Fiction Friday: The Missing Ingredient


I thought this one had all the ingredients to be a winner.


The Missing Ingredient

Kate carefully positioned the cookies on the plate, displaying their tempting shades of golden brown. Surely, this is the batch that will do it, she thought. She’d wanted to get to know Mark, the handsome newcomer in unit 3B, but one of them was always in a hurry when they met at the mailboxes. Mrs. Mendes, her downstairs neighbor had introduced them at their condo association potluck. Mark had eaten six of her peanut butter cookies and mentioned they reminded him of his grandmother’s cookies. Except they might be missing a little vanilla.

It was a serendipitous revelation. Kate had seized the opportunity to invite him over for taste testings. She’d vowed to duplicate the recipe to his satisfaction. Mrs. Mendes had walked away, shaking her head and chuckling to herself.

This was batch number nine. She’d made progress. At Mark’s suggestion, she had dipped the fork into sugar instead of flour when making the checkerboard pattern on top. She’d tried chunky, smooth, super-chunky, and organic peanut butter. She’d used brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, and artificial sweeteners. About the only thing she hadn’t done was throw salt over her shoulder while crossing her fingers.

Each recipe was close, but not quite right, according to Mark and his overly sensitive taste buds. She was starting to get a little suspicious. Just how well could he remember the flavors of his childhood? But he’d quelled her suspicions with funny stories about Grandma Sylvie and her baking mishaps. For a woman who burned so many cakes and pies, her cookies were amazingly memorable.

“If these aren’t right, I quit!” she said out loud. Well, not really. She ducked into the bedroom to brush her hair and check her makeup. She’d already called Mark and invited him up for the latest tasting.

The doorbell rang and she welcomed him with a broad smile.

“I hope you’re hungry, because I’m sure these are going to do it.”

“I brought my own milk this time. Doesn’t seem fair that I keep drinking up yours as well as eating all your cookies.” Mark hefted the half-gallon container and stepped into her kitchen. Helping himself to two glasses from the cupboard, he poured them each one and sat at the table.

“Here’s to Grandma Sylvie; may she rest in peace.”

Kate clinked her glass to Mark’s toast and sipped the milk as she watched him take his first bite. He chewed thoughtfully, a slight smile on his lips.

“What’s different about this batch?” he asked.

“I’ll tell you after you tell me it’s right.”

“Will you hate me if I say it’s not quite there yet?”


“Then it’s perfect.” He grinned at her, brushed his hair out of his eyes and her heart skipped a beat.

“Is it really? I take it back, I won’t hate you, just tell me the truth.”

“Well, it’s almost perfect.” He chewed with a thoughtful expression on his face.

“I think… maybe just a smidgen of … chocolate? Grandma’s cookies were mostly peanut butter, but I remember a hint of chocolate.”

Kate’s heart fell. Chocolate? That was a pretty big ingredient to forget. She’d been so hopeful for these. She forced a smile.

“Okay, I’ll have another try in a few days. I’ve got a busy week at work.”

“What’s going on?”

They chatted for a while, sharing stories about their jobs. Kate worked in real estate; Mark was a third grade teacher.

When only a few cookies remained on the plate, Mark stood.

“Well, I better get out of your hair. Thanks for trying out all the cookie recipes. I’m sure the oatmeal will make them just like Grandma’s.”

“Oatmeal? I thought you said they were missing chocolate?”

“Did I say oatmeal? I meant chocolate. Grandma Ruthie’s cookies were peanut butter chocolate.”

“Wait a minute. You said your grandmother’s name was Sylvie. Now it’s Ruthie?”

“One of my grandmother’s was Sylvie, the other was Ruthie. And they both made killer cookies for me. Sylvie’s were peanut butter; Ruthie’s were oatmeal. Yeah, that’s it.”

Kate narrowed her eyes and appraised the tall man standing before her.

“Are you sure? I suddenly have a feeling that I’ve been conned into doing an awful lot of baking.”

Mark grinned, sun lines crinkling at the corners of his mouth.


“Are you saying you tricked me into baking cookies for you?” Kate didn’t know whether to laugh or pretend to be angry.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I’ve been wanting to get to know you for a while. When we were chatting at the potluck and I mentioned how great your cookies were, it seemed so easy to compare them to ‘Grandma’s.’ And then you offered to try and duplicate her recipe. Getting to see you every few days, not to mention eating your awesome cookies, was too good to pass.”

Kate decided two could play this game. “And how do mine measure up?”

“Yours are amazing. Neither of my grandmothers bakes. Sylvie buys me vanilla wafers. And Ruthie has been on a diet since 1975.”

“And Sylvie’s not ‘resting in peace’?”

“No. She’s playing canasta down in the rec room.”

“Mrs. Mendes is your Grandma Sylvie?”

“Afraid so. Am I forgiven?” His hopeful expression melted her, but she continued her questions.

“So all the flour and sugar and peanut butter were for nothing?”

“Not at all. We’ve gotten to know each other. That’s something, isn’t it?”

She smiled. “It certainly is.”

“Sylvie always tells me that if I ever find a woman who can bake, I should cultivate her friendship. That I’ll be the richer for it. And that’s been true. But as good as your culinary skill is, I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve spent together even more.”

“Me too,” Kate confessed.

“While I’m coming clean, I should add that I make a killer pesto sauce. Let me fix you dinner as payment for all the cookies I’ve eaten.”

“Oh, I don’t think one dinner will be enough. Did I mention how many hours I’ve spent mixing dough and standing over a hot oven?”

He grinned. “I’ll fix you dinner every week. If you’ll bring dessert.”

She pretended to consider it. “Well, I do have a pretty good recipe for peanut butter cookies.”

“Which happen to be my favorite.”

He extended his hand and she took it.

“Mine, too.”


Mental Note: Come November…

My mail box is stuffed full of mailers and flyers and letters and postcards from all the primary election candidates. I get calls every day from local volunteers or recorded calls from elected officials, current and former. The former Vice-President, the current governator, and lots of others, have all called to urge me to vote for Meg/Carly/Steve/Bruce/Don/Cecelia.

This will serve as my official notice to all candidates.

I throw your mail in the trash without looking at it.

I hang up on your automated calls.

I erase your phone messages.

I make my decision based on what I read in the newspaper, see on the news, read on your websites, and from other voters of like mind.

I’m considering a different tack for November.

I think I’ll keep all the mail and sort it into stacks of who it’s from. I’ll keep a log of phone calls.

Come November, I’ll be voting for the candidate who spent the least amount courting me and harassing me.

I’m Carrie Padgett and I approved this blog post.


Currently reading: Resurrection in May by Lisa Samson

Last movie: Meet My Mom – a TV movie on… the Hallmark movie channel.

Today I’m praying for: Evelyn, Dave, Stacey, and Toni.


Mind of Steel

One of our now departed dogs had a steel-lined stomach. That dog could eat anything. One of our present dogs has a stomach lined with spun sugar. He will throw up if you look at him and think about sour milk. The good thing is, he knows his limitations. He avoids the rich stuff when he’s offered leftovers with sauces and gravies.

I have been blessed with a steel-lined mind. I can watch shows and movies and books filled with every cuss word-not-in-the-dictionary and they don’t stick, they just slide right on out. Sometimes I don’t even remember that there was bad language in there.

We recommended Apollo 13 to friends with kids. A few weeks later, we watched it for the second time and I had to call and apologize and say we didn’t notice the language the first time we watched it.

Today I met with a group of writer friends for lunch and critiquing. I mentioned a book I just finished (see below) and someone I follow on Twitter.

In describing both of them, I heard myself say: “There’s lots of foul language, but it is hysterically funny.”

Some people question why I would read, much less recommend, something full of such unimaginative vocabulary.

It’s true that I don’t use those words. The strongest thing you’ll ever hear come out of my mouth is, “crap.” And that’s only been in the last couple of years.

I did have an odd experience when I read Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard a few months ago. I dropped something on my foot and the first words to my mind were suitable for the toilet. Apparently Mr. Leonard’s prose penetrated my steel-lined mind. I decided he would be read no more by me.

I have friends who write exclusively about spiritual issues and they need to keep the world and the culture out of their lives. As a humorous fiction writer, I don’t have that. Instead, I need to keep abreast of the culture and society. I need to know which envelopes are being pushed and by whom and how far.

God blessed me with a steel-lined mind so I can read and watch those things. I also make sure to fill it with God’s Word as well. I recently memorized Psalms 121 and 139. Next up is Colossians 3.

I don’t judge people who don’t watch current movies or read best sellers. I hope they don’t judge me for choosing differently.


Last book: Mennonite In a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen – hysterical but with a caveat that there is potty language and some off-color conversations repeated

Last movie: Iron Man 2  - Loved it!

Today I’m praying for: Tony, Jake, Dave, Amy, and Tom.


Fiction Friday: Love & Tofu

I know many people can’t imagine loving Tofu. Read on, I say.



My heartbeat kept pace with the steady beep of the scanner recording prices of mustard, coffee, and pears. Then I noticed the tall man join the back of my checkout line. Thomas.

He’d been a regular for about a year at the neighborhood market where I worked. We had flirted a little at first, but then he started dressing in suits and coming in with a pretty blonde woman. He bought yogurt and low-fat salad dressing and tofu. Then he was alone and he wore jeans and t-shirts and bought chips and soda and frozen pizza. I tried to glance at his cart to see today’s purchases, but he was still too far back.

I forced myself to make small talk with the customer in front of me, Mrs. Lawrence. Jim’s Uptown Market was in an island of neighbors and community surrounded by big city. Many of our customers had been shopping here longer than I’d been alive. Like Mrs. Lawrence. She came in every day to buy a can of cat food and a pint of milk. On Tuesdays she bought a chicken breast and Fridays either a pork chop or some ground beef. That was a Tuesday.

“How’s Snowball?” I asked Mrs. Lawrence, placing her purchases in the canvas bag she always brought.

“Sitting in the window sill, watching birds and dozing.” Mrs. Lawrence handed me a five-dollar bill and I tapped the register keys.

“Sounds like a nice way to spend the afternoon.” I placed the change in her palm and handed her the bag. “Would you like Jamie to walk you home?”

“That would be lovely.” I reached for the microphone, but Thomas spoke up.

“I’m walking today. I’ll carry her bag.” I met his glance and had to look away before he saw my heart. It was just like him to offer to help the elderly woman. I’d watched him hold doors open for women of all ages, always return his shopping cart to the store, and occasionally pull quarters from the ears of children who grew restless in the checkout line.

“Why thank you, Thomas. I’ll wait outside.” Mrs. Lawrence moved to the exit.

Thomas nudged the shopping cart forward as he unloaded his groceries. Uh oh. Yogurt. Did that mean he was dating again? I started scanning the items, taking an inventory. Dish soap. Milk; low-fat. Orange juice. All very unhelpful in giving me a glimpse into his romantic life. Where were the potato skins and canned pasta? My heart turned to ice as I keyed in the code for a head of lettuce. No, two heads of lettuce.

My shoulders sagged. If there was tofu, I would have to face it: I missed my chance, the window of singleness when I could think about offering to cook him a real meal to give him a break from the microwavable frozen stuff. I kept scanning and checking. No tofu. No air freshening candles. Real ice cream, not air-churned frozen ice milk. I chanced a quick glance up, looking at his clothes. Khakis and a polo shirt.

“How are you today, Thomas?” I asked, keeping my voice professional and courteous. “The salad dressings in aisle three are on sale.”

He didn’t answer right away and after a moment I forced myself to look at him. He stood, head to one side, with a quizzical expression.

“I’m fine, Meredith.” His brow furrowed, as if trying to remember his shopping list.

“Did you forget something?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I guess I just realized –”

“Yes?” I prompted. My heart pounded again, faster than the beeps this time.

“It occurred to me that you must see a lot in my groceries.”

I turned and busied myself with bagging. “Oh, no. I don’t pay attention to what my customers buy.”

“Really?” His eyebrows rose. Were we flirting again?

“Well, I do worry that Mrs. Lawrence really has a cat.” I smiled. “And I’ve noticed someone quit buying tofu a few months ago.”

He threw his head back and laughed, the sound drawing me in like iron filings to a magnet until I chuckled too.

“Yes, I lost some diet restrictions a while back.” He swiped his debit card through the reader. “And I live upstairs from Mrs. Lawrence. Snowball does spend her days in the windowsill.”

“Is the diet back?” I asked, forcing myself not to look at him.

“Ummm, no. Why did you think it was?”

I showed him the yogurt and lettuce as I put them in the bag and he laughed again.

“I decided I actually like yogurt and an occasional salad would be better for me than all that frozen pizza and other junk.”

“Is that so?” The butterflies in my stomach all fluttered in a matching cadence. “I make a great grilled chicken salad. I’ll give you the recipe sometime.”

“I’m not good at following recipes.” He picked up the bags. “How about if you make it for me?”

The doors whisked open and Mrs. Lawrence came back in. Thomas smiled at her. “I’m waiting for Meredith to invite me over for dinner and then I’m ready to go.”

“Well?” Mrs. Lawrence’s eyes were open wide.

I laughed, heat rushing up my neck. “Why don’t you come Thursday night? I’ll make the salad.”

He leaned across the counter and whispered in my ear. “I’ll bring ice cream. No tofu, I promise.”


Fiction Friday: Just My Luck

I am finding stories I’ve forgotten writing. This is another Woman’s World reject. This one is 5 years old now. I think I can do better…


Just My Luck


Her arm caught the edge of the hand mirror. Meredith watched it all in slow motion and saw the mirror flying through the air. The crash brought silence to the rest of the salon. Stylists and customers alike looked up to see what happened.

“Oh no. Just what I need.” She hurried to fetch the broom and dustpan. “And I love that mirror. They don’t make them in hot pink anymore.”

“Seven years bad luck,” Trish said, straightening up her workstation.

“It can’t be any worse than the luck I’ve been having lately. A boyfriend who decided he’s allergic to hairspray. Three customers canceled today. Tomorrow can’t be worse.”

“You’re just not trying. Things can always be worse.”

Meredith began to sweep. “Styling hair won’t be any fun without my beautiful mirror. I think I’ll quit and spend all day reading novels and eating chocolate chip cookies,” she said as she swept up glass shards.

“That’s a great plan. But how will you buy the cookies? Or pay your rent, for that matter?”

“Details my friend, mere details.”

“Tell that to the landlord.”

Meredith dragged the broom across the floor, and then stood behind her friend, looking at their reflection in the mirror at Trish’s styling station. “You’re no fun.”

“But I’m practical.”

“I’m tired of practical. I want something frivolous. And pink would be nice.” She dumped the dustpan into the waste can in the center of the salon, put it and the broom away, and returned to her station. “I want to walk in the rain and splash through puddles, not caring if I catch a cold.”

“You get colds from germs, not getting wet.”

“See? No fun.”

Meredith dropped her brush and comb into the sterilizing solution. She continued to tidy the counter, fitting styling tools into their slots and untangling the blow dryer and curling iron cords. Time to get back to work. She’d enjoyed the brief exhilaration of dreaming about a worry-free life. Now she was stuck with seven years bad luck.

The bell over the front door rang, announcing an entrance.

“Hello, ladies.” Rick, a beauty-supply salesmen lugged in a large black sample case. He set it on Trish’s empty chair, next to Meredith’s station.

“Hi there,” Meredith said. “What’s new?”

“What are you looking for?” He cocked an eyebrow at her, sending her heart racing. When she didn’t answer, he turned his gaze to Trish.

“Meredith was just saying she wanted something frivolous. What have you got?” Trish leaned over Rick’s shoulder to get a look inside the case.

“Frivolous, huh. Let me think…” He smiled, then leaned over to rummage around.

Meredith gave Trish a vexed look. Trish stuck out her tongue.

“How about some bright orange nail polish? How’s that for cheerful?”

“Trish is playing a joke on you, Rick.” Meredith grabbed a damp rag and began to wipe down her area.

“You don’t like orange polish? How about temporary dyes? I’ve got green, purple and orange. A veritable rainbow of hair hues.”

She smiled in spite of herself. “I don’t think so.”

“Why do you want something frivolous?” Rick asked, ducking his head to meet her eye as she concentrated on wiping.

“I don’t, really. I was just saying I felt like doing something new and exciting. I’ve been styling hair all day in the same trendy cut. Yesterday, I did manicures. Everyone wanted the same deep red polish. I’m just… tired of the same old same old, I guess.”

“Enough said. I know just the thing.”

He disappeared through the front door.

Meredith looked at Trish. “What’s that all about?”

“Don’t know. Maybe he’s got prototypes of super-secret styling products out in the car. He’s going to ask you to test them out.”

“You make it sound like he’s a spy asking me for intel’ on the enemy’s shampoo and conditioner formulas.”

“It could happen.”

Meredith laughed, feeling better than she had all day.

The bell rang again and Rick came back in, holding both hands behind his back.

“Which one?”


“Pick a hand, right or left.”


“Excellent choice.” He drew his left arm out with a flourish to display a hand mirror. A translucent hot pink mirror.

“What is that?” She stared at it, dumbfounded.

“It’s a free gift from your local beauty supply house. It says, ‘Ace Beauty Supplies’ on it. Free advertising, you know. I was going to hang on to it, give it to someone who placed a large order, but you need something new and pretty today.”

Trish stopped what she was doing and spoke up. “It’s a mirror,” she said, full of wonder.

“Did I miss something?” he asked.

“Meredith needs one. She broke hers not two minutes before you came in here. We were just saying she’s going to have seven years of bad luck.”

“You’re kidding.”

Meredith shook her head. “She isn’t. Were you watching through the window?”

“No, I would never.” He sounded hurt. “I just thought it was a pretty color and we were talking about cheerful and happy things. It reminded me of the mirror and I thought you might like it. You don’t have to take it.”

“No, it’s not that.” She tried to explain. “I like it. Thank you. It’s just so strange that you would bring me a new mirror, so soon after I broke the other one. It’s almost like fate heard me and....” Her voice trailed off.

“Heard you and what?”

“Heard me complaining about my life and sent you to cheer me up. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He smiled again. “Do you need any nail polish or hair color?”

“I do.”

“We’re testing some new polish shades, would you like to be one of our product testers? Use them and tell me what your favorite colors are. Maybe we could work together on this.” He closed the case and headed to the door. “I’ll bring you some samples.”

“I’d like that.” She wondered if she should say more. What the heck. When fate gives you a mirror, make lemonade. Or something like that. “Would you like to have dinner sometime?”

“How’s Friday?”

She nodded, amazed at her turn of luck.

He paused in the open doorway. “By the way, what kind of hairspray do you gals use? I just love this scent.”


Fiction Friday: E(vil) = M(urder) x C(ovetousness)


This one was my second entry into the Coveted Dead Bird event the year the theme was It’s all Relative. I was told the title would have won for Best Title, but my other entry won 1st place and took the Coveted Dead Bird, so I wasn’t eligible for the other awards. Sigh… I do like this title.

A reminder: Coveted Dead Bird stories have to take place in or near California’s Central Valley, follow the theme, and have a crime.


E(vil) = M(urder) x C(ovetousness)2

A screech of brakes and a sickening thud interrupted our discussion. Spencer and I stood to look out the window of the Starbucks across the street from Fresno State.

“Oh God.” He dropped his drink on the floor and ran out the door. I followed, dialing 911 on my cell phone.

I reached the street just seconds after Spencer and found him cradling Emma and talking to her.

“Wake up, please Emma, be okay. Please.” His voice, thick with emotion, continued until sirens signaled the arrival of help. I stood nearby, not wanting to believe the truth of what I had glimpsed out the window of the coffee shop. As paramedics lifted Emma out of Spencer’s arms, I tried to remember the exact sequence of earlier events.

My reflection in the computer screen danced as I typed in my notes. The equation for caffeine plus chocolate on my tee shirt stood out clearly against the dark monitor. C8H10N4HO2O2 + C64H128O2 = LIFE. I loved this shirt and was thrilled when I found it in the same color that morning on clearance in the Kennel Bookstore. Mine looked a little frayed at the neck and sleeves. I smoothed out a wrinkle and returned my attention to the keyboard.


I jumped and looked up to see who had slammed the door to the math lab. Professor Blossom stood just inside the room.

"I'm sorry, Miss Hayes," he said. "It slipped. I didn't mean to startle you."

"It's okay. Are you all right?" He looked ... not disheveled exactly. Maybe just like he’d grabbed the nearest jacket in his closet. His clothes matched, but only because his whole wardrobe coordinated. I could tell he hadn't cared when he put this outfit together. Professor Blossom never looked anything less than cool and unruffled, even on the hottest days of the year. Which in Fresno occurred with regular frequency each summer. A big man, the professor stood over six feet tall and even though his name’s Blossom, he’s no pansy. A brilliant mathematician, he could find any flaw in my formulas with a glance.

“I'm fine," he answered.

“I didn’t know you were back in town,” I said. “How was the conference in Austria?”

“Busy.” He moved to the blackboard and began chalking an equation. I shrugged and returned to my own work.

California State University Fresno was off for the summer. Since I live locally, I was coming in to the math lab, trying to get a head start on my senior project.

Professor Blossom began muttering under his breath and I looked at him. He was really acting odd today.

Another crash interrupted me. This time I smiled at the man in the doorway.

"Hi, Spencer."

"Liesl. How are you?"

"Do you mind?" The professor looked up from the board, scowling.

"Sorry, sir." Spencer lowered his voice and slid into the seat next to me. "What's his problem?"

"I don’t know. He slammed in here a few minutes ago."

“You want to go get a Frappuccino?”

“I’d love it.” I saved my work and shut down the computer. “How’s your summer going?” I enjoyed Spencer’s company and missed him since we went our separate ways in April.

He shrugged. “I’m working too much.”

By the time we reached the Starbucks across Shaw, we were chatting like we had just seen each other yesterday. Instead of three months ago.

We placed our orders and waited for the blending and dispensing to be done so we could sit and catch up.

“I’ve missed you,” I said, as we settled into the plush armchairs in the corner.

He smiled that drop-dead-gorgeous smile that showed his perfect even teeth. It always amazed me that someone who looked as spectacular as Spencer could be such a genuinely nice guy. “Likewise,” he said. “Whose idea was it to break up anyway? Oh yeah, yours.” He said it with a tease in his voice.

“Forgive me?”

“Depends.” His voice grew serious.


“I need your help, Liesl.”

“Mine? Of course, whatever you want.”

“Hey you two. What’s up?” A voice cut through the intimate air we’d pumped into our corner.

Emma Brooks.

“Hi.” Spencer stood and took Emma’s hand, pulling her down onto the arm of his chair. “Where’ve you been?”

“Looking for you.” They exchanged a look that said what I thought Spencer had been about to ask me was my illusion. Oh well. We’d tried it once and it didn’t work so clearly we were meant to be friends. But he was so beautiful to look at. Now I watched him gaze into someone else’s eyes.

“I wondered if you could help me later. I’ve got an error in one of my formulas and I can’t find it.” Emma was one of the girls you’d love to hate, but just couldn’t. Short in stature, like me, but no one ever called her shrimp. She stood and moved like a tall woman, able to make cutoffs and a tee shirt seem like a fashion statement. And she was smart. Able to figure quantum physics like Superman leaped tall buildings. Effortlessly, that is.

“Sure.” Spencer smiled at her and again I felt like an intruder.

Emma left to order her drink and Spence and I chatted another minute.

“Anyway, I wanted to ask you something.” Spencer swirled the straw around in his Caramel Frappuccino, blending the whipped cream into the coffee slush.

“Anything.” I leaned forward.

“Ouch, watch it!” We both snapped our heads to the commotion. Emma stood nearby, a coffee-colored stain spreading across her sleeveless, crisp, white blouse as a boy in khaki cargo shorts tried to mop up spilled coffee spreading across the tiles and gathering in the grout lines.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.” The kid sounded ready to cry.

Emma set her teeth and sighed. “Be more careful.” She rejoined us in the corner, a half-empty cardboard cup in one hand and a napkin in the other.

“Now what?” she asked. “I have an appointment with Professor Blossom to talk about my thesis in twenty minutes.”

“Here.” I dug around in my backpack for the match to my tee shirt that I’d purchased earlier. “It’s clean even if it’s not very professional. We’re about the same size.”

“Thanks, Liesl. That’s really nice of you.” Emma took the shirt, set her cup down and headed to the restroom.

“Anyway, what did you want to ask me?” I tried to make eye contact again with Spencer.

“This is the one hundred year anniversary of Einstein’s annus mirabilis,” he said, referring to 1905 when Albert Einstein had published his theories of the physics of light and relativity. “I wondered if you would write an article for the Bulldog Newspaper.”

“Oh.” I sipped my drink, considering how to draw him out again. The interruptions had taken a toll and we’d lost our earlier ease.

“Okay,” I agreed. It was a family legend that we were descended from Albert Einstein. He and his first wife had had a baby daughter before they married and it was commonly assumed they had given her up for adoption since she disappeared after her birth. Einstein and Mileva had married later, had two sons, then divorced.

My great-grandmother had been adopted in Switzerland in 1902. She grew up, married and immigrated to the United States. I was named for her. My family did seem to be gifted in the sciences, but no one had ever bothered to try and trace our ancestry beyond Switzerland. We didn’t know if there would be adoption records going back more than a hundred years. So it remained an amusing story to tell others. I had told Spencer and some friends last spring when we worked the beerock booth during Vintage Days.

Emma returned, scooped up her bag and coffee cup, kissed Spencer, hugged me and headed back to campus. The brakes followed by tires squealing brought us running to Emma’s side. Now I stood, trying to concentrate and remember what I had seen, if I could identify the car. At least by color or make and model. But it was a blur.

Ahhh. A green blur.

I hurried over to the officers to tell them. They wrote down what I said, but didn’t seem to be in a hurry to send out an APB or even to radio other officers in Fresno to watch for a green car.

I didn’t tell them it looked like Professor Blossom behind the wheel. It couldn’t have been him. He was supposed to be in his office, waiting for Emma to keep her appointment. Not in a car running her down on Shaw Avenue.

Emma was loaded onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. The paramedics didn’t let Spencer climb in. He turned around, looking lost. I waved and he slowly joined me.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“Call her family.” I handed him my cell phone. “I’ve got to go see someone.” I left him standing in the parking lot, looking bereft. But I’d been seized with an urgency to make sure the professor was in his office.

I jogged across campus and was soon puffing my way into the Peters Business Building. I leaned against the wall to catch my breath before climbing the stairs. A minute later I knocked on the door with the brass nameplate that said Professor Albert Blossom.

Relief flooded me as the door opened and the professor stood in front of me. But it was quickly replaced by dread as I watched shock spread across his face. Before I could turn, he grabbed my arm and pulled me into the room.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded. “Why aren’t you-” He stopped talking, but his grip tightened until I winced.

“Why aren’t I what?” I tried to twist away, but his fingers had me in a vise. “Was it you? In the car?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His voice grew calm, but his grip didn’t lessen.

“You hit Emma.” I knew it like I knew my name.

“I thought it was you.” He blurted out what I recognized as the truth. “She had on your shirt.”

“Why?” It sounded stupid, even to me. But my mind refused to form more than one word thoughts. “Why?” I repeated.

He didn’t answer.

I tried to move back.

He yanked my arm, pulling me off balance. I took advantage of my momentum and tried to topple on to the floor. But his grasp was so firm that I did little more than dangle at the end of his arm.

“Cut it out.” He pulled me into an embrace and spoke into my ear. “Do as I say and everything will be okay.”

I nodded, wanting him to think I believed him. But I knew nothing would be okay. Emma hadn’t been moving. And it was supposed to be me on the gurney.

“I still don’t understand why.” If I could get him talking, just like in the books, maybe I’d have a chance. Criminals always wanted to brag about how smart they were. And in books and movies it was always their downfall.

Thankfully, Professor Blossom didn’t seem to have watched the same movies I did because he told me the whole story.

He had been walking by the booth at Vintage Days and overheard me tell my family legend. It was a fable to me, interesting, but not with any real impact on my life. But it shook him to the essence of himself.

His family had the same story.

“I researched the records. I even traveled to Switzerland last week after the conference.” His gaze was no longer focused on me but on something behind me and far away. “And I found it. My grandmother was illegitimate all right. And she was adopted. But her parents were Grete Elser and Albert Isenberg. Not Einstein.”

“But so what? Who cares?”

“I also found your grandmother’s records. She was born to Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein of Bern, Switzerland.” His voice got lower as he leaned into me. I tried to tilt backwards, to get him out of my personal space. But he bent forward. “Everything I am and everything I have is because I thought I was Albert Einstein’s great-grandson. And I won’t give it up.”

“But to kill me?”

“I’ll also publish your senior project. Murder or plagiarism, it’s all relative. Just as your great-grandfather figured.”

He pulled his office door open and headed down the hall, still dragging me. I kicked and struggled, but it was like fighting Jello, I couldn’t find a spot to hit. He just hitched me up a little, till I was tucked under his arm like a wiggling Dachshund.

“Stop!” The voice came from behind us, but Professor Blossom just trotted faster instead of turning around.

Footsteps pounded behind us.

The professor dropped me and broke into a run. I stayed on the floor as a body shot past me and jumped onto Blossom’s back. He went down hard, hitting his head against the wall and landing on his right arm. Good, now he’ll know how it feels. He lay still.

“Are you okay?” Spencer knelt beside me.

“What are you doing here?” I ask the most inane questions at the oddest times.

“I followed you to return your phone.” He held it out to me. “I heard him talking inside his office. I called the cops. They were still across the street and are on their way. But I didn’t want to let him get away.”

“Thank you!” I hugged him and held on. “He’s crazy. He wanted to kill me because I’m related to Einstein and he’s not.”

“He ran Emma over because he thought she was you?”

“I said he was crazy.”

Spencer stood and walked down the hallway until he was even with the professor’s head. Then he drew his foot back and kicked with all his strength.

The police arrived right after that and took our statements. The professor had severe head injuries that were attributed to his fall. When he woke, he claimed he had no idea what his name was and had no memory of running Emma down.

He also denied ever thinking he was related to Albert Einstein, the father of relativity.


A Strong Foundation

As I get older, I’m appreciating the wisdom of a good basis. For an argument, a building, whatever. Even makeup. I now use a primer on my face before applying foundation and also a primer on my eyelids that keeps my shadow from smearing and/or sweating off.

         urban decay primer potion                                             prime time

My husband is building a planter out of concrete blocks. He’s cementing them into place, starting from the bottom and working up. They’ll be on a small incline in the backyard, so they are uneven, meaning one end of the wall will be eight rows high, while the lower end will only be four or five rows high. This is a structural feat requiring patience and a well laid foundation.

My life needs a foundation, too. What I do each day is what I value. If I spend more minutes playing on Facebook or Mahjongg, I must value those activities more than reading or studying my Bible or talking with friends or cleaning the toilet or preparing meals.

My friend/mentor/instructor James Scott Bell tweeted this quote last week:

In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia. - Robert Heinlein

As I said, we need a foundation to build our day on.

Correction: I need a foundation to build my day on.


Today I’m praying for: Elnora, Toni, Tony, and Mark McGwire

Last book read: Love Walked In by Merrilee Whren

Last movie: Lars and the Real Girl – possibly the quirkiest and sweetest film I’ve ever seen