On the Verge of Giving Up

While his charisma masks his loneliness, Joe Roberts is far from perfect. On the surface, he’s a womanizer dismissing many after one date. Deep down, he’s searching for an instant chemistry with his soulmate, the one person who will love him for his faults not in spite of them.

In this short story leading into Chemical Attraction, Joe is on the verge of giving up on his search. Find out what changes his mind.

 

“King Midas in Reverse”

Using his cell phone’s flashlight and carrying his shirt and shoes, Joe Roberts tiptoed around the coffee table and sofa. Glowing, glaring eyes held sentry on the table by his only exit. The damn cat hissed as Joe reached for the door knob. A growl from behind stopped him. He sighed. The overhead light flipped on. Busted!

“You’re seriously sneaking out without saying goodbye?” Kala Ross asked, wearing a ratty low-cut Ohio State hockey jersey. Last night’s smoky eyes had become 1:00 a.m. raccoon eyes.

Joe slipped his shirt over his head, hopped into his shoes, then lied. “I got called in,” he said, wiggling his cell in his hand. “And I didn’t want to wake you.”

“You used that excuse last time. Since when are truck drivers on-call?” she asked with a grating whine.

He ran a hand through his dark brown hair. Her sexy curves no longer held his attention. He had pursued the Starbuck’s barista for a week. On their first date, he took her to Sweet Lorraine’s sharing a bottle of wine from their long list. After dinner, she invited him back to her apartment. During last night’s rare second date, Joe couldn’t retreat fast enough when she threw out words like boyfriend and relationship. Needless to say, he won’t be going back to that Starbucks.

“You’re always on the move,” she added. Her stiff, bleach blond hair stuck out around her face like a lion’s mane.

He tried to break the tension. “Hey, you didn’t complain about my moves earlier.”
“I won’t be your whore,” she said, crossing her arms, which lifted up her breasts creating a canyon of cleavage.

Joe had been in this uncomfortable situation before. He never liked hurting these women, but he lost interest quickly. Eva and Taylor said he enjoyed the chase more than the catch. He agreed with his sisters’ assessment.

Instead of arguing—which never worked—he quoted a Hollies’ song that seemed to sum up his life. “I’m not the guy to run with, ‘cause I’ll pull you off the line. I’ll break you and destroy you. Give it time.”

She relaxed her angry stance, which surprised him. “I don’t think that.”

He stepped toward her and kissed her cheek. “Bye, Kala.”

The stealthy tabby had moved across the back of the couch and now sat in the chair next to Kala. If it could talk, it’d probably say, “Good Riddance.”

In his car, he thought about the other lyrics from “King Midas in Reverse” by The Hollies:

I’m not the man to hold your trust,
Everything I touch turns to dust.
I wish someone would find me,
And help me gain control.
Before I lose my reason,
And my soul.
I’m King Midas with a Curse.
I’m King Midas in Reverse.

Joe trudged down the dark hallway to his tiny apartment. The fact was he genuinely liked Kala. That’s why he asked her out again. Although ditzy, she had a nice personality. He wanted more than a sexy body though. Was he too picky? Should he settle with someone like Kala?

Joe’s list of negatives outweighed the positives, the general case when he assessed women. For example, Kala thought Jethro Tull was a guy, she couldn’t name a single Beatles’ song, and she liked the Buckeyes. He thought Taylor would disown him since Stuart taught at the University of Michigan.

In the shower, Joe contemplated his love life. He had dated many women, but he’d never had a steady girlfriend. These women pushed him to commit, and he pushed back by moving on. Was he selfish? Broken? Cursed? He felt nothing for any of them. Dating wasn’t fun anymore.

The only women he seemed to care about were his sisters. He wanted that chemistry like they have with their husbands. They’ve both been happily married for nine years.

Should he try abstaining for a while? To stop dating? To just stop pursuing women? To reevaluate his personal life, he’d give himself a six-month attempt … okay, maybe a three-month shot. Although his focus has always been on his career with the FBI, he’d talk to Peter Bingaman, his boss and friend, about more responsibilities. The distraction would be good for him. Too wired to sleep with the new outlook on his life, he headed for the office.

On the dark twenty-sixth floor of the Federal building, offices surrounded the perimeter with the hallways connecting as a square. In the middle were eight larger rooms for meetings, evidence, and work areas. Joe preferred the larger workroom. He didn’t want an office since he wasn’t around to use it. He preferred undercover work.

In jeans and a gray t-shirt, he walked toward the back corridor. Across from the breakroom, he used his passkey to open the door. The impersonal room was plain but functional. Shoved together, four desks with phones faced each other in the middle. Only two had flat-screen monitors and keyboards.

Sitting behind the one with a computer, he used a tiny key on the bottom drawer and pulled out three folders. He’d use the time to finish the paperwork closing these cases. At five-thirty, he sat back propping his tennis shoes on the corner of the desk. Grabbing a yellow legal notepad, he started a bullet point list of reasons for Peter to give him more responsibility and tougher assignments. He needed a bigger challenge.

Hearing the increase traffic of agents outside the workroom door, Joe ripped off the top page and stuffed it into his back pocket. He headed for the small café on the first floor for some breakfast.

Returning with a large black coffee, Joe nodded to Jane Whitmore, the doe-eyed young woman behind the reception counter. Peter’s assistant had a secret. None of the agents knew she was also Peter’s oldest daughter. Joe had seen her picture at Peter’s cabin. He appreciated her need to succeed without the agents treating her differently because of her father. The nepotism in this place was full of unprofessional agents.

“Is he in?” he asked, pausing by the counter.

“Yes, but he’s in a briefing,” she replied.

“I’ll catch him later then.”

Jane knew the truth that Joe and Peter were friends outside the office—much different from the rumors that Director Bingaman hated Joe. The agents assumed the Director berated Joe when called to his office. Actually, he and Peter played chess. Joe held his own, winning some, losing some.

Whenever Peter lost, he’d jokingly reprimand Joe for any minor issue—usually his casual attire. From the open doorway, he had hoped to scare the other agents into working harder. They stayed professional in public. The rumors amused them though.

Passing the first open office door, Agent Rita McMillian winked and gave him a flirty little wave. Joe winced and kept walking. Because of her bigwig uncle, Rita had yet to take her job seriously and flirted with the agents for favors. He despised that about her. Besides, Joe had a strict No Dating policy with the women in the office. Now, he added the No Dating Any Women rider to his rulebook.

Baby-faced Agent Mike Garrett waved a folder to get Joe’s attention. With a slight curl to his brown hair, Mike usually boasted his Love ‘Um/Leave ‘Um strategy with women. Joe knew the truth, which is why he added Mike to his team two years ago.

Mike’s fiancée had died in an automobile accident a week before their wedding. Hiding his depression and pain, he became a habitual Yes Man. Hating it, Joe worked Mike hard pushing him to the edge in the hope that he’d find his passion for life again. Joe still hadn’t figured out if losing the love of your life was worse than not finding one.

Out of breath, Mike stopped in front of him. “Agent Roberts, we may have a new case. Agent Orr said that you have a personal connection to the town Allenton.”

Surprised at a case in Eva and Matt’s hometown, Joe took the folder holding a single page. “I do, so let me read this over first. Orr took the call?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mike replied, before heading to the computer lab.

In the empty workroom, Joe read over the half sheet of paper that was the short transcript of the call, which didn’t give him much information. A woman scientist working at BennTech’s Medical Research Facility in Allenton uncovered possible illegal financial and chemical component errors there. That was all they had to go on? He suddenly felt a compulsion to find out why she would call the FBI and not the locals like Chief Connor. Joe would keep this assignment hush hush from his family until he knew more.

Joe dialed Eva to make arrangements. She’s been bugging him about attending a fundraiser for the twenty-three people who had died from the flu last year. Sylvia’s husband and Matt’s parents were among the victims.

With his left hand holding the phone to his ear, his right hand turned on the computer screen. “Hey, I got some time off in a couple of weeks. Do you still have a ticket to that shindig?” Wincing, he pulled the phone away from his ear. Why did Eva just squeal?

“I do!” She sounded too giddy for his question. “Joey, you can stay in our guest room.”

“Actually, I thought I’d stay at Sylvia’s,” he said, logging into the FBI’s computer system. He could come and go as he pleased at Sylvia’s B & B whereas Eva would track his every move.

“Even better,” she exclaimed. “Do you want me to reserve you a room with her?”

“No. I’ll do it. I want to pay in advance for the two weeks.”

“You’re going to have so much fun,” she said.

“What’s the matter with you? You sound too cheery about my visit. You’re freaking me out. Are you high?” Joe asked.

“How dare you! I’m a mother,” she replied, sliding back into her usual domineering attitude. “Bring your suit. This is a formal affair. Love you. Bye.”

Before he could mockingly complain, she hung up on him. He’d confirm his ticket for the fundraiser with her again next week.

Agent Tim Orr entered their workroom. The weightlifting hulk with massive arms sat across from him. “What did you think about that anonymous call from Allenton?” Tim asked.

“Since my sister’s married to the police chief, I think I’ll go alone and talk to the woman. I’ll call if I need help,” Joe replied, uncomfortable mentioning anything about his personal life.

“Not really your sister,” Tim corrected.

Joe glared making Tim flinch. “Close enough to one.” It shouldn’t surprise him that his team checked into his background. After all, he knew all of theirs.

Tim nodded. “When are you going?”

“In two weeks, the town is sponsoring a fundraiser. Since she wants this to be a clandestine meeting, she can meet me there. Call her back.” Joe paused. “Let’s go with the lyrics from “King Midas in Reverse” by the Hollies.”

Tim took the sheet of paper with the number. At least she was smart enough to use a burner phone, not her work phone or, worse, her home phone. Joe wondered what spooked her to be so secretive.

While Tim made the call, Joe struggled to keep a straight face. Tim had to explain three times that the anonymous agent wanted her to use a code word from the song to identify herself at the fundraiser.

Frowning, Tim hung up. “She’ll do it, but she wasn’t happy.”

“She should have given her name then,” Joe said, using a hardened tone that the agents knew intimately.

Joe handed Tim the three finished case files to submit to Director Bingaman’s office. Tim left and Joe made another call to Taylor, who was nine months pregnant with her second child. Joe hated not knowing the gender.

“Hey, did you have that kid yet?” He knew she hadn’t; Stuart had promised to call.

“Any day now,” she replied. “What’s new? How was your second date with Kala?”

“There won’t be a third,” Joe replied.

“So Eva told me you’re going to the fundraiser in a couple weeks,” she said.

“You already heard? Damn, Eva’s got a big mouth,” he replied. “Yeah, I have a few weeks off.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re going to show support to Matt and David. I think I’ll be a bit busy to attend.”

“Can Stuart handle this delivery without me?” he asked with a laugh.

“Good Lord! I better have this kid by then! I can’t take much more of this.” She paused. “Joey, promise me you’ll have fun while you’re there.”

“I’m taking my fishing pole,” he replied. “Keep me posted.”

“I will. Love you.”

“You, too,” he replied. He swore off other fun for six—for three months.

Joe typed BennTech Medical Research & Development into the FBI’s data base search engine. Their website popped up. Under the Distinguished Scientists page, he scanned the list of names and easily identified the anonymous caller as Dr. Madeline Pierce, the only high-ranking female scientist working at their Allenton facility.

Propping his feet on the corner of the desk again, Joe clicked on her name bringing up her bio and picture. In the professional headshot, the gorgeous woman with her hair in a tight bun smiled back at him.

In that instant, a sharp electrical charge surged through the computer mouse jolting his body. Twitching, he howled in pain. From the abrupt shift, his chair tipped over knocking him on his butt. His arm buzzed with numbness.

He blinked. “What the hell just happened?”

XXX

Joe’s Quest for Love continues in the romantic thriller, Chemical Attraction

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Faith for the Lonely and Heartbroken

As part of my short story anthology, Searching for Her, I wrote “Purple Roses” for those missing loved ones during the Holidays.  It’s also for the lonely ones searching for love.

Joe Roberts and Sylvia Folkert are two of my favorite characters in The Chemical Attraction Series.  I wanted to give them a poignant scene through the remembrance of a lifetime of love and the hint of a new passion with all its possibilities.

“Purple Roses”

In her black winter boots and wool coat, Sylvia Folkert slipped on the top step of her big farmhouse-style bed and breakfast. The softball of used tissues flew out of her purse and dispersed across the wraparound porch. Her gloved hands broke her fall forward. She twisted her knee, but she thought she could walk off the ache. In her early sixties, she couldn’t afford a broken hip in this day and age.

“Thank you,” she whispered with a grateful glance toward the overcast sky.

Setting her purse inside the door, she grabbed the jug of winter salt and sprinkled it across the porch and steps, a basic melt of the snow and ice since the B & B would be empty until next week. Her hired man had done the intense shoveling of her small parking lot and sidewalks yesterday. The forecast projected only light snow tonight.

After hunting down all the tissues, she dropped the wet wad into the trash just inside the door, slipped off her outerwear, and then smoothed down the static cling of her favorite navy blue dress. This morning’s church service wasn’t as joyous as usual. The young children’s choir usually made her smile. Today, she cried. Christmas wasn’t the same without her sweet husband, Herbert, who rose to heaven three months ago.

She and Herbert had talked about funeral provisions. However, he died so quickly she never had a chance to say goodbye. Her grief had been unbearable. She and her niece, Madeline, leaned heavily on each other. While Madeline lost herself in her work, Sylvia started talking to Herbert as if he could hear her.

“Are you with me today, my Love?” she asked. “I desperately need a sign that you are.”

She paused and listened. The blue and white Christmas lights were silently coiled around the cedar and spruce boughs throughout the parlor and living room. The wood and ceramic nativities soundlessly surrounded Baby Jesus on the two corner tables. The abundance of red and white poinsettias remained quiet, too.

“Madeline and I should have gotten a tree. I’m sorry, Darling,” she said, looking at the empty space in front of the bay window. Herbert had brought home a live tree every Christmas since they bought the B & B over thirty-five years ago, replanting them throughout town in the spring.

A few blocks from Allenton’s downtown shops, the historical farmhouse had two other bedrooms and a small bathroom on the main floor next to her large country-style kitchen. Four bedrooms, her living quarters, and another communal bathroom were on the spacious second floor.

In the kitchen, she opened the cupboard under the sink for the dust rag. She needed to keep busy, and this would help work out the stiffness in her knee. She preferred to stay home today even though she and Madeline were invited to Eva and Matt Connor’s for dinner. She’d encourage her niece to go.

“You know, Herbert, my favorite chore has always been dusting,” she said to the cold emptiness.

After adjusting the thermostat, she started in the parlor by the front door. With a sad smile, she reminisced about each of her knickknacks, which held wonderful memories. She carefully dusted her homemade gold and burgundy stained glass lamp with golden tassels, the stand made from the thick banister of Herbert’s childhood home back in Alaska, Michigan, a golf course now. Herbert had made the Tiffany-style lamp the first year they were married.

“After forty-four years, it still works,” Sylvia said not at all surprised by her husband’s craftsmanship.

She moved on to her large cherry curio cabinet with a few antique vases. Herbert loved buying her flowers for milestone events in their life, some good, some bad. Every moment reminded her that they had weathered them together.

Eyes glistening, she held a tall, pale pink, crystal vase. Long ago, it was full of tulips and daffodils. The morning after the doctor told them they couldn’t have children, she found the spring flowers on the kitchen table. God’s plan was greater than theirs Herbert had said. Grateful for all they did have, they had kept their faith alive, together.

“You were a wonderful uncle,” she said, sniffling her nose. The various trinkets in her China cabinet shared more of her and Herbert’s life story.

Sylvia slowly shuffled into the living room and swiped the top of her baby grand piano, a gift from him on their tenth wedding anniversary. He had said we needed more music in our lives. In the large room, they often pushed the furniture against the wall making a small dance floor on the hardwood. For their guests, Sylvia would play and Herbert offered to teach the waltz.

Madeline had become an accomplished piano player and social dancer. They adored their niece as if their own daughter.

Sylvia chuckled. “Do you remember what you said to me the night it was delivered?” she asked the empty room. “You said that I could teach Madeline to play during the summers she stayed with us, so we could dance. You were always a schemer.”

Glancing across the room, she smiled at the nineteen collectable wall plates on the special shelves Herbert had made to hold them in place. Madeline’s mother, Allison, had sent one to her after each of her worldly adventures as an environmentalist. The collectables were nature paintings of wild animals near prairies, forests, lakes, and oceans. Allie gave her a doe and fawn at the edge of a meadow as her way of telling them she was pregnant with Madeline.

“Herbert, will you hug my baby sister?” Sylvia asked, sitting on the piano bench. She looked around hoping for a sign. Her faith wavered. Hearing the kitchen’s back door open, she wiped her eyes and checked the wall clock behind her. Eleven-thirty.

“You’re later than usual,” Sylvia said to her sweaty niece in her winter running gear.

“I know,” Madeline said, unscrewing her water bottle in the kitchen doorway. “I told myself rain or shine, but it was really hard getting out of my warm bed this morning.”

Sylvia tossed the rag back under the sink and started a pot of coffee. After Herbert died, Madeline had started running as some sort of punishment for not finding a cure for the flu. It’s not like it was her fault or her area of expertise, but she took it personally nonetheless. Lashing out, she had blamed BennTech and the CDC for not having the right strain to prevent their tragedy.

After her morning treks around the outskirts of town, Madeline would stop by each time before she headed to work. Sylvia stocked the fridge with water for her, but she couldn’t get her to stay very long.

“Are you going to Eva Connor’s for dinner?” Sylvia asked, knowing Eva’s brother, Joe Roberts, would be there.

“No, I have some paperwork to catch up on. I thought I’d come back later,” Madeline replied, leaning back on the kitchen counter. “I guess dancing’s out, but we could take turns playing the piano.”

“I’m not ready for that yet,” Sylvia said. “I’d prefer you mingle with people your own age, like Eva and her family.”

“I’d be a miserable guest.” Madeline wiped sweat and tears from her face. “My heart has shattered into a million pieces. I don’t have the energy to pick them up and happily socialize,” she said, turning away to dismiss the topic.

“That’s not a healthy attitude,” Sylvia replied, not letting her change the subject. “Your uncle wouldn’t want you to hide in your research.”

Madeline tossed her empty water bottle in the recycling bin. “So many people died and left behind family. I want to do my part. My ultimate goal is to save everyone with a neurological disease.” She kissed her aunt’s cheek. “I’ll stay over tonight, and we’ll play a board game or cards or something.”

Madeline left and Sylvia sighed. “So close to meeting Eva’s brother and yet so far away.”

She and Eva had conspired for a few years to put Joe and Madeline in the same room at the same time to no avail. Sylvia had thought for sure it was a match. Herbert had thought so, too. Actually, he was the one to suggest it. For an hour, Sylvia hobbled around the farmhouse looking for some kind of sign from Herbert. Not a one.

As she put creamer in her mug, someone knocked on the front door. Curious, she walked toward it. “Now, who could that be? Mary and Joseph looking for an inn? That was last night,” she said, amused with herself.

Opening the door, she grinned at her guest. Part of that couple stood on her porch, figuratively and literally. Joe Roberts held a canvas grocery bag and a bouquet of purple roses.

“Joseph, come in. Welcome,” she said, stepping back. He would always be Joseph to her now.

Inside, he stomped his boots on the door mat. “Merry Christmas.” He handed her the bag. “The care packages are from Eva, and these are from me,” he said. His hand held the square box that stabilized and protected the short, fat vase. The florist had created a tightly packed dome of a dozen, vibrant, purple roses.

“Oh my! They’re absolutely majestic.” Their lovely fragrance floated toward her. “Can you stay for coffee?”

“Sure. A break from the chaos at Eva’s would be nice,” he said, slipping off his boots.

“Wonderful.” Carrying the canvas bag, she motioned him toward the kitchen.

Joseph set the flowers on the table and slipped his coat over the back of a chair before sitting down. “I thought these were pretty, too. For some reason, they called out to me and made me think of you.”

“This is considerate of you and your sister,” she said, unloading the bag.

Sylvia put the food containers of ham, scalloped potatoes, yams, and slices of pumpkin pie in the fridge. Eva must have known Madeline wouldn’t stop by there, so she sent Joseph here. They had horrible timing.

“I wanted to check in with you since I didn’t have a chance to attend Herbert’s funeral,” he said as she poured them each a cup of coffee. He leaned over to smell the flowers then took the mug she offered. “How have you been doing?”

Sitting diagonally to him, she sipped her coffee. “Some days are better than others.”

“Yeah, the holidays can be rough,” he said. “After our best friend Taylor’s parents died, that first Christmas was brutal. All the traditions we grew up with seemed to have died, too.” With a matter-of-fact attitude, he empathized with her grief. She found it comforting.

“I miss him every day. I still expect him to walk through the front door,” she replied.

Leaning back, Joseph retrieved the box of tissues on the counter by her stack of cookbooks and set it between them. “Is all that pain worth it?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Tennyson’s quote: Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” He shifted in his chair. “Is it better?” he asked.

Pushing the tissue box aside, she reached for his hand not sure if he’d pull away. He gently lay his other over hers, warming them. His eyes seemed to search her face for the answers.

“I have a lifetime of loving memories with Herbert that I’d never give up. Your time will come,” she replied.

He sat back in his chair, letting go of her hand, shielding his vulnerability. Her niece did that often. Sylvia had tried to get her to share her feelings, too, but Madeline had only touched the surface, pushing her pain deep down inside her core.

Contemplating her answer, Joseph stared into his empty mug. “I want my life to be better, but I’m tired of searching.”

“Trust in God’s plan,” she said. She supposed she should do that, too. It was easier giving good advice than believing in it. Today, it proved extremely difficult.

He looked up and smiled. “Eva has said that to me on many occasions. Are you two hanging out together?”

She chuckled. “Maybe,” she replied.

“Well, I better get back,” he said, sliding his chair away from the table. “Thank you for the, uh, coffee.”

Glad he trusted her enough to open up albeit briefly, she joined him at the front door. After shoving his feet back into his boots, he gave her a brief hug and a peck on the cheek.

“Thank you for the roses, Joseph. Take care.”

“You, too,” he replied, before leaving.

Sylvia inhaled the scent of the roses and snatched the tiny envelope sticking out of the top. Joseph had drawn two linking hearts on the otherwise blank card. She smiled at his thoughtfulness. Taking the bouquet out of the protective box, she saw another printed card from the floral shop stuck to the side:

Purple Roses symbolize transcendental enchantment.

The giver of the purple roses seeks to express a deep magnetism and charm

enticing the recipient to fall in love at the very first meeting.

Sylvia wondered if Joseph saw this and knew about the meaning. Touching a velvety petal, she sighed. She suspected loneliness had invaded Joseph’s life as it had Madeline’s.

“Why can’t we get them together? Herbert, are you seeing this disconnection? I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.” A dash of anger added to her mixture of sadness and heartache.

Carrying a backpack, Madeline stomped the snow off her boots as she entered through the kitchen’s back door. Spotting the purple roses, she tossed her winter coat toward the hook, missing it. She absently kicked off her boots.

“What did I miss?” Madeline asked. “Who brought you flowers?”

“A friend. Aren’t they beautiful?” Sylvia replied.

Madeline deeply inhaled their scent. “Oh my gosh, these are intoxicating.” She grabbed the card with Joe’s interlinking hearts, flipping it over. “Do I know your admirer? I’m a little jealous,” she said with a grin.

“No, you don’t know him,” she replied. She wanted to add yet, but she held her tongue.

“I think I’d like to,” Madeline whispered almost to herself as she caressed the petals.

Surprised by her comment, Sylvia watched her niece sit down and pull the roses closer. She hadn’t seen Madeline smile in a long time. Was she enchanted with Joe’s purple roses? Her niece’s mood lightened as she put her face near them to breathe in the fragrance.

Tilting her head, Madeline looked closer at the vase. “Didn’t Uncle Herbert give you a vase like this one, years ago?”

“What?” Sylvia said, seeing the cobalt blue rose bowl for the first time.

“I think this is identical to the one on the dresser in your bedroom,” Madeline said with a smile.

Gaping in disbelief, Sylvia flashed back to the night she fell in love. At the local American Legion’s Annual Spring Fling, the young man in the black suit and crooked tie had smiled at her. She had blushed bright pink when he took her hand for the first time. She and Herbert had danced the night away as if they were the only ones at the party. The next day, he had sent her the exact same vase filled with pink roses.

Reaching for a tissue, Sylvia sobbed. Her body trembled. This was the message she desperately needed. Herbert was nearby, and he would have a hand in Joe and Madeline’s eventual romance.

Thank you, my Angel. Her shaken faith now fortified.

xxx

What happens next?  Will Joe and Madeline meet?  Sylvia and Eva plot to make it so.  And, yes, sparks most certainly fly.

Continue Joe and Madeline’s romance in Chemical Attraction.

 

 

The Birds of Winter

cardinal-2

Today, I’m featuring a short story written by my brother, James. I’d like to think my passion for writing is rubbing off on him…

 

The Birds of Winter

By James Bennett

I knew returning to Michigan was going to be hard. Under these circumstances perhaps even harder. It had just started to snow as I arrived at my mother’s house. A gust of cold wind blew across my neck as I made my way to the door. She was ready with a glass of wine and a deck of cards hoping to make up some lost time. It’s been tough for her since her father died two months ago. Especially on Sunday when we used to gather for the traditional family dinner.

We sat down at the kitchen table and had time for a few games before my brother and sisters arrived. “Gin again,” my mother said as she slapped down her cards. I had never quite got the hang of the game she taught us when we were kids. She left me there to shuffle the cards as she journeyed to refill her drink.

Just then a cloud passed overhead and cast a shadow on the room. When I glanced outside I noticed a bright red Cardinal staring at me from the feeder. I was mesmerized by his flickering motion and instantly transported on a memory to my grandfather’s house. I was six years old standing perfectly still in a foot of snow with my arms outstretched. Wrapped in a faded purple snowsuit that was handed down from my sister, I waited patiently.

I remember my grandfather telling me that if I was perfectly still, they would come. And as the minutes passed, standing there trying not to shiver from the cold, they came. I was hypnotized by the movement, watching them dart back and forth. I could see them jump around on the different feeders hanging from the small maple tree. They would jump from a branch to the feeder and back again waiting for their turn. Sometimes they would light in the huge black walnut tree just down the hill and sometimes they would seem to appear out of nowhere. I knew each type of bird. My mother and grandfather both taught me the difference between Sparrows, Wrens, Finches and a dozen others.

Finally, it happened. First a Chickadee, then another, then a Wren and two sparrows. They took turns hopping in and out of my hands taking a bit of seed each time. Their tiny feet felt like snowflakes dancing in my hand. I’ve never felt closer to nature.

“What are you staring at?” my mother said as she returned with her drink.

“I was just remembering when grandpa taught us how the birds could eat out of our hands.”

“I haven’t thought about that for years. What made you think of that?”

“I just noticed the birds outside on your feeder. Do they stick around all winter?”

“Of course,” she said.

“But, don’t most birds migrate for the winter? What makes these stay though the harsh bitter cold months?”

“Well, because, this is their home and this is where their families are.” After a moment, we both smiled at each other.

“Now deal the cards,” she said.

xxx

Thanks again for stopping by. Did you enjoy the story?

Let James know in the comments.

Happy 2017—a Year of Kindness & Encouragement!