Forgiving Max #52weeks52stories


bench


#52weeks52stories: Week 7

Word prompt: bench

~~~~~

Having the bench in sight gave Ophelia Brubaker an energy boost to make the last few feet to her destination.

With her cane as support, Ophelia eased her brittle bones down onto the bench, grateful she’d remembered a seat cushion this time.

She loosened her light jacket and wiped the sheen of perspiration from her forehead as she caught her breath.

Ophelia looked around the immaculate grounds. The clover green grass had a uniform cut and stretched out around her like an inviting blanket. The trees, birch and oak, provided shade and comfort, their leaves rustling in the light breeze.

“The beauty of this place always takes my breath away, Max. I won’t say it’s wasted because that would be cold and unfeeling… and just plain rude. But, the city parks department could learn a thing or two from the landscapers here.”

She sipped from her water bottle before continuing.

“I spent a long weekend with Loren and his family. Teresa gave birth to his first grandchild Thursday night, and Carl graduated from Southern Sunday afternoon.” She chuckled. “It was quite a busy time. Made me realize how old and tired I am… but I loved every second.”

Ophelia smile faded, replaced by sadness. She looked around the grounds again, her mind prodding, pushing her to stop evading the subject.

At last, her eyes came to rest on the ornate headstone. Tears pooled in her eyes until they spilled down her drawn cheeks.

“You know, my love, I’ve been coming to visit you for twelve years. Updating you on what our children are doing, sharing the names and birth dates of our newest grandchildren and great-children, and telling you which of our friends to expect to see.”

Ophelia pulled an embroidered handkerchief from her bag and dabbed her eyes.

“But I’ve never talked about what was on my mind… what’s always on my mind.” Her jaws tightened. “And it’s been there for over sixty years. We didn’t talk about it when you were here… and I still have trouble talking about it now.”

She straightened her posture sitting erect, hands folded in her lap.

“But we will talk about it today, Max Brubaker. It’s time.”

She stared at the headstone.

“You and I, we had a perfect life together. I loved you with a fierce passion that scared me sometimes. And you… you could read my thoughts, finish my sentences, tell my moods by looking into my eyes. It was wonderful, my love. More than I dreamed I’d ever have.

“When we started our family, our blessings multiplied. I was heartbroken and guilty for the wives whose husbands didn’t come back from the war because mine did. And I was so grateful, Max. So, so grateful.”

“We had sad times. Losing our parents all so close together was difficult. When your cancer was diagnosed in 2004, it almost broke me. And when I lost you in 2006… Max, it did break me. I wanted to crawl into the casket next to you. Only the grace of God and the wonderful children he blessed us with saved me from dying of grief.”

Scooting to the edge of the bench, Ophelia leaned on her cane and stood.

“Some days it hurts to sit as much as it does to stand.” She hobbled around the bench and leaned on the retaining wall.

“The last true bad spot in our lives, Max, was Kerwin.” The name dropped from her lips leaving a grimace in its wake.

“Some families call members like him the black sheep, but Kerwin was so much worse… a cancerous plague spreading and devouring everything it touched.”

She paced the few steps to the end of the bench. “He almost destroyed us, but I refused to give in.” Her gaze returned to the headstone. “And you refused to admit the truth even though you saw it in my eyes. I couldn’t say the words either, too consumed with guilt, shame, and anger.

“But, when you said you had to take your dad to the specialist in Boston and Kerwin would stay with the kids and me and keep the sidewalks and driveway cleared of snow and ice—I’ll never forget that argument.”

 

“Boston General says the tests take two days. We’ll be on our way back home by Wednesday afternoon.”

Ophelia’s heart broke at the sadness overtaking her husband. “Do they think they can help your dad?”

He sighed, resting his elbows on his thighs. “That’s what the tests are for—to see the exact location of the tumor, how fast it’s growing, and if it’s operable. The only thing Dr. Minor would say for sure is if they do nothing, dad will lose his sight by fall.”

“I’m so sorry, my love. I know Dell is glad to have you with him.”

“I know, Lia. I’m glad I’m here for him too.” Max stood and grabbed another cup of coffee and before standing next to his wife at the counter.

“That winter storm they’re predicting could hit before we get back. I’d feel better knowing you and the kids weren’t here alone, so I asked Kerwin to -”

“No.” She grabbed more vegetables from the fridge.

“Huh?”

“I don’t need… I mean there’s no need to inconvenience Kerwin. We’ll manage.”

Sitting his cup down, Max slid his hands around her waist.

“Inconvenience? Honey, he’s my brother. Of course, he’ll help look out for my family.”

She pulled away. “No, Max. It isn’t necessary.”

“Honey, I know you’re not the biggest fan of my brother since he tried to kiss you at Christmas dinner, and I’m sorry for that.”

Max couldn’t see her knuckles whiten as her grip tightened on the butcher knife.

“But he’d celebrated with a bit too much spiked eggnog, is all. He apologized to you when he sobered up.”

Ophelia stabbed at the potatoes and rough-chopped the carrots as though swinging a machete.

“Max, you’re talking about two days. TWO days. We’re two blocks from the children’s school and I’ll postpone any appointments I have. There. See how easy that was? No driving while you’re gone.”

Max stepped away from her, dragging his hand through his stiff buzz-cut. “Don’t mock me, Lia. I’m being serious about- ”

“I’m serious too, dear. The boys walk to and from school every day. If a foot of snow falls, it will take them longer… because they’re kids, and they will play. I can shovel a path to the sidewalk and walk down to the corner and wait for them. See? We’ll be fine.”

“Kids playing?” Max shoved his hands deep into his pockets, stomping around the kitchen. “You’re determined not to take this seriously, Lia. I get it, you don’t like Kerwin. But, remember that storm from last winter? It was supposed to be three to four inches and ended up being nineteen? The city was shut down with power and heating outages everywhere. We were all here together and things still got bad before streets were cleared and power restored.” He slumped against the refrigerator. “I have to know my family is safe. I’m sorry, but Kerwin will stay here.”

Slamming the knife down on the counter, Ophelia Brubaker whirled around to face her husband.

“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” She walked toward him. “I have to tolerate Kerwin at family gatherings. And I’ve spent years listening to your family make excuses for his bad decisions.” She stopped mere inches from Max, her body shaking from rage.

“You are a wonderful husband and father, but you’re blind when it comes to your brother.” She took two more steps. “I will not have his presence forced upon me in my own home… not even for you. If you think the storm will be a problem, reschedule your father’s appointment- ”

“You know I can’t do- ”

“… then I’ll take the boys out of school for a couple of days and go to my brother’s.”

Stunned by her plan, Max Brubaker grasped for words.

“Lia, I’m just… I need you to work with me. I can’t be two places at once.” He held his arms out to his sides, his brow knitted in confusion. “I don’t know what else to do here, Lia. You act as though you’re afraid of my brother.”

Ophelia didn’t respond, but she held his gaze, fighting to keep her body from shuddering.

But she couldn’t keep the pain from her eyes.

She knew Max saw her pain when recognition dawned on his face.

The seconds ticked by as the couple stood moored in silence.

Embers of relief and hope grew inside Ophelia and calmed her soul. Max knew. At last, he knew. No more hiding her pain. No more fake smiles.

But Max Brubaker held his hands up in front of him… between them… backing toward the kitchen door. “Okay, Lia, you win. I’ll tell Kerwin your brother is coming here instead.”

He turned and walked out of the kitchen.

 

Tears streamed down Ophelia’s face, remembering that fateful day.

“You broke my heart, Max, and my spirit. If it hadn’t been for the boys, I’d have killed myself. It was too much to live with. Knowing you knew and did nothing. Like your parents, you covered up and ignored Kerwin’s sins, and defended him to anyone who held him accountable.”

She pointed an accusing finger at the headstone.

“Your brother raped me a month before you were discharged! He was smug and arrogant and knew your parents would protect him.” She twisted the handkerchief in her hands.

“I didn’t know what to do… who to tell. I felt responsible for letting him into our home. But he was your brother, Max. I didn’t think…” Her voice trailed off. After several minutes, Ophelia cleared her throat.

“I didn’t want your homecoming ruined, my love. I decided to say nothing until you got home. But even then, I could never form the words. The shame and guilt were just too great.”

“But years later… that day in the kitchen. You realized what I’d been hiding… and ignored it.”

“You put your brother ahead of me… and I hated you for it. Hated you! Do you hear me, Max?”

She clawed at her chest, trying to stave off her own hysteria. She buried her face in her hands, massaging her brow. When she raised her head, her calm had returned.

“I pretended things were okay—normal, even. I’d had a lot of time to perfect fake smiles and false sincerity. The only time I let my guard down was with my children.”

“You pretended too, my love. Pretended you didn’t know—like we’d never had that argument. But, you changed. You never left me alone with him after that and didn’t invite him over the way you used to. I was grateful for that.”

Ophelia paused as a woman a few years her junior walked by.

“Give him hell, honey. He can’t get up and leave.”

The two women shared a chuckle as the younger woman made her way to a bench and headstone of her own.

“We went on, Max. It was hell for us both, but I believe our love is what saved us. My head told me to walk away but my heart wouldn’t hear of it.” She grinned. “So glad I listened to my heart.”

“It all began to make sense right before your dad passed, in a dysfunctional, chaotic way. When Kerwin was arrested for assaulting that woman at his job, your dad stopped all his medical treatments to use his savings for Kerwin’s defense. When the woman dropped the charges, I realized the defense was to pay for her silence.

“It was the admissions your sister made to me when I spent the week in Seattle with her after the Cesarean that brought all the pieces together. I’d often wondered why Katherine made infrequent visits home but figured she was a busy wife and mother. But when she said it was hard for her to visit because she hated her brother, I knew which brother and why. After she told me Kerwin molested her when she was seventeen, and your parents blamed her, your reaction made sense.”

“You weren’t protecting Kerwin with your silence, you were protecting me. If your parents didn’t believe their own daughter, I didn’t stand a chance.”

“It was a bitter pill to swallow, but I did. The aftertaste came back several times over the years, but at least I didn’t blame you… or hate you.”

She took another sip of water, dabbed her eyes one last time and returned her things to her handbag.

“I’ve chided myself dozens of times since you’ve been gone for not telling you, Max… for not forcing the conversation. I just couldn’t make myself do it.”

“Katherine called me last night both happy and angry. Happy because Kerwin died two days ago of heart failure. Angry because he died at home in his own bed. No pain, no suffering. He went to bed and never woke up.”

“Katherine didn’t think it was fair after all the pain he’d brought to so many.”

“I understand why she feels that way, but odd enough, I found an easy peace in your brother’s death. I haven’t seen him since your funeral, yet I always felt as though he was behind every closed door or hiding in the dark waiting for me. It took me sixty years to put everything into place but now I know I was shackled by fear. I hated Kerwin and thought I hated you… but I hated myself more for being afraid.”

A sad smile formed on her face.

“I knew I would come here today and tell you what’s worried my heart for so long.”

Ophelia scooted to the edge of the bench and hoisted her weary body up, braced against her cane. She hobbled across the short narrow path to the granite headstone. She pressed two fingers against her lips then touched the grave marker.

“I miss you, my love, every day. And I forgive you, Max… for allowing me to hide my own pain. It gave Kerwin too much power over me for too long.”

Slow, deliberate steps took her back to the bench. She gathered her things, and with one last smile at Max Brubaker’s headstone, Ophelia left the cemetery for the last time. She would return thirty-seven days later to rest next to her husband… in peace.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

 

It’s time for a Drabble!


Drabbles


Back with another Drabble!

I believe I’m getting the hang of the rhythm.

The difficult part–word usage–is… coming.

Much like any story, writers want readers to be able to empathize with the protagonist (good or bad), and visualize and feel the scene.

Tall order for a hundred words but it is fun!

How did I do?

~~~

C H A N G E S – Drabble #2

Kerri Kennedy sat alone on the swing watching her four former friends play across the schoolyard.

They treated Kerri as though she’d changed.

The accident last winter took her father and left Kerri with mangled legs.

She couldn’t stand up straight and walked with a limp, but she was still the girl who liked pineapple on her pizza.

She wasn’t the one who changed.

A soccer ball bounced against Kerri’s foot. She kicked it back to the girl running toward her.

“Thanks. Wanna play with us?”

“I can’t. My leg.”

“Sure, you can.”

Surprised, Kerri smiled at her new friend.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

The Marshall Sisters #52weeks52stories



#52weeks52stories: Week 6

The pings and knocks of the beat up Toyota vibrated through Leslie.
She glanced out at the tiny bungalow, her thoughts in rhythm with the car’s motor.
Come on, Pau-la, what’s taking so long?
Come on, Pau-la, I want to go home.
Swearing under her breath, Leslie tried to burrow deeper into her coat. The Toyota’s heater sputtered and hissed almost as loud as the motor but gave little comfort in the dropping temperatures.
I could be home right now wrapped up in my Snuggie, laughing my ass off at Angie Tribeca. But no. I had to be the supportive sister and ride out here to Allen’s house just because she thinks he has some bimbo in there. Damn!
Leslie folded her arms across her chest, slipping her gloved hands into her underarms.
Five more minutes and she was going to kick Allen’s door in. There was no argument more important than her freezing to death.
Come on, Paula!
If Leslie had her way, Paula would have dumped Allen months ago.
Not only was he weird, always picking nonexistent pieces of lint off his clothing, but he was an arrogant ass.
When speaking, Allen’s sentences were peppered with random pauses where he’d wiggle his nose. If the conversation was about anything other than him, the idiot would sniff.
Leslie at first thought the man had a severe case of hay fever. When there was never any sneezing or watery eyes, she was sure Allen had a nasty cocaine habit.
Grumpy and annoyed after an evening of bowling with the smitten couple, Leslie couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“P, why does he talk like that?”
“Like what?”
“All those pauses… and nose wiggles… what’s up with that?”
“Oh, that.” She waved her sister off. “It’s not a big deal. Allen stuttered when he was a kid. The pauses and nose wiggles are tools his speech therapist taught him to focus and pace his words.”
She glared at her sister, incredulous.
“Was sniffing another tool he was taught?”
Paula Marshall giggled. “Isn’t that adorable? I just want to smother him in kisses when he does that?”
Leslie smirked but didn’t respond. She doubted Paula wanted to hear she wanted to smother her boyfriend too… with a pillow.
She fidgeted with the heat vents, attempting to direct the tepid air toward her numbing feet when the back car door screeched as it was opened.
Leslie yelped.
“P, dammit! You scared the hell out of me!”
Paula Marshall dumped two large blue plastic trash-bags behind her sister then jumped in the driver’s seat.
“Sorry, Les.” She tapped the accelerator peddle twice before pulling away from the curb.
“Sorry, Les? That’s all you have to say after I nearly froze to death waiting for you? Why did you insist I come anyway if you planned to leave me the freakin’ car?” Leslie Marshall babbled on, approaching hysteria. “What the hell, P? Say something! I could lose two toes behind this! And what’s in those bags you shoved in the back seat? Am I talking to myself? Is this a conversation for -”
Nonplussed, Paula gave her rambling sister a casual glance. “Shut up, Les.”
Slumping in her seat, the younger sister held in her anger. “I didn’t need to be here, Paula Beth. I could have phoned this in.”
“Leslie, I-I… he wasn’t alone.”
She jerked forward in her seat.
“What? I’m sorry, P, really. I know you liked him a lot.”
Paula slowed at the next intersection as the traffic light turned red. She smiled at Leslie.
“It’s okay… and it’s not a big deal. Yes, I did like him, but I will not be bothered with a man I cannot trust.”
Leaning her head back, Leslie stared at the crimson stoplight, not speaking until the signal turned to forest green.
“What did he say?”
She scoffed. “What could he say? They were half-dressed in that way you knew the deed had already been done. He followed me around whining as I collected my stuff. Pleading for another chance… saying it didn’t mean anything.” Paula gripped the steering wheel tighter. “I’m getting pissed all over again thinking about it.”
“I’m so sorry, P. You deserved better than that. But I’m hella proud of you for standing up for yourself.”
Paula Marshall had been a doormat for a long line of men in her short thirty-two years. She’d been a victim of physical and verbal abuse, robbed of her paycheck and savings several times, and had her identity stolen by one man who claimed he was tracing the Marshall ancestry. It took Paula over a year to get her credit records back in order and the more than seventy-thousand-dollars in fraudulent charges removed.
“Thanks, Les. It means a lot to know you’re in my corner.”
“Always, P. Always.”
They rode in silence, both women lost in their thoughts.
Worry lined Leslie’s young face as she fought to not question her sister further, but lost the battle. Her words fell shaky and clipped.
“Paula, did you know the woman with Allen?”
Nervous butterflies assaulted Leslie’s stomach. She watched her sister’s gaze dart over the road in front of her, a slow menacing grin forming on her lips.
“Oh, yes. I knew the bitch.”
“Paula?”
“It was Zoe Cox.”
Anger turned Leslie’s nervous butterflies into smoldering bile. “What the hell? Are you kidding me, P? Dickwad has a beautiful, smart girlfriend who’ll do anything for him and he cheats with the town slut?”
“It’s okay, Les. I took care – ”
“No, it’s not okay! Allen knew what kind of woman she is. And the whole town knows she’s a walking STD-bank. I cannot believe this.” She raged on. “Turn around, P! Take me back to Allen’s so I can kick both their asses!”
With her eyes on the darkened road stretched out ahead of them, Paula reached over and caught her sister’s hand.
“Les, I promised you… it’s handled. By the time I finished with them, they’d seen the error of their ways. This will not happen again.”
Still not convinced but reigning in her anger for Paula’s sake, Leslie folded her arms across her chest, sullen.
As Paula turned onto Renway Court, Leslie didn’t want to get out the car letting her sister believe she was angry with her. The beat-up Toyota sputtered to a stop in front of Leslie’s tiny bungalow.
Leslie’s head hung as she gave Paula a sheepish side-eye glance. “You know, P, the whole thing with Allen was one big cluster, but… what you did tonight? The way you went out there and barged right in? Pretty much makes you a bad-ass bitch now.”
Paula Marshall fell into a giggling fit. “Yes, I am! Look out world! I’m done taking anyone’s shit!”
Leslie shared Paula’s laughter, but something seemed off about her sister. However, she rationalized that her sister had put in a full day’s work, found out her boyfriend was cheating and caught him in the act, and here they sat in a freezing cold car in the middle of the night trying to process it all. Paula had every right to be a little unsettled. Leslie pushed the accusatory thoughts from her mind and reached out to give her sister a hug.
“Get some rest, pretty girl. You’ve had one hell of a day and it will be time for us to do it all again in a few short hours.”
“Thanks, Les. And thanks again for having my back. It may not seem like it, but knowing you were in the car waiting… gave me strength to do what I had to do. Love you.”
“Love you too. Night.”
Leslie Marshall ran into her house without looking back. Closing and locking the door, she sagged against it, thankful she left her heat on. Determined to get at least six hours sleep, she grabbed a beer from the fridge, drinking half of it before she reached her bedroom. After a two-minute shower, Leslie drank the rest of the beer and slid into bed, falling asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

When her alarm sounded at five minutes after seven, Leslie’s first thought was to call in. She hadn’t used any sick time in over eight months and had only two scheduled days off over her regular two days a week.
But Clarence Milton wouldn’t care about that. He was more than likely giving Stephanie Thompson, his assistant, a major migraine right now… and counting the minutes until Leslie showed up. She didn’t like the pompous news director, but he was allowing her to write and edit more segments. She’d better not chance it and get on his bad side.
Sitting up, Leslie grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV to see how the morning crew was faring. She hoped the morning co-anchor, Dianna Corwin had gotten rid of the assy two-tone hairstyle she showed off two days ago.
WKTT returned from a commercial break and there sat Dianna, assy hair and all, looking like an over-the-hill skater-boy.
Shaking her head, Leslie headed for the kitchen in search of coffee when Dianna’s words stopped her cold.
“We have an update on the grisly double murder WKTT first reported during our 6 AM broadcast. Police have identified the victims as thirty-four-year-old Allen Bailey and thirty-three-year-old Zoe Cox.”
Leslie Marshall stumbled but made it back to her bedside before she could fall to the floor. She crawled to the center of her bed and hugged her pillow close as the broadcast continued.
“WKTT’s Sharon Shuford was able to get a short interview with lead detective, Don Ware.”
“Sharon: Det. Ware, what do you know so far about this double murder?
Ware: Well, Sharon, the coroner puts the time of death at somewhere between 8 PM last night and 1 AM this morning. We believe the person or persons who committed this crime was known to at least one of the victims as there were no signs of forced entry. We also believe it was someone who knew the victims because this was a violent slaughter. This is, by far, the most gruesome crime scene I’ve worked in a decade. It took a lot of rage and malice to carry out this crime and generally, for this to happen, there has to be a personal connection between killer and victim.”
Tears streamed down Leslie’s face. And she had been sitting in the car alone while a murderer was roaming the streets! She rocked back and forth, unable to believe Allen and Zoe were gone.
True, she didn’t care for either of them and just a few short hours ago, she wanted to kick their asses, but that was because of how they betrayed Paula…
Oh my God, Paula!
Leslie leaped across the bed to grab her cell phone. She prayed Paula was still asleep and hadn’t heard the news. She would be devastated. Punching Paula’s number into the keypad, Leslie paused when she realized the newscast had returned to Dianna and she was still talking about the double murder.
“Police have no suspects and no leads in this heinous crime and could use whatever help the public can give. Law enforcement says the blood splatter from a crime like this would be excessive and the killer or killers would be covered in blood. We’re also told there is a chance the killer or killers tried to clean themselves up before leaving the scene. Police say blue trash bags like the ones on the screen now may have been used to hide bloody clothing when leaving the scene. Anyone with information in this case should contact the Pitts Police Department immediately.”
Leslie Marshall dropped her phone, stunned.
Blue trash bags.
Paula put two blue trash bags in the back seat of her car last night.
No way. No way.
Her sister was not a killer.
A murderer.
“Les, I promised you… it’s handled. By the time I finished with them, they’d seen the error of their ways. This will not happen again.”
“It may not seem like it, but knowing you were in the car waiting… gave me strength to do what I had to do.”
Covering her mouth, Leslie raced to the bathroom. Her empty stomach spasmed having little more than bile to give up. She backed away from the toilet until she reached the wall next to the bathtub and slid down the wall with a thud, unable to cry or scream. Her body shook as she tried to push the truth from her mind, and the harder she pushed, the more her body shook. Leslie was unable to control her own limbs and she fell over not realizing she was going into shock.
Her meek, docile, submissive sister was now a bad-ass bitch… who killed two people last night while Leslie waited in the car.
Leslie Marshall was the star witness against Paula… or a co-conspirator.
The buzzing in her head grew and Leslie could no longer sort her thoughts. She let go and fell over the edge into the dark abyss.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

Lyrical Fiction Friday | “His Distraction”

So sorry I’m late with this, but I have the flu. And a migraine. And I had to go out for more COFFEE. And my socks don’t match. And a Unicorn ate my first draft. 😀


LFF banner


This week’s lyric prompt is:

“…I met this girl…she ruined my philosophy…my heart skips a beat when she comes around “

For the rules, click on the lyric above. 

My mind was all over the place with this prompt. Of course, that could have been due to ridiculous amounts of cold medicine. But where I finally landed surprised even me.

Blog followers will recognize Jonathan Pratt’s distraction–Lenore ‘Lennie’ Porter from Free, a Novella, a free read on this blog, and the extended versions in ebook and print. Can you say Story tie-in?

———

As usual, Claire Pratt’s cocktail party was the place to be.

Jonathan Pratt marveled at his sister-in-law’s handiwork as he strolled through the seven-bedroom showplace. Only Claire could take leaves, tree branches, and pumpkins and put an elegant spin on autumn decorations.

He recognized a few of the faces from past parties, and there were several from the old neighborhood. While they were affluent, like him, Vernon and Claire would never forget their roots and where they came from. They were all part of a small group which paid into a fund so the daycare centers and the Boys’ and Girls’ Club in the old neighborhood didn’t have to worry over the paltry few dollars from the national charities.

Leaving the sunken living room, Jon headed for the family room where he knew Vernon had set up two kegs of beer… much to Claire’s dismay.

He had one foot in the doorway of the family room when he saw them. Hannah and Liz. Jon did an about-face so fast, he made himself dizzy. There was nothing wrong with forty-two-year-old Asian-American Hannah Nakuru, who ran her own high-end catering business or forty-year-old African-American Liz Brent, a web designer from Vernon’s firm. But both women admitted to being ready to try marriage again after five failed marriages between them… and the forty-nine-year-old confirmed bachelor had no interest in being a candidate.

He headed toward the dining room and Claire’s elaborate wine bar instead.

A dozen people milled around the room chatting in hushed tones. Jon found his favorite Moscato and reached for a glass.

As he poured, he glanced around the room at the well-heeled group… and froze.

She was across the room next to the window talking with two men.

Her emerald green cocktail dress complimented her caramel skin tone and shapely figure. Her thick, chestnut brown hair was pulled back into a loose, but neat French braid held in place by an ornate hair clamp.

“Whoa, dude!”

Jon looked to the young man next to him who pointed at Jon’s wine glass.

He stopped the pour just before the pale pink vino flowed over the edge of the wine glass… and saved himself a ton of misery. Claire would not have been happy if he ruined her snow-white table covering.

“Hey, thanks, man. Guess I got a little… distracted.”

Staring at a woman in a form-fitting red dress near him, the man tilted his head with a knowing smile. “Yeah, I get distracted too,” and he walked over to introduce himself to the woman in red.

Embarrassed, Jonathan gulped the wine down to a reasonable level. Then, trying to look nonchalant, he strolled to the other side of the table before fixing his gaze on the woman in green.

She was stunning and his jealousy flared as he wondered if she was with either of the men.

He guessed she was near his age, not because she looked older, but her posture and mannerisms spoke of a mature, confident woman comfortable in her own skin.

Averting his eyes, Jon gulped his wine again while his mind raced.

Stop acting like you’ve never seen a woman before! Walk away!

His feet, however, didn’t care for that idea and stayed firmly planted.

Still in a mental battle with himself to leave the room, his brain lost the battle when his eyes were drawn back to his distraction.

She laughed at something one of the men had said and her laughter traveled across the room, wrapping Jon in a tight embrace.

His chest and slacks tightened.

Her laughter was deep and throaty. Warm and soothing. Playful and seductive.

He never wanted it to end.

“Hey, bro? You okay? How much wine have you had?”

Startled, Jon whipped his head around to a grinning Vernon Pratt.

He ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck.

“No, I’m good. This is my first glass. Think the time zone change is messing with me.”

Vernon gave his shoulder a tight squeeze.

“Okay, man. But don’t overdo it.”

As Vernon looked over the wine selection, Jon figured it was now or never.

“Vern, who’s that?”

He responded while reading a wine label.

“Room full of people, Jonny… could you be more specific?”

“The woman over there… in the green dress.”

Vernon looked up and gazed around the room until he found the ‘green dress.’ He smiled.

“Oh. That’s Lennie.”

Jon frowned. “Lennie?”

“Yes, Lennie. Or rather Lenore Porter. Bobby’s cousin.” Bobby was Robert Pearson, also from the Pratt’s old neighborhood and Vernon’s best friend. Bobby and his wife, Gayle, owned El Encanto, an upscale eatery.

Jonathan’s frown deepened to confusion.

“Wait. We’ve known Bobby since grade school. I thought all his family lived here in Pittsburgh?”

Vernon chuckled. “They did for the most part. Bobby and Lennie are second cousins on his mom’s side. They met once or twice as kids but didn’t get to know each other until Bobby took his mom to Lennie’s mom’s funeral a couple of years ago.”

“She lives here now? And how do you know so much about her?”

“No, she does not live here… just here for the holidays, and, she’s been here several times in the last few months. She has degrees in food sciences and nutrition and ran her own catering business in Minnesota for years. Now she’s a consultant, working with restaurant chefs to incorporate more health-conscious items into restaurant menus. Thanks to her, Bobby and Gayle’s vegan/vegetarian menu is outselling the rest of the regular menu.”

“Sounds like a super smart lady.”

“Good business mind too. El Encanto has been a money-maker from the beginning, but Lennie helped them up their game—streamlining job tasks and increasing staff productivity, raising employee morale, strengthening business relationships with city government—Gayle keeps begging her to move here.”

A faint smile played at the corners of Jon’s mouth. Streamlined job tasks and increased productivity—intelligent and shrewd. Raised employee morale—she knew how to handle people. Works well with city government—she can navigate the political landscape. Jon was impressed

“Vern, introduce me.”

“No.”

His mouth gaped open. “What do you mean no? Why not?”

“Did you miss the part about her being Bobby’s cousin?”

“No, but – ”

“He’s like a brother to me too, man. I can’t risk it.”

Jon clicked his tongue. “Excuse me. Exactly what can’t you risk?”

“C’mon, big brother, calm down. I wasn’t trying to upset you. But, even you have to admit… your track record with women…” Vernon’s words trailed off, and he leaned in close to Jonathan, speaking in a near whisper, “Your relationships always have an expiration date.”

His anger flared, but the truth tamped it down just as fast.

Vernon was right. His relationships didn’t last long, but it wasn’t always that way. There were long-term relationships in his past. One he’d hoped would lead to marriage. But, she played him… just like a handful of others after her.

After being used and burned one time too many by money-hungry women, a new Jonathan had emerged. The women he dated were of his choosing, the relationships brief—never lasting more than 3-4 months, and… he never took them to his home.

He thought it ironic and a double standard how women accused men of being users, players, and wanting the milk without buying the cow.  Jonathan Pratt’s experiences were the opposite.

Successful, middle-class, or struggling, Jonathan Pratt had dealt with women from all walks of life. They didn’t necessarily want him, but the things he could give them. Everything from expensive trips to jewels, to even braces for a teen whose father refused to step up—but whose mother was still seeing the deadbeat on the down-low—had been demanded of Jon. The final straw was when he gifted an up-and-coming sports agent with an expensive attaché for her birthday. She was expecting a car.

The successful freelance technical writer and consultant walked away from that dinner and never looked back. Jon became Mr. Love-‘Em-and-Leave-‘Em, not caring what others thought. His way of life worked well for him for over a dozen years and he’d seen no need to change it.

The modern, forward-thinking, independent career women Jon met in his line of work had no problem with his rules, most seeking the same type of encounter.

Now, here was a woman he didn’t know, tugging at his heart and tying him in knots.

“Dude? You sure you’re okay? Maybe you should call it a night.”

Pulled from his thoughts, Jon pleaded with his brother.

“Vernon, introduce me. Please?”

Before the younger Pratt could respond, Claire slid in between the two men. “Introduce you to who?” She glanced from brother to brother before her husband gave the one-word reply.

“Lenore.”

“No.”

“C’mon, Claire. Why not?” Jonathan was at his wit’s end.

“She’s a sweetheart, Jonny. And your record with women… well -”

“I cannot believe my own family is treating me like some kind of sexual predator!”

Husband and wife exchanged surprised looks, caught off guard by Jon’s anger.

He scrubbed his hand over his bald head, trying to collect himself.

“Claire, please? I just want to meet her.” He looked over her shoulder, watching Lenore. “There’s… something different about her.”

The sincerity in his voice and eyes sent a tinge of guilt up Claire Pratt’s spine. “Okay, Jonny.”

As if on cue, the men standing with Lenore were called away for picture-taking. She walked over to the table to refill her glass.

“Enjoying yourself, Lennie?”

“Claire, you do know how to throw a party. Everything is wonderful.”

“I’m taking that compliment and running with it, even though half the food is from your recipes.”

“That makes us an unbeatable team.”

The two women laughed and high-fived each other.

Vernon cleared his throat.

“Lennie… Lenore, I don’t believe you’ve met my brother-in-law, Jonathan. He’s in town for the holidays.”

“No, I haven’t.” She extended her right hand and looked up into his face. “It’s a pleasure, Jonathan.”

Lost in her eyes, her touch jolted him back to reality.

“No, Lenore. The pleasure is… all mine.”

The couple stood there, silent and hands still clasped.

“You know, Jonny, Lennie will be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.” He slipped an arm around his brother’s shoulder and leaned toward Lenore. “But only if she brings her cornbread dressing.”

She stuck out her tongue. “You’re mean and I’m telling Bobby.”

“Won’t help you, sister, he wants it too.”

Jon gave Vernon a side-eye glance. “Cornbread dressing? With giblet gravy?”

Vernon smirked. “Oh, yes.”

Jon considered Lenore. “With chopped hard-boiled eggs?”

Lenore tilted her head. “You know of another kind?”

Jonathan beamed. “Can we have dinner now?”

The two couples laughed but were interrupted by cheers from the living room.

“Swing, Roy! Swing!”

Claire Pratt growled.

“If Roy Cathey has snuck another piñata into my house…” Her voice trailed off as she rushed to the living room.

Vernon chuckled as he backed away to follow his wife. “Excuse me, folks, but I have to go, um… save Roy’s life.” Still laughing, he turned and followed the crowd’s cheers.

Jonathan relaxed, glad to be alone with Lenore. “So, cornbread dressing and giblet gravy. Save me a seat next to you.”

She laughed, and Jonathan rubbed the center of his chest, attempting to calm the erratic beats of his heart.

“Claire told me it was a favorite of Vernon’s.”

“One of mine too. Our mom. It was one of her specialties. The holidays don’t seem right without it.”

“I hope mine is an enjoyable substitute for your mom’s.”

Intelligent, beautiful, modest and humble. Jon wondered if there was a minister on Claire’s guest list.

“How long are you in town for, Lenore?”

“I cannot deal with crowded airports, so I don’t fly back to L.A. until next Tuesday.”

“L.A.?” He frowned, confused. “But when I asked about you, Vern said Minnesota.”

“You asked about me?”

“Um, yeah. Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m flattered. I saw you walk by the room earlier and wondered who you were. Although, even with your shaved head and overnight stubble versus Vernon’s head full of curls and clean-shaven face, it’s obvious you two are related.”

“You noticed me?”

“Is that all you got from what I said?”

“Yeah, the important part.”

Their shared laughter was quieter this time as an easy shyness drifted in, making them both avert their eyes.

“Um, to answer your question, I did live in Minnesota. Spent most of my life there. But after losing my parents, and then filing for divorce, I needed a change. My two older boys are stationed at Camp Pendleton and my youngest son is doing his residency at Stanford. California was the obvious choice.”

Divorced, yes! Thank you, Sweet Baby Jesus!

“You’re not going to believe this, but I live in Cali too.”

“No way! Where?”

“Brentwood. You?”

“Hidden Hills.”

“What’s the distance? Twenty miles? In Cali, that’s practically neighbors.”

“Agreed.”

He couldn’t let her get away. This was Fate at its finest. “Would you like to find a quiet place to talk, Lenore?”

Her smile told him everything before she answered. “I’d like that, Jonathan.”

Before they could exit the dining room, Bobby Pearson rushed in. “There you are, cuzzo! We need you for pictures before some of the peeps head out.” He noticed Jonathan for the first time. “Man, I didn’t know that was you. Love the Isaac Hayes non-hairdo!”  They shared a one-arm man-hug. “I’ll send her right back, Jonny, promise.”

“Make sure you do, Bobby. I’ll wait right on this spot.”

He and Lenore shared a look as she followed her cousin from the room. She held up one finger. “I’ll be right back.”

Jonathan stared after her even though she disappeared into the crowd. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he felt so at peace. He’d just met Lenore Porter, and she calmed his soul. He didn’t see Hannah and Liz approach until they brushed up on either side of him.

Liz cooed. “You still playing hard-to-get, handsome, or can one of us start planning a wedding?”

“Sorry, ladies. I’m off the market.”

“Wait, what? That was fast.”

He chucked, talking more to himself than the two divorcees. “I know, right? I just met this woman [girl]. And just being near her changes me. She’s ruined my philosophy altered my thoughts. My heart skips a beat when she’s close by [comes around].”

He shook his head.

“Who knew I had to come back home to find out my heart was twenty miles from my front door?”

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

I Wrote a Drabble!


Drabbles


I wrote my first drabble!

YAAY, me, right?

Wait. Don’t you know what a drabble is? It’s a short story written in 100 words or less, and it’s easier said than done.

I’d never heard of it either until a couple of weeks ago when I saw this post on Connie J. Jasperson’s Life in the Realm of Fantasy. Do you follow Connie? You should. She gives great writing advice… with examples!

After reading Connie’s post, I went on a drabble info search.

Google drabbles. I dare you! The search returns were mind-boggling. I felt like the planet was drabbling (← I have NO idea if that’s a word!) without me!

What’s the point of drabbles?

You’ll find several reasons listed on Connie’s blog, but prime for me is there is no room for anything which doesn’t move the story forward. Words must be chosen with much thought… because you can’t use more than a hundred.

If you’ve read anything by me, you know I have a love affair with the written word and don’t believe there can ever be too many, wonderful, glorious words! *Glares at last sentence* So, um… yeah.

I give you… my first drabble!

~~~~~

Calling His Bluff – Drabble #1

She removed her scarf and wiped her brow. The apple tree’s shade did little to protect her from the oppressive heat.

“Raelene – ”

“I’m done with this, Willie. Daddy is sick and needs me here to run the orchard. I can’t marry you.”

“He ain’t sick, Raelene! His mind is gone. He’s never getting better. Sell this land and put him in a nursing home.”

“No.”

“I thought you wanted to be with me?” He smirked. “Patty Walters would love to marry me.”

Raelene grabbed her basket. “I hope you and Patty have a nice life.”

She walked away… relieved.

~~~~~

Okay, so I didn’t redefine drabbles, but… I did have the key elements: a setting, one or more characters, conflict, and resolution.

It’s a start!

I feel an obsession coming on. You know, after all my other writing obligations.  Averts eyes.

On average, drabbles will take about an hour to write.

It took me longer than that. A lot longer.

But don’t tell Connie.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

Farewell to a Grand Lady | #52weeks52stories

Changing gears for this week’s entry to pay tribute to someone very special.


Dorothy Reevers

We said goodbye to a grand lady last week. A woman of old world style, grace, and polite manners. For most of the thirty-six years I’d known her, she was fastidious… meticulous, always doing things the proper way.

She was my mother-in-law, Dorothy Reevers.

When you first met Dorothy, you knew she was a different breed, formed from a mold broken long ago.

Dorothy’s creole features were obvious—fair, mulatto skin, thick, dark hair, and almond-shaped eyes. But when she spoke it left many confused. While her own French-Creole mother barely spoke enough English to manage the household, Dorothy had no European lilt, West Indian pidgin or Louisiana geechie in her speech.  She and her older brother, James, spoke with perfect diction and enunciation. And neither spoke a word of French. Their father, Elijah forbade it, believing their ethnic heritage was barrier enough to a successful future.

Julmiez, Dorothy’s mother, agreed to her children not learning or speaking French, but one thing she wouldn’t compromise on was school. Dorothy received her entire education from kindergarten through college from parochial schools in and around Berkeley, California where she was born. Some of her best anecdotes were about nuns in the classroom… especially Sister Helen Grace. Even after converting to Seventh Day Adventism years later. Dorothy would continue to genuflect whenever she passed a Catholic church.

With her poise and grace, it’s not hard to believe Dorothy was a debutante and introduced to society at sixteen. Her high morals and business-like attitude were greatly admired in the community and she was called upon to mentor to other young debutantes and would even serve as an officer of the Debutante Society.

When I met this incredible woman more than forty years later, I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. I also knew I was being observed… and graded as a daughter-in-law. I won her approval less than a week later after making dinner for her. She fell in love with me after having my lasagna! For the next three decades, I would be required to bring lasagna to all family gatherings, church functions, and even a couple of potlucks at her job.

For most of Dorothy’s career, she worked for the United States Military and in civil service.

Standing only four feet, ten inches tall, Dorothy wore four-inch heels every day of her life until she retired in 1989. She didn’t do it be ‘be’ taller. The few extra inches helped to put things within reach of her tiny frame. Dorothy was independent and self-sufficient and refused to be looked down on because of her stature.

And she never backed away from a fight.

When we met in early 1982, Dorothy and several co-workers had filed suit against their employer, the State of California, for working them in higher rank classifications past labor law limits and without the higher wages for those ranks.

Over the next few years, her co-workers were bullied and harassed into dropping out of the suit. Some retired, others moved away and dropped out of sight. By 1987, Dorothy was the sole plaintiff. And she wouldn’t budge.

As assistant to the department’s director, Dorothy had a laundry list of job duties, and in true job

In this photo, Dorothy is pregnant with my future husband!

intimation tactics, her boss would add others at random. (Never mind some of them fell in line with the very reason employees filed suit to begin with.)

Shortly before her retirement, the courts ruled the state had acted in bad faith and did violate labor laws.

The state also lost on appeal.

As the lone plaintiff, Dorothy won all her back-pay plus punitive damages.

When I congratulated her, she simply shook her head and said, “Dear, what they did was wrong, and you can’t hide wrong forever.”

It was just that simple for her.

As was life.

Dorothy believed in God, home, and family. Even when ill, I don’t know of a day when she missed saying morning prayers. And I don’t mean, “God bless the poor, etc.”, but literally down on her knees at her bedside…with a list of names and their situations!

Having one sibling, and both parents coming from small families, Dorothy had a strong sense of family, and longed for a large family. The mother of four had ten grandchildren, twelve great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren! And, she doted on each and every one. It was inspiring to see someone get so much joy from making others happy.

But with joy comes sadness and Dorothy was no stranger to it. She lost her dad in 1964 and her mom in 1984. (Julmiez Davis passed away nine days short of her 101st birthday.) Death is a part of life and Dorothy mourned her parents as most adult children with families of their own do while moving on with life.

However, in the early 2000s, her resolve was sorely tested.

In the span of three short years, Dorothy lost her oldest grandson, brother (and only sibling), and her husband of fifty years, Elmer… all to cancer.

They were devastating blows which temporarily impacted her health. Yet, as her health improved, Dorothy appeared to be stronger and more resilient.

But fate wasn’t done with her. In January of 2008, Dorothy’s oldest daughter, and a great-granddaughter were killed along with seven others in a tour bus accident during a high school ski trip.

Dorothy was the epitome of a strong woman, comforting others. She attended a memorial service at her great-granddaughter’s high school, where she embraced and comforted students and faculty… and added more names to her ever-growing prayer list.

However, even the strongest among us can only withstand so much loss, and an emotionally broken heart can only be broken once. If it’s not allowed to heal fully, subsequent turmoil rocks us to our souls, stealing our essence a little at a time.

This was the case with Dorothy. Never fully recovered from losing close family and the love of her life, the losses changed her. Not in a drastic way or by radical measures. But, her smile wasn’t quite as bright. The sparkle in her eyes we all were so used to seeing was replaced by a sadness at burying too many family members who should have outlived her.

Dorothy passed away on January 12, 2018 at the age of 93. While she took medication for mild dementia and a blood platelet problem, she wasn’t ‘sick’ or suffering from a major illness. When she and I last spoke the week before Christmas and I asked how she was doing, she replied, “Dear, I’m just tired.” She went quickly, from a cardiac episode. Paramedics arrived only six minutes after being called but could not revive her.

As I looked around during her memorial service, I realized there was only one person there I did not know. So loved and respected was this wonderful woman, people traveled to Arizona from as far away as California and New York to celebrate her life and say their last goodbyes. Dorothy enriched every life she touched, never expecting or wanting anything in return.

She was a blessing not fully realized until she was gone.