Library

Robert sat back on the wooden library chair, pushed an award-winning thriller aside and stared down the packed double rows of books. Heavy weighted shelves topped with hardcover novels that couldn’t fit in their appointed place, lined the room. An oversized GREEK MYTHS illustrated cover stared at him from a shelf mounted on a pillar directly ahead. The back wall, plastered with paperback mysteries and romances, while the front entrance, dominated by newspapers and magazines, offered a neat but plentiful aurora to the room. A wooden rack sported an array of local t-shirts for sale, and community news splashed itself over a mounted bulletin board.

He chuckled. History behind, romance to the left, political figures to the right. Myths and legends directly ahead. I should be well educated or happily entertained, at least.

The heavy oak front door creaked as a patron entered. A middle-aged woman dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans bearing an armload of books lumbered to the front desk.

The librarian, an older woman with white hair and thin glasses, glanced up. She smiled in welcome.

Robert frowned. She didn’t smile when I entered.

A muted conversation ensued.

He really should pick out a couple of books, or get back to work, or deal with Beatrice’s issues…but the voices oozed with understanding friendship.

“You liked it?”

“Oh, yeah. Reminded me of the time I spent overseas with Carl, when we were just married, and he was stationed in Germany. I didn’t understand at the time—terribly ignorant when I was young.”

Rueful laugh. “Aren’t we all?”

A snort. “My granddaughter seems to know everything—certainly knows more about—” The throaty voice dropped to a subterranean level.

Robert tipped his head to peer between the wall of books. Yep. The librarian was nodding, even as she ran the wand over each book, then dropped it into a box.  

Beatrice’s face rose in his mind as a knot tightened in his stomach, the pain in her eyes puzzling him.

“You don’t understand!”

What did he need to understand? He loved her, and she loved him, and they were married after all. What more did she want? They had a couple of kids and didn’t want more—at least not for a long while. Kelly and Roger were great, but even he could see how stressed Beatrice got with their schedules. He tried to help. But there was only so much he could do.

“It’s not that!”

He had tried to hug her into a better mood, but she wasn’t having it. Stiff as a board and just as unrelenting. Tears dripped down her face as she stared at the floor, slumped on the edge of the bed like some kind of broken toy.

Frustration filled him. Almost every night, it was the same routine. He approached, and she resisted. He cajoled until she either got mad or gave in.

“What’s the deal? I thought Fridays were good for you. Look, I’m a patient guy but even the best of men needs a little encouragement.”

She’d just stared. That baleful look spearing him with hopeless injury.

The librarian’s voice startled him. She stood at his right, peering at the thrillers he had shoved aside. “Anything I can help you with?”

Got anything on how to talk your wife into a romantic mood? he didn’t say. “Uh, just looking. Trying to figure out what I want. Thrillers just not cutting it for me.”

Sympathetic eyes stared into him.

Good Lord, how much do librarians know?

“If you want a suggestion?” It was the other woman, the patron with the heavy stack.

He shrugged, appearing open but not needy. Or so he hoped.

“Try Palmer’s series. Historical fiction starting in the middle-ages but with a phycological twist. Kind of thrilling, but he’s got depth, if you know what I mean.”

Robert glanced at the librarian for confirmation.

The white head nodded in agreement. “Oh, yes. Palmer is good. Real family drama without the typical social motifs. The gritty stuff of life but without antiquated solutions.”

A groan rose inside Robert. “I got enough grit in my life. Thanks.”

A conspiratorial grin passed between the two women.

Burning heat rose in Robert’s cheeks, as if he just realized that he had forgotten to zipper his pants this morning. His left hand slowly inched onto his lap.

The librarian tried again. “Well, there’s always Susan Price Marks Siva. She’s got some fun escapism. Very global and internationally acclaimed.” Her brows scrunched—trying to remember or trying to discern? “Thrilling but educational.”

“You like biographies? There are some heart-stopping accounts on the shelf right behind myths and legends.” The helpful patron jogged aside and pulled a heavy volume from the shelf. “Life and lies of—”

The door creaked open, and the three-some froze. Caught blatantly chattering in the library.

Tentative padding steps. Then a small voice. “Hello?”

What a sweet sound. An image of an apple tree in springtime rose in Robert’s mind.

A blond head poked around the corner. A bright smile. The young woman stepped forward; a book lifted in her right hand. “I’m here to pay my debt to society.”

Duty calling, the librarian returned to the counter, leading the way to reparation for overdue books.

Helpful patron chimed in. “I mark the due dates on my calendar. Got fined twice before I thought to do it. Funny how I have to make mistakes a few times before I learn how to solve them. O, happy fault, maybe?”

Robert didn’t have a clue what the well-read woman was talking about. But as she turned and meandered to the fantasy section, he didn’t follow up.

With a sigh, he replaced the thrillers in their proper section and wandered toward the counter.

The pretty lady stood with one arm propped on her hip, her body tilted, like a mother used to carrying a baby and can’t get comfortable in a straight position.

“Dan’s watching them. You know how it is. He loves the procreation process and playing with ‘em when they’re young, but the follow-up’s a real chore.”

The librarian met Robert’s fixed stare as he stood one bookshelf away. Then she returned her gaze to the conversation at hand. “Growing up is hard. At every stage.” She tapped the book. “You want to return this or renew it?”

A quiet sigh. “Well, I just got into it, but I never know if I’ll get a chance to finish it. Between Dan and the kids, I get so tired, don’t have any time to let my mind roam. My soul is not my own.” She released a brittle, suck-it-up, chuckle. “But like you said—growing up is hard. Renew it, and I’ll try to squeeze in a bit of time.”

Stunned by the image of a captured, weary soul, Robert waited and then watched the young wife and mother saunter out the door. His gaze trailed after her as her blond head bobbed and then disappeared around the corner.

He marched forward and faced the librarian. “You have anything on ‘Oh happy fault?’”

Breaking into a grin, the librarian pointed to the religion and philosophy section. “Probably. We’ve got something for everyone. Just have to figure out what you want.”

A happy wife rang in Robert’s ears. He lifted his hand. “You know, I better get going. Thanks. But I think the book I need to read—is at home.”

He paced out the door and sauntered outside, a new story filling his mind.

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/book-read-hands-literature-3531412/

What Do You Know?

If Catherine had known what the day would bring, she would never have gotten out of bed.

“Well, that’s not entirely true,” she murmured as she flopped down on her bed that evening. The old-fashioned ceiling fan was covered in dust, and she wondered why she’d ever thought it was a creative choice. “Probably doesn’t even work. Like the freezer…the mixer…the stupid thingamajig on the dashboard.” She sighed, sat up, and rubbed her eyes. Lord have mercy; she was tired.

Boot steps clumped up onto the kitchen porch. One of her mongrel dogs started barking. Heaving herself free of the embrace of the bed, Catherine swore under her breath, her eyes darting to the purple sunset out the window. “Who on earth—?”

The dog she referred to as Sally, though she hated the name, upped her barking to frenzy mode. A shiver ran over Catherine’s arms as she hustled into the room. What if it was a crazy man? Or worse yet, someone selling something? Or—nightmare image—a religious cult member wanting to share the good news with her?

A man’s voice murmured in the darkness. Soothing words. He chuckled.

Sally’s barking stopped. Instantly.

Alarmed, Catherine swung wide the kitchen screen door. Oh. Great. There lay Sally on her back, her legs splayed, with an idiotic grin on her face, getting a tummy rub from a total stranger.

Man’s best friend, maybe but certainly not mine. Catherine gritted her teeth and peered through the dim light to the stranger who had straightened up and stood to face her.

He was tall, his dark hair swept low over his brow, a little long, but not unkempt. He wore jeans and a black jacket over a rolled up long sleeved shirt exposing a serious tattoo, and his heavy boots had traces of mud on them. A working man.

Catherine frowned. He was bigger than her and perhaps two or three years older, but she didn’t feel threatened. Not exactly. She met his gaze.

“Sorry to bother you, but my car died at the end of your lane, and I’d like to call someone for help if you don’t mind.”

Suspicion flooded Catherine like a tsunami. “Why can’t you use your cell phone? Don’t tell me you don’t have one.”

He ran a hand along his jawline; a long red scratch marred a fading tan. “I tried, but either my cell’s out of juice, or there’s no reception around here.”

Catherine winced. She knew perfectly well that reception was spotty. She glanced at the mountainous clouds gathering overhead and made an impulsive gesture. “Well, alright. I still use a landline since my cell phone reception is as unreliable as a man on a first date—” Opps! I didn’t just say… She closed her eyes and stepped aside.

He swept past her and stopped in the middle of the room, looking around.

Thunder rumbled.

Catherine blinked and pointed to the far wall where an old-fashioned telephone, 1950’s style, sat ensconced in a wood frame.

He strode forward, picked up the phone awkwardly, and dialed a number.

Catherine lugged her school bag to the wooden kitchen table and dumped an array of papers, books, pencils, colored pens, and various school paraphernalia over the surface. She sighed and murmured, “It’ll take me all weekend…”

Throat clearing turned her around. She looked at the man in the bright glare of the kitchen. He was good looking. Not classically handsome but familiar somehow. His deep-set eyes looked weary, and something around the corners made her think he’d had troubles of his own. Good grief. He looked like a man who had known deep sadness.

Catherine bit her lip. Still, he was a stranger. A man. Like her ex-husband. Like her brother. Like her father.

This morning when she caught a junior high student cheating and brought the fact to the principal’s attention, she had been told she was too sensitive and needed to be more caring. Later, she discovered that the principal had a very friendly arrangement with the mother of said cheater. In the lounge, all the teachers had laughed when she protested the injustice of it all. Leanne even told her to “get a life and stop acting like a self-righteous old nun.”

Lightning flickered in the windows.

Heat burned Catherine’s cheeks.

The man looked around at the country style kitchen that Catherine had labored so long to decorate. “Nice place.” He held out his hand. “My name is Clem. Sorry about intruding like this.” He flipped out his phone and grimaced. “Not a bar on here.”

“It’s the trees…and the fact that we’re in such a low spot…and out in the middle of nowhere.” Catherine wanted to slap herself. Shut up, you idiot!

Clem smiled.

My lord, how the smile changed his face.

“I’m out behind the McCarthy place. I just moved in…and no one mentioned that reception was so bad. I guess I should’ve done some research.”

“Well, with the storm—”

A thundering crash of rain pelted the metal roof.

Glancing at the sprawled mess of spelling tests and math quizzes, Clem grinned. “I used to be a teaching assistant in Utah…corrected papers faster than a speeding bullet.”

Catherine snorted. “Anytime you feel a hankering to mark off atrociously misspelled words in red ink, you just let me know.”

Flashing lights vied with the pounding rain outside the doorframe.

Clem hustled forward. “It’s my friend, he lives next door. Only other person I really know around here. He’ll take me home.” He shuffled his feet. “If you don’t mind, I’ll come back in the morning and get the car.” He peered down at her as if asking permission…as if it were her lane.

Her throat, suddenly as dry as the Sahara, made her voice sound huskier than she ever intended. “That’s fine. It’s a dead end. No one goes down this way…except to check on the cows…in the pasture.” With a shake, she peered at him. “What were you doing…if you don’t mind my asking?”

He shrugged. “Just getting my bearings. I got work down at the power plant. As I was heading home, I realized that this lane is just behind my house. I had nothing better to do, so I thought I’d investigate. Didn’t expect my car to die.” He snorted. “Or my phone to quit…though…”

She didn’t need him to finish the thought. “Yeah. Me too. One of those days.” She met his gaze again. “Don’t worry about the car. It’ll be safe enough.” She stepped toward the flashing lights.

Clem followed and opened the screen door. He hesitated. “Thanks. I appreciate your trust. I was afraid you’d set your dogs on me.” He grinned as Sally whined and tried to smuggle her fat body between his legs.

Catherine rolled her eyes. “Lord save a woman from marauders with that specimen of canine protectiveness.”

Chuckling, Clem scratched Sally behind the ears. “I don’t know. I think she did all right. Glad she didn’t eat me.” He stepped out onto the porch, waved to the bright lights from the car parked in the driveway. He turned back to Catherine. “I’ll be back in the morning. Mind if I stop in and say hi? I’ll bring my red pen…”

Her heart jumped to her throat. Catherine swallowed. This does not happen in real life. Not to me. She sucked in a deep breath. “Sure. No, I mean, that’s fine. I have a pot of strong coffee about 7:30—sleep in on Saturdays…” She wanted to slap herself again.

“Great. See you then.” He stepped off the porch into the rain and disappeared into the waiting car. The bright lights swiveled as the car turned and drove away.

Catherine limped back to her room on shaky legs, her whole body radiating a heat she could hardly explain. She flipped the fan switch and plopped down on her bed. The blades turned smooth as silk and sent a delightful breeze over her skin. It suddenly struck her as enchanting. Even the dust looked rather quaint. “Well, what do you know? It works.”

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

Leopold

“If ever you go to the North Country

Where the oak and the ash and the rowan be,

And the ivy bosses the castle wall

You must go to Edenhall…

Miranda wrapped her arms around her middle and traipsed through the winter woods, tugging her coat tight, her gaze meandering. Not that there was much to see. Snow dusted the trees and covered the leaf-strewn ground. Barren. Empty. Aloneness personified in foliage.

A bird called. What was it saying? She could almost make out the tune, but it was too distant. A raucous crow rose, cawing, and flapped away.

She trudged back to the bright-lit home she shared with her cousin, Edna, and her husband and their kids. Turning at the door, she stared at the scene. The glorious woods silhouetted black against the white evening sky stabbed her heart.

The after-dinner routine, raucous as usual, soon settled into an evening of books and board games. Miranda knitted, sitting on her chair by the lamp and watched Edna settle with the baby in her lap and the toddler tucked under her arm. She balanced an illustrated bedtime story between them. Joe played Memory with the older two boys and groaned grandly every time they made a match.

By the time everyone marched up to bed, Joe stretched and yawned, saying that he’d hit the hay early since he had to get up before dawn the next morning. Edna switched off the lights, shut down the computer on her work desk, and started after him.

Miranda continued to knit.

Edna stopped and glanced back. She frowned.

Miranda heard her cousin’s footsteps draw near, but she didn’t look up. She didn’t have the heart to.

Edna’s shadow slanted over the knitting.

Miranda sighed and let the half-finished blanket fall flat on her lap.

“Something wrong, Miranda?”

Willing herself to face her cousin, Miranda shoved all pain aside and peered up. “Nothing’s wrong. How could it be? I have a perfect life.”

Edna tugged a footstool over and plunked down. “Normally, I’d agree. But something feels…wrong.” She perched her head on her hand. “You know, I always envied you.”

Miranda snorted. “Good Lord, what for?”

“You traveled…saw the world. You were a useful human being. Nursing the sick all over…helping surgeons. Teaching. Advising.” Edna sat up and spread her hands wide. “Why, you were a regular modern hero. None the like I ever met before in real life.”

Miranda picked up her knitting and squinted in the dim light. “The operative word there is ‘were.’ I was all those things.” She shrugged. “Now I’m just an old lady knitting in a corner and walking through the woods to while away my empty days.”

Edna slapped her hand on the edge of the footstool. “Not so! You help with the kids and keep me from madness. I consider that a worthy endeavor.”

A momentary squabble on the second floor filtered down but was soon checked by Joe’s command to ‘settle down—or else.’

Edna narrowed her eyes. “Besides, you’re not exactly old. Not by today’s standards. Still in your fifties. You’ve got years ahead of you.”

“Sixties looms ever nearer, and the years ahead look pretty desolate to me.” She adjusted her glasses. “Listen, you and I know perfectly well that the nursing profession slipped away while I took care of Jack, and my boy lives in Singapore. Not exactly around the corner. Today the world is connected in ways I can hardly fathom. I don’t recognize half the things your kids say. I’m what they call ‘out of the loop.’” She shook her head. “My glory days are quite gone.”

Edna clasped her hands and rose from the footstool. She paced across the room and then turned and faced her cousin. “Those days—yes—I agree. They’re quite gone. But—”

“I’m too tired to go back to school and start over, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Not school necessarily. But change…a trade…a skill…a new environment.” Edna marched forward, her hands on her hips. “Don’t you see? It’s all in how you look at your life—forever ending or forever beginning. You decide.”

~~~

The next day dawned bright and clear. Cold swept in from the north, but Miranda wasn’t one to be detained by the threat of frostbite. She knew how to dress warmly.

After the older kids were off to school, Edna settled the little ones down with activities and started in on her daily online routine.

Miranda bustled out the door with a quick nod to the perfect order of the little corner of her world and braced herself for the cold. But she didn’t feel it. She hurried into the woods, her gloved hands sunk deep into her heavy coat pockets.

A bird landed on a branch before her and started in its usual song. Leopold…Leopold…tweet, tweet, tweet…

Miranda frowned and knocked a bit of snow off a tree trunk. “Stupid bird. Always calling to your Leopold, but he never answers, does he?” She stumbled forward, fury building little an interior steam kettle.

The bird hopped along, calling the same plaintive song. “Leopold…Leopold…”

Her nerves strained to the breaking point, Miranda turned and screamed. “Stupid idiot. Stop waiting for Leopold!” She shook her fist at the snow-speckled trees. “Go make a nest and do your own thing…live your own life. Don’t ask for no—”

A choking sob welled up from Miranda’s middle and tears burned her eyes. She wiped them away, brushing snow across her glasses. “Dang it!” Nearly blinded, she plucked her glasses off her face and carefully paced her way to a fallen log. She plunked down, not caring that she’d wet her clothes through to the skin.

Taking off her gloves, she pulled a tissue out of a pocket and wiped her glasses dry.

The bird drew near one again. “Leopold…Leopold…tweet…tweet…tweet…”

Miranda blinked as she watched the little bird hop before her. “Oh, God.” She held out her hand. The bird hopped close, then proceeded to peck at the tree bark, intent, and perhaps content, with something besides Leopold.

A thrill rushed through Miranda. “Could it be?” She laid her hand open.

The bird lifted its beady eyes and stared at her. It hopped nearer, almost touching her hand.

“Good Lord. Am I—Leopold?”

~~~

Later that evening when Edna returned from taking all the kids to their dentist’s appointments, she stopped dead in her tracks.

The boys finished divesting themselves from their winter coats and then set to work on helping the little ones.

Edna swallowed and entered the warm, yeasty smelling kitchen following the sound a happy tune. She stared at her cousin.

Slicing into a hot loaf of homemade wheat bread, Miranda called to the kids. “Snacks are ready and on the table in five minutes, boys. Be sure to wash your hands.” She glanced at Edna. “I’ve made enough to go with supper; don’t worry. I also made a nice hot stew for everyone.”

Edna shook her head. “You’re feeling better, then?”

Miranda stopped and met her cousin’s gaze. “Yes…and no. I just have to find myself again. Not easy. But the first task is always the hardest.”

Edna crept into the room. “What’s that?”

“You got to figure out where you are.” She drew a dish of butter near and laid a knife beside it. “And go from there.”

Tears welled in Edna’s eyes. “I’m glad.” She surveyed the brown bread and sucked in a deep breath. “My, but that looks good!” She perched on a stool and slathered a piece with a healthy dollop of butter. “What was that tune I heard you humming when I came in?”

Miranda blushed. “Oh, it wasn’t anything…just a birdsong you sometimes hear in the woods. “Leopold…Leopold…I’m here, I’m here.”

…But do our best and our most each day,

With a heart resolved and a temper gay,

         Which pleasure spoils not, not frights appall—

Though we never see Edenhall—

~Edenhall~

by

Susan Coolidge

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

Sister-O-Mine

Giles slid onto the driver’s side of his compact car, buckled the strap over his lap, focused on the tight maneuver needed to get into the flow traffic, and felt his stomach clench.

Once he roared the motor to life, gripped the wheel and flipped the music on high, he made an expert swing into the proper lane. His fingers began tapping a lively dance, and his head started bopping to the rhythm. Blood pumped and his stomach unclenched. He grinned.

He sped onto the highway and pictured Esmeralda’s face. Lovely woman. Beautiful eyes. He suspected…beautiful everything. Well, from what he knew of her. Online chats can only take a man so far. One phone call. Lovely voice. Husky…just the way he liked it.

Once at the Millard exit, he turned off and scaled the hill to his sister’s house. Sadie had said she wanted to “talk.” His stomach tightened again.

After he rang the bell, Sadie swung the door wide and beckoned her brother inside with a languid half-wave. “Dan took the kids to a movie, so we have at least two hours of uninterrupted chat time.”

Giles pursed his lips as he slid one leg over the kitchen stool by the counter. “Why do we need”—he made quote marks in the air—”‘uninterrupted chat time’ together?”

Sadie rounded on the refrigerator, pulled out an ice-cold soda, swung to a high cabinet, flipped open the door, shuffled with her fingers, and pulled down a red bottle. After filling two tall glasses with crushed ice, lemon-lime soda, and Chardonnay, she handed one to her brother. She lifted her hand in salute. “Cheers, brother. Do I need a reason to chat with you?”

Giles leaned back, perching his foot on the stool rung. “Usually, you have a reason.” His eyes widened. “Is something wrong with Dan…or the kids?”

Sadie leaned on the counter, savoring her drink. “No. They’re fine.” She looked straight into Giles’ eyes. “As the older, wiser sibling, I just want to catch up with my little brother. Anything wrong with that?”

Giles snorted. “Seventeen months! You’re only seventeen months older, girl.”

Sadie straightened and clutched a platter of brownies. She slid them onto the counter. “Hard as rocks. Wilda made ‘em. First attempt. Not bad if you don’t break a tooth.” She tilted her head. “So, tell me all about Izzie.” Her eyebrows wiggled.

Giles bit into the brownie and froze. They were indeed hard as rocks. He tapped his tooth, laid the brownie aside, and glanced up. “Izzie? Who—?”

Opening the refrigerator, Sadie grabbed a bag of baby carrots. She pulled one out and crunched. She talked around munches. “You know…your online friend.”

Giles’ eyelids dropped to half-mast. “Her name is Esmeralda. And we’re just getting to know each other.” He shrugged. “What’s so wrong? You met Dan through a Catholic dating service.”

Sadie took a sip of her drink. “That’s my point. I knew something about Dan before we met. I knew he was Catholic, and that says volumes.”

Giles grimaced. “Screams loud and clear.” He wrinkled his nose and stared at the carrot held like a cigarette between Sadie’s fingers. “How can you eat a carrot and drink a wine-cooler at the same time?”

Sadie shrugged. “Easy. But don’t roam off topic. Listen brother-o-mine. I love you dearly, but I think you’re making a humongous mistake. You don’t know anything about this woman…and worse yet…she doesn’t know a thing about you.”

“I know she’s gorgeous.” Giles smiled. “I’m not bad looking…What else matters?”

“Is she funny? Does she handle money well? What religion is she? Any ax-murders to her credit?”

Rolling his eyes, Giles labored to his feet and sauntered into the strangely clean living room. He glanced back at Sadie who followed him. “What happened to all the toys…and the mess?”

Sadie punched Giles in the arm. “Listen, buddy, one time you show up unexpected and the house looks unfit for human habitation, and you act like that’s my usual routine.” She eyed him as he plopped down on the sofa. “You still got dust bunnies ruling the roost at your house?”

Giles set his drink on the end table and covered his ears. “Dang it, Sadie. I told you never to mix metaphors in my hearing. You know how that makes my skin crawl.”

“Sorry, Editor. Didn’t realize you wore your English Grammarian badge during off hours.”

Giles lifted his hands. “It’s a curse I’m learning to live with.” He smirked as Sadie sat on an overstuffed chair opposite him and threw her legs over the arm, just like one of the kids. “I know you think you’re helping me out…but I’m having a good time with Esmeralda. It’s a fling. Fun time. Nothing more.”

“You told her that?”

“Pretty obvious, I should think.”

“Obvious to who?” Sadie tapped the rim of her glass. “I know you, brother. You’re still dealing with all the baggage from Janet.” She took a long slurp, finishing off the contents. “You need to get an annulment before you start anything new.”

His eyes nearly popping out his head, Giles leaned forward. “Annulment? Lord, Sadie. A Justice of the Peace married us. I’m not Catholic anymore. Janet doesn’t even believe in God. I don’t think we really need to bother some overworked Cannon Lawyer with the hideous details of our failed marriage.”

Sadie set her glass down with a click and leaned forward. “I think you do. I think you’d be a fool to start anything new without figuring out what went wrong last time.”

Giles shot to his feet. “Well, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, sis. I know exactly what went wrong.”

Sadie held her position. Only her eyes followed him as he paced across the room, turned at the television, and faced her.

“We were kids…stupid kids overloaded with hormones.” Giles shook his head and chuckled, his gaze dropping to the brown carpet. “Your Catholic God is the funny one.” He lifted his finger and mimicked a voice from on high. ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!’” His voice returned to normal. “And then He gives us bodies and sensual joyrides.” Giles retrieved his glass and swallowed the last drops. “Joke’s on us—eh?”

Sadie rose and stepped closer, her gaze fixed on her brother. “You got hurt—really hurt, Giles. I know you did. Divorce is hell, no matter what.” She laid a hand on his shoulder. “Listen to your older, wiser sister, will ya?” She tilted her head and peered deep into his gaze. “I love you, idiot. And I never want to see you in so much pain again.”

Giles dropped his head to his chest.

Sadie swung away. “I don’t care how hot she is…now.” Sadie ran her fingers along the edge of a crib set against the wall. “You know perfectly well, looks fade or get ravaged.” She glanced back. “Remember mom?”

Giles jaw hardened, his moist eyes darkened. “Don’t go there, Sadie.”

“Listen, Giles. Every relationship you have with a woman is colored by every other relationship with women—mom, me, Janet…and all the little flings you’ve had…online or in person.” She lifted her hand. “Don’t pretend innocence. I’m not stupid.”

Giles plunked down on the couch and buried his face in his hands. “Why are you making my life so damn complicated?”

“It’s a sister’s job. Actually, it would’ve been mom’s job…if she hadn’t—” She swallowed and turned away. “Don’t forget, Giles, this gorgeous woman you like so much is someone’s daughter…maybe someone’s sister.” She strode over to an iPhone lying on the table. “These tech toys help us forget—but we’re dealing with real people. Not just names. Not just faces. People someone else might love just as much as I love you.”

Giles rubbed his face and stared across the room through vacant eyes. “I’m not a creep, you know.”

“I never thought that for a moment.” Sadie returned and knelt at Giles’ side, folding her hands prayer-like on his knee. “But you are unguided. You could use some help to make a real relationship work—better than Mom, better than Janet. Heck, she could even be better than me.”

Giles reached out and brushed a strand of hair from Sadie’s eyes. “Not possible, sister-o-mine. Not possible.”

 

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

Before the Lights Go Out

Kasandra heaved herself up the ramp and plodded into the back room where various set pieces leaned against the wall, waiting, like the unused furniture they were, for their next big scene.

Allan followed close behind, his dark head bent in thought. The smell of old wood, sweat, and a miracle on the brink of bright lights always sent chills down his arms. He chewed his lip, then peered up at the older, buxom woman. “But you’re great at what you do. They’ll always need women to play your parts—” Kasandra’s abrupt laugh short-circuited his thoughts.

“My parts, you say?” She shook her head and marched with determined steps toward the last dressing room on the right. “Look around, child, and get it through your head that what seems to be is all that matters in this world. Whatever body fits the seeming will get the job done.”

He trotted along and entered the room close behind. “But you’re skilled, and that’s a fact. I wish I were half as good as you.”

Kasandra flopped down on a hard chair and beckoned to the young man. “Get me my shift there on the back of the door.” She pointed to the left. As Allan handed the thin gown to her, she eyed him with a soft smile. “You’re a dear, and that’s a fact. With those blue eyes, firm chin, chiseled jawline, you’re a man made for the stage—or film. Whichever suits your fancy.”

Allan leaned against the dressing counter, his back to the huge mirror. “I’m not special. There’re a hundred guys who look as good as me and can make better use of their arms and legs.” He chuckled. “I’m learning, but it’s a steep curve, and one slip will land me in the mud.”

Kasandra peered into the mirror, dabbed her fingers in cold cream, and smeared it over her face. She tilted her head to get every angle. “You’re a wise kid if you see that all ready.” Her gaze reached through the mirror and smacked into his eyes. “Gain a few too many pounds, get sick, pick up a bad habit…and you’re done for.”

With a shrug, Allan pushed off the counter and sauntered across the room. “Could be true for any profession. Most guys—”

“Naw, it’s not.” She peered back into the mirror. “Well, maybe some. But there’s nothing like show business to teach a person their place.” She thumbed the counter with the flat of her hand. “No place.”

Allan pulled down an oversized feathered hat and slid his fingers along the edge. “How’s that?”

“Can’t hardly be your self. Always got to be somebody else to survive. And you got to look the part and act the part all the time, or your audience will think you’ve gone traitor.”

Plucking the feather, Allan grinned. “You make it sound like we’re prisoners of our profession.”

Kasandra frowned as his fingers played with the feather. “Damage that stupid thing, and  I’ll get hell for it.” She scoured her face and wiped it clean with a fresh cloth. “Prisoners of our bodies, our profession, and our success—if we’re lucky enough to have any.” She nodded to the door. “You better hurry, kiddo. Time and opportunity are passing faster than you think.”

~~~

Late that night, Allan ambled up the steps to his house, strode through the entryway, and frowned at a light glinting from a back room. Stepping carefully, he inched his way forward.

Not a sound.

He poked his head through the open doorway and peered at his father sitting up in bed with a book in his hand.

Allan sauntered forward, a grin warring with a frown. “What’re you doing up so late, da?”

The old man glanced up, startled. He laid the book on his lap with a tired smile hovering on his face. “Couldn’t sleep. Thought I’d catch up on my reading.”

Allan titled his head back, considered the cover, and glanced at his father. He turned the book around. “The Egoist?” He pursed his lips. “Thought you liked the classics—”

Da slapped his hand over the cover. “It is a classic. At least in some circles.” He flipped the book over. “It was the title that caught my eye. Thought it might have a few answers.”

One of Allan’s eyebrows rose. “How to be one—or get rid of one?”

Da’s smile reached his eyes. “You’re too damn smart for your own good, laddie.” He shoved the book aside. “How’d it go today?”

“Same as usual. I made mistakes, and I learned from them.” He sat on the edge of the bed. “You remember Kasandra? You know the big—”

Yeah? What about her?”

“She seems to think that as an actor, I’m in for a life sentence—a prisoner of sorts.”

“You think that?”

“I don’t know. It could be true. But then doesn’t every profession make demands, have expectations…I could get fired from anything.”

“True, but not everyone would notice or care. There’s something about becoming a public person that comes with its own set of rules. It’s a matter of trust.”

“Lots of public figures mess up. Sometimes it actually helps their careers—”

“Careers aren’t the person on the inside, son. Don’t forget that. It’s true, you could be a school teacher and get run through the mill, but the public light burns awful bright. It doesn’t care about the person inside.” He tapped his chest and leaned back. “You know, I was in the limelight for a good many years. Cost me more than I care to admit. I got paid well, and I got a lot of attention. But…”

“But?”

“Well, in the end, we’re all going to die and when you get to my age, that makes a person think. If you live long enough, you get old…and hints come along to remind you that we’re not here forever. The lights will dim, the stage door will close, and we’ll have to face what every human being through history has had to face. The great equalizer.”

“Maybe they’ll invent a bio-engineered body when my time comes.”

The joke fell flat. Allan flushed.

“Just remember, Allan, a career, no matter how good, no matter how well you’re paid, no matter how many people tell you they love you— You’re on your own at the end. You better get to know that person…” He tapped his chest again, “before the lights go out.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

In Two Words

Professor Lana Bentley leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. Her gaze rolled over the eighteen-year-old woman, sitting ramrod straight before her. She practically glowed with her brightest smile. “So, Irma, are you excited about your first year of college?”

Irma slumped forward, her hands clasping and unclasping convulsively, like sea creatures swishing through the deep. Her grey eyes peered through thick glasses and heavy makeup, imploring the fountain of wisdom behind the desk. “I don’t know. I think I am. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to this my whole life. Always wanted to go to college, ever since I first learned there was such a thing.”

A twinge of alarm spread through Professor Bentley. “How old would that have been?”

“Four…maybe five.” Irma met Professor Bentley’s gaze. “My dad’s a janitor, and he got a job at a university. He took us to see where he worked. And—” Irma blushed. “It was love at first sight.”

Heat crept up Professor Bentley’s face. “Well, that’s the best of news.” She beamed again. She felt proud of her ability to put others at ease. Beaming was one of her specialties.

Irma frowned; her hands squeezed so tight her knuckles turned white.

Professor Bentley considered the girl’s hands. “But it appears that you’re still a little anxious. Is there something bothering you? Worried about your classes or—?”

Irma swallowed a gulp of air, a drowning victim at the end of her strength. “It’s just that I’m so afraid.”

Sitting up straight, Professor Bentley tapped her computer keyboard and pulled up Irma’s file. After scanning the record, she glanced at the girl before her. “Your grades and scores are excellent. You’ve already won awards in your chosen field of study, and your recommendations are brilliant.” She pursed her lips and tapped her fingers together, a serious professional doing her duty. “You have nothing to be afraid of. You’ll do fine.”

Irma shot from her chair and twirled around behind, gripping the back for dear life. “I’m not afraid of the work. I know I can get good grades.”

Professor Bentley snatched a glance at her watch. She stood and stepped away from her desk. “I have a class in fifteen minutes but walk with me across campus. She swung a satchel over her shoulder. “I really want to help—I’m just—”

Irma opened the door and let the professor pass through. Once outside crossing over the long shadows of an August afternoon, the student tromped alongside her mentor, her shoulders drooping and her hair hanging like a curtain across her face.

A young man jogged by and waved.

Irma averted her eyes.

Professor Bentley smiled, stopped, and laid a gentle hand on Irma’s shoulder. “You’re worried about making friends…men friends even?”

Irma’s eyes flickered to the sky. “Yes…and no. I make friends easy enough. Everyone likes the shy, smart girl who shares her notes.”

Professor Bentley choked, her eyes widening. She started forward again, her heels clicking on the tidy cement walkway. Autumn leaves whirled in a sudden breeze.

Quickening her pace, Irma kept up. “It’s just that I’ve dreamed about this for so long, it’s like the best fantasy ever…and I don’t want it to end.”

Stopping before the science building, Professor Bentley felt a chill run through her veins. “But, Irma, reality is better than fantasy.”

Irma shoved her glasses up the bridge of her nose and peered into the eyes of wisdom. “Is it?”

Professor Bentley blinked at the tears starting in her eyes. “Oh, my dear. You just told me the saddest story I ever heard—in two words.”

~~~

That evening as Lana sat ensconced in the crook of her husband’s arm, she laid her head on his chest and sighed.

George pulled off his glasses and laid them on the coffee table. “You want to tell me?” He titled his head and peered at her lifted gaze.

Lana shook her head, her gaze dropping. “I met a new student today, a friendly mentoring session. You know.”

“You’ve done hundreds. Best there is.” A smile quirked at the corner of his mouth, his eyes sparkling.

“I always thought so. But today—I was the one mentored. The student taught the teacher.”

“What on earth could an eighteen-year-old freshman teach you?”

Lana slapped her forehead and tugged her fingers through her hair. “What it feels like to be eighteen—a dreamer with nothing but dreams to hang on to.”

Georgios shrugged. “You’ve handled that before.”

“Yes, and I always challenged it. I always knew best. I—” She pulled away and sat up, her hands clasping in an attitude of prayer. “I just realized—I don’t remember what it’s like to be a freshman, to be young, to be scared, to be idealistic.” She swallowed and met her husband’s frank stare. “From the first moment I saw her, I had this girl pegged from her thick glasses down to her skinny jeans. But, really, I have no idea what she dreams of. And if perhaps her dreams are better than the reality I’m offering.”

George shifted to the edge of the couch, positioned for a launch. He glanced at the kitchen counter with an array of drinks lined in neat order. “Dreams die in the light of day.”

“But somewhere, somehow, isn’t their room for a both—a dream to guide and reality to rule?”

Standing, George peered down at his wife, a frown forming between his eyes. “Dreams don’t pay bills. You’ve told me that a million times.”

Lana stood and sauntered to the bay window. She stared at the black frame, peering into darkness. “That’s true. But when Irma told me she was afraid of reality, she scared me and made me sad.” She turned and peered at her husband, her own eyes imploring.

George sauntered toward the kitchen. “You don’t kill these kids’ dreams. Reality does.”

“Perhaps that’s why I feel so bad. I’ve known that all along.” Lana turned and faced her husband’s departing figure. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “When I dismissed her dreams, I dismissed the girl…and perhaps…a reality that might have been.”

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

Justify Your Evil

From OldEarth ARAM Encounter…

—Planet Lux—

Teal stood holding a drink in one hand, tapping his leg with the other, and a frown building between his eyes.

The brilliantly lit hall filled with trailing green vines, glowing flowers, and an astonishing array of birds, barely scored his conscious mind. He had seen a million such rooms before. The company was different though. Luxonians in their human forms, Ingots, encased in their mechanical exoskeletons, and Crestas, lumbering along in their terrestrial bio-suits mingled in forced diplomacy.

Zuri, back straight, chest out, circulated amid an Ingoti throng across the room, which hummed with the uneasy murmurings of three races attempting to mingle in an uneasy alliance.

Putting his drink aside, Teal’s gaze shifted to his superior, Judge Sterling, who looked like he had been chewing glass for breakfast.

Sterling, dressed immaculately in a long, flowing robe and cotton pants, stood square-shouldered as he faced off a leading scientist of Crestar. Sterling’s eyes lowered to half-mast.

Boredom or loathing? So hard to tell from this distance.

A hand gripped his shoulder. Teal stiffened as he glanced at the mechanical glove. How did Zuri manage to sneak around him like that?

“Teal, correct?”

Clenching his jaw, Teal peered at the Ingoti trader. “You should know my name by now—you’ve complained about me often enough to the Ingilum—and the Supreme Council.”

Zuri’s form-fitting techno-armor, a brilliant red for the conference, nearly outshone his wide, practiced smile. “In truth, I’m surprised they let you come. After all, this is where we make agreements to respect each other and—”

“Like you respect the human race?”

Taking two steps into Teal’s personal space, Zuri waved a mechanical hand that could snap a neck. “Do you see any humans here? And why would that be? Possibly because they’re not evolved to the point where they can represent themselves at our level?”

Teal glanced ahead as Sterling wandered in his direction. Teal’s frown melted as he lifted his hand in salute.

Zuri backed off.

Sterling offered a slight bow. “Well, what have we here? The most infamous Ingoti trader this side of the Divide?”

Teal’s gaze bounced like a ball from Sterling to Zuri.

Flexing his impressive biomechanical exoskeleton, Zuri’s chest expanded alarmingly. “Don’t get jealous, Judge Sterling. Ingoti trade benefits Ingots, Luxonians, and Crestas—anyone willing to pay a fair price.”

Sterling tucked a stray lock of his luminous white hair into perfect place. “Pity, humans keep getting in your way. Teal has reported that humans seem to disappear when they have the unfortunate luck to wander too close to one of your mining operations.”

Zuri’s hands clenched. “I’ve taken plenty of native-sensitive precautions. I introduced three kinds of protective repellants and made bloody well sure that they appeared to be right out of one of their superstitious belief systems. I did my research!”

A bell toned.

The two Luxonians glanced at the Ingoti representative beckoning them to their next meeting.

Zuri kept his glare plastered on Sterling.

Teal glowered. “Like it or not, we need stronger non-interference regulations for undeveloped planets. You’re already exploiting their natural resources, and humanity will suffer from your greed.”

The tone repeated—louder.

Judge Sterling tugged Teal toward the conference door. “We’ll handle this issue in the proper setting.”

Zuri smacked his metallic fists together. “You think humans don’t exploit each other? What about that creature called Neb? And his son—Ishtar? Don’t tell me that their noble hearts will win out over generations of greed. I’m just doing to humans what they’ll do to each other given time.”

Teal pulled away from Sterling’s grasp and stared deep into Zuri’s narrowed eyes. “You don’t know who Ishtar might become or what’ll happen to Neb. Don’t justify your evil by insisting everyone is evil. It’s too simplistic—even for an Ingot.”

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/space-universe-space-travel-755811/

All Humanity

An empty bench waits by the sea,

Ponder time and silence free.

Loving son and loving daughter,

Blue sky and bluer sea.

 

Dragonflies flitter by,

The waves roll on a mid-day sigh.

Sand, rock, weed, and flower,

Nature changes by the hour.

 

All our name and titles float away,

Petty divisions hate of the day.

Only myself, yet everyone be,

Join in communion with all humanity.

 

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

That’s Your Job

Gabe pushed back from his luxurious, high gloss mahogany desk and swiveled around so that he faced the floor to ceiling plate glass window overlooking the city. A glorious sunset highlighted mountainous clouds, tinting them in gold and pink. The beauty moved him not. Except for the dull ache in his chest, he couldn’t feel a thing.

“What the h—’s wrong with me?” He leaned back, clasped his hands over his not-as-muscled-as-it-used-to-be middle, and exhaled a long, slow breath. His therapist said that would help.

It didn’t.

A ringtone blared a swinging rhythm that he once loved—until he put it on his phone. Now it sounded stupid. He snatched the phone off the desk, tapped the button, and pressed it to his ear. “Yeah?”

Blair, his eldest daughter, spoke with her usual calm authority. God, he loved her. “Dad, I’ve got to stay late at the lab tonight. Professor Baughman said that they’ve got three internships opening in the fall, and if I can get all the paperwork in on time, I should get one. Plus, one of the freshmen got sick in class, and I need to help him disinfect the place.”

Gabe chuckled. “Always something—isn’t it?” He could almost hear her smile.

“Yep. So don’t expect me back till late, okay? I’m fine. Just working.”

Tiny sparks flickered to life in Gabe’s middle. “No problem. Just drive carefully. Especially around those d—” he caught himself. “The curves. Okay?”

“I always do.”

Gabe waited. He didn’t want to say goodbye. He shook himself. He couldn’t expect his daughter to fill the hollow void inside.

“Oh and dad.”

“Yeah?”

“Remember, you’re making dinner tonight. Johnny hates spaghetti and Sarah loves pancakes.”

Tears flooded Gabe’s eyes, stinging them even as he blinked and swallowed the strangled whimper he knew would rise if he spoke to quickly. He sat up straighter. “Got it.”

“Love ya.” The connection severed.

Dropping the phone back on the desk, Gabe turned once more to the window. The sun hovered over the skyline. He glanced at his watch. “Blast! They’ll accuse me of overworking again.”

After heaving himself to his feet, he swung into his jacket and tucked his phone into his pocket. A quick glance at his desk and his unfinished work. “It’ll wait. Always tomorrow.” A sinking feeling followed him down the hall as approached the elevator. “I never get enough done. Come early, work late, try hard—but it’s never enough.” His therapist said it was a perpetual guilt syndrome from his early childhood and that being aware of it would help him grow past it.

It didn’t.

~~~

As Gabe loped into his country-style, well-lit kitchen, he glanced aside.

Johnny leaned over the wooden table staring at a half-finished puzzle, holding a piece in his hand, his brow furrowed. A stack of folded laundry lay at one end. He glanced at his dad and flashed a grin. “I won it in a contest at school. I’ve read more books this semester than anyone else in seventh grade.”

Gabe pursed his lips. “Shouldn’t surprise me—but it does. You don’t seem like the bookworm-type.” His gaze flickered to the laundry.

Johnny huffed. “I read a whole six books. Hardly makes me a worm. Just nobody else read that many.” He jerked his thumb at the neat pile. “Sarah’s getting pretty good at getting the corners straight.” He returned to his puzzle. “What’s for dinner?”

“Spaghetti, if you don’t move your puzzle.”

With a laborious groan, Johnny slid the puzzle pieces onto a cutting board and carried it out of the room.

Gabe searched through the refrigerator. A package of spicy sausages and a carton of eggs brought a tired smile to his lips. Thank, God.

A little girl with brilliant blue eyes, fair skin, and a pixie face wafted into the kitchen. Wrapping her arms around a bundle of clothes, she hefted it into a tight embrace. “I’ll put these upstairs and help set the table for you, dad.”

Slicing into the plastic wrapping around the sausages, Gabe nodded. “Thanks, sweetheart.” A painful tightening in his throat and stinging in his eyes warned of a fresh wave of grief. He clenched jaws and sliced faster. “Dang!”

He rushed to the sink and ran cold water over his bleeding finger.

Sarah came back, swished the second bundle away, and trundled off.

Gabe couldn’t move. He knew that if he took one step away from the sink, he’d start sobbing like a child. Sarah didn’t need that. He didn’t need that.

“Hey, dad?”

Gabe blinked and glanced down.

Sarah stood there, her hands empty, her eyes as blue as a summer sky. “You think mom’s happy now?”

Fearing that he might break his teeth if he clenched them any harder, Gabe slapped off the water, grabbed a dishcloth, wrapped his finger, and stepped to the kitchen table. He plopped down on a chair.

Sarah stood by the sink, her gaze on him. Waiting.

He tapped his knee and motioned her over.

Sarah stepped up but only leaned in. No hopping onto his lap anymore.

Gabe put the towel aside and peered into her eyes. “You know, we were separated most of your life.” He swallowed, anguish mounting, and forced himself to concentrate. “But I never wished her ill. I always wanted her happy.” He shook his head. “We just couldn’t make things work. Too different. Set in our ways.” He sucked in a deep breath. “She was a hard person to make happy.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed. “You too.”

The sky fell. Mountains crashed. Waves washed over Gabe as tears rolled down his cheeks. His words rose like strangled gasps. “I wish she were still alive. I wish she hadn’t died. You still needed her—even if I didn’t.”

Sarah laid a soft, gentle hand on his arm.

Gabe buried his head on his arm. He couldn’t face her tears too.

~~~

Late that night, Gabe sat in bed staring at a page he couldn’t see.

A light knock on the door turned his gaze.

Blair stuck her head in the doorway. She frowned. “Heard you had a meltdown…want to talk about it?”

Snorting, Gabe waved her in. “Shhh. I just got Sarah to sleep, and God knows what Johnny thinks of me.”

Blair stepped in and perched on the edge of her dad’s bed. She laid her hand on his.

Gabe waited but Blair didn’t start. So much like her mother. “Okay. I had a little meltdown. No big deal. I’m going through some stuff.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Just because we were divorced doesn’t mean I didn’t care. I love you guys—and I know how hard this must be on you.”

Sarah scooted back and folded her legs to the side, leaning her weight on one arm. She tilted her head, her gaze direct and unwavering. “In a weird sort of way, I think mom’s death is easier on us. We got along and had some really good times together.” She shrugged. “I’m not saying that I don’t miss her or that it isn’t hard. But—I don’t know. We’re her kids. She sorta lives in us still.” Her gaze moved to the window. “I really believe we’ll see her again someday.” She squeezed Gabe’s hand. “Kinda different for you.”

Gabe stared at the ceiling. “She was always trying to make me a better man. Fix me.” He glanced at his daughter. “I only gave up smoking after we split to spite her.” He patted Sarah’s hand. “And for you guys.”

Sarah straightened, unfolded her legs, and swung them over the bed. “Well, she can’t fix you now.” She stood and started for the door. On the threshold, she stopped and peered back. “That’s your job.”

~~~

In the dark, Gabe patted the empty side of the bed. He swished his arm from the pillow all the way to his side. Lots of space…lots of empty space. His therapist said that pain was a good teacher.

It wasn’t.

But then he thought of his kids…and puzzle pieces, a neat stack of laundry, a decent dinner, and a stack of work on his desk. He sighed, curled his arm around the pillow, and closed his eyes. That’s your job.

It was.

 

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

Blanket Personalities

 

Blankets have personalities.

Literally.

I’m not talking about some highfalutin metaphorical image of our broken world. I’m talking about the strange personalities our blankets and sheets take on at night while we are in our weakest state, unable to properly defend ourselves. If you’re deeply honest, you’ll recognize your own blanket’s personality here.

First, there’s the most common—what I call the slithering personality. Not to be stereotypical about sheets, but I do believe more bed coverings slip into this category than any other. The night starts off optimistically enough. You get on your PJs, slide under the coverlet, read your book till you’re nice and drowsy (certain books accomplish this better than others), and fall asleep with your sheets and blanket nicely positioned.

But then…you awake shivering. Grasping confusedly, you find your supposed friend and nighttime ally, slumped on the floor to the right or left, or (in extremely embarrassing situations) at the foot of the bed. After a bit of a tussle, you punch a little life into the fabric and spread it out, encouraging words tangled up with grunts and slight aspersions to the sheet’s quality. Once set, you try again…and again… But by morning, there it lay in a heap, looking just as miserable as you feel—as you rub your eyes in exhaustion.

Second, there’s what I fondly refer to the enchiladas-lover personality. You find yourself waking up completely stiff, unable to move, wrapped up as tight as King Tut’s mummy. Sheets have been known to accomplish this maneuver just as well as blankets. Personally, I think they are tied for honors here. It’s a difficult situation to manage and not get caught in mid-stream. It’s an even more difficult situation to get out of. If they’re really good, they get both your arms wrapped up tight against your body while you are face down. Top points! Marks off for leaving one arm free or being loosey-goosey in the middle.

Third and finally, there’s the nefarious personality in which a blanket likes to congregate around the head pretending that he’s keeping the mosquitoes off your face, but you have your doubts, as it’s nearly twenty below zero outside. Though the initial “head covering” is the most common maneuver of this personality type, they have been known to attempt strangulation by wrapping themselves about the neck. Once caught, they fall limp in your hands, as if the thought of anything ominous never entered their fibers. Beware of this kind…they’re sneaky and highly proficient sleep stealers. After all, who in their right mind can get any rest after such an encounter?

So there you have three inescapable blanket personalities. Not being a particularly worldly person, my catalog is naturally quite small. Perhaps you’ve met a few other types? Feel free to send me a note about those you’ve encountered. I really ought to write a scientific book labeling them all properly (in Latin?) for posterity’s sake.

Maybe then I’d get some sleep.

 

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