Reclaiming the Joy of Writing: an Update

 

JOY

My personal blog is on hiatus, but on June first,  I posted about the realization that I had lost sight of the joy of writing.

I made some promises that day, to myself and to readers:

  • To set aside the things that kept me from doing my best work; and
  • To complete the remaining novellas for this year’s group projects, while savoring the experience.

Guess what.

No, really, come on. Guess.

Okaaaay, I’ll tell you: It worked!

Not perfectly of course, since I’m far from perfect.

How did I accomplish this overhaul?

I made lots of changes.

Not all of them were big, but they all mattered.

I backed off a bit from staring at my laptop’s screen while scrolling through Facebook and never thinking of anything interesting to say.

I uninstalled Instagram from my phone.

I took Twitter off my phone too (and put it back on and took it off again…on, off, on…and right now it’s off).

Actually, this dumbing-down of my smartphone has been one of the most useful tactics for increasing focus on the task at hand.

Not surprising, is it?

I also continued the daily (and sometimes twice-daily) meditation practice I began in January. It has helped every facet of my life. (I made some other tweaks, too. I am as much a work in progress as my manuscripts!)

Once I made space in my mind and life for the joy of writing, I finished and published ONCE UPON A TIME. I also wrote A COWBOY FOR CHRISTMAS, which is in the SWEET CHRISTMAS KISSES 4 boxed set and currently available for pre-order.

Can you tell that these two novellas are about twin sisters?

Taylor-Hannah

HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, the first McClains book in a couple of years (Yeehaw!) is my contribution to this year’s Authors of Main Street boxed set. (My first time to participate in this annual holiday tradition. I’m jazzed!)

Revisiting the imaginary town of Legend, Tennessee to write this story was a special treat. Maureen McClain and Damien Phillips, who met by the punch bowl in BUILDING A DREAM, are finally getting their love story. And–surprise–there’s a baby! I’ll be doing a HOME FOR CHRISTMAS cover reveal in my next newsletter.

After sending HOME FOR CHRISTMAS to my editor, I moved on to a long-anticipated project. It’s a bigger book, which is scary but also super exciting.

This summer, I have again loved writing. It’s especially awesome to make a big check mark on the Projects-Goals-Deadlines Whiteboard when I’m happy with the story that check mark represents.

I’ve spent quality time with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.

When I send a manuscript to my editor, I watch ROMANCING THE STONE. I don’t usually see it so often in such a short space of time, but I certainly haven’t tired of it. Every time Joan Wilder faces her fears and steps out to do what she thinks is impossible, I cheer her on. And in turn she cheers me on, by helping me celebrate these milestones.

This summer’s novellas were created with love–for the characters, their triumphs, and the story-building process.

As my tagline says,

Try a romance novel on…for sighs!

It’s a privilege to provide happy sighs for my readers. Very cool when the author gets those happy sighs, too!

Magdalena

A Sister’s Christmas Gift

Since we’re giving everyone a sneak peek at our upcoming Christmas boxed set for 99c, I figured I’d add my teaser to the pile.  But before I do, I’d like to introduce you to Jude Knight. She lives in New Zealand and she’s joining us.  I’ll let her introduce herself to you on Wednesday. We are all excited about having her here on Main Street. Besides no where else can a group of international authors sit down for a virtual cuppa except at our little café here on Main Street. 🙂

***

I told you about these characters around the end of July while I was busy divorcing them. It’s almost time to give them to you. And as always, I’m sad to see my heroes go, but maybe I’m just as sad to see these females leave, especially the littlest one.  I’ll let you decide.

Here’s my first chapter of  my Christmas offering. Enjoy!

A Sister’s Christmas Gift

The brick building was supposed to look modern, but it didn’t. It resembled a fortress or maybe a jail. Brandy Devin didn’t really care.

Once inside, she stood and read the directory encased in a glass box on the wall. Social Services, third floor. She walked to the elevator and pressed the call button. The doors slid open with a slight metal-on-metal scraping sound. Stepping inside, she pushed the lighted numeral three with a fingertip. Then she took a quick glance at her nail to be certain it had remained perfectly manicured. Two other people got in, and one was stopping on the second floor. Her gut clenched as the elevator rose with a groan. When the light above the door flashed two and the elevator bounced to a stop, so did Brandy’s stomach. Maybe if she hadn’t eaten, she would have done better, but her coffee and croissant sloshed. She swallowed hard only to repeat the sensation as the elevator came to a moaning stop on the third floor. She shuddered as she stepped off, and then pressed her hand against her abdomen as if she could somehow settle the contents of her shaken stomach. Ms. Allison Jackson. The name resonated in her mind with each step she took down the long hallway.

Yanking the heavy door open, Brandy discovered a no-frills office environment. The waiting area looked slightly dirty, toys were scattered around, and a half-dozen magazines with movie stars on the covers decorated the tables. A large TV was displaying a show about thrift shop finds. A shiver ran down Brandy’s back.

On the other side of a set of sliding windows, there was a reception desk. She walked to them, and a young woman opened the glass. Brandy put on a smile. “I’m here to see Ms. Allison Jackson.”

“And your name? Do you have an appointment?” The pink-haired gal behind the desk had a tattoo on her arm of either a phoenix rising from a fire or a lotus blossom with a butterfly. Lousy artwork.

“Brandy Devin. Yes, I do, at nine fifteen.”

“Have you been here before?” The woman snapped her gum, and the stud that protruded from under her lower lip moved as though it might fall out.

“No.” She tried to remember to smile, but she could no longer force it.

“Fill this out.” The gal handed over a clipboard with a form for food assistance.

“What for?”

“If you want help, we have to have your application. Now if you need help reading it, I will assist you.”

“I’m not here for any sort of assistance. I have no idea why I’ve been called to this office in this town.”

“Well, you don’t have to get snippy with me. Have a seat.”

Brandy turned and looked at the cloth-covered chairs that needed a good cleaning. Preferring her white Versace suit to remain white, she decided she’d stand. A police officer came in, flashed her badge at the pink-haired woman, opened a door, and vanished into the bowels of the office. Another woman came in with three children who appeared to be under the age of five. The children headed for the toys.

Brandy watched at the little ones who were shoving a plastic car back and forth a little too close to her feet. The problem was that there was no place to retreat. The room was cramped. The youngest child decided he wanted the plastic car and began to wail. The mother ignored all of it. Get me out of this place and as far away from children as possible. If I wanted kids, I would have had them. Another shiver ran down her spine.

“Ms. Devin?”

Brandy raised her gaze from the offending plastic toy and held her chin high. “Yes.”

“This way. I’m Allison Jackson.”

Brandy decided Allison probably wasn’t any more than a couple of years older than herself. Tiny and petite, she had on a pair of khaki slacks and navy-striped blouse that looked as though it had seen better days. Guess they don’t pay social workers very much.

“Right in here.” Allison motioned to her office. “I’d like you to meet Detective Krocken. She’s with the Brighton Police. Have a seat.”

Brandy quickly examined the chair before sitting in it. “What does all of this have to do with me?”

Allison Jackson sat behind her desk and opened a folder. “You are a twin, and your twin’s name is…”

“Breanna. What has she done?” She looked at the young detective. “She has a rather lackadaisical attitude about social conventions. But she’s never been in trouble. If she needs a lawyer…”

Detective Krocken leaned forward in her seat. “I get the impression that you were not close to your sister?”

“Were is past tense.” She glared at the officer. “I’ve not laid eyes on my sister for probably eight years. She calls me occasionally – usually when she needs money.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your sister won’t be calling you any more. She died five weeks ago,” the detective said softly. “My sincerest sympathies.”

“Dead?” The word reverberated through her. “Breanna is dead? Are you sure?”

The officer nodded. “She was crossing the street when she was hit by a car. She was taken to Mercy Hospital in Gatestown. She died two days later.”

“July twelfth?”

“Yes, that was the date of the accident. Did someone from the hospital contact you?” the officer asked.

“No, actually I was in L.A. that day, and I remember feeling as though I’d been punched, as though I’d had the wind knocked out of me. Every part of me seemed to ache, and the feeling lasted for several hours. I had to cancel some appointments and return to my hotel suite. I wasn’t certain if I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me, or if I was coming down with the flu. Two days later, I was home. I can’t explain it, but I felt horribly depressed as if part of me had been torn away. The feeling lasted for a few days and then lifted.” She looked in her purse for a tissue. When she found one, she wiped at her eyes. “I’m no longer feeling depressed. I did talk to my doctor about it. She said it was perfectly normal for women to have hormonal swings, which may cause a temporary feeling of depression.” Brandy inhaled, and her skin prickled. “I must have somehow sensed what happened to my sister.”

“I’ve heard that twins often share such things.” Allison Jackson nodded, and then asked, “Was there a falling out between you?”

“No. We were always different. I was studious, and she was the class clown. I was neat, and she was a slob.” Tears were trying to form. “But we’ve always been there for each other. It’s not easy to explain other than to say we were sisters – twins.” She dabbed the area under her eyes with the tissue.

Allison Jackson placed a box of tissues where Brandy could easily reach them.

Brandy inhaled a deep breath. “I went to college, and she got a two-bit job. The last time I saw her was at Mom’s funeral.” She wiped the moisture away again. “I was still in college and coming home every weekend to be with Mom. She’d take care of Mom on the weekdays.” She tried to compose herself and force a smile. “That was a long time ago.”

“Did you know your sister had a child?” Allison asked.

Child? “No. I didn’t know she was married.”

“She wasn’t. We looked for the baby’s biological father, but the child’s birth certificate doesn’t list one.” Det. Krocken flipped though some papers that were contained in a file. “At the time, we didn’t know of any family for Breanna. We did some research and found you.”

Allison Jackson jumped into the conversation. “Being you are the only living relative, we’d like to place the child with you.”

“Me? Child? My sister’s child? How old is this child?” Visions of a snotty nose ran through her head.

“Not quite a year old.” Allison looked through some paperwork. “Eight months the end of this month. She’s been placed in a temporary foster home until we could contact you and have you approved to take over the child’s care.”

“A little girl, Breanna had a little girl?”

“Yes, and as soon as we can get you approved–“

“What do you mean approved? If I am her aunt, she obviously belongs with me. I’m family! This is my twin sister’s baby. I am her family. There is no question as to where this baby goes.”

“Yes, agreed,” Allison said. “But we have to verify that you are capable of taking care of a child. We don’t want to jeopardize the child’s welfare.”

“Well, of course I’m capable of taking care of a child. How soon may I have her, and what is the child’s name?”

“Geraldine Devin. And it shouldn’t take very long to process you.” Allison stared at Brandy as though assessing a horse before placing bets.

Det. Krocken passed Brandy several papers. “We need to perform some official background checks, and we need your signature for us to do that.”

Allison passed several more papers to Brandy. “These are the other papers that we need to keep on file for you to become Geraldine’s legal guardian. There is a process that we must follow. Is there any reason that you know of that would possibly prevent you from guardianship?”

“Absolutely none!”

Brandy filled out so many forms that she lost track of how many she had completed. They gave her copies of each one. But inside she could feel herself crumbling. Losing Breanna seemed unreal. How could her sister be dead? Now she had no one. No family…none. At twenty-nine, she was an orphan. She was an orphan about to gain custody of an orphan. A child. A drooling baby that pees in a diaper. Oh ick! Breanna, what have you done to me? I hate you for doing this. What gave you the right to die and leave a child in my care? You are probably sitting on some cloud, laughing at this whole situation.

“It’s best if you don’t leave town until we can verify that you are who you say you are,” Det. Krocken said. “It will only take us forty-eight to maybe as much as seventy-two hours. Everyone is anxious to close this case.” The woman opened a tiny kit. “I will need your fingerprints. Let’s do this carefully. I’m sure you don’t want to ruin your suit.”

Brandy drove back to the small hotel where she was staying. Once in her room, she sat on the bed and looked around. The bedspread was done in shades of mauve, blue, and gold. The striped curtains matched the bedspread. It was about as generic as possible for a hotel. At least, the place was clean. She tried to imagine herself holding a baby. Instead she cried.

When she awoke, the room was dark. It took a second to remember where she was, and why she was in a hotel room. Realizing she was hungry sent her looking for nearby restaurants on her phone’s app. She found one that appeared as though it might have good food based on its website. Without wasting time, she changed clothes and left to find a respectable meal in a hick town.

The restaurant was decent, actually better than decent. The food was good. She finished eating and returned to her hotel room. Having several weeks of vacation coming to her, she made the decision to take them. Since she was going to have custody of a child, she needed to make a few arrangements. There had been several conversations with her boss about telecommuting. Now I will have to insist upon it.

She looked at a few of the papers Allison had handed her. Whatever Breanna had possessed was now held in storage. There were bills, and her sister’s body was in the morgue at the local funeral home, awaiting someone to claim it. The police report of the accident gave the gruesome details. I need to hire a lawyer. None of it would be pleasant.

I need another apartment, maybe a condo, because I’ll need a home office. Make a note to check the lease. She punched a few notes into her phone. I think I have six months to vacate if there is a child. Certainly, I can find something that isn’t going to require a pirate’s ransom every month. I hope. She pressed her fingertips to her forehead. Breanna, what have you gotten me into, and how am I going to survive it?

***

Ed Dautree was ready for a change. For the last five years, he had dated Brandy Devin. There was always chemistry between them. That constant sparkle had kept them together, but over the years, things changed. Brandy made it clear that she wasn’t interested in being married to him. That’s not what he wanted. She claimed she was married to her career. And she was constantly chasing that new big account. She had succeeded. She was good. She’s the best.

He had tried to get her to live with him in his penthouse condo. He even offered for her to take the bedroom with the view, but she had insisted that it would ruin their relationship. What relationship? I take you to dinner or a show, and you’d take me whenever you needed a date. Aside from that one time, that night that they had started kissing… Oh, yeah! Scared of the fire, Brandy? Is that why you’ve never allowed me to do more than kiss you, and you’ve never allowed me to kiss you like that again?

He walked out of his office for the last time and to his car in the parking garage. The feeling was bittersweet. His entire adult life had been spent with the company, and as a young boy, he could remember visiting his father’s office. It was the same one that he eventually occupied when his dad stepped back and gave him the company reins. He wasn’t certain he knew how not to work.

He needed to get away, a nice country estate someplace that he could call home. At forty-nine, he was retiring. He could do anything he wanted with his time.

After a short-lived, failed marriage, he had stayed out of the pool of money-hungry females and casually dated when he needed to have someone at his side for some function. Then he met Brandy. Tall, with what he considered smoky-blonde hair, even though she called it light brown, it fell just barely past her shoulders. She turned heads. Her curves were in the right places, but she could be as brutal as any man during negotiations. Her take-no-prisoners attitude was known in the corporate world. But unlike her male counterparts, Brandy always remained polished and feminine. Her smile could be deadly.

He admired her. She had drive and wasn’t fazed by his money. Sometimes she acted as though she couldn’t care less. A few casual dates turned into a monogamous arrangement. But Brandy wouldn’t cross the barrier, wouldn’t give in to him.

The concept of a house in the country and the genteel lifestyle that went with it appealed to him. He imagined Brandy at his side, dinner parties and barbecues with all the right people, and morning coffees as they sat on their porch. Gracious living in a beautiful setting made even better with Brandy in a silk negligee. Oh, yes. We’ll make a great team, Brandy. You can retire with me. My beautiful young wife…

No longer did he need to stay in the traffic and noise of the city. He’d keep his condo and return for all the cultural things that he enjoyed. But city life no longer appealed to him. Once on the expressway, he kept driving until he picked up the interstate, and when the interstate sign said the exit for Buxton Brighton was up next, he figured he’d take it and look around.

A few miles off the interstate, he concluded Buxton was a bedroom community for those who didn’t mind a long commute to another city about an hour away. Most of what had survived from the original town looked to be in bad shape. The Haves and the Have-nots. The area was covered in housing developments, each hawking the concept that it was gracious living. McMansions. Double incomes to pay for a little piece of land and a poorly designed house. And it seemed that at every turn, there was a cluster of stores and grocers of all varieties.

Eventually the suburban landscape yielded to farmland. Horses dotted fields enclosed with white fences and cows lazily stood in grassy pastures. He could feel himself relaxing. Over the rise, a small town was tucked in a valley.

The town of Brighton wasn’t very big and appeared as though it had been built in the late 1800’s or maybe early 1900’s. He could picture a sepia-colored photograph with Model T’s traveling through the streets. Slowing to the posted 25 MPH speed, Ed found himself almost laughing at the quaint little place. How does a florist even stay in business in such a small town? A realtor sign hung over a doorway. He stopped.

***

Craig Jenski was finally coming home. He’d been counting down the days. After enduring seven surgeries and months of rehab, he now was capable of walking without limping. He had three weeks to decide if he wanted to stay in the Navy and be permanently transferred to the desk job, or if he wanted to get out. He had no desire to return to farming and couldn’t imagine living as a civilian, but he had leave time coming to him, and he was taking it.

Growing up in Brighton had been boring. He was thrilled to be accepted at the Naval Academy and get as far away as possible. Shortly after graduation, he was assigned to the Navy SEALs. As a young officer, he couldn’t think of a better place to be. The physical training was tough even for the farm boy that he was. The adrenalin rush of an assignment was astounding, but it was cool-headed thinking and coordinated effort that got them through everything. Until he returned to the base… Who would have thought? Stuff happens.

He drove past The Village Apartments on the far side of town. I wonder if Breanna is still here? Oh, what a total free spirit. He could remember her laughing and saying that she didn’t do letters. No ties. Just live life. Enjoy the moment. Life is too short, and she wanted to relish it.

Thinking about her made him smile. She put the fun in coming home. Sometimes, he wanted someone like her. She had a lot of good qualities, but she never wanted to reach beyond Brighton or do anything important in life. She swore that life was just fine where she was. He wanted more.

The thought of children ran through his head. He had always imagined a houseful, a pack of boys to play football. He smiled and turned down the road that would take him to his parents’ house. I’m getting too old to think about a big family when I don’t even have a wife.

***

Brandy awakened to a gray rainy day. It fit her mood. She had a long list of things to handle concerning her sister, starting with her sister’s body, and then she’d tackle whatever possessions had been placed in storage. At the funeral home, she managed to get through the paperwork without falling apart. The local bank had escrowed whatever funds Breanna had. It wasn’t much. The post office had weeks of mail. The rain slowed to a drizzle. Brandy should have stopped for lunch, but she wasn’t exactly hungry, and she wanted all the loose ends behind her. The next stop was The Village Apartments and their storage area where all of Breanna’s worldly possessions had been placed. I can’t imagine her having anything I want or need.

At the far end of the apartments was a cinder block storage building. She followed an older man to one of the smaller storage units.

“We tossed all of the food items, anything considered perishable or open, including any cleaning products,” the man said, as he opened the compartment door.

“What am I supposed to do about the things I don’t want?”

“Just leave it. You’ll be asked to sign a paper allowing us to dispose of it.”

“Sounds good.” She stepped into the narrow room that was half the size of her walk-in closet. Furniture was stacked to the point that she feared it might fall on her. She saw a crib and realized she would need one, but what her sister had… No thanks. A few things were left from her mom’s home. But there was nothing that she wanted. She had taken a few mementos when their mom died. She remembered telling her sister to take the rest, even though her sister protested that wasn’t splitting possessions evenly. Whatever Breanna didn’t want and sold, she was to keep the money.

One carton contained a china box and in it were a few trinkets that Breanna had saved from childhood. Brandy kept that box for Geraldine. Another box contained some baby clothes, but nothing was worth keeping. After going through all the boxes, Brandy had saved only a few things for her niece. Brandy knew she wasn’t sentimental, but Breanna was. The family photo album that now contained a few pictures of Breanna with the baby, Brandy knew she had to keep the album for Geraldine. When all the boxes had been checked, there was only a tiny pile of things, and they wouldn’t require a very large box.

There was also a plastic bin filled with important papers, bills, and receipts. Surprisingly, Breanna was diligent about some things and obviously paying bills was something she took seriously, even though she never seemed to have enough money. Also in the bin were several important papers. Her mom’s death certificate, wedding certificate, divorce papers, and even her mom’s birth certificate were in a file. Brandy found her own birth certificate along with her sister’s. Mom must have had them. Brandy didn’t bother to do anything more than casually peruse the contents and knew the entire container needed to be kept. She could sort it later. Satisfied that she had everything she needed or wanted, she signed the paperwork allowing the contents of the storage area to be disposed.

The rain had ended before she left the apartments’ storage area. Now it was hot and muggy. Perspiration had soaked everything she was wearing. She went back to the hotel room, took a quick shower, and dressed for the evening in a casual pair of wolf gray slacks. Then she returned to the same restaurant where she had eaten the previous night. Sitting and shopping online with her phone, she found an adorable crib for Geraldine and several other things for the child at a store online. She ordered them and had them shipped to her apartment. Also, she found an ebook on babies, bought it, and began to read it while she ate. Immunizations, fevers, diaper rashes, teething, introducing foods. How am I going to manage to raise a baby? Oh, Breanna, why did you do this to me?

Back in the hotel, she flipped through the papers that Social Services had given her until she found the list of things she would need when the baby was delivered to her. She put the list in her phone and knew she needed to shop for everything else in the morning. Satisfied that she had done all she could for one day, she tried to settle down and sleep. But the loss of her sister washed over her, sending her into another round of tears.

When morning broke, she found a place that served breakfast and she asked the waitress where she might find some necessary baby items. Near Buxton there was a super-sized mart that was supposed to carry everything.

The mart was bigger than any store she’d ever visited. Acres of things under one roof, each proclaiming the lowest price anywhere. There was an adorable little stroller, but picking the right car seat was a bit complicated. Within a short time, she had managed to obtain everything she needed, except for the diaper bag. She hated each one she saw in the infant department. But in women’s accessories, she found a colorful beach tote with all sorts of pockets and bought that instead. In the grocery section, she looked at baby foods and formula. Teething? How am I supposed to know when a baby teethes? Breanna, if you were here right now, I’d kill you.

AoMS Christmas Boxed Set Coming Up Soon! Sneak preview!

  1. Hi All!

Sending out my best to all those affected by the Texas hurricane, and other disasters. We’re thinking about you all over the world.

I thought I’d share the first draft of Chaper 1 of the novella I’ll be including in our Christmas anthology, (You’ll have to read the boxed set for the final version, all 12 stories will only be 99c on Amazon!)

Once Upon a Vet School #7

Lena takes a Foal.  

It’s actually part of a series…and it’s in the middle. The others will be written out from there!

In case you don’t know, I’m an equine vet and have until now written awarded historical fiction and technical veterinary non-fiction. My writing buddies have been after me for ages to write these stories, so thank you to Authors of Main Street for offering me the opportunity to stretch my literary wings!

I hope you enjoy my first dip into contemporary fiction–my stab at becoming the next, albeit female, James Herriot!

Enjoy!

Let me know what you think!

xx

Lizzi

CHAPTER ONE

1986 Northern California

Mickey’s roan ears, silhouetted against the pale green light filtering into the tiny glade, rose higher and higher before me and my heart froze—he’d never reared this high before. The light disappeared as the horse’s massive body blocked out the sun. A blinding flash of pain, and then only blessed darkness.

***

Someone was there in the darkness before us. Biting my lip, I reined Mickey to a halt at the sight of a strange white pickup glowing in the light of the dim bulb above the stable yard. The barn door creaked as it swung open, then closed behind the tall figure of a man in the distance. No men boarded horses here.

Who was it?

I swallowed hard, glancing from side to side to see if anyone else was around, my fingers tightening on the reins. Mickey backed up a step, his bit clanking as he threw his head, and the figure turned to face us.

“Hello, who’s there?” he called out.

Kit Allen, a resident from the veterinary school. I let out my breath and shivered as the butterflies dancing in my stomach overtook even the throbbing in my leg.

“It’s me, Lena Scott,” I said.

He walked toward me and I squeezed my legs to move my horse forward before I thought. I yelped, but bit it off.

“What the heck are you doing out riding at this hour?” His brows narrowed as I rode up to him. “And what have you done to your face?”

“Ahhh…we had a…disagreement about going home.”

“Looks like the roan won. Bit late for a ride, isn’t it?” He set down a bucket of bandaging materials and held one of Mickey’s reins.

“I left mid-afternoon.” I said, wincing. “I only got as far as the glade, a few miles across the fields.”

“Are you OK?” He frowned as his eyes scanned the perfectly cool horse, then his gaze snapped to mine.

“I’ve hurt my leg.” My attempt at nonchalance came out as a whine. My left foot hung free of the stirrup—the leg hurt too much to do anything else.

“What have you done with Lena?” Kit muttered to the horse, as he moved to his near side and froze. He stared at the swelling bulging above the top of my boot, all the way to mid-thigh, then at my eyes, as comprehension dawned. “Is this horse called Mickey? What happened?”

I took a deep breath. I didn’t want anyone to know, especially someone from the vet school.

“Yes, it’s Mickey. He fell on me.”

“He fell? It’s flat out there.” His voice was terse and the furrows on his brow deepened further.

“He went over backwards,” I whispered, my heart in my throat.

“That riding school he came from should—” He stopped and gritted his teeth. “Anyway, you’re hurt.” His voice softened. “Can you get down?”

I shook my head.

“I was wondering how I’d get off,” I said, surveying the rickety old corral fences.

“Let me help.” He was tall enough to hold me around the waist and pull me carefully from the saddle. I whimpered at the pain when I bumped the leg and clamped my jaws together, then told the butterflies to go to play somewhere else while he lowered me to the ground.

I gasped when my bad limb hit the dirt.

“I’ll put him away and give you a ride.” Kit released me as soon as I was bearing weight on it.

“I can drive mys—”

“—good thing you were wearing that thing. There’s a great dent in it.” He raised a brow at me, eyeing the back of my helmet. “You were knocked out, weren’t you?”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“I don’t know.”

“Right. I don’t know what you’d planned, but you won’t manage the heavy clutch in your old truck with that leg, will you? I’ll take you to the hospital.”

“I hadn’t actually thought past getting back to the barn in one piece,” I mumbled, mostly to myself, as he led the horse away. I wrung my hands. “His feed’s made up,” I called after him.

“I’ll find it.” Kit slipped the girth as he walked and pulled the saddle off.

I limped to get my backpack, then closed my eyes, wishing my hot cheeks would cool down as I leaned against Kit’s truck—I recognized it now, it was a vet school ambulatory vehicle. Its metal panel cooled the burning abrasions on the backs of my arms. Maybe I should press my face against it, and the rest of my aching body.

I started when Kit spoke.

“Hop in,” he said, and led the roan into his stall. He growled something low at the horse, then exited the barn with my saddle over his arm.

“Can’t you get in?” he said, as he walked up.

I shook my head and glanced down at my swollen leg.

His eyes following mine, he grimaced, then picked me up with care and set me on the passenger seat.

“We need to get that boot off and get you to the hospital.”

“I’ll be fine at home, thanks.”

“You need the hospital.” His brows narrowed until they nearly touched.

“No. Thank you.”

He gritted his teeth in silence for a moment.

“How about student health?”

“I’ll be fine. They’ll tell me to elevate it, take anti-inflammatories, and rest.”

“Correct, but you should get checked out.”

“Can you please just check me?”

He sighed and pulled a penlight from his pocket, flicked it at my eyes, first one, then the other, then back and forth between them.

“Your light reflexes are normal, but that leg…”

“It’ll be fine. I’ve had worse.”

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

“Home it is, then, but get it checked out as soon as possible, OK?”

Every tiny bump in the road on the way home jarred my leg. By the time we got near home, I was nearly vomiting from the pain, but riding beside Dr. Kit Allen made up for a lot. For the past few years, he’d had my utter admiration—bordering on hero worship, though he didn’t know me from a bar of soap. Dr. Allen was a magician with horses. He really seemed to care about them—not just their diagnosis and treatment—but them. I glanced across the cab to his profile outlined by a streetlamp. Pretty drop-dead gorgeous, too, if you happen to like your classical tall, dark and handsome. And his way with horses—that really got to me.

I shook my head.

Just remember how tall, dark, and handsome turned out last time.

“Is there someone at your place that can help you with your boot? Getting it on—off, I mean?” He flushed in the glow from the dashboard lights and clamped his lips together.

I clamped my own to keep from grinning at his blush. Made me feel better about mine, but it wasn’t helping me keep my mind where it belonged, really. Residents weren’t meant to consort with students. I’d never spent time with him, other than reporting on his cases in ICU, and perving when he wasn’t looking. Though he had a sharp wit, he didn’t say much. He’d seemed stuck up and hailed from the snobbiest horsey town in our home county, so I’d kept my distance, despite his regular appearances in my dreams for the past several months. He’d been pretty nice tonight—maybe he was just shy. The butterflies started kicking again, and I told them to quit.

“My housemate Tamarah might be home.”

He let out a long breath and a hint of a smile touched his lips.

“You might get that field boot off before some idiot wants to cut it off…the only reason not go to the hospital, I guess,” he said, with the hint of a grin.

“Call me vain, but I’d almost rather cut off my leg than this Dehner boot—I’ve waited two decades to own a pair,” I said, and reached down to loosen its lace. “You’d understand about good boots.”

“How’s that?”

“Some comment I overheard in ICU, sorry,” my cheeks heated further, “about you showing hunter-jumpers—to the degree of resetting shoes between judges to change your horses’ movement.”

“We were kinda serious.” He grinned. “Good thing I worked my way through college as a farrier. Kept the bills down.”

No lights showed as we stopped before my house. This time he didn’t even ask if I could manage. He came around to my side, picked me up and carried me to the door as if weighed nothing. Desired or not, his face that up-close and personal was disconcerting, so I turned my heated cheeks away and fumbled with the house keys as we stood exposed in the light of the bare porch bulb.

Ten minutes later, after displaying more swearing and tears than I’d have preferred, we got the boot off, intact.

“There’s a bandage in the bathroom, top drawer, and naproxen in the cabinet,” I said, surveying the leg, already blue from my toes to the top of my thigh. The pain was pretty unbearable by now.

“Are these yours?” He shot me a look and held up my running shorts. My face smoked now. They’d been on the bathroom floor beneath some lacy panties.

I nodded, and he tossed the shorts to me and disappeared.

“Put them on, please,” he called from the bathroom. “I’d like to check that leg.”

Sounded like he was talking about a horse. I grinned, despite myself, and managed to peel my breeches down and off, then tugged the nylon shorts up as he returned with a compression bandage, pills and a glass of water.

Dr. Allen blinked at the leg, then checked the femur, tibia and fibula for stability. Taking the heel in one hand, he flexed, extended, and rotated the joints in all directions, but nothing crunched, while I bit my cheek. It’d be the hospital for sure, if I let myself scream.

“No crepitus, and the joints work fine. I’ll bandage it up, but you must get it looked at.”

I compressed my lips together. I had two weeks to recover before school and work started again.

Piece of cake.

***

For all my bravado, Tamarah, my fourth-year vet student housemate, still had to go with a friend to the barn the next day to pick up my truck and feed the horse—I wasn’t going anywhere.

“How did you get back?” Tamarah said, after she returned. “It’s a long way to the barn from where he dumped you.”

“Rode back,” I mumbled through a full mouth.

“Didn’t Mickey leave?”

“I had his reins in a death-grip when I woke up in the dark,” I said. “I learned young to keep hold of my reins when I fell off—riding boots aren’t exactly made for hiking home in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

“How’d you get back on him? That’s your mounting leg.” She frowned at my swollen appendage.

“Hopped to a fallen log, clinging to his mane, then clambered onto his back all anyhow, swearing and sweating like a demented thing. I still ache all over.”

“And you haven’t seen a doctor?” Tamarah said, glancing up from her granola.

“It’s OK, Dr. Allen checked it out.”

She blinked.

“Dr. Allen? The resident? Where did you see him?”

“He was at the barn when I rode in on Mickey.”

“That’s all very well,” she set down her spoon down carefully, “but he’s a vet. You need a human doctor.”

“Are you serious, Tam?” I stared at her. “They’ll put me in the hospital.”

“Where you belong,” she stated flatly.

“I can’t make my rent if I don’t finish typing Sarah’s doctoral dissertation before school starts again.”

“You can do that in hospital.”

“Yeah, I can’t even lift the electric typewriter, I’m sure that’s going to work. No, I’ll just have to take care of it at home. I can keep it elevated and massage the heck out of it.”

She shook her head as she rinsed her bowl in the sink.

“Besides, if I’m in hospital and miss classes, I’ll never catch up.”

“Of course you will.” Her brows narrowed at me. “Why didn’t Dr. Allen take you to the hospital?”

“He tried,” I said, wincing.

“Sometimes you have rocks in your head, girl.” Tamarah shook her head as she slapped my bowl down on the counter and stalked off.

Some people just seem to be born brilliant. Like Tamarah. Somehow I’d ended up with 150 of them in my vet school class. The rest of us work our buns off just to survive.

I’m not bitter, it’s just the way it is.

***

The jingle of the ice cream truck pulled me out of whatever internal medicine doctorate-dissertation trance I was in, typing myself stupid. I’d been stuck in bed with Sarah’s Previously Unknown E. coli in a Dog for nearly a week and I had a desperate urge to catch that truck—and snag me a chocolate gelato.

Never mind I could barely make it to the toilet.

With a frown at Tamarah’s makeshift desk sitting over my lap, topped by 35 pounds of IBM Selectric correcting electric typewriter, I bit my lip, held my breath and heaved. The typewriter budged…but not enough. I tried again and managed to get it off my legs, then I swung my legs over and dived for the door…but my leg was trapped in the sheet, wasn’t it?

I hit the floor with a grunt and a scream, then dragged myself to the doorframe and climbed up its slippery surface.

That ice cream had better be good.

I staggered down the hallway, leaning against the wall as I went. If I’d gone to the doctor, I’d no doubt have a crutch, but I had to decline, didn’t I? I nearly fell over Tamarah’s golden Labrador, who ran up to me with her leash in her mouth and a hopeful look in her big brown eyes.

“Watch out, Susie, not now,” I mumbled, then stumbled down the porch steps. I was limping across the lawn at a great rate of knots, when the brightly painted van, playing its merry tune, drove away in a cloud of diesel smoke.

I growled beneath my breath at the universe for denying me the chance to add inches to my waistline, then took a deep breath and looked up to see the mailbox. I might as well check it, now I was out here.

“Susie, what have you got?” I called out to the dog, as I reached into the mailbox. She looked at me, all big, innocent Labrador eyes, with a half-grown bunny draped through her mouth.

“Gently, gently,” I whispered, as I followed her into the bushes, dragging my screaming leg and picked up the leash she’d dropped. Any domestic type rabbit, like this Belgian Lop, running around in the middle of town must be someone’s pet. It was currently still alive, hyperventilating, its little chest heaving in triple time, but that could change in a heartbeat.

“Come on, Susie, give it here,” I cajoled, and waved her leash at her.

With a joyous look, she spat the rabbit at me and lunged for the leash. I dove for the bunny like a wide receiver making the final play in the end zone, quite forgetting for one brief moment that I only had one functional leg.

This time, I’m sure the whole neighborhood heard me swear.

I figured it must be time to exercise my leg, so Susie got her walk, after all. We returned to the house and I put the bunny in a box with some water and lettuce to calm down while I fashioned a rough—operative word, rough—crutch.  After loading the bunny into a backpack, while trying to prevent Labrador from helping, it snuggled down quiet, then we set off to tour the neighborhood. Susie’s enthusiasm helped me—I think—to hobble from house to house, while muttering imprecations under my breath, for the next hour until we found the little old lady whose granddaughter had brought it over to show it off last week—and forgot about it while it was grazing on granny’s back lawn.

They’d thought they’d never see it again.

Made my day.

***

A few days later, despite the hydrotherapy, massage, and loving care by Tamarah, the leg actually looked worse. Not content to stay a nice blue color, it had morphed to a camouflage pattern of purple, black and yellow. Understanding the medical significance of the color changes was all very nice, but it didn’t make the bruises resolve any faster.

“Do you want to see that blasted horse of yours?” Tamarah said,

“Really, you’ll take me?”

She scowled at my enthusiasm.

“I go there every day to take care of him, anyway,” she grumbled. “You might as well come along…on one condition.”

“What is it?” I was rather ungracious, under the circumstances. She’d been caring for Mickey and me since my fall. I peered sideways at her.

“We go by student health on the way back. I don’t want to come home from walking the dog to find you seizuring from a blood clot in your brain.”

Susie jumped to her feet at the W-word and spat her slimy tennis ball at me. I sidestepped and gave her a twisted grin, thankful, after the bunny incident, that the dog was good at hurling things with her mouth.

“My father would shoot me,” Tamarah continued smoothly, “if he knew I’d let you stay away from the doctor.”

That got me.

Tamarah’s daddy, a lovely man, was also a professor…at our veterinary school. I bit my cheek. He wouldn’t be impressed by my irresponsible behavior. Now was not the time to annoy his daughter. It’d also occurred to me that a more comfortable crutch could be useful when school started—in too few days.

“Thanks,” I managed, past gritted teeth. “I’d like that…the first part, but…I’ll go to the doctor.”

“Get a sock on that foot and we’ll go,” she said.

I hopped away as fast as I could, before she changed her mind.

While Tamarah cleaned his stall, I mooned over the fence at Mickey. The creature at least had the decency to look guilty when I limped toward him with his feed.

“Don’t even think about taking him for a walk, much less riding.” Tamarah stood between me and the tack room, with a look on her face that made me cringe.

I quashed the desire to ask for his halter and kissed his soft nose, instead.

***

“I’ll wait out here,” Tamarah said fifteen minutes later, with a triumphant smile, as she opened the car door for me outside student health.

“You should have come in right away,” the doctor said, with a frown. “You could have had a blood clot! How long has it been?”

“A week and a half,” I mumbled into my shirt.

“I see you rushed right in.” She scowled and shook her head. “What have you been doing for it?”

Her demeanor softened a little when I told her.

“I guess you’re out of the danger zone, anyway. I’d have hospitalized you.”

I nodded.

“So you start school next week? What are you studying?”

“Vet med.”

“Vet?” She blinked. “You should know bett—oh well,” she sighed, and scribbled in her notes. “Never mind. Small animals, I hope? Try to stay off it. Sit down while you’re treating your patients.”

I mumbled something incoherent, lacking have the heart to tell her I was Equine Track and worked as a Large Animal ICU Technician—galloping on foot between three barns, running IV fluids to twelve horses at a time, and tubing colicky horses all night. She’d have the vapors.

Oblivious to her patient’s dastardly plans, the doctor smiled and left me with a packet of anti-inflammatories and admonitions to rest, elevate it, and keep up the massage.

At least I could hold my head up in front of Tamarah again, but I was still rather glad school was about to start. While I appreciated her loving, if tight-lipped, care, I really didn’t need the pillow under my leg fluffed every fifteen minutes and if I kept drinking so many hot chocolates, I’d never fit my jeans again when the swelling in my leg eventually went down. I still hopped, but getting to class on time could be tricky—not travelling at my regular speed.

***

My friend Jess returned from a trip away with her family the night before classes were to resume.

“Did you see what our first lecture is tomorrow?” Her voice over the phone line leapt with expectancy.

I pulled the schedule from my bag, where it had lain, forgotten, since the final day of last quarter. One glance, and my grin at her excitement vanished. Spots swam before my eyes as I read the title on the first lecture:

Dystocia: Difficult Birth in the Mare and Determining the Need for Surgical Intervention

I nearly dropped the phone.

Not dystocia. Not foaling difficulties.

Anything but that.


 

I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter One of Once Upon a Vet School, volume 7! To read the final version and the rest of my story, and eleven more, you’ll have to see our Christmas Boxed Set, out SOON!!!!!

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xx

Lizzi