Chapter 4 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 4

As the summer wears on, my brother continues to be an enigma. He used to be so easy to understand because he was just like me in many ways. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t even understand why I do or say half the things I do anymore.

In August, Amy surprises us by saying she’s dating someone.

“How did you meet this young man?” Ma asks over dinner one evening.

“I’d like it if you brought him by. I’d like to meet him,” Pa says. The twinkle is out of his eyes, his mouth a firm line.

“We met through a mutual friend from work,” Amy says. “I’m twenty-three, Pa. Really, don’t you think I’m a bit old to be bringing my boyfriend around for my parents to meet? It might not even be anything serious.” Her face flushes. She’s probably twiddling her hands under the table like she always does when she gets agitated. I keep my eyes on her, taking a bit of pleasure in her discomfort, wondering how this conversation will go.

“You’re still a young lady,” Pa says.

“Erik gets tons of calls from girls,” Amy says. “Why should this be any different? I’m five years older than him. Ma, you were my age when you met Pa.”

“Hey, don’t bring me into this,” Erik says.

I smirk, trying not to chuckle at this free entertainment.

Ma sighs. “You’re right. I was, but girls–women–were more mature back then than they are nowadays. The way they flaunt themselves–those flapper girls with their bobbed hair and too-short dresses. All that jazz nonsense, dancing, and illegal drinking. People are wilder than ever.”

I try to imagine Amy dressed as a promiscuous young lady, smoking and drinking. It’s damn near impossible.

“I’m hardly a flapper, Ma,” Amy says. “How often have I told you times change? When will you realize that things aren’t going to just go back to the way they were thirty or forty years ago?”

Ma harrumphs and digs into her food.

One point for Amy.

Pa shakes his head. “Can we please not argue at the table? Amelia Rose, despite your opinion on the matter, you still live under the roof of this house. Your mother and I wish to meet this young man because we want what’s best for you. The matter is closed.”

Oh, the full name. My gaze shifts from Pa to Amy.

“Father,” she groans, removing the napkin from her lap and setting it on the table. “I’m suddenly not hungry.” Amy walks away from the table and leaves through the back door.

“Enough,” Ma says. “Let’s eat before dinner gets cold.”

“Well, I think it’s awful that Amy has a boyfriend,” Hannah states. “I agree with Ma and Pa that it just isn’t right. Next thing you know, she’ll be wanting to get married and moving out.”

I chuckle. “Good one, Hannah-panna. You took the cake on that one.”

“What?” Hannah asks, scrunching her face up at me. “It’s the truth.”

“I believe I already said that was enough,” Ma said.

“But–”

I keep my mouth shut as Hannah’s silenced, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who causes tension in this house. I don’t bother Hannah the rest of the evening, although it’s tempting. I’d love to see Amy have the gumption to keep dating this mystery man, but as the day gives way to the next, her bad mood doesn’t lift. At breakfast, she hardly touches her food. She’s out the door for work by the time Hannah comes down.

“You just missed Amy,” I say to Hannah in between bites of oatmeal. “She was in a wonderful mood this morning.”

Hannah rolls her eyes as Ma enters, Irma right behind her. “What did she say?”

“Not two words,” Erik says. “No ‘good morning.’ Nothing.”

I’m about to add my two cents when Ma says, “Amy went to work like she’s supposed to. The rest of you would do well to finish up in here and be about your business. Your father has plenty of work for you boys outside with harvest time upon us and won’t be too pleased if he comes home and it’s not done. Hannah, you’re going to help with the laundry.”

Erik and I get done in the kitchen. I don’t complain too much today about the chores. It’s a nice day–not too hot. Besides, this story ain’t over with Amy, and Hannah’s disapproval of the whole situation adds another layer to it.

While Erik pulls weeds and I pluck lettuce and cabbages, I say, “What d’you think of all this?”

“What?” Erik keeps his back to me.

“Don’t play dumb. C’mon, brother. You gotta admit–this is new for Amy.”

“I say good for her. She’s old enough. I kept wondering when she might marry and move out. She’s well into her twenties, and if she waits too long, her prospects will be all dried up. No man wants to marry an old maid.”

I laugh. “You planning on marrying young?”

“Marriage?” Erik asks incredulously. “I have college first, then find a job. By then, I’ll be Amy’s age. That’s years away.”

“Well, I never know with you, since you have at least a half dozen girls calling you at any given time. Who’s the latest catch? Maybe you should bring her around.”

“We’re not talking about this anymore.” Erik’s neck reddens and I’m sure it’s not from the sun.

I shake my head and return to picking vegetables.

By evening, Amy returns home with none other than her boyfriend. He’s a good-looking guy who’s easy to talk with. He introduces himself to Erik and me in the living room.

“Jack Banks,” he says, his handshake strong.

“Hi, Jack. I’m Harry. So, my sister says she likes you. Lucky you.”

Jack grins and wraps an arm around Amy. “I’d say I’m the lucky guy, but she is quite the doll, your sister.”

Amy’s practically glowing. If it were dark, she could light up the room.

Erik and Jack exchange introductions, and Großmutter, our grandmother who moved in with us a few months back, is saying something in German, but if her smile were any wider, the wrinkles on her face would crumble off.

Irma comes down the steps quietly and enters the room, and Jack gets down on one knee. “And who’s this little sweetheart?”

“Irma,” my littlest sister says shyly.

“What a beautiful name.” Jack picks her up and tosses her up in the air. Irma giggles as he catches her.

Conversation flows naturally, and the lighthearted jokes are in full swing when Pa joins us. For a moment, I wonder if he’s gonna kick this charmer out on his backside. Pa’s taken with him the moment Jack approaches him. For Amy’s sake, I’m relieved. Unlike Erik, I never imagined her as an old maid–not that I’d tell her that.

Before I know it, we sit down for dinner. Everyone seems to have taken a liking to Jack, except Hannah. All through the meal, my little sister sends little-concealed glares at Jack and strikes Amy like a question-firing squad. After dinner, she plays for us, and maybe she’s a bit happier.

As I’m off to bed, I wonder what’s been going on with Hannah and think of teasing her in the morning to get an answer out of her. It’s not like I’d want her to think I’m really concerned or something.

* * *

Weeks pass, and Erik packs for Ohio State. It’s September by now, and I’ve started tenth grade. I’m already being compared to my brother by many of my teachers, and I tell Erik that I have some big shoes to fill.

“It’s true,” I say the night before he’s to leave for Columbus. “Do any of those girls you talk to know just how big your feet are?”

Probably in spite of himself, Erik stops in his tracks as he’s about to put a stack of shirts in his suitcase and looks down at his feet. “You’re exaggerating.”

I roll my eyes. “Don’t you get enough sweet talk from your admirers?”

Erik doesn’t answer for a while. Instead, he resumes packing. When his suitcase is stuffed to the brim, he has a hard time shutting it and resorts to sitting hard on it to get it to close. “You might wanna start shaving, Harry, if you want a girl.”

I smirk. “Maybe I’m trying to grow a beard.”

Erik laughs. “That would be one pathetic beard.”

I shrug. We fall silent and focus on everything in the room but each other. The sun is setting, casting an orange glow on the walls and furniture. The floor is well-worn from years of us tracking mud and sprinting across it to see who could make the most noise. On the dresser–Erik’s stuff in the top two drawers and mine in the bottom two–we share a picture of us from probably ten years ago, our smiles reflecting our innocent mischief.

“Yeah, well…goodnight,” Erik says.

“Goodnight, brother.” I go for nonchalant, but my voice cracks a little at the end. How embarrassing.

The next day, Erik doesn’t say much. Our sisters are crying, of course. Women. It’s not like they’ll never see him again. Ma’s a mess. Pa’s driving Erik down, and I’m still not clear on why Ma is staying home, other than her need to keep the house clean and the rest of us kids fed.

I stand out in the driveway, watching Erik load the last of his things into the trunk.

“Well, don’t do anything too stupid,” he says to me, a smirk on his lips but a plea in his eyes.

“Stupid? Me? Nah. You got the wrong guy.”

Erik half-steps toward me like he’s about to hug me, but he stops and nods. “See ya around.”

“Yeah, see ya.”

I keep my eyes on the back of his head as he gets into the car. As it pulls away, my head’s filled with all the things I just couldn’t say, and I ain’t sure why.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Chapter 3 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 3

The moment I wake up, Ma’s on my back like a heavy rock to do my chores. Erik and I pour sweat in buckets as we work in the garden. Every morning starts like this. Then Erik and I shovel vegetable soup into our mouths like we’re starving at lunch. When done, we dart outta Ma’s way before she smacks us for no manners.

“Honestly, you two,” she says, her brow stern, “act your age. Don’t forget that you have to spend the next hour either reading or sewing.”

“Since when have we ever chosen sewing, Ma?” I ask. “Even Pa thinks it’s ridiculous.”

“C’mon, Harry,” Erik whispers. “Best to just get it over with.”

We go upstairs before Ma can say another word. Erik picks up a tattered copy of Crime and Punishment and lies on his bed, immersing himself in the novel, his nose practically buried between the yellowed pages.

I sigh and pick up Huckleberry Finn.

After five minutes, I say, “That book should be a crime and a punishment to read. It’s certainly a punishment. Look how thick it is.”

Erik lowers the book enough to look at me. “You know, Harry, some books are actually quite good. You never have the patience to give anything a chance. This story teaches us about the human condition.”

“The human what?” I shake my head and reach between the mattress and the box spring and pull out my new pulp magazine. I slide it into my book and pretend that Huck Finn is as interesting as an alien invasion.

At the end of the hour, Erik remarks, “Don’t think I didn’t see that. What garbage are you reading now?”

“Nothing so enlightening as Crime and Punishment, I’m sure.” I make to set the book aside, but Erik is too fast and snatches it from my grip.

Attack of the Killer Moonmen?” He chuckles. “You don’t really think men live on the moon, do you?”

I shrug. “Maybe, but who cares? Our time’s up, so let’s get outta here before Ma comes up with another list of chores.”

Erik hands me the book back, and I stuff the magazine back under the mattress, placing the book on the night table.

Erik’s already gone, and I wonder whether I should follow him. As I walk past the bathroom, I catch a glimpse of my reflection. There are three tiny hairs on my chin. I touch them almost reverently and smile. I’m becoming a man. I run my hands through my hair as I continue walking, feeling the botched job on top of my head. Ma was too enthusiastic with those scissors last week, so my hair sticks up in every direction.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I find Hannah practicing the piano in the living room. The music’s been coming up through the floorboards for the past fifteen minutes, but I’ve learned to tune it out. I watch her move her hands over the keys in well-practiced fashion, a bit envious that she has such a talent. She stops playing and whirls around on the bench.

I lazily clap. She scowls.

“What are you doing, Harry?”

I smile to indulge my little sister. “You always think the worst of me, Hannah. It’s like you don’t trust me.”

“I didn’t say that, but you’re usually looking for trouble.”

“Yeah, well, you know what they say about trouble and middle names. I’m officially changing mine to ‘Trouble’ when I’m of age.”

She smiles. “You’re completely bananas.”

“Mmm, bananas…sounds good to me. See ya later.”

Ten minutes later, I walk down Madison Avenue with a half-eaten banana in my hand. There’s no sign of Erik, so I check to see if Mitch Woods is home. I’m in luck as he comes to the door, and when my buddy sees the peel, he asks if I have any more food.

“Nah, sorry,” I say as we walk along the sidewalk and toss the peel into a neighbor’s trash can.

Mitch is two years older than me and has been friends with Erik and me since before I can remember. Plain’s the word to describe us. We don’t stand out with our brown hair and average builds.

“You haven’t seen my brother around, have you?” I ask.

“Nope. Why?”

I shrug. “Just askin’.”

“He’s off to college, right?”

“Yeah, soon. We won’t be seeing him for a while, but enough about my brother. So, what do you wanna do?”

Mitch eyes up Hatford Park across the street. “Remember?”

I share a devilish grin with him. “How could I forget?”

We dash across the street with the boldness of idiots. A few kids run around the picnic tables playing a game of tag, and off in the distance, a man is throwing a ball to his dog. Other than that, the place is empty. We approach a cluster of willow trees, the July breeze gently swaying the branches. Beyond the trees, the pond–what we called a lake when growing up–sits calm.

I chuck a rock into the water, creating ripples. As I throw another and then another, I don’t know what’s come over me, except that I want to disturb the peaceful water. “The girls were always trying to bust us when we were kids,” I say.

“Yeah, but they thought it was funny to spy on us.” Mitch chuckles.

“Ever think of doing it again?”

He looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles. “You crazy? We can’t go skinny-dipping anymore.”

I see the flush on his face. “Damn, you burn easy,” I tease. “We can afford to live a little.”

Mitch shakes his head. “In broad daylight?”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, old boy?” I take off my shirt. “I won’t let you live this down.”

Mitch turns around as I strip down completely.

“What’re you so worried about?”

I don’t wait for his answer as I back up and get a running start, then dash toward the water. I cannonball into the pond, and as my body makes contact, I close my eyes in the thrill of the moment. After a brief stay underwater, I bob to the surface, laughing. I swim around the pond in large, exaggerated breast strokes and roll onto my back, gazing at the sun.

Then I hear the voice that seems to have a hobby of following me lately. “What the hell?”

I stop swimming and am not surprised to see Erik standing next to Mitch. I’m not sure whose face is more amusing, but I’m too caught up in having a good time to feel any shame. Erik’s face changes from stunned to disappointed to downright disgusted.

“Get out and get your clothes on.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I grumble.

My good mood pops like an over-inflated balloon because of my brother’s over-inflated ego. I swim until the bottom touches my legs, then stand and leave the water. While grabbing my clothes, I keep my gaze on an interesting patch of bark on one of the trees and dress.

“Where’d you go, anyway?” I glower at Erik.

“What’s it matter?”

I turn toward Mitch, in the hopes that he might have grown a backbone in the past thirty seconds. I’m sorely disappointed to find him backing away with his hands held up in front of him.

“You know what, guys?” he says. “I just remembered…my mom wanted me to, uh, clean the toilet bowl before the day’s done.” With that parting remark, Mitch is gone.

“I don’t wanna argue with you, Harry.”

“Oh? That’s news to me. Seems to have become a habit for you lately.”

“Maybe I’ve grown up.”

I hate that I want to punch my brother in the face, but I also want nothing more than to wipe off that smug look. “You say you don’t wanna argue. Then what’re we doin’?”

Erik steps closer. For a split-second, I think he’s going to take a swing at me, but maybe that’s because my hackles are up. “You’re reckless. You don’t take anything seriously.”

I laugh bitterly. “You used to call it fun. Egging that cad Theodore Wilson’s house was worth it. He picked on me all last year.”

“What about when you tried smoking in eighth grade? I covered for you.”

“So, what? It’s called living a little. Ever think that maybe life isn’t all about grades and books? Real life, Erik…”

“Ah, so it’s experience you’re looking for? That’s your reason?”

“You say I’m never serious. Well, how’s this for serious, brother?” I storm up to him, even though he’s a good four inches taller than me, and shove him in the chest. He stumbles backward and falls hard on his ass. When I march off, he doesn’t pursue me. I wonder if that stick he’s got up his backside fell out when he hit the ground.

I don’t return home for several hours. By the time I approach the back door, darkness has settled in. I stop, in no hurry to enter and receive an earful from Ma for being gone all day. While I wonder if she left any food for me, my gaze falls on the board that covers the window on the door. There used to be glass in that window, but I couldn’t tell you how many times Erik and I broke it over the years from playing ball. Finally, Pa just put a plank of wood there and left it. I look up. No stars tonight. Only clouds. I grimace and make for the door.

Beyond the kitchen, light from the dining and living rooms spills through the doorway. The radio’s on, the volume low. I expect to find my parents in their usual spots: Ma in the rocking chair with her knitting, glasses perched on the end of her nose, and Pa in the armchair, listening to the jazz music that Ma so dislikes. Before I can take another step, Ma is upon me, throwing the kitchen light on.

“Oh, thank the good Lord,” she breathes, pulling me into a tight hug.

I awkwardly place my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

“We had no idea where you’d gone off to. Erik returned hours ago and said he hadn’t seen you.”

“Sorry, uh…I’m fine.”

“Don’t ever do that again, Harry.”

Pa joins us and frowns. “You had your mother worried sick, son. I’d ask where you were, but I suppose we should just be glad you’re home in one piece. Never again, you hear?”

“Yeah, Pa. Sorry. I didn’t do anything, uh, bad if that’s what you’re thinking.” Pa’s disappointment stings worse than anything Ma could say.

Ma yawns and waves me off. The frown lines around her mouth are deeper than normal. Her puffy eyes are shadowed. “Eat something and be off to bed.”

She’s kept my plate covered. With nothing short of affection for Ma, I sit down and eat the chicken, potatoes, and vegetables. Despite the cold food, it sits well with me as a warmth at being missed settles inside.

The lights are out when I go through the living room and up the stairs to my bedroom. “Don’t tell me you’re still reading that garbage,” I say in way of greeting when I find Erik still up.

Erik lowers Crime and Punishment and glares.

I drop onto my bed. “You didn’t tell them about the skinny-dipping.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“And risk Ma having a heart attack?” Erik’s tone is light, almost teasing.

Our gazes meet across the short distance, and even though Erik isn’t quite smiling, I think he’s trying hard not to.

“Thanks,” I say.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Chapter 2 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 2

“You knew today was going to be an early day.”

With a groan, I open my eyes, expecting to find Erik hovering over me like one of those strange alien space-things you read about in pulp magazines. Instead, sunlight blasts me straight in the eyes. I squint and manage to sit.

“Hey, good morning, brother,” I say, my voice scratchy. “I don’t suppose you brought some milk up with you?”

“You know Ma won’t let us eat anywhere but the kitchen. C’mon, Harry. If we’re late because of you–”

“No need to get all in a pickle. I’m up.”

I smirk, half-annoyed, half-amused. Lately, Erik’s sense of humor seems to have taken a detour out his backside. Maybe if he pulled out the stick he’s got shoved up there, his sense of humor would find its way back in.

“What’s so funny?” he asks.

I realize I’ve been smiling to myself. “Nothing you’d appreciate. Okay, let’s get you graduated and moving on to higher edu-ma-cation.”

Erik leaves, and I scratch at the poison ivy rash on my leg. I blame Pa for that one–making me clear out the weeds in the garden before planting a couple of weeks ago. By the time I’m downstairs, I find the kitchen table empty of people, my place setting left alone. Ma bustles about the place like a confused bee who can’t decide which flower to pick.

“It’s cold,” she says, her back to me, indicating the food with a wave of the arm.

I’m already shoveling the eggs and bacon into my mouth like I haven’t eaten in a week as she finishes talking. When I shrug and gulp down the milk, Ma turns and frowns. Hannah chooses that moment to walk in and wrinkles her nose at me.

“You’re disgusting, Harry.”

She’s already dressed for this momentous occasion, her dark blond, bobbed hair combed and held in place with a clip.

When I belch, Irma giggles as she prances into the kitchen and lands on my lap.

“Hello, itty-bitty Irma,” I say. Like me, she’s got Ma’s brown hair and Pa’s blue eyes. She’s much cuter than me, though.

Irma beams and hugs me, but Ma shoos me out. As I stand, I stop to whisper in Hannah’s ear, “At least Irma’s happy to see me.”

I leave her with those words of wisdom and run upstairs to throw together something that’s presentable. When I return downstairs, I’m not surprised when Ma finds something to criticize me for.

“Did you even brush your hair, Harry? When’s the last time you had a haircut? If we had the time now–”

“Pa’s waiting!” my older sister, Amy, calls from the back door.

Amy is the eldest at twenty-three and is basically a more mature version of Hannah in terms of looks. In personality, she and Ma could be two peas in a pod. I’ve never been close to her. I think the words I’ve said the most to her over the years have been “I already have a mother, thanks.”

Ma ushers me out the door. My sisters are crammed into the very back seat of our seven passenger Caddy. Pa is behind the wheel. I hope Ma and Pa don’t get any ideas of springing another kid on us because I don’t know where they’d sit. When Ma told us about being pregnant with Irma three years ago, I thought, for once, she was joking. You can imagine how well Ma took my remark at the time when I thought she was just putting on a bit of weight.

Ma takes the front passenger seat, leaving me my usual place next to Erik in the middle seat. Erik’s already dressed in his navy-blue cap and gown, a medal around his neck for graduating Summa Cum Laude.

Pa starts the engine and pulls out of the driveway. As he drives, he doesn’t remark on my tardiness, but that’s Pa for you. He’s Ma’s polar opposite. In his easygoing manner, he says, “You know, Erik, I only went to school until third grade. I’m proud of you, son.”

If Erik had any humility, he might’ve blushed, but he just smiles. “Thanks, Pa. Well, I worked hard. I won’t let you down.”

“Yeah, you’re the first one in the family to go off to college,” I say. “I guess the rest of us don’t know much about working hard.”

“Your grades could be better, Harry,” Ma says. “Now, this is your brother’s day. Don’t ruin it.”

Hannah sniggers in the back seat.

Eyeing Erik, whose gaze challenges me, I reply, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

I lean back with exaggerated casualness, my arms raised and crossed behind my head. I close my eyes and try to imagine a house without Erik, a place where I might be noticed for something other than everything I do wrong.

Several hours later, after Erik has paraded himself across the stage and basked in the applause of hundreds, we’re back home. My parents go out to eat about once a year, so we’ve met our quota for 1925 because Ma and Pa indulged Erik in his request for seafood. As I step out of the car, the fish doesn’t sit well with me. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.

“I’m going for a walk,” I say.

“Be back in time for dinner,” Ma replies.

“That’s hours away, Lucy,” Pa says, then looks at me. “We’ll see you later, son.”

“I don’t think I could eat anything if I tried,” I say. “If I’m not back for dinner, don’t wait up.”

Hannah purses her lips. “You mean, you’re not hungry for once? Usually you eat like someone’s going to take your food away.”

I’m not in the mood for jabs as I turn and trudge down the sidewalk. I’m a good ten houses away when I hear a voice calling after me.

“Hey, Harry! Wait up, will you?”

I’m torn between stopping in shock and quickening my pace. Erik would probably outrun me, so I reluctantly halt and allow him to catch up.

“What?” I ask pointedly.

He raises his eyebrows. “Now who’s in a bad mood?”

“Did you come to rub it in that you’re moving up in the world?”

He holds out a basketball. “Actually, I was just gonna ask if you’d like to shoot some baskets, but if you don’t–”

“I never said I didn’t.” My stomach settles.

My brother walks alongside me for a while in silence. We reach the park’s courts and dribble the ball between us. The years fall away. The differences that have come between us seem to die as we become two boys playing a fun game again.

I laugh at the brother I used to know as he pretends to limp across the court and then shoots a perfect basket. Somewhere in the middle of all this, he says, “I wanted to tell you last night…”

I’m dribbling the ball as he speaks and lose my focus, the ball rolling away.

“What?” I ask.

Erik’s eyes shift, as do his feet. Left to right. Right to left. He opens his mouth like a gaping fish outta water. Next thing I know, he’s darts off to the left, grabbing the ball and dribbling around me in circles.

“C’mon, Harry. Show me what you got!”

“Ha, I might not be as tall as you, but don’t forget I’m not done growing. One day–”

“One day you’ll be taller than me? I don’t think so!” Erik taunts me as he lifts the ball just out of my reach, but I’m ruthless.

We go head-to-head like this for the next several minutes, teasing and laughing. I finally manage to snag the ball from him and make a basket. Stopping to catch my breath, I wipe my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand, my hair sticking to it. I wonder if Ma might’ve been right about the haircut thing.

“If we were smart, we would’ve brought some water and changed our clothes,” Erik says.

“Oh? Brainy-boy Erik’s admitting he’s not as smart as he thinks? But yeah, Ma’s gonna have a field day cleaning these. I can hear her now. It’ll be just like old times.”

“Old times,” Erik murmurs. His grin droops, like someone painted a smile on an otherwise drawn face.

“This here, right now, is the most fun I’ve had in…I don’t know how long,” I tell him.

I’ve never been the sentimental type. I trip over my words like my feet trip over my laces as I step back.

Erik tosses the ball at me. “Rematch?”

I catch the ball, sure and steady in this sport. “Oh, you’re writing your death sentence, old boy. I’m gonna wipe you out. You might be good on the ball field, but you got nothing on me in the court.”

The time forgotten, we while away our afternoon like that. By the end of it all, we strip off our dress shirts and stroll home in damp undershirts, arguing over who really won and who smells worse.

I’m not sure who smells worse, but as far as winning goes, I’d say today was a winner for me.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Chapter 1 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 1

Damp. Dank. Dusty. Dirty.

It’s become a kind of game. I’m good at games. How many words that begin with the letter D can I come up with to describe this place?

Disgusting.

There’s another point for me. 1-0, Hank, old boy.

Of course, you never talk much. I’m lucky to get the occasional grunt from you, Hank.

I roll onto my side, the lumpy mattress beneath me protesting as it pushes back in all the wrong places. Hank’s sleeping, if you can call whimpering and moaning while he pisses himself sleeping. Nightmares, of course. Not that Hank ever has much to say about that.

But back to my game. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

Dank. Yep, that smell of musty, rusty mold growing on mold has attached itself to my nose like a cold that doesn’t leave. It’s my constant companion, whether I want it or not. I suppose it’s like the games I’m so good at. So good, in fact, that when I lost one, boy, did I ever lose.

I don’t know what nightmares plague Hank. Maybe it’s what landed him here that’s got him all caught up in nightly visions of Hell. Rumors say he killed a man in cold blood, but a man who wets himself like that ain’t a cold-blooded killer in my book. Whatever his problems, I’ve got enough of my own.

I damn near laughed when the guard who swung by last week said Prohibition ended. Fourteen years of outlawing alcohol, and now part of the reason I’m here’s legal again? How’s that for justice?

Alcohol’s my problem. Yeah, I admit that, but that’s not my nightmare. Green accusing eyes, cruel laughter falling from a red-lipsticked mouth that kissed me silly too many times to count, and the red hair to match…like flames that burn my insides every time I close my eyes. I don’t have to be sleeping to see her. Red everywhere, from the smashed in windshield, to her smashed in face, decorated with shards of glass as her stunned expression stares back at me with those eyes. Always those damn eyes. Even empty, they accuse.

* * *

Eight years earlier…

It’s late, but the dusk is still dimly lighting the western sky. Overhead, the stars poke out from the black. Most wouldn’t believe I have the calm inside me to stop and notice. When the others aren’t looking, I sneak away into the back yard, that dewy grass tickling my neck as I lie in it and watch the stars.

Footsteps disturb my concentration. I bolt up, my eyes adjusting until a man’s silhouette rests against the freshly painted white siding of our house.

“What’re you doing, Harry?”

“What’s it matter? Is Ma looking for me? Tell her I already put the delivery away.”

“Ma said Mr. Morris was here hours ago and that you didn’t touch the stuff till after dinner.”

I try not to roll my eyes. “Then what’s the problem, Erik?”

My brother plants himself in the grass beside me and sighs. Even in the near darkness, he’s the pretty boy every girl wants. He got all of Pa’s charm and looks: the blond hair, the blue eyes, the smooth-talking way with the girls.

“It’s tomorrow,” Erik says. “Graduation.”

“Yeah? And? You haven’t shut up about it for weeks, even months. What, you scared you won’t be the center of everyone’s attention anymore? No more calls from girls? Hell–”

“Harry, if Ma heard you–”

“Well, Ma’s not here, is she? Virginia Williams called again, didn’t she? I heard you,” I say lightly, jabbing him in the side. “‘Oh, Ginny, honey…’” I raise my voice an octave, but Erik cuffs me roughly. “Jeez, what’s that for?”

“Can you be serious for a second, Harry?”

I raise my hands and eyebrows at the same time. “All right, I surrender. You wanna wrestle it out for old times’ sake? This grass has our names written all over it.”

Erik glares. “This was a mistake. Goodnight, Harry.”

As he retreats, he kitchen light goes off once he clicks the back door shut.

“What’s got his undies in a twist?” I mutter to the stars.

Erik and I were always scrapping in this yard as boys, always inseparable. In a few months, I’m gonna start tenth grade, and he’s off to college. Not only does he have the looks and the ways with girls all right, but he’s got smarts and talent on the field. Star pitcher of Benny Frankie High in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sighing, I stand and brush the grass from my pants. I head inside and find my annoying little sister standing on the landing of the stairs. It’s Hannah, the older little sister. Irma’s the other one, who’s still so young that she really is little.

“Hey, Hannah-panna,” I say, smirking.

“Oh, stop it, Harry. You think you’re so funny.”

“Actually, yeah.”

“Ma was looking for you.”

“Wow, I’m a popular guy. I almost feel like Erik, I’m so popular. Did a pretty doll give me a call?”

Hannah places her hands on her hips in a manner that’s suited her well for years and sticks her tongue out. I laugh as she turns and stomps up the stairs.

“You know, for a young lady, you’re pretty immature,” I call up after her.

I quietly chuckle to myself. Hannah’s always easy to get a rise out of. Sobering, I climb the stairs, and when the third step from the top creaks, I tip my imaginary hat at it.

“Goodnight, old friend.”

I turn for the second door on the right, ready to see my esteemed brother. The door to my parents’ room opens and Ma steps out.

“There you are.”

I stare back at my twin–well, except that Ma is a good thirty-five years older than me and female, but the mousy-brown hair, the square jawline, and the plain face, yeah…thanks, Ma. I got Pa’s baby blues, at least, but I ain’t complaining, I swear.

I pretend to yawn. It’s a convincing act, my mouth all wide and my eyes screwed shut, but Ma doesn’t buy into my cheap acts.

“Tomorrow is an early day. I trust you’re on your way to bed.”

I smile. “Righto. Erik’s big day. ‘Night, Ma.”

I kiss her gently on the top of the head. I’m taller than her now, so she tilts her head up.

“What was that for?” she asks.

The question’s so simple, but it’s not. Deep down, just like the times I seek out the stars by myself, some part of me reaches for my mother. I laugh instead.

“Can’t a son give his old ma a kiss? Maybe I’ll lay it on sloppy next time, like Flossie.”

Ma isn’t buying this, either. She doesn’t seem interested in anything I’m selling these days, but maybe what she’s buying into is more than just cheap tricks and one-liners.

“Harry, are you all right?” Her glistening eyes search me.

This look unnerves me. All the times Ma’s glared at me don’t probe me the way those hazel eyes see me now, like stripping me bare to my soul.

I shrug and smile. That’s what she expects. What they all expect. Why give her anything else? “I’m fine.”

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 41)

While the first year without Edward was the most difficult, Hannah found strength she didn’t know she had.  There were times when she thought everything was fine, and then something would trigger a memory of Edward – a song on the radio, a line from a book, a phrase someone said.  Then Hannah was pulled back into grief.

She supposed she would spend the rest of her life susceptible to such turns of emotion.  According to Harry, he had similar experiences since losing Kathy. He joined Hannah at the cemetery some Sundays, and when the weather was nice, they slowly walked the well-trod path from Kathy’s grave to Edward’s grave to their parents’ grave and finally to Amy’s grave.

“You know, this may sound morbid, but I’m finding the cemetery oddly comforting,” Hannah said on a July day, a year after Edward’s passing.  “There’s a certain beauty about this place. I wouldn’t have believed it before, but coming here has been vital for me.”

“I’m glad you suggested I join you,” Harry replied.  The wind gently played with his silver hair, messing it in the manner he’d often worn it when he was much younger.  Behind thick glasses, his blue eyes crinkled as he smiled. “You know you must’ve been very convincing to get me to come here this often, sis, seeing as I avoided this place like the plague for years.”

Hannah joined in the laughter.  “Anything to get you to listen to me, Harry.  You know I’ve always known what’s best for you.”

Harry sobered.  “There’s more truth to that than you realize.”

Hannah reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze.  “Hey, you old geezer, you forget that you first came to my aid.”

“Who you calling old, Hannah-panna?”

“Don’t you remember how you related to me when I was angry about Amy dating?  For the first time, I felt like someone understood me, Harry.”

Brother and sister exchanged knowing smiles.

“I have a feeling my two younger grandsons are going to cause as much trouble as you and Erik did when you were boys.  Randy’s only seven months old and is determined to crawl. He’s getting into things, and I have to keep my eye on the little stinker around the outlets.”

“Ah, grandkids.  They keep us young, don’t you think?”

“I often forget my age, but keeping up with them is another thing entirely.  What I’d give to wake up just one morning without a stiff neck or back, and if it isn’t that, it’s my legs.”

“You sound like that one old biddy friend of yours you’re always complaining about.  What’s her name, Gertie? The one from church who goes on and on about what’s ailing her.”

“Yes, that’s Gertie all right, but don’t you even start, Harry.”  

The siblings walked on in perfect companionship to the pond and fed the geese, whiling away another lazy afternoon.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 40)

After Tim pulled away, Erik, Lily, and Harry joined Hannah.  She was sad that Irma wasn’t able to make it, but she understood that her sister had her hands full with caring for Ross.  Lily and Erik embraced Hannah before saying they needed to return home. As Hannah watched her oldest brother go, Harry lingered by her side, his presence comforting and steady.  

Fresh tears filled her eyes as her brother pulled her to him.  “Oh, Harry.” She sobbed into his shirt while he rubbed circles into her upper back, and when Hannah finally withdrew, she looked up into his wise eyes.

“I won’t lie to you and say the pain ever goes away,” he said softly, “but in time, you’ll find peace.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of Kathy.”

“And here I thought no one understood, that I was so alone,” Hannah said, half-laughing, half-crying.  “How could I have been so selfish to have forgotten? You’ve always been there for me, and I-”

“Shh,” Harry murmured.  “Grieve in your own way, in your own time, Hannah.  There are no rules for this sort of thing. No one can tell you how to feel, what to say or do.  And you forget that I wasn’t always there…”

Hannah shook her head.  “That was a lifetime ago, Harry.  We were all so young.”

“Sometimes, sis, when I’m low and feeling especially sorry for myself, I still go there.  Besides you, Kathy was my rock. Without her, the temptation to have a drink is stronger, but when I think of how it would break her heart, I know she’s alive inside me, and I hold back.  Edward will still be your strength and comfort when you don’t even know it.”

Hannah nodded.  “Thank you, Harry.  I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Harry looked like he was about to speak, but he only hugged her and smiled, turning as he went to join his own family.  Hannah gazed at the fresh grave one last time.

“Goodbye, Eddy,” she whispered.  “We’ll see each other again in Heaven, my love.”

She somehow found the resolve to walk away.  She knew Edward wasn’t really in that grave, so as she ambled across the freshly mown grass to join her family, she looked up at the heavens.  The sun brushed her cheeks and lips like a feather-light kiss.

Hannah returned often to Edward’s grave.  She brought fresh daisies every Sunday after church.  Sometimes her family joined her, but she was usually alone.  She took to keeping a folding chair in her trunk, and whether rain or sun, she’d sit with Edward for a little while and speak to him.  She sometimes read from her book of Psalms, but other times, she’d just sit quietly, listening. Closing her eyes, she didn’t have to think hard to imagine him in the rustling of the leaves, in the birdsong, or in the breeze that embraced her.  These days became Hannah’s path to healing.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 48)

“I just don’t get it,” Hannah said, eyeing the many stacks of newspapers in Harry’s basement.  “You have way more stuff than I do, and Abbi is acting like I have a hoarding problem. She’d have a field day over here!”

Harry shrugged.  “I’ve thought about cleaning them out, but none of my kids will bother with them.  I’m too old to go at it myself, and I figured, what’s the harm?”

“It’s a fire hazard, Harry.  You really ought to consider getting rid of some of these.  I know I’m not one to talk about keeping things, but it makes me uncomfortable seeing all these papers down here and you living alone.”

“But some of them have stories in them I like, important historical events, old ads that are neat to look at.”

Hannah smiled ruefully.  “You sound like me making up excuses.  When Abbi asked why I had a couple hundred plastic bags, I told her that you never know when you might need a bag to carry something in.”  Chuckling, Hannah said, “She doesn’t know this, but after she left on Sunday, I went back out to the trash and brought half of the stuff back in.  Can you believe she threw out old Christmas cards? She told me she holds onto hers for a year, uses them to write out that year’s cards, and then throws them away.  Can you imagine?”

“Maybe she saw the way you are and decided to do just the opposite?”

Hannah shook her head as they ascended the stairs.

“That seems to be a pattern in my family.  I keep wondering where I went wrong with Glen…”

“Don’t beat yourself up, sis.  I could ask myself the same thing about my daughter.  Gloria never married and seemed so against it. Her mother and she argued all the time about it.  It’s not just sons that upset us, not that I had expectations that Gloria needed a man in her life.  Her mother thought differently, though. I know a thing or two about upsetting my parents.”

“Does that bother you, even after all this time?” Hannah asked as they took seats on the sofa.

“It’s always with me,” Harry said softly, meeting his sister’s eyes.  “When Gloria showed herself as independent and head-strong, part of me admired her for standing up for herself, but I was reminded of… Kat.  There were a couple of occasions when Gloria was in her twenties and she was dating a different guy every week when I was this close to grabbing a drink.  Kathy stopped me every time. Now, I’m about to be a great-grandfather, and that’s the easiest role I think I’ve ever played.”

“So, is Heidi expecting, then?”

“Yes, my oldest granddaughter is pregnant.  I teased her that she was making me feel old.”

“You’re pushing eighty.  You are old.” Hannah smirked at him.

“You’re right behind me, sis.  To be honest, I’m happy to see eighty.”

Hannah thought briefly about Erik and sobered.  “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yeah?”

“All this talk about families, we’ve spoken about our roles as parents, but as my brother, I want you to answer me honestly.  Was I an annoying younger sister?”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh.  “Oh, were you ever! But seriously, Hannah, you were there for me at times when most would’ve left.  Why?”

“I hear Abbi talking about her kids and how they fight, and I think about my own kids and how they just don’t see eye-to-eye as adults.  I feel like a hypocrite at times, Harry, when I remember how I failed you as a sister. I don’t care that it was years ago. You tell me otherwise, but I sometimes wonder if I’ve failed in other ways as well.”

Harry frowned.  “Is this mostly about Glen?”

“Yes…”

“He’ll come around.  I did.”

“Eddy’s father never did.  I told you his story.”

“But Glen’s circumstances are different.  I think he really is trying to do right for his family.  When you’re a son, Hannah, there are expectations to be ‘a man.’  I guess that means proving yourself, not showing weaknesses… stupid stuff at the end of the day.  I’m not one who’s all that wise, Hannah. I just know that if someone’s meant to be in your life, they will be at the end of the day.  You’re very strong, but somehow thought you were failing others. I’d say if anyone I know has earned the right to speak her mind, it’s you.  I didn’t want to hear the truth all those years ago, but you weren’t afraid to get in my face when I needed a good emotional slap. If your son has any sense, then he’ll be there.  I’m certain he loves you.”

“I hope you’re right.  Thanks, Harry.” Hannah squeezed his hand.  

“That’s what I’m here for.  I have all the time in the world, Hannah.”

“Like for cleaning out those newspapers?”

“We’re back to that again, are we?”

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.