In the Souls of Those I Love

Since half my class was sick today, I decided to finish school early and do the next best thing—clean house. A good meal and a cup of hot tea were about the only offering that made any sense to sick kids, but disinfectant, a broom, and a mop brought peace to my soul.

As I worked through the house, bottom to top, de-cluttering as I went, I considered the reality of humble duty and the rightness of simple actions well done. It’s been said a thousand times that loving the little things makes for a quality life. And that was as true today as ever. But as the sun rose, peaked, and finally set, I sensed a release from the usual routine rush in my attention to minor details.

Like a child, I noticed each action, almost as if it were in slow motion. Perhaps I was just tired. Perhaps I was in a state of grace. I became drawn away from the madness of the daily grind and the need to hurry through whatever, toward a consideration of the people that I love. Smeared windows, mud on the floor, spills on the counter, crumbs across the table, dust everywhere, illness, and cranky moods are temporary. But each soul is unique and eternal, in growth—changing and developing—but alive beyond the lifetime of the stars.

As I sit here now and peer across a neat and tidy room, the lamp lit against the night sky, the fire crackling, my bookshelves straight, each pillow in its place, I admire the effect and the beauty of the moment. I also appreciate the quietness of kids in restful slumber, even the hamster as it runs on its wheel. Though I know that the dust will return and something will likely spill tomorrow, the beauty of this day will never be lost.

Laughter, smiles, conversation, kind deeds, and a gentle kiss will mark this day in its eternal place in history and in the souls of those I love.

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

My Love Is Strong

Wendy tripped over a block castle, fell against the counter, knocked the coffee maker askew, and apologized. “Whoops, sorry ‘bout that!” Grabbing a sponge, she quickly mopped up the spill and darted a worried glance at the wrecked castle.

Ginny, her six-year-old daughter, skipped into the room. “Who you talking to?”

Before Wendy could answer, Ginny’s gaze swept across the devastation of her former block-castle glory. Her eyes widened in fitful rage. “What’da do that for, Mom?”

“It was an accident, honey. You shouldn’t leave—”

“Hey!” A large, heavily built man with a close-cropped, brown beard sauntered into the kitchen. “You remember me?”

Wendy blinked as wrinkles spread across her forehead. Something on the edge of her frazzled memory sounded a weak alarm. “My husband—right?”

“Very funny.” Mitch tapped his watch. “We’re going out tonight—anniversary? Ring any bells?”

After swallowing back a gasp, Wendy clasped her hands together. “Yeah, I remember, but earlier—I forgot. I, sort of, invited Deirdre over for a cup of tea.” Wendy’s hands flew out imploringly. “Her life’s falling apart. I thought tea might help—somehow.”

Mitch pulled a cup from the shelf and poured out the coffee dregs. “It’ll take more than tea to fix that woman.” He took a sip and winced. “Sides, I asked for tonight first—about twenty years ago.”

Wendy nodded. “Of course. I’ve been looking forward to it. Did you get Keith off to his game?”

Mitch leaned against the counter and rubbed his jaw. “Like a happy gladiator going into battle. Scary actually.” He peered down at his daughter’s pensive face. Reconstruction was well underway. “Who’s watching—?”

Wendy froze. “Oh, my gosh!”

Heaving himself into a chair, Mitch sighed. “And I don’t suppose you have anything ready for dinner?”

Wendy peered at the ceiling. “The part of my brain in charge of dinner remembered about going out. The rest of my brain forgot.” She rubbed her eyes. “What do you think—early dementia?”

“Well, I did notice that you put Patrick’s jeans in my drawer. Wasn’t till I got stuck somewhere around the knees that I figured it out.” Mitch pursed his lips. “How does that kid stay so dang thin? I pay enough for the meal plan.”

Wendy slumped into the chair opposite her husband. “He’s not coming home like he used to—preoccupied. I think it’s a girlfriend, or—”

“He’ll never make it through college.” Mitch rubbed his forehead. “I should’ve just had him take up a trade.”

Wendy shrugged. “He’s used to having his own way. Perhaps if he fails—”

“Fails with my money!” Mitch glanced at his watch and stood. “I’ll order pizza, and we’ll make it an easy night. Maybe watch a movie or something.”

Wendy’s heart sank as she offered a brave smile. After her husband clumped out of the room, she peered at her daughter. “Time to clean up, honey. Daddy’s going to—”

“Can’t I leave it here—please? It took me so long to fix—after you messed it up.” Gina’s large brown eyes implored with every fiber of her being.

“Well, okay. I guess—”

A large, heavy-set woman bundled into the kitchen. “Lord, where’s that tea? I’m about done-in.”

Wendy’s eyes flashed from her friend to the kitchen door.

“Mitch let me in the front. There’s a ton of mud in your driveway—it’s not safe.” Deirdre plunked down onto a kitchen chair and dropped her head onto her hands. “I can’t take it anymore. Life is pure hell these days.” She peered up at Wendy who stood frozen in the middle of the room. “I’m thinking of ending it all.”

A rumble scoured across the heavens.

Wendy strolled to the window and peered at the dark, threatening sky. She bit her lip and glanced at Deirdre. “I hate to tell you, but tonight’s Mitch’s and my anniversary and—”

Deirdre dragged her limp body off the chair and staggered to a standing position. “I tell you I want to kill myself, and you toss me aside. Sure—I understand. Loving hubby needs you. Priorities.” With a shaky hand, she patted Gina on the head.

Gina glowered.

Lightning flashed, lighting up the descending gloom.

Deirdre shrugged. “Sweet kid.” She started toward the kitchen door, her foot knocking part of the block castle across the floor.

Gina wailed.

Deirdre clasped the door handle and looked back at Wendy, her eyes half-lidded. “You got it all. Lucky woman.”

Mitch’s voice called from the living room. “Hey, honey, you want sausage, pepperoni, or meat-lovers?”

Rain pelted the window.

When the phone rang, Wendy wasn’t the least surprised. In an automatic motion, she pressed the receiver to her ear. “Yes?”

Patrick’s voice whined across two state lines. “Mom, I’m sick. Can you come get me?”

Wendy’s gaze swept from Deirdre—still gripping the door handle—to her sniffling, miserable daughter, to her husband’s frowning face peering through the doorway.

“Mom?”

Wendy didn’t hear anything break, but she felt a snapping deep within. Her gaze darted to a crucifix on the wall. Standing completely motionless, only her eyes widened.

She gripped the phone more tightly. “Patrick, the college has a clinic open twenty-four-seven. Go there and see if they can help. Then call back and let me know.” She pressed the end button.

With a nod, she waved goodbye to Deirdre and watched her friend harrumph her way out the door.

Turning her attention to the block-strewn floor, Wendy pointed at her daughter. “Pick it all up—now—and not a word, or you’ll go straight to bed.” Her gaze swung to her husband.

Mitch started to back away.

“Let’s try something new—the Hawaiian or Taco—surprise me.”

~~~

As ragged clouds drifted across a waxing moon, Mitch wound his arms around his wife in the privacy of their bedroom. He peered through the dim light and grinned. “What got into you this afternoon—I hardly knew you.” He chuckled. “Scared everyone—even me.”

Wendy slid her fingers down her husband’s bare, muscular arm, her eyes radiating a serious glow. “When I looked at the crucifix—I heard a voice inside my head.”

With a startled jerk, Mitch fixed his gaze on his wife. “What did it say?”

Wendy sucked in a deep breath and enunciated each word carefully. “‘I said meek—not weak.’”

Mitch loosened his hold over his wife and swallowed. “Am I in for it now?”

Wendy giggled, leaned forward, and kissed her husband. “My love is strong.”

Grinning, Mitch pulled his wife into a tight embrace. “Lord, have mercy.”

 

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 

Don’t Miss a Day

Kenny stared down at his sleeping grandson. His hand trembled as he pulled the cover over the boy’s thin shoulders. “You’ll be alright. It’s not a reflection on you. Not about you at all.” Slowly, he leaned over, and his arm shook as his weight descended. He bent low and kissed the child on the cheek. “Bye, my boy. We’ll meet again someday.”

Shuffling into the kitchen, Kenny snapped on a light and a yellow glow brightened a country décor with wood cabinets, hanging herbs, and matching blue and green striped towels. He pulled open the refrigerator door and rummaged about, looking for possibilities.

“Your appetite back, Dad?” A tall man with a swath of black hair—a younger version of his father—stepped to the counter and plopped down on a stool. He rested his head on his hands, his eyes red and strained, pain peeking up from their depths.

“It never left—my stomach just got bewildered for a bit.” Tucking a beer under his arm, Kenny balanced a plate of cold chicken in one hand and squeezed a bag of biscuits in the other. After arranging the food on a napkin, he settled down on a stool across from his son. “Want some?”

The younger man waved the offer away. “So—you sure you want to go through with it?”

Kenny bit into a fried chicken leg and chewed, his gaze roaming the room and stopping on a bright orange clock in the shape of an oversized chicken head. “I remember when your mother gave you that. Cindy hated it—don’t deny it. I told Evelyn that such a monstrosity would only perpetuate the evil mother-in-law myth, but—well—you know your mother.”

A flickering light flared to life as the young man grinned at his dad. “Cindy loves it. A conversation piece that never fails. Gains sympathy ever time.”

Kenny chuckled as he wiped his scraggly chin. A two-day-old beard scratched noisily against the paper leaving white specks on his face. He took a long swig of his beer and shoved the chicken aside. “I’m not going through with anything. That’s kinda the point. I’m letting nature take its course. What will be—will be.” Picking up the biscuit, Kenny waved it absently. “Let it go, Tom. Just let it go.”

Tom’s leg began to bounce as he tapped his fingers together. “Listen, if you won’t take the treatment—at least stick around here awhile. I can help you—”

Slapping his hand on the counter, Kenny snapped. “No! Don’t you see? It wouldn’t work. I’ll fall apart just the same. Slow or fast. What’s the difference? It’s not just about you, my boy.” Raising his shaking hand, he pointed to the doorway leading to his grandson’s room. “Remember Davy? I don’t want his last memory of me being a filthy, decrepit old man hooked up to tubes and wires.” His eyes filled with tears. “Or you either—for that matter.” He shoveled his food onto the napkin and wrapped it into a tight ball. He shoved it toward his son. “I’ll eat later.” Easing off his stool, he headed for the door. “God to take me soon. I’ll not step one foot in His way.”

Tom’s head dropped to his chest, his eyes squeezed tight.

~~~

A bright morning sun sent brilliant dust-speckled beams through the kitchen, revealing a different side to her nature. Cindy waved to her little boy through the window as he boarded a yellow school bus.

He waved back, his mittened hand a smidgen of red on the snow-covered road.

Cindy turned and slid a bowl of hot oatmeal across the counter.

With quick steps, Tom hurried into the room slipping his arms into a heavy winter coat. “Why didn’t you wake me earlier? I’ve got to meet the guys and then—”

Cindy waved her husband toward the door. You’ve got plenty of time. George will have donuts and that horrible fake juice waiting—don’t you worry. It’s what he lives for.”

After a swift peck on his wife’s the cheek, Tom headed out the door.

Cindy shook her head. “Men.”

Tom poked head back through the open doorway. “You’ll keep an eye on Dad? He’ll have to be ready to go by one.”

With a nod, Cindy ushered her husband on his way.

Kenny lumbered into the room and plunked down on the stool. He peered from the hot cereal to Cindy.

After slinging a towel over her shoulder, she grabbed a jar of brown sugar and slid it in his direction.

“Tom off?”

Cindy nodded and started folding yesterday’s laundry. She peered up and watched Kenny slurp his cereal in cautious sips. “You know, Davy will be crushed when he finds you’ve gone.”

Kenny’s fingers clenched around the spoon. He laid it down and stared his daughter-in-law into oblivion. “I got to do what I got to do. Davy don’t need to see me all ragged and—”

Her chin jutting a mile from her face, Cindy gripped the back of a chair. “Yes. He. Does.” She pounded across the room and stood up to the old man, peering into his watery blue eyes. “Listen to me you ragged, wreck of a man. That boy loves you not one bit less for being rough around the edges. And your son is crushed under by your doubt.”

“I don’t doubt him. I just want to spare—”

Cindy sucked in a shuddering breath. “Long past that, Kenny.” She straightened her shoulders. “Listen to me. You’re on the brink of stepping off a cliff. I get that. You’re facing the end of your journey here, and you have the right to decide your treatment—or non-treatment. But you don’t have the right to tell your family to act as if nothing bad is happening—as if this isn’t tearing our hearts out. Because. It is. Ragged or no ragged.” Snatching up the towel, Cindy ran it along her eyes, wiping away tears.

Kenny stared into the air. “I just can’t bear it. It’s bad enough that Evelyn has to stand by and watch. How can I handle an audience?” Kenny laid his head in his clasped hands; his elbows perched on the counter. “God, I just wish it were over.”

Cindy stepped over and wrapped her arms around Kenny’s thin shoulder. She laid her head on his shoulder. “What did Evelyn say when you told her you wouldn’t stay?”

“Called me a coward—but I had that right. Said I could slip into the dark night anyway I want.” Kenny laid one hand on Cindy’s and let his head rest against hers. “That’s how much she loves me. She’ll let me go in peace.”

Cindy straightened up and stepped away. She pointed to the clock on the wall. “You know, at first I hated that thing. But after a while, I didn’t see the ugliness—I just saw the love that Evelyn intended.” She returned to her laundry. “Life is full of ugly. Davy already learned that when my brother, Uncle Ben died. Car accidents are ugly—let me tell you.” Laying a pair of worn jeans aside, she peered over at Kenny. “If you can’t face ugly in this world, you’ll never get to see the beauty beyond it.”

Kenny peered across the room, his gaze resting on the stack of jeans.

“Don’t let Davy miss a day—even if it’s got some ugly in it.”

~~~

A spring breeze blew across the graveyard, sending a shower of white, cherry blossoms wafting through the air.

A nine-year-old boy in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt stood in front of a shiny monument standing guard over of a fresh mound of earth. He tilted his head to one side.

Tom ambled up and laid his arm on his son’s shoulder. “It’s time to go. You have your chat?”

Davy turned and took his father’s hand. “Yeah. I told him that I like his monument. I think he’ll like it too.”

A quizzical smile quivered on Tom’s lips. “Any reason in particular?”

Davy swung around and started home. “Well, you know. It’s so clean and handsome—like grandpa.”

 

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

Edge of Life

Excerpt from Ishtar’s Redemption—Trial by Fire

Oldearth @3000 BC

The sun rose hazily into the sky. Clouds swirled with the red glow of an angry firmament that bespoke of troubles in the heavens. A sharp breeze with sudden, intermittent fierce gusts, tussled the pine trees as they groaned in warning. The ground, hard as a rock, made Ishtar’s toes bleed.

He looked down at his torn skin and clothes with neither fear nor pain. His clothes rippled as mere rags of their former selves. Their tattered remnants hung loosely about him as if they, too, might sail off into the wild wind. His long hair blew over his face, obscuring his vision. The howling wind through the heavy pine boughs sent a thrill through his body. It had been long since he had eaten anything sustaining, though he would stop at intervals to sip at a stream before he passed over.

In shock, he had moved like a man in a dream. The wild beasts howled in the dark, starless nights, and he simply walked or sat as one awaiting the comforting embrace of death. Yet death did not come. Even pain did not come. Sorrow did not fill his heart as he thought it would. He felt nothing, and he cared for nothing. He wondered if he had, in fact, become nothing. Was he still a man or had his shadow engulfed his very being?

Time seemed to slow as he paced out his measured steps. He slipped on an incline and instinctively grabbed hold of a branch to steady his balance. He climbed for time uncounted. Finally, the fog-ridden landscape cleared, and to his utter amazement, he looked out at an enormous expanse which lay before him. After a few entranced moments, he peered at his torn feet and realized with the first sensation of fear that he was standing with his toes pointing over a mighty cliff. If he were to take one more step, he would be over the edge and fall to his death. He blinked and stared hard at the view that presented itself to him.

There were mountains in the distance, which dwarfed the hills he had already ascended. Purples, blues, and pinks vied with one another to create a rainbow landscape. It was breathtakingly beautiful. In all his travels, he had never seen anything so magnificent.

Suddenly, he became aware of tears coursing down his cheeks. His legs hurt, and his feet bled more freely. He curled his toes around the rocky ledge.

Looking up, he could see where the sky and the mountains met. Birds swirled about in the heights. They tipped like leaves that swirl in a storm, yet they seemed to be enjoying their flight as they crisscrossed one another in innocent delight.

Ishtar gently brushed the hair from his eyes. He stared up, turning his gaze from the depths that beckoned to him. The birds danced for him alone, and he wondered for an uncounted time if his life had any meaning. Suddenly, and with incredible clarity, he could see a vision of his lost servant, Pele, swaying before him as if she were able to soar like the birds but had stopped momentarily to gaze upon his troubled figure. She did not speak, but he sensed she had said something. A faint message carried through the rough voices of the harsh wind.

“You live, Ishtar. Begin again.”

Ishtar’s eyes widened at the message as well as at the messenger. Begin again? How could he live again among decent men? He was an exile, an outcast forever. He was no longer a man. He was twice cursed. How many lives could a single man enjoy? Was redemption possible after such a fall?

The birds faded into the horizon even as his vision of Pele paled into nothingness. Yet his memory replayed her words in all their fullness. He stared at the now blue and white sky. His hand rose to his face; he wiped away fresh tears and took one step backward.

~~~

Bhuaci transmission from Oldearth to planet Helm

Dear Cadenza,

I’m sorry.

What else can I say? You know my life and fortune as well as any Bhuaci this side of the Divide, but you must believe me when I tell you—I have changed. Being exiled on this primitive planet has taught me to value our world like nothing else ever could. Humans are warlike and ferocious, but they have subtle sensibilities, ones never guessed by the Regent of Song, or she would never have sent me here. Little did she know what a favor she bestowed upon my poor, pathetic, meaningless life.

For uncounted solar cycles, I have followed the trials of a youth named Ishtar. His father—a monster beyond my powers of description—could not destroy his soul. The boy—a man now—has grown into a being endowed with true spirit. He almost took his life, as I had wished to take my own so many times. But he stepped back from doom. As I hope I shall, too, someday.

Here is a song—to remember me. My body grows faint, and I will never return to Helm. But I do not fear the future—for I see now—there has always been a life of meaning just beyond my sight. Joy may be mine in the morning.

Cliff-edge—knife-edge,

I stand upon a shore—facing sunset’s door.

Never the same as yesterday,

Straining for tomorrow.

Living on a promise,

Someone else must borrow.

I never paid my way,

Or earned my daily wage.

Life’s bounty freely offered,

Freely turned away.

Useless, pointless, heartless

Barren, broken land.

But

Death turned my hand,

Set me firmly on the sand.

To ponder whose life I live,

And what I’m prepared to give.

Now exiled in a world of strife,

I found my way at last.

Live a chosen life,

Step beyond my past.

Cliff-edge—Knife-edge

I stand upon a shore

Forgive me—love,

For loving, I will be.

Facing sunset forever,

Living by the sea.

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 Minehttp://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

Winter Irony

Barren branches against a pregnant sky,

Rustling leaves only sigh.

 

Soft flakes fall upon a hard ground,

In multitudes—without a sound.

 

Frozen blanket of icy snow,

Warm the burrows of those below.

 

Chilled bones hinder the will,

Yet glories roam the landscape still.

 

Ponder beauty from above,

As echoes mirror ancient love.

 

Unwelcoming winter may be,

Bringing joy, our eyes to see.

 

Ironic season of buried dreams,

Awakens our souls to hope unseen.

 

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

High

Hating Libby Lawrence wasn’t just self-defense, it was an undiluted, adrenaline high with a clean conscience. In the fifth-grade, Libby personified a “mean-girl” before the term had become popular. From the first day when she ordered me with a sneer and a glare to sit on the left of our shared desk, promptly told the teacher that I smelled bad, and scribbled a black line through my book report, I knew she and I would never get along. Unfortunately, since I was short, thin, and timid, I didn’t stand a chance. To boot, I stopped growing that year. Thanks to some kind of miraculous providence, her parents moved away, and I started growing again.

But from then on, even into my adult years, the name Libby sent chills down my spine. I tried to control my fury when my brother decided to name his first daughter Libby after some relation on his wife’s side. I didn’t care how great the relation; no child deserved to be stuck with such a moniker. Despite my best on-my-knees entreaties, he went forward with his malicious scheme, but to my surprise, the child grew up to be a pretty decent kid.

Years later, when my dream-teaching job opened up in my hometown, I only paused for a brief moment when my eyes tripped over the principal’s name—Libby Macintosh. Couldn’t be the same. After all, the Libby I knew could hardly control herself, much less a whole school.

I steeled myself for the long-distance phone interview from California to Wisconsin. I had taught five years at LA Unified and felt that if I didn’t get an infusion of the four Midwestern seasons soon, I’d dry up and wither away. I also missed my family and Lake Michigan. What’s an ocean I hardly ever saw—much less touched—to a lake that’s got miles of open beachfront?

The interview went well. Ms. Macintosh was courteous and clear. She had a third-grade vacancy that needed to be filled for the autumn term. She wanted someone with experience who would be willing to take on a few extra duties as need be. The lack of specificity about the “other duties” worried me, but the school’s location—just five miles from my parent’s home and three miles from Lake Shore Drive—attracted me like a puppy to an untied shoelace. Daily runs along the lake and easy visits with my elderly parents would be worth a few extra duties. My spirits rising, I felt confident enough to ask a couple of personal questions. “You’re a native of Wisconsin? Been a principal long?”

Yes and no was about all Ms. Macintosh had time for that day, but she kindly referred me to her Facebook page where we could connect—if I felt so inclined. Picturing myself on the cover of a Nancy Drew mystery novel, I quickly accepted the offer and gave her my email address so she could send me specifics on the school and the position. I would send my updated resume to her by return email. End of interview.

If it hadn’t been for a series of life crises involving a misfit kitten, an exploding dryer, and an elderly neighbor’s cries of distress, I would have put on my detective cap that same day. But as it was, it took me the weekend to get my life in order and my laptop to cooperate. Finding Ms. Macintosh wasn’t hard. What was hard was swallowing back was my horror at seeing those all-to-familiar green eyes, that pugnacious nose, and the jutting jaw that could clip a hedge.

If my mom hadn’t called at that moment, I would have turned off my computer and made a run for the nearest Dairy Queen—despite the fact that it was nearly eleven miles away.

My voice was a slight bit shaky, though I tried to cover myself. Still, moms have a way of noticing.

“You alright, honey? You sound out of breath.”

“I—I’m fine. Just—you know—busy. With stuff.”

Well, mom was never one to mess around on a long distance call even though she’s got a package deal that—never mind. She got to the point.

“Your father’s birthday is next week. And he’s not getting any younger.”

I could clearly drop my Nancy Drew persona. No detective needed here.

“Well, the plane ticket is pretty expensive, and I want to set up a few interviews before I—”

“Didn’t you have a phone interview this week?”

“Uh, yeah….”

“Well, then, just come home, check in on your poor, aging parents, and stop by the school. Never hurts to show a little interest. Besides, it’s a lot harder to turn someone down when you’ve met them in person.”

I pictured Libby’s furious glare framed by flapping, black ponytails as she pushed herself into my space with a whirling fist at her side. Somehow, I didn’t think she had any trouble turning people down. She probably arranged interviews for the sheer joy of knocking prospective hopefuls on their backsides.

“I bet she even sent you an invitation for an in-person interview. They do that, you know. Have you checked your email lately?”

As surprise and anxiety played touchdown football with my innards, my hand reflexively clicked to my email. A cold shock ran through my body when I saw the subject line— Invitation from Principal Macintosh.

I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation, but I do know that mom had a list of airline specials for the coming week.

Getting home, celebrating dad’s seventieth birthday, catching up with my brother and his brood of three rapscallions, kept me busy over the weekend. I actually slept for a few hours each night—after highlighting plans for a perfect revenge.

On Monday, I dressed in my most professional, intimidating gray suit with matching heels and I toted my very expensive, leather briefcase. I dearly hoped she was an animals’ rights activist and was deeply offended by my insensitivity. I sniffed back disdain till my sniffer was sore. I had a childhood score to settle, and I had not an iota of an intention of accepting the job. I wanted to see her in person, and after she reviewed my sparking work record, my laudable service in Peace Corps, my glowing endorsements, I would slap her offer into the dust. Only then would I remind her of her left-hand seatmate in fifth grade. And, yes, the past can come back to haunt you.

Why I felt the need to torture myself with a quick detour at the lake, I don’t know. I stood on the grassy shore, sucking in lung-fulls of invigorating lake scent and hoped that Libby hadn’t grown much taller since our last meeting. Her Amazonian height was still an issue to contend with. Reviewing the many trials and experiences I had had since fifth-grade, I wondered—briefly—if I wasn’t letting my childhood mini-trauma get the better of me.

When I saw a little girl and a bully of a big sister pull the child along like a rag doll—my burning resolve reformed itself. No! Justice demanded an honest accounting. I would face this haunting humiliation—or die trying.

Marching up the steps, I passed a group of middle school kids texting one another. I didn’t even shake my head. It wasn’t worth the effort.

I gripped my briefcase, tapped the intercom, got permission to enter, pushed open the wide, front door, charged down the green and yellow hall—my heels clacking officiously—and entered THE OFFICE. It was empty. Since it was going on five o’clock, I hadn’t expected a crowd, but I was surprised by the stillness.

There was a counter with a little bell. I looked around, cleared my throat, stared at the half-opened door labeled Principal’s Office, and tapped my fingers on the counter. Nothing. Finally, in sheer desperation, I tinkled the stupid bell. A call from the office informed me that Ms. Macintosh was in.

“Coming.”

I squared my shoulders and straightened my back. Five foot four inches would only take me so far, but I had every intention of making the most of what I had. Deciding that I didn’t want to appear too interested, I strolled to the wall and glared at the bulletin board.

I heard an odd sound and a horribly familiar voice. “Oh, hi! You’re early. I like that. Thanks for coming, Grace.”

I turned, my eyes lifted high to meet those green orbs, but there was nothing there. Until I dropped my gaze. Sitting in an automated wheelchair was the shrunken visage of my childhood tormentor. I tried to control my intake of breath, but honestly, I could have sucked in the whole of Lake Michigan.

Adding a layer of bizarre on top of my shock, Libby Macintosh didn’t seem even remotely surprised. She just waved me toward her office. “Come on in. It’ll be more comfortable for both of us.”

Since walking was about the only way I could cross the room, and collapsing into a heap didn’t seem like a viable option, I followed.

With expert swiftness, she swiveled her metallic armature into place behind her desk, waved to the empty chair, and beamed at me.

“So how long has it been, Grace? Gosh, it’s got to be nearly eighteen years.”

Yes, my jaw did drop all the way to the floor. Stunned, I could hardly speak. Finally, trying to hide my shaking hands, I squeezed them into my lap, my shiny, leather briefcase forgotten on the floor where it fell when I landed in the chair. “You—you remember me, Ms.—?”

A waving hand and a disarming smile deflected my question. “Oh, not at first. Your mom came by my office a few weeks ago. She helps out in the library, you know. She’s the one who told me that you were looking to relocate. It wasn’t until she brought along a grade school yearbook and showed me your picture that I put two and two together.”

I honestly believe that my brain melted at that moment. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. The impulse to get up and walk out the door was the only idea that made even the slightest sense, but before I could arrange my synapses to fire coherent messages to my skeletal system, Libby chuckled.

With bubbling giggles, she wagged a finger at me. “Do you remember what a brat I was? Gosh, I was terrible. I used to go out of my way to make everyone miserable.” Suddenly, her laughter died as she dried her damp eyes. “But God got my attention.” She gestured to her emaciated legs and the wheelchair in a comprehensive sweep. “Car accident. Just a couple years later. My dad was killed and my mom never got over the loss—or my crippled legs. She took to drinking. I ended up living with my grandma.”

Blinking back sudden tears, I clasped my head with both hands before it exploded. “I doubt God wanted that.”

Libby nodded with a slow smile. “You’re right. He didn’t. But it changed my life. My parents were troubled people. I was a nasty kid, and I would have grown-up to make a lot of people miserable. But Grandma had a faith that could move mountains, and she taught me to use a wheelchair. She also taught me to think about others and to use my newfound understanding to better the world.”

Libby wheeled herself around the desk and arrived on my left. Reaching out, she clasped my hand in hers. “Can you forgive me for being such a wretched brat? I’m sure you must still carry some hurt for the things I did.”

I couldn’t wipe my tears way fast enough.

She scooted her wrecked body aside, pulled a clean tissue out of a hidden pocket, and handed it to me. “I always keep some handy. Never know.” She smiled through glimmering eyes.

Sniffing what was left of my composure under control, I met her gaze. “You know, I came here to teach you a lesson—to show you that I had always been better than you thought. I wanted—” I couldn’t go on. It all seemed so pathetic.

Libby squeezed my hand—comfortingly. “You know, when I realized who you were, I went out of my way to ask your mom to follow up with you. I was so grateful for this chance. There were a lot of people I hurt but thank God, there are a lot of people I help now. And I just thought it would be rather grand—if after our miserable past—that as adults we could work together for the next generation. Would you like to do that, Grace?”

~~~

I worked with Libby for twenty-two years until she had a debilitating stroke and had to retire. She asked me to take over as principal, and the school board unanimously agreed. During those years, and every autumn after, we’d start the term with an assembly, retelling the story of our fifth-grade animosity and how, in later life, we became good friends who loved kids and cherished the future.

In the end, loving Libby was the best high I ever had. I have no plans to come down.

~~~

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

Good Deed

Richard Tyler knew his own mind. After dashing from his job at the gym to his mom’s house, he breezed through the kitchen door with all the confidence of an Academy Award winner.

His mom’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I thought you were having lunch with Kimberly.”

Despite the August heat, Richard shivered. “She decided she needs to ‘reevaluate her priorities.’” He shrugged off his discomfort. “Guess that includes lunch.”

His mom’s gaze swiveled from her baloney and cheese sandwich set neatly on a plate with a modest mound of chips on the side—to Richard. She slid the plate across the table. “Here. Sit and eat before your class.” She crossed to the stove and stirred a pot of tomato soup.

Richard plunked down in the chair, grabbed the sandwich, and chewed with a faraway look in his eyes.

After pouring the soup into a ceramic mug, his mom slid into a chair across from Richard. “You know, she’s only nineteen, in journalism, and you’re a bit older, wanting to be an actor—”

Richard stiffened; a frown burrowed across his forehead. “What? Like I’m not really an actor, and she’s looking for honest work?”

Mom stirred her soup as she stared into its swirling, red depths. “You might try to see things from her point of view. I mean, she’s—”

Richard shot to his feet scattering breadcrumb across the table. “Totally selfish and doesn’t know what she’s doing. Journalism? Ha! Not an ounce of life experience, and she thinks she’ll wake up the world’s conscience. Yeah, right.”

Mom stared at the cup, searching for wisdom. She responded with a shrug.

With a fretful glance at his watch, Richard started for the door. “I gotta go. We ‘re having a guest director today—said to be brilliant. Might make a good connection.”

The screen door slammed as it closed behind him. Mom wiped up the crumbs.

~~~

As Richard leaned back in his theater chair, he had to stifle a yawn. The room was stuffy, and the new director had been introducing himself for almost an hour. Suddenly, he felt a jolt charge through his body.

“Hey, you, kid with the big chin and blue eyes.”

Richard sprang to his feet.

The director waved him onto the stage. “Come here. I want to demonstrate a point.”

Without hesitation, Richard sprang forward and landed lightly before the rotund, thin-lipped director. “Okay. Listen carefully. You’ve just climbed out of a car wreck, people milling about—horror everywhere. You got a broken rib or something.” He pointed to the stage. “Show me.”

Dropping to his knees, Richard writhed in pain, moaning. He scrambled forward on one arm, the other clutching his middle. His eyes squeezed shut, he rocked and—”

“Stop! Enough. You’ve made my point.”

Panting from his exertion, Richard climbed to his feet, his eyes darting over the other students who studied him with uncertain expectation, waiting to be told whether he deserved approval or scorn.

The director flung a disenchanted arm in Richard’s direction. “I see the same thing all the time—day after bloody day. Actors who forget they aren’t alone. People! It’s not all about you. Remember your audience! They pay for the tickets.”

As Richard stepped into the strong afternoon light, he blinked in near blindness after the hours in the theater’s semi-darkness. He felt lightheaded and needed a drink. Starting across the street toward a fast-food stand, he heard a familiar voice.

“Hey, Richard, wait up.”

With a groan, Richard turned and faced his girlfriend. “Hey, Kimberly.”

Kimberly shifted a stack of books onto her left arm. “Sorry about this morning. I was…I needed some air. Got some bad news.” She glanced up and intercepted Richard’s glazed stare. “My dad’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, stage four. Not much time left.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m going to focus on him awhile.” She nodded to her shoes to see if they agreed.

Richard’s gaze fell on the top of her bowed head. “Dang waste.” He clenched his jaw as his mind went completely blank.

Kimberly shook her head. “At least, we have a chance to say goodbye.” She leaned forward and kissed Richard’s cheek. “Good luck—in everything.” Her books stacked in her arms, she turned and trotted across the street.

~~~

Later that evening, Richard jogged around the campus track listening to music through his earbuds. Nausea and malaise seeped throughout his body and soul, burying him deep in gloom. Running as fast as he could, he scowled at the realization that the sensation grew in proportion to his desperation.

Skidding to a halt, he sucked in deep lung-fulls of air. Words, images, impressions kept intruding even as he stared across the dimming horizon. He imagined himself driving along the coast, the windows down and the music loud, accompanied by a gorgeous sunset dispelling the evils of the day. He trotted across the street from his parked car and halted.

A teen, plump with rumpled hair and sagging shoulders, was standing between his beautiful, red car and a battered, old truck. A ragged scratch scarred his car’s shiny exterior. Richard closed his eyes, lifted his head back, and smothered a scream. Finally, he squared his shoulders and marched forward.

The kid glanced over and caught sight of Richard. He wavered between evasion and a complete meltdown.

Taking long strides, Richard’s gaze flashed from the truck to his damaged car.

The kid, now nearly in tears, lifted his hands. “Sorry, mister. It’s all my fault. I’m new at parallel parking—always been a nightmare in driver’s ed.” He scanned Richard’s car wistfully and shoved his glasses further up his nose. “My mom’s got insurance, and I’ll pay with my own money too. So stupid. I should’ve gone to the lot up the street.”

Though the light was failing, Richard’s vision cleared. He swallowed back a rising ache and blinked in hesitation. “Listen, it’s no big deal. I got a friend who works in a body shop, and he owes me. He’ll fix this up in a couple minutes, and it’ll be as good as new. Don’t worry about it.”

The eye-popping relief on the kid’s face tightened Richard’s throat to a searing ache. He sniffed, regaining a semblance of cool composure—the best acting he’d done all year.

~~~

It was nearly midnight when Richard slipped into his mom’s dark kitchen. He plunked down on a chair and laid his head on his arms. A warm hand clasped his shoulder. He didn’t need to look up.

“You okay?”

Richard shook his head and groaned. He sat back and stared through the darkness at his mom’s rumpled figure in her long, shapeless bathrobe. “The director made me look like a fool, Kimberly showed me I was a fool, and some kid I don’t even know gave me a shot at redemption.”

His mom chuckled and sat down, her hand sliding over his. “You know, one good deed deserves another.”

Richard pressed his other hand on top of hers and grinned with the first joy he had felt all day. “It does.”

~~~

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