Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day 147: Behind the Scenes

I have missed two days. I know. I am very (very) aware of that sidebar that says that my goal is to write something here "every day". It's staring at me. Even if I'm ignoring it.

But I haven't really been ignoring it. I've been "storyboarding" or sketching out where I want this story to go--figuring out the Point A and the Point B. It's a good thing to do, I'm thinking. Because if I don't know where I want to go, how will I ever get there? But it's not something I can really share here... not really...

So, meanwhile, for the next DAY, I'm going to post one of my favorite stories I've ever written. I have never posted it here. Because I like it too much. ;) Let me know what YOU think!


It is always dark on Christmas day in the North.
There is no sun at all, but only stars that blink sleepily
and ribbons of light that dance across the sky:
red, green, yellow, and blue.

The clean white snow is sparkling,
and the whole earth is quiet,
as if it's taken a deep breath in,
followed by a sigh.

From above, a sleigh made of rich, polished wood glides down,
landing softly on the snow.
The reindeer that pull it toss their heads lazily about;
they are hungry from their long night's work.

Father Christmas climbs from the sleigh,
now light without it's Christmas load.
He steps to one of the reindeer and runs his hand over it's fur,
offering a small handful of oats from his pocket.

His eyes are tired, but sparkling.
His mind is filled with visions of Christmas trees,
with their branches wrapped around the secrets of the coming day.

Reaching into his heavy fur cloak, Father Christmas pulls out a small package,
wrapped in shining paper and tied with a red bow:
the last gift of Christmas.

Father Christmas guides his reindeer into the stable,
where they are groomed and fed,
and then he steps into his small and cozy home.

He places the gift on the heavy wooden table.
After hanging his cloak on the hook behind the door,
he fills his mug with steaming cider, and sits down at the table.

Taking the gift in his large, rough hands
he sings in a deep, strong voice

"We three kings of Orient are,
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain
following yonder star...
Star of wonder, star of light
star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light. "

Smiling, he pictures children around the world,
discovering the gifts he'd left for each of them.
He had many friends that helped him to make the gifts,
but each year there was one he made himself.

Father Christmas was very old.
Many, many years before a new star had appeared,
and his three friends from the East, the West, and the South
had gone to seek the star.

Each had carried with them a gift: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
But Father Christmas, of the North, had stayed behind, for he was busy,
and had not prepared a gift for his king.

So now, each year, working slowly and carefully,
he carved one gift out of the finest wood.
A gift worthy of an infant king, if ever he were to find him.

And each year, when he wasn't busy
carving and smoothing and polishing,
he spent every waking hour, making gifts for children everywhere.
This was his gift for his king.

Now, holding the last gift of Christmas,
that he was still waiting to give,
he gazed at the flickering fire and the snow fell softly against his window.

He thought of the children, waking now, and finding the gifts that he'd left for them.
Smiling contentedly, his heavy eyes began to close, and he hoped his gift for his king would be enough.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 146: Clementine, Chapter 6

"The trailer next door to the Finleys is for rent" I mentioned that night as I grated the cheese for dinner. My Mom stood right next to me in the tiny kitchen, stirring taco meat.

"Which trailer?" she asked, disinterested.
"The blue one." I replied, not quite sure why I'd brought it up.

My dad walked in, his hands stained orange from sorting cherries and circles under his eyes from teaching driver's ed. "We don't want a blue trailer. We already have a gold one." he joked, yawning and mussing my hair.

I put the cheese on the table next to the diced tomatoes and the sour cream, and then heard the front door slide open. Rose was home. I didn't even have to take a step to grab another plate out of the cupboard and put it on the table for her.

She poked her head into the kitchen, "Mm, smells good, Mom." My Mother beamed at her, "Staying for dinner, Rose?" "Um, yeah. Think so. I'll be here tonight." There was a tiny hesitation in her voice that I noticed as I placed a fork next to her plate. She glanced at me and then looked away.

"Hey, kiddo" my Dad said to me as he plunked himself down into his seat "You wanna get in your pajamas and go to Brewsters for 'Free Ice Cream if you Wear Your Pajamas' night?"
I nodded vigorously, already going through the list of flavors in my mind. Grasshopper... Cinnamon... Chocolate Explosion... Graham Cracker...
"Are we not invited?" my Mom pretended to pout.
"No. You always complain about being seen in your pajamas in public" Dad teased back.

Half an hour later I was standing in front of Brewsters, considering the list of ice cream flavors. I was wearing my fuzzy purple pajama pants and an old t-shirt with my slippers. My dad was wearing matching navy blue silk pajamas with a black robe. We'd given them to him for Christmas. Former students gaped and giggled, and he smiled at them good naturedly. He already knew what he wanted "Fudge Brownie Mud Slide." I couldn't decide between "Jamaican Me Crazy" and "Birthday Cake Confetti", and then I saw the Flavor of the Week: blackberry.

Blackberry. Who was that girl? I'd kept looking for her, everywhere, in the couple weeks since I'd seen her there, in the blackberries. I'd purposely wandered through all the neighborhoods anywhere close to that wild berry patch, and never seen the slightest trace of her. I was beginning to think that maybe I'd seen a ghost.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 145: Clementine, Chapter 5

Balancing my melamine plate carefully on one hand and nibbling at bits of chip with my other hand, we made our way down the hall to Mrs. Finley's bedroom. I had to be careful not to trip over the small area rugs that she had placed everywhere to keep people from stepping on her nice, white carpet. She paused at the closed door, raising her eyebrows at me excitedly and said "Ready??" I nodded once and took a bite of Twinkie.

She threw open the door and said "Ta-da!"

The last time I had seen Mrs. Finley's bedroom, there was a patchwork quilt on her bed, a dresser with, approximately, 300 assorted knick-knacks, and a rocking chair in the corner. A bit shabby, but comfortable.

But now? She had outdone herself.

The window directly opposite me now had scarves of sheer fabric hanging lopsidedly over the metal blinds. Below the window, her bed was draped a deep red sateen comforter with heart-shaped throw pillows. The homey nick-knacks had been replaced with vases of fake roses that had fake, plastic dew drops on them. A feather boa hung on one corner of the mirror and an overwhelming scent of dollar-store, rose scented candles wafted out the door.

I almost choked on my Twinkie, as my eyes bugged out of my head.

"It's my sexy bedroom" she boasted "I watched a show the other day that talked all about how important it is to make your bedroom a romantic haven."

A romantic haven? Glancing over my right shoulder, I could see Mr. Finley's bedroom just down the hall. He had slept in a separate bedroom, he claimed bitterly, for more than 30 years. Crammed in there with a tiny television set, every book Louis L'Amour had ever written, and his steel toed cowboy boots.

"Wow, Mrs. Finley. I didn't know you liked red so much" was all I could manage. She beamed in my direction and waved me in with a breathless, "Make yourself comfortable, dear." I looked around for someplace to sit and finally settled on the foot of her bed. She chose the rocking chair, now bedecked with furry pillows that shed.

Taking a bite of hot dog, I asked her "You said it matched something. What does it match?"
"Oh!" she fluttered "I'll show you."

She took three short shuffles across the room and pulled back the sliding door to her closet. Reaching way into the back, behind all the eras of clothing surely hiding in that space, she pulled out a garment bag. Unzipping the bag, she slid out a red satin dress and held it up for me to see.

It was a very pretty tea length dress, the kind of dress you saw in pictures from 50 years ago. The folds in the satin were so established that it looked like they would be impossible to iron out.

"It was my going away dress. For my honeymoon." Mrs. Finley said dreamily, softly stroking the fabric, "I felt so beautiful."

Oh. I got it.

"Well, this quilt matches it just right then!" I said cheerfully. She smiled at me, but her eyes were still far away. She shook her head and put the dress back in it's bag and shoved it into the recesses of the closet again.

"Hey, Mrs. Finley," I asked "has anyone looked at that old trailer next door? Do you think anyone will rent it?"

I tried not to let my voice sound too hopeful. I knew that my only hope of getting a friend--a real friend--was for someone to move in. It was a long shot. Not a whole lot of middle schoolers moved into trailer parks. That's why my mom says "Hope springs eternal." Because you just can't help yourself from hoping that a new best friend will move in down the street and have a trailer even dumpier than your own.

"Hm. I think I saw Miss Peggy show it to some people yesterday. Driving a red Grand Prix. You can never trust people who drive Grand Prix."

I nodded.

Parents of middle schoolers probably wouldn't be driving a red Grand Prix. What I needed was a 1991 teal Astro van. If she spotted one of those looking around next door, then my chances were lots better.

"Well, I gotta go, Mrs. Finley. Thanks for the hot dog."
She nodded again, smiling, "Come back tomorrow, dear. You can help me re-do my bathroom."
I grinned as I waved to Mr. Finley, who grunted back, and walked out the front door.

I stopped short. Parked next door was a teal Astro van. I almost could've bet it was a 1991.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day 144: Clementine, Chapter 4

On the first day of summer, I was laying on my bed staring at Orlando Bloom and his huge adam's apple when I heard the first ice cream truck of the season. It was playing "How much is that doggy in the window."

I was going to spend the next three months listening to an ice cream truck drive in relentless circles around our trailer park. Trailer parks are magnets for ice cream trucks. Ice cream trucks and satellite dishes. We had those in abundance.

I got off my bed and trudged to the curb to watch the ice cream truck go by. If I had money, which I didn't, I would've stuck my arm out and waved to the guy. He had a gold tooth in front, and wore a RAIDERS baseball cap. I would've asked him for an orange creamsicle, and then I would've changed my mind and gotten a chocolate dipped mint cone. Then I would've sat down on the curb and eaten it really slowly.

But I didn't have any money. So, the truck drove slowly, hopefully by, and the driver waved. I didn't wave back.

Balancing on the edge of the curb, I listened to the music fade and decided to go see if anyone had moved in next to the Finleys.

The trailer park was quiet. A lot of people were gone to work. I knew the Finleys would be home. They never went anywhere. I had spent the last 2 summers hanging out in their trailer while my dad was at the cherry warehouse and my mom was sleeping off her last shift.

The trailer next door still had the FOR RENT sign up front, so I walked by and went up the ramp to the Finley's front door. Tapping lightly, I could hear a basketball game playing in the background and the sound of Mrs. Finley's house slippers as she shuffled to the glass door. She pulled back the curtain, holding a pack of hot dogs, and smiled and waved at me as she yanked at the door. It didn't budge. She grumbled at it for a second before yelling through the glass at me that it was stuck and to pull from my side. I pushed the door aside easily.

"Come in!" she said, too loudly. "I'm making wieners for Harry and I for lunch. Have some." I glanced at the clock--10:00 in the morning. "Um, thanks..." I grinned back at her. She shuffled towards the kitchen and I followed, waving at Mr. Finley as he sat, enthroned on a plush pink armchair. He had three remote controls lined up at his fingertips, and the volume up at full blast. He nodded in my direction.

In the kitchen, Mrs. Finley was putting the hot dogs on ancient white melamine plates that had gold roses peeling off of them. Next to each hot dog, she put a pile of crushed up, stale potato chips, and half a Twinkie. Shoving one plate into my hands she said "Come see my bedroom. I redid it. So it would match."

"Match?" I muttered. Match what???

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day 143: Clementine, Chapter 3

That night, sitting at the dinner table, I kept thinking about that girl. Holding my fork and scooping up my Hamburger Helper Stroganoff, I could see the berry stains on my fingers. Who was she? Why had I never seen her before?

My father sitting across the table from me, his worn black slacks covered in chalk dust from teaching, cheerfully asked "Well, Munchkin, what kind of house did you find for us today?"

He always asked me that. Every day. I could count on him to ask, and so I always had a descriptive answer.

"Two stories. Stone and shingle, craftsman style. Trampoline and pond in the back."

He nodded appreciatively, "Do you really think craftsman style is the right choice for us? Don't you think it's going to look dated in a few years?"
Shaking my head, "No. Craftsman style is much better than stucco. I like brick, but it's hard to find brick that goes all the way around, and I don't like siding."
Again, he nodded, considering seriously.

I reached for the corn, without asking for it, so my dad saw my fingers.
"Berry picking?" he asked, surprised, "Without me?!"
"Not really," I gulped, "I was walking home, and... there was a girl. She was picking berries and she gave me a few."

Both my parents raised their eyebrows now, hopefully. They wondered if I'd made a new friend, I could tell. "Who was it? Anyone we know?" asked my mom. "No," I replied, scooping up some orange jell-o, "at least, I didn't know her. She was lots younger than me. I've never seen her before."

Too young for a friend, they were thinking.

I stood up to clear my place and scraped the leftovers into the garbage disposal. My mom glanced at her watch and suddenly switched into what dad and I called "Flight of the Bumblebee" mode--zooming to get out the door and to work on time. She pecked the top of my head with a "G'night. Do your homework." and then rushed out the door. My dad, whistling off-tune, put all our plates in the dishwasher and then walked down the creaky hallway to his bedroom to grade quizzes.

Tapping my short fingernails on the counter, I wondered what to do now. It was the end of the year, so I didn't have any homework, really. I couldn't watch TV while Dad was grading. It drove him crazy. I guess outside was my best option.

I slid open the front door and turned to walk down the street. Paulette was just getting home from work in her colorful car, talking on her cell phone and nearly ramming into her mailbox. Further down, I could see Tabitha Sloan walking her two rottweilers and her miniature pony for the evening. Mariachi music blared from somewhere close by, mixed with the steady "thud, thud, thud" of a car stereo system's bass amplifier. I walked absentmindedly by the different trailers on my street, noticing the various wind chimes, flags, and lawn decor that seemed to change with both the season and the current occupants. Turning right at the next street down, I could see Miss Peggy, wearing a long broomstick skirt and with a long cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She was hammering a red FOR RENT sign in front of a faded blue trailer. Double wide, but with only a patio and no lawn. I wondered who would rent it. Would their father be a teacher, too?

Next to the blue trailer was where Mr. and Mrs. Finley lived. They were old. Very old. They didn't have stairs to their sliding front door, but a ramp instead. Jammed into the dirt was a painted sign that said "One hot chick and one old crow live here." I liked the Finleys. They made me laugh. They were the only ones who, like me, thought that living in a trailer park was something you could laugh at and be ashamed of. They were the only ones who didn't have trailer park pride.

Maybe the Finleys would tell me as soon as someone rented the trailer next door.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Day 142: Clementine, Chapter 2

It was one day like any other, near the end of school, and I was walking home. That day I had walked around a neighborhood called River's Run Estates, and chosen a beautiful home for my family. Two stories. Trampoline in the back and a little pond with a fountain in the front. I was thinking about what kind of fish I would put in the pond, dragging my clogs in the dust and watching it swirl around my ankles, when I happened to look up. I knew that I'd heard something, but wasn't quite sure what. I could hear a mockingbird in a nearby tree, but nothing else. Then, turning to my left, I saw a pair of huge blue eyes looking at me curiously from the middle of a patch of blackberry bushes.

The eyes were set in a round, chubby face that was covered in purple blackberry juice. Above the blue eyes was a tangle of curly blond hair, sticking out in every possible direction. It was a girl with both her grubby mitts just full of barely ripe blackberries. She grinned at me broadly and held out her hand.

Now, I was standing a good 10 feet away from her. And all of a sudden, it struck me how bizarre this was. What in heaven's name was a little girl doing, all alone, standing in a blackberry patch at 3:00 in the afternoon anyway? And offering berries to a stranger? And not speaking a single word? Bizarre.

I shook my head. She grinned bigger and took a couple steps forward, still holding out her handful of half smushed berries. I could see that she didn't have any shoes on, and her feet were covered in purple berry stains, too, and her legs were covered in scratches from the briers. Seeing those scratches, I felt kind of guilty for not taking the berries. So I stepped forward a little bit, too, and took the berries from her hand and popped them into my mouth.

They were warm from the sun, and still slightly sour.

Standing there, chewing my berries, I stared at the girl and tried to guess her age. I decided that she was 7, maybe. But then why didn't she say anything? She just stood still and stared right back at me, smiling and rubbing her dirty hands down the sides of a raggedy RANDOLPH MEMORIAL DAY 10K t-shirt that was much too big for her, while she balanced on one foot.

It was something about the t-shirt that made me realize, with a shock, that this girl must be poor. Really poor. So poor that even a trailer park would be nice. The kind of poor that made my own mama look at me over her glass of blue Kool-Aid at dinner and say "You eat that green bean casserole, young lady. There are kids who would be grateful to have it." Wow. Poor enough to be grateful for green bean casserole. I looked to the left and right of me, for any sign of a house. I couldn't see any. Just the tangled undergrowth of the trees, buzzing with the sound of bees.

"Where do you live?" I blurted out.
She just smiled.
"I mean, do you live... around here?" I tried again, more politely.
She laughed--a deep, staccato sound that surprised me.

Suddenly, with hardly any noise at all, she whirled on the foot she had been balancing on and darted off through the bushes and into the trees, where I couldn't see her anymore.

I looked down at my own hand, and the purple berry juice on my fingers.


Clementine, By Chapter

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Day 141: Clementine, Chapter 1

I live in a trailer park.

I'll give you a second to let that sink in. Go ahead. I'll be here.

Like I said, I live in a trailer park. It's called Meadow Brook Terrace Trailer Park, which sounds so much nicer than Circle-L Trailer Park, about three miles down the road, just after the Sunoco gas station. How can an L be a circle, anyway?

I don't know why in the world they named our trailer park "Meadow Brook." There are no meadows, unless you count that space where the Vasquez family got their panties in a twist and ripped their not-so-mobile home off it's foundations a couple years ago and the weeds have run amok. And I've looked everywhere for a brook and never found more than gutters that run when it rains. But, then again, the owner's wife--Miss Peggy--has what she likes to call an "artistic bent". Maybe she imagined the meadow and the brook.

Our trailer is gold. I don't know why trailers can be gold, since you never see real houses that are gold. But ours is. Gold siding on the bottom and off white on the top. This is better than the trailer three down from us. It is "coral and azure" which could also be called "pink and aqua". The owner ordered it, special, to match her Berretta. My sister calls it a Witchmobile. She's right, you know. And what kind of person orders their house to match their car? But that's Paulette for you.

Inside our gold trailer, there is a kitchen, a living room, a closet that is supposed to be a bedroom, a bathroom, and a bigger bedroom at the back. They all go in a line, off of one hall. I sleep in the closet that is supposed to be a bedroom. My parents sleep in the big bedroom, and my big sister sleeps on the couch in the living room when she isn't begging her friends, who have real houses, to let her sleep there. She says that she has friends because she bought a pair of jeans at the mall that cost $100 of her babysitting money. She wears them everyday and washes them every night. She says I don't have friends because I wear Faded Glory brand clothes that my mom buys me on the clearance racks at Walmart, so I'm always wearing sweaters in the summer and shorts in the winter. It's a vicious cycle, but I've accepted it.

Rose, my sister, had the little bedroom originally, and I had the couch, but when she started sleeping away from home more nights than not, my parents said I could have it. When they told her, she just shrugged and told me not to touch her Orlando Bloom poster on the wall or her collection of perfume on the shelf. I did pretty well, considering the temptation, but every once in awhile I did allow myself a spritz of "Sunflowers."

My mother is a nurse. Doesn't that sound like a noble profession? One that you would be proud to have your mother be? Well, I am. I tell people who will pay any attention at all that my mother is a nurse at East Central Medical Center. She wears navy blue scrubs and a name tag with stars on it.

My father is a teacher. It is also a noble profession. But it's also why we live in a trailer park. He teaches algebra to middle school students, driver's education at 4:00 in the morning at the high school, and sorts cherries in the summer. I don't usually tell people about the cherries.

And me, well, I ride the bus every day to and from school. And every day I get off the bus with a big pack of other kids, just trying to blend in, at one of the local neighborhoods. I watch them scatter to their brick and stucco homes, with shade trees out front and pansies planted around the mailbox. I wander through different streets, every day, and pick a different house that I would like to buy. Then I walk home. Usually a mile or two. But I promised my mom never to cross any busy highways, like the 74, and get squashed. No one ever asked me to go home with them, to listen to music or watch a movie. No one seemed to notice that I got off at different stops.

But I didn't know that someone was watching, and that my life was about to change--for the better--much sooner than I knew.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day 140: Lavinia, Processing

Tonight, I am debating what to do next. I think I'm ready to move Lavinia off my blog, and keep working on it away from here. It has taught me really good things. Like how terrible I am at dialogue, which is something I want to work on. I think one of the most important things I learned was realizing, one day, that each day's entry needed to have as much work and detail put into it as I would put into a short piece that was only one chapter long. I realized that I wasn't taking the time to savor or build the story's pieces, because I was in such a hurry to outline the plot, so it became more fun to write, after that. Like I said: good things.

But, where to from here? I have a couple things I would like to try, but have a hunch I would be miserable at. Like writing things from a man's perspective. Or writing an "action" or "mystery" type of story. I'm mulling it over, and will see where I go next!!

For those who have read, and left comments, thank you. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Day 139: Lavinia, Chapter 14

Not letting go of her hand, Charles pulled Lavinia over to a small path at the side of the lane and sat down on a low stone wall. She sat next to him as he silently looked at the ground, trying to compose his thoughts. He released her hand, and clasped his together for a minute, closing his eyes briefly. She waited.

Finally, he turned and looked into her eyes, "Lavinia, I needed to see you; to talk to you, but I don't even know exactly how to say what I want to say. All of the things I had intended to say, sound so simple now" his voice trailed off. Gazing downward, he seemed to gather his courage before continuing, "I need you to understand, about me. I need you to understand why I'm doing what I'm doing. So you can make your choice."

She was a little confused, "Make my choice?"
"Yes" he said in a rush "because... I would ask you to be mine. But I feel that I cannot ask you that, if you don't understand." With that he reached for her hand again.

Sitting on the cool stone wall, suddenly she could hear the wind in the trees and the rustling of their leaves. The sun on her back was warm, glinting off the dew on the grass, and birds sung lightly overhead. His hand was warm on hers. She was amazed, in this moment, to find that her thoughts were still and composed, like untroubled water. She had not expected Charles to propose, which he just had. She had especially not expected that she would feel so utterly alert and peaceful.

"What is it, then, that you need me to understand?" she asked calmly.
"About my new faith, Lavinia. I can't ask you to marry me and be my wife, if you don't understand this part of me."
At the mention of this strange religion, she suddenly felt an icy coldness course through her veins, but she remained silent. Something in her whispered that now was not the time for her to speak.

And so he began, in a rush, "I met the elders, as you know, in the square. I was just curious--like most people are, I think. I attended their cottage meeting that night, well--you remember. I do not know what I expected, but I went, even though I felt torn, because I wanted to see you as well. But something told me to go.

When I got there, the two elders spoke. The first one spoke of a prophet, like Moses or Elijah, on the earth--right now. The second spoke of a book that he has translated by the power of God, called the Book of Mormon. I was fascinated by the things they talked about--not because of how new they were, but because of how the pieces seemed to make everything fit. Everything made sense. So, I borrowed a copy of this book from one of the elders."

Looking up now, at the trees overhead, Charles seemed to speak more to himself than to her. "I began to read it, and I knew it was true. I didn't even have to pray about it. I just knew. I decided that I would be baptized into their faith. I don't have to tell you, because I am sure that you have already heard, that when I told my uncle of my intentions, he made it very clear that he would disown me if I chose to be baptized. I would lose my apprenticeship. I would be penniless, and I have nowhere else to go. So I have not been baptized."

Lavinia suddenly exhaled in relief. She had not known if he had actually joined this church or not. He had not. So, there was still hope. He looked up at the sound, and stared at her for a moment--trying to understand the reaction.

"I intend to be baptized, Lavinia. As soon as I can be. I have just decided that I will wait until I have saved enough to sail to America, and then I will be baptized, and go to join the other members of my faith there."

With that sentence, all of Lavinia's hopes shriveled inside of her. She felt herself go numb. He was leaving. He was going to be baptized into this church, and then he was going to leave. Tears sprung to her eyes, and she didn't even care if he saw.

His gaze softened as he pressed her tiny hand inside his, "Lavinia, I cannot ask you to marry me, now. To come with me. I know that is not fair. But, I can ask you, please, to at least read this book." At that, he drew a small, tan volume out of his pocket and placed it in her hand. "If you will only read it. Consider it. If you have any feelings for me, at all. If your answer is no..." and his voice caught. He paused a moment. "If your answer is no, then all you have to do is leave the book on my doorstep. But, if your answer is yes..." he looked at her, his eyes shining, "if your answer is yes. Then you can return the book to me, yourself."

Having finished, he looked spent. Lavinia stared at her skirt, and the little book laying there. After a moment, he stood quietly and said "I have to go. Thank you, for listening to me."

She did not say a word.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Scheduled Maintenance...

Hi. :)

I spent some time tonight editing a few things and, most importantly, putting together chapter lists. You'll notice on the sidebar two new buttons, one for Lavinia and one for Fields of Gold. If you click on those, they'll take you to a Table of Contents for each story, so you can read them by chapter. For Lavinia, I've also added a link at the bottom of each chapter to the next day.

New installment tomorrow: the big talk between Charles and Lavinia, circa 1855. Yeehaw. ;)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Day 138: Lavinia, Chapter 13

At the mention of her name over the pulpit, Lavinia turned a vibrant shade of red. She felt uncomfortably like 100 pairs of eyes were boring into the back of her head, and she wished she could sink into her shoes and disappear. Instead, she slouched just a little bit and kept her gaze on her bare knee caps. She realized that she needed to be more diligent in shaving them.

In her flustered embarrassment at being mentioned, she had missed the first several minutes of Jenna's talk, and felt a vague satisfaction at that. If Jenna was going to call her out in front of everyone, then it served her right to have her words have the opposite effect on her intended listener.

As her mind came back to focus, however, she listened somewhat absentmindedly to what Jenna was saying. It was obvious that she really, truly believed every word that she had prepared. It was also obvious that it wasn't easy for her to share some of the things she was sharing, which surprised her roommate. It had not occurred to her that Jenna might be just as hesitant about the sharing of her faith as Lavinia was about learning about it. She decided she would at least forgive Jenna for trapping her.

The talk was only about 10 minutes long, and then Jenna sat down and someone else got up to speak. Lavinia didn't look at Jenna for several minutes, but instead thought wistfully of her Grandma Jane. She had always wished that she'd had a chance to know her better--to understand what she believed, and what she loved. She had always thought it was too late, to understand that part of her family and her past. It was that thought that made her raise her eyes and meet Jenna's gaze. Doing so she found herself returning her roommate's warm smile.

On the drive home, a full three hours later, Lavinia didn't say much. Jenna kept a companionable silence, while the tinny speakers forced out some classical radio from a local station.

"My grandmother was a Mormon, you know." Lavinia blurted out suddenly. She needed to get it said. Jenna raised her eyebrows slightly, but replied with a simple "Oh?"

"I never really knew her. We never lived close, and she died when I was barely a teenager. But I know she was Mormon."
"But, your family--aren't?" Jenna asked, sounding slightly confused.
"Maybe my dad was christened a Mormon. I don't know. He joined the Air Force, and met my mom. She's Catholic. A good Catholic." Lavinia emphasized.
With a sideways glance, "But I've never seen you go to mass. Are you Catholic?"

Somehow, this question caught Lavinia off guard. She wasn't ready to talk about her own faith, or lack of it. She wanted to talk about her grandma. She wanted to know what her grandma had believed, so she could file it away as part of her genetic makeup--what made her, her. And so she stumbled over the question of what religion she was.

The pause was lengthy enough that Jenna politely moved on, saying lightly "It was really nice of you to come with me to church today. You are such a good sport." Lavinia only laughed shortly and replied "Well. Going to church once a year won't kill a person, I guess."

She hoped she'd gotten the message across--she'd gone once, to be nice, but she had no intention of going back again.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 137: Lavinia, Chapter 12

Standing among her grandmother's beautiful peonies, Lavinia closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. She could smell the damp earth and the soft moss. The faint breath of curling ferns, and heavier perfume of peonies. She felt the tension drain from her shoulders and face, and her thoughts, which had been like a hive of disturbed and angry bees, seemed to quiet and settle.

She opened her eyes and finally admitted, to herself, what was bothering her. She was avoiding Charles on purpose. She was trying to be charming and encouraging to James. But her heart wasn't in it. She couldn't seem to quit hoping to hear Charles' confident step coming up behind her, or listening for the tone of his voice in a crowd. This was a problem.

It was all over their small parish that Charles Mann was taking up with the Mormons. Derisive glares and whispered comments seemed to follow him wherever he walked. It made Lavinia blush defensively for him, but she said nothing. Her brothers, especially, made fun of the baker's apprentice and his new faith. They never teased, to her face, but she knew that her stony silences probably made it pathetically clear that she cared about him. She also knew that his uncle had told everyone that if he joined this new church, he would be out on the street. No apprenticeship. No livelihood.

The thought of that, of everything he was risking and everything he could lose, made her heart feel tight inside her chest. She had the inexplicable sense of her own life slipping through her fingers, and she didn't quite know how to catch it. The anxiety crept back into her shoulders as she sighed and carried the basket of peonies back to her Grandmother Jane.

After a cup of Earl Grey tea and a comfortable silence, she walked out the front door and began walking down the lane. Her eyes were on the road, thoughtful, as she walked. Then, unexpectedly, a shadow fall across her path and she looked up.

She hadn't expected to see him there, and her breath caught in her throat as she looked up into his eyes. Her hand flutter upwards as she realized, with a start, that his eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

He reached out for her hand, and, in an unsteady voice, he quietly but determinedly said "Lavinia, we must talk."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 137: Lavinia, Chapter 11

Lavinia was quiet on the drive to the church in Jenna's old blue Sentra. She loved Los Angeles on Sunday mornings because it felt nearly deserted. In other cities, like New York, the traffic never seemed to stop. Whether it was 8:00 at night or 2:00 in the morning, people were coming and going. But here on the edge of the west coast, the crowds vanished on Sunday mornings and you could drive at a reasonable pace and enjoy the palm trees that towered on either side of the road.

When Lavinia had moved here, she had been delighted to discover two roads: Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards. Both ran from the center of the city all the way to Ocean Avenue and the endless Pacific. If you got lost, all you had to do was drive north or south toward one of these roads, and you would know where you were. It was predictable, and Lavinia loved it.

Of course, she had driven by the gigantic Mormon temple on Santa Monica. It stood up on a green hill behind it's gates, towering in the sunlight. She always smirked a little at the irony of the gritty streets right in front of it, complete with their Guess billboards and half naked people. What a place for a house of worship. The temple was so huge that she'd never noticed the church behind it, but it was into this parking lot that Jenna turned.

Suddenly, Lavinia felt nervous. She had been to a Mormon church, once before. Years and years before, with her grandmother, but she didn't remember anything about it. Jenna parked and they got out of the car and walked toward the nearest doors. They were a little bit early, but other single adults were already pulling in as well. Inside, the building smelled of cinnamon air freshener, floor wax, and paper. There were utilitarian chairs and a couch in the lobby, with a large picture of Jesus on the wall.

Lavinia recognized the sister missionaries as they approached them, and introduced themselves again. Jenna turned to Lavinia, "I have to sit up on the stand to give my talk, so I thought you could sit with the sisters. They'll be able to tell you what's going on, if you have any questions" and she walked down the hall. Feeling a little bit trapped and uncomfortable, Lavinia looked at the sister missionaries, who were looking at her expectantly. After a moment of awkward silence, she finally said "Well. Lead the way." and followed them into the chapel.

The chapel was a wide, open space and simply decorated. There were no pictures or stained glass windows, just simple woodwork and a clock on the wall. In fact, the only decoration in the entire room was a vase of blue hydrangeas on the pulpit and a lace tablecloth covering the communion table. They made their way to a pew about four rows back from the front of the chapel, and the sisters slid to the center of the bench. Lavinia groaned inwardly and unwillingly followed; she had been hoping for an aisle seat, near the back, so she could remain inconspicuous and leave quickly, if she wanted to.

The pews around them were filling with people who smiled and chatted with each other, or sat quietly and doodled on paper or stared at the ground. Quiet organ music filled the chapel, and people grew quiet for the beginning of the meeting.

Lavinia's mind floated back to her grandmother, Jane. She could only remember fuzzy details about her father's mother, since her father had been in the Air Force and they had moved a lot when she was young and her grandma was alive. But her grandmother had had a yellow house, she remembered that very well, and a huge backyard that was filled with living and growing things. As a child, on their rare visits, she had spent hours exploring her grandmother's carefully tended garden, dotted with fruit trees and bordered by grape vines.

The most distinct memories, oddly enough, were memories of saying goodbye--of looking through the back window, waving goodbye, and crying. Usually, in her hand, she would've been clutching a tissue tied around several lemon drop candies--something her grandma always, always had in her house. Lavinia knew, somehow, that her Grandma Jane would've understood her, and her restless loneliness. She also would've been pleased to find her, here.

She pulled her attention back to the service, which seemed to be simple and straight forward. After they passed the sacrament plate, which Lavinia quickly passed over--unsure of what to do, they moved right into the simple talks. Jenna was second. The first girl, who introduced herself as Michelle, gave a talk that, she said, was about faith. It sounded, to Lavinia, more like a personals ad intended for the men in the audience. Several times, she had to look down at her lap and smile at the transparency.

Then it was Jenna's turn. She stepped to the pulpit, opened her notebook and set it to the side, before folding her hands together and smiling out at the audience, then turning her gaze directly toward Lavinia.

"Brothers and Sisters, today I'm going to be talking about what makes our church different from other churches. And I'm going to be talking, mostly, to my friend Lavinia, who is visiting with us today....."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day 136: Lavinia, Chapter 11

She was constantly irritable. Melina avoided her. Teddy spent the majority of his time hiding in the study with his tutor, or working with their father. She felt her mother's eyes on her constantly as she stormed about their house, first picking up a book and then laying it aside, then picking up some stitching only to let it fall in her lap as she gazed out the window. She could hardly even stand to be around herself. Finally, she pulled a shawl around her shoulders and headed down the lane to visit her grandmother.

Many people found Jane Dunwell to be harsh and proud, even by the kindest of standards, but Lavinia always found her presence to be soothing and stabilizing. She was a very strong woman, with hair that was almost black, pulled into a tight knot at the back of her head. She reminded Lavinia of a bird, with her penetrating eyes and in the way that she tilted her head and moved swiftly wherever she went. Born to privilege late in the last century, Jane Wyatt married well enough to please her demanding parents--a promising officer in the British Navy, John Dunwell. But then, after only months of marriage, her young husband had died at sea, leaving her alone and expecting their first child: a boy. Lavinia had never heard her grandmother speak her late husband's name, or talk about him in any way. When she asked her, once, what he was like, Grandmother Jane had tersely replied "I don't remember. I hardly knew him."

As she walked, Lavinia wondered, again, what her Grandfather John had been like. She wondered if Jane Wyatt had loved him, when she was young. She wondered if her grandmother had forgotten, after all this time, how it felt to gaze into deep brown eyes. How it felt to be young.

She approached the door of her Grandmother's lovely, but modest, home and knocked politely. Mary, one of two servants in the house, opened the door at the familiar knock and smiled. She took Lavinia's shawl and led her into the breakfast parlor, where her Grandmother stood at the window, looking out.

Seeing Lavinia enter the room, a warm light entered her eyes, even though she did not rush forward to meet her. Lavinia was her favorite grandchild, and she always enjoyed her company. She could often sense the child's moods and whims, and was happy to be silent as she talked. "The young need to talk," she thought. Even before her granddaughter had spoken, she could sense agitation in the air around her, so she bent down and picked up a basket near her feet that had some shears in it.

"Lavinia, please go into my garden and gather some flowers for me. Peonies, please--they'll be past their peak soon, and I want to enjoy them in the house. Be careful of the forget-me-nots or you'll trample them." she instructed with authority.

Lavinia almost sighed with relief as she took the basket from her grandmother and went outside. She knew that she wouldn't have to think here, that her grandmother would give her things to occupy her mind.

Behind her, Jane Dunwell had turned back to the window and watched Lavinia's willowy figure as it moved around the garden. Something was definitely bothering the girl. She wondered if it involved James Fenwick, whom she knew that her son and his wife had been encouraging in his attentions to their daughter. Somehow, she didn't think so. James Fenwick reminded Jane of a hummingbird: flashy and appealing, but entirely unpredictable and undependable. No. She didn't think that James was a good match for her Lavinia.

But, if it wasn't James, then who?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Day 135: Lavinia, Chapter 10

Opening her eyes, Lavinia lay under her heavy blue feather comforter and looked at the early morning sunlight streaming in her window. She lay there, thinking, and looking at the small clay pots of herbs perched on the narrow windowsill: basil, mint, rosemary, oregano. They brought life to her small room with their delicate, pushy green selves. She loved their texture and their smell; she loved everything about them.

It was Sunday morning, so no work today, but she could hear Jenna showering. Glancing over at her clock, she guessed that she was already getting ready for her church, which started at 9:00. Stretching and rolling to her side, she thought about this.

What kind of twenty-somethings get up at 7:00 on a Sunday morning to go to church? Even more--what kind of twenty-somethings are happy about it? She couldn't figure it out. Every week, Jenna put on a skirt, picked up her Bible, and went to church for three hours. This left the apartment predictably empty every week. In any of her former apartments, Lavinia would've basked in the silence and the solitude. But here, it often seemed, after Jenna left, that her apartment seemed to echo with the emptiness, like going into someones house after they've been on vacation for a week. It was disconcerting. So, Lavinia would pull her bike on to a bus and head down to the beach to ride along the boardwalk and watch the waves. Sometimes she would go to the Getty Museum for the afternoon, sitting for hours at a time by the shallow pool and watching people come and go. By the time she returned in the evening, Jenna would usually be home, and usually with a few friends who, by now, Lavinia was familiar, almost comfortable, with. It was predictable, and she liked it.

She closed her eyes and debated going back to sleep for a little while longer when there was a soft knock at her door. Surprised, she invited Jenna to come in, which she did with a smile. She was wearing a pretty blue flowing skirt and white sweater. Her wet hair hung loosely around her face and she carried her toothbrush.

"What are you doing today?" Jenna asked.
"Uh... I hadn't really..." stumbled Lavinia in reply.
"Great. Come to church with me," Jenna smiled down at her "I'm giving a talk today."

Lavinia's mind seemed to pause in it's confusion--what had she just been asked? Come where? Looking dumbly at Jenna, she finally managed "I have nothing to wear. I don't even own a skirt." Disappointment clouded her roommate's face, but then she brightened, "Yes, you do! That pretty black skirt you got for work a few weeks ago." Rats. "Oh. Uh. Okay. Yeah. Sure." Lavinia stumbled. Jenna grinned at her and retreated quickly from the room, in case Lavinia changed her mind.

Still confused, Lavinia threw off her covers and rubbed her eyes. She showered quickly, then found the black skirt at the back of her closet and pulled it on with a simple button-up shirt. She kept wondering how she'd gotten into this position, but found that she didn't mind. She would already know some of the people there. She was interested to see what Jenna was "giving a talk" about.

She walked out to the front room and found Jenna standing by the door with her Bible, a magazine, and a notebook under her arm.

"Ready?" she asked.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Day 134: Lavinia, clarifying

Just--really quick, and since all of my creative energy was completely tapped into and drained by my children many hours ago, a quick clarification on the current story for those who are confused:

There are two Lavinias.

One Lavinia lives in central England circa 1835.
One Lavinia lives in Los Angeles circa 2009.

Does that help??? (I know, I need to make it more clear in the writing, but I felt like if I just put that out there, while I continue to slaughter this rough draft, it might at least make it bearable.)