Friday, June 30, 2017

A Sunny Day with McCloud - Doris Gaines Rapp - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

Sunny Cavanaugh arrived at the Crown Realty Office just in time to pick up the key to 2458 Stoney Hawk Drive. The open house would begin in seventeen minutes and the two story stucco home was twenty minutes to the south. In a flash, she darted in, grabbed the key off the hook and started out again.
“Hey Cavanaugh, how about at ride?” Mike McCloud called after her just as she opened the door.
“Sorry, Mike,” she groaned, “I’m late.” Right, she was late. The truth was … she felt trapped every time she was stuck talking to him. He was absolutely obnoxious, raining on every idea for marketing the company’s large inventory of homes she came up with. Besides, with their past, she wasn’t sure if she could ever forgive him. And, she didn’t want to try. She had gotten used to holding onto anger and hurt feelings. They were like old friends.
“Late is okay … just slow down on Stoney Hawk and I’ll jump out,” he said with a grin.
Sunny stopped in mid-stride, her face pinched. “Stoney Hawk? Why are you going to Stoney Hawk?”
His jaw dropped mockingly, “An open house. Have you ever been to an open house?”
“Do you want a ride? Or, do you want to have a smart mouth?” Sunny growled. “That open house is mine, Mike.”
“I know. Kevin Crown gave the opening to you.” Mike waved his arms around as he backed out of the building. “That’s a huge house. I thought you could use some help.”
“You mean, that’s a huge commission,” she snapped back, pulling the car key from her pocket.
“I’ll share it with you,” he offered.
She stopped again and stared at him, gritting her teeth. “Did you just say you’re going to hijack my showing and then share some of the money with me?”
He shook his head and attempted to explain his brilliant plan differently. “Cavanaugh, we’ve known each other since the sixth grade. You know Stoney Hawk is in my neighborhood. I know the house we’re listing. My Uncle Jamison lived there before he moved to Colorado last week. I grew up on the next street.”
“And, you know, I grew up next door to you, so it’s my neighborhood, too.” She shook her head, her sunny disposition faded. “We used to be best friends, Mikey. What happened?”
He shrugged and looked away. “We grew up I guess.”
She stopped again and pulled on the sleeve of his denim jacket. “We were even closer when we grew up … until you met Heather.”
“Heather?” he stumbled over her name. “Never mind. Give me the keys. I’ll drive.”
“You want to drive my car?” she gasped. “Never mind, Mike … you can walk.”
“No, no, no,” Mike sputtered out. “I’m sorry. What was I thinking? You can drive.”
Again she stopped, putting her fists on her waist. “You’re giving me permission to drive my own car?”
Mike hung his head. “This isn’t going well,” he murmured to himself. “Forget I even opened my mouth.” He rubbed his chin and began again. “Hey, Cavanaugh. How about a ride? I could help you with the open house.”
Sunny hurried toward the parking lot, thinking up a plan as she walked. “Okay, I’ll agree to this … if, and listen carefully, I did say … if … if the house sells for above the asking price within one week of the open house, we’ll share the commission.”
“Wow,” he teased, “your generosity is underwhelming.” He thought for a minute and added, “That’s not a bad idea.” He looked at the row of cars and added. “Which one?”
“Right here,” Sunny said as she pushed the remote button. “It’s new.”
“This one?” Mike shouted, pointing at a small red and white vehicle. “This isn’t a car. It’s a baby shoe with a steering wheel. You don’t get in. You put it on,” he gulped.
She slammed the flat of her hand on the car’s roof. “Do you want a ride or not?”
“Yes,” he snapped back. “I want a ride.”
They both got in the little two door car. Sunny thought it best to not talk at all. It was a beautiful summer day and she just wanted to enjoy it. The streets, lined with mature oak trees whose branches draped over the street and met in the middle, looked like a tall green arch. Sunny thought of the wedding arbor she had planned and cringed. “Oh no,” she gasped.
“What’s wrong?” Mike asked.
“It’s the fourteenth,” she whispered as tears gathered in her eyes. “This would have been our third Anniversary.”
“I know,” he said as his face softened. “I wake up every year … knowing it’s the fourteenth.”
She looked over at him as she parked in the drive of 2458. “I didn’t know you remembered.”
“We were bound together since we were both twelve,” he said as the car seemed to grow smaller. “Who gave you your nickname … Sunny?”
“You did,” she said as she felt her cheeks grow hot. Mike was sitting too close for her to be able to keep up her wall.
“Growing up, every time I saw you, it was like the clouds parted and the sun came out,” he said as he started to reach for her hand. “You know the McCloud’s moto … if you don’t see clouds, you don’t see a McCloud.”
Sunny smiled a little and wished she hadn’t. “Your father certainly had a negative view on life.”
“Still does,” he said as he chuckled. “Growing up, you were my daily inoculation against having the ain’t- it-awfuls metastasize into my whole being.”
Sunny didn’t say anything. If she did, her entire life might flood back in. Her childhood with Mike was so happy it hurt.
“Do you have any idea how long you’re going to hate me?” he whispered.
“Hate you?” She started to put her hand on the door handle to get out and then paused. “You know I’ve never hated anyone in my life.”
“What do you call three years of silence?”
She smiled again. “Peace.”
“Sunny,” he began as he took her hand. “I haven’t been at peace for three years. Maybe that’s why you can’t stand to be around me anymore.”
“I never said that,” she denied and then remembered her very thoughts when he asked for a ride. “It’s just that you’ve gotten so sassy.”
“It’s called arrested development I guess. I stopped growing when you stopped talking to me … three years ago yesterday.”
“I saw you kissing Heather Alford, Mike,” she blurted out, sounding more like angst than anger.
“No you didn’t. You saw Heather Alford kissing me.” When I pushed her away, you had already left. Then, when I finally found you down by the lake, you wouldn’t talk to me.”
“My world had crumbled, Mike. Nothing was safe and predictable anymore.”
“Except your pain,” he said quietly. “Your pain was the only feeling you recognized.”
She thought for a minute and asked, “You didn’t kiss Heather?”
“Nope.” He pulled her fingers to his lips. “Whenever you’re ready to smile again, I could sure use the sunshine.”
She sighed and smiled. “I do remember the sunny days. And … I like them better. If you’ll stop acting like a junior higher, I’ll stop thinking of you as a cloud, Mike McCloud.”

It turned into a beautiful day. She finally decided it was easier to carry around a happy heart, than one stuffed with pain. She chose to be Sunny again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

To Love or Love Not - Doris Gaines Rapp - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

Dr. Cherise Owens stood by her office window and surveyed the quad. It was a beautiful spring day. Violet irises bloomed in flower beds next to opening yellow and red tulips. The sweet aroma of freshly mowed grass drifted through the partially open casement. She inhaled deeply and hoped the light breeze would carry her through the busy day ahead. She would be interviewing new professors for one open position in the Sociology Department. Rats. She’d have to sit through a lunch with Department Chair candidate Dr. Jack Strand; the author of that awful book, When Adam was a Man.
“Dr. Owens,” her secretary said as she stuck her head into the University President’s office. “It’s 11:45. You wanted to walk over to the Oak Room.”
“Love the Oak Room. Dread this lunch,” Cherise moaned as she collected her keys and small cross-body purse.
“I know,” Dee Dee sympathized. “Focus on the food and less on the fool.”
“Dee Dee, you’re not calling our esteemed colleague and candidate for a faculty position, Dr. Jack Strand, a fool are you?”
“Me?” the secretary denied with her hand to her chest. “Never.”
“But, if you were,” the President smiled coyly, “I would agree.”
Cherise walked out the door and turned her chin upward, bathing her face in sunlight. It could not have been a more glorious day. Her heels clicked along the sidewalk, prompting a desire to dance, but she resisted the temptation. Strong willed, she never gave into silly immature thoughts that crossed her mind. Still, she was dancing in her head as she arrived at the University Restaurant door, side-stepping in rhythm to her internal music, and went in.
Alfred Newday, the Dean of Students, waved from a white cloth-covered table to the left. Alfred stood, pulling out the chair beside him. Cherise would sit next to a man who looked like the image on his book jacket. She was disappointed when she saw he was even more handsome than his picture. Rats. As Cherise got to the table, Jack Strand stood up.
Facing eye to eye, she came into contact with warmth that set her toes on fire. She couldn’t hide her attraction to him and more’s the pity, Dr. Strand noticed and smiled.
“You must be Jack Strand,” she said as she tried to play it lightly.
“Since no one else wanted the part, then, yes I must be he,” Strand continued to smile like a cat that just trapped the house mouse.
“A sense of humor,” she declared to the other three at the table. Besides the Dean, two professors from the Sociology Department joined them for lunch. “Humor will please the students.”
“Then . . . I’m hired?” Strand asked, still smiling, still teasing.
Assistant Professor Scrimshire looked at Strand with surprise. “Well then, if no one cares, I’d like to eat before we adjourn.”
“We’re not in that much of a hurry,” Dr. Owens announced with her hand held up to slow down the meeting.
“Would you like the usual Tuesday special?” the server asked the President.
Cherise looked up at the waitress and avoided Strand. “Yes, that’s fine. Thanks.”
Scrimshire and the other professor ordered the chicken salad plate; the Dean chose a spinach and ham quiche. Strand looked around the table and ordered BBQ pork with mashed potatoes and fresh corn.
As the waitress stepped away, Strand mused aloud, “Ah, another one who needs to control life. I’ll bet Mr. Cherise Owens has a hard time with that.”
“You have a dangerous interview style for someone applying for a job at an institution where people actually think before they speak,” Owens responded politely yet firmly.
Scrimshire glared. “Bob Owens died three years ago, from complications following his injuries at the Boston Marathon bombing. He was an accomplished runner.”
“I am so sorry,” Jack said, touching Cherise’s hand as it rested on the table. “Sometimes I forget and actually believe my reputation.”
“The young men who take your class need a strong male figure here at the university. That’s why we’re interviewing you,” Dr. Owens explained, still unable to look at Strand without exposing her attraction to him.
“Ah yes, the wussification of American men.”
“I happen to agree with you, Dr. Strand,” Dr. Owens agreed. “My husband was a real man. He was strong enough to stand in the gap between our home and the world, and gentle enough to make me feel loved every day of our marriage.”
“And, you miss that,” Jack whispered as the server brought a pot of coffee to the table. “Cherise means darling.”
Cherise didn’t respond. However, the warmth of his understanding filled her with a revived joy. “Have you never heard of sexual harassment, Dr. Strand?” she whispered back. As she poured coffee into her cup, she continued, including everyone in the conversation. “I think this committee wants to know something far more current than if Adam was a man or a wimp. Some young men know only two extremes – sissy and control freak. What do you have to add to their edification so they can hit a happy medium?”
Jack Strand sat back and grinned as the server placed a plate filled with BBQ pork and a mound of white potatoes in front of Cherise Owens. “You’re my kind of girl,” he said. “You appreciate real food.”
The sweet tangy smell of the BBQ sauce rose like a cloud over the table. When the server put Strand’s order down, Cherise smiled but chose to avert his eyes. “I guess you can make a few wise choices after all.”
“That’s fine,” the Dean added. “But, I’d still like an answer to Dr. Owens’ question.”
“What question is that?” Strand asked with a blank expression.
Cherise turned and looked Strand square in the eyes. “If you were hired as Chair of the Sociology Department, what would you teach your students, especially the young men, about being strong and yet not controlling?”
Jack Strand focused his gaze on Cherise, as if there were no others at the table. “I would teach them to be in control of themselves and not dominate others. They would learn that it’s the greatest joy to encourage others to be the very best ‘them’ they can be. They would know that control and love are mutually exclusive. One cannot control another and love them at the same time. True love is the only goal in life worth pursuing and when one finds it, it will define their life. That is the meaning of being a real man.”
Cherise groaned inside. “I fear we may have some challenging faculty meetings in the next few years . . . if we hire you, Dr. Strand.”
“But, they would be the most exciting meetings of your career,” Jack said as their eyes met.
             Rats! She whispered. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

With New Eyes - Doris Gaines Rapp - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

Mama received her daily letter from Grandma one summer afternoon. I had gotten to the mailbox first. I’d skipped out to the edge of the road in front of the house and opened the oversized box the minute the mailman had cleared the end of the driveway. I knew it was from her before I even looked at the envelope. Along the edge was a row of tiny holes I could feel with my fingers. More important, Grandma could feel them. Grandma had cataracts when cataracts meant blindness. Doctors were doing that kind of surgery but it wasn’t always successful. She waited through a world of darkness before her operation.
“Mama, you have a letter,” I hollered as I banged in through the screen door and plopped myself down onto the chair near the floor-model TV set with doors that closed in the center.
My mother walked in from the kitchen carrying two hand-woven pot holders I made for her. It smelled like she had put a pot roast in the oven for supper. She was probably checking on it. I loved “pull-apart meat” with potatoes and carrots cooked until the flavor permeated the vegetables and all the air around it. “Let’s see,” she exhaled slowly as she took the letter and sat down.
I could see from the sheets of stationary that Grandma had filled two pages. There were pin holes down both sides.
Here’s what she’d do. Grandma would write a sentence on the paper, put a straight pin at the end of the line, remove the pin from the beginning of the sentence she had just written, reinsert the pin at the beginning of a new line, feel for the pin at the end of the sentence and repeat until she had filled the page. Sometimes the lines ran into each other or even crossed, but no one said anything to Grandma. She hadn’t said, “I can’t do it.” She found another way to write.
“What’s she doing?” I asked.
“Oh, you know, the usual,” Mama answered as she folded over the pieces of paper. “She sits by the window on school days and listens to the laughter of neighborhood children as they walk home from school.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “But this is summer vacation. What does she do now?”
“The ball games,” Mama said and smiled. “They air every home game of the Cincinnati Reds. She doesn’t miss one of them.”
“Mama . . . she can’t see the TV.” I remember rolling my eyes and now wish I hadn’t. Because, it’s what Mama said next that really told me how Grandma could see.
“Grandma can see in her own way,” Mama told me.
There’s only one way to see, I thought but didn’t sass back.
“Your grandmother has watched every baseball game since they started televising them. She knows every player by name. Two of her favorites are a catcher, Smoky Burgess, and one of the pitchers, Joe Nuxhall. He throws and bats left handed, like Grandpa is left handed. Since your grandmother is tall, she likes it that Nuxhall is 6 foot 3.”
“Grandpa isn’t tall. He’s pretty short, like me,” I thought out loud.
“Grandma wouldn’t want you to mention that.”
“Okay,” I agreed but didn’t see why that had to be a secret. Everyone could see how tall my grandfather was.
“Will you come help me set the table?” she asked as she got up and started through the dining room where we ate company dinner.
There was a breakfast nook off the kitchen where my chalk board hung for drawing on while Mama cooked and where the kitchen table sat. I opened the tall cabinet beside the table and took out the blue and white willow dishes we used for every day.
“Okay, Mama, finish. There has to be more. Grandma cannot see the baseball players even if she doesn’t miss any of the games. So, how does she see the games?”
“Well, like I knew that you would draw a picture of a rose bud on the board before you began setting the table. I also knew you would take the plates out first, then the cups and finally the saucers. How do I know all of that? Because . . . I know you. Grandma saw all the games while she could still see. Now, she listens to the play-by-play commentary and watches in her mind . . . because she knows the players and how they play.”
“Is that like God? He can see us because he knows us?”
“I’d say so,” Mama answered as she took a loaf of bread out of the red flowered bread box and put the loaf on the counter top. “Get out a saucer for the bread, please,” she said as she rinsed out the coffee pot before filling it again. “God knows what we think and do. And, he gives us the chance to change our mind and do something or think something even better, because He’s outside of time. He knows what we did; what we do; and what we decided to do over.”
“Wow, He really has new eyes.”
“We all have a new kind of eyes,” Mama said as she put some sweet smelling coffee in the pot, “when we see things God’s way.”

I never knew until I was older, how much I learned from setting the table with Mama.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Grandpa’s Shoes - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

One day, when I was nine, I noticed my grandpa’s shoes. They were black leather with wing-tipped toes and funny boot lace hooks to help fasten the shoes more tightly around his ankle. My daddy didn’t wear such high-top shoes as those.
Grandma and Grandpa came down every other Sunday and Daddy would take us up there on the alternate Sabbath. One Sunday afternoon, after lunch, Grandpa sat in the living room in the side-chair with the round red foot stool next to it with his feet propped up. Lounging on the floor in front of the TV, I was low enough to get a real good look at those shoes. Don’t misunderstand, Mamma didn’t allow television programs to drown out company conversation, so the sound was off. But, I could be entertained with the black and white pictures as they danced across the screen.
Grandpa was always very quiet, shy actually. Mostly, he sat and listened to Momma and Grandma talk about the ordinarily activities of their day. Daddy usually fell asleep on the couch with one leg plopped up over the sofa’s back.
The problem was I didn’t talk much either. So, I’d just watch Grandpa and think about his choice in foot wear. I guess we were both introverts. As an example, when I was really little, Grandma and Grandpa still lived on the farm.
Did you notice what I said? We always announced Grandma’s name first since she was the one Momma talked to. So, it was Grandma’s house, but Grandpa’s farm. I’d follow him out to the barn to check on Dolly, the old retired plow horse, but I don’t remember talking to him. I can’t even remember the sound of his voice, but he was Grandpa and I loved him.
It was those shoes I wondered about. If I had thought to actually ask him a question, now, I can think of many I may have asked.
-        “Grandpa, do your toes feel comfortable with your feet all bound up like that?”
-        “Tell me where you find shoes like that. I shop with Momma and I’ve never seen that kind anywhere. They must come from a farm store up near your house.”
-        “Did you wear those shoes because you twisted your ankle? I sprain mine real easy.”
-        “Those shoes remind me of Albert Swartz’s clodhoppers he wears to school. Teacher doesn’t like those shoes because the hooks scrape the desk chair when he sits on his feet in class.”
-        “Do you like the high-tops because they remind you of your work shoes? You’re a great farmer.” Then, I could get him to talk more by asking him about Dolly, how she’s doin’ and if she misses me.
Come to think about it, Grandpa did answer questions about the crops. You want to hear something amazing? Grandpa could drive by any field in the county and name the green shoots that were coming up, almost as soon as they pushed through the ground. I had no idea what was growing out there in all that dirt. Still, I could have gotten him to talk more, if I had thought to ask him about it. I had no idea that the green of field corn was different from that of soy beans, or that wheat can grow in the winter when it’s cold.
The point is if I had just asked him about those shoes, we may have talked about much more. As an adult I know—if you don’t know what an Extravert is thinking it’s because you haven’t been listening. And, if you don’t know what an Introvert is thinking, it’s because you haven’t asked them.”
Now, I think about Grandma and Grandpa often. After they moved into town off the farm, Grandpa drove out there almost every day. When Grandma was blind with cataracts, he would help her sweep the carpets and fix a hearty supper. One day I heard Grandma complain to Momma that Grandpa had started walking down the alley to a filling station and garage where he’d visit with the neighborhood men and drink a cola. She hoped he wouldn’t get into any trouble down there. Grandpa? I couldn’t imagine such a thing—not trouble—Grandpa talking.

Oh, the things I wish I had asked him when I was nine, “Tell me about . . .“ questions. About his parents; the home he grew up in; would he describe his room; what he liked to read when I saw him with a book in his hand; what was the name of his dog when he was ten; did he like chocolate as much as I did; and . . . where on earth did he get those shoes.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Rhubarb Patch - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

Doris Gaines Rapp

“Yes, Mom,” Charity said, pretending frustration. “I’m getting plenty of sunshine. In fact, I was just getting ready to go out and work in my garden plot.”
“Good,” her mother sighed. “The doctor said you need more sunlight. Sitting at a computer all day isn’t good for anyone. The glowing light from your devices doesn’t count.”
“Mother, I’m a writer. I write at a computer,” she snapped back.
“I know what you do, but it cannot be all you do.” Sandy Couchman argued gently. Then she laughed and added, “I thought only men defined themselves by their occupation.”
“Mother,” Charity moaned, “don’t be archaic. Women have important careers too.”
“I know they do . . . we do. Remember, I am the most successful realtor in Overlook. But, I consider myself smarter than to think I’m only a realtor. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Each of those roles requires time and effort. I don’t sell houses eighteen hours a day.”
“And I don’t—” Charity began and stopped, “well . . . maybe I do.” She quickly took a breath and began again. “But . . . I have deadlines.”
“Well then, I’ll let you get back to the few minutes you have allocated for sunshine.” Sandy stopped and thought back. “Wait, what garden plot?”
“My building has an old parking lot across the street. They bought the property for future expansion but they aren’t going to begin for a few years. They brought in a guy with a plow, a couple loads of topsoil and plotted off the ground for residents who want to plant a garden. I got my name in early for a plot.”
“Honey, that’s great. What are you planting?” her mother asked.
“The first thing I put in was rhubarb, then some other vegetables,” Charity said.
“Now, don’t make fun of me, Mom. Just because you and Dad don’t like it, doesn’t mean I don’t.” As she stood by the front window talking on the phone, she saw the man from apartment 4C going across the street to the new garden. “Mom, gotta run. I’ll call you another time.”
Charity gathered up her door key from the desk and slipped it into her pocket. With her foot up on the desk chair, she finished tying her shoes. Then, she grabbed the hoe she had stuck into the umbrella stand in the entry hall, hurried out and locked the door quickly before heading to the elevator. “Hope he’s gone,” she whispered to herself. Thank goodness the elevator was empty except for Charity. She didn’t want to be caught talking to herself, especially since she wasn’t talking much to anyone lately.
When the doors opened on the first floor Charity started to move forward but caught the long handle of the hoe in the door. She checked the lobby for anyone who might have seen the mishap and then berated herself for caring what other thought about her.
Outside, she would never have admitted it, but the morning sun felt wonderful. Bright ribbons of light danced through the trees and cast their life-giving energy on each plot, carefully marked off by white field paint. One man said it looked like stripes on a football field. Charity believed it was a city-man’s way of validating gardening.
Looking around, she didn’t see Mr. 4C so she quickly forgot about him. At the end of garden plot 4A, marked with a small sign at the end of the strip, she dug her hoe into the soil and loosened the few weeds that had invaded in spotty patches.
“Good morning,” a deep voice hummed from the next space.
Charity said nothing but smacked the garden tool down on the dirt harder than before. Somehow, Mr. 4C, tall and muscular, had managed to block out the song of the birds high up in the trees with the expression of only two words.
“It’s a great day, isn’t it?” he repeated.
“If I had wanted to talk to you, I would have said something when you spoke the first time,” she sassed back without looking up.
“I see you’ve planted rhubarb,” he observed, ignoring her comment. “I like it too, even if it is kinda tart.”
Again, she said nothing and continued to weed her garden plot.
“Tartness can be overcome with some sugar, or other sweetness like honey,” he added.
“Are you trying to be annoying or does it naturally flow out of you with no effort on your part?” she asked as she stopped and leaned with folded hands on the top of her hoe.
“You look tired already,” he observed. “Can I help you?”
“Stick to your own garden, Mr. 4C.,” she snapped back.
“Miss . . . 4A,” he began, “you don’t know me, so I know your anger cannot be directed at me. I don’t have to react or dish anger back at you; because, it isn’t about me. Charity, your vindictiveness is about you.”
“How do you know my name? Have you been stalking me?” she demanded.
“Stalking? I live across the hall from you. And, by the way, your name is on your mailbox down in the lobby,” he answered calmly.
“You aren’t supposed to notice other people’s names,” she sputtered; unable to come up with another argument fast enough to satisfy her need to put him in his place.
“Okay . . . I’m going back up to my apartment and put on the coffee pot. When you’re ready to talk about what’s bothering you, I’ll be there.”
“Not likely,” she mumbled without looking up from her rhubarb patch. She stopped and put one hand on her hip, “I thought you came down to work in your garden.”
“I have been cultivating something for several weeks, if you haven’t noticed,” he answered and smiled warmly.
Charity didn’t respond. What could she say? As 4C walked away, she whispered to herself, “Okay, so you have a way with words. Is that supposed to impress me?”
Later, Charity slumped at her desk for another hour, staring aimlessly at her computer. She got up and went over to the open kitchen. Reaching for the coffee pot, she tipped it up over her cup. Nothing. The pot was empty.
            Slamming the pot on the counter, she shuddered, dreading to check for glass breakage. Noting that the carafe was intact, she placed it carefully in the sink.
“Coffee . . .” she moaned. “I need coffee. I’m tired. I have brain drain. I can’t concentrate and I have an impending deadline.” She drifted around her apartment grumbling, “The only coffee in Overlook cannot possibly be just across the hall.”
She checked her pocket for her key; slowly went out into the hall and knocked on 4C’s door. Housekeeping was running the sweeper a few doors down. The smell of carpet dust hung in the air.
When the door opened she bristled and darted inside. “It smells dusty out there,” she announced as she pushed past him. “I’m not going to call you, Mr. 4C any longer,” she grumbled. “What’s your name?”
“J.D. Stone,” he said, watching her take over his space.
Charity determined the walls, covered in posters of football player and other sports luminaries, looked like a well decorated frat room.  “Another little boy who never grew up, I see.”
“Actually, they’re my clients. I’m a sports agent. These,” he gestured toward the wall hangings, “are my clients. I’ve only been in the business for a few years but . . . I’m doing well.”
“Jared Stone?” she asked in amazement.
“Now, how do you know the name of an athletes’ agent?” he asked, his eyes twinkling. He went over to the counter and poured a mug full of coffee. “I’m guessing this is what you came for. And, I repeat, are you a sports fan?”
“No,” she drug out, “I’m a writer.”
J.D. pointed to a grouping of chairs around a small sofa. He tossed a pillow to the end of the couch and motioned for her to sit down.
She slowly kicked off her shoes, sat down and crossed her legs in front of her. “I wrote a novel last year and did some research on all aspects of sports. It’s about a country girl and a baseball player—A Diamond . . .”
“From the Diamond,” J.D. finished for her.
Charity sipped her coffee and smiled. “How did you . . .?”
“My sister wanted the book for Christmas,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“She has good taste,” Charity offered.
“And me? My taste?” he asked.
“You have good taste in sisters,” she said with a laugh.
“And . . . friends,” he eyed her carefully over his coffee cup.
“I’d hardly call us friends,” she said as she straightened. “We just met.”
“You’re right, of course. But, I hope we can build a fast friendship. And, to that end, I meant it when I told you I’d be happy to listen to what is bothering you.”
“I . . . I’m sorry, I seem to begin every sentence with ‘I.’ Wow . . . what is bothering me?” She unfolded her legs and winced in pain. “I’m stiff,” she admitted. J.D. said nothing but listened intently. “My doctor calls it SAD,” she opened up.
“What are you sad about?” he asked softly.
“Not sad . . . seasonal affective disorder, with capital letters, S.A.D. The symptoms include depression, stiff muscles, with extreme fatigue.  Also, something that frustrates me completely . . . fuzzy thinking with an inability to concentrate,” she explained as tears willed up in her eyes. “J.D., I’m a writer. I’m at my computer all day. I can’t just sit in a near-stupor every day.”
“Did your doctor suggest any treatment?”
“She recommended medication if I wanted to take it, moderate exercise and sunshine every day,” she said with a mocking snicker. “How do I make the sun shine every day?”
“On days when the sun does shine . . .  you spend some time in your garden,” J.D. concluded. “And . . . when the sun doesn’t shine?” he asked.
“I wait, sometimes weeks for the sun to come out again.” Her voice, edged with anger, cut into the conversation.
“Well, if waiting works . . .” he began.
“I know . . . if it works, keep it up. If it doesn’t, stop it,” she sighed deeply. “I’ve listen to all the guru tapes, too.”
“So . . . do you stop it?” His expression was different from others. Rather than laughing at her, he seemed to understand.
“No, I keep on keeping on, trying to write, hoping to clear my head.”
“According to some pretty big athletes I represent, there are high potency vitamins, lamps with bright bulbs, exercises, even a few days in Florida during the dreary times of the year would help,” he suggested.
“My parents spend the winter in Florida,” she admitted reluctantly.
“You could spend a few weeks with them,” he offered.
She sipped her coffee and remained silent for a minute. “Then, I’d have to admit that Mom is right.”
“Would that be so bad?” he whispered.
“Yes,” Charity spit out. “No,” she said as she changed her mind. “I guess not.”
“Which is worse, your mother being right or SAD?”
“Okay . . . okay,” she agreed with a new positive lilt to her voice.
“Your garden plot does look nice,” he quickly changed the subject from surrender to accomplishment. “It’s easy to see you take good care of it.”
“So far, the rhubarb has started to come up,” she sighed. “My parents don’t like it. I planted a little.”
“Rhubarb is very tart but some sweetness makes it wonderful.” J.D. smiled broadly. “Just like people.”
Charity blushed. “I haven’t had the energy to include other people in my life . . . men in particular. I may be willing to try again.”
“You can start with one close by . . . no energy wasted getting there,” he said and laughed.

 “Thank you, J.D.” she agreed as her expression softened. “When the rhubarb is ripe, I’ll make us a pie,” she offered. “It should be sweet by harvest time.”

Friday, April 28, 2017

Change? Me?

 (The second in the Short Story Series)
Doris Gaines Rapp
Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

“Well, if it isn’t Greg Granger,” Deanna said as she placed one hand on her hip and held the grocery cart with the other. “You’re back in town.”
 “You know I’ve been home for nearly a month, Deanna Flowerpot,” Greg teased.
“Deanna Flowers,” she spit back, “as you well know.” She opened the corner of the Oreo cookie package from the top of her grocery sack and pulled out a comfort treat. Savoring the taste and intoxicating aroma of the chocolate she admitted, “Yes, I’ve seen you around town. You seem to turn up everywhere. Are you following me?”
“Why would I follow you?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” she said as she straightened her shoulders. “We used to be friends.”
“More than friends,” Greg whispered as he boldly stepped into her space.
“Back off, stranger-Granger,” she lowered her voice and growled, then remembered and hoped the chocolate was not sticking to her teeth. “It’s been seven years, and you haven’t changed a bit.”
“Changed?” he questioned. “Deanna, I’m not the one who changed or needs to change now. As I remember it, Stanley came into your life.” He drew out the name slowly.
“Stan Lee,” she enunciated clearly, “not Stanley. Anyway, he was your friend first, Greg,” she reminded him as she stared him down.
“Right, but he quickly became more than a friend to you, didn’t he?” he laughed incredulously. “From a football huddle with the team, to a romantic huddle with you only took a few weeks.”
Deanna began to push her mound of groceries toward her car again and turned abruptly, tipping the cart onto two wheels. “I did nothing, Greg. It was only after you and Tiffy—” she started to continue but decided there was no need to finish. “Oh, never mind.”
Greg threw up his hands in surrender as he watched her open the hatchback of her SUV. “Can I help you with those?”
“The king needs to be gallant and help his weak and helpless Homecoming Queen ... right? Even still, Greg?” she hissed as she gritted her teeth. “You tried to comfort me when I was upset because you betrayed me with Tiffy…like you did nothing wrong. You came to the conclusion my depression was because I’m a female, not because of what you did. You’ll never change.” She got in, put her car in gear and backed out.
“That was seven years ago. You never let me explain,” he called after her.
“Explain?” Deanna mumbled to herself as she zipped out of the parking lot. “He always thought if he talked enough, long enough, and loud enough, he could convince me it was snowing on the fourth of July.” She grabbed a tissue from her pocket and wiped tears from her eyes with angry swipes. “Well, there was that one time…but…not this time.” When she stopped at the next light, she wondered aloud, “I haven’t seen dear Tiffy Monroe around town. Wonder where he’s hiding her.” Talking to Greg again after all those years made it a hard afternoon for Deanna Flowers to enjoy.
The next morning promised to be a gorgeous sunny day. The sun was warm through the windshield and sent happy rainbows of light onto the seat beside her. It was the kind of weather in which she would have spent the whole day outside as a child. Deanna remembered the summer afternoons she spent with Greg from the time he moved into town when they were both ten-years-old. Mornings down by the river skipping rocks; mid-day excursions in the wooded area behind Flowers’ house; every day was an adventure. As Deanna drove down to her job at the family’s florist shop, Flowers’ Flowers, she fought tears she thought had dried up years ago. “He’ll never change.”
The store had been open for an hour when she walked in. The fragrance of flowers filled the room and escaped out the door as she entered. Deanna reached over and gently touched the pedals of a pot of orange tipped red tulips, a habit she always did when she entered. It was her way of making the dream of expanding the store real—a touch with reality. She came in an hour late and stayed an hour after her parents left as part of their partnership agreement. “Mamma,” she called out in fun, “I’m home.”
“Good morning, dear,” Greg called out in jest. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to bruise the flowers?”
“I’m not hurting them. I’m encouraging them,” she mocked. “Oh, it’s you again,” she sighed as her shoulders drooped. “What are you doing here?”
“Now, Deanna,” her mother cautioned, “Greg came in to get some flowers for his mother.”
“For your mother?”
“She had another heart attack last night,” Greg explained. “She spent the night in the hospital.”
“Last night?” Deanna asked as her voice softened. She had been close to Mrs. Granger since the fifth grade. Spending all of her time with Greg, his mom was like another mother to her.
“How is she doing?” Mrs. Flowers asked.
Deanna felt her chest grow tight. “Greg, I am so sorry.” She reached out and stroked his arm gently.
“The doctor said she got to the hospital in time. She probably won’t have any permanent damage,” he said as he placed his hand over Deanna’s. “She dodged another near fatal attack.”
“Another one?” Deanna asked as her mother slipped quietly over to the floral cooler.
“Yellow roses?” Connie Flowers called back over her shoulder.
“Yes,” Greg agreed. “That’s right. Mom’s favorite.”
Deanna asked again, “Another heart attack, Greg?”
“Yeah,” he agreed as he continued to stroke her hand still resting on his arm. “She had her first heart attack seven years ago.”
“Seven years ago?” she gasped. The past seven years rolled through her mind in rapid succession. “Is that why you backed out of going to State University like we had both planned?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Dad was so busy with the hardware store and helping Mom, living at home and going to Community College was a way I could go on to school and still help out.”
“I came back after college to take over the business end of the florist shop as my parents began to expand it. When they needed me, my business degree came in handy too,” she explained while the smell of roses her mother was wrapping drifted her way. “Where have you been in the last few years, if you needed to be here in town?”
“Mom continued to be free from heart episodes, so she encouraged me to go to law school.” Greg explained as he looked into Deanna’s eyes. “I recently passed the bar exam and have joined Jeffrey Baker’s law office here in town.”
“Oh…” Deanna said, amazed at all Greg had accomplished, and angry she hadn’t known anything about his accomplishments. “But, Greg, you never told me any of it, not about your mother or law school or anything,” she said shaking her head in shock and disbelief.
“You got mad when I said I wouldn’t be going to State. You wouldn’t talk to me, remember?” he whispered. “And, you haven’t let me explain anything since.”
“I got mad because you said you changed your plans and would go to Community College with Tiffy,” she choked as tears gathered in her eyes.
“Deanna,” he said softly. “I told you I needed to change my plans and go to school locally,” he explained as she started to turn away. “No, Deanna, please listen to me. I told you that Tiffy had researched the school here in town and found my major, paralegal studies, had a good rating. She knew because she was going to have a minor in that field.”
“You weren’t going to date Tiffy?” she asked as her eyes welled up.
“Date Tiffy?” he asked as he grabbed her into a forceful embrace. “I loved you, Deanna,” he assured her as he brushed tears from her cheeks. “And…I still love you.”
“I have waited for you to grow up for seven years, Greg,” she said as she leaned in and put her forehead on his chest. “And…it was me who had to change, not you. Today, I was finally willing to listen and heard the words I had waited to hear all these years…words that you had tried to tell me all along.”
Deanna didn’t care who was watching or if, in fact, anyone else as in the store. She reached up on tip-toes and kissed him like they had just gotten home from the prom in their fine party clothes. She even thought she heard taffeta rustle as she moved.
“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you,” she said while her voice cracked. “Even Mom tried to explain your situation to me and I didn’t want to talk about it. I just complained about how you would always remain the same. All you wanted to do was give excuses for bad behavior.”
“You’ll have to admit, I was a real pain when I was a teenager,” Greg said with a laugh.
“You’ll have to admit, I’ve been a real pain since I’ve grown up,” she admitted. “When I listened to you, it gave you room to maneuver out of the corner I shoved you in.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said as he threw his head back. “I don’t feel as tapped—wrong if I speak and wrong if I don’t.”

“I understand now,” she admitted as she blushed. “I am so sorry, Greg. It wasn’t you. It was me all along. Grandma was always speaking in wise phrases I didn’t understand until now. She said—the only person you can change is yourself.” She kissed Greg again. “She was right.”

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Home is Where Love Lives

... The first in the Short Story Series ...
Doris Gaines Rapp
Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp
Indiana in the 1940’s

Billy Robertson was eleven-years old. His Grampa said he was all-boy and Gramma agreed. He and his older brother and his two sisters lived with their grandparents since their mother died when Billy was a baby. Uncle Walter had the front south bedroom upstairs. He worked the night shift at the factory and spent his weekends playing his violin and working in the yard. Billy often wondered what it would be like to have a mom and dad, a “real” home, even though he loved Gramma and Grampa.
One afternoon, Billy untied a long rope he had attached to a huge tree branch that hung out over the creek, grabbed hold of the flapping end, leaned back into a jump and flexed his knees. The bank was wet so the mud was slick. He gripped the rope tightly until his fingernails nearly dug into the palms of his hands. Throwing his head back, he swung out over the stream, setting himself free from the muddy bank. Billy felt like Eddie Rickenbacker, the Great War flying ace, as he imagined himself soaring out over the dark, wild waves of a mighty ocean.
It was a great late-autumn, Indian-summer afternoon for a boy to go exploring. There was no better place to investigate than down in the Moyer woods. In the spring and summer, the peaceful silence of winter snow gave way to the sounds of buzzing insects and birds scolding one another from high in the trees. Then, in the fall, the smell of burning leaves, the bright colors of autumn, and the sound of the Mohawk, a puffing black steam engine traveling on the clean air, made him positively giddy.
As Billy surveyed his kingdom in the magical woods, he felt something on his leg. “What are you doing down here, boy?” he asked as his German shepherd slid to a stop on the damp leaves and bumped into him. Billy reached down and scratched Moe on his soft, often-petted head. He had left the shepherd back at the house before going scavenging after school. Under a rock along the creek he found a dirty quarter stuck in the mud and a broken pocket knife near a huge tulip tree. Grampa would surely be able to take it to his workshop and smooth out the chipped blade.
Moe wagged his tail and tapped his paw on Billy’s foot. Panting, his tongue curled and dripped spit from his mouth. Waiting patiently, he looked into Billy’s eyes.
“What is it, Moe?” At first Billy didn’t see the note tied to the dog’s collar. “Oh, I see. You’re a messenger today.” He reached down and untied the paper.
“Billy, come home.” That was all the note said but Billy knew if Gramma sent Moe, he’d better head for the house. He stuffed the quarter and the knife into his pocket along with the art-gum eraser he found on the sidewalk outside the school, and grabbed his bike where he left it by the big tree.
Peddling along the path out of the woods, he steered the Schwinn onto the small road that led to the back of the Moyer property. The whole way, Moe trotted along close to Billy’s front wheel herding him back to the path. Billy knew his grandmother had commanded Moe to bring him home, because it had happened many times before. Moe would not neglect his task. The boy popped down the alley for a few yards and then whizzed in through the side gate.
The yard was alive with the last crisp falling leaves of crimson and gold, and the same old black crow that had hung around during the summer. Ol’ Snags, Gramma called it. It would swoop down from the tops of the maple trees and snatch the green sprouts of growing carrots in the garden. Now, the bird just seemed to mock everyone in the Moyer family, sticking around long after the harvesting of the garden and the turning over of the ground. Grampa and Billy had dug the root cellar, lined it with burlap bags and buried the vegetables in it to be uncovered when needed during the next winter. Ol’ Snags sat above on a tree limb watching every shovel full fly from the pit.
As Billy came around the corner, he saw Gramma hurry off the side porch and wave a broom at the crow, trying to shoo the old thief away. Then Ol’ Snags did something strange. It looked down from half-way up the maple tree and into Gertie Moyer’s eyes, flipped his tail feathers at her and flew away.
As Billy neared the house he could hear Gramma snort, "You better fly high enough I can’t see you, Snags. Shoo!” she yelled again. Then she added, “Where is that child? How can an eleven-year-old youngin get away so fast?"
Billy stopped for a moment, wanting a place to hide. He knew he got away with a lot of mischief most of the time. He suspected it was because Gramma hadn’t been feeling well lately.
 “There you two are,” she said as she fanned her face with her apron. “Oh my goodness, my breath is short. You are a handful Billy Robertson but I knew Moe would bring you home. He’s the smartest dog I know.”
“What did you need me for?” Billy asked, thinking again about the note his grandmother had sent with Moe.
Gertie clutched her chest. “Let’s get inside. I need to rest a minute.” Gramma led the way into the house. “It’s getting dark. Can’t you see that?”
"What’s wrong, Gramma?” Billy whispered. The boy’s voice sounded gravely in the evening air.
Gramma shook her head. “The night air is giving you laryngitis. You sound like Mr. Simon, the ice delivery man. His throat was hurt in the war ya know.”
Billy went into the kitchen to get his grandmother some water as she headed toward the living room where she plopped down on her little sewing rocker. Her small, four foot, ten and a half inch frame didn’t quite fit some of the other furniture. The sofa and side chairs were just the right size for Grampa and Uncle Walter’s full six feet. “What happened to Mr. Simon, Gramma?” Billy asked as he brought in the water glass.
“No one knows what happened to Peter Simon and he won’t say,” Gramma mumbled. “He’s pretty quiet. He says it just happened. Now, save your voice, Billy so you won’t miss school tomorrow. Just listen to the Philco radio and rest. Your granddaddy will be home soon.”
“Where is Grampa?” Billy asked and sat down on the rug in front of the tall floor model radio. He reached out for Moe, using the dog as a big hairy pillow.
“Your Grampa took the interurban into Elkhart this afternoon. His pension check came in the mail. He’ll be back soon,” Gramma said.
Grandpa Moyer had few pleasures that involved spending money. He had lost one eye while working on the railroad and had retired on a pension of eighty-eight dollars a month. That small monthly income, along with the money he earned off of selling some of his land, and the small amount of cash Uncle Walter contributed was all he had to feed seven mouths. That didn’t leave much money for fun.
Grampa had worked for the railroad since he was ten years old, carrying water to the men as they worked hard laying the rails. Now, Grampa’s only indulgence was a trip into town once a month to deposit his pension check in the bank, buy a small tool at the hardware store, and get a little sack of hard candy at the Five-and-Dime.
“With your granddaddy gone today, I had to sic the dog on you,” Gramma said as she chuckled. “I held my hand under the dog’s jaw and looked right into his bright brown eyes. “Moe,” I commanded, “find Billy.”
Then Billy remembered. “Why did you send Moe to get me Gramma?”
“I needed you to go over to the grocery to get a pound of hamburger,” she said. “I forgot to have you get it earlier. Your grandfather will be home soon and I haven’t started supper.”
“I’ll go right now, Gramma.” he offered and hopped to his feet. Moe untangled himself from where he had landed when he was no longer a head cushion and jumped up as well. Billy reached down and patted his head behind the dog’s ears.
Gramma shook her head. “Not now. I need you to go out to Grampa’s work shop and bring in the small ladder. I need the honey from the top cabinet shelf. Your granddaddy took my step stool out there to glue that first wrung after it broke. It should be dry by now.”
“I’ll get the honey for you, Gramma,” Billy offered.
Gertie shook her head. “No, I have to have the ladder in the house anyway.”
Billy started for the door again. “Step ladder…right.” Then he stopped, “What about the hamburger?”
“I’ll send Moe,” Gramma said.
Moe wagged his tail and danced from his front legs to the hind two when he heard his name. Gramma went to the kitchen and took a small pencil and a piece of paper from a pad she kept in a drawer. She wrote, “1 lb. hamburger. Put it on our bill, please,” on the sheet and signed it, “Mrs. Moyer.”
“Moe,” she called to the shepherd. The dog came to her side and stood ready for instruction. Gertie tied the note to his collar and patted his hind quarter. “Go take it to Mr. Howard, Moe.”
The dog waited at the door for Gramma to let him out. Once Moe was free from the rebounding screen door, Gertie went to the living room window to watch. She saw the Shepherd run across the street and paw at the market door. Mr. Howard came out, removed the note, waved at the Moyer house and went back inside. A few minutes later, Moe darted to the edge of the street with a brown paper sack tied to his collar.
It didn’t matter if the package had hamburger or steaks inside. Moe’s job was to bring it home, untouched and unnibbled.
Crossing the road, drivers in their black model A’s and early fifties hump-top sedans pulled over as far as they could so as not to hit the dog with the precious package. Mr. and Mrs. Crammer from church drove by in their faded 1934 Studebaker. She had her old fur coat wrapped around her and a headscarf tied tightly around her head. The warm sun flooded the day enough for them to have their top down…it was a true Indian summer day. Mrs. Crammer twisted and turned to watch the dog carry his package across the street.
In a few minutes Moe returned with the sack still tied to his collar. When he reached the house, Gertie removed the package, patted him vigorously on his back, while Moe wiggled and danced. If a dog could smile, Moe grinned.
While Moe did the grocery shopping, Billy went around to the back of the house, near the back gate. There was the small lean-to his grandfather had built against the alley fence. That was Grampa’s toolshed. But, Billy’s favorite was Grampa’s new workshop. At the handmade door to the magical kingdom of tools, the boy pulled a big skeleton key from his pocked. Lifting the heavy chain to the padlock, he inserted the key and unlocked the door.
“It sure is swell in here,” Billy said out loud to the handcrafted toolbox and well organized gadgets that were everywhere. He scanned all the wonderful old tools his grandpa kept in there. The hammers and cold chisels hung neatly along the walls on special pegs Grampa had made. If someone threw away a broken screwdriver, Grampa would bring it home, lovingly make a new handle and find a perfect spot for it on the wall.
“Granddaddy, can I make something on your workbench?” Billy had asked the week before.
“Well now, Billy,” Grampa had drawn out as he stroked his chin, “you daresn’t loss any tools. You must put everything back just as you found them.” It was easy to see that Albert Moyer’s Pennsylvania Dutch way of talking had followed him all the way to Indiana sixty-five years ago.
“I will Granddaddy. I’ll put every hammer on the proper hook and every loose tack back in its proper box,” Billy promised as the vision of the majestic biplane he planned to build flew through his mind.
“What ya gonna make?” Grampa asked that day.
Billy took a deep breath and spit out, “A double winging airplane.” His machine gun speed answer added, “With a propeller up front and a rudder in the back.”
 “Well, then, you’ll need some of that orange crate wood you helped me break down and store in the barrel over there,” Grampa offered. “You can use a piece of a coat hanger for the struts. I better cut those for ya.”
Billy smiled to himself as he looked around. “It’s happy in here,” he said as he fetched the small two step wooden ladder from the corner. He took one last fond look at all the great stuff Grampa had out there, ran his fingers over the smooth, well-warn workbench, and walked back out into the yard. He propped the ladder on the outside wall while he locked up his grandfather’s shop.
The air smelled like snow might be coming in on a new cold front. Billy turned his shirt collar up, fetched the step ladder and headed back to the house.
Once on the porch steps the aroma of frying hamburger wafted out through the door Gramma had left ajar. The sound of Moe stirring from his spot beside the large living room chair filtered to his ears. Out front, he heard the front door open and the interurban pass. That meant Grampa was home and Moe would greet him with a wiggled and a lick to his hand like always.
Home. While other guys had a mom and dad, Billy didn’t. Grampa Moyer and Uncle Walter were the closest people Billy had to a dad, since his own father rarely came around. Yes, his family was far different from the families the other kids at school had, and certainly not the same as his many cousins’ families. But, everyone who lived in that house on the corner loved him and that was good enough. He heard Moe come to the door and scratch. That was the cue it was time for him to go in. With the ladder in one hand, he opened the side-porch door. Moe jumped up; placed two paws right in the middle of Billy’s chest and licked his cheek. Inside, the house was full of laughter as everyone bustled around preparing for another family dinner. It smelled and sounded sweetly familiar, and…Billy knew. He was home.