The Lighthouse – A Short Story

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In the early hours of a warm August Wednesday, Jane, Joe and Katie merged onto the freeway in their laden down minivan.

“Are you sure you really need ALL this stuff? You’re going to be living in a postage stamp.” Joe inquired of his only daughter, Katie.

“Daaaad, do we really have to go through this again? I promise I packed as light as I could, but I need everything I brought with me.” Katie answered.

“I understand the bedding, computer, a few clothes, and even the fridge, but a microwave? We’re paying an arm and a leg for you to eat in those cafeterias.”

“How else am I supposed to have popcorn for late night study session?” Katie exasperatedly replied.

Joe waved conciliatorily at his daughter and resumed scanning the traffic on the highway as Jane quietly stared out the van window.

Lost in her own thoughts, Jane couldn’t help but feel like the last eighteen years had passed just as quickly as the corn fields were flying by her window now. Wasn’t it just last week that I laid eyes on her for the first time? Or yesterday that I held her hand as we walked across the street for her first day of Kindergarten? I can’t believe I’m about to drop her off at college…

“You’re awfully quiet over there. You okay?” Joe quietly asked Jane.

Wiping away the lone tear that had escaped her eyes, Jane turned to her husband, “I’m fine. Just going through the list of everything we brought, making sure we didn’t miss anything.”

With a smile in his eyes Joe chided, “Well, I think you left the kitchen sink at home, but it may be back there.” Jane playfully slapped his shoulder as they looked at each other and laughed.

“Hey! What’s so funny up there?”

“Nothing you need to worry about. We’re just old and prone to unexpected bouts of lunacy,” said Joe.

With a loud sigh and a shake of her head Katie went back to managing her social media empire.

“Why don’t you put on some music dear? It’s too quiet in here for my taste.”

“Sure Joe, just don’t expect it to be country.”

“What’s wrong with country? You know I love singing along.”
“Exactly. I’d like our daughter to be able to hear her professors.”

Joe shot Jane a reproachful glance, then winked at her as she began to troll through her Spotify playlist finally landing on a road trip classic, Bon Jovi.

“This is even better than country! You give love a bad name…” Joe warbled as his wife covered her ears.

The hours passed by as the music played. Jane even managed to drift off to sleep for a short while. As she slowly regained consciousness at the opening refrains of the Eagles’ Hotel California, Jane found herself suddenly panicked. Nearly jumping out of her seat, Jane began to rummage frantically through her purse. Oh no! I can’t have forgotten it!

Concerned by his wife’s sudden alarm, Joe asked, “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Do I need to pull over?”

Jane continued her search and just as Joe was about to ask again, she found the wrapped package she was looking for. Stopping to take a deep breath as the concern on Joe’s face continued to grow she finally turned to her husband with a smile of relief on her face. “I’m okay. Just thought I had left something important at home, but I found it.”

“And here I thought there was nothing left at our house!”

Ignoring her husband, Jane picked up her book and lost herself in 18th century Scotland for the rest of the drive.

An or so hour later the family found themselves in front of Katie’s new home. After checking in with the RA and meeting her roommate, Joe, Jane and Katie began the arduous task of unloading the van.

The three of them got everything unloaded and put in its place. Jane even made Katie’s bed for her.

“You know this may the only time my bed looks that nice, right?”

“Yes, but I wanted to make sure it got made at least once!” Jane said as the pair fell into a fit of laughter, to which Joe just shook his head. “I don’t know what either of you are going to do without the other one!”

Joe regretted his outburst immediately as the joviality quickly died and the sadness over the impending goodbye descended upon the trio.

“Well, I guess it’s time for us to head back home. Katie, you know I’ll miss you, but I’m proud of you and I love you. You’ve got this!”

“Thanks dad.” Katie gave her dad a huge hug as her tears fell onto his shoulder.

“My turn,” said Jane. “I love you to the moon and back. I’ll see you in a few weeks. Call me anytime,” Jane managed to get out before she lost her voice to the tears she was attempting to hold back.

Joe and Jane headed out the door, but just before Katie could shut it behind them, Jane reached into her purse and gave her daughter the wrapped package and a card. “Open this after we’re gone. Love you!”

Katie hugged her mom one last time and then waved a final goodbye.

As Joe and Jane reached their vehicle, Jane began to quietly weep. Joe embraced her and then ushered her into the van.

“She’ll be alright. I promise.”

“I know she will Joe. I’m just going to miss her. Life at home will never be the same again.

“That’s right! I finally get to have naked time in the living room!” Joe exclaimed as his wife rolled her eyes at him and then chuckled.

Jane wiped her eyes as the pair started their journey home to a new reality.

Katie, still holding the package her mom had given her, wiped away a few tears as she watched her parents pull away. I guess it’s time to find out what this is, Katie thought to herself. Setting down the card that came with it, she carefully unwrapped the package to reveal a ceramic lighthouse. Why would she give me this? She must have finally lost it for good!

Still puzzled, she set the lighthouse down and picked up the card.

To My Mini Me,

I’m sure that you’re wondering why I have given you a lighthouse. I promise I haven’t gone completely mad! 😉 I remember when I left home I was so excited to gain my freedom and live under my own roof that it never occurred to me it might actually be a difficult adjustment. Don’t get me wrong – I relished the freedom (and the lack of chore list), but it wasn’t all I had thought it would be. Without anyone to provide me structure and accountability I sometimes felt like I was a boat adrift at sea on a foggy day. In the especially difficult times my little boat was in danger of grounding itself on a sandbar or being battered to pieces as the waves threw me onto a rocky shoreline. What I needed was a lighthouse to guide me safely back to port. Unfortunately, I never realized that I had one. My mom was waiting at the top of her lighthouse – waiting for me to reach out. Sadly, she waited in vain. I wish I had realized she was there and how much easier she could have made things. I also wish I hadn’t been so determined to succeed on my own that I refused to allow myself to reach out to my mom. In the long run we both suffered.

I didn’t want the same thing to happen to you. I wanted you to know that when, not if, (because the feeling is inevitable) you feel lost at sea, there is help. I will tend my lighthouse and be sure the light is burning bright and the foghorn is blaring. You just have to look up from your troubles long enough to see it. Hopefully this little lighthouse will serve as a reminder that you don’t have to stay adrift. Just look for my light. It will be there.

All my love,

Mom

As Katie set the card back down she could hardly see through the tears in her eyes. Overwhelmed with the emotions of the day she had a good cry. Once she had been through nearly an entire box of tissue, Katie realized it was supper time and that she needed to get down to the dining hall before it was too late. Before she left she cleared a space above her desk that she could see from anywhere in the room and set the lighthouse down in it. Realizing that she already felt a little lost, Katie picked up her phone and dialed Jane’s number.

Ten miles away from the dorm Jane’s phone rang. “Why’s your phone making a foghorn sound?” Joe asked.

“It’s Katie’s new ringtone.”

An Elephant Never Forgets – A Short Story

The sunlight streaming through the windows created shafts of light across the room. Adelaide’s favorite chair was positioned in one of the beams, keeping her warm as she sat reading a novel.

Adelaide quickly became immersed in a far away land and lost all track of time. How lovely it was to explore a world beyond her own four walls. A world filled with adventure, travel and even a little romance. Just as she was about to discover what was on the other side of a mysterious door, a woman tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hello Adelaide. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s alright my dear,” Adelaide replied. “I’ve probably been sitting here too long anyway.”

“How are you doing today?”

“Oh, fine, fine. It’s so nice to see your friendly face though.”

The woman smiled as she sat in an adjoining chair.

“It’s funny you came by today. This book I’m reading reminded me of my daughter and I’d love to tell you about her.”

The woman smiled and leaned into Adelaide as she began to reminisce.

“When my daughter, Cheyenne, was in college I used to love to go visit her. She didn’t go to school very far away so it was easy to make a spur of the moment trip. I’d pack an overnight bag and hit the road.

On one of my visits we decided to go on an adventure. We climbed into her car, cranked up the stereo and took off for parts unknown. There’s nothing better than driving down country roads, singing at the top of your lungs.

Before we knew it, those back roads had taken us into Austin. We explored the city, ending our evening down on 6th Street. We could hear the music wafting through the streets from the bars that line the streets of downtown. We danced and laughed our way down the streets, reveling in the warm spring evening and in each other’s company.

Neither of us was in any hurry to get back to real life, but alas, the call of classes and adulting eventually became too loud to ignore.

Just as we were about to turn the corner and head back to our car, Cheyenne put her hand on my arm. ‘Mom, look over there. I think I know how we should end this adventure!’ I was a little taken aback by what she was suggesting, but my rational side was quickly silenced by my desire to remember this time with Cheyenne forever.

Screwing up all my courage I followed my daughter into the establishment and after an hour we emerged with matching bandages on our ankles. That’s right, we got tattoos!”

Lost in her memory, Adelaide didn’t notice the lone tear that escaped her companion’s eye. The woman quickly wiped it away so as not to upset Adelaide.

Just as Adelaide was ready to continue her story, the two women were approached by a young man.

“Excuse me ladies, but lunch is ready. I’ll walk you to the dining room. Miss Adelaide, would your friend like to join us?”

“I really can’t stay, I’ve got to take care of some things. Raincheck?”

Surprising herself with the tinge of sadness she felt at the prospect of her companion leaving, Adelaide responded, “Of course, honey. You come back to see me anytime you’d like to.”

“I’ll be back soon. I promise.” The woman gave Adelaide a quick hug and hastily turned toward the door just as hot tears formed in her eyes., threatening to spill down her cheeks.

As she began to walk away, Adelaide noticed the elephant peeking out of the woman’s pant leg.

With that brief glimpse of black ink, Adelaide was overwhelmed with love and excitement and cherished memories. “Cheyenne!”

Cheyenne stopped and turned back towards her mother. With tears streaming down both of their faces the two women embraced.

“Oh Cheyenne, I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you sooner. Please stay for lunch.”

Cheyenne did as her mother asked and the two women spent the afternoon together reliving their greatest adventures. As the light began to fade, Cheyenne could push her departure no longer. She bent down to hug her mother and kiss her goodbye, knowing that their time had been precious. Even more so because Alzheimer’s continued to slowly chip away at Adelaide’s memory with each passing day.

As Cheyenne was about to push the door open on the cool evening, Adelaide called out to her daughter one last time.

“Remember Cheyenne, an elephant never forgets.”

Baths & Buns – A Short Story

It had been an adventurous few days for Thelma, Louise and Patty (the Nice One.) There were transatlantic flights; train/tube rides to a hotel in the London suburbs; a few days playing tourist in the city; learning to drive on the wrong side of the road in a rental car; trying to place an order at a Welsh café where the cook spoke no English. Even a visit to Stonehenge.

A few days into their trip, the ladies were a wee bit tired. And perhaps a bit cranky as well, but they were determined to soldier on and enjoy every last minute of their vacation.

Thelma slid their rental car into a slot in front of the Royal Crescent in Bath, England on the unseasonably warm November afternoon.

Once parked, the three set out to explore the town and marvel in the beauty of the old architecture and feeling of history that the town of Bath exudes.

Patty, who had been to Bath before, was anxious to share one of her favorite places in the town with her friends, Sally Lunn’s Eating House. She had been there on a previous trip to England and was anxious to tuck into one of their world famous buns.

Knowing their eventual goal involved food, the three began to walk through the town, enjoying the sites as they strolled through the cobblestone streets.

Bath is an ancient and beautiful city. It’s also one of the only places left in the world where you can see an original Roman Bath. Built in 70 AD, it has been preserved so well that it’s easy to imagine watching the people of that time enjoying a swim in the warm, spring fed pool. At least that’s what Patty told her friends.

“I’m not paying £15 to see dirty bath water!” exclaimed Louise when they saw the prices at the ticket booth.

A little taken aback by her friend’s outburst, but ever the pleasant one, Patty smiled and sweetly replied, “That’s okay, I’ve seen it already.”

Fixing a smile on her face, Patty returned to acting as the trios’ tour guide and headed in the direction of Sally Lunn’s. The thought of a warm bun and hot tea was enough to propel them forward and push through the fractious mood that had settled on the friends.

“It’s right around this corner. Oh I can’ t wait for you to see this place! It’s been so well preserved you can imagine eating there 300 years ago. And the food is amazing. You two will love it!”

Louise and Thelma (who was struggling with a knee that was determined to cause as much difficulty as possible) were heartened by their friend’s enthusiasm. They could almost smell the fresh baked bun and feel its pillowy softness in their mouths.

Patty turned the corner ahead of her friends and stopped dead in her tracks. Louise nearly toppled her over.

“It’s not here! I swear it was right here!” Patty cried out as she looked at the empty lot. “Where could it have gone?”

Patty, dumbfounded by her navigational mistake, nearly burst into tears. She was hot, tired, and stuck with two foul mooded, hungry women after all.

“Well, I don’t think an ancient building can just walk away…” Louise quipped.

“Ummm, where’s the bread?” asked Thelma.

Patty merely stared at her friends. She had no words, but her eyes conveyed her shock and sadness.

“You mean I hobbled all day through this town looking for some chick’s buns and now I don’t get any?” exclaimed Thelma.

That was all it took. It started as Louise giggled at Thelma’s statement. Thelma quickly joined her, much to the chagrin of a frustrated Patty. The giggles turned into guffaws, then the tidal wave of laughter began. Patty, at first annoyed by her friends, finally was unable to hold onto her outrage. She joined her compatriots as they laughed and laughed and laughed.

Finally, as tears streamed down all three faces, Louise turned to the others in her group and suggested, “Maybe we should ask someone where it is?”

And so they did. They eventually found Sally Lunn’s, grabbed a couple of her buns to take on the road with them, then walked back to their car. They left Bath in their rearview mirror as they continued on the pilgrimage to their self-declared motherland, Shrewsbury.

But to this day, if anyone asks them if they’ve been to Bath, England, the response is the same no matter which of the three is queried. “You mean the place with dirty bath water and some chick’s buns?”

The Shopping Trip – A Short Story

Jenna was exhausted that day. It had been a trying week. The stomach flu had left her entire family decimated. The house looked like three tornadoes had run through simultaneously and both Jenna and the dog were in desperate need of baths.

Jenna spent her entire day trying to bring some semblance of order to her household. Even managing to get both herself and the dog a quick shower. Just as it was time to head out the door to pick up her kids, and the kids she watched, from school it dawned on Jenna that she may need to feed her family supper that evening.

Jenna approached her refrigerator with a sense of dread. She knew what she would find. Nothing edible. Her pantry was in the same state. With a sigh of exasperation, Jenna had to admit the awful truth. She needed to go to Costco for provisions. And would have to take her entire afternoon crew with her.

Jenna climbed into her trusy Mom Van and headed out for the first of three schools. At each stop she picked up kids until nearly every available seat in her van was taken. Once they were all loaded into the car, Jenna broke the news.

“Next stop Costco,” Jenna announced. She expected to hear groans and complaints from her myriad passengers. Because really, what kid relishes a trip to the grocery store? However, she heard the exact opposite.

“I love to go to Costco!” Justin shouted from the very back seat.

“Me too!” “Me three!” “Me four!” “Me lastly!”

Instead of the grief she expected, Jenna was shocked to hear each and every one of them express great excitement at the thought of a trip to Costco.

While Jenna was relieved, she was also quite curious. “Why in the world do y’all want to go to Costco with me?”

“Because they give you free food!” exclaimed the youngest, Emma.

Cooper, the bibliophile said, “I like to look at all the books.”

“I like to push the cart and will do it for you.” Mia explained.

And finally, the answer that puzzled Jenna the most, was that of the oldest child, Ava. “I like the way people look at us when we’re all together.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?” implored Jenna.

“Just wait. If you pay attention, you’ll see.”

Puzzled by Ava’s response, and curious all the same, Jenna headed in the direction of the local Costco. After parking and placing Mia in charge of pushing the cart, Jenna gave Justin the list she had scribbled out on an old envelope and they were off.

As they got to the book section, Cooper ran over to the kids’ table and began to comb through the bounty on display. At that same moment, a woman in a business suit began to peruse the offerings on the other side of the table. When Jenna and the rest of the kids caught up to Cooper, she noticed the look of disbelief and even a little disdain on the face of the woman at the table. Assuming they had merely surprised her with their abrupt arrival, Jenna didn’t think too much about it.

Having satisfied Cooper’s request, they began to tackle the grocery list. The deli area of the store was a virtual treasure trove of samples. Emma was in heaven, especially when one of the offerings was fresh baked cookies. Several times during the sampling, Ava nudged her mother to bring her attention to the reaction the group received from other shoppers. Jenna began to pay close attention to her fellow Costco members.

There were a great variety of reactions. Some were big smiles, some were a bit sympathetic (especially from other moms toting a gaggle of kids around with them), some were puzzled, some were quick to look away, and some were even a little rude with their long held stares. While the majority of the shoppers greeted them with big smiles, there were several other reactions that left Jenna a little perplexed.

Jenna and the kids finished their shopping, checked out and headed for the parking lot. As they were unloading the car, Ava walked up beside her mom and asked, “Did you see the looks people give us?” Jenna replied, “I did notice. And I see what you mean now. We managed to illicit a lot of different reactions from the other shoppers. I really don’t understand why.” Ava giggled a little as she said, “Seriously mom? Look at us. Take a step back and imagine how someone seeing us all together for the first time might be a little…surprised.”

Baffled by her daughter’s assertion, Jenna stopped and looked at her crew with a fresh set of eyes. Looking at each child for a couple of seconds, it dawned on her what Ava was talking about and why their little group stood out in the store.

Jenna first looked at Ava; 15 years old, tall, green eyed, with creamy white skin and bright red hair. Next up was Justin; 13 years old, blue eyed with shaggy, dirty blond hair and a healthy sun-kissed glow from long hours outside. Mia, the other 13 year old, was average height, with hazel eyes, and beautiful mocha colored skin. Cooper, whose parents had immigrated from India, was 10 years old with deep brown skin and eyes and short jet black hair. And finally, 9 year old Emma, who was actually taller than Cooper, had bleach blond hair, blue eyes and freckles visible on every inch of her skin.

Even though a couple of the kids were actually related, not a single one looked like they came from the same family. They were as diverse as the occupants of any metropolitan subway car. But they all had one thing in common – they were Jenna’s (even is just for a small part of the day) and she loved every single one of them. Just as importantly, they all loved each other.

On the ride home, Jenna and Ava discussed their shopping trip and the reactions they noticed. Midway through the drive, Ava blurted out, “Can you imagine what people must think when they see the big bag of rainbow colored Skittles that tag along with you on your errands?”

Immediately, both mother and daughter broke into a fit of laughter, creating a tidal wave of inquiries from the backseats of the van. Once Jenna had gotten ahold of herself, she told the kids that they had a new name for their little makeshift after school family. “We’re the Rainbow Skittles Crew.” A rousing round of approving hoots and hollers broke out in the entire vehicle, along with a chorus of, “Skittles! Skittles! Skittles!”

In that moment, it didn’t matter that Jenna had had a rough week. All that mattered was the unmitigated joy she felt at the thought of her van full of rainbow colored Skittles.

 

 

The Dress – A Short Story

Janie was in love. Not just puppy love, or a crush, but true, depths of your soul, deep in your bones love. The forever kind of love. Thankfully, Janie was in love with her best friend. And that best friend, Thomas, had asked her to be his wife.

As the weeks and months passed Janie & Thomas planned their wedding. Neither of their parents lived close, so it was up to them to make all the arrangements. The church was chosen, a lovely old church with incredible stained glass windows and a picturesque garden. The minister was chosen. That minister just happened to also be a DJ on a local radio station ad later became the voice of the local Major League Baseball team. An unconventional man, to be sure, but the perfect person to marry these two young love birds. The florist was chosen. Simple bouquets & arrangements that both reflected the small budget the couple was on, but also perfectly represented the couple – understated & beautiful. Then came the photographer, a quiet & immensely talented man that excelled at disappearing into the scene and popping up just in time to catch the real, candid moments that most photographers miss.

Once all the “pros” were in place, it was time to get down to the wedding party. Both the bride & the groom had been blessed with a large, diverse friend group. Winnowing down the wedding party proved to be quite difficult, so they threw convention to the wind and had a rather large, unevenly numbered one. In the end, it provided one of the most memorable moments of the recessional when the last groomsman walked out with a bridesmaid on each arm and a smile from ear to ear. Once they had all accepted their positions, the tuxes & gowns were chosen and ordered. The plans were almost complete.

The final piece of the puzzle was the wedding gown. Unlike many young girls, Janie had never been one to spend time daydreaming about her perfect wedding. Janie didn’t really like to be the center of attention, so the thought of “all eyes on the bride” was quite daunting. That’s where her friends came to the rescue. They encouraged, cajoled, even threatened, the young bride into finally getting around to finding the perfect wedding dress. It took several trips to the bridal salon, and what seemed like a thousand pictures ripped from magazines, until Janie found a dress that made her feel both beautiful and confident. Her friends even managed to talk her into buying a pair of shoes as they found her intent to be married barefoot a little too unconventional. So resistant to shoes was Janie, that it took the possibility of being stranded at the mall, miles from home, shoeless, to convince her to buy a pair. The fare required by her friend for a ride home was a shoe receipt.

Two weeks before the wedding, the gown was ready for a final fitting check. Surprising even herself, Janie approached the task with a tinge of excitement. Up until that moment, the whole wedding and marriage thing hadn’t truly felt real. Something about sliding into that silk sheath, changed all of that. A little fear, the tiniest hint of doubt, a full measure of excitement and a final washing over of contentment and confidence in her decision to marry Thomas followed the zipping up of the dress. Janie finally felt ready. Ready to walk down that church aisle, to meet her best friend at the altar and pledge to live the rest of their days together.

One bright sunny day, a somewhat rare occurrence in the Pacific Northwest that Janie called home, Janie found herself in a room with one of her best friends, Susan. The dress was laid out on a chair, the shoes were awaiting her feet, and the veil was hanging from the door. Susan helped Janie put the dress on, held it up as Janie slid her feet into the shoes, fluffed out the petticoat and finally affixed the veil to the French knot that Janie’s hair had been twisted into. With one last check of her makeup, the bride was ready to make her debut.

Susan stuck her head out the door and informed the awaiting crowd that the bride was ready to walk the aisle. As Janie stepped out of the room there was an audible gasp. Janie looked and felt like the most beautiful woman to have ever walked this earth. As she proceeded down that hallway, Janie was greeted with smiles and laughter, cheers and applause, and even the occasional indecipherable rambling. But Janie didn’t notice any of that immediately. Instead she was focused on the person standing at the end of the hall. There, with tears streaming down her face and the biggest smile Janie had ever seen on that face, was her mom, Harriet, waiting for her. Standing next to her psychiatrist, the mental health nurses and the key wielding orderlies working the day shift, the mother of the bride pulled her daughter into a bear hug. The whole menagerie immediately broke into tears, followed by laughter, and a few odd notes from Edward, one of the more colorful patients. Janie had never felt so loved, not to mention entertained, in her entire life.

The wedding followed a few days later, with Harriet, on a day pass from the hospital, in attendance. Surrounded by all the people they loved the most Janie and Thomas pledged to live together; ‘til death do them part, in sickness and in health, and even on the off chance another wedding dress had to make it’s debut in the corridor of the local psychiatric facility.

 

 

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