Category Archives: Free Stories

A Little Contagion for Christmas

If you’ve read the stories in A Very Austen Christmas anthology (and if you haven’t, why NOT?) an accidental theme in three of them was illness and its ability to bring people together. Not to be outdone, I present to you a story I wrote years ago with the same theme: The Little Particulars of the Circumstance

In the course of the original Persuasion, Frederick Wentworth goes to Uppercross Cottage looking for Louisa and Henrietta.  Instead, he finds himself alone with Anne Elliot. He then rescues her from the naughty antics of little Walter. In this version, the apothecary, Mr Robinson, has come to check on the injured little Charles and in a twist of the story, declares a quarantine! When Anne and Frederick are forced to stay alone together in one room, with a sick child to care for, will they overcome their pride and anger? This story combines a little bit of “Outbreak!” with a lot of “It Happened One Night.” Happy ending included at no charge.

 

One morning, very soon after the dinner at the Musgroves, at which Anne had not been present, Captain Wentworth walked into the drawing room at the Cottage, where were herself, Mr Robinson the apothecary, and the little invalid, Charles, who was lying on the sofa.

The surprise of finding himself almost alone with Anne Elliot deprived of his manners of the usual composure: he started, and could only say, “I beg your pardon. I thought the Miss Musgroves had been here—Mrs Musgrove told me I could find them here,” before he walked to the window to recollect himself and feel how he ought to behave.

“They are upstairs with my sister—they will be down in a few moments, I dare say.”

He continued at the window; and after calmly and politely saying, “I hope the little boy is better,” was silent.

Anne turned back to Mr Robinson, the apothecary, who had come to check on the young patient.

The man glanced towards Captain Wentworth. “As I was saying before the interruption, the boy’s spine is undamaged and he is doing well enough in his recovery. I am heartened that my instructions have been carried out with such scrupulous attention.” He removed his glasses and put them in his breast pocket. “It is not always the case when I make recommendations here.”

Anne suspected her sister’s delicate health made it necessary for Mr Robinson to make rather a lot of calls to the Cottage, but she doubted Mary did more than enjoy the notice, with no intentions of following his orders. Mr Robinson once again looked over his little patient. He frowned and pulled up the boy’s shirt. “How long did you say this rash had been evident?”

She came closer. “As I said before, I saw it last evening. It is more acute this morning. I think it may be—”

Robinson grunted and sighed heavily. He put on his glasses and began to carelessly prod and turn the boy this way and that. Anne was appalled that he wholly disregarded Charles’s sharp cries. He touched a place or two, and then looked over the tops of the spectacles. “You say it is more intense?” Anne nodded. “Was this rash on him the other day?”

“No. I am not sure when it appeared, but I saw it yesterday evening, around seven.”

He opened a small notebook and flipped through a few pages. He sighed again. “There is a pocket of fever in Crewkherne. It became evident just a week or so ago. There is fear it is smallpox.”

“The place looked positively asleep when I came through.” Wentworth glanced towards the others.

Robinson turned and looked over his glasses at the Captain. “Come through Crewkherne did you? When did you arrive?”
Continue reading

Advertisements

Granddogs to Granddarlings

My life has been grand lately. Since my husband is gone overseas, I have been entrusted with the care of Toby, our eleven-year-old Yorkie Poo, and Chloe, our four-year-old Maltese.

chloe-urn

Chloe searches for treasure in my grandmother’s butter churn.

I have come to the conclusion that dogs are very much like babies. They get me up at odd hours of the night to be let out. They are picky eaters. They snuggle closely against me in bed until I feel as if I’m being nudged by a heater.

toby-chloe

 

In short, it’s lovely to have the company of two sweeties who love me, but it costs me something to have them.

Friends and love require attention and cultivation.

I’ll remember that when I finally get to see my granddarlings (Charlie and Scarlett) one day.

book-cover-banner2

Guest Sons

Facebook has added a “Thankful” button to its gallery of Likes.  It’s Mother’s Day, and the timing is perfect. I could click that thing all day long. My mom has overcome a series of serious illnesses and is doing well, and so are my sons.

But I am also thankful for Guest Sons. I have a number of them, boys who came into my life after school and on weekends. Who played video games and swam in the community pool and ate whatever I served (pizza or lasagna or shepherd’s pie). They belched and cracked jokes and laughed. Oh, how they laughed.

From Nathan's era, here are Guest Sons Nathan, Tyler, Luke, and Sean

Here is Nathan with “Guest Sons” Tyler, Luke, and Sean. Their beloved choir director made them form a quartet, and he coached them. They sounded great!

“Mom, you should make shepherd’s pie for Stephen.” I heard this several years ago, when Nathan’s pal Stephen was on leave from the Navy. “He loves your cooking,” Nathan added. Excuse me, my cooking? I am a utility cook, flinging out meals on a skinflint budget. Surely Stephen was mistaken!  But I got busy in the kitchen just the same.

Michael with Will

Michael with “Guest Son” Will (Photo: Sue Blackwell)

It’s not that these Guest Sons were ungrateful–no hungry teen ever is. It’s just that I never realized how much they enjoyed hanging out at our place. Nothing special was offered. The boys’ shared bedroom was cramped at best–especially with all those scrounged TVs in there. Through the closed door I could hear hooting and hollering as they played Super Smash Brothers Melee for hours.

Hospitality, not entertainment, was all I had to offer. An open door. And in they came. Now I miss having them around.

Ben (center, flanked by brothers) and Guest Sons Sam, Tyler, Ryan, and Brent

Ben (center, flanked by brothers Nathan and Michael) and “Guest Sons” Sam, Tyler, Ryan, and Brent (Alexandra Grace Photography)

What I gave to them was Guy Time. Apparently that was what they needed most. This scene, from Susan Elizabeth Phillips‘ Match Me If You Can, captures the feel of those days at our apartment. Yeah, she gets it.

When did my house turn into a hangout for every grossly overpaid, terminally pampered professional football player in northern Illinois?”

“We like it here,” Jason said. “It reminds us of home.”

“Plus, no women around.” Leandro Collins, the Bears’ first-string tight end emerged from the office munching on a bag of chips. “There’s times when you need a rest from the ladies.”

Annabelle shot out her arm and smacked him in the side of the head. “Don’t forget who you’re talking to.”

Leandro had a short fuse, and he’d been known to take out a ref here and there when he didn’t like a call, but the tight end merely rubbed the side of his head and grimaced. “Just like my mama.”

“Mine, too,” Tremaine said with happy nod.

Annabelle spun on Heath. “Their mother! I’m thirty-one years old, and I remind them of their mothers.”

“You act like my mother,” Sean pointed out, unwisely as it transpired, because he got a swat in the head next.

Do you have Guest Sons and Guest Daughters? Know that you are loved by them as well. Happy Mother’s Day!

Laura Hile (1)

Wedding photo: Alexandra Grace Photography

God has been very good to us.

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking back over the events of 2015 and marveling at all the big things that happened in my life during one short year.

Forever Yours  cover cropped

 

I finished writing my Yours by Design series by publishing Forever Yours at the beginning of April.

With a wedding coming at the end of June, I lived my spring and summer in overdrive – trimming shrubbery, replacing old bedding around the plants, painting the front porch and porch furniture, thoroughly cleaning the back porch, repotting old plants and buying new ones, and attending three bridal showers. Mel and I also had to contact each vendor again to finalize the flowers, DJ, reception venue, catering, cake, musicians, technicians, and photography. We also met the photographer for her bridal portraits and sat down with the wedding director. We compiled guest lists and sent out save the dates and invitations which she designed online. There were centerpieces to make, a wedding dress to buy (five shops before we found THE ONE) and have altered, favors to order, a candy bar to stock, a wedding portrait to choose, a church to decorate, and a rehearsal to plan. Mel’s identity was stolen during that time, too, and that certainly spiked the stress level.

DSC_4960.jpg

 

My elder daughter, who was expecting our second granddaughter, and our year-old granddaughter returned from Japan two weeks before the wedding, and we planned a short outing to the beach. Said outing was ditched when Mel’s dog, Chloe, ran away. God answered our prayers and we found her twelve hours later, with the help of a network of friends and folks we didn’t know. Mel and I picked up a multitude of chigger bites on our legs and feet while scouring the woods for her dog, but hers went away before the wedding, much thanks to our friend, Dr. Ed Sizemore.

Chloe 189.JPG

The wedding and reception were beautiful, though there was a high probability of heavy rain and thunderstorms. The wedding was held at our church, but the reception was outdoors at The Ivy Place. Again, we prayed. The rains held off until the last guest left the reception, and then the heavens opened. At the last minute, I had ordered a second tent. That was a good thing, because everything had to be cleaned up in that downpour. Had it not been for the help of Gayle and her daughter Bethany’s family, I might have sat in a puddle and cried.

Two weeks later, my pregnant elder daughter and granddaughter returned to Japan. You may remember the computer problems experienced by Wall Street and United Airlines last summer. They were caught in that, and it turned a thirty hour trip into a fifty hour trip. Somehow, she managed, just as she always does. Prayer, prayer, and more prayer.

Mandy & Charlie

Mel returned to live with us during August while her new husband went through football camp with the 49ers in California. She and I raced around to have her name changed everywhere and her car title transferred to her name. Government offices in August! Woohoo! At the end of August, we helped her pack her things, ship her car and clothes, and move to join him. There was much more involved, but it’s too long a story.

In September and October, I designed new covers for the three books in The Guardian Trilogy, and I updated the book files.

In November, our dog Toby ran away.  Again we prayed, and three weeks later, I received a phone call from a lady who had seen the ad in the paper. We were overjoyed to get him back.

Near the end of November, Mel’s husband was moved from the practice squad to the active roster of the 49ers – another answer to prayer.

Mandy, Charlie, Scarlett

We received our best gift and our biggest answer to prayer on December 8 when our elder daughter safely delivered our second beautiful granddaughter.

In the immortal words of Jane Austen’s Mrs. Bennet during the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, “God has been very good to us.”

Indeed, He has.

The Guilt-Trip Menagerie

Photo: Andrew Braithwaite (Creative Commons Flickr)

We had a cockatiel named Chipper. And a parakeet. Photo: Andrew Braithwaite (Creative Commons Flickr)

“I’m going to ask my mom for a pet tarantula.” This was from one of my students, said to no one in particular. His aim was to get a rise out of his classmates.

Ah, but I am wise to the ways of 7th grade boys–and their moms.

“Too late,” I quipped. “You’re not home schooled anymore. The guilt-trip menagerie is closed for business.” Yes, once the kids transition into school, there is no more conning Mom into mind-enriching “live science” projects.

What a dupe I was for boyhood curiosity! Our cat (and one litter of kittens) was not enough. Over the years we adopted birds–yes, the boys taught the cockatiel to say words–and fish and lizards. And garter snakes (caught by them), plus pet store crickets (epic-fail snake food) that somehow got loose in their bedroom and chirped until they died–months and months later. I should probably add that we were living in an apartment.

Photo: Fyn Kynd Photography (Creative Commons Flickr)

We ended up with not one but two garter snakes. Photo: Fyn Kynd Photography (Creative Commons Flickr)

One of the reasons I encourage students to write is the “time capsule” element. Those notebooks are a treasure in later years, filled with details everyone has forgotten. My oldest son transitioned into middle school in 1999, but the home school pets lived on.

I’ll let Michael take up the story in his own words:

I had a snake for about two years, and all of the time the cat would stare at the snake. She would sit on top of the snake cage and try to get in. Having a snake was fun! It was a little garter snake and I fed it live goldfish….The snake would then eat the live fish whole! My friends got a kick out of that.

Photo: Susanne Nilsson (Creative Commons Flickr)

A neighbor’s mom was tired of having  pet lizards. Guess where they came to live? Photo: Susanne Nilsson (Creative Commons Flickr)

Once the cat knocked the snake cage over, and the snake got loose! The cat got in big trouble and was put outside [on the balcony]. It gave my brothers a scare when they found out that it was loose, but we found it and put it in its cage. Another time we had some guests staying over, and the snake got loose in my room where they were supposed to sleep! We caught it again, and it stayed in its cage.

His observations about our cat are more prosaic:

My cat is funny. She is lazy and always wants her way. Every morning she wakes me up so that I will take my shower. Then, after my shower she jumps into the wet bathtub and washes her feet, as she drinks sthe water! On the days that I sleep in, she meows and meows so that she can drink and wash. I just ignore her and sleep in some more. Last night at about 9:00 Flower, my cat, was sitting in the bathtub waiting for me to take a shower in the morning.

One day Michael will write fiction. He is doomed by his DNA, I tell him. He just rolls his eyes at me, but I  know better.

Answered Prayer – Toby’s Dog Tale

Toby & LarryOn Thursday, October 8, I let our Yorkie Poo, Toby, out to do his business. Nothing unusual. Same routine for eleven years. However, after an hour, he hadn’t come back, so I called my husband. Larry came home and called him, but Toby still didn’t come. That afternoon, Larry biked over the whole neighborhood, combed the woods, called the Humane Society, and rode up and down roads looking for him. He put up a picture at our vet’s office, and I put it up on Facebook, both on my personal page and on the Lancaster Lost Pets page. Everyone knew Toby, because Larry had taken him to the Wee School at church, kayaking, and bike riding. Half the town was praying for Toby’s return.

Our daughter who lives in Japan e-mailed the local paper. It took her over a week, but she set up a lost pet ad. We had two calls from the ad, but both were wash outs. After nearly three weeks of looking out the door for him, praying for his return, and missing him, we were convinced he was either dead or taken. We thought we would never see sweet Toby again.

Around noon on Wednesday, October 28, nearly three weeks after he’d disappeared, I answered another phone call. The caller asked me the location of our home, and I replied that it was close to the Health Department. She replied that she had found a little Yorkie in the parking lot of the Health Department on Thursday a few weeks prior. The more we talked, the more convinced I became that she really did have Toby. I asked for her address and phone number, and she agreed to let me come get him.

I tried to call Larry, but his phone went to voicemail, so I headed for my car alone. I didn’t know the area, so I was a little hesitant to go by myself. He had ended up six miles from our house after the lady rescued him. As I was backing out of the garage, Larry called back, and I told him I was going to get Toby. He was, naturally, skeptical that it was actually Toby, but he agreed to let me meet him at the church. In a few minutes, we were on our way.

When she came to the door holding Toby, we could hardly believe it. Toby stared at us like he couldn’t believe it either. It was a joyous reunion.

Several things occurred to me. The lady told us that Toby was nearly hit by a car in that parking lot. Since he wasn’t wearing a collar, she took him home and cared for him. 1) We were fortunate that he was found by a caring person. 2) The lady didn’t have the internet, so she didn’t see anything I put on Facebook. 3) She wasn’t in our neighborhood, so when Larry talked to all of our neighbors, she had no way of knowing. 4) She lived six miles away in an area in which our church ministers during The Way every summer. 5) She normally didn’t buy newspapers, but she bought one that day to see if there was a lost pet ad about Toby. It was the last day the ad would run. Thank you, Mandy. We wouldn’t have thought to place the ad. 6) When the lady saw us, she recognized us. Her grandchildren attend the church’s AWANA program. I have two of them in my music large group time, and Larry has one in his Puggles group music.

There are too many coincidences for it to be coincidental.

For the record, Toby now wears a collar bearing his name and our phone number. Larry also put up a run for him. When he needs to go outside, I clip him to the run. We won’t lose him again.Toby kissToby snuggle

Missing Toby

Family & dogsI took this picture of my family over two years ago, just after they finished playing volleyball. My husband Larry is holding our daughter Mandy’s dog, Kess, and, Mandy (second from the right) is holding Larry’s dog, Toby. Toby and Kess are brother and sister, now eleven years old. Our younger daughter, Melanie, is holding her dog, Chloe, and Mandy’s husband, Jon, far right, is holding his dog, Rocko. Melanie has since married Dylan, the tall fellow in the back.  Dylan and I are the only ones who don’t have our own dogs.

I thought I didn’t want a dog, though I have enjoyed living with Toby, Kess, and Chloe. I have changed my mind.  Kess and Chloe have moved away with their “moms,” and the house is too quiet.A Dogs 0002_resized

More than two weeks ago, I let Toby out to relieve himself as I always have. When he hadn’t come back after an hour, I phoned Larry. He came home and called and whistled for Toby, but he never came. Later, Larry scoured the woods and roads around our house, stopped and talked to the neighbors, called the humane society, and let me put Toby’s picture up in several places on Facebook. We have concluded that either someone picked him up, or he went off to die. He had kidney stones, and we knew that eventually his condition would deteriorate and we would have to have him put to sleep.

We keep calling him and looking for him, but we have accepted that he’s not coming back. We miss him. I still check his water and food dishes. Larry still listens for Toby’s excited barking when he comes home. Both of us are careful about where we step when we get up from our computers. We are used to watching out for Toby, and he always lay beside us, sometimes right on our feet.

I want Larry to have another dog, but he isn’t agreeing to the idea, so Saturday, I told him I want a dog. I’d like another Yorkie Poo or a Maltese like Chloe.

One day, I want to write a series of books about those four dogs, but until then, I think I’ll just write him into the story I’m now working on – Understanding Elizabeth.

Sometimes you don’t miss what you have until it’s gone.