaginary dirt off his front, Tarragon shrugged. “How should I know? She was playing servant girl with Sterling and that Luxonian boy last I saw.”

A group of men tromped out of Melchior’s front door and pounded down the steps. In boisterous conversation, they headed toward the stables.

Zuri motioned Tarragon around the far side of a shed. The scent of dried hay drifted into his nose, making him sneeze. He clapped his hand over his face, muffling the sound.

Tarragon snorted. “And you complain about my native sensitivity? At least I can control my bodily functions.”

Wiping his face with his arm, Zuri glared at the rotund Cresta. “So, she was all right when you saw her?”

“She was fine.”

“I don’t understand. She hasn’t answered one of my messages.”

With an elegant eye-roll, Tarragon started toward Selby’s old shed. “We can discuss matters in there. Knowing how superstitious these people are, they probably won’t use it again for a long time.”

Striding at the Cresta’s side, Zuri paced along, his anxiety settling into mild concern. “They’re going to burn it down tomorrow.”

Tarragon ducked his head as he entered the front doorway. “We have it for tonight then.” He stretched and sighed, staring longingly at the bed. “I have endured much to find you.”

Alert again, Zuri kept his gaze fixed on the Cresta. “What?” Alarm spread through him. “You said that Nova was fine!”

“She is.” Tarragon flopped down on the rickety bed. “But Mauve will never be the same.”

“Mauve? I thought she was at the Widow’s place.”

“She was. Until she got a little too inquisitive and discovered the Mystery aliens playing fools in front of everyone.”

“She found them?”

“And they, or he—the younger one—found her annoying. She was rather. But still. He took justice a tad far, me thinks.”

His heart pounding, Zuri stepped further into the dim interior, wishing he still had night vision. “Where is Mauve now?”

“Shattered to pieces on the rocky coast. Not a chance she can be put together again. I checked.”

Caught off guard by the violent image, Zuri fell back and sat down hard on a stool. “She’s dead, then?”

“Even a Luxonian couldn’t fix her. After an embarrassing incident, she planned to take revenge, so I followed and watched her saunter up to the Mystery-boy on the edge of the cliff. They chatted a few moments, but even from that distance, I could see; he wasn’t the fool she was. Poof! She was turned to a statue, and he nudged her over the cliff. People say Crestonians are cold! This was positively artic.”

“Oh, God, what about Sterling?” Blood rushing to his ears, a faint dizziness swirled the room. “If they are that dangerous, we need to get off the planet. We must get the children!”

“Calm yourself, Ingot. I don’t believe that the Mystery being meant any harm. He simply wanted to remove Mauve’s annoying presence. She planned to kidnap him; you know. Maybe he was just protecting himself. In any case, they haven’t injured anyone since we’ve been here, but they could have long ago. And they did try to warn her; she just wouldn’t listen.”

Exhausted but more determined than ever, Zuri pulled out his datapad and tapped it to life. “Start from the beginning, from when your first met Mauve, and tell me what happened. As soon as we have this on record, we’re heading to the widow’s castle to get Sterling and the kids.”

Tarragon waved a tentacle in the air. “I’ll make the report, don’t worry. But we’re not going anywhere. Everyone is heading here. All we have to do is wait for the family reunion.”

~~~

Teal braced himself as Kelesta sat on the edge of his bed and scooped strawberry ice cream from the bowl. She held the spoon invitingly before his face.

Teal waved it away. “I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat.”

“No, I don’t.”

“All right, you don’t, but it would be good for you, anyway. You’re not going to get over your depression until you start inviting cheer into your life. And there is nothing more cheerful than strawberry ice cream.”

Teal stared at her.

Kelesta laid the bowl aside and rose. She stepped to the window and lifted the white curtain aside, peering into the distance.

The sound of surf rolling on shore repeated in rhythmic rounds as two birds flew across the sky.

Teal tossed back the sheet covering his body and then, as embarrassment flooded him, shrank back. “Where are my clothes?”

Kelesta padded to a shelf, pulled rolled up pants and a shirt in to her arms and carried them to the bed. She placed them next to him and strolled back to the window.

Discombobulated by his unaccustomed blushing reaction, Teal unrolled the baggy cotton pants and tugged them on. Then he pulled the matching cream-colored shirt over his head. With a deep breath, he steadied himself and paced to at the window. “Thank you.” He glanced aside, startled at the somber look in her eyes. “For everything.” He shrugged. “I’m not a very good patient, I’m afraid. Not used to being taken care of.”

“You’re a parent. Being helpless isn’t comfortable.”

Teal pressed her arm. “Nova will be all right. Zuri knows what he’s doing.”

Kelesta shook her head. “We’re past our time—Nova will have to take care of herself soon.”

Teal swung aside, facing her more directly. “What does that mean? You have countless ages ahead of you.”

Kelesta gripped the window frame, the breeze blowing tendrils of hair off her face. “There is a price for everything. Zuri refused his neural transplants, all the attachments, for too long to turn back. I took on human form to have a child—and it has cost much.”

Tears stung Teal’s eyes. “But Song, surely she can help you—like she helped me.”

Her lips wavering, Kelesta met his gaze. “Song revived you. She can’t cure you.”

Taking his hand she led the way to the door, the rolling ocean waves, and bright sunshine.

Teal let himself be drawn along and understood, for the first time, what death really meant.

~~~

Omega picked up a slimy piece of broken clay from the foamy sea waves and stared at it. A strong wind blew over him, tossing his hair into his eyes. He picked up another piece and placed their jagged edges side by side. They didn’t fit together at all.

On impulse, he waved and a cloth bag suddenly hung limp in his hand. With a swift motion, the clay fragments floated out of the water and he opened the mouth of the bag, scooping in pieces, like a net capturing fish from the sea.

Once the bag was full, he splashed ashore and dashed up the trail.

In a quiet corner of the courtyard, he spread the broken pieces in the sun and laid them flat. He chewed his lip, perplexed. What to do next? He had never had to do anything like this before, and he wasn’t sure how to start.

“What you’ve got there?” A burly soldier tromped forward and stared over Omega’s crouched figure. “Oh, you broke something, eh?” He whistled low. “No putting that back together son. It’s ruined, see.”

He patted Omega’s shoulder. “Best to man up and face the wrath of the owner than try to hide the mess out here. She’ll figure it out eventually.”

Further disorientated but hopeful for some direction, Omega shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun and squinted at the older man. “How do you know I can’t put her back together?”

A snort and a chuckle accompanied the man’s grin. “It’s clay, young fool. Clay dissolves in the water—salt water most assuredly. I’ve never been so partial to a vessel that I called it a she, but my captain and I loved our ship; she was a beauty in our eyes.”

With a shake of his head, Omega rose to his feet.

Abbas marched across the hard ground with a stern look in his eye.

“My father is coming; I best meet him.” He scattered the clay pieces.

The soldier turned and faced the white-haired man coming his way. His face crunched in concentration. “Ah, you be the fool that entertained us. I only got to see you once—duty calls at unfortunate moments.” He smiled as Abbas stopped before him. “Good evening.”

Abbas offered a quick nod of acknowledgement and then stared at his son. “Where have you been?”

The soldier lifted his hand like a benevolent referee. “Don’t be too hard on him. Been trying this long while to put the thing back together, but it’s a lost cause; he knows now. So, he’ll pay restitution and be done with the fear and guilt of it.”

With an obvious swallow, Abbas choked out his question. “What did you break, son?”

“Mauve.”

His jaw clenched; Abbas gripped Omega’s arm as he nodded a polite good-bye to the warrior.

Omega trotted at his father’s side across the battered earth. “Where are we going?”

“To join the others—and away from here.”

“You don’t mind about Mauve? She was being annoying.”

Abbas dragged his son into the shelter of a dark corner and shook him by the shoulders. “You have no idea what you’ve done!”

Grieved by his father’s fury, Omega whined, “But I tried to put her back together.”

“If you thought putting her together was hard, you have no idea what you’ve just shattered. Our whole existence is based on absolute secrecy. You can be sure now, that not only are we known, we are hated.”

As if he had just tasted something very bad, Omega wrinkled his nose. Hated? What did that even mean?

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-beach-sea-shore-seashore-2205553/

I’m Making Mine

Imogen trudged down the porch steps of her sister’s farmhouse, doing a quick kindness and her civic duty. She crossed the yard, lugging two large bags to the burn barrel while pattering footsteps followed close behind. She hoped it wasn’t the murdering demon that had kept her up half the night sending some unknown critter to its untimely end.

“Hey, auntie, let me help you with that.”

Without so much as a by-your-leave or an explanation that the trash bag was white and the Goodwill bag was black, Lucy flung the two bags over the edge of the canister where they landed with a definite thud.

Lucy, medium height, dyed jet-black hair, pale skin, and wearing a man’s tank top over artistically torn shorts clapped imaginary dirt off her grubby sixteen-year-old hands and grinned. “I have something important to tell you.”

Tugging the black bag back out of the barrel, Imogen grunted her version of well-get-it-over-with.

Her posture decidedly more formal, hands-on-hips, shoulders back, and her eyebrows bunched, Lucy launched her declaration like a night missile into rebel territory. “I’m going evil. Really bad. It’s a choice, and I’m making mine.”

Maxwell Smart’s voiceover played in Imogen’s head, “…for niceness instead of evil.” She flung the salvaged bag over her shoulder and tromped across the wet grass, her damp shoes sliding with each step.

Lucy pranced alongside, wringing her hands into unnatural whiteness. “Didn’t you hear me?”

Imogen stopped at her car door and dropped the bag on the gravel driveway. “I’m doing my absolute best to ignore you. Now, go inside to your mother and break her heart—after every good thing she’s done for you. I have to drop this off at Goodwill before they close, or I’ll be stuck driving it to Mass in the morning with Old Man Davy and his wife pretending they don’t notice a thing.”

“Would it bother them so much if you have an old bag in your car?”

“They wouldn’t care really. But they’ll have nothing to talk about, so they’d ask. And then I’d have to explain that I stopped by my sister’s place yesterday, being today, and it would slip out that my niece tried to burn the blinking thing before I could get it to Goodwill.”

A microcosm of a grin twitched over Lucy’s face. “So, you wouldn’t tell them that I’ve gone evil?”

“You tried to burn a donation to charity. Enough said, honey.”

A prolonged sigh followed Lucy as she directed her feet to the porch steps. “No one understands me.”

Least of all you, child. Imogen swung the bag into the back seat and plunked her body before the steering wheel. She drove down the lane at the moderately safe speed of forty miles per hour.

~~~

Pulling into her driveway, Chancy, Imogen’s Irish Setter and sorry excuse for house security, bounded forward. What does one say to a happy-go-lucky dog? What she always said, “Yes, I love you, but don’t jump. It’s bad manners.”

Ignoring not only manners but decency itself, Chancy scrabbled forward and propped her muddy paws on Imogen’s clean pants.

“Glad I already made my Goodwill run. They’d have offered me clothes if I’d arrived like this.” She blew a stray lock of hair from her face and stepped around three cats prancing in her path.

In the kitchen, she surveyed the wreckage. Though it happened every time she left the house, it always took her by surprise. The fresh mess. And, of course, neither Carl nor the kids would know how it happened. Bread crumbs, a jelly smear, a dollop of peanut butter, a couple of stray raisins and a banana peel informed her of recent culinary adventures. Brad, undoubtedly. The boy was growing faster than poison ivy around the utility pole. Not his fault. Nor his dads. Not mine either, come to think of it. She shook her head. But your mom has a lot to answer for.

Her sixty-five-year-old husband with a hint of arthritis in his joints lumbered into the room. A good twenty pounds overweight and sporting the unshaved look, Carl swallowed the last of what smelled like the missing banana and offered a half-wave. “Jane high-tailed it to work an hour late and Joe’s gone off with friends to a game. Had to eat early. So, I made sure he got some fruits and vegetables.”

Imogene wrung out a wet dishcloth and rounded up the crumbs. “How’s that?”

“I made him add raisins and corn chips to his PBJ.”

She brushed the crumbs into the trash and started on the dirty dishes. “Why would he agree to do that? Sounds terrible.”

“He wanted twenty bucks. Nothing’s for free in this world.” Carl leaned against the counter and appeared to mull over the ponderous truth he’d just revealed to the world.

Imogene wiped her hands on a dry towel and stared fixedly at her husband. “You bribed your grandson to eat our good food with your hard-earned money?”

Carl let that sink in. “Yep. That’s about the size of it.” He patted her shoulder. “But I’ve been busier than a bee in spring time. Got that racoon carcass buried past the fence line, fixed the wobbly back step, and put a chuck roast in a pan with garlic, onions, carrots, and some of our new potatoes.”

Pride shining through his eyes, he opened the oven door. “Just waited till you got home to turn it on. Shouldn’t take long.”

Pleased but stuck on the words “racoon carcass,” Imogene flashed a falling-star smile. “What’d you bury?” She titled her head to the left. Her hearing had never been good, but after today, she seriously debated the benefits of a hearing aide.

“You know, the coon that lost the big battle last night?”

“I heard the battle; I just didn’t know who the participants were. Or who won.”

“Didn’t see any winner badges. Just the loser stiff as a board in the garage this morning. Though, he was laid out near Chancy’s food bag.”

“Chancy has never killed anything in her life. Too silly.”

Carl shrugged. “Everyone has their limits. Guess old coon pushed them too far.”

Imogene planted a kiss on her husband’s cheek, pressed the bake button until it read 400, and then started toward her bedroom. “I’m going to change out of these clothes and lay down a moment.” She stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “Lucy told me that she’s going evil now. Picked out clothes to match and everything.”

Carl snorted. “Yeah. Good luck with that.”

Imogene turned around and propped her hand on the counter. “She said it was her choice.” Shaking her head, she tried to toss Lucy’s baby picture out of her mind. “We never considered that option.”

Carl started for the backdoor. “Oh, yes we did. Just didn’t tell anyone. Not like kids today. Good Lord, they tell everyone everything.”

“And why is that?”

“Don’t know, honey.” Carl passed out the door and creaked down the back steps.

Later that night as she lay in bed, Imogene had to give it to her husband. Her belly felt as satisfied with dinner as it had ever been. She enjoyed resting comfortably in her husband’s embrace. Sometimes his ways sent shivers of irritation through her whole body, but right now, perfect calm flooded her being. The soft feel of his arms around her middle, fitting together as perfectly as spoons in the kitchen drawer.

After a day of small duties where challenges rose from the murky depths of thoughtless minds, she closed her eyes and settled her heart to the drumroll of raindrops against the window pain. No murdering demons tonight.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-meadow-countryside-weather-801736/

Smashed to Pieces

OldEarth Melchior Encounter Excerpt

Tarragon, sitting on a wide bench before the ship’s hatch door, bent low and tugged a new boot onto his three toed foot. He grunted with the exertion, but as it finally wiggled into place, he grinned with satisfaction. “There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” He lifted his foot and eyed it carefully. “A little snug, but I can—”

A sudden blur rushing past his face followed by a thud shook him to the core. He yelped, “Sheesha!” Then he looked down at the body lying at his feet. A scantily clad woman. He frowned. “I know you.”

Groaning, the woman rubbed her face and opened her eyes. Amid exclamations of pain and irritation, she struggled to sit up. “You wouldn’t be interested in helping me to my feet, Cresta?”

As if to wake himself out of a dream, Tarragon shivered and thrust out a tentacle. “Mauve?” He peered at the ceiling. No hole. He glanced around. The bay door remained closed. “How did you get here? Any why didn’t you use the door, like everyone else?”

Climbing to her feet, Mauve’s eyes widened as her gaze traveled along her nearly bare body. Only a lightweight, shimmering tunic covered her body from shoulders to calves. “That blinking Mystery—What happened to my clothes!”

Tarragon recognized that he was not being asked a question so he declined any attempt to answer. Instead, he lifted his second boot and shook it in her direction. “Since you are here, I’d appreciate your help.”

Mauve slapped her forehead. “I fall into your ship, literally, and all you can think about is your boots?”

With a shrug Tarragon made his priorities clear. “The sooner I get this on, the sooner I can help you solve your mystery.”

Mauve swept her hand over herself and instantly appeared in a long red dress with wide sleeves, purple slippers, and a black belt. Her hair, arranged on the top of her head in a series of ornate braids, glistened in the garish light. She glared down at him, marring the perfect symmetry of her face. “I found him already. Who do you think did this?”

With a disgusted harumph, Tarragon tugged on the second boot. It slid into place, and he stood, testing his balance. Once secure, he pointed to the door. “Shall we? These beings not only have power, but a sense of humor as well.”

The bay door opened, sending light rays into the ship.

Mauve scowled. “If you think this was funny, I can find ways to tickle your insides.”

Alarmed, Tarragon stepped outside and lifted all four tentacles in an attitude of surrender. “I see where you might be annoyed, but still, you must admit, it was clever. He could’ve killed you. Instead, he merely humbled you.”

Mauve scampered down the incline and pounded across the wet sand to the mouth of the cave. She stared at the ripples of an incoming current. “He’ll have to try a lot harder than that!”

Tarragon plodded up beside her, his tentacles wrapped behind his back.

“They acted like a father and son. The boy is a fool. The father only plays one. I’d like to know a whole lot more. They could be useful.”

The sunlight sparkled over the water, glorious to Tarragon’s eyes. “I doubt you can bargain with them.”

With a thoughtful look, Mauve replaced her dainty slippers with tall boots and plodded forward. “I’ll kidnap the son. That’ll show oh-so-powerful-one who he’s playing with. The fool probably thinks that I’m as weak as a human, stupid as an Ingot, or as single-minded as a Cresta. He has a lot to learn.” She slogged toward the shoreline. “Hurry up if you want to watch me take the Mystery Being down a peg or two.”

Slapping a tentacle across his face, amazement shivered over Tarragon. He watched her scrabble up the beach and stomp in the direction of the Widow’s castle. Of course, I can always offer my services to the winner. Perhaps there could be an exchange—once I save his son…

~~~

Sterling stood beside Nova in a shadowed corner of the Widow’s great hall and watched the spectacle, entranced by the crowd’s childlike joy yet disgusted by their easy manipulation.

Abbas stood before the great fireplace and juggled three plates before a breathless crowd. To their amazement, he added a fourth plate. He grinned at Cerulean who, in common peasant garb, stood beside the high table. “Toss me that golden vessel!”

Hesitant, Cerulean glanced away from the Mistress’ gorgeous place setting and grasped a clay mug instead.

Scowling, Nova shoved past him, plucked the golden goblet off the table, and tossed it into the whirling mix.

Without missing a beat, Abbas caught it and juggled all four objects faster than ever.

The watching throng roared approval.

Sterling stepped behind Cerulean and gripped his shoulder. He spoke in an undertone. “Now toss in the mug.”

Cerulean threw in a perfect arc, and the mug whirled beautifully before smacking into the goblet, breaking the spinning cycle. The plates and mugs fell to the floor, smashing into uncountable splinters. The goblet rolled to the wall and stopped.

Abbas locked eyes on Sterling who grinned in return.

A disgruntled woman aired her disappointment, “Good plates ruined. For what, I ask?”

Quickly pulling a colored scarf from his sleeve, Abbas then ceremoniously flung it over the mess. He grabbed a tray off the table, scraped the mess on, held it aloft, and chanted, “Heza, hiza, meza, miza! Be renewed!”

He snapped the scarf away, and all four plates and the clay mug all appeared in perfect shape on the tray.”

Loud exclamations met his astonishing feat.

Smiling, Abbas placed the tray on the table. “The hand is quicker than the eye. You didn’t see what you thought you saw!”

He then bowed backward out the front door into the cool evening air.

Sterling followed with Cerulean and Nova trailing along behind.

Once well away from the well-lit hall and stepping into the long shadow of the curtain wall, Abbas turned and waved his followers along. He snuck inside the doorway of a flanking tower and climbed the steep steps at a faster rate than his apparent age suggested possible.

Anxiety tightening his chest, Sterling’s skin chilled in the evening air. How human. He lifted his hand, halting Cerulean and Nova in their tracks. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Nova challenged, “But what if you’re not?”

“Then Cerulean is in charge. Now be a good changeling and obey a direct order from your superior.”

Her hands clenched, Nova stomped forward.

Cerulean gripped her arm, shaking his head.

Relieved, Sterling raced up the steps after the only person who had ever made him feel afraid.

~~~

Omega meandered along the edge of the cliff well aware that the Luxonian woman trailed twenty feet behind him. He had a lot on his mind. His father seemed easily annoyed of late, and that puzzled him. His father adored him. As did his mother. He was a perfect son. How could he not be? Yet, this evening, his father had told him to “go away” for a bit. What did “go away” even mean?

“Hey, you! Boy! Wait a moment. I need to talk to you.”

A strange sensation filled Omega. The sun had set and an evening glow still shown over the water’s edge, yet darkness filled him. He turned around and faced the nasally high voice.

Mauve trotted forward, heaving gulps of air. “Stay put a moment. I had to lose that stupid Cresta to have a private word with you.”

Omega peered over her shoulder. There, in the far distance, the Cresta plodded along, stumbling like a newly-hatched bird. “What’s he done that you should leave him behind?”

Mauve stopped before him, a fierce scowl marring her otherwise pretty face. “He’s nothing. Don’t bother about him.” She repositioned her face and attempted an ingratiating smile. “I’ve got a proposition for you—if you’d just allow me—”

“You’re the one who plays with the men?”

Mauve snorted, a grin replacing her smile. “I play with them as likes to play.” She shrugged. “Makes life meaningful—to experience everything while I’m here.” She sauntered closer, her hips swaying invitingly.

Omega stepped to the very edge of the cliff.

Her eyes glinted as she slid her hand along his chest.

Repulsed, Omega said the first thing that came to mind. “Father says you’re a leech.”

Her face contorting, Mauve lifted her hand. “I was going to be nice but—”

Suddenly Mauve’s body recomposed from flesh into clay, her face frozen in rage.

Heaving a long sigh, Omega appraised the life-like sculpture and patted the stiff cheek. Then nudged the composition over the cliff.

As waves crashed ashore, the clay figure whirled downward, then smashed to pieces on the wet rocks below.

Omega leaned over the edge. He clapped dust off his hands and turned away.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/cliffs-ocean-waves-sea-water-5547648/

We Get Along

Weary after a long day at work, Everleigh forced down a tuna salad at the kitchen counter as evening closed in. Blessedly, a cool wind rippled the curtains, relieving the furnace-blast heat of the hot summer day. Body and soul still together, she patted her sleepy do-nothing cat as it dozed on the couch, and then padded down the white hallway to her bedroom.

Her phone binged, notifying her that she had received a message. Without even looking at it, she placed it by her bedside and began her evening routine. A cold shower would revitalize her, surely.

Well, that didn’t work.

Bleary eyed, she brushed her teeth and then plopped onto her bed.

Boring rote days, toss-and-turn nights, and high humidity drained her will to live.

She stared at the fan. “Don’t just hang there.”

Padding to the wall switch, she did the needful and then grabbed her phone on the way back to her bed.

“Dad?” She scrolled to message.

Your grandpa is arriving on Sunday to celebrate his 90th.

Hope you’ll come too.

Love, Dad

The scene from The Lord of the Rings where Frodo sets off from Rivendell, heading to Mount Doom in order to save the Shire flashed through her mind.

It’s not quite that bad.

Ignoring the jittery goose bumps that raced up her arms, she scrolled down.

Yep. There’s the address. “Dad doesn’t miss a beat.”

With a mighty effort, she gripped her will by the collar. Behave yourself! She talked out loud to encourage her flagging spirits. “Dad never asks for much, and he hasn’t seen grandpa in years. I’ll be merciful and go along.”

She squinted as she googled the address.

“Oh, wait! That’s way south. Nearly in another state. There’s no direct road!”,

Panic reared its ugly head, and Everleigh sucked in a shuddering breath. Then her phone binged again.

What now? The whole thing’s been canceled? Sure, that’s it. Thank you, God. I promise I’ll—

The thought—Check the message before making any promises—wiggled through her brain.

She scrolled down.

Aunt Kate needs a ride. Pick her up on the way, okay?

No “please, dear daughter.” Not even an emoji grimace—a way of saying “Sorry for the horrific situation I’m putting you in.”

Her fingers itched to tap back a formal message stating, “Everleigh died last year and was peacefully buried in the local cemetery.” She’d even be willing to pay for a tombstone to make it look good.

Dying was one thing. Being buried under her family’s strange coping mechanisms was quite another.

~~~

The thing about Aunt Kate, Everleigh reminded herself as she sped along the country road, was that she had lost the ability to communicate decades ago, but no one had the heart to tell her.

She parked her car in front of the tiny white ranch house in the quiet neighborhood and peered in the back seat, mentally reviewing her to-do list. Blanket for Auntie—since ninety-five degrees in the shade just won’t cut it for her old bones. A bottle of cola, two root beers, a water bottle, and a flask of gin. She’d make her way through them with unerring determination. Heaven help her if she forgot one of the nectars of the gods.

Her sainted sister, Jane would take care of the food. Jane would also take care of the decorations, insurance policies, and would make sure that two televisions were blaring—one covering the conservative side of world affairs, the other keeping the liberals in touch with hot-button issues. Of course, the internet would be available at all times.

Or the universe would evaporate.

Ready to leap forth and assist her eighty-something aunt, Everleigh froze when the old woman speed-hobbled down the walk swinging her cane. “Open the door, honey cakes! Can’t ya see, I’m ready?”

According to Google maps, the drive was only supposed to take two and a half hours. According to Everleigh’s comfort barometer, the drive was interminable.

The old woman chatted rapid-fire for several minutes, then asked incomprehensible questions.

Repeat.

After using every stock answer in the omniverse, Everleigh soon reverted to “Hmmm” and “you don’t say?”

Aunt Kate was not amused.

~~~

Everleigh’s dad, on the other hand, seemed to find everything and everyone funny. He never laughed out loud, just let the glitter in his eyes chuckle at the cymbal-clash reality of the family gathering.

Out back, her brother-in-law-number-two, Donnie, barbecued ribs and turkey burgers for those who either wanted delicious food or clean arteries. Jane sent the vegans into ecstasy with crispy buffalo cauliflower bites, oil-free pumpkin pancakes made with gluten free flour, and no-tuna salad sandwiches.

The two teens in attendance peeled off into opposite corners of the house and played multiplayer games with people on the other side of the globe.

Grandpa sat stage center stretched out on a lawn chair, a mild afternoon sun brightening his pale face. His wandering wide-eyed gaze reflected little of his glory years serving in two wars and then managing a realty business for forty years, till grandma died and all her money sense was buried with her.

After seeing that auntie was stashed safely at the picnic table where she could snatch whatever food or drink took her fancy, Everleigh wandered about, checking to see if there were any friendly aliens about the place.

Naw. Just family.

Then a hand tapped her shoulder and Everleigh shrieked. She turned and stared into the blackest eyes she had ever seen. Set in a golden face crowned with blue-black shiny hair that trailed down a straight back, Everleigh realized that beauty knew how to arrange her jewels.  

The woman thrust out a hand. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Lekha, a nursing student from the hospital where your sister works. I watch over your grandpa whenever she’s too busy or something special is going on.”

Everleigh shook the offered hand and tried to think of coherent words. “Oh?” Where was Auntie’s quick wit now? “Well, that’s good of you. To come all this way—” She glanced over her shoulder.

Jane’s boy, Earl, sat beside the old man, showing him something on his phone. A game probably.

Unabashed, Lekha took in the scene with an expression suggesting that not only was her eye color different, her vision was too. “I enjoy it. Seeing a family together is refreshing, lifts my spirits.”

Everleigh gawked. She clamped her mouth shut to keep it from dropping open. She swept her gaze over the yard. Probably fifteen people in all and no large family confabs. All intimate clusters. Each to their own niche.

“We’re not a very cohesive group, I’m afraid. We get along by not having too much to do with each other.”

Lekha grinned. “Most of my family is home in India. I’m here studying. At least your family is on the same continent. That’s something.”

Earl stepped up, barging into the conversation as entitled people often do. He beckoned Lekha with a waving hand. “Hey, you gotta come and check on grandpa. I think he’s thirsty, but he’s trying to drink the hand sanitizer.”

Undisturbed by this newest proof of borderline insanity, Lekha hurried away to her duty.

Everleigh strolled over to her dad who stood near the empty grill holding a sampler plate—a bit of everything on there. “You having a good time?”

He shrugged. “I don’t come to have a good time.”

Everleigh sighed. “I thought that was the point.”

Her father took a bite of a buffalo cauliflower and shook his head. “Honey, we can’t make each other happy. But we can get along well enough to celebrate a person’s life while he’s still with us. That’s pretty good, in my book.” He lifted a pumpkin pancake and offered it to her.

Hungry for the first time in days, Everleigh took a bite.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/nature-summer-grass-travel-3245401/

Everyone Has Questions

Excerpt from OldEarth Melchior Encounter

Tarragon plodded across the wet sand, enjoying the scent of salt water infiltrating his breather helm. The sun, still white, but dropping low in the sky, lit the cave entrance, turning the black stone into shiny pillars.

His ship was situated far enough back to be out of sight but not too far for his exhausted legs and aching feet. He shuffled forward.

The rhythmic sound of the seashore mellowed his soul, rolling the irritations of the day off his heavily burdened shoulders. Why I thought that there’d be anything of interest here is beyond reason. I must’ve been out of my mind.

With a verbal command, the ship’s bay door opened, spreading a sheet of yellow light at his feet.

He plodded onto the incline and let it lift him inside.

Ah, glorious. Home at last.

After a refreshing swim in the pool, he changed into a clean bio-suit, poured an extra-large Nutrient Green into his breathing helm, and plopped down on the plush sofa arranged before his favorite console.

He draped two tentacles—one right, one left—setting the ship’s system into active mode, and regulating the spy alarms on high alert. He hardly wanted a surprise visit from the Mystery Race.

He wrapped his two most used, thus most stretched and weary, tentacles on the top of his head for a much-needed rest. A snug fit, they probably appeared like a fleshy crown. But appearances never concerned him, so he concentrated on his active tenacles, dexterously tapping the console, scrolling through significant data.

The Ingot race hardly interested him normally, but the female, Nova, had caught his attention. Her bestial attitude—contradicting her betters and challenging authority—dropped her beneath his notice at first. But then, in a sarcastic exchange while on the road, Sterling related her history to Mauve, whereby the ridiculous Luxonian female took the child’s part in everything.

Blowing bubbles at the memory, indignation rose fresh in his mind. Mauve should not exist. She was completely useless! Sterling was only worthwhile as a figurehead. Clearly, Teal stood as the real force behind their Inter-Alien Committee. But as his health waned, so the young Luxonian, Cerulean waxed. That should prove interesting.

He shook his head. He must know more about the mixed-being—the Ingot-Bhuaci. How was her existence even possible?

He scrolled through reports, medical journals, and even a couple of dramatic fiction tales before he found what he was looking for: the marriage certificate. Yes, the two had been allowed to marry on the basis of her being able to maintain her humanoid form nearly indefinitely and his complete rejection of all techno-armor.

Tarragon rubbed two of his tentacles together. He really must speak to someone about all of this. Yet who to trust?

Leaning back on his chair, Tarragon closed his eyes and remembered his mother’s oft repeated dictum: “Trust a fool, if you’re going to trust anyone. That way, you know what you’re getting.”

Slapping his chair into the upright position, he swiped the datapad on his chest.

A holographic image of Mauve appeared before his eyes.

She scowled. “What’re you doing? It’s late, and I’m hot on the heels of the mystery race.” She glanced over her shoulder. “There’s an important meeting, a trial of sorts, planned here, in the main hall. I’m going to use my alluring skills on Mystery Man and Son. Though they’re not really—”

Startled, Tarragon’s disbelief spread as a snarl over his face. He could feel it, and he didn’t care. “You found them?”

“Yes, I did!” The boastful triumph in her voice did nothing to soften the covetous gleam in her eye. “The older one plays a minstrel-fool. I believe he has his son with him—also a fool.” She shrugged. “Hidden in plain sight.”

Instantly, Tarragon felt his brain sizzle with daring thoughts. He put on his most innocuous expression. “I’d hate to upset Sterling since I know how much he values you. Stay safe and return to my ship.” He dangled a temptation that he knew perfectly well would repulse her no end. “We can enjoy some Crestonian cuisine.”

The disgust that rippled over Mauve’s face tickled Tarragon to the core.

“I’m going to become this mysterious alien’s new best friend and find out why he’s here.”

“Can you do that?” He lifted his voice to a perfect balance of challenge and disbelief.

“Watch me!”

“I will, most certainly. But, if you happen to get into trouble, offer up the mixed-breed. I’m sure even the Mystery Race has never seen the like. You might be able to make a deal, and we’ll all profit from the exchange.” He smiled, showing his ruddy gums, but that couldn’t be helped.

Mauve laughed. “I like the way you think!”

Voices rose behind her, and bright patches of clothing swirled in the background.

“I must go. But don’t think for a moment that I’d risk that girl’s life. She’s as dear to me as—”

The screen went blank.

Tarragon blinked. Had she exited? Or did someone— He shrugged. He checked his monitor. It faithfully reported Mauve’s exact location up until the moment the screen blanked. He knew where to look—the kitchen in the Widow’s castle on the hill.

He sighed. “Though, I’ll definitely have to get new boots.”

~~~

Abbas didn’t like to do it, but there was no way he could allow her to continue her transmission.

Mauve fell to the floor in a heap in the dim corner of the main hall.

Omega ran ahead and nudged her still form with his foot. “Is she dead?”

Abbas shook his head. “I never extinguish a life unless there is no other alternative.”

His brow furrowed; Omega stared at his father. “Why not?”

A shiver ran through Abbas. Did he really have to explain? He didn’t remember anyone explaining the precept of the sacredness of life to him, but then, maybe he had learned it from his parents’ example. “Life is sacred. We live by that understanding. Or we die by its absence.”

Straightening, Omega nodded slowly and glanced around.

Exasperated by this new complication, Abbas waved at the prone figure.

Mauve disappeared.

A kitchen maid sauntered through, spied their presence and stopped. A hesitant smile quivered on her lips.

Meeting her gaze, Abbas clapped Omega on the shoulder. “We’re lost. Can you tell us where to settle for the night? With all the awful commotion, we don’t want to get in the way.”

The child skittered forward, her shoulders hunched, her eyes searching the empty room. “Oh, be that the truth. Awful it’s been. The poor widda. Never imagined such goings on, her being so good and faithful. And her best servant too!” Tears filled the girl’s eyes. “Wicked men. I hate ‘em all.”

Omega grinned, his face flowering with the thrill of excitement. “Are all men wicked?”

The child gasped. “Oh, not so! There’s a woman around about that’s wickeder than the devil himself, I’d say. Drawing men like bees to honey. Only so she—”

A voice called from the kitchen doorway. “Edda!”

Flushing, the child curtsied and ran off without another word.

Omega nudged his father. “So, where is she?”

“I put here where she could do the least amount of harm.”

Omega waited.

“On the Cresta ship.”

“But they’ll wonder how she got there.”

Abbas pressed his son’s shoulder. “No matter. Everyone has questions. It’s finding the answers to the ones that interest us that really matter.”

“I’d like to have seen her face, though. That would’ve been fun.”

Laughing and chattering, men stomped into the room, followed by servants carrying platters of bread and meat.

Abbas jumped onto the low dais and shoved the remark from his mind as he faced the incoming assembly. It was time to play the fool. He only hoped that his son would play his part as well.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/landscape-cave-sea-night-blue-4576897/

He’d Be There, Waiting

Clouds covered the sun, breaking the intense heat of the evening, as Sonia climbed the last of the steep steps, trudged across her porch, and, juggling her bag of groceries, swung open the kitchen door. “Lord, it’s too hot for June. Can’t we save this till July? I can’t take it.”

The front entryway didn’t respond. Though Delmar, her German Shepard, started barking from the backyard.

She plopped the shopping bag on the counter, shoved her personal-bag, which, if one looked closely, resembled her college backpack, off her shoulder, and stomped to the back door. She twisted the handle and yanked.

Delmar sped into the house like a red Mercedes in the right lane.

Falling backward on impact, she smashed her hand against the counter and swore at the devoted animal. “Dammit, Dog, you know better. Trying to kill me? The one who feeds you?”

Contrite, Delmar whined and attempted a sloppy make-up kiss.

Sonia wasn’t in the mood. Amazed at herself, she realized that she wanted to smack the dog. What’s wrong with me?

Not getting anywhere in the reconciliation department, Delma trotted to the metal dishes set beside the refrigerator and inhaled a bowl of tepid water. Next, he crunched the last remaining bits of breakfast, nosing the bowl across the room in the process.

Normally, the dog’s self-involved obsession would set her laughing. But not today.

Her stomach grumbled. The workplace café had undergone new management, and without a sane thought to their long-range business, they decided to hike the daily lunch prices to nearly twice their usual. In protest, and because she honestly couldn’t afford them, Sonia swore off their offerings until they came to their senses.

But that left her no reasonable options at noon. And it was after six now.

She filled a pot with water and set it to boil, then pulled the pasta box from her bag. She lined up all the ingredients for a healthy spaghetti supper: whole tomatoes, onions, peppers, lean ground beef, and a jar of spicy sauce. She even rooted through the highest shelf above the stove, the one where she hid the tempting stuff—chocolate chip cookies and red wine.

She’d make a night of it. Long, impossible days deserved a reward, right?

Something was off with her logic, but she shook her head and pulled the wrapping off the meat, then set it to sizzle in the frying pan. Next, she set chopping board on the counter, and she was on her way. Oh, the wine! She poured a healthy glass, lifted it to her lips, and—

The doorbell buzzed, sending her nerves into fits.

Delmar went into full-frenzy mode. As far as he was concerned, aliens might have landed their spaceship at the door.

A headache sprouting behind her eyes, Sonia took a sip and trotted to the front room. Yanking the dog back, she took a quick look out the window.

Awe, dang-it! Jim and Eva. Grinning like fools.

They saw her, and their hesitant smiles ballooned outlandishly.

Mumbling under her breath, she informed her dog of the real state of her mind. “I thought when I moved in this neighborhood, I’d finally be free of—”

Whining, Delmar looked scandalized. He scratched at the door. Company was waiting!

In defeat, she opened the door.

“Hi!” Twin voices, Jim’ baritone and Eva’s soprano, melded in perfect harmony.

What? They practice on the sly?

Her weak response didn’t hinder them from barging right in, their happiness bouncing along with them.

Eva gushed, “We saw you drive up and waited, but we couldn’t stand it any longer. We just had to stop by and share the news!”

Sonia forced a smile. They were already married, so what…?

Eva’s slim hand caressed her belly.

“We’re expecting!” The two voices harmonized like a well-practiced song.

Forcing a return smile, Sonia itched to slap someone. Instead, she gushed back. “Oh, how wonderful! So happy for you. Great news.” She swallowed the bile rising in her throat and waved toward the kitchen. I was just giving myself a littler reward after a hard day. Want to join me?”

No second invitations needed. The two lovebirds pranced into the kitchen, Eva leading and patting a remarkably sedate dog on the head.

Delmar let them pass like the gentleman he never was.

Sonia sneered. “He usually jumps all over people.”

Eva rubbed the dog under the chin. “Oh, we’re good friends. I see him out in the yard during the day; he seems lonely, so when I have a moment, I call him over, and we have a good chat.” She grinned at the canine. “You’re a great listener, aren’t you, Buddy.”

After mouthing “traitor” at the dog, Sonia pulled two glasses from the shelf and started to pour.

Eva backed off with a look of horror. “Oh, no, not me.” She rubbed her mid-section. “Can’t take a chance with the baby.”

Jim rubbed his wife’s back, his gaze dropping to the floor.

What’s he looking so sheepish about? Going to melt into a puddle all over my clean floor.

Holding herself together with superwoman grit and the better part of the wine and cookie supply, Sonia listened to their happy plans for as long as she could stand it. Then she yawned and exclaimed over the late hour. “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow…”

With a blushing retreat, the blessed couple found their way home.

Sighing in relief, Sonia toddled off to bed. The ingredients of her spaghetti dinner all but forgotten on the counter.

~~~

Grateful for the respite on a cloudy, low 80s, August day, Sonia lugged her latest dinner ingredients into the house and onto her counter.

A tecno-snafu had shut the office down early, so she made it home before the clock struck noon. She hummed in the quiet kitchen, enjoying the peaceful opportunity. Then she looked up and frowned Not a sound from Delmar. Where is that dog?

She unlocked the back door and swept her gaze across the backyard. Nothing. Fear clutched her chest.

Then a flash of red caught her eye. There in the back corner, Delmar sat on his haunches while a woman crouched on the other side of the chain-link fence and reached through, patting his smooth fur. Who the—? Sonia squinted and recognition settled her heart to a normal rhythm.

She sauntered over. In a joking tone, she called out, “He’s spoiled enough. He’ll want his meals on golden dishes next.”

Eva glanced up; her face blotched, almost as red as her shirt. She snatched her hand back.

Sonia stumbled. “Oh—hey, just joking. Go ahead and pet him. He’s alone a lot. Loves company.”

With a nod, Eva reached out and stroked the dog’s ears.

Delmar grinned in doggy ecstasy.

Tiny alarm bells ringing, Sonia dragged her memory back to the last time she’d seen Eva. Months ago. When she and Jim came by with the great news. Her stomach clenched at the memory. She steeled herself. Oh, what the heck. “So, how’re you doing?” She titled her head, trying to see. No baby bump yet, that’s for sure.

Swallowing convulsively, Eva’s hand shook even as it went limp.

Delmar seemed to understand. He pushed his face against the mesh and tried to lick his neighbor’s face.

A tiny bubble of laughter (or was it despair?) burbled to the surface. Eva choked.

The alarm bells went from tinkles to gongs, pealing their warning. Sonia crouched closer. “Sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Eva pulled her hands onto her lap. “I’m not so good. We lost the baby.”

Sonia sucked in a pain-filled breath. “I-I’m sorry.” What else could she say?

“So are we. Can’t always get what you want.”

Best foot forward, Sonia chose the encouraging, supportive path. “You can always try again.”

The woman’s convulsive swallow turned into a sob. “We did. Lost ‘em both.”

“Oh, God.”

A meek nod. Eva climbed wearily to her feet. She stared at Delmar. “He’s a good listener.”

Sonia waited.

Eva finally met her gaze. “I really wanted this baby.” Pain shared. She turned and slogged to her house.

Sonia stood stunned as realization hit her. Their pain was much the same.

Delmar whined and nudged her hand with his wet nose.

Sonia peered down.

The clouds parted, and the hot August son baked her shoulders. All hope of dinner evaporated.

~~~

When the doorbell buzzed at sundown, Sonia wasn’t surprised to see Jim’s face staring back at her from the porch window. She let him in without comment.

He paced to the far side of the living room and turned.

Delmar plopped down in the corner with a decided harumph. Clearly, he knew he was not the center of attention.

Sonia pointed to the kitchen. “Can I get you something?”

His face drawn and lined with grief, Jim shook his head. “Thanks. We ate earlier. I just came by to thank you.”

Startled, Sonia narrowed her gaze. Was he joking? A passive aggressive thing?

Jim stepped closer, inviting a moment of intimate conversation. “No one understands. Just because the baby was so young, some people think that it didn’t matter. It wasn’t real. My aunt even teased us about having a burial. Said it was like burying a foot after an amputation. Or a lost tooth.”

Rage writhed inside Sonia, a beast she corralled almost every day of her adult life. “That’s stupid.”

Jim nodded. “Cold really. But you understand. And Eva needed to be heard. So, I just wanted to thank you.”

Flummoxed, Sonia fought impending tears. “I didn’t do anything.” Slashing against scars that had nearly ruined her life, she snipped her words into tiny pieces. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jim’s eyes widened, clearly shocked. “Oh, sorry, Eva thought that you’d lost a baby too. That you understood her pain.”

“I never told her that!” Sonia was surprised by her scream. Guttural, ripping her insides out.

Wordlessly, Jim shook his head. His expression spoke for him. You never lost a baby?

“I can’t lose something I never wanted—never admitted!”

Crushed, Jim’s face fell into a chasm of grief. “Oh, yes. You can.” He strode across the room, swung open the door, glanced from Delmar to Sonia’s face, then plunged outside and plummeted down the steps.

Sonia fell to her knees, a sob taking her places she had refused to go for years.

Delmar inched closer and nudged his head under her arm. At some point, she would stop crying, and he’d be there, waiting for her.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/dog-german-shepard-backyard-german-2283039/

One Life Time

Song sat at Teal’s bedside, her hands clasped and her head bowed. It was an old room, the remnant of the first prayer-house ever built on Helm. The teak wood window frames, baseboards, rafters, and furniture had ripened to a rich sheen, giving the space a comforting, ever-lasting feel.

Steepling her pale fingers under her chin, her gaze traveled over Teal. After cleansing the body and proper infusions with hypo-static thoughts, words, and actions in order to restore balance to the spirit, her attendants had left her to guard him in quiet prayer.

He lay still, quite naked to her eyes.

You won’t like that when you wake up.

After sucking in a bracing breath, she climbed to her feet and padded to the far wall. Though the temperature huddled close to the Bauchi comfort zone during the day, it often dropped below freezing at night. She selected a forest-green blanket from a colorful selection and carried it to the bed where she lay it gently over Teal.

With a groan, Teal opened his eyes to mere slits. “Song?”

She patted his hand, forcing a smile. “Yes. I’m here.”

Teal grimaced and licked his lips. “What—happened?”

“You collapsed.” Song perched on the edge of the padded chair and leaned forward. “Don’t worry. Cerulean is safe. He is with Sterling and the others on Earth, continuing their mission.”

Teal’s eyes widened, alarm filling them. “Where am I?”

“On Helm. Zuri helped me get you to my ship and we—”

“I must go back!” His voice wavering, he struggled to rise. “Now.”

Song laid her hand on his chest. She didn’t need to press. He had no strength to resist. “You may go back. In time. But not today. For now, you must rest.”

His jaw clenching Teal’s eyes narrowed in challenge. “And if I refuse?”

Unbidden tears filled Song’s eyes. “You will die.”

Teal stared at her, comprehension overwhelming his face. “But Cerulean…”

“He will learn. Just as you did. As your father did before you. We are allotted one lifetime. You can only live yours. Never your son’s.”

Teal’s gaze traveled to the ceiling and stopped, frozen.

Song glanced up. A spider dangled by a web from the beam above. Was it anyone she knew? Probably not. Likely just an honest spider looking for the day’s meal.

A tear trickled down Teal’s cheek. His face as still as carven stone.

Song stood, her long red dress sweeping over the flagstone floor. “Sterling must lead, and Cerulean will follow. They have much to teach each other.”

With almost imperceptible shake of his head, Teal continued to focus on the ceiling.

“Though I have never given birth in flesh and blood, I have mothered many. The hardest part of love is not holding a dear one close, it is letting them go.”

Song reached the doorway when she heard his raspy response.

“I will see him again.”

She padded through the arched hallway. I pray so.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-fantasy-forest-magic-surreal-2961723/

For That, I Was Glad

Balloons have no business on the ground. It’s quite obvious why, and I shouldn’t have had to explain it to anyone, much less my nearest and dearest. But then, one has to explain everything these days, doesn’t one?

I had just lost a tooth. One I had been particularly fond of as it made chewing so much easier. It was a chilly spring afternoon, and I was at the college graduation party for my niece, Marley-May. A child saddled with such a legal title deserved my compassion, as well as monetary encouragement, so I generously supported my favorite niece through five years of college. It took her a year and a half to change her major six times. But once she settled on Art Therapy with a minor in Anxious Languages taught by a guy named Phil-something, she plowed right through.

Using every ounce of her hard-earned sensibility, Marley-May was dressed for the weather that morning in a skin tight, sleeveless dress and high heels. The spring thunderstorm held off until the last of the graduates made it across the stage. Then it swooped in for revenge.

I and sundry family, faculty, and community members scattered to our cars and made it to graduation ceremonies throughout town, gripping steering wheels and squinting into failing light.

My sister, Marley-May’s mom, Geraldine, had decorated the garage with streamers, balloons, and hung a huge, stenciled swag: CONGRADULATIONS, NOW GET A JOB!  

Piled high with sandwiches, snacks, cakes, and drinks of all kinds, a standard plastic table dominated the oil stained, cement floor. An array of nails and screws piled up in old tin cans lining the shelving was a sight to behold. I had no idea that Geraldine’s husband, Sherman, was into recycling. I admired his organizational skills almost as much as I admired Geraldine’s dam-the-torpedoes approach to life’s challenges. Her husband’s projects among them.

Then, I took a bite of a caramel candy and promptly broke my tooth. But I couldn’t tell her that. So, I wrapped the piece in a matching “Congratulations, Now Get A Job” napkin and grinned through my discomfort.

“Having a good time?”

I glanced at my sister and grimaced. “Course. I love these get-togethers.”

She grimaced back. “Liar.”

“You know me too well.”

“I know that you made this day possible. Marley’s got a lead on a job, and her future looks bright. Thanks to you.”

I lifted my gaze beyond Geraldine’s left shoulder and watched my happy niece swigging back a soda with a half-eaten sandwich in the other hand. She chattered excitedly in a gathering of two other gals and a couple of interested, though not overly enthusiastic, young men. Did she have any idea how harsh the world would be? How dreams would be dashed? Aspirations squashed? The mighty burden of reality overload?

I shook my head. Of course not. She wouldn’t be smiling right now if she knew. Like a young bride going on her honeymoon, there’s no warning in the world to prepare a person for real sacrifice. That few care to notice. Even when it costs everything.

Geraldine patted my hand.

I met her gaze.

“You’ve done more than your fair share.”

“I did what needed to be done. Like what you did for Mom.”

“I just read her stories and relived my childhood as she slept in a chair.”

“You also held her hand. That’s what mattered.”

Geraldine’s eyes filled with tears.

Sherman marched into the make-shift party grounds and boomed. “Hey, I got old family videos set up in the living room and there’s hot cocoa on the stove. Let’s take this party to new heights, shall we?”

Wide-eyed horror rippled over Marley’s face.

Geraldine stood and faced the crises with charming calm. “Family videos are for us older folks who have no plans tonight.” She sidled into the youth’s gathering and drew her daughter aside. They spoke, and Marley looked over.

My stomach sank. The obligatory thank you was heading my way, complete with the hunted look and swift backward glances, pleading for courage from her friends.

Marley stopped in front of me and wrung her hands, her shoulders thrust back, ready to do her duty. “Hey, Auntie, just wanted to thank you for everything. I never could have made it through college without your support.”

I nodded graciously. The sharp edge of my tooth cut my tongue. “Happy to help. ‘What good you can do, you should do,’ Mom always said.” I shrugged. “Besides, Joe left me more than I really needed. It was only right that I share.”

A perplexed expression squinted through Marley’s eyes. “Oh, the money was nice. But what I really mean was your—I don’t know—your being you. Always there. Someone who cared about me.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Mom and dad are great. But, you know, they don’t always understand.”

The combination of honest flattery and dishonest betrayal sliced through me.

Words fell from my lips before I could stop them. “No one understands us completely, Honey. Only bits and pieces. The parts that reflect what we know. The rest confuses the hell out of us. We just try not to get mean about it.”

A startled glimmer of understanding quivered over Marley’s face.

Then a high, laughing voice rose from the background, “Hey, Graduate, you coming?” One of the gals pointedly tapped her watch. Fun called. Best not be late.

Marley squeezed my hand and smiled, peering into my eyes as if to convey something no words could tell. Real gratitude?

I nodded in acceptance and let her go her way.

Geraldine swept the remnant of the party-goers inside while Sherman took charge of clearing the faded festive grounds.

I stood and swiped my wrapped tooth from beside my paper plate. I’ll get it fixed next week. Geraldine will fill me in on Sherman’s newest home-improvement project, and Marly will find a job, making a life somewhere, somehow.

A red balloon skittered out of my way as I stepped across the floor. I picked it up and carried it with me. For a while, at least, it could hang in honor on my kitchen wall.

And for that, I was glad.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/balloon-heart-grass-grasses-halme-208255/

Betrayal

Nova stood in her bedroom before a full-length mirror dressed only in leggings and a short slip and stared at her perfect body. Unlike her Bhuaci mother, she didn’t have the power to shape shift. But she had been born with the preferred elfin face and figure of most Bhuaci girls.  

She glanced aside at her round, white bed piled with Ingoti armor. Her father, Zuri, had renounced most of the technological advancements his race had adopted. But that would hardly stop her.

She tried on the chest guard first. Lightweight, it didn’t hinder her movements, though it added bulk to her lithe figure. She smiled. Black was definitely her color. She slipped the arm bands up over her elbows, first the right and then the left. Snug, but with the thick red bands, they definitely added a touch of class to her cuteness. She hated cuteness.

Next, she tugged on the boots. Heavier than her normal slippers, they forced her to plan her steps more carefully. With the added height and bulk, she nearly appeared intimidating.

A tap on the door knocked the smile off her face.

Mom or dad? Probably mom.

She sighed. There was no way she could take it all off in time.

And why should I?

“Open!” She placed her hands on her hips and faced her future.

In the open doorway, Kelesta stared at her daughter, her eyes rounded with horror. “What are you doing?”

Nova groaned. Her mom wasn’t stupid, but she could sure ask the dumbest questions. “I’m discovering my heritage.”

Like a sleepwalker, Kelesta glided into the room, her hands lifted. “Your father renounced the technology that invaded his body.”

Swinging her arms high, Nova exulted in testing her limits. “I haven’t attached anything. Yet. It’s just armor after all. Though I wouldn’t mind a few synaptic connections. That way I’d have at least a few advantages.”

Kelesta caressed Nova’s face, her eyes grieving. “Haven’t we always taken good care of you? There’s no need for Ingoti protection.”

Nova pulled away and stomped to the door. “I’m not like you, Mother. I can’t shapeshift whenever I feel like it, turning into a clawed beast or hiding in a hole.”

Kelesta stood in the middle of the room, her gaze falling to the floor. “You have no idea. Really. How unprotected we are.”

As if she smelled an intoxicating scent, Nova turned on the threshold and faced her mother. “How do you mean?”

“You’re so young. I wanted to wait to tell you…but…” Her gaze rolled over the mechanical hardware attached to her daughter. She stepped forward and held out her hand. “Let’s take a walk. By the oceanside, I can face old memories.

~~~

Still wearing her body armor, though without the boots Nova paced over the white sand keeping step with her mother.

The green-orange sun crested the waves, sending a sparkling glow over the water. Seabirds sailed overhead, calling to each other.

Her arm bands pinched, but she ignored that. She’d get a helmet next. One that came with implants so she could have direct access. Her heart pounded with the thought—There’s no stopping me. She stepped into the water and splashed the waves with her feet.

Kelesta sighed and faced the ocean as foaming crests ran over her toes and receded again. “Everything has a price. The Bhuaci learned this truth eons ago. No one knows exactly how we became shape-shifters, but everyone realizes that our abilities came at a cost.”

Perplexed, Nova wrinkled her nose. Something tickled her feet. She looked down at a school of fish darting about. Funny. They aren’t scared of me.

Kelesta’s voice took on a schooled tone, controlled and disciplined. “In the beginning, we were aimless, mere beasts, not unlike these fish. We lived as flightless birds for a long time and then, through some kind of gift or curse, we learned to use our wings. And not just our wings but our whole bodies in relationship to our minds. We discovered the connection between physical matter and thought. All too soon, we learned to manipulate our bodies’ matter and imitate any shape we wanted.”

Annoyed, Nova splashed her mother. “I know all this. But why you think it could ever be a curse is beyond me. If I could alter my shape, I’d become a bird right now and fly into the sky. Or become one of these fish and swim deep into ocean.” She jumped up and down, splashing everything within reach.

Allowing the drops to fall where they may, Kelesta peered up. “You’d fly into the sky and then what? You’d still be yourself. Your mood and attitude, your hurt and hate, would follow you just as much as your friendships and love.”

With a snort, Nova rushed deeper into the water, running against the oncoming waves. “I could protect myself from every danger, enjoy every sensation, experience life from a thousand perspectives.” She dove into the murky green depths ignoring her mother’s call.

“Nova, no!”

Swimming against the current, Nova stared at the swirling bubbles and dancing seaweed. A huge blue-green fish with gold sparkles running down its back caught her eye. Thrilled, she paddled with her arms and legs to give chase.

The fish darted down, deeper into the gloom.

Nova knew that she must stay close to the surface and that her armor weighed her down, but desire flushed all reason aside. I’ve got time. Besides, mom’s still close. She arched her shoulders and dove deeper.

Suddenly, the flashy fish turned and peered at her through glowing eyes. It grew larger, until it was twice her size. Opening its mouth, rows of razor-sharp teeth snapped the water.

Panic clutched Nova. She raised herself vertically and tried to paddle upward, but tiny darting fish nipped at her feet and legs. Pain shot through her as terror took over. “Noooo!” Using every bit of her strength, she shot upward.

When her head broke the surface, she looked around. “Mom?”

No one. She was alone.

Wet and disheveled, Nova stumbled across the shore toward her home in the woods. Once in her room, she peeled off her wet armor and soaking underclothes. She wrapped herself in a warm robe and climbed into bed. Tossing and turning through the night, she brooded over her mother’s betrayal.

~~~

Three days later, Nova sat beside the window in the kitchen decorated with herb plants and primitive art and ate her grain cereal with cream and berries absorbed in plans for escape from  her traitorous family.

Zuri paced in, a frown dominating his face. “Where’s your mother?”

“I have no idea.”

His scowl deepening, Zuri dragged a chair from beside the hearth and placed it next to his daughter. He clasped his hands and leaned forward. “I know something is going on between you and your mother. Though she won’t say anything, I know you both well enough to guess.”

Her appetite disappearing, Nova shoved her bowl onto the windowsill and crossed her arms. “Know everything about me, do you?”

“I know that armor excites you. Adventure beckons. And you’re tired of being treated like a child.”

Her interest snared, Nova tilted her head. A silent acquiescence.

“I was just like you.”

Nova rolled her eyes.

“And I have the perfect answer.”

A huff of air to hint that she only had so much patience.

“You’ll come with me to Earth. We’re being sent back—Teal and his son Cerulean are coming. No reason you shouldn’t attend.”

Excitement raced through Nova. “I can come and work? I’m not just a student observer?”

A grin broke over Zuri’s face. “You’ll take notes and help to present our finding to the council when it’s time.”

Rubbing her hands together, happiness flooded Nova.” Finally! I can do something worthwhile.” She glanced at her father. “Does mom know?”

The light dimmed in Zuri’s eyes. “Yes. She’s not happy about it, but she accepts my reasoning.”

Perplexed, Nova jumped to a new thought. “Can I wear my armor?”

“As much as you like.”

Her appetite renewed, Nova grabbed her half-eaten breakfast and stood. “I’m going to get a list of things I’ll need.”

Zuri nodded, his gaze distant.

Nova started for the door and then stopped. “What reasoning?”

Zuri glanced up. “We can do our best to protect you from the world. But only you can protect you from yourself.”

After laying her bowl in the sink, Nova stepped outside. She moved toward the rising sun as she crossed the courtyard to her room, a new thought plaguing her steps. Who betrayed who?

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/fantasy-beach-planet-girl-light-6203744/