The Unplanter

The Unplanter

By Lydia Evelyn Thomas

(Copyright: Lydia Thomas 2016)

Once upon a time, there was woman who loved to plant seeds. Early each spring, she would rush to the market to carefully select the seeds she wanted to plant in the little garden behind her house. She especially loved looking at the pictures on the seed packets and imagining what her garden could be. Every year, after she had purchased them, she would hurry home to plant the different seeds in her garden, singing and skipping the entire way.

Like any good seed-planter, every year, she cleared the little plot of rocks and weeds and broke up the soil before painstakingly marking the rows where the seeds would go. Then she dropped the seeds into the dirt, one by one, and lovingly covered them with dirt.

In the days that followed, every year, she added fertilizer and water to the soil to make sure the seeds were getting the food and drink they needed. If it got too cold, she would cover the ground with blankets so the cold air couldn’t get to the seeds. And she always kept an eye out for weeds that might be trying to steal food and water from the seeds, or rocks that might be trying to keep the seeds from growing, or anything that might hurt the seeds.

She waited and waited, every year, for a week, at least, to see if anything would happen, and nothing ever did. She worried: were the seeds getting enough to eat and drink? Were the seeds getting too much to eat and drink? Were the seeds staying warm enough? Were they too warm? Was something hurting the seeds that she couldn’t see?

And so, every year, a few days after planting them, she dug up the seeds and returned them to the market.

“These seeds didn’t grow into anything,” she would say, spreading them out on the counter. “I’d like my money back, please.”

The man who sold her the seeds would frown, and every year, he told her this: “There is an old gardening term called staying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that things have to stay planted in order to grow.”

The woman didn’t believe him, and so she continued planting seeds and digging them up for many years.

One year, early in the spring, the woman came to the market, excited as she always was to choose seeds that would make a beautiful garden.

“I’d like to see your seeds, please.”

The man who sold her seeds shook his head. “I’m not going to sell you any seeds this year.”

“Why not?”

The man shrugged. “It’s wasteful. You plant them, only to dig them up again. They can’t be used ever again after that.”

“I won’t dig them up this year, I promise. Please let me buy some seeds.

The man shook his head. He didn’t believe her. “We sell some plants in pots that have already been grown, if you’d like to buy some of those, but I cannot sell you any more seeds.”

The woman bought some pots in plants at his suggestion, but this year, unlike all the other years, she was not happy walking home from the market. She didn’t want plants that had already been grown. She very badly wanted to grow something of her own, from a seed.

Still, she set the plants on her front porch, and made sure to take care of them, every bit as well as she had taken care of seeds when she’d had them. One day, as she watered the plants, a man strolled by.

“Beautiful plants,” he said. “Did you grow them yourself?”

The woman sighed. “No. I bought them already grown. The market won’t sell me seeds anymore.”

“Why not?”

“When seeds don’t grow, I dig them up.”

“How long do you wait before digging them up?”

The woman put her hands on her hips. “I’ve waited as long as a week before.”

“Only a week? That’s not long enough!” The man smiled. “Seeds have to stay planted in order to grow.”

“That’s what the man at the market told me,” the woman said, “but what if something is wrong with the seeds? How will I know if I can’t see them?”

“Do you give the seeds food and water?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you keep weeds and rocks away from the seeds?”

“Yes.”

“Do you protect the seeds when it might get too cold or too hot for them?”

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed. “I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

“Everything except for letting the seeds stay planted,” the man said. “That’s the most important part.”

“But”- the woman protested.

“Seeds grow,” the man said. “It’s what they do. They just have to stay planted. I wish you could see it.”

“I wish I could see it, too,” the woman said, “but where will I get seeds? The market won’t sell them to me anymore.”

“I might have just the thing.” The man pulled a seed packet out of his pocket and held it out to the woman.

The woman looked down at it and frowned. “It doesn’t show what it will

be.”

“It doesn’t,” the man said, “but it’s the only seed I have.”

“There’s only one seed?” the woman asked, eyes wide.

The man smiled. “Only one, but legend has it that when it’s grown, it gives more seeds.” The woman just stared at him. “Plant it. You’ll see.”

“I guess it never hurts to try,” the woman said, taking the seed packet.

“Just remember,” the man said. “It will only grow if it stays planted.”

The very next morning, the woman went back to her garden. As she always did, she pulled up the weeds, picked out the rocks, and broke up the ground. Then she thought about where to plant the one seed. Should she plant it on the edge? Near a corner? In the middle? In the middle, she decided, and dug a small hole. Pulling the seed packet out of her sweater, she took a deep breath, and crouched to the ground. She shook the little seed out into the hole. It was so small and dark, she could barely see it. Slowly, she covered it with dirt, before standing and brushing off her knees.

The next day, the woman went to her garden again.  As she had done with the other seeds, she gave them food and water, working it into the soil with her trowel around where she knew the seed was planted. That night, when the air became colder, she covered the garden with blankets.

And, day after day, she watched for something to show her the seed was growing. A week went by, and then a month, and still she could see nothing above the dirt. She grew restless, and began running her hands through the dirt near where the seed was planted. Remembering the man’s words when he had given her the seed – “It will grow if it stays planted” – she stood up, brushed off her knees, and went inside.

Months went by, and still the woman cared for the garden, waiting. One day, after the dead autumn leaves had fallen and blown away, as the woman spread mulch over the soil for the winter months, she saw a small green chute where she had planted the seed so long ago.

“Well, that will never last the winter,” she said, hands on her hips.

She thought about digging it up, but again, she remembered, “It will grow if it stays planted.

“I don’t see how,” she muttered, but she spread mulch around the chute, and left it where it was.

The air became so cold and the ground froze so that the woman could no longer work in her garden. In fact, snow began to fall and fall until it was too high for her to even leave her house. She was certain the chute would die in the cold, and it made her sad.

At last, the air grew warmer, the snow melted, and the ground thawed, the woman went out to visit her garden.

The green chute was gone!

In its place was the tiniest of saplings, barely a foot tall.

The woman clapped her hands and bounced up and down. She was growing a tree! A tree!

“I’m glad I listened to that man and didn’t dig up the seed.”

She was so delighted that she went to the market to buy more seeds now that she had learned the secret to growing them, but the man who sold seeds laughed at her.

“You’re the woman who digs up seeds,” he said.

“I’m not anymore,” the woman said. “Last year, a man gave me a seed.”

“Who would give you a seed?” the man who sold seeds asked.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “He was just passing by, but he told me to keep it planted, and I did. Now it’s going to be a tree.”

Again, the man who sold seeds laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“Come and see,” the woman said and led him home to her garden. She pointed to the tiny sapling at the center.

The man who sold seeds squinted at it. “That looks like nothing more than an overgrown weed.”

“It’s a tree,” the woman insisted. “I know it’s a tree.”

“You don’t have the patience for a tree,” the man who sold seeds said, turning and walking away.

“I do now,” the woman said. “Please, sell me some seeds. I’ll show you.”

“I will never sell you seeds again.”

The woman was very sad, because she loved to plant seeds, and now that she’d seen how they could grow, she wanted to see it again and again. How could she, though, if she couldn’t buy seeds?

Suddenly, she brightened. The man who  had given her the seed had said something about it making more seeds. A legend, he had said, so maybe it wasn’t true at all, but the idea gave the woman hope.

Throughout the spring and summer, the woman tended her garden as usual, watching the sapling for signs of seeds.  Then the air began to cool, and she prepared her garden for the winter. There were no seeds, but perhaps, like everything else, it just took time for them to come.

Years passed, and every year, the woman cared for her garden, and every year, the tree grew taller and wider around, until it far surpassed the woman’s height and width. It was majestic, with many branches, and green needles that never lost their color nor fell to the ground, no matter how cold the air became. Year after year, there were no seeds, and the woman began to think the legend surrounding the tree was just a story. Still, she was quite proud of her tree.

One year, small brown cones sprouted on the branches in the spring and fell to the ground in the crisp autumn air. The woman went through her garden plucking them up into a bucket, thinking they would decorate her house nicely, when she found a cone that had split open during its fall.

The woman knelt down to look closer at the split cone and gasped. Seeds of all shapes and sizes were spilling out of it! Seeds! The woman pulled a cone out of her bucket and pried it open. There were seeds inside of it, too!

“Those seeds aren’t good enough to use yet.”

The woman turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the man who had given her the seed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The tree isn’t fully mature yet,” the man said, “so any seeds it produces aren’t ready to be planted. If you put those in the ground, they’ll just rot.”

The woman’s lip quivered. “How long will it be until they’re ready?”

The man gazed at the seeds, picking some of them and holding them in his hands. “I’d say, about … five years.”

“Five years?” the woman whispered, eyes wide.

The man nodded.

The woman pointed to the seeds. “So these aren’t good for anything?”

The man smiled. “Actually, they’re quite delicious roasted with butter and spices.”

“You want me to eat them?” the woman asked.

“You don’t have to,” the man said. “It’s just a thought.”

After that, the man went on his way, and the woman continued preparing her garden for winter.

Once inside, she roasted the seeds as the man had suggested. He was right: they were tasty prepared this way. As she ate them, the woman thought that five years wasn’t so long with such good food on her table and such a beautiful tree in her garden.

Even so, the next spring, the woman had a heavy heart as she went to clear the weeds and rocks and break up the soil in her garden. Where it had always been something she loved doing, now it was hard. She took many breaks, and thought often of leaving the work altogether. The only thing that kept her working was knowing that she needed to keep the ground ready for when the seeds were ready.

It wasn’t much, but it held the woman  until, at last, the spring of the fifth year came. With a thrill, she hurried out to her garden. This fall, the seeds in the cones would be ready, and next spring, she would plant them. Throughout the summer, she watched the cones eagerly. Finally, autumn came, and the cones began to fall, slowly at first, then all at once. Out the woman went to her garden with her bucket to gather them. She soon found that one bucket was not enough for all of the cones, and gathered bucket after bucket until not one cone was left on her garden floor.

As the snow fell that year, the woman went to work opening the cones, emptying the seeds onto her table, and sorting them into packets. She sorted and packaged so many seeds she thought she might need a bigger garden. She wondered what all of the seeds would grow up to be – would they all be trees? She would have to wait and see.

When she finished, leaving just a handful of seeds to roast, the woman stored the seeds in a warm, dry cupboard until spring. Then, as she swept up the remaining seeds from the table to put them in the roasting pan, one in particular caught her attention. It was small and dark, just like the one the man had given her to plant so many years ago.

Excited, the woman ran to get one more seed packet, thinking how lovely her garden would eventually be with two such trees. She paused: maybe someone else needed this seed, like she had all those years ago. And so, the woman decided not to plant it, but to set it aside and get it to someone who needed it, instead.

It seemed like no time at all passed until the woman was looking over her garden the following summer.  Now, instead of just the tree, flowers, plants, and small bushes populated the garden. There were blooms and bulbs and fruits and vegetables of all kinds forming almost everywhere. There were still some areas where there were no signs of anything growing, but the woman knew there would be someday.

“It’s a beautiful garden.”

The woman didn’t need to turn to know it was the man who had given her the seed.

She smiled as he came to stand at her side. “It took long enough for it to come together.”

“The strongest, most beautiful things need that time,” the man said.

The woman pulled a seed packet out of her pocket.

“What’s this?”

The woman pointed at the tree. “A seed. Thought you might come across someone who needs it.”

The man smiled. “Actually, I think you’ll come across someone who needs it.”

“When?”

The man winked. “Soon.”

#FlashFiction: The Rumor Mill

The Rumor Mill

Copyright Lydia Thomas 2016

 

“Why do you want to work at The Rumor Mill?”

The gentleman before me is probably in his fifties. I squint. Early sixties at the latest. I called him in for the interview because of his impressive resume: he’d downed numerous institutions in his day, to say nothing of ruined individual reputations.

“Well, as I’m sure you noticed from my resume, I’ve always had a sort of fascination with this line of work.” He leans forward. “Now, I’m ready to get serious about it.”

I glance back down at his resume, and wonder how much more serious he could possibly get. “What prompted this…desire?”

“Someone’s writing a book about me.”

“A biography?”

He waves his hand. “Fiction.”

I frown. “How do you know it’s about you?”

“I’ve heard snippets here and there about the subject matter, not to mention there’s a character who’s just like me.”

“Ah. Is what’s being written about you true?”

“Would I be here if it wasn’t?”

“So, it’s personal?”

“Isn’t it always?”

I shrug. “I suppose.”

“It can’t get out.”

“How are you going to stop it?” I ask.

“She’s always had an overactive imagination. I’m not calling her a pathological liar, but”- He shrugs with a sheepish grimace.

“Well, maybe you should,” I say. “Capitalize on the overactive imagination.”

He grins. “I made that up.”

He is good.

“And you ate that up!” He crows, pointing at me.

“Let’s move on to a scenario we encounter every day here at The Rumor Mill,” I say, ignoring that last bit. “Let’s say a young adult woman moves out of her parents’ home. It’s an everyday occurrence, but how do we make it ugly?”

He leans back in his chair, and touches the tips of his fingers together. “Easy. She was pregnant and her parents kicked her out, for the puritanical crowd. She did it for a man, for the liberal crowd.”

“You like to cover your bases, I see.”

“I do. Give me another.”

“Single adult male. Mid-thirties.”

“Gay. Or one of those alpha-male-red-pill types. Seriously, you don’t have anything more challenging than that?”

“It’s often the ones who seem easiest to destroy who are the hardest to get to,” I reply. “People divide more easily over big names and brands.”

“Divide?”

“Of course,” I say. “We don’t need everyone to believe us, only enough people to generate doubt for all of the rest. Besides, half the fun of The Rumor Mill is the drama it creates.”

He dips his head in acquiescence.

“So, tell me,” I say. “Why should I hire you?”

“Because I’ll tell people The Rumor Mill is broken if you don’t.”

 

Ties That Bind by Heather Huffman

51ZB1OnuTmL__SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

[CLICK TO BUY]

About Ties that Bind (from Amazon):

Author Heather Huffman delivers a romantic comedy of friendship, love and family ties in this vibrant city adventure as a fiercely independent yet vulnerable woman with a weakness for shoes – and sexy British accents – forges a new path that will leave her forever changed.

Kate Yager never had a father, and she never minded – until her mom died. Now, acting on the name called out on her mother’s deathbed, Kate has moved to San Francisco and gotten herself hired by the man she suspects to be her dad. As if a new job, new apartment, and new parent weren’t enough, Kate finds herself head-over-heels in lust with a complete stranger she met at an art show. A stranger who, she later finds out, happens to work in her office.

As her relationships with her friends and father grow stronger, Kate has to confront the decisions of her past to find out whether she can love the man who gave her up, love the man who loves her truly, and even whether she can love herself.

About Heather Huffman (from Amazon):

Heather Huffman lives in Missouri with her husband and their three sons. In addition to writing, she enjoys spending time with their growing alpaca herd, the family horse, and their pack of rescued dogs. A firm believer that life is more than the act of taking up air, Heather is always on the lookout for an adventure that will become fodder for the next novel.

You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

My Review:

I give Ties that Bind by Heather Huffman 4 out of 5 stars.

I love me some chick lit.

I’ll be honest: I picked out this book as part of my Booktrope #PreFunk haul because of the cover.  Aren’t those purple heels to die for? And I don’t even wear heels… I mean, I read the synopsis before I downloaded it, of course, but my mind was already made up.

I settled into Kate Yager’s story with a bowl of ice cream late on Saturday night after watching Down with Love (with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor), and finished it late last night. I would have read straight through if I could have, but … sleep. And church. And the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. (Yes, I am most definitely in a mood.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed Kate’s struggle as she gets to know new friends, a love interest, and her estranged father.

There are certain character clichés in chick lit, but I found the characters were unexpected and refreshing. For example, Kate’s stepmother encourages her relationship with her newly-found father, although she is only slightly older than Kate, and she’s an artist, not some trophy wife.  Kate’s two new friends, Jessica and Liz, are beautiful and successful, but not at all catty or threatened by her. Even Kate’s father didn’t respond how I thought he would upon learning Kate is his daughter.

I loved the chemistry between Kate and Gavin, but then I’m a sucker for great chemistry. (See Down with Love and Pride and Prejudice.) I like when there’s tension over whether or not a couple will get together and stay together, and Huffman certainly delivers that. Although it was never expressly mentioned, and there were many “near misses”, Kate and Gavin practiced abstinence until marriage, or at least, that’s the vibe I got. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m the biggest proponent of waiting until marriage, but…I didn’t understand it for these characters. At first, they talked about taking things slow physically, and the next thing I understood (much, much later in the story) was that they were waiting for their wedding. I wanted to understand why they were waiting – what values prompted that decision? Granted, the “near misses” were entertaining and heightened the tension.

Huffman also knows just when to end a chapter. Saturday night, I found myself saying, “Just one more chapter,” way too many times, and she works in a suspenseful, serious element into the mix as well.

If you’re in the mood for a some good chick lit, I highly recommend Ties that Bind with a bowl of ice cream. Or chocolate. Or a glass of wine. Or whatever your poison is. It’s a fun story.

Full Disclosure: Heather Huffman is my managing director at Vox Dei Publishing. This review was not solicited or coerced, and contains my unadulterated opinion.

Penelope

PENELOPE

a short story by

Lydia Thomas

Copyright 2015

For my grandma, Marcia Bauman Thomas, who always encouraged my imagination and writing by telling stories of when I was a young girl and would talk on my play phone. She thought it was the funniest thing because she could have sworn there was someone on the other end.

“Please,” Penelope cried, rocking back and forth on the ground in the corner of the dark room. “Something is wrong with me. I need your help.”

Arleen and Cindy exchanged a look. Penelope wasn’t talking to them, and much as they wanted to help her, there was no way of knowing what would happen if they intervened while she was in this state.

“Something is wrong with me,” Penelope insisted angrily.

Arleen scribbled a note on her legal pad: Penelope was engaging with the voices from the other side today, and it sounded like they were talking back.

“I can’t take care of myself,” Penelope sobbed. “I need help.”

Arleen stole a glance at Cindy, who rubbed one arm absentmindedly as tears crawled out of her eyes and down her cheeks, watching the scene in front of her. Arleen couldn’t blame the girl: she and Penelope had grown especially close in the past few years. It had always been hard to lose Penelope like this, but recently, it had been occurring more and more frequently. Arleen suspected it wouldn’t be long before they lost Penelope for good, though she didn’t mention this to Cindy.

“This is your fault, too,” Penelope announced from the corner. “You should have helped me a long time ago.”

Arleen relaxed. Once Penelope started throwing out accusations like that, the voices would leave. Then she’d be back. Even Cindy was wiping away her tears and putting on a brave smile in preparation.

Suddenly, she and Cindy were sitting in an ornate living room, sunlight sprinkling in through wall-to-wall windows that overlooked a wooded back yard. Arleen knew the house well – Penelope often met them here these days. Still, it took her a moment to adjust to the new surroundings.

The doorbell rang.

“That will be Penelope,” Cindy said.

“I’ll get it,” Arleen replied, and scuffled out to the entry way to answer the door.

As she walked, the house changed again, and Arleen found herself in a dim hallway. Although she recognized this house, too, it had been years since Penelope had rendezvoused with anyone here, but this was where Penelope had met them all for the first time. Arleen wondered what had prompted this change. .

Penelope stood on the porch, holding a grocery bag and beaming. She was wearing a navy and mint striped maxi dress and denim jacket, and Arleen noticed that she had styled her hair and applied some eyeliner and mascara. It was quite the contrast from when Arleen had seen her last.

“You look beautiful, Penelope,” Arleen greeted her, and stood to the side.

“Thanks, Arleen,” Penelope said, breezing in as if she didn’t have a care in the world. “I brought stuff for seafood tacos.”

“Sounds delicious,” Arleen remarked, following Penelope down the hallway to a different living room than the one from which she had come.

This living room also looked out on a wooded area, and beyond that, a small pond. The sun was just beginning to dip below the trees.

Penelope sighed happily. “My favorite place on earth.”

Cindy barreled into Penelope with a big hug. “Hey, friend,” she said, voice muffled. “How are you?”

Penelope returned the hug before setting her grocery bag on the kitchen bar beside her. “I’m good,” she returned brightly.

Penelope took off her jacket and folded it neatly on one of the bar stools before finding an apron in one of the drawers and tying it around her waist. As she scurried around the kitchen, pulling out chopping boards, knives, and pans, Arleen marveled that Penelope still knew where everything was after all these years.

“Can we get some music going?” Penelope requested. “I feel like singing and dancing. Oldies, maybe?”

Cindy frowned, but complied, pulling out her iPod and its Bluetooth speaker. Soon, Wouldn’t it be nice? by the Beach Boys was filtering into the kitchen, and Penelope was dancing and singing into spatulas.

Arleen waggled her eyebrows at Cindy and joined in, but Cindy sat down on a bar stool, still frowning.

“Come on, Cin,” Penelope said, shimmying around the kitchen. “Live a little.”

“This is insane!” Cindy exploded.

Arleen and Penelope stopped dancing, and without anybody touching the iPod, the music had stopped. Arleen knew that wasn’t a good sign.

“What’s your problem?” Penelope demanded.

“My problem?” Cindy spluttered. “My problem is that less than twenty minutes ago, you were absolutely beside yourself, crying about how you need help. You come here, and suddenly everything is okay.”

Penelope’s face fell. “Look, Cin,” she said. “I just need to relax, okay?”

“You used to be real with us,” Cindy replied. “That’s been the place where you’ve faked it, but not here. Never here.”

Penelope sunk to the floor, and Arleen saw they were losing her again. Cindy saw it, too, and relented, coming to sit on the floor next to Penelope.

“Don’t you trust us?” Cindy whispered desperately.

Penelope turned slowly to face Cindy. “Of course I trust you. Both of you,” she added, glancing at Arleen. “More than anyone. You’ve always been here. I just”-

“What?” Cindy probed.

“I don’t know if I should anymore,” Penelope admitted.

Arleen sunk down to the floor and put an arm around Penelope’s shoulder. “We understand,” she murmured.

“I don’t,” Cindy argued. “I don’t understand how you could choose them over us. All of us. We’ve made it our mission to protect you. If you had any idea”-

“That’s just it, Cindy,” Penelope said, shaking her head. “You’ve all been keeping me from things. Things that could keep me here forever.”

“Would that be such a terrible thing?” Cindy asked.

Penelope emitted a strangled sob, and looked around the now-shadowy house.

Her favorite place on earth, Arleen thought wryly.

“No,” Penelope replied eventually. “And yes. They need me there.”

“I know,” Arleen whispered.

“Can’t you please just tell me?” Penelope pleaded.

Arleen shook her head. “I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “I don’t even know myself. I’m just here to protect you until you’re ready.”

It was true. Arleen had shown up at this very house shortly after the incident to introduce Penelope to her first family. She had knocked on the door, not even sure anyone would answer, but a three-year-old, pigtailed Penelope had opened the door and invited her in, much to her parents’ chagrin. That was the only time the two worlds had overlapped; Penelope kept them separate after that. Arleen hadn’t known what happened then, and she didn’t know now, but she had instantly seen Penelope‘s sadness. She only knew that every time a family got too close to the incident, Penelope would start acting up and had to be placed with another family. Then, there were the people who had left on their own: Arleen’s own son, Eric had walked away from Penelope several years ago, tired of being used as a crutch. Soon after, Cindy had shown up. Arleen wasn’t surprised Penelope was choosing the other side, where she had only one family.

“I’m ready,” Penelope said.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Arleen cautioned.

“I know,” Penelope whispered. “But it’s time.”

Arleen and Cindy faded away, and Penelope was left by herself in the dark kitchen.

“You’re very close,” a voice whispered out of the darkness.

“What if I lose everything?” Penelope asked.

“There’s no chance I’ll let that happen,” the voice returned. “Trust me.”

No longer afraid, Penelope straightened from the fetal position she’d been in on the floor and stood up. She walked out to the living room where she’d left her parents.

“We think you should see a doctor,” her mother said.

Her father didn’t make eye contact, and Penelope knew he wished it hadn’t come to this.

She hated to disappoint him, but Penelope nodded.

“I think you’re right,” she agreed.

1915627_542992164137_1488592_n

Baptist Snippets: Best Friends Are The Best

Hey, lovelies.  I’m surfacing from a weekend of writing to bring you a snippet from the original draft A Year with the Baptists, my work in progress.  This particular excerpt will not be appearing in the final draft, because its a part of the (70K word) back story, which I’ve decided to completely cut.  (I’ll talk more about that later).

Still, it really showcases Ruth, my protagonist Emma’s best friend (loosely based on my closest friends), and it’s kind of a fun part of the story (in between the heavier parts), so I thought I’d share it with you.

I hereby dedicate this Baptist Snippet to my own dear friends, Hope and Whitney and Beth, my biggest cheerleaders, supporters, and buttkickers.

Jake smiled at Emma as they entered the foyer.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey.” Emma grinned back.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“I think so,” she replied.

Jake extended his hand and she took it, walking with him through the double doors into the cool night air.

“Get a room!” someone called in the parking lot.

Emma squinted into the darkness.

“Ruth?” she exclaimed.

Emma released Jake’s hand just in time. Ruth barreled at her, wrapping her in a tight hug.

“Hi,” Emma said, voice muffled in Ruth’s shoulder.

Ruth stepped away, beaming.

“What are you doing here?” Emma asked.

“You wanted me to come for a visit, remember?” Ruth retorted.

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean you had to come right away,” Emma replied. “I mean, I’m glad you did, but you didn’t have to, you know?”

Ruth bounced around.

“What about work?” Emma demanded.

Ruth shrugged.

“Paid time off,” she said.

Jake cleared his throat.

“Oh, grief,” Emma said, remembering where she was. “Ruth, you haven’t met Jake.”

Ruth turned to Jake.

“Jake,” Emma continued, “this is my friend, Ruth.”

“Very nice to meet you, Jake,” Ruth said, waving.

Jake smiled.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” he said.

Pastor Springer had also joined them.

“And this is my pastor,” Emma said, “Pastor Springer. Pastor Springer, Ruth.”

Pastor Springer shook Ruth’s hand and they exchanged pleasantries.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to be taking up a lot of Emma’s time this weekend,” Ruth informed them.

“You’re here for the weekend?” Emma squeaked.

“Thought you could use some extended girl time,” Ruth said.

Emma smiled.

“For sure,” she replied.

“And I want to get to know you a little better, too, Jake,” Ruth said, looking at Jake again. “Maybe the three of us can get lunch or dinner sometime while I’m here.” She paused. “Or breakfast,” she added. “Breakfast is good too.”

“I’d like that,” Jake responded. “I assume you want to drive Emma home tonight, too?”

Pastor Springer chuckled.

“Sorry,” Ruth answered, “but yes.”

“Not a problem,” Jake said, drawing Emma in and planting a kiss on her forehead. “You two have fun.”

Emma wound her arms around him tightly.

“Thank you,” she mumbled. “You’re the best.”

“Break it up, you two,” Ruth teased, snapping her fingers.

Pastor Springer raised his eyebrows.

Emma freed Jake, and stepped away, giving a small wave. Then she skipped and giggled with Ruth through the parking lot.

Once they were in Ruth’s car, Emma turned to look at her friend.

“Thanks for coming, Ruth,” she said soberly. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“I am, too,” Ruth said, turning her key in the ignition.

Emma relaxed into the seat with the odd feeling she could breathe again.

***

Ruth came to work with Emma the following day. Emma wasn’t really sure how the powers-that-were would feel about it, but Ruth had begged to at least see Emma’s cubicle.

“I promise I’ll find something to occupy myself the rest of the day,” she had promised, “but you’ve got to let me see this joint.”

Now, Ruth surveyed Emma’s space, frowning.

“Kind of a letdown, huh?” Emma said.

“You haven’t even decorated,” Ruth said incredulously. “No personality. No pictures. You should at least have pictures. Maybe of your niece, or even of me.”

Emma laughed.

“You think so?” she said.

“Something, Emma,” Ruth said, aghast. “You should have something.”

“I meant to personalize it when I started,” Emma said. “I just never got around to it.”

“Pitiful,” Ruth declared, glancing around. “I know what I’m doing today.”

“What’s that?” Emma asked.

“Getting you some décor for your desk,” Ruth said.

“Okay,” Emma said. “Don’t go overboard, though, okay?”

“Me, overboard?” Ruth retorted sarcastically. “You’ve got the wrong girl, pal.”

“Mm-hm,” Emma replied.

“Good morning!” Sophie greeted, breezing towards them.

“’Morning!” Emma said brightly. “Sophie, this is my friend, Ruth. She’s in town visiting me this weekend.”

“Oh, how nice,” Sophie gushed, reaching out her hand to shake Ruth’s.

“Sophie, can I ask you a somewhat personal question?” Ruth inquired.

Emma rolled her eyes, powering up her computer.

Sophie looked taken aback.

“I guess,” she said, unsure.

“How could you let Emma work here all of these months and not decorate her desk?” Ruth asked.

“Um,” Sophie started. “I guess I just figured she was a minimalist.”

“She’s messing with you,” Emma informed her.

“Oh,” Sophie said. “I suppose I should have intervened, then.”

“It’s a blooming shame,” Ruth said, still deadpan. “No worries, though, I’m off to rectify the situation.”

“Oh?” Sophie asked.

“She’s going to get some stuff to spruce the place up,” Emma explained.

“Ah,” Sophie said. “Well, it was nice meeting you, Ruth.”

“Right back at you,” Ruth replied.

Sophie went to her office.

“Mind if I make a list before I leave?” Ruth asked.

Emma tore a piece of yellow paper from her legal pad and handed it to her along with a pen.

“Just do it quietly.” Emma feigned sternness. “This is a place of business.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ruth said, sitting in Sophie’s old chair.

“Hey, hey, hey.” Emma heard Jake from behind her.

She spun around.

He was striding toward her, two coffee cups in hand.

“Chai latte,” Jake announced, setting one of the cups on her desk.

His eyes fell on Ruth, poring over her list.

“Hi, Ruth,” he said.

Ruth looked up at him.

“Well, hello there, Jake,” she said pleasantly.

“I didn’t know you would be here or I would have picked something up for you, too,” he told her apologetically.

Ruth wrinkled her nose.

“Oh, no worries,” she replied. “I don’t drink that stuff. I’m a Diet Coke girl.”

It was Jake’s turn to look disgusted.

“Can I ask you something, Jake?” Ruth inquired, returning to her list.

“Oh, boy,” Emma said.

“Sure,” Jake replied, taking a sip off his coffee.

“How has Emma been here for five months without really making this desk her own?” Ruth questioned.

“You know,” Jake said, “I wonder that myself sometimes.”

“You do?” Emma asked.

“Yeah,” Jake answered. “Seems like you’re not planning on staying or something.”

“Exactly,” Ruth said triumphantly.

“I’m definitely planning on staying,” Emma said, more for Jake’s benefit than Ruth’s.

“Glad to hear it,” Jake replied, smiling at her.

“And I am off to get the décor to prove it,” Ruth announced, standing up.

She folded the piece of paper and stuffed it into her pocket, handing the pen back to Emma.

“The two of you behave yourselves,” she admonished. “Both feet on the floor, at all times.”

Emma wanted to disappear.

“Goodbye, Ruth,” she said pointedly.

“See you at five,” Ruth replied, shuffling out of the office.

“She is something else,” Jake said, watching her leave.

Emma looked up at him.

“You have no idea,” she replied, grinning.

 ***

Ruth returned with a few paper bags a few minutes before five.

“No judgment until you see it all in place, please,” she said, unloading an assortment of picture frames and small motivational posters onto Emma’s desk.

To Emma’s horror, Ruth also procured a potted cactus, before slapping down a photo envelope and two calendars. She folded the bags neatly and propping them against Emma’s desk, looking pleased with her purchases.

“One for two-thousand-eleven, and one for two-thousand-twelve,” Ruth said, indicating the calendars.

She examined them quickly, thumbing through one to October and fixing it to the cubicle wall in front of Emma with a thumb tack. Emma was greeted by black and white landscape photo. She jammed the other calendar in Emma’s cabinet drawer.

Emma’s eyes were drawn back to the plant.

“Ruth, you got me a cactus,” Emma stated.

“I did,” Ruth said proudly.

“I don’t know anything about taking care of a cactus,” Emma protested.

“That’s what Google is for,” Ruth informed her, pulling the other desk chair over to sit beside Emma.

Ruth pulled pictures out of the envelope. There was one of Ruth and her making faces at the camera from a late night cramming session in college, one of her with Charlotte at her graduation, and a family photo from Thanksgiving.

“How did you”- Emma started.

“Social media,” Ruth replied.

Emma smiled at her friend’s resourcefulness.

Ruth lined up the frames, and Emma observed they were labeled in curly script in the bottom corners.

“Love?” she read aloud, picking one up.

“I thought it would be nice for a picture of you and Jake,” Ruth explained, “but then I couldn’t find one.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because there isn’t one,” Emma replied, as Ruth loaded their picture into a frame labeled friends.

“What?” Ruth demanded. “How is there not”- she shook her head –“Oh, never mind. To-do number two: get a picture of Jake and Emma together.”

Ruth finished putting the pictures in the frames and arranged them on Emma’s desk. She pinned up the motivational posters, and Emma was relieved that they were either Bible verses or writing quotes.

“Okay,” Ruth said, stepping back and eyeing her handiwork.

Emma rolled back in her chair and examined what her friend had done. She wasn’t certain it was one hundred percent her, but she was grateful for Ruth’s efforts.

“Thanks, Ruth,” she said, grinning up at her friend.

“You like it?” Ruth said.

“I do,” Emma replied.

Jake’s head appeared over the cubicle wall.

“Oh, wow,” he said.

“The place has transformed, hasn’t it?” Ruth said.

“It has,” Jake said, glancing around. “Cactus is a nice touch.”

“I thought so,” Ruth said.

“I hope it makes it,” Emma offered. “I’ve never had a plant before, much less a cactus.”

“Don’t worry,” Jake replied. “I think cacti are pretty hearty plants. They’re not terribly needy.”

“Probably a good thing,” Emma said.

“This your family?” he inquired, picking up the frame labeled family.

“No, those are the next door neighbors,” Emma returned sarcastically.

Jake chuckled and set it back down again. His eyes wandered to the empty love frame.

Emma wished she had put that in the drawer with the twenty-twelve calendar.

“We’ll have to fill that soon,” Jake remarked.

“Amazing,” Ruth said, shaking her head in disbelief. “I was just saying the same thing.”

Emma shifted uncomfortably.

“So,” Jake began, “I was thinking maybe we could all get breakfast at The Perc tomorrow morning.”

“All right,” Emma agreed. “Eleven okay?”

“Sounds good,” Jake said.

“Come prepared,” Ruth told him. “I’ve been sent to vet you.”

Emma groaned.

“Well, I certainly hope you find me worthy,” Jake said.

“I will if you are,” Ruth retorted agreeably.

“He is,” Emma put in swiftly. “You are,” she informed Jake.

Jake smiled and bent down to kiss her on the forehead.

“’Bye,” he said, and walked away.

Emma watched him go, grinning. He was a catch.

Ruth peered at Emma critically.

“What?” Emma said, raising her eyebrows.

“Have you two not, like, kissed on the mouth yet?” Ruth asked in hushed tones.

Emma slapped a palm to her forehead and scooted forward to turn off her computer.

“Let’s go, Ruth,” she said.

“Oh my word,” Ruth breathed. “You totally haven’t.”

Emma stood up, wordless. This was definitely not something she wanted to discuss with Ruth.

“Is this one of those weird dating rules you grew up with?” Ruth pressed.

Of course that was where Ruth’s mind would go.

“No,” Emma retorted. “It just hasn’t … happened yet.”

“Because it’s not wrong, you know,” Ruth assured her, “kissing.” She smirked at Emma. “Neither is having your picture taken together.”

“Oh, grief,” Emma said, leading Ruth out of the office. “You’re crazy, you know that?”

“You’re the one who has no pictures with her boyfriend,” Ruth replied, “and I’m the crazy one?”

“Okay,” Emma conceded. “We’re both crazy.”

“That’s more like it,” Ruth said.

Emma smiled, glad Ruth was here, if only for the weekend.

***

“So, Jake,” Ruth said, once they were seated and had begun nibbling on their various pastries, “what’s drew you to Emma?”

Jake looked at Emma.

“Her smile,” he said. “We went into the reception area to get her for her interview, and she smiled the biggest, brightest, dimpliest smile I’d ever seen. Then she just had this spirit about her during the interview and whenever I saw people ask her questions afterwards. She would give such thoughtful responses. She really hears people, you know?”

Emma thought she might be turning to mush.

“Oh, I get it,” Ruth agreed.

“She’s pretty incredible,” Jake said.

“Stop,” Emma said. “I’m right here.”

“So, do I pass the test?” Jake asked.

Emma held her breath and hoped Ruth didn’t have any questions about Jake’s intentions, or anything ridiculous like that.

“With flying colors,” Ruth replied.

Emma exhaled.

***

“You really like him, don’t you?”

They were lying on their backs in Emma’s living room, just talking like they used to when they were roommates.

Emma rolled her head to the side to look at Ruth.

“I really do,” she said.

“Where do you see it going?” Ruth inquired.

“What do you mean?” Emma asked.

“Well, do you see yourself marrying him?” Ruth replied.

“I haven’t thought much about it,” Emma said, considering Ruth’s question. “It’s a possibility.”

“We make a really good team,” Emma continued after several minutes of silence. “He gets how I think. He likes how I think. He draws me out.”

“Is that a yes?” Ruth said. “I couldn’t tell.”

Emma smiled.

“I think so, yeah,” she responded.

“For what it’s worth, I think you two make a great couple,” Ruth told her. “I can totally see the two of you growing old together.”

“Thanks, Ruth,” Emma said. “Means a lot.”

***

Jake put an arm around Emma’s shoulder and pulled her close as Ruth drove away out of the FHL parking lot after church Sunday.  Ruth had just finished challenging Pastor Springer on some of the points of his sermon, which of course, Emma hadn’t heard.

Emma waved after her friend, savoring the bittersweet nature of the moment. She was sad to see Ruth go, but glad she had approved of Emma’s new life and Jake. Especially Jake.

“She’s not a Baptist, is she?” Pastor Springer observed, walking up to stand beside them.

“No, she’s not,” Emma said, smiling proudly.

It didn’t matter that Ruth wasn’t a Baptist.  She was her friend.

Copyright, 2015, Lydia Thomas.

 

 

The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

The other night an idea popped into my head for a short psychological thriller.  I wasn’t going to be posting this week, because I’m trying to make tracks in A Year with the Baptists (and I have been making said tracks), however, I thought it would make a fun post.

Disclaimer: this story was written completely spur-of-the-moment and has not been professionally edited (nor will it ever be).  Also, I’m not what anyone would call a master (or even apprentice) of the psychological thriller.  I only asked, “What if…?”

So now that your expectations are in the basement, I think we can begin.

The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

by Lydia Thomas

(Copyright: 2014)

It was a crisp October Wednesday the day Bella Lagerford went missing.

Amanda first heard about it that night at dinner. It was a normal family dinner – her father sitting at one end of the table, her mother at the other, and her sister, Susannah, across from her, all eating quietly.

“Did you hear about the Lagerford girl?” her father inquired, cutting into his steak. “Isabella?”

Amanda perked up.

She knew a lot about the Lagerfords, having grown up with them, playing in the park after school. There were five of them: Bo, Brianna, Bella, Brighton, and Ben. In fact, she much preferred the company of the Lagerford siblings to that of her own sister, finding them far more interesting. As far as she could tell, they were always fighting about something amongst themselves, but they were united front against the rest of the world, and this intrigued her. Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford cursed and shouted at them, something Amanda’s parents would never dream of doing, but she felt anything would have been better than the stiff silence that pervaded her own home.

Amanda was most drawn to Bella. She supposed this was because the quiet girl was closest to her in age of all the Lagerfords and they studied dance together every Tuesday and Thursday at Mrs. Cartwright’s studio. Amanda was the better dancer; but of course, she was a year older, so that could only be expected. Bella hadn’t seemed interested in a friendship outside of dance, being the most introverted of her siblings, but Amanda wanted to know the girl, and had persisted in learning little facts about her here and there. Honestly, most of what she knew about the Lagerfords had come through Bella.

Naturally, Amanda was very interested in her father’s news about Bella.

“No,” her mother replied, a forkful of salad delicately poised in the air. “What happened?”

Amanda’s father shrugged.

“She’s gone missing,” her father stated. “Police are trying to determine if foul play was involved.”

“Foul play?” Amanda’s mother clutched a hand to her chest. “Who in the world would want to harm Isabella Lagerford?”

“Hard to say,” her father answered.

Her mother turned to her.

“Was Bella at dance yesterday?” she inquired.

“No,” Amanda mumbled. “She never showed.”

Suddenly, Amanda felt nauseated.

 ***

 Thursday, they found the body.

Mrs. Cartwright had walked into a wall of putridity at the dance studio and nearly vomited before searching the premises for what she suspected was dead vermin. She had not expected to find the graying corpse of Bella Lagerford in the closet behind the mirrors, peering at her with wide open and glazed eyes.

Amanda had been on her way to her dance lesson when she heard Mrs. Cartwright’s screams, and she had run away, afraid of what might have been found.

When she came back later, the studio was sealed off with police tape and a sobbing Mrs. Cartwright was giving a statement. Amanda’s fears were confirmed as a lifeless Bella Lagerford was wheeled past her on a stretcher, and she was certain those glazed eyes were staring right at her.

Amanda vomited, whether from the stench or from seeing Bella in such a state, she couldn’t say.

“Go home,” an officer told her. “This is no place for a young woman.”

 ***

On Friday, the toxicology reports came back.

Needles.  A lethal combination of drugs. An apparent suicide, if only accidental.

“Why on earth?” Amanda’s mother gasped.

And again, Amanda’s father shrugged.

Her parents didn’t know about the cursing and the shouting. Nor did they know this wasn’t Bella’s first time with needles.

But Amanda knew. Amanda had heard it from Bella herself. Bella had used the needles to inject herself with things that would take her far away from the life she lived. But Bella had stopped. Bella had sworn she had stopped after a scary episode over a year ago. Amanda was certain.

***

The funeral was Saturday.

Amanda knew she needed to be present for the Lagerfords. After all, they had been her second family.

“Why are you going?” Susannah asked. “It’s not like you knew Bella beyond dance, or like you know the Lagerfords at all.”

Amanda didn’t bother answering. Her sister could not understand the bond she felt to the Lagerfords.

Brighton would be missing his sister the most. They were closest in age and shared all kinds of secrets, Amanda knew. Brianna and Bella were almost complete opposites and didn’t get along well at all, with Brianna always bossing Bella around and Bella always fighting back, but Amanda supposed Brianna would be grieving in her own way today. Bo gave Bella a hard time, but he was fiercely protective of her, especially when it came to the guys she dated, something Amanda envied. Bella had always babied little Ben – what was Amanda thinking? They all babied Ben. Surely, he would miss her quiet, but staunch presence.

Amanda needed to be there today to fill that void, for all of them.

When she arrived at the church, Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford didn’t seem to recognize her, but Bo remarked, “You were in dance with Bella, weren’t you?”

Amanda nodded and quickly found a seat.

Brianna gave a speech commemorating her sister, and Amanda thought that was wrong, all wrong. The anecdotes of growing up and statements about sisterhood sounded phony and made Amanda’s blood boil. It should have been Brighton, or even Amanda herself. They were the ones who knew Bella best, not Brianna.

Little Ben’s body quaked with sobs in the front pew, and Amanda longed to go to him and wrap her arms around him. That was what Bella would do, she was certain. Amanda stayed seated where she was, fearing the rest of the Lagerfords might not deem it appropriate, especially as the preacher had already begun the eulogy.

Brighton seemed strong, but Amanda was willing to bet he understood about the needles and Bella’s obsession with them, just as she did. They were each other’s shelter from the cursing and the shouting, and no doubt Brighton was glad his sister would never return to that hell. Amanda was glad, too.

Bo sat with arms crossed, radiating sullenness. Amanda imagined he was angry that the one person he could not protect Bella from was herself.

The funeral passed quickly as Amanda observed the Lagerfords. Even after it was over, she stood in the foyer listening to the rest of the mourners offer lame condolences to the family. None of them understood who Bella Lagerford really was and what she meant to her family, at least, not the way Amanda did.

“She’ll always be in your hearts,” one elderly woman remarked.

It wouldn’t be the same, Amanda knew, and she was outraged at the woman’s insensitivity.

“She was writing this story for years,” Mrs. Lagerford replied, “in this leather journal. We can’t find it anywhere, but I wish – I wish we still had it.”

Amanda frowned. It couldn’t be the same as –

“To preserve her thoughts and words,” the woman said sagely. “Tell me, how is Staci holding up?”

Who was Staci?

Mrs. Lagerford choked on a sob.

“As well as can be expected,” she said. “They were as close as two sisters can be.”

Bella had another sister? She’d never mentioned –

Unless –

Amanda’s pulse quickened.

This couldn’t be right.

Bella must have lied.

Amanda dashed out of the church, throwing the doors open with a clatter. She had to get home, she had to see it to be sure.

***

“Isabella, put that away,” Mrs. Cartwright commanded sternly.

As far as Amanda knew, Isabella wasn’t even Bella’s full name; in fact, she was positive it wasn’t because all of the girl’s siblings called her Bella on the playground growing up. Still, the girl shut her blue ink pen in her leather journal obediently and rose to the bar.

Bella danced almost robotically, tirelessly watching her own reflection in the mirror.

“It helps if you stop watching yourself,” Amanda suggested. “Just let go and dance.”

Bella frowned, but said nothing. Bella never said anything.

Amanda sighed. She only wanted to be Bella’s friend, and to be friends with Bella’s family. They seemed so interesting, but she knew so little about them.

Near the end of the lesson, Bella’s oldest brother came in. He clapped, almost sarcastically, as she tumbled out of a pirouette.

Amanda frowned in his direction. So she needed a little bit of work.

“Ready to head home?” he asked Bella.

“Sure,” she said, following him out.

It wasn’t until Amanda finished her cool down stretches that she spied Bella’s journal sitting in the corner of the studio. It was too late to follow after Bella to return it. She would just have to wait until their next dance session.

Besides, she really wanted to get to know Bella better.

***

“No, no, no,” Amanda sobbed as she bounded up the stairs to her bedroom.

Bella had betrayed her, filling that journal with – stories? Some of it had to have been true, though. The needles had to have been real. Why else would she have taken her own life, even if it was only an accident?

Amanda rushed into her room and froze.

Susannah sat cross-legged on her bed, holding Bella’s journal.

“What is this?” Susannah asked coolly.

Amanda shook her head frantically.

“It’s not what it looks like,” she said, a tremor in her voice.

“It looks like you’re trying to get in with the Lagerford family by taking Bella’s place,” Susannah declared.

“No,” Amanda said desperately, “I just wanted to know her, to know them.”

“You went a little far, don’t you think?” Susannah inquired.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“You made it look like an overdose,” Susannah said.

“You think I”- Amanda broke off.

“It says here she hadn’t had done drugs in a year,” Susannah said triumphantly.

“Susannah, it’s not real,” Amanda said, accepting Bella’s duplicity. “It’s a story.”

Susannah’s eyes narrowed.

“I have to return it to them,” Amanda insisted. “They need it to remember her by.”

“You can’t return it to them,” Susannah spat. “If you return it to them, it will only be a matter of time before they put the pieces together and realize it was you. You think they’ll accept you as their own when they know what you did?”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Amanda protested.

Susannah tossed the journal aside on the bedspread.

“Lucky for you, the police have ruled it as a suicide,” she stated, “or you’d be the one going down for this.”

She uncrossed her legs and hopped off of the bed.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“Don’t worry, Amanda,” Susannah said, “I’ve got you covered.”

Amanda trembled as her sister threw a firm arm around her and hissed in her ear.

“What are sisters for?”