I jerked awake, arms and legs tangled in the sheet and comforter, my pillows in a heap on the floor. What happened? What did he say?
Where am I? Oh no, not again. Not another nightmare, another shadow on my day.
If I were wearing a red-bordered name tag, it would read, “Hello! My name is Charlotte Angstrom Eddy McAntic.” At school, I enrolled with my given name, but I changed it to Charli when I was a preteen. Now I answered to hon, Mom, Auntie, “Where are you?” or “Help!”
When I was a teenager, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, my friends and I were convinced that we wouldn’t live, or didn’t want to live, past the age of thirty. But of course I did survive to cross that infamous, untrustworthy threshold. I spent my thirties, forties, and even my fifties in peace and harmony aligning marriage, mortgage, careers, and children.
I married Pud, a no-nonsense, hardworking, establishment-type guy. Somewhat surprisingly, based on his serious, no-frills demeanor, he parlayed a math degree into an exciting career supporting open-wheel auto racing. I started out as a free spirit, and I ended up taking the more traditional route. I earned a law degree, focused on contracts, and then dedicated myself to my favorite jobs—wife and mother. Our two boys were young adults now, almost launched, although still within the orbit of Planet Home.
Thanks to love, the stars, and a little help from my friends, the seasons gently went round and round.
So why was I having bad dreams?
I aimed to be joyful. Most of my screen names and usernames contained some form of the word joy to remind me every day to be a positive person. I believed that something wonderful was always around the next corner. From a first grader who daydreamed during reading circle and then discovered an exciting game on the playground to a shy teen who bought an ice-cream cone and then flirted for the first time with the guy behind the counter, I always knew that something thrilling would be around the next turn.
But now, my husband was newly retired, and some of my home responsibilities had eased up, as well. Yet my personal positivity was challenged. Was there really something amazing ahead for us at this point in our lives? I didn’t even know how many miles or corners remained for us, let alone thrills.
Pud and I had been in harness for over thirty years, creating a home, raising a family, being responsible. After all that, I had to admit that I was bewildered by the way Pud and I were getting along now. Not only was Pud leaving me and heading to the golf course morning, afternoon, and early evening; even when he was at home, he was quiet and withdrawn. We didn’t talk very much, and I didn’t feel close to him. When he was away at the golf course, I was lonely. When he was home, I was even lonelier.
We seemed to be at a distance from each other. We were like people passing each other on a walk, smiling politely and saying nothing beyond “Hi” or like acquaintances waving across a busy restaurant. We were cordial but not close—and certainly not husband-and-wife close anymore.
Who was this stranger in my house? I suppose when Pud worked and I was more involved with my home and children, we had grown used to going our different ways. Pud traveled so much for his job that we literally were physically apart for much of the time. Had we also separated emotionally through the years?
I had high hopes that when Pud retired, we would have fun together. But what exactly should we do? Just take it easy and binge watch multiple TV seasons? Or have contests to see who could read the smallest print without reading glasses, or who could count his or her pills into the plastic compartments faster?
I didn’t seriously expect that we would spend dreamy hours of bliss in twin hot tubs sighing at the ocean view like in the TV commercials, but I did crave some romance now that we had time together after the busy years. I yearned to hold hands as we smiled and looked deeply into each other’s eyes. I desired to lovingly stroll together into our golden years. Pud was strolling, all right—hand in hand with a golf club.
Part of me understood that the guy had worked hard his whole life and certainly deserved the opportunity to indulge his golf passion, and I could even go so far as to say that I was glad he had something interesting to do and wasn’t just hanging around the house with the retirement blues. Truth be told, we lived on a golf course, so I had to expect some golf. But the other part of me wasn’t expecting golf to be a new forty-hour-a-week job.
The men’s league was on Tuesday; Wednesday was a men’s group at another course in town; Thursday, Pud and his buddies traveled to different courses around the state; and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were mandatory golf days. What about me? What was I supposed to do? Sit on a bench at the clubhouse and wave as he made the turn?
Some of our friends assumed that I golfed and that I enjoyed golfing with Pud. Wrong on both counts. We attempted to hit the links together early in our marriage, but I was too much of a type A personality and competitive. Pud was just as type A as I was, and when I had trouble learning the game, he became an impatient teacher. I was his frustrated student. Pud was a scratch golfer and relished the competition with his male buddies. I gave up and decided that I had better things to do than spend four hours on a Saturday afternoon on a good walk spoiled.
It was time for me to get up, but the dream had left my thoughts swirling and careening like an out-of-control carousel. Carousel? Oh, that was part of my bad dream too. There was something about clowns leaning from carnival horses and waving signs as they went round and round. What had the signs said? Pud, stay home! You can’t make him stay home! What should I do? I needed to catch the brass ring of blissful married retirement. Charlotte! You need to stop tormenting yourself. Take a deep breath, and think calmly.
Jena C. Henry is a writer, blogger, book reviewer, and bon vivant. Her goal is to make friends with everyone in the world. Jena enjoys reading new books and encouraging writers to be their best. Jena C. Henry holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Akron and practiced law and raised her family in tropical Ohio. Now retired, she writes novels, conducts writing workshops and enjoys good times with friends and family. Her fiction series, The Golden Age of Charli, spotlights the love and laughter of family life and retirement.
Charlotte McAntic spent her thirties, forties, and even fifties in peace and harmony aligning her marriage, mortgage, careers, and children. As she stumbles into a new phase of life—also known as the Golden Years—Charli cannot help but wonder where the gold and her husband, Pud, are hiding.
Pud is happily
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Lars pointed out the direction to the Weston homestead and told her to lead. “I want you to practice drawing, pointing, and aiming your pistol,” Lars said. “Aim at anything that catches your eye. I just want you to practice drawing and cocking your gun, and then lowering the hammer and putting the pistol back into the holster. It will help build your hand muscles and you will get faster and better at shooting. When you get better, and I’m certain you’re not going to shoot me, I’ll let you follow me.” They walked along, Lars watching Eileen as she handled the pistol and also giving additional instructions from time to time. Lars was pleased at how well Eileen was handling the pistol after such a short time. “You’re doing very well,” he said. She looked back and smiled.
The path to the Weston’s place was not nearly as difficult as the route to Reggie’s place, and they made good time. It took about an hour to get to the edge of the clearing where Ronald had built his home. Lars told Eileen to put the gun away and take a position behind him. They then stopped behind a large tree at the edge of the clearing. Lars could not see anyone stirring around the house and gave out a big wolf howl. Seconds later, one, two, and then a third man stepped out of the already open front door to the house. Lars didn’t recognize these men. He just knew Ronald was not among them. The three men looked around for a few seconds and then went back inside.
Lars instructed Eileen to stay where she was and to keep well hidden. He then worked his way to the left of the house. Not seeing anything, he moved closer to the rear of the house. Near the woodshed, Lars could see a body beside the woodpile. It was Ronald. Lars moved back around to the front of the house and took his position behind a large tree stump, which hid most of his body. Lars pulled the hammer back on his rifle and aimed at the front door. He let out another wolf howl. The three men came out again. This time the first two men out the door had their guns ready. Lars aimed at the first man and squeezed the trigger. He quickly reloaded and fired at the second. Both men fell immediately while the third ran back inside the house. Lars hurried back toward the rear of the house and caught the third man running out the back door, heading for the woods. He made it halfway to the tree line before Lars dropped him. Lars ran up with his rifle ready to shoot again, if necessary. It wasn’t. The man was dead, blood oozing out of the hole in the center of his back. Lars hurried back around to the front of the house to check the other men. Lars had been dead on when he shot those two as well. Lars poked the bodies with the end of his rifle. There was no movement.
Lars cautiously peered inside the front door and then walked in―ready to shoot if necessary. The house was silent. There had been only three men, and Lars had taken care of them in short order. He went into the bedroom and found Sara on the bed lying face up, naked with a gunshot wound on her forehead. The pillow under her head was soaked with blood. He moved closer to the body. There was blood between Sara’s legs and she had marks on her arms and face. Bastards! Lars shook his head in disgust and covered Sara with a sheet. He then headed back to the woodshed. Ronald was lying face down in the dirt beside the wood pile. There was blood on the leg of his jeans and two blood spots on the back of his shirt. He still had the ax in his hand. Lars guessed the men had sneaked up on Ronald and shot him in the back. Then they raped and killed Sara.
Lars walked back to where he had left Eileen. She had watched Lars cut two men down in a heartbeat, and she had heard the shot ring out from the back of the house. She was crying when Lars reached her. “We need to call the police,” she said.
“And how do you suppose we do that?” he replied.
“I don’t know, but we need to call someone.” Eileen cried, as he led her to the house.
“That’s not how the world works anymore,” Lars informed her. “There is no law anymore.” Her tears let up as she thought about what Lars said. Eileen was shocked at how a man who could be sweet and gentle could be so cold-blooded. But she knew Lars had done what he had to do.
Lars took Eileen into the bedroom where Sara lay. He pulled the sheet back. He wanted Eileen to see what he had seen. He wanted her to know exactly why he had done what he did to those men. When Eileen saw Sara, she became hysterical. She screamed and her whole body began to tremble. Though she only looked at the body a few seconds and then turned away, Eileen saw the bruises on the arms, legs and neck of the pale and slightly bluish body. She saw the blood and matted hair between her legs. Eileen then understood the trauma Sara had suffered through. Lars grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her toward him. He gave her a big bear hug, but a bear hug was not going to comfort her much now. They just stood there for a while and Eileen finally began to calm down and her trembling lessened. Lars pulled the sheet back over Sara’s body, and then went back outside. Eileen followed, softly crying.
Lars found a shovel and chose a nice spot to bury his friends. He began to dig. As Lars dug the graves, Eileen sat on a stump and thought about what had happened. Sara was such a beautiful woman. That could be me, she thought. Lars is right, there is no law out here to help us. We must help ourselves, and if we fail we will die just like Ronald and Sara.
Eileen got up, drew her pistol and found a target to shoot at. It was only a discolored spot on a nearby tree, but to her it was an attacker. She pulled the hammer back and fired at the spot. She fired again and again until her pistol was empty.
“What the hell are you doing?” Lars demanded.
“I’m killing an intruder,” she replied.
Lars just stood there in his hole looking at Eileen as she reloaded her gun. Again, she fired at the spot on the tree. When her gun was again empty, she walked over to the tree to check on her accuracy. Lars got out of the hole he was digging and walked over to the tree as well.
“Well done,” he stated.
“Thank you,” she replied.
Eileen could see ten holes in the tree, all within the dark area she had chosen as her target.
“What brought this on?” Lars asked.
“I’m not going to end up like Sara,” she replied. “Hell no! That is not going to happen to me.”
Snow flurries filled the grey sky. My arms trembled as I climbed under the rope, strung between Sadie’s saddle horn and Chico’s harness, and plopped into the saddle. It felt good to sit upon Sadie’s firm back. Stuffing my scuffed boots into the stirrups, I tapped my heels lightly to signal my desire to move. Sadie flicked snow from her tall ears and trotted ahead, holding her head high. I prayed the spring snow might melt fast enough for us to see the trail.
Hope faded as the snow fell steadily, first in small gusts of fluffy flakes and then turning into a swirling cloud of dense white. The snow looked dry, filled with air, unlike the sodden wet stuff from my English childhood. The mules’ hooves brushed the fluffy flakes into churning clouds as it thickened across hard ground.
How would I see the trail? “Trust the mules,” Bobby’s voice echoed inside my head, and I had little choice.
Completing another turn around a switchback, we reached a place where the trail split into a sharp fork, veering in two different directions. I pulled back on Sadie’s reins. She stood still while I fumbled through the saddlebag and unfolded Johnny’s map.
As snow covered the flimsy paper, my trembling finger followed the ink up the mountain through a series of zigzag patterns and stopped at a spot, marking a second trail deviating from the one I should follow.
I smiled. We must follow the trail to our left. I peered through the hazy sky, wondering where Lake Como, the next landmark on the map, might be located but knew it didn’t matter now. Before I could shove the valuable document back into my pouch, a gust of wind ripped the paper from my numb fingers. I whimpered, considered chasing the map, and slumped in dejection as it disappeared into the void.
On the side of a dark and desolate Oregon coast road, Thomas James stood by himself hidden in the shadows. Alone and lost in thought, he felt detached. He eventually crumpled to the ground, his legs giving way beneath his large frame. The previous few hours were replaying in his mind like a bad movie. About two hours prior, he got a phone call from the county police. It took him barely five minutes to get to the accident…she was almost home.
Imagine a place where dreams come true and new ones are born. A place where friends laugh, kids smile and new love blossoms. Where walks on foggy ocean beaches or misty woods become memories that will last a lifetime. A place where people and nature peacefully coexist and enjoy the company of one another. A place where lost love can be reborn and lives made simple and perfect. A place where you can get lost in your future and leave the darkness behind. Find that place in Running Northwest.
Set against the unpredictable Pacific Ocean, on the rocky, forested northern coast of Oregon is a story about heartbreaking loss, rebuilding, fate and love. Running Northwest takes the reader on a journey as an unexpected road weaves its way through the life of single father, Thomas James and his 8-year-old son, Daniel. In Michigan, newly single Stephanie Davis is about to begin her own journey down a path she never expected and never even knew existed which will change her life in ways never imagined.
Life can flip in the blink of an eye, but love and passion will find a way to make it right.
Flipping is an award winning romance novel that highlights the power of love to move us forward and the strength of the human spirit to overcome life's challenges.
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JonSun and SuAnn are an unlikely couple. But despite their different social backgrounds, they fall in love. From the start, the odds were against them. SuAnn's family has other plans for her future, but their love cannot be dismissed so easily. Defying everything, the couple gets married in secret and moves to California. Good fortune blesses the couple while flipping houses. Their success marred only by JonSun's sudden need for revenge.
The second story is about Christa and her struggles with her disabilities. At a young age, it was discovered that she was profoundly deaf. A cochlear implant gave her a new perspective and she fell in love with Gymnastics. Flipping in the air made her feel alive, and nothing will stop her from achieving her dream of a gold medal. These two stories intersect when JonSun and SuAnn's son, Wynson, meets Christa. They became good friends for many years, and their friendship turns into something more. But a lot of problems stand in their way. Christa receives devastating news which could be a game changer, and Wynson has to deal with his own troubles at home. The question is whether their love for each other will survive these trials.
What gives this novel depth are the parallel themes running throughout. The characters' struggle with their self-esteem are prevalent throughout the book. This creates a richly layered and more interesting novel as the reader recognizes the threads that weaves the book together.
Did my heart love till now?
Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till tonight.
-Romeo and Juliet
Antony and Cleopatra, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu, John Lennon and Yoko Ono-while we're familiar with all of these people as individuals, we also associate them with the grand, sometimes fiery passion they shared with their partners. And the Rest Is History is an intriguing look at how these iconoclastic lovers first crossed paths, whether it was through fate, setups, or blind luck. From angry sparks flying to love at first sight, the meetings shared in this book give us a look at what makes that one great love.
The old, beat-up Chevy pickup came to an abrupt stop about a foot from the back of Ruby’s prized Jeep. She scowled with disapproval as the driver shoved open the door and dropped to his booted feet before the engine even had a chance to shut off.
"Help you, miss?" he asked, with a slow, deep twang, wiping the dirt from his hands with a handkerchief he’d pulled from his back pocket.
She squinted against the midday sun a little harder now as his voice rang a touch familiar. She watched him for an over-long moment, the mother cat twisting her lithe body around his legs in greeting. Sweat glistened on his tanned, muscular arms as he bent to pick up the kittens that came out to join their mother.
She smiled. There had to be something special about a man who elicited the love of animals. He was at least six foot two, and built like he could lift a hundred pounds straight over his head with no problem at all. A smudge of dried mud followed the line of his strong, stubbled jaw. He could be the most handsome man Ruby had ever seen. Not a sophisticated, city kind of handsome. More a Russell Crowe, gladiator, kind of handsome.
The irritated scowl returned to his face after he put the tiny, tabby kittens down, almost like he’d just remembered he wasn’t pleased about being pulled away from something important. This made him all the more interesting. Part of Ruby was glad she'd been such a bother. The day just became more intriguing.
“They’re adorable. And they seem to like you.” She tried to break the awkward silence.
Curious, soulful green eyes peered out from under his dusty Stetson hat. He gazed first at her well-worn Justin cowboy boots, then slowly up her long legs to the khaki shorts, pausing momentarily at the denim shirt she had tied loosely around her waist, showing just a hint of pale skin. His gaze stopped momentarily at the mess of red-blonde hair she’d pulled away from her face, before he finally met her eyes.
Ruby held her giggle as he finished his perusal, not wanting to make him self-conscious since she’d recognized him. Billy MacCallister. Had to be. My, how he’d grown from the runny-nosed brat who used to follow her around so many years before. He’d been the pain-in-the-butt, kid brother of her best friend.
But, this grown up Billy MacCallister was a whole different creature. Mercy, he’s definitely a full grown man now. Ranch life looks good on him.
"So," Ruby avoided his eyes to keep him at a disadvantage for just a bit longer. She reached down to pet the dogs again, calming them. "How's your sister these days, Billy?"
He stopped wiping the dirt from his jeans and searched to get a better look at her face.
"What's the matter, Billy? Think you're seeing a ghost?" A smile crossed her lips.
"Ruby?" he asked, quietly at first then louder. "Ruby?" This time with unashamed excitement. Billy took two long-legged strides toward her, tilting his hat to get a better look. "Well, look at that, it is you."
Before Ruby had a chance to respond, he lifted her off the step and twirled her around, not caring at all that she now wore half the dirt he once had all over him.
The enticing scent of musk shampoo, salty sweat, and horses swirled around her, drawing her in. How could a man smell that good after working in the mud? It took all her strength to keep from leaning in and making a fool of herself. He smelled like home to her and she had to admit, it felt good to be held.
"Billy, good grief, put me down." She tugged at her shirt to keep it down, embarrassed. The pups jumped up, anxious now to play, as Ruby tried to gain composure. Not an easy task when being twirled around by a handsome cowboy.
"Ruby Lattrell, it’s so good to see you. How the hell are you?” The honest joy in seeing her poured from him. “Oh my God, you look fantastic!" He set her down and brushed the hair away from her face, looking her over now with those same hungry eyes he'd had as a love-struck kid.
She glanced away, self-conscious. When she finally mustered the courage to gaze up at him, she couldn't help but return his infectious smile. There was no worry there, or pretense. The tiny lines around his joy-filled eyes showed only that he knew how to smile. How to laugh. Something she’d forgotten how to do a long time ago.
"Well, that’s certainly more of a welcome than I expected." She stepped back to get some space and a better look at him. He had to be coming up on thirty now. Strapping. Still driving his mom crazy with that unruly chestnut hair tucked behind his ears, no doubt. Same innocent, broad smile that held secrets.
He continued talking and following her every move, anxious to know everything all at once. Where had she been? How had she stayed so perfect? Finally, he realized she hadn’t said a word. He stopped then, smiled that secret smile again, his eyes slowly filling with concern. "Ruby, I'm sorry I'm just going on. How are you? Are you all right? Oh Lord, I'm so sorry about your grandmother."
Ruby flushed when he caught her staring. "Oh, I ah, I'm fine. Thank you, though. I can’t believe she is gone. This place will be really weird without Granny Rube here." She took a step back toward the door, gathering herself, hoping she'd find the key in the usual hiding place so she could make a graceful exit.
"You don't act fine." He caught up with her, supporting her elbow like a real southern gentleman. "Let's get you inside."
Ruby didn't protest. She kind of liked the fuss he made. This was someone she'd known for nearly all her life. It felt good to know he'd missed her.
"Just wait till Claudie finds out you're home. She's going to just die." He reached behind the rusted iron pot for the key and turned it in the lock. "She's not living out here anymore. She's got a place in town. Married a nice city guy who moved here from Arizona, Mike Calloway. They bought old Fike's Market and fixed it up real nice. Doing real well with it. She likes living in town so much better than out here." He kept talking as he closed the door behind them.
The familiar smells of the house hit Ruby first, distracting her from what Billy was saying. Gingerbread cookies, Pledge furniture polish giving off an ever-present hint of lemon.
Ruby stopped in the entry, closed her eyes, and visualized her mother and Granny Rube laughing in the kitchen, handmade aprons tied around their waists, shoving cookies in that old Wedgewood oven, sharing private giggles.
Ruby stood for a long while as she replayed the memories over in her mind, only vaguely aware Billy had gone silent and held a supportive hand at the small of her back.
"Welcome home, Ruby," he whispered, his sweet eyes searching hers.
She didn't know why, but just then she couldn't keep herself from turning and wiping the dust from his cheek, feeling more true compassion from this one understanding look than she'd ever felt before.
"Thanks, Billy." She realized suddenly her eyes filled with tears. "Thanks for making me feel so welcome. I'm glad to be home."
She felt as if she’d stepped back in time. She was just a teenager when she left home almost two decades ago. Nearly everything in the house remained in the same place. The fireplace room still held the same worn velvet couches and mahogany side tables. The faded ivy wallpaper she'd helped Granny hang curled at the corners where moisture and age had gotten to the glue. The heirloom rug passed from her grandfather's family, now worn and fraying around the edges.
The same photos capturing a more innocent time continued to be displayed on the dusty river-rock mantle. Yellowed images of Granny Rube's parents looked too small and frail to have endured such a rough pioneer life. Next to that picture, Ruby saw the photo of her Grandpa Mac, taken only days before he was trampled to death by his prized bull, Heathen.
Ruby picked up the tarnished frame and held it close, realizing only now how handsome a man her grandfather had been, tall and lanky, his deep set eyes full of the devil. Reminded her of her mother.
"Granny used to say it served him right to get taken by the one beast on the ranch that was ornerier than him." Ruby wiped the dust from the frame and replaced it back on the mantle in the exact place it was before. "Momma told me Granny put Heathen down herself with a twelve-gauge shotgun the night he killed Grandpa Mac, but I still don't know if that's true. She had such a flair for the dramatic, it was hard to tell fact from fantasy."
"Your granny was a good woman, Ruby," Billy finally offered, a measure of respect in his voice. "Always remember that. She helped me out more times than I can count."
"I'm just sad I missed so many years with her. All I have are old memories of how things used to be. Silly stuff like, I remember when she calmed Jake and me during those hell-raising thunderstorms, and chased us into the pond when we were driving everyone nuts because we were so bored." Ruby turned away from the photos and took in the room once again. "She always had time for us. I can't believe I let her die alone."
Empty nesters Charli McAntic and her husband, Pud, have settled into their golden years. Although their early days of retirement were filled with disillusion and despair, they are now ready to relax and swing upon a star. Pud continues to golf most days and Charli still organizes her closets and rearranges her collectibles, but now they are a solid team. Or are they?
Charli and Pud are no strangers to the art of creating fun. These days they spend their time sharing gourmet meals with their nieces and nephews, attending Cleveland Cavalier basketball games, and rekindling their romance. But when a series of calamities suddenly rock their world, they each meet a new friend, leaving Charli to worry if she and Pud are heading in the right direction.
In the third book of this delightful series, an empty nester is left to recalculate her path to happiness as she and her husband both discover that their golden years are full of more surprises.
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