Wednesday, December 25, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

From our house to yours, may you have a wonderful Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate.  




For a special gift, please use this coupon for a free copy of 'A Dream to Share,' good until January 1, 2014.



Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/105446 and enter this code at the checkout:  HV37J for the free book.  If you'd like to copy it to your Kindle, see directions on http://sweettalebooks.com/copyingtokindle.html.


Best wishes and Merry Christmas from Sweet Tale Books!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'Live Your Dream' by Markee Anderson--Chapter 6



Chapter 6





Keri flew home on Sunday, letting Darryl and Brittany drive the car south the day before. She'd spent a lot of time helping her mother, since Paula was restricted in everything she did. Her hand was looking a lot better, which was good. Keri missed Nick, but knew he'd be busy for a long time.

She drove to her apartment, heading upstairs to take a nap. It had been a long trip, seeming like more than just the few days she'd spent in Chicago.

As soon as she walked inside, she saw her answering machine blinking. She played the one message, wondering who would be calling her, since all her friends knew she'd be out of town and to call her cell phone if they needed her.

"Keri, it's Nick. I'm back in Germany and wanted to make sure you got home okay. Check your email and let me know. I worry about you." The machine beeped.

He cared? It surprised her. She figured he'd forget about her and never contact her again, just because it seemed like the natural thing to do since he was so far away.

She went to her laptop and turned it on, then checked her email. Sure enough, there were six emails from Nick, asking how she was doing, how the rest of the family was, and how her mom's hand was doing. She replied to each of them, asking about him as well. His depression from grief would catch up to him, but she didn't want to push him. At least he could use her and her family for a surrogate family in the meantime.

For the next month, Keri would reply to emails before school from Nick, rush home to see more emails from him, then chat with him online for half an hour before he had to go to bed. Since there was a six-hour time difference, she'd spend the evenings doing schoolwork and thinking of things to tell Nick the next day. She really missed him, but she couldn't pressure him. He still lived in Germany, and they really couldn't date long distance. But she had bought him a Christmas present and sent it. She couldn't let him spend Christmas alone.

About a week before Christmas, Keri came home after a long day at school.

The phone rang as soon as she stepped inside, so she grabbed the phone beside the couch. "Hello?"

"Hello, sweetheart."

It was Nick. Her heart beat faster and she didn't know what to say. "You're calling me? This has to cost a fortune."

"Not a problem. How was school today?"

"Tiring. How about you? How was work?"

"The same. Tiring. I need to talk to you. Do you have a minute?"

She laughed. "For you, I have all the time in the world."

He was quiet but she could tell he wanted to talk about something big.

"Spill it," she said.

"Right to the point." She imagined him running his fingers through his hair. "I want an honest opinion from you. Was my dad right when he said I wasted my life?"

"Are you still thinking about that?"

"Yes, and I want your opinion. Am I wasting my life?"

"No. I'm worried you don't have any downtime, but no, you're not wasting your life. You're helping others and making sure patients don't die. You're a really good person and don't ever forget it."

He was quiet for a moment. "If that's true, why don't I feel like a good person?"

"Because you're letting a dying man's thoughts get to you. Let it go, Nick. I believe in you, as does my whole family."

He was silent, yet again. "I miss him a lot. His dying words were directed at me, making me feel so guilty. I never told him I loved him and I really miss him."

"It's hitting you hard."

He sniffed. "More than anything. I'm afraid it's affecting my work, because the big boss wants to talk to me in the morning. I'm worried, Keri. I don't want to be demoted or discharged from the Army with a black mark on my record. That'll prove Dad right."

"What happened today at work?"

He sighed and she could hear him crying. "It doesn't matter. I did my job but wasn't really here. I have to go, and I want you to move on from me. I'm not worth waiting for."

"Nick, that's not true and you know it, deep down."

"If I lose my job, I can't drag you down with me."

She needed to have him focus, thinking about the present she'd gotten him. "What are your dreams for your life?"

"Well, I want to go into practice for myself, get married, and have kids, so we can run on the beach. I guess I need to think about living near a beach some day."

At least he had a plan. "Yeah. Just remember the dream. That's your goal, to work toward and live your dream. As for your dad, his goals were probably different than yours, so it's not relevant right now."

"You're saying my dead dad's words aren't relevant? That's kind of cold." He paused. "I have to go." The phone went dead and Keri just stared at it. What just happened? She didn't even have time to find out if he'd gotten the present she sent him for Christmas. Maybe he didn't get it or maybe he didn't like the engraved watch she'd sent him? Maybe he didn't read the back where it said, 'Live your Dream'?

She just knew it. It was the wrong thing to write, especially if he was losing his dream. Jane had talked her into it and Keri had spent a lot of money on the watch.

She could only sigh. The more she thought about it, she hadn't really said anything to upset him, but he was really upset. Grief had finally caught up with him and his dad's words haunted him. If she could only talk to him, face-to-face.

She spent the weekend checking her email and waiting by the phone, but he never called and never emailed. It was as if he'd dumped her, but she didn't think she did anything to deserve it.

Keri taught school through the following Wednesday, the day before the Christmas break. At the end of the day on Wednesday, she stopped Pearl as she was heading out the door. "Excuse me. Do you know if your uncle's okay?"

"I think so. Why?"

"I haven't heard from him and want to make sure he's okay with your grandpa's death. I know you had a tough time with it and was wondering about your uncle."

"I think he's fine. Grandpa's playing cards in Heaven, which is what Mom told us."

"I see. Maybe he's just busy?" But Keri knew that wasn't the truth. Nick was the type to keep in touch, no matter what.

"Merry Christmas, Miss Matthews." Pearl headed out the door while Keri fell into her seat, wondering what was going on. She missed Nick more than she thought she would, worried about him. If she could only talk to him, she could find out what was really going on.

After finishing her schoolwork around six, Keri grabbed a sandwich on the way home, and went to her empty apartment. Another Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone. Her parents had given her money for Christmas, and she had no decorations or a tree, since it was only her.

After getting some ice cream for dessert, she settled in for a long winter's night.

~~~~~

A knocking at her apartment door made Keri open her eyes, looking at her clock. "Nine in the morning?" She crawled out of bed while the knocking continued. "I'm coming. Just wait a minute." Whoever it was seemed impatient. But when she opened the door, Pearl and Rico stood in front of her.

"Miss Matthews?" Pearl asked. "Would you like to come to our place for Christmas Eve? We're making cookies all day long."

"I just woke up." She thought for a moment. "Sure. You need help, I guess?"

She nodded. "A lot of help. Mom said she doesn't even know how to use a mixer."

"That's not good. I'll be right down as soon as I get a shower and something to eat."

Pearl and Rico bumped fists. "Yes," Pearl whispered. They ran away, while Keri shook her head, wondering what they were talking about.

She got a shower and dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. After pulling her hair back into a ponytail and getting a breakfast bar, she went downstairs and knocked on Rita's door.

The door opened and Rita ushered her inside. "Come on in. I'm so glad you're here. We have to go to a Christmas Eve party and are to bring cookies with us for dessert."

"Cookies? Wouldn't you rather have a cake or something?"

The woman's face lit up and she took Keri's hand, pulling her inside. "Let's get to work. I'm terrible in the kitchen."

They began to cook and Keri taught them all how to make chocolate chip cookies. After that, they made oatmeal and peanut butter cookies. When they were done, they made two cakes, one of them a chocolate cake, and the other a coconut cake—Nick's favorite. Just the thought of it made Keri sad, but he was gone.

Rita finally checked her watch. "We have to go. We're expected there by six."

Keri walked toward the door. "That was fun. I hope you have a good time."

Rita grabbed her arm. "Oh, no. You have to be there, too."

Keri looked down at her clothes. "But I'm covered in batter and dough."

"So? We are too." She chuckled and ushered her kids out the door. "Let's go or we'll be late. I think they're making steak."

"Steak," Keri said. "Yum."

Rita moved her toward the door, locking it behind them. They all walked outside to the Mercedes and got inside. Keri felt sad, because that Mercedes had been Nick's car—well, his dad's car. She truly missed Nick, but he was gone. His own sister and kids didn't seem to mind that he wasn't around, but they would have been used to him being away.

Rita drove toward the west, closer to the beach.

"Where are we going?" Keri asked.

"To a Christmas Eve party," she said. "I think there are going to be a lot of people there, too."

Keri looked down at her clothes. "I'm not dressed for this."

"Relax," Rita said. "No one cares." She drove toward an area known as Orange Estates, north of Bay Pines, and pulled into a big home with a manicured lot.

"Where are we?" Keri asked.

"At a party," Pearl said, giggling behind her hand.

"Yeah. A party," Iris said.

They got out of the car and carried the cookies and cakes to the door. Rico took the cake from Keri's hand while Rita rang the doorbell.

"Are you sure you can handle that?" Keri asked Rico, pointing at the cake.

He nodded. "You need your hands free."

She was confused until the door opened. There, before her, stood Nick wearing a giant grin. "Nick!" Keri felt the tears behind her eyes, reached out and gave him a hug. "I missed you so much," she said between sobs. "I'm so sorry I upset you. I really didn't mean to. You have no idea."

"I can only imagine." He backed away, then leaned down and gave her a kiss. "Welcome to…my house."

"Your house? Since when?"

"Since yesterday." He chuckled. "I have a lot to tell you, but come on in. We're having a party."

She looked out the sliding glass door to the backyard, where about twenty people milled around, talking and laughing with music playing in the background.

"I'm not dressed for this," she said to Nick, pointing toward her shirt.

"You're fine. It's very casual and everyone's a mess." He ushered them to the kitchen where they put the cookies and cakes on the counter.

Nick took her outside, where he introduced everyone. No one was dressed up, and some were still in scrubs. They were all either doctors, their wives, or people who worked at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center. Nick started a few grills, pulled out some steaks, and handed the tongs to another man. "Have fun. I'll be back."

Keri stood back, watching Nick as she drank a soda.

"Keri," he said, as he approached her. "I want to talk to you."

"You have a beautiful home and very nice frien—"

His finger went to her lips. "I need to talk to you alone." He took her hand and directed her inside, then to the bedroom. He sat her down on the bed and stood in front of her. "I have to apologize to you. When I talked to you last week, I was really upset."

"No kidding. What did I do wrong?"

He smiled and then sat beside her. "Nothing, because you were right about all of it. Dad's death finally hit me. I talked to my boss the next morning and he said he knew it would hit me, too, then said there was an opening in Florida—Bay Pines. He even set up this place for me to rent. It's fully furnished and I'm negotiating buying it from the owner." He took her hand. "I wanted to be near you more than ever. I'm just sorry I took it out on you. That's what I wanted to talk to my dad about. I finally found someone for my personal life, and wanted to know what Dad thought. That's why I couldn't talk to your dad or to you. But I did talk to Rita and she approves. I flew back here and moved in yesterday, but wanted to make this special for you, because I missed you more than you know. I never want to be away from you like that again and never date long distance."

"So you're living near me now?"

"Yeah." He grinned slightly. "Is that okay? Can you ever forgive me?"

"I sure can." She hugged him again. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"I also forgot to tell you thank you for the watch." He took it off and studied it. "I got it the same afternoon they offered me the job here. It's exactly what I needed. My watch broke the day before I got this in the mail. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

He grinned and turned it over. "Did you know it was engraved?"

She laughed. "My friend Jane made me do that. You know, it's—"

He leaned down and kissed her. "Thank you so much. It's perfect. I do want to live my dream…with you." He paused, looking into her eyes. "Keri, I love you. I have for a while, too. I looked forward to talking to you every day, and my boss saw it, knowing I needed you. I have a special Christmas present for you, too, and more out under the Christmas tree."

"You didn't have to."

"Yes, I did. You don't have anyone here to celebrate Christmas with you, and I don't want you to ever be alone for any other holiday." He walked to the closet and grabbed a medium-sized present. "Rita helped me with this and you get it a day early."

"Rita did? She didn't even tell me anything."

He nodded. "It's been a busy few days. I lived at one of the doctor's homes for the past two days until I could move in. It didn't matter because I was working sixteen hours a day, at least." He handed her the present. "But that was just to get used to the ropes. My hours will be more normal starting next week." He nodded toward the box in her hand. "Open it."

She opened the box, seeing the most beautiful jewelry box inside. She ran her hand over the top. "It's beautiful."

"I bought that in Germany right after I got back." He smiled. "I want to make my dream come true, Keri, and hope it's your dream, too. I love you so much." He opened a drawer of the jewelry box and took out a small blue box. As he got down on one knee, he looked up at her with a grin, and then opened the box, showing her a big diamond ring. "Keri Elise Matthews, will you marry me?"

She felt her eyebrows lift considerably while her mouth fell open. "You know my middle name? You talked to my family?"

He nodded. "I called your dad and he gives us his blessing. Will you marry me?"

She wiped her eye, filled with tears of happiness. "I'd love to."

He stood up and pulled her to her feet, then gave her a kiss and a hug. "Thank you, sweetheart. I'm not a loser anymore. That's what Dad kept telling me, because I couldn't settle down and always put my career in front of my personal life." He backed away and put the ring on her finger.

"That's what he said? You're not even close to being a loser. You were just waiting for the right person."

He chuckled. "Exactly."

"I love you, Nick. I guess I need to tell Charise from the airport she'll be a bridesmaid."

He laughed. "Yeah. Don't forget her. It's her fault we got first class." He leaned his forehead on hers. "Want to tell everyone outside?"

"Sure. I'd love to."

And as they walked out the door, his guests crowded around the hallway near his bedroom, cheering the newly engaged couple on while wishing them the most happiness for their lives together. It was certainly more than Keri ever hoped for, finally living the dream she'd always wanted.

The End

Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

'Live Your Dream' by Markee Anderson--Chapter 5



Chapter 5

Keri woke up at two minutes after four the next morning, and stumbled down the stairs and toward the kitchen. The light was already on, a scent of coffee filling the air. As she walked into the kitchen, she saw Nick standing in front of the stove, mixing something.

"You're up already?"

He turned around. "Oh-four-hundred hours, right?"

She chuckled. "Yeah. Four o'clock."

He opened a cabinet and pulled out a mug, then filled it with coffee. "Cream? Sugar?"

"All of the above." She yawned. "How do you function at this time?"

He went to the refrigerator and got the cream and sugar. "I'm used to it. I get up before four every morning, to be at work by four-thirty."

"Wow. What time do you work till?"

He poured some cream and sugar into her mug and stirred it with a spoon. "Ten at night. I get breaks, sometimes, for meals."

"You work harder than I do. I bet you're exhausted."

"Not really. In the military, I have to be ready for things like that. I got used to it." He put the cream and sugar away, then handed her the coffee and kissed her forehead. "How are you today?" His gaze met her eyes, making her realize how special he really was.

She had to answer. "Fine, I guess. I'm really not awake yet."

"I see that." He turned around and searched in the cabinets, then grabbed a waffle iron. "Does your family like waffles?"

"They love them. I can help."

"No. The turkey's in the oven, on a medium-low heat." He poured the batter into the waffle iron, and closed it. "Have a seat and talk to me."

She didn't sit down, but sipped the coffee. "I want to help. What else did you want to make?"

"What would be good?"

She grinned. "Coffee cake or cinnamon rolls?"

"Coffee cake."

"How about fried apples, too?"

"Yeah." He grinned. "You're good at this."

"I've done it a bit."

They got to work on the apples and coffee cake, talking about life the whole time. They grew up with similar backgrounds, where education and hard work got you to where you wanted to be.

Paula and Bill walked into the kitchen around seven, looking like they just woke up. "Thank you guys for taking care of these things," Paula said. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Did they tell you to wrap your hand after a shower?" Nick asked, while setting the table.

"Yeah. I can do it."

"No, I'll do it," he said. "I want to make sure you're okay. I don't trust a lot of doctors."

They all sat down to eat waffles, apples, coffee cake, and mixed fruit with coffee and juice to drink.

"Keri, did you do all this?" Paula asked, looking at everything on the table.

"No. It was Nick. He got up before I did and took care of most of this and the turkey. I finally got a shower right before you guys came downstairs."

"Me, too," Nick said, while eating.

"Together?" Bill asked.

Keri just laughed. "No, Dad. We're just…friends." She glanced toward Nick.

"Kissing friends," Bill said with a smile. "I approve. Go ahead and date him. You need someone nice in your life, unlike Josh. I never liked him."

Keri glanced toward Nick's smile.

"Want to date?" he asked her.

"You're going back soon. Does that make sense?"

"Sure it does," Bill said, and glanced toward Paula. "We started dating the day before I had to ship out. I didn't think I'd come back alive. At least Nick's not on the front lines."

"No, sir, I'm not," Nick said. "But distances can be tough."

"You probably have tons of women falling at your feet over there, too," Keri said.

Nick shook his head. "Nope. I won't allow it. I'm there for the job, only. I had a girl back home when I first went over there, and decided it wasn't a good idea because I was trying to make a name for myself. I've done that now, and it's time to settle down a bit and have a friend. I have life goals, and it's almost time to move on from that job." He nudged Keri with his elbow. "Are you game?"

"Maybe. Let's just see where this goes."

Paula and Bill laughed, making both Keri and Nick stare at them.

"That's what I said when Bill shipped out," Paula said. "And thirty-four years later, we're still married."

They talked through breakfast and got lunch ready with the turkey and all the items just as Aunt Clara arrived. After eating too much and trying to be nice to her family, Keri grabbed her coat and walked out the back door. She needed space and since Nick was talking to Walter and Darryl, she had the time.

Keri cleared the snow off the porch swing and sat down. No sooner had she settled in and started to move the swing than the door opened and Nick walked beside her with his coat on. "Is this seat taken?" he asked, pointing toward the swing.

She smiled at him. "Nope. Have a seat. You took long enough."

He sat down with a laugh. "They drive you nuts, don't they?"

"You have no idea. I'm tired of hearing about Clara's aches and pains, and Mom telling her all about her burn and how you handled it. You walk on water in their mind."

"Are you mad at me?"

"Never. I just hate these sorts of things. I miss the heat of back home and I'm tired of the snow already."

He laughed at her and put his arm over her shoulder. "You don't have to mince words with me. Tell me what you're really thinking."

"Are Brittany and Darryl coming with you?"

"Yes. Both of them."

"I really don't want to deal with them. I say give them the keys then you fly back with me and stay at my place. Want to? It's my treat."

"I really have to get back overseas. They weren't happy that I wanted to come home at all. Why don't you come to see me over Christmas? I'll buy your ticket."

"I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"I've never been overseas. I don't even have a passport."

He was quiet for a moment. "I'll figure something out, but really want to spend time with you."

They talked about some ideas, but nothing panned out. Before long, Karen walked out to the porch. "We're playing games again. Aunt Clara wants to play."

"Here we go," Keri said. "Now we get to hear about her bowel movements, I bet."

Nick just laughed and helped Keri stand up. "How are your arches now?"

"Much better. How much do I owe you for that?"

"Nothing. Ever. I love doing it for you and if you need another massage, just let me know."

They went inside, chuckling, and sat down to a very long but funny party game yet again. Keri had to admit, it was better with Nick around. He could even keep Clara from talking about her aches and pains.

The next morning, Keri dressed in the only dress she'd packed, and went with Nick to his father's funeral. There were a few taxi drivers there, but only about ten people stood at graveside after the funeral service. When it was over, Nick just stayed seated, staring at the casket with his hands clasped in front of him.

"Are you okay?" Keri asked.

"I miss him a lot. I need to talk to him about my life."

"Want to talk to my dad?"

Nick looked up at the blue sky. "I don't think he'd understand. Dad and I didn't see eye-to-eye much, but your dad talks to each of you. He understands a lot more than my father ever did. But when Dad did decide to talk to me, he'd have a lot of good advice."

"What did you want to talk to him about?"

He glanced at her before returning his gaze to the grave. "You wouldn't understand, either."

"Try me. You'd be surprised what I understand."

He put his arm over her shoulders. "I wish you could, but all emotion has to be out of it. Just know I miss my dad."

She pulled him in for a hug, wishing she could take all his pain away from him, just as his cell phone rang. He backed away and pulled his phone from his pocket, then looked at the identification screen. As soon he saw it, he sat up straight and put it to his ear. "Yes, sir, Colonel." He listened for a moment. "I'm at the funeral right now, sir. I'll get a flight out right away, sir." His glance to Keri looked very sad. "Yes, sir. I can get a flight out ASAP. Just keep them pain-free until I get there." He nodded and ended the call.

He turned toward Keri and stroked her cheek. "I have to go back. They have many wounded and need me. It's all hands on deck right now."

"I understand. I'll handle getting your car to your sister."

"No, let Darryl and Brittany take it. I'll put some cash in the dash so they can stay over a few nights and make it to Tampa. I'm just sorry we didn't get more time together." He leaned over and gave her a kiss. "I'm sorry I didn't get to talk more to you and to Dad."

"You can still talk to me, you know."

He grinned. "I intend to. Check your email and cell phone often." He took her hand and helped her to her feet. "Let's go. I need to get my stuff and get to the airport."

And the countdown was on for Keri to lose her friend. Long distance relationships didn't work and she knew that was the truth.


Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

YUM! Coconut Snowball Recipe!

Here's another recipe that would look great on a cookie platter:

http://www.holidayspage.net/coconut-snowballs-2/

I hope you try it out!  YUM!

Enjoy!
Markee

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yum! Peanut Butter Snowballs!

Check out the recipe on this page:  http://www.holidayspage.net/peanut-butter-snowballs-recipe/

YUM!  I REALLY need some of these!  YAY!  More for my Christmas cookie platter!

Enjoy!
Markee/Andie/Eryn/Kyra/Paige/SweetTaleBooks

Friday, December 20, 2013

'Live Your Dream' by Markee Anderson--Chapter 4



Chapter 4

Keri and Brittany walked into room 310 of the hospital, where Nick stood, looking out the window. There were no patients in the room, making Keri's mind fill with dread.

"Nick?" she said.

He turned around and she could see the redness surrounding his blue eyes. He held out his arms and she walked to him, pulling him in for a hug.

"He just died," he whispered. "Right before I called you."

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"Hey," Brittany said. "You single?"

Keri backed away from Nick and just stared at the woman, who was smiling and making goo-goo eyes at Nick. "That's so inappropriate," Keri said. She turned toward Nick, who looked stunned. "That's my sister. She'll date anything that wears pants."

"I see that," he said. "But I'm not available right now. I have to bury my father who just died."

Brittany reached out and touched his arm. "Want help? I can use a shovel."

Nick's mouth fell open as he stared at Keri. "You're related. Seriously."

"Believe it or not, yes." Keri turned toward Brittany. "Hey…go get us all something to drink."

Brittany moved closer to Nick, running her hand up his chest. "What would you like?"

He backed away. "Uh, nothing."

"Three colas," Keri said. "And hurry up, please?"

"You're no fun."

Brittany stormed out and Keri took Nick's hand, taking him to a chair. They sat down beside each other and he just shook his head.

"Does she have to hurry?" he asked.

"Yeah. It'll make her have more problems finding any cafeteria because she won't be able to stop for directions. She might be older than me by a year, but she's not the brightest bulb in the bunch and I can make her do things." She studied his face. "Tell me what happened?"

"I came in and Dad was awake. He told me to do something with my life and to marry. He said he won't be able to see me happy, but told me to move fast and not make the same mistakes Rita made." He wiped his eye. "He doesn't even realize that I have made it. I'm a well-respected surgeon in Germany, but he wouldn't listen. We fought about it, and all of a sudden, he just stopped talking. The last thing he told me was not to waste my life."

"You're not wasting your life. Why would he say that?"

He shook his head. "I don't know." He stood up. "I have to get out of here. What are you doing tonight?"

Keri looked down at her clothes. "I was making coconut cake. Want to help me bake?"

"That's one of my favorite desserts." He tilted his head slightly. "That actually sounds like fun. I think I even know how to talk to your dad."

"You do?"

"Yeah. Is he ex-military?"

"He was in the Marines. If you ask him, he'll tell you he was there during the 'big' war…but there was no war at the time." She rolled her eyes.

He took her hand. "Thank you for coming to see me. May I help you at the house?"

"Sure." She grinned, leaned over and kissed his cheek, just as Brittany walked into the room.

"Hey," Brittany said. "He's mine."

"Nope," he said. "I'm spoken for." He winked at Keri and she knew he was just playing with Brittany's head.

As they walked out of the hospital, Keri explained where her parents lived.

"I know that area," he said. "I used to know a guy up there by the name of Darryl Tobias."

"Darryl?" Brittany asked, walking closer to her car. "I'm dating him right now…along with…" And she ticked the names off on her fingers. "Davey, Bruce, Rick, and Mark." She paused. "There's another name. What was that guy's name? I have six…"

"Do you live around here?" Nick asked Brittany, making her focus on something other than her six men.

"About fifteen minutes away, if the traffic's good. But some days…it's just awful."

"What's Daryl up to, anyway?"

"He delivers cars to dealers. Hey, I know," Brittany said, pulling out her phone. "Why don't I invite him over and you two can talk. That way, he'll dump his other girlfriends and just date me."

"But you date more than one man," Nick said. "Is that fair?"

"Yes, it is. I'm deciding." She walked around to the driver's side. "Hurry up. I think Mom's ordering out for pizza." She dialed her phone and got into the car.

"You know where we're going?" Keri said to him. "I have to go with her or she'll get lost."

"Yeah. I found your parent's address in the phone book. I know that area and even their street." He grinned. "You're a really nice person." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Can you tell everyone we're dating? Otherwise, it'll be weird with Brittany trying to add me as number seven."

She watched his face, a smile covering her mouth. "Sure. Are you doing okay though?"

"I'll be fine. I've seen a lot of people die before, but never did they tell me my life was a waste." He crossed his arms and shook his head. "I'm going to miss him, though."

"It'll sink in and when it does, I'm here for you."

"Good." He backed away. "Play along." He laughed and walked away. Keri got into Brittany's car and sat in the passenger's seat, not quite sure what was going on.

Brittany turned the key. "Buckle up, little sis. We're going to actually have fun tonight."

"I hope so." This could be a disaster if she wasn't careful.

Brittany called Darryl, then their mother, telling them the good news. Both Brittany and Paula seemed to enjoy it, but Keri knew her dad wouldn't be happy. She hoped he'd be called to a crime or something, to get him out of the house.

They arrived back at the house, just as a blue Mustang and a black Mercedes pulled into the driveway. Keri wondered which one was Nick's because they were both new cars.

Nick got out of the Mercedes as another man with dark slicked-back hair got out of the Mustang. Keri walked to Nick, pointing at the car. "Your dad's car?"

"Yeah. He left it to me. It's all he had left, since he was in a nursing home."

"Nice car." She walked over to it and ran her hand over the side. "And new."

"It's two years old. I'm tempted to drive it back to Florida and give it to Rita. She could use a car. I don't need one overseas." A slight smile lit his lips. "Want to come with me after the funeral? It'll take about two days and—"

"Yes. I'd love to." She leaned closer. "It would get me out of this house faster, too. When's the funeral?"

"I already set it up for Friday morning, because Dad had been talking to the funeral home. I wanted to get on the road Friday afternoon, then stay over near Atlanta, and drive the rest of the way on Saturday."

"That sounds like more fun than dealing with Aunt Clara. Count me in, but I want to pay my way."

He wrapped his arm around her waist and headed for the door. "Never with me. Now remember, we're dating."

She looked up into his eyes. "Sure. I'll play along."

He stopped and turned toward her, then wrapped his arms around her back. "I think we should start right now." With a smile, he brushed his lips on hers, then backed away while she tingled all over and closed her eyes.

Keri opened her eyes to see him just staring at her. "You're hot," she whispered.

"Did you feel that? That can't be right." He kissed her again and she pulled him to her, deepening the kiss. He responded even more, making her heart race, her stomach plummet, and her knees buckle.

He backed away and she leaned her head up against his chest, feeling lightheaded yet euphoric.

"From just a kiss?" he whispered into her ear. "I feel it, too. Can you stand up?"

"No. Just hold me up, please?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Talk to me to get my mind off this, or I might want you to…rub my feet again." She backed away and smoothed down her shirt. "I'm okay now. Are you doing okay with the grief?"

"It hasn't set in yet, but I'll process it. We're taught how to handle death at my job, because they can even die while on my watch when I'm healing bones." He took her hand. "Ready to go inside?"

"Yeah. I think it's going to hit you hard, though. Right now, you're trying to ignore it, filling in the time with happy thoughts."

"Yes, I am." He smiled. "Do you have much of a background in psychology?"

"I have a master's degree in psychology. It's necessary for teaching. So when will this hit you?"

"After the funeral, when I'm alone."

"Oh, no," she said, as they approached the door. "I don't want you being alone then."

He stopped walking. "Who are you going to get to stay with me?"

"I don't know yet." She opened the door to near silence. Her dad and brother were watching television, the kids were playing on the floor, and Karen and Paula were in the kitchen.

"We're here." Brittany pushed past Nick and Keri, pulling the man with the slicked-back hair right along with her. "Mom, Dad, this is Darryl." She leaned up against, him. "Isn't he just a dream?"

Keri turned toward Nick and stuck her finger in her mouth to mock a gag. He chuckled and pulled her closer to him. "I agree," he whispered into her ear.

Bill grunted and turned back to the game on television.

"Come with me, sweetie," Brittany said, then pulled on Darryl's arm.

"Yeah," Keri said to Nick. "Come with me, sweetie."

Nick laughed, shaking his head. "I'm going to hold you to that." She dragged him into the kitchen, which was actually cleaned up.

"I'm glad you two came home," Karen said. "You just missed all the excitement about a minute ago."

"What excitement?" Brittany asked.

"Paula had a fire in the oven. We just got it put out."

"What?" Keri asked Paula. "What did you do?"

"I tried to get the cake out and dropped the pot holder."

"She burned her hand on the fire because her bracelet got caught," Karen said. "It was bad and she won't put anything on it."

Paula put her hand behind her. "I'm fine."

Nick held his hand out to Paula. "May I see your hand?"

She backed away. "I'm really fine."

He lowered his hand. "Ma'am, I won't hurt you. I have a medical degree or two or three. Just let me look at it to make sure you won't lose your skin."

She stared up at his face, looking as if she was going to cry. "It really hurts. Don't touch it."

"I promise I won't hurt you." He put his hand out again. "Just hold it out and I'll touch your arm to hold it still. Deal?"

"Oh, he's hot," Brittany whispered.

Nick sighed, his hand still outstretched. Paula lifted her hand to his and rested her wrist in his hand. "Please don't hurt it?"

He looked it over. "Wow. That's really red and welted. You have blisters." He looked up at her face. "Do you have anything here for burns?"

"No, but I put it under cold water."

"Then you need to go to the E. R. May I take you to the Emergency Room?"

"Bill will take me."

"Tell them exactly what happened," he said.

"And you're not taken?" Brittany asked, moving closer to him.

"Yes, I am." Nick let go of Paula's arm and wrapped his arm around Keri's waist, atill addressing Paula. "Want us to take you to the hospital? I know my way around there."

"You do?" Paula asked.

"Yes." His face turned solemn. "My father just died."

"Oh no," Paula whispered, her good hand going to her mouth. "I'm so sorry he died."

Nick seemed to be holding back the tears. "I'm going to take Dad's car back to Florida for my sister before I ship out to Germany again."

"Wait," Darryl said. "You're driving to Florida? Want someone to go with you? I need a ride down there to pick up a car in Tampa because I hate flying and hate the train. Are you going to the west coast area of Florida?"

"Yeah. St. Petersburg." He pointed toward Keri. "To her apartment complex, where my sister and her kids live." He turned back to Paula. "Want to go to the hospital? That's got to hurt."

She sucked in a breath. "Yeah, it does. But I'll have Bill take me. He knows people there, too. Thanks anyway." She walked into the living room and Keri heard her father mumble something, then the door opened and closed a moment later.

"So can I go with you to Florida?" Darryl asked Nick.

Nick smiled. "You don't remember me, do you?"

"Nope. Who are you?"

"Nick Albright. Dr. Nick Albright."

"A doctor," Brittany whispered. Keri was ready to slap her upside the head, because he'd told her he had medical degrees.

"Wait a minute," Darryl said. "The kid in high school who was too smart for his own good, so we threw you into a locker?"

"Yeah." Nick smiled. "I got you guys back, though."

"Yeah. Superglue on our books. And we became buddies." Darryl shook Nick's hand. "Welcome back to Chicago. You said you're in Germany now?"

Nick nodded. "The Army. I'm a doctor."

"Wow. That's impressive. We never thought you'd do anything, and here you are, a doctor on a mission. Cool." The man smiled.

Nick glanced toward Keri. "I should've heard that from Dad."

"Yes, but he may have been out of his mind with fear, too. You never know."

The pizza arrived and they all ate at the table. Afterward, Brittany pulled out a party game, and they all sat down to play—even the kids. The door opened as they were all howling hysterically, getting along like when they were kids.

"What's going on here?" Bill asked, walking into the kitchen.

Everyone went silent.

He lifted the box as a smile grew on his face. "I love the game of 'Guess It Now…or Else'. Count me in."

Keri moved her chair slightly toward Nick, with Zac sitting on her lap. She and little six-year-old Zac were a team.

"How's your hand?" Nick asked Paula.

She lifted it, covered in a bandage with an ace bandage overtop. "I'm out of commission for a while. It was bad. I'm glad you sent me to the hospital, because I was getting nauseous from it."

"I'm just glad they could help. Did they say anything about a skin graft?"

"Not yet. They're waiting to see what happens."

"Don't miss any appointments," he said.

Paula sat down at the table and they all began playing, laughing again before long. Even Bill laughed, being nice to Nick.

"So, you're in the Army?" Bill said to Nick, between plays.

"Yeah. I'm a doctor in Germany."

"What's your rank?"

Nick looked up at Bill. "Lieutenant Colonel."

Bill's eyebrows lifted. "That's very high up. So what do you do?"

"I'm in charge of all the other orthopedic doctors and care for many patients. I put in way too many hours."

"That's fantastic," Bill said. "I'm sorry for what I said before. Two taxis had just almost hit my car."

Nick chuckled. "I believe it. I almost got hit myself on the way here."

"You did?" Brittany said. "I didn't see that."

"I lost your car pretty fast."

They started to play again, ending after the kids had gone to bed. Keri hadn't laughed that long or hard for a long time.

Nick stood up from the table. "I have to get going. I need to find a hotel."

"Nope," Bill said. "We have a ton of beds in this place and you're not driving out in that." He pointed to the inch of snow already on the ground.

Keri ran to the window. "It's snowing? I haven't seen snow in a long time." She walked to the door, opened it, and went outside, feeling the snow falling on her face.

Nick joined her, looking up at the darkness. "I haven't seen snow lately, either. I've been working way too many hours."

"You need to slow down," she said. "It's going to catch up to you, just like your dad's death."

He sighed, as if frustrated. "I'm burning the candle at both ends and you're right. But I can't stop now." He moved his arm over her shoulders, looking out over the road. "Would you mind if Darryl came with us to Florida? He can drive and I can talk to you in the back."

She glanced back inside. "If you let him, you know Brittany will want to join us. She has off for a week with her job as a secretary at the University."

"A week off?"

"Yeah. She negotiated that for Thanksgiving and a month off at Christmas. So you know she'll go with you, just to get out of town."

He seemed to mull it over for a bit. "With four drivers, we could get there faster. I could spend more time with you, too." His blue eyes met her face. "Are you game?"

"I'll think about it. Just know Brittany drives me nuts."

He walked toward his car. "I can see that. I'll be right in. I have to get my stuff."

"I'll join you. I'm in no rush to sleep in my childhood room with Brittany." She rolled her eyes. "But you and Darryl will probably have the guest room. It sleeps about six, I think, as does Walter's room. My parents have out of town guests that stay here a lot. I think Aunt Clara will stay with Brittany and me tomorrow night."

He grabbed his duffel bag from the back seat. "I hate imposing."

"It's no imposition. Mom's going to need help tomorrow because of her hand. She can't lift the turkey to put it into the oven around four in the morning. I could use the help to do it."

"Four?"

"Yeah. It's ready to go, stored in the outside fridge. It just has to be put into her huge oven at four, then we can go back to bed."

He pulled her closer to him. "Or we could make breakfast then. Are you game?"

"Sure. What do you have in mind?"

"I'm not sure, but I'd love to do that to pay everyone back."

"Let me think about it." She ushered him inside, then to the room where Darryl was already in bed. Since he was taller, she leaned up and gave him a kiss. "Good night."

"Four. I'll be up." He kissed her again. "Good night to you, too."

She went to her bed, wondering what made that man tick. He was a guest and didn't have to do anything, especially at four o'clock in the morning.

Next chapter will be on Monday, December 23, 2013.


Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Live Your Dream' by Markee Anderson--Chapter 3



Chapter 3

The next day was spent making dish after dish, storing them in the huge extra refrigerator in the garage. Keri was tired, but it was good to hear her mother and sister talking again. It had been years since they discussed anything of value.

In the meantime, her sister-in-law, Karen, discussed education at length with Keri. "So are you saying the other kids will make fun of Chloe if she's younger than they are?"

"Could be," Keri said. "I have one mother who made the same choice you're considering for Chloe. That child is now of high school age. I stayed in touch with the family, because the girl feels like an outcast. She went from the top of her class in sixth grade to struggling in seventh grade, because emotionally, she just wasn't ready." Nick filled her mind. "However, I met some guy last night who went to college in high school, and when he graduated from high school, only had one more year of college to go for his bachelor's degree. He went on to medical school, and then went to work as a doctor in the Army. He's not much older than I am, starting life early because he knew what he wanted to do."

"Was that the man we met at the airport?" Paula asked while kneading bread.

"Yeah. Nick." Keri blew out a breath. "Dad screwed that one up for me. He'll never call now; I'm sure. I was looking forward to talking to him. I have his niece in my class and she needs major guidance."

"What ever happened to the girl who was promoted?" Karen asked.

Keri paused, thinking about April. "She dropped out of school and is working at a fast-food restaurant. She didn't like being the youngest in her grade. She had no goal to work toward, because she wasn't emotionally ready to decide on a career. So she just dropped out of everything."

"Wow. That's sad," Karen said, making a pie. "Do you think she would've done better staying where she was?"

"I'm sure of it." Keri poured some oil into the bowl to make a coconut cake. "She was at the top of her class and loved school because it was easy for her. But seventh grade was a lot tougher and she wasn't ready. For her, it wasn't a good choice and I think the mother is regretting it." She kept thinking about Nick. "But for some people, it works. It depends on the kid, I guess."

Karen couldn't let it alone. "What about Chloe?"

She had to be honest, because the girl was immature. "If I were her mother, I'd have her reading anything she could for extra work instead of moving her ahead, just for emotional maturity. You could have her working on writing reports, too."

"I like that idea," Karen said. "She could get ahead for high school, too."

Some mothers were nuts. The poor girl would probably burn out if she did her work too early.

Keri's mind thought about Nick. Would he burn out eventually? Did Bill make him feel badly, when it was far from the truth? Who cared what Nick's dad did for a living—at least he was employed. She wanted to tell her father off, but knew she couldn't get anywhere. Bill was the man in the family, and if anyone argued with him, he'd kick them out for good. That might work to her advantage, the more she thought about it. She could disown all of them. But where would she be then? She'd be in the same boat Nick was in, having to sit by his father's deathbed alone.

She had to find out where he was, but didn't know his father's name or hospital. However, she did know his sister. Maybe that would work.

As soon as she got the cake into the oven, she turned toward the group. "I'm taking a break to make a phone call. I'll be back."

"Who are you calling?" Brittany asked. "Josh? He was hotter than that stove right now."

"The stove's off," Karen noted, pointing.

Keri took a step closer to the sliding door and opened it. "She's right. Josh was as cold as ice." She grabbed her coat, stepped out onto the back porch, pushing the door closed behind her, then pulled on her jacket. She took out her phone and pressed the number for her best friend and coworker.

"Jane here," her friend said. "Make it snappy. I have a date coming over."

Keri laughed. "You knew it was me, huh?"

"Keri! How's the land of ice and cold personalities?"

Keri laughed again. "You know. Cold. Hey. I met some guy and need his number. He's Rita Venema's brother."

"Rita?" Keri could imagine her friend rolling her eyes. "That lady's a pain. I have her on speed dial and have her number memorized."

"But you're only the art teacher. Why is that?"

Jane sighed. "She thinks Rico's gifted in art and wants me to take him to the next level. So tell me about her brother?"

"He's a doctor in the Army and flew home to Chicago for his father, who's dying. He stopped in St. Petersburg to see Rita, but she refused to come home. Poor guy…he's hurting and my dad wasn't nice to him at all. Oh, and he's majorly hot."

"Wait. You just met the guy and introduced him to your parents already?"

"Not really. They picked me up at the airport and Nick was there. Nick's dad was a taxi driver and my dad told Nick he hates taxi drivers. Anyway, I need Rita's phone number so I can get Nick's cell phone number. I feel horrible about it and want to make sure he's—" She heard a noise on her phone. "Wait. I'm getting another call. Just hold the line."

"Sure. I'm just watching my popcorn get nuked."

Keri flipped over to the other line. "Hello?"

"It's Nick." He sobbed slightly. "What are you doing tonight?"

"Well, I was just trying to get your phone number so I could call you. I'm on the other line with another teacher who has your sister's phone number memorized and on speed dial."

"She does? Why?"

"Rico's talented in art."

Nick chuckled, but she heard his sadness anyway. "I need to talk to someone. Can I meet you somewhere?"

"Sure. Where?"

"I'm at the Mt. Sinai Hospital. Maybe somewhere near there? Do you have a car? I can come get you. I have Dad's car."

"I'm northwest of there, but I'll come on over. I have to get out of here, but it's going to take me a little bit of time to get there."

"Thanks. Dad's in room 310." It sounded like he was still alive. "But I can come over to get you."

"No. Dad's still in a mood, and I don't want him yelling at something stupid again. I'll be there." She paused. "Nick, I really care and worry about you."

He was silent for a moment. "Thank you," he whispered. But she could tell he was hurting and needed her.

Keri ended the call, ended the call to Jane, and walked back inside to the kitchen. "Mom, can I borrow the spare car? I have a local friend in need right now and can't leave them alone."

The woman was creating rolls. "How far away?"

Keri took a big breath. "Mt. Sinai Hospital. It's Nick. He needs someone and has no one to help him."

Paula looked up, walked to the kitchen drawer and opened it, then grabbed some keys and handed it to her. "It has gas in it. Hurry up. That man needs someone with a level head on their shoulders."

"Oh, no," Brittany said. "If she's getting out of work, so am I." She ripped off her apron and headed for the door. "And I'm driving. I don't trust your driving."

"Brit," Paula said. "It's a date. Don't go. You don't get it. The man asked for Keri, not you."

"Tough. She needs a chaperone." Brittany pulled on her coat and opened the door. "Hurry up. I want to get out of here, too." The front door slammed behind her. Keri put the keys on the counter and followed behind, heading toward the front door.

"Where are you going?" Bill's voice boomed out.

"Let them go," Paula said. "They're getting some air from the heat in the kitchen. They'll be back."

Keri kept going, closing the door behind her before she ran and got into Brittany's passenger's side of the car. This wasn't going as she planned, and hoped Brittany knew to keep quiet.


Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

'Live Your Dream' by Markee Anderson--Chapter 2



Chapter 2

After landing in Chicago, Nick stood with Keri at the luggage return. "I want to wait to make sure you get home okay," he said.

"Are you sure about this? My dad's coming to get me."

"Yeah." He glanced around the big area and blew out a breath. "I don't trust some of the people here and can't leave you alone. I'd worry about you."

"Keri?" She knew who belonged to the loud voice before she even turned.

She leaned closer to Nick. "It's my mom. Don't tell her you massaged my feet, or Charise, that clerk in Florida, will be my bridesmaid."

Nick laughed and they both turned around.

"Hi, Mom," she said, and nodded. "Dad."

Her mother ran to Keri, her diamonds and jewelry jingling as she pulled Keri in for a hug. "My sweet daughter that never visits." She backed away and looked down at Keri's slim frame. "Put on a few pounds?"

"No, I lost weight," Keri said, rolling her eyes.

"Was it that awful man, Josh, who dumped you last month?"

Keri glanced at Nick's smile. "Don't laugh. It's not what you think."

Keri's mother's face turned surprised as she faced Nick. "Are you her latest flame?"

"No," he said. "We just flew in together. She has my niece in school."

The woman reached out her hand. "I'm Paula and this is my husband Bill." She pointed toward Keri's dad. Paula took Nick's arm and moved beside him. "So what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a doctor in the Army in Germany."

"Oh. A doctor? And your niece is in sixth grade. So why are you here?"

"Mom, don't," Keri said. "Dr. Albright was just leaving."

"It's okay," Nick said, and then turned toward Paula. "I'm here for my dad. He's dying and I'll probably have to bury him alone."

"Oh, my," Paula said, her hand flying to her neck. "So what are you going to do for Thanksgiving? A military man like yourself shouldn't be alone."

"I have no plans, other than my dad and a funeral."

Paula turned toward Bill, who was eyeing Nick up and down with narrowed eyes. "Bill, we can have him over, right? We always have more than enough food."

"I don't know. What's your dad do?"

"Sir, he was a taxi driver. He and Mom did the best they could with us two kids. Mom had a small bakery before she died two years back, of cancer."

"Taxi Drivers." Bill harrumphed. "They're the bane of my existence." He turned and stomped off, making Keri wonder what planet he was from.

"I'm so sorry," Keri said. "He's got a real chip on his shoulder."

Nick just sighed.

"You'll have to excuse him," Paula said to Nick. "He hates everyone. You're more than welcome to join us."

Nick glanced toward Keri. She wanted to tell him they'd go out somewhere else. But she was pulled between wanting to be with Nick and having to play nice with her family.

"We'll see," Nick said, backing away. "I have to go see my dad."

Keri took a step forward. "Let me know?"

"Sure."

But she didn't see the same spark in his eyes. Her father had interrupted her love life once again.

As he walked away, she realized she didn't have his phone number, but when she saw his shoulders droop, she knew to stay away. She wanted to run to him. She wanted to tell him she was sorry—but what would that do? What an opportunity lost.

Bill grabbed Keri's one suitcase and took it to the car while Keri kept quiet. She knew better than to say anything when her dad was in a mood like this.

On the way to her parent's large home, Paula turned from the passenger's seat. "Are you okay?"

"I'm just tired."

"Well, tomorrow, we're baking all day long. Your aunt Clara's coming to the house, so we have to cook a feast…"

Keri tuned her out. Same old Thanksgiving celebration for Thursday. She didn't like Aunt Clara—her dad's sister—and now with the way her father behaved, she really didn't like any of them. Next year, she'd be busy all year long so she wouldn't have to spend the time or money to come home. She only had to endure questions about her ex-boyfriend, Josh, and she could go back home to her life on Sunday. Going home to loneliness was a lot better than dealing with her dad and his side of the family.

They arrived at her family's home, where she saw both her sister's car and her brother's family car. She knew they'd both be staying overnight, even though they didn't live that far away. It was tradition.

Keri wished she'd stayed home in Florida. She'd been back to Chicago the summer of the previous year with Josh. Now she had to deal with them making fun of her for being alone.

As soon as Bill parked and stormed away from the car, Keri grabbed her suitcase and walked with Paula, listening to her bring Keri up to speed on the gossip. Keri answered when appropriate, trying to sound interested, but worried about Nick. She wondered what he was going through and if his dad was even alive.

Keri went inside and greeted her sister, Brittany—who was texting while saying hello—and her brother Walter, his wife Karen, and their two children. Chloe, who was in third grade, and Zac, in first grade. The kids were nicer than their parents, so Keri sat on the floor and played with them instead of dealing with their parents.

"How's school going?" she asked Chloe.

"It's okay. I'm at the top of my class for everything and they're thinking of putting me a grade ahead. Mommy is pushing for it. She wants me to be the best at everything."

So much for letting someone be themselves.

Keri watched the kids play, wishing she was with someone who really needed her. Her brother sat on the couch and watched TV and refused to talk. Her sister was constantly on the phone to one of her six men. Her parents did their own thing without even talking to her. She was definitely the odd one out. Another fun night at the Matthews' family home.

Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'Live Your Dream' by Markee Anderson--Chapter 1

This is the first chapter of 'Live Your Dream' by Markee Anderson.  It's six chapters in length, so the chapters will be shown every day from now until Christmas Eve, with the weekend of Dec. 21-22 off.

Enjoy!


Chapter 1

The airport terminal was so crowded, Keri Matthews leaned against a wall, just waiting for a seat to open up. It was close to Thanksgiving, and traveling out of town seemed to be the 'in' thing for most residents of St. Petersburg, Florida.

A heavyset woman stood up from a chair near the end of one row and walked away with her purse, leaving a seat empty. Keri practically ran to it, falling into the seat before anyone else could grab it. She slipped off her right loafer and massaged her foot.

"You okay?" she heard from her left.

She turned, facing the most handsome man sitting beside her, sporting a military cut styling his brown hair and the lightest blue eyes possible.

"Uh, sorry." She put her foot back onto the floor and slipped it into her shoe. "I was on my feet wearing heels all day and this was the only available seat. I can leave if you're annoyed." She grabbed her purse and started to stand, but his hand on her arm stopped her.

"No, ma'am. I just wanted to know if you're okay. Is it your arch?"

She waved him off. "I'm fine."

He motioned toward her foot. "I'll look at it. I'm a doctor in the Army."

"Are you sure? I bet my feet stink."

He smiled. "Nothing I haven't smelled before. Give me your foot and I'll take a look."

"Actually, both of my feet hurt."

"Ah. Then give me both your feet and you can lie back and be waited on. That's what should happen to a beautiful blonde woman with blue eyes such as yourself."

What a guy. "Masseuses are nice and ones that compliment me are even better." She smiled, trying not to chuckle. Without a moment's hesitation, she slipped both of her feet out of their shoes and turned completely toward him.

Once he lifted her feet into his hands, he checked them over one at a time. "Man. Your feet stink."

She pulled back her legs, but his laughter and his hand stopped her. "I'm kidding you," he said, his gaze meeting her face. "Your feet smell like sweet daisies in springtime."

"You're hilarious."

He massaged her sore foot, making her close her eyes and throw her head back in something feeling like ecstasy.

"Do you like that?"

"More than you know." She opened her eyes and watched him. "So what's wrong with my foot?"

"Your arch is falling. When's your flight?"

She checked her watch. "I have an hour and a half."

His face turned slightly confused, still massaging her foot. "Me, too. Where are you going?"

"Chicago. Home. Not my choice, but it's my one trip home for the year and I don't have to go home anymore for a while. You?"

He lowered that foot, then lifted her other foot. While massaging her left foot, he watched what he was doing. "Chicago, as well. But it's not going to be a good trip. I'm home on an emergency leave."

She pulled her foot from his hand and moved closer. "Why? What happened? Are you sick?"

He grinned, but she could see the pain on his face. "No, ma'am. My dad—" He stopped and glanced out over the room. "My dad's dying. They've given him a few days yet at the most. I flew here to talk to my sister, but she can't go to see Dad with me in Chicago—our hometown. I'm alone now."

"I'm so sorry," she said, lowering her voice. She reached out and gave the man a hug. "I'm so very sorry," she said into his ear. "Are you okay?"

She heard a slight sob as he hugged her back.

"I'm here for you," she said. "My name's Keri."

She heard him cry some more. "I'm Nick Albright." He backed away and wiped his cheeks. "Sorry. I know better."

She studied his face. "You're human. You're allowed to cry."

"No, I'm not." He stood up and inched away. "I'll be back. Save my seat."

"Sure thing." She put her bare feet up on the seat, and watched the people walking by, but ignored them, thinking about Nick. She wanted to do something nice for him.

He came back a few moments later. "I had to wash your scented feet smell off my hands." He tried to smile, looking down at her legs on his seat. "Now I get to sit on them."

"No." She moved her feet. "I have to use the restroom and check on my ticket. Watch my seat and I promise I'll be back." After she slipped on her shoes, she grabbed her purse and walked away, used the restroom, then walked back out, seeing his duffle bag on her seat. Nice guy to save it for her.

Keri approached the desk, getting the attention of the clerk. "Excuse me. Don't look up, but the man sitting behind me with the military cut—"

"The man watching you like he's checking you out?" She lifted her eyebrows. "He's fine."

"Yes, he is, but he's also hurting. His name is Nicholas Albright and he's a doctor, working for the Army. His father is dying in Chicago, and he's all alone. I'd like to pay to upgrade his seat to first class. Can I do that?"

"Honey, from the way he's checking you out, you need to be right up there beside him." She clicked on a few buttons, watching her screen. "Tell ya what we'll do. I'm going to send you both up there 'accidentally.'"

Keri opened her purse and pulled out her credit card. The woman touched Keri's hand. "No. We have freebies for both of you. Compliments of the house."

"Are you sure?" Keri asked. "I don't want to get you in trouble."

"You won't. I just love a happy ending." She handed Keri her business card, then pressed a few buttons on the computer. "Invite me to the wedding, if there is one."

Keri chuckled and looked at the card. "I like you, Charise. You can be my one of my bridesmaids, if this works out. I'd make you maid of honor, but my sister would beat you up."

"I have one of those, too." The woman winked. "That would be great." She handed Keri the new seat assignments. "Good luck, and make sure you listen to his pain. He needs someone and you're elected."

"Thanks. It'll be a challenge but I can't wait." She leaned up. "Did you see the dimples on that guy when he smiles?"

"You betcha, girlfriend. Now go get 'em. You're wasting time."

"Right." She smiled, turned, and walked back to her seat. "Did you miss me?" Keri asked.

"Yes, actually, I did. I didn't mean to unload on you."

"Never." Her gaze met his eyes. "You said your sister lives around here. Maybe I know her?"

"Maybe. Her name's Rita Venema. She kept her married name."

Keri sat up straighter in surprise. "She has three kids—Pearl, Rico, and Iris, right?"

He nodded. "Sure does. She's a single mother and can't get away or afford to go. I told her I'd pay for all of them to go with me, but she said the kids have enough sadness in their life with a deadbeat dad. She doesn't want them to watch their grandfather die, too."

"I have Pearl in school. I teach sixth grade. They also live in the same apartment building I do."

"Is that right? So how's Pearl doing?"

Keri took a deep breath, shaking her head slightly. "She's okay." She hated lying, but didn't want to tell anything to this man.

"That's not what Rita tells me. She's failing. She likes the boys and has been caught trying to smoke cigarettes behind the school."

"Hmmm…so you talk to your sister a lot."

He nodded. "She's all I have left of family."

She took his hand. "You have me to talk to. Anytime, anywhere."

He tried to smile, but she could see the pain behind his eyes. "You don't have to."

"I want to. It's a big difference." She opened her purse and pulled out her business card, then wrote her email address on the back. "Since you're Pearl's uncle, you need to have this in case anything happens and you can't get through to them. They live two floors down from me." She handed it to him. "Anytime. My cell phone number's on there, too, if you want to call me in Chicago. I'll save me from hearing about my wonderful sister's love life and my brother's non-life being tied down to his family." She rolled her eyes and he smiled, showing his dimples.

"So if I massage your feet you'll give me your number?" His blue eyes met her face while those dimples almost made her want to kiss him.

"Yeah. That and you're related to one of my students."

He chuckled, looking downward. "What do you do for fun in Chicago?"

"Not much." She moved closer. "But you could save me from my evil family up there. Want to go out for fun?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"I have to be careful in case the uncle of one of my students wants to spread rumors. Dancing, maybe?"

"That sounds like fun. Dinner?"

"Absolutely. And I'm paying."

He laughed, shaking his head. "Never with me. I'm employed, remember?"

"Yeah. About that. How long do you have off?"

"Just until the funeral, then I ship out again. They need me in Germany."

"What do you do over there?"

He took a deep breath. "I'm a surgeon at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. I did some of my undergrad in high school, then went to one year of college and med school before joining the Army. They sent me to a little bit of training and I went to Germany."

"When is your tour up?"

He blew out a breath. "They want me to stay longer, but I should be getting out in April. I'm training a guy right now to take my place, so I can come home and get on with my life."

"What do you want to do when you get home?"

"I want to go into private practice. My specialty is orthopedics."

"Bones?"

"Sort of." He studied her face. "Want to fix your feet?"

"Yeah. Tell me, oh wise doctor, what should I do?"

He took her hand. "Come with me and trust me to figure it out."

"Sure." She grabbed her purse while he threw his duffle bag over his shoulder, and took her to a shop near the terminal. He showed her some sole inserts to fix her feet, and described how to make it work. But she wasn't listening to his words—she was watching his eyes and those dimples.

When they were done and he'd bought her some of the insoles, they grabbed cups of coffee and went back to the terminal area. The place contained fewer people and they found seats quickly.

"I have a surprise for you," Keri said. "Now that we're foot friends."

"Foot friends?" He laughed at her. "You're a trip."

"Yeah. Just don't get upset with me. I talked to that nice clerk, Charise, and wouldn't you know, they had empty seats in first class. She upgraded both of our seats to the front of the plane."

"You did?" He smiled yet again. She loved to see his smile.

"Yeah. Free, too." Keri leaned closer. "She wants to come to our wedding and be a bridesmaid. I'm afraid she must be doing drugs, so let's hope she's not the pilot."

Nick laughed and leaned closer to her. "You're a godsend. So are we sitting together?"

She pulled the boarding passes out of her purse, and handed him the one with his name on it. "Well, what do you know? We are. How coincidental."

"I see that. You just want me to rub your feet again."

"You found me out." She sipped her coffee. "I am serious about getting out when we get to Chicago." She studied his face. "I'd suggest not coming to my house, though."

"Why?"

"Dad's going to ask if you're a serial killer and your life's goals. Then I'll have to be home by ten or he'll call his buddies to find me."

"His buddies?"

She leaned closer. "Dad's the chief of police."

She wasn't sure which were more impressive—Nick's raised eyebrows or his mouth that had fallen open. She felt like she was in high school all over again.

Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Yum! Recipe that sounds delicious!

I'm a foodie. I love food, and it's a problem. I should begin Overeaters Anonymous to deal with my fascination with food...or at least learn how to cook (I'm terrible at it).

Anyway, I want this for the break between Christmas and when the kids go back to college:

http://www.cookingclassy.com/2013/11/black-forest-cheesecake-cupcakes/

Go ahead.  Click on it.  It'll be worth it and you'll come to the dark side/black forest cheesecake side.

Doesn't that look DELICIOUS???? I'm ready to eat the computer monitor. LOL!

What do you like to eat for Christmas, New Years, or any event to eat, like 2:00?

Sweet Eating,
Markee

Friday, December 13, 2013

Coming soon! New short story!

Starting December 17 (four days from now), I'll be posting the six chapters of a short Christmas story entitled 'Live Your Dream.'  Here's the cover:





So stay tuned! A short story for Christmas is right around the corner.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'The Greeting Card Princess' by Markee Anderson (Chapter 12)




Chapter 12:



Violet worked on various assignments the next day. She got an Instant Message from Jake at eight in the morning, right after they took his dad into surgery.

'Are you okay?' she asked.

'No. Am I allowed to call you?'

'Sure, but I don't know who might hear me. Call my cell. I'll go outside.'

'No. Go to that conference room. The lock number is 0-9-4-6. Go inside and I'll call you in six minutes.'

She wrote down the number, grabbed some paper and a pen, and headed for the conference room. After unlocking the door, she entered and closed it behind her. As soon as she sat down, the phone rang and she answered it. "Hello?"

"Violet, that office is going to be used. Go to my office."

"Where is it?"

"Fifth floor. As soon as you get off the elevator, tell Gwen, my secretary, who you are. She'll take you to my office and we can talk there."

She ended the call and just as she opened the door, Lanny and his group walked inside. "What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Jake told me to come in here. I'm just leaving." She ran off as he laughed and took the elevator to the fifth floor. She checked in with Gwen, who took her to Jake's huge office. It was impressive, but the most intriguing part were the pictures he'd framed and put on his walls. They were all of her and the dogs.

The phone rang and she answered it. "Hello?"

"Violet. It's Jake. We've heard nothing, so keep me occupied, if you will."

"Sure."

"If you had the chance to move with the dogs, where would you live?"

She chuckled. "In my house."

"Hmmm…would you ever consider moving?"

"I live alone. Why would I move? I have a mortgage to pay."

"What if you didn't live alone? Where would you like to live?"

She shook her head. "I'm alone and I can't change that. So what did they say about your dad when they took him back?"

"Not much. Mom, Ray, and Sandy are all here with me. Ray and Sandy are my brother and sister."

They talked for a few more hours, and he showed her how to bring up her work on his computer. They worked on it together, laughing and having a great time. It was then she realized he wasn't a boyfriend, but a true friend, someone she didn't want to lose.

His dad came out of surgery after noon, and was doing well. Jake had to go, and she'd miss him, but she went back to her cubicle and got to work. Afterwards, she spent the night alone with her dogs, but worried about Jake. The next day, she went to work and heard nothing. Maybe he was a fair-weather friend.

Finally, it was Thanksgiving. After she put the dogs out and her parents opened their door, Violet made a few desserts and a side dish for the meal at four o'clock. Alone again for Thanksgiving. But it was all for the best, because it'd be easier to find another job if she didn't feel guilty about the job with Jake.

While she was baking, the phone rang. She grabbed it and put it to her ear, working on a pumpkin pie. "Hello?"

"It's Jake. I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday, at least. I spent just about every minute in the ICU. Dad had a little relapse, but he was better last night. I wanted to call you, but they wouldn't allow any cell phones. Dad took six hours to tell me what he wanted me to do with the business. I didn't get to sleep until after midnight on Tuesday and got up around four, because Mom wanted to get to the hospital. I spent all day there, too." He yawned. "I'm really tired."

"I'm so sorry. Go to bed."

"I'm up, now. I just wanted to talk to you to see if you're okay."

"I'm fine. I'm making a pumpkin pie right now. I wish you were here to taste it. It's a new recipe and I hope it's good."

"I wish I were there, too. I'm going back to bed, but I'll see you soon."

"Yep. Just one more week of work."

He was quiet for a moment. "We'll miss you." But he didn't seem very upset about her leaving. They ended the call and she kept baking.

By three o'clock, she had the car loaded up with various dishes and drove over to her parent's house. She wasn't about to walk through the backyard with the puppies outside, or they'd trip her. She drove around the block and parked on the street. Once she loaded up her hands with bags and dishes, she went to the door. While juggling the items, she pressed the doorbell.

The door opened and her dad welcomed her. "Let me take those things. The dogs are outside playing with Katie and Tony." Those were her niece and nephew, Ben's kids. "Ben's watching them."

She took the things inside, and placed them in front of Dave and Emma, who were sitting at the table talking to Ben's wife, Stacey. Ashley and her little baby boy, Andy, were also at the table, along with her husband, Greg. Since Ronnie and Rick were still on their honeymoon, this was the entire crowd, and Violet was alone, yet again this year.

"Where's John?" Stacey asked.

"Not a good thing to talk about," Dave whispered. "History, but it's a long story."

"I'm sorry," Stacey said. "But you always have us."

Every year, just like clockwork. Violet sighed.

The doorbell rang and Violet's dad, William, jumped to his feet. "Our special guest." He chuckled and ran to the door.

"Special guest?" Dave asked.

No one knew, and Denise, Violet's mom, had gone outside with Ben and the kids.

"Welcome," William said. "I'm so glad to see you."

No answer. Violet turned to see if her father had gone nuts, talking to no one. But she couldn't see the front door, but heard whispering.

"Ready?" her dad whispered.

Violet glanced at the rest of her family and they seemed as interested and confused as Violet was.

She turned back and watched her dad enter the room. "We have a special guest and I want you to all welcome him. You all know him." He motioned into the hidden hallway and someone walked into the room. It was Jake.

Violet's face heated up and she got to her feet. "You're in Texas. What are you doing here? I just talked to you."

"You did?" Dave asked. "You made up?"

"Sort of," Jake said. "And for the rest of you, my name's really Jake Oakwood. I own the greeting card business where Violet works. I mean, worked. She quit because I wasn't allowed to tell the truth until we got the goods on the guy who worked next to her."

"Did you get rid of him?" Dave asked.

"Yes," Jake said. "With Violet's help." He glanced toward William and then back at Violet. "Your dad heard the whole story from his brother-in-law, Gene, and invited me here today. So I had to get back after Dad's surgery, and flew in overnight. That's another reason you didn't hear from me last night."

She stepped closer, wanting to give him a hug. "You've been through a lot." But she knew her place. She didn't want to lead him on.

"As have you." Jake glanced toward William and then turned toward Violet. "I want everyone to hear this. Violet, I've fallen in love with you. I want to be your friend…um…more than your friend."

William nudged Jake. "Just ask her, will you?"

Jake chuckled. "I'm gettin' there."

Denise, Ben, and the kids all ran inside with the dogs. "They're tired," Denise said, and looked up. "Jake! I'm so glad you made it. Did I miss it?"

"Nope."

"He's working up to it," William said. "Hurry up. I'm not getting any younger here."

Jake chuckled. "Well, Violet, I love you and I want to know if you'll still date me. I really missed you."

She couldn't stop herself. She took a few steps and gave him a hug. "I'd love to. I missed you, too, more than I thought possible."

He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. "Then I have a question for you." He backed away and got on one knee while the dogs jumped up on his other knee and licked his face. He pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it to show a yellow golden ring with a huge solitaire diamond on the top. "Marry me? No more lies or half-truths. My dad wants to see me married, and talked to me for four hours straight about my married life after the six hours about the business. Will you marry me, Violet Renee Black, and make me the happiest man alive?"

Violet stood still, stunned. "Marriage? But I have four dogs—"

"I'd adopt them. They're great." He petted two of them as the other two ran off to get a drink.

"Say yes," Dave said. "You know you want to."

Violet chuckled and covered her mouth. She thought about it for a moment, realizing that Jake was the most wonderful man alive. "Yes. I'd love to. You're really special to me, and I love you, too."

Everyone clapped. Jake got to his feet and gave Violet a big kiss, which made her warm from her lips to her toes. When he backed away, her heart beat fast and she felt giddy. He rested his head on hers. "After dinner, I want to show you our new house. I bought it the day I met you, just for us, and my house is up for sale. It even has a dog door and lots of land."

"But my parents keep the dogs—"

"It's next door to this place. Both lots will be put together and our kids and dogs will have grandparents to bug all the time."

And so began their lives together. Violet kept her job, but moved up to work with Jake to keep the business afloat. His parents retired in town, and his brother and sister moved closer, so Violet had more family around her than ever, never feeling alone again.

The End


Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

'The Greeting Card Princess' by Markee Anderson (Chapter 11)




Chapter 11:



Violet was on Instant Messaging with Jake while keeping an eye on Chet. The guy was boring. He did nothing all day long. But Jake was chatty, to say the least.

'If you could go on any vacation, where would you go?' he asked on messaging.

'Why?'

'It's keeping my mind off my dad. Where? Money is no object.'

'Chet just came back to his desk. He's eating something that smells like nuts.'

'Boring. Where would you go?'

'I have no idea. I've never been on vacation. As a kid, we couldn't go, because Mom worked year-round. So dad would get us to do the work around the house all summer long. When we didn't have work to do, he'd make us learn more. I guess that's why we all have extra degrees. Ben's a doctor but didn't want to specialize. Instead, he took extra classes to get a PhD in psychology to handle women, or so he said. Ashley has a PhD in education, but doesn't like being called doctor. Emma has a master's degree in biology. And Ronnie just finished her master's degree in chemistry. Why am I telling you this?'

'You never went on vacation. If you could go anywhere, where would it be? Do you think you'd like mountains or the beach?'

'The beach. I can't even imagine what that's like.'

'Do you like winter or summer?'

'Summer, hands down.' She heard the speakerphone again. 'Chet just dialed the phone. Keep an ear open.'

'Yep.' He paused. 'He's calling a 1-900 number. A sex call during work?'

'Can you prove anything?'

'No, unless you hear moaning.'

She listened for a moment. 'Just breathing. He left the office again.' She leaned out the cubicle door and returned to the computer. 'He went to the bathroom.'

'Can't get him there,' Jake wrote.

They kept messaging, but nothing happened. At lunchtime, a secretary brought a sandwich and a drink. "Take a break," she whispered. "I'm here now. Eat when you get back."

Violet nodded and left the room, using the restroom. When she walked out, Jake was waiting for her. "I'm on break," he said. "The secretary's eating your meal so you can get out of there for a bit."

"Thanks. I have to get my purse and coat."

"Nope." He took her hand and headed back for the forbidden conference room. "My treat." He opened the door and there sat two steaks on plates, with baked potatoes and a salad with a soda.

"Wow. Some treat. Trying to get back in my good graces?"

"No. I'm not a suck-up, either." He ushered her through the door and closed it behind him. "I'm thanking you for helping me out. We don't have it yet, but we'll get the goods on him. When he calls those kids, I want to know about it."

They sat down and started to eat, talking over the meal. Each time she laughed with him, she felt guiltier and guiltier. Maybe he was right and had to lie to everyone. If they had more employees like Chet, he'd have to go undercover. There was no doubt about it.

After they ate, they went back to their positions to watch Chet. That afternoon, Chet called one of his kids.

'He's on the phone,' Violet wrote. 'He's talking to Billy. He had Billy tear holes in his clothes and put mud on his cheeks to make a sale.'

'We're listening,' Jake wrote. 'Wow. He's teaching the kids how to steal. They're going to use a team of kids. I think this might be enough. What do you hear?'

'Same thing. He's even laughing about it. Get the cops to Sixth and Main. They're talking about knives.'

'How old is that kid?'

'Pre-teen I think? Maybe twelve, from the way he's talking.'

'Would you be willing to testify against him?'

'Sure. Ask the neighbors around me, too.' She looked around and two people were standing up and staring at Chet. 'Nora and Anne are both staring at him, and now Ned and Victor are on their feet.'

'Good. Security will be there in three-two—"

"Chet, you're fired. Come with us."

Chet slammed down the phone and he was ushered out. Another man came in and took everything personal from Chet's office and he was gone.

About ten minutes later, Jake came into her office and sat down, leaning close. "The cops were nearby and got the kids," he whispered. "Billy is nineteen and his cohorts were ten and eleven. They had to be disarmed, but Billy was shot in the shoulder when he tried to get away. They're in jail and the hospital, and when they patted Billy down, he had a gun and over three thousand dollars in his pockets. He said they were for sales of not only greeting cards, but drugs he'd sold for Chet."

Violet was more than surprised. "So he's gone."

Jake nodded. "Now I have to leave. I wish you could come with me."

"Call me with whatever happens. You can always talk to me by phone. I keep my cell on all the time."

He shook her hand. "Thank you. I'll be home as soon as I can." He stood up. "Hold down the fort for me. I'm off to round up the horses."

She chuckled, said goodbye, and he was gone. She'd certainly miss him, but knew her time with him was limited.

Stay tuned!  Last Chapter, Chapter 12, Wednesday, November 27!


Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

'The Greeting Card Princess' by Markee Anderson (Chapter 10)




Chapter 10:



After looking for another job all day Sunday, Violet went to work on Monday morning. She put earphones into her ears and got to work. A new batch of greeting cards had been sent to her from the photography department, which wasn't usual. She was certain, though, that Jake had had a hand in this, because she was now being asked to write humorous prose. She'd been promoted and hadn't wanted that to happen. But it didn't matter. She'd be gone in two weeks. Since everyone had Thursday and Friday off, in eight working days, she'd be history from the Oakwood Greeting Card Company. She just wished she could find a job as much as she liked this one.

As she thought of some prose, she looked up a bit. She couldn't see well over the cubicle walls, but felt like she was being watched. She stood up, and there, across the room, stood Jake, just staring at her cubicle. His hands were on his hips and he appeared to be frustrated.

She crossed her arms, shook her head slowly, and sat back down. The next eight days were going to be brutal. But she'd do her work and move on.

Just as she began to work again, someone stepped into her cubicle. "Miss Black, I'd like to speak with you."

She knew that voice. Jake. "Yes, sir." She turned, seeing his sad face.

"In the conference room."

She grabbed some paper and a pen, considering taking her coat and purse with her. As she looked up at Jake, she opened her desk, lifted her purse, and took her coat off the back of her chair.

He moved to block her exit. "You're not leaving yet, so you won't need that."

She put the purse back into the desk and locked it. After dropping her coat on her chair, she realized he still hadn't moved. "What now?"

"You don't need a pen and paper, either. We'll work on a laptop."

Chet stood up and stared. "Oooohhh…someone's in trouble."

Violet bit her lips, because she wanted to say that Chet was in trouble, but knew better. As soon as she put down the paper and pen, Jake ushered her into the hallway. They continued walking, heading for that forbidden conference room.

"Care to tell me what this is about?" she asked.

"Nope. Not yet."

"Are you trying to get on my good side?"

"No. You're not receptive to that." He seemed so cold and indifferent, she wondered what she ever saw in the guy. "Do you have another job in mind yet?"

"I saw a few." But she was lying. The job market for English majors was nonexistent in the area. However, she could always work for Dave as a secretary. It'd be brutal but it was a job.

"Uh-huh."

They stopped at the conference room and he opened the door. Betty and a few of the upper echelons of the company sat inside. Violet felt more confident that ever, considering she only had eight days left, and the day was part of the way over.

"Have a seat," Jake said, and sat at the head of the table.

She did as requested, and sat on the far side, near the other empty end of the table and beside Betty.

Jake made eye contact with the entire group. "I called this meeting because we have a problem. I can't prove anything Chet's done, except for surfing porn. Because he claims it was to find a dancer for an ad, our legal department said it'd be too weak a reason to fire him. So we need to find more." He sighed. "Dad had a heart attack this morning, so I'm in charge, more than I want to be. I talked to him on the phone and they said he needs a triple bypass, but he's okay for now. He has formally retired and the company is now mine to run."

Violet felt so badly for Jake. His dad wasn't well, and he had a lot on his shoulders.

"I'm flying to San Antonio tomorrow for the operation, so in the meantime, I'm putting Lanny in charge." Jake nodded toward the smiling bald man on his right. "I'm going to close the San Antonio office, so we can downsize a bit. The employees there will have the option of moving up here, telecommuting, or given a severance package. When the sale of that office is complete, we'll take the money and expand here, since we have a lot of land to the west. In the meantime, I want each of you to get rid of any dead wood. If any employee isn't exceptional, I want them gone. They'll be laid off, but not fired, so they can find another job." He looked directly at Violet. "I have a job for you in the time remaining with our company."

"You've been fired?" Betty asked, staring at Violet.

"No," Jake said to Betty. "I want her to stay, but a…personal problem happened and she's resigned. I convinced her to stay two weeks, but I'd like her to stay longer. However, I made a mistake and I think it's unfixable." He sighed and everyone kept quiet. "I wish I could turn back the clock, but it's not going to happen." He looked at Violet. "I want you to finish up the cards you're working on, because you're exceptional at writing card messages."

"Oakies," Lanny whispered.

"Not any more. That's a stupid thing to call them, and my dad was wrong. We've had to educate each of our clients to something that makes no sense." He turned back toward Violet. "Finish just those few. I think you have two left."

She nodded. He must've checked her boss' emails, because she'd sent the rest in that morning.

Jake continued. "Then I want you to listen to Chet. I want to know exactly what he's doing every moment of every day. We have a tap on his phone, but we can't have it on all the time, according to our lawyers. We also can't use it in a court of law, because he wasn't notified. I want to stay on private messaging with me all day, because if we know what he's doing, we can catch him in the act."

"Wait, John…I mean, whatever your name is today."

Everyone's eyebrows lifted as they stared at her.

"That's another thing," Jake said. "My real name's Jake. I took the name John so no one would know who I am." He looked over at Violet. "I'm so sorry, but I couldn't let Chet find out my real name. Will you help me in the last seven or so days you're here?"

"Yes, sir."

Betty leaned closer, since she was beside Violet. "Give the guy a break. His dad's not in good shape."

There was no way she'd say anything, and definitely not in a business setting. Instead, she sighed and pursed her lips.

"All right," Jake said. "Everyone knows what to do. Clean out the dead wood, close the San Antonio office, and get rid of Chet. Any other questions?"

Lanny leaned closer to Jake. "Are you two dating?"

"No, but that policy will change. As long as the employee isn't a direct report, I don't care who's dating whom. I put that in the works this morning at the board meeting. It was passed unanimously, along with a few other policies. They'll all be distributed this afternoon. Anything else?"

"I think you should date her, Lanny whispered. "We really need her. Those cards—"

"Later." Jake stood up. "Meeting dismissed."

Violet stood up, but just as she approached the door, Jake touched her shoulder. "I'd like to speak with you in private, so we can get a strategy."

"Yes, sir."

He sighed, but everyone else left the room. As soon as they were gone, he shut the door and motioned to the table.

She sat down, her arms crossing. She hated the thought that she had to bow down to him.

"I know you're really angry with me right now, and I honestly can't blame you. I had no idea your uncle was Gene Ranger. He and my dad are really good friends. He wouldn't let me go after you on Saturday, but said he'd explain it to you."

"I haven't talked to Uncle Gene for years. He's too uppity for my family, since my dad was an elementary school principal and my mom was a nurse."

Jake half-smiled. "Well, he feels badly for letting the cat out of the bag, but I'm glad he did. I didn't see any way to tell you, or explain why I couldn't kiss you. If anyone on the board found out, I'd be in trouble and you'd be fired. Neither of us needed that. But you did amazing work and I'd like to be a reference for you. I'll give you glowing marks, too."

"Thanks, but it's not necessary. I'll use the references that I used to get this job."

He shook his head. "They're outdated. I just wish you'd stay here, but I know I messed up." He sighed and continued. "Now, as for Chet, just stay on Instant Messaging and we'll act like we're working. I want you to bring up one of the puppy pictures on your screen for a cover."

"Certainly."

"I hope to get rid of him before I have to leave tonight. I'm taking a late flight so I can be there for Dad tomorrow."

"I truly hope he's okay. I'm really sorry this all happened at once."

He watched her for a moment. "Thank you. The nice thing is I know you're saying that from your heart, and not because I'm the boss."

"Even if you were the boss, it'd be from my heart. I'm not that cold and I don't play games to get ahead."

He took her hand. "I admire that about you, too."

She pulled her hand away. "I hope you didn't promote me, either. I was given upper level cards to work on today."

"No. It wasn't me. I don't know what happened, but I do know they were impressed with your work."

"John…I mean Jake, I didn't do all that work. You helped me."

"Barely," he said. "You know you did almost all of it. I think I suggested one word change. The point is, you're a great employee and we really don't want you to leave. If I left, would you stay?"

"Who would run the place?"

He sighed. "Oh yeah. My brother doesn't want it, and my sister is a stay-at-home mom. It's all up to me." He shook his head. "I don't want to go home tomorrow. I really want to stay here and talk to you. You keep it all in perspective. If we get the goods on Chet today, would you come with me tomorrow?"

"I can't. I'm looking for a job and don't have time to play. My team needs me to work."

He leaned back on the chair. "I don't know what else to do, but the offer stands. Stay here and date me. I've never fallen for a woman like I fell for you. But now, it's all being pulled out from under me right when my dad's undergoing the knife." He closed his eyes for a second. "I'm scared for him."

She hated this whole situation, but how could she ever trust him? "Let's get Chet and see what happens then."

"Fine." He stood up. "Stay on Instant Messaging and let me know what he does every second."

She stood up, too. "Yes, sir."

"Don't call me sir. I'm Jake. I never should've changed my name, but five years ago, it seemed like a good idea." He headed for the door and opened it for her. She walked through, wondering how she could make this right. But she saw no way out.

Stay tuned!  Chapter 11, Monday, November 25!


Copyright Markee Anderson, 2013