Escape To Tranquility

ESCAPE TO TRANQUILITY

My Mustang purred smoothly, the engine not even noticing the hills as it crested them and zoomed around curves.

Until it died.

A cough from beneath the hood was the first indication of trouble and of course it couldn’t happen in a worse place. Miles from the last town and probably more miles from the next one. Civilization, such as it was in that remote area, wasn’t much anyway, towns consisting of a handful of buildings, half of which were empty. The other half were all too often closed.

That first ominous car cough was followed by a couple more that were louder until a last one was followed by silence. Dead, complete silence. My beautiful Mustang, a gift from my parents, was dead.

The sudden, unexpected death of my Mustang reminded me of how I’d got here, and the memory had me fighting tears as I stared at a sparkling lake surrounded by evergreens that was so close to the road I was on that I could be in the water in a few steps.

But I didn’t see those things. Instead I saw every single detail of my recent life as the reason that led to my being here came roaring back.

I remembered the death of my parents in a plane accident, followed by the numbing news that their business – the one that had given me a good education, a lovely life, an expensive sports car, and everything that goes with all of those things – that business was broke. Totally, completely insolvent. I’d inherited no money at all and nothing of value beyond the Mustang.

“There’s enough to pay the bills if we sell everything they owned,” their lawyer said from across his desk. “And I’ll find enough to keep you going briefly.”

“Are you sure?” How could they not be rich? We’d lived as if we were rich, and I’d always thought we were.

“I talked about it with your parents. The money thing. That they should put something aside for a rainy day. But they said they wanted to give their child – you – every advantage so they said the rainy day would just have to wait.”

He reached across that desk and took one of my hands in both of his. “Then the rainy day arrived and it was all they could do to keep afloat.” He shrugged eloquently. “They were poised to come out of it okay. To get back to where they’d been. Except the accident happened. And now I’m afraid you are broke.”

So I sold the house and everything else they’d owned, paid every single bill to keep their memory unsullied, gave most of my personal things to Good Will, stuffed the rest of my things into the trunk of the Mustang and what wouldn’t fit there I dumped into the back seat of my beautiful classic car in a cloud of depression and grief.

Then I took off for parts unknown. Pedal to the metal with no concern for what people I’d once considered my friends might think of my unseemly exit because they weren’t my friends once they learned I wasn’t rich after all. Never mind, I’d thought. I’d make new friends. Somewhere. Somehow.

And here I was. Definitely somewhere unknown, totally alone and on my own, without friends and with a car that had just died without warning, just like my parents had died also without warning, with both deaths leaving me very suddenly in a very bad place.

I couldn’t help what happened next. It was all I could do to let the car drift to the shoulder of the road until it stopped moving. When it was completely stopped, I put on the parking brake, dropped my head to the steering wheel, and cried.

I sobbed. Absolutely wailed. I cried loudly and I didn’t care how loud because I was all alone in the wilderness. No one for a hundred miles at least. No one to listen and judge me. I simply clutched the steering wheel and let the tears fall fast and furious.

“Are you okay, Miss?”

I looked up, stunned. Someone was beyond the open car window, standing close but not too close. A man, tallish and that was all I could tell through the blur of tears. I gulped and tried to stop crying. I finally succeeded as he waited patiently, staying a discreet distance away while I got control of myself.

“Yes, I’m okay.” Except I was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trees and a lake instead of in a town where my car could be fixed. So I changed my statement. “No I’m not okay.” I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my blouse. “My car died.” No reason to tell him more. Let him think the car was my only cause for tears.

“I thought as much,” he said slowly, moving inches closer but doing so warily, ready to step back instantly if my tears started again. “Want me to take a look?”

“You know about cars?” I hiccupped and hoped I was done crying because he seemed like a nice person and I didn’t want to scare him away. I looked longingly at the lake with water that would nicely wash my face clean of tears if I got a towel from the back seat and ventured out of the Mustang. Which I wouldn’t do because I felt like a fool and being in the Mustang helped me hide that fact.

“I do know about cars.” After another wary look at me, he moved to the front of the car and soon was inspecting my Mustang’s engine. “Nice car.” An admiring tone of voice. “A classic.”

“Can you fix it?”

“Don’t know yet.” He jiggled something. I listened hopefully but there was no answering roar of an engine starting and no request from this stranger for me to do something. Press a button. Wiggle the steering wheel. Turn the key. “There are a couple things I can check.”

“Will it take long?”

He scratched his head. “Possibly.” He looked around, still cautious but not as wary as at first. Had he decided I was done crying? “The lake is nice. There’s a log near the shore that’s comfortable for sitting.”

“How do you know there’s a log?” This was the middle of nowhere, after all.

“I come here a lot and sit on it.” He straightened and took in the lake and the trees. “It’s pretty. A good place for thinking.”

Which was just what I needed – time to think, to adjust – except I’d expected to experience those things in solitude instead of with a man nearby working on my broken car. But I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that I’d had I’d a place like this in mind when I set out on my trip to nowhere. A place to sit and think.

It was why I’d headed for nowhere. Because nowhere sounded like what I needed. Peaceful and accepting. With a lake and trees. I’d figured that when I found that place – that nowhere — I’d face what had happened and deal with it. And when that was accomplished, I’d plan for my future. Well, that nowhere was a few peaceful yards away and waiting for me.

“Okay,” I said with only the slightest hiccup as I exited as smoothly as possible under the circumstances and opened the back door and pawed through the piles of things in the back seat for a towel or washcloth. I’d clean up in that lake. After I looked normal, maybe I’d be normal. I’d be done with tears and when the Mustang was fixed I’d be on my way.

Didn’t happen. The lake was perfect, the water cool and clean and soon all trace of tears was wiped away except for my wet blouse and after a while the sun dried that. The log was actually comfortable considering it was a log. So things were good as far as my reason for being there. The Mustang, however, was another matter entirely.

“Sorry,” the stranger said, coming up from the depths of the engine. “You need a part. You’re not going anywhere until it’s replaced.”

“Is it expensive?” I had some money thanks to that considerate lawyer, but not much.

He scratched his head. “Not really. But remember that you have a classic Mustang. Not many places around here carry parts for classic cars because they don’t come along all that often.” He looked over the car again and smiled again because it was a lovely car. “Not even me.”

“You have car parts?”

“I’m a mechanic and I have a car repair business. So, yes, I have a lot of car parts. But there aren’t many classic cars of any kind around here, let alone Mustangs.”

“Oh.” I sagged as the true import of my situation hit. “How long will it take to get a part?”

“Can’t say.” We stared at one another for a long time. “When I get home I can make some calls and find out.”

I looked around. The Mustang was the only vehicle in sight. “How far is that? How’d you get here, anyway?”

“I walked. I do that sometimes. I like to walk.”

“How far?”

“A few miles. Six to be exact.” Then he added, “Come with me and you can listen while I make those calls.”

The log, comfortable as logs go, wouldn’t be comfortable much longer. So I considered my sandals. Lovely and expensive but not made for walking miles on gravel roads.

He followed my look and for some reason that made me finally notice him as a person. A man.

Tallish, blonde and muscular with large hands and feet and a nice, honest and somewhat homely face with eyes that matched the blue sky. But his nicest feature was that he was there and helping when I needed help.

And suddenly, for no reason at all other than that he was a human being, I wanted to walk beside this gangly man to wherever he was going. “I’ll come with you.”

He stared thoughtfully at the sandals I’d just examined. “Are you sure?”

“I have other shoes. Walking shoes. If you can wait while I find them.” I flushed. “They are somewhere in my luggage.”

He nodded and as I pulled one suitcase after another from the trunk and went through them until I found the very expensive hiking shoes I’d bought for a trip along the Appalachian Trail that I never got around to taking, he spoke. “Are you moving? I’m asking because it looks like you have an entire wardrobe there.”

“Yes I am moving.”

“I hope this delay won’t cause problems with your move. Your new home. A new job, perhaps?”

“No new job. No plans. No place in particular.” His brow furrowed because he didn’t know how to reply to that. “I’m running away.” Realizing how that sounded I added, “Not from a person. From bad memories.”

After a long silence, he figured out what to say as I changed my sandals for sneakers that would carry me as many miles as necessary. Then I stood straight and ready to start walking as he said, “If it was me, I’d not run away from something. I’d run to something.”

“Like what? And where”

He shrugged. “This is a nice place.” He took in the scenery with a gesture. “You can make new memories while we walk to replace the old, bad ones.” His expression was tentative because he wasn’t sure he’d said the right thing and I was pretty sure he didn’t want to see me crying again.

“I should make good memories? Here?” I looked about as I grabbed my purse because it had my check book and credit card and one or the other would be needed when he ordered that part. “This is the wilderness.”

“Exactly.” He smiled. “The perfect feel-good place.” Then, as we set off at a modest pace, he added, “But there is a town a couple of miles past my place and it’s nice too.”

“A town?” Another hamlet. “What’s it called?” If it had a name.

“Tranquility.”

The name was so unexpected that it jarred me. Stopped me for a moment and I had to jog to catch up. Because, though I’d not known it until he said the word, tranquility was what I was looking for. What I needed. What I would do anything to find. I wanted tranquility instead of nowhere. “I’d like to see the town.”

“They have a diner.”

I held my rumbling stomach. “Can you tell I’m hungry?”

“I guessed as much.” He turned away so I wouldn’t see him trying not to laugh. “When we reach my place and I’ve made a few calls to see what’s up with a part for the Mustang, what say we head into Tranquility and have lunch?”

He’d laughed. How long had it been since I’d even thought about laughter? But I thought about it now as a hard knot I’d thought was permanent eased somewhat because of that unexpected laugh and then I also considered the fact that I hadn’t had breakfast. Hadn’t thought about it. I’d just stumbled out of the motel after a night of no sleep and climbed into the Mustang and roared out of their parking lot as if the devil was after me. “How long will it take us to reach your place and make those calls?”

My stomach rumbled again and he heard. “Never mind the calls. We’ll eat first. I can make calls any time but I think you need food.” He sent me a concerned look. “You aren’t about to faint from hunger or anything like that are you?”

I laughed. “Nope.” And was amazed that in the space of minutes this man had laughed and then I’d laughed also. Was it the scenery? The situation? Or the man?

The man. It was definitely the man. Because he’d laughed.

“I’m Emily.”

“Noah.”

I smiled once more but this time it was because I know my Bible. The Biblical Noah dealt with a lot of water and saved his family. I’d met this particular Noah beside water and he was saving me.

I let that smile grow and was amazed that the world looked a little better than before the Mustang died and I knew that it wasn’t the lake that had changed my world, though it was a lovely lake. Nor was it the situation I’d found myself in. It was Noah.

And the town, of course. The town I’d never seen but knew by name. Tranquility. Noah said it was just a few miles ahead. All I had to do was take a rather long walk with him and I’d get there. I’d find tranquility.

So I walked faster. Noah did too.

As we walked, I thought about the town we were heading towards. Even though I’d never seen Tranquility and would most likely be disappointed when I did see it, I realized that I wanted to stay there. I wanted it to be the end of the journey I’d started so precipitously, never mind that the wanting made no sense at all.

I didn’t say so out loud, of course, because I didn’t want Noah to think I was any crazier than he already did and I accepted that he probably did think that because he was keeping a careful distance from me and checking on me every so often with quick, furtive glances. I figured he was afraid I’d come apart again and he’d have to deal with whatever happened.

We walked six miles to his house and place of business. It was clearly an auto repair shop with a neat, white house separated from the shop by a deep green yard that looked inviting after our trek. My feet longed for that cool, soft grass.

“Wait here. I’ll get the truck and we can head into Tranquility for lunch.”

I did as instructed, slipping out of my hiking shoes and stepping onto that grass and it was as wonderful as it looked. Then I climbed into the huge truck that roared out of the repair shop and held my breath all the way to Tranquility because I didn’t know what it would be like.

It was as I’d expected. As I’d feared. Kind of disappointing. As we roared onto the main street, it resembled every other tiny hamlet I’d zoomed through since reaching the wilderness. Maybe a little larger because there were more buildings and all of them were open for business, including the café with a parking lot full of both old and new cars and trucks. Another wilderness town.

On a more thorough examination, I realized there was a picturesque church and a school complete with a bell tower. Plus, of course, the café Noah was taking us to. I examined it as we approached. At least Tranquility had a cafe. Most of the tiny towns I’d passed through didn’t. I was hungry. It looked wonderful. “It looks busy. Will we have to wait long for a table?”

“Angie will make room for us. She’s nice that way.”

Angie. He knew the person behind the Tranquil Diner. Of course he did. He probably knew everyone within a fifty mile radius of Tranquility and they knew him because that’s the way tiny towns work and that thought made me even more sure that this was where I wanted to be even if the houses didn’t all have white picket fences and apple trees with tire swings.

Because, even if it wasn’t perfect I wanted to live in Tranquility because during that long walk between trees I’d decided that this town was where I would become my future self. Whoever that self would be. Someone different than if tragedy hadn’t happened.

Which might be a good thing. The world has enough rich people.

As we headed into the café I decided that perhaps what I needed was to appreciate the value of work because with limited funds work was definitely in my future. Which was why the small hand-written ‘help wanted’ sign taped to the window caught my eye.

A middle-aged woman with a short haircut and a no-nonsense air about her approached us. “Noah.” She tipped her head towards me. “And friend.” She looked around and when she saw that all the tables were full, she frowned. Momentarily. Then she moved. “I’ll get a table. There are just two of you so it’ll be easy.” Then she was gone.

She reappeared a few moments later with a table just large enough for two that she plonked against the wall, after which she unearthed two chairs. And we were seated. Noah’s look said ‘I told you so.’

“What can I get you two?” She kept her face as expressionless as possible but I was sure that a stranger appearing in a small town made it a difficult feat.

I cleared my throat. Might as well get it over with. “Have you hired help yet?” I pointed to the window. “I saw your sign.”

“Nope.” Her eyes rolled. “Not many people looking for work around here.”

“I am. I’d like to apply. If you have a form, I‘ll fill it out now.”

Her eyes went wide as saucers and so did Noah’s. Then they narrowed as she took in my salon haircut, designer clothes and obvious city everything. “You been a waitress before?”

I wilted. Then I stiffened and sat up straight. “No bit I’m eager to learn.”

“Ever worked before?” Another inspection of my entire being. “At anything at all?”

“I sold clothes in a boutique.” Not exactly the right prerequisite for waitressing in a small town.

She was quiet a moment as Noah listened without speaking. “Waitressing will be harder on your body than selling upscale dresses. Hours on your feet. Are you up to that?”

Noah spoke. “She just walked six miles and is fresh as a daisy and if you need someone to vouch for her, I will.”

Angie’s glance went from Noah to my expensive hiking shoes and she thought long and hard. “Okay. Maybe I’m crazy but I need the help and maybe it’ll work.” Then she added, “On the other hand, maybe it won’t so you’ll be on trial for a while.”

I had a job. My new life was beginning. “On trial will be fine.” Then I remembered. “But I need a place to live.” I flushed. “I’m new in town.”

“So I noticed,” Angie replied dryly before saying, “Try across the street. Len has a room he rents out now and then. It’s empty. You might talk to him.”

After lunch, I learned that Len would be happy to rent me a room. “How much?” I asked.

“Depends on what you get paid.” When he saw my expression, he added, “Don’t want to charge so much that you can’t afford it.” He tipped his head back a bit to see me better through his bifocals. “You look like a nice lady. Good addition to Tranquility. I’ll do my part to keep you here.”

Oddly enough, it worked out. Angie hired me, I learned how to waitress and was glad for my walking shoes, Len rented me his room, and Noah got the Mustang operational. 

Of course not everything went smoothly. The Mustang part arrived a full month after my beautiful car died. By then, of course, I’d been waitressing long enough that everyone in Tranquility knew my story and I knew everyone in the area. Waitressing at the only café in a fifty mile radius was the equivalent of working for a newspaper.

Most people were sympathetic and I found myself surrounded by the new friends I’d hoped to find but hadn’t actually expected to have. A few people simply sniffed at my story and told each other privately that it must be nice to have gone to private schools and drive a sports car. I knew what they said because, like everyone else in Tranquility, I soon knew everything about everyone.

When the part for the Mustang finally arrived, Noah got it running ASAP. “I knew parts would be hard to get but I didn’t expect them to be this rare,” he explained ruefully as we sat beside the pretty lake where the Mustang had died because we’d made a celebratory run back to the place where everything started.

We sat on the very log he’d pointed out on that fateful day. After the required contemplation of the always awesome scenery and comments on how fortunate I was that the Mustang broke down where it did just as he happened along, a smile appeared on his face that was as wide as the Mississippi River and just as mysterious. “But can’t say I’m sorry it took as long as it did.”

“What are you saying? I had no car for a month.” I stuck out one foot and examined what was still an expensive pair of walking shoes that didn’t look so special after a month of being worn daily. And used hard because, as Angie said, waitressing is physical. “You’re smiling about the delay.”

“Yep.” He leaned back on his hands and smiled some more. A self-satisfied smile. “Because your non-functional car is what kept you in Tranquility.”

I slumped, unsure whether to punch him or laugh along with him. After a moment’s thought I did both and he curled protectively against my fist and continued to laugh because, as I’d figured out during our time together, laughter was a Noah thing.

“So you wanted me to stick around?” I asked as I punched him again because by then we were the kind of friends who get together every evening that we aren’t otherwise occupied and just kind of hang out and enjoy each other’s company. “You wanted me to stay in Tranquility? You actually wanted me here?”

He uncurled and stared straight into my eyes, sticking out his lower lip before answering in what instantly became a totally serious, non-laughing voice, “Yep.” He took a deep breath and continued. “Think about it, Emily. Not many people around here, especially if you’re looking ahead to getting married sometime in the future.” He pulled his hat low over his forehead. “The pickings were pretty slim until you came to town.”

I stopped breathing. This was new, this man-woman thing. Different than friends. Disquieting, scary, and life-affirming, all at the same time. But I made myself breathe as if it was nothing special as I asked, “Just what are you trying to say?”

He rose, pulling me up until we stood together, so close a piece of paper couldn’t fit between us. Then he pulled me to the newly renovated Mustang and deposited me in the passenger seat while he climbed into the driver’s seat. Turned the key and listened in satisfaction as the Mustang revved to its full potential. “You own this Mustang. If you leave town, the Mustang goes with you and when will I have another chance to drive a classic like this beauty?”

So not a man-woman thing. A man-car thing. I felt deflated. “So the Mustang is the attraction?” And I wasn’t.

He turned off the engine once more and the silence was deafening. And beautiful. And tranquil as was everything about the place. “It was partly the Mustang. Also the Mustang’s owner. Maybe mostly the owner.”

He looked embarrassed, the first time that had happened since we’d met a month earlier. “I’m hoping it’s a package deal.” But he managed to look me in the eye and there was something new in the depths of his eyes that was deep and unreadable that turned me warm inside and made me want to explore. But as I looked into those eyes I decided that I wanted to learn about Noah on Tranquility time. No stress, no hurry, with tons of positive emotion beneath the placid surface.

He wiggled a bit. Actually wiggled! “Is that okay with you? Car and car’s owner? A two-fer?”

My response was instant. “Yes.”

I thought about teasing him, telling him how much I appreciated his excellent mechanic’s skills. But I knew he’d understand my answer just as I understood his questions.

He did. He reached over and took one of my hands in one of his. Then he dropped my hand, started the Mustang, listened to it roar, smiled appreciatively, and we headed home. To Tranquility.

And at that moment I knew that my decision to stay in this small town had been the right one. Right for many reasons though only time would tell wither the man beside me would turn out to be the most important reason of all.

I suspected he would be.

THE END

Free Story For October Is Coming In A Week Or So

The October free short story — Escape To Tranquility — will be published here and on my Facebook author’s page in a week or so. Just letting you know.

It’ll be a romance but, as you know if you know me, there won’t be any heavy breathing or explicit anything because I have a hard time writing when I’m laughing. And, yes, writing sex scenes does that to me. Makes me laugh. Or at least giggle.

Maybe it’s an age thing.

Anyway, haven’t you ever wanted to escape to tranquility?

Well, in this particular story, my heroine does exactly that.

Somebody Help Me!

Here’s a blog post I think you might enjoy. I don’t reblog a lot but this is worth it.

Ann Malley

I’m addicted to adrenaline and, well, BINGING.

If this is YOU, inclined to binge read stories that make you go bump in the night–that’s bumping around turning pages–do I have a deal for you!

15 #THRILLERS for .99 cents!

Yes, your tired eyes are working just fine. But hurry, because October 12th is closer than you think. No imaginary stalker. Calendars have always made me cringe. But it’s all good.

Today’s most popular #MYSTERY& #SUSPENSE authors have teamed up. All women. All dead set on delivering YOU the thrills, chills, and dangerous choices you can make from the safety of toasty bed covers. Or that steaming bubble bath we too often deny ourselves. (But these little lovelies can be squeezed in while waiting for the kiddos in the pick-up line at school. Those days have flown for me, but I remember them well. The need for #metime is real…

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Okay, guys. Here it is. The September free story. A non-romance unless you consider a love of life to be a romance of a kind. Which I do, and I enjoyed writing this story that was inspired by every school kid’s September writing assignment of telling the story of what they did during summer vacation. I wondered what an adult would write if given that same assignment and here’s what I came up with. Hope you enjoy it.

HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION

The cruise was supposed to be fun. You know, dances with great-looking guys, never-ending platters of gourmet food served by great-looking guys, live shows every night featuring great-looking guys and day in and day out tons of great-looking guys hanging over the railings looking for someone to talk with. Someone like me.

Didn’t work out that way. Not for me, anyway, and even though I knew the complete failure of what I labeled ‘cruise happiness’ was because of a bad attitude – mine – that didn’t change the fact that I felt cheated.

I suppose I shouldn’t have blamed the cruise line. I should have put the blame squarely where it belonged, on my newly ex-husband and his equally new wife, aka his former assistant, who was half his age and half my size. I wanted to squish her between my thumb and forefinger and could  have done so without breaking a sweat if I’d tried.

But I was nice so I simply smiled as I took my half of our accumulated net worth and laughed all the way to the bank while my ex tried to figure how to support his new wife on half of what he’d expected from the divorce. She loves expensive shoes, purses, and just about everything else that costs big bucks and he’d thought he could afford her and he could have if he’d gotten everything. But I had a great lawyer, which was actually more important than guys on cruises who look great. But I’d hoped to have both.

When my great lawyer handed me that beautiful check, I went straight to the bank and then to the travel agency and booked a cruise. After looking through brochures I decided to sail across the Caribbean and soak in the sun and run along sandy beaches and swim in the boat’s pool and enjoy myself if it killed me. I figured the great-looking guys the travel agency hinted at would help.

I expected to come back from the cruise a new woman and get on with my life and laugh at my ex’s failure to satisfy his very young and very expensive wife. Actually I wouldn’t laugh because I’d be too busy being a new, gloriously happy me to even remember who he was.

That was the plan. The reality was a tad different, mainly because of the total lack of great-looking guys who weren’t afraid of me. My angry – no, make that furious! — expression that was in danger of becoming permanent may have been part of the problem. Might have been what chased them away from me and into the arms of all the other middle-aged women looking for fun who’d also booked the cruise and were happy and looked it.

But there was one bright spot to the cruise and I looked forward to it eagerly. I’d booked that particular ship with its particular itinerary because it would stop at a small tropical island owned by the cruise company that was used for a stop-over complete with a beach party beneath the stars. Other than when the ship stopped to have a party, the island was deserted. Completely. No towns. No people. Just another tropical island covered with trees and rife with exotic wildlife.

I’d never been on a tropical island and the concept enchanted me. I didn’t care if great-looking guys were included because it would be more than enough just to experience an unspoiled tropical paradise. I could hardly wait and when our ship docked at that private island it didn’t disappoint. It was gorgeous. Right out of a movie.

I was the first person off the boat. Ship. Whatever it was called. I doffed my sandals and dug my toes into hot, white sand and knew I’d remember this cruise forever as a wonderful experience because of the white sand beach and the lovely island. Nothing could be better.

Of course, the beach party was nice too. After hours of walking on carefully marked trails during the day I was both hungry and thirsty and glad for the bonfires blazing every few yards along the beach so there were enough for everyone to enjoy without crowding. It was the start of a perfect night.

The thing was, there was alcohol available. Free alcohol. Now I’m not a drinker. A glass of wine now and then if the occasion warrants or maybe a cocktail that I never finish because… just because.

But this was different. An occasion. The completion of my separation from a man I now wondered how I’d ever been in love with. That made it a life changing event and such events often involve alcohol, don’t they? Well, I’d just had such an event and that meant the night definitely qualified. So I decided it wouldn’t hurt to drink just a tiny bit more than usual. To celebrate. So I did.

Bad decision.

As the night wore on and the drinks kept coming complete with tiny umbrellas and fruit slices on the sides, I decided I was done with people and wanted solitude and that this island was the place to find it. Lots of trees to hide behind, lots of stars to gaze at, lots of everything tropical islands excel at and if I left the hoards of noisy people behind I could pretend the island was deserted and believe that I was the only person on Earth and a competent, single woman who would get on with her life pronto. A nice thought.

So I sought darkness and solitude and found it, following the beach until the bonfires were no longer visible and the night crept into my soul and I found everything I’d been seeking for longer than I realized. Since the day my marriage started to crumble and now that I was alone and being honest I admitted that day was farther in the past than when my now former husband had hired a young assistant.

I found a tree to lean against and sat and contemplated the sky, the stars, the ocean’s bright waves, and life in general until I heard the very loud and very persistent klaxon call of the cruise ship’s horn telling everyone that it was time to return so we could continue our travels.

I planned to do just that after a few more moments of contemplation of moonbeams on the water and listening to night songbirds. Just a couple moments more.

Another bad decision.

The next thing I knew, the sun was shining brightly on the water that moments earlier had reflected the light of stars and the moon and how’d that happen, anyway? And why did my head hurt?

More important, I decided, I’d better find the boat – ship – and get on board because that horn had said it was time to leave. The horn had blasted the silence of the night to smithereens and now that I thought about it and checked the bright sunshine, I decided it might have been more than a few minutes since I heard it so I’d better hurry.

Except when I reached the beach after ignoring a head that throbbed with each step, the boat – ship — was nowhere to be seen and how could it have disappeared in the few minutes that I’d spent contemplating life? How had it made all the passengers disappear, the ones that had been on the beach a short time earlier?

As I stared at the empty dock, I realized that it couldn’t. Making that many people disappear instantly was totally impossible. So I was missing something, I just didn’t know what.

I paced the beach and checked the dock again and the metal fire rings nicely spaced along the beach that had once held blazing bonfires and now contained cold, black ashes and I realized something. Something awful.

It was the next day and I’d missed the boat.

I was alone and stranded on a deserted topical island.

Oops.

Still – as I walked among the cold fire pits, I didn’t feel like someone who’s just become a castaway. In fact, I felt kind of good. It wouldn’t last, I told myself as I considered the trees swaying in the tropical breeze and the lapping of blue and white frothed waves breaking across the white beach. No, Paradise wouldn’t last because it never does but while it had hold of my body and mind, it was wonderful.

“Hey!”

I turned. A woman about my age was emerging from those swaying trees. So I wasn’t alone after all. “Hey, you!” she shouted again.

Okay the island had a caretaker and she didn’t like left-over people making tracks on her beach that had already lost the tracks of the many people from the previous night and looked like it had never been trod upon, except for me. Waves do that, I decided in some corner of my mind. Waves and water and wind. All lovely things and maybe it was nice that there was someone else on my island after all because she’d know what to do about missed connections.

“Are you talking to me?” I waited for her to come to me because she didn’t look happy and the first rule of warfare is to hold your ground against the enemy. She looked kind of like the enemy.

Which meant she looked kind of like me. The me since my late husband walked out. Antagonistic. Angry. Not to be fooled with. Dangerous, even. So I folded my arms in a deceptively innocent way and asked again, “Are you speaking to me?” I would have tapped my foot except tapping on sand isn’t effective.

She reached me. “Where’d the boat go?” She stared at me. Hard.

“How should I know?” I stared back. Harder than she stared at me.

She kept staring. “Because you’re the only person left on this island, that’s why you should know. Caretakers know things like that and I’d like you to call the boat back so I can continue with my cruise.”

My mouth dropped. “Me? You’re insane. I’m not a caretaker.” I poked a finger at her. Another warfare tactic. “You’re the caretaker and I was about to ask you to call the boat back so I could continue with my cruise.”

We stared at one another until she said, “You’re not the caretaker?”

And I asked, “You’re not either?”

A pause after which we spoke in unison. “We both missed the boat.”

We sat down then. On the sand. Hard. And said nothing for the longest time. Then I ventured with, “What do we do now?”

“How should I know? I’ve never been shipwrecked before.” I could have reminded her that we weren’t shipwrecked because the ship was fine, wherever it was. We were the ones with problems.

“Cell service?” She pulled out her cell and tried to get it to work, then she put it back in her pocket. “Nope.”

We stared at the beautiful blue-green ocean and multi-colored birds flying against the brilliantly summer blue sky. We stared for a long time. Until she said, “My name is Emily and I’m hungry.”

“Jan and me too.” I shaded my eyes with a hand and examined the trees. “Coconuts, maybe?”

She followed my look. “They are pretty tall. And scratchy looking. I’d prefer something easier.”

I thought a moment. “Maybe they keep supplies on the island. For beach parties.” It seemed like a reasonable thing to do. “Let’s look around. We might find something.”

“Like a two-way radio.”

So we looked and, yes, we found a shed and it wasn’t even locked because there was no need for locks on deserted islands. And, yes, there were a few industrial sized cans of peaches and boxes upon boxes of tiny umbrellas. Then we found sealed cans of crackers and cheese and we sat down right then and there and ate our fill of crackers and cheese and peaches but we ignored the little umbrellas. We’d had enough of little umbrellas the previous night.

“Time slipped away from me,” Emily said, finally picking up an umbrella and holding it at arm’s length. “Too many of these little things and too many lovely, fruity drinks.”

“Me too. They were very good drinks.”

“I was celebrating,” she said defensively. “I don’t normally drink that much.”

“Me too – celebrating — and neither do I normally drink that much, but I did last night and I’m not sorry. Except for the being stranded on a deserted island part. I’m kind of sorry about that.”

“What were you celebrating?”

“My recent divorce.” There. I said it. Out loud. Just tossed the words out as if it wasn’t important.

“Really?” She turned towards me and our eyes met. Two middle-aged women who were neither thin nor cute. “Me too and though I thought I’d die when it happened, I’m now happy to be free of the rat-fink.”

“That makes two of us,” I replied and realized that was exactly how I felt. Happy to be rid of my former husband. Free even though I was temporarily in a difficult situation.

We sat there on the sand with tiny umbrellas in our hands without the alcohol that went with them. And without knowing quite what triggered it, we started to laugh and before we knew what was happening, we were rolling on the sand with laughter and telling each other our life stories and they were so alike that we laughed even louder and decided we were sisters in every way but blood.

Then our mouths became sort of parched from laughter and the sand that was quite gritty and we decided that survival was more important than sisterhood so we searched further because peaches didn’t have enough liquid in them to keep our thirst quenched, especially since we’d also been eating salty crackers.

And that was how we came upon the tiny creek that trickled among the trees and the other sheds that had been erected in such a way as to not be noticeable to tourists who were looking for a deserted island but were handy for the people who kept those tourists happy.

One was stocked with tables and tablecloths and napkins and candles and elegant plates and cups and everything needed for a banquet. “We didn’t get a banquet.” Emily sniffed as she examined the exquisite napkins.

“We got bonfires. Maybe other cruises get banquets.” It also had plastic glasses like the ones we’d drunk from the night before and we used a couple to scoop out cold water from the creek and drank until we were sated. Never mind that we might die from who knew what disease that water held, we felt great.

And happy. We smiled and laughed and danced on the sand and set one of those tables for a banquet for two and while we did those things everything that had been wanting to come out of me for a long, long time came out and danced with me and Emily said the same thing was true of her.

“So now what?” she finally said, when our euphoria had subsided and we had to once again face our situation. “When is the next cruise ship scheduled to stop here?”

“Surely there will be other ships passing by before then. We can signal them.”

She gave me a long look. “With what? And what if it’s an airplane instead of a ship? How will we signal it?”

“We can write in the beach sand.”

“The water washes everything away almost instantly.”

So we thought further. “Let’s look more. We never did find that short wave radio.”

So we looked. And we looked some more. And then we looked still more. We never did find a short wave radio but we did find a whole bunch of things that we thought were rather unique. We found flares.

Emily – ‘Em’ by then because being stranded on a deserted island speeds up the friendship process a lot – said her father had worked for the railroad and she knew about flares. “You snap off the cap and rub it against the flare and it lights up. No matches needed.”

There were lots of flares. Dozens. So she showed me and soon we were both brandishing flares much as we’d done sparklers on the Fourth of July when we were kids. Except the flares were more colorful and way bigger. It was fun. Real, idiotic fun.

“Now all we need is someone passing by to see a flare.”

“They’ll come,” Em said with what I thought was a slightly diminished degree of the self-confidence that had lifted both of us to an emotional high since finding each other and discovering we shared similar backgrounds. And similar ex-husbands.

I couldn’t help what happened next. I started drooping a bit, too. “It could be a teeny tiny while.”

We stared at one another and then at the small, well-hidden shacks that contained all we had in the way of survival equipment. “No clothes,” she said forlornly, all pretense of swagger gone.

“We have clothes. We’re wearing them.”

“Do islands get cold at night?” We didn’t know. During the one night we’d already spent on the island we hadn’t been in any condition to take note of our surroundings or gauge the temperature. “I hope not.”

At which moment, we heard a sound. Not the birds or the ever-present tropical wind or the trees swaying in that wind. Something else. Some other kind of sound.

“A ship!” Em ran to the beach and I followed. “It’s a ship.” She turned and ran back to the shed we’d just left. “Flares! We need flares. Lots of them.”

“They’ll see us. They will.” I added ‘I hope’ and ‘please’ but I added them silently because I didn’t want to seem like a kill-joy as we grabbed arms-full of flares and ran back to the beach, where we snapped the caps off two flares, rubbed them as Em instructed, and to our delight watched as they burst into flame.

“We’re saved. We get to go home.”

“Home.” We both wondered what home would be like. Different than before was all we knew. Worse? Better?

We looked at the ship, then held our flares high as we waded into the ocean and waved them wildly, and then we looked at each other standing in the ocean and waving a bunch of flares like a couple of idiots. And we started laughing once more, our optimism renewed and our lives looking better and better with each passing second.

Because with the arrival of that ship, we suddenly knew that we had a future. Maybe we didn’t know what it would be like but we did know it waited for us with open arms.

As the ship drew closer we also knew – we felt in our bones – we internalized the knowledge — that that waiting future, like the approaching ship, would be wonderful. Absolutely awesome.

The flares turned out to be unnecessary. The ship was our ship – the cruise ship – that had realized two passengers had been left behind and returned to pick us up.

We walked onto that ship with all the grace and dignity we could manage, strolling slowly as if this was an every-day occurrence for world travelers like us. As if the whole thing was a lark. As if we’d known all along that we’d be rescued and it was only what special people like us deserved. When we reached my stateroom, which happened to be the closest one, we collapsed on the bed.

“Did you see the dirty looks we got?” Passengers had been lined up all along the side of the ship as we boarded and every eye had been on us.

“I’m guessing the ship had to skip some excursions because of the time it took to come back for us.”

Em shrugged elaborately. “Not that I care.” But her lower lip trembled and we both knew that joining the rest of the passengers for social events was going to be hard. Very hard.

Those great-looking guys would look at us and shake their heads and we’d not know if it was because we were so angry that we scared the crap out of them – which had been the case before we were stranded — or because we were a couple of dumb, middle-aged women who didn’t have the sense to return to the ship when the klaxon went off.

Em held her head high. “Who cares what anyone thinks? We had an adventure. A real adventure.”

“Yes we did and it was wonderful.” Which, in retrospect, it had been. Absolutely awesome.

We looked at one another and burst into laughter. Again. I held my middle but couldn’t stop the laughs. “Laughing is getting to be routine.”

“It’s good for us.” She tossed her head back and let the laughter roll out of her. “So what if we are two addle-brained women who got stranded on a deserted island?” She thought a moment, then said, “Two very addle-brained middle-aged women.”

My next words came out unbidden. “And isn’t that great? Wonderful? Fabulous?”

We stopped laughing. We stared at one another. And we found ourselves nodding. “What happened was all of those things,” Em said quietly. “Wonderful. Fabulous. Amazing.”

The laughter dissipated and we knew, somehow, that it wouldn’t return because it wouldn’t be needed. Because we’d got beyond needing it. “And some day we will look back on this cruise as the best thing that ever happened to us.”

“We survived.”

“We did. We are survivors.”

 “We are also now two truly happy women.”

I stood up, straightened as tall as possible, strode across the stateroom and opened the door to the outside and all those people who would be looking down their noses at us. “It’s a beautiful day. Let’s enjoy ourselves.”

And we did. We danced to the ship’s band with each other and alone and both ways were fun and we didn’t notice or care whether those great-looking guys were checking us out or not because they were no longer important.

We ate unhealthy food until our stomachs rebelled and we had to go outside and stare over the railings at the sun-streaked sky long enough for our stomachs to settle and the sky to turn to night with stars and shining waves becoming part of us.

As the days passed, we met other people and talked with them and discovered that some were out of sorts because we’d changed their itinerary but others thought we’d had the most exciting adventure they could imagine and they were jealous and wanted to hear the details over and over again.

When the cruise ended, we exchanged contact information. Because we’re going on another cruise next summer. Together. One with a stop at a tropical island.

It’ll be fun and hopefully we won’t end up stranded once again. The brochure said there’d be a gourmet feast on their own private island and we both truly do like islands. But not being stranded on them. I mean, we’ve done that and don’t need a repeat.

But you never know…

THE END

Convergence episodes 1 and 2 are published and free

CONVERGENCE

(Book 2 of The Space Between Stars, but you don’t have to have read the first book to enjoy this story.)

http://www.Amazon.com/dp/B09CZWDS9W

Episodes 1 and 2 are online in Kindle Vella, Amazon’s newest way to read stories, one episode at a time. Since the first 3 episodes are always free, you can start reading CONVERGENCE for zero cents to see if it’s your kind of story.

Here’s what it’s about:

New planet. New home. New life. Pray things go right because calls for help trillions of miles from Earth don’t get answered.

There’s the pollen. Pollen is harmless. Isn’t it? And there are the whisperers who followed the colonists to this new place. Are they from Earth? They must be. Unless they aren’t.

But these colonists traveled between stars to start a new civilization on this particular world and they don’t intend to let anything stop them. They’ll fight for their new home. Problem is, winning is never guaranteed.

And here’s an excerpt:

The first team to the planet’s surface wasn’t expected to survive so no cameras were allowed. Without a record of whatever disaster befell them, it could be hushed up. The powers that be could come up with a logical explanation for dead or missing team members, a tragic fall, perhaps, or some other story. But that wouldn’t work if there were pictures.

They planned that if that happened – and they were pretty sure it would – they’d suitably mourn those lost, wait a while, and then send down a second team. If that team suffered a similar fate, they’d send a third. And, if necessary, a fourth. And so on.

Because this was the place they’d been heading towards for generations. This particular, specific planet. Not the next planet or the one after that. This planet and no other. They would stay here. They would colonize it no matter what. Danger and death be damned.

Turned out to be an unnecessary precaution.

At first.

Kindle Vella Street Team. Interested?

I’m looking to create a street team for my stories on Amazon’s Kindle Vella.

If you don’t know what Kindle Vella is, you’re not alone. Amazon did little to nothing in the way of promotion. I suspect their reasoning was to give authors free reign to do whatever they choose and Amazon will then follow by doing those things that are most successful. In the meantime, every author is on their own.

So I’m thinking of creating a street team and together we’ll strategize how to publicize something new. The kicker is that you can’t even read Kindle Vella on your Kindle. Not yet anyway and don’t know if they’ll ever do it. Instead you read it on your phone, computer, etc. Just like social media, in short episodes of 600 to 5,000 words each.

Mine normally are between 1,000 and 2,000 words each and the first 3 episodes are free, which is nice, and you can purchase ‘tokens’ to read the rest at greatly discounted costs, and every new subscriber is given 200 tokens free. So the cost is nothing or minimal if you keep reading.

Anyway, if you are interested in helping me publicize my stories and figuring out how to publicize a new story medium, contact me at witkopflorence@gmail.com (the email I use for writing, not my personal email address) and we’ll go from there.

And just to have a picture to show with this post, here’s the cover for my second Kindle Vella story, titled CONVERGENCE. I chose a warrior woman because I remembered that faces are the best covers of all and I liked her expression. That’s one tough woman who is also feminine. My kind of cover.

The link if you are interested is http://www.Amazon.com/dp/B09CZWDS9W

Love Me, Love Me Not

LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT

“These are beyond their prime,” Lola said with a frown. Lola being my boss at Flowers4U, the best flower shop in the city according to the customers who kept us in business. “Do what you want with them but do not use them in anything that is for sale.”

I examined the flowers, red and white and still pretty, though, as Lola had said, past their prime. “I’ll bring them home with me.” Which she knew I’d say because it was what I always said when she decided flowers were past their prime. “They’ve still got some life in them and my apartment could use a bit of cheering up.”

“Humph,” Lola said in the faux grumpy voice she uses sometimes. “That place could use a few windows is what it could use.” Referring to my two rooms and a bath on the second floor of an ancient apartment building overlooking a tiny yard featuring grass with flowers around the edge. But the only way I could see that lovely piece of nature was to stand on my tiptoes and stare out my single, tiny, living room window. So flowers in vases scattered throughout my apartment, even those past their best days, were a welcome addition to my at-home life. I brought home all the blooms from Flowers4U that would otherwise be tossed.

I kept them alive as long as possible in vases and jars filled with water and all the best nutrients Flowers4U had on their shelves, complements of Lola who loved flowers and wanted to know they’d lived as long as possible. I’d care for the flowers and remember my grandfather’s farm and the flowers he grew for my grandma. Red flowers were her favorite. Red like the ones I was looking at now.

When there was no life left in the drooping petals that were past their prime, I’d toss them into the can for composting that was beside the dumpster that was beside the gate that led from that tiny spot of natural beauty to the great beyond, otherwise known as the bustling center of our small city.

I loved the city. I’d moved there from that beloved farm so I could visit museums and art galleries and restaurants featuring food from everywhere on Earth. I couldn’t do that in the country. So I chose the city and missed the flower garden and my grandparents but they were happy for me as long as I visited occasionally.

So now in my city apartment, I considered those red flowers that would eventually be so far gone that even I would have to say goodbye to them. But I never knew what happened to them after they were tossed and had never been curious until now. I presumed they went to the landfill along with the rest of the apartment building trash. Of course they did. Where else could they go? Where else could any trash go?

Of course, before that happened, I played my flower game. In fact, even before finding the perfect vase from among my many garage sale finds and filling it with water and nutrients that would revive the aging blooms, I held the flowers in one hand and counted the petals with one finger of the other hand.

“Love me, love me not,” I’d say as I touched each petal and when I reached the last petal on that particular blossom, I’d know whether or not I was loved. Of course the fact that I had no current boyfriend made the game irrelevant and the additional fact that I had an armful of blossoms and so ended up with about the same number of ‘love me’ and ‘love me not’ petals didn’t make the game any less fun.

Lola says I’m an introvert and that’s why I play the flower game. I see myself as a quiet person who didn’t happen to know any more people since moving to the city than I’d known before living there. I had a total of one friend. Lola.

So my game with flowers was an exercise in imagination that brought that ‘harrump’ from her every time she caught me at it, saying I should count men instead of petals and why hadn’t I found the right one yet? Lola was big on me finding the right man. She said it was major life event. I wasn’t in any hurry and was happy with my flowers.

Until they died and I threw them away.

Except that one time, when the red and white petals grew limp and I knew the time had come to say goodbye to them, for some unknown reason, curiosity caught at me and I wanted to know exactly what happened to them next. When did the trash guys come and bring my lovely flowers to their final resting place? Did they bury them in the earth as I deemed proper or were they thrown carelessly on top of other peoples’ left-over dinner?

I decided to find out. I had a lot of time on my hands and two days off when they finally reached the end of their lives. So I took them to that trash can and dropped them in and went back upstairs and found a book to read and a tall chair with a lot of pillows on it to sit on so I could be high enough to see through that tiny window because I didn’t know when the trash was picked up but I hoped it would be while I was watching so I could run down to the yard before they left and ask them what they did with old flowers.

I never found out, mainly because my dead flowers didn’t stay with the kitchen trash very long. In fact, it was afternoon of the morning I’d tossed them into the trash can that a movement caught my attention. You know how it happens. You’re reading a book and are in the middle of the most exciting scene of the whole book when there’s a flutter in the corner of your eye. Something that can’t be ignored no matter how much you try to pretend it’s not happening. Then you remind yourself that the reason you’re sitting where you are – on a really tall stool stolen from your kitchen so you can actually see out the tiny window – is because you wanted to know when the trash was picked up.

Which was happening at that exact moment. Except there was no trash truck. No noisy behemoth chugging down the alley. No workers shouting orders and gossip to each other as they turned a dirty piece of city into a clean piece.

Nope, there was just one person – a man – and he was only interested in the can full of kitchen waste and my dead flowers. I left my stool and pressed my nose against the window to see better as he carefully inspected the contents of the can and carefully, almost reverently, pulled my dead flowers out, along with a few other things that might have been green and growing at one time, and dropped them to the ground beside the trash can as he rummaged further to see if there was more to be salvaged. To be saved.

Why save dead flowers and other dead green stuff? I had to know so I dropped my book to the floor after carefully marking my place so I could later find out how the author resolved the unresolvable crisis in the book, and then I ran down to the ground level two stairs at a time.

And found a nice-looking guy walking across the lawn carrying green stuff and my flowers in his arms. And smiling happily.

“Why are you smiling about dead flowers and even deader green stuff?” I stood in front of him with my hands on my hips and my feet apart in what anyone would recognize as a confrontational gesture.

Startled, he stopped. His mouth dropped open. He considered my confrontational stance, head to toe and back again. And then he smiled. Again. “Because they are wonderful.”

“Dead flowers are wonderful?” I stuck my head towards him and knitted my brows in my most threatening expression.

“Absolutely and they are exactly what I need.”

“You need dead green stuff and dead flowers?”

“Yep.” Then he just stood there and let me try to figure out what he was talking about, knowing I couldn’t and enjoying my confusion. Until he possibly felt sorry for me and explained. “As compost.”

“Compost? Really? In the city? I doubt it.” I worked at a florist so I knew about cities and green growing things and flowers and stuff like that.

He took a few steps around me and continued on to a corner of the yard where he dropped his armload of dead stuff on a pile. Then he picked up a pitchfork just like the one my grandfather still uses on his farm a few hundred miles beyond the city and turned the pile until my lovely dead flowers and all that other dead green stuff disappeared in a pile of rich, black, beautiful dirt.

Rich, black, beautiful dirt. Just like the dirt on my grandfather’s farm that was made from organic waste. Except my grandfather’s waste was country waste. This was city waste. Flowers from a florist. But it did the same thing. Served the same purpose. Turned dead stuff into dirt to feed and sustain new living, greenery and as many lovely, beautiful flowers as any gardener could wish for.

“I apologize,” I said in a very small voice as I came beside him and examined the lovely, beautiful black dirt he was in the process of making.

“No apology needed,” he grunted as he stopped long enough to point in the direction of a second pitchfork. “But help would be appreciated.” He wiped his forehead because it was a hot day and he was working. Like on a farm but in the middle of the city. “Not necessary, of course, but if you’re in the mood for exercise and don’t mind getting dirty, there’s a lot of dirt that needs to be turned.”

Was I in the mood? Was I ever! Pictures of my grandfather floated through my mind as I actually ran to that pitchfork and grabbed it and found a place on the other side of the dirt and proceeded to do what I’d done as a kid and loved doing it. That day, too, I loved every second that I worked, every splotch of dirt on my arms and expensive jeans, and every ray of sunshine that warmed me both inside and out, and every smile that I found myself sharing with the stranger who made his own dirt just like my grandfather.

“I’m Peter and you’ve done this before.” As I tossed still another pitchfork of dirt exactly the right way to aerate it.

“Yep, lots of times on the farm and I’m Carin.”

“Hi, Carin, and it’s nice to meet another city farmer.”

“I always thought farms were for the country.”

“There are lots of farms in cities. You just have to look in the right places.”

I examined the tiny yard behind our apartment building that I’d always admired and never paid much attention to because it was, after all, the city and, therefore, not worthy of the notice of a real farmer. “Guess I’ve been a snob. Sorry about that.”

“No apology needed. Just strong arms and a willing body.”

I giggled and soon learned that there were lots of city people who took off their work clothes when they got home evenings and put on farmer duds and went to work digging in dirt that they’d pretty much created themselves out of old flowers and weeds and kitchen trash that they then turned into tiny gardens and mini-farms stuck between tall buildings and on rooftops and around playgrounds and everywhere they could dump some of that dirt and plant seeds and then get to work.

I decided they were faux farmers and called them that — but not out loud. Peter didn’t label them at all but he philosophized about them. “Some people like the earth. And dirt. And flowers. So if they prefer being surrounded by dirt after work, that’s okay.” He grinned the grin I’d come to know well because it blossomed so easily when he was working out of doors. “People like me.”

We just stood there and stared at each other like idiots. I’d never thought about what kind of person I was before but suddenly I did as the sun beat down hot and heavy and the scent of flowers hung on the air in that tiny garden between two apartment buildings with the rich scent of black dirt adding a pungency to the day.

And I thought of Peter and how alike we were. City people with dirt beneath our fingernails. We were wet with sweat and covered with home-made dirt and it was glorious and beautiful and exactly what I wanted. A farm in the city and a friend who felt the same. A real friend. My second city friend after Lola.

What could be better? Nothing.

What could happen to ruin it? Nothing.

Except rain. Too much rain. More rain than tiny yards with grass and flowers need, more than they want, more than they can absorb. Unfortunately, that’s what we got. And that rain turned that pile of beautiful black dirt into mud and the dirt that had already been made into a garden into more mud and then still more mud.

Eventually the flower garden that enclosed the tiny green yard I’d come to love disappeared in a carpet of black, gooey mud and Peter and I had to face facts like all farmers do now and then when the weather doesn’t cooperate. We were out of the farming business.

I wondered if I’d also lose a friend because he was a farm type friend and we no longer had a farm. I hoped not but didn’t know for sure.

Lola noticed my glum face at Flowers4U. “Are you intentionally trying to chase customers away or do you just prefer looking like yesterday’s roses?”

“My farm died.”

“Your farm?” Her eyebrows shot up. “You mean your grandfather’s farm?”

“What? Grandpa? No, his farm is fine. It’s my farm that died.”

“You live in the city. Farms are country things.”

“Not this one. Not the one that my apartment overlooks.”

“Your pathetic apartment with no windows? That apartment? It has a farm?”

“Yep. There’s a yard with a flower garden.” I remembered and used the proper tense. “Was a flower garden until the rain came. That kind of a farm. A sort of one.”

“Hmmmm.” She thought for a long time. “So you actually do have a garden. A real not pretend flower garden. Did have one.” I nodded sadly and explained about flowers and compost and Peter all in one long sentence without stopping for breath and she listened intently. “You had flowers. And a garden. And a friend named Peter. Three wonderful things.”

Then, with that harrumph that she’s famous for, she said, “It’s about time you found a friend. We’ve got to do something about this friend before he disappears.” Then she added, “And the flowers too, of course.”

The next day, Monday, when Flowers4U was closed because even florists need time for a personal life, I slept in because there was no garden work to be done and I didn’t feel like wading through mud and Peter was somewhere doing whatever Peter does when he’s not being a city farmer. So why wake up? No reason.

Except there was a knock on my door that couldn’t be ignored no matter how hard I tried. So I staggered to the door, opened it, and ushered Lola into my apartment. “Get up,” she said as she swished through the two rooms to that single high window to look out and see my former garden for herself. “We’ve got work to do.” Stared at the mud. “Lots of work from the look of things.” Then, “That’s a lot of mud out there.”

“It used to be dirt. Before it was mud. Dirt with flowers growing in it. Beautiful flowers.” I pointed a finger at her. “Do you  know what dirt is made of? What it is if it isn’t mud? Do you know that you are staring at the pathetic remains of your former flowers?”

She snapped her head in the affirmative. “And that’s why we must do whatever we can to bring that mud back to what it should be – dirt — so it can bring still more flowers to life and so this yard can once again be beautiful.”

I’d revived enough to realize what she’d said, so I asked, “How?”

“With fans that I borrowed from a lot of people I know and with the help of most of those people.”

“What people?”

“Why my customers, of course.” She gave me a look that said I had a lot to learn about life. “The people we’ve gotten to know over the years who we provided with lovely flowers for all that time and, therefore, made friends with.” She sniffed. “Those people. Those wonderful people.”

She was right. Before I knew what was happening, that tiny yard was full of people in rubber boots with shovels and rakes and pitchforks that they must have borrowed from country farmers because there’s no such thing as city pitchforks and a few huge fans that blew that mud that they were tossing every which way until it was dry. Until it was dirt. Black dirt. Beautiful dirt. Former flowers dirt.

Peter was in awe of all those people and of Lola. “You have some pretty powerful friends.” He rubbed some newly dry, black dirt between his fingers and I could just see him planning a brand new flower garden.

But Lola wasn’t done. She then talked with Peter about flowers and gardens and other stuff they had in common and when they finally ran out of things to talk about she provided him with seeds and bulbs for a flower garden beautiful enough to make the entire city bloom. And all the nutrients that were needed for those flowers.

Given enough time for all those seeds and bulbs to become flowers, that small part of the city did bloom and I had to stop counting petals because I didn’t have the time any more. I was busy. With Peter. We are now partners in a tiny garden in the middle of our small city that becomes more lovely every year.

Because we work at it. Like we work at getting to know one another better. Lola says both are rewarding enterprises though I suspect she prefers the getting-to-know each other work because, like I said earlier, she worries about my single state.

Which won’t bother her much longer. Peter and I are planning next spring’s garden to be extra special because it’s where we’re holding our wedding.

Provided it doesn’t rain.

THE END

The Space Between Stars is complete on Kindle Vella

THE SPACE BETWEEN STARS

http://www.Amazon.com/dp/B094XFNL99

In Kindle Vella, completed manuscript with Amazon, last episode due to be published August 19.

5-star reviews:

Inspiring, adventurous, and wholly relatable as we contemplate the stars and beyond! Witkop, true to form, has again demonstrated her mastery of story form.
Makes me eager to explore space!

The Space Between The Stars received 5 star reviews because it’s a good, readable story about real, relatable people who choose to board a starship and colonize a distant planet. Who’d do such a thing? Lots of people. Scientists. Homemakers. Adventurers. Rebels. Those with paranormal abilities. And more. Read it and meet some interesting people as they travel between the stars.

The colonial starship Nova One leaves Earth on mankind’s first journey beyond the solar system to colonize a distant planet on a trip of many years. These are the stories of the colonists on that starship. Ordinary people on an extra-ordinary journey. One woman starts a journal to record her life on Nova One. Others continue it with their own stories. Funny, romantic, heart-warming, tragic, and always human. The stories of rebels, peacemakers, entrepreneurs, scientists, those born with paranormal gifts, and more.

The Space Between Stars will be live Friday

THE SPACE BETWEEN STARS

http://www.Amazon.com/dp/B094XFNL99

It’s coming live to Amazon Vella on Friday! You can read the first 3 episodes for free and the rest for a pittance.

It’s a story about a multi-generational starship headed beyond our solar system to colonize a far distant planet.

Each person on that ship has a story. Funny, heart-wrenching, scary, romantic, dangerous and more.

Together the stories weave a portrait of the first starship to carry people between the stars.

With Horses At Sunset

I hope you enjoy this month’s free short story. A clean romance, of course, with horses and sunset. Perfect for a quick summer read.

WITH HORSES AT SUNSET

by

Florence Witkop

When I pulled into my driveway I didn’t notice the hole in the fence.

Why would I? It was mid-day and I was eagerly anticipating a wonderful afternoon because it was our boss’ daughter’s birthday and in a fit of largesse he gave us all the afternoon off. With pay. On a beautiful day. What could be better?

We scattered as fast as possible, me to home and a couple extra hours of riding Peaceful, my mostly gray Appaloosa. It had been a while since I’d had time for a good, long ride and I knew Peaceful wanted to get out, too, and explore the countryside.

So I charged into the house, discarding office clothes as I went and grabbing my riding jeans from the dryer on my way to the bedroom. I hadn’t bothered to look towards the barn and the corral. No reason to. NutterButter, the pony who liked to go visiting and take my four full-sized horses with her whenever and wherever she went, was currently with a family half a state away who’d taken her with option to buy her if NutterButter and their son got along well.

I hoped they would. I was tired of chasing four horses and a pony all over the county, collecting them, and then herding them back home. So the day had an extra fillip of enjoyment. A couple extra hours of riding with no worry about my other horses meandering everywhere they shouldn’t while I wasn’t around.

Then my cell rang. “Hi, Shauna. Michael here.”

“What gives?” Michael, my good-looking neighbor who’d ridden the school bus with me when we were kids and, like me, stayed in the area when he grew up, connected every so often as neighbors do, especially neighbors close enough to see smoke rise from each other’s chimneys on clear mornings.

“The herd came visiting.” He paused, then continued, smothering a laugh I knew so well. “Again.”

“Impossible!” I held the cell away from me so as to better see the picture he’d sent of four adult horses sneaking across his back yard. “NutterButter isn’t here.”

“Guess she taught them well.” The laugh exploded as he could no longer hold in his merriment. “Like how to escape and go walkabout.”

I sank onto the nearest chair, almost falling in the process because I didn’t check where I was sitting. I was that upset. Disappointed. Disgusted. “And here I thought I was done with escape artist horses.”

“Guess not.” I could see his tears of laughter in my imagination. “I was too late to stop them. They were across the yard and gone by the time I grabbed a rope and went outside.”

I groaned. “Where do you think they went?”

Another chuckle, followed by, “The last I saw of them – their rear ends – they were headed towards the river.”

I groaned again, louder this time because the river is famous among us locals and not for its peaceful nature. “There are so many trees. And really tall, prickly bushes. And creeks coming from everywhere that crisscross each other on their way to nowhere. And, of course, there’s the river itself.”

“Bring rubber boots,” he added helpfully, choking on laughter. “Or prepare to go wading.”

“It’s awful by the river and if they decided to walk down a creek there won’t even be a trail to follow.” I groaned again and said goodbye to my pleasant afternoon.

“I’ll help.” Managing to control a last hiccup of laughter, he said he’d be over in two minutes, which meant he’d been watching for me with his truck at the  ready to help collect my horses. Again. For about the thousandth time. “See you,” and then he hung up and I was left staring at my cell phone and pulling on my toughest and oldest clothes so I’d be ready when he pulled into the driveway.

Thank goodness he had a sturdy, old pickup with a huge engine that never quit and enough dents that if it acquired a few more in the river breaks they wouldn’t be noticed. Thank goodness my neighbor was a mechanic who could make trucks do amazing things — and a horse lover — and an all-around nice guy.

He was cute too, a fact I’d noticed only recently and how all those years ago I’d missed how well his jeans fit and that his eyes creased in the sunshine was something I couldn’t figure. But I noticed now every single time we got together for anything, which was rather often because we were next-door neighbors. Okay we were country neighbors with a bit more distance between us than if we lived in town, but not so much as to not notice each other’s lives.

I always knew what he was doing, especially since noticing how well those jeans fit. I wondered if he knew the same about me or if he cared what was happening in my life other than laughing when my horses went walkabout and he helped me corral them. Which he always did. I could count on him absolutely.

When his ancient truck chugged loudly into the driveway, I was ready with halters, ropes, grain, feeders, and anything else I could think of that might help convince my wayward horses to come home.

He examined my gear and nodded approval. “My contribution is lunch.” He tipped his hat to shade his eyes and added, “I bet you haven’t eaten yet.” He stared at me accusingly. “Have you?”

I admitted I hadn’t, and he insisted we find more food in the kitchen to add to his stash. “So you don’t die of starvation. I’d hate to have to bury your emaciated body.” He shuddered. “The ground is hard by the river. Rocks and nasty, thorny bushes. Tough digging.” Then he laughed. Again.

“Just drop me in the river and let me float away.” But my mouth turned upwards because, as usual, he’d made me feel better. In fact, as we pulled out of the driveway and bounced across the field and beside the ravine and between the rocks on the shortest route to the river, I realized that the lovely afternoon that had made me feel like singing was still beautiful, the sky was still blue, the horses would be found eventually because they always were, and Michael was beside me, eyes crinkling as he whistled the usual few tuneless notes that I’d come to think of as Michael’s Song.

When we reached the river, it was – the river. Fast running and cold, frothy around rocks and undercutting the banks so as to make standing too close dangerous unless you were okay with falling into the water along with a large chunk of mud. Which I wasn’t. So I stood far back and stared across and hoped to see at least one horse, hopefully four grazing peacefully so we could get them and bring them home before it got dark.

“Not here,” Michael said breezily. “Where should we look?”

“I don’t have a clue,” I said as I wondered whether I should be depressed because finding the horses could take us both all afternoon or happy because finding the horses could take us both all afternoon. Whistling, calling, cajoling, climbing trees to see farther. And doing it all together.

Of course, together or separately, it was work. Hot, dusty, frustrating work. Until I climbed still another tree and spotted them. “I see them!”

“Where?”

I pointed. “Across the river. Not far.” If we got there before they wandered away.

“So we go wading.”

I shuddered. “The water’s cold.”

“Not too cold.” He stooped enough to test it with a hand and sputtered.

“Liar.” As I shinnied down the tree.

He shivered. “At least it’ll wash away the dust.”

Soon we were both in the river and shivering, with our jeans rolled up and holding our boots and glad it was only a couple of feet deep. When we reached the other side, we headed to where I’d seen the horses.

And there they were, munching sweet grass that grew wild and tall, fed by the river’s water. Peaceful raised her head and flicked a fly from her rump.

“She has no shame,” Michael said.

“None of them do,” was my reply. “They never do.”

Michael inspected them. “They are here. The ropes and halters are in the truck on the other side of the river.”

“I’ll get them if you’ll keep an eye on the horses.” Not that he could stop them if they decided to go for a walk but he could follow them and know where they were.

“Don’t fall in the creek on your way back.”

I headed back through the cold water and about an hour later made the return trip with halters and ropes to lead them back where they belonged.

It wouldn’t be easy. We each had to lead two horses to the river, then across it, then lead them through the thorn bushes to where the truck was parked. Not far but it would be a very slow, difficult trek leading two large animals each who’d prefer staying where they were and eating grass. We knew that but had no choice.

We stopped before crossing the river to get them used to the fact that they’d have to go wading and to take off our boots. Then we crossed very slowly. Then we stopped again on the other side to pull our boots back on and let the horses graze a bit. Then we very, very slowly started through the underbrush.

It didn’t work. Two horses simply took too wide a path. The bushes wouldn’t allow it. So we ended up tethering two of them to trees near enough to the river for them to drink while we led the other two through  the underbrush single file and tied them to the truck when we reached it.

Then we went back for the last two and repeated the same, slow process until we finally had four horses tied to the truck.

And realized what time it was.

“Sundown,” Michael said in a voice oozing with meaning.

“What are you trying to say that I don’t understand?” It was a gorgeous sunset. As usual.

“There’s no road. We came across fields, remember, and then through underbrush and around potholes and between ravines and across rocks.” He gave the sinking sun a bleak look. “It’ll be dark in minutes.”

“Are you saying we can’t get home safely because we can’t see where we’re going?”

“Yep. That’s exactly what I’m saying. If we didn’t have the horses we could make it before true dark so without them it would be okay. But we can only go as fast as they can walk.” He slanted a look in my direction. “Which means we can’t make it home today.”

“Oh.” That was unexpected. In all the many times Michael and I had collected my meandering horses, we’d never had that problem before. “What do we do?”

He rummaged among the things in the back of his truck. “I’ve a bucket back here somewhere that can hold water for the horses. We hobble them. The water and grain will keep them nearby so they won’t wander away during the night.”

“What about us?”

He dropped the bucket and a sack of grain on the ground and then checked the back seat of the pickup. “I think I have a blanket here somewhere and I brought enough food for an army so we won’t starve.”

“I hate the idea of staying here all night”

“It’s what we’ll do unless you have a better idea, one that won’t get us killed trying to get home in the dark.”

I didn’t and was glad he had a blanket because nights can get rather cold, especially near the river. Two blankets would be better, of course, one for each of us. But he only had one.

On the other hand, was I glad he only had one? I examined my thoughts and decided I preferred one blanket because sharing is a good character building experience.

We prepared for the coming night. We scrounged among the green stuff growing all around us for anything we could find that was soft enough to turn into a makeshift couch for the evening and, later, a bed for the night. Not an easy task when almost everything had either prickles or thorns or was sticky with sap.

But we managed and when we were done, we told each other that we deserved the dinner that was whatever Michael had brought from his house plus whatever we’d found in my kitchen. Left-overs from both places and we agreed that it was a repast fit for a king – or two very hungry commoners.

We laid out our bounty between us and then, our looks meeting as we realized that we’d be hungry in the morning, we set some aside for breakfast. “Of course we’ll be home in time for a second, more substantial breakfast.”

I agreed. “But it’ll be nice to have something when we wake up.”

“Coffee would be nice,” Michael said with a yearning that tugged at my taste buds. He finished with, “But the river water is excellent. And cold. And will wake us up as efficiently as coffee.”

Then we settled down to eat. And watch the sunset, which was spectacular as are all sunsets in our part of the country. Red and pink and purple, changing as we watched, bright at first, brilliant at all times, but gradually darkening as the sun dipped lower and lower behind evening clouds, then finally spreading across the entire sky as dark settled in, first in the east and eventually, everywhere.

As the last rays of light slowly faded, Michael gave a contented sigh and said, “I’m glad the horses ran away.” He waved at the scenery that we were a part of as he swatted away a fly.

“Me too.” I examined myself and didn’t know what I felt beyond that it was whatever Michael was feeling. But I knew that whatever it was, it was a new, different feeling for me. Happiness? Contentment? Relaxation so profound I’d forgotten what it was like? Or all of the above and a thousand more things I’d forgotten how to feel?

We just sat there and took it all in. Not that we could do much else given the situation and the four horses who ate contentedly and gave us looks that said it was about time we understood how they felt about the great outdoors.

I wiggled deeper into that blanket and heaved a huge, happy sigh and moved closer to Michael and leaned into him and wondered how he’d react to my wonton action and decided I didn’t care because he was warm and large and comfortable and if I wanted to use him as a pillow, well then I would do so and the memory of how those worn, soft jeans fit him made me smile even more. I have a very good imagination.

Turned out he was okay with me using him that way. In fact, he helped. He put one arm around  me and pulled me closer and gave a slight grunt of satisfaction. “Nice evening. Nice dinner. Nice company.”

“Don’t compliment the horses, Michael. They are uppity enough as it is.”

“Not the horses. The other company. The company who happens to be in my arms at the moment and if any canoodling happens as a result, well don’t say it wasn’t your idea because it was.”

“I’m not complaining.” In fact, I felt so good that the feeling in my gut combined with the feeling of whatever the sunset had wrought brought on a wave of relaxation such as I’d never known along with perfect contentment until the two merged into pure, unadulterated — sleepiness. I yawned. A huge yawn.

Beside me, I heard another satisfied grunt followed by a kind of choked laughter because of that yawn but also because Michael laughs a lot, which I knew because I know him, but thinking about that laughter that went so well with the night and the stars just beginning to peek through as the night clouds dispersed and everything that was so wonderful that it made me yawn also made me realize something.

I didn’t know if I was in love with Michael or not but what I felt at that moment was special. Maybe it was a constellation of feelings brought on by the night and the sunset and the horses and the stars and the cool night air and the warm blanket and the warmer man with an arm wrapped around me. I didn’t know what it was, exactly, except that it was something and it was special, and I wanted to tell him about it. Needed to tell him. Had to tell him.

So I did. As sleep grabbed at me and tried to take me away from the moment and the man, I managed to say, groggily, “This is so special, Michael.”

“What?” He leaned closer. “You’re mumbling. I can’t understand.”

I tried again as the fog of sleep came closer. Real close. “This is special. All of it. The night. The horses. The sunset.” I managed to lift my face close enough to his that he could hear even though I was almost asleep. “And you.” I thought over my words in that groggy, wonderful state that’s between sleep and wakefulness. “Especially you.”

And then it happened. Our faces were mere inches apart so it was easy. All he had to do was come a bit lower, which he did, and then we were kissing, just like that and it felt so easy, so natural, so right, that I returned that kiss with everything in me as I decided that, yes, I probably was in love with him.

Then I fell asleep and stayed that way, wrapped in his arms and that really warm blanket until the sun came up on the opposite side of the world from where it had gone down and told us it was morning and time to get those horses back home where they belonged.

Except I’d fallen asleep before saying everything that needed to be said, especially before saying the most important thing. So when I opened my eyes, which was really hard because it was very comfortable on those soft branches and Michael’s chest, I said, “I think I’m in love with you.”

How did he react? He’s Michael so he reacted exactly as Michael would react. “You think? You just think? You don’t know?” And then he laughed. Of course he did. He threw his head back and laughed and I didn’t feel the least bit insulted because I know Michael and knew he’d laugh and I also knew what he’d say next.

And he did. “I love you too and just in case you’re interested on my part there’s no ‘think’ about it. I’m all in.”

I considered his words and decided on honesty. “Me too. All in.”

He threw the blanket aside and the cool – no it was actually cold – morning air hit us like a fast frost. “Let’s get those horses home so we can discuss this new stage in our relationship in a more comfortable place.”

I looked around and considered where we were. Where we’d been all night. The river. The bushes. The sky. Everything. “I agree that houses with real furniture can provide more creature comfort than where we are at the moment, but in its own way this place is perfect.” I slapped a mosquito. “Almost perfect.”

He grabbed the blanket with one hand and me with the other and pulled us both upright. Then we found the horses that gave us horse looks and a few snorts and happily followed the pickup all the way home with not a single one of them apologizing for going walkabout without permission.

I’m sure they’ll do it again. Go walkabout. It’s what they’ll do whether NutterButter is around or not. But next time I won’t have to wait for Michael to come to my place before we start chasing them down.

Because he’ll already be there because it won’t be just my place anymore.

It’ll be our place.

THE END