Monthly Archives: December 2015

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 12 #4

There is so much Bellingwood swirling around in my mind these days as I prepare for publication of Book 12, that I can’t stop thinking about the characters. It’s easier to just write their stories. So you get another vignette. And yes, there will be a fifth vignette in the email newsletter on Friday morning.

IMG_4270And the kittens in my life – oh, the kittens. Earl and Grey are growing. It’s hard to believe how much they’ve changed in the last two months. They have such independent little personalities. Since they’re growing up together, they are affectionate with each other, with me and with TB whenever he’ll let them. Grey insists that he let her in. She’ll just lie down beside him and I think he’s a little like Heath in this story. He likes it, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. Earl is a bit more tentative, but I catch him walking past TB as close as he dares and then rubbing his neck against the older cat. It’s pretty cute.

Anyway … here’s the story.

More Than Meets the Muffin

Heath turned over in bed and groaned. Another day. They were all the same. He got up, rode the bus to school, spent the day knowing that he’d get harassed by somebody, rode the bus back to Bellingwood, scooped crap out of horse stalls, did homework and went to bed so he could start all over the next day.

At least Rebecca liked him. Everybody else either hated him or tiptoed around him, afraid that he was going to turn into a monster or fall apart. Hayden told him that he needed to suck it up because at least he was safe. Polly and Henry tried to be nice to him, which was better than his aunt and uncle. Rebecca was the only one who understood. Her mom died only a few months ago. He still didn’t get why she was so happy.

“Let’s go, sleepyhead,” she yelled at him after knocking on his door. “Don’t wanna be late for the bus!”

He smiled and sat up. He couldn’t believe he had a sister now. Then he felt his face return to normal, the smile long gone. She wasn’t really his sister. And if she knew all of the things he had done when he was with Ladd and Abby and Andy, she wouldn’t like him. Bile rose in his throat. Abby was dead. Ladd would have killed them all if he thought they were going to tell on him. At least the cops caught him before he hurt anybody else.

Heath pushed the sleeve of his pajamas back and looked at the scar on his forearm. That was from the night they broke into the old shoe store the first time. Ladd made him punch through the glass. It bled all over the place. He’d wrapped it up with rags they found in the store, but it didn’t heal for a long time. He couldn’t tell his aunt about it. She would have poured alcohol on it while he stood there trying not to cry.

He’d stolen her antibiotic cream and ripped up old t-shirts for bandages. He still wore long sleeves so no one would see the scar. Even Polly hadn’t seen it yet.

“Move it, you bum,” Rebecca yelled. She rapped on the door again. “Polly made breakfast. You don’t want to miss this.”

“Coming.” He grabbed jeans up from the floor and shook them out. They’d be fine today, but he took a fresh t-shirt out of his dresser. Polly caught him every time he tried to wear one a second day. He hadn’t had this many clothes since…

He couldn’t think about that. Every time he thought about his parents, he had a hard time coming back to the real world. He missed them so much. His mom loved getting ready for school in the fall. She took one whole day with him and they went to Des Moines. Their first stop was always for clothes because he hated that the most. Then they’d buy shoes. His favorite stop was Office Depot. It wasn’t because he loved paper and folders, pens and pencils; it was because she did. He smiled and brushed away a tear when he thought about that. The last time they went, she’d grabbed his hand and tried to skip with him through the front door. He was too old for that. But deep down inside, he wished he’d just done it. She was so happy.

Heath lifted a stack of t-shirts and touched the blue spiral notebook he’d managed to keep hidden from his aunt. His mom had written a note in the middle of it, assuming that he’d find it one day when he was working on an assignment. She’d drawn a big smiley face and put curly hair on it. Then she drew a bubble with the words “I love you, Heath. Always do your best – it’s what you are meant to be. Remember that I’m proud of you every minute of the day.”

He couldn’t look at the page anymore. It hurt too much. Heath slammed the drawer shut and put his t-shirt on.

Rebecca pounded on his door. “Are you going to make me come in after you?”

“I’m here, I’m here,” he said, pulling the door open.

She gave him her best innocent face and then crooked her finger for him to bend down. He wasn’t that much taller than her, but he did what she asked. She ran her fingers through his hair, straightening it around his face.

“That’s better,” she said. “Seriously, Heath, use a brush, will you?”

“Whatever.”

“Don’t whatever me. Did you finish your book last night?”

He stepped back into the bedroom and grabbed up his backpack. “I finished what I was supposed to read.”

“Was it good?”

“Yeah. It’s okay.”

“I want to read that when you’re done. And then we should watch the movie.”

“There’s a movie?” he asked. “Why can’t I just watch that?”

Rebecca glared at him and he grinned. “Because reading is better for you. And it’s a classic.”

He really was enjoying the book. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was much better than “King Lear.” Heath couldn’t believe all of the books Polly had on her shelves. When he came home with the list of books at the beginning of the semester, she showed him where every one was located. And she’d read them all. But then she had been a librarian. That was probably required for her to get a degree.

His mom read books, but mostly she went to the library for them. She always wanted him to check out books with her, but he didn’t do that either. Wow, he’d been a terrible kid. All of those years he could have made her life easy and he didn’t. It wasn’t fair. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was, but it was too late. It was always too late.

“Good morning,” Henry said when they walked into the kitchen.

Heath nodded. “Hey.”

Polly stepped out from the kitchen. She always looked like she wanted to hug him. He wished she would sometime. Just do it and get it over with so he could hug her back. But she stopped herself. “Juice?” she asked.

He dropped into the chair where he always sat and nodded again, then took the glass from her.

“I made muffins and there’s egg casserole. I tried a new recipe and it smells wonderful,” she said. “Rebecca, will you get plates and silverware?”

Heath stood up. “I can help.”

“Thanks,” Polly said. She nodded at the stove where the casserole dish was sitting. “It should be cool enough now. But hot pads are there. Would you grab it?”

He brought it over to the table and put it on the trivet she’d set in front of his place.

Rebecca put plates down beside it and Polly brought over a basket covered with a cloth. She pulled back the cloth and Heath sat back in his seat.

“What are those?” he asked.

His voice must have sounded off because they all looked at each other and then at him.

“Lemon poppyseed,” Polly said. “Are you allergic?”

“No.” He was afraid he’d cry if he tried to talk so he bolted out of the room. He stood in the doorway to his bedroom, his hand on the door sill, trying to slow his breathing.

“What’s wrong, Heath?” Rebecca asked from behind him. “Do you really hate lemon poppyseed muffins?”

“They’re my favorite,” he replied. “It just brought back a memory.” Yeah. A memory of every Sunday morning when his mother made them. She always put three on his plate because she knew just how much he loved them.

Rebecca came up beside him and put her hand on his back, rubbing it slowly. “I hate those memories. But Polly didn’t know.”

“It’s okay. I just need to breathe.”

“We’ll take them away if you don’t want them.”

“No, I love them. Just give me a minute. I’ll be back.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Tell Polly I’m fine. I’ll be right there.”

“Do you want to talk about this?”

He shook his head. “Not now. Go on. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“It’s okay to be normal. I cry a lot when I think about my mom. You should try it sometime.”

Heath looked at Rebecca and smiled. “I don’t think so. Come on. I’m fine. Let’s go have breakfast.”

“I’m not kidding. You should cry.”

“Maybe sometime I’ll let you hit me in the gut and then I’ll cry because you’re so strong and you really hurt me.”

Rebecca swatted at him. “Now you’re just being silly.” She pushed him back into the dining room.

Polly and Henry were still sitting in the same place. He could tell they’d been talking about him because they stopped in the middle of a sentence and both looked at him when he walked in.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Polly asked. “What did I do?”

He sat back down in his seat and took a muffin, split it open and breathed in the scent. It threatened to overwhelm him again, but he choked back the tears.

“They’re his favorite,” Rebecca said. “I bet he hasn’t had them in years.”

Polly reached over and touched his arm. “Someday you’ll have to tell me some other things that are your favorites. You know I love to cook.”

Heath nodded and took a bite of the muffin. It was perfect.

Rebecca put two more on his plate and winked at him. “You have a few years of these to make up for.”

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 12 #3

Java Jive

IMG_4251“Good morning,” Sal sang out as she walked in the front door of the coffee shop. A lack of response made her look around the room. She saw no one. That was unsettling. No customers, no baristas, no people at all.

“Hello? Is anyone here?”

She breathed a sigh of relief when Camille came running from the back.

“Oh hi,” Camille said with an easy smile. “I’m sorry. Sylvie desperately needed me to taste a cream filling she made.”

“Desperately?” Sal laughed. “I should get in on that.”

“Do you want something other than your regular?” Camille asked, stepping behind the counter.

Sal brandished her silver travel mug. “Nope. Just lots and lots of jet black rocket fuel. I have an article to finish before next Monday and I procrastinated too long.”

Camille looked around. “It’s quiet enough in here this morning. You should be able to concentrate.”

“What’s up with that?” Sal asked, handing over her mug. “I like some excitement around me while I’m working. Do I need to be worried? Is there something I should be doing?”

“Oh honey,” Camille said. “We’re fine. We haven’t been open two months yet.”

“But there’s usually someone in here when I’m working.” Sal knew she sounded whiny. Polly wouldn’t let her get away with it. She chuckled to herself. Sometimes she wanted to strangle that girl.

“We’ve been having a lot of good days,” Camille replied, interrupting Sal’s thoughts. “The town isn’t used to having something like this. It will take time to build a steady clientèle.” She smiled. “They aren’t used to paying this kind of money for something that Joe’s Diner sells for practically nothing, you know.”

“Should we lower our prices?”

“No.” Camille scowled at Sal. “We’ve talked about this. You, me, and Jeff. You can’t let worrying force you into bad business decisions. Right?”

“I know that,” Sal said. “You’re right.”

Camille smiled. “Of course I am. I always am. Remember who you’re talking to, here.”

“Just give me my coffee and let me go sit in a corner,” Sal said. “And one of those chocolate chip muffins.” She looked down at the baked goods. “And a cinnamon scone.”

“I don’t know how you do it,” Camille said. She handed the coffee mug back to Sal.

“Do what?”

“Eat all of those calories and not gain weight. You know women hate you, don’t you?”

Sal shook her head. “Haters gonna hate.” She smiled. “But honestly, I don’t know how I do it either. I have a really high metabolism, I guess. Mom does too. She can eat anything.”

“It’s not right,” Camille said with a sigh. “It’s just not right. Go on over to your table and I’ll bring them to you. You want the muffin warmed a little, right?”

“I’m getting predictable. Yes. Thanks.”

If it was available, Sal liked to sit at a table against the east wall, snugged up to the bookshelves. She took her laptop out of its bag, opened it and turned it on. This was one of her favorite times of the day. While the computer whirred to life, she drew in the scent of her coffee before taking a tentative sip. It was hot. Too hot for a long drink, but perfect for the moment. She leaned back in the chair and looked across the room. This place was hers. She knew she wouldn’t make any money for a long time, but that was okay. As long as it could pay for itself, she’d be satisfied.

It was incredible how different the cost of living was here in Iowa. Sal knew she had it easy. Mark owned his home, so she didn’t have to pay rent. They split the cost of everything else, but even still, that was less than she paid to rent a tiny apartment in Boston.

A young couple came in and Camille glanced over at her. Sal waved Camille off, telling her not to hurry with her food.

They’d been lucky to find that woman. Camille had great business sense and exuded a sense of family and belonging. It was fun to watch her work. Sal knew that she’d been a little nervous about being one of very few African Americans in Bellingwood. Hmmm. Was there anyone else who lived here other than Joss and Nate’s twins? Nope. Wow. Camille had courage. Maybe growing up as the oldest in such a large family gave her an extra dose of confidence. Not much phased her. Sal hoped she knew that everyone around had her back, no matter what.

Sal entered her password on the front screen and waited a few more moments before opening a browser tab. She didn’t want to work today, but couldn’t come up with anything better to do. She’d spent the last two days cleaning the house. Worst job ever. Mark tried his best to clean up after himself, but they did live in the house and sometimes there was no helping the clutter and the mess. Early last summer he offered to hire someone to clean on a regular basis, but Sal wasn’t ready to admit that she couldn’t keep up. It had been a great way to avoid writing, but that didn’t mean she liked it.

Her mother would be beside herself if she’d seen Sal yesterday – on her knees scrubbing a toilet. Next time she’d take a picture and send it to her father. He’d laugh and understand and then when he wanted to torment his wife, he’d show it to her.

Mark hadn’t even seemed to notice when he got home last night. Sure, it was late and he was exhausted, but Sal had expected a little bit of appreciation for all she’d done around the house. He knew that wasn’t her thing. At all.

He’d come in, dropped his jacket over one of the dining room chairs, kicked his shoes off in the living room and went into the bedroom. He dropped – fully dressed – onto the bed with its fresh, clean sheets and turned the television on. Sal had stood in the middle of the living room with her mouth wide open – in shock. He hadn’t said much other than a mumbled hello. No kiss, no acknowledgment of her work or anything.

Yep. There’d been a fight. She was still a little mad at him – even though they’d finally talked everything out and he apologized for ignoring her. She’d ended up apologizing for expecting so much out of him when he’d put in a rough fourteen hour day. The next few days were going to be just as difficult for him. She didn’t really want to know exactly what he did during the day. Much of it involved bodily fluids that she wasn’t prepared to think about.

“I’m sorry,” Camille said, putting a plate in front of Sal. “That took longer than I expected.”

Sal shook her head. “I probably could have gotten off my lazy behind and come up to get it, but I got lost in my thoughts. Thank you.”

“Have you had any luck?” Camille pointed at the computer.

“Not so much. I wasn’t thinking about that.” Sal looked up at her. “I’m pathetic. I have the perfect life. I’m doing exactly what I want and yet some days I struggle to eke out a few hundred words. I wrote more when I was working every day.”

“Maybe you used your writing to distract yourself from work?” Camille asked.

“And now I’m cleaning house to distract myself from writing. Talk about something that just isn’t right. That’s not right. I hate cleaning.” Sal tapped the side of the computer. “And this article is frustrating me. I haven’t found the right hook to give it life.”

“Do you want to talk about it? Maybe that will help.”

Sal smiled. “I’d love that. But you’re busy.”

Two more people had just walked in. Camille waved at them.

“If I’m here tomorrow and still struggling, I’ll ask,” Sal said. “I just need to focus.”

“Let me know,” Camille said. “I’m always here.”

Sal watched her walk away with a lilt in her step. She was a genuinely happy person. What would it be like to live that way? Maybe if Sal had grown up in a big family where people were affectionate and loving, she’d be happy all the time too.

“Stop it,” she said to herself. “Polly wouldn’t let you get away with this. You are happy. You have a good man who loves you even when he’s a jerk and you’re irritable. Now get to work and quit over-thinking things.”

She took a drink of her coffee. Now it was the perfect temperature, but the muffin had grown cold. Oh well. It still tasted good.

Three more customers had come in and were chattering two tables away from her. There it was. The perfect amount of noise. She looked at the screen and had a brainstorm. It was only a matter of time now. The article was practically finished.

~~~

Book 12 – Out of the Shadows – is scheduled for release on Christmas Day, December 25th. If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, you can do so right there on the side of this blog. The newsletter will arrive in your email box at 6:30 am – just about the time kids are begging to get up and experience the wonder of the day.

These vignettes are a little bit of fun that I have as I look at the world of Bellingwood from the perspective of a character other than Polly Giller. You never know who is going to show up.

There are two other vignettes  to go along with Book 12 that were published in the October and November newsletters – and once you sign up, you can gain access to everything in the past issues. One final Book 12 vignette will be in the December newsletter.

I’m not ready to sign off for the year yet. You’ll hear from me once again, so I hope you are having an awesome holiday season.