Writers Helping Writers

Our group meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Sierra Vista Public Library. We give each other encouragement, share ideas, and learn the craft of writing together. Knowledgeable people sometimes give presentations on important topics, such as publishing versus self-publishing. There are times we do a round-table writing project: Each person has 5 minutes to start a story, then this is passed to the next person and continues until everyone has contributed to the story. Sometimes we are assigned a writing project to be read aloud and discussed at our next meeting.

December 13, 2023

When my writing group met last month, we were asked to write a Christmas story for this meeting. I had written a short memoir about Christmas several years ago and thought I would just share it with our members. I wanted to focus on my fourth novel. But…this bizarre story popped into my mind. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away. Subconsciously, I guess I wanted to prove to I can write something other than historical fantasy. LOL

Tina

Christmas Day – Age 13

Dear Diary,

This is Tina. Well actually my name is Christina, but my parents call me Chris which I really dislike. My troubles began about six months ago. You could say it started with the onset of puberty. Suddenly, I craved carbs. Cake. Donuts. Pies. Potatoes in any form. I went from slightly plump to a tubby blob within weeks.

Yesterday was the worst one ever. Mom spent all day rolling out dough, lathering it with melted butter, then spreading a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar. Expecting ten people for breakfast, she made three large pans of sweet rolls, two loaves of raisin bread, and a coffee cake. The aroma of it baking made my mouth water. Irresistible! I snuck out of bed last night. I was only going to have one roll. Nibbling, one led to another, then another. Before I realized what I had done, every delectable bite was gone!

Mom’s tear-streaked, disappointed face told the story. She didn’t chastise me. Instead, she said, “What can I do? How do I feed thirteen people in an hour?”

“How about your delicious baked apple pancakes?” I rummaged in the fridge for the bag of McIntoshes. “There’s enough here for that. I’ll peel and slice while you make the batter.”

Christmas breakfast was awkward, though Mom didn’t tell them what I’d done. It was our relatives’ comments that upset me. Each one saying, “My, you’ve really put on weight,” as they hugged me. I did not need to be told this! How cruel of them to make such a remark.

We attended church after everyone left. Once home, I sat on the floor next to the decorated tree and broached a subject that had bothered me for months. “Mom, Dad, why am I so different? The other kids tease me. Why don’t I look like either of you?”

Dad is 6 feet 4 inches with sandy brown hair and green eyes. Mom is almost as tall with straight brunette hair and hazel eyes. Curly platinum hair with blue eyes, I stand at less than 5 feet.

Dad looked at Mom then cleared his throat. “You’ll soon have a growth spurt. I was only a little over your size when I started high school. I suggest you ignore their teasing, and they’ll soon stop.”

Mom only nodded. Diary, they are good people, but I just don’t fit in. Today is my birthday, and I hoped for more. More of what I cannot say.

Independence Day – Age 14

Dear Diary,

I am so confused. Nothing seems to make sense. My voice has deepened and sometimes cracks. While I have grown, it was only three inches taller and not any slimmer. Mom gave me an electric razor to shave my legs when my menstruals began last year. But now my cycles have stopped. Today, I used the razor, not on my legs, but on my face! Afraid my long facial hairs would be visible by the light of the fireworks.

I moved all of my dresses to the rear of the closet today. I much prefer wearing baggy sweatshirts and jeans. I guess I had better learn to like the name Chris!

August 2nd

Dear Diary,

Writing in you seems such a girlish thing to do. Today, Mom took me to a specialist who described me as an intersex. The female doctor suggested hormone shots, but I don’t want to be subjected to those. So, I guess I must resign myself to being a boy named Chris.

Labor Day – Age 16

Dear Diary,

I avoid my classmates as much as possible, even eating my lunch inside the janitor’s closet. Sophomore year has been even worse than last year. Last week, I asked Mom and Dad if I could be homeschooled, but they refused. They don’t understand the cruel taunting I receive every day. I hate it here!

Books have become my best friend. I go on many adventures through them. Men have kept journals for ages, so this isn’t really a girlish thing to do, and you’ll be coming with me.

Yes, it’s time for me to venture forth. Something is calling me northwest. Every day the need grows more urgent. I’ve stuffed my backpack with black-and-red-checked flannel shirts, two pairs of wool socks and boxer shorts, plus additional overalls. Yesterday, I bought steel-toed hiking boots. I have saved over $2,000. Hope this is enough to get me wherever I need to go. Thankfully, I could get a NEXUS card to enter Canada using my driver’s license. Unlike a passport, I didn’t need my parents’ permission. They don’t understand and I guess they never will. The disparity in our looks has increased, and I now think they are not my biological parents.

I bought a throw-away cell phone for any emergency. All that’s left for me to do is write a note to them. I’ll sneak out after they’re asleep.

Dear Diary,

I rode a bus from Fargo to Winnipeg yesterday. The border guards accepted my card without any question. I arrived there mid-morning and was surprised by the size of this city. Though it wasn’t yet lunchtime, the crowded streets made me decide to continue my journey. I took another bus and got off in Neepawa. Small enough, it looked a promising place to remain for a day or week, then I’ll head north again.

September 15th

Dear Diary,

I’ve heard, “parley-vous Français?” so many times since I entered Canada that I went to Walmart today and bought a tablet. When I returned to the hostelry, I downloaded the Duolingo app because it was free. I spent three hours using it and love its game-like aspect. I’ve changed my mind and will remain here several weeks, so I can learn more French.

October 1st

Dear Diary,

I asked the desk clerk about internet service in rural areas. He said, “Strigo Mobile is probably the best one.”

I checked online and liked their information, so I ordered a SIM card and mobile device which should arrive here in two days. I purchased their yearly prepaid plan too. Then went back to Walmart and splurged on a better android phone. Now I must curb my spending before I need to find a job.

October 8th

Dear Diary,

I haven’t shaved in over three weeks. I think my beard makes me look older. After binding my breasts, I loaded my belongings into my backpack then departed. Before leaving Neepawa, I invested in a black cattleman’s hat, bedroll, and tent.

I followed Route 5 north then west. Nature’s beauty abounded during days of Indian summer. Red and gold leaves shook and fell with the breeze. Chittering squirrels gathering acorns were everywhere I looked. After several days of walking while using Duolingo, I reached Saskatoon.

Tomorrow, I’ll follow 16 northwest. If I can reach Edmonton before the snows, maybe I’ll be able to land a job.

November 1st

Dear Diary,

No luck working at any of the ski resorts. Not even as a waiter. One manager took pity on me and suggested I apply at the large mall. I did and accepted a position as the department store Santa.

Christmas Day – Age 17

Dear Diary,

I’ve been too busy to write anything here. I truly enjoyed participating in the parade on November 18th. When was the last time I liked being among other people? I honestly can’t say.

I’m so glad I took time to learn French because I was able to understand each child’s wish when they sat on my lap. I like this city. People are friendly and accepting. Is this what happiness feels like? Never in my life did I dream that I’d enjoy being Chris Kringle! It’s been a wonderful experience. This place feels like a pair of warm, fuzzy socks. So comfortable!

October 11, 2023

Members of my writing group read short stories where they have written their partner’s character into a corner. When we finished this, we used prompts from the Writer’s Tool Box to write a short story. My prompts were:

  • My brother did this weird thing with turtles
  • I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.

How to work these two different trains of thought into a short story? Here’s the short story that I wrote. I hope you find it humorous!

Turtle

My brother did this weird thing with turtles. Using an infinitely small tube, he somehow gathered semen from the males. He didn’t tell me when he added some to my rum & coke. He watched me intently while I drank. A few minutes later, he asked, “So, how are you feeling? Are things at work getting any better?”

Confused, I glanced at him. He’s never this solicitous. “Why?”

He doesn’t answer, but still stares at me.

I try to stand up but topple to the floor. Next thing I know, I’m parked outside my house.

My brother texts me the following morning. “Got something you need to see.”

“Too busy today.”

“Make time now, or you’ll be sorry!”

He opens the door and smirks at me. “Wait till you watch this!” He presses buttons and an image of me appears on the TV screen. He forwards the action. “Here, watch close now.”

I am in bed with a strange woman having oral sex.

He pauses the video, then fast forwards it.

I am in bed with a strange man having missionary-style sex.

I scream. “Stop! I would never do that!”

“Are you saying it’s not you?”

“Err yes, no. I don’t know. According to this, I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.”

August 23, 2023

I’m almost a week late in posting. Our writing group continues to work on short stories for our Potpourri Project. A few members read their current stories. Since it’s been over a month since I last posted anything, I looked back through my notebook for something. I hope you’ll find it humorous.

Last July, we used prompts from The Writer’s Toolbox to write a short story during a meeting. Here are the prompts that I received that made me immediately think about Miss Piggy:

    • a completely inappropriate shade of pink
    • the man in the striped pajamas
    • of the way Herb defrosted the refrigerator
    • ripped upholstery

Gold Lamé

Looking in a mirror, I see she has dressed me in a completely inappropriate shade of pink. Didn’t the dressing room know by now I wouldn’t wear this crap? It made my ears look huge! Kermie would laugh at me and that would be unbearable.

“Gilda, I refuse to wear this garbage. Here, take it away. Toss this in the trash! My gold lamé will have to do.”

“If you don’t take chances,” says the man in the striped pajamas, “you might as well not be alive.”

I whip my head around to glare at him. “Gilda! Why did you let him in here? I want nothing to do with that clown!”

I stamp my hoof. “Moe, you know better than to enter my dressing room. Get out! Go see if Larry is dressed. Last show, he streaked naked across the stage behind me.”

Gilda goes to get ice to calm me down. There isn’t any because of the way Herb defrosted the refrigerator. He had forgotten to plug in the appliance before he went home.

She sticks her head outside the door and screeches. “Curly, quick! Run to the commissary and get her a buck of ice.” She turns back. “Moe, get out of here. I’ve got to get her ready!”

My assistant collapses on the ripped upholstery of my couch. Tears stream and streak her mascara. She sobs. “I’m sorry, so sorry! I should have stayed home. My astrology for today told me it would be bad.”

I kick Moe’s butt as he finally heads to the door. Pulling her into my arms, I say, “Oh, didn’t mean to upset you. Not your fault.” I glance at my Rolex. “Oh dear. We’ll be late. Get my dress out.”

July 26, 2023

Our writing group continues to work on short stories for our Potpourri Project. The assignment for this meeting was to emulate Zane Gray’s descriptive style to create a short story of up to 3,000 words.

Doing genealogy, Margaret has always been a mystery. She is listed by herself under “Miscellaneous” in her family’s genealogy. The only known fact is that she married in Charlestown in 1658, then gave birth to her son a few months after her husband died the following year. Because I know so little about her, the following piece is purely historical fantasy. I may some day use it as an opening chapter of a new novel about this ancestor. I hope you enjoy my short story!

Margaret

A blast of cold air wakes me. Cook struggles against the wind to close the door. Leaving my straw pallet, I rush across the kitchen to help her.

“Thank you, Miss. It do be terrible out there. Devil of a storm be a brewing.” She shakes raindrops from her dark gray cloak then pegs it on the hook by the door.

I pick up the iron and poke the remaining embers until they glow before adding logs to the fire. Finished, I fold my almost threadbare patchwork quilt then place it at the foot of my bed. I am re-braiding my red-gold hair when Cook says, “Miss, may be best to bring in more wood. This do be a nor’easter. Use my cloak. It’s heavier than yours.”

I don’t know why Cook always uses the Miss honorific when she speaks to me. I have often asked her, but she won’t explain. She only says, “When you do be old enough, I may tell you.” I know I am a simple scullion, so I cannot figure this out. I find this mysterious. I sometimes daydream of a better life.

Nodding, I tie my bonnet strings, then put on her wrap. Once I step outside, she helps shut the door behind me. Each step is a battle, more so when I reach the corner of the house. Here, the fierce wind whips open the cloak. I tug it closer to my body then brace it somewhat closed with logs. The wind pushes and almost unbalances me as I head back. I thump the door with one foot.

She raises her voice to be heard over the howling wind. “Just drop those here. Go get more.”

Because I can only carry four logs at a time, it takes several more trips to satisfy her. On my last venture outside, I can barely see Captain Hunt closing and latching the rear shutters though he’s just a few feet away. Dawn should be lighting the sky. Instead of its rosy glow, a sickly, dark greenish-black fills it. He shouts something at me, but I cannot understand him. I’m surprised to find him behind me as I turn back to close the door. He drops a bigger armload of wood on the floor then, without saying a word, goes back outside.

After we manage to shut the door, Cook takes the cloak from me, shakes it, then puts it on the peg. Everything below my waist is drenched. Shivering, I pick up the scattered logs and stack these beside the hearth.

Though it seems nigh on impossible, the room darkens even more as the captain latches the kitchen shutter. The candles in the wall scones gutter as the wind gusts inside when he enters a few minutes later with another armful of logs. As he dumps these on the floor, he says, “Not a fit day for man or beast out there.” He pushes hard then latches the door. “Goodwife Winslow, I’d like a cup of hot tea and breakfast in the dining room as soon as you can.” Turning to me, he says, “Margaret, I strung a rope so you can tend the chickens and cow.”

I stifle a sigh as he drips water plus muddy footprints across the floor and heads into the family area. I again put on Cook’s cloak though it is damp and won’t provide much protection. After picking up a wooden bucket and woven basket, I thread those over my arm. She helps shut the door, then I grope my way to the shelter.

The milk cow bellows her displeasure at being shut inside. I pat her neck until she grows calmer. This allows my eyes to adjust to the many shades of darkness within. At last, I can see the stool. I pull it closer then milk the cow. Leaving the filled bucket by the door, I search the wall for the quirt, take it from its rack, then slowly make my way over to the chickens.

From their squawking and fluttering, I know something is very wrong. None of them are nesting. More feathers than usual litter the ground. The rooster screeches and strikes its beak at an even darker area. I glimpse a tiny glimmer of white as the rat snake raises itself up to strike back. With every ounce of strength, I flail at the serpent. “Hyyah! Yah! Hyyee!”

The already frightened chickens scatter away from my yells and swinging quirt. It takes several seconds before I realize this dark shape no longer moves. I gasp, then take several deep breaths. Cringing, I pick up the reptile carcass, struggle with the door, then toss it outside. I peg the weapon back in its place. Inching my way back to the nests, I double check each one and find nothing but emptiness.

Straightening the cloak which has come askew, I sling the empty egg basket over my arm, then pick up the bucket. Outside, I have to set this on the ground as I struggle to latch the door. Trying not to spill any of its contents, I find it even more difficult to make my way back. Driving rain obscures my sight of the three-story clapboard house. With my hands filled with bucket and rope, I cannot even try to keep the cloak closed. The wind torments me pushing the hood then bonnet from atop my head. Its strings now strangle me, and I gasp for every breath.

A thunderous boom almost causes me to drop the bucket. A quarter of the milk sloshes out. Every hair on my body stands up as a blinding flash of lightning hits a nearby mighty oak and I scream. The ground shakes as a huge limb crashes to the earth. Dim light from the now open doorway guides my final trembling steps. Cook takes the bucket and basket from my shaking hands and sets those on the floor. “Help me get this closed.”

I add my weight to hers as we push and shove. When we finally get it latched, I slump against the door while I untie the strings from my sore neck.

“I do be worried bout you. That one hit so close I be scared it got you.” Cook takes the dripping cloak from my shoulders. She wrings it over an empty bucket before spreading it to dry over a rope which she has strung near the fire. “You be so bedraggled.” She points. “Set your shoes here on the hearth.” The rotund woman makes a clicking sound. “Miss, maybe you should don your Sunday clothes. These do need drying. The family and servants ate. No one should come while you do be dressing.”

Teeth chattering, I quickly do as she bid me. As I discard each article of clothing, she pegs it to the line. She doesn’t say another word, but I know she notices my budding breasts. Uncomfortable with my nakedness, I rush into my only other petticoat. Face reddening, I speak to break the awkward silence. “Sorry, but a rat snake got every single egg. That’s why the basket is empty.” I shudder as I slip on my dress. “I did manage to kill that nasty thing.”

Cook’s right eyebrow raises with her question. “How?”

“I beat it with the quirt.”

She nods then retrieves the comb from my apron pocket. The matronly woman pulls a chair closer to the fire then motions for me to sit. Unbraiding my hair, she says, “’Twill dry quicker if you leave it down.” She is combing out my tangles when the governess enters the kitchen.

“Goodwife Winslow.”

Cook glances up at her but continues what she is doing.

The haughty young lady scowls. “Mrs. Hunt and I would like a cup of tea. You better make a fresh pot. Bring it to the drawing room.” With a swirl of skirts, she flounces out of the kitchen.

With an almost inaudible “tsk,” Cook hands me the comb. After retrieving the teapot from the hearth, she fills two mugs with the leftover tea and places one on the table near me. She rinses the dregs from the pot before filling it with boiling water. I take out the silver tray then place the sugar bowl, creamer, and two fine porcelain cups on top. Cook places a small colander filled with fresh leaves into the teapot. While it steeps, she adds a dollop of honey into our mugs. Removing the colander and setting this on the table, she motions toward my mug and says, “Do be better while hot.” She takes the tray into the family area.

I don’t remember being given this to drink before today. I take a small sip and savor it. After a burst of sweetness, an earthy nuttiness remains on my tongue. I find it delightful and want to gulp it down. Instead, I allow myself a deeper sip.

Cook returns and ladles porridge into two wooden bowls which she places on the table. She sighs as she sits down. Stirring her mug with a wooden spoon, she says, “Be no sense wasting this wonderful brew. I be going to enjoy this before we start fixing dinner.”

After eating breakfast, I mop the muddy mess from the floor before I wash and dry the dishes. When something crashes into the outside wall beside me, I scream and fumble a porcelain bowl, barely managing to shelve it. “Ooh! Thank goodness I caught it.”

“I be glad you did Miss. You do no deserve another switching.” Cook sighs. “’Tisn’t right.” She doesn’t explain why she thinks so. Instead, she points to the table where she has placed vegetables. “Those potatoes do need peeling. First, check if your clothing do be dry. Do no want your Sunday clothes stained.”

Everything is still damp. I flip each one over, so its other side faces the fire. After sitting down, I braid my hair and put on a bonnet before picking up the peeler. Cook finishes kneading and shaping sourdough into loaves, then uses a paddle to place these on the oven shelf at the rear of the fireplace. She sits across from me and chops yesterday’s roast venison into small chunks. When I finish peeling and dicing the potatoes, I prepare the other vegetables.

We don’t talk as we work, but the room is not quiet. Pellets of rain beat against the walls, a constant drumming sound. Roaring wind, booming thunder, and lightning blasts break the silence. Downed tree limbs sometimes thump onto the siding. I grow more frightened with each occurrence as the nor’easter continues to wreak havoc outside. I cannot hold back a small scream when the house shakes as a nearby tree falls to earth.

The kindly matron stands up then comes around the table. She wipes her hands on her apron then lays a hand on my shoulder and gives it a hearty squeeze. “We do be fine inside.”

When we finish chopping and dicing food, she says, “Do need this clothing out of our way.”

I remove each item from the rope and lay those on my pallet then return Cook’s cloak to the hook by the door. I am changing clothes when the captain’s eldest son comes into the kitchen. I squeak and turn my naked back to him. He slowly fills his arms with logs, and I can feel his stare. Finally, he leaves the room. I am finished dressing when he returns three minutes later and takes more. My cheeks heat when he glances at me on his way out.

Cook ignores my blush and says, “We do need to get this a going.” She pulls the huge iron cauldron next to the table then holds it up, so I can sweep the stew ingredients into this pot. After I ladle water to the top, she lifts it onto a hook then pushes it over the flames.

“The Missus told me she wanted custard.” Cook clicks her tongue. “But we do no have enough eggs.” She thinks for a moment. “Since there do be two left from yesterday, I’m thinking corn pudding be good.”

She reaches up and removes several husks from the rafters. While I use my fingers to de-kernel the corn, she beats the eggs, milk, and maple sugar together in a large wooden bowl, then adds some cornmeal to her mixture. She pours this into a large kettle then motions for me to add the kernels. As she stirs this, she says, “I do think a bit more milk be needed.”

I lift the bucket and slowly pour until she nods. After this I wipe down the table with a dishcloth then towel it dry.

Busy constantly stirring the pudding, Cook says, “Check the bread. It do look close to done.”

I use the paddle to pull one loaf out then place it on the table. Wearing an oven mitt, I flip it over and thump its bottom. It rings hollow, so I remove the other loaves from the oven and test each one. The stew is bubbling, so I hook the cauldron away from the flames. Using a long-handled wooden spoon, I stir the contents, making sure food isn’t stuck to the bottom. I push it back near, but not over, the fire.

Ten minutes later, Cook removes the pudding kettle to cool. I get out the trays, cutlery, and dishes for the family’s meal. She puts on fresh tea to steep, then slices the bread and puts this in a basket along with a small container of butter. She takes a tray filled with tea things into the family area. While she is gone, I ladle venison stew into one bowl then spoon pudding into another. Cook carries the first food tray to the dining room. By the time she returns, I have another one ready. From the look on her face, I can tell she is vexed. When she picks up the final tray, she says, “Miss, bring the breadbasket.”

I am startled because I’ve never been to the dining room. I follow close to her heels. The captain motions for it, so I hand him the basket. At the other end of the table, Mrs. Hunt shrieks. “What are you doing in here? You know you belong in the kitchen. Get out!”

Tears stream down my cheeks as I flee the room.

June 28, 2023

A month ago we were asked to write a short story about a perfect Sunday afternoon following these directions:

    • 1200 to 1500 words
    • Must have a protagonist and an antagonist
    • Must have an identifiable conflict
    • Describe the setting (time and place)
    • Incorporate all senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight)
    • Have a surprise ending
    • TOPIC: Your (or you protagonist’s or antagonist’s) idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon.
      • Can be any genre
        • Drama
        • Romance
        • Science fiction
        • Horror
        • Poetry
        • Anything else
      • Can be any POV
        • Third person limited (narrator knows only one character’s thoughts)
        • Third person omniscient (narrator knows all characters’ thoughts)
        • Second person (protagonist or another character becomes “you”)
        • First person (Protagonist or another character becomes “I”) 

To be honest, I’m unsure where my characters came from. Maybe from an old movie.  All I know is they were suddenly there and pretty much doing their own thing! I hope you enjoy reading this dramatic short story.

A Day of Extremes

It was a gorgeous morning in May as we returned home after church on Sunday. I dug out my keys as Frank parked in our driveway. I leaned over to kiss his cheek and whispered in his ear. “I know we promised the boys and I hate to break my promise, but I must check on Dad.”

My husband grimaced, sighed, then nodded. We would probably argue about this when I got back. Junior scowled at me as I hugged him. Mike held onto my waist. “Please don’t go Mom. You promised.”

I tousled his sandy hair. “I know kiddo, but I’ve got to see if your grandpa is okay.” I turned toward my beater so he wouldn’t see my tears. I had always told them promises should never be broken.

Frank waited outside while I attempted to get my heap started. At last, the car chugged and emitted a cloud of blue vapor. He waved as I slowly backed down the driveway.

Dreading what I might find and silently berating my dad, I drove six blocks to his home. I parked at the curb so I could check his mailbox. It was full. It looked like he hadn’t been out to get the mail all week.

Stale, smoky air greeted me as I stepped inside the unlocked front door. I called, “Dad are you okay? You really shouldn’t leave this unlocked. Never know who might wander in.”

His house was dark, but his TV cast a dim light from the living room. Gunshots from a western was the only sound.

Hand on the wall, I inched my way through the foyer then peered around the archway. Dad was reclined in his chair and emitted a snort. After entering the room, I opened the drapes and windows then took stock of his mess. Beer bottles and an overflowing ashtray littered the end table nearest him.

In the next room, I found dirty dishes filled the kitchen sink. Every burner held a pot with a congealed mass of something now inedible. Empty pork-and-bean cans covered the surface of his entire kitchen counter. After flipping on the stove’s fan hoping to remove some of the putrid stink, I gagged several times as I cleaned up. I searched the pantry for large trash bags then finished making the kitchen spotless like Mom had always kept it.

Dad woke as I tossed his empties into a sack. “What are you doing here? I didn’t invite you to come.”

He had always been cantankerous but, since Mom’s death eight weeks ago, he had become much worse.

“You weren’t at church again this morning. I came to make sure you were all right.”

He lit a cigarette and coughed. “No need to attend that bullshit. There is no God.”

“Reverend Murphy asked about you.”

He coughed and spluttered. “That sumbitch should mind his own business. He did nothing good for Mary.”

I held back a sigh. “You know he gave Mom hope.”

He hacked a gob of something yellowish green into his hankie. “Fat lot of good it did her!”

“Dad, you cannot go on like this. A constant diet of pork and beans isn’t healthy.”

He raised a fist. “Don’t need you nosing around. You better get out of here before I’m tempted to smack you.”

Shaking my head, I said, “I’ll go as soon as I finish cleaning this mess and taking out your trash.”

Dad’s body visibly shook with anger. “I’m quite capable of doing it.” He spluttered. “I’m not a baby who needs mollycoddling.” The chair’s footrest slammed down as he stood up. “Get out now!”

Sobbing, I grabbed my purse then ran out to my car. Through my tears, I fumbled to find my cell.

My oldest brother answered on the third ring. “What’s up?”

“I’m worried about Dad.”

“So?”

I choked back another sob. “I think he needs counseling.”

Bob emitted an exasperated sigh. “What do you want from me?”

“You should come back and see him.”

“No way.”

“Bobby, please…”

Silence on the now dead line. I immediately wished I were using the home phone so I could slam the receiver onto its cradle. This would have been childish, but oh so satisfying. Instead, I controlled my breathing as I counted to ten, then searched my purse for a clean tissue to wipe my eyes.

I scrolled through my contacts and called Sam. When he didn’t answer, I left a voicemail asking him to phone even though I doubted he would do so. He had become self-centered after moving to LA. And now he was even more like Dad than Bob was. Until Mom’s funeral, we hadn’t spoken in almost a decade.

Jeff’s husband answered my next call. “Hello Ronnie. He’s out back with the mutts. Hang on a sec.”

A few moments of muffled sounds and yips, then I overheard my youngest brother say, “Charlie, please keep them out here while I talk to her.”

I heard the patio door click shut as he came inside. “What’s wrong sis?”

I explained my concerns to him.

He said, “I still need to turn in final grades. I can’t get away until next weekend, but…yes, I’ll come. I’ll call you later with trip details, and we’ll chat more then.”

“Thank you for understanding. Love you.”

I stashed the cell in my purse, then turned the ignition key. Click, click, click. The engine didn’t turn over. I slammed my hand on the steering wheel then tried again. I allowed my tears to stream down my cheeks as I searched for my phone.

I hiccupped as he answered. “Frank, Nellie won’t start. No, she isn’t flooded. It’s probably the alternator. Please come get me. No, don’t bother Gordon today. It can wait until tomorrow.”

After glimpsing myself in the visor mirror, I dug out my mascara and compact. I removed the dark streaks from under my eyes with a damp tissue then reapplied makeup. I had also freshened my lipstick before he pulled his Accord next to my hatchback. After grabbing my keys, I slid into his passenger seat.

Frank put his car in gear. “I had a great idea while driving over here, so please hear me out.” He glanced at me. “I know how much you love your ‘91 Corsica, but it’s time for you to let it go.”

When I started to object, he said, “Ronnie, please listen. Instead of taking an expensive trip that our boys probably wouldn’t enjoy, I think we should get a new vehicle. Maybe an SUV. I think we should give your hatchback to Junior to fix up. It would be perfect for when he goes to college in two years.”

He parked in our driveway then turned to me. “Just think about this. Now go in and take a hot bubble bath. I’ll take care of making the food.”

As I soaked in soapy foam, Frank knocked then entered with a filled goblet. “Here. Take your time.” He sat on the tub’s edge. “By the way, I filmed the game so you can watch it later. Junior had three RBI’s and even stole second base. Guess I should get back to the ribs.”

I reached my wet hand up and stroked his cheek. “Thank you.” Taking a sip, the sharp, earthy tang of Cabernet exploded against my tongue. Sighing, I eased deeper into the water.

Dressed in comfortable cotton shorts and top, I joined Frank on our patio. He smiled as he flipped over the meat. My stomach rumbled at the delicious barbeque aroma. My boys’ shouts echoed from next door where they played catch with the neighbor kids.

I refilled my goblet then sat at our table. “What’s in the foil?”

Frank smiled. “The boys wanted your cheesy fries, so I made them peel the potatoes. The other has asparagus. I also fixed stuffed portobello mushrooms.” He raised his voice. “Junior, Mike, come set the table!”

When we finished eating, he said, “Boys, go do the dishes.” He came close and kissed me. A hint of garlic lasted on his lips. “Feeling any better?”

“Yes now. Thanks to you.” I smiled. “After I watch the video, how about going to DQ? It would be the perfect end to a pleasant afternoon.”