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In this issue, Pat Jeanne Davis and Caroline Taylor bring us two stories to touch the heart. We hope you enjoy them.

For more from our members, follow their blogs:





Marianne H. Donley





Sal Paradysz 




Headley Hauser






Will Wright







Courtney 
Annicchiarico







Christopher 
D. Ochs




A Fresh Start

Pat Jeanne Davis


Vicky sat at the kitchen table, poured a cup of coffee and winced at her reflection in the side of the chrome toaster. No man and no job. The chiming of the doorbell intruded upon her gloomy thoughts.

A woman with gray hair and bright blue eyes stood on the step outside. “Hello. I’m Emily from across the road,” she said, smiling. “I hate to disturb you, but your dog’s barking in my back yard.”

“Sorry. There’s a faulty catch on my gate that I meant to fix.” She grabbed Luke’s leash from a hook on the back of the door and extended her hand. “I'm Vicky.”

“I wouldn’t mind, but my son works nights. Are you on vacation this week?”

“No, I lost my job.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Vicky hurried after Emily, admiring the neat layout of Emily’s yard. She spotted Luke sitting by a fish pond, surrounded by a riot of flowers and blossom-laden trees.

As Vicky was leaving with her retriever, Emily touched her arm. “Good luck finding work. Let me know if I can be of any help, dear.”

Vicky smiled. “Thank you.”

Back home she flopped onto the settee and drank cold coffee while Luke sprawled across her feet. “There’s still you, old fella, and a friendly neighbor.”

She hoped her melancholy would soon pass, realizing she was fortunate to have a place with a yard for Luke. And she’d dropped two dress sizes on the new diet, placing her almost at the ideal weight for her medium frame. But still not as slim as the woman Bob dumped her for.

Tears stung the back of her eyes, and she reached down to stroke Luke’s coat. “You’ll go for a run this afternoon and then I must fix that latch.”

New routines felt strange as the weeks dragged, and Vicky grappled for some semblance of normality while looking for another job. She now had time to spend with her mother at the nursing home and to volunteer her services there.

Leaving the house one afternoon, she spotted Emily standing at the curb. A man—not much taller than her own five-feet-eight—was unloading bags from Emily’s car. Vicky crossed the street.

“This is my son Ben. Ben, Vicky,” Emily said, jerking her head toward him.

He turned round. Vicky held out her hand and smiled.

“Er, sorry, no free hands,” he said.

Vicky’s gaze shifted from his warm brown eyes to the packages piled up in his arms.

As Ben walked away, Emily leaned over and whispered, “Not so friendly with women. His wife left him last summer.”

She squeezed Emily’s arm and attempted a smile.“ I’m off to do some shopping and then the fitness center.”

Seated in the car, Vicky watched in her rear-view mirror as Ben walked back to where his mother stood. Where had she seen him before? She searched her memory, but with no success.

Shopping done, she walked the short distance from the car to the gym, flipping through a magazine as she went.

“Can you read and open the door, too?” she heard someone say in a deep, masculine voice.

She looked up to see Ben. He shifted a duffel bag to his shoulder and stepped back into the lobby to let her in. “Vicky, isn’t it?” He swiped his forehead with the back of his arm, perspiration running down his cheek.

She dropped the magazine into her oversized bag. “And you’re Ben.”

“We meet again,” he said, still holding the door.

Vicky smiled. “Looks like you’ve had a good workout.”

He glanced down at his clothes and shifted his feet. “Need to shower and change before going into Jefferson.”

“Jefferson! The hospital? So that’s where I’ve seen you.”

“I thought your face looked familiar too.”

She met his gaze. “I worked there for four years until they reorganized my department.

“It’s six years for me on the fifth floor.”

Vicky’s pulse quickened. Had she seen him while a patient on his unit or elsewhere around the hospital? She took a deep calming breath. “So you're a psychiatric nurse?”

Ben nodded.

Vicky felt a tight knot in the pit of her stomach and scrambled for something more to say. Since the break-up a year ago she’d tried hard to leave painful memories behind and to force that brief hospital stay for depression from her mind..

“Probably saw you on one of my rare day shifts.”

Vicky threw him an anxious glance. “Possibly.”

“About the job loss. You’ll find another one I’m sure,” Ben said, flashing a captivating wide smile.

She attempted to sound cheerful. “I have an interview tomorrow.”

“Try to be optimistic.” He adjusted his cap. “Maybe we’ll run into each other again.”

“I expect to be home most days,” she called after him, hoping they’d do more than bump into each other.

Two days later, Vicky went to open the front door, dressed in a crumpled blue robe. Who could it be at this hour?

Ben stood with Luke at his side. “Your dog likes my house,” he said, grinning.

“I’m sorry he’s a bother.”

“No bother. I just got off work.”

“I thought I had repaired that latch,” Vicky said, regretting she hadn’t even dressed or combed her hair.

He stooped and stroked Luke’s neck. “Have you found anything yet?” He was looking at her dog, but addressing her.

“No . . . not yet.”

Ben stood up. “Don’t give up hope.” He made to leave, then turned. “Would you like me to look at your gate now?”

She smiled. “If it wouldn’t be any trouble.”

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of having the right tools.”

“I’ll pour you a cup of coffee before you start.”

“Sounds good.”

In no time, Ben had repaired the latch. Luke cavorted across the lawn while they looked on, laughing.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” she said, grateful that her dog had a secured space to romp.

Ben gazed into her eyes, smiling. “No need for that.” Then he cleared his throat. “Look . . . are you free this Saturday? I’m going for a hike in the hills.” He patted his waist. “Need to lose weight.”

Luke jumped up and planted his paws on Ben’s chest. He ruffed the dog’s ears. “Lot's more room there for him to run.”

Vicky’s heartbeat picked up in anticipation of spending a day with Ben. “Thanks for asking,” she said, her tone masking her excitement.

“Well, need to get some shut-eye. The unit was busy last night. You know how it goes.”

Vicky studied his intent expression and nodded. She watched him cross the street, her heart surged with the prospect of a fresh start. If it hadn’t been for the defective latch, she might’ve never had a chance to get to know Ben.

The fluttering of a curtain across the road caught her eye. She saw Emily step back from the window. Vicky pressed her nose against Luke's snout. “So . . . who’s the matchmaker here? Emily or you?”



Pat Davis
writes from her home in Philadelphia, PA. She enjoys flower gardening,   genealogy research, and travel. Her work appeared in Guideposts, The Lookout, Bible Advocate, Faith & Family, GRIT Magazine, Splickety Magazine, Ruby For Women Magazine, Woman Alive, and Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She has completed two historical inspirational novels and is represented by Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Visit her at 
www.patjeannedavis.com.








Mrs. Morrison Throws Down the Gauntlet

Caroline Taylor



MrsMorrison was too busy to die.

“Good for her,” said Teddy when I’d repeated what our neighbor had told me after handing me a rhubarb pie to welcome us to the neighborhood. 

“Don’t you think it’s strange?” I said, as I rummaged through the drawer in search of a knife.

Teddy snorted. “Of course, it is—unless something you said somehow prompted her to—”

“—I gave her my name and yours and thanked her for the pie.”

“If she’s baking pies all day, then she is too busy.”

“Let’s taste it first,” I said, handing my husband a plate. “It could be from a grocery store, ya know.”

“Rhubarb? I don’t think so.”

The pie was delicious—a taste of long ago summers when Mama would bake so many rhubarb pies we nearly got sick of eating the stuff. While rinsing the plates, I realized I should take MrsMorrison something in return. I’m no pastry chef, so I filled her pie tin with a mound of oatmeal cookies, the ones I’d managed not to burn.

“Why, thank you,” she said when she answered my knock. She was a small woman, trim of figure, with short blondish grayish hair and a smudge of flour on the tip of her nose. “I do love oatmeal cookies, and I’m way too busy to bake them myself. In fact,” she laughed, “I’m too busy to die.”

There it was again. I didn’t know what to say, so I gave her a weak smile and a wave and turned to go.

“The book club meets here every Wednesday at ten,” she called out. “You are welcome to join us if you like.”

I turned back. “I’m afraid I work full time,” I said, “but thanks for the invitation.”

“I’ll be hosting the knitting circle on Saturday,” she said, before I could escape. “Do you knit?”

“I’m afraid not,” I said. Oh boy. This neighbor was going to be the kind who gave neighborliness a bad rep, a busy busybody who would always have one eye peeled and a ready invitation the moment she saw you. 

I warned Teddy about her later on, after he’d come back from the hardware store.

He chuckled. “I was in there looking for the right-sized screws when I met the guy across the street. He tells me his wife now drives the car several blocks away from our neighborhood so she can run in peace. Every time she tried to go for a run on our block, MrsMorrison would collar her with some invite or, worse, a suggestion that she ought to do the book drive or the computers-for-the-kids fund raiser.”

I looked at the boxes we had yet to unpack. “I suppose it’s too late to move.”

“Hey,” said Teddy. “I’m not going to let some old biddy intimidate me.” He crossed his arms. “If she asks me to do anything, I’ll tell her to buzz off.”

“That’s kind of rude, don’t ya think?”

“Naw. It’s called honesty.”

MrsMorrison did capture my husband the following Sunday when he was mowing the back yard. It was something about joining the Elks, as her late husband had done.

“She wasn’t very happy when I told her I was too busy to consider it,” he told me afterwards. 
“Gave me one of those looks you used to get in grade school when the dog ate your homework.”

MrsMorrison was too busy bothering folks to tend to her own business, it seemed. Her gutters needed cleaning, her shrubs pruned, her trim painted, things normally handled by a man. “Why don’t you offer to help?” I said to Teddy one day. “She needs it, and maybe she’ll reward us with another pie.”

Bless his heart, Teddy took me up on the suggestion, mostly because, I believe, guys just like to do guy things. MrsMorrison was duly appreciative, too, and it seemed we could settle into an arrangement where I mostly avoided her and Teddy occasionally offered to help when the chore could use a man.

By then, we’d learned that the woman had told everyone she met that she was too busy to die. A lot of the neighbors found this hilarious, including us. Not only were we all too busy to die—especially the families with children—we were pretty sure death was not lurking anywhere nearby, in both the spatial and temporal senses.

MrsMorrison was busy, no doubt about that. Her good works did not go unnoticed by the town fathers, who decided to give her an award for “outstanding community service.” All her neighbors and friends were invited to the ceremony, with much speculation among us as to whether she’d say “I’m too busy to die” in her acceptance speech. By the eve of the ceremony, the odds were running one to nine.

The event never happened, however. It turned out that MrsMorrison was not too busy to die. On the day of the event, an official sent to pick her up and drive her to the ceremony wound up calling the police when she didn’t answer her door. Apparently, she’d fallen down the stairs and cracked her head open on the polished oak floors of her foyer.

It seemed that practically everyone in town attended MrsMorrison’s funeral. They even had to set up chairs in the parish hall and hook up a closed circuit TV for the overflow crowd. Teddy and I and several other neighbors had arrived early enough to find seats at the back of the church. I looked around at them, feeling pretty sure I knew exactly what a few were thinking, mostly because I shared those thoughts: “At last, I no longer have to keep an eye out for that intrusive busybody.”

The mayor himself delivered the eulogy. It turns out that poor MrsMorrison had not had the best of lives. Her daughter was run over and killed at the age of ten. Her son later died of an illness suspiciously related to the Gulf War. Her husband succumbed to a heart attack. Instead of letting these terrible things swamp her in hopeless misery, MrsMorrison had turned to good works. 

The mayor then proceeded through a laundry list that ran the gamut from the annual bake sale and book drive to feeding the homeless to knitting baby clothes for impoverished mothers to the race for the cure and finally various refugee relief efforts. As he was doing this, my face grew hot and my head light, not because of the eulogy’s length but because of its content. What had I ever done to help a stranger?

Ted grabbed my clammy hand. “You okay, honey?” he whispered.

“We were wrong,” I said.

“What?”

“All of us.” I gestured at the neighbors sitting on either side of us. “We thought she was just patting herself on the back when she said she was too busy to die.”

“Well, sure.”

“We were wrong, Ted. She was issuing a challenge.”







Caroline Taylor
's short stories have appeared in several online and print journals. She is the author of two mysteries, a forthcoming short-story collection, and one nonfiction book. Visit her at 
www.carolinestories.com.