Sunday, February 16, 2014

Really? And an excerpt too? You don't want much, do you?

I'm giving away a beautiful, hand-made, literature-inspired brass cuff bracelet made by Kate over in the United Kingdom. I'm hoping someone out there wants it. I can't believe my contest sign-up isn't overloaded yet. You don't have forever; you just have until the end of the week. Might want to get a jump on it. And while you're at it, check out The Celtic Fan, the book released Friday that is cause for the giveaway celebration. You won't be sorry.

So here's an excerpt from The Celtic Fan, as promised.


     Her bedroom wasn’t as stately as the living area in the front. Lace curtains graced the windows, and a lace coverlet lay draped over the seafoam green comforter. The walls were a pale, cool shade of lavender, and held several art posters tastefully framed. One was a Monet, and one was an enhanced reproduction of the photo from the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Both had gallery names along their lower borders. There was a soft floral arrangement in a Longaberger basket on the dresser atop a hand-crocheted runner.
     The bathroom echoed the same decor, complete with glycerin soaps, dried flowers and leaves embedded in them. I hung the robe on the back of the door and peeled out of my jeans and shirts, careful not to leave clumps of caked dirt on the floor. Once I’d stripped out of every piece of clothing I’d been wearing and wrapped them all in on themselves to contain the mess, I laid them carefully outside the bathroom door and called, “Okay, my clothes are outside,” down the hall. Then I locked the bathroom door, wondering if I were about to reenact a night at the Bates Motel. But I had to admit, the hot water was wonderful, and I never knew soap could feel so good.
     Then I remembered that I’d put my underwear out there too. Oh, well, I was pretty sure she’d seen a guy’s underwear before, but then I remembered I’d been wearing the boxers with the cartoon characters on them. Wonder what she’d think about those? The thought made me laugh. The lights flickered a couple of times but stayed on. I could still hear the rain pounding on the roof, a deafening sound, even above the rush of the water from the showerhead. The water pressure changed abruptly, then returned to full force in a few minutes. Assuming it was the washer kicking in, I knew she’d started on my clothes. There was no turning back now. I hoped the power held out.
     The gardenia-scented shampoo and conditioner rinsed out of my hair easily, and I turned the water off and stood for a second. Her towels were pale lavender and huge, and they carried the scent of lilac, like an old lady on Sunday morning. I’d never touched a towel so soft. Once I’d dried off, I put on the robe. It came right to my knees, and was roomy, warm, and comfortable. Opening the bathroom door, I looked and, sure enough, my clothes were gone. In their place was a pair of boxers, never worn. I picked them up, stepped back inside the bathroom, and slipped them on discreetly under the robe. That seemed pretty strange to me. She answered the question in less than a minute.
     “Guess you’re wondering about the underpants, huh?” she laughed.
     “Well, as a matter of fact, yes,” I admitted as I headed back down the hall to the living area. She was nestled in a corner of the sofa, feet up and in snugly socks. She held a cup of steaming tea in her hands.
     “Bought them to sleep in and they were packaged wrong, wouldn’t fit. But I kept them. I don’t know why.” Then she grinned. “Someone knew you would need them,” she explained to us both. “Tea? I love it when the weather’s bad. Want some?”
     “Sure. But don’t get up. I can get it myself.” I reached for a cup and saucer sitting on the counter. The whole kitchen was tiled with the glazed version of the fireplace tiles. It was impressive, immaculate, and very inviting.
     “So,” she started, “Mister Steve Riley, tell me some things about you. You’ve been asking all the questions. What about you? What do you do for a living?”
     “I’m a writer,” I said, then corrected myself. “I mean, I’m a journalist. I write for the Knoxville paper. I’m a feature writer there. Before that, I worked for a regional magazine, some small weekly papers, things like that. Then I hit the big time, at least I suppose that’s what you’d call it.”
     “Um-hum,” she acknowledged, sipping her tea. “Never met a real writer before.” I wanted to scream, What about Nick Roberts?, but I held my tongue. She pushed on. “Where’s your wife?”
     “Don’t have one,” I said in a flat tone. “Never had one. Don’t particularly want one, either.” She looked a little startled.
     “They tell me everyone wants someone to love them,” she smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re not included in that ‘everyone.’”
     “I had someone who loved me. Problem was, she loved lots of other guys too,” I spat, thinking about Donna and my doctor bill. “I have a career, a nice home, a nice car. I can get a date when I want one.”
     “You mean you can get laid when you want to, don’t you?” she snapped, instantly lifting the tea cup to her lips to hide the mischievous smirk on her face.
     “Yeah, I guess that’s exactly what I mean,” I shot back. “What’s wrong with that?”
     “Gee, I don’t remember,” she answered me, feigning an unconcerned demeanor as she set down her tea cup. “It’s been six years for me.”
     Oops. I couldn’t begin to imagine where this conversation was heading, but I could hear the train wreck it would cause a mile away. Then I caught what she’d said. Six years.
     “Wow. That’s a long time,” I mumbled. “Six years. That’s a very long time.” I repeated myself, trying to imagine not being with a woman for six years. I couldn’t. It just wasn’t possible.
     “Not really,” she mused. “I was married to the same man for almost sixteen years. I know when you fall off the horse you’re supposed to get right back on, but I just haven’t been able to. But then you wouldn’t understand, now would you?” She looked out at me from under her bangs and brows, a teasing grin curling the corners of her mouth.
     “No, guess not.” I couldn’t imagine being with the same woman for that many years. This question and answer session had not gone as I’d imagined. I looked out the window but it was inky black, so dark that there was nothing to see except the reflective sheets of rain pouring down the glass, interrupted by little bits of dirt or bird droppings stuck to the panes. She noticed that I was checking out the elements, and she rose and opened the front door.
     “Listen,” she instructed. All I could hear was the sound of the rain on the roof. I shrugged. She said it again: “Listen.”
     I could hear something, but I didn’t recognize the sound. “What’s that sound?” I asked.
     “It’s the creek. It’s rising. Ever heard of a flash flood?” she asked in a solemn tone.
     “Yes, I have,” I answered, apprehension in my voice.
     “That’s the sound you’re hearing. The creek’s out of its banks. But don’t worry, we won’t be flooded up here. It’s just that it floods the bridge. You’ll probably need to stay here tonight.” I shuddered. Staying in a strange house with a woman I barely knew who hadn’t had sex in six years sounded a little frightening to me, but it was better than drowning or being swept away. “You can sleep on the couch. I’ll get you a blanket, some sheets and pillows, things like that. You’ll be fine.” Whew. I’d escaped the sequel to Planet of the Nymphomaniacs. Or perhaps I should think of it as a great opportunity. Nah, surely not.
     She motioned for me to return to the living area, and she turned to follow me. Then she stopped stock still and whispered emphatically again, “Listen.”
     I heard it. It was a creaking, rubbing sound, and I could feel the hair on the back of my neck bristle, as though someone were scraping a chalk board. “What is that?” I asked. Before she could answer, there was a strange crash, like a dozen trees falling in a forest, only very close by and very muffled. It was followed by a rushing roar which quickly faded, and then just the sound of the rain on the roof again. I looked at her, questioning with my eyes, and noticed that her face had gone pale and her hands had begun to tremble. “What was that?” I demanded, hoping to snap her out of her stupor, to get an answer.
     Her eyes were moist, and I panicked, afraid she might cry. “That was my bridge. It’s gone.” The words sunk in like lead in my stomach as the rain beat down, pummeling the earth, the house, everything everywhere, while the rain-swollen creek received it all. Pregnant with the deluge, it had given birth to a catastrophe. But we were dry, and we were indeed safe.

     And there we’d stay.