Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

I filled two glasses and placed them on the table. We drew up mismatched chairs and drank. Tristan finished first and sighed with pleasure.

I eyed him over the top of my glass. He gazed out the back window toward his house, the line between his eyebrows deepening. I put my glass down and asked, “So?”

“So, what?”

“Really, Tristan? Do you enjoy playing these guessing games?” My mouth hitched up on one side.

“Maybe.” There was a teasing undertone in his voice, but the crease between his eyebrows was still present.

“We’re married now. I think you can tell me anything.”

He whisked his eyes away from the window and met mine. “There’s nothing I could tell you that you don’t know already.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I joked, then grew serious. “But something’s off about you today.” As happy as I was, doubt poked at me.

“To be honest, I never thought I’d be married again.”

I took his hands in mine. For a moment, I stared at his large, rough hands–hands that could fix anything, from a house to a car, but also had typed and penned thousands of poetic prose, weaving those threads into the fabric of three novels. I met his eyes. “I think this will taking adjusting on both of our parts. We weren’t exactly social butterflies before we met.” I laughed.

The line between Tristan’s eyebrows lessened, and crinkles formed around his eyes as he smiled. “That’s the understatement of the century.”

After the moment of levity passed, I said, “So, enlighten me, O Talkative One.”

“Going through all my things, it’s like digging through the past.” His eyes shifted to the box on the table. “Maybe it would be better if I got rid of most of these things and be more like you. You know, completely start over.”

The tea kettle whistled. I stood and went to the stove, turned off the burner, and added a teabag. I gave a little snort. “My house is filling up quickly, but throwing away everything from your past isn’t the answer, Tristan. You can see how well that served me.” I joined him at the table.

“My stuff is taking over in here. I’m letting go of the house. It’s time I let go of other reminders, too.”

“Of Julie?” I asked quietly.

“Yes, of Julie.” He stared out the window toward his house again, as if his wife’s ghost were looking back at him out one of the windows.

“Hey.” I placed my hand on his arm.

He slowly turned his head, but his eyes were on the table.

I moved my hand to his cheek. “You wouldn’t be forgetting her.”

Eyes so empty and so full lifted from staring at the tabletop. “I know that here.” He pointed to his head. “But here, well, that’s another matter.” He gestured toward his chest.  “Pain and pleasure mixed.”

My lips quirked. “We make quite the pair, don’t we? I can hear Macy asking now, ‘Why can’t you two just be happy? Why do you always have to complicate things?’”

Tristan half-smiled. “Your best friend doesn’t know the half of it. Messy people are like that…complicated.”

Note: Rocks and Flowers in a Box is the sequel to my second novel, Lorna versus Laura.

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Excerpt: Opening of A Laughing Matter of Pain (Now Available on Amazon – RELEASE TODAY!)

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for purchase 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.”

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

“I would like it very much if you were all here with me,” Hannah said, wheezing.  She coughed several times.

“Mom!” Abbi exclaimed, rushing to her side.

The coughing spell subsided, and Hannah shook her head, holding up a placating hand.  “No, no, it’s nothing.  Please don’t make a fuss.  There’s nothing to be done.  Just, please… be here with me.  And call my siblings, please.  They need to know.  Harry would be devastated if he couldn’t come in time…”

“I’ll make the calls,” Abbi said, trying to occupy herself.

Brenda exchanged a look with Abbi and nodded, drawing up a chair next to Glen.  Abbi left the room and made the calls she dreaded.  Irma said she’d be on the first plane out, but Abbi thought, with a sinking heart, that she would be too late.  Within the hour, Harry was at the door.

Abbi supposed she could have let Alan or Tom answer the door, but she was a bundle of nerves as she flitted about the house.  When she opened the front door and saw the pain etched in every line of her uncle’s face, she couldn’t compose herself to speak.  Harry entered and hugged his niece.

“Chin up, Abbi, child,” he said in his usual gentle manner he’d used with her since she had been small.

Abbi half-laughed, half-hiccupped.  “I’m not a child anymore, Uncle Harry, but thanks.”

“Ah, you’re a child to me, old fart that I am.  It’s okay to fall apart, to be like a child, especially right now.  Where is she?”

“This way.”  Abbi couldn’t help but smile.  Her uncle always knew how to make her laugh.

Harry fell silent as he followed his niece to his sister’s side.  He took Hannah’s hand in a similar manner as she’d held his all those years ago in the hospital after he had been in the accident.

“What’s this all about, then?” he asked.  “I always imagined the roles reserved here, sis.  What are you doing in this bed, hmmm?”

Hannah’s chuckle came as a rasp, then a cough, but her eyes shone with mirth.

Recovering, she said, “You never let up, do you, silly brother?  I guess the good Lord has use of you yet here.”

“Can’t imagine for what.”

“There you go again, selling yourself short.”

“You think you know what’s best for me, eh?  Leaving me ain’t it, Hannah-panna.”

“You never stop, do you?”

They exchanged their friendly banter for a little while longer before Hannah grew serious.  “But don’t ever stop, Harry.  Don’t ever stop making people laugh and smile.  It’s what you do, who you are.  You and that big heart of yours.”

Eyes shining with tears, Harry said, “There’s one person whose smile I haven’t seen in far too long.  You tell Kathy when you see her – you tell her I’m coming for her soon.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Then it’s settled.  Maybe you can leave after all.  Don’t let an old bugger like me keep you.”

Harry hugged Hannah one last time and said his farewells to her children.  After he left, Hannah’s eyes implored her youngest daughter, then her other children, to sit with her.  Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult, so she didn’t waste her words.  Each breath, each utterance, and each heartbeat were precious, now more than ever for Hannah.

Hannah’s eyes slipped shut, and her hands fell loose at her sides.  To her children, she appeared to be sleeping with difficulty, as every breath was labored, rattling through her chest and out again.

 

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

R

Rain hit Haley’s bedroom window, tracking down the glass like the tears on her face.  Her geometry homework sat unfinished in front of her as she lifted blurry eyes from the numbers and turned toward the wall separating her room from the bedroom next door.  She heard Pastor Rife’s muffled voice reciting the familiar words of Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me.  Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She found no comfort in those words.

When the pastor’s voice stopped reciting the Psalm, he murmured a prayer.  Hannah’s voice, if she even spoke, was too weak to be heard through the wall.  Footsteps retreated down the hallway a moment later, and Haley listened for any sound, her breath caught in her throat.

Wiping away tears, she sniffled and stood, finding her resolve.  She went to the bedroom door and pushed it slightly open.  Down the hallway, the door to her parents’ bedroom was slightly ajar, and her dad’s voice travelled the short distance.  She picked up snippets of the phone conversation, and curious, she walked quietly to the bedroom and listened.

“I doubt she’ll live another twenty-four hours,” Alan said.

Dad thinks Grandma will be gone in a day?  Haley thought, refusing to believe it.

“She was still walking around last night, that’s right,” her father continued.  “To take such a turn for the worst overnight was unexpected.”

Haley refused to listen to another word.  She withdrew from the doorway and retreated toward her room.  When she reached the door, she made to push it open, but she hovered with indecision as her eyes fell upon the door to what was normally her brother’s room.  Grandma Hannah had spent the night in Randy’s bedroom, the bed more comfortable than the pull-out one she usually occupied whenever she spent the night.

Biting her lower lip, Haley entered the darkened room.  The shades were drawn shut on all three windows as the sound of rain continued to hit the glass.  Hannah was lying on the bed, propped up by several pillows, and Haley couldn’t discern her grandma’s face until she was nearly upon her.  She stopped at the bedside and tried to smile, but Haley’s heart wasn’t in it.  More than anything, fear filled her.  This figure lying here – this couldn’t be her beloved grandma!

Haley felt tears prickle again, and with a watery smile, she whispered, “Hi, Grandma.”

No rosy cheeks, no warm smile, no life in her eyes – Hannah stared back at Haley, so weakened and withered, and managed a faint, “Haley.”

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

“It’s strange to be in such a quiet house,” said Hannah that evening.  “I can’t tell you how many times I wished for silence when the kids were driving me up a wall.  Now, it’s just us.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love that we can finally enjoy the peace and quiet as empty nesters, but there’s something almost lonely about it as well.”

“Do you want me to make a couple of phone calls and have them come back here?” Edward joked.  “I think you’ll be changing your mind before morning.”

“Don’t even think about it.”  Hannah laughed as they went into the bedroom.

Several hours later, when Edward was sleeping deeply, Hannah awoke.  She gazed around in the still darkness, only a gentle breeze playing with the curtains by the window.  Hannah left the bedroom and went into the living room.  She found the familiar comfort of the rocking chair and pulled a photo album from the pile of books on the nearby table.  Turning the table lamp on, Hannah relived memories as she smiled down at pictures of her kids as they grew up.

The ghosts of the past still echoed through these walls.  The laughter and the tears of three children were etched on Hannah’s heart and imprinted on her memory bank.  She gently closed the album and set it aside, moving to the piano bench.  She didn’t dare make any sound with the keys at this late hour, but she pretended to play “The Entertainer,” a family favorite.  She could hear the music, and closing her eyes, Abbi was still a five-year-old, dancing and giggling as her mother played.  Glen was shaking his head, pretending he was too old for such nonsense, but eventually joining in.  Even Brenda couldn’t resist, and before long, the memory came alive again.  The music ended in Hannah’s mind, and the apparitions of her children faded.

Even deeper, the music played.  Hannah’s life was far from over.  The song still had a story to tell.

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

 

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

“Well, it’s done.  I gave away my oldest.  No one told me it was this emotional.  I guess I know how your father must’ve felt now.”

Hannah smiled fondly.  “Yeah, Pa was glassy-eyed, that old softie.  I was thinking about them last night.”

Edward wrapped an arm around Hannah.  “If you need to cry, let them be happy tears, darling.  Do you hear that soft rustle of the wind through the branches?”

“Yes.”  Hannah listened beyond the voices around her and gazed up to find the trees dancing delicately.  If she hadn’t been looking or listening for it, she would have missed it.  “Sycamores, just like the old house.”

“We have some time for a short walk, I think.  We’ll meet everyone back at the church in a little while.”

“Brenda was smart to keep the reception at the church and keep it simple, but yes, a walk would be perfect right now.”

Edward’s hand sought Hannah’s, and without a word, they detached from the crowd.  With the passage of fifty years, Madison Avenue had changed.  Many of the homes had the wear and tear of decades, and many of the trees lining the street had grown tremendously.  When they reached Hannah’s childhood home, they stopped.

“I see that large rock is still by the driveway,” Hannah remarked.  “I haven’t been back here much since Ma moved out, but it looks mostly the same.”

“I thought it might do you some good to see it again.  You can hear the wind in the leaves better here, not so much commotion.”

“I used to go outside in my yard whenever I needed to be alone and at peace.”

“I figured a walk was in order for a bit of peace today, even though it’s a happy day.  When I asked you back at the church if you heard the wind in the trees, it was meant to be a reminder that your loved ones are never far from you.”

“Thank you, Eddy.  This place holds many memories for me, but it’s the past.  Brenda getting married is the door to the future, to possible grandchildren of our own.  I think it’s time we headed back and celebrated what’s to be and keep in our hearts what once was.”

“I like that idea, very much.”

As if they were walking together for the first time, Hannah and Edward held hands and returned to the church.  Behind them, trees overshadowed that quaint house on Madison Avenue, lost in the voices of the past, but in Hannah’s heart, she could still open the door to find Ma and Pa to welcome her home.

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My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for pre-order 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 Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

On a late summer day, Helen walked through downtown Hurston. She sent a telegram to her aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania, updating them on her mother’s health. Her mother hadn’t been well even since coming down with a severe case of pneumonia back in the winter. She spent most of her time lying down these days, easily fatigued from her chores. Helen picked up the slack where she could, a pang shooting through her heart at seeing her mother’s decline. As much as she loathed her mother for her timidity, she was still her mother.

Just as Helen stepped out of the general store, she bumped into someone. The contact was enough to cause the other person to drop whatever she had been carrying.

“Pardon me,” Helen said, bending down to help the other woman pick up her bundle. Her fingers brushed against the other woman’s. When the other woman looked up, Helen’s heart sped up. “Oh, it’s you.”

Matilda Forkins smiled at her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry.”

Helen picked up a blackberry. “I’m sorry, too. It looks like these are ruined.”

Matilda shrugged. “It’s not a problem. There are plenty more where these came from. My parents have loads of bushes of them behind their house. I was just bringing some her to share with Mr. Horner.”

“Yes, I know.”

Matilda stopped mid-reach and furrowed her brow at Helen. “You know?”

Realizing her slip, Helen said, “I mean, I assumed that’s what you were doing with such a large bundle of berries.” She half-smiled, sweat beading along her forehead.

A man stepped up behind them and frowned at the pair.

“Um, maybe we’d better step aside and let him pass?” asked Helen.

Matilda glanced behind her and blushed, shooting to her feet. “I apologize, sir.” She stepped aside, as did Helen.

After the man passed, they pick up the rest of the berries.

“Well, thanks for your help,” Matilda said. “I suppose I ought to return home and get a new bundle if I want to get them to Mr. Horner before he closes shop for the day.” She made to leave, then stopped. “By the way, I don’t believe we’ve ever been formally introduced. I’m Matilda Forkins.” She held out her hand.

Helen shook it. “It’s nice to meet your properly, Miss Forkins. I’m Helen Hawkins.”

Matilda studied her. “You’re the minister’s daughter.”

Helen stiffened. “Yes, that is correct.”

“I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?” Her brow furrowed.

“No, it’s nothing. I just… I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’m guessing we’re about the same age, but we never talked.”

Matilda pursed her lips, then smiled. “Say, would you like to get a cup of tea and perhaps some cakes at Ethel’s Teahouse?”

Every muscle in Helen’s body relaxed as the first true smile she’d known in a long time graced her face. “That would be lovely. Thank you.”

“Wonderful.”

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 for pre-order 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.