Fiction Friday: Thyme in A Bottle


This one won the Baby Bird in the Coveted Dead Bird event. The Baby Bird is the award for best first time entrant.


Thyme in a Bottle


Molly stared at the unmoving body at the foot of the stairs. She yelled for someone to call 911 as she knelt to feel for a pulse. Nothing. People ran out of their rooms and stood in dismay. Finally, a man brushed past her to pick up the phone at the check-in counter and asked for an ambulance.

What a day, and now this… She had started her morning serving breakfast, cleaning guest rooms, then working in the garden.


Molly pulled a weed from the reluctant ground and shook the clinging dirt from its roots before tossing it in the wheelbarrow. Her back was starting to ache but she wanted to finish before heading into Fresno for supplies. She loved running a bed and breakfast in the Sierra Nevada mountain range just outside Yosemite National Park, but it was definitely a full-time job. Giving people a vacation was hard work.

In the five years she had owned Mountain Mamas, others had come to town to try the B& B business; some opened new places and some bought existing inns. All had called it quits in under a year. One couple lasted only two weeks. Molly though, was in it for the long haul.

Finally the last weed was out of the herb garden. She picked some thyme and rosemary to use in an appetizer later. Although breakfast was the only full meal offered, it was her custom to have early evening drinks and hors d'oeuvres available. She still had to start the dough for the herb roll-up she was planning.

Thirty minutes later, Molly was in her pickup headed off the mountain. The sun and tree branches flashed uneven shadows as the truck sped around the curves. She rolled down the window, turned up the radio, and took a mental inventory of her guests. The inn had four rooms available but she currently had one vacancy. Everyone was booked for the entire weekend, which meant she had been able to leave this morning without changing linens; it was quick work to make beds and replace towels.

The couple in the Wildflower Suite looked younger than Chub who delivered newspapers after his sophomore English class at Yosemite High. Jenna and Rod Chilton, from San Francisco. They had chatted with her during check-in the previous evening. He gave Molly an attractive cut-glass bottle of herb-infused olive oil and asked if she would consider using it this weekend. It was a new product his company was thinking of selling and they wanted her opinion for their market research.

Molly took the carafe, but made no promises. Rod stood and chatted a few minutes, trying to charm her into using the oil, she knew. He seemed sincere. Jenna was one of those emaciated young women who could actually look good in the current hip-hugging fashions. They were a cute couple, but in twenty years they would resemble the pair in the Timberline Suite.

Denise and Frank Platt. You could tell by looking, Denise had spent more than a few nights home alone with the Chardonnay. She asked for restaurant recommendations, and about Happy Hour in the next breath. Frank barely contained his impatience to check-in so he could power up his laptop and check email.

The Gold Rush Room was taken by a couple between the ages of the Chiltons and Platts. Jonathan Richmond and Katherine Payne had checked in with a well-practiced routine showing they were regular travelers. Katherine mentioned she was looking forward to antiquing the next day while Jonathan fished.

Everyone had overlapped at breakfast by a few minutes and Molly had been busy heating quiches, serving muffins, and brewing more coffee. They had all dispersed as soon as they ate and she was able to clean up and weed the garden before she made her supply run.

As she approached Fresno, Molly thanked God for urban sprawl. The new Costco and Home Depot on the north side of town saved her at least an hour of running around. She bought provisions and was back up the mountain in time to get her bread dough out of the machine and rising again for the herbed-cheese pinwheel.

A few hours later Molly parked in back of the inn and unloaded groceries. She put away the refrigerated items and punched down the bread dough. After it was rolled flat, she mixed cream cheese with the fresh thyme picked earlier and spread the mixture on the dough. In twenty minutes, the pinwheels were rising and the supplies were unpacked.

At four o’clock, appetizers were ready in the parlor. She had even managed a change of clothes. Besides the herb roll, she had set out cheese and crackers, jumbo garlic-stuffed green olives, and a sliced baguette with Rod’s flavored olive oil for dipping. The wine was chilled and the coffee hot.

“Do you get CNN in here?” Frank Platt asked as he entered the room. He headed for the food and loaded a plate. Denise followed but poured a glass of wine and sat at a small table.

“I’m sorry, there’s no television in here,” Molly answered. “Most of the guests like having a common room where they can talk without distractions.”

“I guess I’ll go upstairs and get the news off my laptop. I’m waiting to hear about a bid.” He glanced at his wife. “You coming?”

“No. I’m fine here.” Denise raised her glass in a toast. “Just don’t go to dinner without me.” Frank left with his plate, passing Rod and Jenna Chilton.

“I can’t believe you just left me there, on the trail, all alone and with a twisted….” Jenna stopped abruptly when she realized they weren’t alone.

“Hi there.” Molly greeted them. “There’re snacks here and wine and coffee at the bar. Help yourselves. Did you have a good time?” She knew they had spent the day in Yosemite Valley.

“Peachy,” Rod answered as he found the wine. Jenna glared at him.

“No, we had an awful hike,” she said. “Rod knows I’m not athletic. He promised it would be easy, but it was the death march from hell. Straight up, with rocks and ledges and mist from the falls. I slipped and twisted my ankle. He just went off and left me by the side of the trail.”

“Jenna, you told me to go ahead. You said you’d be fine and would wait for me and we’d walk down together. If you didn’t want me to go, you should have said so. I didn’t know ‘go’ was girl-code for ‘don’t go.’”

“You should have known better than to leave me all alone, no matter what I said.”

“Fine, I’m sorry, I’ll never leave you again.” He piled a plate, drizzled olive oil over the towering assortment, winked at Molly, and then sat on the love seat.

Jonathan and Katherine tumbled in. They had been rushing to beat each other to the snacks. After helping themselves to plates, they tried to make small talk with Jenna.

“Isn’t it gorgeous here?” Katherine asked.

“I guess.”

“Are you local?”

“No. I’m going to take a hot bath.” The last sentence was directed to Rod. Jenna limped up the stairs without looking back.

“Sorry about that. She’s tired,” Rod said to Katherine.

Jonathan sat up and looked at Rod. “Do I know you from somewhere? You look familiar.”

“We’re from the Bay Area, got here yesterday.”

“Whereabouts in the Bay Area?”

“We live in San Jose. I work in the city for Arrested Development.”

“The company that makes those wrinkle removers?”

“We prefer ‘anti-aging products,’” Rod replied. “ Or ‘time-defying’ is even better. We’re also getting ready to branch out into the herbal markets, holistic health, possibly foods as well. All natural stuff, you know.”

“I work for Baines & Baines, the brokerage,” said Jonathan. “We did some of the preliminary paperwork on your upcoming take-over war with KDP Pharmaceuticals. Until you decided to go with Stephens and Barnes. Maybe I saw you at one of those meetings.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Jon,” Katherine said, “let’s walk to the creek before dinner. Do you still want pizza?”

“Yes, I do.” Jonathan set their empty glasses on the bar. He and Katherine left through the front door and started down the walkway.

Denise filled her wine glass for the third time and headed upstairs. Rod finished his plate and put it on the bar. His hand was trembling.

“Are you okay?” Molly asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine, just tired. I think I’ll see if Jenna is out of the tub so I can soak for a few minutes before dinner. Anywhere in town to get sushi?”

“No, I’m sorry. There is a teppanyaki place, if you want Asian. Happy Japan Grill, just off the main drag, take a right at the second stop sign.”

“Thanks.” Rod started up the stairs as Molly put the wine away. A crash brought her running into the foyer.

Rod was in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.

It seemed hours had passed but it was only about forty minutes later when the EMT’s quit performing CPR and called for the coroner. The sheriff’s deputy asked all guests to remain in the common room. Jenna was past hysterical and seemed catatonic.

“Why did I yell at him? Why didn’t I tell him I love him?” She spoke quietly while Denise sat with an arm around her shoulders in silent support. Jonathan and Katherine had returned from their walk and sat nearby. Frank took charge, delivering the sheriff’s messages to the group and kept them posted on the arrival of the coroner and detective.

Still later, the ambulance drove off with Rod’s body but without the lights and siren it arrived with. Finally, the detective stepped into the common room and addressed the group.

“I’m Sgt. Justus. Ironic, I know. And I’ve heard all the jokes. I’d rather skip ‘em and get right to the situation here. Did any of you have a prior relationship with the deceased?” Jenna raised her hand. “Besides you, ma’am.”

Several pairs of eyes moved to Jonathan.

“I … I didn’t ‘know him,’ know him. My company did some work for his, and I saw him at a few meetings. We never spoke; I didn’t even know his name until this morning.”

“The coroner can’t be sure of a cause of death until after the autopsy. What did he do today? What did he eat?” The sergeant turned to Jenna.

“We had the breakfast here, then went to the Valley floor in the park and hiked. We did the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls. I fell part way up the trail so I waited for him at the bridge at the bottom of the falls. He went on to the top, then we came back down together. He was fine all day. We had some appetizers here, then I went up to take a bath before dinner.”

The detective turned to Molly. “What did you serve this morning and evening?”

“I purchase frozen quiches from the bakery in town. I heat and serve slices for breakfast. Everyone had the same thing. There’s also fresh fruit, muffins, bagels and cereal set out. Everyone helps themselves. Tonight, I made a cream cheese and thyme pinwheel roll, cheese and crackers, olives, a sliced baguette with olive oil for dipping, wine and coffee. Everyone had the same thing,” she repeated. Her heart was sinking as she spoke. If there was any suspicion that her food caused Rod’s death, her business was over. She might as well move to Fresno and go to beauty school. She’d never get another job in the food or tourist industry. “Oh, I just remembered. The olive oil for the baguette. It was Rod’s. He gave it to me when they checked in. He said his company was thinking of expanding their herb section into food as well as holistic health. He wanted me to use the herb oil and tell him what I thought.”

“What kind of herb?”

“It looked like thyme. I remember thinking it would go well with the cheese roll.”

“I’ll be taking the oil and a sample of all the other foods here. That’s all for tonight. I’ll be back in the morning.”

The next day, Sgt. Justus arrived just as everyone had gathered for breakfast.

“Well, it was definitely the oil,” he announced to the group. “There was enough essential oil of thyme in there to stop an elephant’s heart.”

“I don’t understand, Sergeant.” Molly was puzzled. “Aren’t herb oils harmless?”

“Yes, herb-infused oils are fine. The problem is, the oil I took from you also contained an essential oil with thymol, which is thyme’s active ingredient. Essential oils are used in aromatherapy and other crap like that. They are toxic if the concentration is high enough. Like I said, that oil had more than enough thymol to kill a man. So we’re going to move from means to opportunity and motive. Anyone have something to say?”

“But Sergeant,” Denise said, “everyone had opportunity during the day to add the essential oil to the olive oil. And none of us knew Rod before we arrived.”

“Not strictly true, Mrs. Platt. Mr. Richmond knew him through work. And your husband’s company is currently waging a hostile take-over against Arrested Development. So, some of you had a prior acquaintance. And by the way, can you tell me how your fingerprints came to be on the jar of olive oil? You were the only one who didn’t eat any appetizers last night. You’re prints should only be on your wine glass. The lab matched yours to a set on the olive oil.”

Denise stood up. “This is ridiculous. Why would I want to kill a complete stranger?”

Sgt. Justus motioned to a deputy to block the door. “I don’t know. Why would you? Why did you?”

“Frank, do something! Tell this man he’s wrong.”

Frank looked at Denise. “You were asking me about the herbal formulas Arrested Development makes. You wanted to know all about the take-over bid. Did you do this?”

Denise walked to the bar and with a shaking hand reached for the left over wine from the night before. She drank from the bottle and straightened her shoulders. She stared back at them all.

“It was a mistake. I just wanted to make him sick. I didn’t know how much essential oil to add. I was trying to help you, Frank. If their herbs were contaminated and made people sick, the take-over would be less expensive. And we’d be rich. Rich enough for you to afford a CNN and Fox News chip implanted right into your brain. No more being glued to the laptop, you’d always be online.”

Frank watched in shock as the deputy cuffed his wife’s arms behind her back and led her out to the patrol car.

“Sergeant, what’s going to happen?”

“You need a lawyer. A good one. You can visit her in the county jail later today. Bring her personal things; we’re just a rural, mountain jail. I don’t think she’ll need any cosmetics though.” The detective followed his prisoner outside.

Frank faced the others. “Is there such a thing as a CNN implant chip?”



A Part of the Family



Seamus ~ A member of the family from 2003.


We put him down last week.

I knew it would be horrible, awful, and terrible when the time came.

It was even worse than I imagined.

The only thing I can think of that would be more painful is losing a child or spouse.

He was full grown when he came to us. The family we got him from insisted he was a normal dog. He played, he barked, he was a dog.

He was not a normal dog once he joined our family. He didn’t bark for a year.  He had a traumatic journey from their home to ours and he fell into a deep depression. He didn’t eat for nearly a week. To help him with the transition, I spent lots of time with him, loving on him, hoping to help him bond with the family.


He bonded with me.

Oh, he liked the rest of the family well enough. He enjoyed it if they petted him. He would eat the food they put in his dish. He tolerated their presence in my absence.

But he lived for me.

At first it really irritated me. I didn’t want another dog when we got him. We already had one and one was enough. But how can you be impervious to such adoration?

You can’t.

I gave up and loved him back.

He aged. For the last few months, he was incontinent and could hardly walk. He quit eating last week.

It was time.

He hated leaving and I hated watching him go.

I know the sting will ease and soon the memory of losing him will fade as other memories of his life with us grow stronger.

Like how when I came home from a weekend or vacation away, for the first ten to fifteen minutes, he “talked” to me. He had to tell me everything that happened while I was gone. He would whine, cry, bark, groan and moan to communicate it all.

He could say, “Mama’s home,” just like the dogs in the email video.

He quit walking on the slick kitchen floor, but he learned that if he stood on the dining room carpet, he could put his front two legs into the kitchen and tap them to remind the cook that he was willing to take care of anything that happened to fall on the floor.

He’s missed. My office feels empty without him snoozing next to me. I’m still checking behind me for his tail before I scoot my chair out.

It’s amazing how the little things become such an ingrained part of life.

Bye Seamus. We miss you. Lots.


Feb 011


Fiction Friday: A Little Night Music

Another romance reject. I’m thinking about self-publishing a book of my short romance stories and I think I’ll call it Romance Rejects.


A Little Night Music


Jen took a deep breath. Her fingers fluttered over the flute keys as she began warming-up. Others doing the same surrounded her.

This community band hadn’t worked out like she thought it would. Though she’d transferred to town a couple of months ago, she still spent most evenings alone. Everyone seemed to know each other already, and weren’t willing to meet anyone else. In some ways, she felt like a fifteen-year old all over again, still trying to make friends at a new school.

Thinking back to high school, Jen played a few bars of As Time Goes By. Her music teacher loved the standards and show tunes. Hmmm. She remembered the opening, but not what came next. She started again. Her fingers played the chords automatically and by the time she came to the chorus, the notes flowed.

How fun! She played it again, the music lost in the cacophony of the other instrumentalists warming up with random bits and scales.

Wait a minute… she paused and listened. I’m hearing things. Shrugging, she continued with the song.

No, wait; there it was again. A French horn played along with her. She stopped. So did the horn. She skipped to the chorus, her fingers picking out the melody. The other player switched to the harmony line. They finished the impromptu duet and Jen stood to look at the horn section.

No one met her eyes. Either she’d imagined it, or it was a coincidence. She sat down again.

The conductor tapped his baton on the podium. He named the first practice piece and reminded them about the annual concert next week. This was what they’d been working toward all season. They played carols in the plaza downtown in December and Souza marches in July, but the annual concert was their Event with a capital E.

Jen rehearsed without thinking about the music, her fingers moving automatically. Who accompanied her during the warm-up? During the break, she strolled by the horn section.

The elderly neighbor who had invited her to join the band, two teenagers, and a dark-haired man stood by their music stands. The man had blue eyes that sparked with enthusiasm as he talked with the young men but he gave her only a momentary look.

“Hi, Mr. Edwards.” Jen stopped to greet her neighbor. Maybe he’d introduce her.

“Hello, Jen. How’s your fuse box these days?”

“Much better since I don’t try to iron and bake at the same time.”

“I hope you’re not giving up baking,” he said. “Those brownies were the best I’ve ever eaten.”

Jen and Mr. Edwards continued to chat, but none of the other horn players even glanced at her. Well, faint heart never won fair maiden. Or good looking horn player. She spoke up.

“I’m Jen, by the way, flute,” she said to the trio.

“I’m sorry,” said Mr. Edwards. “This is Tim, Josh, and Dennis, the rest of the horn section. Jen’s my neighbor.”

The three turned towards her. Tim and Josh waved but continued their conversation with the dark-haired man as he shook her hand, not even meeting her eyes.

“Nice to meet you.” He turned back to the teenagers. “Listen, you need more extra-curricular activities for your college submissions. You should think about joining the after-school program.”

“What kind of program?” Jen asked.

“It’s a music appreciation class I teach. I found some funding, now I need students. I’m trying to talk these cut-ups into enrolling.” Dennis looked at her. “Do you need any after-school enrichment for your kids?”

“Me?” Her jaw dropped. “I don’t have any kids, just a cat. And she only likes jazz.”

“I see another class: ‘Music appreciation for the species.’ It’s catchy, don’t you think? And how can you tell what your cat likes?” Tim and Josh rolled their eyes and returned to their seats.

Jen laughed. “She makes her feelings known.”

The director stepped onto the platform and Jen returned to her seat. She must have imagined the spontaneous duet. But playing the old love song reminded her of other tunes from the past.

While waiting for rehearsal to continue, she launched into Return To Me. The class clown used to do a bad imitation of Dean Martin. She could see him, one hand clutching his heart, the other outstretched as he sang. Return to me… Hurry back, hurry back, oh my love, hurry back…. Wait. She listened intently.

A horn was playing with her. She finished that song and immediately began It Had To Be You. The other instrument joined after only a few notes. She slipped into Some Enchanted Evening. The horn kept up.

She played while trying to look over the heads blocking her view of the brass section. She stretched up in her seat. The horn stopped with a strangled belch as the director rapped for their attention.

She obediently shuffled the music on her stand to find the next piece. Was Dennis her mystery partner? The notes on the sheets in front of her felt lifeless after the satisfaction of playing the old songs of romance and nostalgia.

After practice, she lingered while cleaning her flute and putting it away, but none of the brass section hung around for more conversation.


During the following week, Jen hummed As Time Goes By while walking to work and Return To Me while taking inventory. Did she imagine the whole thing? Mr. Edwards probably knew those songs, but he wouldn’t keep it a secret. It couldn’t be either Tim or Josh. That left… Dennis.

The day of the concert, Jen left work a little early so she’d have time to press her black skirt and favorite white blouse. As she set up the board and filled the iron with water, she convinced herself the spontaneous accompaniment had been an accident. It was just too unlikely, that some guy would know those old songs.

“Although, if Dennis teaches music appreciation, he’d have to include all kinds of music, right?” she said out loud to Clara. The tabby cat responded by yawning and grooming her face and whiskers.

Jen sprayed starch on the skirt and began to smooth out the wrinkles when her lights flickered and then went off.

Great. She’d left something on and overloaded the electrical circuits. And she didn’t even have any brownies to show for it. By the time she remembered her coffee maker, turned it off, and replaced the blown fuse, she didn’t have time to iron her outfit. She’d barely make it to the concert. At least the black skirt didn’t show the wrinkles.

She rushed into the auditorium with minutes to spare. She was still assembling flute sections when she heard it. Return To Me. She turned toward the horn section. No need to crane her neck this time. Dennis stood in front of his seat, playing and looking right at her. She fit the mouthpiece on and joined him for the chorus.

The director motioned for the house lights to dim, but the junior high student running the light board didn’t see him. Dennis grinned at the kid and hurried to the woodwind section.

He leaned down and spoke into her ear. “I’m glad you’re here. How could I make beautiful music alone?”

“It was you?” She searched his eyes.

“I love those old songs.”

“So do I.” Her heart thumped in time with the bass drum.

“Maybe later we can play a few more?”

“I’d like that,” Jen answered.

Dennis smiled. “Let’s talk after the concert.” He returned to his seat as the lights dimmed and the conductor raised his baton.


Plugging Away

My quest for discipline and perseverance continues. I’ve spent two days cleaning up my laptop and desktop computers. Both run sluggishly, my internet connection is moody, and I’m easily frustrated when modern “conveniences” make my day harder instead of easier.

So I’ve moved a ton of stuff from both computers to my external hard drive and deleted it from the computer. Well, I’ve deleted some of it.

I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of pictures and audio files. I know they’re supposed to be safe on the external drive, but what if something happens to that drive? Then where will I be?

Isn’t that the way it is with us and God though? We say we’ve forgiven, or moved on, or whatever. We gave the issue/hurt/anger to God. But we just can’t seem to let go of it completely. We feel a need to hang on to it, just in case we need it someday.

When will I need anger? Hypocrisy? A critical spirit?

Uh… never?

It appears it’s time to do some other cleaning out, besides hard drives and closets.


Today I’m praying for Melanie, Jenny, and Marilyn.

Currently reading: Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith

Last movie: Cinderella Man


Fiction Friday: Dead on the Vine

This one won for Best First Line in the annual Coveted Dead Bird event sponsored by the Dead Bird Society of my local Sisters in Crime chapter.



Perry whistled “Onward Christian Soldiers” as she moved the lever of the reloader down, pressing gunpowder into the empty hull.

Soon she had enough ammo to stop a California black bear. Not that one had been seen in her part of the San Joaquin Valley during the last hundred years. But you never knew and she liked to be prepared. She grinned, unaware that lips spread across toothless gums resemble a grimace more than a smile.

The time had come.


Just over the river, a green Volvo wagon entered a long driveway carved from rolling hills covered with grape vines. The driver parked in front of the house, climbed the wooden steps and rang the bell. Deep chimes rang inside, seeming to well up from beneath the foundation.

Ginger could see a woman appear down a hall, though the leaded panes of glass in the door distorted and multiplied the figure as she approached. When she’d visited here as a child, these windows had been grimy, not allowing a view to the interior.

“Welcome to Chateau vin Beaujolais!” A woman about her own age, (thirty said the DMV, thirty-two said her husband, and thirty-five said her birth certificate), stood on the threshold. Blonde hair just swept her shoulders, but a dot of mascara on one cheek marred the perfect complexion.

“Margaret Edwards? I’m Ginger Phillips, Beautiful Home Magazine.”

“Call me Maggie.” As she ushered Ginger into the foyer, Maggie must have caught sight of herself in the entry mirror because she licked a fingertip and ran it under her eye as she scooped up a pair of athletic shoes then dropped them into the window seat.

Ginger eyed the parquet flooring. She never knew this house had hardwood floors. No one had been able to see the floor under the stacks of newspapers.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Phillips,” Maggie said. “And I’m so excited that you want to feature our home in a cover story.”

“We’re interested in the renovations you’ve done as a possible article, but we’ll have to wait and see about the cover. I’m here to take some preliminary pictures and hear about the house.”

“I understand. I just love this home so much, and I know you’ll feel the same after you see it.”

They had reached the French doors leading to the back yard and Maggie threw them open with a flourish.

“Please, come sit on the deck.”

She gestured toward a small table where glasses, an ice bucket, and a tray of cheese and crackers waited.

Maggie sat but Ginger wandered to the railing and gazed out. The vines were full of plump green grapes; round and as perfectly formed as the frosty cat’s-eye marbles she played with as a child. She strolled the perimeter of the deck, looking out at the vineyard and back at the house, as if assessing camera angles and shadows. She was recalling when this deck had been unsafe to walk on. An unwary step could have sent you through the rotted planks.

After a circuit around the railing, she joined her hostess at the bistro table and pulled out a note pad.

“I’m familiar with Beautiful Home Magazine,” Maggie said. “I can’t wait to hear your thoughts about what we’ve done here.”

“Can you tell me how you came to own the house and vineyard?” Ginger asked.

“My husband has always wanted to be a vintner. He grew up in Topeka, not known for its fine vintages. I’m local, from here in the Valley. We were living in LA, working miserable eight-to-five jobs. A couple of years ago, while visiting family, we happened to see a notice in the paper about a vineyard for sale. The vines had a good history of production, but the house and other buildings were a shambles. We made an offer and here we are.”

“Did you or your husband have any experience with viticulture?”

Maggie laughed, a delicate sound echoing off the surrounding vines.

“We didn’t then, but we’re fast learners. Jack is knowledgeable about California wines and has an excellent palate. I’m the handyperson-slash-decorator.”

“And the house – what condition was it in?”

“The structure was severely injured. It’s a beautiful mid-nineteenth century Victorian, but it had suffered through several bungled renovations.”

“You make it sound as if the house has feelings.”

“I believe it does. As soon as we ripped out the wall-to-wall carpet and tacky green linoleum, the wood floors could breathe again. The house took deeper gulps of air every day, and I could literally see it begin to feel better. When we installed the crown molding in the dining room, I swear the house was standing up straighter at the end of the day.”

“What about the previous owners?”

“The elderly woman who lived here had become a pack rat. She collected newspapers and junk. The house was suffocating under it all.”

“I understand it was a family estate forced into foreclosure by the arrival of the glassy-winged sharpshooter.”

“Yes. The vines were infected. That’s one reason we got the whole place at a decent price.”

“How bad was it?”

“The entire vineyard was dying and shriveling, practically before our eyes.”

“And you weren’t worried?”

“We knew we were going to rip the vines out and start again.”

“Even without the infestation?”

“Yes. That was just a happy coincidence. The previous owners were growing Chardonnay grapes for sparkling wine. We want to do blends, so we can start with any white grape. Chardonnay is a good base grape, but we intend to specialize.” Maggie sipped her wine, flashing a brilliant smile at Ginger.


Across the vineyard, a woman dressed in khaki trudged up a dusty slope toward an oak tree. Standing bent and gnarled, its days as sentry over the vines were long gone. Perry remembered children taking refuge in its branches when trying to escape chores.

She dropped the bag containing her scope and food. She had spent a long time thinking about what was the appropriate snack to take to a shooting spree. She settled on the ground, leaned against the tree trunk, and pulled out wheat crackers and string cheese. Cramming her mouth full and chewing while she worked, Perry began to attach the scope to her weapon.

After a few minutes, she dropped to her stomach and wriggled  through the brush, commando-style. Propping the rifle stock up with one arm, she peered through the scope, scanning until she could see the figures on the deck. Her deck, made from redwood trees, harvested from the mountains above her beloved vineyard and home. Her grandfather had built this house, planted these vines, crushed the grapes. And her family expected her to walk away from it.

Thanks to an grasshopper, she’d been forced to sell her beloved home to some human parasites. People who thought linoleum evil and probably drank bottled water. All hoity-toity and taking advantage of her. But no more.


Ginger sipped her wine.

“This is good. Sweet. I was expecting dry.”

“I’m glad you like it. We’re expanding into the dessert and breakfast wine markets.”

“Breakfast wine? I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

“Jack has been experimenting and he came up with a blend that tastes just like a mimosa, but it’s wine. We have high hopes for it.”

In spite of herself, Ginger felt awe. “Really?”

“Yes. He’s a talented winemaker.”

“Tell me some more about the house. What other changes did you make?”

“We redid the kitchen. The counters are local granite, quarried in Raymond. And I did a lot of buying over the Internet,” Maggie continued.

“I’m impressed,” Ginger said. And she was. The house had been neglected and remodeled into a shambles by her grandparents. But this woman Ginger had been prepared to hate, was actually nice. She loved this house as it deserved to be. Ginger was glad she’d come to see for herself and not just taken her grandmother’s rantings as truth.

“The house had been homogenized and lost its character. Those people treated this home as if it were just wood and plaster. I’ve returned it to the way it was meant to be. Beautiful, charming. Like an old woman, dressed in red with a purple hat.”

“Or a painted lady?”

“Exactly! I was going for the feel of one of the San Francisco Victorians. Genteel, a bit shabby, but with great lines.”

“Well, you’ve certainly accomplished that.”

“Thank you.”

Two shots rang out, the reports echoed over the rolling hills. The wine bottle exploded, showering the two women with glass and wine. Ginger stared at Maggie, a dread cold creeping into her soul.

“Oh my God!” Ginger heard her own voice, the words barely distinguishable through the roaring in her ears. She felt herself moving through a thick fog, drowning and sinking, staring at the blood seeping through Maggie’s yellow silk blouse. The red grew, like a wine stain on carpet.


Fiction Friday: Have You Hugged Your Teddy?

This is Women’s World reject. I did get a personal note of rejection: It’s not believable a grown woman would be so hung up on a name.



Have You Hugged Your Teddy?


Teddy felt a flutter in her stomach as John entered the café. His timing was perfect, as usual. The mid-morning rush was over; she had just finished wiping up the accumulated spills and drips and was ready for a short break. John visited every day for coffee and a muffin; often he came in a second time for iced tea and a scone. They had been making conversation for a couple of months but it had recently become a little more playful. They might have progressed to flirting.

“I’ll get this one,” Teddy said to the counter staff as she began to steam the milk for John’s customary latte. He paid the cashier and moved to where Teddy placed his drink.

“Hi,” John said. “How’s it going today?”

“Fine. Busy. You know, the usual.” Could this be any more inane? She didn’t say the last sentence out loud.

“Do you have a minute to chat while I eat my muffin?”

“Hmm, I think so,” Teddy answered, her stomach’s gymnastics belying her calm voice. She joined him at a table for two.

“I’ve been wanting to ask you about your name,” he said. “Teddy is unusual, especially for a girl. Is there a story?”

“I was named for my great-grandmother, Theodora Johnson. That’s a mouthful for little kids so my sister shortened it to Teddy and it stuck.”

“You’re lucky you have an ordinary last name to go with it. When a name is also a noun, you can end up with something really bizarre. I went to school with a kid named Rusty Horne.”

“Oh, I know. I had to break up with a guy in high school. His last name was Baer. I got tired of all the jokes about being his Teddy bear. We went on a cookout once with friends who started singing ‘The Teddy Bear Picnic’ song. It went on and on.”
John chuckled. “Why do parents give their children names like Candy Kane or Dusty Rhodes? There are a few of them in every school. Along with the Tommy Thompsons and Eddie Edwards.”

“You’re right. I used to know a Paige Turner and a Sandie Beach. I guess sometimes, the parents think it’s cute. But they forget that kids grow up. And a name like Bubbles may haunt a girl forever.”

“Yeah, especially if she grew up to marry someone with the last name Divine or Galore.”

Teddy laughed. “You, on the other hand, have a pretty common first name, so it can go with lots of things. I don’t know your last name though, what is it?”

“Oops, look at the time. I have to get going, I’m late for work. I’ll see you later.”

Teddy watched in surprise as John strode away and out the door.


Dusk had turned to night when Teddy turned off the highway onto her street. Expecting a call from her sister about their weekend plans, she was in a hurry to get home as she pressed the accelerator. Remembering that she’d been seeing more patrol cars on this stretch of road lately, she decided to slow down. Too late - a red light lit up her rear view mirror.

“Great.” She pulled over. As she waited for the officer, she found her license, registration, and proof of insurance. And wondered if he’d be a donut-friendly cop that she could bribe with an offer of coffee – on the house, of course.

“Miss, I stopped you because of your speed,” a familiar voice said after she rolled down her window.

“John!” she exclaimed, “I didn’t know you were a police officer.”

“Teddy?” The light tone he normally used was gone, replaced by a somber and official one. “Do you know how fast you were traveling?”

“No, but I probably was over the limit. I was in a hurry to get home and….” Her explanation trailed off as John’s expression remained serious. He must hear a dozen different excuses every day from speeders, she thought. He probably flirted with lots of girls, not just her. Undoubtedly, there was some other coffee shop girl to whom he told all his funny traffic-stop stories. She didn’t want to become another anecdote. “Well, anyway, I was in a hurry. I’m sorry.”

“Do you live in this neighborhood?”

“Yes, in the next block.”

“Then I’m sure you’re aware of the recent accident with the young boy chasing his ball into the street. You don’t want to be involved in something like that, do you?”

“No, of course not. I’m really sorry, John. I wasn’t thinking, I was just in a hurry. Are you going to give me a ticket?”

His face remained impassive. He examined her license and other paperwork. Finally he leaned down to look in her eyes.

“No, Teddy, I’m not. I am going to give you an official warning. And if I see you speeding down this street, or anywhere else, I will write you a ticket. I want to keep you and the children of the neighborhood safe.”

“I understand.” Her heart dropped as she accepted the flyer he handed her. It probably had residential speed limits and statistics about accidents in housing areas. She mumbled her thanks and drove sedately to her driveway before cramming the leaflet into her purse along with her license.


The next day Teddy kept working when John entered the café. Her cheeks felt hot but she forced her eyes to remain on the gallons of milk she was stowing in the refrigerator.

“Teddy?” She turned around and saw his usual smile. “Can we talk?”

She sighed. “Sure.” After a lecture on speeding, he would probably want a cop discount on his drinks and muffins. Remembering her thoughts of bribing him with free coffee, she couldn’t meet his eyes as she sat.

“John, I’m really sorry about last night. I just wasn’t paying attention; I promise it’ll never happen again. And I didn’t know you were an officer, we offer a discount to police in uniform, but you never wear yours in here, so I didn’t know.”

“Whoa, slow down. I didn’t come in to bawl you out. I just wanted to explain.”

“What do you have to explain about? I was the one speeding.”

He grinned at her and Teddy relaxed. She took a deep breath and prepared to listen.

“I’ve wanted to ask you out for a long time. Do you think I’m so addicted to your coffee and muffins that I have to come in twice a day? I’ve had to increase my workouts and add another mile to my run to keep off the weight all those goodies are putting on me. I come to see you.”

She smiled. “Really?”

“Well, it’s sure not your scones. Anyway, there’s a department policy about not developing relationships while on duty. I’ve been very careful to only come here on my own time and out of uniform. Last night, I had to keep everything official. I could have written you a ticket, but I didn’t because I want to date you, not cite you.”

“Well, why haven’t you? Asked me out, I mean.”

“I was going to, yesterday. But we started talking about funny names and you asked mine. I panicked.”

“Why? Is it something like… Funkelmann or …or Spitzem?” Teddy paused as she tried to think of another odd one.

“You don’t know?”

“Should I?”

“I wrote it on the flyer I gave you last night. I thought you’d see it and then you could decide if you wanted to date me or not.”

“I don’t choose my dates on the basis of their names. Yes, I’ll go out with you.”

“Teddy, after our conversation yesterday, I’d like it if you knew my name before you accepted. I want to pursue a relationship. But only if I’m sure you feel the same.”

“I’ve already said yes. What’s the problem?”

“Do you still have the flyer?”

“I think so. Let me go look.” Teddy disappeared behind the swinging doors to the kitchen. She soon returned with the paper and stared at him.

“I don’t believe this,” she said.


She looked into his eyes. “Yes, I will go out with you.”

John leaned over the table and took her hand. The flyer fell to the ground but neither of them noticed. It did indeed contain information about accident statistics in residential neighborhoods.

And it was boldly signed in red ink: Officer J. Roosevelt.



Two Steps Forward, Three Back


I’m starting to feel the old, “What’s the use?” ennui kick in when it comes to my resolve for some of the changes I want to make.

I’ve “worked out” (meaning Wii games or a walk) nearly every day in January. I’ve had eight weeks of physical therapy. I’ve tracked my WW points/eating every day for two and a half weeks. I’m making progress on several small projects (recipe clipping/filing, using a pumice stone on 1-2 shower tiles a day).

But there doesn’t seem to be any progress. Now I have a stack of clipped recipes that need to be transcribed into my electronic cookbook. I have a shower that’s 1/5th bright and shiny and 4/5ths dull and dingy. I’ve lost 3 lbs. My back hurts nearly as much as it ever did.

But I guess I’ll keep on keeping on and give up giving up. Because it’s what we do. Put one foot in front of the other. Slow progress is better than none.

I keep telling myself.


Today I’m praying for: Jim, Jim, Janet, and Lucie.

Currently reading: Shade by John B. Olson – so far, it’s great!

Last movie: Bottle Shock – we both really enjoyed it. Click here for more on this.