Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A New Year's Tale, Featuring Dana Burke, Dragonslayer

Happy New Year Dana Burke
Love, the Dragons


Dana sat quietly in her office. It was the week between Christmas and New Years and her phone wasn’t ringing at all. That was why she was so reluctant to go home. It was so quiet here, and her chair was sooo comfy. As Dana’s eyes began to close, she slid further down into the plush upholstery in the teddy bear brown reclining lounger she had bought against all of her stylish business partner’s protests last winter. When things got too crazy at home, she needed something to curl up and sleep in at the office. Like now.
Just as she slid into a sensuous dream, and into the arms of her dream date Martin Bowers, chief of detectives, her cell phone buzzed insistently from her jacket pocket. Dana pressed her eyes tightly closed and pulled her hand-knitted cashmere afghan over her shoulder with one hand. The phone buzzed for a minute and stopped. Only to be followed by the loud ringing of her desk phone. Dana reached across the space between her chair and desk, not a lot of space in her little office, and lifted the receiver. She cleared her throat discreetly and answered, “Burke and Williams, this is Dana.”
“Dana, it’s Mom. Are you coming home soon?”
“Oh, it’s really awfully busy here, Mom.” Dana darted her eyes guiltily around the office. “A total zoo!”
“It’s just that I need a few things from the store, if you don’t mind. We’ve decided to have a New Year’s Eve party here tonight, and, well, you don’t seem to have any food here to speak of. Or scotch.”
“A party?” Dana stifled a groan. “Isn’t it awfully last minute?”
“Well, dear, since we’re all here until the day after tomorrow, it seemed like the perfect time. And,” Dana’s mother sounded way too cheerful, “We invited some of your friends!”
Dana held the phone away from her ear and stared at it. “Mom, you don’t know any of my friends. How did you happen to ummm invite them?”
“Oh, I knew you’d be thrilled! I looked at your phone list, the one on your computer.”
“On my computer?”
“Yes, Dana, on your computer.” Her mother sounded a little impatient now, as though she thought Dana was being a trifle dense. “Now, dear, we don’t have much time, so take down what I need you to pick up.”
As Dana took down the list for her mother’s party, she fought not to panic. There were a couple of address lists on the computer. One was indeed her friends, and the other was, for lack of a better word, a hit list. Dana Burke, private eye, was also Dana Burke, Dragon Slayer. She struggled to write down the list of fancy cheeses and try to think of a way to find out which list her mother had used. With her entire family descended en masse, without any warning, Dana had a lot to worry about.
“Mom, do you remember any of the names of the friends you invited?” Dana tried to keep her voice even and not squeak, as she had a tendency to do in the most stressful of situations.
“Oh, no, dear. You know I don’t know anything about computers. Your sister found it and invited them.”
“Can I talk to Dierdre then?”
“She’s not here. One of your friends insisted upon picking her up right away and taking her shopping to find a dress for the party. You know Dierdre never travels with anything fancy, just jeans. That girl has no sense of style.”
“Right, Mom. Can you tell me one thing? Did you notice what car they took? I’m wondering who it was...after all, it might not be one of my more stylish friends and Dierdre might not get a nice dress for tonight.”
“It was some kind of black car, and I think it was your friend Stacey or Susie, something with an ess I think.”
Dana was even more at a loss than before. She didn’t have any friends by those names, and dragons rarely went by names like Stacey or Susie. “Mom, I’ll be right there, don’t go anywhere.” She flung the phone into the cradle and grabbed her purse and jacket, flying to her car. At least at home, she could try to figure out what was going on. As she slammed the Land Cruiser door shut, her cell buzzed.
“You won’t forget the cream cheese, will you Dana? I can’t make the pinwheel appetizers without them. And the little colored toothpicks. I don’t know if I mentioned them. Maybe I should go over the whole list again.”
“No time, Mom.” Dana knew she had to stop at the store, even if it could be that her house, her safe haven, was about to be descended on by murderous dragons. It wasn’t a situation she could explain to her family, who had no idea what she did as a side job. Braking with a squeal, she leaped out of the car and grabbed an empty shopping basket. She had to do this, but it would have to be fast. Unfortunately, most of the ingredients her mother wanted were not what Dana could find easily in her corner market, and it took nearly an hour. She was sweating under the jacket by the time she tossed the last bag in her trunk and started for home again.
Her mother came out to meet her at the curb, followed by the one person Dana wanted to see less than the aforementioned murderous dragons.
“Look who stopped by, dear. You remember Sammy. Mrs. Albertson’s nephew on her husband’s side? He called to wish you a happy new year and I told him to come right over. He’s been the biggest help!”
Sammy smiled gleamingly over her mother’s shoulder. It couldn’t have been Martin who just happened to call, oh, no. It had to be Sammy, who was not only one step short of a stalker where she was concerned, but also a dragon. He lived just a step on the right side of the law, so Dana couldn’t slay him, but it didn’t mean she didn’t dream of doing just that.
“Hi, Dana, I’ve been spending the day with your mom. Carol and I have been having a great time, sharing Dana stories, haven’t we, Mom?”
“Do not call my mother Mom, Sammy. And I’m sure you have somewhere else to be? Don’t let us stop you from going to all the parties I’m sure a wild bachelor like you has lined up for tonight?”
“Dana, don’t be rude! Sammy is coming to our party tonight. He’s been helping me get ready all afternoon.”
Dana muttered something about a restraining order under her breath and went around to open her trunk. When Sammy offered to help, she stalked into the house and left him to unload her mother’s party food. This day was going downhill fast. She walked into her office and looked to see if her computer was still booted up. Maybe she could find out which guest list to expect, friend or foe. No luck, though, Dierdre had shut it down after her interfering behavior. There was only one thing to do, arm herself to the teeth, and wait. She went upstairs to take a shower, put on a party dress, and stash all the weapons she could manage about her person.
The afternoon passed slowly while Dana waited to see if they would all be massacred. She tried to stay in her room, but her mother called her to help arrange the bar on a low table in the living room. One thing led to the next and the house looked gaily festive, unlike its usual dusty blandness.
Finally, it was dark and time for guests to arrive. Dana stationed herself at the front door to greet the guests, shoot the villains, whichever came first. Amazingly, the first guest was a former client, as was the second. There had been a third mailing list she hadn’t thought of, her business Christmas card list. They were all thrilled to be invited to her actual home and sat around sharing the details of their cases with one another, each trying to have been her biggest case ever. The evening was actually going great, even her cousins and sister were not completely embarrassing themselves and Dana for once.
Dana stood in a corner of the living room, watching everyone have a good time, eating, drinking and bragging. He mother was very proud, once she was convinced that Dana wasn’t angry about the list being business and not social. If only she knew what might have happened!
The high point of the evening occurred when Sammy followed Dana as she made her way out to the garage freezer for more ice. He made a pass and she got to jab him in a most uncomfortable area with her knee. And to top things off, Sammy’s bad behavior was noticed by Detective Bowers, who had also been on the business contact list, and who had stopped by to make a polite appearance. He grabbed Sammy by the collar and took him outside to discuss polite behavior around ladies.
Dana sighed as she watched Martin force-march Sammy behind the garage. She was a dragon-slayer, but just this once it was nice to be a lady in distress. And detective Martin Bowers might not be her boyfriend, he was, just for tonight, her knight in shining armor. Dana walked back into her very successful party, a little skip in her step. And just think....she could write off the whole thing as a business expense too!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Yuletide Celebration

Merry always found it odd that she had a name so associated with Christmas. Her parents were pagans, or Wiccans, maybe, depended on the day you asked them. Yet, when she was born, they had chosen the name Merry for their only daughter. She ran a finger through the dust on the coffee table in her mother’s living room. Now that they were over fifty, Bob and Cynthia didn’t even attempt to keep up the funky hippy traditions that had been a part of Merry’s youth. The utter lack of any kind of spirit was depressing.
The windows were frosty around their edges, but inside it was warm enough. Not cozy though. There was nothing cozy about this house. December 23rd and nothing to mark the season as special. Merry hadn’t jumped over to the religious side of Christmas, but she always enjoyed the celebrations that marked the season. She had even gone to a Chanukah celebration at a coworker’s home. Midwinter’s day needed to be celebrated somehow. It was a sign of hope for the coming year, she thought, sinking into a worn chair in the corner of her parent’s cluttered living room.
It was the same apartment she’d grown up in, filled with people working for the latest cause, saving whales or fighting apartheid, walking every 5k or 10k they could find. There wasn’t a person in need who couldn’t find a safe haven in their spare room, and there were usually at least one or two orphaned baby squirrels or kittens in a box near the radiator. Bob and Cynthia Merriweather were the kind of activists who gave activism a good name. They were genuinely kind and gave until they had nothing left for themselves.
And they loved each other. Merry’s parents were the most in-love parents a child could want. They held hands in every one of those walks to save something, sometimes swinging their little girl between them while she giggled and danced on tiptoe. Bob was always coming up behind Cynthia to kiss her cheek, and Cynthia never forgot that Bob liked his lentils with sage and not thyme for seasoning. Merry learned very young not to go into their bedroom without knocking, after one frightening incident that gave her nightmares for quite some time. Her parents had thought it best to explain what she’d seen, and their openness had not been appreciated by their daughter. Memory after memory ran through Merry’s mind. Her friends wondered why she went home to a house without Christmas. They had no idea.
The little house was so dim, Merry thought,. reaching over to click on the lamp next to her. It didn’t help much. The real light in this house had been her parents’ love, and it was flickering, and almost completely gone. Sitting deep in that broken-springed chair, Merry wiped a tear from her cheek. The sounds from the bedroom were more frightening than her childhood experience. She could hear drawers opening and closing, and the click of a suitcase.
“I’m leaving now, Merry,” her father said, coming into the living room. “I’ll call you from the motel.”
When Merry didn’t answer, Bob leaned over to look at her face. “Are you crying? Why are you crying? Cynthia, Merry is crying her eyes out in here.”
Cynthia Merriweather rushed into the room, her arms full of towels. “What is it, Bob? I wanted to tell you to take these towels, motels always have rough ones that give you that rash. Why, Merry, what is going on? Did you hurt yourself?”
Merry looked up at her parents. By now, the tears were streaming so heavily, she could barely see. “You’re asking me what’s wrong? How can you even ask?”
“Well, Merry,” her mother responded, “Because you haven’t told us what is wrong. We’d be happy to help if we only knew what was wrong.”
“Merry, cupcake, tell your dad what he can do to help.”
Merry peered at them through dark lashes matted with tears. They really had no idea what might be wrong with her. They didn’t know. A germ of an idea began to form in Merry’s mind. These people would do anything to help someone in need. She pushed her auburn bangs out of her eyes with one shaking hand. Maybe, if she could just delay her father’s departure, they would remember how much they loved each other. It was worth a shot, even if it was a little sneaky. Well, a lot sneaky, but who cared?
“Don’t leave, Dad. I need you both so much right now.”
“Merry, I’m just going to the motel across town. You can see me there anytime you like. Your mother and I need our space right now. We need to get our acts together and see if we’re karmically intended to stay together.”
Need their space my ass, thought Merry. But what she said was, “Please! Please stay just until the New Year. I’ll be okay by then, I’m sure.”
“Merry, what on earth are you talking about? Why shouldn’t your father go and have his space? We’re both here for you.”
“No, if Dad leaves, you won’t both be here. You’ll be somewhere else and I need this group together if I’m going to get over...over my broken heart!”
“Broken heart?” her mother asked suspiciously. “Have you been seeing someone?”
“Baby, someone broke your heart? Who is he? I’m sure if we just talk to him, we can make it all better. How could anyone not love you?” her father said.
“I can’t tell you any more,” she said, sobbing for real now. This was the biggest lie she’d ever told, and she was panicked that they would see through it. Hippie parents were big on honesty, and she had told very few lies over the years, so she wasn’t too good at it. Merry had to be back at work the Monday after New Years Day. She had just over ten days to fix her parents’ marriage, and that wasn’t very long at all.
The biggest lie was that someone had broken her heart. Merry hadn’t been seeing anyone for quite some time. She hadn’t even had a date in over six months. If she couldn’t have a relationship like her parents’, she didn’t want one at all. Like her parents had been, rather. And could be again! she told herself. Nobody could be as in-love as her parents and have it end like this.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to wait until Merry goes home,” her mother said. “I suppose.”
“As long as you think we can help, we’re here for you baby,” said her dad, looking happier than he had since she’d gotten home. “Let me put my things away, then maybe we’ll make some nice soup. Would that make you feel better?”
Merry scrubbed at her cheeks. “I really think it would help. I am a little hungry.”
“Good idea,” said Cynthia. “And while we make the soup - bean I think – we can talk about having your ex over here to achieve closure.”
“C-closure?” Merry was shocked. This was not how it was supposed to go!
“Of course, dear,” her mother patted her shoulder kindly. “I’ve never seen you this upset. We have to have him come over here so we can all sit down together and get our heads together on this.”
“You know our motto, Merry, it never pays to stuff our feelings. You need to tell him, what’s his name anyway? how you truly feel so you can let go.” Her father was starting to look positively cheerful now.
“I – ummm – I don’t think he, I mean Sam, can make it.”
“Well that’s no problem at all, Merry.” Cynthia nodded in satisfaction.
Merry drew in a breath of short-lived relief.
“That’s right, we’ll just climb in the V.W. bus and head on down to San Diego.” Merry’s father beamed at her We can be there in just four or five hours. Call Sam and see if he’d like to meet us for dinner.”
Merry’s heart raced, and she jumped up from her chair. Her mouth dried out and her tongue stuck to the top of her mouth. She pulled it free with a sucking sound and said, “Oh, that won’t be necessary. I’ll call him after dinner and see what he’s going to be up to this week. Maybe he can stop by or something.”
“Winter Solstice is this Monday. We’ll have a feast!” Cynthia was cheering up too. “ All the foods that have significance to the season. We will celebrate just as we used to! Let’s put out the word.”
“I’ll tell everyone down at the co-op this afternoon,” her dad had never looked happier than he did now. Maybe he wasn’t in such a hurry to leave her mother after all.
With both her parents now in the kitchen, banging cupboards and making a shopping list, Merry sank back into the broken down chair. She rested her hands in her lap and tried to breathe slowly and deeply and fight back the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She only had this one chance to help save her parents’ marriage, and if she didn’t produce an ex-boyfriend, it wasn’t going to work. The last serious boyfriend she’d had was at least three years ago, and it had ended badly.
Badly enough that she didn’t want to call on Evan to come over even for one day. It would be absolutely impossible to face him after what had happened. No, Evan was not a possibility. But if not Evan, who? She didn’t have any single male friends who could get away from work this week to pose, as her ex. Evan was a professor; he was off work this week. And Gwen, her best friend, and wife of Evan’s best friend Clyde, had made a point of telling her just recently, about how Evan had shown up at her Christmas party stag, yet again. He was off work, and he was single. It was Evan or nothing.
Only for her parents would Merry do something as unbelievably difficult as this. But she had to come up with an ex, or the proverbial jig was up. Merry’s parents were staying together through the holiday season to help her get over her devastating break-up and Merry had to produce her boyfriend and have closure. What would Evan say when she called?
Merry reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone. It wasn’t the same phone she’d had three years ago, but she realized, to her dismay, that she still remembered Evan’s phone number. Ugh. As she punched in the numbers, she thought to herself that Evan probably wouldn’t come anyway. He was ninety miles away and that was very far to drive as a favor to someone who had dumped you by voice mail, with no explanation, three years ago.
The phone rang, once, twice, three times. She waited for his voice mail to kick on. Then he answered. “Hello, just a second, and Merry heard fumbling as though he’d dropped the phone.
She was tempted to drop the phone herself and pretend it had never happened. Unfortunately, her number would now be in his phone, and he would probably do what most people do and call back to see whom it was. “Hi, Evan.”
“Who’s calling?” He still had the sexiest voice she’d ever heard. After such a long time, it still gave her little chills.
“It’s Merry, Evan. How are you?”
“Merry...”
“Yes, it’s Merry. I’ve called to ask a favor. You don’t have to do it,” she said in a rush. “But I’m desperate, or I’d never ask. You’re probably still mad at me and I can’t blame you.”
The silence that followed her words was so long, Merry was afraid she’d lost the connection. Finally, just as she was about to hang up, Merry heard laughter. Laughter!
“Hi Merry! How’s tricks? Me? Oh, I’m fine, nothing new.”
Merry held the phone a little away from her ear, not sure what to do. “I’m glad you’re fine, Evan, I’ve wondered how you were.”
The laughter cut off abruptly. “You should have called, then, Merry.” His voice was soft, and a little strained. “I never knew why you dumped me. All you said was that it was over, and not to call. What did I do?”
“I can’t really explain it now, on the phone. But I know I owe you an explanation. If you’ll do me this favor, I will try to explain in person.”
“Merry, I don’t know what to say. You call me after three years, and want a favor? Okay, I’ll bite. What did you want me to do?” His voice was a little less soft, but if anything more strained.
“Would you come down here to my parent’s home and help me keep them from getting a divorce?”
“I have no idea how I can help you keep your parents together, but I was planning to go skiing up at Krall Summit for Christmas Break. I can stop by on the way. I want that explanation. Your parents still in the same house?”
Merry couldn’t believe he was being so nice after the way she’d treated him. “Why don’t I meet you at the diner before you come to the house and tell you what’s going on here.”
“I will leave first thing in the morning, so I should be down there by around ten.”
“See you then, Evan, and thank you. You are a far better friend than I deserve.”
“Good-bye Merry.” And he was gone.
Merry sat in that old chair, holding her cell phone in her lap. Evan was coming tomorrow. She hadn’t seen him in three years, yet he was coming just because she asked. What did that mean?
***
Merry came down for breakfast the next morning expecting to see her parents sitting with their granola and herbal tea. Instead, she found a note on the refrigerator telling her they were out buying more supplies for their Yule party that night. Merry shook her head and poured herself a glass of orange juice. It was nine-thirty and Merry had slept late after tossing and turning most of the night. She was wearing her favorite blue cashmere sweater and jeans, and had actually put on a little mascara and lip-gloss. She only hoped Evan would actually show, since he had every reason not to. Sighing, Merry grabbed her car keys off the counter, grabbed her purse, and went out to get in her car and face the music. Only to go back in for her parka. Take two.
***
Evan drove up to the diner and parked right in front. He didn’t see Merry’s little sedan, but she might have changed vehicles by now. Three years was a long time. He was stunned when he heard her voice the day before, but he couldn’t resist the opportunity to see her one more time. To see if he still wanted her as much as he had when they were dating. Evan had thought that Merry was the One, and had thought they’d be married in a year or so. He had even bought a ring. Then, bam, she left that message on his voice mail, and it was over. And even though he’d respected her request to stay away, and had never even called, he had always wondered why she had ended their relationship. This was his one chance to find out why. Then he could go on with his life and stop waiting for her. And that’s what he had been doing, he could admit that to himself now. Waiting for Merry to come back. Evan smiled ruefully as he headed into the diner and took a seat at a table by the window.
When Merry arrived, she recognized Evan’s car. He still had that old MG convertible. As impractical as it was to drive in the winter, he would drive nothing else. Loyal as an old dog, she thought. Her vision felt blurry as she caught sight of his profile in the diner window. His blonde hair was a little shaggy around the edges, he had always needed to be reminded to have it cut. With a deep breath, she pushed open the door to the diner, pasted a cheerful smile on her lips, and approached her past.
“Hello, Evan.” She noticed that his deep blue eyes looked a little tired, the laugh lines by his mouth a bit deeper than when she’d last seen him. “It’s good to see you. Thank you so much for coming.”
“Merry.” Evan stood and leaned over the table to kiss her cheek. “I could never say no to you.” He looked directly into Merry’s eyes, holding eye contact as he resumed his seat.
She smiled a little. He never had said no to her. “I asked you here because I need your help. My parents’ marriage is in trouble, and my dad is planning to leave my mother.”
“How can I help with that?” Evan looked as puzzled as he felt. How could his coming here save the marriage of two people he’d never met? The closest he’d come was picking Merry up at their house once, and they weren’t even home at the time.
“I told them that I needed them to help me get over a bad break-up, and you know Mom and Dad. When I said I needed their help, Dad said he’d stay in the house through the holiday season, until I went back to the city. They insisted on having a big party to help us reach closure.”
Evan’s azure gaze narrowed. “What are you leaving out here, Merry?”
“Leaving out? It’s a party, for her parents, and I implied the break-up was recent. You know my parents, they believe it’s healing to gather the community around when traumatic things happen. Once I asked for their help, I had to accept their recipe for feeling better, and it was this party. And they were worried about me and the guy who dumped me, so...” Crap! The look of mute outrage on Evan's face told her she’d said the wrong thing.
“Merry, you told them I dumped you?”

”Well, not you, not exactly. I told them a guy broke up with me.
“What guy did break up with you?
“There’s no guy, Evan. I just made up the story so they would stay together long enough to realize they need each other. They love each other, they do!” Her voice broke on a sob and her hands flew to her mouth.
“Merry, you can’t make your parents stay together. They’re grownups, they get to choose what they want to do.”
“I can help them see what they really want to do! I know I can, and with you here to help me I have no doubt we’ll succeed. My parents are the happiest couple I know, and if they can’t make it who can?”
Evan looked quietly at his former love. Things were starting to click in his mind. “Merry,” he said, his voice very carefully even. “Why did you break up with me?”
“Can’t we talk about this later, Evan? After the party, maybe?”
“No, Merry. We have to talk about this now. Why did you leave me that message? That was pretty cold, Merry. I thought we had something special together.”
Merry realized there was no way forward but right through the truth. “We did, Evan. I’ve never had anything so special with anyone else.”
“Then why? Why did you end it so abruptly. I thought you must have met someone else.”
“No, Evan, I didn’t meet anyone else. In fact,” she swallowed past a large lump that was suddenly in her throat, “I haven’t met anyone else.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either, Evan. All I know is that I had to end our relationship. I felt panicked. I didn’t know what else to do. If I couldn’t have a relationship like my parents I didn’t want one at all.”
“Merry, you wanted a relationship like your parents, so you ended ours? And now you’ve called me in to help you put theirs back together. None of this makes sense.”
Merry stared at Evan, feeling the panic rising again, just looking at him. “I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, when I say it out loud. But at the time, they looked so perfect together. They loved and hated all the same things, went everywhere together. I had the only parents I knew who hugged and kissed all the time. How could we hope to have a relationship that good?”
“Our relationship was our own, Merry. Just like their relationship is theirs. If your parents want to separate, divorce, or stay together forever, it’s up to them. You can’t manipulate them into staying married if they don’t want to.”
Merry wiped the tears that were now streaming down her face with the back of her wrist. “I can’t bear it if they break up. I can’t stand my family being torn apart.”
Evan took the hand away from her face and kissed her fingertips. “Merry, you’re a grown woman, who should be making her own family now. With someone that you choose for yourself.”
Merry was speechless. Evan was right, but she had given up on having a relationship after she’d made the fateful phone call. She hadn’t so much as gone out on a date since then. How could she possibly meet someone she cared about that much again.
As the waitress approached with menus, Evan stood and stepped away from the table. “As much as I’d love to stay and have coffee, I’d better head for the slopes. Now that we’ve resolved what was, we can both move forward toward what will be. Just make sure your mom and dad know you love them, Merry, and whatever happens will work out fine.”
“Thanks, Evan. You were the best thing that every happened to me. I’m sorry I blew it.”
Evan bent to kiss her on the forehead. “Take care, Merry.” And he walked out to his car.
***
Merry went home planning to explain the whole story to her parents and tell them they had her full support, whatever their plans were. But to her amazement, she walked into a hippie winter wonderland, full of giggling middle-aged people and wonderful cooking smells. Women in colorful patchwork skirts swirled through the kitchen, and there were at least six men, most of them with ponytails and beards, putting together a long table of planks and sawhorses in the living room.
“Merry, dear, is that you? Hurry in here and get the sesame cookies out of the oven before they burn!” Her mother sounded so happy and excited. “Just put them on the rack in the dining room.”
Merry hurried into the kitchen to help her mother. Within moments she was so caught up in the whirlwind of preparations that she just, somehow, never got to tell either of her parents about her ruse. When Bob and Cynthia threw a party, it started as soon as the preparations did. Finally the food was ready to serve. Everyone had made their favorites and the array was astonishing. Esther had made crispy potato latkes, Saravani her spicy lamb curry. Jeanette had prepared a delicate puff pastry snowflake filled with chocolate mousse and Elaine had baked the nine-grain bread that everyone remembered from their commune days. So many delicious dishes from all the holiday celebrations of the world.
Merry gazed around at the happy faces. Most of them were heavier, and there was a lot of gray in those ponytails. But the spirit that she remembered from her childhood was there, if anything stronger. The air veritably sparkled with it. She felt as though she could stand there in the candlelight and just look at them forever, her heart swelling with love.
“Merry, we don’t want to start without your young man. When did he say he would be here? Her mother smiled at Merry from across the table, her husband’s arm across her shoulders.
“Mom, I don’t think he’s going to make it.” There was no point in going into the whole mess with Evan now. She could tell them tomorrow.
“Anyone expecting Santa Claus?” Alfonse, her father’s oldest friend, stood in the open doorway.
“Santa Claus? No, but he’s sure welcome! It’s Christmas Eve isn’t it?” Merry’s father said. “Bring him in!”
Behind Alfonse, in his old patched jeans and t-shirt, stood Santa Claus. Or, rather, Evan in a Santa suit, with a huge bag of gifts over his shoulder. “Ho ho ho! Merry....Christmas!”
Merry could only stare. “Evan, what are you doing?”
“I came to start our own tradition, Merry. I called this afternoon, and your mother told me about all their wonderful friends. So I drove my reindeer this way to bring gifts to all of the goodhearted people who give to others all year long.” And, while Merry stood open-mouthed, Evan began to hand out his gifts. To Esther, who worked three days a week in a thrift shop for abused women, a lovely silk shawl. To Alfonse, who ran a soup kitchen, a set of Wustoff knives. To each of her parents’ friends, who were the most community-minded, giving people in the world, Santa-Evan gave a perfect gift. Merry’s mother got a new pair of Nikes for her next 5k walk, and her dad a huge tin of Greek olives, which he loved but would never buy for himself.
Finally, the sack was almost empty. Only one small box remained. Merry was still standing at the side of the room, overwhelmed. She didn’t know what to do, or what to say.
“Merry, I think Santa has something for you.” Bob gave Merry a little push toward Evan. “I don’t think he’ll bite.”
Merry walked slowly over to Evan, tiny steps, her eyes never leaving his deep blue gaze. She reached for the small brightly wrapped box he held out toward her and carefully removed the beautiful bow. Carefully unwrapping the box, she found a lump of coal.
Evan looked at what was in her hand, and the shocked expression in Merry’s eyes. He began to laugh. “Oh, that was the gift you were going to get when you were on the Naughty List. I’ve been told you have moved to the Nice List.” He rummaged at the bottom of the big sack, pulled out an even smaller box, and placed it in Merry’s outstretched hand.
Merry never doubted what was in that box. A big tear rolled down her cheek. “Are you sure, Evan?”
“I was sure when I bought it, Merry. I have kept it for three years.”
It seemed as though the brightly lit room and all the people faded, leaving them alone. Merry looked up at Evan and smiled. “ Thank you for waiting for me to come to my senses.”
“I’m only glad you did.” Evan pulled the Santa beard down below his chin and bent to press his lips to hers. He pulled her close and deepened the kiss, until they both remembered how good it had been to hold each other.
When they came up for air, Merry turned in Evan’s arms and looked at her parents. They held hands like teenagers, snitching bits of delicacies from the platters and surreptitiously feeding them to each other. They would be fine.
Evan looked at her questioningly and Merry voiced what she had been thinking. “They always loved each other, but they had lost the spirit that held them together. Look at these people, all of them. The sixties were a magical time, but only because of the magical people who grew up in them. Mom and Dad didn’t need space, they needed Spirit.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving

Two days of cooking, ten minutes of eating, cleaning up after, and now we can sit and watch Charlie Brown. Must be almost, almost the Yule season.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nicole and Fluffy at Thanksgiving, a children's story





Once upon a long winding street, in a white house with a big grassy yard, there lived a dog named Fluffy.  He was a brown dog with a long nose that was pointed so that he looked just like a fox.  And he was very, very little.  fluffy liked to sit in his yard and watch the people and animals go by, and he loved to bark at them.
     Fluffy had lots of friends.  Even though there were a lot of other dogs in the neighborhood, everyone just seemed to like Fluffy the best.  Ladies with tiny babies in strollers would stop and pet him through the fence and the babies would reach their fingers through and laugh when he licked them.  Fluffy probably had more friends than anyone else on his street.
     Fluffy even had friends in other states.  His best friend was named Nicole, and she was then four years old.  Nicole was a very smart girl who could draw pictures and was even going to school. And, of course, Fluffy was her best friend too.
     Fluffy and Nicole hadn’t seen each other for a while, but they always talked on the phone, and sometimes they sent each other cards and letters in the mail.  And they hoped that soon they would be able to see each other in person.
     One day Nicole’s mother said that they would be going to California to see some other their family for Thanksgiving.  So Nicole and her mommy and daddy got in the car and drove for a very long time across the desert.  They passed the cacti and jack rabbits and the Colorado River, and Nicole waved at all of them and smiled.  For the whole trip the laughed and smiled, because she was going to see her very best friend in all the world, Fluffy the dog.
     After a whole day of driving, when it was starting to get dark, Nicole’s mother said that they were almost there.  Nicole saw that they weren’t in the desert anymore, and her mother said that they were in San Bernardino, and that was very close to Los Angeles. By now Nicole was starting to get a little sleepy, so she didn’t notice when the passed Pomona and West Covina and all of the other towns along the way.  In fact, the next thing she knew, they were climbing the hill that led to the winding street where Fluffy lived with Nicole’s aunt.
     As soon as the car stopped, Nicole jumped out onto the sidewalk and listened.  She could hear Fluffy barking, just like on the phone.  She ran to his gate and opened it up and they played and played.  They played until nighttime, when Nicole’s mother made her go to sleep.  And they played all the next day, and the next, until it was time for Nicole to go back to Arizona.
     Then they were a little sad, but Nicole knew that they would see each other again soon, and she told Fluffy that it would be all right.  Then everybody kissed goodbye and Nicole and her family got back in their car and drove all that long way back through West Covina and Pomona, and across the long desert.  Past the cacti and jack rabbits and the Colorado river, until they got to Nicole’s house.  But Nicole did not see any of the scenery this time.  She was sound asleep with a big smile on her face, dreaming about the next time she would see her friend.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving After the Fall



     Turkey was not going to happen.  If any survived the Event, they hadn’t been found yet.  But there were chickens around, and Shay planned to catch one, and she had a lot of dried Indian corn to grind and make cornbread.  From that she could make a tasty stuffing.  She had one can of cranberry that she thought looked okay.  Not swollen or anything, just a little dented.  Shay was pretty sure she could pull together an approximation of the feast that Brady would remember from past years. 
     He was coming home after almost ten years. She had gotten a letter!  It was the first letter she had gotten since the reorganized Pony Express Service had begun its deliveries.  Until that time, Shay had not had any idea whether Brady was alive, dead, or Other.
According to his letter, Brady had been in D.C. when the Event happened, and had not been able to get outside the fence until now.  They weren’t letting anyone out unless they were absolutely certain that they weren’t Other, and if they let Brady out, he was alive and well.
     Shay rummaged around in the cabinet over the sink, looking for a square cake pan.  One of the funny things about the A.E., After Event, was the shortage of grains.  Most of the standardized grain varieties just wouldn’t grow anymore, so it had been necessary to raid the heritage varieties stored in seed banks and try to get enough of them growing.  The first few years had been almost entirely grown for seed, and it had only been in the last few years that any had been available for distribution, and only this year that any had gotten this far west.  She patted the sack of dried corn fondly.  It had been difficult to get the seed, but the results were worth it. 
     A sound came from the lane out in front of the house. Shay froze. Was it Brady? She listened carefully, the sound of hooves pounded toward her from the east, but never slowed.  It wasn’t Brady after all.  She tried not to let disappointment take over, there was no predicting how long it would take to come this far.  The roads were uncertain and plagued with thieves. Then the hooves sounded closer again returning. Maybe it was him after all. Her heart leapt in her breast as she froze in her tracks.  Footsteps sounded on the wooden steps and there was a tentative knock on the door.
     “Shay?” the query came muffled from the other side of the door. “Shay, are you here? They told me you were here.”
     Shay gulped a breath of air, apparently she had been holding it while he walked up to the door.  Her knees unlocked and she ran the few steps to pull open the door.  It was Brady, a little older and worse for wear, but Brady!
     “Oh my God, Brady, it really is you!” He looked to thin! But then, so did everyone these days.
     Now it was Brady’s turn to freeze.  He stared at her as if he’d never seen her before, and didn’t move forward through the doorway until Shay laughed and grabbed his hand to pull him in. Then he acted, and pulled her right into his arms.
    “Brady! I didn’t know if you were alive or dead until I got your letter. I was so afraid!”
     “I had no way.”
     “Of course you didn’t.  How could you have contacted me, cell phone?” She laughed again, almost hysterically this time.  “But I waited.  It was so hard.”
     “Shay, you never ....”
     “No, I never.  And they tried to make me.  I’m a young woman, most likely fertile.  They tried very hard.”
     “Shay, I was in D.C. through all of it.  I probably am not a fertile male.  The pressure is only going to get worse.”
     “I know, my darling. but they will give us time to try.  If I don’t get pregnant in six months or so, we may have to do something to appease them, but for now, it’s just us.”
     Brady bent to press his lips to Shay’s forehead, then her cheeks, first left, then right.  He pressed a firm but chase kiss to her lips. “ I have been riding for weeks, and I need to clean up.  I don’t want to come to you reeking of the road.”
     “Oh, Brady, I’d take you reeking of the sewers if need be! I never thought I’d see you again.”
     What little sense of propriety Brady had melted away with her words.  “I don’t think I’ve been in any sewers, but if you’ll just get me some water, I’ll wipe off the worst of the dust.”
     Shay brought the bucket of water from the spring, and a soft cloth and wiped the dust of the road off Brady’s face.  She treasured every stroke of the cloth as it touched her husband’s face.  He looked older and there was some gray in his dark brown hair.  She gently touched the lines beside his still-vivid blue eyes.  He looked so beautiful to her.
Slowly she wiped off the accumulated grime of weeks of riding, adoring every inch of skin revealed.  As Shay pushed Brady’s shirt off his shoulders, she traced a long scar on his left arm.
     “I got that in the invasion.  But it’s not a battle wound, it was an exploding glass window, a big piece cut right through my shirt.”  Feeling her touching another scar on his lower back, he said, “But that one was caused by an actual claw.”
     The scar was jagged and extended at least six inches, and was far too close to his kidneys for comfort. Shay brought her arms around to the Brady’s front and opened his jeans, one button at a time.  She pushed them over his lean hips, waiting while he stepped out of them.  Underwear was now an anachronism, so he was naked in front of her. 
     The bucket of water was grimy, so Shay dumped it outside the door in her small flower bed, and went to pull another bucketful of water.  She walked down the short path to the spring, feeling Brady’s eyes on her back as she went.  The respite was welcome.  Brady’s return was so overwhelming, and she didn’t want to break down in tears right in front of him and ruin their reunion.  Dipping her bucket into the spring of cold water, she pressed her eyes closed tight and tried to focus on the joy of their reunion.
      Ten years! Another few months and she would have been forcibly paired with a man who could give her children.  Even now, if she didn’t get pregnant, they would make her have sex with someone who could impregnate her.  If she were fertile, anyway.  But those problems would have to wait for another day. 
     Shay tossed her long blonde braid over her shoulder and started back toward the house.  Brady was standing in the open doorway, completely naked and obviously delighted to see her.  Oh my!  She hurried toward him, dropping the bucket and oblivious of the water spilling onto the ground.  Road dust be damned! 
     Shay flung herself into Brady’s waiting arms, and he lifted her off her feet. His kisses burned into her lips and she opened hers to allow him entrance. She felt his hands stroke down her back and lift the bottom of her cotton shirt to pull it over her head.  Bras were also gone, not all new things were bad, so now she was naked from the waist up.
     Brady stroked his hands back down her back and slipped his fingers into the waistband of her long cotton skirt.  He pulled it down over her hips, feeling how much thinner she was.  He remembered her as a little more than curvy, and always fretting about it.  No amount of reassurance had convinced her that her love found every line, every curve of her endearing and enticing.  Now she was more like the frame she had sought  in that long ago day, and he found her just the same, it was her heart and her soul that he loved, the heart that had waited so long, and the soul with the strength to resist the pressures put on her to move forward and leave their love behind.
     Now that they were both completely nude, Brady couldn’t stop caressing her, giving her little biting kisses that followed the pathways made by his hands on her flesh.  He moved from her mouth to her neck, inhaling the fragrance that, even now without scented cosmetics available, was uniquely and sweetly hers.  His lips descended to the rounded mounds of her breast, hands stroking, cupping, and lips closing over a rosy tip.  He heard her gasp as he grazed her lightly with his teeth. 
     Shay was as hungry for Brady as he was for her.  Her own hands roamed over the planes and valley of his skin, tingling with awareness.  She pressed her lips to his shoulder and closed her eyes.  No amount of contact could make up for ten years of doubt and worry, but it was enough to have him back at her side now.  When Brady pressed the length of his lean masculine body against hers, she whimpered. Then she took his hand and pulled him toward the bedroom, trembling slightly with emotion and need.
     Brady kept his other hand on Shay’s waist, needing to touch her with both hands. She looked so beautiful, even more beautiful than he remembered, and had her skin always been this soft?  Her hair in that braid was catching his attention too.  The moment they entered the bedroom and fell to the bed, tangled in each other’s arms, Brady pulled the braid loose, sinking his hands in the long waves.  She had worn it shoulder length before, now it fell around both of them in a silken curtain.  He moaned deep in this throat and captured her mouth in a kiss. 
     “Now, Brady, I’ve waited so long, now!”
     “I missed you so much,’ He said, stroking her body in long, slow sweeps. “I want to relearn every inch of you.” As his hand slipped between her thighs, he felt how ready she was for him.
     “We have time. But this time, this first time again, I want you inside me, now! I ache for you.”
     Brady pressed Shay’s thighs apart with one muscular leg and slid inside her in one smooth stroke.  He groaned and held still.  “Give me just a minute, I don’t want to end it this soon.”
     “I love you inside me,” Shay gasped, wrapping her legs around his waist and clutching Brady to her with both arms.
     “Oh, Shay,” Brady pushed slowly, building a rhythm, in, out, pressing against just the spot inside her that he remembered made her writhe.  And  he wasn’t disappointed at her reaction.
     “Brady, oh my God! I love you so much!” And just like that she was over the top. 
     Her muscles contracted around him, and he was quick to follow her into bliss.  “I love you, Shay,” he cried out.
     As her love collapsed on top of her, spent for the moment, Shay prayed that Brady would be able to impregnate her, and soon.  If not, they would be forced to have another man in her bed, and she hated the idea.  But the Event had made fertile people very valuable, and the Others were out there, probably getting ready to attack again.  Shay would have to make sure and have a baby for the sake of humanity. 
     But for today, for this Thanksgiving, Shay had the love of her life back, in her arms and in her bed.  And that was more than enough.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Zombie Pilgrims on Parade


ZOMBIE PILGRIMS ON PARADE


     “Welcome everyone to the 30th annual Graves Department Store Thanksgiving day Parade!  I’m Zanku Kitty, here with my co-host Grief Abandon.  How’s it hanging Grief?”
     “It fell off, Kitty, but thanks for asking.”
     “Oops, my bad. Well you can’t have everything, Grief.”
     “I wasn’t going to mention your nose, Kitty.”
     “Well I never!”
     “Even if  you did, I couldn’t do anything about it.  Can we move on, please?  I see the first float is heading our way.”
     “Zombietown, Massachusetts is known for this spectacle on Thanksgiving Day every year, Grief  The residents do their best to attract as many tourists as possible to share their Thanksgiving Feast.”
     “A truly welcoming atmosphere here, Kitty, and this float received the Mayor’s Prize for epitomizing this year’s theme, “Lend a helping Hand.”  That lovely young thing at the front is waving the mayor’s actual hand, loaned to us for this occasion. Don’t lose that hand, Wendy, the mayor needs it to sign the Parks Bill next week.”
     “And coming up next is the High School Shuffling Band.  You have to admire these young people for their determination.  Most of the percussion section had their hands sewn on extra tight, just for today’s performance.  Can’t have a repeat of last year, Grief!”
     “That was quite a melee, Kitty, all those kids digging through that pile of limbs trying to match whose hands were whose.  I’m glad they took precautions, be prepared, I always say!”
      “That’s good advice, Grief.  Maybe you should have taken it yourself last night.”
     “Do we have to keep getting personal, Kitty?”
     “Sorry, Grief.  But if a certain body part were to show up, what would it be worth to you?”
     “Kitty, you bitch! What do you... Our producer indicates it’s time for a message from our sponsor, Graves Department Store, the store that helps you keep it all together.  We’ll be right back.”
***
     “Welcome back to the parade, I’m Zanku Kitty.”
     “And I am Grief Abandon.  We are starting to see a few of the parade-watchers heading indoors now.  With the icy wind, there have been a few wardrobe malfunctions, and some of the mama’s don’t want their little zombies to see anything fall off that they didn’t know was there to start with.  But I’m sure we’ll see them all later at the big feast.”
     “Along with all of our wonderful visitors, Grief.  The city council has extended their usual gracious invitation to all the living to come join us and bring their brains, er, families. It’s sure to be a delicious spread.”
     “Let’s talk about the float approaching us right now. It’s certainly unusual, Kitty.”
     “Yes, it is, Grief.  My notes tell me that it is the Merchant’s Prize winner, selected for its fine selection of Zombietown’s wares.  The town is known for it’s outstanding prosthetic devices.  The young people modeling these fine products are members of the local sports teams.  As you can imagine, they are big fans of the artificial limbs produced here.”
     “Yes they are, Kitty.”
     “Perhaps you should stop by one of the shops after the parade, Grief.”
     “Shut up, Kitty.”
     “If you think I’m going back to the motel with  you with that big gaping hole in your....”
     “Kitty!”
     “Look, Grief, here comes the Mayor himself, Bob N. Bob and his death-partner, Chompers.   Hello, Mr. Mayor.  Do  you have a few words for our viewers at home?”
     “Hello, Kitty, Grief.  It’s a great day for the parade and for the town!  I want to remind all of our visitors to be sure to come to the town hall after the parade for the big feed.  It’s always an experience!”
     “Thank you, Mr. Mayor.”
     “You’re welcome, Grief.  And you’re looking very nice today, Kitty.”
     “Thank you, Mr. Mayor.  At least someone around here is a gentleman!”
     “You’re very welcome, Kitty.  After all, a nose isn’t everything.  Many of our finest citizens are among the noseless.”
     “Mr. Mayor, I think Kitty is overcome with emotion at your kind words.  Perhaps you’d better rejoin the parade.  NOW!”
     “I see what you mean, Grief.  Let’s go, Chompers.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.”
      “Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Mayor.  Keep up the good work, Chompers.”
     “Grief, what does Chompers do again?”
     “The mayor. Look, Kitty, here comes the Founders Float.”
     “Zombietown, Massachusetts is the only town in all of North America featuring the actual founding fathers riding on a float.”
     “Look at Zedediah Claw.  No, Daddy Claw, no don’t wave!  Shoot, somebody pick up Daddy Claw’s hand and tuck it in his jacket.  These founding father’s get so enthusiastic, they forget how breakable they are.”
     “He’s probably excited about the feast, Grief.  Remember, all you tourists are invited to the feast immediately after the parade.  Just come right on in, someone will take care of you.”
     “Here comes Santa Claus!”
     “The kiddies are getting really excited.  This is the first year they could find anyone to fill out the suit.  Hiya, Santa!”
      “Hello Kitty! Have you been a good girl this year?”
      “Why, Santa, you old devil, you tell me.”
     “Him too, Kitty?”
     “Don’t you look at me like that! I can’t be exclusive with someone who just falls apart at the least little thing.”
     “What do you want for Christmas, Grief?”
     “All I want for Christmas is my ...”
     “I can tell you what he wants, Santa, can I sit in your lap?”
     “Sure thing, little girl, whisper right here in old Santa’s ear.”
     “Kitty, don’t you dare! Don’t be sharing our private business with that old rickety lech.”
     “I see, Kitty, I see.  That is a problem. Grief, you want to come up here on Santa’s lap and tell him what size you’d like?”
     “Oh my God, Kitty!”
     “I was only trying to help, Grief. Santa understands that, don’t you stud?”
     “We are almost out of time, here.  Kitty and I would like to thank you for joining us for the Graves Department Store Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It’s time to head on down to the town hall for dinner.  I hope to see you all there, with bells on.”
    

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Thanksgiving Pie Tale



WELCOME TO THE FIFTIETH ANNUAL THANKSGIVING DAY BACHELOR AUCTION AND PIE BAKE-OFF read the sign outside the Town Hall in this little hamlet at the edge of nowhere.  The travellers where surprised to see such an event in a small town, but curious, so they pulled into the little parking lot in front of the building.

     “Do you think they mind strangers coming?” Cassandra slung her purse over her shoulder as she stepped out of the little red MG convertible.

     “Oh, I doubt it, Cassie,” said Angela. “Or they wouldn’t have such a big sign up.  Anyway, the worst they can do is tell us to go away.”  The two women began to walk up to the big metal quonset hut that housed the Town Hall.  There were quite a few pick-up trucks and some cars parked around the building, and the big double doors were open wide.
  
    Inside, it was crowded, and nearly everyone looked like they came from the local farm areas, but there were a few people who also looked like tourists among them. They strolled around the edge of the room.  The pie bake-off had already happened, apparently, and they were offered samples of the winning pies.

     “Mmmm, did you taste this apple pie, Cassie? Lots of cinnamon, I love that.”

     “I like the pumpkin with the crumbly topping, wow, can these country people bake pies.  I just buy them at the bakery when I bring them for Thanksgiving at Mom’s.”

    “Look,” said Angela, “I think it’s time for the auction to begin, everyone is going over to that end of the hall by the little podium. Let’s go watch.”

    “Okay, but I’m taking another piece of this yummy pie.  I didn’t even see the chocolate one.  I really wish I knew how to bake.  I’d bid on anyone who could bake like this. It’s a shame none of the bachelors is a pie baker.”

    “You’d really bid on a guy just because he could bake a pie?” Angela could hardly control her giggles.  “You really would? You swear?”

      “Angie, I get tired of fast food and I can only burn water on a good day.  I can’t live forever on microwave popcorn.  So, yes, I swear, if there were a guy who could bake a silky, dark chocolate cream pie like this one, I’d not only bid on him, I’d marry him.”

     Angela couldn’t control herself any longer, she clutched her stomach and bent over laughing, revealing what had been behind her on the wall. A poster that said,

COME ONE COME ALL
AND BID
ON THE HOTTEST PIE BAKING BACHELORS
IN THE COUNTY
ALL PROCEEDS BENEFIT
STYXTOWN FOOD BANK

     Cassandra turned pale as her sister continued to convulse in helpless laughter. “It’s not funny, Angie.  You set me up!”

     “Like you haven’t set me up a hundred times! I wouldn’t be married to Sam now if you hadn’t set me up on that blind date.  Looks like we’d better take a seat and see which of our handsome bachelors made that  yummy chocolate pie.”

     Cassie knew how much Angela loved Sam. He was with his platoon on maneuvers, and Angie missed him dreadfully.  She was worried he’d be sent to Iraq next, and this trip was supposed to be a distraction.  Home for Thanksgiving was just too lonely without Sam.  “Okay, you know I never back out on bet.  I guess this was a bet.  I only hope he’s my type.”

     A matronly woman in a floral dress and a flower-trimmed hat stepped up to the microphone, “Welcome to the auction! I know you’re all anxious to bid on a bunch of guys with such a crisp crust and well-spiced filling.” There was a polite smattering of applause and a few chuckles from the assembled audience.  “Without any further ado, here is your Master of Ceremonies, Bianca Hatfield.”

     From off to the side, up stepped a young woman dressed in a pair of tight jeans and a short black jacket, her long auburn hair pulled up in a tight ponytail.  She raised her arms and said, “We begin! Gentlemen, this way please!” And at her call, a dozen men walked up in front of her and turned to face the waiting crowd. “Here they are, ladies, the finest pie bakers Miner County has to offer!  Remember, when you bid all the money goes to charity, so be generous.”

     The men lined up in front of the audience were all sizes and shapes and ranged in age from about twenty to maybe forty-five.  They were all smiling, and a few of them were blushing at the catcalls that had begun with their arrival.  The country crowd was getting rowdy and having fun with these men they had known all their lives. 

     “All right! We will begin with baker of the Crispy Apple Tart. Let me remind you ladies that you not only win the bachelor in question, but also a baking session in their own home kitchen to recreate their winning pie!  What am I bid for the bachelor responsible for the Crispy Apple Tart?” 
    
      Cassie scanned the men to see who would step forward and take credit for the delicious apple tart she’d tasted.  Not one of the men moved forward or stepped onto the podium. “Angie, do you think he’s not there? Why doesn’t one of them step forward?”

     Angela craned her neck over the tall woman seated in front of her. “I don’t know, Cassie.”

     The bidding had begun, starting at twenty dollars and climbing to over three hundred before the auctioneer called, “Going, going, gone! Sold for three hundred fifty dollars!  Now, anyone have a guess who our winner, Mamie, bought to make her a pie?”

     Cassie was amazed to observe that it had been a secret auction.  Those who lived here obviously knew the rules and were good-naturedly calling out guesses, until the auctioneer said, “Pie-maker, show yourself!”

     A man stepped forward, to cheers and whistles from his friends in the audience. “Never knew you could make apple pie, Ed!” yelled a masculine voice from toward the back. “Thought you were a pumpkin man!”

     “Nope, apples have always been first in my heart and my pan!” said Ed as Mamie, an apple-cheeked woman about his age, led him away.”

     “I have my doubts about whether there is total secrecy here,” Cassie whispered to Angie after watching three more happy couples wander off to the back of the hall. 

     “We’ll see, which one do you think made the chocolate?” She looked under her lashes at her sister, who had been staring at one corner of the line of guys the entire time the bidding had been going on.

“Oh, I don’t care,” she said. “I probably won’t win him anyway.  I don’t have the kind of money it will take for the Best of Show pie.”

     “But if you could? Which one?” 

     “The one with the white shirt, and the black boots.”

     “Wow! He is pretty cute, but not your usual type, you usually go for the blonde, urban types.”

     “I think I’m tired of the usual types.  They haven’t worked out so far, have they? I think I’m ready for the cowboy type, with all that wavy black hair and those chocolate brown eyes. Think it’s a hint?”

     “I don’t know, Cass.  Let’s hope so, I like your new type.”

     The bidding continued, and with each bid Cassie’s heart beat louder.  Would he be the next one to go?  The others were okay, but she was getting awfully set on that guy on the end.  He was tall, she noticed, and his jeans hugged his hips in a way that she really liked.  “Do you think they’ll turn around so we can see the other view?” she whispered to Angie then blushed furiously as she realized what she’d said.

     Angie was lost in giggles once again, clutching her side.  “I had no idea this little car trip would turn out to be so much fun!  Maybe you should ask, no, I will!” and before Cassie could stop her, Angie called out, “We want to see the rear view!”

     “All right, we have a request from the audience!” said Bianca, looking very serious.  How about it, gentlemen?  Let’s see if another angle will help loosen the purse strings.”

     As one, the remaining six guys, the best looking of the original dozen, turned to face the stage.  A line of jean-clad behinds faced the audience and the cat calls grew in volume.
There were even a few shrill whistles and masculine laughter was very audible.

     “How is that? Everyone got a good look?” The guys turned back around, laughing themselves.  Overall, the afternoon was  fun for everyone present, and the hilarity was growing with each winning bid.

     The next bachelor was the one who had baked a banana cream pie.  Not only did that get the crowd going, but two ladies were very determined and managed to bid up to almost a thousand dollars before one waved to the other and said, “All yours, I don’t need banana cream pie that much.”  If it got much wilder in there, someone was going to have to call the riot squad.

     Cassie’s heart sank, though.  If the bids were this high now, they were only going to get higher.  She knew which guy she wanted, and she’d sworn to bid on the chocolate cream pie.  Even if they were one and the same, it was bound to be more money than she had. 

    The next three bachelors were bid on and won, the ladies squealing with delight and the guys smiling and accepting the hugs and kisses and pats on the behind as they passed through the crowd.  It was down to only two pies and  two guys. Cassie held her breath.  If the guy with the chocolate eyes had baked the Second Place autumn pear pie, she was done for. 

     “They’re both cute, Cass,” whispered Angie. “Either way, it should be fun.”

     But Cassie had her heart set on the guy with the beautiful eyes (and cutest butt) and was prepared to be heartbroken if she didn’t get him.  This is ridiculous! I don’t even know him, and I’m acting like we’re going to break up or something. She watched the bidding on the next-to-last pie rise to almost twelve hundred dollars and waited to see what would happen.  When the auctioneer said, “Sold to Amber Conahee for twelve hundred dollars,” the two men looked at each other, then at the audience, and Cassie knew she wasn’t the only one holding her breath.

     Then, just as she thought she might turn blue, chocolate-eyes took a step back.  He was still in the running.  He was the only man standing, and she was about to take the chance of her life.

     “Do you think they’ll take a check, Angie?”

     “I saw one lady pay with one, Cassie, so yeah, they probably will.  How much are you planning to bid?”

     “I have two thousand three hundred twenty dollars in my checking account.”
  
    “And?”
  
     “All of it.”

     Angie looked at her, big eyed.  “All of it?”

      “Yep, for once in my life I am going to do exactly what I want to do.  I get paid next week, I’ll be okay.”

     “Ladies,” began the auctioneer, “ I know how many of you had a piece of that delicious Dark Chocolate Dream pie.  And I know you’ve probably guessed by now who the baker might be.  Shall we open at five hundred dollars?”

     The audience was much quieter for a moment.  Then,“five hundred,” shouted a petite redhead, waving money over her head.

     “Six!” shouted another and the bidding was fast and furious until it reached the two thousand dollar mark, when it began to slow.  Cassie joined the bidding early on, and more and more women had dropped out until it was now between her and the redhead who had bid first. 

     “Two thousand three hundred!” the redhead yelled, and the crowd went wild. 

     “Two thousand three hundred twenty.” said Cassie, clutching her checkbook. She saw now that the object of her desire was looking straight at her.  He was so handsome, and she saw kindness in his eyes and laugh lines by his mouth.  She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anyone or anything in her life.

     “Two thousand three hundred twenty-five,” screamed the redhead.

    Cassie felt despair begin to gather around her like a dark cloak.  She had no more money, none at all. It was over.  She turned to congratulate the redhead and felt her sister press something into her hand.  It was a fifty dollar bill.

     “Get him, Cass! Sam and I owe you for helping us find each other.”

     “Two thousand three hundred seventy!” Cassie shouted, voice hoarse with emotion.
She looked around, and the redhead looked back at her, then grinned and shook her head.

     “Any other bids?” asked Bianca. “No? Okay then, going, going gone. Sold to the pretty blonde in row three.  Thanks, honey, that money will do a lot of good.” 

     Cassie stood frozen by her seat.  She had won him, what was she going to do now?
What was I thinking? He’s headed this way! I don’t even know him, what have I done?
Then he was standing right in front of her.

     “I’m Bob Stone and you must have really liked that pie.” His eyes twinkled gold flecks in the dark brown reflecting the light. 

     “I did, and I understand you’re making me another one?”

     “You bet, come with me and we’ll get started.  What are you doing for dinner?”

     Angie shook her head, “Don’t mind me, I’ll check into the motel. Going to do everything you said you’d do with the maker of that pie, Sis?”

    Cassie smiled, “You never know.”

     Angie watched her sister walk away, hand in hand with the tall cowboy in the tight jeans. She shook her head, it wasn’t like Cassie to fall this hard.  But she was due, it was about time she let her heart lead her. As Cassie walked out the door, Angie felt someone standing close to her.

     “That girl got lucky,” said Bianca, the afternoon’s auctioneer.

     “He does seem nice,” said Angie.

      Bianca smiled.  She pointed to the window where they could see Cassie reaching on tiptoe as Bob bent to press his lips against hers.  “They’ll be fine. They’ve both been waiting for each other.  It works like that here sometimes, if you’re very lucky.”


I MET A VAMPIRE - A HALLOWEEN STORY



    

I MET A VAMPIRE, nd I know this for absolute sure, this time. I was going home later than usual, a little after dark,  and decided  to cut across the park in the middle of town.  It’s  faster that way.  I just barely had time to make my appointment with the cable guy. It was real hard to get the appointment for after six, and I was no way gonna miss it.  Another week without Idol just wasn’t something I was willing to face. It’s such a cool show.  Do you watch it?

     Sorry, ok, I’ll go on.

      I had just come to the part of the path where there are those big, tall trees on both sides, that kind of crowd into the pathway,  you know?  Anyway, I almost walked right up to him, he was just there.  I think he appeared or something, you know how they do.

    He was just there.  He was standing in the path, not walking or anything,  I couldn’t walk past him without saying somethin.  So I said, “Hey, how ya doing?” and he didn’t answer me.  He may have been standing still, but I was walking, so I was getting closer and I was starting to worry that something was wrong, maybe he was deaf.  I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. So I thought I’d get closer and smile, nod, something friendly like that.

     It’s weird enough to run into someone you don’t know here, nobody comes to this town that doesn’t have people here, unless it’s like a Keebler delivery man or something.  And this guy was no delivery man. So I wanted to be really friendly, make a good impression. I think that’s real important and....

     What? Oh, okay.

      He was a little taller than average, about like Bob Clem over there, maybe six one or two. Wearing black pants, nice, not like work pants,  and a blue shirt.  I’m not sure what silk looks like, but I think it might have been silk.  It was really smooth.
But that was later on.   He looked kinda like he worked out, big and strong, you know?  And his hair a little long and had these curls that fell over his forehead. But not girly, no not girly at all.

     I’ll try to tell this how it happened though.  I kept walking and when I got close I couldn’t get past him on the path without him moving or me stepping into the trees.  And I was no way going off into that dirt in my nice work outfit, It was brand new, and cost a lot,.  If it went into them trees I was going to snag my hose for sure, and my shoes would be beat all to hell, heck, well beat bad. 

     So, one of us had to move.  And I said “Excuse me, would you please step over so I can pass?” as polite as you could ever imagine.  And he still didn’t say anything.  But he looked at me.  And his eyes were amazing.  They were dark brown, I think, or maybe black.  I don’t think he blinked at all.  And then I couldn’t move.  I saw him coming toward me, and I didn’t mind at  all.

     Fact, I was so happy that I walked right up to him, wrapped my arms around his neck and planted one on  him, right on the lips!  You all know me, known me all my life. I don’t kiss strangers, at least I didn’t til then.  He made me do it.  I  ran my hands down his back over that silky shirt, and pressed the whole front of my body into his, there was no  open space between us.  And he didn’t say nothing, but he kissed me back, hard, and it felt good.  I know he had me under some sort of mind control, because I woudn’t ever be standing in the park kissing some stranger, and I sure as heck wouldn’t have done what I did next. 

     I asked him back to my place.  I did, as bold as you please.  I said, “Come with me now,” and I reached for his hand, and grabbed it, and pulled him along the path til we got to the little bridge.  Now, I hear tell that flowing water is a problem for some of them, but he crossed right over that bridge, or maybe it was holy water I was thinking of, I don’t know. But whatever, he came with me out of the park, and walked across First Street and stopped on my porch.  He didn’t move til I said, “Come on in.”  He just stood there looking around.

     That’s another reason I think what I do, he didn’t come in til I said to.  I hear they have to be invited in.  And he came in and stuff and then he left before morning. That’s it, that’s what happened.

     Oh, I’m sorry.  You need details?  I don’t really want to tell all that stuff, it’s embarrassing, even though I know it all happened because I was under his spell. But I know it’s important, for the record and all, so I’ll tell you.  Or can’t I just write it down? No?  Okay.  I’m gonna need some water to drink before I go on.  And maybe a bathroom break?

     Okay, where was I?  Yes, I asked him into my house.  I guess that’s important because they can’t come in otherwise, right?  Anyway,  I told him to come in and sit right down on the davenport.  And he did. And I set right down next to him, close up.  I couldn’t stop looking into those eyes.  I hadn’t turned on any lights and it was kind of dim in the living room, but it looked like those eyes were lit up from inside, almost like a fire deep inside.  And he finally said something to me.  He said,  “Who are you?” and I knew he wanted me.

     I leaned into  him and wrapped those long, strong arms around me and pulled me real tight against that soft, soft shirt. It was blue, I think, pretty sure. The streetlight coming through the window made the silk a little  shiny, that’s another reason I said I thought it was silk?  It’s shiny isn’t it?  I don’t have anything silk.  I did have that nylon shirt, it was soft and... oh, I’m sorry, I get a little distracted sometimes.  The next thing I knew, he had magicked me into taking him into  my bedroom.  I would never do anything like this, except I was under his spell, you understand.

     So we started kissing again, and hugging and I unbuttoned his shirt and he put his hand down the front of my top and  we kept on kissing.  He was real warm, they aren’t supposed to be warm, are they? And he ran his tongue right down the side of my neck, and I waited and waited. 

     No, he didn’t bite me.  I thought he would.  I was sure he would.  Why else would he put me under his spell like that.  But he didn’t  He just kept kissing me and finally I said,  “What’s wrong?  Not good enough to bite?” and he looked up. 
    
     He looked right at me with those brown lit up eyes and lied. “I wouldn’t bite you,”
he says to me. “You looking for someone to bite you?”

     “ I know what you are!” I said. “You magicked me here with those eyes of yours and now you gotta bite me and bring me over. We’ll be together forever!”

     And I swear, I never seen nobody run so fast!  He jumped off the davenport tripped over the coffee table,  and made for the front door Didn’t even say good-bye.  And I know why, too.  Once he knew I was onto him, he had to go.  He knew I’d run right down here and tell  you all and he’d be in big trouble. If I could escape, that is.  And if he didn’t make me one of them.  I guess a good churchgoing woman like me can’t be one. But he could have tried couldn’t he?  . 

    So tonight I met a vampire.  But he got away. 

 

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