The Garden

The house was perfect. The stately Victorian sat on a hill, the long driveway curving up through the tree, exposing the house only after the last turn. The Virginia countryside surrounded the house, slowly giving way to the growing town only a mile or so from the ten acres where the beautiful building dwelled.

If all of that wasn’t enough, the yard in front was a lush green lawn and stands of trees, but the back of the house contained a fall of patios, bringing the path from the house down the hill and each patio contained deep thick gardens. Upon seeing the layers of bright flowers and vines, Sandy Martinez knew this was the home for her. Her green thumb twitched in anticipation as she placed her offer with the realtor, and the urge to tend the gardens and plant new ones. The urge grew more insistent when the old couple that owned the house accepted her ridiculously low first offer.

On moving day, Sandy stood in the driveway while the moving company began unloading her belongings and dropping them throughout various rooms of the house. Her twelve-year-old son Freddy and his dog Muzzy ran circles in the yard, happy to be free from the car after the long drive from Wilmington. Sandy soaked in every inch of the façade of the house. The pale peach shutters locked tight against the soft gray siding, the deep copper of the multi-tiered roof tiles, and the bright flowers planted in deep boxes along the front of the house.

The front room would be perfect to display the flower arrangements Sandy planned to sell as part of relocating her party decorating business. The tiny town was only about an hour from Richmond, and Sandy already made some good contacts with party planners to get her foot in the door. Life was good.

A year later, Sandy’s business was thriving, mostly due to the beautiful flowers grown in her gardens that adorned the arrangements she created. There was only one spot three feet wide and about five feet long in the third tier down that refused to sprout anything. The ground remained barren despite the specialized fertilizers and tender care she lavished. Among all of the bright colors and greenery, the one lone spot looked out of place and lacking.

One day, she tended the flowers in the front boxes when her neighbor, Mrs. Bixley came to visit. The old widow was a pest, constantly nagging about Muzzy barking or Freddy’s baseball landing on her lawn. Sandy saw her coming out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t bother to stop digging with her trowel until Mrs. Bixley stalked right up to her and blocked the sun.

“Good Morning, Mrs. Bixley,” Sandy faked cheer at seeing her neighbor. “How are you today?”

“Working on your flowers again I see. That’s all the last man who lived here did. His wife sat in the house all day while he was out here digging in the dirt. I must say though, before he moved in, nothing would grow out here. At least you aren’t letting the property values decline by letting it go to seed.”

Sandy smiled as she looked up to see her neighbor. Maybe this visit would let them be friends. “Well, I’m glad you like the flowers. I will cut some and bring them over to you.”

“Hmph. Flowers are a silly waste of time. You should just put in plastic ones like I did.” The old lady eyed Sandy up and down before gesturing down the driveway with her cane. “Anyway, I didn’t come over here to socialize. That boy of yours and that hoodlum across the lane were taking apples from the tree in my yard this morning. I’m calling that school and telling them to move the bus stop from in front of my house.”

Sandy stood and stretched, using the back of her gardening glove to wipe the perspiration from her brow. 

“I do apologize for the boys’ behavior, Mrs. Bixley. I will talk to Freddy and tell him not to touch the apples or come into your yard. I will talk to Jeff’s mom too.”

The old lady didn’t seem pleased by her answer. “Like that will do any good. I’ve had to come over here with my bad knee aching too many times now. If you can’t control that little terror of yours, then I will call the police and have him arrested for trespassing!”

Sandy smiled through her gritted teeth. “That really won’t be necessary Mrs. Bixley.”

“I’ll decide what’s necessary. You just keep that boy under control.”

With one last shake of her cane, Mrs. Bixley toddled back across the lawn and through the shrubs to her adjoining property.

Sandy finished in the front box, but her anger didn’t subside. She decided to work through it and returned to the empty spot in the third tier. With relish, she dug along the edge of the patch, only realizing she dug too deep when she saw the roots of the flowers.

“Damn,” she muttered. “I hope I didn’t hurt those roots.” She put her hand down to feel how deep the roots went and how damaged they might be. Her fingers brushed something hard under the tips of the roots. The confrontation with Mrs. Bixley shoved to the back of her mind, Sandy dug around a little deeper and pulled on the object. It didn’t readily come free from the hold of the earth. She used the trowel to dig around and under the rounded mass in the dirt under the flowers. Enough dirt was finally scraped away for the mystery in the ground to begin to wiggle. Sandy used her hands and moved the soft soil from under it until it came loose. With a satisfied smile, she pulled it free from the ground and looked at her discovery.

It looked back.

Eye sockets with meat still clinging to it stared at her, the teeth giving a ghoulish eternal grin. The skull slipped from her shaking hands as she shot to her feet. She scanned the tiers of gardens and her eyes came back to rest on the bare patch under her feet. She had dug deeply in this spot many times trying to get things to grow. Ignoring the skull, she took her shovel to the hole under the roots where she made her discovery and she started digging. She dug all along the edge and then around each tier. After she had carefully dug under the roots of her wonderful flowers in the backyard, she moved around to the boxes in the front.

Like every layer of the back tiers, the front flower boxes contained bodies. The ones in the front were nothing more than skeletons. They seemed to be the oldest. The first tier in the back contained the next round of bodies and the bottom tier leading into the woods held the most recent bodies. Many of those flower beds contained forms that looked remarkably like people. Exhausted, Sandy returned to the bare patch, her shovel in one hand and her sun hat in the other. She smoothed loose strands of hair back from her face and surveyed the garden. It was so beautiful, the source of her success. She needed to call the police. She cringed when she thought of all of those people trampling through her gardens.

She brought the back of her gloved hand to her mouth to stifle her sob as she realized they would have to dig all of them up. Her entire garden would be ruined along with her income. She would lose not only the gardens, but her home. She sunk to her knees, the original skull she uncovered glared at her accusingly.

She rolled it back into the hole from where it came. The thought occurred to her that the bodies acted as a natural fertilizer to get the flowers to grow. There was no body under the section where she sat. That’s why nothing would grow there. She had about three hours before Freddy came home from school. There was plenty of time.

Sandy set to work covering all of the exposed bodies, glad that Muzzy stayed clear of the garden. Within an hour, all of the bodies were safely covered, the remains continuing to feed the thriving flowers. Satisfied that her business would not be forced to close, Sandy leaned on her shovel and looked around the garden. It was beautiful again. The momentary pang of guilt passed quickly, after all, the people were already dead, and she didn’t kill them. She could pretend she never knew they were there.

Back where she started in the barren plot, she shifted the dirt with the toe of her sneaker. Nothing would grow there. The rest of the gardens fed off the natural fertilizer provided by the prior owner of the property. The old man was the murderer, not her. Nothing would grow there.

Another thought occurred to her. Maybe something would grow if it had the right nutrients.

She hefted the shovel onto her shoulder and walked around to the front of the house and across the yard between the shrubs to the neighboring property.

A year later, Sandy was still successful. Her business was booming and the demand for her flowers was at maximum capacity for what she could produce. Her gardens were lush and full with no bare spots. She planned to clear a patch at the bottom of the tiers and add more gardens. All she needed was the right fertilizer.

Advertisements

An Introduction to the Second Wind Authors

I thought a fun way to introduce the authors of Second Wind Publishing, LLC (or at least the ones who wanted to be introduced) would be to have them answer three simple questions so you can see how different authors perceive themselves and their writing. The questions:

1. What is writing like for you?
2. What is the most thrilling thing about getting published?
3. What is the most humbling thing about getting published?

Nancy A. Niles, author of Vendetta:

1. Writing is something that I can’t not do. It’s my best friend, sometimes a pain in the neck, but most times just something that I need to do for my own peace of mind.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the encouragement it has given me to keep writing and keep allowing myself to express more freely and deeper. I think all those rejection slips had an effect on me and now being published is having a strengthening and very positive effect on my writing.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is knowing that for a few hours the people who read my novel will be taken away from their problems and be in my world. It humbles me to know that for just a short time I can give them a little escape from their troubles. It is quite a blessing.

Laura S. Wharton, author of The Pirate’s Bastard:

1. Writing is like exercise. Sometimes, it’s really hard to get up at 4:00 in the morning to begin writing…the warm covers are oh so snuggly. Other times, the adrenalin rush about an aspect of the story-in-process surging through me has me up at 3:00, sitting still for three hours, and then reluctantly stopping so I can prepare myself and family for the work/school day ahead. Like exercise, it has to be done nearly every day to accomplish anything close to completion.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is reading reviews from unknown readers – and seeing that they really loved my story.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing typos after publication of what I thought was an error-free book.

Nichole R. Bennett, author of Ghost Mountain:

1. Writing is in my blood. I don’t mean that I come from a long line of authors, because I don’t. But I have to write. I have to get those words out of my body and onto paper. Some days those words flow and there is no stopping them. Other days I struggle over each and every letter. Either way, writing is something I have to do. Just like eating or breathing.

2. The most thrilling thing is knowing that I am living my dream. Yes, it can be hard, but this is what I want to do and I’m doing it. How many people can truly say they get to live their dream?
3. I’m not sure there’s a humbling moment for me. I knew going in that writing would take some thick skin and hard work. I knew not everyone would like my work or appreciate the time and energy that it took to get where I am. That’s okay. I’m just grateful for the opportunities I have had and that there are people who do like it!

J. Conrad Guest, author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings and One Hot January:

1. I haven’t found anything that provides the level of satisfaction writing provides me—the highs of crafting a perfect sentence, of self-discovery and exploring the universal themes of love and loss, dying and death, salvation, redemption, and keeping my parents alive and making them proud.

2. As writers, I think we all believe our work is the greatest since Hemingway, and seeing our work in print is affirmation, a thrill, that our work has merit—even if it isn’t really as good as Hemingway.

3. I find nothing humbling about getting published (I write with publication in mind), save for the process. By the time I receive my first proof copy, I’ve gone over my manuscript a dozen times or more and have probably a half-dozen drafts. An editor has gone over it, found several typos I’ve missed, and made suggestions for changes—some with which I agree, but most I discard. So I find it maddening and, yes, humbling, when I start reading my proof copy and find ways to improve the narrative, to rewrite a passage and, worst of all, I find a typo! I’m a perfectionist, so, yes, it’s humbling to learn I still can improve upon the process.

Eric Beetner, co-author of One Too Many Blows to the Head and Borrowed Trouble

1. Writing is lonely and tiring. Even writing as a part of a team like I do with Jennifer is still lonesome. We live on opposite coasts and only communicate through email. I never show anything to anyone for critique. Never let early drafts out to the public. So having her around is also an act of real trust. We show each other our naked first drafts and still expect that we’ll respect each other in the morning.

2. I find that it is too easy to only hear from a friendly audience of family and friends so the biggest thrill for me is when a total stranger says or writes something good about my writing. I know it is genuine. Being published lets that person have exposure to my work and find something in it that resonates or entertains. That’s why we’re here, right?

3. Oh, brother, what hasn’t been? I’ve had signings at book stores I respect (and where I shop) I’ve been in panel discussions alongside authors I admire. I’ve met writers as an equal – a fellow published author, not just a fan. All that has made me feel grateful beyond words.

DCP_0851-136x150Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday:

1. A few years ago I came back to writing fiction after a self-imposed twelve-year period during which I did not write, and found about twenty ideas of books rattling around in my head. My first official act was to get a notebook and list the novels, outlining them to the degree they had “marinated” in my imagination. For me, writing is getting out of the way and allowing those stories that germinated so long ago to take root, flower and bear fruit.

2. The thrill comes from somebody you don’t personally know buying a book, or seeking you out intentionally at a book signing. It’s also thrilling when someone asks you a question about your story in such a way that you know they have read it with comprehension.

3. A couple things strike me right away. First is the praise I often get from my colleagues. When another writer whose work I admire compliments my work in a way that reveals I’ve accomplished precisely what I set out to do in the story—that is humble. The second thing is when people I know hunt me down and pester me until I get them a copy of one of my books. And sign it to them personally. I’m not accustomed to adulation.

lucy_balch-113x151Lucy Balch, author of Love Trumps Logic:

1. Writing is like I’m in a time machine. I can work for hours on a story and it always feels like much less time.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the knowledge that, finally, I’ll have something to show for the five years I’ve put into this obsession. Maybe I haven’t been selfishly squandering huge amounts of time?!

3.The most humbling thing about getting published is the realization that so many good writers have not yet been given the opportunity to publish. Is my book worthy of the privilege? As an unpublished author, I can always tell myself that my book will be well received when given the chance. The reality might be different. I hope not, but it’s a possibility, and once a book bombs there is no going back to the fantasy of it doing well.

jwcomputercatmail2-133x157Juliet Waldron, author of Hand-Me-Down Bride:

1. I write historicals, so writing for me is like entering a time portal—or, sometimes, like stepping out of Dr. Who’s callbox after accidentally pushing the wrong button. I have an idea of what may be there when I first look around, but I often find the world I’ve entered to be surprisingly different from my preconceptions.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting/being published is having someone you don’t know leave a message or write a review that totally “gets” the book. Shows I wasn’t as off-base as I sometimes—in those dark 3 a.m. moments—imagined.

3) The most humbling thing about getting/being published is that we have so much competition, and that there is a great deal of good writing out there. After publication there is the (IMO) far less agreeable marketing to do. The playful creation is now complete.

TracyB_3-134x150Claire Collins, author of Images of Betrayal and Fate and Destiny:

1. For me, writing is a journey. I don’t always know the final destination until I start traveling, but it’s always a rewarding trip.

2. The most thrilling thing about being published is when people read what I’ve written and they like it. I write for myself because writing is almost a compulsion for me. Readers enjoying my writing is a bonus.

3. The most humbling thing? All of the work it takes to get the books out and maintain a normal life while still trying to write. I realized pretty quick that I wasn’t superwoman. I’m still trying, but someone keeps standing on my cape.

mickeypic_1_-124x149Mickey Hoffman, author of School of Lies:

1. For me, writing is like being in that space just after you woke up from a dream but you only remember half of the dream and you spend all your waking moments trying to flesh it out.

2. I had some stories to tell and now I feel like they’ll be heard. And it really is thrilling. I feel like I’m white water rafting and I don’t need a boat!

3. I’ll be awed that anyone would take the time to read what I’ve written when they could be doing something more valuable with their time.

Deborah_J_Ledford-114x160Deborah J Ledford, author of Staccato and Snare:

1. I am an entertainer. I don’t write for a cause or to pose my own thoughts or impressions on issues. My only function is to provide a suspense-filled, exciting ride the reader won’t want to stop until they reach the very last word.

2. The most thrilling thing about being published is seeing the words I’ve worked so diligently to craft actually in print. If what I present happens to be worthy enough for readers to tell others about Staccato, that’s all I could ask for.

3. Everything about being published is humbling to me. That readers would seek out Staccato, then take the time to escape from their lives for a while, makes me more grateful than anyone could possibly know.

Sherrie_-_book_2-120x154Sherrie Hansen Decker, author of Night and Day, Stormy Weather, and Water Lily:

1. For me, writing is like a dream vacation – a chance to escape the realities of my everyday life and travel to some faraway world where I can see the sights and meet new people.

2. For years, I wrote and wrote, wondering if anyone would ever read my words. What a wonderful feeling to be writing for readers who are eagerly awaiting my next release!

3. Every time I think I have a perfect draft, I find more errors glaring out from the pages of my proof. Very humbling . . .

Norm2-140x151Norm Brown, author of The Carpet Ride:

1. As a retired computer programmer, I see a lot of similarities between writing a novel and creating a complex software program. Both processes require an enormous attention to detail. All the little parts have to tie together in a logical way and a good flow is critical. And it’s hard work to get all the “bugs” out of a book, too.

2. The most thrilling thing for me was pulling the first copy of my book out of the box and holding it in my hands. It was exciting to see something that I actually created.

3. The most humbling thing for me about being published was discovering how much I have to learn about promoting my book. I’m still learning.

biopicsmall-136x139Jerrica Knight-Catania, author of A Gentleman Never Tells:

1. Writing for me depends on the day. Some days it’s the most wonderful romp through my dream land and other days it’s like getting a root canal.

2. Knowing that someone else believes in your work enough to put it in print is just about the most thrilling feeling. It’s great to hear friends and family say how much they enjoyed my work, but to have it validated by professionals is a whole ‘nother ball game!

3. I’m not sure I’ve been humbled at all! Haha! But I’ve never really had unrealistic expectations of myself or my work. . . . I’m prepared to correct mistakes and make cuts/edits as needed. I’m just grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve been given.

Lindlae_Parish_photo-129x151Dellani Oakes, Author of Indian Summer and Lone Wolf:

1. Writing is like a discovery process. I start with a beginning line, an idea or even just a character’s name and watch as the characters lead me where they want me to go.

2. I loved the fact that I finally was validated. Someone did think I was worth publishing and I wasn’t just “Wasting time with all that writing.”

3. Humbling? Wow, I think the most humbling – perhaps humiliating – step in the publishing process is all the rejection you get until someone finally says “Yes, we want you!”

Margay_touch_up-129x150Margay Leah Justice, author of Nora’s Soul:

1. For me, writing is like creating a baby. There is the conception (what a wonderful idea!), the writing/rewriting period (gestation, anyone?) and the birth (I can’t believe it’s finally here!). And then you nurture it for the next couple of years as you slowly introduce it to the public – and hope they don’t think it’s an ugly baby.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the sense of accomplishment when you see it in print for the first time and you discover that people actually like it!

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing the book in print for the first time and realizing that all of those years of struggling, writing, rewriting, submitting – all boil down to this one little book that you can hold in the palm of your hand.

Chris2-132x150Christine Husom, author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River:

1. Writing is multi-faceted for me. It is a joy, but also pretty hard work at times. I do much of my writing in my mind and when I finally sit down to get it on paper, it often comes out differently. I spend more time mentally forming plots and picturing scenes than I do writing them. I love having a whole day here and there to sit at my computer and concentrate on writing. If I have problems with a scene, I skip ahead to the next one so I don’t get frustrated.

2. The most thrilling thing about being published is getting my books out of my house and into readers’ hands–hoping people get some enjoyment reading them.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing mistakes and typos in what I thought was an error-free manuscript!

Amy_12_1-113x151Amy De Trempe, author of Loving Lydia and Pure is the Heart:

1. Writing for me is like unmapped journey, I never know what turns, obstacles or excitement is about to unfold.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is seeing my name on a book cover.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is finding out how supportive and happy my friends and family really are for me.

maggiemed-138x150Mairead Walpole, author of A Love Out of Time:

1. In some ways, writing is a form of therapy. Not from a “work out my issues” standpoint, but rather it allows me to escape from the day to day stresses of the world. I can let the creative, sometimes a little off-beat, imaginative part of my soul off the leash and let it run. Some of my very early writing did dip into the realm of “working out my issues” and those stories will never see the light of day!

2. Can I channel my inner Sallie Fields and run around saying, “They liked it, they really liked it…”? No? Darn. Seriously, I think it is the whole – I did this – aspect. Someone read the book and thought it was worth publishing. That is pretty cool no matter how you cut it.

3. Opening yourself up to criticism, being vulnerable. Sure, you know that not everyone is going to love your book, and intellectually you know that some people will hate it and think you are a hack, but when someone actually expresses that to you it is a whole new experience. It can be very humbling.

IMG_4132-use-115x154Suzette Vaughn, author of Badeaux Knights, Mortals, Gods, and a Muse, and Finding Madelyn:

1. I’m like a humming bird on too much caffine. I write in waves. When the wave hits I can put out several thousand words in an unbelievably small amount of time. Then when I’m not in humming bird mode I edit.

2. The most thrilling is probably the fact that there are people out there that I don’t know that have read my book and liked it. I had the pleasure a few times of meeting them and there is some twinkle in their eye that is amazing.

3. My son is always humbling. I recieved my proofs in the mail and my then seven year old son didn’t fully understand what it meant that I’d written a book. He flips through the pages looking for hand-writting. “I get in trouble when I write in books.”

jjdare-139x150JJ Dare, author of False Positive and False World:

1. Writing is like being in a triathlon for me. I power write for days or weeks at a time, then crash for awhile with the help of Tylenol and chocolate. Writing is a scary, exciting roller-coaster. It is exhilarating and draining, and Iwouldn’t do it any other way.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the very act of being published! Something I wrote is out there, available for anyone to read. Holding the hard copy of my book in my hands gives me the good shivers. The other thrill is the pride in my family’s voices when they introduce me as “The Writer.”

3. The most humbling thing is feeling responsible for the places I take my readers. During the time they’re walking with and living the lives of the characters in my book, my readers are taking the same roller-coaster ride I took to write the
book.

pat-135x150Pat Bertram, author of More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I:

1. For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions.

2. Someday perhaps, I will find the thrill of being published, but to be honest it was anti-climatic. I am more thrilled at the thought of what the future might bring now that my books have been published.

3. I had no intention of answering these questions. After all, I was the one who collated all these mini interviews, but a fellow author said, “This is your party, too. People will tune in because of you. They want to know more about YOU. Don’t cheat your fans and followers.” Now that’s humbling.

Click here to read the first chapters of all Second Wind novels: The Exciting Worlds of Second Wind Books


PUPPY LOVE

Puppy Love

Puppy Love is a short story written by Claire Collins for the Love is on the Wind anthology. You can get the entire Love is on the Wind ebook or one of Claire’s novels, Fate and Destiny, or Images of Betrayal as an ebook for free by leaving a comment on the Second Wind Blog page titled Romance Giveaway for Valentine’s Day. Free ebooks! Everybody wins!

Puppy Love


She slammed her fist on the desk.  If her computer crashed one more time, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from throwing the whole thing out the window. Lisa pushed away from the heavy mahogany desk and left the office after rebooting the computer for the third time that morning. She carried her coffee cup, intent on infusing more caffeine into her system.  Passing through the living room from the office on the way to the kitchen, she stopped. A scratching noise came from the front door. The sound was accompanied by yipping.

Lisa put her cup on the coffee table and opened the front door.  A blast of cold March morning air entered the house. Lisa shivered and wrapped her flannel shirt around her tighter. On the other side of the security screen, a little pile of fur looked up at her with doleful eyes. It wagged its tail.

“Look how cute you are,” Lisa said. “You must be lost.” The tail wagged and the dog scratched at the door again. A pink bow adorned the top of the dog’s head, tied securely into the mounds of soft, fluffy, white fur surrounding the inquisitive face. Someone took very good care of the little dog. Lisa couldn’t see a collar through the screen. It must be hidden under the layers of fur.  She could make a quick phone call and get back to dismantling her computer with a sledge hammer in no time. She opened the wrought iron security screen.

Lisa didn’t know little dogs could be so quick. The dog bounded past her legs and straight into the house. Lisa’s cry of surprise didn’t stop the dog that leapt onto the couch and curled into a ball, her sad eyes watching Lisa.

“Okay, Pup,” Lisa crooned from the front door she still held open. “You need to go home. You can’t get comfortable here. Someone will be very worried about you.”

The dog tipped her head and listened, but didn’t bother to get off the sofa. Lisa let go of the security door. She took a step closer to the dog.

“C’mon girl,” Lisa kept her voice cheery. “Let’s go home.” She opened the screen door and pointed outside. The dog didn’t move. Lisa’s mouth quirked, maybe the dog wasn’t used to the soft approach. Lisa assumed she belonged to some little old lady, but maybe not.

“Down!” Lisa commanded. The dog’s ears came up, but she didn’t move. Lisa let go of the door again and strode to the couch. The dog crouched, and when Lisa got close enough, the little furball snapped at her. Then it barked. Lisa jumped back.

“Oh no, you didn’t just try to bite me, did you?”  The dog barked again, put her front paws straight out, her back end up in the air, and wagged her tail. Her little mouth opened and her head moved back and forth.

Lisa laughed. “Oh! You’re playing aren’t you?” The tail moved faster. Lisa extended her open hand, palm up, to the dog. She received a lick and a happy yip for her efforts. The dog wriggled on the couch as Lisa scratched around the furry ears, her fingers rubbing against the collar.

“I knew you’d have a collar on, you cute little thing.” Lisa smiled and pet the dog under her chin with one hand while the other lifted the heart shaped tag hanging from the center front of the collar.

“Cuddles, huh?” Lisa eyed the little dog that barked and jumped with excitement when Lisa said her name. Lisa resumed petting the dog so she could grab the tag again and find the dog’s owner.

“Phone number on the back,” Lisa smiled at Cuddles. “I love responsible pet owners. That’s why I don’t have any pets. I don’t need the responsibility and you need to go home.”

Lisa wrote the number on the scratch pad on the end table by the couch. She peeled the paper from the pad and carried it to her office in search of her cell phone. Cuddles followed, her paws softly padding across the tile. With her pretty bow, trimmed hair, and clipped nails, Cuddles spent more time primping than Lisa did.

Her cell phone was charging on her desk. Tucking her feet under her, Lisa curled into her office chair and dialed the number. After the first ring, a recorded message came on the line.

“Utoh Cuddles,” Lisa looked at the little ball of fluff on the floor. “The number’s been disconnected. I guess your owner isn’t as responsible as I thought.”

Cuddles stood on her back legs, her front paws on the seat of the chair. Lisa scooped her up, putting the dog in her lap.

“I guess I’m going to have to call the pound to come get you. Your owner will probably call them when they can’t find you.”

Lisa moved the mouse on her computer to look up the number. The computer didn’t respond, the image of a partially created and unsaved design plan frozen on the screen.

She emitted a bad word under her breath. Somewhere around there, she had a real paper phone book, but she had no idea where it was. She picked up the phone again to call Information for the number. Before she could flip the phone open, Cuddles jumped from Lisa’s lap, barking furiously as she raced down the hall. Lisa unfolded from the chair and went after the dog. She arrived in the living room in time to see Cuddles scratching at the security door and barking. An angry-looking large man strode up the sidewalk. Lisa reached the front door before the man could rap his thick knuckles against the unlocked screen.

“Can I help you?” Lisa’s voice was firm even though she was shaking on the inside. The man was huge, at least six foot five inches tall and solid as a brick wall. His dark brown hair showed red highlights in the sun and sunglasses hid his eyes. His unshaven square jaw was set with anger.

“Yeah, you can help me by giving me back my dog.” He spit the words out, putting his hands on his hips and tipping his head.

Lisa held her hand on the lock, ready to flip it closed if the man made an aggressive move. She looked down at Cuddles. The little groomed dog with her pink bow, a spray of fur spreading out from it, and her playful personality belonged to the gruff man on her porch? Lisa imagined that someone like him would own a more suitable pet, like a rabid pit bull.

“What’s her name?” Lisa wasn’t quite willing to give this man the dog without knowing for sure that she belonged to him.

The man shifted on his feet and looked around before studying his shoes. “Her name is Cuddles.”

Lisa smiled at his embarrassment. Not so tough now, are you buddy?

“I’m sorry,” she said sweetly. “What did you say her name was?”

The man looked directly through the screen even though he couldn’t see her through the holes in the thick metal. “Her name is Cuddles. Happy now? Can I have her back, please?”

Lisa pushed the door open and Cuddles ran out. The man scooped her up with one hand, holding her wriggling body against his chest while she licked his face. His other hand held the screen open. Lisa leaned against the doorframe.

The man’s face softened and he smiled, his teeth in an even row except for one on the side which was just crooked enough to keep them from being perfect.

“Cuddles, you’re a bad girl. You aren’t supposed to leave the yard.” He spoke softly to the dog, seeming to forget Lisa was watching. He stopped smiling, his face turning in her direction.

“Why do you have my dog in your house? I’ve been hunting all over the neighborhood for her.”

Lisa crossed her arms over her chest, holding the flannel shirt against her. “I didn’t let her in. She let herself in. I called the number on her tag. If you had an updated number on there, you would have known exactly where to find her.”

The man looked down at the dog. “Yeah, I need to do that.” He spoke softly again for a moment, then his voice turned to steel. “Well, thanks for letting her in, I guess.”

Without waiting for a reply, the man turned and walked down the sidewalk, tucking the little dog inside his jacket as he went.

Lisa’s house returned to normal for the rest of the day. Early the next morning, scratching and barking at the front door stopped her on the way to the kitchen to make coffee. She opened the door. Cuddles greeted her with a bark before sauntering into the house and getting comfortable on the couch.

“The sun isn’t even up yet,” Lisa said to the white fluff on the couch. “Why me?”

The little dog didn’t answer, only yawned and stretched. Anticipating the knock on the door, Lisa started the coffee pot before going to the bathroom to shower. The dog followed her. Lisa put her outside of the bathroom door and shut it. She didn’t even get the water turned on before Cuddles started howling in a pitiful little voice from the other side of the door. Lisa threw the door open and the dog trotted into the room, watching every move Lisa made. The man could arrive at any minute. Lisa turned to the mirror. A shower could wait. He wasn’t that important that she had to be clean and fresh to give him back his dog. She splashed cold water on her face so her green eyes didn’t resemble Christmas. Then she combed her long straight auburn hair into a ponytail.  She was sitting on the couch in a pair of lounge pants and an oversize sweatshirt with a cup of coffee in her hand and Cuddles curled up in her lap when the knock came at the door.

“C’mon in,” she said as she opened the doors. “Your runaway is on the couch.”

He didn’t wear sunglasses since the day was starting out overcast. His brown eyes had a guilty look in them.

“Thanks. I thought I found where she got out and I fixed it. Guess I better look again.” He entered the house and Lisa shut the door behind him. Cuddles jumped around at his feet.

Lisa resumed her position on the couch. “Maybe this time you should give me your name and number and I’ll call you if she shows up again.” She handed him the paper and pen from the end table.

He scribbled on the paper. “I’m going to watch and see what she does the next time I let her out. She probably won’t bother you again.”

Lisa waved her hand in dismissal. “She really isn’t a bother. I actually like her.”

The man handed back the paper and Lisa read his name and phone number. Ben Welsh. He stood in the center of the room, the little dog watching her from the safety of her owner’s massive hand.

“I do have one question though,” Lisa said. “Why does a big ole’ guy like you have a Pekingese? I would think you would want a big manly kind of dog.”

Ben’s eyebrows went up. He laughed. “What? Are you saying my dog isn’t ‘manly’?”

Lisa grinned. “Cuddles isn’t exactly a masculine name either, but the pink bow in her hair really screams feminine. I’m guessing she’s your wife’s dog and you keep getting elected to fetch her.”

Ben’s smile faded and his eyebrows dipped to a frown. “She’s a Peekapoo, not a Pekingese and I’m not married. She was my mom’s dog.”

“A Peekapoo?” Lisa asked. “Does your mom live around here?”

Ben gently rubbed the silky fur on Cuddles’ ears. The dog closed her eyes, her chin resting on Ben’s arm that held her.

“A Peekapoo is a mix between a Pekingese and a Poodle. My mom died last week. I live three blocks behind you. I brought Cuddles home two days ago. My sister was taking care of my mom after she got sick, but my sister has a Rottweiler and he didn’t like Cuddles much.”

Lisa didn’t speak for a moment. She couldn’t think of a word to say to the big man holding the tiny dog.

“I’m sorry,” was all she could manage. It didn’t seem enough.

Ben looked up at her. “It’s okay. Really. Mom had breast cancer and it was too far along when they discovered it. She was really sick and in a lot of pain at the end. I’m grateful her suffering is over.”

Lisa studied him for a moment. Although he was in pain, his eyes were dry and accepting.

“Well, maybe Cuddles will get used to your home and settle in soon.”

Ben shrugged. “At least she keeps coming back here. I spent a couple of hours yesterday going through the neighborhood calling her name until I heard her in here barking. Today I just came straight here, hoping she did the same thing.” He turned and placed his hand on the knob. “Anyway, we’ve taken enough of your morning. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing.”

Lisa laughed and rose from the couch, placing her coffee cup on the table. “All I’m doing is fighting with my computer. I want to work and it refuses to let me.”

Ben’s hand dropped from the doorknob. “What’s it doing?”

“It keeps locking up when I try to use this new program I installed.” She glanced over him and lifted on eyebrow. “Why, are you a computer tech?”

Ben laughed. “No, actually I’m a tow truck driver, but I know a thing or two about computers. I dabble in repairs in my spare time. I don’t really want to drive a truck forever, so I’ve been taking classes for a couple of years.”

“If you can fix this thing, I might actually get some work done. In trade, I’ll become your permanent dog sitter if you ever need one.”

His eyes sparkling, Ben agreed with a nod. “You’re on. I bet I can fix it in less than five minutes.”

“We’ll see,” Lisa laughed as she showed him to the office. He handed Cuddles to Lisa as his fingers flew nimbly over the keyboard accessing parts of the computer Lisa didn’t even know existed. In just a couple of minutes, he rebooted the computer and loaded the dreaded program. It started up much faster than it used to. Ben moved so Lisa could sit at the desk with Cuddles in her lap. It effortlessly opened her latest room design without a hiccup or glitch. She moved around a few items and added others and it still performed perfectly.

“So what are the designs for?” Ben asked.

“I create office layouts to utilize space effectively. See here,” Lisa pointed to the reception area on the screen. “They used to have the front receptionist in this doctor’s office too far away from the front door. The patients would have to go clear across a usually crowded room and then go back across the room to find a seat. With the new plan, the receptionist is closer to the front door and the waiting rooms are divided. There’s a play area for children over here.”

She used her mouse to point at a different location. “This office has several different specialists. Some deal with mostly elderly patients and others deal with children. With the new layout, the patients are separated instead of all being lumped into a large room, and the nursing assistants open a door directly into the appropriate medical suites. I was working on the designs in my old program, then they came out with an upgraded version that just didn’t work right at all, but it seems to be working great now.”

Cuddles was curled up in Lisa’s lap, sleeping. Lisa absentmindedly rubbed the dog’s soft ears as she spoke to Ben.

“Well, I need to go home and get to sleep,” Ben said, looking at the sleeping dog. Lisa stood, lifting the furry bundle and handing her to Ben.

“You haven’t slept yet? Has she been missing that long?” Lisa asked.

Ben shook his head. “I work nights so it’s past my bedtime. I let her out when I get home before I go to sleep.”

Lisa nodded. “That explains why she’s been showing up so early.”

With a final good-bye, Lisa walked Ben and Cuddles to the door. She watched as he climbed into an enormous truck parked in her driveway. Then she went to take her morning shower and get to work.

The next morning, her visitor was back. Lisa let Cuddles in on her way to the coffee pot. The knock on the door came this time before she made it back to her room to comb her hair and splash water on her face. She stopped in the living room, glancing down at her flannel pajamas before she sighed and opened the front door where Cuddles was already doing her happy dance and barking. So he would see her in her pajamas. No big deal. She could just give him the dog and he could go home and go to sleep. She picked Cuddles up and unlocked the door.

Ben stood on the other side smiling. “Aha,” he exclaimed as he came into the house, oblivious to Lisa’s apparel. She stood at the front door watching his excitement as he continued speaking. “She’s not getting out where I thought she was. She’s so little that she goes under the fence. I saw her this morning. I tried to grab her before she got through, but it didn’t work. By the time I got around and in the truck, she was already running through yards in this direction.” He stopped and took a breath, his eyes scanning over Lisa’s attire.

The corner of his lip quirked. “Cute jammies. The little snowmen are a nice touch.”

Lisa didn’t smile. She crossed her arms over her breasts. The cold outside made it apparent that she wore no supportive undergarments under her pajamas. “Can you let her out just an hour later? At least then I could get a shower in and be dressed before I had visitors.”

Ben’s eyes lifted back to her face. “Sorry. I think I’m going to take her out on a leash until I can get around the bottom of the fence where she’s been digging to get out.”

Lisa nodded. She felt bad for snapping at him and she was disappointed that she wouldn’t see Cuddles or Ben anymore. She didn’t know what to say. They stood awkwardly for a moment.

“Tell you what,” Ben said suddenly. “I don’t have to work tonight. To thank you for putting up with us so early in the morning, how about if I take you out to dinner?”

“I’d like that.” Lisa looked at the tiny bundle curled up in Ben’s arms. “And to be honest, she can come visit me every morning if she wants to.”

Cuddles never again showed up at Lisa’s door first thing in the morning. Instead, she arrived in the afternoons and she brought Ben with her. It wasn’t too long before Lisa would wake up and Cuddles would be sleeping in the bed between Ben and Lisa. Ben landed a job with the design software company that Lisa used to do her room layouts. He showed them how to work out the kinks in their upgrades. The company became incredibly successful and took Ben along with them. Several years later, Ben, Lisa, and their three young children mourned when they woke up one morning to discover that Cuddles had passed away during the night. They spread her ashes over Ben’s mother’s grave.  On the way home from the cemetery, Alice, the oldest child who was named for Ben’s mother, leaned from the backseat. Her face looked from one parent’s tear streaked face to the other.

“Mom?” she asked. “Tell us again how you and Daddy met.”

Lisa smiled through her tears.


Who am I again?

A couple of years ago when I was nearing the reality of being published, I had to make a decision about what name I would be published under. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to publish under my own name. I had a corporate identity and a family to think of. My real world and the fantasy world around my writing didn’t mesh. I borrowed from my maternal great grandmother Tereasa Clair (who I was named after) and her husband Guy Collins and I created Claire Collins.

As Claire Collins, I… she… we (?) wrote Images of Betrayal, and Fate and Destiny. We started Seeds of September and planned to finish it last summer but then that whole real world stepped back in and I took a hiatus from writing.

Somewhere along the way, I had stepped back from writing so far that I decided I would never finish my third novel, not to mention the six other novels jostling for position behind it. Along the way, my fantasy writing world became my real world when I gave up my corporate job and 9 to 5 employee life, packed up my house and family, and moved to North Carolina to manage Barnhill’s Bookstore. We hit our grand opening last weekend and now I’m settling into this whole new life. I think part of this new life includes Second Wind Publishing and Seeds of September, but if I do, I’m going to write under my own name instead of my alias.


I Wish I Were a Cat

751674946_842d4fac92

 

I want to be a housecat.

I mean really, is there a better life than to be a pampered fat cat?

Let’s think about this for just a minute.

I wake up from my early morning nap when I hear an alarm clock going off. When the human walks out of their room, I weave in and out of their feet trying to trip them so they can see the world from my point of view.

If they make it into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, I’ll be right there yowling around their ankles until the noise penetrates their sleeping ears and they fill up my food and water bowls. Then the human can go away while I enjoy my breakfast and take my morning nap.

When I wake up, the humans have all left my house and I can sit in any windowsill I choose. I stretch out all of my feline muscles while my sharpened claws are hooked in the upholstery of the living room couch.

I take my early afternoon nap, eat some more, then go lay in a human bed to groom myself, making sure to lick away all of the loose hair and other nasties so I’m nice and clean.

Then it’s naptime again.  After that, I stroll across the kitchen counters and table, looking for leftover scraps or those yummy breakfast dishes the young humans leave when they go to school.

Then it’s naptime.

Around the time I wake up, humans return to my house so I lounge around on the floor like the good kitty they think I am.

Periodically, I’d need to use the litter box, and when I cover my mess, I’d get to throw litter all over the floor. What do I care? I don’t have to clean it up. Once a week, the humans will put fresh litter in there and sweep up my mess.

When I want to be stroked, I only have to rub my furry face against a human and I get instant gratification.

Of course, when the humans are home, unless I’m eating, using the litter box, or being rubbed, I will spend all of my time napping.

When they go to bed, I will spend my time playing. My favorite game will involve rolling a marble across the tile floor just outside the adult human’s bedroom.

Meow.


Addictive

On April Fool’s day of this year, I quit smoking. I found the date to be very fitting since I was a smoking fool for over 21 years. Yes, I was barely out of the womb when I started. I was young and stupid. Those were the good ol’ days.

So I traded my nicotine addiction for a new vice.

I’m now addicted to Cheerios.

I’ve tried to quit smoking four times in the last two years. I gained forty pounds trying to quit. This time, I grab cheerios when I get a craving.

I love Cheerios. Do you realize how many kinds of Cheerios there are? Apple cinnamon, strawberry yogurt burst, multi-grain, honey nut… the list goes on and on. http://www.cheerios.com/ourcereals/ourcereals_home.aspx

The worst part of my new addiction is holding the cheerio while I light it on fire and inhale.


To Be Tattooed

I woke up this morning with a tattoo. It’s a fluid , graceful horse head sitting delicately on my right ankle. It’s lovely.

It wasn’t there when I went to bed and I don’t remember going out and getting drunk. If I did go out and get drunk, I would  remember some of it – wouldn’t I?

I stumbled out of my room blurry-eyed and headed for the coffee pot. At least my new body art didn’t hurt. Or maybe I was really really drunk. As caffeine coursed through my blood, I became aware of giggling coming from the living room.

There sat my eight year old son and seven year old daughter.

Or at least I think it was them.

It was hard to tell through the tattoos covering them from head to foot, but the giggles sounded familiar. My husband reclined on the couch, his right arm tattooed clear down to the hand holding the remote. I guess I should consider myself lucky that only my foot and ankle were accessible to the tatoo bandits giggling on the living room floor.

When they saw me watching, the little tribal covered beings chased after me , each with a sponge in one hand and slips of plastic coated paper gripped in the other. I barely escaped into my bathroom with my coffee before the sponge slapped wetly against the door and the giggling fiends went in search of another victim.

I think I heard a cat yowl.

Should I tell them I don’t have any rubbing alcohol to remove their decorations?
No more sleeping in for me if it means my husband has to take the kids to the store with him. Who knows what they will come home with next.

Knowing my luck, my husband will decide to let them play doctor and I will wake up strapped to the bed by bandages. And with my luck, the tattooed cat will be in there with me.