Sunday, July 31, 2016

Draft Vol 1.7

Matt held her as she cried, ugly snotty, sobbing, he just stood there and held her. As the tidal waves of tears began to subside he picked her up and carried her to her bed. He tucked her under her covers and laid down next to her, on top of the covers. He wrapped an arm around her and listened as her breath began to slow. She fell asleep and he slipped out. Closing the door softly as he left.

Matt poked around the kitchen, finding not much of anything in the way of groceries. A box of cereal, some peanut butter and some bread. He washed a couple of dishes that had accumlated in the sink, took out the trash. He put the gnome back in it's spot. He went out to pick up a few groceries. Some muffins, some juice, some cheerful flowers. He laid them out on the table. Went home, showereed and slept for a few hours. 

He arrived back at Lara's house just as everyone was starting to stir. He let himself in through the back door he'd left unlocked last night and poked his head into Lara's bedroom. Lara was snuggled next to Connor, Sophie was snuggled on the other side of her and Clara was just rubbing her eyes at the foot of the bed. 

Lara looked up as she heard Matt walk in "Hey" he said "Hi" said Lara a smile slowly spreading across her sleepy face. She got up and together she and Matt packed lunches, chased down shoes and got the children ready for school.

Walking home from school together Lara put her head on Matt's arm and he kissed her on the top of her head and took her small hand in his large strong one. 

Lara stood in the kitchen, watching Matt clean up the morning mess in her kitchen. "Don't you have to go to work today?" she asked timidly. "I told Randy I'd be in late" he said casually. Matt smiled and his eyes crinkeld and twinkled. "Now you," he said, picking up Lara and plopping her down on her favorite spot on the sofa "you just let yourself be taken care of for a change." and he went to the kitchen to put a fresh pot of coffee on to brew. Matt sat down on the sofa next to Lara and gathered her into his arms. He kissed her on the top of her head, kissed her ear, his finger tips brushed against her collar bone. Lara looked at Matt, her eyes sad and and every so slightly panicked. "Matt, I can't -" she didn't know how to finish this sentance
"I know." said Matt before the words had any time to linger between them.
"I know." he said again softly, gently, as he hugged her tighter. He knew what it meant to grieve, he understod the up and down of it. 
"It's just that - " Lara began and Matt interrupted her with a kiss. 
He had hoped that their first true kiss would have been more romantic, but how long had he put this off just because the moment hadn't been perfect, now that it had happened there was no takng it back. 

"I only have one question" he said looking into her eyes "why did you shut me out?" Lara looked down at her hands, she thought for a moment, "I guess I didn't want to burden you with my mess, and also I didn't want you to see me... like this." She hugged him tighter "but now I can see that I was wrong, and" her voice quieted almost to a whisper  "and I'm sorry." she kissed him, and everything was right.

Matt poured a cup of coffee in one of her favorite mugs, he settled Lara at her desk with a list they had written together of what she needed to do, at the top of which was "call mom" at the bottom was "Dinner at Aunt Mae's".

Matt kissed her one more time and left for work, half wishing he didn't have to go, half happy for the escape. His brain understood taking things slow, his heart knew he was right, his body, however, disagreed. 

Lara sat in the sunshine at her desk with a huge, stupid smile spread across her face. She tried for a second not to smile, but couldn't. She called her mom, thanked her for reaching out to Matt, assured her that everything was fine, apologized for causing her to worry, failed to mention everything about kissing Matt. She did not want to have that conversation with her mother. Not today. And she felt right back in her High School days. But in the best of ways. 

She got through her work quickly so that she had plenty of time to walk leisurely to pick up the kids from school. Their first question when they saw her was "where's Matt?" she texted it to him. They had texed throughout the day like teenagers. He was waiting for them when they arrived back at the house. Connor launched himself at Matt, the girls hung on his arms. Lara just smiled. She wanted to fuss at Matt for creating unrealistc expectations, that he'd never be able to keep this up, she wasn't really sick, she didn't necessarily need help, but five minutes later as she attempted to wrangle kids out of school clothes and into their afternoon routine Laura found herself stressed out, overwhelmed and somewhere between screaming and sobbing, Lara found herself deeply appreciating the second pair of hands and a cheerful voice which Matt provided - brilliantly. 

Showing up at Aunt Mae's farm together for the first time, Lara's thoughts were going in a million directions at once, but one look at Mae and Lara realized that she was fully aware of this situation, probably more fully aware of it than Lara herself. She hugged Lara a little bit longer and tighter but nothing else changed.

Lara forgot how much difference a good meal made to her soul. Ms Mae served fresh fish right off the grill, piles of kale & strawberry salad, and gooey peach cobbler with homemade ice cream with fresh raspberry & mint iced tea .

After dinner she shooed Matt out of the kitchen for some girl talk at the kitchen sink. Matt winked at Lara as he chased after Connor. "Lara, how are you?" asked Mae in her typical straitforward motherly manner. "So much better." said Lara "Sunday would have been my anniversary, and I thought it would be hard but I was completely unprepared for the bone-crushing weight of sadness I felt. I did get by but barely. But then Matt came, and I know it's cliche but he was like my knight in shining armor." "I remembr the first few years after Selah and Cooper died." replied Ms. Mae "Matt would just disappear for days at a time. He'd be walking around, working hard but he'd barely eat, hardly sleep, I could barely get a word out of him, it was a piece of him was missing, it felt like he was missing too. I'd try to snap him out of it, or I'd wait for it to pass. A piece of him came back when you came, like a piece of him that died with her came back to life for you. It just makes me happy to see him happy again, after all of this time. It just warms me up inside." Lara half expected the 
"so don't break his heart speech" but Mae only said "Want to help me serve this cobbler?"

Matt, Lara and the kids spent Saturday at the ocean, the happiest day Lara could remember in a very long time. She brought her camera and took pictures of Matt and her children, the beautiful shells they found, the light on the waves, the birds against the setting sun, she took a photo with Matt as the sun set. 

They pulled in late, Matt helped Lara carry the kids into the house, baths woud wait until the morning. Matt tiptoed out of Connnor's room, Lara met him in the hallway with a soft gentle kiss, "Can I get you anything?" she asked "No, I'd best be heading back to my place, it's getting late, but thank you, for the best day in forever." He kissed her again. Lara wanted to ask him to stay, wanted to wake up next to him, but she kissed him and let him go.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Draft 1.8

Life settled back into pretty much the same rythm, Matt ate dinner with them nearly every night and they spent most weekends together at the beach or at Aunt Mae's farm. The first big storm of the season approached. It came early and was threatening to hit hard. Lara had no idea what to do. Most of her neighbors were natives and handled the situation with the skill of folks who have been used to weathering storms every year for their entire life. She tried to stay calm, for the sake of her kids. She played games with them as Lara waited for the power to go out and frantically texted Matt.

As soon as Matt had secured his house he came and helped Lara board up her windows. He had been texting her instructions for the last few days. He took her through the drill he'd done all his life - with confidence and an infectious calm. They camped out together in the living room and sang songs by the light of the camp light. Matt told his favorite stories of storms from his childhood, Lara told a few from her experiences with ice storms. Lara thought she would take an ice storm over a tropical storm any day. Lara and Matt continued telling stories, even after the kids had fallen asleep. Lara snuggled her neck under Matt's chin and they sat there, together on the sofa, in the dark, talking about the things you only talk about when you are waiting for a storm to pass. They talked about their childhoods, they talked about their first loves. Matt admitted that the hadn't left Florida since his wife's death. He'd tried once, to leave for Savannah for his cousin's wedding, but he couldn't do it. He got as farm as Palm Coast and he turned around, called his cousin and said he'd caught the flu. Lara told Matt about when she found out she was pregnant with Connor, such a surprise and such a joy. Matt said if he ever had a girl he'd want to name her after his mother.

And then all was quiet. The storm had passed. It had done it's damage. Lara lay awake listening to the sound of Matt asleep next to her on the couch. His gentle breathing mixing with the snores of Connor and of Sophie sucking her thumb, like she always did when she fell asleep stressed. Lara looked around her. Clara looked so angelic in the camp light. Lara realized that this could only go one of two ways, and while she was nowhere near ready for the one, she despeartely wanted to avoid the other.

But morning dawned, gently and quietly. The power was still out and the main road was blocked. Matt left early to help the neighbors as he was able. And Lara was left to think. 

Lara saw very little of Matt over the next few weeks. He was busy helping repair fences and leaky rooftops, besides the usual busyness of work. Lara tried not to miss him, attempted to get by without him, though every times one of the kids asked about him she wanted to scream. In some ways though it was better this way. She had some thinking to do and it was easier to do without him around. 

It was Friday night and Matt was dropping off his paperwork at the office "Night Randy!" he called through the open door of his bosses office. "Hey! C'mere a minute, would ya?" Randy called back. "Hey! Yeah?" asked Matt standing at the door. "Your girlfriend was here to see me today." 
"Here? To see you? What about"
"Yeah, what a great gal. Listen up kiddo, go bring her dinner, or chocolate or whatever it is you do. Go to her. Fences will be there to mend in the morning."
"Right, thanks" said Matt and he tried not to freak out. 

As Matt drove he thought over the last week or had it been closer to a month. He had been exhausted and they hadn't spent much time together. Lara had seemed a little distant. He'd asked her about it and her answer had been vague. She seemed quiet but not extraordinarilly so. He glanced at the clock on his dash. It was eight o'clock. He arrived with ice cream from Lara's favorite place down the road. 

They sat on the porch eating icecream in an uneasy silence. Matt liked to speak his mind but it struck him that this situattion required tact and above all, gentleness. "Sorry I've been so busy lately" he began. "I sure have missed you."
"I've missed you too" said Lara and there was a long pause till Lara continued "but it has given me some time to think."
"About what?" asked Matt willing himself to sound casual and, he was sure, failing.
"Randy told you I'd come by to talk to him, didn't he?" asked Lara
"He said you'd come by, that's all" replied Matt there was another pause "please Lara, what's all this about?"
Lara took a deep breath and remained silent for a moment.  "It's just, well, I've been thinking." she paused again, uncertain how to begin "I just, it's only, I've been thinking - what are we doing? I mean, you want kids, you need a wife. I'm not ready for that and I don't know when, or even if, I'll ever be ready to be in that kind of a relationship again not to mention that you deserve so much more than me and all of my kids..." Lara's voice trailed off and a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Lara, what do you mean?" 
"I mean, Matt, that I want you to be happy I want you to wake up twenty years from now, happy."
 Matt was dumb-struck, but finally managed to stutter out "But I am happy."
"I know, right now, you might be, but I can not abide the thought of you waiting for something I may never be ready to give. You should be getting on with your life. Getting married, raising a family of your own. I don't want to hold you down." 
The next words Matt spoke were with an edge of frustration "do you see me out ring-shopping? Have I asked anything more of you than you have been willing to give?"
"No, but -"
Matt cut her off "Then I don't see the problem."
"The problem, is that you should be doing all of those things. If this were any kind of normal relationship, you would."
Matt stood up and turned around, he kicked at the step a bit as he searched for the words that were swelling in his heart. "Don't I have any say in this?"
"I told Randy we'd be out when school lets out next week." 
"So that's it?"
"Pretty much." said Lara quietly
And without a word Matt turned and walked strait to his truck. He slammed his door behind him, revved the engine and droff away.
Lara picked up the half-eaten ice creams and took them back into the kitchen. She threw them away, then stood at her kitchen sink and cried.

Lara sold her furniture to Randy, who was able to rent the house out as a summer home making quadrouple what he'd been charging her in rent. She hitched a little uhaul to the back of her car and drove back home. The kids missed Matt but Lara explained that sometimes our friends, even our best friends, come and then go, and so after awhile the kids moved on, even if Lara couldn't.

Matt spent extra time storm-proofing his aunt's motel and helping her with her renovations. He'd hoped the busyness would take away the anger and ache but how could he forget her when every inch of this hotel reminded him of her? Of the first time he had seen her here and the yearning he had felt to know her better. Every ocean view reminded him of the weekends he had spent with Lara and her little family. He had fet grief before, but this was different.  He knew that this story should have ended differently. He went over and over in his mind the things he should have done and said. But he had stood by and done nothing. He had let her leave and now she was gone.He wondered if there was anything he could do about it now or was it too late?

Draft Vol 1.6

Lara had phoned Matt a few days earlier to ask if she could meet to take him up on his offer to look at a few houses for rent in the area. She drove into town, kids in the back seat, praying she did not get lost. She'd only been there once or twice. It was a small, older town, not much to see if you were passing through. A school, a church, a grocery store, a couple shops, the volunteer fire department. Lara drove by a thrift shop where a young woman was setting out large gently used toys onto the sidewalk and racks of seasonal second hand clothing. Lara smiled, imagining herself shopping there sometime. A block further and there was a bigish park. Lara turned in. 

Matt's truck was parked beneath a tree on the far end of the paring lot, across from a large bank of swings. He was leaning against the drivers side door of his truck, gazing off in the general direction of the street. He spotted Lara almost as soon as she had noticed him, he grabbed his keys and walked towards her little car. He squeezed into her passenger seat and said hey to the kids in the back seat "Are you ready?!" he asked "Where to?" replied Lara enthusiastically. Matt pointed out the way and Lara turned out of the parking lot. "And we're off!!" said Connor loudly from the back seat. 

Matt showed her an overprized shoebox of a cottage that had no yard to speak of in a prime spot. He showed her a tiny little duplex townhouse in the more newly renovated area of town. "Ian always hated houses with stairs." Lara muttered half to herself "I would have agreed with him on that." repied Matt with a wink "Next?" Lara nodded. The next house was a dumpy ranch farther away from town than Lara prefered. "It's a bargain." offered Matt "Next!" called Sophie, skipping past them.

The next house Matt showed her was pretty nearly perfect for Lara and her little family. On a quiet street, small but not shabby, cheerful paint in the kitchen, and within walking distance of the school. The kids dissappeared into various rooms around the house, expoloring and calling out to each other from room to room. "I found my room!!" Yelled Sophie from one of the bedrooms. Lara stood in the empty living toom, feeling tears well up in her eyes. She blinked them away. This felt so perfect. "To be honest," said Matt "this is the only house I really wanted to show you." He had a mischievous grin on his face. "A buddy of mine owns it, he's willing to give you a really good deal on it." "I don't need him to." stated Lara matter of factly. "I know, but he wants to. He's ex-marienes. They just moved out into a bigger house down the street. They're expecting their fourth and needed a bigger place." "Their fourth?" "Yeah." "Before, well, you know, there was a time I thought about trying for a fourth, someone for Connor to play with. That probably sounds crazy to you." "Not crazy. Beautiful." said Matt softly "This will be my first house alone." said Lara, almost to herself. "Not alone." said Matt and he wrapped his strong arms around her. He kissed the top of her head. He felt now, more than ever, how fragile, how delicate, this beautiful woman was. "You've got three beautiful children to share it with." He said and Lara smiled. 

Lara leaned into him. She loved how he smelled, like a good, clean, hardworking man. She looked around her, noticing the late afternoon sun reflecting on the golden specks of dust in the air. Could she be this happy again? The sun shone brighter for a moment and in that moment Lara almost felt like Ian was watching, happy for her to finally be happy again, and she hugged Matt even closer. "Plus," Matt continued playfully as he let Lara go "this house has a perk I haven't mentioned yet." "What's that?" asked Clara as she skipped in from the other room. "I live at the end of the street." "So we'll be neighbors?" asked Connor jumping onto Matt's legs and grabbing at his waist. "Howdy neighbor." said Clara tipping an imaginary cowboy hat above her eyes. 

Through yard sales and the thrift shop Lara quickly threw together enough furniture to get started. She had driven up into the big city to one of those big furniture stores fully expecting to order a house full of furniture but she walked out with only a lamp. She told Mrs G "Why would I pay more money for something I don't even really like?" and before long she had a sparse, but adequately furnished place to call home.

The kids started school, Lara started working again with renewed passion and zest and they all quckly settled into their new normal. They visited Aunt Mae's Farm nearly every weekend now and drove up to Palm Coast Beach often. Lara had found a few more secluded spots where she liked to hunt for shells. The air had begun to cool slightly and the orange tree in her back yard had begun to produce by the basketfull. 

For the first time in what felt like forever Lara finally had neighbors. She knew their names, had met their dogs. The kids had friends their own ages to play with at night after dinner & homework before baths and bed.

Lara saw Matt pretty regularly. At first she and the kids waved to him from the front yard if they saw him pass by on his way home from work. Now and then he would stop by to say hello with a basket of goodies from his mother. He'd toss the ball with Connor for a bit, inspect the girls latest artwork. One night he came around a bit earlier that usual with something or other from his mom he had said he'd give her on his way by. "Oh, well I was just pulling dinner out of the oven," said Lara with a smile "why don't you stay for supper?" "You know me" replied Matt with a wink "I never say no to a home-cooked meal." "You may just have to reconsider your rule," laughed Lara "I'm not that good of a cook." 

Days turned into weeks turned into months and the routine of Lara's new life made her heart expolde with gratitude. Lara walked Clara, Sophie & Connor to school each morning to their elementary school at the end of the street and walked home again alone. She sat at her little desk and wrote for a couple of hours, she walked to the grocery store a couple of blocks away, her skirt swishing. She'd get what she'd need for a day or two and settle in at home for more work. Then she'd go collect her kids at the end of their school day. They walked home, Lara fed them a snack and Lara helped Connor with his homework. Her kids played outside while she finished up supper and then it was baths, books and bed.

Matt stopped trying to find excuses to drop by, he couldn't stay away and he felt the need for an excuse to come around diminishing on both sides. One night he brought Lara a present, half as a joke. "I thought it would be a way for you to let me know if you want me around or not." he said as Lara looked at the funny garden gnome in a blue hat sitting in her lap. "if you want me to come over, put the gnome out, and I'll stop, if it's in I'll keep going." Matt laughed and leaned his head agains the couch "I know there will be nights you want to work or nights you just want quiet. I respect that." So Lara set the gnome out, and it didn't move. 

Night after night Matt found his place with Lara and the kids, sitting at the table, helping with the math homework that drove Lara crazy. Staying till Lara started her bedtime routine with the kids, so she would have uniterrupted one on one time with her kids. 

Tonight things were crazy. Connor was wound up, the girls were grumpy and sassy. Matt was about to say goodnight, not wanting to intrude or interfere. Lara grabbed his wrist. "Please, don't go." she said "I hate to even ask it of you but could you please stay a few extra minutes and read to Connor while I get the girls ready for bed? I know you have an early start in the morning -" "Of course" replied Matt, happy to help. He settled down on the sofa with Connor and a couple of books from the library, one about dinosaurs and the other a story featuring construction equipment. As Matt sat there, listening to Connor point to the pictures and chatter away about something he'd seen the other day he couldn't help but feel that all of this was, somehow, one of the best things that had ever happened to him. 

Lara glanced up from across the room where she was combing Sophie's post-bath tangles, she blew a strand of hair out of her face and their eyes met. Lara smiled at him. There was a pang of something deep within her. What was it? Grief? No, that was a familiar enough emotion but this was not grief. Joy?
Love? It felt so good for Matt to be here. 
Was it right? Was she being fair to him? She was hardly girlfriend material? Did he think of them all as just friends? Their eyes locked. She saw the twinkle in his eyes as he smiled back at her before turning to look at connor as he listened to his description of a pachisepholosaurus. But he left before she had a chance to say anything.

That night as she finished washing up the last of the dishes her thoughts wandered to Matt. She loved how he smelled. She loved the way Connor expected Matt to read him his story after his bath. The way her girls depended on him to listen to all of their latest ideas and while Lara didn't want to admit it she was depending on Matt's presence in her home more and more. What was obvious to everyone a mile away a month ago was suddenly rushing into Lara's every waking moment. Suddenly she was noticing how Matt looked at her, with so much tenderness. She noticed how he lingered each time he left her, she noticed how she didn't want him to leave. 
She was falling in love. 
It was terrifying. 

Matt slowed down, preparing to turn into Lara's house. Something was different tonight though. What was it? The gnome. Where it usually stood was a worn dirty patch of concrete. Matt parked on the street, sat and watched the house. Funny, Lara hadn't mentioned anything. Wouldn't she have let him know if she was going somewhere tonight? He sent a text "Let me know if you need anything"
His phone flashed a reply text almost instantly. "K"
He tried to lean into his naturally easy-going disposition but this was hard. He worried as he parked in the driveway of his house. He sat at his kitchen table, making himself a sandwich, trying to talk himself down. He poured himself a glass of iced tea. wishing he had a TV, if only for the noise. He used to love the quiet of this house. He embraced it like a friend, until now. All he felt was the emptiness of his house and his own lack. He missed Lara, he missed her kids, he puzzled over the gnome, and over the text. He pulled out his lawnmower. His grass didn't really need it but he mowed it anyway. It gave his body something to do.

The next night the gnome was still gone. Still no text from Lara with any kind of explanation. He slowed as he drove past Lara's house, slowed again as he approached his own and then headed out of town. He ate dinner with his mom, asking her if she had heard anything from Lara recently, trying to sound casual, sure he was failing. 

The following night Matt stopped his truck on the curb and parked there. Still no gnome. Still radio silence from Lara. He sat there, playing out various scenarios in his head, as he had been alll day, hardly able to concentrate on his work, she had preoccupied his thoughts. He'd considered buying her flowers, and sweeping her off her feet, he considered pounding on her door demanding an answer. He also considered driving by her house from now on gnome or no gnome, never caring about her again. That was impossible. Slowly he put the truck into gear driving home. 

He cleaned his barely dirty bathroom, he washed the two dished that were in the sink, and finally headed out to see a movie, which was not as distracting as he'd hoped it would be, but it gave him something to do, somewhere to be. But all he could think about was Lara and all he could do was try to distract himself from the acute feeling of her absense.

As he drove by Lara's house he slowed. No lights. No wait, was that the faint glow of her TV? Was she even home? He drove on home but sat in his truck, parked in his driveway. He texted Lara again "You need anything?" a moment later a text reply came back "We're fine, thx" he headed into the house and went through the motions of going to bed but he barely slept. He struggled through the next day. He held himself back all day from texting Lara. His mind contorted the situation, trying to look at it from this way and that. He stuggled not to feel angry and bitter, thought he felt it threatening to rise up and choke him. He brought his thoughts back to his work, head down, pounding it out. He tried to concern himself only with service tickets and electrical wires. He tried to ignore the dull ache in his heart and tried not to think about Lara and the growing knot in his stomach.

Matt sat in his truck, thinking about heading home. He just sat there, letting the cold air from his truck's AC blow on his hot face. When his cell rang it was an unfamilliar out of town number. He glanced at it and tossed it onto the passenger side seat. It rang again. Same number. "Yeah?" there was a terseness in his voice, an edge he did not like about himself. He prided himself on being unflappable yet here he was being rude to a total stranger for no apparent reason. There was a pause "Is this Matthew, um... I'm sorry I don't have a last name written down here." It was the voice of an older woman, a voice he was sure he'd heard before but where? "Yes, Speaking." 
"This is Betty-Jo Bryan" there was another pause "Lara Bryan, er I mean Lara McMullen's mother."
"How is she?" asked Matt, he winced again, he didn't mean to sound so eager
"That is why I am calling" replied Lara's mother. She let out a sigh. "I'm afraid I haven't really heard from her for several days. She has relpied to my texts, but barely.  I'm growing a bit worried about her and the children. I was hoping that maybe you would know what is going on."
"I haven't seen much of Lara lately." Matt replied
"Sunday would have been their wedding anniversary. Lara fell into a deep depression after Ian died and I'n worried she may be suffering now."
Of course. Matt took a deep breath. A flicker of a memory of the dark days of his own passed through his thoughts. 
"I'm worried about her." repeated Betty Jo. "I feel like I ought to have contacted you earlier, let you know to be on the lookout for her, I guess I thought I could take care of her from here. But anyhow I was wondering if possibly you could check in on her and let me know how she and the children are doing? I would come myself but I am in the middle of a rather big project here..."
"Of course" replied Matt
"I hate to bother you with this..." continued Lara's mother, it reminded him of all of the times Lara hadn't asked him to help her lately, hadn't asked him to stay, hadn't wanted to intrude, hadn't wanted to ask too much of him. 
"No, of course, I'm just leaving work now. I'll call you back as soon as I can."
"Please let Lara know I'm here for her. I can leave this and come to her if she wants me to. If she needs help."
"I'll call you back soon."

Matt held himself back from speeding all the way to Lara's house. The ten minutes it took to get to Lara's house felt like an hour. He was out of the truck and at her door before the engine had time to quiet. Clara opened the door, peeking out. Behind her Matt could hear the TV on in the background, he peeked behind her to see any trace of Lara. "Hey there. do you mind if I came in?" "I don't know," Clara hesitated "I think Mama is taking a nap." he could see the conflicted look on Clara's face, but while her mouth said no her body said yes and she stepped aside to let Matt in. It wasn't particlarly messy, but not particularly clean. A box of delivery pizza sat open on the table. Matt heard Lara's footsteps in the hallway as the door shut behind him "Clara, I thought I told you to never -" she stopped mid-sentence as she saw who it was Clara had let in. She froze, she stood there, staring blankly at him. "I, I mean we're" she stammered.

Lara stood there, eyes on Matt, hands on her hips. Connor came running up to Mattt as soon as he realized he was standing there. "Matt!!! Where have you been? I missed you!" Matt reached for Connor who launched himself into Matt's arms. Matt tousled Connor's hair and threw him around a bit before setting him down gently. "Why don't you help your sisters clean up after dinner?" Matt stepped closer to Lara. She looked at him, staring blanking, blinking at him. "Your mom was starting to worry about you, she asked me to check in on you." said Matt quietly so only Lara could hear "She called you?" 
"Yes, just a couple of minutes ago."
"I'm sorry, it's just that -"
"No." Matt cut her off "I'm sorry. Why don't you go take a nice long shower. It's okay. I've got this." he touched her arm gently. Lara just turned around obediently, walked to her room and shut the door.

Matt turned to the kids, they were eager for him to play with them, read to them, listen to them. He got them ready for bed. His mind with Lara, his body with her children. He'd played out a lot of scenarios in his mind over the last couple of days. None of them had been this. Her silence, her blank expresion. What could he do to make this better? He asked as he turned out the lights to theee kids room. Matt called Lara's mom. He told her everything was fine and that he'd call her again in the morning. Before he hung up he asked "What can I do for Lara?" "Just be there for her." as all she said. 

He looked up, just as Lara was tiptoeing out of the hallyway. She was dressed in aproximately the same clothes as before, yoga pants, an oversized t-shirt, but she smelled clean and her hair was wet. She approached Matt tenatively. Matt searched her face for some clue as to how she was feeling but Lara just stood there, eyes on the floor. Matt stepped closer to Lara, she looked up. He cought a familiar look in her eye, one that he'd seen in the mirror plenty of times over the past five years. He took another step closer and reached for her, Lara walked into his arms and leaned into his chest. "Hey, look at me." Matt spoke the words softly. Lara turned her face up to meet his eyes, Matt looked deep into her eyes. For a moment Matt hesitated, but how much harm had his hesitation caused? Maybe if he had not been so reserved, so "nice" maybe he would have stood her four days ago. "I love you" he said and Lara wept.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I am done with apologizing

I am an over-apologizer. If someone is mean to me or hurtful you can bet I'm going to be the one apologizing first. If someone is being rude the first words out of my mouth are usually "I'm sorry to bother you, but..." and to me I think that's not entirely bad. It's good to be quick to say sorry but sometimes you need to apologize for apologizing too much - and that is what this is.

I am done with apologizing on this blog. I may or may not write book reviews every week. I really want to. I love writing them, but my life is really full with other stuff too. I'm okay with that. 

I am especially done with apologizing for how bad my fiction posts are. Every post lately has had an apology because I realize that I have not written fiction regularly since I was about sixteen, so my writing probably reminds you of the stuff you were writing as a teenager. That's why I'm practicing. My story lines are cliche but I'm not trying to write the next great American novel. I write because I love to write and I love to read. 

Yes - the story I've been writing might work better if she was a young single twenty-something or better yet a teenager, but this is the story I wrote in my head as I drove home from vacation a couple of years ago so this is the story I'm writing here. These are the characters I sometimes think about and these are the moments I enjoyed spending with them. Maybe you will too. If you don't, that's okay. I'm not offended. 

So that's the end of my rant. Now feel free to remind me of this if I start to apologize again so I can apologize for it.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

#FaithRaiderReads: Sarah Addison Allen

So, like I mentioned we have a new puppy and since we got her I have turned into a total scatter brain. She's a great puppy overall but she feels a little bit like the straw the broke the camel's back and send me from mildly overwhelmed into full-on crazy mom mode.

our new puppy Bonny

Anyway I'd been meaning to write more book recommendations but hadn't really gotten around to it. I think I was wanting to recommend a perfect book. But then a friend asked for a book recommendation and I remembered why I write these posts! I could write a blog-post-long text message responding to a text like that!! So here is another installment in (fiction) books I recommend.

Today I'm writing about all of the Sarah Addison Allen books I've read so far. Because her books are each a really fun, lighthearted read. I'm going to write about them in  approximately the same order I read them in.

my baby with two of his siblings at the Library!!

It was something my friend Corinne posted about on her Instagram and I thought I'd try. I read it in about 24 hours and immediately handed it to my daughter who read it in under 12. It is like the cotton candy of literature in the best of ways. It feels light and sweet and cozy with a twinge of magic around the edges. 

The story is about Bay, a teenager with the magical ability to know where everything belongs, including people. She works with her aunt who works magic into her cooking and barely gets along with her mother, who is a wizard of sorts with her scissors and comb down at the beauty salon. Bay knows that one of the popular boys at school belongs with her but they are not permitted to hang out together, so Bay kind of longs after him from a distance. There's also a con man and a candy store and a Halloween party and a magical tree. It is about the mystery of their mother's disappearance, and about the healing of hurting hearts. It is all really lovely and less whackadoodle that it sounds in this synopsis. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Follows the story of Bay's mom & aunt when they were younger. I didn't enjoy it as much as First Frost, it is a bit cliche and more violent and has an abusive character. I'd call this closer to a PG-13 read. I thought that since I loved the characters in First Frost I would enjoy this story but I honestly didn't. 

I didn't love it as much as First Frost but I didn't dislike it as much as Garden Spells. It is about a young girl goes to live with the grandfather she didn't know existed until the death of her (single) mother. The main character walks into a town full of mysteries and secrets, where she starts to fall in love with the boy who has a Big Secret. She also has magical wallpaper that changes patterns by itself, so there's that. But it is a lovely story about love in many forms. 

preggo belly last summer when I read this book

This is one of my favorite books by Sarah Addison Allen but it is also the most cray-cray. It is about a magical alligator who lives at the lost lake. That part of the story is kind of unbelievable but the rest of the story makes up for it. It's about a woman (and her daughter) after the death of her husband. They've been living under the thumb of her mother in-law, but they decide to spend a week or so with her aunt before they move in with her. The place wakes her up, she helps her aunt, who is thinking about selling her property to the Big Bad Developer. It's about the other people who have been living there or coming every year for the last twenty years, the attractive handyman who is helping the aunt get things fixed up. It is such a beautiful story and I loved reading it, mostly in the bathtub while I was pregnant with my youngest.

This is a sweeping southern story, crossing about a hundred years, it's about the mystery of a big old house that is being renovated into a grand hotel, about the family that used to live there and the family that is renovating it and all of their family secrets. And of course a little romance is blossoming!

The Sugar Queen
I didn't finish this one - I had a ton of books checked out from the Library all at the same time, it is basically about a girl who is crazy for sugar and has a stash of sweets in her closet, or something like that. I didn't get into it. I guess I couldn't connect with the main character quickly enough. It seemed like a nice enough story and I'm sure I'll check it out of the library again at some time. 

All of these are (unless otherwise stated) pretty PG as far as violence and language, maybe stepping closer to a mild PG-13 in the romance department. If you are looking for a light fiction read any of these would be good. Let me know if you read any of these and what you think!

At some point this later year or early next I want to start sending a monthly email. I'm not 100% sure what it will be yet - maybe some kind of an online book club type thing? Definitely with book recommendations and helpful/interesting links. If you're interested sign up here. I plan to send out my first email this weekend - just to try things out - so sign up today. (You can unsubscribe at any time) To those of you who have already signed up I just wanted to say thank you! It makes me really happy that your trust me with access to your inbox. Look for something from me soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Draft vol 1.5

Ms. Mae & Lara sat at the table together, sipping on some ice cold lemonaid.They’d just finished washing up the dishes together, the mood was bright, the weather hot and sticky. Clara & Sophie were sprawled out on the floor, putting together a puzzle. Connor played with the cats, one of which he’d put to sleep across one of his legs. Lara & Ms. Mae sat for a moment in silence, watching them play.  “So how are the little angels doing?” Ms Mae always referred to Lara’s children as her “angels” which Lara found remarkable endearing or annoying demanding on how the day had been. “I think they’re doing well,” said Lara as she looked at them “really well” she repeated as her eyes lifted to meet Ms Mae’s “This place has been so good for all of us.” and it really had been.

The explosive outbursts that Lara had been coping with from one child or another had become a thing of the past and they really, truly seemed to be happy and thriving. Ms. Mae smiled, breaking into Lara’s thoughts  “Lara, you do realize that at some point you are going to have to make a choice, don’t you? Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or even next week, but soon.” Lara only sighed. “Are you going to register them for school here? Or will they return to the school that they attended last year? I don’t think the bus stops at my sister’s hotel. Summer is almost over. You’re going to have to make a choice, sooner or later.” 

Just then the screen door slammed and Matt walked in the back door. “Hello, dear.” Ms. Mae called out. “So, what are y’all talking about?” Matt kissed the top of his mother’s head and winked at Lara as he reached into the fridge for the pitcher of iced tea “I was just asking Lara if she would be registering her children in school here locally, or not.” Matt glowered at his mother, just a bit. Lara got the feeling that this had been a topic of conversation between the two of them and Matt had probably told his mother to leave it alone.  Lara’s heart swelled with love for this woman who had taken her in like a stray half-drowned cat and had practically treated her like family, who was now trying to give her some motherly advice. Matt kissed the top of his mother’s head again “Ma, don’t meddle.” he chided, half jokingly as he set his plate of food down on the table across from Lara, grinning. Lara smiled back. “Matthew, I will meddle. I am a mother, that’s what mothers do.” “Well, your mother’s right." said Lara laughingly "Living a day at a time is good and all, but you can’t really live like that, at least not with school-aged children. Eventually I’m going to have to face the music.” “Have you thought about finding a place around here?” asked Ms. Mae “the schools here are excellent and you’d be near enough to the beach you could go nearly every day if you really wanted to. Then you could visit me as often as you liked.” Lara hesitated Matt piped up casually “If you want, I’d be happy to show you a couple places in town.”  Lara’s eyes brightened. “I hadn’t even thought of that!” and suddenly a wave of relief washed over her. Matt & Ms. Mae smiled at each other. “That sounds really wonderful” Lara had to swallow hard to keep the tears back. Maybe she didn’t have to leave after all.

Lara’s mother, Betty-Jo Bryan swooped down from Atlanta, bringing Lara’s sister, Aimee, with her and a flutter and commotion of activity. Every day there were places to visit, things to do and it was all-consuming. Betty-Jo was in full-on Grandma mode and while she may or may not have had alternative motives, she made it very clear that she was here to spoil her grand-babies rotten. Leaving Lara barely time or space to breathe much less think. 

It was towards the begining of the second week of her mother’s visit, Lara was in her room, finally alone for a few minutes to work. It was a swelteringly hot night and in the middle of what had turned out to be one of the hottest weeks of the summer. Her mother and sister had taken the kids down to the pool for a before-bed swim after dark. Lara sat, wearing pajama shorts and a tank top, on the pull out sofa-bed eating cereal in front of the a/c unit. If her mother had suddenly returned Lara would have been certain to be on the receiving end of an extremely disapproving look. But they’d really only just left a few minutes ago so it was unlikely. In between bites Lara typed out notes on her laptop. Lara wanted to sketch out a few rough drafts to send to Marliegh, her editor. Suddenly the fan sputtered and slowed to a stop. Lara got up and checked to see if it had somehow inadvertently come unplugged. She turned it off, waited a few seconds, turned it back on again, fiddled with a few nobs and then she realized that she had absolutely no idea what she was doing. 

Lara picked up the room phone and pressed the button to speak to the front desk. Mrs G answered with her characteristically cheerful greeting “Sorry to bother you,” Lara began "but it seems our AC has given up the ghost.” “Oh dear,” said Mrs. G. sympathetically “no problem at all, Matt is here fixing the air in one of the other rooms, I’ll just send him right up when he’s through.” “Oh, wow. That’s really nice. I hope it’s not any inconvenience to - “ Mrs G cut her off ”oh, it’s the heat. Don’t you worry dear. these units blow left and right during a heat wave like this. He’ll be over in a jiffy and you’ll be good as new.” 

A few minutes later Matt knocked on Lara’s door. Mrs. G had told him who was was in room five-oh-seven and he was grinning like a teenager when Lara opened the door. Suddenly Lara wished she was wearing something a little nicer and had thought to pick up a bit, instead of finishing her cereal on the deck. She offered him a glass of water. These Floridians knew how to handle the heat like champs but Matt looked like he'd taken a quick swim on his way over. “Ma sure has missed you, at the farm” he said as Lara poured some water from a pitcher in the fridge into an ice filled glass. “My mom and sister have been visiting.” Lara replied “Yeah, Ma told me.” said Matt with a smile as Lara offered the glass. His fingers lightly brushing hers as she handed him the water, sending a tingle down Lara’s spine “I’d hoped to bring her over” said Lara looking away “but I haven’t had the chance, my mom loves to stay busy.” Lara realized she was headed over the fine line between small talk and babbling and decided to just stop before she said something really embarrassing. “Well now,” said Matt “let’s get that cold air runin’ again.” 

He quickly found, and resolved, the cause of the unit’s malfunction. Lara had rarely felt such a mix of relief and disappointment at the sound of cool air flowing into her room. “Well, now,” said Matt  "There you go.” “Thank you” said Lara. Matt was in no less of a hurry to leave than Lara was to have him go. Matt gathered what few tools he’d needed saying as he headed towards the door “so, anytime you want me to take you by those houses in town, just give me the word.” “Sure, yes, of course.” replied Lara “I’m sorry, I was meaning to set up sometime to do that. I’ve been kind of distracted, you know, with my mom and all.” “Yeah, sure. Of course.” said Matt kindly “Maybe you can bring your family to the farm for dinner.” Matt was at the door, looking back at Lara “I’d like that.” she said with a smile. “Okay, see you soon then.” said Matt and he heard out the door.

Not long after Clara, Sophie & Conner burst through the door, loud and excited, with their grandma and aunt close behind. Lara switched into baths and bedtime mode and before long the room was quiet again. Aimee was in the shower and Lara & her mother were folding up the day’s laundry. “So I was thinking” Lara's mother began “I think it would be best if we leave on Saturday. That will give us another four days here with you, you can pack up and come home with us, then.” She dropped the bomb on Lara casually but she watched her daughter carefully to see how she would take it. “I didn’t know you were expecting me to come home with you.” said Lara, timidly. “I was thinking of maybe staying longer.” 
“What? Another week? Surely not another month?”
“Actually I was thinking about maybe finding something, I don't know maybe  more permanent.” 
"Yes, you know, a little house somewhere nearby. Maybe in the next town over. Mrs. Garrard has a sister there - “
“How could you possibly even consider an idea as fanciful, as far fetched, as that? Think of your children.” and her tone was scolding more than pleading, “They need a stable home environment. You’ve had your little summer vacation. Don’t you think it’s time to get back to your life?”
“I have a life, mom.”
“Here? In a hotel? Practically living out of a suitcase? For months on end for what? What kind of a life do you intend to lead here? Hmm?" 
Lara’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m going for a walk” 
"Is this how you choose to face your problems? By running away from them?” her mother scolded
"I'll be back in a bit." said Lara and she shut the door behind her, trembling.

There was no way to win this argument with her mother. She was stubborn and usually saw things only from one point of view, her own. Lara could be equally stubborn, when she wanted to. She didn’t want to allow her mother to control her but suddenly everything about the last three months became unclear.  Something inside her, deep in her core, had begun to crumble. 

Over the next couple of days all Lara wanted to do was sleep, her body felt a hundred pounds heavier than the day before and her thoughts were all in a fog. What did she really want? Had she made a huge mistake coming here? Did she want to go back to the life she had before she came here? Did she want to start over here? What was best for the kids? To be here, where their mother was happy, or to be in her hometown where they’d have the support of family surrounding them? 

It was the uncertainty of it all that had undone her. Lara knew how to stand up and fight for what she wanted and she knew how to give way to her mother. The one thing she had no idea how to do was make up her mind. 

Lara took long walks on the beach by herself. She spoke less, exerted less effort, avoided making decisions, even trivial ones. Her mom and sister had almost completely taken over anyway, her sister was the fun aunt and their grandma gave the kids presents and took them places, and the kids were, for the moment, completely disinterested in their mother, and so Lara, simply sat on the sidelines, or sat, starting out in the ocean. Lost.
Matt sat in the office with his aunt, cooling down in the heat of Friday afternoon. He was helping her out with some last minute repairs. Matt found himself experiencing intense inner turmoil at the moment. Lara hadn't called him or his mother. His aunt had barely seen her, it was like she had dissappeared from their lives in an instant and Matt was pouting, slouched over his egg salad sandwich. "One minue she's planing on moving to town," he complained "promising to go house hunting with me, the next I'm completely invisible. Who does that?" 
"House hunting with you eh?" joked Mrs. G raising an eyebrow.
 "You know that's not what I meant." 
"Oh, or isn't it?" she laughed a little to herself and then sobered
"You know, her mother came to visit her, right?"
"and does she seem to be herself lately?"
"I don't know, Aunt G. I was right there I spoke to her, I waved, it was like I'd turned invisible, like she didn't even see me."
"Maybe she didn't " said Mrs. G matter of factly
"How could she have not seen me? I was right there."
"And how did she seem to you?"
"I don't know." Matt scratched the back of his neck "awe, come on now, Aunt G. Go ahead and say whatever it is you've got to say." 
"All I'm saying," said Mrs G gently, "is that if you left us you ma, well she and I would march right up to wherever it was you'd run off to and we would drag you back home, if need be. So now what do you think Lara's ma has been saying to her? Do you honestly think that poor woman could stand on her own against her own mother, calling her home? Think about if you were in her place."
"Do you think she'll leave?" Matt asked quietly, eyes on the floor
"No." said Mrs. G quickly "I think not. Rarely have I seen someone so in love with a place, so positively changed by living here, but you never know, really, what someone will do when they're depressed"
The word hung in the air between them.
"Depressed?" Matt asked
The two of them had seen enough depression to last a life time. Between Mr. G's PTSD and his own father's manic depressive disorder, not to mention his own season of darkness ater the death of his wife and their unborn son. "Maybe she just needs a friendly remnder of why she wants to stay." said his aunt.

Later that night Matt found himself at Lara's door for the second time in a week. The sun had set a couple hours ago and the night had cooled down considerably, Matt shivered slightly in the cool ocean breeze. He knocked and the door opened, an older woman standing in the doorway. Died brown hair, deepset eyes, tight strait lips. "Yes?" she asked, in a manner that was neither friendly nor fierce. 
"My names' Matt, er Matthew Bartlett and I just came by to speak to Lara" he said, feeling a bit like the boy with the baseball asking if his friend can come out and play catch. Lara's mother hesitated a moment. "She's out on the balcony at the moment. I'll go get her." "Oh, no ma'am, I'll just go out and sit with her a minute." He wasn't so much as asking permission so much as stating a fact and he walked past her easily. "All right then." she said as he walked through, she stared at him blankly, moving slightly to one side as he passed.

Matt stepped out onto the balcony where Lara sat, alone, staring out at he ocean, unseeing. Matt sat down in the empty chair next to hers. The night breeze blew cool, a welcome to the swealtering heat of the past few days. Matt sat there, listening to the crash of the ocean, the call of the last few birds and the symphony of crickets and frogs far below, looking at Lara, who seemed to have changed, like in the last three days she had aged. Yet somehow, she also looked like a little girl, unsure of herself.

Lara started lightly when she realized it was Matt sitting there in the chair beside her, their shoulders nearly touching. 
"Are you leaving?" Matt asked, he hated himself for always speaking so directly.
Lara turned her gaze back to the ocean.
"I don't know" Lara said, like it was an admission she did not like to make. 
He wanted to blurt out "Please don't" but he bit his lip and stayed quiet.
"I've been thinking a lot lately," Lara spoke softly "about what I really want to do with the rest of my life."
There was a pause like Lara din't know how to finish her thought
"And I just don't know."
Matt hesitated for a moment, trying to pull his most encuraging thougt from the jumble crashing around inside of him at this moment. 
"That's okay." he said 
"Is it?"
There was another long pause
"What do you think?" Lara sighed "Was I silly? Was it selfish of me to try to live here. What kind of a life is that?"
Matt wanted to reach across, to comfort her, to let her know it was okay, that she was going to be okay.
Matt put his hand on the armrest of the chair, his hand next to hers, nearly touching.
"I think you're one of the bravest women I've ever met." he said, quietly. simply.
Lara looked up into his face, tears in her eyes "Really?"
"But what do you think I should do?"
Matt took a deep breath. Eyes out to the ocean. Searching for the right words. Words that answered her question unselfishly.
"I think you should be happy again."
He could feel Lara's eyes on him but he kept his gaze fixed on the crash of the ocean waves on the shore. "Not just for a moment or even a day but happy, really, truly happy. And if that means that you live here or there, well, no one can answer that question but you."
Lara sat in silence. 
Happy? She had got a little taste of what that might feel like here, in the peace of this place, in the sunshine, at Aunt Mae's Farm with her garden and her cats, laughing with Matt in the evenings.
"But I don't know what to do." said Lara weakly
"That's okay," replied Matt reassuringly "I know you'll make a good decision,"
"You do? You don't think I'll screw it up?"
"Oh, I'm sure sometime or other you'll mess up" replied Matt laughingly, "but then, you'll see your mistake, learn from it and move on."
Lara smiled and laughed softly, almost to herself.
"Thank you" she said softly.
And they sat in silence, listening to the ocean.

The next day Lara's mother and sister left. 

And Matt felt like he could breathe again. 

Friday, June 17, 2016


We have been really busy with our new dog Bonnie. I named her after the character in Toy Story 3. They are both so friendly, sweet and cheerful. She's been a terrific addition to the family. Kids need a dog, some dogs need kids and Bonnie I think is one of them. She loves the constant attention and company. She is still a puppy but has been really easy to train so far!