This is a cooperative story. The picture was a ‘prompt’ furnished by Winged Publications’ imprint, ForgetMeNotRomances that was posted for us to use as inspiration to write an impromptu story, each writing for 15 minutes and then turning the story over to the other.
We think we did a pretty good job and this is the result for everyone, everywhere to read for free.
And if you are interested, here’s a link to Diane Tatum’s website. http://www.dianeetatumwriter.com/
A TEA PARTY WITH BLUE FLOWERS
by Diane Tatum
I grabbed my morning homemade cappuccino, actually lots of hot cocoa and a ton of cream in a large cup of coffee, and stepped onto the tiny patio to look beyond the neat grass to the field of wildflowers that I shared with the other half of the duplex. Except the other half was empty so I had the whole field to myself, which was fine with me.
I squinted. What was that in the flowers? An umbrella? Not possible. I own an umbrella, but it’s the sensible kind you use for rain, not one made of lace and looking like it belonged in a palace.
As I squinted, I screamed. Looked down. Relaxed and was glad no one lived next door to hear me because the hugest, cuddliest, shaggiest, brown-black-white puppy sat panting and looking up at me for all the world like the cutest puppy ever. Which, I decided, as our eyes met, he was.
No, he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the huge peanut butter cookie that I was having for breakfast along with my cappuccino.
Should dogs eat cookies? Probably not, but he was clearly a stray since no neighbors had a huge multiple colored puppy. Which meant I could decide how to handle this situation.
“Come on in,” I said, leaning down until our noses touched, with cookie in one hand and cappuccino in the other. “One cookie won’t hurt. Then I’ll make some calls and find your owner.” Or not, a voice in the back of my head said. Maybe there wasn’t an owner. Maybe he was looking for a home and had found one. “Wipe your paws on the mat.”
His head cocked to one side as he tried to figure out what I meant as a voice a few feet away almost scared me into dropping my cookie. Which the puppy noticed as he prepared to grab it on the fly. But I retained hold of the cookie and my sanity as I looked towards the voice.
A tiny child—a girl—stood with folded arms inspecting the puppy and me. She had the kind of long blonde curls that come only with time and patience and her outfit had been carefully thought out. Pink jeans, a lighter pink blouse, pink ribbons in her hair and pink tennis shoes that twinkled as she walked.
“He shouldn’t have cookies,” was coming from a mouth that was turned down in criticism as one pink shod foot tapped out more criticism while blinking on and off with each tap. “But –“ a tilted head indicated deep thought “—maybe one cookie won’t hurt. He’s big and needs a lot of food.” The tiny chin tipped up as a decision was made. “And cookies will help him grow.”
As she’d talked, the tiny vision in pink had moved closer. And closer. Until she stood beside the hand that held the peanut butter cookie and, as I followed her glance to that cookie as my hand waved around in the air, I suspected an ulterior motive in her grand gesture of allowing her puppy to have a cookie.
She wanted one too.
I debated what to do. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be home?”
She tipped her head towards the other half of the duplex. “I am home. My new home.”
I had a neighbor. “You moved in next door?” Her head nodded so I inquired further. “Would your mother want you to have a cookie?”
“My mother’s in heaven.”
“Oh.” How sad. “Well then, who’s taking care of you?”
“Is he home?”
“He’s always home. At his computer.”
“Would he let you have a cookie?”
And come into a complete stranger’s house? Or should I bring it outside?
Outside, I decided, along with a blanket where, if he looked out the window he could see his daughter, and we’d have cookies and milk on that blanket among the blue wildflowers beside that lovely, lace umbrella and I suspected I knew who it had belonged to. Her mother.
When I saw the screen door gaping open, I knew immediately two important things: 1) the puppy was loose, and 2) Junie had gone after it. I shook my head, then grabbed my Birkenstocks and headed out to find the two of them.
We moved here for the summer, maybe longer. I took a sabbatical from teaching English Lit so that Junie might find peace and recover from the tragedy that had taken her mother and baby brother from us.
“Babies and mothers aren’t supposed to die, are they?” she’d asked me at the funeral.
That innocence had shattered my composure and sent me running to another room, to cry, vomit, or stare out the window into another world where Emmie and Joey were with us still.
I got the puppy, Garfield she’d named him, to giver her someone to talk to. If she wouldn’t talk to me, perhaps she’d talk to the dog. And no amount of talking about how Garfield was a cat could sway her decision once it was made. Garfield it was.
I knew exactly where she was when I saw the white lace umbrella, Emmie’s of course, in a field of blue flowers. Hopefully, the dog was with Junie too. The closer I got I realized Junie and Garfield were not alone. A woman was petting Garfield and serving what looked for all the world like a tea party, with cookies and juice. How many times had I told her not to talk to strangers? She seemed drawn to any woman who seemed kind these days. Guess I could understand that. But I couldn’t handle losing her, too.
“Junie! What are you doing out here with Garfield?”
The woman offered me a peanut butter cookie, the kind with the fork impression in the top, the original hashtag!
“We’re just now having tea. Won’t you join us?”
“Please, Daddy. Stay and have tea.”
How can you say ‘no’ to those deep blue eyes, the ones so like Emmie’s?
“Hi, I’m Cole. We just moved in yesterday.”
At the sound of the deep, masculine voice, I looked up and into bottomless eyes that were both happy and sad. Happy as he gazed on the little girl who was obviously his daughter, sad when they moved to the lace umbrella that clearly had once belonged to his wife. And that now made a backdrop to a picnic for his daughter.
“Want some cookies and something to drink?” Feeling foolish and a bit afraid because what if he thought I was a kidnapper? Or that the cookies were poisoned? Or that I was trying to steal his daughter from her memories of her mother?
He looked about. Frowned. Bit his lower lip. And slowly, ever so slowly, lowered himself to the blanket and held out his hands for a cookie and glass of juice. “I’d love some, thank you.”
I nodded to the half of the duplex that was now occupied. “I see that we’re neighbors.” It was still hard to talk, to know what to say, how to answer those eyes. How to make him smile, to be the father that his little girl needed.
Oh she was happy enough now, but living with a dysfunctional father for too long would affect her. So I made a decision right then and there. That for as long as they were next door – and I had no idea whether that would be for weeks, years, or forever—I’d do what I could to make this small two-person family whole. Without, of course, being a busy-body because I can’t stand people who interfere with other lives.
So. What to do? How to help? I did the only think I knew to do. “Want another cookie?” And plunked one into the outstretched hand that had already brought the first one to his mouth, where it had quickly disappeared.
The little girl, on the other hand, was still nibbling delicately on her first peanut butter cookie. And slipping crumbs now and then to the huge puppy that hung near her because, obviously, this was what they did on a regular basis. As I’d done with my own dog when I was growing up.
“Are you here to stay?” I asked brightly. Too brightly. I fumed inwardly at my awkwardness. So much for being helpful, I was pushing him away as fast as possible.
“Just for the summer.” The way he said it told me that coming to the duplex beside mine had something to do with his wife’s death.
“You’ll like it here.” I waved at the field of blue wildflowers that were a part of my summers, that were the embodiment of enchantment. That were just plain beautiful. “Your little girl can run as much as she wishes. And her puppy.” I pointed to both duplexes, to the sliding glass doors that led out back. “It’ll be easy to keep track of her.” I took a deep breath, then, and was surprised at my next words, though, to be honest, I should have known what I’d say. “I’ll watch her if you’re busy. I’m an elementary teacher. I have the summer off and I’ve been wondering what to do with myself.”
I considered the little girl in pink daintily wiping peanut butter cookie crumbs from her fingers and her huge, fluffy pup and said, honestly, “It’ll be fun.”
As I said the words, I knew that I spoke the truth. Forget my first thoughts of helping someone in need, little girls and puppies and sunshine and wildflowers make for a perfect summer.
The cookies were good. Clearly something else I needed to conquer as a single dad.
“Thanks for this. I’m sure it’s just what Junie needs.” Also what I needed too, I acknowledged to myself. “I’m a professor at a small college nearby. English Lit. You know, Don Quixote, Shakespeare, and Kate Chopin. Anyway, I’m on sabbatical but trying to write a scholarly book. You know what they say, publish or perish.”
Perish? Geez, that’s inappropriate with Junie nearby. “Have you told our neighbor how you got your name?”
Junie brightened. “See, I was born in June. Daddy said I was cute as a June bug. Mommy said she didn’t like bugs, but Daddy insisted that June Bug should be my name. Mommy won and I was named June. But Daddy calls me Junie or June Bug.”
“I’m Rebecca,” the kind lady said.
“Glad to have tea with you, Rebecca.”
Rebecca was sweet, kind, and good with Junie. What more could you ask at this stage of the game? If Junie could relate to her at some level, wasn’t that better than not relating to anyone but Garfield?
“Why don’t you come to dinner? I have one of those frozen lasagnas I planned to put in the oven later. You can bring dessert.”
“Ooooooh, ice cream, please! I want ice cream, peppermint chocolate chip.” Junie knew what she liked. “Could we be like a family, just tonight?”
My heart caught in my throat. What an enormous imposition on a kind stranger! “It won’t be anything fancy. No strings attached if you know what I mean.”
At least not for now. It was too soon after Emmie and Joey’s death to get seriously involved in anyone or anything.
But she lived next door.
Convenient for when it was time to love again.