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“Tell me more.”

The floor squeaked its high-pitched whimper as she turned from the hallway into the great room where he sat still majestic in his weakness. Deep within her soul something pure and strong warmed at the sight of her father, and when his eyes caught hers her whole body smiled. Eyes, sunken after weeks of treatment for the very thing that was taking him away from her, became brilliant in their eagerness to communicate what only a father could say to his child.

“I drew this for you, Daddy,” she said and held up the simplest of drawings. She didn’t notice the effort it took for him to lift his arm and reach out in welcome of her gift.

“Tell me more,” he whispered.

Slowly, as if with care not to disturb the dust on the floor, she stepped across the room and closer to her father. His frail fingers, once able to grab her and throw her high into the sky, grasped at the drawing. Thinking he had control of it, she let the paper go and it slipped into a seesaw tumble to the floor at their feet.

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she began but didn’t know what exactly she was sorry for. The words just came out so easily these days. Balancing herself by grabbing his knee, she bent down to get her drawing.  He hid his grimace and suppressed a groan at the pain she caused his body. He would hide it all if he could. When she straightened she placed the drawing on his lap and pointed to blobs she drew.

“This is you, Daddy. And this is me. See the sun here?” she asked, pointing to the top corner.

“I do.”

She beamed.

“What is this here, a cloud?” His voice raspy and weak.

“No, Daddy, that’s God. He’s waiting for you like you said.”

His eyes moved from the page up and into his daughter’s face. How mighty her strength.

“Do you know how much I love you?” he said.

They both knew it wasn’t a question.

“Tell me more.”

The Letter

Conner splashed through the shallow, but quick, stream giving no care to the water splattering his clothes to his chest and soaking his boots. Staying dry did not fit his mood so taking the extra time to find a fairer crossing was about as likely as him waiting for his brother to return with the horse before setting his sights and determined motion toward the only place his mind could focus on since reading the letter. A farmhouse some twenty miles away containing a wonderful family of seven, and more specifically, the dwelling place of one Julianne Sweet: the author of said letter. Only at this moment, Conner could not affix her family name to the woman now fueling the heat of his travel.

My dearest Conner,” a lovely hand began. If only it stood alone on the perfumed page. “You have been utmost in my thoughts of late, even more so than those of my family. It burdens me beyond any I’ve faced to tell you that since our last meeting I have received a parcel welcoming me to the University as both faculty and student.” Conner picked up a twig fallen from a tree in the grove he now stormed through and broke it first in half, then in half again, until it was too short to break any further. Each time he discarded one of the half-lengths with as much energy as his arm would allow. He began to feel the muscles in his arm and chest rebel from the sudden jerking and extensions they were being forced to perform.

Suffice it to say, the preparations alone will be quite an ordeal for me and my family,” Julianne continued. “I cannot clearly state my current torment as it would mean leaving them behind for longer than I’ve ever been away. And then there is the matter of my feelings for you, Conner Readling.” His face twitched into a scorn at his remembrance of these words and found a suitably sized stone to kick. “Oh, my love, my voice. Where would I be if not for you and your strength? You encouraged this foolish girl into dreaming of advancement and gave me hope enough to solicit the University.” Oh, she would know his strength and how foolish she truly was when he arrived! “Were it not for you, this dream would never have been realized, and yet how can I feel excited at its prospect when it means being separated from your arms?

Repeating the letter to himself added only more anger to his rage. She would leave him? She would choose to live a life where he was not a focal point? Not today she wouldn’t! No, she would hear him roar and feel his wrath. Today she would know what a man he truly was and how much she would so easily cast aside. They had been friends since childhood and this would be the second harvest since they stole their first kiss behind her father’s wagon. Too many church services holding hands to count them all. Until today, he simply knew she would become his wife and he her husband; and yet, she decides otherwise.

Please come to see me as soon as your work allows. I must look into those eyes and be filled with your affection if I am to have the will to make even half this journey. Truly yours, Julianne.

“’Truly yours? Hah!” Conner reached the outer-edge of the Sweet farmstead and climbed over the fence he had helped build and mend catching the inner seem of his pants on a splinter and nearly tripping into the mud face first as his pants ripped from crotch to knee. “Bah!” he yelled at everything and at nothing in particular.

Across the fields of beans the Sweets were known for Conner saw the house standing bold white among the sea of green and began the last leg of his ill-tempered excursion following a tamped groove of dirt between two rows of bean. It made for awkward walking due to it being so narrow and forcing one foot to land directly inline with the other. To any passerby, he would certainly look the fool with his hips swaying to and fro as if he carried a salmon between his thighs and purposed not to let it fall. But he began to slow the closer he stepped to the house when he saw several people milling about and his own family wagon, complete with horse, out front. “What in the…?”

His own brother met him at the end of the bean field where the lawn’s edge delineated the home from the farm. “Conner!”

“Get out of my way, Stephen!” barked Conner.

“I tried to reach you, but you did not take the road. Why are you so filthy, and what happened to your trousers? You’re legs are not that comely to be showing them off in public.”

“They were caught. Now move, I must see Julianne. I have no time for your play.”

“Do you have time for this?” Stephen handed him a page of the same paper and in the same hand that sent him here.

“What is this?” demanded Conner, but he did not wait for a reply. He snatched the page and moved around his brother making his direction towards the wide front-porch of the Sweet family home. Why was everyone outside? And his mother and father here as well?

“You might want to read that,” advised Stephen. But Conner neither read the page nor gave his brother any head and within moments he was near enough to the gathering of people to hear them all fall quiet.

Mr. Sweet raised his hand in a wave. “Tom!” he called.

That stopped Conner in his tracks. “Sir, we’ve known one another now for many years. I apologize if you take offense, but my name is Conner. Conner Readling. And I wish … no, I demand to visit with your daughter. Julianne? You do remember her name, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mister Readling. I quite remember the name of my eldest daughter, and I do know you to be Conner. If you’ll do me the kindness of turning your attitude around, as well as your head, you’ll see that I was addressing Pastor Millstone. His name is Tom, if you’ll remember.”

Blushing, Conner bowed his head in acquiescence and acknowledged the preacher as well. And the next several minutes were a blur of movement by each family’s member, admonitions of his attire by his mother, and claps on the back from the men, all the while not seeing Julianne among the assembly. In his confusion he’d forgotten about the page in his hand almost fully crumpled. Remembering his brother’s advice, Conner spread the page back to a semblance of its original form and read. And read it again. And again.

“I told you to read it,” said Stephen smiling the biggest grin he’d seen on his brother in quite a long time. “I didn’t know it dropped away when I was asked to deliver it.” Conner stared directly into his brother’s face and searched for any malice or foul play. He found nothing but that silly grin.

“Come with me, boy,” his father said. Doing as he was told, he allowed his father to lead him to the rear of the house where tables sat full of food and bowls of punch, and off to the side an arbor had been erected and adorned with flowers of all shapes and colors. “Your mother might prefer you to wear this.” And in a state of wonderment, Conner took and donned his father’s best church-going jacket covering most of the dirt and grime he’d acquired during the last several hours. There was nothing to do about his leg showing through his trousers, but time had its own pleasures.

“Have you read this?” Conner asked his father.

“Yes. We’ve all read it and if you’ll stand right here, you’ll see what our answer is. Not that it matters, it is an answer only you can give.” If his father noticed his lack of ability to utilize any muscles in his face, he made no mention of it. They had stopped walking several paces away from the tables, beneath the arbor. Conner stared out at the open fields of bean crop. Acres of it circling his vision.

“You’ve all … read it?” asked Conner. In reply, his father tenderly grabbed his shoulders and spun him around to reveal that everyone had followed them around, including Pastor Tom, and they all stood close to the door that led into the rear hallway of the house waiting for something. But what? His wits had failed him. His mind aloof. Then with a sudden moment of clarity he screamed at the top of his lungs, “YES!” just as the door opened revealing Julianne in a simple, white dress.

P.S. I feel passionate about the fact that I cannot do this alone, my dearest Conner. If you would agree to come to me tomorrow at my parents home, and ignore the improper way of my asking for your hand instead of you for mine, our lives could be joined under God and we can travel to the University as husband and wife. I eagerly await your answer.

Bonfires and Coffee

The bonfire’s flame danced a reflective waltz in her eyes as she kept them focused on the man sitting across from her. Someone she had just met hours before who seemed both familiar and comfortable. She relaxed into an image of her head on his lap while the bonfire warmed her front and the breeze off the sea cooled her back. One of his hands would stroke her hair while the fingers of his other would trickle up and down her arms and side and back. Did he just look at her? Did he catch her staring? Her chest seized and her breath stopped in that moment. A chanced glance catching her stare with the dark of his sparkling eyes was all it took to feel fifteen again hoping the boy she wanted wanted her too.
     He looked away and she squeezed the sand beneath her feet and breathed deeply the salted air when her lungs began again their cycle, exhaling purposefully. Methodically. What gave her the right to think he even saw her. Constant waves of self-pity had eroded her judgment of her own attractiveness. She felt she was no longer a member of the same species as this vision of a man in front of her. Guilt and shame took over. What was she thinking?

He stole a glance, appearing as casual as he could, and saw the warm glow of her skin red with the bonfire’s splashing of color. So piercing were here eyes when he caught them looking at him that it made his heart lurch and his throat swallow. Someone’s girl, he supposed. But one that broke the rules of a relationship if she was. That look could mean anything. Nothing. Who was he to think someone like her would find him interesting enough? Did he dare try to look at her again to see if there was something in her eyes?
     He smiled as if amused by is friend’s story and took the slightest peek at her. She was kneading the sand with her feet, the way a cat would knead your chest if it was in the mood to lay on you, digging tiny holes with her toes then filling them again. A leather bracelet around her ankle. He never knew why women wore them, but on a leg as perfect as hers, it belonged there. His peek was turning into a stare and she would catch him if he held to it much longer.

Her girlfriend convinced her to come to the beach this evening. Three of their friends joining them. An escape from the city the fresh air would give and some time to enjoy some company, have some laughs, and get caught up on what each was doing. What she did not expect was this newcomer. He gave his name when they were introduced, and went on about his business. Well, she was one of four other people he was meeting. Still, there was something about him. The way he held himself. How he smiled. How his lips … good lord, what was her problem?
     He had helped start the fire and carry some of the things from their vehicles. He wasn’t overly muscular, but fit enough. A belly that knew food and arms that knew real work. Man’s work. He could probably fix cars and hammer boards together. In her imagination, he loved poetry and killing spiders equally. He would tear up at the right kind of movie and take out the trash before it needed to, just so she would always have enough room.
     Was he looking at her again? Her feet were still busy mulching sand and when she looked up from them to him he was smiling at something someone was saying. He had looked at her feet playing with the sand. He probably saw the bracelet on her ankle that once belonged to her sister. She would like him, of course. Her memory was still fresh, though some of the details had faded a little.

He saw her hands clasped together between her knees and before his peek ended she glanced up and caught his look with her own. She didn’t look away this time, so he didn’t either. Several seconds passed before he realized they were staring at one another. Was there something on his nose? No. She was looking him in the eye. Her expression was dreamy as if her thoughts were somewhere else and he recalled how hard it was to meet her other friends after first shaking her hand. He had to force himself to let go to shake hands with the others. It almost hurt him now. For he had held her hand for mere moments and wanted to be holding them now.
     But who was he again? Just a guy. Nobody special. But, her! Oh, she was something. His imagination of her she would look fantastic in an over-grown sweatshirt reading a book and drinking coffee on Saturday mornings while leaning her head on his chest. She was smarter than everyone else and yet thought he had so much more to teach. She would laugh at his jokes because she thought he was funny. Was that a smile?

It was torture staring at him not knowing anything of how he might like her. It was also madness to become so taken by a man she’d just met. No. There was too many things wrong with her for him to like. Too many insecurities. And she did not think she wanted to find out that he wouldn’t. But, at the very moment she was going to turn away, he smiled at her. Electricity surged down her arms into her hands and they began to hurt with how much force she was gripping them together. And in that moment of weakness, she felt her own face smile at him. Stupid!

She was smiling! How had he not noticed her beauty before this? Her lips and the little crinkle of skin her eyes made above her cheeks soaked in the firelight. She glowed. He had to do something. What? If she knew how she made him feel she’d run away laughing. But, she wasn’t running. She was looking at him and smiling. Should he get up and go talk with her? Would she let him come over and sit so close?

Oh, if he came over and sat next to her she would freak. Please come sit next to me.

He felt his neck flush with apprehension. Was it really him she was smiling at? And why would she? He was letting his imagination run too loose. But, what if she would let him come over? And what if she did let him hold her hand?

She noticed him flush but he wasn’t making any move to come over. But he was still looking at her with that smile of his. Warming every part of her. Maybe he was the shy type? Shy men could still kill spiders. But, he seemed comfortable with everyone there, so he wasn’t that shy. But he also wasn’t moving. So, with everything to lose, she stood up and planned to stretch to make it look like that was her only plan if he didn’t react.

Something made him stand up. There was no explanation from where the energy or decision came from. He just did. And since he was up, he was going to walk over to her and say something. Something witty if anything came to mind. Maybe romantic, but that was a stretch for him. And at the very time he stood, so did she. Her expression changed to surprise and to happy faster than he thought possible.

He was walking over to her. It was only a few steps, but it felt to her like the slow-motion sequence of a movie. As he got closer, he looked to be considering what to say. Mulling something over. Or maybe just trying on a few phrases to see which fit better. Then he was right in front of her. So close she had to look up into his face.

“Do you like coffee?” he asked.

“Only when I read.” she replied.

While rummaging through some boxes of books I had tucked away from my last move, I ran across a copy of The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner. The first chapter nailed me! I find I cannot focus, that each day a new “voice” or “form” presents itself as how I will write. Some days I want to write a sonnet, others literary prose as fine as the greats. But, while writing more and more, and reading more and more, I find I keep coming back to humor at the base of my writing like flour is used in baking. Maybe Betsy is on to something here … to keep working to find my voice.

Two evenings ago, I came across a little story I started several years ago. I read it and actually laughed out loud at a couple different parts. The writing was terrible. Transitions were poor. But, its pace was nice and had me in a smirk the whole way through. I’ve done a rewrite on the first three single-spaced pages to fix the transitions and I can honestly say, it’s pretty good. Maybe not great, but quite fun and less distracting now that I’ve added a little polish to it.

Anyway, I am trying to find my “voice” … my “form”. Maybe it’s writing with a smirk.

Starting the third story is a humbling experience. I have the idea, I’ve started chapter one, I think I know what I want to write about … and yet, it seems more difficult than the first two. I’ll be playing with it this week because my deadline is this weekend when it is to be revealed to Emma.

A fun thing that came about in book 2 was my love of fun words to say. So, now, Emma (in the stories) likes to chew on fun words. An example is, “Drat!” She’ll learn that word and use it in book 3. Why? Because it’s a fun word, that’s why!

Books 1 and 2 are almost finished marinating and are close to be ready revised and given to my “inner circle.” Oh, joyous times.

I woke up this morning with an aura of dread compressing me. And then, it hit me. I wrote nothing of consequence yesterday. A few comments on facebook was the extent of this writer’s work (though, I must admit, some of my facebook snippets are quite witty). Of all the writer’s I’ve read about, every one of them says the same thing, to one degree or another: Write Every Day!

Stephen King has a goal of 2,000 words per day – every day – including holidays. Others write between a start and end time. I have no such organization yet, but I feel the heavy lack of accomplishment by writing nothing. So, new goal:

I will write every day … something … whether it is a continuation of a story I’m working on, or some random prose, or even an attempt at a poem. Certainly, my worst times of writing are still more fun than most everything else I do.

I’ve decided I need to learn to use more ‘vivid’ verbs. Verbs show action, of course, but action shouldn’t be bland. In this sense, I’m looking at how verbs can be used more like adjectives without settling for the silly adverb!

Bland: Emma walked to her room.
Icky Adverb: Emma lazily ran to her room. (or) Emma ran to her room slowly.
Vivid: Emma meandered to her room. (or) Emma moped to her room.

I think there needs to be a balance here. Sometimes the “to the point” verb is necessary to move the story along without getting too flowery and causing the reader to pause for interpretation. Yet, maybe in rewrite, to change some of the bland to vivid can only serve to improve the reader’s experience.