Kiki Lowenstein and the Watermelon Festival, Part II

Part I Recap: In an attempt to repair their friendship, Kiki and Mert decide to take a road trip. But hurt feelings don’t mend easily, and the two women get off to a rocky road start. Here’s the link to Part I   http://joannacampbellslan.com/kiki-lowenstein-and-the-watermelon-festival/

Mert insisted on taking her truck. This made absolutely no sense at all, because I could have easily borrowed Sheila’s white Mercedes sedan, which is a dream of a car for highway driving. Since Sheila’s still in Texas for rehab, her car has been sitting in her garage, coming to life only when Detweiler goes there to turn over the engine. Also, Mert’s truck doesn’t have a back seat, which meant that I could only take a small overnight bag, and it shared the space with my feet. I’m short, but I still needed room for my legs. I thought about complaining, but it seemed pointless. As far as I could tell, Mert had no luggage at all. I couldn’t figure out what she planned to do for clothes, but I climbed in and waved to my family, doing my best to keep a cheerful look on my face.

We drove two miles in total silence. I considered saying, “So this is how it’s going to be? A long weekend and hard feelings?” Instead, I told myself to be nice. I asked, “How’s life, Mert?”

“Fair to middling.”

“Remind me who we’ll be visiting and how this person is related to you?” I focused on the pretty flowers on porches, window boxes, hanging baskets, and lining sidewalks. St. Louis loves to spruce up with the changing seasons, and Webster Groves is (to my mind at least) the prettiest town in the metro area. I particularly like how joyous the geraniums are this time of year. They have a very patriotic look to them as they burst with color right as we come up on the Fourth of July. Even now, four weeks later, the heads were still full of color.

“We gonna see Corva. She ain’t a relative.”

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how to follow up on that. Ask open-ended questions, I reminded myself. “How do you know her?”

“We was pen-pals as kids. Stayed in touch all these years. When we could, we’d visit each other. Whoever had the money or the time would do the traveling.”

“Wow. Pen-pals. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of people staying in touch as long as you two have.”

“Yup.”

The sun glinted off the chrome of Mert’s candy-apple red truck. That gave me the perfect excuse to put on my sunglasses. The dark lenses allowed me to study my friend without her knowing it. Mert had aged in the past six months. The crinkles at the edges of her eyes fanned out like spiderwebs. The grooves on either side of her mouth had deepened. She owns a tanning bed and uses it year round because she claims it makes her look younger. I’ve argued it also ages your skin. She disagrees, but the proof was on her face with its leathery surface. I moved my gaze down to her hands. She wears Playtex gloves when she cleans, but for the first time, I noticed how knotted her knuckles were.

Mert was getting old. A lump formed in my throat. I remembered how she had reached out to me when we first met. How she had stood by me when George died. She had been loyal as the day was long until she thought I’d disrespected her brother, Johnny. Sadness crept up on me the way a cat hunts down a sparrow, and when it pounced, I couldn’t breathe.

“Asthma getting to you?” She stared straight ahead. We sat at a stoplight, getting ready to pull onto Highway 40, which is really 64-40 but no one calls it that. The road is the east-west artery that pumps the lifeblood of traffic in and out of St. Louis, only pausing for heart attacks like major wrecks once or twice a month.

“I guess.”

“That time of year, ain’t it?”

“I’ve been thinking about getting allergy shots.”

“Probably should.”

“Where are we staying?”

“Holiday Inn. It’s on the outskirts of town. Probably the nicest place. Got a pool. Did you bring a suit?”

“No.”

“We can stop at a Walmart on the way, and you can pick one up.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Okay, it wasn’t exactly a heart-to-heart conversation, but we were making progress. The temperature had changed from chilly to lukewarm. I figured I’d take another stab at learning about Corva. I waited until Mert had smoothly merged into traffic heading east. But before I could speak, my friend glanced up at her rearview mirror. “Look at that, will you? Behind us.”

I twisted in my seat, turning as far as I could despite the tightening of my seatbelt. Out of the left corner of the back window the Arch gleamed like a silver band embracing the cornflower blue sky.

“It’s so, so beautiful!” My heart squeezed tightly in my chest.

“I know. Ain’t it? I guess it’s purely corny, but I always get teary-eyed when I see it. You’d think it would get old—”

“But it never does.”

“Nope.”

There it stood, majestic and proud, a symbol that only our city could claim. An iconic shape, the arch is an example of a weighted catenary, the idealized curve made when you hold a weighted chain or cable upside down, supporting it at each end. The outside consists of 900 tons of stainless steel that the designer, Eero Saarinen intended to catch and reflect the ambient light. Indeed it does, in such a way that the arch also reflects the changing world around it.

“Did you know you can see that there monument for 30 miles?” Mert asked. “But I think this is the best view of all.”

“I do, too,” I said.

And oddly enough, our shared love of the Arch went a long way—30 miles maybe—toward repairing our friendship.

~To be continued~

In Part III, we’ll visit Vincennes, Indiana, vicariously. A heat wave is the least of the problems that the two women face. Somehow they get involved in a crime. (Or did you guess that might happen?)

 

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Protector, Conclusion

Author’s Note: Okay, I’m seriously hooked on writing and sharing serialized short stories, but I depend on YOU to give me feedback. So, please comment! To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, scroll down to OLDER POSTS and click on that.

The sight of Jodi, climbing out of a white Mustang convertible, almost made me want to run back into my house. The car looked like it was brand new. In fact, I could see the dealer’s sticker in one window.

However, I was determined not to cower in front of her. What could she do? As my Nana used to say, “She can’t kill you and she can’t eat you.” Of course, I supposed it was remotely possible that Jodi would kill me, but that didn’t seem likely. No, she enjoyed torturing me too much. In that way, she reminded me of Luther, the tom cat who belonged to my neighbor in St. Louis. Luther enjoyed playing with small critters that he caught. In fact, he rarely ate them, but he did maul them pretty badly.

Keeping my head held high, I walked to my car. I heard her door slam and the brisk sound of her footsteps.

“I talked to Poppy,” she said, as she stood blocking my way out of the garage. She’s a little taller than I, and because she always wears heels, she usually towers over me. As I watched, she crossed her arms over her chest. Today she was wearing white slacks, an aqua tunic in silk, and big white sunglasses.

“So did I.”

“You can’t have this place. If you do, I’ll take you to court.”

“Do what you want.”

“I don’t think you understand. I will make your life miserable. You think you’re going to run off with this piece of property? Just like you took our parents?”

From the house, I heard Jack barking. I sighed, thinking that a bigger dog would be nice, but if that dog was inside the house (like Jack was), he couldn’t do much to help me.

Besides, what would I want a big dog to do? Bite my sister? Knock her down? Tear her from limb to limb? Well, yes…but only in my fantasies.

“Look, Jodi,” I spoke in a calm voice. “You don’t like me. You feel cheated. I get it. I’m tired of trying to make nice to you. If you don’t get off this property right now, I’m calling the police.”

That seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to solve the problem, except for one hitch: I’d let my phone in my purse in the house. Jodi either guessed what I’d done or she was simply to stubborn to give in. After I delivered my threat, she stood there, smirking at me.

“Jodi, you need to leave and you need to leave now!” I raised my voice. As I did, I heard a noise. The skittering. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the crab. He was advancing toward me and waving his claw over his head.

Now I’m not scared of crabs, but I’m not stupid either. My toes might look like fat little worms to a hungry crab. Rather than find out whether worms are part of a balanced diet for crabs, I hopped into the driver’s seat of my car and right before I shut the door, I yelled, “Crab!”

The next thing I knew, Jodi was screaming at the top of her lungs. As I watched in my rear view mirror, she went flying toward the Mustang. In one hand were the keys. To my amazement, she punched the set over and over. “It’s coming after me!” she yelled. “I can’t get my door unlocked!”

I opened my car door and watched in fascination as she ran clockwise around her car. One of her shoes fell off. She howled as she ran barefoot over the gravel. The crab seemed to know she was terrified, because he started after her. She was so panicked that she ran a complete circuit. That put her almost on top of the creature. He turned and waved his claw at her. She was sobbing, hobbling over the broken rocks.

The crab came after her.

I grabbed a shovel from the corner of my garage.

“Kill it! Hit it!” she screamed.

Instead, I slipped the blade under the crab and lifted him into the air.

“Leave now or I’ll throw him at you,” I warned her.

Of course, I wouldn’t do any such thing, but she didn’t know that. Tears were streaming down her face. Her mascara had run all over her tunic. She jabbed and jabbed at the key fob until we both heard a clicking sound. Without any pretense at being ladylike, Jodi threw herself into the driver’s seat. As she fumbled around, starting the car, I backed into my garage. I was still holding the crab aloft, and I didn’t want my sister to run over me.

Us.

My protector and me.

~ The End ~

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Protector, Part 5

Author’s Note: Okay, I’m seriously hooked on writing and sharing serialized short stories, but I depend on YOU to give me feedback. So, please comment! To read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, scroll down to OLDER POSTS and click on that.

On Sunday mornings, I pick up Poppy, and we go to breakfast. Often he chooses Cracker Barrel, but this particular Sunday, he wanted to see what I’d done to the house, so we found a space at Harry and the Natives.

“This here place has been around since I can remember,” said my grandfather. “I remember it when they opened, back in 1941. It was a motel. They cut the tidewater pecky cypress locally. The kids pumped gas, the wife served food, and then the turnpike opened, diverting traffic away from US 1. I remember the impact it had on all the local businesses. This one included.”

We took a table in the back. I love looking over the Old Florida memorabilia. Signs are hung all over the place, featuring such witticisms as, “If we’re closed, just shove the money under the door.”

After we placed our orders, I told Poppy about Jodi’s visit. It’s the type of information that usually causes my grandfather to have a temper tantrum, but I knew he was too hungry to get up and stomp out without eating. Still, he did a lot of grumbling at this coffee mug. “Dag-nabbit. She got no right pestering you. I done already give her money.”

“You did?” The words spilled out before I could stop myself. “It’s none of my business, Poppy. I told her I was renting, which is true. I just figured I’d give you a heads up, in case she drops by your house to complain.”

“She already did.”

I gasped so loudly the man at the next table asked, “Are you all right?” I assured our neighbor that I was. “I guess I should have called you sooner.”

“Don’t matter. I gave her an earful. She don’t have no reason to pout. We done our best for her. Your mama was too young. Your daddy wasn’t sure he wanted to settle down. I’ve kept tabs on Jodi since she was given up for adoption. I knew the Wirekas. They were God-fearing, lovely people. They done their best by her. I don’t know why or how she got so all-fired grabby. Wanting everything and being jealous of you. But she don’t have no call to give me lip. Or you. If she comes back by, report her to the Jupiter Island Department of Public Safety. They’ll escort her off the island. And if you want to, you can tell them to have her arrested the minute she sets foot on that property. Or I will. I don’t mind doing it one bit. I’m tired of being bullied by that little gal.”

Our food arrived. I had ordered the Surfer Girl. Poppy had waffles. We dug in, and I considered the matter closed. I didn’t want him to call the police and have Jodi arrested. The more I ate, the more I decided that would be a very, very bad idea. Anything I did to inflame the situation could harm the people I love. Jodi doesn’t seem to care who she hurts. That’s a big difference between us.

The next week rolled by. We were busy getting the store ready for Mother’s Day. Of course, it made me sad because it would be my second Mother’s Day without my mother, and my first with Tommy away at school. But I concentrated on getting the shelves of The Treasure Chest full of fun items that any mother would like. One particularly cute gift idea was a wreath made of flip-flops. Skye had seen one on Pinterest. We’re always picking up stray flip-flops from the beach, so we added a few cheap pairs to the ones we’d collected, glued on silk flowers, added ribbon, false gems and wow. Totally cute!

I was pretty excited about Mother’s Day. I figured we’d do a ton of business, and we did. I was on my feet for eight hours. By the time I parked my Camry in my garage at home, I was nearly dead on my feet. I had a ton of paperwork to finish up before I knew whether we’d hit our sales targets or not. First I carried Jack into the house, then I fed Luna, and I was heading back to my car for the tote bag full of receipts and the detail tape when I heard the gravel crunch in my driveway.

And then I saw Jodi.

~ To Be Continued ~ 

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Protector, Part 3

A few days later, I was scrubbing down the windows when another car pulled up. This one brought a smile to my face. Jay Boehner jumped out and gave me a hug. Jack pranced around on his two hind legs until Jay reached down and patted him on the head.

“MJ said you were slaving away. I thought I’d drop by with food. I know you like coconut shrimp.”

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I’d add that it’s also a way to get any healthy woman’s attention, too.

“MJ was right. These windows haven’t been washed in months. Maybe even a year. I have no idea how I’ll get the tall one over the second bedroom.” I pointed to the octagonal window that serves as a beacon at night when I turn on the light in the hallway to the second floor studio.

“I can do that for you. But first, let’s eat. I brought iced tea. Let me get that out of the car.”

Before I could grab his collar, Jack jumped into the white Mercedes sedan. His tiny wet feet left damp marks on the leather. “Oh, no! Let me grab a towel! I’m so sorry. I’ve got one in the garage.”

But when I found the towel on a shelf, I heard a skittering noise. “Jay? Would you come here?”

“What’s up?” he asked.

“There’s something in my garage. Something alive.”

We stood there and listened. The scraping noise began again. Jay followed the sound around my parked Camry. Squatting down, he peered under a set of metal storage shelves. “It’s a blue land crab. He must have found his way inside while you were working with the garage door open. Want me to get him out?”

I laughed. “No. He’s welcome to make this his home. Especially now that I know he’s here. The noise just startled me.”

But Jack wasn’t convinced. He had followed Jay to the shelves. Now he began to bark at the crab, but he couldn’t get to the shelled creature, so I didn’t worry about the dog or the crustacean.

Jay and I both laughed. He said, “Such a big bark for such a small fellow. Honestly, Cara, I’d feel better about you living here alone if you owned a bigger dog. Have you thought about getting a companion for Jack? Something bigger? More fearsome?”

Actually, I’d thought a lot about that, but I felt disloyal when I did. Jack only weighs two pounds when he’s soaking wet, but you’d never know that to hear him carry on. “Yes, I have. Then I remind myself that Jupiter Island has more police per capita than any city in the US. This place is covered with security cameras, too. I’m safer here than I was in downtown Stuart.”

Jay shook his head. “That assumes you get to a phone and make a call. I’m talking about a protector to run off anyone who intrudes on your privacy. Could be an unwanted neighbor. Or someone wandering down from the public beach.”

“Let’s sit under the sea grapes,” I suggested, as I nodded toward the winding trunks and large fan-like leaves that formed a cool bower on the seaside of my house. I’d set up inexpensive plastic chairs and a cheap table so I could picnic out-of-doors. One day I would buy nice furnishings, but for now, these would do.

“I heard you’ve already had an unwelcome visitor,” said Jay. His eyes crinkled at the corners. As a young man, he spent a lot of time on the water, so he has this sort of perma-tan that adds character to his craggy features. MJ thinks he looks like Harrison Ford, only younger. But not by a lot. Jay has a good ten years on me. Maybe fifteen. I can’t be bothered to ask.

“My sister Jodi dropped by to say that I’d stolen this property from her.”

~ To Be Continued ~ 

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Protector, Part 2

Author’s Note: Okay, I’m seriously hooked on writing and sharing serialized short stories, but I depend on YOU to give me feedback. So, please comment! To read Part 1, scroll down to OLDER POSTS and click on that.

“That sounds suspiciously like a threat,” said my friend Skye Blue. She twisted a strand of her dishwater blond hair around a finger. Skye was dressed to go across the street and work at Pumpernickel’s, a deli. The stark white blouse and black slacks seemed odd on a person who loves gauzy skirts, loose knit tops, and boots.

“It doesn’t just sound like a threat,” said my other pal, MJ Austin. Today MJ wore a turquoise dress that emphasized her decollete. Matching earrings picked up the color, and a bracelet of the same gave the outfit extra points for style. “It was a threat. Cara, you need to talk to the Jupiter Island police. She can’t get away with this.”

I shrugged. “That would only encourage her. Jodi would know she’s gotten under my skin. Besides, she hasn’t done anything. I didn’t even let her into the house.”

“But you’ve been working so hard on that place.” Honora McAfee is my oldest employee, and a dear nurturing soul. She plucked at her seersucker dress nervously. “What if she decides to splash it with paint. Or take a can of spray paint and write graffiti on the walls. She’s done as much to the windows out front.”

My friends knew I’d moved in when the cottage was a mess. Our newest hire, Jillian, was working with me to We sat around the small table in the back where we take our breaks. Since I love to cook, I’d baked a batch of biscotti for us to have with our coffee and tea. Bits of almond cookie were floating in my hot drink. “I need to talk with Poppy. If he’s giving the property to me, and nothing to her, she’s right. It’s not fair.”

I could see Skye and MJ’s jaws drop. Honora even sputtered and said, “That’s not true. She’s inherited money from her adoptive parents. And her adoptive grandparents. I know that because the Wirekas were friends of friends. From what I’ve heard, they were rather successful in their own right. Furthermore, they probably had life insurance and savings.”

“She can’t have it both ways,” agreed Skye. “She can’t collect whatever the Wirekas left her and also claim whatever your parents and Poppy want you to have, too.”

They had a point. “I swear, she gets me so rattled that I don’t think straight. Each time she shows up, I feel guilty. Logically, it makes no sense. I had nothing to do with the decisions our parents made. I would do anything I could to welcome her into my life. I’ve steered clear of Cooper. I’ve apologized. I didn’t even call the police when she vandalized the store.”

MJ set down her coffee mug so hard that the brown liquid sloshed over the rim. “That’s the problem, Cara. As long as you feel guilty, as you roll over and bare your jugular vein, she’s going to come after you. It’s like two dogs when they meet. When one of them acts submissive, the other takes the dominant role. You’ve shown her that you won’t fight. She knows she has you cowering. Honestly, what do you expect? Open arms and roses?”

“When are they getting married?” Skye had hopped up to grab a paper towel and sop up the mess in front of MJ. Because Skye works as a waitress, she’s fast on her feet like that. “Maybe when they do, and she’s Mrs. Cooper Rivers, she’ll ease up on you. Right now, she’s bound to feel insecure.”

I shook my head. “That’s part of the problem, I think. I ran into Philomena Humberger at Publix. She told me that Cooper and Jodi’s wedding has been postponed again. I guess everyone in town knows he’s dragging his feet.”

“Oh, my. She’s probably blaming you for that,” said Honora.

I nodded. “I think so.”

~ To Be Continued ~ 

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Protector, Part 1

Author’s Note: Okay, I’m serious hooked on writing and sharing serialized short story. This one will be done by Saturday, so I hope you’ll stick with me and give me feedback as I go along.

The minute I looked across the crowd and noticed my sister, Jodi, staring at me, I realized she’d make trouble for me. Not then. Not in front of all those people who’d gathered to help landscape Martin Gardens. Not while her fiance Cooper Rivers was looking on. But eventually. She’d find a way to punish me for being involved in a project that brought me in contact with Cooper. She’d make me suffer. That’s how she rolls.

My heart hurts a little each time I see her. Only recently have I learned that my parents gave their first child up for adoption. All my life I’ve wanted a sister. While I was wishing for one, Jodi was planning her revenge on me.

I can understand her anger. Her adoptive parents told her early on that she was adopted. They explained that her biological parents loved her very much, but they were young and not married, so they did what they thought was best for her. Jodi might have accepted that explanation, but she decided to search for her biological parents, and when she did, she discovered that they were happily married, successful, and the parents of a second child, me. Next she tracked down my grandfather, Dick Potter.

Poppy has been coy about the details of his relationship with Jodi. He’s provided for her in his will. They’ve met. But she isn’t a part of his life.

I wouldn’t have been a part of HER life either, except that I took a road trip and landed on Poppy’s doorstep in Stuart, Florida, when my car broke down. And that’s how I reconnected with Cooper Rivers, my first boyfriend and Jodi’s soon-to-be-husband, only to find that he was engaged to marry–and his intended was my long lost sister.

Sure enough, five days after the big community event at Martin Gardens, I heard a car crunch gravel in my drive. Jack, my rescue Chihuahua, thinks he’s a pit bull. Ever since I moved into this tiny cottage on Jupiter Island, Jack’s taken on a new personality. He’s my protector. When someone arrives, he barks his tiny head off, and he doesn’t stop until I go and see what’s up. Usually, the sound of tires on the drive signals the arrival of the public works guys, picking up my recycling or my garbage. Since I was folding clothes, I planned to ignore Jack’s antics.

But he didn’t quit. The vehicle didn’t drive off, and soon I heard a tap-tap-tap on my door. I was watching Jack as I opened it, because he’s small and has a tendency to get underfoot. Coming face-to-face with Jodi was a surprise, to put it mildly.

“First you steal my parents. Now you steal my property,” she said. Her dark eyes flashed with anger. As usual, she was dressed to the nines. On her feet were gold kitten-heel sandals that picked up the highlights in her auburn hair. The dress she’d chosen was A-line embellished with stones and shells around the neck. She looked gorgeous.

By contrast, I wore a pair of my son’s cut off jeans and an old tee shirt of  his. I love wearing Tommy’s cast-off clothes. They make me feel close to him while he’s off at college in Miami.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said. I didn’t unlatch the screen door. I don’t trust Jodi. She’s unpredictable at the best and malicious at the worst.

“Our grandfather gave you a piece of beachfront property on Jupiter Island, and you have the nerve to act like you didn’t notice that I should get half of it? How dumb are you, Cara?” She crossed her arms over her chest and drummed her perfectly painted coral nails on a tanned arm.

I sighed. “He didn’t give me this house. I’m renting it from him.”

“Right,” she said. “You’re a liar. Just like our parents were.”

“Anything else?” Her accusations made me weary. “Look, Jodi, why don’t stop this? We’re sisters. I’m not responsible for what our parents did. We live in the same town. Can’t we play nicely with each other?”

Her smirk was nasty. “Play nicely? Oh, Cara, darling, I’ve only begun to play with you. Wait and see. Wait and see.”

~ To Be Continued ~

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Epilogue

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.

A month after the community had pulled together to landscape Martin Gardens, I received an invitation in the mail to come to a special dedication ceremony. Skye, MJ, Honora, EveLynn, Poppy, and Sid told me they’d gotten similar notes. And so, on a Sunday afternoon, we gathered in the atrium of Martin Gardens. As I looked around, I saw many faces I recognized from our long day of work. Cooper Rivers came over and pecked me on the cheek, despite the dirty look from my sister, Jodi. Detective Lou Murray was there with his big boss, the Chief of Police, Aaron Reiss. Promptly at two, Greta approached the microphone.

“Words cannot express how much you’ve done for all our residents. As you’ll see, the grounds are fantastic, and in a minute, I’ll invite you to stroll outside and enjoy them. But first, I want to introduce a man I’m very proud of, my son Freddie,” and with that, she stepped away from the podium.

Freddy looked fantastic in his blue tie and navy suit. Although sometimes it was hard to understand him, he spoke with a great deal of confidence. “My mom has always told me that love is the most important super-power any hero can have. She is my super-hero, so I believe that must be true. When I come to visit her here, I see other people who are struggling. I struggle sometimes. But when we struggle with friends, all of us do better than when we are alone. The day we worked outside I made a new friend, James Boehner.”

As Freddy gave the CEO a hug, the crowd began to clap, but Jay used his hands to signal for quiet. “I was younger than Freddy when my grandmother came to live with us. My father’s mother had always been an active woman who enjoyed playing canasta, going to church, singing in the choir, and knitting. But after she took a tumble, it was decided that she shouldn’t live alone. My two sisters and I did all we could to make Mimi welcome, but she was angry and bitter. Mostly she took it out on my mother, in secret ways so that my father didn’t know. Mimi also sowed the seeds of distrust between my parents. In two short years, she managed to turn our happy home upside down. My sisters and I no longer felt comfortable bringing home our friends. My mother and father quarreled bitterly. Mimi complained of various ailments. Looking back, I can see how frustrated she was with all she’d lost, but at the time, all I could do was watch my parents’ marriage dissolve. I vowed that one day I would find a place where people like Mimi could live and enjoy their lives once more. That’s how I came to start the Boehner Group.”

By now, most people’s mouths were open, as I know mine was. I never expected to hear anything so personal or so heartfelt. Skye reached over and grabbed my hand. I grabbed Honora, and so on until we were a united front.

“Greta Morgan understands what I’ve been trying to achieve. She took initiative and risks–and when a woman named Helen Berger reached out to her friends, they responded by reaching out to all of you. Even though Helen is no longer with us physically, she’ll always be here in spirit. With that in mind, I dedicate this garden to Helen Berger. And I’ve erected a panel that I ask all of you to sign. We’ll frame it once you’ve finished so it’s a permanent part of this residence, a reminder to all of what love can do.”

Thank goodness they served lots of punch, because I must have wept a gallon. The lump in my throat was impossible to swallow. As we wandered outside, my jaw dropped for the second time that afternoon. Yes, most of the landscaping was exactly as we’d left it, but there had been additions. Notably, the flight cages were filled with small parrots who chirped and called. A large tortoise had been added, and he crawled around happily munching the greens put out for him. By the gardens was a rabbit cage. Two of the seniors who lived at Martin Gardens introduced us to Hip and Hop. Painted on the crossbeam of the gazebo was Helen Berger’s name, with a framed photo of Helen in her younger days.

While Skye and Lou wandered off to see how the garden was doing, MJ waved to Pete, her friend, the veterinarian. He came over and asked, “How is Kookie doing?”

“MJ didn’t tell you?” I looked from her to him.

“I’ve been afraid to ask. I heard about her owner dying. When I saw that cockatoo, it was almost on its last legs,” said Pete. “So go ahead, I’m ready to hear what happened next.”

I smiled. “Jay came up with an idea. He had recorded Helen talking to Kookie. He gave the recording and Helen’s favorite sweater to Skye. She wore the sweater and played the recording, endlessly. We all took turns feeding him figs, grapes, and peanuts. It took a long time, but Kookie made it. He’s back at my store right now. Sitting on his perch.”

“Did I hear my name taken in vain?” Jay appeared at my elbow. “Were you talking about Kookie?”

Pete grinned. “That’s wonderful news.”

 MJ winked at me, and I blushed. The other news was that Jay and I were dating.

Yes, I had a lot of reasons to be glad that Helen Berger had come into my life.

~ The End ~

A Note from Joanna: Thanks so much for taking this journey with me. If you’ve enjoyed it, let me know. I’ll decide whether and how to do it again with another serialized piece of work!


Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Conclusion (Part 18)

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.



Two days after the community had pulled together to landscape the grounds of Martin Gardens, my cell phone rang. 
“It’s Helen. She’s not going to make it through the day,” said Greta in a voice thick with emotion. “I’ve already called Honora.”
After asking MJ to watch the store, Skye and I drove to the assisted living facility. EveLynn and Honora pulled up as we were leaving my car. Together the four of us walked into the place, spoke to the receptionist, and headed toward Helen’s room. The door was slightly ajar when we arrived. Feeling a bit like an unofficial leader of an expedition, I tapped and walked in.
Kookie was sitting on his perch in a corner. He was totally still. If I hadn’t known better, I would have taken him for a stuffed bird rather than a live one.
A male form was sitting next to Helen’s bed, holding her hand and speaking to her softly. He lifted his head at our approach. Jay Boehner’s damp eyes followed our progress as we all filed in. Helen gasped and shuddered. He said to all of us and none of us in particular, “That irregular breathing pattern you’ll hear is Cheyne-Stokes. It’s normal when someone is approaching the last moments of life.”
We pulled up chairs and sat around the bed. Greta joined us. Her eyes were red. “I checked. Helen has no family.”
“That’s not true,” said Skye. “She has us.”
“It’s all right to let go. Follow the light,” said Jay, as he patted Helen’s hand. Soon, she heeded his suggestion. The silences between each breath had become longer and longer, so that when she took the last one, it didn’t dawn on me that she’d left us. Not for a while.
Helen, who had come so suddenly into our lives, slipped away so peacefully that we scarcely noticed she was gone.
I thought I’d be more upset, but I wasn’t. Not really. I felt like I’d seen something through to its natural conclusion. As Jay arranged Helen’s hands over her chest, I got up and walked to the window. The plants had begun to take root. The sprinkler system turned on, leaving rainbows in the path of the water. The flight cages waited for new birds to come and bring life to the garden. I could almost hear the gurgle of the fountain. Closing my eyes, I imagined the koi that would soon take up residence. On my lips, I tasted a fig from the new fig trees. If not for Helen, I would be looking at a sea of mud. If not for Helen, I would not have met Greta, Freddie, and Jay Boehner. If not for Helen, I would have missed out on watching our community pull together.
So while I would always regret her passing, how could I be sad? Helen had brought me gifts I’d never known I was missing! Her presence had been full of a blessed spirit. And although she, physically, was gone from us, that spirit lingered. And yes, we cried, but we felt her good wishes, the way you do when you stand on a train platform and wave goodbye to a fellow traveler. Helen had gone on ahead. That was all. Where she went, we soon would follow. I had to believe we would meet again. And until we did, I would hold her memory close. I would guard it and find it precious. Helen had come into our lives, asking a favor, not for herself, but for someone she loved, Kookie. But Helen had granted all of us a bigger boon, because she’d given us an experience that warmed our hearts and reminded all of us that we are only temporary. This is fleeting. But the good we can do will linger, even after we are gone.
And that brought a smile to my face.
~ On Monday, I’ll write an epilogue. Until then, have a wonderful Mother’s Day. And if your mother has passed, remember: She’s just gone on ahead. That’s all. You’ll catch up with her, someday.

Your friend — j

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 17

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.


Before he took off, Salazar made one last attempt to save his bacon. “Mr. Boehner, I was only trying to–“

“To squash the human spirit? To make sure that a woman who took initiative was punished for her ingenuity? For her concern for our customers? Or maybe you were trying to set up your nephew in Ms. Morgan’s job? Whatever you were trying to do, I’m not interested in you doing it on my dime. Now please leave, Jose. I don’t want to have to tell you again.” With that, Jay Boehner put a hand on Freddie’s shoulder and asked, “Are you ready to get back to fixing that palm tree? We have a lot more to do before the sun goes down.”

At five, a food truck showed up. It was white with lettering that announced, “TACOS,” and a zesty, colorful image on one side that beckoned our hungry crew. Later I would learn that Boehner had mysteriously located the owner and asked him to come and serve all the volunteers dinner. Mr. Boehner picked up the tag, but we didn’t know that until we got ready to pay. The fragrant mixture of cumin, peppers, and onions made my mouth water. The tacos and burritos proved themselves as good as their smell had promised. Greta and Freddie made a drinks run and came back with cold cans of soda, lemonade, and bottles of water.

When the sun finally started sinking around seven-thirty, there wasn’t much left to finish. Where once mud stretched on and on, the residents now looked out at a gazebo. In the far right hand corner sat tiny marked rows of a vegetable garden. Fig trees formed a backdrop, as did a few lime, lemon, and orange trees. To the left trickled a water feature that emptied into a shallow basin. If you traced a triangle around the gazebo, you could pinpoint the locations of three huge bird cages. Flight cages, I think they’re called. Kookie’s cage was snuggled up against the window of Helen’s room. Once or twice during the long work day, I saw a pale face rise and stare out at us, as Helen took notice of our efforts. Kookie had been surprisingly quiet throughout the hustle and bustle. Skye went to his cage several times, offering him grapes and tidbits. He took them and promptly dropped them to the floor of his home.

I had to hand it to Cooper, because he’d worked with his landscaping buddies to insure that the majority of the plants were heat, fungus, white fly,and mold resistant. Although a sprinkler system had been installed, most of the plants would be fine without help once they’d put down roots. Cooper had also worked with his people to keep the walkways accessible for those whose mobility was impaired. He’d thoughtfully installed lights along the edges so the space could be enjoyed in the evening.

Our customers had played their part, too. Because Sid had checked with Cooper early on, we’d asked that they bring plants that would flourish such as penta, periwinkles, hibiscus, Mexican heather, and bougainvillea. While I’d given out a healthy number of discount vouchers, I figured that I’d break even because a lot of people were introduced to my store because of our good works. 

James “Jay” Boehner walked up to people, shook their hands, and personally thanked them for their help. He was deep in conversation with Cooper when my employees and I decided we’d had enough for one day. I went to find Greta to tell her we were leaving. She was ready to go home, too. The assistant administrator promised to make sure the grounds were vacated, and all the volunteers were thanked and sent home. Since he’d come in at three, he was still energetic. Greta looked as exhausted as I felt. 

Freddie had proved himself to be a charming young man. He was lavish with his affection for his mother. By the time we were ready to call it a day, he’d worked his backside off–as had we all. “I’m going to drive him back to his residence,” said Greta, giving me a hug. “I can’t thank you and your friends enough for all you’ve done. I’d like to have a public open house next month so I can properly honor you and all the volunteers. Will you promise to attend?”

“Of course. But we want you and Freddie to stand over here, please.” After I arranged them next to us and grabbed a passer-by, we all posed for a photo. Once the mother and son left, MJ, Skye, Poppy, Sid, Honora, EveLynn, and I posed for a selfie that I planned to add to our website. I was sending the picture to my email account when Greta came trotting back. “I forgot to tell you that Helen seems better. It can’t possibly last, but I think her spirits were much cheered by the activity.”

While I was grateful to hear the good news, I was so tired I could barely stand up. So I gave Greta another filthy hug. My friends and I fairly wobbled to our cars. 


~ To Be Continued ~

Well, dear hearts. We’re almost done. But wait…I know you want to hear what happens next. And I want to know too, so there’s ONE more installment. I’m saving it for Mother’s Day! Hugs and kisses– j

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 16

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.
 
When Salazar lit into Greta, her son Freddie was working alongside a tall man wearing a baseball cap. At the sound of Salazar’s ranting, both men froze. They’d been hammering wooden supports to a palm tree. In their statue-like positions, they could have been images from one of those Old Florida postcards. Freddie reacted first, setting down his hammer carefully and coming to Greta’s aid.
 
“Furthermore,” said Salazar, turning to jab that fat little finger at Freddie. “See this? I don’t know where he wandered in from, but he should never have been allowed on these grounds. You’ve endangered our entire organization by encouraging this handicapped man to work in a dangerous environment. He could have had an accident and sued us! Not only are you fired, but I’ll make sure you never get a job in the assisted living community ever again.”
 
The man who’d been working alongside Freddie stepped quietly to the side of the young man. Freddie’s face was very round, guileless, but his eyes proved the threats weren’t lost on him. “Ma? I can go. I can call a resident advisor and get a ride.”
 
I put an arm around Greta. She trembled against me. “Mr. Salazar? Please…if you look at the plans, we’ve kept to them. There have been minor modifications, but those were because we were able to make small improvements–“
 
“You aren’t qualified to make those judgments. You know nothing of architecture or of landscaping. Undoing the harm you’ve done here will cost this company thousands upon thousands of dollars,” he started, but this time he was interrupted by Cooper Rivers, my old boyfriend.
 
“That’s patently wrong. I am a registered architect. I personally have supervised this work. There’s nothing here that wouldn’t be considered within an appropriate–” But Cooper didn’t get to finish, because Salazar got up in his face.
 
“See that? That bird cage? And that one? You added those. Birds carry disease. They are a liability issue. We cannot put our residents in danger like that. And the so-called water feature? It’s an attractive nuisance. That’s means it might look good but it could potentially endanger our clients. No, you can’t buffalo me. I’m here to represent the Boehner Group, and this is on my watch. I’m telling you that I want every bit of this scrapped, immediately. And I want the name of each and every volunteer, because I’m sure our corporate counsel will–“
 
This time it was Salazar who was interrupted. The tall man in the baseball cap tapped Greta’s furious boss on the shoulder. “Jose?”
 
Salazar whirled around. His jaw dropped. “Uh, Jay, what are you..?”
 
The other man nodded.
 
“I’ve got this under control,” said Salazar. “This woman has exceeded her authority. I’m having all this cleared out.”
 
“No,” said Jay in a quiet voice. “No, you don’t have this under control. And yes, she did exceed her authority, but she didn’t exceed her mandate. I’m relieving you of your duties, immediately. I’ll have our corporate attorney discuss your severance package with you. Please go.”
 
Salazar sputtered. “You don’t understand.”
 
“That’s where you’ve got it all wrong. I do understand. I understand entirely. Now I suggest you leave before I have you thrown off my property.” Suddenly the gray eyes that had been shielded by the baseball cap turned cold. Boehner had a nicely chiseled face and broad shoulders. His stance changed, and I had the impression he was ex-military. And he was definitely not happy.
 
After Salazar stormed off, Greta wiped her eyes and turned toward the man who’d come to her rescue. “Sir? I’m Greta Morgan.”
 
“And I’m James Boehner,” he said, shaking with her offered hand solemnly. “CEO of the Boehner Group. Allow me to introduce my good friend, Freddie. Who is an incredibly hard worker. He’s been telling me how much his mother loves her job and her new chums here at Martin Gardens. That’s the word he used, chums. Seems he loves watching Call the Midwife. I do, too.”
 
“Then, you’re the man who owns this place?” I wanted to be sure I understood what was happening. “And you’ve been working here all day, haven’t you? You showed up with donuts at eight.”
 
His chuckle was melodic. “My dad was a great believer in the power of a well-timed bribe. Unfortunately, I miscalculated the number of people I’d be feeding. Now let’s get back to work, shall we?”
 
~ To Be Continued ~
 
Yes, I know this is hard to read because you have to scroll through other posts. Trust me, I’m going to see what I can do about it. But thank you for taking this journey with me. I wasn’t sure how to write this scene–and then I woke up this morning and it popped into my head. Sometimes writing is like that. It’s this awesome sort of magic. You do your bit, you let it go, and then the best parts are sent to you via e-mail of the brain! Lots of love– j