Category Archives: Bellingwood

Rambling … Oh Look, a Point!

Earl

Earl

Well, I hate to say it, but there is absolutely nothing going on up there in my mind.

That’s not true. There is a lot going on up there, but none of it is interesting enough or sane enough to come together in cohesive sentences that should be put out there in the world. I’ve never written stream of consciousness stuff and I don’t think now is a good time to begin.

Maybe I’m still riding the high of getting a book published, maybe I’m being rebellious. I do that, you know. I rebel against myself and my schedules. Seriously? What kind of a nut does that! Hahaha. (Apparently this kind of nut.)

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TB

I’ve set a monster writing schedule in front of myself for the next three months. If it all pans out, you guys will be very happy. However, if someone (your beloved author) doesn’t get her head up and out of the sand, none of it will happen.

In all truth, much of it has to do with the contentedness of cool days, cooler evenings, blankets (oh good heavens, I love blankets) and warm kitties. I’ve pulled out the snuggly blankies for their little perches around me and they are sacked out. I added more blankets to the bed and oddly enough, it’s changed where they sleep. It isn’t just about them being able to snuggle up close to each other again (as opposed to sprawling out trying to stay cool), but they landed in different places on the bed. Oh well … (yep, that’s as stream of consciousness as you’re gonna get).

Four years ago, I was looking out at the last months of my Master’s Degree and beginning to wonder what I wanted to do with myself when I grew up. There were possibilities ahead, but I didn’t have a good grasp of things. Earlier that summer, I wondered about finally building a writing career. I knew that if I was going to do something, I had one year to make it a reality. Otherwise, I was going to have to get a real job in the real world and that was the last thing I wanted.

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Grey

You know … I’d spend twenty-plus years as a business owner, then a few years working as the Communications Director in a church. That job was great, but I discovered that working for someone else was not my best thing. I’m a little opinionated and don’t have a lot of fears about speaking out when I believe my opinions should be heard. (For those of you that know me well – stop laughing. Right now). I couldn’t imagine taking another job where I’d have to bow down in obedience (apparently, I have a bad attitude about being an employee – ya think?).

My friend, Rebecca, had gone through Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) the year before, challenged me to do it with her and all I could think was, why not? If this was what I wanted to do with my life, I needed to get started.

I sat down at the computer one night and pulled from some ideas that I’d sketched out about a girl named Polly Mason, who found a body on a riverbank at the end of the property she owned. She’d left NYC to return to a rural life. The guy who died was a local veterinarian, but his wife was a shrew (okay, my notes said bitch). That Polly was going to open a little shop … selling crafts and books, coffee and baked goods.

The rambling notes from my first brain-storming session (with myself) are there in Evernote now. I took off from the Polly Mason story and came up with Lydia and Sylvie. Obiwan was there. Hah. The first body was going to be hanging in one of the downstairs rooms. And the kittens were going to come home in Obiwan’s mouth some night, all messy and terrified. The vet was still going to be the one who was killed … luckily Mark Ogden lived through that iteration.

It’s strange to look back four years and see how Bellingwood has grown from those initial thoughts. Once I started writing, there was no stopping. Hah. And y’all would never let me stop now, right? I’m glad of that. There is so much joy in what I do. Much of it is because I’m finally myself, but an awful lot of it is because, like Polly, I meet extraordinary people along the way.

Thanks for that.

The Countdown! (And Winners)

TB sticks pretty close - just to keep me company. Love this gorgeous boy.

TB sticks pretty close – just to keep me company. Love this gorgeous boy.

Just four more sleeps!

I’m in a bit of a holding pattern right now. I have one more person running through the book to make sure that all of my editing and thrashing about didn’t create more problems. You’d think that I would relax, but these are the moments when I madly try to get my life back together after going head down for a couple of weeks.

This is still my favorite life ever, but wow, do I let my world fly out of control.

The thing is? Other than living in Bellingwood during those days, I’m really boring. Polly leads a much more interesting life than I do. I’m excited by a trip to town for mail and groceries! But that only means that I expend time and energy on the stories and that’s what counts, right?

We have five winners of ebooks. Y’all were all over the place with which chapter the first dead body of the book shows up in. I haven’t counted tonight, but last night (which is 98% of the tally), it was:

Chapter 1: 34
Chapter 2: 50
Chapter 3: 40
Chapter 4: 26
Chapter 5: 16
Chapter 6: 8
Chapter 7: 3
Chapter 13: 1
Chapter 15: 1

Now you just have to wait to read the book to see if you were right or not. I’ll never tell! The latest I think I ever waited was Chapter 11. I don’t remember which book that was, but I do remember people being surprised. Okay, I was surprised!

Anyway, congratulations to:

Tanya Rumpel
Diane Sumner
Teri McMillan Key
Peg Adams
Mary Wire Passage

Send me a message with your email address and as soon as I have a link, I will email a copy of the book to you!

Happy Birthday, Polly!

happy-birthday-pollyToday is Polly Giller’s birthday (September 20)!

There are a few dates that I’ve always known, and others that I’ve had to figure out. Okay, and still others that I haven’t discovered yet. Polly’s birthday has always been September 20th.

It kind of freaks me out that she continues to age, right along with the rest of us. I’m not sure what I will do when she hits 40. That will feel strange. Heck, it felt strange when I did. But Polly seems timeless at about age 32-33 and that’s just not real (please don’t go there).

So I guess we should celebrate. Ice cream sandwiches all around!

Happy Birthday, Polly!

A Little Business – Character Lists

All Roads Lead HomeWhen you build a community as big as Bellingwood, it is inevitable that newcomers (readers) get lost amidst all of the characters. Heck, even us old-timers (haha) forget who is who and who’s done what.

I have a friend who delivers an Excel file of the characters who arrive in a book, but I also keep a rather extensive list of characters and all that I know about them. I try to take notes as I write, but that doesn’t always work.

To be honest, neither of those databases are complete. There are many details about these characters that slide past me, no matter how many times I re-read what I’ve written. It’s scary.

Y’all keep asking for a character list and I keep not making it happen. There are several reasons.

First of all, there is absolutely NO good way to build this so that it is solid, usable and flexible. I’ve tried a searchable dictionary – type format. That didn’t work at all. I tried a wiki – that was just plain stupid. I tried a plain list, but oh my goodness, that became so bulky and unwieldy I wanted to scream. I’ve tried putting characters into Excel and well … for one book it kinda works, but after that, just hit me in the head. This isn’t an easy task. It’s complete insanity.

Secondly. This one is hard to explain and may sound like I’m avoiding the situation, but it’s also about spoilers. If you’ve read all of the books up to Book 14 (and I know, I know, you’re desperately waiting for September 25th), you know how each of these characters arrived in Polly’s life.

But what if you were just starting the series and discovered a complete character list and read about things that had yet to happen? How much fun was it for you to read the stories and uncover characters that have now become so familiar? The characters come with tears, laughter, joy and sadness. That’s what makes the story so real.

I’d hate to take away that fun for readers who come to this series along the way. New people find this series every day. That’s a real issue for me and a line that I hate to cross. Every once in a while, I let something slip because I’ve lived with these characters for four years now and it crushes me when I realize that I just took away someone’s initial fun.

One of these days, the perfect solution is going to present itself. Don’t think for a minute that I’m not processing on this problem regularly. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t process on a ton of things that you haven’t even imagined when it comes to the Bellingwood series. I understand that it can be frustrating to not remember details about your favorite characters or even why a character exists. You can always ask me questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

In 2013, I did create a quick character list and posted it on Facebook – these people are all pretty safe. Nothing is a spoiler here. If you need more information, let me know … we’ll get this figured out someday. I promise.

Polly Amelia Giller
Parents: Everett & Barbara (Mahoney) Giller – deceased
Relatives in Story City: Clyde & Ivy Giller
Caregivers / Farmhand: Sylvester & Mary Shore
Animals:
Obiwan – German Shepherd / Labrador (gift from Doug Randall & Billy Endicott)
Luke & Leia – cats (gift from Brad & Lee Giese)
Nan, Nat, Demi, Daisy – Percheron horses (black)

Henry Sturtz
Parents: William & Marie Sturtz (Arizona)
Sister: Lonnie, Graduate work – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Polly’s Bellingwood Girlfriends:

Aaron & Lydia Merritt (Aaron is County Sheriff)
Children:
Marilyn & Brian Erikson (Dayton, IA) – one set of twins, pregnant w/3rd child
Jill & Steve Redman (Kansas City) – one boy, pregnant with 2nd child
Daniel Merritt (Des Moines)
Sandy Merritt (Minneapolis)
James (Jim) Merritt (ISU, Ames)

Beryl Watson – Artist
First husband: Stewart Lanier (divorced)
Second husband: Scott Watson (deceased)
Cat: Miss Kitty
Students:  Deena, Meryl

Andy Saner – Retired Teacher
Children:
Bill Saner, Junior
John Saner
Melanie Saner (ISU, Ames)

Sylvie Donovan – Chef at Sycamore House, attending DMACC
Children:
Jason – age 12
Andrew – age 9

Polly’s Boston girlfriends:
Drea Renaldi – Professor at Boston College
Two brothers: Ray & Jon

Bunny Farnam

Sal Kahane

Henry’s Employees:
Jimmy Rio
Sam Terhune
Leroy Forster
Ben Bowen

Sycamore House Employees:
Jeff Lyndsay
Eliseo Aquila
Sylvie Donovan

Bellingwood Friends:
Mark Ogden – Veterinarian
Partner – Seth Jackson
Employees – Marnie Evans, Dena Harrison, Leanne Malloy

Doug Randall – Electrical Apprentice for Jerry Adams
Parents: Helen & Frank
Sister: Tracy

Billy Endicott – Electrical Apprentice for Jerry Adams
Parents: Marcus & June

Time for a Giveaway

Part 1

This has been a grumpy week for me. I’m seriously tired of people. That’s funny because I’m a hermit.

I also believe that I’m so ding-donged tired of heat and humidity I want to scream bloody murder. Drippy hot stuff makes this old lady-chick cranky.

One of the things I’ve learned over a lifetime of managing my emotions is that when I get like this, the best thing I can do for myself is do something for someone else.

Lucky you.

Part 2

A friend wondered if I could make a smaller version of my tote bag. Even before I knew how it would happen, I said yes. Then came the task of figuring it out.

That required test bags.

Lucky you.

IMG_6070Here’s the deal …

I can make as many tote bags as I’d ever need, so what should I do with these?

Give them away, of course.

There will be two winners and each of you will win a tote bag as well as a signed paperback copy of any of the fourteen books that have already been published – your choice.

Lucky you.

To enter …

Write a comment on either this post on the FB Bellingwood page or here on this blog post and tell me something wonderful about your best friend. Tell me about your spouse, your child, your sibling, your pet, your friend. Once you’ve told me, be sure to tell them, too.

Hopefully there will be so many comments, I won’t have time to respond to them (gotta finish writing a book this weekend!), but I can hardly wait to read them.

Maybe you aren’t having a grumpy week; maybe yours has been glorious, but sometimes we all need to think about someone else and why they are so terrific. Read through the stories that are posted and smile!

You have until Sunday, August 21 at noon to write your comment. I will enter all of your names into my handy-dandy random name chooser and come up with two winners, then announce them in a quick post here and on Facebook.

Thanks for being such a great community.

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 15, #2

This is Earl, the most laid-back kitty I've ever had. Look at those gorgeous stripes.

This is Earl, the most laid-back kitty I’ve ever had. Look at those gorgeous stripes.

These very short vignettes focus on a character other than Polly. While they are written at the same time I am working on a book and generally happen in the same time frame, they never offer spoilers to the story or anything more than a tiny peek at what might be happening in Polly’s life.

Vignettes are published in each of the newsletters which arrive on the 25th of every month, but sometimes the characters insist that I tell a quick story about them.

Book 15 is well on its way to completion and will be published on September 25th. Until then, I’ll sprinkle a few vignettes on you, just so you can stay in touch with Bellingwood.

No Good Deed

“We’re gone, punk,” Jason yelled up the steps. “Mom says don’t forget to mow and trim. I’ll be back at twelve-thirty. Don’t make me wait.”

Andrew rolled over and groaned. He hated lawn day. Mowing wasn’t that big of a deal, but he hated getting up in the morning. If he wanted to see Rebecca, though, he had to mow before Jason showed up.

Padme stretched out along Andrew’s length and he tucked his legs up under her butt, pulling her close. He threw an arm over her shoulder and tucked his face into her neck. Just a few more minutes.

He didn’t know what was up with these people in his house who scheduled things before eight o’clock. He was a night person and had to be quiet so that his mom and Jason could sleep. It only seemed fair that they should be quiet in the morning when he was sleeping. If he told Jason what to do at midnight, his brother would kill him.

“I’m telling you,” he mumbled to Padme. “It isn’t fair.”

He’d been up late last night working on a story. He wanted to show it to Rebecca when he saw her today. Andrew yawned and turned over onto his back. Padme didn’t leave much room, so he turned over onto his other side so their backs were up against each other. She wiggled until she was comfortable and in moments he heard her quiet snoring.

Next week was the sesquicentennial celebration in town. There were four dances happening at Sycamore House. Rebecca didn’t know it, but he’d been practicing in the living room every morning after Jason and his mom left for work. He found a bunch of dances on-line and after he moved the furniture out of the way, he had a lot of room. Girls. Bah. They just had no idea what boys did to make them happy.

Andrew turned over onto his stomach and smacked the pillow to make a hole for his head. Who was he kidding? He’d do anything to make Rebecca happy. He lifted his head and dropped it into the pillow. He was such a sap. His buddies thought he was crazy, spending so much time with her during the summer. But she was more fun than they were and interesting things always happened around Polly.

Padme turned over and licked Andrew’s face.

“I know, I know. I might as well get up and mow the lawn. I can’t stop thinking about stuff.” Andrew gave her a little push and she sat up beside him. He swung his legs out of bed on the other side and stood up, then looked around for clothes. Polly yelled at Rebecca all the time about her room. Andrew tried to keep his clean, but sometimes he wore his shorts more than one day and where else should he put them? Not the laundry basket and not back in the dresser. He picked them up off the floor and looked around for a not-too-dirty t-shirt. He wasn’t putting a clean shirt on to go outside and sweat.

“You can play in the back yard while I mow,” he said, then he grumbled. “I suppose I should clean your poop up before I mow. Someday I’m going to get a real job and then nobody will tell me that I’m the only one who has to do all of your work.”

Padme wagged her tail.

Andrew laughed. “Yeah. I know. You like to eat your poop, but that doesn’t help me. It’s gross and you just poop it out again.” He rubbed his hand across her head. “A real machine, you are.”

He grabbed up his phone from the dock on the kitchen counter before heading outside and sent Rebecca a good morning text. She’d be surprised to see it come in so early. He told her what he was doing and then unbuttoned his back pocket and dropped the phone in. Just in case she texted back.

Padme nipped at his feet while he cleaned up the back yard and when he was finished, he chased her around before throwing her favorite ball. She’d gotten better at playing fetch, finally figuring out that if she brought it to him, he’d throw it again.

Andrew tossed it one more time and then slipped out of the back gate to get the mower out of the garage. He checked the gas level. Jason was supposed to make sure that it was full and ready to go every time after Andrew used it. That was their deal. Eliseo had taught Jason how to do maintenance on the mowers at Sycamore House and Sylvie decided he could be responsible for the mower here, too. Andrew pushed it out of the garage and pulled the cord to start it. He always did the side and front yard first. The back yard was a pain with all of Padme’s toys.

Lately he’d been mowing Mrs. Cameron’s lawn next door, too. She never said anything and didn’t offer to give him any money, but the one time he saw her out there pushing a mower, he told his mom he’d just do it himself. She was old and he could tell that it hurt her knees when she mowed.He was just crossing back into his yard after finishing hers when he thought he heard someone yell. Andrew turned the mower off and stood stock still, waiting for the sound again.

“Help me!” a voice called.

It sounded like it came from behind Mrs. Cameron’s house, so he ran down the side of his fence to her back yard. He didn’t mow back here. Everything was a garden. Even though he mowed for her, the last thing he was doing was weed her gardens. She had flowers all around the neighbors’ fences and somebody, Sylvie thought it was her son, helped her build raised garden beds for vegetables.

“Mrs. Cameron?” he called.

“Andrew? I need you. Help me.”

He stopped at the edge of the sidewalk that ran alongside her house and looked around. “Where are you?”

“I’m inside. Please help me.”

Her voice grew more pitiful and scared the closer he got. That first holler must have taken it out of her.

Andrew leaped over a bushy plant and landed on the walk that led to her back door and ran up the steps. “Are you in here?”

“Come in,” she said.

He opened the door and found her lying on the floor of the back porch, garden utensils all around her and two empty pails on the floor behind her head. “What happened?” he asked.

“I fell and I can’t move anything.”

“You can’t move anything?” He knelt beside her.

“I can’t move my neck and my leg hurts when I try to move it.”

The leg was definitely broken. It was twisted in a really bad way. Andrew took his phone out of his back pocket, thankful that he’d thought to bring it with him. “I’m calling 9-1-1,” he said. “Don’t try to move anymore.”

“They’re going to send an ambulance, aren’t they?” she asked.

He nodded while waiting for the call to connect. Once they answered, he gave them the address and what he thought had happened, then answered their questions, wishing they’d just get off the phone and send someone. He knew better, but waiting with Mrs. Cameron wasn’t going to be easy and he wanted them to hurry.

Mrs. Camera looked up at him after he put his phone back. “Did you mow my yard already?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You’re a good boy. While we’re waiting, could you go out to my garden in the back and pick the red tomatoes that are there? That’s what I was going to do before I fell down. You might as well take them home. If they haul me away, I won’t be able to do anything with them.”

“How did you fall?” he asked.

She lifted her hand and pointed at the inside door. “I forgot there was a step there and my leg twisted when I went down.”

Andrew picked up the buckets. “I don’t want to leave you. I’ll pick the tomatoes when the EMTs get here.”

You might as well do it now,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“No, the operator told me to stay. Who built your gardens?”

“I paid a young man to do that. At least I don’t have to bend over all the time.”

Andrew took a deep breath. No thank you, no money, nothing but that he was a good boy for doing her lawn. However, she could pay someone to build a garden for her. He sat in a chair beside the back door. “Are your cats inside?” he asked.

Her eyes misted up. “Dino and Sammy. I hate to ask, but will you watch over them while I’m gone? I don’t have anybody else.”

“Of course I can,” he said. “Where’s the cat food?”

“It’s in a cupboard beside the stove. You have to sit with them while they eat so they don’t eat each others food. Dino gets the Prescription Diet regular and Sammy gets the diet food. He’s my little tubby boy. There’s a little cup in each bag. One in the morning and then half of one at night. Sometimes I like to put some canned food in at night for a treat. But you do what you want. The litter box is in the downstairs shower and the litter is in the cupboard under the sink. I changed it last weekend, so it should be okay unless I’m gone for a long time.” Tears started to run down her face.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Cameron. I’ll take care of them for as long as you need me to.”

The siren that had been sounding through town came to a stop in front of the house.

“I’m going to go out and make sure they know how to get back here,” Andrew said. “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.” He ran out the back door and around the house, catching the EMTs before they went up onto Mrs. Cameron’s front porch. “She’s back here,” he said.

He stood outside while they went in and after a few minutes, they brought the gurney down the steps.

She called his name.

“Yes, Mrs. Cameron?”

“Don’t forget the tomatoes,” she said.

“I won’t. I promise.” He didn’t want to tell her that it had left his mind within seconds of her saying something the first time. “Is she okay?” he asked one of the EMTs.

“We’ll let them decide all of that at the hospital,” the young man said.

“Are you taking her to Boone?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Cameron said. “That’s where my doctor is. Boone. Tell your mother I’m there. Maybe she’ll want to come see me.”

Andrew nodded and watched as they left.  Cats and tomatoes. He was pretty sure his mom would find more ways to help Mrs. Cameron when the old lady got home. It sure would be nice if she’d say thank you. He shrugged. Sylvie would tell him to get over himself; that it wasn’t about him. He started the mower, finished the front lawn and went into the back yard. Padme jumped around enough that he finally put her inside so he could finish his work without worrying that she’d get hurt.

His mom was going to laugh if he brought home a lot of tomatoes. She’d been canning tomatoes all summer. Eliseo’s garden at Sycamore House was exploding and they couldn’t sell them or get rid of enough, fast enough. He parked the mower back in its spot, then went over to Mrs. Cameron’s. He picked up her tools and put them on the table, then gathered the buckets and went out to the garden. Sure enough, the tomato plants were bulging with big red tomatoes. They were going to eat spaghetti all winter long.

Andrew filled both buckets and looked around. She had peppers and cucumbers and even a few onions. Maybe Eliseo could tell him when they’d be ready to pick. His phone buzzed and he took it out, then smiled.

“What are you doing up so early?” Rebecca had asked.

Before he responded, he realized that he was glad he’d gotten up so early. If he hadn’t, who knew how long Mrs. Cameron might have been on the floor, worrying about who would ever find her.

“Helping a little old lady. I’ll tell you about later. 143,” he typed.

“143, too. See ya. Polly’s making breakfast.”

He and Rebecca thought they were the only ones who used those numbers, but then she did a search on-line and found that other people knew about them too. One for I, four for love, three for you. He hoped they’d always remember those numbers.

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 14, #3

Poor Earl insisted that he be allowed on the table with TB and Grey. That required a little assistance.

Poor Earl insisted that he be allowed on the table with TB and Grey. That required a little assistance.

I spend a lot of time in Bellingwood and though I generally write from Polly’s perspective, there is an entire community that lives on, even when she isn’t paying attention. Sometimes, they rise up and let me know that there is something going on, so I take a minute to step into their lives and write a short vignette.

A new vignette is published in each of the newsletters (which come out on the 25th of every month), but as I get ready for the publication of a new book, more of these seem to come up.

Book 14, Reflecting Love’s Charms, will be here before you know it (June 25) and Book 15 is already in process. But while you wait, here’s a quick look at Marnie Evans and her family. Marnie works at the veterinarian’s office with Mark Ogden and Dr. Seth Jackson. It seems that even when she’s home, animals find their way to her.

Never Say Never

“Do you hear something?” Marnie Evans asked her husband, Dave.

He was already up and heading for the kitchen. “Sounds like somebody at the back door,” he replied.

She shook her head. Barrett and Ella knew better than to have people over after nine o’clock.

“Marn?” Dave called out. “You wanna come out here?”

She put her tablet down on the table and groaned as she stood up. It had been a long day at the office. Trouble always seemed to come in waves and today was a day filled with trouble. She’d even had to call Doc Ogden back in because they’d been so busy. Dr. Jackson had been stuck in emergency surgery most of the morning with Mrs. Denoro’s young dog. Poor thing. He’d gotten into the trash and busily ate everything in sight while the woman had been at work. She’d come home to find a dog that got sicker throughout the night. This morning, Mrs. Denoro and Dooley had shown up as Marnie opened the front door. The day had gone downhill after that.

“What’s up?”

“Someone needs to see you,” he said, looking down.

She followed his eyes. “Devon Rittenhouse, what are you doing out at this hour? You should be home and in bed.”

The little boy lived two houses away, but his mother never paid attention to where he was. Marnie had sent him scurrying home many a night, making sure to watch until he waved at her from his front door.

“Mom said I can’t keep it.” He held out a small orange kitten. “She said I had to bring it to you.”

Marnie glanced up at her husband who gave her a mock scowl.

“Where did you find it?” Marnie asked. “Were there other kittens?”

“No, just this one.” His lower lip puffed out. “Well, we all took one home.”

“Who is we all and when did this happen?” Marnie reached out to take the kitten from him and began running her fingers over the little body, checking for anything that might be a problem.

“After school. And it was just me, Gabe, Luke and Hunter. There were four kittens and four of us.”

The kitten looked old enough to have been weaned from its mother, but Marnie still worried. “Where did you find them?”

He looked up, bright-eyed and excited to tell her the story. “Somebody left them in a box at school. You know, under that big tree on the corner? We just knew it was for us.”

Dave reached over and put his hand on Marnie’s shoulder, fully aware that her anger would be rising. There was nothing she hated more than abandoned animals. Either neuter your pets or be responsible for their litters.

“Did you see who left the kittens there?”

“Oh no,” he said. “They’d been there for a while. We saw the box when we went out for recess, but couldn’t go look at it until after school. Somebody had to take them home, didn’t they?”

“Yes they did, and I’m glad it was you. That was a really good thing to do. Have you fed him anything?” She turned the poor kitten upside down to make sure she had gotten his gender correct.

“He ate some milk. That’s all we had. I named him Chester.”

“That’s a great name.”

“Will you keep him?” Devon asked. “If I can’t have him, somebody nice should.”

“Somebody nice will keep him, even if it isn’t me,” Marnie said. “Now you go on home and tell your mother that he’s safe. Do I need to go outside and watch you walk home?”

“No, I’ll go. I promise.”

“Devon?” Marnie said.

“Yeah?”

“When you see your friends tomorrow, tell them that they need to bring their kittens in to see the doc. And if their mothers say they can’t keep them either, tell them to bring them in anyway. We want these babies to have good homes, okay?”

“Okay. But their moms aren’t as mean as mine,” Devon said.

“Just make sure to tell them what I said,” Marnie replied and stood at the back door as he opened their back gate and headed home. She watched until he crossed into his own yard and then stepped back inside.

“Marnie,” Dave said. He only needed to say her name. She knew what he meant.

“Don’t you think it’s time? Slim died two months ago. This place is lonely without a cat.”

“We have two dogs. We don’t need a cat.”

As if they knew someone was talking about them, Rocky and Groot came racing into the kitchen. Barrett had chosen their names after watching the movie. Both dogs had come into the vet’s office one day; a bonded pair. Groot was a Great Dane mix and Rocky, a Papillon. They couldn’t have been more different. When their owner died, the son brought the two dogs in to have them put to sleep. He wasn’t taking them and didn’t want to spend time trying to find a home for them. It had seemed quite obvious to him that the only option was euthanasia. Fortunately, Doctor Jackson had been in the office and Doc Ogden had been out on a call. Marnie was certain that Mark would have done something unspeakable to the man. But Seth Jackson had asked the man to surrender the animals to him without putting them to sleep. As long as they were someone else’s responsibility, that was fine. He’d signed the papers.

The dogs had lived at the office for a few days until Marnie couldn’t stand it. It had been a couple of years since they’d had a dog in the house. Slim was enough. As the kids got older, they’d gotten busy and hadn’t pushed for another pet. One night after work, Marnie dragged Dave down to the office and introduced him to the dogs. He’d fallen in love with Groot right away. It wasn’t really fair. Dave didn’t have a chance. He’d always expressed an interest in having a Great Dane. The two dogs had gone home that night with them and settled right in.

Barrett had been beside himself with joy and immediately gave the two dogs their new names. Ella tried to act as if she didn’t care; she’d been quite attached to Brando, but it didn’t take long for her to fall in love. Rocky usually slept on her bed, while Groot couldn’t be persuaded to sleep anywhere but beside the man who chose to bring him home. Dave had finally built a bed for Groot to put beside his side of their bed. Otherwise, that big ole thing insisted on sleeping between Dave and Marnie. Groot just couldn’t be too far away from his favorite person. Barrett came in a pretty close second for the big dog, but hadn’t yet convinced him to leave Dave’s side at night.

“I’m going to check the gate that kid came through,” Dave said. “Tonight is not a night to chase after lost dogs.”

Marnie opened the pantry door. She hadn’t yet thrown away any of Slim’s cat food. In fact, she probably still had some kitten food in here. There should still be a nearly full box of litter and she’d cleaned up Slim’s litter box and put it on a shelf in the garage. There was no way she’d be without a cat for very long.

“Here you go, Chester,” she said, taking out a box of canned kitten food.

“What’s all the noise down here, Mom?” Barrett asked, coming into the kitchen. He pulled up short when he saw what she was holding. “Did we get a new cat? What did Dad say?”

She chuckled. “Dad’s outside with the dogs. He hasn’t said much yet.” Marnie popped the top off the can of kitten food and gestured with her head toward the cupboards. “Get me a fork and a plate, would you? And put some water in one of those little white bowls.”

Instead, Barrett walked back through the door he’d come in and yelled up the stairs. “Ella, we have a cat. Get down here.”

Marnie shook her head. “Food and water first. And you know better than to yell.”

Thundering feet on the stairway announced Ella’s arrival.

“We have a cat? Where’d it come from? Does it have a name? Can we keep it? Let me hold it.” Ella had started talking before she even got into the room. That was standard Ella. She was Marnie’s live wire.

“Barrett,” Marnie spoke a little more sharply. “Please with the fork and plate.”

“Can I hold it?” Ella asked again.

Barrett opened the drawer and took out a fork, then reached up and pulled down a plate. A complete opposite of his sister, the boy moved slowly and deliberately, something that nearly drove Marnie to distraction some days.

She shoved the cat into Ella’s arm and crossed the room, taking the plate and fork from him. “Slow as molasses in January,” she muttered, then said aloud. “A bowl of water, please.”

The kitten had been mewing all this time as it smelled the cat food. Marnie emptied the can onto the plate and mashed it up, then slid it across the table to where Ella had sat down. “Feed him up here,” she said. “The dogs will be back in any second.”

“Can we keep him?” Ella asked.

Marnie made a quick decision. “Yes. We’re keeping him.”

“I heard that,” Dave said, coming in the back door. “But I draw the line at moving out into the country so we can open an animal rescue, got it?”

Marnie grinned, then reached up to kiss his cheek. “You really shouldn’t lay down ultimatums. You know what kind of trouble that always causes.”

He laughed. “Oh yeah. We weren’t going to live in a small town and we were going to stop having children after Ella. And when Brando died we weren’t going to have any more dogs.”

Barrett looked up at his parents in shock. “You didn’t want to have me?”

“I wasn’t thinking straight,” Dave said, ruffling his son’s hair. “I wouldn’t have missed out on you for anything.”

Groot pawed at the back door and woofed a plea to be let in. “And I wouldn’t have wanted to miss having those two around either.” He leaned forward and rubbed his thumb down the kitten’s back. “It looks like Chester is part of our family now.”

“Yay,” Ella said, jumping up. She sat back down quietly when the kitten startled. “Sorry, little baby.”

Marnie sat down across from her daughter as Dave opened the back door, letting the dogs in.

Groot was always interested in what might be happening at the kitchen table, so rushed over and set his chin beside the cat’s dish, trying desperately to be inconspicuous.

“Groot, down,” Dave said. The dog picked his head up and looked at Dave, then back at the cat, while Rocky yapped and danced around Groot’s feet. “It’s going to be a long night,” Dave said to Marnie.

Today had defined chaos and it looked like it wasn’t finished with her yet. Tomorrow would be better. Marnie reached out and Ella gave the kitten back to her. A satisfied tummy brought out quiet purring as Marnie snuggled the kitten to her chest. She hadn’t realized exactly how much she had missed having a cat in the house. A little chaos tonight would be worth it.

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.

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 11, #03

Home Is Where the Heart Is

20150413_170210“Get off, you furry beast,” Beryl grumped. She lifted Miss Kitty from her stomach and put her down on the bed beside the pillow. “What time is it anyway?”

The cat made one more attempt to crawl back into the spot she’d claimed, but Beryl turned on her side to see the clock.

“Six o’clock? Why are you doing this to me? Don’t you know I need my beauty sleep?”

“Meoawrowrow,” came the reply as Miss Kitty pushed her nose into the crook of Beryl’s arm.

“Not funny. Go back to sleep.” Beryl wrapped her arm around the cat and tucked her in, close to her stomach, knowing full well that wouldn’t solve the problem. All she wanted was a few more minutes and maybe she could drift far enough away so the cat’s antics wouldn’t bother her.

“Meowrowrow,” the cat said again, pushing herself away with all her strength. She slithered out from under Beryl’s arms, climbed up onto the woman’s hips and meowed as loudly as she could.

Beryl harrumphed and swung her legs over to the edge of the bed so she could sit up. Miss Kitty followed, staying close to Beryl’s body.

“What in the world?” Beryl muttered. She finally got up and followed the cat to the kitchen. Miss Kitty jumped up on the counter where her food dish sat and looked at Beryl expectantly.

“You have plenty of food in there. You’ve only eaten a little bit,” Beryl complained. She looked down at the nearly empty water dish on the floor.

“You could have just told me,” Beryl said. “If you’d said something last night, we wouldn’t be having this problem right now.” She rinsed it out, refilled it and put it back down. “Is that enough?”

Miss Kitty padded her way over to Beryl and rubbed her face on Beryl’s arm.

“I”m not too happy with you right now. It’s been a long week and now you want attention?”

Beryl had just returned from a week on the east coast. She’d met with several gallery owners and her agent had set up two meetings with large corporate clients. There was some big money available if she wanted to do the work. And she would. She’d learned long ago that staying busy meant keeping the fear-of-going-broke monkey off her back.

Miss Kitty jumped to the floor, wove her way in and out of Beryl’s legs and then walked to the water bowl, sniffed it and hunched down in front of it, waiting for something to happen.

“You’re a strange cat. It’s fresh water. I promise.” Beryl sat down at her table, glancing toward the kitchen door. She wondered if she’d be able to go back to sleep now.

Her agent wouldn’t quit trying to get her to move out east. How long had they been working together? Twenty years now? And he refused to believe that she was happier in Iowa than she could ever be anywhere else. But one week in that chaos reminded her why she loved Bellingwood. There had been meetings and lunches and parties and breakfasts all day long, every day. He assured her that if she lived in the area, those would be spread out to be more manageable, but she knew better. One lunch would lead to another and she’d never have time to actually work.

The parties were the worst. That scene was not a place Beryl was comfortable in. She couldn’t bear the fake kiss-kiss greetings or the blatant self-promotion people did at any cost. In all her years of being part of that crowd, she’d made very few real friends.

She chuckled to herself. She didn’t have many real friends here in Iowa either, she supposed. But it was certainly easier to get a handle on people’s intentions and agendas.

Miss Kitty had quietly been lapping at the water in her bowl and jumped up on Beryl’s lap, nudging her hand. Beryl stroked the cat’s head, down her back, and up the tail. She took a deep breath as her hand rubbed the soft coat over and over. “It’s why I come back here,” Beryl said quietly. “I can be as crazy and wacky as I want and nobody tries to one-up me. They just let me be who I am. No pretense, no fake lovey stuff, just real. I’ll never leave Iowa.”

Before the cat got too comfortable on her lap, Beryl stood up and carried Miss Kitty out of the kitchen, flipping the light back off. Sunlight was coming through the windows, but there were no plans for today, so it wouldn’t matter how late she slept.

Lydia had learned not to call Beryl too early in the morning unless she wanted to get an earful. There were plenty of times the woman didn’t care. Beryl had learned that if Lydia needed her, she needed to wake up and get on board. Now that Andy was happily married, she didn’t call quite as often. Beryl grimaced. It really wasn’t about being married. Andy was busier now than she’d been when she was raising kids and teaching. Between working at the library, maintaining the odd little pop culture museum at Sycamore House, her grandchildren, and responding when Lydia needed something, Andy was always going.

“Old ladies, huh,” Beryl said, sitting down on her bed. She lay back and let Miss Kitty get comfortable on her stomach. “This is the best time of our lives.”

The cat purred loudly as Beryl pulled the sheet over the top of both of them.

“Gonna be okay under there?” Beryl asked. Miss Kitty wasn’t much for being under the covers during the summer time, but they’d missed each other this last week.

This really was the best time of her life. She lived where she wanted to live, had great friends who understood when she needed to hide out and work, but jumped right in when she was free to spend time with them. And that little Rebecca was such a joy. Beryl had never taken a student as young as her, but the child was a sponge. Maybe they really would go to Paris and Venice, to Rome and Cairo together someday. Rebecca continued to talk about it and one day showed up with a travel book for Europe. Beryl would love to travel with someone who saw the world with such joy.

Beryl smiled as she thought about the book she’d brought back. Rebecca would love looking at it. They didn’t have much street art in Bellingwood and graffiti was only seen on the trains flying through Boone. They’d been talking about graffiti and murals that Rebecca had seen on television. Anything to keep that little mind’s creativity at its peak.

The cat moved off Beryl’s stomach and curled up beside her head.

“Okay,” Beryl said. “We’re going to sleep now. Lydia called last night and there was an accident on the highway in front of Polly’s house. You know what that means, don’t you?”

Miss Kitty purred and pulled her paw over her face.

“That’s right,” Beryl said. “It means we’re in for a wild couple of weeks. I can hardly wait. How about you?”