A Book to Read

WILD GRAPES

by Debra Bowman-Brodman

2017

Segment One

Prologue

     The seatbelt sign went off.  Beth sighed, smelling the aroma of fresh coffee being brewed.  They’d be serving soon.  “I’m dying for caffeine, Lacey.  That smell is making me delirious for coffee.  I should have taken a few minutes to get a latte before our flight.”
     “Mom, the caffeine will keep you up half the night.”
     “And you know that we’ll be up half the night, anyway, so will it matter?  Huh-uhn, not a bit.  We have lots of ground to cover since you’ve been away for so long, Sugar.  I don’t want my battery dying on you.”
     “Mom!  We saw each other only three weeks ago, and we talk almost every day.  Seriously, what do you not know about my life?  There’s nothing: no secrets!”
     “Well, goodness, Lacey, I don’t expect you to divulge every confidence that you own, but you know, Honey, that I love our girl talk.  You know I do.”
     “I do, Mom, but maybe sleep would serve us both better tonight.  Honest.  I could use some rest after burning the candle at both ends the past few weeks.  We’ll be shopping and sightseeing tomorrow until we drop, you know.  You know?”  Lacey knit her eyebrows together in her most sincere, questioning manner, summoning her Mom’s mercy.
     Beth sighed, looking sympathetically toward Lacey, a compassionate smile warming her face.  “Oh, Lacey, you are right.  I’m so sorry; you do need some rest, don’t you?  What was I thinking?”
     Lacey sighed with relief. “Thank you, thank you.  In fact, I think I will sleep right now.  I’m drained after staying up so late last night trying to figure out what to pack for this trip.  Oh gosh.  Mom, it took me forever, because I couldn’t settle on what to bring.  All of my stuff looked so, I don’t know, frumpy!  I wanted so badly to look sophisticated on this trip, to fit in like I belong, not like some bumpkin! I mean, everyone in New York must be so Cosmo, right?”
     “You funny goose!  You could never look like a “bumpkin”, Lacey!  You are far too pretty!  Young lady, you always look very pulled together, but I have to admit that I also found packing frustrating, actually.  How about this?  How about we buy some new clothes?  How about that?  And how about we just be confident about who we are, ok?  We may have this Kentucky drawl, but anyone who looks our way will be dazzled by our glittering personalities.”
     Beth grinned widely, flashing her eyes and fluttering her eyelashes at Lacey, causing Lacey to roll her eyes and giggle.  “Now get some rest.  Here, use my neck pillow I brought along.”
     “Thanks, Mom.”  Lacey fiddled with the pillow until it was comfy.  Her thought turned to what she had just told her Mom; the part about not having any secrets.  She realized with a shudder that she never kept secrets from Mom.  Well, at least not since she was about 15, she hadn’t.
     In recent years, they had been more like sisters, and she loved sharing everything about her life with her Mom.  Mom was TOTALLY cool.  Lacey treasured her, knowing that, unqualified, no one in the world cared more about her than her Mom, and who understood her better?
     She felt that she was uniquely alone among her peers in understanding this great truth.
     She was concealing a secret now, though, and a big one.  It hurt her to do so, too.  This was one secret she wished she’d never learned.
######
WILD GRAPES
Chapter One
     Chuck is having some kind of an emotional breakdown.  That’s what this is all about.  Beth pushed herself up on her elbows, trying to look over to see her husband in the darkness of their bedroom but all she could make out was his form, gently shaking.
     The sound of him sobbing confounded her.  She turned to see the glowing blue numbers of the clock next to her bed: 3:21.  Oh, isn’t this just dandy?  Now I probably won’t get back to sleep again.  She drew a deep, ragged breath, as she untangled from the silky nightgown that had twisted around her knees and gently rubbed Chuck’s backside enough to pull him out of his deep and troubled slumber.  She thought back to the first few nights of these crying spells, and how she had tried to talk to him about it in the morning.
     He had said, “Don’t be ridiculous, Beth!  Everyone has dreams and nightmares.”  Then he’d cut her off.  “I have to go, and don’t go confiding in anyone about this; I’m warning you!”
     One thing is clear; he doesn’t want to discuss it with me.  It just makes me so sad that he won’t talk to me about it; that he gets so rude and prickly about it.  We should be able to discuss things like this.  We used to do so.  What does it mean when he says he’s warning me?  What is that about?
     The nighttime crying had been occurring off and on for weeks now, and it was shaking her.  Surely, it was no mere dream he was having; not if it recurred over and over again.  This man, who had been a rock in her life for more than two decades had never cried before, not in his sleep or otherwise.  Why now?  It was so unsettling that he was doing so now, and with no explanations.  Should she talk to a counselor, perhaps, or to her pastor?  She just didn’t know.
     If he would only talk to me, then I wouldn’t feel so frightened by this.  It is the “not knowing” that is scaring me so badly.  Yet, Chuck would be furious if he ever learned that I was discussing this with someone.  Maybe out pastor is the solution.
     At Beth’s touch, Chuck had stopped his sobbing, and seemed to fall back into a more peaceful sleep.  Beth knew she had a full schedule tomorrow, and tried to go back to sleep herself, yet sleep now eluded her.  She would be a mess tomorrow, functioning on caffeine all day, no doubt.
     After lying there for what seemed to be hours, trying to figure out this new mystery in their lives, she finally crawled out of bed, being careful to not awaken Chuck.
 
 #####
     The day dragged by slowly for Beth.  She just wanted it over, because Lacey would be home from college for a weekend visit.  She couldn’t wait to see Lacey.  They talked nearly every day, but she hadn’t seen Lacey for at least a month.  One more day to get through, and tomorrow evening Lacey will be home.  First, she had to get through the rest of this day, and this china painting class.
     Maybe it was because she was so tired, but she was having trouble focusing on painting her plate, and she wondered if it was boredom again.  Suddenly, the words clicked in her mind.  “Beth is bored, not a busy bee.”
     Mother used to always chide her with those words when she wouldn’t stick with things, or complained for something new and interesting to do.  It went all the way back to pre-school days, had lodged deep in Beth’s mind, and had stuck to this day.  Here it was, again.  Beth chose to silence those words.
    Well, I do stay busy!  I have a whole world of things I’ve stuck to, in fact.  She’d see that if she hadn’t left me.
     Beth actually wished she could call Mother up on her cell phone right this minute, invite herself over for tea and scones after class, but she couldn’t.  Mother had been gone for so many years, she had stopped counting the years. They had mutually adored orange spiced tea, and served with cranberry scones.  Mom had made them often.  Beth definitely would like to confide in her now, and have some of those yummy scones.
     When was the last time we sat down to share a pot of tea?  It must have been right after Chuck and I became engaged.  Mother would not believe what a beautiful life we’ve made.  Chuck and I have worked hard and our lives are blessed.  I wish she could see us now, and meet Chip and Lacey, too.  We’d have ourselves one incredible reunion.  Some day.
     Beth drank so much coffee anymore, the idea of a cup of tea suddenly seemed like a fresh idea.  Maybe when I get home.
     For now, however, Beth was again struggling with her habit of flitting from one thing to another.  Hadn’t she coaxed and begged Chuck to give his blessing on this china painting class, after he had put his foot down  with Beth adding one more hobby to her very long list?  He had finally acquiesced, and given his blessing for her to buy all the supplies that went with it, including some costly gold-based paints.  At this moment, as the other ladies in the class chatted back and forth, she realized she had no interest in coming back to this class after today.  Her interest had certainly waned, like it usually did.
     Remembering her Mother’s words of years past, she felt a twinge of guilt.
Here she was, sitting in Gladys’ studio with a group of eight warm-hearted women spaced around a huge table filled with fine china, porcelain, paint pallets, brushes, and jars, and Beth wanted to be somewhere else.  All of them were chatting up a storm, and Beth could barely keep her mind on their conversation or her painting.  It wasn’t that they weren’t interesting to be with, or the nicest group of ladies, but she was restless, not to mention troubled.  Oh yeah, and she was tired of painting china.
     She and Lori were the only two younger women in the group, not that they were “young” young.  The rest of them were living out their retirement years.  For the most part, Beth had concluded that it was a hobby for which they didn’t have much training or an exceedingly great amount of talent, but they enjoyed doing, for all it was worth.  Beth enjoyed seeing them enjoy it.
     It was more like they showed up to be with their friends.  Gladys, who owned the studio, was a master china painter, however, and Beth had learned quickly from her.  Gladys saw Beth as her prize student and kept encouraging her to come by more often and do more painting.  It occurred to Beth how disappointed Gladys would be when she quit.
     Marilyn, sitting in the chair next to Beth, ogled and awed over the rich violet pansies that Beth had just finished painting.  Still trying to focus, Beth dabbed her brush in the muted greens to stroke out a perfect stem.  Next, she masterfully began the leaves.  Her steady hand glided over the slick porcelain plate with confidence.
     Perfect!  Just the way she wanted it to look, Beth thought, as she scrutinized it with an eye for detail.  She was good, without a doubt.  She excelled at most things she tried, if it was a creative thing, most definitely.
“You have such a gift, Beth”, said Marilyn, wistfully.  “Your plates are turning out so lovely, dear.”
     “Why, thanks, Marilyn.  Thank you very much.  You just remember, though, that I’ve been painting for years, like all of my life, and I have an art degree, too.  That should count for something, I would hope.  Please don’t be hard on yourself.  Your work is lovely.”
     “Thank you, honey.  Oh, your art degree does count for something; it does,”  said Marilyn nodding her head in agreement.
     With this plate finished, Beth would have a complete set made.  This is enough of china painting.  I should be working on my canvases.  She felt a pang of regret that she would miss these ladies and their lively conversations, though.  It didn’t even occur to her that they would, indeed, miss her.  It also didn’t occur to her that she might consider coming just to perpetuate these dear friendships.
     No, Beth was more the producer than the connector, at least with those outside the small world of her own family.
     Beth continued trying to focus.  A sudden inspiration invaded her attempt, however, as she pushed up the sleeves of her chic and blousy tunic, which kept sliding down.  She wriggled to get more comfortable in her chair, pulling one long leg up beneath herself on the chair, feeling glad she had chosen her leggings.
     I’d love to make some porcelain dolls.  I think I’ll check into that class they offer at that doll shop I ran across up in Lexington.  I could run up there easily enough.  A few of those precious dolls, in their ruffles and lace, poised around my house will look adorable.  Marie Osmond made dolls and loved it.  Maybe I will, too.  I could do that.
     Once she had resolved that, her thoughts turned to Chuck, still troubled over his weeping in the middle of the night.   She was definitely struggling with incessant thoughts about him lately.  She was starting to pinpoint a pattern of unavailability with him, not just physical, but emotional.  In fact, that observation made her feel deeply troubled, not to mention annoyed.  She was trying not to worry, but it was hard not to dwell on it.
     Libby, one of the women in the class, captured Beth’s attention away from Chuck, finally, as she began recounting a personal story.
     “I had pleaded with my husband, Hank, to get the dishwasher going for me on Saturday, so I could run over to Mike’s Country Market before it closed.  I wanted to get some pies made that night for fellowship dinner after church Sunday, and needed some of those good looking strawberries they’ve been trucking in, mind you.  I wanted those dirty dishes clean by the time I got back, so I could empty it and reload it before bed.  When I returned home, you won’t believe what I found!  I walked in to a kitchen full of bubbles!  I mean, the whole room was filled with bubbles!”
     Libby stopped for just a moment to catch her breath, before continuing.
     “They were almost as high as the ceiling, and covered everything!  And Hank was running some loud machine!  I could barely make out Hank hidden in the midst of them when I walked in.  Oh, I was so upset!  It turns out he used dish soap instead of dishwasher soap in the dishwasher!  Have you ever?  And what do you think he was doing?  Why, Hank was trying to blow them out the open windows and doors with his leaf blower, of all things!”
     The room erupted into laughter and there were a few mouths hanging open in bewilderment.
     “Just about then, before I could get a word out-a my mouth, ’cause trust me, I had a piece of mind to give him, the neighbor down the street walks by with his dogs.  He saw Hank blowing those bubbles out the window, and yells at him asking what he was doing, don’t you know?  Hank told him he was cleaning the kitchen!  Now, mind you, this is the feisty neighbor that Hank doesn’t care much for.  Hank is jealous of him, you know; that’s what, ’cause he has that new truck.  A Dodge Ram, I think he called it.  Hank thinks he idles it real slow past our house too many times a day just to show it off.”
     It would be accurate to say that a few ladies had begun coughing now, because they were laughing so hard.  Beth couldn’t restrain her own laughter, and it felt good.  What a picture!
     Gladys said, “I can just imagine Hank trying to get those bubbles out before you got home.” She snickered again.  “That’s so funny, and he was probably trying to cover his foolishness so you wouldn’t find out!  What did you say to him?”
     Libby went on, catching her breath again, “Oh, I nearly fainted, at first sight!  Once I composed myself, though, I could see the look of frustration and dread on Hanks’ face, and it struck a chord of mercy in me.  I held my piece.   I actually felt sorry for him, watching him frantically trying to blow all the bubbles out, and trying to keep face before the neighbor, who by now is just standing out there on the sidewalk, gawking at him, and trying to restrain his barking dogs.  For the longest time, too.  Before long we were both laughing, though.  I just couldn’t help myself.”
     Libby stopped just long enough to wipe some moisture from her eyes, then continued.  “Stuff was plastered all over the kitchen, beneath all those bubbles, ’cause that is one powerful leaf blower.  It like to blew everything all over everywhere.  Place mats were stuck to the walls, salt and pepper shakers were pushed between the appliances, and paper was blown and stuck everywhere, including our mail.  Such a mess we had.  What is actually the most funny to me now is that he told the neighbor so seriously that he was cleaning the kitchen, like that would EVER happen.”
     Once more the cackling of laughter increased across the room.
     “Why, it took all the power of persuasion I had to just get him to run the dishwasher; just wish I’d explained to him that you don’t use dee-ish soap.”
     Beth was thinking that Hank was one funny character.  She wondered when the last time was that Chuck and she had laughed about something.  Together, she wondered: the two of them laughing together at anything?  She couldn’t remember.  She envied the kind of relationship that Libby apparently still had with Hank after so many years.
     “That would be the day, my husband cleaning the house, too,” said Marilyn, piping in, “and he’d never run the dishwasher or the washing machine.  Never!  Why, he’d die before ever telling anyone he was cleaning the kitchen, even as an excuse for stupidity!  He’s too busy playing golf to learn how to run a dishwasher or a washing machine.  At least your Hank was willing to try, but oh my!”
     “I only WISH my husband WOULD play golf,” said Lori.  “I don’t care if he doesn’t run the dishwasher.  I can’t get my husband, Bobbie, to STOP working.  He won’t leave his shop, because there is always unfinished work to get done, he says!  I’d sure like to see him relax a little.  He works too hard, and I worry about him!  When he gets home, he pitches in and helps me with the children, even when I insist that he go sit down and relax.  I guess we all have different perspectives, don’t we?”
     “No, no, you don’t want your husband to start golfing!  Don’t wish that, or you’ll be sorry.  Let him help you with the children.  It’s good for him and for them”, said another.
     Beth was thinking to herself that at least Chuck didn’t golf.  Chuck has always been a workaholic, though.  Maybe Lori and I should get to know each other better.  Yeah, how about that?
     She was back to Chuck, remembering how Chuck had impressed her when they had first begun to get to know each other.  Funny how I thought he was industrious.  I liked that.  It wasn’t the top thing on my list of things I liked about him, but it has its positive aspects, even now.  It just seems like it is something so much more negative now.
     She was startled when Marilyn dropped her paint pan, making a loud clatter on the floor next to her.  It appeared that the other ladies were gathering up their belongings to leave Gladys’ studio.  Class was over.
     Likewise, Beth cleaned her brush, and put away her things.  She got up and carried her plate over to a shelf near the kiln, where it would await firing by Gladys during the upcoming week.  Beth could run over later in the week and pick it up.
     “See you, Beth!  Say, I can’t wait to see your pansy plate next week, after Gladys fires it.  Sure wish I could expect mine to look half as good”, said Lori, as she waved goodbye, moving toward the door.
     “Thanks, Lori.  My set will be complete, finally.  Your plate, by the way, is just lovely, and you know it!  You are very talented.  Hey, see you at church.”
     With a silly face, Lori nodded affirmatively, then nodded a “no”, and then nodded another “yes’, in response to all comments.  She gave Beth a big grin as she disappeared through the door to her van, parked close by.
     While carefully stacking her paint pans, brushes, and supplies into her giant plastic tub, and walking to her own car, the thought occurred to Beth that Lori had a sense of humor that she admired.  She should get to know her better.  It sounded like she may have some similar husband issues.  If so, she wondered how Lori kept her sense of humor.  She knew she could use a good dose of that in her own life right now.
     Beth’s shoulder length auburn hair whipped across her face, nearly taking out her vision, as she struggled to open the car door, all while hanging onto her tub.  A good strong wind was blowing, but the air was thankfully warm.  As soon as she let go of her tub, she gracefully swept the hair from her eyes.
     The sun was finally shining brilliantly again after last week’s incessant spring downpours.  It was a good thing; it would dry the soggy ground.  In spite of her heavy heart, the warm sunshine felt like a cleansing astringent on the darkened covering of her soul.  She had only this morning, before leaving her home, felt heartened to see the daffodils and crocus parading their soda-pop flavors across her garden beds, producing a visual siren that summer was on it’s way.  She was so thankful that winter was over, because a bit of outdoor activity in this sunshine might help to keep her mind off of her worries.  She hoped.
     Beth grabbed her sunglasses and started the ignition, checking her rearview, as she backed out.  She made a mental note to call Lori for lunch.
     As her late model SUV made it’s way through the light-speckled and tree-lined lanes of her neighborhood, the mountain ash that was sprinkled across the landscape almost seemed to be waving to her with hands gloved in early sprinkles of purple lace, telling Beth that this was a feel-good kind of day.
     Beth admired the natural beauty of springtime surrounding her, while reflecting upon their choice to move south to a milder climate after Chuck had finished his education and stint in the military.  Apple Creek is perfect: warmer, scenic, gentle.  Yes, gentle: what a great word for it!  It is the perfect word to describe the sheltered and magical life I feel here in Apple Creek.  I still get to enjoy all four seasons, but the winter part is so much milder.  And shorter.  I can’t wait to paint some of this beauty.
     Just ahead, their three-story brick home sprawled across a panoramic view that was lush from all the recent rain, including a wide veranda porch across the front.  Beth always cherished the sight when she approached.  It fulfilled all of her dreams of what she had wanted her home to become.
     It had Victorian charm, including the English style garden beds that flanked two sides of the home, with a velvet green blanket of Kentucky blue grass squared directly in front.  Tall spruce lined the borders of the property, truly setting it off in all seasons.
     She had always loved the fact that there was a partial third story with a maid’s quarter, which she had converted into her art studio and her private escape.  She spent most hours of the day up there, when she was home, unless, of course, it was summer, and then she spent the greater amount of time in her gardens, either working the soil or painting what grew.
     She was excited to spruce up the yard for the approaching summer gardening season. Of course, Harry would help: Harry, their multi-purpose handyman and steady family friend.  She was sure to bring her easel and paint supplies outside to capture some of the beauty.
     Yesterday, her motivation had kicked into full throttle when she had pulled out the wicker furniture from the garage storage room, hosed it all down, and placed each piece around the veranda.  Harry had helped her, and mended one broken piece on the antique wicker glider.  The glider and a rocker waited eagerly for occupants on one side, while four armed wicker chairs sat clustered around a circular table on the other, all waiting to make their contribution toward cordial gatherings .
     The cheerfully flowered cushions that dressed them now serenaded a warm welcome with their splashes of geranium red, staged against a percussion of greens.
     Beth inhaled deeply, marveling at how gorgeous springtime was.  It was all so lovely; she had to get her paints out soon, right away even.
     Pulling into her driveway, it was good to be home.   When she walked through her garage door into the house, Bojangles, the family Yorkie, barked and ran to greet her.  Beth stacked away her craft tub in the large laundry room cupboard and squatted down to tousle his furry cheeks.  She pulled him close and kissed the top of his downy soft head.  With tail vibrating and his minute body jerking to be free, in a blur, he landed by his treat bin, expecting his welcome home treat.
     Beth slung her jacket over a counter stool, entering the kitchen, and gave Bojangles his reward.  She knew the delicious smell of dinner cooking would have been taunting him all afternoon, and it also reminded her that her own stomach was grumbling.  She grabbed her planner and an apple, checking her “to do” list, while hoping to keep her hunger in check until Chuck got home.
     “Oh, I almost forgot.  I need to call Harry about those eaves on the back of the house.  They need replacing before they fall on someone,” she said aloud.  Bojangles wagged his tail in response.  Talking to her dog was a habit that died hard after her nest had emptied.
     She was stepping over to the kitchen desk area to make her call to Harry on the land phone, when it suddenly rang.  Literally standing right over the phone, the ring startled her, causing her to jerk.  She quickly grabbed the phone, trying to swallow her bite of apple.
     “Hello, Wild residence”, Beth said.  There was silence.
     “Hello, may I ask who is calling, please?” asked Beth as she looked down at the caller ID, thinking that the pause had to be the delayed execution of a solicitor calling.
     Silence, and then a barely audible breathing could be heard on the other end.  Beth waited just a moment, and then hung up, unaffected.  She stood there just a moment, seeing “restricted” on the caller ID.  The moment she moved away from the desk, she jumped a second time when the phone rang again.  Again, she picked it up, saying nothing, only listening to see if anyone would speak first.  No one did.  And again, she heard the breathing.  Beth immediately hung up.
     Beth went over to the fridge and poured herself a drink of water.  She chugged it down, considering the calls, then grabbed her teapot to heat some water for tea.
     “I can’t remember the last time we had a prank call”, Beth said, looking down at Bojangles.  “Maybe a couple of times when Chip and Lacey were in middle school.  Who would be so immature as to do something like that now?  Since we’re unlisted, it must have been random.  It had to be.”  Bojangles cocked his head, listening to her intently.
     Putting these thoughts aside, Beth checked her watch, and decided to try Harry later.  As she was about to head toward the staircase, she caught another whiff of dinner.
     “Mmmmm, it smells good in here.”  Beth turned and headed, instead, over to her slow cooker on the granite counter.
     “I’m so glad I got this going early today.  These baby back ribs will be quite perfect for tonight, and just maybe it will bring a smile to Chuck’s face when he walks in.  That would be nice for a change.  He loves this dish.  If he gets home at a reasonable hour, that is.”
     Bojangles stretched his miniscule body as high as he could reach toward the countertop, working his nose ambitiously and hoping for a morsel.
She could never resist opening the slow cooker lid before the time was up, even though she knew that this opposed the whole purpose of crockery cooking.  She looked inside and knew the ribs would be succulent by 7:00, about the time Chuck would come through the door, hopefully.  They would be fall-off-the-bone delicious!
     Beth had them cooking in broth, onions, and sauerkraut.  She picked off a few shreds of pork and tasted.  Yes, tasty.   She blew on another little bite to hand to Bojangles.  He licked his little chops anxiously.
     “Lord, you know my heart, and you know that I want to have a right attitude.  So help me to love Chuck and encourage him in the ways that he needs to feel loved and encouraged.  Give me wisdom to know how to deal with whatever it is he is going through.”
     The teapot whistled and Beth went to pour herself her tea, then sat down on the barstool, thinking again those recurring thoughts of recent events with Chuck.  Realizing that her mind was racing off in the wrong direction again, she rechanneled it, deciding right then and there to leave her “Chuck worries” with God.
     It was just too much to carry, and besides, it might be nothing more than a passing phase.  She studied her planner, wondering what still needed attention.
     I have time to go upstairs to work out for about half an hour, and then I’ll get showered.  Lacey should be done with her class by then, and I want to call her to see what time she’s arriving home tomorrow evening.   I’m so glad she will be here this weekend.  I miss her and could sure use her company.  Then I’ll try calling Harry again.  He’s probably out on a job right now, anyway, and this way I won’t bother him.   And with that, she swallowed her last bit of tea, reminding herself that she really should drink tea more often, then sprinted up the steps, two at a time, with Bojangles close behind.
     The elliptical machine was set up in the massive spa-like bathroom of the master suite.  Beth loved this arrangement, with her flat screen TV on the wall in front of her.  She could jump right off the machine and right into the walk-in shower after her exercises, or if she preferred, she could put a rain forest CD into the  Bose system, turn on the trickling fountain on the counter, and fill the whirlpool tub for a soothing soak.
     Looking at her watch, again, she reached for the remote and flicked on a shopping channel.  A favorite craftsman was scheduled to be on, she remembered, illustrating her one-stroke painting.
     She quickly changed into her sweats and stepped up to her workout.  Beth truly hated exercising; that was a fact.  It was true in spite of the fact that she had tried with all of her heart to learn to like it.  She had never succeeded in making that happen, though, and knew, by now, that it never would.  No, this was something she made herself do, like swallowing her daily nutritional supplements.  She disliked that, too, because they often made her gag.  Only with exercise, the discomfort lasted a lot longer.
     Her truth was this when it came to her weight.  She loved to cook, because she loved to eat, and she loved sedentary activities, so she added on the pounds quickly.  She had to work out, or she’d be “as big as a barn and as broad as a barrel”, as the saying went.  It was that simple.
     She glanced at herself in the wide expanse of mirrors across one side of the bathroom.  She still looked good, didn’t she?  She was doing a pretty good job of keeping off the pounds, wasn’t she?  She wasn’t lean in the manner that she had been 25 years ago, or even 15, but she was shapely.  Wasn’t she?
 
     Or maybe I’m not. She was second-guessing herself.
     Maybe I’ve just gotten so used to seeing myself this way.  I suppose I could trim down a bit more.  I just wish I believed that Chuck still thought of me as attractive, and I wouldn’t have to be concerning myself right now.  I don’t know what he’s thinking anymore!  Well, whatever!  He is supposed to look deeper, to love me in spite of my physical appearance, anyway.  I just don’t think he sees me at all, one way or the other.
     I COULD change some bad eating habits.  I could do THAT!  But I need to do that for myself, not for him.  No more toaster pops, EVER, for breakfast.  Why do I grab them in the morning, anyway? I know they aren’t good for me.  It’s a no-brainer in the morning; that’s what.  I can do better.  I will.
     Beth watched the monitor as she increased her heart rate, while the painter on TV showed a new kit for sale.  The kit guided one through the process of one-stroke painting over clear glass dishes.  Normally, Beth would have been considering what a great idea this was, and how she might paint a lovely set of clear glass dishes to set aside for some future wedding gift, if she bought the set, but today her mind was again pondering the recent events with Chuck.
     “Here I go again, Lord.  Help me to give these anxieties to You.  You’ve always blessed my life, so why would you stop now, right?  I’m not helping one thing by worrying.”
     Beth hit the TV off button and began to pray more earnestly, as her legs glided smoothly back and forth.  Even as she tilted to and fro, she felt more than her body tilted out of whack; she felt her world tilted.  She didn’t like the feeling one bit, and she didn’t even know why, or how to fix it.
     The one thing she felt sure of, though, was that she had faith in God who did know and understood all things.  He was her true anchor, in reality, not Chuck.  He was the One she was supposed to depend on to keep her steady.  She would, especially now that she sensed her marriage was drifting into deep waters.
Segment Two
Chapter Two
Part One
“Mom, I’m home!”
Beth rushed to the foyer to give Lacey a massive hug.  Before she could get there, Bojangles had already rushed her, completely beside himself with excitement over seeing Lacey, too.  As he jumped up and down, tail spinning, Beth reached for Lacey.  “Oh, you are a sight for sore eyes, young lady!”  She held Lacey’s face in her hands and gave her two large smooches, one on each cheek.  Lacey kissed her back.
“Mom, this weather is awesome!  It has been so rainy in Darlington all week.  I was starting to feel like a wet duck!  Like: a drowning duck?  I had to finish three term papers this week, can you believe it?  I was running to the library every time I had a free minute, and I do believe that I got drenched each time, I think.  My brain even feels water-logged!”
Lacey stopped a moment, and continued, “Hey, I’m starved!  My dinner has worn off, and I feel desperate for sugar.  Do you have any sweets?”
“You poor thing!  Well, you can just relax now, Lacey, ’cause you’re home, and boy!  Am I glad!  Time to take a breather.  Run your stuff up, and I’ll find you something good to eat.”
Lacey hauled her duffel bag up the stairs to her bedroom, while Beth ducked into the kitchen.  Beth plunked lemonade ice cubes from the freezer into tall glasses, adding a finishing slice of lemon to the top of each glass. She poured sweet tea into each glass, adding a sprig of mint from her garden.  Next, she placed large squares of delectable chewy brownies on a platter, browned perfectly around all edges, dusting them with powdered sugar from a sprinkler that she kept in the pantry cabinet.
Big chunks of walnuts and chocolate chips embedded in the batter were peeking from the crusty top.  Beth knew Lacey was bound to love them.  She finished just in time as she heard Lacey’s footsteps coming down the steps.
“Where’s Daddy?  Isn’t he home yet?” asked Lacey, as she shuffled into the kitchen in her socks.
Beth’s stomach fluttered with apprehension, and she had to think for a minute of what to say.  She didn’t want to let on to Lacey that she was upset with Chuck.  If she did, Lacey would badger her with questions.  Chuck hadn’t shown up for dinner last night at all, and tonight he had called to say he’d be late, very late.  They’d had some angry words when Beth asked him why he couldn’t be here to greet his daughter.
“Hon, your Dad has had an important case he’s working on at the clinic, and he said he’d see you later, just as soon as he can get here.”
“Well, gee, Mom, it’s getting late,” said Lacey, looking at the clock on the mantel.  “It’s already going on 8.  What family practitioner works at this time of the day?  And a Friday, no less?”
” A lot of family physicians have evening hours, Lacey.  C’mon.  Let’s go sit down and eat these brownies, ok?  When he gets here, he gets here.”
As soon as Lacey eyed the brownies, she was distracted, “Yummo, Mom!   Those brownies really do look great!  I’m famished.”  Lacey picked the two biggest brownies off of the plate, seeming to forget her Dad for the moment, and Beth was relieved.
“Here, take this napkin, before you drop crumbs all over the rug.  Don’t want Bojangles eating chocolate, you know.  How was  your drive home?  And tell me about how your week has gone, Lacey.  Are  you happy with the term papers you did?”
“The traffic was light all the way home, Mom. I get kind of nervous around Indianapolis and Louisville, but I’ve made the trip often enough in my trusty little Toyota so that I don’t sweat it anymore. I think I have the route memorized by now.  The GPS is a God-send for me, though, Mom.   I packed a sandwich and ate it while I drove, and when I had to stop, my navigational guide led me straight to a Focus store.  That’s when I called you.”
“Thanks for keeping in touch with me while you drive.  I’m always concerned, but hearing from you takes away some of the anxiety.”
“Oh, sure, Mom.  I like it, too, connecting while I’m driving.  I’m happy with the papers I finished up this past week, too, Mom.  I think I’m doing really well, overall.  Professor Larson, in particular, seemed really pleased by my topic for my term paper.  So far my grades have been the best yet.  If I can keep this up for three more weeks, I’ll be home free.  Oh, I forgot!   Good news!  That marketing company called me back about the intern job starting next October.  It’s mine!  Can you believe I got it?  There were so many students applying for it.”
“Lacey, that’s wonderful!  I’m so proud of you!  You never cease to amaze me, sugar, honestly!  Where did you say that company was?”
“It’s right there in Fort Wayne, Mom.  Real close to Darlington.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to manage that and your classes, too?”
“Yes, I think I can, Mom.  I’m so thankful, because it will make all the difference toward my getting a job after I graduate.  With this economy, everyone is more than a little bit worried.  Now, I just have to focus on my finals over the next couple of weeks.  Ugh.  I’ll face that on Monday, though, I guess.  Not only do I have to start reviewing, but I still have so many chapters to get through in the next three weeks.  This weekend, I just need a break.  I will start all that on Monday when I get back.  I will really knuckle down.”
“Good for you, Lacey!  Have you heard any more from that Darren?”
“Mom, it’s so over between us.  And no, I haven’t heard any more from him, thank goodness.  After my sharp words to him, he’s probably going a mile out of his way to avoid me.  He just was not the man God has for me, and I’m very ok with that.  Really.  I’ve already moved on with my life.  I was really excited about him at first, I know, and you thought it was serious, but it never was.  At least, it never got that far before I found out he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“I thought I’d avoid a lot of that by attending a Christian college, but those types are everywhere, I realize now.   I’m so grateful that God showed me that right up front.  I could have been really wounded, if not.  Darren was a first class jerk, Mom.  I know that sounds harsh, but it is true.  I just loathe guys who are cheaters and pretenders,  you know?  He was a hunk, though, for sure.  Maybe that was a big part of his problem.  It went to his head!”
“I’m so sorry that he disappointed you, Lacey.  I know how that feels.
Thankfully, you did find out quickly.  We both know that God has someone special waiting somewhere just for you, don’t we?  We’ve always prayed for that, and when the timing is right, God will reveal who that is.  You just keep on being wise, and plugged into Him,  ok?  But keep your eyes wide open, young lady.  You don’t want to miss him, huh?”
“Yeah, and meanwhile, I can focus on my goals, right, Mom?  I like it this way, for real.  It is so distracting for me when I like someone, really like someone.  I don’t know how other girls do it: have a regular boyfriend and keep up their grades.  How do they stay focused?”
“Good question, Lacey.  I think it is hard, and I think many young women do lose their sense of purpose and direction.  You’ve always wanted to make Christian films, though, and you have a God-given talent for doing just that.  Sometimes, young people aren’t as sure as you have been, about what they really want to do.  That helps a lot.  I think God will bless you, if you are tenacious and persevering.  You go for it, sugar!  I was just reading somewhere that God feeds all of His birds, but He doesn’t throw the birdseed into their nests; they have to fly out and find their food.”
“Thanks, Mom.  That’s cool.  Hey, you know Lindsey?  Her parents are pushing for her to get engaged so she can get married right after graduation next year.  I guess they are in some all-fired big rush to have grandchildren or something.  Lindsey is pressuring her boyfriend and I think it’s a big mistake.  She may ruin everything for herself, including running her boyfriend off.  What’s with that?  Why would parents do that?”
Beth just sat and listened to Lacey talk and talk, thinking what a great daughter she had before her.  She had her priorities in place.  She also had high standards for what she wanted in a young man.  Beth believed that God would honor that.
“Mom, tell me what it was like for you and Dad after you guys met.  How did you manage that and still finish college with honors?”
“Oh, wow, Lacey.  Let me think.  Hmmm.  Well, first of all, I wasn’t like  you when I started out in college.  I wasn’t all ambitious and focused on clear-cut goals.  I had quite a few unmet needs, too, having been raised by just my mother.  I was a loafer, but I wasn’t even very disciplined about that.”
“It seemed like I was always looking for something sweeter than what I had.  I had little use for any other academics but the art courses, initially.  It wasn’t until I met your Dad that I guess I found my footing.  He was the proverbial good-looking pre-med student, whose attention I had captured, and no one was more surprised by that than I was.  I wanted terribly to impress him more and more, once I realized how much he liked me.”
“Now, that could have gone in the wrong direction, but thankfully your Dad steered me in the right way.  I was a bit Bohemian.   I guess opposites attracted, when it came to us.  He used to always say that I added color to his landscape.  I wasn’t focused at all, and I actually lacked any sense of direction about what I really wanted to do with my life.  I liked too many things, but had no real passion for any one thing.  I mostly just wanted to paint and draw.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, your Dad was so focused; he knew exactly what he wanted in life, and was headed straight for his goals.  The negative was that he seemed to lack the ability to notice the fun things in life, and I did.  Everything he did had to be part of a plan for a predicted end result, for his goals he’d set for himself.  You know.  I think that what he saw in me was a rational excuse to detour from that straight line.  I brought more of the whimsical, the unexpected, and the stop along the road that I think his psyche was craving.  I guess you could say that I kind of helped him learn to do a little meandering and to smell the roses.  Thankfully, some of the good we each had rubbed off on the other.  That’s how I like to think of it, anyway.  If not, I’d probably still be out there somewhere looking for some kind of purpose, maybe.  He helped me establish what my goals were, and then I was able to start working on them.”
“Do you think I’m more like Dad?   Maybe Chip is more like you, huh?”
“I suppose that could well be true, but I think you are both a composite of both of us, as well as your own unique selves.”  Beth smiled at Lacey, who had a most studious look on her face, so deep in thought was she.
“Your brother does have a very carefree manner about him, especially these days, and I suspect that is why he chose to do something creative with his life instead of following your Dad into medicine.  The discipline of medicine was just too restrictive to him, I suppose.”
“Has Dad gotten over that, you think?”
“Oh, yes, I do think he has.  Ever since he brought in that young new doctor, Corey Brown, to help carry the load, he’s let it go about Chip’s decision.  It’s water under the bridge anyway.  Chip is loving living in Nashville.  He may be as poor as a church mouse, but he’s happy.  His employer sure doesn’t pay him much, but he feels he’s lucky to have the job.  I just wish he’d phone more often.”
“Do you think that start-up recording company will make it, Mom?  I mean, I wonder if he has a future with it.”
“Chip is more concerned that he has the opportunity to play guitar and sing.  I think the job at Steely Records is just the means to an end.  So you see, in that way, he’s like his Dad, too, don’t you think?  He’s focused on an end result,”  Beth chuckled, and then winked at Lacey.
“Mom, how often are you hearing from Chip?”
“Barely at all,” said Beth sadly.   “He doesn’t call nearly enough to suit me.  I’ve tried calling him numerous times, but he doesn’t pick up, and then he takes days to return my calls, well, more like weeks, so I’ve begun to feel like I should let him call me when it’s convenient for him.  You know.  When he can find the time and interest.  I don’t want to bother him or pressure him.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.  You know, he never calls me either.  Maybe I should call him and get on his case, huh?”
“No, don’t do that.  He just needs more time to grow up, I guess, to find himself, and to realize on his own who the important people are in his life.  When he’s ready to check in, he will.  I just hope it is sooner than later.  I miss him terribly.”
“Mom, it’s 9:30.  Where is Daddy?  Should we call and see if he’s ok?”
Beth was startled by Lacey’s sudden concern.  “Well, sure.  Why don’t you go ahead and give him a ring?  Call his cell phone; he’s probably on his way home by now.”
She got up to put the dishes in the sink, as Lacey called her Dad.  Dear Lord, please let him answer his phone.  I pray that he remembers his daughter is home waiting for him, or she is going to be so hurt.  I don’t want the weekend to begin like this.  Please bless this weekend and help us to have some good family timetogether.  She could hear Lacey say hello to her Dad.  Beth could tell she was already hurt that her Dad wasn’t home.
“Dad, where are you?  I was hoping to get a chance to talk with you before bedtime tonight.”
“Huh?  Dad, who was that?  Is your patient still there?”
“Did you hear me?  If you don’t get here soon, it’ll be too late.  I’m really tired.”
“Dad, I can’t stay up that late.  How about I just see you in the morning?”
“You’re working tomorrow, too?  Jeesh, Dad!”   By now, Lacey was scowling.
“What-ever!  Bye!”  Lacey slammed down the phone.
Beth looked down at the floor, ashamed and sorry.  Lacey’s angry eyes were boring into her, as she looked up at her.  Biting her bottom lip, she wondered what to say in defense of Chuck.
“Mom, what is his problem?  I am so mad at him!  When did my Dad get so selfish?”
“Lacey, I’m so sorry.  I don’t know why he is working so hard and long at the office.”  Beth felt completely helpless at the moment.  She was not accustomed to not knowing how to keep family harmony.  It was a strange feeling, indeed.
“I thought he had some help now, with this new doctor, Mom.  Right?  What’s his name: Dr. Brown.  He should be working less, not more!”
“You’re right.  I’m not getting it either, but I do know your Dad is struggling with something right now.  I just don’t know what, exactly.  I’m trying to ride this out, praying it passes quickly.  I have faith in your Dad that he is always doing what is best for our family, though.  I believe in him; I just don’t know what the problem is right now.  At least I think there is a problem.”
“Well, have you asked him, Mom?”
“I have,  yes, I have.  I’ve tried anyway.  He won’t discuss it with me, and I hate to say this, but he even gets mad if I try to pry.  I have finally just tried to let it alone.
“Mom, see if I have time for him this weekend, at all!  Two can play this game.”
“Lacey, try not to have a disrespectful or vengeful attitude toward your Dad, even though I know he has hurt you tonight.  He did promise you he’d see you tonight.   I heard him say so, myself, when he got on the phone to talk to you last night, so I agree that it’s wrong that he isn’t keeping his word to you, but maybe you could just try to give him the benefit of the doubt, ok?  He does that for you all the time.”
Lacey sat back down with a heavy thump, tilting her head to the side with a hurt expression: nostrils flared, lips pursed, and arms crossed in front of her.  She looked very tense, but she was thinking about her attitude.  Beth was sure of it.  Finally, after some silence, her expression softened, and she looked back at her mom.  The corners of her mouth barely turned up, and her shoulders relaxed.
“Ok, Mom.  You’re right.  I’ll lighten up.  I just had something I wanted to talk to Daddy about, and I’m disappointed, that’s all.  I think I just need to go to bed, ok?  I’m tired.”
“Sure you are.  Ok.  You’ve had a long week, a long day.  Why, you’ve even driven for hours to get here, and now this.  Things will look better tomorrow.  I hope you know that you can talk to me about whatever it is, too, though.”
Beth paused, and Lacey said nothing.  “I’ll see you at breakfast then, ok?”
Getting up, Lacey said, “Ok, Mom.  Good night.  Hey, Mom, will you fix that sticky cinnamon bun thingy?”
“Sure, Hun.  Sleep tight. I love you.”
“Love you, too, Mom.”  Lacey bent down and hugged her Mom, then dragged herself up the stairs.
Beth continued sitting there for a long time.  She couldn’t define the feelings she was having.   She’d never felt so powerless before.  She wasn’t even sure she could define her feelings, altogether.  It was partly fear and worry, she guessed, but something else was bubbling down there in her gut.
How dare Chuck show such apathy toward Lacey?  I mean, like how often does she come home to visit, anyway, that he can’t put her first, or me, either, for that matter?  What is wrong with him?  I feel like, like, like…a door mat, that’s what!  How dare he make me feel this way, and if I feel this way, how must Lacey feel?  He’s being so destructive to what we have built here, in this marriage, in this family.  This does it.  He WILL answer for this!  I am very, very angry! 
And there it was: the anger.  Anger was what she felt, and it felt like a raw and throbbing wound.  She’d had enough; patience with Chuck was not cutting it anymore.
The kitchen was thick with the delicious sweetness of cinnamon and baking sweets, not to mention the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Beth was taking the Monkey Bread out of the oven, as Lacey stumbled over to the coffee maker to pour herself a cup.
“Mor-nin’, Mau-um,” said Lacey with a wide yawn.
Beth reached toward her and planted a kiss on the top of her forehead.  “How are you this morning?  Did you sleep well?”
“Heavenly, Mom.  I LOVED the new pillows.  They are really soft.  Oh, my gosh, does that ever make me drool.  Can I have some right now?”
“I have to turn it over on the plate first, but as soon as I do, you can dig in.  Let it cool just a tad, ok?  You might get burned.  So.  Glad you liked the pillows.  Did you notice the new oil painting hanging in your room?”
“Oh, yeah!  I did notice it, Mom.  I adore it!  I almost forgot, but yes, I saw it and I love it.  I looked at it until I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer.  I fell asleep with the light on, I looked at it for so long.  Did you paint if from some of the pictures you took at the Butterfly House?”
“Uh huh.  I did.  I hope it cheered you up last night.”
“Mom, it did cheer me up.  You are so amazing!  Can I take it back to school with me?”
“How about some scrambled eggs to go with that?  Some protein,” said Beth, handing Lacey a plate.  “You’d better leave it here, Lacey.  Wait until next fall.  You’ll be home in a couple weeks anyway, and it is one less thing to drag home.”
“Yeah, you’re right.  Eggs sound great.  Hey, Mom, I want to go shopping today.  Could we?”
“You mean drive to Lexington?”
“Yes!  We have all day, and it’s early yet.”
“Oh, that does sound tempting, Lacey.”  Beth pondered for a minute, then said, “Well, sure, why not?  It would do our spirits well, wouldn’t it?  Let’s do it.”
“When did Daddy leave for the office?”
“He was up before dawn and gone.  Just like that.”
“Did you talk to him before you went to bed last night?
“No, honey, I didn’t.  I stayed up quite late waiting for him, but I finally got tired and went to bed.  Good thing, too.  I was very angry and might have said things I’d be sorry for this morning.   I think he’s avoiding me, anyway.  He has to suspect that I’m a bit upset with him.  He can’t avoid me forever, though.  We’ll just go and do our own thing today.  After all, we could be waiting around on him all day and end up doing nothing.  I don’t even know what he has planned for tonight.”
“You mean Daddy isn’t even planning on seeing me tonight, Mom?  He always takes us out for dinner on Saturday night when I come home.”
“I honestly don’t know, Lacey.  I’ve barely had a chance to talk to him all week.  Surely, he will be here tonight.  Surely.”
“What-ever!  Let’s just go, Mom.  I can be ready in about 30 minutes.  How ’bout you?”
“Give me more like forty.”
“Got-cha!”
I have a great idea, Mom,” said Lacey, as they traveled along the interstate, having worn themselves out shopping at a favorite mall in Lexington.  “We should plan something special to do when I get done with my finals; something exciting to start the summer off.  I’ll have a couple weeks to kill before I begin day camp this summer.  I want us to do a girl’s trip.  Wha-da-ya think?”
“What did you have in mind?”   Beth perked right up with Lacey’s question.
Lacey examined her newly manicured nails, then pulled off her sandals to examine her pedicure.  They had treated themselves at a walk-in spa in Lexington near the mall.  “Well, you’ve always said how you’d like to take me to New York, right?”  She glanced at Mom with pleading eyes.
“Yes, I did say that, didn’t I?   And more than a few times.  We should do that,” said Beth, lighting up with the idea.
“Well, that’s what I want to do,” said Lacey, getting all excited now.  “Brook went with her mom over spring break, and she told me all about it.  It sounded so fun.  I was thinking you and I could do the same thing.”
“Let’s do it!  Monday morning, I’ll look into tickets, ok?”
“Awesome, Mom!  Can we see a Broadway show, too?”
“I wouldn’t go if we couldn’t!”
“Ok, then it’s set”  Lacey pulled a garment out of a shopping bag, feeling tickled pink.  “This new swimsuit rocks, Mom.  Don’t you love it?”
“I’m green with envy, Lacey.  Oh, to be young again,” said Beth, winking at Lacey.
“Silly Mom.  You don’t have to be young.  You look great just the age you are.  You should hear some of the guys at school ask me who you are.  I have to let them down easy, when I tell them you are my Mom,” Lacey said, snickering.
“Oh, stop!  They do not!  You don’t!”    Beth scrunched her brow into an “eleven”, glancing over at Lacey.  Lacey just smiled at her mischievously.
“I’m starving.  Do you think Dad will be home and we’ll go out to eat?  I want to go to Roselli’s for lasagna.  I’ve been so hungry for it.”
Beth checked the time, realizing they’d be home at six o’clock, ample time for Chuck to be home on a Saturday.  “We can hope, Lacey.  If he isn’t, we’ll just go by ourselves, how is that?”  Whoops!  Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.
Lacey directed a significant worry frown at her mother, studying her as Beth gently maneuvered the steering wheel to pass a car.  Lacey was at a loss to know what to even say to Mom about that.  Beth glanced sideways, feeling the heat of her stare, and saw Lacey looking at her with a combination of worry, bewilderment, and anger.
“Sugar, maybe this just wasn’t a good weekend for your Dad to have you visit, and he was too embarrassed to tell you, or me.  You know he loves you and looks forward to always seeing  you.  Whatever he’s dealing with must be really important for him to allow it to interfere.  Let’s just keep giving him the benefit of the doubt, ok?”
“Well, Mom, it isn’t just me I’m thinking of, just so you know.  I’m mad at him because I’m getting the feeling that he seems to be leaving you out of his life.  I thought husbands let their wives know things, you know?  I’ve never seen Dad behave this way before.  You shouldn’t have to guess why Dad is working these extra hours on a weekend.  I mean, that’s true, isn’t it?  You guessing. Not to mention that Chip is doing the same thing.  You deserve better than this kind of treatment!  You’re the best Mom and wife, so I don’t get it.  But even if you weren’t the best, Dad should treat you right, anyway.  Isn’t he supposed to be the figurehead like Christ or something?  Isn’t that what the Bible teaches?  It makes me feel so sad, and I find myself not wanting to get married if this is how a husband treats his wife, when he is supposed to love her.  Dad is a Christian and he knows how husbands should treat their wives.  He should be willing to sacrifice his life for you, Mom, like Jesus.  Isn’t that what I’ve always heard?”
Beth was stunned at Lacey’s defense of her.  It left her almost breathless and about to cry.  “He has always communicated with me, Lacey.  I’ve never doubted his love for me.  Can I ask you to pray for us, though?  I’m sure God knows what is going on, and I’m really trying to trust Him right now.  As far as Chip is concerned, he is just sewing some wild oats, I’m sure.  I’m ok.  I’m better than ok.”
“I will pray, Mom; you can count on it.  And you are right to give it to God.  That’s what you always taught both Chip and me to do, too.  I guess you are doing like you say.  That’s cool, Mom.  Too bad, Daddy isn’t!”  Lacey looked at her Mom with compassion and respect, and Beth turned and smiled back appreciatively.
“Thank you, Lacey.  You are a blessing to me.”
The rest of the trip they listened to CDs.  At times, they would join in with Taylor Smith, singing the parts they knew, and looking at each other with giggles.  Occasionally, Beth would sing the wrong lyrics, and Lacey would put her straight.
“Mom, you might look young, but I think you have old-timer’s disease!  We’ve got to look into some ginkgo biloba for your brain power, like to help your memory!”
“Excuse me?  Oh, yeah?  Well, look who is talking?  It’s Alzheimer’s disease, goose, not old timers!  Let’s get you some kind of supplement to help you with smarts!”
Lacey stuck out her neck and rattled her head at her mom, grinning.  “Got me, but you also need to do something about that yodel of yours.  I wonder what supplement would help that?”
“Why you smarty pants, you!  What yodel would that be?”
“You know, that Swiss yodel of yours, when you sing.”
“Well, I beg your pardon, missy!”
Lacey was tickled that she’d gotten her Mom’s ire.
“Just you wait.  I’ll get you for that one!”
Beth sat in her living room, holding Bojangles in her lap, and pondering the evening.  She looked around the room, seeing a beautiful accumulation of years of careful decorating, but it all felt rather empty and meaningless tonight.  She smoothed the floral chintz that covered one of two matching Chippendale chairs in the room.  Like she usually did, she began scrutinizing the entire room with a fresh perspective of objectivity.  She took mental note of some changes she could make to update it, but her mind didn’t tarry there for long before she went right back to the events of the evening.
Chuck did make it home for dinner, for which I’m glad, but he seems weird to me.  He keeps doing this coughing thing when he talks.   When did that start?  Maybe he should get a physical, himself, from his own doctor..  When was the last time?  Beth tried to think back to when that was, as she picked at her cuticle.  All she could remember was that it had seemed like playing a game of tug of war with a hippo to get him to go, back whenever that was.
He made as little eye contact with me tonight as he had to.  I almost get the feeling that he’s mad at me, but I don’t have a clue why he should be mad at me.  Normally, he would tell me straight away.  Maybe it’s because he knows I’m mad at him?  That’s what he’s mad about: mad because I’m mad at him.  How dumb is that?  Then again, maybe he knows he’s upset Lacey this weekend, and he’s blaming me, which I don’t understand.  He always expects me to be the peacemaker.  I can’t fix everything.
Beth tore at the cuticle, causing it to bleed slightly.  She huffed, thinking of how Chuck had gone to bed, completely ignoring her, and how everything felt all wrong to Beth.  She had this disconcerting feeling that if she cried out for help, none would be forthcoming, at least not from her master bedroom where Chuck nestled in their bed.  She imagined someone kicking down the door and entering, preparing to hurt her, and she screaming.  Would Chuck even care?  She truly wondered.  And how could he sleep, anyway?  Had he lost all conscience?
Beth stood up, carrying Bojangles, and turned out the lights.  “You are my little precious aren’t  you, baby?  What would I do without you?” asked Beth as she smothered him with kisses.  She put him in his bed that lay in the hallway outside the door to their bedroom, and tiptoed into the room.  She needed her rest, too, so she could get up and see Lacey off in the morning with a good breakfast.
Later, in another bedroom, Lacey stared at the ceiling shadows, knowing that her parents thought she had fallen asleep by now; thought she had been asleep for hours.  She wasn’t though.  She’d been lying here unable to sleep, and all because of her Dad.
Something was terribly wrong with her parents, or at least her Dad.  She couldn’t figure it out.  He probably thought I didn’t notice, but I did.  He avoided Mom all evening.  He just ignored her altogether.  I caught that look in his eyes when he looked at her that one time.  What was that?  Why, it looked like hatred.  Yeah.  That’s what it looked like. Surely not.  I don’t remember my Dad ever looking at Mom that way.  It creeped me out.  I don’t know.   Lord, only you know what is going on here at home.  Please help my parents to love each other.  Help them work out whatever is not right.  I trust you, God.
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Today, Beth would make arrangements for their trip to New York.  She was already looking eagerly forward to this special time with Lacey, as it had felt so hard to say goodbye to Lacey yesterday morning.
Three more weeks, and she’d have Lacey home for the summer.  For three entire months, her nest would be full again.  Thankfully, the day camp where Lacey worked during the summers, teaching children the mechanics of using video cameras, was close to home.  Lacey was excited to have that summer job; a job that would be fun time spent in the great outdoors.  Beth was so happy for her.
So many of Lacey’s dreams were coming to fruition.   She was already wondering, however,  how she would deal with Lacey graduating and beginning work “who knew where” full time, never to come home again for summer vacations.  Beth was already bracing herself for the adjustments she would have to make, and it was clearly a whole year away.  Thank you, Lord.  She hoped Lacey could find a permanent job not too far away from home.
“Chuck was good with the New York trip,” thought Beth.  “I’m glad for that.  In fact, he seemed very pleased about it.  Hmmm.”
Probably was trying to make up for making Lacey so mad at him.  Chuck had been home Sunday morning, but had left for a handball match after lunch. It had been another lonely day for Beth.
Meanwhile, she needed to focus on how to get through the next three weeks.  She needed to call Harry back again to find out exactly when he was coming over this week to fix those eave troughs that needed replacing.  She would do that, and oh, she would also call Lori from her china class to set a date for lunch.
“I can’t remember the ages of her children, but if any are not in school, she can bring them here.  I’ll fix us lunch; that’s what I’ll do.  We can visit more privately that way,” Beth thought.
She picked up the phone, swallowing her coffee, and punched the number from a card Lori had written it on one day at class.  She was just proud of herself that she had not lost it.  When she had taken care of that, she punched in Harry’s number, as well, feeling really good that Lori had seemed so excited about being invited.  Harry would be over tomorrow morning to start work.  Then she went to her laptop, sat down, and clicked on the internet.  It only took her minutes to choose flights and purchase the tickets, as well as book a room.  They wouldn’t need a car rental.  Next, she clicked on links to see what shows were running.  She jotted down ideas and decided to ask Lacey later in the day when they talked.
With a sense of satisfaction, Beth crossed off about eight tasks on her “to do” list.  Her day was off to a good start.  She decided she would have time to work in her studio this afternoon.  Next, she put the leash on Bojangle’s collar and followed him to the side door.  Taking the remote for the garage door, she exited to the outside.  She was thinking of taking a walk, so she closed it.
It seemed a bit chilly this morning, but sunny again.  Bojangles was exhilarated to be outside with her, and he ran in front of her toward the mailbox, dog walking human.  When they reached the mailbox, which was anchored at the end of their long driveway, Beth pulled out a stack of mail.  She began sorting through it as they headed back up the driveway.  She was shivering, so changed her mind about the walk today, but she did want to check out some of her garden beds.  As they neared the house, Beth stepped off of the driveway and started around the house, surveying the garden beds, appraising what work they would need.  She’d let Harry know tomorrow when he came.
She stopped at a grassy area and hooked the leash to a stake in the ground near a concrete bench.  As she sat down, one envelope caught her eye, in particular, and she stopped to rip it open.
Beth grasped several pages in her hand, and saw that the top page was requesting that she send more slides of recent work.  “They’ve sold my painting!”  Amazement and joy overtook her.  She had really deliberated about sending out that first set of slides, and had been amazed when this gallery had requested one of her paintings.
This was not just any gallery.  This was a  solid gallery in the Big Apple; a gallery that had “made” a few artists and given them a clientele of collectors who invested in their artwork.
Beth literally tingled with anticipation, as she reread the letter.  Then she realized there was something else in the envelope.  She pulled it out and gasped when she saw the check made out to her for the amount of $2,800.
“Oh, whoa…!  Look at this!”  A smile beamed across her face from ear to ear.
Bojangles tilted his head toward her, sensing her excitement, and gave a, “Ruff!”
“Yes, little fella, ruff!  Your Mamma is one happy lady!  Woo hoo!”
Beth was struck with the memory of feeling like the painting would probably get sent back, unsold.  How wrong she had been.
She jumped up with a new bounce in her demeanor, no longer feeling chilled, but now warm with emotions, and unhooked Bojangles.  She had to tell someone.  She pulled ay from her pocket, cleaning up after him, and quickly hurried to the house with him.  She unfettered him, urgently tossed him a biscuit, and bounded up two flights of stairs to her studio.
In a shadowy corner she kept her study Bible, a softly lit lamp, a plush ottoman, and a soft lambskin rug.  There, her knees sank.  She was eager to give thanks, and to whom better than to the one who had opened this door.  God had definitely answered a prayer.
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