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Irises and Cattails

After years of marriage, Drew searches for her husband while visiting her favorite mountain.

Drew took another step on the path. With the spring snow melted, the trail remained soft, and the usual dusty puffs that dirtied her socks were absent. At the sound of heavy, flapping wings, her gaze lifted to the sky, and she shaded her eyes with her hand in time to see a large hawk soar upward and out of the pine and aspen canopy.

How do you know it’s a hawk, not a golden eagle? White underside, smaller size, dark beak. The question entered her mind, the answer quickly following.

Where was he now?

The stream edged up to the trail, gurgling beside her. The heavy pack slid off her back with a thud, and she dipped the straw filter into the running water, drinking deeply. Though the straw filtered the dangerous bacteria and parasites, it didn’t change the flavor, and she’d drunk from much more loathsome sources. This natural spring and snowmelt-fed stream always tasted as if it were the source of heaven itself. Cold and delicious. Refreshing.

Rising to her feet, she swung the loaded pack to her back and continued. Three days she’d been alone in the forest. Plenty of food, a fishing pole, the entire stream at her beckoned call. Her sleeping bag kept her warm, and the modest tent kept the dew from coating her hair and bedding. The concern wasn’t for herself.

Three days.

Lavender-hued flowers dotted the small meadow on her left. Wild irises.
She’d spent a day photographing similar perennials once. He’d stopped the car at her behest and waited near the edge of a lake while she photographed blossom after blossom. Fine golden dots had accented the bright yellow center of each petal, just as they did now. It was then that he’d pointed at different long stems growing in the shallows of the water and explained their use.

Cattails, almost completely editable. Root, pollen, tender new leaves up to two feet. Watch for look-alikes. They will not have the brown pollen stems.

No cattails lived on this mountain. However, patches of watercress floated in the stream, and some fir and spruce trees touted new growth.

She had to find him.

His days had been so good recently that when he’d suggested a back-packing trip, she’d agreed. Two miles in, they’d discovered the missing frying pan. It had been her job to slide it into the pack after the previous night at the campground. Still, four miles of flat travel wasn’t that difficult for him. He’d spent his entire life traversing the wild. She hadn’t even flinched when he said he’d go back for it.

That day, the afternoon sun promised to shine for several more hours, and she continued forward, wanting to get camp set up early in hopes of cooking their dinner before dark. Using a backpacking stove with nothing more than a flashlight for dinner was not her idea of fun.

They’d camped on the mountain for decades, and neither worried about the other. Not usually. But when he still hadn’t shown up an hour after dark, she doused the fire and grabbed her flashlight. Worry had creased her brow as she considered the possibilities. How could she have forgotten the pan? With a wandering beam of light focused on the trail, she’d headed toward the parking lot, praying he hadn’t fallen and gotten hurt. Or worse.

Her legs ached from the fast-paced hike to the locked SUV, but she’d forced herself to keep going. Peering through the back window with the flashlight, she’d checked for the frying pan. Gone. She hadn’t passed him.

Head hung low that night, she dragged herself back to camp. Had it been day, she would have followed the stream back. He wouldn’t leave the water. But the flashlight didn’t give off enough light for night travel along the willow and tree-infested bank.

With no sign of him the following morning, Drew climbed from the sleeping bag and started up the mountain. What other choice was there? Five miles to the summit. Without the pack on her back, she’d reached the switchbacks quickly. The steeper incline had slowed her down, but not much. Scanning the forest yielded no results.

Tears pooled in her eyes then, but she’d refused to let them fall.

No reason to cry when things get hard. Just keep moving along. Everything will work out in the end.

Dusk had set in by the time she’d returned to camp. Ten miles with nothing to show. She’d dipped her straw into the stream, then pulled out a granola bar and wondered if she should save it for him. With the uneaten treat placed back in her pack, she’d gone to bed.

Now, she took another step and headed toward the parking lot, again. It was her best chance to find someone, anyone, to help her. No one had crossed her trail in three days. It was a first. The well-traveled trail usually brought a few hellos her direction. Not this time.

Something darted across the trail in the distance, and she stopped. As she squinted, a group of people came into focus. Her hands flew into the air, and she ran toward them, yelling for help. Within seconds, they were running too.

“My husband,” she panted as she looked at the young people standing in front of her. “I can’t find him. Please, I need your help. He has memory problems.”

“Mom. It’s me, Jackson.”

Her brows furrowed. “Jackson?”

“Yup. Do you remember me? Let me take that bag for you.”

The young man, Jackson, took the pack from her. It looked smaller. As he opened it, watercress and young pine needles bulged from the top.

“He’ll be hungry. Y-your father.”

His arm slid around her shoulders. “Mom, Dad died three years ago. Don’t you remember?”

Three years?

“We brought you to your favorite mountain for a picnic, and you wandered off.”

“A picnic?”

“Yeah. Come on back; the kids are waiting to hear more about your adventures with Dad.”

“Well, he’s probably hungry, but I found some watercress.”

“Great. Why don’t we all try some.”

The Bond Without Borders

As Dottie prepares to visit her estranged father, who’s in hospice care, memories flood her mind. Can she find peace?

As the light flicked on, the turquoise stone, set in sterling silver, sent a piercing gleam from its polished surface back into the room. The silver had once shone just as much, but years of wear followed by years of neglect had clouded the tarnished metal many times over. Given as a gift to twelve-year-old Dottie by her father, it probably had never been intended to last as long as it had. But even as a child, Dottie considered what items she would keep for a lifetime. The teddy bears and notes from friends had disappeared long ago; the necklace hadn’t.

An adult woman now, she reached into the sparse jewelry box, with its broken drawers and dusty ring cushion, to where the single chain hung from the long-ago-bent revolving hooks. The cool silver caressed her warm fingertips as she slipped it off the wrung to look closer at the pendant. Memories floated to the surface, and her mind clutched one, unwilling to let it pass.

“Over here!”

Dottie sprinted to the next wooden grave marker, then waved to her dad, trying to hurry him along.

He let out a soft whistle. “Would you look at that?”

“Do you know who he was?

Her hand rested on her hip as she stared at the words ‘hung by mistake.’

“No idea, but I don’t think 1882 was George’s year.”

After years of begging her dad to visit the old west, he finally conceded and booked a weekend for them in legendary Tombstone.

The courthouse museum, with all the old pictures and artifacts, had kept Dottie’s attention for the ten minutes it took her to run through the rooms. But her dad finagled an additional ten minutes with promises of a carriage ride and ice cream cones. Spring break’s weather, still cooler than summer, left the dusty-road travelers feeling a little warm under the collar. Or it would have, if they’d worn collars instead of T-shirts. Either way, the breeze was hot enough to enjoy an ice cream in the shade. Wild West Days, an annual Tombstone celebration of the armed forces, entertained them with a parade and plenty of people in period costumes.

But Dottie spent much of her time staring into an antique store’s jewelry case. She couldn’t help it. The small blue-green stone held her gaze, mesmerizing her. And every time they walked past the shop, she tugged on her dad’s arm until he followed her inside, shook his head no, and thanked the shop owner. The morning they were leaving, she convinced him, one last time, to walk the dusty trail to the store. But when she hurried to the case, ready to begin her final pleas, she stopped short. It was gone. Crestfallen, she exited the building and traipsed away, her dad following behind. Ten minutes later, convinced by her father, Dottie shuffled into the Boothill Cemetery.

Unimpressed by the lack of trees and grass, she scanned over the piles of rock interspersed with prickly pear and barrel cacti. Then one of the markers caught her attention, and she burst out laughing. ‘Lester Moore Shot by Four Slugs from A-44, NO LES NO MORE.’ After that, she darted from one to another, stopping only at the more interesting grave sites. Her dad smiled at her each time.

Afterward, as they approached the truck, Dottie’s father handed her a bottle of water. “I’ve got to look at your seat for a minute. I noticed it squeaking.”

“It doesn’t squeak.”

“Are you sure about that?”

She gave him an incredulous look. “Yeah.”

“I think you’re losing your hearing,” he said, shaking his finger at her as he walked toward the passenger side.

“I am not.”

Giving up, she leaned against the truck and twisted off the water bottle lid, enjoying her respite from the sun in the sliver of shade made by the cab.

When her dad called her, she climbed in, still grinning.

“So, did you have fun?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Three short bounces on the seat confirmed her answer.

“Me too, I think we should have more vacations like this, don’t you?”

“I keep telling you that!”

He chortled as he ruffled the top of her head.

It wasn’t until they were almost home, that Dottie looked up at the rearview mirror to see what kept flashing light into her eyes. She must have looked past it a billion times. And as she stared at it, her eyes widened.

“Dad?”

“Hmm?”

“You bought it!” She pounded the seat as she tried to reach for the necklace. “You let me think someone else did.”

“Well, I wanted it to be a surprise.” His eyes twinkled as he gave her sideways glances.

She rubbed her thumb across the stone, then gently began removing the tarnish from the silver. No matter how many times she considered selling the necklace, which would bring in a fair amount of cash, she couldn’t do it. The money may have helped some, and although she’d refused to talk to her father…

Tears welled in her eyes, and she blinked lightly to keep them from falling. Whether she reined in the tears or not barely mattered. She couldn’t relieve the tension wrapped around her lungs and heart, thousands of rubber bands winding tighter and tighter. Gasping for air, the dam in her mind broke, and she leaned against the counter from the force of the memory.

“No! You don’t have a say in what I do with my life. Not anymore!”

“I’m not trying to control you, Dot.”

“Then what do you call it? You refuse to let him in the house; you give him dirty looks every time you see him. Then there’s the way you talk to me about how terrible he is and why I need to re-think my choice.”

Her dad hung his head and stared at the ground, his hands in his back pockets.

“I just don’t see how you can want to be with someone like that.”

“Like what, Dad? A guy that loves me and takes care of me?

“Is that what you call it?”

She slammed her school books down on the table. “Yes. That’s what I call it.”

“Psychology, huh?”

Dottie scowled at him. “You’re changing the subject.”

He shook his head. “Just wondering if that book has anything in it about manipulation. Thought it might help you see what that boy is doing to you.”

Hot breath seared her lips. “Him? Manipulative? Have you looked at yourself recently? I’m done. If you can’t support me and the guy I’m going to marry, then—”

She stomped out of the house, letting the thought hang there. Then what?

That night she’d ripped the chain from her neck and threw it across her bedroom where it landed in the corner. It lay there for a month. Phone calls, emails, late night and early morning knocks at the door all went ignored. She’d refused to allow him an apology.

Tears now flooded the counter. How could she have gone so long without seeing her father? Even after the divorce, she’d refused. She’d never told him he was right. Mental anguish kept her from admitting the abusive power of her ex-husband’s manipulation. Pride kept her from calling home.

With the silver polished and as shiny as it would get, she undid the tiny, gold safety pin she’d used to hold the chain together in the jewelry box and began the process of replacing the broken clasp. A few minutes later, she sank into the driver’s seat of her car.

The worn building needed a facelift, and Dottie wondered what kind of place she’d relegated her father to. When the social worker called, Dottie had refused to see him but agreed to take responsibility for his care. After three years in a home, they recommended he move to hospice. Hospice. Why did she allow herself to hang onto such anger? The hate he must feel for her… Painful surges coursed through her limbs as the bands tightened around her chest again. How could she have hated him for so long?

“Right this way.”

A nurse escorted her toward a dark room. Her dad lay in a bed, able to view a TV with little volume or a generic print of a clay flower pot. Though a few monitors beeped, no other support was provided. The sight of withered skin and a frail body that bore some resemblance to her dad brought her to her knees next to the bed. She picked up his cold hand and brought it to her lips before placing it on her cheek.

“Daddy?”

His thin eyelids, more ashen than she remembered, fluttered, and tiny slits opened.

“Dot.” Her name croaked from between his dried lips.

Her chin trembled. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“What for?” Gentle pressure from his fingertips told her he was trying to squeeze her hand.

“Staying away. I miss you.”

A wash of emotion flooded her system. She’d missed him. The whole time. Years of missing him. It’s why she didn’t get rid of the necklace. But anger had taken control.

“I was so mad,” she said. “Then I—”

Sobs stopped her from speaking, but she took a rag and, while shaking, gently wiped his mouth and nose.

“Scared.”

The single word stopped her fidgeting.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.”

He shook his head. “You were scared.”

The words slipped between his shallow breaths.

“Yes,” she whispered. “I was.”

“I was never…” the words hung for a moment as he caught his breath, “angry.”

“You weren’t?”

His head moved left and right again.

“But I was so mean, and I ignored you for so long?”

“You are… my child.” His eyes opened just a little more. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

He nodded. “I know.”

“How?”

“I’m your dad.”

She sat by his side every night and every weekend for three weeks. His inability to speak much meant she shared the stories. Stories of abuse and divorce followed by stories of finished education and success in the work place.

“I teach first grade and adore my students,” she told him.

As the stories continued, she switched to memories she had of them together. Of course, she mentioned Tombstone. He pointed at the necklace and tried to speak, but she patted his hand and told him to rest.

A week later, she pulled out the cardboard box hospice had given her. With the funeral in a few days, she wanted to find the picture of her and her dad that she’d placed next to his bed. On top of the framed photo, lay a worn leather-bound journal. Her fingers traced the pattern on the outside.

T-O-M-B-S-T-O-N-E.

Opening the journal, Dottie found only a few pages filled.

Took Dottie to Tombstone. She begged so much for a vacation, I was certain she’d die if we didn’t go somewhere. I picked up this journal thinking I’d start keeping track of other vacations we take.

Dottie keeps me on my toes, but I can’t help but love her. It’s hard not to laugh, even when she breaks the rules. I suppose I wouldn’t laugh if she got hurt for not following them though.

We did all kinds of things. I enjoyed the courthouse, but Dot has a way of pulling me on to greater things. She bounced all over the carriage during our ride, and I’ve never seen a twelve-year-old enjoy ice cream quite the way she did. Biting the bottom of the cone first and catching the drips from underneath and above. She’s one talented girl!

She must have dragged me into the same store five different times. Had her eye on this turquoise necklace. Never in my life did I think turquoise would be so expensive. With just the two of us, purchasing it without her noticing was nearly impossible. But I slipped a note to the owner with the money and told her we’d be back the next day. Somehow, I knew Dot would have me back in there. I put up a bit of a fight for show. The owner managed to give me the necklace as Dottie searched the case for the missing thing. Can’t believe I pulled it off.

As I was placing the necklace for her to find, I realized the tiny pendant was a locket, the latch is hidden as a button next to the stone. Knowing it would be a long time before Dottie figured that out, I scratched out a note for her. So if you notice the last page missing here, that’s where it went.
I sure do love that girl.

Dropping the journal, Dottie fumbled with the clasp to remove the necklace and examine the pendant. Even as she cleaned it, she hadn’t found any button or seam indicating it was a locket. A small round of silver held the set stone, and she examined the several decorative posts that stood against a darkened etching. Two larger posts stood slightly taller than the others. Pushing her thumbnail against the one on the right, nothing happened, but when she pushed the one on the left, a popping noise sounded.

As she lifted the top, she realized the smaller bottom rested inside of it. A tiny scrap of paper fell into her palm.

I love you even when you screw up. Love yourself just as much. Dad

Dottie bit her lip, then kissed the scrap of paper, placing it back in the locket. “Love you too, Dad.”

Three days later, Dottie stood next to her father’s casket as the only one left in the room. Blotting her tears away with a tissue, she whispered a few private words, then slipped a note under his hand and added a pin to his lapel. The tiny turquoise stone was all she could afford, but she knew he’d understand. Before leaving, she placed two fingers to her lips and then touched his cheek. “I love you.”

My love has no bounds. Our bond has no borders. Dot


Book Review: The Spec Set

Spending several weeks of his summer at a geeky science camp babysitting his odd younger brother isn’t the highlighted path E wants to travel.

Spending several weeks of his summer at a geeky science camp while babysitting his odd younger brother isn’t the highlighted path E wants to travel. Then, to top it all off, paths surround him as he and his brother become the focus of the FBI in The Spect Set.

Taya Okerlund creates a remarkable story that follows two brothers on the unexpected adventure of their lives. And though Max, the younger brother, knows of his talents, Emile (E) is just discovering his. A fun YA story filled with excitement, The Spec Set is one I enjoyed reading.

My Thoughts on the Spec Set:

Told through the eyes of Emile, the Spec Set brings the fun vernacular of a teenage boy burdened by too much responsibility for a younger sibling. What makes it worse? Max doesn’t speak. On the rare occasion he does, the single word response hardly covers the required answer. Though watching his brother at science camp isn’t an idea E likes, he still stands up for him regularly. Luckily, Lilly, the latest pain in his side, likes Max and helps out as much as she can. Eventually, when E’s own reality seems to explode, Lilly and Max let him in on a little secret, and he meets the rest of the Spec Set.

I quite enjoyed reading this fun story. Much of Max’s characteristics are obviously written in a way that leads the reader to believe he has Autism with selective mutism. Having a child of my own with Autism, I found the writing well-done. In fact, the story follows kids with conditions who have developed superpowers. The story states clearly they are not savants, but, wow, do they have talents!

So often, incredible children with neuro-diversities are left by the wayside, uncelebrated despite their amazing talents and qualities. The Spec Set may be science fiction but the preface behind it isn’t.

The book could use a good proofread. There are several instances of simple mistakes, usually out of place or incorrect words. It did affect my attention to a degree, and I would preface this point before handing it to my children to read. The story is squeaky clean and perfect for both boys and girls of any age, though readability probably begins with middle graders.

The Official Blurb:

Copernicus Science camp looks harmless enough on the surface, at least no one will tell you otherwise, least of all Max McKenzie, who doesn’t speak at all. He can’t even defend himself when he’s implicated in a high stakes chemical theft from the camp lab. Or can he?

His brother Emile is desperate to help, but he’s waking up to his own problems–chief among them the fact that he’s developed an incredible (and incredibly dangerous) new ability. He doesn’t know how to control his awesome new power, and turns to the one person he’s loathe to ask: Lilly Fang.

Lilly has everything under control, including other people’s biochemistry. (Or is Emile really that crazy about her?) Either way, she’s hiding a boat-load of secrets (and secret powers).

Lilly assembles a team of friends like none Emile’s ever dreamed of to help Max.

There’s Fetu, a near giant, whose presence alone seems to suck the air out of the room. Or does he do that literally?

And Danika, who’s so shy she seems to fade right into the background. Or does she actually become invisible?

And Eliza, who never lifts a finger–but is that because she lifts things with her mind? 

The Spec Set will need all of their combined strengths (and their weaknesses) to combat a threat reaching all the way go to another universe.

More info:

Purchase your copy of the Spec Set on Amazon
Follow Taya Okerlund on Goodreads

I received an ARC copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Novella Review: The Visitor

Waiting at home for her husband to return on Christmas Eve, Old Mrs. Langstrum soon finds herself visited by a stranger in The Visitor by Ti Ca.

Waiting at home for her husband to return on Christmas Eve, Old Mrs. Langstrum soon finds herself visited by a stranger in The Visitor by Ti Ca.

Published by Patritus LLC., The Visitor is written by Ti Ca, an author I would love to introduce you to, but whose Amazon biography runs more like an ad for her publisher. The Patritus website states they represent authors who prefer their privacy. Though unusual, I hope both publisher and author the best.

My Thoughts on The Visitor:

At the beginning of The Visitor, we meet Mrs. Langstrum, an old woman who waits for her husband to return from the store with food on Christmas Eve. Through her eyes, we learn the heat is out, probably because of the breaker, and the cabinets are bare. In time, she pulls out a worn note written by her husband instructing her to take two pink pills when she’s hungry. She does so.

At this point, I found myself wondering if I was reading a science fiction novella or if Mrs. Langstrum struggled with some sort of a condition. The Visitor isn’t science fiction.

Mrs. Langstrum opens the door, after hearing a knock, and finds a stranger on her porch. Allowing him in to wait for her husband, the two begin to talk and share their stories.

Much of the book is written in first-person as the characters share various stories but switches to third-person when they are together in the present. Often times, the stories, which overlap throughout the book, come at the start of a chapter and, if you’ve stopped reading for a time, you may struggle to remember who is speaking. This can make the overlapping stories confusing.

The stories deal with several related topics: father and son, husband and wife, depression, uneducated to educated, as well as Mrs. Langstrum and the visiting stranger. Each story leaves you wanting to hear more until they all come together.

I found myself trying to understand the ending, and I’m not sure I got there. Though I like books that make me think, this one left me feeling similarly to how I felt after watching the last episode of LOST.

Still, the writing, vocabulary, and editing are impeccable. I’ve read many indie books that do not come close to Ti Ca’s perfection in these areas.

My suggestion to those interested in reading this novella is to read it in one sitting. Doing so will give you a better shot at following the various storylines.

The official Blurb:

It’s Christmas Eve but the furnace has gone out, the breaker needs to be reset, and the cupboards are empty. As Mrs. Langstrum shivers in her cold, dark house, waiting for her husband to arrive from his quick trip to the store, an impending snowstorm descends in earnest. Realizing her precarious situation, Mrs. Langstrum decides to get help. But who should she ask? Neither the Millners nor the Wylers appear to be home, either caught by the storm or other unforeseen events. Just as she determines to make her way into the town, a knock arrives at her door. It’s a visitor. He’s a stranger, likely a salesman. But before she can shoo him away, he tells her that he has news of her husband.

More Information:

Purchase your copy on Amazon
Visit Patritus LLC

Book Review: Devil of Gilding

After the death of his wife, nobleman James Blake cares little for anything other than his son Toby. But life changes when Toby goes missing in the book Devil of Gilding.

After the death of his wife, nobleman James Blake cares little for anything other than his son Toby. But life changes when Toby goes missing in the book Devil of Gilding.

Book Review: Devil of Gilding

December Knight, lover of counting to three in several languages, superfluous facts, God, and searching for Big Foot, has also brought us a great story, Devil of Gilding. The story, filled with mystery and convoluted plans by more than one villain, kept my attention from page one to page done.

My Thoughts on Devil of Gilding

Set in the time of carriages and corsets, Devil of Gilding begins with the birth of Toby and the death of his mother, Leah. A tender-hearted boy, Toby grows into a loving thirteen-year-old under the hand of his father, James, uncle Clemit, and caregiver Adelaide until he goes missing.

The exciting book includes wonderful descriptions, intricate plans, gypsies, criminals, and someone we only know as D, short for Devil. The well-developed characters drew me into the story, as did the perfect descriptions.

Devil of Gilding is written in a third-person omniscient point of view. Knight, however, does not project the narrator’s voice well, so occasionally the bounce from one character to another is jarring. I also found myself re-reading several sentences due to missing commas. That said, I didn’t find either too difficult to look past.

As much as these weaknesses exist, the story is well worth the read and the writing, itself, is quite engaging. I enjoyed the story immensely and cannot iterate strongly enough that the weaknesses should not dissuade anyone from reading the book.

Now, if you don’t like cliffhangers, you may want to wait a few weeks until the second book comes out, but add the Blake Duology to your list of series to keep your eye on. I know I’ll be waiting for the second book.

The official Blurb

Despite their troubled past, the Blake family have found their own kind of perfect. James, a nobleman, and his less than reputable brother Clemit discovered something to live for in James’s son, Toby. When jealousy enters their lives in the form of a new personality, all hell breaks loose. 

In a single instant, all of their lives change for the worst. A new greedier villain enters their world wrapping tightly around the one thing that kept everything together, Toby. Toby is forced to fight for his life, as James and Clemit desperately try and find him while avoiding the other villain that is still hungry for more. 

Will the Blake’s survive this trial or will they be pulled apart by the hands that have taken hold?

More Info…

Purchase your copy of Devil of Gilding on Amazon.

Follow December Knight on Facebook Instagram Goodreads
and don’t forget to check out her website.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

A Decision of Love

Benny’s saved his money, and the pups are ready for homes. But unforeseen circumstances threaten his deepest desire.

Man's Best Friend

Benny sauntered down the street, money jingling in his pocket and the snow crunching under his feet. Hound pups, born late-December, weaned and ready, waited for him to choose the best of them. He had his eye on the one with the keen nose and perfectly dropped ears. Every time he visited, the pup had his nose to the ground. And when Benny hid a treat, he always scouted it out first. A couple quickened steps, put him that much closer, his excitement barely contained.

“You off to get that pup of yours today, Benny?” Mr. Jansen waved from his shop, broom in hand.

“Sure am. Best of the litter.”

“That’s what Kyle said. With all the work you done, you deserve him. Stop on your way home so I can lay my eyes on him, ya hear!”

The words from the shop’s owner flitted to his ear, but he had no time to acknowledge him. Not in his mind, anyway. As the town’s buildings spread further apart, Benny’s feet struck the frozen ground sooner, picking up speed. What boy could wait for his very first hound? He sure couldn’t.
Jumping the log that lay across the trail, he watched as the Kyle barn peeked through the dense trees, calling him closer. The movement of boots smaller than his and the bottom of a dingy gray skirt caught his eye. Emiline ran toward him. “Hurry, Pa’s got the pups out, ready to go. You gonna get Dozer?”

“I told you that’s not his name.”

They fell in step with each other and hurried toward the farmhouse.

“Well, what is it then?” Her eyes, blue as fine china, blinked, waiting for his answer.

“Don’t know yet. But not Dozer.”

“Okay, but he already answers to Dozer, comes real good when called.”

“He’s a pup, he’ll learn a new name fast enough.”

Emiline shrugged as they continued in silence.

When the trees fell away, Benny’s legs took off, no longer able to wait. The snow crunch under his feet became lost as tiny snowballs flew into the air before crashing back down behind him. Emiline’s shorter legs pumped but eventually slowed. Benny was fast.

“I’m here, Mr. Kyle. I’m here.” His heart pounded erratically as his lungs panted for breath.

“You run all the way?”

“No Sir, just from the trees.”

“Hmm.” Mr. Kyle straightened his hat and narrowed his eyes. “Got the money? Ten dollars, right?”

“Yes Sir, I mean… I got the money, but you said seven, not ten.”

“Did I now?” A new gleam shone in the man’s eye. “Well, tell you what, you muck out that stable, and I’ll make it five.”

“Yes Sir, but you won’t give him to no one else, will you?”

“Pay now, just muck that stable good, or you’ll pay those two dollars, too.”
Benny’s grin spread across his face as his shaky fingers dug the coins he’d saved for so long. As he counted out the money, a dime fell to the ground and he dove after it, unwilling to lose a precious cent, let alone ten. “Five dollars.”

Mr. Kyle eyed the coins. “So it is. Top pick goes to you.”

Everything slowed as he stared at the pups. Each one wagging a short tail and ready to trip over their long ears. No question as to which dog he wanted crossed his mind, but he focused on building a memory. The scent of freshly fallen snow mixed with the mustiness of the barn. He picked up the pup Emiline had called Dozer, fresh puppy breath joining the other aromas as the pup licked his chin. “This one.”

“Dozer’s a fine pup. Great tracker. He’ll train easy for you if that’s what you want.”

Benny nodded, then turned toward the stable. “I’ll get all four stalls real good and clean for you, Mr. Kyle. Don’t you worry.”

Turning, he buttoned his new pup into his jacket, and picked up the shovel. The work promised to take most of the day, but he didn’t care. Not now that he had his pup.

“So what are you going to name him?” Emiline straddled a low wall nearby.

“I’ll think of something.”

“Something like Spot?”

“No. Something that makes him sound special.”

“Whatcha gonna do with him, anyway?”

“Train him to hunt. Help feed my family, maybe make some money from furs.”

“Dozer’ll be good at that. Pa breeds the best.”

“Name’s not Dozer.” With the first stall finished, he moved on to the next.

“ What should I call him, then?” Emiline questioned.

He stared into the pups eyes, still gray on their way to brown. “Major. I think I’ll call him Major.” He scratched behind the pup’s ear. “You like that, boy?”

A young bay rumbled in the dog’s throat.

Giggling, Emiline ambled toward Benny. “Guess he likes it. But I’d let him down, or he’ll wet you good.”

Benny nodded, lowering Major to the ground.

About the time he finished the third stall, a thump on the side of the barn lifted his head. “Jed, what are you doing here, scaring me like that?”

“Gotta come home, Pa’s had an accident.”

“Is the doctor there?”

“No. Ma says we can’t afford him. His leg’s real messed up. Come on!”
Benny looked at the pup. “You go ahead. I’ll be there quick.”

After his brother left, he sank to the floor of the barn and picked up Major. Tears filled his eyes and he lifted the pup and himself off the floor of the barn and looked to Emiline. “Where’s your Pa?”

“Out at the fence, fixing it, I think. Why?”

“This pup’s no good. I’m returning him.”

She grabbed at his arm, but he pulled away as she said, “What do you mean he’s no good? He’s the best there is.”

“No, he ain’t.” He yanked his arm away again and rushed to Mr. Kyle.
Mr. Kyle stopped hammering at the fence and gazed at the boy’s blotchy face. “You all done?”

“No Sir. I’m sorry. I can’t take the pup.”

“Well why not, you paid for him?”

“He’s just not right, that’s all. You gotta take him back.”
The man straightened his hat and eyed his daughter and Benny. “If that’s what you want.”

Benny’s voice broke. “Yes, Sir.”

“Did you want to look at the others?”

“No, Sir. I mean to get home as soon as you give me my money back.”

Mr. Kyle dug in his pocket and pulled out the five dollars. “How much of the stable you finish?”

“Three stalls.”

Another dollar fifty fell into Benny’s hand. That’s for the work you did today.

“Thank you!”

Head hung low, Benny took off toward town as fast as he could, and minutes later banged on the doctor’s door.

“Something happened to my pa’s leg. You gotta come.”

The doctor grabbed his bag. “Get my horse saddled, boy.”

Benny did as he was told, and the doctor soon appeared at his side. “Your family able to pay?”

“I have eight dollars and fifty cents. Is that enough?” His teary eyes met the doctor’s, hoping.

The doctor sighed. “Today it is, I suppose.”

A breeze colder than Benny remembered it chaffed his face as he rode home on the doctor’s extra horse—a service rarely afforded to customers. The pounding of his heart matched the galloping of the horse’s hooves. Tears traced his cheeks at the thought of returning the perfect puppy he’d just named Major. No longer could he help feed his family. Momma didn’t want him helping anyway. The memory of the sweet puppy breath caused his face to crumble.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get your Pa all fixed up.” The doctor’s words scratched at his ears.

Of course, he wanted the best for his pa, but anguish batted him from both sides.

Once home, the doctor rushed in the house, Benny trailing slightly behind. A moment later, Momma quietly slipped into the rocking chair behind him on the porch as she held her rounded belly. “Where’s your pup? Jed said you got him.”

“Gone.”

“The doctor said you paid him.”

“Yeah. Mr. Kyle paid me to muck out his barn, but I didn’t finish.”

“He didn’t pay enough to hire a doctor, did he?”

“No.”
Silence permeated the porch until Momma’s soft whisper reached Benny’s ears again. “Thank you. You and me could’ve set the leg, but not well. And I wouldn’t know what to do about the gash from the bone.”

“What happened, Momma. How’d he break his leg like that?”

“Removing a tree, I think. Don’t really know. He’s not talking much yet.”

“Pa’s downed hundreds of trees!”

She stood and squeezed his shoulder. “I know.”

His whole life, all he’d wanted was a puppy, a coon hound. His whole savings was gone. But he held the pup for those few hours. Major—a strong name for a strong dog. Tears fell to the wood below his feet and he wiped them away before traipsing into the house.

Darkness soon turned to dim light, and Benny’s swollen eyes opened as his momma’s voice entered his consciousness.

“Coming.”

Stepping onto the porch, Benny gazed at the wet nose and soft fur resting in Emiline’s arms. Mr. Kyle stood next to her. “Benny, you’re right. This pup’s not right. Fact is, I’ll never sell him. Feeding him takes a lot too.”

Benny stared at the pup. “I lied. He’s a great pup, should be the first to go.”

Mr. Kyle pushed his hat back. “No, you were right.” His eyes narrowed. “I know you wanted a good hunting dog. This one’s no good for that, not good at all, but well, if you want him…”

Emiline held Major out, who wagged his tail, his gray eyes bright and eager. Benny extended shaky hands that wrapped around the pup. Holding him close, he nuzzled his face against the fuzzy ear. The fall of tears sparkled in the rising sun as Benny’s tongue tripped over the short, raspy words. “Thank you.”

First Kiss

Conversation ceased as his gaze pierced her own. Strong, yet soft, questioning. She eased closer, head tipping up.

Various frosted heart-shaped cookies lay across the counter as the new couple stepped past the kitchen toward the front door. Friends had easily gathered for a Valentine’s Day cookie decorating party, thrown together for the sole purpose of seeing him again. A third date. Fingers entwined with hers as she reached for the door, the cool handle contrasting the warmth of his hand.

Bare feet padded onto the doormat, the icy breeze floating through her blue silk top, prickling her skin. Would it come? A squeeze of the hand, seconds slowed but still promised to pass too fleetingly. The door closed, the damp pavement from a light shower sending shivers up her spine—warmth emanating from his touch chasing them away.

Thoughts galloped through her mind. Was it possible? The words pounded through her. As the wind whipped across her legging-dressed knees, she pushed the nagging recitation down, leaving only a dull roar in its place.

They approached his old, brown car; it got him from one place to another, to her, that’s all that mattered. She gazed at the stars, brighter after the rain. Twisting his hand in hers, she reached for the other. Light shone down on them from above, his chocolate eyes catching their gleam. Ripples of warmth descended from head to toe, wrapping her first in an illusory blanket, then capturing her in strong arms, the aroma of almond frosting mixed with spicy cologne causing both comfort and frenzy within.

The third date.

Small hands lay lightly on his chest, her eyes meeting his again. Unimportant words flowed from her mouth. School. Work. The soft silk of her blouse skimmed across her back where his hands caressed almost imperceptibly. The lateness of the night worked against them, the other guests long since departed. Fingertips brushed against her cheek, auburn hair now resting behind her ear.

Conversation ceased as his gaze pierced her own. Strong, yet soft, questioning. She eased closer, head tipping up. As his head lowered, she raised herself on tiptoes, and bodies pressed together as lips parted. The first kiss. Brief. Soft. Tantalizing. His grip tightened, and she welcomed it. Resting her head near his ear, energy pulsed through her, setting the whisper free. “I love you.”

Silence surrounded them as he pulled her closer, the anticipation for his response filling her bosom.


“You’re awesome!”

My Life: A Yellow Canary Kind of Day

I held my yellow floppy-hatted head high as I entered the rundown restaurant in downtown Glendale. A few patrons sat at tables, but for the most part, we had our choice of where to sit. I grinned as the hostess eyed my hat.

I sat against the sliding door in Mom’s bedroom singing the usual melody of summer. “I’m bored.” Gauging her response, I mentioned a movie playing at the dollar theater. (Back then, the dollar theater still cost a dollar.)

“Hmm. Have you asked your father?”

“No.”

As if he’d been called into the room, Dad entered. “Asked me what?”

“Can we go to a movie?”

“Which one did you have in mind?”

Within minutes, a family day lay ahead of us. Not only would we attend a movie, but Dad wanted King’s Table too. A movie and the buffet! About that time, my youngest sister came in, took a single look at me, and scowled. “I’m not going anywhere with her dressed like that.”

“Why?” I held out my bright yellow shirt and looked at my yellow shorts. “I match.”

At sixteen, how I dressed should have mattered more, but aside from the fact that I lived by the mantra like me or leave me, none of my friends frequented downtown Glendale.

“You can’t wear that. Mom, make her change.”

I stood and casually sauntered to Mom’s dresser where I picked up a giant, yellow floppy hat. Placing it on my head, I announced myself ready. Tanna fell to the floor. “She can’t wear that. You can’t.”

“Bet you I can.”

“Mom.”

“I don’t care what she wears.” Mom flipped a page in her book.

“At least leave the hat.” The begging started, but the game was too fun to give up.

“No way.”

“But you look like you belong in a Curious George story.”

“I always liked those books. Besides, I don’t want the sun getting in my eyes.”

My sister grabbed my arm. “Kameo, please.”

We climbed in the car. The yellow hat would have hit someone in the head, had we not been in a Suburban, by this time aptly named the SuBarton, by a friend. My sister never stopped begging, and I only laughed harder.

“You’ll take it off inside though, right. Hats can’t be worn inside.”

“That’s for guys. But I’ll take it off during the movie so no one complains.”

“Mom, she can’t wear it while we eat!”

Dad snickered.

I held my yellow floppy-hatted head high as I entered the rundown restaurant in downtown Glendale. A few patrons sat at tables, but for the most part, we had our choice of where to sit. I grinned as the hostess eyed my hat. The only thing better would have been an up and down of my canary-colored outfit. Understanding my sister’s needs, I made several trips back to the buffet table, hat atop my head.

Valley West Mall, almost completely deserted of customers, entered our view. My sister continued to complain. The one-story mall, easily circled within eight or nine minutes, housed the dollar theater we’d visited since my birth.

“We’ve got time. Let’s get some penny gum,” I said.

The health goods store had one of the only penny gum machines around, and I wanted to see if it still existed. It also meant walking in the open. We passed the DQ and headed to the right, my sister refusing to walk next to me. Dad’s hands slipped onto my shoulders, and he eased me to the left until I stepped in time with Tanna.

“Dad!” Smoke definitely puffed from her ears.

Dad and I chuckled.

As the few people in the mall passed us, I started waving and calling hello. Most ignored me, some waved back with smiles. Children pointed. Crimson filled in the spaces between my sister’s freckles, and she did everything possible to get away from me.

We entered the theater and realizing my fun would soon end, I whipped the hat off my head and placed it on my sister’s. That’s when Chad walked by. “Hey, Tanna. Um, nice hat.”

Although the bulk of this story is true, I may have fibbed toward the end. No one we knew ever walked by.

A Memoir to Remember: Danny Boy

Melinda Turner remembers what growing up with her special needs brother Danny brought to her life in Danny Boy: The Boy Who Raised His Family.

In a world where people would rather take care of themselves instead of others, Danny Boy shows the joy that comes through ultimate service to the ones we love.

When you grow up in a house with typical siblings, imaging what it’s like in a home with a special needs brother leaves out half the angst and nearly all the happiness. Melinda Turner remembers what growing up with her special needs brother Danny brought to her life in Danny Boy: The Boy Who Raised His Family.

My Thoughts on Danny Boy:

Melinda and I have a few things in common. We both grew up in homes with a sibling that needed extra care, we share the same beliefs, and our families both know how to have a lot of fun. Unlike Melinda, my sibling’s needs came from a car accident and the injury has always had a plethora of information and treatments available. I also relate to Melinda’s parents as a mother of a child with a developmental disability, Unlike both Melinda and her mother, I stopped having to clean up someone else’s poop long ago.

Born at a time when doctors could not diagnose him, Danny started life with a feeding tube. Later he became the best escape artist in the history of children and helped his family laugh until they cried.

Melinda covers the ins and outs of despising and absolutely loving a brother with needs that required the help of every member of the family. Something I have no experience with. Her honesty is refreshing, as is her family’s wonderful sense of humor. We might need to become best friends.

Whether I laughed or cried, Danny Boy kept my heart warm. Well-written and worth the read, I recommend Danny Boy, especially if you love biographies or memoirs.

The Official Blurb:

I was not quite eight years old when Danny was born. Even at that young age I can remember the exact moment I knew my life, my family’s lives, everything we had known up to that point had changed forever.

​It was evening in early summer. I walked to my parents’ bedroom at the end of the upstairs hallway wearing a soft summer nightgown and lurked silently, just inside the doorway. Mom and Dad stood side-by-side, arms around each other with their backs to me, looking down on their newborn son as he lay under the bilirubin lights in his crib. I don’t remember any words being spoken—only that I think mom was crying. Or maybe the baby was. What I do remember as the scene was forever stamped on my consciousness was that I knew something was wrong. Maybe not even wrong. Just different. This baby was different. And somehow, I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. And it never has been.”

At times hilarious, at times heart-wrenching; full of wit and wisdom, “Danny Boy” is a must-read for anyone struggling to care for a special needs child.

More Info:

Purchase your copy of Danny Boy: The Boy Who Raised His Family on Amazon.

Midnight Tan

When Pa told me he hired a new ranch hand, I’d shrugged my shoulders and stuffed another bite of rice and beans in my mouth, a few grains falling back to my plate. He made mention of remembering my niceties, and I nodded while shoveling in more food. Never once did he mention the cowboy had skin dark as night.

“Have you ever seen one?”

“No. He looks like a Mexican with a tan,” my friend John said. “Do you think he can see his hand in the dark?”

I whopped him on the head. “Can you see your hand in the dark? Course not.”

When Pa told me he hired a new ranch hand, I’d shrugged my shoulders and stuffed another bite of rice and beans in my mouth, a few grains falling back to my plate. He made mention of remembering my niceties, and I nodded while shoveling in more food. Never once did he mention the cowboy had skin dark as night. So when John and I set out to play kick the can with some of the others, we hid behind the tool shed the second we saw the new hand.

John and I’d seen plenty of Mexicans, played with a few too. José always won when we played marbles. One day I’d win my aggie back, God willing. But Negroes weren’t too common in our state, and even less common in our corner of the desert.

“Let’s go talk to him.”

John yanked me back behind the shed. “We can’t do that. What if he touches us?”

“So.”

“So, they carry illnesses. You don’t wanna get sick.”

“Pa wouldn’t have hired him if he carried illnesses—not if he’s working with the herd. Come on.”

John picked up an old, half-rotted two by four and skulked behind me. As I approached the new hand, I turned my head and rolled my eyes at my friend, motioning for him to drop the unneeded protection. He shook his head and stood back.

“Hi there.”

The man tipped his brimmed hat as he continued to stare across the ranch.

“We’ve got lots of land. The cows like to hide some. I guess Pa hired you to help bring ‘em in.”

His eyes shifted, looked me up and down, then returned to their original position. “He did.”

“Name’s Will.” I held out my hand, but he ignored it.

“Matthew.”

“Where you from?”

“South… Will, you got a friend ready to beat my brains in.”

“John? Nah, he’s just scared you’ll make him sick. Wood’s rotten anyway.”

Matthew swung around, feet sliding in the dirt as he yelled boo. The two by four broke in pieces when John dropped it and ran all the way down the drive faster than a coyote chasing a rabbit. Ebony hands gripped leather-bound knees as the new ranch hand’s entire body shook with laughter.

I squinted and looked into Matthew’s eyes, sunlight haloing his head. “What d’you do that for?”

“Don’t need no hasslin’.”

“John’s no hassler; he’s just never seen someone like you before?”

“Thought I’d make him sick.”

“Probably his Pa talking.”

“How come you’re not scared?” He eyed my blond hair and blue eyes with a raised eyebrow.

“Pa only hires the best.”

“And my midnight tan?” He folded his arms over his chest, a giant bear that relaxed the more we talked.

I shrugged. “Is it a tan?”

“No.” He squatted next to me. “And the sun don’t hurt me like it does you.”

I reached my hand out toward his arm, “Really?”

He flinched but allowed me to touch his skin. It felt just like mine. “I wish I didn’t burn.”

Matthew stood up and returned to the fence. “Friend’s back.”

Turning around, I viewed John far off, hunkered down under a tree. Puffs of dirt bloomed around my boots as I sped to tell him about Matthew. Under the Mesquite, I bent over to catch my breath as I narrowed my eyes at my friend. “Scaredy-cat.”

“Am not.”

“Why d’you run?”

John scratched the dirt with his foot, scowling, and shrugged.

“Scaredy-cat.”

“Come on. Matthew’s nice. His skin feels like ours, and he don’t burn in the sun.”

“He doesn’t?”

“Nope.”

“I wonder what color he bleeds.”

“Red,” I scoffed. “What other color is blood?”

“I don’t know? Thought maybe he’d bleed dark rust color”

“You’re dopey.”

“Am not.” John dropped a can and kicked it.

“What’s your Pa told you?”

“About what?” He stopped and glared at me.

“About Negroes?”

“Same as yours I ‘spect.”

“Then you know they’re just people. Like us.”

John’s scowl deepened. “Pa says their scum.”

“Well, your Pa’s mean. Thinks that about Mexicans too.”

“So.”

“So, that’s why your Pa can’t keep good hands. They always steal from him because he passes up good people ‘cuz of their skin.”

“No, he don’t.”

A towering shadow covered our heads.

“Boys.”

We dropped our heads and stared at the dirt. Something in the tone of the voice humbled us both.

“Sorry I scared you back there, John.”

John turned his head away from Matthew.

“He’s a scaredy-cat,” I mumbled.

“Will,” Matthew said, “I don’t like name callin’. Been called too many myself.”

“Sorry.”

“Saw you kickin’ your can, John. You got a good leg.” He held out his hand toward the rusted tin. “Can I see it?”

John picked up the can and held it in his hands.

“He won’t make you sick. I touched him and ain’t sick.” I said, whispering toward my friend’s ear.

Handing the can to Matthew, he watched as the man dropped it back to the ground. “Kids back home like to lift their toes when they kick. Like this.”

The can flipped into the air and landed twice as far as it had for John. Kicking the can high and far wasn’t necessary for the game, but it sure meant something to us boys.

“Wow!” John turned to me. “That puts Tommy’s kick to shame.”

“Yeah.” My jaw hung as low as John’s.

“Can you show me that again?” he asked.

Matthew played a few rounds of kick the can with us before Ma rang the dinner bell.

We said our farewells to John and walked up to the house together.

“Ma makes the best food. You’re gonna love it.”

Matthew stood still and furrowed his brow. “Will, I wanna thank you.”

My eyes widened. “For what?”

“You reminded me that bigotry is often taught.” He slapped me on the back of my neck, and we started walking again. “John’s a good kid, just been fed a bunch of lies. It’s people like you that help to unravel them fibs.”