Empty Nesting Children & Grandchildren

Cutting those apron strings can be difficult and lead to mixed emotions. Many of them.

It’s a struggle to say the least.

It’s also a time for parents to reconnect.

I don’t know how you feel, but an empty nest applies to Grandchildren as well as our Children.

Oh sure, your daily chores will lighten, but I’d rather have dirty dishes in the sink, loads of laundry and everything else that goes along with teenagers being themselves.

On the other hand, sending our children out into the world to learn, to grow, to be self-reliant are some pretty awesome, proud and healthy moments.

Our Grandson is headed to college in July, immediately after graduation in June.

I don’t know if he simply wants to get some college time behind him, or if he’s ready to assert his independence! It’s likely he also has a mixture of eagerness and maybe a few anxious thoughts.

Whatever he feels, we’re proud of our Grandson and stand behind him in any and everyway we possibly can.

One Year Anniversary

It was one year on the sixteenth of this month since I’ve had neurosurgery.  Is it a reason to celebrate? I happen to think so. After thirty years of unbelievable pain and another ten years prior where the pain was occasional and not diagnosed because it was random, the pain was finally over – sort of. It’s been a strange journey. Two gamma-knife procedures, the first in 2007 and one in 2016 were followed with an injection of a chemical into the nerve before that year ended, and still some of the pain continued. After serious consideration, I made the decision that I’d go for the invasive procedure in 2018. Each surgery helped but didn’t put an end to it until this last one.

They had me on medication. Normal pain killers don’t touch this sort of pain. They chemically attempted to control the pain but tricking the brain into not sending signals.  Except that drug has side effects – serious ones. I was lucky I was able to tolerate it. And the drugs were expensive. In the last few years, the drug cost me over $600 a month and that was with insurance paying a portion of it. After spending years on this medication, coming off of it could cause seizures and all sorts of horrible things. The medication also lowered my salt levels to dangerous low levels. It made me gain weight. The list of things it did is lengthy.

Surgery came at a cost. There are all sort of odd things as a result of the surgery. When they destroy the nerve, they destroy the feeling. I don’t feel pain, I’m numb. I didn’t realize just what that would really be like. It’s like going to the dentist and being numbed and trying to drink. It’s accidentally chewing on my tongue, lip, and the inside of my cheek. It’s keeping the skin from breaking down on my face. A little scratch can become a huge problem for me. I fight chapping of the skin. The inside tissue of the nose broke down and that was another fight.

Makeup? I couldn’t wear any for ages and I’m still very limited. I can’t get anything into my eye.  No powders, no creams, no eye liner allowed in the eye, and I don’t dare miss and stick the liner pencil into my eye.

But probably the worse thing that happened was my eye was damaged at some point during or right after surgery. The surface of the eyeball was sliced off. I’ll never know how it got damaged and there’s been some very good educated guesses by the eye doctors.  It was just something that happened. It was complicated by the the eye being numb. Numbness prevents the body of sending notices to the brain to come fix things. So the eye couldn’t tell the brain to fix it.

No matter how I look at what happened, no one did anything on purpose. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and say stuff happens. I came out of surgery blinded in the right eye. I almost lost the eye. They talked about my eye melting and I figured that was a lay term to explain what was happening. Nope, it’s a real term. It didn’t melt. The eye doctors on my team were very aggressive and they saved the eye and my sight! The good news is, a year later the eye is healed. My sight has changed – big time! But it’s being corrected to 20/20. That is amazing. And a big thanks to stem cells and their proteins! There’s still a slight haze in a cornea layer and there’s still hope that the slight ever so thin cloud of scar tissue will vanish.

Setting  aside my eye problem, I’m lucky. What was basically a nine and a half hour procedure…I came through with flying colors. I awakened the next morning in the neuro ICU with both my daughters at my side and my granddaughter followed them. Long story short, my doctor came into the room and asked how I was. I was one happy camper. My fingers worked, my toes worked, and I could still think.  He told me ahead of time that I would spend three to five days in the hospital and he expected me to be five.  So I jokingly said, I get to go home today, right? He looked at my daughter who is an RN and asked if she was taking me home. Her answer was of course! (We’ve known this doctor since 2006 and he knows my daughter.)  He looked at me and then my daughter and said okay.  HUH??? I went home with my daughter. Okay, there were some caveats to my leaving, but we are all fine with them. And if my daughter weren’t an RN and hadn’t established a professional relationship with my doctor, I probably would never been allowed to leave.

So a year later, I’m here. The nerves are regenerating. That’s a horrendously slow process that I wish would be faster.  I now have some feeling on the right half of my tongue and that means I’m tasting things a little more. I hadn’t even thought that the surgery would remove my ability to taste. I never dreamed my hearing might change slightly, because the skull behind the ear was replaced with “plastic”. Or that the “plastic” would transfer heat really fast, so I must be very careful when washing my hair not to use water that is more than tepid. I can’t tell if the right side of my face is getting rinsed under the shower head. I can’t feel the water on it.

I never dreamed I’d have some of the strangest and often not the most pleasant sensations as the nerves regenerate.  I get headaches occasionally. Something I’ve rarely had. Related or not, I have no idea.  They don’t last more than a few minutes. But all these small things are just small things.

So much can go wrong during surgery – even with things that are considered just minor surgical procedures. I lost a dear friend after minor outpatient surgery and another friend suffered a stroke after her test procedure. Anything can be dangerous and what I had done could have had a horrible outcome.  But it didn’t. Needless to say, I really dread ever having another surgery for any reason and hope I will never need one. Maybe I’ve used up all my nine lives. (Do humans have nine lives, too?) Whatever, I’m here and I’m enjoying life.

I’m celebrating. And the big question is… Would I do it again knowing what I know now?  Yes. And as long as I can say yes,  I know I made the right decision.

It’s been a productive year as I’ve written quite a few things. And I’m glad I’m writing and my muse hasn’t gone on hiatus.  Writing is what I do and I love it.  It’s my job.

Here’s an upcoming book available on pre-order on Amazon!

And a little sneak preview. (Unedited version)

 

 

Two flights of stairs, and several hallways led from Arabelle’s attic room on the third floor, to the children’s schoolroom on the first floor. Her biggest problem was meals. She had to negotiate an extra hallway and a set of narrow steps to the basement’s kitchen. If she was lucky, Mr. Harrod wasn’t waiting for her. She hated when he grabbed her.

She rounded the corner to enter the kitchen staircase when a hand clasped her elbow. She didn’t need to wonder whose hand had captured her. His other fat hand roamed over her chest, and he gave a slight squeeze as he did.

“Good morning, Arabelle. You are up early today.” His hot breath could be felt on the nape of her neck.

“Please release me, Mr. Harrod. I wish only to break my fast.”

“A body such as yours needs more than food. My wife intends to visit her sister next week. I will devote my time to you and show you the pleasures of my wealth.”

If there had been anything in her stomach, she might have vomited. She propelled herself away from him and then heard his laugh as she went down the stairs.

In the kitchen sat an envelope addressed to her. She picked it up and wondered what it would say this time. Slipping the letter into her pocket, she would read it when she was alone. There was no reason to alarm anyone.

That evening when she retired to her room, she took out the envelope and read its brief message.

I want my money.

Twice more that week Mr. Harrod caught her, and each time he became more aggressive. That last time, she knew she had to leave immediately. If she stayed, he would ruin her. Bile rose up the back of her throat and she swallowed hard. During her midday meal, she told the cook that she was quite ill. “Please inform Mrs. Harrod that I will not be teaching the children this afternoon.”

Arabelle decided that she would be gone from this house before the clock struck midnight. No longer could she stand another pawing from Mr. Harrod or his hot, alcohol-laden breath upon her skin. The man made her flesh crawl. If she could leave without being seen, she was certain the letters would also stop, for no one would know where she had gone.

The problem was that the Harrods were supposed to be a good Christian family. Everyone knew they were patrons of the church. They could be counted on for extra money whenever there was a need. Accepting a job as governess to their children was considered a plum. At the time, Arabelle felt honored to be able to teach the young sons when she finished her schooling. Little did she know what was awaiting her. When she tried to tell the nuns who had placed her what was happening, they refused to listen and blamed her for arousing the master of the house.

In her bedroom, the afternoon sun filtered through a small window that she had opened to allow the trapped heat in her attic room to escape. Every Sunday morning, for the last four months, she had sat by the small window reading the letters that a Mr. Claude Rumstiller had sent. His penmanship was plain and lacked the flourishes of men who had attended better schools. But each letter was neat and properly aligned as though he had used a ruler. It was very easy to read. But this was a Thursday, and the ruckus from the children floated up the stairs to her room. She no longer cared if the boys destroyed the entire house. Enough is enough.

Arabelle looked at the letters and tried to decide if she wanted to marry this stranger. She could stay where she was and put up with Mr. Harrod – although death would be better than bedding the master of the house. It was one thing to teach four spoilt children, and quite another to succumb to the man’s constant sexual invitations. Had he no care for his own wife, the mother of his children? Rumor had it that he had taken the scullery maid to his bed every chance he had. When she was with child, he tossed her out and would not acknowledge his own offspring. Certainly marrying a man with an honest job was better than staying where danger lurked in every hallway.

From an envelope posted in Morgan’s Crossing and mailed to the Longwood Bridal Agency, she withdrew the first letter from Claude.

Greetings Arabelle,

I’m thrilled that you’ve answered my letter to the agency. I’m not exactly certain what to tell you, but I’ll do my best. I read and write. No one has had to help pen my letters, although I am without a proper writing desk. My home is quite humble and I have no complaints, as it is mine alone. I live in town, but I’ve been saving for a piece of land. Homesteading is popular and it’s easy to see why. The lure of untamed land is exciting. Unfortunately, many who attempt it fail. Frequently the city boys will try it. They have no idea how to live off the land. Others might know how to herd a few animals, but they aren’t savvy enough to succeed.

I’m a farm boy and the third son. My family’s farm goes to my oldest brother. I wound up here in Morgan’s Crossing working for my father’s friend, Mr. Michael Morgan. He’s the nicest boss anyone could have, and he takes good care of his workers. It’s a small town in the middle of no place. Mountains are on one side of town and the prairie is on the other. Mr. Morgan owns a gold mine. I work the mine’s stamp. The stamp breaks the rock into powder so that it can be separated from the gold, or rather the gold from the rock. It’s a mechanical job and I’m responsible for daily operations.

I would like to find a place to homestead where I can build a house and settle down as a rancher. As much as I admire Mr. Morgan and appreciate my job here, I want more. That includes a family of my own.

I do hope that you are willing to help me achieve my goals. As promised, I will give you time to decide on marriage once you have arrived. If I do not suit you or you find me objectionable, I will provide you with the money to return.

Yours truly,

Claude Rumstiller

It was the first of many letters. Each she had read multiple times. Every letter seemed better than the one before it, and all of them held the promise of an exciting life. And Mr. Rumstiller was romantic enough to stir something inside of her. She bundled the letters and put them away. She didn’t have time to think of love. Besides love was elusive, an unknown entity. Having been raised by nuns, she’d been cared for and educated, but she couldn’t say she was loved, although Sister Mary Elizabeth did seem to care more than the other nuns at the orphanage.

Arabelle watched other people. The quick kiss that someone stole before hopping on the trolley, and the mother who hugged her crying child. The young couple walking arm in arm, stealing occasional kisses. She had never experienced any of these things. No one had ever kissed her. How could she love somebody when she didn’t know what love was?

Arabelle read through Claude’s letters one more time. She didn’t need to do it. Each had been memorized as they arrived. This was her chance at a life of her own. The nuns had given her more than enough cash. Passage wasn’t the problem. She had nowhere to go, Claude was her only hope for a future. With an old carpetbag for her possessions, she determined she could buy whatever she needed when she arrived.

Visit https://www.indieartistpress.com/ for all my books.

Daffodils and a Grand Dame

is (1)The world is coming together to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral. That is testimony to humanity and what living history means to so many.

There are many parts that cannot be recreated with exactitude. That leaves room for creating something beyond compare – a testament to human creativity and the search for beauty in today’s world.

I think that’s beautiful.

gary-smith-daffodils-flowers-covered-in-snow-norfolk-ukIt reminds me of the daffodils peeking out from this week’s snow here in Wisconsin. Hope and something wonderous rises despite adversity. Not because of it, but in spite of it. The daffodils in my garden are never the same, year after year, even though they come from the same bulbs. This year they are shorter than last, yet just as plentiful. That may have something to do with the snow. It might have something to do with age. It doesn’t matter – the daffodils blooming now always bring a smile.

isAnd in the fall, I’ll plant more bulbs, eagerly waiting for them to usher in Spring 2020. I am also now saving to  visit Notre Dame Cathedral in 2026 or 2127. With any luck and a whole lot of human heart put into action, that grand dame will open her doors once again.

 

Happy Eastertide for those who celebrate. May hope rise in all our hearts today and throughout the year.

Leigh

BICHOK?

No, not a new food delicacy. It is an acronym for Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. For writers, it means to get that butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard…and write. But while we are getting those word counts in and the chapters accumulating, something else is growing…our butts! LOL

Writing isn’t everything, although with deadlines, it sometimes seems that way. The voices scream in your head and you have to get the stories out onto the paper or the computer screen. Your health is so, so important too. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, aches, pains, headaches, all take you away from what you love to do.

I have a bad habit of going gung-ho into a new workout routine and burning out after a week or so, so I really enjoy the workouts that start slow and build up as you strengthen your muscles and get a healthier routine going.

This is my fave!!! The Buns, Guns, and Abs Challenge. It works the buns and thighs, the arms, and the abs. You do a few of the exercises at the beginning and each day is a little more and a little more until you are doing massive numbers at the end. What I try to do is do it every day (like writing) and try to get to the end without missing a day. If I miss a day I have to go all the way back to Day 1. 😦 Not something I want to do, so I try to not miss a day.

I’m starting back at Day 1 today. Join me in the challenge!

Email me with I’ll take the challenge and I’ll enter you in a drawing for (one) signed paperback copy of Ghostly Intentions (should be available this coming week!)


Jill James, romance writer

Escape to New Zealand

My latest story collection is on preorder, and will be out on 23 April. All the stories have been published in other collections, but I thought I’d bring together all the stories I’ve set in New Zealand so far.

Inside the covers, you’ll find two historicals and the three contemporary romantic suspence novellas I’ve written for Authors of Main Street. Pick up your copy to escape to New Zealand for a mental holiday.

(All the covers except A Family Christmas are by my friend Mari Christie. Aren’t they gorgeous?)

The historicals

Step into the 1860s in All That Glisters, set in Dunedin at the time of the first gold rushes. It was first published in Hand-Turned Tales.

Rose is unhappy in the household of her fanatical uncle. Thomas, a young merchant from Canada, offers a glimpse of another possible life. If she is brave enough to reach for it.

 

 

Forged in Fire is set in geothermal country just outside of Rotorua in 1886, and was first published in the Bluestocking Belles’ collection Never Too Late.

Forged in fire, their love will create them anew.

Burned in their youth, neither Tad nor Lottie expected to feel the fires of love. The years have soothed the pain, and each has built a comfortable, if not fully satisfying, life, on paths that intersect and then diverge again.

But then the inferno of a volcanic eruption sears away the lies of the past and frees them to forge a future together.

The contemporaries

These were all previously published in collections by Authors of Main Street.

A Family ChristmasShe’s hiding out. He’s coming home. And there’ll be storms for Christmas.

Kirilee is on the run, in disguise, out of touch, and eating for two. Rural New Zealand has taken this Boston girl some getting used to, but her husband’s family and her new community have accepted her into their hearts. Just as well, since she’s facing Christmas and the birth of her baby without the man who wed her and sent her into hiding. What will he think when he comes home and discovers he’s a father?

Trevor is heading home for Christmas, after three years undercover, investigating a global criminal organization. He hasn’t spoken to his sister and grandfather since the case began. He hasn’t spoken to Kirilee, his target’s sister, since the day nearly nine months ago he married her and helped her escape. Will she want to stay married? And if so, will he?

In the heart of a storm, two people from different worlds question what divides and what unites them.

 

 

Abbie’s Wish: Abbie’s Christmas wish draws three men to her mother. One of them is a monster.

After too many horrifying experiences, Claudia Westerson has given up on men. She’s done everything possible to exorcise the men in her life, short of changing her name and appearance. They’re unpredictable, controlling and, worst of all, dangerous. Besides, all her energies are devoted to therapy for her daughter, Abbie, who is recovering from a brain injury.

But after Abbie is photographed making a wish for Christmas, Claudia begins receiving anonymous threats, proving her quiet refuge is not nearly hidden enough.

Who can she trust? Three men hope to make her theirs:

  • Jack, the driver from her daughter’s accident
  • Ethan, her daughter’s biological father
  • Rhys, a local school teacher and widower.

They all sound sincere, but which one isn’t?

 

 

Beached: The truth will wash away her coastal paradise

Grieving for the grandparents who raised her and still bruised from betrayals in New York City, Nikki Watson returns to her childhood home in Valentine Bay.

Zee Henderson has built a new life in New Zealand: friends, a job he enjoys and respect he earned for himself, without the family name and money he left behind.

The attraction between Nikki and Zee flames into passion, until Zee’s past arrives on their doorstep and washes away their coastal paradise.

Buy links:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Hearts-Land-Ferns-Tales-Zealand-ebook/dp/B07NDT826B

Amazon Aus: https://www.amazon.com.au/Hearts-Land-Ferns-Tales-Zealand-ebook/dp/B07NDT826B/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hearts-Land-Ferns-Tales-Zealand-ebook/dp/B07NDT826B

Apple iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/hearts-in-the-land-of-ferns-love-tales-in-new-zealand/id1451855017?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ww/en/ebook/hearts-in-the-land-of-ferns-love-tales-in-new-zealand

Barnes & Noble Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130533818?ean=2940155970781

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/921843

An Armchair Trip to Ireland

Do you love destination romance novels? I do. Growing up, I was wild about Mary Stewart novels. Not only were they a pitch-perfect blend of mystery and romance, they were also often set in exotic locations. My new destination romance series is more humorous than mysterious, but they do include some fun armchair traveling.

The first destination is Ireland. I’m so excited about this story! It’s currently up for pre-order on Amazon at an introductory price of $2.99. You can get it here Two more destination romances are planned, the second is to Tuscany and the third to Russia. Because I’m experimenting with rapid releases (and making myself a little nuts) the books are coming fast furious: Ireland April 20th, Tuscany May 20th, Russia June 20th.

Irish Wishes (1)

Home-loving Gillian thinks she’s happy – she has a safe, reliable job working at her local library, good friends, and a sweet gig as the choir accompanist for her church. But her orderly life is turned upside down on her 25th birthday when she inherits the contents of a safety deposit box that will send her on a trip to Ireland.
Work-alcoholic Pete has always done his billionaire-father’s bidding, so when his dad sends him to Ireland to fetch his little step-sister he can’t refuse.
But billionaire JW has a few tricks up his sleeve and the journey he’s planned takes Gillian and Pete on a trip they’ll never forget. Castles, boating on the River Liffey, the haunted ruins of the Hell’s Fire Club, and the breathtaking beauty of the Irish countryside—this is one journey that has more twists and turns than either of them could ever have imagined…

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If you’re looking for a some good reads closer to home and available now. You can get dozens here!

But if you want to read the beginning of Irish Wishes, you can do that right now, too.

Sign up for Kristy’s newsletter to get the scoop on new releases, specials, giveaways, and a FREE BOOK: Click here https://www.subscribepage.com/x9x2b4

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Gillian lacked faith in numbers. Of course, since she was a librarian and not a math teacher, this was to be expected. Words were to be trusted; numbers, especially when it came to predicting the future, were far less reliable.

Flora felt differently, and she slammed her hand on the table to emphasize her point. “It’s the power of three!” Some people called them twins from different mothers, because in looks—moderate height, fair skin and hair, green eyes—they were similar. Even their staunch Christian values were the same, but when it came to numerology, they differed dramatically.

Why three had any more power than five or ten, Gillian didn’t know, but rather than point this out to her friend, she sipped her tea and glanced around the crowded and noisy sidewalk café, willing someone to come and rescue her. Typically, she couldn’t go anywhere without someone she knew from the school or choir stopping her for a chat, but not today.

“The whole thing…it’s suspicious, isn’t it?” Gillian picked off a morsel of her donut and put it in her mouth. She and Flora were supposed to be celebrating the end of the school year, not arguing. She almost regretted ever telling Flora about the mysterious safety deposit box. “I mean, why did the attorney send the notification to the school and not the house? If it had gotten lost in the mail, there was a real chance I wouldn’t have even seen it until after the break.”

“It came at the perfect time,” Flora said.

“Well, it came on my twenty-fifth birthday, as my mom had arranged.”

“Probably because she didn’t want your gram to get ahold of it. Which is also why the letter was sent to the school instead of the house.”

Gillian frowned at her donut. It had turned her fingers sticky, and somehow she’d managed to eat half of it without even noticing. “But my mom couldn’t know I would be working at the school.” Her voice cracked as it often did when she talked about her mom. In just ten years, she’d be the same age as her mom had been when she’d died.

“But she might have known you’d end up with your grandmother.”

Gillian held up her hand and twisted it so the emerald-cut sapphire and surrounding diamonds caught the sun and sent rays of light across the table.

“There were three things in the safety deposit box, right?” Flora asked. “The money, the ring, and the diary.”

“Yes, but I really don’t see—”

“Things come in threes! It’s a proven fact.”

“Proven by whom? As far as I know, only triplets come in threes.”

But Flora was on a roll and didn’t want to listen. “First, you got the letter about the safety deposit box, which contained three things. Second, the offer from Traverse Magazine. And third, they both arrived right as school ended for the summer.”

Gillian scowled. “The summer was going to come no matter what, Flora. It always does.”

“But don’t you see? If the offer from Traverse Magazine had come at any other time of the year, you wouldn’t be able to go. And since you discovered all that money in the safety deposit box, you can afford to go.”

“Leslie Tremaine—that’s the editor in chief—offered to pay all my expenses.” Even she heard the touch of wonder in her voice. “Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”

“Why? You’re a gifted photographer and writer.”

“But there are thousands, maybe even millions, of blogs. How did she find mine? I mean, very few people actually do.”

“Did you ask her?”

“No. I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“I never understood what that even means,” Flora muttered.

“It means if someone gives you a horse, don’t inspect its teeth. It’s rude. But I don’t want to get to Ireland and find the whole thing is some sort of ruse.”

Flora shook her donut in Gillian’s face. “That is exactly something your gram would say. Along with that whole gift horse saying. Did you tell her about the safety deposit box?”

Gillian fought back a wave of guilt. “No. I’m not sure I’m going to.” She’d never been very good at keeping secrets, especially from Gram. Her grandmother had an eerie sixth sense that had always terrified Gillian.

“You shouldn’t,” Flora said, her disdain for Gram dripping in her voice. “Have you had the chance to read the diary yet?”

“Of course. I stayed up all night.” She smiled at the memory. “Reading Mom’s writing was like being introduced to someone I thought I knew, but didn’t. Someone witty and charming.”

“And probably beautiful.”

“I already knew that about her.” Memories of her Taylor Swift-beautiful mom flashed in Gillian’s head.

“Did the diary mention your father at all?”

Gillian shook her head. “But it does mention some of my mom’s friends.” She took a bite of her donut, chewed, and swallowed before adding, “I’d like to meet them.”

“Another reason to go to Ireland.”

“I know, but…”

“But what?” Flora asked.

Gillian made a face. “It’s all too neat and tidy. Contrived, even.”

“You like neat and tidy! You thrive on neat and tidy! You’re a librarian, for Pete’s sake.”

A sudden vision of her stepbrother, Pete, flashed in her mind. Witty, lanky, honey blond hair falling across his forehead, baby blue eyes framed by surprisingly dark lashes. She banished his memory to the back of her mind…where he belonged.

“What is it?” Flora asked, sitting up.

“What’s what?” Gillian asked, returning to the here and now—Rose Arbor, a tiny town near the Washington coast, where she lived with her grandmother.

“That look!”

“What look?”

“You had a wistful sort of look on your face.”

Gillian schooled her expression and gave a half-hearted I don’t know what you’re talking about sort of shrug. She had to be careful with Flora. They’d been friends since their senior year of high school. Both had been new to Rose Arbor, making them outsiders in the small, tight-knit community. Gillian and her gram had frequently moved, for no reason that Gillian could point to, during the first two years after Gillian’s mother’s death, while Flora had been a runaway taken in and nurtured by the pastor’s wife. They’d bonded in choir, and after graduation, they’d both worked hard to put themselves through college.

It had surprised both of them when they’d ended up back in Rose Arbor, working at the middle school, but they were practically sisters now. Flora could read Gillian like a book from Gillian’s library.

Flora sighed. “You’re hopeless. I’m telling you, if you don’t go, I will.”

Gillian cocked her head. “Would you come with me?”

“Serious?” Flora brightened.

“Sure. If you’ll come with me, I’ll go. I’ll even pay for your flight.”

“When would we go?”

Gillian shrugged. Now that she’d made the offer, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with it because there was still the matter of how in the world she’d explain it all to Gram.

As if bidden, Gillian’s phone buzzed with a text. She pulled it out of her cat-shaped backpack and frowned at the text. “It’s from Gram. She needs me to pick up her hemorrhoid cream from the pharmacy.”

“Your gram texts?” Surprise flickered across Flora’s face.

“No, she gets Harold to do it.” Gillian texted a yes before dropping the phone back into her bag. She zipped it up as if that could keep the gram-time to a minimum.

“Who’s Harold?”

“The man next door. He pretty much does everything Gram tells him to do. She pays him with baked goods.”

“Interesting,” Flora murmured. “Let’s get back to planning our trip! I can’t go until after Sicily’s wedding.”

“That works.” Gillian polished off her donut, and her mood lifted. “Are we really doing this?”

“Absolutely! Why wouldn’t we?”

“What if it’s a scam?”

Flora laughed. “It’s an all-expense-paid trip to Ireland! What could go wrong?”

 

#

 

Gillian walked the few blocks from Olympic Avenue, Rose Arbor’s main street, to her gram’s house on the corner of Elm and Maple. Steam rose from the sidewalk, sending the scent of warm and wet cement into the air. It was petrichor, the smell that lingers when rain falls after a prolonged dry spell, caused by a chemical reaction.

Where had she learned that word? From Pete. He had always liked science and as a kid had tinkered with a chemistry set and experiments. What was he doing now? Why would she care? He and her stepfather had abandoned her long ago. She didn’t need to spare either of them a thought.

Mrs. Grimes, a gray-haired woman dressed in a floral housecoat and fuzzy slippers, and her yappy Pekinese, Petunia, rounded the corner.

“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Grimes called in her cultured British accent that always made Gillian think of a Masterpiece Theatre production.

“Good afternoon, Mrs.  Grimes.” She stooped to tickle Petunia between the ears. Petunia received the attention as if it were her due.

“Headed home, are you?”

Gillian stood and nodded.

Mrs. Grimes leaned forward to whisper, “Well, I thought I’d give you a heads up. That Tod Bingham is parked in front of your grandmother’s house.” She winked conspiratorially. “Just in case you want to take another loop around the neighborhood.”

“Oh, thank you.” Gillian bit her lip. She didn’t mind Tod. They’d been friends in high school, but his overeagerness wore on her. She knew that if she’d agree to it, he’d marry her in a second, even though they’d never even been on a date.

“If you’d like,” Mrs. Grimes said, “I could give you Petunia’s lead and you could take her to the park.”

“Oh, no. Thank you, though.” She’d rather face Tod than walk the bad-tempered dog.

Mrs. Grimes wilted with disappointment. “Well, maybe some other time.”

“Sure thing. Have a good day.”

When Gillian caught sight of the patrol car parked in front of her gram’s bungalow, her steps faltered. What was Tod doing here? With her lips pressed into a straight line, and feeling like she was walking before a firing squad, she passed through the front gate and climbed the steps up the porch. She listened to the murmured conversation inside for a moment, catching the words break-in and trespassers, before she pushed open the door.

The conversation halted as soon as she entered.

Her gram sat on the sofa, holding a pair of knitting needles in her hands and a ball of yarn in her lap. Gram ordered her clothes from a catalog company that sold cardigans, floral blouses, and coordinating polyester pants in bright colors. Her sunny clothing usually sharply contrasted with her mood and facial expressions that ranged from distaste to dissatisfaction.

Tod stood in the center of the room, looking, as he always did, like a St. Bernard. He not only had the same build and fuzzy hair—albeit close-clipped—but he also always had a Dudley Do-Right, hopeful expression that Gillian found sweet but also annoying.

Chester, the cat, jumped off the sofa and came to rub himself against Gillian’s ankles.

“What’s going on?” Gillian asked, scooping up Chester and hugging him to her chest.

But then she spotted her mom’s diary on the coffee table and a terrible dread swept through her. She moved to snatch it up, but Gram dropped the needles, grabbed the book, and shook it in Gillian’s face.

“Do you want to tell me about this?” Gram’s face flushed an angry red and the whites of her eyes took on a yellow hue.

“It’s my mother’s diary,” Gillian said in a strangled voice.

Gram’s tight gray curls shook with fury. “How did it get in the house?”

“I brought it here.” Gillian skated Tod a curious glance. “Why did you call the police?”

“When I found it in your room,” Gram straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, “I thought for sure someone had broken in.”

Gillian edged closer, hoping to get her fingers on the diary. If she needed to, she could take on her gram. “What were you doing in my room?”

“Just tidying up.”

Tidying up? Her room was as clean and sterile as the library. “You don’t need to tidy up my room.”

“It’s my house, isn’t it? I can go in any room I like.”

Gillian blinked as a sudden thought rocked through her. With the money from the safety deposit box, she could afford to move out.

As if she could read Gillian’s thoughts, Gram snorted, horse-like. “This is a lie! I knew your mother much better than you ever will, and this did not belong to her. Where did it come from?”

“An attorney notified me of a safety deposit box.”

“An attorney?” Gram’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What attorney? Where’s his office?”

Doubts tickled in the back of Gillian’s mind. Of course, if her mom had taken out a safety deposit box, it would have been in a bank in New York—not Seattle. But that diary…it had to belong to her mother, she was sure of it. “Give it back!”

Gram stood and moved to the fireplace, where flames blazed.

Horror swept through Gillian. “Don’t you dare!” She darted in front of her Gram. “Tod! Do something!”

“Now, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod lumbered toward the crackling fire, “don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“I can’t have this trash in my home!” Gram announced.

Gillian darted forward and plucked the book from her grandmother’s fingers.

Gram froze. “Where’d you get that ring?”

Gillian held out her hand, admiring once again the sparkling stone and intricate gold setting. “In the safety deposit box.”

Gram clutched her heart, staggered back to the sofa, and fell onto it. A puff of dust settled around her.

“Gram? Are you okay?” Gillian asked, worry replacing anger.

“Mrs. O’Hare? Would you like me to call an ambulance?” Tod asked.

Gram pinned Gillian with a steely gaze. “Get that book out of this house!”

“Gram,” Gillian began.

“Get out! Get out!” Gram shrieked. “This is my house and I can say who and what belongs here and what doesn’t.” She pointed a wavering finger at Gillian. “GET OUT!”

Gillian stared at her grandmother with an open mouth.

Tod took Gillian’s elbow and steered her from the room and out onto the porch.

“She doesn’t mean it,” Gillian said in a shocked whisper. “She can’t really mean it.”

Tod gave her a sympathetic glance and rubbed her back. She eased away from his touch.

“Do you have somewhere to go?” he asked.

She nodded. “Flora, Jessie, or Mindy.” She had lots of friends who would probably be happy to let her sleep on their sofa for a few nights.

Tod shuffled his feet. “I was going to say you’re always welcome to stay with me. It’s not much, and I’d have to clean up…bachelor, you know?”

“That’s sweet, Tod, but not necessary.”

Gram appeared in the doorway with a shotgun in her hand. She cocked it. “Are you still here? I want you off my property immediately!”

“Gram!” Gillian gasped. “She’s lost it!” she said to Tod.

“Give me the gun, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod said, looking officious for once. He tossed the words, “Get out of here, Gillian,” over his shoulder. “Go somewhere safe!”

#

 

Gillian sat on the edge of Flora’s bed with her hands between her knees. Flora sat beside her with a comforting arm around Gillian’s shoulder.

“You have to go,” Flora said.

“No, I can’t go,” Gillian insisted.

“It’s another sign.”

“This—according to your scorekeeping—makes four signs, and there’s nothing magical about four.”

Flora shook her head. “You were right before. Summer comes no matter what, so that wasn’t a sign. But this is.”

“I can’t leave her!”

“You don’t have a choice,” Flora insisted.

“She needs help!”

“Of course she does. But you don’t have to be the one who provides it. Have you called her sisters?”

“Yes, but you know they’re all as crazy as she is.” Gillian sucked in a deep breath. Just thinking of her great aunts gave her a panic attack. The last time the three sisters had been together, they’d watched Fox News and gotten in a shouting matching over political issues that they all agreed with. It was craziness that they could scream at each other even when they all shared the same opinions. She found it strange that the sisters who were constantly bickering had all migrated from Ireland together and couldn’t seem to live without each other. “Auntie Verna and Auntie Sarah said they would be here tomorrow.”

“Just another reason for you to leave.”

True.

“I don’t have a suitcase. I don’t have any clothes.” Gillian bit her lip, immediately recognizing her mistake and wishing she could take back her words.

Flora grinned and bounced off the bed. “You, my sister, have come to the right place!” She disappeared out the door. “Come and see what I just found!” Flora called from the next room.

“I can’t pillage your stash!” Gillian said, not moving.

Flora returned with her arms full of clothes. “You can and you will!”

Flora ran an online clothing business where she found pieces at local thrift stores and garage sales, dolled them up, and resold them at outrageous prices. Even though she’d dreamed of being a fashion designer, she’d chosen to get a degree in math because she considered it practical and she liked a teacher’s lifestyle and benefits. But her online business was quickly outperforming her teacher’s salary.

Gillian wasn’t about to take her inventory. “I can buy my own clothes,” she said.

Flora, ever the savvy businesswoman, rubbed her hands together in glee. “Did someone just say shopping?”