Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: After taking April home to Rosedale, SarahJane returns to the reality show Date My Son. She and one of the production assistants Liam share a moment. SarahJane wonders how she’ll be able to handle watching women on the show come on to her brother Nathan. She wonders if she can get Linda, the original bachelor’s mother, to get rid of her on the show.

Chapter Thirty-Six

I stared at the ceiling for more than an hour before creeping out of bed. Cassie’s comment about the only way out of here was for Linda to want me to go whirled through my head like peaches in a blender. Only instead of a yummy smoothie, all I had was more confusion.

Downstairs, a couple of girls huddled together on the sofa. They stopped whispering when my footsteps echoed in the tile hallway. I sketched a wave and moved on to the kitchen. After getting a glass of water, I just stood at the sink and stared out at the night.

The pool, surrounded by quintessential California palm trees, shimmered in the moonlight. Even though there were no camera operators following me around, I knew the house was equipped with other cameras hidden in corners or lights or something. Liam had made a point to tell me on the very first day that this was a 24/7 venture. So while I might think I was alone, I knew I wasn’t. As much as I yearned to curl up on a chaise outside and sob my woes out, I didn’t want to be end up on a promotional video with a deep voice asking, “Stay tuned to see SarahJane’s emotional meltdown after these messages,” before a Viagra commercial.

I had to smile at myself. Always seeing the worst possible outcome was the part of me that I most wanted to change.

I stood up straight.

So why not?

Why not change from a pessimist to an optimist?

Why not look on the bright side?

Why not be spontaneous, in spite of what might happen?

I pushed through the French doors and onto the pool deck, then stretched out on the wide chaise longue. The palms swayed and bent, bowing to the moon. I stretched my hands over my head, then curled onto my side, hands under my cheek.

How could I stay on this show and watch these girls as they schemed and maneuvered to get close to Nathan? It had been hard enough to watch when it was Austin and Linda being played. But my own brother?

On the other hand, I signed a contract. And this was supposed to be part of the adventure of living my own life away from my family and their long shadows. Perhaps most surprising—even as I admitted it to myself, I couldn’t believe it was true—I really did like Austin and his mom. They were genuine people. Or Oscar worthy actors, and that didn’t seem possible. Linda treated me with warmth and grace. Austin was a gentleman. In fact, according to some of the girls, too much of a gentleman to follow up on their invitations to kiss them.

The French doors opened with a soft click. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to deal with anyone right now.

Footsteps made their way to the pool edge. Then … a sob?

I sat up and strained to see who invaded my quiet with their crisis.

A tall woman stood near the pool, blonde hair cascading down her back.

“Amanda?” I asked.

She started and whirled toward me. “I didn’t see you there! What are you doing there, spying on me?”

I sighed and rolled back to my side. “I was here first. You’re spying on me.”

Silence. Which suited me fine.

After a moment, footsteps sounded again. She must be walking around the pool. Then a faint splash. Ah. She’d probably invited Austin to meet her here for a midnight swim and I messed up her plans for an intimate encounter.

Well, I was here first and I wasn’t moving.

We coexisted in our own cocoons of thought for a while. Me, curled up on the chaise, watching the moon move through the sky. Amanda floating in the water with an occasional splash as she turned or kicked.

The sounds of water and wind in the trees combined with the quiet eventually unknotted my muscles and I stretched out. My eyes grew heavy. In spite of the breeze, the night was warm and I had no urge to go back to our stuffy room on the second floor.

After what seemed like a half an hour I noticed the stillness. “Amanda?” I whispered. I hadn’t heard a splash for several minutes.

She didn’t respond.

I sat up and peered at the pool. She still floated, hair spreading behind her like a peacock fan. “Amanda?” I said it more loudly.

Still no response.

I stood and made my way to the pool edge. She came into focus and I could see what I’d missed in the darkness. She was face down in the water.

“Amanda!” I jumped in and paddled to her. “Are you okay?”

Her only movement was bobbing on top of the waves I generated as I flailed my way to her.

“Help! I need help!”


Woe! It’s Wednesday

Coffee Cup Wisdom

wine mug

I bought myself this mug a little over a year ago.

Its meaning is twofold.

Yes, I enjoy wine and a bottle is always a welcome gift.

But the bigger sentiment is about who we connect with. Some of the most meaningful gifts are the simplest. It’s the bag of Cabernet taffy from the friend who knows you enjoy wine. It’s a gently used purse from someone who knows your taste. It’s a decorative tree with leaves made from the cover of your newest book. It’s memories preserved as jewelry or framed photographs.


The dearest gifts declare that you were thought about and you are loved.

Gifts have been a challenge in our marriage. Whether because of being raised with different parenting styles or gift-giving philosophies, we’ve had a few tense conversations. I finally told my dear husband not to give me a gift if he wasn’t going to put at least a little thought into it and I’d rather have a card and a kiss than something I was going to have to return because he didn’t pay attention. That talk came after he gave me some handheld dumb-bell weights when I’d specifically said I wanted wrist weights. I opened the dumb-bells and graciously said thank you even though I was sighing and thinking about when I could exchange them. He then said, with perfect sincerity, “I was going to get you wrist weights because I thought it made more sense for walking, but you said you wanted dumb-bells.”

That was the last thoughtless gift I received and we’re all the happier for it.

We just celebrated our 35th anniversary and he got me the perfect gift. He listened and thought about it.

I have a story idea set in Portland, even though I’ve never been to Portland. I’ve tried to move the story to somewhere I’m familiar with but it won’t leave. I’ve mentioned several times that I want to go to Portland. I periodically look at airfares. I’m saving miles on a credit card. But wasn’t getting any closer. For our anniversary, he gave me a gift certificate that said a week in February, which was a bit cryptic. And a gift bag of Portland guidebooks.

As much as I love the thought of going to Portland, the real gift is he listened to me.


Book Talk Tuesday: Smart Women Know When to Say No


Smart Women Know When to Say No by Dr. Kevin Leman was a free or low cost Kindle book a few months ago. I’ve read several other of Dr. Leman’s books and I appreciate his commonsense and faith-based approach to life issues. So I downloaded it and recently finished it.

Product Details

When I started the book, I was feeling frazzled and overworked and stressed and I wanted help to learn how to pare down my life and my schedule. I constantly feel like I pour too much attention and time into things that aren’t going to have any lasting value. I know dishes and laundry have to be done but do I neglect those in order to have coffee with a friend for mutual edification. And how many friends do I spend regular time with for fellowship and encouragement? Is there a magic number for how many is enough but not too many?

This book is for women who have super controlling husbands or other highly dysfunctional relationships and need help learning how to assert themselves.

That doesn’t quite describe what I needed. I think it would be great for its intended audience.

I, on the other hand, still need help discerning the good choices from the best.



Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane takes April home. Jake meets her in the driveway. He tells her Rachael, her long lost sister, has been calling and communicating with him. SarahJane leaves to return to Los Angeles and the reality show, Date My Son, with her brother Nathan now on as a new bachelor in competition for the women on the show.

Chapter Thirty-Five

I barely nodded off when we exited the freeway and drove through streetlight dappled roads that twisted up. When Justin pulled into the mansion driveway I pulled my hair away from my face and patted my cheeks.

“Is everyone back from the beach?” I asked. There were fewer than usual vans lining the drive and hardly any camera equipment littering the walkway.

“Not yet.”

Maybe I could shower and crawl into bed without seeing anyone or having it documented. I slammed the front door and took the stairs two at a time.


So close. My shoulders drooped at the sound of Liam’s voice. I turned and dragged back to the ground floor and into the kitchen. “Hey, Liam.”

He leaned against the refrigerator. “How was the trip?”

“April is home. I’m here. I guess it went according to plan.”

His eyes narrowed as his gaze searched me. “What’s wrong?”

I opened the fridge door, blocking his view of me. “Is there any ginger ale? I don’t feel so good.”

His fingers appeared on the side of the door followed by his forehead then his eyes. Funny, I never noticed how clear blue they were. Like one of Mom’s prized Wedgewood serving bowls. “I’ll call catering for you,” he said, then murmured something into his walkie.

I let the door waft close and sighed. “When does every get back?”

“About twenty minutes.”

“Is Nathan staying with Austin?”

Liam shook his head. “I was against this, just so you know.”

A tiny seedling of respect rooted in my heart. “Thanks, Liam.”

He nodded once. “Nathan’s going to stay in the pool house here. We’re adding talks between Austin and Nathan, with and without Linda, to discuss which women they’re going to invite on which dates. We’ll be doing several of those tomorrow and making new date plans, so tomorrow will be a slow day for you all.”

The prospect of a whole day with no one yelling for me to hurry up or stand here or walk there again made my eyes fill. I wiped my eyes before the tears could fall and betray my precarious emotional condition.

Liam seemed to understand. He gripped my elbow and leaned close.

An assistant stumbled around the corner, recovered, and set a fizzing glass on the island. “Ginger ale?”

“Thanks, Mindy.” Liam’s lips tightened and he exhaled heavily before speaking. “Drink up and I’ll see you tomorrow, SarahJane.” He turned and followed Mindy out of the room. The front door made a loud thunk as it closed behind them.

The glass sputtered in my hand as I carried it up to my room. I’d just sat on my bed and sipped when I heard doors slamming, high voices of excitement, and footsteps hurrying up the stairs and along the halls.

The bedroom door opened a cracked. Cassie’s head appeared first.

“Oh, good, you’re back.” She stepped in.

“Just.” I lifted my glass of ginger ale in a toast. “How was the rest of the beach day?”

She flopped back on her bed, her hair fanning behind her in a perfect soft-as-flannel pillow. “Very fun. You missed the excitement of watching so many girls change their sights from Austin to Nathan. And the ones who couldn’t decide are still playing to both of them. This is going to be fun.” She rolled to one side, rested her elbow on the bed, and placed her head on her hand.

I groaned. “I’ve seen enough girls throwing themselves at my brothers for more than one lifetime. Is there any way I can get out of this?”

“Only if Linda kicks you off and I don’t see that happening. She likes you.”

Regret coursed through my veins even as an idea rooted. “I like her, too.”

The question, of course: did I like her enough to stay around and watch these women rub up against Nathan? And if I didn’t, could I get her to dislike me enough to vote me out and release me?



Tyranny of the Urgent

I often complain about how busy I am, but who’s to blame for that?



I’ve had a very busy few weeks and I’m still trying to catch up. It takes me all week to get the weekend’s laundry, dishes, and detritus washed, dried, put away, or stored. I’m done just in time to start all over again.

In the meantime, I have a new story idea that’s been percolating and I’m ready to start it, but every week seems to be crammed so full of appointments that with travel time, I’m in town more than I’m home.

I’ve been tempted to tell everyone that I’ll be out of town for a couple of weeks and to stay home with the blinds downs and the lights off.

It would be much simpler to just group my appointments onto the same day. At least that would give me a day or two at home.

And there’s no time like the present.

Gotta go write.


Book Talk Tuesday: Just Breathe

I’ve been reading Susan Wiggs for about a year now but hadn’t yet caught Just Breathe.

After requesting it at the library, I finally had my hands on it.

Sarah Moon is a freelance cartoonist whose cartoon strip seems to echo her real life. Sarah’s husband is recently recovered from cancer. Their lives were so consumed by his illness that they forgot how to be themselves, how to be married, and how to be a couple.

Sarah moves back to her hometown in northern California but soon discovers she’s pregnant.

I enjoyed this one a lot. Sarah vividly remembers what it was like to be an outcast in high school. Her art combined with her unflinchingly honest take on high school life made her feel odd and like an outcast. She’s surprised when she reconnects to a few of her former classmates and learns that who you were as a teenager is not necessarily indicative of who you become as an adult.

I recommend this one and give it a thumbs up!


Writing, Reading, and Real Life

I’m on hiatus while I catch up on real life after a busy few weeks. Check back next week when I should be posting regularly again.

Thank you!


Book Talk Tuesday: Almost Home

Almost Home is a collection of four novellas, headlined by bestselling Debbie Macomber.

Almost Home

Whale Island by Cathy Lamb is about a reclusive children’s book author who lives on a coastal Washington state island and the reporter sent to interview her. Chalese steels herself for what Aiden will uncover. Not just her present as the popular creator of animal stories but her past as a victim.

Queen of Hearts by Judy Duarte tells the story of Marcos “The Brain” Taylor and his high school crush, Jenn Kramer, when they meet up again just before their 10 year reunion. Jenn doesn’t recognize her handsome new boss, Marc, but feels drawn to his kindness and strength. Although there is something familiar about his eyes … Jenn writes the advice column in the local newspaper and several of the recent letters from a self-described lovelorn geek hit pretty close to home.

The Honeymoon House by Mary Carter is Kate and Andy’s story. And Amanda and Pete’s. And Kate and Jeff’s. But really it’s Kate and Andy’s. Amanda called off her wedding to Pete just before walking down the altar and ordered her best friend to strip the Martha’s Vineyard cottage of anything romantic. While fulfilling her maid of honor duties, Kate runs into the cottage’s owner, Pete’s friend Andy. Both Andy and Kate have literal and psychic scars to heal before they find their happily ever after.

The Marrying Kind by Debbie Macomber starts with Jason Ingram seeing a woman from his past in the hotel bar just two days before his wedding. Kate Kern was his first love. Also his first wife. When their honeymoon was interrupted by her parents dragging her off, Jason lost her. Seeing her again awakens old feelings for both Jason and Kate. But he’s engaged.

All four books are fun and fit together well in this collection. Each have strengths and a weakness. In Whale Island, Chalese and her friend Brenda and sister Christie are a bit over the top in their shenanigans. I don’t believe two people could fall through a glass skylight onto a butcher block table without severe injury. But Chalese’s emotional journey rang true for me so I could forgive the inconsistencies in the story.

Probably the weakest story for me was Queen of Hearts. I just never really connected to the stiff-as-cardboard Jenn. And I didn’t believe she wouldn’t recognize Marc, a young man whom she remembered quite well.

The Honeymoon House has plenty to enjoy, and I did, in spite of the overly dramatic and unlikeable Amanda. The ending felt rushed as Kate’s emotions ran the gamut too quickly to ring true.

The Marrying Kind shows Debbie Macomber’s experience in telling engaging stories. Kate and Jason’s chemistry jumped off the page, but I disliked that they hopped into bed so quickly. I get that it’s all about the story and that got the story ticking, but it didn’t make me sympathize with either of them when they were guilt-wracked the next day.

Overall, Almost Home is a fun book to pick up and pass a few hours with. The four novellas make it easy to read one story in a sitting.

I recommend it!

I received a free copy of this book for review purposes and it did not influence the honesty of my subjective opinions.

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