Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: Sarah Jane arrives at the Date My Son mansion where she meets Austin and his mother, Linda. Linda is kind, putting Sarah Jane at ease. Sarah Jane goes into the house where she is instantly evaluated by the other women there. She decides to leave the show and is looking for someone in charge so she can quit. Cassie takes Sarah Jane out of the living room and into the kitchen of the mansion and introduces herself. Cassie is dressed casually and Sarah Jane asks if she’s a production assistant.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Cassie shook her head, long blonde hair swaying. “I’m like you. A contestant who doesn’t know a soul here except Liam. You had a deer in the headlights look so I figured to get you out of the path of oncoming crash.” She motioned to the living room we’d just left behind.

I could hear laughter and voices and I shuddered. “Thank you.”

Now that I had a chance to look at Cassie, it made sense why I took her for a production assistant. She wore jeans, although not Wranglers or Lees, and a floral print top. Almost what most of the crew hanging around were wearing.

“So, I guess you didn’t get the memo either? That we were starting today and meeting Linda and … Houston? … or is it Dallas?”

She laughed out loud. “Austin. His name is Austin.” She leaned against a granite countertop and surveyed me. “Actually, no, I knew what was happening. I’m more comfortable in jeans and I figured I’d make a better first impression if I was comfortable instead of squeezed into a prom gown.”

Bewilderment crept down my shoulders. “Why didn’t I know that?”

She shook her head. “Things fall through the cracks. It’s okay. You look great.”

I took a sip from the glass she’d given me. I expected something bitter or biting, but instead I tasted nothing but water. Another sip confirmed it, so I swigged the whole glass and held it out for a refill.

Cassie obliged, pouring the contents of a pitcher into the glass.

After I drained it a second time, I could talk again. “I need to find Liam. I’m not right for this show. I need to leave.”

Cassie opened her mouth but before she said anything, an amplified and disembodied voice spoke. “Ladies, Austin and Linda will be joining you in a moment. Please make your way to the living room to greet them.”

“Sounds like we’ve got to move.” Cassie tugged my arm, and I followed her to the living room.

We stood behind the overstuffed sectional couch. I hid behind Cassie and a tall redhead in an emerald green gown with a giant skirt held aloft by yards of stiff tulle. Her dress covered up my skirt and her four inch stilettos let me peek over her shoulder. I was almost completely out of sight.

If I could find Liam, I’d explain my change of heart and get out of here. It would be easier if they didn’t have to cut me out of any footage already shot.

The front door opened and Harrison entered.

The chattering women fell silent and tension, grim as a reaper’s scythe, filled the room instead.

“Ladies, Linda and Austin enjoyed meeting you all. They’ve talked about some of their first impressions and compared notes. You’ll have a couple of hours now to chat with each of them alone, then we’ll meet again for the first elimination. Each woman chosen to remain will receive a bracelet. For each successful date or interaction, either Linda or Austin may give you a charm to add to your bracelet. At the end of this season, the woman with the most charms will be Linda’s pick for Austin. But first …” He paused.

Everyone’s gaze was drawn to the door again when it opened and this time Linda and Austin stepped through. They joined Harrison in front of the stone fireplace.

“… Linda and Austin each have a bracelet to give away now. If you receive one of these Premiere Editions, you will definitely be here for another day.” Harrison waved one hand at Austin who cleared his throat.

He grinned, warmth in his green eyes. “To be honest, so many beautiful women in one place blew my mind. I thought it would be weird to meet you all with Mom beside me, but I’m glad she was here. You know what they say—two heads and all that.”

A ripple of nervous giggles made its way around the room. I took off my kitten heels so I was even further hidden by the redhead. This was perfect. The girls who got the Premiere bracelets would be the center of attention and I could sneak out the back to find Liam.

“Mom and I talked and we agreed on the two women we’re sure we want to get to know better.”

The silence grew dense as Anna’s plum jam.

“My Premiere Edition bracelet goes to … Cassie.”

Next to me, Cassie gasped. She looked at me, astonishment across her face. I wasn’t surprised at all though. All that long blonde hair and long legs. Even in jeans, she was a knockout.

She made her way around the couch and over the legs of girls sitting on the chairs. When she reached the front of the room, Austin held a bracelet out. “Cassie, will you accept this bracelet?”

She nodded. “I will.”

He clicked the clasp shut around Cassie’s wrist, before hugging her. She returned the hug then made her way back to me.

Harrison stepped forward again. “Linda also has a Premiere Edition bracelet to offer to her first choice to get to know better. Linda?”

Linda took her place in front of the camera but her eyes didn’t roam the room at all. Her gaze was locked on … me!


Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat


Previously: Sarah Jane was picked up by a driver and taken to a mansion where the production assistant Liam and a man in a suit waited for her. She thought the show started the next day. She’s not dressed up. The car door opens and the host of the show helped her out of the car.

Chapter Twenty-Three

I whispered a prayer of thanks that at least I had dressed in a flirty skirt and cute top instead of my usual cropped pants and T-shirt. Granted the top was still cotton and probably was a T, but at least it had a scoop neck and a floral print. Unfortunately, I could only distract myself with wardrobe thoughts for about twelve seconds.

“Welcome to Date My Son. I’m your host, Harrison Taylor.”

I climbed out of the Escalade and drew a breath. “Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I’m Sarah Jane Richter.”

A genuine smile flitted across his face before the practiced half grin I recognized from the weekend’s marathon DVD viewing assumed its place. “Come meet our bachelor and his mother.”

I knew enough to slip my hand through the crook of Harrison’s elbow and then managed to walk across the cobblestone driveway.

“Sarah Jane, this is Austin and Linda.” Harrison made the introduction then moved to the side where he and Liam bent their heads over Liam’s iPad.

“Sarah Jane, it’s lovely to meet you.” Linda greeted me first, with a firm handshake, then she pulled me into a quick embrace. “Relax,” she whispered into my ear. “He hasn’t bitten anyone since he was three years old.”

I felt my neck and shoulders relax under her hug. She released me and I turned to Austin. My heart froze for an instant before beating double time. Tall, tanned, with sun burnished hair that curled along his collar. I could see him on a surfboard, or skis, or hitting a volleyball.

“Sarah Jane.” He followed his mother’s example with the handshake-then-hug greeting. He took a step back and glanced from me to Linda. “Tell us about yourself, Sarah Jane.”

Linda gave him a playful swat at his midsection. “Oh, there’ll be plenty of time later to get acquainted. This is all about first impressions, right?”

Their easy rapport and candor about the awkwardness of this meeting relaxed me even more.

“I thought I was going to a hotel. I didn’t realize we were meeting today.”

Linda’s gaze flicked from me to something behind me. I looked over my shoulder and gasped when the camera lens stared at me, reflecting back my shocked expression.

“I enjoyed meeting you, Sarah Jane,” Linda said.

With the dismissal obvious from her tone, I turned to go back to the Escalade, but Harrison materialized at my side again. He grasped my elbow and walked me past Linda and Austin, toward the front door.

“Tell me, Sarah Jane, what’s your first impression of Austin and Linda?” he asked.

My heel caught in one of the cracks between the walkway stones and I staggered to regain my footing. “Oh, um … very nice. Yes, they both seem very nice.”

“Mmm hmm, mmm hmm. What else?”

I wracked my brain for something original and catchy and sound bite-ish to say, but it was no use. The word nice seemed to be on a repeating loop and since I knew enough not to say it again, I was left just smiling and nodding .

We reached the front door and Harrison depressed the door latch. “We’ll chat soon, Sarah Jane.”

“Thank you.”

He pushed the door open and I stepped from the Moroccan oasis into the Sahara. The air crackled with heat and tension. Girls sat on ottomans and couches. Girls leaned against walls and tables. Girls held wine and martini glasses. Girls dressed up in cocktail dresses. Conversations stilled as I entered. Fifteen faces turned toward me and I felt all thirty eyes travel up and down my frame, calculating the cost of my skirt ($30 at H&M), my Body Mass Index (in the normal range, thank you very much), the celebrity of my hair stylist (none unless Rosedale’s Curl Up & Dye ever applied for a makeover from Tabatha Takes Over).

A female version of Liam arrived at my side. She thrust a wine glass into my hand. “Come into the kitchen.”

Conversation resumed in the living room as I obediently followed like a newly adopted puppy, suddenly lonely for her siblings.

“I’m Cassie,” she said.

“Are you a production assistant, like Liam?” If I could figure out who was in charge, maybe I could get out of here before I showed up on any more footage. What they had of me so far would be easy to cut.


Woe! It’s Wednesday: Love & Death


Two people very dear to me lost their fathers recently.

My heart is heavy for them both. We’re getting to the age that we go to more funerals now than weddings. We keep our financial house in order. We ask our parents where their important papers are stored and make sure our kids know the same about us.

I clean house before I go away, even for a weekend. Because you never know what might happen and I’d hate for someone to come into my home and find it dirty. But only if I’m dead or in the hospital. If I’m alive and living in it, that’s a different matter.

I read a quote today. I don’t have it handy, so I’ll have to paraphrase.

“Human nature is not made to love something that is unkind or harsh to us.”

The context was that people who have a view of God as a wrathful and judgmental being won’t be able to love Him and draw near to Him.

That’s true, but I couldn’t help plugging it in to my brain and letting it illuminate the way I view some people. Particularly people who’ve hurt me.

I can forgive. I can move on. But I have a hard time loving them. Or even liking them much. And if it’s a deep and long-lasting hurt, I’ve found that it bleeds over into other areas. For instance, if the city they live in is mentioned in the news in a bad way, my first thought is, “Well, of course, nothing good comes from Chicago.” Or Cheyenne, or Columbus, or whatever it is.

The reverse can also be true. I just got some good news. Some really great news. All of a sudden, the world is beautiful, everyone is kind and thoughtful, life is good.

I know it’s like all feelings: fleeting and not indicative of actual life.

Life and death. Good news and bad. Love and apathy.

It’s all a part of life.

I’m off to go live it.


Book Talk Tuesday: Shadows on the Sand

I’ve been a Gayle Roper fan for a long time, but I haven’t read anything by her in a couple of years.

When I started Shadows on the Sand, I exhaled and smiled. It was like coming home to a familiar and safe haven. I heard Gayle in every sentence.


Shadows on the Sand by Gayle Roper

Set in Seaside, New Jersey, like Gayle’s Seaside Season’s books, Shadows on the Sand is also a stand alone. Clooney, the beach scavenger from the other books has a more prominent role in this one.

Carrie Carter fled an abusive and dangerous home at sixteen with her younger sister. They made a new life in Seaside and Carrie now owns the café where she got her first job.

Greg Barnes is slowing coming back to life after a horrific personal loss. Part of his recovery is thanks to Carrie and his daily breakfast at her café.

Complications ensue when Carrie’s dishwasher is murdered and her newest waitress, Clooney’s niece Andi, disappears.

As Greg and Carrie grow closer, they also draw nearer to the evil that is visiting Seaside.

Gayle writes a gripping story that will keep you turning the pages. I stayed up way too late finishing Shadows on the Sand.


Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


Thank you for your patience as I wrestled deadlines, contest judging, and a conference. I’m excited to be back with Sarah Jane. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun on this journey!



The Bandbox Hat

Previously: Sarah Jane watched a season of the reality dating show Date My Son. She decided to decline until she got a call from her sister-in-law Anna who insisted Sarah Jane come home to Rosedale. She offered to fix Sarah Jane up with someone who’d put up with her. Sarah hung up and called Liam to say she wanted to be on the show.

Chapter Twenty-Two

The last few weeks had flown by in a whirl of more interviews, along with end-of-the-year projects for the kids at school. Now it was June 1st and I was packing. My collection of Old Navy Ts and capris barely filled my suitcase.

I eyed my pillow. There was room. Was bringing it too pathetic? Like taking a blankie to college. Or was it sensible? I’d sleep better with my own familiar pillow. A well-rested Sarah Jane was a happier Sarah Jane.

I set the pillow on top of my favorite pink ¾ sleeve top and quickly zipped up the bag.

A quick glance around the room confirmed I hadn’t left anything behind.

Liam said a car would be here for me at nine o’clock. It was now ten till and I was completely ready for my new adventure. The whole thing had been a roller coaster ride since the night I called Liam and agreed to be on the show.

He couldn’t give me any details but said he was pretty sure this season’s mom and I would hit it off. It seemed strange that I was more concerned about the mom than the bachelor.

Liam also refused to divulge any of the locations. I’d begged, saying I needed to know how to pack but he said just to bring whatever and the show would help out if I got into a bind.

I’d done some Internet research on the show and felt pretty confident that we’d be going somewhere warm. Somewhere with ample opportunities for girls to strut around in bikinis and flaunt themselves in front of the bachelor. So beaches, resort pools and hot tubs, even mineral springs were likely. I’d bought a new one piece bathing suit that I thought flattered my long legs but wasn’t too revealing.

I’d prayed pretty much nonstop that I wouldn’t do or say anything to embarrass myself on this show. It seemed like a modest swimming ensemble was a good start.


I stood on shaking legs and pulled my bag to the door. A quiet knock sounded just as I tugged it open.

“Miss Richter?” The driver looked like he could’ve been a long haul trucker. A ball cap, a plaid front button shirt and Wranglers with a wide leather belt and a shiny metal buckle. “I’m Arnie. Are you ready?”

I gulped. “You’re my driver?”

He nodded, reached for my suitcase, and dragged it down the three steps from my apartment to the sidewalk. I pulled the door shut and drew a deep breath before I followed Arnie to the black Escalade at the curb.

He tossed the bag into the back compartment then held the rear passenger door open for me.

I stared into the back seat. “If it’s all right, Arnie, I’d rather sit up front with you.”

He shut the door, shuffled over two steps and opened the front door. “Wherever you’re most comfortable, Miss Richter.”

I slid into the buttery leather seat and pulled my skirt in after me. Arnie closed the door with a firm click that sent shivers down my back. What was I doing? Getting into a strange car with a strange man.

Before I had time to tell Arnie I had changed my mind, we were pulling into traffic.

He draped one wrist over the steering wheel. I could almost see the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

Maybe some small talk would help my nerves. “How long have you been doing this, Arnie?” I asked. “Driving for the show?”

He shrugged. “I’m a gaffer for a cable news show’s local bureau. Got laid off six months ago. Now I do whatever I can find.”

“A gaffer? You don’t look that old.”

He shot me a quizzical look. “A gaffer is an electrician.”

I felt my ears turn red. “Oh.” I cleared my throat. In for a penny… “Will there be gaffers on this show? What else should I know?”

“If there’s electricity, there’s gaffers.”

“Hmm hmmm.” I waited for him to go on, but that seemed to be the sum of his explanation.

We made the rest of the drive in silence. Arnie drove us onto the 110 freeway. I only knew that because the signs informed us we were headed to Hollywood. After exiting, he expertly piloted us along city streets and finally turned into a residential neighborhood, then through a pair of wrought iron gates that sat at the bottom of a steep driveway.

As we reached the top of the steep entry, I gasped. A Moroccan castle, complete with turrets, presided over the grounds.

Another Escalade was parked in the roundabout. Cameras were positioned around the driveway, cables snaking along the ground.

I spied Liam with his table computer talking to a man in a suit.

Arnie let the Escalade idle us up the last of the incline, then he braked so we were behind the first car. He watched Liam and the suit man. Liam lifted one finger at us.

“What do we have to wait for?” I asked.

“It’ll be your turn in a few minutes.”

“My turn? For what?”

“To meet the bachelor and his mom.”

A knot formed in my stomach. “No. That’s not until tomorrow. Today is settling in at the hotel. Tomorrow we all meet and then head to Belize. Or St. Croix.”

“I don’t know about that, Miss Richter. I just know that guy in the suit is the host of the show and the bachelor and his mom will be coming out of that door in about six seconds.”

I looked where Arnie pointed and sure enough, the door swung open and a tall man walked out with a steel-haired woman on his arm.

“But … Liam said … I’m not dressed …” I turned in my seat. “My bag! I have to get my dress out.”

“It’s too late.”

We were rolling forward again. Arnie stopped the car and the door swung open. Suit man reached out a hand to help me.

I swallowed the bile in my throat and plastered on a grin.


Woe! It’s Wednesday


Mondays child is fair of face,
Tuesdays child is full of grace,
Wednesdays child is full of woe,
Thursdays child has far to go,
Fridays child is loving and giving,
Saturdays child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

It’s appropriate that Wednesday’s child is full of woe. It’s not a coincidence that I chose Wednesday for my weekly rant. Wednesday just feels like a good day for a melt down. The last weekend is already forgotten. The coming weekend is still far away. Wednesday just has woe and sadness to look forward to.

I’ve come down with some sort of allergy or virus or something. It’s left me with a rash over my scalp, around my neck, down my chest and arms. It’s not painful, it doesn’t itch (much), it’s not poison oak/ivy, or shingles. I don’t feel sick.

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to see the doctor. I called and had a phone consultation but he wasn’t very helpful. So, I’m electing to wait it out. It’s slowly getting better around my neck. My arms still feel like alligator hide, but I guess that’ll fade eventually. It’s not on my face, so that’s a blessing. It could be worse. It could be painful or super-itchy. It’s just inconvenient.


Book Talk Tuesday: Words


I’m sorry to say that I’ve been had by well-meaning people who rave about a book. It happened to me several times when I was new to ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). I’d read comments or a review that said I had to read that book, it was so good, stellar, etc, etc, until I bought/checked out/borrowed the book. Most of the time I was horribly disappointed. It may have been a perfectly fine book, but I’d been led to believe it was going to be the best ever. After the third or fourth time, I quit believing what some people said about books.

Don’t let that happen today. Believe me when I say this is a great book.

      I’ve had Words by Ginny Yttrup on my Kindle for some months. I’d read good reviews, heard loudest praise, been told it was a “must read,” but I wasn’t falling for that again.  It was likely offered as a free or very inexpensive e-book, so I downloaded it.

Last week at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference, one of the workshop leaders quoted the first paragraph as an example of a powerful opening and I had to agree. Later in the week, Ginny Yttrup was named Writer of the Year at the conference.

So I decided to give it a try. I found Words on my Kindle, took a deep breath, and dove in.

Kaylee is a child, held captive in a cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, and being victimized by a pedophile.

Sierra is a woman, held captive by guilt and regrets, and finally ready to let the past go.

When Sierra meets Kaylee in the woods, she is drawn to this child who doesn’t speak. Kaylee is rescued and placed in a foster home. As Kaylee recovers from her abuse, Sierra is also freed from her past.

The opening captured me. Because of Kaylee’s situation, it quickly became a hard book to read. Just when I was ready to quit, we changed to Sierra’s story and I had a glimmer of hope. 

I’m so glad I decided to read Words in spite of the glowing reviews. This time, they were right.

It’s not an easy book but it’s a compelling one, and very well written. I highly recommend it.


Book Talk Tuesday

I’m at a writer’s conference in beautiful Mt. Hermon, California.

I’m writing this a few days before I leave and this will post on the day I’m headed home.

I’m sure I had a wonderful time.

I’ve caught up with friends, and made new ones. I’ve gotten feedback on my manuscript and I’ve given comments to others.

I’ve been inspired and encouraged.

I’ve gotten lots of recommendation of books to read, some of which I’m sure will show up here in the future.

In the past, I’ve met writers there.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. It’s basically writer heaven.

More book reviews to come!