Archive | Stories – Fiction

High Heels by Selena Taylor

Shoes in Shop Window by Connel Design via 123RF.com

For a few years I had been keeping an eye out for a new pair of shoes. High heels, in fact.

I told my soon-to-be husband that I was on an endless hunt for the perfect pair: the color that would look best against my skin, the heel that was neither too high nor too low, the toe that was either open enough to give the precise amount of ‘toe cleavage,’ or closed, but not too round or too pointy.

He asked, “How will you know?”

It was a fair question.

It was early afternoon, but I paused and looked toward a sunset only I could see, searching for an answer that would make sense. Finally, sighing, I said, “I will just know.”

He followed my gaze. “What are you doing?” he asked, confused. (It did look like I was staring at nothing.)

“Giving a dramatic answer, accompanied by the view of a fake sunset,  with a fake  slight breeze to move a couple strands of hair.”

He was skeptical, mouthing, Okay. But then he smiled at me and pointed out, “The sunset, um, fake sunset, would be behind you. A soft chuckle escaped his throat.

I moved to the correct position. “Thank you.”

It went on like that for a couple years. Every shopping trip would find me staring into shoe-store windows, and touring the shoe sections in each department store.

Then, one day at the mall, something caught my eye: a shimmer – no, a sparkle.

I shifted my gaze to look directly at that heaven-sent sparkle. Above it, there’s a beautiful gold and black animal print – perfect. The heel was skinny, but not pencil-thin.

I could not hear anything, and my vision had become impaired – blurry. Could these be my shoes?

I moved closer to the shoe display, and stood right in front of that pair of heels, gasping for air.  to the heels. I stood before them gasping for air. My hands shook with anticipation. My left pointer finger gently, no – teasingly –  stroked the satin fabric. Ohhhh! My vision became even more blurry. I felt wetness on my cheeks, and, reaching up, I realized I was crying.

As if at a distance, I heard my fiancé ask the store clerk if the shoes were available in my size. I didn’t hear the whole conversation, but the clerk disappeared, and I was left with the agony of waiting for his return.

Finally, he was standing in front of me, and offering a box.

I was guided to a chair. Seated, I slipped my foot out of the shoe I was already wearing, and removed my sock, replacing it with a clean stocking. I feel dazzled. I want these shoes!

The clerk knelt before me with one high-heeled shoe in his hand. Gently, he placed it on my foot, and I pressed down, adjusting until it was firmly in place. We repeat the process with the other shoe, my other foot.  Oh, the thrill and ecstasy!

I stand and then I take the first steps, trying them on, trying them out. Glancing to my side I walk with new-found confidence to the mirror. I wiped my tears away, and saw myself in all my high-heeled glory.

Oh! Was that my butt? Is it just a bit more perky? Why, yes, it is! And oh! Look at my calves. It was as if those shoes were magic. (I tell you, I just about died.)

I don’t know how long I stared in the mirror, but eventually my fiancé reminded me that we had to leave, that the shoes had to go back in the box. A tearful goodbye started to happen; I wanted to wear them forever.

With a small groan, I sat back down and took them off, closing them into the darkness of the box.

I expect the clerk to reclaim them, but instead, my fiancé said we were taking them. He bought them for me, and presented me with the bag, looking at me expectantly.

I crushed the bag to my chest, holding those shoes to my heart. “I told you I would know.”

That was seven years ago. My then-fiancé  is my now-husband.

And the shoes? They’re still the greatest pair of high heels ever. I haven’t replaced them. I couldn’t if I tried.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.

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Grocery Store Flowers: Jack by Melissa A. Bartell

Photo by Neirfy via 123RF.com

Daisy Morris ran a tired hand through her long red hair, grimacing when the ring on her left hand caught in her braid. The day before Mother’s Day was always crazy-busy, and her flower kiosk had been the epicenter of a steady buzz of traffic. She lowered her hand to glance at her wristwatch. It was four-thirty and the kiosk didn’t close until seven.

Taking advantage of the brief lull, she walked through the seasonal fruit and pastry display to the espresso bar in the grocery store lobby. “Our Daisy isn’t looking to fresh,” quipped Jolene, the wrinkled, gray-haired woman who claimed she could ‘still sling espresso shots with the best of them.’

“Not feeling so fresh, either,” the younger woman admitted. “Every year it’s the same thing… all these men and boys coming to buy cards and flowers as if Mother’s Day is some kind of surprise. Makes you wonder how they cope with the rest of their lives. Can I get a – ”

“Grande soy no-water chai,” Jolene finished with her. “Sure thing, honey. As to Mother’s Day… at least they’re getting something. My husband was a soldier… so many years holidays went by without any kind of acknowledgement because he was deployed. These days, these youngsters in the service have email and facetime and skype and sat-phones but in my day… ”

Daisy grinned, listening to Jolene’s mini-monologue as she watched the older woman expertly crafting her drink. “Oh, come on, Jo – you are not that old.”

“I’m older than you think,” she replied, handing over a cardboard-wrapped paper cup. “And this one’s on me. You have a customer waiting, and I think you’re going to need the fortification.”

Following the barista’s gaze, Daisy turned to her flower stand, and saw a boy who looked like he was about ten hovering around the carnations and daffodils. “I’ll be right there,” she called to him. “Thanks, Jo. Really.”

“Aw, it’s nothin’ but a thing,” Jolene said. “Now, scoot!”

Laughing around the rim of her cup, Daisy took a swig of her drink, savoring the spiciness of the chai and the comforting warmth of the steamed soymilk. It had been a wet spring, and a chilly one, at that, and she was constantly in and out of the refrigerators where the more delicate flowers shared space with prepared arrangements.

The boy was still hovering as she returned to her station. She tucked her cup behind a roll of ribbon on the work-desk below counter-height and smoothed her apron. Then she went to check on the kid. “Hi,” she said gently. “I’m Daisy. Are you looking for something special?”

They boy’s gray eyes betrayed the kind of hurt that was usually only evident in older faces, but he managed a faint smile. “I’m Jack,” he said. “I need to get flowers for my mom,” he said, with a hint of a quiver in his voice. “But I only have eight dollars.”

Daisy did some quick accounting. For that money, the boy could get a bunch of mini-carnations, or five irises or… “I think we can work with that. Do you know your mom’s favorite flowers?”

“Dad used to get her roses, when I was little.”

She swallowed her grin. She’d initially thought the boy was ten, but now, noticing the softness of his sandy-brown hair and the sprinkling of freckles across his cheeks, she thought he might be eight or nine. Definitely an age that still qualified as ‘little’ in her estimation. “Is your mom with you in the store?”

“She’s paying for groceries. I said I’d meet her at the door.”

“Okay,” Daisy said. “Well, for eight dollars we could do three roses and some baby’s breath and greens…” She could see the boy deflating in front of her. “You don’t want to do roses?”

“Sometimes when Mom sees roses, she gets sad,” the boy said.

Daisy couldn’t help it; she started inventing scenarios in her head. Maybe this boy’s father had been a soldier, like Jolene’s husband, and had died serving his country. Or maybe it was something much more prosaic: a separation or divorce. She shook her head, realizing that the kid was still talking.

“… and it’s been a year since he moved out, and I just want her to smile.”

Her smile was soft and wistful. “That’s very sweet. Well, okay, no roses. Do you know her favorite color?”

“Yellow.”

“Yellow,” she repeated thoughtfully. “Hmm. Yellow. Okay, Jack, how about we do a bunch of these…” She led him around the stand of fresh flowers to the bucket of daffodils. They were on special – only a dollar. “Or maybe two bunches. And then add an iris or two for a little punch of color.”  She went to the fridge and drew out two of the long-stemmed purple flowers, glanced at the boy, and then added a third. “Three would look better,” she explained. “Does your mom have a vase at home?”

He nodded. “She has lots of vases.”

“Good. Let’s wrap these in tissue then.” Daisy paused a moment. “Do you want a card to go with these?” Before the boy could answer, she tacked on. “The floral cards aren’t very big, but they’re free.”

The boy nodded, grinning. “Yes, please.”

Daisy took the flowers to her work-desk behind the counter, pausing to sip from her all-but-forgotten chai. Still warm, she thought. Good. Selecting a handful of small cards, she handed them to the boy.

He handed most of them back. “This one,” he said, holding up a card that had yellow tulips and the words Happy Mother’s Day printed on the front.

“Do you need a pen?”

“Yes, please.”

Jack was too small to reach the service counter. “Come around here to the opening and you can lean on the end of my workbench to write, okay?”

“Thanks.”

Daisy grinned, and resisted the urge to reach out and ruffle the boy’s hair. Softly, she said, “Jack, do you mind me asking… you said your dad used to bring roses to your mom?”

“They got divorced last August,” he said. “He has another family now.”

Oh, poor kid.

“I’m sure he still loves you,” she assured the boy.

The boy shrugged, the way young people sometimes do when a concept is just too big for them to truly understand. “I guess.” He put down the pen. “I’m done.”

Daisy took the card with its topsy-turvy lettering, and slotted it into a plastic card-holder which she tucked into the tissue wrapped flowers. She cut two lengths of ribbon – yellow and purple – and tied the bundle together.

“Alright, Jack, let’s ring you up.” Daisy punched buttons on the register, then looked up to see Jack’s stricken expression. The total had come to $8.64.

“Can we put one of the bunches of daffodils back?” he asked quietly.

Daisy hesitated. “We could, or… hey, Jack… do you think you could lift that empty bucket… the one near the sign that says, ‘Mother’s Day Bouquets?’ Because if you could bring it to me, you’d be helping out, and I could give you my employee discount.” In a conspiratorial tone, she added, “It would bring the total down to just under seven dollars.”

The boy didn’t answer. He just ran to get the bucket, and bring it back to the counter. “Here.”

“Well, thank you, Jack.” She punched another button on her register. “Six dollars and ninety-two cents, please,” she said.

Jack counted out seven wrinkled dollar bills. “I’ve been saving my allowance,” he said.

Daisy grinned. “I wasn’t very good about doing that, when I was your age. It’s nice that you’re getting flowers for your mom.” She handed him the nickel and three pennies that were his change, and then came around the counter to present him with the wrapped flowers.

“Tell your mother, she’s lucky to have you,” she told the boy.

Jack grinned. “Oh. She knows.”

She watched him turn and catch the eye of a woman standing near the door with a cart of bagged groceries, saw him place his tissue-wrapped bundle in the child-seat part of the cart, and smiled broadly when his mother, tired face suddenly suffused with delight, pulled her son into a rough embrace right there in the grocery story lobby.

Yeah, the day before Mother’s Day was always crazy-busy, and she was pretty sure there was going to be another rush between five-thirty and seven, but sometimes… sometimes she got to see love in action, and that made everything worth it.

Image Copyright: neirfy / 123RF Stock Photo

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Orion by Selena Taylor

Orion by Ian C. Grey

She runs her fingers through her hair, making sure to pull it back in a lazy bun. As she pulls her hair up, she checks that her children are snuggled under their blankets, pretending to sleep. Smiling, she turns the lights off and says goodnight one more time.

When she enters the living room, her husband is starting to get up. He gathers his cup, which is in need of a refill, and his phone. He walks to the kitchen with her right behind him. He places the items down and reaches for his jacket.

They stay quiet – no need fill the silence.

He opens the garage and walks out to the chill spring night.  His jacket is quickly zipped up. She, on the other hand, finds the cool air refreshing.

A cigarette finds its way to his mouth. She turns as he brings a flame to the end. The warm glow gives way to a small orange tip. With his first puff taken, she turns away and tilts her head up to the night sky.

The stars begin to whisper their stories to her and she relays them to him. He stands quiet, only taking puffs every so often, but with a small smile. He does not question her stories; he only lets her go wild with them.

As the short stories come to an end she points up and quietly says “there he is.”

He knows what she means. Her favorite constellation, Orion.  Her other love. Her stars.

Spinning quickly, she watches him flick the cigarette.  Stomping out the cherry, they both shuffle to the house.

Soon, Orion will be gone for the summer, but she will always have her husband.

She will always have the man who will quietly listen to her stories, under the supervision of the stars.

Image Credit: Ian C. Grey

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.

 

Stirring & Settling, by Melissa A. Bartell

https://unsplash.com/@ornellabinni(Part IV of the Tea series, follows Stewing)

“Where are you taking me?” Sarah asked. She was in the front passenger seat of David’s car, one of his neckties forming a blindfold. She could have peeked around the edges – the knot at the back of her head wasn’t that tight – but her boyfriend had really wanted to surprise her, and she hated to ruin his fun.

“You’ll see,” he said, laughter coloring his tone. “Just be patient a little longer.”

“Just promise wherever we’re going has food,” she responded. “I’m starving.”

David didn’t answer.

The car kept going, with David humming lightly as he drove. Sarah could tell they weren’t in town any more – there hadn’t been any stops for traffic lights in quite a while – but she wasn’t sure which direction they’d been going. She’d have to trust him.

Just as she was taking a breath, preparing to ask how much longer they’d be driving, David stopped humming. The car turned off the pavement and onto a gravelly surface, finally rolling to a stop. “Okay,” he said. “We’re here.”

Sarah removed her blindfold. “The Japanese gardens?” she queried, reading the sign in front of their car. “I thought we were going for a late lunch. As far as I know, they don’t serve lunch here.”

“Trust me,” David suggested his tone warm with affection. He turned off the car, removed the keys and got out, moving around to open her door. “Please, Sar?”

She slid out of the car, glad she’d listened to his wardrobe suggestion. Her nautical-stripe sweater, khaki crop pants and navy espadrilles weren’t the most fashionable of outfits, but they made her feel neat and crisp, and she’d be comfortable even in the cool breeze that always seemed to linger along the river walk.

“I do trust you,” she said.

“Good.” He offered his arm, and she took it. “This way.”

Together, Sarah and David walked down the wide ramp that twisted and turned through the blossoming cherry trees. They paused on the little bridge that crossed the koi pond, laughing at the hopeful fish crowding to the surface. “We should buy some food for them,” Sarah said.

David grinned. “Right, because clearly they’re emaciated.” But he fished a couple of quarters from his pocket – he’d also worn khaki pants, Sarah notice – a change from his more typical weekend choice of jeans – and waited for the cup of fish-food to drop from the vending machine affixed to the far end of the bridge.

“Here…”

He held the cup and she pinched up some of the food, casting it into the water, and the fish waiting in it. “They remind me a little of hungry puppies.”

“All animals are adorable when they’re begging for food,” David joked. “It’s a rule.”

Sarah laughed. “I think it must be.”

When the cup was empty, they continued their walk, down the stairs of the terraced hillside, to the lantern-lined sidewalk along the riverbank.

“You alright?” David asked, when Sarah paused for no apparent reason.

“Fine…” she said. “Except… do you hear music?”

He made a show of listening. “Sounds like pan-flutes,” he said. “I think they’re coming from over that way.” He pointed in the direction of the gazebo that sat on the water-side of the walk, at the top of a curve. “Let’s find out?”

Sarah decided she was never going to get the lunch she’d been promised, and simply agreed with him, “Sure. Why not?”

Hand in hand, they kept walking, following the curving path along the water until they reached the gazebo, where, instead of the empty space Sarah had been expecting, there were paper lanterns and a trio of people playing different wind instruments.

“I don’t remember anyone advertising a musical event here,” Sarah said.

“They didn’t,” David answered. “Come with me.”

Gently, he led her up the steps and into the octagonal building, where a single, set table and two chairs were waiting for them.

Against one wall was a man in a chef’s uniform working on a portable outdoor stove. “Ah, you’ve arrived,” the dapper man said, turning to greet them. “Please sit. Lunch is almost ready.”

Sarah dropped into the chair David had pulled out for her, taking in the bouquet of daisies in a glass vase, and the vaguely tea-pot shaped item sitting on a trivet and covered by a quilted cozy. “You arranged this? For me?”

“No,” David corrected. “I arranged this for us.” He lifted the cozy from the pot and set it aside. “Shall I pour?”

Over hot tea and plates of seared beef, salmon and yellowtail sashimi, steamed rice, and cucumber salad, the couple engaged in their usual banter.

“I’ve always thought these gardens would be the perfect setting for a wedding,” Sarah said as they finished their meal.

“They have an events coordinator for things like that,” David explained. “My friend Ryo and his wife were considering it, but then her parents insisted they do a church ceremony instead, and since they were paying…”

“I guess that makes a difference,” Sarah agreed. “But still…”

The chef interrupted them long enough to clear their dishes and deliver two glasses and an open bottle of champagne.

“Personally,” David said, after they’d been left alone once more, “I’ve always imagined this as the perfect location for a proposal.” He didn’t leave his chair to kneel in front of her, but he did remove a small, black box from his pocket and place it in front of her.

“David?” She could feel her lips curving into a goofy smile, could tell that her cheeks had gone hot and pink.

“Sarah, ever since we ran into each other at the café on that day, I’ve felt like there was something stirring inside me – ”

” – inside me too – ” she interrupted.

” – and ever since you moved in, I’ve been thinking, ‘this is what life is supposed to be. Two people sharing a home and a life… fighting over their favorite sections of the newspaper, taking turns cooking dinner or making tea…” Sarah heard his voice go choky as he trailed off.

“Oh… David…”

He swallowed reflexively, and opened the box. Inside was a tea-bag, but instead of the usual paper tab, the end of the string was affixed to a delicate gold ring with a diamond that was the perfect proportion for Sarah’s slender fingers.

“Will you marry me, Sarah?”

She lifted the ring from the box, and tugged slightly. The string fell away, and she turned the piece of jewelry in her hands, holding it up to the light to catch the reflections. “Put it on for me?” she requested offering it back.

David held the ring, poised over her left ring finger. “Is that a yes?” he asked, his tone equal measures of wry uncertainty and tenderness.

“It’s an ‘absolutely,'” Sarah said. “I love you. I love the live we’ve been building together. This just… this feels like everything’s settling into exactly the places they’re supposed to be.”

Each of them half-rising from their chairs, they leaned over the table to seal their engagement with a kiss that only ended when the chef and the wind players applauded.

Laughing, Sarah and David returned to their chairs, and David poured the champagne into their waiting glasses. “I love you too, Sar,” he said, lifting his glass to salute her. “You’re my best friend, and my muse.”

“And flattery will get you everywhere,” she teased.

They carried their glasses to the part of the gazebo that looked over the water, and as the sun set, and the lanterns began to glow softly in the darkening sky, they held each other, and exchanged whispered dreams for their future.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

 

 

Flight by Selena Taylor

 Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_steffe82'>steffe82 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

She watched the horizon. She did not stop looking to it.

For months, she had helped her child learn to spread his wings and fly. Her barn was filled with insane contraptions that mimicked wing stretches, wing lifting, and gliding motions.  As a mere human, inventing machines was the only way she could teach her child.

The first time they tried to fly, all she saw was her child falling off the barn. She reached the edge and looked down to see him lifting his head from the pile of hay where he’d landed. He shook it back and forth trying to get hay out of his scales. It was a funny moment, one of many.

There were also moments of great frustration. Her limited knowledge of the mechanics of flight made the process difficult. The fails kept piling up until the morning when a large hawk appeared over the cliff that was out beyond the boundaries of her property.

Together, they watched the bird soar and glide over the land.

Her child began to walk toward it. She wanted to stop him, so that she could be the reason he learned. But, no, she couldn’t.

Smiling, she waved him off to follow the hawk. Within a day, she saw her child fly in the sky.

They both rejoiced, each in their way.

Now she was waiting – staring at the distant horizon, waiting for her child to return home. And praying that he would. Towards the horizon…

She knew the tradition, of course. Once those who had wings had learned to fly, they traveled to the island of Draflo. There, they would receive more magic, absorb more knowledge.

Her aging mother and her younger brother had come to see her child off, sharing her delight in the moment he had achieved true flight. But they were not his mother. They did not join in her vigil by the cliff.

The weather turned.

A fierce wind came, bringing with it dark clouds. Her mother left the shelter of their house to beseech her with gentle words: Come inside. Rest. The older woman could feel it in her bones, she said, deep cold and heavy rain were not long off.

She only shook her head, no.

The rain did come, and it was cold, and it was heavy.

Her clothes were soaked. Her hair stuck to her neck and back, the wet weight of it chilling her even further.

Still, she stayed on the cliff.

Her brother came to join her, imploring her to go inside. She would surely die, if she remained at watch.

Another storm came, larger than the first, with winds strong enough that part of the barn was damaged. For a moment, she panicked, concerned for the machines, only to remember that they were no longer needed.

Her brother changed his approach, becoming angry with her. He argued that the child was not worth the price of her life. He insisted it wasn’t even truly hers.

She spoke no words aloud.

But in her head, she was seething: Not hers? Of course the child was hers. Did they bear the same blood? No. But he was hers nonetheless.

The storm that raged around them now was just like the one that had brought her child in the first place.

She had been running, chasing the killer of her husband and infant son. The storm that hid the murderer led her to the cave that sheltered her new child.

He was near death when she found him. His breath was weak and cold. There was no meat to him. His scales were falling off.

Maternal instinct kicked in, and she knew.

She knew.

He was hers.

Her brother turned to leave her, and she let him go.

She caught sight of an object coming over the cliff. She squinted her eyes and lifted her hand to shield them from the rain.

It was him. She was certain of it.

She ran toward the cliff-edge to meet him, but the lightning came closer, the strikes coming more frequently.

She did not fear it.

All that mattered was that her child was coming home.

It was the last bolt that hit him. It was bright and fast. Her scream boomed over the thunder.

Not her child!

She searched the sky: nothing.  She searched the sea: nothing.

Her sobs racked through her.

Not again.

No!

Not again!

When the earth became loose, she did not step back from the edge. She let herself fall.

The air scoured her skin as she plummeted toward rocky shore below, but she embraced the pain. Another child was gone. Physical pain couldn’t touch maternal grief.

She never felt the rocks or freezing water. She only felt warmth and a pulsating wind. Soon, she was back at the cliff-side, surrounded by scales, and wrapped in leathery wings.

Opening her eyes, she met his: black as ebony, with tiny gold flecks.

She knew those eyes; they belonged to her child.

She smiled, and took stock of him. He was different somehow… Stronger, maybe? And when she took a closer look at his scales she noticed blue lights darting across them.

She put her finger in the path of the light, and felt tingles down her arm.

Lightning.

Her child was not only flying, but he had lightning coursing through him.

Her child.

Her dragon son.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Tumblr or follow her on Twitter.

Birthing at Hitchcock House by Bernie Brown

Ezra turned and reached for Orelia, who was doubled over in pain. “Come on, baby, I’m here. House is just up there. See the lights in the windows.” They scrambled up the bank, and the small boat paddled away, making its way through the icing creek. “Mrs. Hitchcock she ready for us. We in Iowa now. They’s a free state.”

“How do you know, Ezra? Ohhhh . . .” Orelia doubled over again.

He didn’t answer her. Ezra knew he had to get her through the snow, up to the house, and down in the cellar. All as quiet as mice. And her having pains so early.

Orelia slid down again as another pain hit her. “Ohhhhh,” she moaned.

“Honey, can you be quiet now? We don’t want to get anyone hearing us.” He pulled her to the top of the bank where they sat in the snow waiting for her pain to subside.

Ezra wadded up a faded blue kerchief. “Here now, next time a pain hits, you bite this.” He tried to stuff it into her mouth while she sucked in air.

She spit it out.

“No, baby. You gotta do it. You listen to Ezra now. There can’t be no hearing us or this whole trip for nothin’. We’ll never reach the promised land.” He stuffed it back in and barely pulled his fingers out in time not to get bit.

Orelia struggled and ran in a painful lop-sided way, holding her belly, the holes in her homespun shawl lit up by moonlight. A distant owl hooted. A quiet growl came from the brush.

A lump of hurt choked Ezra as he watched his wife, at least that was how he thought of her. They’d get married proper when they got to Canada.  He couldn’t stand seeing her run that way.  She stumbled and he put one arm behind her knees, another on her back and tipped her up. He grunted. She was usually so small, but the baby made her off balance and clumsy to hold. She buried her face in his shoulder.

Up ahead he saw the flicker of three lanterns in the windows. That meant they was expecting three runaways. Old Simon had fell out the boat into the icy black river. He didn’t bob up, not even once. So there was just him and Orelia and the baby.

The sight bucked him up. He staggered faster. Orelia screeched into the cloth, into his shoulder. Her teeth sunk into his flesh, and he winced. At last he reached the open cellar door, ready to receive them.

The steep, uneven steps tripped him up, and he bumped Orelia’s head against the frozen dirt wall. Orelia’s pain made her punch him hard on the arm in return.

At last they were in the cellar. He had to put Orelia down on the dirt floor. “Just for a minute, baby.” Around them, jugs of preserved foods lined crude shelves. Dusty bottles of wine lay on their sides in a rack. Above, he could hear a piano playing a lively Christmas tune. “It must be Christmas Eve,” Ezra said.

Thumps on the floor be dancing. “That party noise keep ‘em from hearing us.” Even so, he moved the shelves ever so carefully to reveal the safe room. He didn’t want to leave no marks in the dirt floor. Then he returned to Orelia, panting now, and helped her to a straw pallet. He found matches and lit the candle before lifting the shelves back in place.

“Baby’s comin’,” Orelia spluttered between pains. Then she pushed so hard her whole body shuddered as she groaned a mighty, low groan.

Ezra had to open her legs to see. He hated doin’ that, but they was beyond being shy now. It was a necessary thing. He’d seen his mammy birthing babies back on the plantation.

A bloody bony head appeared, almost purple. Joy wiped away the struggle, the fear, the constant fear. “Baby’s head,” he whispered.

Orelia thrashed, grunting and shuddering and clawing into his shoulder.

He grasped the slippery roundness and pulled best he could, slow, steady.

Out it slipped, a wiggly bloody little one.

It were the baby. It were born. “Orelia, honey, it be here. It’s a little girl.”

He took Orelia’s shawl and wrapped the baby in it.

Above, the music had changed tempo. He recognized “Silent Night.”

The baby gave out a newborn mewing cry, and they exchanged their scared look. Could such a little sound be heard upstairs? They might be in a free state, but it was still illegal to hide runaways.

“Let’s call her Christmas,” Ezra whispered.

Orelia smiled down on the bundle and whispered, “Christmas. Our very own Christmas.”

The shelves moved. Had somebody heard them? Come to arrest them? Take them back South? Both Ezra and Orelia sucked in breath.

A lady stood in the flickering candlelight. “I’m Mrs. Hitchcock.” She came to the straw pallet. “Oh, dear God, it’s a baby. A baby on Christmas Eve. Oh, she’s lovely.”

Orelia said, “She cried once. We was afraid y’all heard.”

“We did hear. The mayor was here, but he said the night was so magical he had heard the newborn Jesus cry.”

“Praise be to God,” said Ezra.

Mrs. Hitchcock left to bring water to wash the baby, and food and blankets to keep them warm.

“Orelia, honey, our baby, she born free.”

“Free,” Orelia repeated what Ezra had said. A fierce, proud light shone in her eyes as she looked down on the tiny child.

It were a holy night. Oh, holy night.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Better After 50, Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress. My short story, Same Old Casserole, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Thanksgiving by Debra Smouse

holdingthanksgivingwine

((Part Three of the Colleen Series – Follows Sundays))

Colleen stared at the dancing flames of the fire, her Party at Holly’s-tipped fingers loosely cradling a half-full glass of Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau. She laughed a deep, throaty laugh when she looked down at her hand holding the glass and realized the color of her nails almost matched the wine.

Her laugh woke Ingrid, who scrambled to her feet, looked expectantly at her owner, and ambled over to see if she could cadge another bite of turkey. While she wasn’t exactly a wine connoisseur, the large dog was the consummate optimist, certain that a nibble of something tasty would soon be forthcoming. After sniffing around and smelling nothing delicious, she accepted a few moments of chin-scritching before settling down near the fire once again.

It was Thanksgiving. For the first time since she’d become a mother, Colleen had spent the day without her daughters. Every time she thought she’d adjusted to her new life as a divorcee, these “firsts” popped up and she had to navigate new territory and unfamiliar emotions.

With each first, she found a way to either make it her new norm or make a game out of it.

All the weekends without the girls had given her time to nourish herself and indulge in some sacred solitude. The previous month, she’d finally turned a corner of her office into a space to paint – something she hadn’t done since college.

This first holiday alone, she handled by making an adventure out of it. Gretchen, a girlfriend from college, had offered her parents’ cabin in the Smoky Mountains. Jumping at the opportunity, Collen had packed herself and Ingrid into the car along with her acrylics and a couple of canvases. By late Saturday evening, woman and dog were ensconced in their cozy retreat.

On Tuesday, Gretchen had also arrived at her own cabin. Another divorcee, she and several of the members of her book club were sharing the close by cabin. Much like Colleen, all the women were well educated and fun loving, and each had also found the silver lining in spending the holiday without family.

Though she couldn’t imagine life in the cabin becoming her new norm, Colleen squeezed every drop out of her adventure. Being busy kept her from missing the girls too terribly much.

Her days quickly fell into a pattern: Colleen took long walks with Ingrid. Religiously, she wrote “morning pages” over strong cups of coffee. She set up her easel and painted a little each day. She fixed elaborate brunches just for herself ingrid_fall2and created beautiful charcuterie boards in the evenings to share with her friends, both new and old.

Thanksgiving dinner was an adventure in itself. Each woman had created a favorite dish from holidays past and crowded into Colleen’s cabin to share them, along with copious amounts of wine and a beautifully roasted turkey.

Of course, all were happy to fuss over Ingrid, and the dog basked in all the attention.

It had been a good day, a highlight in a year that had seen Colleen surprising herself over and over. Looking back, she realized she’d faced each ‘first’ with some sort of grace.

She couldn’t say the same for her daughters, who had been unhappy when they realized the entire holiday would be spent without their mother. Their disappointment only grew upon learning that, instead, they’d be spending it all with her: their father’s new girlfriend.

So far today, Colleen had received three phone calls and more than a dozen texts:

“She wears the most hideous clothes.”

“Are you really in a cabin the mountains? Is there snow, yet?”

“Seriously, Ma. I think she’s closer to my age than dad’s”

“She doesn’t like dark meat, so there are no turkey legs! And she put MARSHMALLOWS on the sweet potatoes!”

“Can we go to the mountains for Christmas?”

“She BOUGHT a pie instead of making it! Who BUYS pie on Thanksgiving? I miss your pecan pie….”

“Are you sure you’re okay, mom?”

“Does Ingrid need leftovers from here? There’s a lot ‘cause her turkey breast was dry!”

“Maybe you should look into getting a boyfriend, mom!”

Colleen had responded to every ding or ring from her phone in the same cheery manner. She’d advised the girls to give their father’s new flame a chance, and cautioned them not be so judgmental. She’d also assured them that she was fine, and ignored their prodding into her own love life.

Off the phone, she firmly turned her mind to other things each time her ex-husband’s new girlfriend dared to intrude upon her thoughts. She had yet to officially meet the young woman, but she’d caught a glimpse of her by accident at the grocery store. The other woman was a classic beauty: late twenties, leggy, blonde, and with a flat belly that had never been faced with childbearing, and the resultant stretchmarks.

Her ex-husband’s choices had nothing to do with Colleen beyond how they affected the girls, so anytime she pondered a catty reply to one of the girls’ texts, she stopped herself. The best thing she could do for her daughters was find some way to connect with their father’s girlfriend, especially if their relationship continued to go in the direction of marriage.

After all, no one would gain by painting the woman as the “evil stepmother.”

For a moment, Colleen wondered if she was playing ‘chicken’ when it came to love. Though she’d dated since the divorce, she was keeping all her relationships casual. Was she making a mistake? Was her heart closed to the possibility of love?

No, she concluded. She was just enjoying rediscovering herself, and that took glorious amounts of solitude.

Solitude that, at least over Thanksgiving, Colleen could find in a cozy cabin, a cuddly dog, a crackling fire, and an excellent glass of wine.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach,and author of Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision.  She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Stewing by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: dogfella / 123RF Stock Photo

(Part III of the Tea Series, follows Simmering)

David had his laptop set up on the kitchen table, where he was transcribing his latest poems into a word processing program, when Sarah draped her arms over his shoulders, hugging him from behind. “Dinner’s about ready,” she said. “How much more time do you need?”

“Ten minutes?” He made it a question.

“Perfect.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Are you putting my poem in the book?”

An agent had approached him after his last open mic night, and suggested he publish a collection. “I am,” he confirmed. “But only if you let me have my ten more minutes.” He was only half-kidding.

Laughing, Sarah pulled away from him, and disappeared into the kitchen.

It was actually closer to twenty minutes before they finally sat down to eat, and after tasting her baked salmon, Sarah wrinkled her nose. “It’s too dry,” she complained. “It stayed in the oven too long.”

David disagreed, “Seems fine to me.”

“No, it’s much too dry. And the green beans are mushy.”

“You’re too critical,” David said. “It all tastes fine.”

“I didn’t want it to be ‘fine,'” Sarah snapped, though the look on her face made it clear that she hadn’t meant to speak quite so sharply. In a more neutral tone, she continued, “I wanted it to be good. It’s my last day of work until the holidays are over, and I wanted things to feel festive.” She gestured to the floral center piece and the lit candles. “Special.”

“Sweetie, it’s fine. It’s special just because you cooked and we’re eating together.” When Sarah remained quiet, her hands folded in her lap, David continued. “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

“You know my company has a cabin up at the Pine Lake Resort, right?”

David nodded. Sarah had mentioned the cabin many, many times.

“Well, every year the person who’s funded the most loans gets to use it for the holidays, and this year, that person was me. I thought we could go shopping for supplies tomorrow or Sunday and then head up on Monday morning, when traffic won’t be bad. It’s all decorated – the staff takes care of that.” She unfolded her hands, and brushed her hair out of her face, revealing bright eyes and a hopeful smile. “We could spend Christmas snowed into a romantic mountain cabin….”

David pushed his plate away. “Aww, I wish you’d told me sooner, Sar.”

“I only found out today. Is there a problem?”

“I always spend the holidays with my family. I just assumed you’d come, too.”

Even in the dim light of the candles it was clear that Sarah’s face had turned pale. “You mean, with your parents, right?”

“Yeah, with my parents. But also, my brother and sister and their kids, and my aunts and uncles and…” David finally realized that his partner wasn’t enthusiastic about his plan. “You don’t want to go.” His tone was flat when he spoke the words.

“I can’t,” she said. She rose from the table and carried her plate full of unfinished food back to the kitchen.

“Look, I’m sure you can reschedule the cabin,” David suggested, following her with his own empty plate and all the cutlery. “Or we can rent one, take a long weekend in January or February.”

“You should have asked me,” Sarah told him, flicking the faucet lever upward and to the left to start the hot water flowing. “I don’t… I’m not…” But her sentences remained incomplete, and when the dishes were done, she simply repeated, “You should have asked me,” before she fled through the bedroom to the master bath where she locked the door against him.

By the time Sarah emerged from her bath with damp hair and pink skin, David had returned to his transcription. When she tried to engage him in conversation, he ignored her.

* * *

The weekend had been spent in tense silence punctuated by too-brief conversations. By Monday morning, Sarah had re-confirmed the cabin for Valentine’s Day, and David had completed typing his poems, and sent them off to his agent for approval.

By Monday afternoon, they were packed and in the car, driving north up the peninsula, and across the Golden Gate bridge.

Neither spoke much during the drive.

Half an hour from his parents’ home in Inverness, David stopped the car next to a mobile home painted with the name, Knave of Hearts. “We’re almost there,” he said. “Are you done stewing? Can you tell me why you’re so upset about this trip?” He gestured to the trailer. “These people make the best currant scones on the entire west coast… I’m not above bribing you.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

Sarah smiled in spite of herself. “Do they serve decent tea?”

“More than decent.”

“Fine.”

The coastal air was damp and brisk, but inside the trailer the oven kept things toasty. Sarah settled onto one of the three stools fixed before the tiny diner counter, while David ordered cups of English Breakfast tea, served in handmade ceramic mugs with no handles, and a basket of scones.

Plied with tea and baked goods, Sarah opened up. “I’m an only child,” she reminded him. “It was just me and Mom, for most of my life. I have no idea how to be part of a family. I’m too quiet. I’d rather read than watch sports. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they hate me?”

David’s eyes were warm and his smile was gentle as he assured her. “They could never hate you. You’re the woman I love. More than that, you’re my muse. They’re dying to meet you.”

“Great, no pressure,” she snarked.

“Sarah, I promise… they’re really great people.”

“But what if it’s too much?”

“If you get overwhelmed, just excuse yourself and go out to the deck or up to our room. I’ll come with you, if you need me to.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Okay,” she repeated a moment later.

“So, you’re not mad at me anymore?”

Sarah smiled around another bite of scone. She made a show of chewing and swallowing, then sipping more of her tea before she responded. “I’m not mad.” She reached for his chin and tickled him beneath the goatee he’d begun wearing. “I might even let you sleep with me in your childhood bedroom.”

His laughter repaired the last of the hurt and confusion that had been lingering between them.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Always Have a Spotter by Selena Taylor

https://unsplash.com/@pjrvs

To an uninformed observer, it would have seemed that Death’s walk along the lakeshore was lazy, that his approach to the lady on the beach was almost casual.

“Good morning, 34,” Death greeted her.

“Good morning. You can call me Liana.”

“34, names are useless.” His tone was flat. Bored, even.

The lady formerly known as Liana gave Death a look that was about ten percent surprise and ninety percent disappointment. Then she sighed. “For a moment, I thought you were going to be nice.”

The other rolled his eyes. “I am Death,” he intoned. “When is that ever nice?”

“Point taken.” 34 dropped into a seated position on the beach, burrowing into the sand with her bare toes. “My stupid neighbor left his fishing line out. I couldn’t see it, and wound up caught in it. Tangled, really.”

Death’s tone remained detached. “You don’t say.”

Number 34 gave him a look that left no doubt of her mood. I am pissed off, her expression telegraphed. When the other didn’t bother to respond, she chose not to dwell on her mood. She looked back at the water. It had been still before, calm, but now a small johnboat was on the lake, moving toward the fishing line. “Looks like he’s going to reel in that line, now.”

“Looks like,” Death agreed. “He’ll find a nice surprise waiting.”

They both chuckled at his statement.

34 knew that her neighbor was about to fish her physical form out of the water, but if Death had no use for names, she had no use for the activity off shore. Instead, she looked to the sky, and asked, “What are those bright white lights?”

Death followed her skyward gaze. “Those?” he responded in a dry tone. “They’re souls about to be born.”

She accepted his answer. After a moment, she said. “I was a light once.” It wasn’t a question.

Death confirmed it with a nod.

“What about you?” she asked. “Were you ever one of those lights, Death?”

He was taken aback, but he didn’t bother to answer. Instead he redirected her attention to the water. “Looks like he has found you, 34.”

34 pulled her feet from the sand and stood up, standing almost shoulder to shoulder with Death as they both watched the scene unfold.

The fisherman’s apparently silent agitation irked her. “This would be so much more satisfying if I could at least hear him scream.” She paused. “He is screaming, right?”

Death smirked. “Oh. He’s definitely screaming.” He watched for a few seconds longer. “If it’s worth anything,” he told her, “it’s a high-pitched shrieking sort of scream.”

The lady now known as 34 cracked a smile. “Yeah,” she said. “It is.”

They turned around.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandomand appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Tumblr or follow her on Twitter.

Simmering by Melissa A. Bartell

Simmering

Simmering

(A Sequel to Steeping)

David pulled off his gloves and hat, stuffing them into the pocket of his coat as he entered the café. A quick scan of the area, and he saw Sarah at the table in the window – their table. Coming up behind her, he leaned around and ducked his head to give her a brief sideways kiss. “Sorry I’m late. The traffic signal’s out on Fifth. Why is it that a five-minute snowstorm makes everyone forget how to drive?”

Her answer came with an amused, but affectionate, smile. “Because it’s California, where a five-minute snowstorm might as well be a blizzard.” She paused for a moment before adding “I ordered the special – black bean soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“Sounds great.” He draped his coat on the back of the chair opposite hers before settling into it.

“It sounded warm. The heat’s out in my apartment.”

“Did you talk to your landlord?”

“Left a second message this morning.” As if on cue her cell-phone rang. She picked it up, glanced at the screen. “Speak of the devil…” Into the phone she said, “Hello? Yes, this is Sarah.” The conversation was terse, and by the time she ended the call, her expression had gone from easy to perturbed. “You know what the worst thing is about cell phones?” she asked rhetorically, “There’s no way to hang up on people.”

“I hear you,” he agreed. “There was something so satisfying about making someone eat dial tone.”

Exactly!” And just like that, her amiable self was back. “Anyway,” she continued, shaking her head as if to clear it, “the heat is out for my whole building and Mitch says it won’t be fixed until Monday.”

It was only Friday afternoon.

“So, stay with me.”

“David, that’s sweet, but…” She was interrupted by the arrival of their lunch.

“But what?” he asked, after the server had gone away again. “We’d planned to spend most of the weekend together anyway.”

She thought it over as she spooned soup into her mouth. “Alright,” she agreed when she was mostly finished with the first triangle of her sandwich. “I’ll swing by my place after work and pick up some things.”

“So, I’ll see you around seven, then?” He was dipping his sandwich into the soup, as he spoke.

“It’s a plan.”

***

The weather stayed cold all afternoon, and by the time Sarah arrived at David’s downtown bungalow a little after seven that night, the streets were patchy with ice and she was shivering despite the coat she wore over her sweater.

He had the door open before she could knock. “I heard your car. I had a late delivery so dinner will be a while, but I’ve got orange spice tea steeping, and if you want, I can pour a dollop of rum in to warm you up faster.” He ushered her inside, then demanded her car keys. “Sit by the fire. Get warm. I’ll bring your things in.”

Gratefully, she handed over the jingling ring. “There’s a rolling case in the trunk, but my laptop and tote bag are on the passenger seat.” She met his gaze and held it with her own for a few seconds. “And thank you.”

He responded with his trademark grin, the one that was both charming and slightly cocky. “Happy to do it, milady.”

Laughing, she stood on tip-toe, and kissed the tip of his nose; then she moved past him, heeding the call of the crackling fire.

The evening proceeded in a manner not unlike many of their quieter dates.

Sarah had accepted the dollop (how much was a dollop, anyway?) of rum in the sweet and spicy tea, and when David finally called her to the table and presented her with a plate of homemade coq au vin she was warm and comfortable and pleasantly buzzed.

“This is delicious,” she told him, using a hunk of rustic-style bread to sop up the last of the liquid on her plate. “I always thought it was difficult to make, though?”

He shook his head. “Not really. I used chicken breasts instead of an actual rooster, of course, and skipped the blood – ”

“- blood??”

“The original recipe calls for a cup of blood.” He saw the face she made and smiled sympathetically. “Yeah… not my thing either. But anyway, the secret’s in the simmering.” He said the last word softly, with a hint of innuendo.

“Simmering, huh?” She matched his tone, reaching for the glass that had long since supplanted her mug of tea, and swirled the red wine that remained in it for a moment. Red wine with chicken had been a new concept for her, but the Beaujolais David had served complimented the dish nicely. “Simmering,” she repeated thoughtfully. “Interesting word. Sometimes I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing.”

“Oh?”

“We’ve been dating for – what? – eight months? And it takes an apartment-related emergency for me to spend more than a night here.”

“Well, actually,” he pointed out, more for the humor of it than because it was meant, “you haven’t spent more than the night… yet.”

Sarah laughed again, but it was a throatier sound than her usual expressions of amusement. “Fair point.” They were both quiet for a while, and then she reached across the table covering his hand with hers. “This was nice.”

Was?” His blue eyes glinted with affectionate good humor.

“Okay, it is nice.”

They laughed together, the soft, harmonizing laughter of lovers whose relationship was deepening without conscious effort.

***

The cold snap continued through the weekend, but neither Sarah nor David was much bothered by it. On Saturday, they wrapped themselves in sweaters and coats and took in a foreign movie at the local art cinema. They were the only two people in the theater and they took turns reading the subtitles out loud in silly accents.

Later they returned to his house, where they danced in the living room to ancient Motown tunes on CD and played a game of strip Scrabble that led to a playful romp in his bed.

Sunday morning found them in their bathrobes at the breakfast table. She was working the crossword puzzle, he was drafting a poem, and both were sipping coffee.

When a noise outside caused her to glance away for a moment, he set a small box on the table.

Sarah stared at the small square, and her face turned pale.

“Don’t worry; it’s not a ring,” David said, reading the panic in her expression.

With obvious trepidation, she lifted the lid to find a key, one with a tea cup for the key-head. “You can do that with keys?” she asked. “I had no idea.”

“Orchard Supply Hardware just started selling them this way.” He took a beat then asked, “You know what else you can do with keys?”

Sarah stayed quiet, letting him answer his own question.

“Unlock doors.”

She stared at the key, eventually lifting it out of the box, and rolling it in her hand. “You’re asking me to move in?”

David’s voice was slightly husky when he confirmed. “I am. Would you like to move in here?”

“This isn’t just because my apartment has no heat is it?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

“You know I like to do yoga in the living room some mornings.”

He nodded. Of course he knew; he’d seen her doing it in her apartment more than once.

“And sometimes I leave panty hose hanging on the shower bar.”

“I can live with that,” he said. “I sometimes leave the toilet seat up.”

She gave him a wry grin. “I’m aware.”

“So?”

“Well my lease is up in six weeks.”

“Sarah… is that a yes?”

She looked into his eyes, then down at the key in her hand, and then back up into his face. “We’ve been simmering, David,” she answered. “Guess it’s time to turn the heat up a little.” Her grin was radiant. “It’s a yes.”

“Fantastic!” He pushed his notebook and coffee mug aside so he could lean close to kiss her.

She held him off for a moment. “But you should know… I’m not giving up my blue reading chaise.”

He was still chuckling when their lips finally met.

Image copyright: alexraths / 123RF Stock Photo

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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