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 (In production)

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

A Tie That Can’t Be Broken

Cerulean, a Luxonian dressed in casual twentieth-century blue jeans, a loose t-shirt, and slip-on shoes (he hated laces), rolled a shopping cart along the grocery aisle, following a woman and her young daughter.

The woman, distracted and hesitant, returned repeatedly to the child. “What’s next, Anne?”

Holding a limp notepaper covered in careful script, Anne ran her finger along a middle line and bit her lip. She peered at her mom. “Mayonnaise and garlic salt.”

The older woman started forward, peered at three varieties of mayonnaise, and froze. The child stepped around her, considered the labels and plucked the middle choice off the shelf. “It’s what we always get.”

The woman nodded.

After dropping a box of granola bars and a can of olives into his cart, Cerulean followed, fascinated by the mother and daughter before him. Only when a middle-aged man stared pointedly at his nearly empty cart, did he grab a few more items and toss them in with the others.

The child’s preternatural competence struck Cerulean like a blow to the chest. His mother died when he was young, not an uncommon experience for Luxonians. But his memories included a woman of great sensitivity and quiet competence. Nothing like this fragile, hesitant woman pacing behind her strong-willed child.

When they left the store, Cerulean half expected the child to slip into the driver’s seat, but no, the older woman took the wheel, and ever-so-slowly drove away. Placing his paid-for groceries next to a homeless man he has noticed earlier, Cerulean stepped into a sheltered corner and disappeared.

~~~

Cerulean marched into Judge Sterling’s quarters, handed his tasty Earth offering to his superior, stepped back, and waited.

Sterling, in his usual grey leggings and a long tunic, grinned and daintily peeled the orange foil away from a sticky granola bar. He eyed it, sniffed it, and then delicately bit off a tiny corner. He chewed, his gaze rising to the bright skylight. “Hmmm. Not bad. Certainly not as disgusting as some of the things your father brought home.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Cerulean maintained a steady gaze. “He told me that you had a particular taste for OldEarth brews.

Waving a finger, Sterling cracked a grin. “Teal had a rare knack for highlighting my weak spots.” He laid the remainder of the chewy bar on his desk and circled around to an open window with a large garden box attached to the edge.

A luxurious purple vine spread thick along the border and up the walls. Delicate pink flowers dotted the vine clusters creating an enchanting, almost luminescent contrast.

“You know, your father gave me this plant many seasons ago. I nearly killed it—accidentally of course. But he saved it. Like he saved so many.”

Cerulean shrugged. “Yet you never liked him.”

Teal twirled around, the edges of his eyes glowing a fiery red. “I loved your father as few ever could. Even your mother, bless her departed spirit, never really understood him.”

Strolling to the plant, Cerulean gently ran his fingers along the main stem, his gaze focused, his heart aching. “What did you understand?”

“Teal was a savior-type. Couldn’t help himself. He had to save everyone. Even beings that didn’t deserve his…devotion.”

“And that was wrong?”

Sterling pursed his lips. “Not wrong exactly—just made my job rather difficult.” He stepped closer to Cerulean and clasped his arm. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a savior alive?”

Cerulean locked eyes with Sterling. “Since he’s dead now, I can only assume it was an impossible task.”

Sterling closed his eyes and swayed back to his desk, landing on a plush chair. With a groan, he propped his head on one hand and stared at Cerulean, who still stood by the plant. “Don’t blame me, Cerulean. You know perfectly well I tried to talk him out of going…but—” His sigh rose high and strangled. “You know your father.”

Cerulean dropped his gaze, his shoulders dropping, his spirit caving. “Yes. He was  certainly determined.”

Sterling jumped to his feet, rubbing his hands like a man ready to change the topic if not the world. “So, tell me. Have you chosen a human to focus on?”

Pulling a datapad from a pocket, Cerulean strode to the desk, tapped the surface, and then laid it on the desk.

The picture of a young girl standing next to a slump-shouldered, grey-haired woman peered up.

Cerulean pointed. “Her name is Anne Smith. She’s only seven, but—” His gaze wandered across the room, over the vine, and out the window. “I don’t know. She seems to have an unusual strength of character. I’d like to see what life has in store for her and how she handles it.”

Sterling lifted the datapad and stared at the figures for a long moment. Then he glanced at Cerulean and handed it back. “Don’t get emotionally attached.”

“Being that she’s a human child and I’m a Luxonian adult, I hardly think that’ll be an issue.”

Sterling nodded through a snort. His eyes grew wide as he lifted the melted chewy bar and strands of caramel and chocolate dribbled across his desk. He swallowed and shook his head. “When are you going?”

“Tomorrow. I thought I’d visit my parents’ tombstones before I go.”

Sterling tossed the remainder of the bar into a wall depository, snatched a cloth off a shelf, and wiped his hands. “Odd practice. They’ve departed to the other side, yet you insist on raising a memorial. Why?”

“Parents and children—it’s a tie that can’t be broken.”

Sterling strode over to the purple plant, tugged a young vine free, roots and all, and placed it into Cerulean’s open palm. “Plant it between them.” He glanced up, and though he smiled, his eyes glinted in grief. “Remember to water it.”

Cerulean nodded and started for the door. Then he stopped and glanced back. “Though my father crossed a line—he cared too much—he didn’t care alone. Did he?”

Sterling swallowed and dropped his gaze.

Cerulean stepped over the threshold, and the door swished shut.

 

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 (In production)

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

Beyond the Scar

Lacy touched the ragged scar on her cheek and winced. The pain, long since faded, lingered only in her mind. “Z for Zorro.” She bit her lip. “No mask or mascara in the world can fix this, honey.”

“Mom?” Jason stood in the doorway and peered at the reflection of his mother.

She glanced in the mirror and met her son’s worried, forlorn eyes. “Nothing, kiddo. Just—” She couldn’t think of a quip fast enough. Lord, she was weary.

Jason stepped into the room. “It’s not so bad. I mean, you’d have to really look carefully to even notice.”

A laugh jerked in her middle, tumbling over the tears she wanted to free. “Yeah. It’s practically invisible.” A quick swipe and her eyes were nearly as dry as her tone. She turned around and squared her shoulders. “You ready?”

Jason lifted an armload of books and grinned. “Mr. Baxter will love these. Vintage Hardy Boys.”

Lacy ran her fingers through her son’s tumbled locks of curly hair. “No doubt. Being as rugged as the hills himself, he loves the old and familiar.” She grabbed her keys, swung her purse strap over her arm, and led the way to the bookstore.

~~~

A bell tinkled as Lacy entered. Old man Baxter glanced up from a table crowded with paperbacks.

Jason hustled ahead of his mom, a grin spreading wide across his face. “Look what I brought, Mr. Baxter.” He edged a stack of mysteries aside and placed the Hardy Boys securely in the center.

Mr. Baxter lifted one book, his gnarled hand clasping the cover with gentle care. Rifling through the first pages, he whistled low and glanced up at the boy. “These are a special find, son. Collectors always looking for vintage pieces.” His gaze strayed to Lacy.

On autopilot, Lacy offered a little wave. The scar seemed to stand out more when she smiled, so a flashed grin sped by.

Mr. Baxter rose with a nod. “So glad to see you’re up and about again. Car accidents—dreadful affairs.” He waved to the back of the room and swept his gaze to Jason. “I’ve something to show you.”

Jason jogged in the direction indicated, his eyes growing wide at the sight of a glorious double bass standing in the corner. “Oh, man! Can you play it?” He ran a finger along the polished curved wood.

Mr. Baxter ambled up grinning from ear-to-ear. Cradling the instrument in his arms, he hefted it out the back screen door and held the frame with his foot. “Come into the light, and I’ll play a little something.”

Jason jogged forward and slipped into the sunshine. Lacy, an ache tugging on her heart, stepped outside and backed into a shadow.

Mr. Baxter plucked the strings, his body swaying to a nightclub melody.

Blocking the bright light with her hand, Lacy watched her young son and old man Baxter as the music floated over the air like a sweet memory. Focusing on Mr. Baxter’s face, it suddenly seemed as if years evaporated: his eyes brightened, his mouth turned up in a happy grin, and his skin smoothed. The man stood in his prime, his back arched just so, his legs sturdy, his hands strong, and his vigor restored.

Swallowing back a gasp, Lacy blinked and dropped her hand. Jason and Mr. Baxter could be brothers, their love of books and music binding them stronger than the years that divided them.

As they returned to the car, Jason buckled himself in and glanced at his mom. “You okay?”

Lacy turned the key in the ignition, and the car roared into life. With one hand, she passed her fingers over the scar. “I never realized; we all have scars. Age brings them on in multitudes.”

Jason shrugged. “I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for.”

Lacy pulled into traffic and glanced aside. One eyebrow rose.

“Well, if you look beyond the scar, you might find happiness.”

Peering ahead, Lacy smiled.

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 (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Live With That

If Tally hadn’t been so frightened, she would’ve screamed. Without a coherent thought, she backed up, on tiptoes. One step. Two steps.

The huge, bright-colored snake lifted its head, its beady eyes staring right at her. Its wiggly tongue flickered out and in.

A quick glance, right and left, told Tally that no one could rescue her. Slowly, she took another step backward.

A faint peep behind her set her heart racing. Turning her head, she glanced from a baby bird and its broken nest back to the snake. Her stomach churned.

The snack sashayed to the left, arching its body; its beady eyes fixed on the baby bird.

A choking sob clutched Tally’s throat, tears started in her eyes. No.

The little bird hopped forward, unaware, cheeping innocently. Two grown birds fluttered to a nearby branch, squawking uproariously.

With a flash of red, the snake darted forward.

The parent birds screeched. The baby bird hopped madly.

“No!” Tally grabbed a rock, flung it at the snake’s head, turned and scooped the bird into her arms. She pelted away, the little bird fluttering in her fingers, her heart thudding against her chest. Scrambling up a tree, she nestled the baby bird in a wide crook and scampered down again. The parent birds flew near and scolded her.

Pounding steps turned her attention. Liam, her older brother, jogged toward her. “You hurt?”

Tally swallowed and gulped down heaving sobs. She pointed to the snake. “It wanted to kill the bird—but I saved it.”

Liam frowned at the sight of a red tail slithering under a bush by the creek. Liam’s frown darkened. “We can’t have him roaming around.” He glanced back to the house. “You go inside. I’ll take care of him.”

Tally glanced up. The parent birds were on the branch right above the baby bird.

Her brother’s gaze followed hers. “They’ll be all right. Birds know what to do.”

Tally turned to her brother. “Do they?” A sinking feeling etched a hole in her stomach. “I saved it today—but what about tomorrow?” She glanced at the woods and all the fluttering wings among the branches. “How about when I’m not here?”

Her brother’s gaze softened. He put his arm around his little sister’s shoulder. “You can’t save everyone.” He shrugged. “Even snakes gotta eat.”

“Do they?”

“To keep the natural balance. It’s how the world works.”

Tally shrugged off her brother’s arm and faced the house.

Liam frowned at her. “You okay? It didn’t bite you?”

Tally shuffled toward her home. “It didn’t bite, but it’s like I got poisoned anyway.” She glanced at three huddled birds. “At least that one will see another day.” She met her brother’s somber gaze. “I’ll have to live with that.”

~~~

Bhuaci village on the planet Helm

Dressed in a long, yellow nightdress, Yana tucked her pixie-looking little girl into a swaying hammock hanging from stout beams crisscrossing the ceiling. “You have a good time today? The Kazan zoo is world renowned.”

The child nodded and clutched a pink blanket close to her chest. “But the guide said that some animals have gone extinct. We’ll never see them again.”

Yana gazed into her child’s luminous blue eyes. “It’s true, I’m afraid. There’s a season for everything.”

“Will we go extinct?”

Yana’s eyes filled with tears. “There are not many of us left.” She shook her head. “We fall victim to trials and treachery from within…and without.”

“But couldn’t we just leave—go somewhere else where no one will bother us?”

Yana smoothed her daughter’s furrowed brow. “Survival is more than keeping the body alive—it means keeping the spirit alive as well. That is our greatest danger. We succumb to despair.”

“Then we must hope to live.”

Tears filled Yana’s eyes. “We have seen too much. Suffered too deeply”

“But I haven’t. I believe…we’ll live forever.”

Yana paused, her hand hovering over her daughter’s clenched fist. She brushed away a tear. “Perhaps you have the antidote to the poison in our world. To hope—even beyond despair.”

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 (In production)

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

photo:https://pixabay.com/en/baby-kids-cat-bird-child-3092097/

 

HeartBeats

Turning Points

So I was driving along a long stretch of country highway today, golden corn waving at me from each side, Italian music playing (Not mine—my daughter’s. I don’t know a word, but I enjoy the beat nonetheless. Maybe more. I feel the emotion without being told what to think.)

And as I swerve around ka-billion woolly-worms maniacally crossing the road, I notice out of the corner of my eye a long gravel driveway guarded by stone lions.

But that’s not what stops my heart. Between the stone lions is a little girl dressed in what must be her best dress—very colorful—dancing to her heart’s content.

I had just finished reading Michael Tabb’s new book, Prewriting Your Screenplay (Yes, while in the orthodontist’s waiting room. My kids don’t have perfect teeth—yet.) and I had reread the section on turning points.

Turning points.

Yep.

Characters in books and movies aren’t the only ones who have turning points. You. Me. The guy in line ahead of you at the store. The cafeteria lady at school. The UPS delivery person. Go on…. You know what I’m talking about. Turning points can be as simple as those moments that catch our eye—and our heart—and make us pause. Make us think. Make us feel.

What did I feel as I raced (Not speeding!) along the road, my heart beating to the rhythm of an Italian pop singer? I felt courage. The courage of whoever the heck put up those stone lions in the first place. The courage of a child dancing for all the world to see. The courage of farmers throughout the ages, daring to plant crops, no matter what the weather and the world might throw at them.

In our fractured world, knit together by the flick of a computer cursor, we have to hold our courage in our hands every day. What turning point caught your eye this week? What heartbeat touched yours?

Do I really care?

Yep.

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 (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Live Honestly and Follow Your Passion

“I could be prosecuted for imitating a seamstress.” Kim held up a slanted swimming suit skirt with an unfortunate black zigzag running down one side and blew a strand of hair out of her eyes.

Her mother, Janice, swept a spool of thread and needle into a desk drawer. “Megan is obsessed with swimming, not the suit. She won’t care if—”

“You’re making my point.” Kim rolled the suit into a ball and tossed it on a dusty wooden dresser. “She should care. I should care.” She winced. “The world will care.”

Janice strolled over and plucked the outfit off the dresser and shook it out. She eyed it critically. “Good thing you never became a surgeon.” With a shrug, she let it dangle in one hand. “I’ll buy her a new one. After all, she tore it while playing with the dog at my house.”

Kim snatched the suit back and hugged it to her chest. “No. I can’t afford to buy another suit, and you can’t afford to indulge her. She wasn’t supposed to be wearing it in the woods, much less racing with your volatile terrier. This might teach her a lesson about actions and consequences.”

Janice pursed her lips and strode from the room, talking over her shoulder. “You’re just being stubborn. There’s no reason in the world the child should wear a ragged outfit when I can afford to buy another without the least discomfort. I’d be happy to.”

Trailing after her mother, Kim stepped into the kitchen, swept around the island, and dashed to the refrigerator. “You want some ice tea?”

Janice glanced from the dishes in the sink to a dried ketchup splotch on the floor. “You really need to get someone who can help you clean up around here.”

Yanking the refrigerator door open, Kim grimaced. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Dave and I live simply. The kids study and play. Dave works and does his thing—” Her gaze flashed to the window and the half-finished swing set in the backward, over to the garage overflowing with bicycle parts. She swung the ice tea container to the table and slid it to the center.

Janice rose and daintily lifted two glasses off the drying rack. “You sell anything lately?”

Hefting a large ceramic cookie jar shaped like a gorilla to the table, Kim shrugged. “A portrait last week.” Her eyes brightened. “But one guy wrote up a really nice editorial about my work in the paper.” Setting the gorilla’s head aside, Kim shoved the jar next to the pitcher of ice tea.

The grandfather clock in the living room chimed three times. Kim glanced at the stovetop. A large metal pot with crusted tomato smudges on the side sat next to a cooling loaf of homemade wheat bread.

Janice followed her daughter’s gaze. “Chili? Again?”

Kim poured two glasses of tea and handed one to her mother. “Okay. I don’t sell much. Yet. I probably don’t even cover the cost of my paints, but we’re living within our means, and Dave and I believe in—”

“’Living honestly and following your passion’ Yes. I’ve heard it before.” Janice shoved her glass under the ice dispenser. It spat a few splinters of ice and stopped.

Kim rubbed the back of her sweaty neck. “We’re going to get that fixed in October.” She pointed to a bulletin board with a series of charts, graphs, and lists. “We have it all planned out. We’re getting the washer repaired at the end of the week because I’m not Amish enough to survive otherwise. We’ll get new tires for the car in September and deal with the icemaker in October.”

Janice sipped her tea. “You do realize that you won’t need ice in October.”

A large yellow bus squeaked to a halt on the street in front of the house.

Kim plopped a stack of paper napkins on the table and arrayed metal cups with handles around the pitcher of tea. She grabbed a gallon of milk out of the fridge and set it by the pitcher.

Four children pounded into the room, each one talking and no one listening.

Kim cracked a grin. Janice smiled.

The kids stopped, glanced from Kim to Janice, shut their mouths, opened their mouths, and ran to their grandmother. They chatted away as Janice patted their heads and pretended she could understand what they were saying.

~~~

Kim strolled down the dark driveway with her mother at her side. Muted sounds of a battle between daddy-monster and warrior-kids erupted in screams and occasional yelps from the house.

Janice pulled out her key and pressed the unlock button.

The car flashed its lights.

Kim strolled around to the driver’s side, opened the door, and stepped aside. “Thanks for coming, Mom. It’s always fun to have you visit.”

Janice leaned over the car door and caressed daughter’s face. “You’re a remarkable young woman, Kim.” Her eyes glimmered. “You’ve done better than I did.”

Kim’s jaw tightened. She swallowed. “It wasn’t your fault. Dad and—”

Janice waved her comment away. “It hardly matters now.” She rested her arms on the car door. “I always fixed everything. Tried to make life easy. I wanted the best for you too.”

Kim blinked back tears. “Comfort was never my God.”

Janice smirked. “No, you and Dave have chosen a less comfortable road.” She shrugged. “But I respect your choice.”

“Really? Or are you just trying to make me feel better?”

Janice ducked into the car and scooted into her seat. She glanced up as Kim came near. “I believe in you.” She smiled. “To prove it, I won’t buy Megan a new swimsuit. I’ll leave it to you.”

Kim grinned. “Good. I was planning on getting her one for Christmas.”

Janice laughed. “I don’t doubt it.” She closed the door, started the engine, backed out of the driveway, and sped away.

Kim stood on the sidewalk and peered into the dark night. Children’s laughter mixed with a man’s gruff monster voice brought a smile to her lips.

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 (In production)

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

A Fresh Thought

“For all the difficulty of philosophy seems to consist in this—from the phenomenas of motions to investigate the forces of Nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other phenomena…” ~Issac Newton

Robert sat hunched over a wooden table shoved against the wall of a dimly lit pub. He stared a cream-colored pamphlet and tugged his fingers through his hair, pulling a couple strands from his head.

Flames from a stone hearth sent a flickering glow across the smoky, half-filled room as voices murmured in a multitude of evening conversations.

A woman in a stained, serviceable dress strolled over and perched her hand on her hip, a damp rag gripped tight in her fist. “You’ll go blind, staring like that.” She tapped the page with one dismissive finger. “Not worth it, I say.” She hitched a thumb behind her. “Look at Henry. He’s got the right idea. Barkeepers make money hand over fist and sleep in comfortable beds.”

Henry, a thin, wiry man, polished a heavy mug and set it on the counter beside a stack of empty plates.

Robert lifted his blanched face and stared through red-rimmed eyes. “You don’t understand, Isabel. This is the greatest revelation to humanity since…I don’t know. Maybe since God created the world.”

A chuckle from across the room turned heads. A tall, hefty man rose from a barstool and sauntered near. “There’s them that can meddle in such things, and those who’d best keep their eyes on their work.”

Isabel nodded. “You tell ‘em, William. He won’t listen to me.”

William laid a meaty hand on Robert’s shoulder. “You pa’s looking for you, surely.”

Robert glanced from Isabel to William, the line of his mouth hardening. “Pa sent me to school to learn—he don’t want me to stop, just because times are tough.”

Grunting, William hitched his thumbs in his belt and straightened, throwing his head back like a man about to tell a tall tale. “Times are more than tough. Plague, fire, wars, and famine are constant companions. A man’s life is bitter and short.” He bent down and stared earnestly into Robert’s eyes. “Your pa is a dreamer but getting older by the day.” William whistled through a gap of a missing tooth. “I did my time aboard a ship, nearly died more often than I cared to count. But grace, hard work, and sticking to my business saved me.” He glanced aside, a wince of pain shooting across his face. “And those I cared about.”

Robert scowled. “And how were you treated for your service, William? Never honestly paid, were you? Was it right that so many good men died needlessly?”

Like a clap of thunder, William smacked the table, turning every head in the pub, his gaze hard and his eyes glowing. He spat his words. “That little book going to make the world more just? Going to give a man his rightful due?”

Her grip tightening, water dripped from Isabel’s rag, her gaze darted from William to Robert.

Robert shoved back his chair and rose. “If you mean, will knowledge pay a decent wage, no, probably not. But will it allow a man to feel like a man—to think like a man?” Robert closed the pamphlet and tucked it in his coat pocket. “Then, yes. Knowledge will give a man his due.”

William scratched his neck and shook his head, wrinkles crinkling at the corners of his eyes. “Never thought to say that the son of Giles Churchwarden was a fool, but if you spend all your days trying to understand the likes of that book, you’ve earned the title, make no mistake.”

From the back of the room, Henry lifted a mug and laughed. “We’ll come to the same end, Willie boy. Don’t begrudge the man his grand ideas. Twas a foolish God who thought of us, remember.” He beckoned Robert to the bar. “If you ever understand even a bit of it, share the likes with those of us who enjoy a fresh thought.”

Robert met the barkeeper’s gaze. “I’ll tend my pa’s farm during the day, but we’ll exchange a thought or two in the evening, Henry.” Darting a glance from William to Isabel, Robert crossed the threshold and stepped into the starry night. He sighed. “Life’s less bitter that way.”

~~~

A gigantic hall lit with hundreds of candles shone in reflected glory. Each piece of polished furniture gleamed and colorful tapestries hung from high ceilings, covering the stone walls. Two large trestle tables dominated the central space while a dais occupied the far end. Huge logs from full-grown trees blazed in the fireplaces at opposite ends of the room.

Shopkeepers, smiths, farmers, cow herders, carpenters, cobblers, fishermen, husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, serving women and serving men, bustled about, some eating, some chatting, some working, some resting from a long day’s work.

Dressed like a fine lord in a short white tunic and a flowing burgundy robe, a young, handsome-looking man sauntered beside his father and gazed around the room. “You must admit, it was a pleasant experience. There’s nothing like seeing them in their native environment to help us understand how to best care for them.”

His grey-haired father climbed the three steps to the jewel-encrusted throne and plunked down in apparent exhaustion. “I think you missed the man’s point, Omega.”

Omega chuckled and threw himself down on the smaller throne to the right of his father. “Which man?” He lifted his hand. “You mean Robert?” He tapped his fingers together steeple-style. “It’s true, I should give these beings more to think about. But—” He grinned. “They seem so content.”

“You save them from certain death, and they’re grateful. They play your game and live like this because they need you.” The old man stared at his son. “But remember what the barkeep said.”

Omega frowned. “He wanted a fresh thought now and again. That shouldn’t be too hard.” He laid his hand over his father’s. “You’re always coming up with fresh ideas, Abbas.”

The old man pursed his lips. “Robert remembered who created them.” Abbas beckoned to the serving man. “A stout ale for me and milk for my son.”

Omega scowled and opened his mouth, but Abbas interrupted.

“They may think that God is a fool for creating them free.” Abbas rubbed his temple. “But by far, more’s the fool who tries to keep them captive.”

Omega lifted his arms as if embracing the entire hall full of people. “They would’ve died on Earth. This may be a mirage—but it’s a good mirage. At least they’re alive.”

“Lies—even good lies—never satisfy for long. Remember Newton? There was a man who could not be satisfied with mere appearance.”

The serving man placed a golden tankard into Omega’s waiting hand.

Abbas drank deep and wiped his foamy lips with the back of his hand. “Best be careful, son. The turning of the human mind is no less startling than the turning of a planet. And a whole lot less predictable.”

 

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 (In production)

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

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