‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL — THE REST OF THE STORY??? — PART 5

A few years ago, with my sincere apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, I created a series of futuristic vignettes that take a look at a few of the characters of his heart-warming novel and what their lives may have been like decades beyond the words “The End” at the close of his masterpiece. Recently, I decided it would be fun to dig those stories out of my archives and dust them off. Maybe they will make this Christmas a little more fun. These tales are simply the result of my imagination being given free rein, but I offer them in the spirit of the season, hoping you’ll enjoy them. You can also find them in my Christmas anthology Stocking Full of Stories, available from Amazon.

Today is our final story, which focuses on The Spirit of Christmas Future

THE REST OF THE STORY PART 5 — THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE: CHRISTMAS PLANET

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. KTZY-TV is here at the 2025 Christmas Market Preview to interview The Spirit of Christmas Future and learn what’s in store this coming holiday season. Future is currently sitting atop one of the newest creations this year – the Infused Light Christmas Tree.  Christmas Future, can you hear me all right?”

“I can hear you fine, Tom. And as you explained, I am atop one of the smartest Christmas decorating ideas to come out in centuries. These gold, silver, and multi-colored trees come in several sizes. As you can see I’m sitting in the top branches of the largest size. Their primary feature is their self-infused lighting that glows gently from within and lights the entire tree evenly.”

“I see. So that cuts down the need to buy all those hard-to-handle strings of lights, then doesn’t it?”

“Exactly right, Tom. No more twisted cords to untangle; no more burned out bulbs that have to be hunted down and replaced; less time spent shopping for decorations – all those positive features will add to the ease of preparing for Christmas this year.”

“I see someone else important to Christmas has joined you down below the tree.”

“Oh, yes indeed. There’s St. Nicholas himself. We wanted him on hand to help introduce the video feed of Christmas Planet. I’ll go down and join him on the ground.”

Christmas Future sweeps from the tree branch and glides to a stop beside St. Nicholas. Before he has time to welcome the big guy, Future immediately presses his right hand to his ear to better hear the message coming into the headset he’s wearing. “Wonderful!” he says into the mouthpiece and then speaks directly to the newscaster again. “Tom, the video is ready to role. Focus your cameras on that screen behind me, and your audience will get the thrill of their lives.”

“Yes, we’re focused on the screen now.”

“All right, here it is right before the world’s eyes for the first time ever: Christmas Planet – the long-awaited masterpiece of inter-planetary travel. And the newest word in family holiday entertainment.

“As you can see, the planet itself is green, and even in the video that’s coming from a couple miles above the ground, you can see the red glow from the spectacular light show that is taking place at the main park.”

“That’s amazing!”

“Yes. As you know, Tom, NASA discovered this planet two years ago and began developing it specifically for the celebration of Christmas. Those amazing red light displays are part of the planet’s atmosphere, but it took the scientists all this time to harness those light waves and control them in order to use them in the Christmas productions planned for the visitors to the planet this year.”

“And any family from earth can travel by spaceship to Christmas Planet to celebrate the holidays, is that correct, Future?”

“Yes, Tom. NASA tells us the round trip – with tickets to all the events for two days and one night – is just about twice the cost of two full days at Disney World. And, of course, as we all know, Disney World has now been demoted to Christmas Past.”

“And when is the departure date for the first group of visitors?”

“December 10th will see the first group of families setting off in Noel I – the spacecraft specifically designed to shuttle visitors back and forth to Christmas Planet. And reservations have been coming in non-stop since last year, so anyone who wants to get in on the first year’s visits needs to be sure to go online and make the request today. According to NASA, the scheduled trips are nearly booked to capacity.”

“Well, unfortunately, we’re out of time now, but thank you, Christmas Future, for this thrilling report.”

“Thank you, Tom. And have a Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you, Future. The same to you.”

Turning his eyes back to the main camera in front of him, the announcer wraps up his newscast. “Well, folks, there you have it. Looks like Christmas has a great future ahead of it. I’m sure many of you out there want to make your own reservations, and you can contact NASA at the website showing now at the bottom of your screen. Until tomorrow evening, this is Tom Hilton wishing you good night, good news, and Merry Christmas!”    ♦

*****

Note To My Readers:  Thank you for imagining with me. I feel confident that Mr. Dickens would not begrudge me my little vignettes. In fact, I think he would probably encourage me to write even more. Charles Dickens was one of the world’s great storytellers, but he was even more. He was a man who saw far beyond the surface things of life, and he wrote most of his stories with an eye toward helping his readers to see beyond that surface as well. Exposing through his stories so many of the serious, even life-threatening social evils of his day, he literally changed a whole generation in many ways.

The one thing that stands out to me concerning A CHRISTMAS CAROL is that the story has had a powerful impact on every single generation since it was written. I don’t know of any piece of fiction that can equal it in having been told and retold and retold and retold for centuries. Even in our most modern digital society, we find at least a dozen different productions of the story — generally around Christmas time — spiffed up with currently fashionable clothing for costumes and high-tech corporate executives playing the main characters. But the truths of the story remain the same. And whether it’s a TV production, a local theatre group musical, a Hollywood spectacular, or an animated cartoon, every year brings the story around again, and it draws amazingly large audiences every time.  It’s so encouraging and exhilarating for a writer like me to know that an excellently crafted story with a strong moral theme can have such a powerful impact on our world year after year after year. It makes me want to write all the stories I can. What about you???


‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ — THE REST OF THE STORY??? — # 4

A few years ago, with my sincere apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, I created a series of futuristic vignettes that take a look at a few of the characters of his heart-warming novel and what their lives may have been like decades beyond the words “The End” at the close of his masterpiece. Recently, I decided it would be fun to dig those stories out of my archives and dust them off. Maybe they will make this Christmas a little more fun. These tales are simply the result of my imagination being given free rein, but I offer them in the spirit of the season, hoping you’ll enjoy them. You can also find them in my Christmas anthology Stocking Full of Stories, available from Amazon.

Today’s story focuses on the Spirit of Christmas Present

THE REST OF THE STORY # 4 — THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: LIVING IN THE HERE AND NOW

Reggie sat slumped in his chair, his right leg carelessly propped over the chair arm, gloom written all over him. He’d been this way for weeks, and hitting the bottle wasn’t helping him any. It just gave him a horrible headache the next morning. So tonight, he’d left off the booze, but he sat in a stupor anyway.

“Well, what a pretty picture you make tonight, Reginald, old boy!” The voice jolted him upright; he looked around.

“Who’s there?”

The voice took shape: on the sofa to his right, a well-tailored man gradually came into focus, lounging with his feet propped on the coffee table. “I’m generally called Spirit of Christmas Present. That’s what your Uncle Ebeneezer called me.”

“Oh, so you’re the one who supposedly helped him straighten out his life, huh?”

The figure shrugged. “Among others.”

“Well, you can go back where you came from,” Reggie said, at the same time making a shooing motion with his hand. “I don’t need anything you have to say!”

“You need a hammer to your head!” his visitor replied. “It’s just a shame I’m not allowed to give it to you.”

“Hey, where do you get off talking like that to me? Threatening to hit me in the head with a hammer! For what?”

“For constantly trying to live in a time dimension that it’s impossible for you to inhabit. You’re always trying to live either in the past – sucking on your memories the way a baby does his thumb – or in the future – always focusing on next week or next year. It’s stupid. Your memories make you miserable, and your future makes you anxious and edgy because it holds problems you don’t have answers for yet.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re here because you think you’re going to fix me?”

“No … I’m going to tell you how you can fix yourself.”

“Well, just maybe I don’t want to be fixed. What do you think about that?”

“Your uncle didn’t think he wanted to be fixed either – until he saw where his life was leading him. Do we have to give you the same kind of detailed, guided tour of your life that we gave him?”

“Who’s we?”

“You know – the Spirits of Christmas Past and Future, and yours truly.”

Reggie shivered in his chair. He would never consider admitting to this strange visitor that he believed what had happened to his old uncle, but he did have to admit to himself that he’d seen the changes in Ebeneezer first hand. And when his uncle had described his experience, it had sent cold chills down Reggie’s spine. He certainly didn’t want any more of that.

“Okay, okay. Just give me your spiel and let me get back to my contemplation.”

“What you were … contemplating … as you call it … was how sorry you are for yourself. And what I’m going to tell you will set you free from all your self-pity and wasted life if you’ll take heed to it.”

“Okay, okay, get on with it.”

“Well, it’s actually very simple, Reggie. You simply have to make yourself be where you are.”

“Huh?” Reggie shook his head briskly and sat forward in his chair, looking more intently at his visitor. “What the heck does that mean?”

His visitor sighed. “It means, Reg, that you need to live in the present hour — every hour of your life. Live now. You can’t re-do yesterdays, Reggie, and the future is nothing but a long series of ‘now’s’ that you’ll eventually experience one at a time. But when you get to them, you’ll have what it takes to deal with each of them. Trying to worry ahead of time about what might or might not be in those ‘now’s’ is ridiculous because you can’t even begin to know what they’ll be like. So why exhaust yourself worrying about them? And why drive yourself to drink by sitting around pitying yourself for the things that have already happened and can’t be changed?”

Reggie hung his head. “Yeah, I guess I have to admit my life’s a bummer coming and going.”

His visitor jumped up from the sofa, and Reggie looked up at him, a little fearful.

“Then for heaven’s sake, man, quit coming and going – hopping from your sad past to your unreadable future! Start living where you are and when you are. Take one day at a time, and one hour at a time. Look at it, feel it, taste it; let it soak into you; enjoy everything you can about it, and if you can’t enjoy it, then learn something from it. But live it. Start really living each one of those moments in your life, Reggie, and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.”

“But I don’t think I know how.”

“It isn’t rocket science, Reggie. As I said at the beginning of our conversation: it’s simple. You just have to decide to do it. And I’m not telling you everything will be the way you want it. Your life – like anyone else’s – will have its ups and downs. It may not always be great – but at least it will be real.”

Reggie hung his head again, trying to get a better handle on the fact that he was listening to some vision that had just suddenly appeared in his living room. He had to admit that what his visitor said gave him the first inkling of hope that he could actually have a better life. He looked back up to the visitor to say so — then blinked. The room was empty.    ♦

 


Tomorrow, our final story featuring The Spirit of Christmas Future

‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ — THE REST OF THE STORY ??? – # 3

A few years ago, with my sincere apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, I created a series of futuristic vignettes that take a look at a few of the characters of his heart-warming novel and what their lives may have been like decades beyond the words “The End” at the close of his masterpiece. Recently, I decided it would be fun to dig those stories out of my archives and dust them off. Maybe they will make this Christmas a little more fun. These tales are simply the result of my imagination being given free rein, but I offer them in the spirit of the season, hoping you’ll enjoy them. You can also find them in my Christmas anthology Stocking Full of Stories, available from Amazon.

Today’s story focuses on the Spirit of Christmas Past


THE REST OF THE STORY # 3:  THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS PAST — REQUEST FOR TRANSFER

“Mr. Alexander, the Spirit of Christmas Past is here for his 2:00 appointment.”

“Send him in.”

As the door opened, his boss could see that Past was unhappy.

“Good to see you, Past. We haven’t had a talk in – what – three or four years?”

“Four years, Sir,” Past said, taking a seat.

“I get a lot of good reports about your work. But you look unhappy. Is something wrong?”

“Yes, Sir. Something’s very wrong!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Can I help?”

“Well, Sir, I was wondering if I couldn’t trade places with Christmas Present for a while.”

“But you’re an expert at what you do, Past. Why would you want to have to learn a whole new job?”

“Because I never get a chance to use any of the new stuff, sir – any of the new technology and advanced equipment and devices that men have invented in the last several decades. I never get to play video games, or use cell phones, or those gadgets they call iPods. Why, do you realize I’ve never even had a chance to use a computer?”

“Well, I have to admit that I hadn’t given that point any thought, Past, but you don’t need any of those devices in your work, do you?”

That’s just the point, sir. I don’t need any of those things in my work, so I get none of the fun involved with using them. And there’s something else that’s just recently come out – a brand new thing-a-ma-jig that they call Oculus that lets you experience hundreds of different virtual worlds and lets you perform feats and play games that go beyond the imagination!”

“Oculus, huh?”

“Yes sir.”

Mr. Alexander just shook his head in consternation. He didn’t understand all this new-fangled equipment either, but that fact hadn’t bothered him before now. Maybe he was starting to fall behind the times himself. He looked back at Past, unsure what to say because he knew there was no way The Boss would go along with moving Past to a totally new time dimension.

Past looked at him hopefully. “It just isn’t fair, Sir! And that’s why I’m asking for a transfer. I was sure you’d understand when I explained.”

Mr. Alexander leaned back in his chair and looked at Past kindly. “Let me think this over for a bit, Past, and, of course, I’ll have to run it by The Boss.

One week later, Past walked back into Mr. Alexander’s office, having been summoned there to discuss the troubling issue again. When he arrived, he saw several gaily wrapped packages of various sizes on Alexander’s desk.

“Have you just finished your Christmas shopping?” Past asked.

“Not exactly, Past, but I have been doing some shopping for some special gifts.”

He motioned to a chair in front of his desk. “Sit down, Past, and I’ll tell you about these packages.”

Past took his seat, his eyes alight with excitement, and Mr. Alexander stood with his hand on top of one of the larger gifts. “The Boss says we just can’t possibly reassign you to a different job, Past. You’ve been trained specifically for what you do, and you bring centuries of experience into every case you handle. So we need you to stay where you are.”

Immediately Past’s mouth drooped and his eyes lost their light, but before he could say anything, Alexander continued.

“But The Boss and I also understand you naturally feel cheated in certain areas because of the need to focus uniquely on people, facts, and events from a dimension of time that has none of the benefits of the present day. You don’t get to spend any time in the present, and certainly have no possible involvement in what’s coming down the road in the future.

“So –” he turned and lifted one of the gifts, smiling at Past – “we felt the least we could do was to give you some of the devices that you’ve longed for the last several years. You may not get to use them on the job, but you can have fun with them personally in your time off.” At that point, he handed Past the gift he’d been holding.

“Receive this with our deep appreciation for the terrific job you do, Past. And all these other packages as well,” he added, sweeping his hand over the entire collection. “There’s one of everything you mentioned to me in our last meeting, and we hope they will, in some small way, make up for all that you’ve missed out on.”

Past was speechless. He was barely able to reach out and take the package from his boss’ hands. “I’m … I’m … Well, I just don’t know what to say,” he stammered. “All of these are for me?”

“Indeed they are, Past. Enjoy them as much as you can. It’s the least we can do for you considering all the people you’ve helped and the lives you worked so hard to change for good during your many years of faithful service in the … well … you know . . . the past.”  ♦


Stay tuned for Parts 4 & 5 over the next two days.

‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL — THE REST OF THE STORY??? – # 2

A few years ago, with my sincere apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, I created a series of futuristic vignettes that take a look at a few of the characters of his heart-warming novel and what their lives may have been like decades beyond the words “The End” at the close of his masterpiece. Recently, I decided it would be fun to dig those stories out of my archives and dust them off. Maybe they will make this Christmas a little more fun. These tales are simply the result of my imagination being given free rein, but I offer them in the spirit of the season, hoping you’ll enjoy them. You can also find them in my Christmas anthology Stocking Full of Stories, available from Amazon.

Today’s story focuses on Tiny Tim.

THE REST OF THE STORY # 2: GETTING A SECOND CHANCE

“Excuse me, Mr. Alexander. You wanted to see me?”

“Oh, yes, Christmas Past. I’ve called for Present and Future as well. Oh … here they are now. Come in, gentlemen.”

“Is there a problem, sir?” Present asked.

Mr. Alexander sighed deeply. “Indeed there is! Come over to the Earthglass, gentlemen, and take a look. We’re going to listen in on a businessman’s dealings, with a poor couple.”

****The Earthglass brings a large, modern office into view.****

“Don’t blabber to me about Christmas! I told you months ago that if you didn’t have all the money by today, I would foreclose on this date.” His eyes gleamed and he rubbed his hands together in delight, envisioning the two-story mall he planned to build next year. Then he looked at them again. “And by tomorrow morning, I’ll have the three houses south of you as well.

“Please, Mr. Cratchit —”

“Silence! Enough begging. Go home and pack!”

“ But it’s Christmas Eve!”

“Christmas! Bah! Humbug!”

Christmas Past looked at Mr. Alexander. “Sir … is that ….?”

“Recognize him, Past?”

“Not … surely not Tim Cratchit!?”

“Yes.” Mr. Alexander let out another lengthy sigh. I’m afraid so, gentlemen. Tiny Tim. Although he’s about 300 pounds past tiny now. He eats only fats and sugars. Too stingy to buy decent food.”

“Is he why you’ve called us, sir?” Future asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Alexander answered, turning from the Earthglass and sitting back down at his desk. The other spirits sat in chairs across from him. “After Ebeneezer Scrooge changed his ways so dramatically, he grew very close to the Cratchit family and eventually left the business to Cratchit – who left it to Tim. But human nature being what it is, greed always manages to seep back in, and now Tim’s become another Scrooge.”

“You want us to visit him, Sir?” Present asked.

“Yes. That’s why I’ve called you.  It will take all three of you again.  But greed has become so much worse in the world this century that I have serious doubts about the success of your venture this time.”

Present leaned forward, looking his superior in the eye. “Sir, surely you don’t think Tiny Tim is beyond hope.”

With another sigh, Mr. Alexander leaned back in his chair before answering. “I honestly don’t know, Present. But we’re going to pull out all the stops to try and turn him around. I’m sending Ebeneezer ahead of you three. He’ll prepare the way just as Marley did for Scrooge himself. Tiny Tim grew to really love that old man before Ebeneezer left the earth, so if anyone can get through Tim’s hardened heart, it would be Ebeneezer.

“Beyond that, it’s all in your hands, gentlemen,” Mr. Alexander said, rising to see them out of the office. They rose as well, shook his hand in turn, and promised to give the project their highest effort.

“I have no doubt that you will,” he said, “and I certainly wish you God speed. It’s Christmas after all – the season of hope. I’ll hold onto that hope as tightly as possible while you do your work.”  ♦


Check back the next 3 days to read ‘the rest of the story’ for the spirits of past, present, and future.

‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ — THE REST OF THE STORY??? – # 1

A few years ago, with my sincere apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, I created a series of futuristic vignettes that take a look at a few of the characters of his heart-warming novel and what their lives may have been like decades beyond the words “The End” at the close of his masterpiece. Recently, I decided it would be fun to dig those stories out of my archives and dust them off. Maybe they will make this Christmas a little more fun. These tales are simply the result of my imagination being given free rein, but I offer them in the spirit of the season, hoping you’ll enjoy them. You can also find them in my Christmas anthology Stocking Full of Stories, available from Amazon.

Today’s story deals with Ebenezer. But be sure and come back for the next 4 days as I tell you “the rest of the story” about Tiny Tim, and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future.


THE REST OF THE STORY PART 1:  EBENEZER THE SUITOR

Ebenezer had never felt his heart stop beating before. Was that what was happening, or was he just forgetting to breathe? He wasn’t sure, but He did know he was looking at the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, and he was glad he’d worn the new suit.

“Ebenezer, meet my cousin, Marilee Cratchit,” said Bob.

Marilee extended her hand, and Ebenezer took it, becoming submerged in the magical cloud of her cologne. He’d been nervous about attending this party, but since his regeneration on Christmas day last year, he was welcomed everywhere. Right now he felt ten feet off the ground. It seemed being a kind, generous man really was the most important thing in life.

“Ebeneezer, I’ve been dying to meet you,” Marilee cooed. “Come sit with me and talk.”

His heart danced. He couldn’t believe anyone so beautiful and fragile would be interested in spending time with him. His heart skipped a couple beats as he wondered: was he actually going to get another chance at love?

“What shall we talk about?” he asked her, contemplating ways to express his renewed heart to her. Ever since his transformation, he found that he wanted to tell everyone how good life was when you learned that people are more important than money.

“I’d like to talk about your money, of course!” she said. “They say you’re the richest man in London!”

Disappointed at her words, he answered: “Uh … I don’t know. Is it important?”

“Well it is to me! Without a lot of money one can’t own a fine home, or fashionable clothes, or beautiful jewelry. And there’s no chance to travel and have fun without a lot of money either. Surely you, of all people, know how important it is.”

“Well, I admit that I used to feel that way. In fact it cost me the love a wonderful woman when I was quite young. But last year I had a most unusual experience that taught me a valuable lesson about life.”

“Oh? What lesson was that?”

“That people are much more valuable than money and that unless you care about people money doesn’t really do you any good because no matter how many things you buy with it, it cannot take away loneliness and give you love.”

“Well, I’ll take my chances,” she said. “I do not intend to be poor or to do without all the finer things in life.” She gave him a saucy look, her seductive smile in place. “I may as well warn you, Ebbie, I’m looking for a rich husband, and I have my eye on you.”

He squirmed just a little where he sat and cleared his throat. “Marilee,” he said, “I think perhaps there’s a book you should read. I’ll loan you my copy. It’s a little Christmas story by Charles Dickens.”  ♦


JUST NEEDED TO LAUGH A LITTLE

The Word of God says, “A Merry heart does good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22). And Reader’s Digest used to have a joke page with the heading “The most completely lost of all days is that on which one has not laughed.”  I agree whole-heartedly with both those sentiments, and I wanted to post something really light-hearted. But I didn’t have time today to write a brand new short story, so I pulled this one from my archives. I wrote it some time ago for a writing challenge, but it still makes me laugh even though I’ve read it a few times now.  I hope you get a chuckle out of it too.

ANTHROPOLOGY 101

`
My marriage to an anthropologist was educational – and short. Herman loved his work and was really quite vain about it. He honestly believed that there was no people group that he could not figure out and eventually befriend – even when scores of others in his field had failed.

For years, he had been studying one particular tribe of natives on a tiny island in the Pacific that most ship’s captains refused as a port of call. The tribe was said to be cannibalistic, but my Herman just knew that he could convert them after explaining how much he had studied them in order to become their friend.

On looking back, I suppose that I should have put my foot down and refused when he insisted we honeymoon on the island. But he was so certain that he could convince the natives to help him with his research. So, as usual in our relationship, I acquiesced. My friends and family scolded me for my attitude. They said Herman should be treating me like a goddess rather than just ordering me around and dragging me off to some God-forsaken island to begin our marriage.

When we booked passage on the ship, we had to pay for a skiff as well because the captain told us that he would anchor far offshore, and we would have to go the rest of the way on our own. When we left the ship, he reminded us again what fools he considered us. But Herman insisted that he had everything under control.

We hadn’t been on the island more than an hour before the tribe captured us. They were quite large – both men and women – and exceedingly dark in coloring. They bound Herman immediately and tied him to a large pole at one end of their village. I was shaking like a leaf as they approached me, but they just looked at me with wide eyes and smiles, while making the most excited conversation with each other. I could understand only a very small part of what they said – mainly by their actions.

Then four of them brought a huge carrier – sort of a chair supported between two long poles and carried by the natives. One of the men – seemingly the chief – took my hand and escorted me to the chair. They then carried me ceremoniously into the center of the village and escorted me to an elevated area on which sat a throne – all inlaid with gold. I sat, still quaking inside, but almost too overcome by my curiosity to concentrate on being afraid.

Next they placed a crown of the most exquisite jewels on my head and then bowed down to the ground in front of me. Finally, I spoke and asked in my own language for an explanation, hoping maybe at least one of them would understand me. One young man came forward and spoke to me in my native tongue to explain.

Evidently my golden blond hair was a sign to them. They had been expecting the goddess of their tribe to come to them in person for many years, and the sign of her true identity was that her head would shine like the sun. So I’m to be worshiped and given every one of my heart’s desires forever. I suppose one might say that, in a way, it’s thanks to Herman that I’m being treated like a goddess.

Of course, they prepared a huge feast in celebration of my arrival, and I guess everyone would have to admit that Herman truly did give his all for the cause of getting to know this tribe of people better. Naturally, I declined any food.

I certainly miss Herman, but I have to admit that what worries me more is what will happen when my roots start to grow out.    

 


LOOKING FOR FAITH-CHALLENGING CHRISTIAN FICTION ON A SUPER SALE?

 

SLATE:
A story of faith, temptation, and sacrifice.

I just discovered today that Amazon has put this book on a super sale at 52% off. The paperback normally sells for $7.99, but right now is on sale for $3.81. Amazon has their own funny way of figuring prices, but I don’t ask questions. I just take advantage of them when they do it.

The E-book edition is $0.99.

 


WHAT DO YOU SEE? # 122 – ‘MISSED CALLS’

Sadje’s “What Do You See?” challenge is really a challenge this week. But I decided to take a whimsical approach and came up with this little poem.

photo courtesy of 8maching @ unsplash.com

MISSED CALLS

He lived his life connected
To all of cyberspace.
He swiped and clicked and texted
At an amazing pace.

His phone was an appendage
That never left his grip.
To work, to play, to bathroom — 
It always made the trip.

There were some friends who warned him
That he was too intense;
His focus on that device
Went beyond common sense.

He couldn’t stop himself though.
At every little ‘ding’
He had to stop whatever,
And bow to that darn thing.

Now, years after his passing,
From underneath the sod,
He still can hear that ‘dinging’
From what he’d made his god.

And though beneath the grasses
He lies in somber state,
His claw-like hands reach for it,
But, alas, it is too late.


JOSEPH’S DECISION – #whatdoyousee – 2/8/22

Picture Prompt: From Google Images

I just discovered the “what do you see” writing challenge today, and as soon as I saw the picture prompt, I was transported back to a story I wrote some time ago. But it fits the prompt so well, that I thought I’d share it rather than write a different one. I hope that’s okay. If you’d like to participate in the challenge you can find the details at the KEEP IT ALIVE blog.

JOSEPH’S DECISION

Joseph sat on the bus, staring out the window, unseeing for the first twenty minutes. His mind just needed rest. So much data – so many words – such volatile emotions – too much to deal with right now. His eyes hurt from the glare of the sun, and he needed to close them for a while. Not yet, though. He couldn’t let himself – not so soon. He couldn’t bear to close himself up in his own private world – his own private hell. Not yet. He had to keep his eyes open so that light and color and motion would bombard his mind for at least a little while longer.

The knot in his chest had loosened some. Maybe that was due in part to the even rhythm of the moving bus and the almost imperceptible sound of the wheels against the hot pavement – things, no doubt, completely unnoticed by the majority of the passengers. But Joseph noticed. He seemed especially attuned to sounds and movement in a new way today. All of it seemed amplified somehow. He let out a deep sigh. I’m probably amplifying them in my own imagination, he thought, to keep my mind off the bitter news I just got.

Finally, thanks to the gentle rocking of the bus, he leaned his head against the back of the seat and let his eyelids drift shut. Another deep sigh. Okay, Joseph, it’s time to deal with it. You can do it, Joe.

He took a deep breath. There, that’s better. Another deep breath. That’s it, Joe. Slow and easy – in – and out – in – and out. See, you’re still alive and breathing. Nothing’s changed all that much.

His thoughts drifted back to Dr. Samuels’ office. He shivered slightly at the memory of how cold he’d felt sitting there on the examination table in just his undershirt and shorts. The sterile smell of the room still clung to his nostrils, and his mind replayed images of the signs on the walls describing various ailments and reminding doctors to wash their hands. He’d read every sign at least a dozen times over the years and knew them by heart, but he still read them every time. It was something to do while he waited for Dr. Samuels, and it kept his mind occupied so that he didn’t try to figure out what the next report might be.

Prior to today’s appointment, he’d imagined numerous possible scenarios and played them over in his mind. Dr. Samuels might say this … and then I would say that … or … maybe he’ll tell me this, and I’ve already made up my mind what my answer will be to that. He closed his eyes a little tighter, stifling a low, mirthless chuckle. Funny – I never – not once – even considered a report like the one I got.

He felt something jostle his arm, so he opened his eyes, looking toward the empty seat on his left. A small, elderly lady had just sat down, and her purse had bumped his arm. “Oh, excuse me,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

He sat up a little straighter and gave his head a slight shake, hoping to clear it. He hadn’t even noticed the bus had stopped. He glanced out the window and realized they had already come half way to his destination. One more stop, and then he’d be at his own jumping off place. Home. It used to always give him a warm feeling to walk up the small concrete sidewalk, step up onto the little porch alcove with the rose trellis on either side, and open his front door to the cozy living room/office where he devoted hours to the work he loved so well.

Writing was his life – had been ever since his young adulthood. There had never been a marriage. He had hoped there would be a time or two, but it hadn’t worked out. And he wasn’t too sad about it. He had a good life: great friends, great audiences for his books, and a family of his own making. The characters that populated his best-selling novels had been born out of him, hadn’t they? And he loved them – everyone of them – even the villains. And many had been the days when he had rushed home, bursting through the front door with ideas literally pouring from his brain faster than he could get to the keyboard and turn them into words.

Well, Joe, it won’t be the same anymore. Everything’s changed now. He focused on the passing scene outside the window. He read a sign on one of the buildings. Then he read a street sign … and another. The bowling alley sign came next. He was seeing all of them for the zillionth time, but he read every word on every one. He had to keep himself from thinking anymore right now.

Finally, the sign for his own stop came into view. As the driver made the announcement and slid the bus to a smooth stop, Joseph began to rise from his seat, but suddenly he realized his legs felt like lead. He sat back down momentarily, and the lady beside him looked concerned. “Are you all right, sir?”

He made a quick recovery and tried to smile at her. “Y – yes,” he answered. “I think my leg went to sleep. I’ll try to get up more slowly.”

He knew there was nothing wrong with his ability to walk. It was the result of the shock he’d had. The trauma of the news had been enough to shock a better man than he was. He focused all of his mental reserves on making his legs function normally, and finally managed to get up and move out into the aisle. From there, he moved by rote down the steps and through the door to the sidewalk.

As he started down the walk to the next block and his own house, he was amazed that everything around him looked exactly the same. The street looked the same. The traffic whizzed by as usual. The few people he passed looked normal. They spoke a word of greeting and smiled just as if he hadn’t changed at all. Yet his entire world had been wiped out with one simple sentence less than an hour ago.

The roses smelled the same as he stepped onto his porch and inserted his key in the lock. Stepping into the room, he let his eyes search out all the pieces of furniture and equipment that provided his comfortable, peaceful, productive life. He closed the door behind him and walked farther into the room. You’re home Joe. Really home … and it hasn’t changed a bit. It’s exactly the way you left it.

He started to genuinely relax for the first time since he’d stepped into Dr. Samuels’ office three hours ago. He pulled off his jacket, yanked his tie loose and tossed it on the chair after the jacket. He walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of his favorite juice, downing half of it in one drink. His stomach had been so knotted up when he left the doctor’s office that he hadn’t even tried to get lunch. In fact, he’d thought he could never eat or drink again. But he took another drink now. It felt really good going down. And, come to think of it, one of those frozen dinners he’d stocked up on yesterday sounded downright appetizing.

He kicked off his shoes, ambled over to the computer desk, and sat down. Touching the mouse, he focused on the screen. There it was: the new baby – novel number twenty-five – bright and shiny and full of life – staring right back at him from the screen with the familiar challenge that compelled him to create another chapter and another and another. Every word was a part of him – his offspring. Yes, this was life to him. This was all he needed.

Other thoughts tried to intrude, but he pushed them aside. Finally, at one point, he got up and walked to the wall on which he kept his main calendar. He stared at it. Dr. Samuels had said, “Six months at the outside. Maybe not that long. I’m indescribably sorry, Joe.”

Joseph reached up and ripped the calendar off the wall. He tore it in half and tossed in into the waste basket as he spoke out loud in response to the words of the medical report: “What is time, anyway, Doc? It’s all relative, isn’t it? Why, I’ve given hundreds of characters entire lifetimes in less than six months.”

He walked back to the computer and placed his hands on the keyboard again. “Sorry, Doc,” he said quietly, the merest smile on his lips. “I’ve got too many lives depending on me right here in this keyboard. I just don’t have time to die.”   

 

(Copyright 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner)

 


LOOKING FOR A GOOD BOOK? – TRY ‘THE RHINESTONE MURDER’

LOOKING FOR A GOOD BOOK? TRY THIS ONE:
 
I’m back with another short book review and reading suggestion. THE RHINESTONE MURDER is the best little cozy mystery I’ve read in quite a while. Last week, I reblogged the posts from Isaac Wallace with 4 preview chapters, so you may have seen those posts. I have to agree with what the back of the book says about the story. In fact, I’ll just quote it here:
 
“A snappy little novella introducing private investigator Carson Knight, who finds himself at the end of a gun barrel when Police Detective Andrea Pierce discovers him searching through an active crime scene. Knight, who was hired to investigate threats to his client, barely gets started on his case before the client is found murdered. Starting out on the wrong side of the police detective in charge of that murder investigation puts him in a bad position. But when he unexpectedly discovers a handful of rhinestones at the scene of the crime, they prove to be a key to discovering the killer. Knight’s a committed Christian, convinced he can get help from the Lord in solving his cases, and he’s going to need that kind of help if he’s going to win over Detective Andrea Pierce and help bring a murderer to justice.”
 
That pretty well sums things up. If you like cozy mysteries, I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy THE RHINESTONE MURDER by Isaac Wallace.
 

Looking for a good book? – Try ‘A Redbird Christmas’

It’s a little place — a mostly happy place — called Lost River, Alabama. I’d move there if I could. I can’t because, unfortunately, it isn’t real — except in the pages of a delightful novel titled A REDBIRD CHRISTMAS, by Fannie Flagg. Now, in general, I don’t care much for Alabama. And, in general, I’m not a fan of Fannie Flagg’s novels. However, Ms. Flagg did write one novel that is totally entertaining and gratifying to read. In fact I read it about once a year. And that novel is  A REDBIRD CHRISTMAS.

Let me deal first with the story’s one failing — if it can be called that. The first chapter introduces the main character, Oswald Campbell, as he is being given a very negative prognosis about his health. Now, unfortunately, coming so early in the book, that situation could be enough to turn many readers away. But if you’re looking for a story that is uplifting, encouraging, and life-affirming, please take my word for it that you need to push right on through that first chapter to find out what Oswald does in response to that prognosis and how he finds an altogether different future.

The rest of the story is set in the peaceful, friendly, (let me say it again) ‘life-affirming’ community settled on the banks of a clear, quiet river known as Lost River, Alabama. Even the mail is delivered by river in this little community. Everyone living there knows everyone else — and cares about everyone else. The weather is not too cold or too hot. The flowers, birds, and other natural wildlife are pleasant company. And the whole attitude and atmosphere is one of optimism.

Now, if you’ve read this far in the review, you may be thinking that the story will be too “Pollyanna-ish” for you. But, again, I’ll ask you to take my word for it that the positivity found in this story is really quite natural and down-to-earth. It’s just that the focus here is on looking for and trying to bring about the best in the midst of all circumstances — both good and bad. It makes a terrific change from all the criticizing, back-biting, hate-dispensing, and fear-mongering that we have been subjected to for the past two years in most of the media and a good deal of our day-to-day interactions.

And don’t think you need to wait until next Christmas to read this book. It isn’t a “Christmas” novel in the usual sense of that term. It does include some Christmas celebrations, but the story is about people who value life and love and sharing and caring. It’s a book for any season of the year.

How much do I like this book? Well, it sits right at the top of my list of favorite books. And I’ve already told you that I generally read it every year. I can’t move to Lost River, Alabama to live, but I can visit annually and enjoy the vacation from stress and life overload that most of us deal with on a regular basis. So if you’re like me, and you like reading about kind people, second chances, and happy endings, you must read A REDBIRD CHRISTMAS.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Look for more book reviews over the next few months. Most of my followers know me as an author, but I’m also an avid reader, and this year, I’d like to help promote some of the books and authors that have given me so much personal reading pleasure. So adding a few book reviews is part of my plan for this site during 2022.



Being Present

I glanced at the screen on my cell phone this morning and noted the date: Friday, December 17, 2021. And normally I would have laid the phone down and gone on about my business, giving the information very little thought. But, for some reason, I was suddenly struck by the thought that this was going to be the only day I would ever see that particular date. It is a reality today, but only for today, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I know — some of you are thinking — what on earth is she talking about? Does this woman have nothing else to do with her time?  🙂

Actually, I had a whole list of things I needed to do with my time today, but I just couldn’t get away from that thought for quite a while. I realized pretty quickly that the Lord was taking advantage of that date on the phone to get me to focus on the fact that I needed to be cognizant of today. I didn’t need to be thinking about yesterday and all the stuff I didn’t get done, or that I did wrong, or even what I did right. I lived yesterday completely, and it’s gone. And He didn’t want me focusing on all the plans coming up for the next week, trying to figure out how I could make them all work out.  He especially didn’t want me focusing on all the possible future things that had the power to cause me worry or fear. 

He wanted me focusing on Him and what was on His heart for me to do and be today. He has plans for all of us that are good. But He so seldom gets our full attention long enough to be able to make us understand what those plans are and to get us to carry them out. I’m convinced from my many decades of walking with God that there isn’t a day that goes by that He doesn’t have some good things in mind for us to be a part of.

So as I contemplated the truth about this day being a unique gift that will come to me only once in my entire lifetime, I realized that I too wanted to be focused on what I could do and be that was good today. And I wanted to focus on some good things that could come my way as well — things that wouldn’t have an opportunity to come to me tomorrow or next week — but just today. I kept hearing this admonition in my heart: “Be present in this day. Enjoy it. Be grateful for it. Live it to the fullest.”

As those thoughts lodged in my heart, I was reminded of a little short story I wrote several years ago — a sort of “take-off” from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I was participating in a writing challenge in which we were supposed to write about some of the characters as if they were living today. One of those stories made the very point that the Lord was making to me today about being present in the here and now. So I thought I’d share it here in this post. It fits into the season, since I’ve borrowed the Spirit of Christmas Present. Some of you might remember the story, and several of you will be reading it for the first time. But I hope it spurs each of you on to focus on being truly present in your day today — and then to do so again tomorrow — and the next day — and — well, you know.

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: LIVING IN THE HERE AND NOW

Reggie sat slumped in his chair, his right leg carelessly propped over the chair arm, gloom written all over him. He’d been this way for weeks, and hitting the bottle wasn’t helping him any. It just gave him a horrible headache the next morning. So tonight, he’d left off the booze, but he sat in a stupor anyway.

“Well, what a pretty picture you make tonight, Reginald, old boy!” The voice jolted him upright; he looked around.

“Who’s there?”

The voice took shape: on the sofa to his right, a well-tailored man gradually came into focus, lounging with his feet propped on the coffee table. “I’m generally called Spirit of Christmas Present. That’s what your Uncle Ebeneezer called me.”

“Oh, so you’re the one who supposedly helped him straighten out his life, huh?”

The figure shrugged. “Among others.”

“Well, you can go back where you came from,” Reggie said, at the same time making a shooing motion with his hand. “I don’t need anything you have to say!”

“You need a hammer to your head!,” his visitor replied. “It’s just a shame I’m not allowed to give it to you.”

“Hey, where do you get off talking like that to me? Threatening to hit me in the head with a hammer! For what?”

“For constantly trying to live in a time dimension that it’s impossible for you to inhabit. You’re always trying to live either in the past – sucking on your memories the way a baby does his thumb – or in the future – always focusing on next week or next year. It’s stupid. Your memories make you miserable, and your future makes you anxious and edgy because it holds problems you don’t have answers for yet.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re here because you think you’re going to fix me?”

“No … I’m going to tell you how you can fix yourself.”

“Well, just maybe I don’t want to be fixed. What do you think about that?”

“Your uncle didn’t think he wanted to be fixed either – until he saw where his life was leading him. Do we have to give you the same kind of detailed, guided tour of your life that we did for him?”

“Who’s we?”

“You know – the Spirits of Christmas Past and Future, and yours truly.”

Reggie shivered in his chair. He would never consider admitting to this strange visitor that he believed what had happened to his old uncle, but he did have to admit to himself that he’d seen the changes in Ebeneezer first hand. And when his uncle had described his experience, it had sent cold chills down Reggie’s spine. He certainly didn’t want any more of that.

“Okay, okay. Just give me your spiel and let me get back to my contemplation.”

“What you were … contemplating … as you call it … was how sorry you are for yourself. And what I’m going to tell you will set you free from all your self-pity and wasted life if you’ll take heed to it.”

“Okay, okay, get on with it.”

“Well, it’s actually very simple, Reggie. You simply have to make yourself be where you are.”

“Huh?” Reggie shook his head briskly and sat forward in his chair, looking more intently at his visitor. “What the heck does that mean?”

His visitor sighed. “It means, Reg, that you need to live in the present hour — every hour of your life. Live now. You can’t re-do yesterdays, Reggie, and the future is nothing but a long series of ‘now’s’ that you’ll eventually experience one at a time. But when you get to them, you’ll have what it takes to deal with each of them. Trying to worry ahead of time about what might or might not be in those ‘now’s’ is ridiculous because you can’t even begin to know what they’ll be like. So why exhaust yourself worrying about them? And why drive yourself to drink by sitting around pitying yourself for the things that have already happened and can’t be changed?”

Reggie hung his head. “Yeah, I guess I have to admit my life’s a bummer coming and going.”

His visitor jumped up from the sofa, and Reggie looked up at him, a little fearful.

“Then for heaven’s sake, man, quit coming and going – hopping from your sad past to your unreadable future! Start living where you are and when you are. Take one day at a time, and one hour at a time. Look at it, feel it, taste it; let it soak into you; enjoy everything you can about it, and if you can’t enjoy it, then learn something from it. But live it. Start really living each one of those moments in your life, Reggie, and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.”

“But I don’t think I know how.”

“It isn’t rocket science, Reggie. As I said at the beginning of our conversation: it’s simple. You just have to decide to do it. And I’m not telling you everything will be the way you want it. Your life – like anyone else’s – will have its ups and downs. It may not always be great – but at least it will be real.”

Reggie hung his head again, leaning over with his elbows on his knees, trying to get a better handle on the fact that he was listening to some vision that had just suddenly appeared in his living room. He had to admit that what his visitor said gave him the first inkling of hope that he could actually have a better life.

“Yeah, you might be right.” He surprised himself by saying the words aloud. He was still looking down at the floor but his mind was going back over his visitor’s words. Even though it felt a little spooky hearing them from this apparition, he knew in his heart that he needed to try to follow the advice.

“I’ll do it!” he said as he looked back up to the visitor to confirm his decision. But then he blinked. The room was empty.



‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — chapter 9

EVERYTHING’S JAKE
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER NINE

The following day was Mariah’s Saturday off, so Neil had time to mull over the things he and his dad had talked about before he saw her again. The work load was fairly light, and even while he worked, he replayed in his mind the conversation with Mariah and the one with his dad. There was no escaping his guilt and remorse concerning the first conversation, and there was no denying that his dad’s words in the second one made complete sense – now that Neil was in slightly less emotional turmoil. But what to do about it was the question of the day – or maybe – more realistically – the big question of his life.

By mid-afternoon, he had decided that he owed it to Mariah to apologize for his insinuations and his generally unChristian attitude over the past few weeks. But he knew in his heart that if he faced her with those feelings, he would also need to be ready to tell her the truth about the rest of what he felt. He couldn’t keep living with this merry-go-round of emotions, and now that he had blurted out the truth – a truth his own heart had kept hidden until last night – he should tell her the truth as well: he was in love with Mariah Jacoby, and he wanted her in his life from now on.

He got his last customer off for the day, and went to the phone. He realized that he had left the decision a little late. She was probably preparing to go out with Sanford. But if he just surmised that scenario and didn’t bother to find out for sure, he’d just prolong his own agony. She answered on the second ring.

“Mariah, it’s Neil.”

He heard her sigh. “Neil, I’d rather not talk right now.”

He hastened to butt in before she could hang up. “I know, Mariah, and you have every right to feel that way. I owe you a huge apology, and … well … the real reason I called was to see if you were going to be home a while this evening, and if you’d let me come and apologize in person.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. Neil held his breath. Finally, Mariah sighed again and answered. “Neil, I accept your apology. You don’t have to come over here in person.”

She didn’t even want to see his face! This really was bad. He probably had lost her forever, but his dad’s words still rang in his ears: “Go ahead, Son. Stick our neck out. You know she’s worth it.”

He cleared his throat and tried again. “Well, the truth is that I’d like to do more than just apologize. I’d also like to tell you something about what’s going on in my own heart. If you’ll just hear me out; then if you don’t want to talk to me anymore I’ll respect that.”

He could hear hardness in her voice when she answered. “Is it more about Carter Sanford?”

“No!” He wanted to make that crystal clear. “No, Mariah, I don’t have anything else to say to you about Carter. I was way out of line yesterday, and I won’t ever bring up that subject again.” He paused for quite a while, but Mariah stayed quiet, and – more importantly – stayed on the line.

“I want to talk to you about you, Mariah – and about how much you mean to me.”

He heard her utter a small gasp of surprise. “I … I’m not sure I understand.”

Neil was getting frustrated. “Mariah, all of it is hard to explain over the phone. Will you please let me come and see you for a while this evening – that is – if you aren’t already going out?”

She took another moment to answer. “No … I’m not going any place important tonight – just the grocery store, but it can wait. Come over if you feel you really need to.”

The truth was that Mariah was feeling so defeated by all of the emotional upheaval of the past week that she felt resigned to whatever happened now. “When do you want to come?”

“Give me an hour to get home and shower and get over there.”

“Fine,” she said, and waited another moment. “I’ll see you then.”

“Thank you, Mariah. I’ll be with you shortly.”

After hanging up the phone, Mariah took a look at what she was wearing. An old pair of jeans and a tee shirt that said, “I’ve got a good arm, a ball, and an attitude. Don’t mess with me.” She had to laugh at the thought of wearing it when facing Neil tonight. She knew she looked a little sloppy, though, and one part of her wanted to change into something pretty. But the other part – the part that was tired of trying to be the “right” woman for the “right” man to love – just felt too exhausted to care.

She opted for leaving on the outfit and using the time she had to straighten up the apartment a little. She’d never been the most organized housekeeper. Her home was never dirty, but it definitely wasn’t the neat, well-organized home her mother kept.

She then decided she could force herself to be hospitable enough to put on a pot of coffee and open a package of cookies. Holding a coffee cup would at least give her something to do with her hands while they talked, and drinking the warm liquid might help her stay calm.

Her clock said fifty-five minutes since the phone call when her doorbell rang. Neil stood there in a dark blue polo shirt and jeans, his hair still damp around the edges. It made her smile to think he really had been in a hurry to get over here. “Come in,” she said and motioned him toward the living room. “Sit down anywhere. I made coffee. Would you like some.”

“That would be great,” he said, as he walked to a chair arranged beside the sofa and sat down.

“I’ll be right back with it,” she said, already turning toward the kitchen. Five minutes later, she returned with a tray bearing two steaming mugs, cream and sugar, and the plate of cookies. Sitting it down on the table next to the chair, she took a seat on the close end of the sofa.

“Mmmm, the coffee smells good,” Neil said and reached for a cup. Mariah took hers as well and curled her feet up onto the cushion. She sipped the hot liquid and looked at Neil. He cleared his throat.

“I like the apartment,” he said, smiling. “The colors of cheerful.”

“Thank you. I agree. I like a lot of color in a home.” She knew she should probably say something that would break the ice and help him get started with what he needed to say, but she just didn’t seem to be able to do it.

Finally, he cleared his throat again and sat his cup back onto the tray. He looked right at her. “Mariah, first of all I sincerely want to apologize for what I said to you last night. I was completely out of line, and I’ve been out of line ever since you started dating Carter Sanford.”

“When did you decide all of this?”

“Well … to be totally honest, I knew when the words were coming out of my mouth last night that I didn’t have any right to say them – and actually I knew that I didn’t really mean them the way I said them.”

She just looked at him a moment and then asked. “Then … why did you say them?”

Neil cleared his throat again. He’d never felt a need to work at keeping his throat clear and his voice strong before, but this whole experience was a first for him, so ….

He finally answered. “Well, the answer to that question is actually the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. And I’m going to ask that you hear me out, and then when I’m done, if you don’t want to talk to me anymore – or even work for me anymore – I’ll understand. But, I’m hoping, of course, that you won’t feel that way.”

Mariah’s curiosity was aroused enough by this time that she did help him. “Say anything you feel you need to say, Neil, and I promise not to interrupt. I’ll let you finish.”

He nodded his head in acknowledgment and scooted forward in his chair to be closer to her. “Mariah, I said all of those things because I was jealous.” He searched her eyes to see if she was shocked, but he couldn’t tell. He knew she was surprised he’d said it, but that was all. “I knew I had antagonistic feelings toward Sanford, but I wouldn’t consciously admit it to myself – or the reason for it. I tried to convince myself that my feelings were because we had become great friends, and I was just looking out for your welfare, but that isn’t the truth.” At that, her eyes did get wide, and her eyebrows went up.

He unconsciously reached out a hand and laid it on hers as it rested on the arm of the sofa. “Oh, I was trying to look out for you, but not just because we were friends. I realized last night – after it was too late – that what I really feel for you goes much deeper than friendship.” He squeezed her hand. His eyes were so intense that Mariah couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to, but, of course, she didn’t want to. Neil continued.

“Mariah, I … I’m in love with you, and … and I’ve never said that to another woman in my life.”

Mariah’s gasp was audible, and a light flickered to life in her own eyes. Neil took hope from that tiny light and continued. “I don’t know for sure what you feel for me, but I’d like to ask you to give me a chance to show you how much I love you and how valuable you are to me – not as an employee – but as a woman – as the woman I want in my life from now on.”

As he spoke the words, Neil slipped from the chair to his knees in front of Mariah, who sat there with her mouth open and the light in her eyes even brighter. He gently took the cup from her other hand, sat it down, and then took both hands in his. She didn’t resist, but finally spoke, “Neil … I … I don’t understand. You’ve never said anything before.”

“I know. I’ve been too dense to realize myself what I was feeling – that is until last night. But I also realize that you may have strong feelings for someone else, and I don’t have any right to make you feel pressured by what I’m saying. I’m trying not to pressure you. I hope you know that. But I just had to at least tell you the truth.”

“Oh, Neil!” was all she said, but she lifted her hands and placed them gently on either side of his face.

“You’re not angry that I’ve said all this?”

She smiled widely. “My darling Neil, since when does a woman become angry because a man declares his love for her – especially when he does it so beautifully?”

Neil let out the breath he’d been holding and smiled for the first time since he’d started his explanation. He reached both hands up and laid them over hers. He then took each one and pressed the palm to his lips. “I love you, Mariah. I think I’ve loved you almost from the first day. You’ve been like my second self from the first week we worked together.

“I’ve never felt so comfortable with any other woman that I can remember, yet I’ve never felt to challenged to be the best man I could be. It made my day complete every time you were pleased with what I said and what I did, or how I ran my business or lived my life. I came to work every day with a new kind of expectation of vitality and beauty somehow – all because you were there. Oh, I couldn’t have put it into those words a week ago. But I finally recognize it for what it is.”

He paused and kissed the palms of her hands again. “Oh, Neil,” was still all she could say.

“And if you already have deep feelings for Carter Sanford, then I will accept that fact and not bring up my own feelings again. But I had to at least tell you the whole truth – at least once. You deserve that.”

Mariah chuckled softly and shook her head. He squeezed her hands in his. “I don’t even care if you laugh at me, Honey. I feel so much better knowing I’ve told you what’s in my heart.”

At those words, Mariah slipped from the sofa to her knees as well, facing Neil, and without thinking, she put her arms around his neck. “No, Darling. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at myself – and maybe at the idea that I could have deep feelings for Carter Sanford.”

“What?” Neil’s confusion was obvious. “Do you mean you don’t ….” His voice trailed off because it was just too much to hope for.

Mariah inched closer to him and shook her head. “No … I do not have deep feelings for Carter. I don’t really want to talk about him right now, but you can rest assured that what I do feel for him is not positive enough to cause you any jealously.”

“But you said last night that you wanted his attention — ”

Mariah slipped one hand over his lips to stop his words. “What I said last night was born out of the same thing that brought forth most of your words. I was reacting to feelings that I hadn’t recognized or learned to deal with yet. I had been hurt by Carter, and then I was being hurt by you. But the hurt caused by you was so much more painful and damaging —”

“Oh, Sweetheart!” Neil interrupted her and wrapped his arms around her completely, holding her against him. “I’m so sorry! … so sorry!”

Mariah pulled back enough to look at his face. “No … it’s all right now. What I was going to say is that what you did hurt me more than what Carter did because I don’t love Carter, but I do love you.”

He lifted his hand to caress one side of her face, “You … you do love me?” Mariah nodded her head. “You’re sure?” She nodded again.

Very sure!” she said.

“And all this time … we’ve wasted …. when we could have been ….” He just couldn’t seem to find the words, so he finally gave up and pulled her even closer, taking possession of her lips in a kiss that conveyed the message much more clearly than any words could have done anyway. And Mariah’s response was equally as satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that it was several moments before either of them took a breath or thought reasonably about anything at all.

As their lips finally parted, Neil wrapped her even tighter to him, and she buried her head against his neck, but several seconds later, Neil spoke. “Mariah, I think we’d be more comfortable if we got up from the floor, don’t you?”

Mariah laughed out loud. For the first time she realized that her own knees hurt from being on the floor in that embrace for so long. “Of course, Honey. Come on,” she said and began to get up. Neil did the same, but as they stood facing each other, he couldn’t resist kissing her again. Mariah was very willing, and, once more, it was quite a while before they had breath to speak. When they did, Mariah settled her arms more comfortably around Neil’s neck and grinned at him. “So, Boss, would you say that everything’s Jake again?”

Neil tightened his hold on her and looked at her solemnly, shaking his head in the negative. “No, Sweetheart. You have that backwards.”

Her eyes clouded. “What?”

“You asked me if everything’s Jake again. But you have it backwards … because from now on … in my world … everything isn’t Jake.  In my world, Jake is everything!”

 



Thank you so much for reading. I’ll leave the story on this site for one more week, in case a few people haven’t had time to get to the end yet. But after next Saturday, I’ll remove it. You can find the book, as well as most of my other inspirational fiction, on Amazon at this link.
Or visit my Amazon Author’s page for more information.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — chapter 8

EVERYTHING’S JAKE
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER EIGHT

Neil grabbed up the pizza box. Letting out a long groan, he wadded it up with his bare hands and slammed it into the waste can. That action wasn’t enough to release his feelings, so he slammed his hand on the counter so hard the pain caused him to groan again. There … maybe that would at least be some self-punishment for having been so stupid – and so unkind to the one person he’d come to care more about than any other human being in his life.

“Stupid idiot! You stupid idiot!” He ranted at himself as he ran his hands furiously through his hair, and finally, feeling spent from the pain of his estrangement from Mariah – and from his own remorse – he collapsed into his desk chair and buried his face in his hands.

He was still sitting in the chair, staring with unseeing eyes at his computer, when the office door opened, and his dad walked in. “Hi, son. I saw the light, and I thought maybe I’d catch you and Mariah here and invite you both to dinner at the house tomorrow night.” He stopped talking and looked around. He didn’t see Mariah, and something told him that the place was totally empty except for Neil, who, now that he looked at him more closely, was looking a little worse for wear.

“Something’s wrong?”

Neil didn’t answer for a moment. He just sat there and stared at his computer screen. Finally he heaved a sigh and said in a monotone voice. “You could say that.”

Adam leaned on the counter, praying for the Lord to give him the right words. He didn’t want to interfere in his grown son’s life, but he knew enough from his own experience to realize that sometimes being grown up in age didn’t mean a man didn’t feel hurt as painfully as a little boy. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Neil ran his hands through his hair again.

Adam watched and waited. He realized for the first time that there was quite a bit of gray showing in Neil’s dark brown hair. And for the first time, he actually noticed that his waistline was bulging more than it used to. Adam didn’t feel old enough to have two sons about to reach middle age themselves. But the clock didn’t quit ticking, and sure enough, they were just about there.

Nathan, his elder son, had a great wife, though, and a baby to love. Neil had nothing but this business. He should have Mariah. Adam and Elizabeth both knew Mariah was the right one for Neil. And they were pretty sure he knew it too. But Neil had always been super cautious about decisions – considering them from every single angle – over and over again – until he worked them over so many times he was worn out before he came to the point. Elizabeth had said something the other night about Mariah not waiting forever.

Adam cleared his throat. He wasn’t much of a counselor in the area of romance, but he could at least share his heart if Neil wanted him to. “Is it Mariah – or am I out of line?”

At those words, Neil looked up at Adam. “How did you know?”

Adam chuckled. “Well,” he said, as he walked around the counter and pulled a second chair up close to Neil’s desk. “I guess you could say I’ve been through some situations in the romance department that caused me to look about like you do right now.”

“I’m losing her, Dad.”

“Losing her how?”

Neil shrugged his shoulders. “I thought we were becoming the best of friends. I could open up to her in a way I’ve never done with anyone else. And she did the same with me. We feel the same about our spiritual lives and about the purpose and meaning of life. We want the same kinds of things. And we can sit and talk for five and six hours at a time and never run out of anything to say to each other.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound like you’re losing her to me.”

Neil waved his hand in a dismissive manner. “No … that’s not what makes me think that. It’s … It’s because she’s started dating Carter Sanford, and now she doesn’t seem to want to sit and talk with me and share things like she used to.” Neil looked at his father now. “And I worry about her with him. Oh, I don’t mean he’d hurt her physically. But I know enough about him to know he’s just playing around with Jake because she’s a mechanic.”

“How’s that?”

“Oh … you know … he’s a playboy, and because she’s so different from most of the women he associates with, he finds it fun to date her for a while. But he won’t stick with her. If she’s feeling something serious for him, he’ll break her heart, and I just couldn’t bear that.”

“And why do you think that is?”

“Well … she’s become such a great friend, and friends look out for each other. And … tonight … I tried to warn her about him —”

“Oh, I see,” Adam interrupted him.

“What do you mean, you see?”

Adam sighed. “I’m guessing you told her how he didn’t really care for her and how she was being foolish to let herself get taken in by him.”

“Yes.”

Adam let out another sigh. So did Neil.

“Well, I realized about halfway into the conversation that I was making a mistake, but for some reason I just couldn’t seem to stop myself. And … well … the conversation deteriorated so much that she threatened to quit.”

“Whew!”

“Yeah.” Neil leaned back in his chair and just shook his head sadly.

“Well … have you thought that maybe Mariah can tell that Carter really does care about her?”

“But he doesn’t!”

“How can you be so sure?”

“What? Are you on his side now?”

“Whoa, Son.” Adam held up his hands to ward off any more accusation. “I’m just trying to help you think this thing through here.”

“Oh, I know, Dad. I’m sorry.” He got up from his chair and started pacing the floor. “But I know I’m right. I feel it in every part of me. Carter Sanford will never – could never – love Mariah the way I —” He stopped mid-sentence, shocked by the words that he heard coming from his mouth. Suddenly he turned and looked at Adam, the surprise all over his face.

Adam nodded his head. “I heard. I think you have part of your answer right there, Son. You are in love with Mariah, but if you didn’t even recognize it, then you’ve obviously never told her. Maybe that’s what she needs to hear from you rather than how she’s making a fool of herself with Carter.”

“Well, I can’t tell her that now! Not while she’s dating another man!”

“What? You’d let her go out of your life just because she’s going out to dinner once in a while with some other man? She might drop him like a hot branding iron if she knew how much you cared, Neil.”

Heaving another sigh, Neil looked Adam in the eye. “Let’s face it dad, in spite of having my name on this business, in reality I’m still just a struggling mechanic. I can’t drive her around in expensive cars or send her bouquets of roses every week the way he does – or even the way a lot of other men can.”

Adam chuckled. “You know, Neil, before your mom and I were married I gave her flowers only one time. I just didn’t have a lot of money back then, and I tried to save what I did have so that we could go out every week. But one time, shortly before the wedding, I asked her if she ever felt cheated because I hadn’t given her more flowers and valuable gifts, and I’ll never – as long as I live – I’ll never forget her answer.

She said, ‘My darling Adam, if I were to receive a thousand roses at a time, they could never give me the joy and the thrill that I get from the look in your eyes every time you take me into your arms and tell me how much you love me.’” Adam leaned forward to emphasize his next words. “Neil, it’s communication that rules the day – before the wedding – and it’s still communication that makes the difference afterward – for the rest of your life.”

“But if she’s serious about Carter, I could also end up looking like a fool myself.”

“And does that really matter? Didn’t you feel a little foolish tonight after your argument?

“Well ….”

“Neil, you’ve always tried to live your life based on what God’s Word says. But, up to now, you’ve never had to deal with loving a woman and functioning in that capacity according to God’s Word. But think about it. Love comes from God. He is love, and He’s the creator of the love that develops between a man and a woman. Furthermore, He tells us that love always leads us to prefer the other person as more important than ourselves. Love is patient, kind; love serves; it isn’t jealous or easily provoked … am I right?”

“Sure, you know you are.”

“So … if you love this woman, then you have to begin to deal with her according to the demands of love the way God defines it – not according to the world’s definition. The world will tell you to consider how foolish you might end up looking, or how someone could take advantage of you if you let your guard down by letting them know you love them. But those philosophies are not from the Lord.”

He leaned forward and laid his hand on Neil’s shoulder. “No, I think it’s time you were honest with yourself and with Mariah and started speaking and acting toward her the way the Word of God tells you to. Stop talking to her about Carter Sanford, and start talking to her about her – and how valuable and precious she is to you.”

He gave Neil’s shoulder an encouraging pat and stood to his feet. “And just remember: roses always die, and a fancy car made out of cold steel can’t keep a woman warm at night.”

Neil snorted – although it was almost a chuckle. “If it were Mariah’s car, she’d tear it down and work on the heating system until it did keep her warm.”

Adam laughed out loud and gently slapped his son on the back. “Good! You’ve got your sense of humor back. I think you’ll survive this.” With those words he headed for the door. As he opened it, he turned back. “And unless I miss my guess, that little girl already feels the same way about you.”

A flicker of hope flashed through Neil’s eyes, and Adam smiled. “Go ahead, Son. Stick your neck out. You know she’s worth it.”

Adam closed the door and headed for his car with a jaunty step. He tossed his keys into the air and caught them, grinning. “Adam, old boy, you’re not too bad at counseling the lovelorn after all. Elizabeth will be downright proud of you.”


Final chapter tomorrow.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — chapter 7

EVERYTHING’S JAKE

© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER SEVEN

The following Sunday afternoon, Mariah went back to the country club with Carter. They played tennis until 5:00 and then decided to stay for dinner after they showered and changed. Mariah got to the table first, and while she waited for Carter, she found herself accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation involving a few people at the bar several feet behind her. She had recognized two of the people as a man and wife she had met earlier, and the others she didn’t know. She hadn’t heard the beginning of the conversation, but she started paying close attention when she heard Carter’s name.

“I gotta hand it to him,” one of the men said. “He’s one in a million. The man can have every model in three counties if he wants them – and the daughters of a couple of millionaires I could name – but he puts all of them on hold to go out and get his kicks with a grease monkey.”

Another male voice spoke up then. “What worries me is that maybe it’s more than getting his kicks. Maybe he’s serious about her. He’s been seen all over the place with her. And she’s definitely not going to fit in with our crowd, I can tell you that right now – all that religion!”

“Don’t let that throw you. I’ve seen Carter Sanford date three different women in the same afternoon, and make all of them think they’re his only one. No … he’s not serious. He told me he’s got this idea that running around for a while with a little grease monkey will shake him out of his boredom. He knows his family is expecting him to get married and settle down before too long, and he’s working on having all the flings he can before he has to bite the dust.”

Mariah was about to choke on the coffee she was drinking. She sat still as a stone, her heart pounding in her chest. Surely, she wasn’t hearing this right. Then one of the women spoke.

“You two need to keep your voice down. Everyone here knows him. And did he really tell you that, or are you just guessing at all this?”

“No … I’m telling you … he told me he’d found himself a cute little grease monkey – and those are his words – a cute little grease monkey – who could keep his car in souped-up shape, and he intended to grab her and run with her – and just see what would happen.”

At that point a new individual joined the group and broke up the conversation. Mariah was numb. She wanted to get out of there, but she felt as if her legs wouldn’t work. She forced herself to drink more of the coffee. It was hot and bracing, and that did help to get her mind kick-started again. And just in time. Carter came in, all smiles, and sat beside her at the table, taking her hand in his. She stiffened, and he looked at her curiously. “Hey, babe. Is something wrong?”

Mariah knew she couldn’t trust herself to answer intelligently, so she said, “No, not really. Just tired, I guess.”

“Well, I know exactly what you need.” He jumped up and walked over to the bar. When he came back, he had a glass of white wine for Mariah, and without thinking, she took several sips. Almost instantly, she realized how foolish that had been since her stomach was basically empty.

“I think I need food more, Carter. Can we just eat now?”

“Sure thing,” he said, and got up to lead the way to the dining area. Mariah thanked the Lord that the food came quickly and tasted good. She felt better after getting her head and stomach settled and had wisely not touched the wine glass again, opting for more coffee.

Carter, however, didn’t stop at one drink. He kept calling for one more throughout the meal, and by the time they were to dessert, he looked – and sounded – a little worse for the wear. Mariah had decided by then that she wasn’t riding home in his car with him in that condition, and she had pretty well decided that, even if she hadn’t overheard that conversation, this drinking situation was more than enough reason to put Carter Sanford out of her life for good.

So she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, but quietly slipped out to the door and asked the doorman to get her a taxi. To her relief, one taxi was letting out a passenger at the time, so she didn’t have to wait. Twenty minutes later, she was in her own apartment, thrown across her bed, pouring out tears of hurt, frustration, and anger – and wondering which one of those emotions would win out.

Almost an hour later, she finally pulled herself up from the bed, changed to an old worn-out robe and scuffs, and padded to the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, she saw a tear-stained face, with eyes wreathed in runny mascara, and hair that looked like it had seen a buzz saw. Unexpectedly, she laughed out loud. The sound startled her, but then it became infectious, and she continued laughing for quite a while.

She finally washed her face and felt surprised at how much better she felt afterward. She looked at her reflection again. “Well, Mariah Jacoby, you’ve made a fool of yourself again, my girl. But since it’s not the first time, it probably won’t be the last either. Just suck it up and move on.”

She leaned in closer to the mirror. “So maybe you’re not a femme fatale who can bring men to their knees. But you’re a gentle, kind, loving, hard-working woman of God, and if anything in Proverbs 31 can be believed, that’s everything that matters!”

She turned away to leave the room, but then suddenly turned back to her reflection. “And dang it, girl! You’re also the best darn mechanic that this town has ever laid eyes on!” She grinned and gave herself two thumbs up: “Everything’s Jake!”

At work the following week, Mariah’s mood was subdued. She wasn’t depressed – just thoughtful. The pep talk she’d given herself Sunday afternoon still rang in her soul. In the midst of that experience, she had come to the realization that she didn’t have to be the woman other people thought she should be in order to be satisfied and successful. That afternoon, as she had looked at her messy face and hair in the mirror, that truth had finally taken possession of her.

She had laughed because she suddenly saw how ridiculous she looked as a result of pushing to be what the rest of the world said she should be – and to have what the world said constituted success as a woman. She’d realized from that moment that she valued herself for the person she really was in her heart. And for the first time in her life, she had identified completely with that person. As she had washed her face, the Lord had brought to her mind the verse from Proverbs that said, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And she had been meditating on that truth ever since that moment.

Neil was subdued as well. In fact his mood was so reserved that Mariah worried about having done or said something that upset him, but she couldn’t remember anything that negative. She knew his reaction to her dating Carter had not been positive, but, in a way, that fact seemed sort of “positive” to her. It at least indicated that Neil recognized the fact that she appreciated being treated like an attractive woman.

But by Friday morning, she had decided she didn’t want even this kind of strain on their relationship, and she decided to make a move to remedy the situation by offering to work with him on the books that night. As soon as she got to the shop, she went to the office to talk to him.

“Good morning, Boss!” she said. “I wanted to talk to you about the bookwork.”

Neil’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Oh?” was his only reply.

“Well, we haven’t worked on anything for the past couple of weeks, and I just wanted to volunteer to work tonight if we have some things that need to be caught up.”

“What … no big date with your new flame?”

Mariah’s good intentions squirmed a little. Boy, this man was getting hard-hearted! Still, she had made the move, and she wasn’t giving up that easily. She smiled. “Nope. I don’t go out every night, you know. And I figured we surely had a good deal of work that needed to be brought up to date in the computer, and probably some monthly forms that needed to be filled out.”

Inwardly, Neil felt relief, because the truth was that he hadn’t been able to force himself to get that work done for the weeks Mariah had been unavailable. Partly, he had been pressed with other work, but partly he was feeling a little depressed at the thought of sitting there and working on the material by himself. It was still a little mystifying to him, but he had to admit that a job he’d done all alone for three years now seemed to be beyond him without Mariah at his side doing it. He also admitted that what he was feeling was more than just confidence and trust in an employee, but he wasn’t quite sure how to react to that knowledge.

“Well … if you’re sure you have the time, I could use the help.”

Mariah breathed a deep sigh of relief. She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she really did want to work with Neil tonight. “Great! And this time, the pizza is on me.”

“You don’t need to do that. You’re helping the business, so we’ll let the business buy supper.”

Unaccountably, Mariah’s spirits deflated at those words. She guessed she’d thought of their time together as more personal than just business, and the idea of putting their meal together on the expense account just wasn’t what she was after. But she didn’t argue. She’d made a step forward, and she’d continue in that direction. “Then I’ll buy dessert.” she said. “I’ll run to the bakery and get us two slices of chocolate cheesecake.”

***

As soon as they’d locked the door after the last customer, they went to work. After the first five minutes, they had fallen right into their old pattern of working together, and Mariah felt relief. Awkwardness seemed to melt away, and they worked for an hour before stopping to eat. After taking fifteen minutes to concentrate on the pizza, they decided to let dessert wait and get the last hour’s worth of work finished first.

Neil seemed a little more preoccupied during that hour, but Mariah didn’t mention it. She worked diligently, wanting him to know that she still cared about this part of the business running smoothly. By 7:30, they were done. Neil had made coffee in the office pot, so they sat down in the waiting area with coffee and cheesecake.

After about five minutes, Neil cleared his throat. Mariah could see that he was still preoccupied with something important on his mind, but she wasn’t quite prepared for what he said.

He cleared his throat again. “Mariah … I’ve been sitting here thinking about whether or not I should mention something to you.” She looked at him, giving him her full attention.

“If it’s something important to you, then by all means, share it with me.”

He cleared his throat the third time. “Well … you may consider it none of my business, and in reality, it isn’t, except … well … except that I care about you. We’ve become more than just co-workers. I feel like we’re friends.” He looked at her intently.

“Oh, I agree, Neil. You can feel free to talk to me about anything you think is important.”

Neil got up and started pacing around the waiting area. He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and cleared his throat yet again. Finally, he stopped – about ten feet away from Mariah as she still sat in her chair. He took a deep breath and finally spoke:

“You need to watch your step with Carter, Mariah.” He had almost blurted out the words, due to the nervous pressure he was feeling. But once started, the words just kept rolling out with no restraint. “He’s nothing but a poor little rich kid who’s been spoiled rotten and given everything he wanted on a silver platter! He can have nearly any woman he wants in twelve counties with the snap of his finger – models, celebrities, daughters of the most powerful and wealthy men in this state!”

Mariah’s eyes pierced him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Something deep inside told Neil he’d already overstepped the boundaries here, but he just couldn’t seem to shut himself off now. “It means that he’s probably playing around with you because you are something different. I seriously doubt he’s ever even thought about dating a mechanic before, and taking you out and showing you off to his friends is a big hoot for him. He probably doesn’t really care about you at all.”

He couldn’t have known that he was putting into words the whole nightmare she’d lived through the previous weekend. A cold chill went through Mariah, and even though she had already come to terms with this truth, the fact that Neil was putting it into words seemed like another level of insult. She stood to her feet. One part of her mind reminded her that she already knew this truth and had dealt with it, but there was another part of her that felt the bitter pain of it all over again. Her insides were churning, but her voice was still controlled.

“In other words, I’m not good enough for the Carter Sandfords of this world because I get dirty working on cars? Or did you mean that I’m too plain and unattractive to stir up any interest as a real woman?”

Neil snorted. “Don’t play word games, Mariah. I’m telling you he’s taking you out because you are a diversion from his ordinary fun. And I just don’t want you to get hurt; that’s all.”

By this time, Mariah’s eyes were filled with tears, but she had turned sideways so he couldn’t see that. She struggled now to control her breathing so her voice wouldn’t be nervous and high-pitched when she answered. Finally she turned back to look at Neil. “Well just maybe I’m out to have some fun myself. Maybe I want Carter’s attention regardless of why he’s interested. And why shouldn’t I? There’s sure no indication of any interest in me as a ‘real woman’ around here!”

“What the …! So now you’re mad because my guys don’t jump all over you while you’re here to work?”

Mariah gasped audibly at the insinuation. Her eyes were enormous and her mouth wide open. Neil felt the blow to his own conscience as well. He’d never dreamed he would say something like that to a respectable woman – least of all someone he cared as much about as he did Mariah.

Mariah finally recovered and looked him straight in the eye. Her voice was subdued and her words deliberately slow and measured. “That remark was totally uncalled for, Mr. Warner, and if you cannot keep a modest tongue in your mouth when I’m around, I think perhaps I need to start looking for another job.” On one level, she knew they were both letting feelings they hadn’t named lead them into saying things they didn’t really mean. But on the more conscious level, she just needed to fight back. So with that remark, she turned and walked briskly from the office, got into her car, closing the door without slamming it, and drove away.


Only two chapters left. Meet me here tomorrow for Chapter Eight.