Fiction, Flash Fiction, Hope

A Phoenix in the Garden

phoenix-4655584_640

We met on the track I was wearing in the hallway carpet. Pacing. Stretching my legs, ostensibly, but pacing, in truth. My brother was on the fourth hour of his third round of chemo. I was on the fourth hour of sitting by his side in one of the cancer center’s treatment rooms.

“What’s the matter with you?”

The question came from an individual I nearly tripped over as I rounded the end of my route again. It was a boy, a young man maybe, and his inquiry sounded genuine enough. Age was difficult to guess in this place. The undereye gray shadows and translucent skin beneath a knit hat could be a misleading combination. He may have been fourteen or he may have been twenty.

“With me?” I fumbled my reply, “No, nothing. Needed to stretch my legs.”

I tried a smile but my lips would neither part nor curve upward. His white-blonde eyebrows rose toward his shaved scalp, visible along the edge of the hat. He was as convinced as my smile was convincing. That is, not at all.

“Stretch your legs?”

“Stretch my legs.”

My perfectly good, functional, strong legs, I added to myself and continued walking. My mind summoned the image of my big brother, his limbs withered and wrapped in two blankets while lifesaving, toxic chemicals were pumped into his body. I walked faster.

“What you need is air.”

I slowed my feet, realizing he’d followed me.

“You know the way to the garden?” he asked.

I shook my head. The hallway suddenly felt stifling.

“There’s a garden?” I pushed the words past the stone in my throat.

He moved to the front, lifting one bony shoulder to indicate I should follow.

It wasn’t that the building was so awful. The walls and furniture were awash with soothing colors. The architecture was effectively welcoming, not to mention it was stocked with a staff deserving of an Olympic gold medal in warmth. Nonetheless, there was no way for it to be anything but a building you wished to leave.

It was also a building with a garden. My companion led me down new hallways, around new corners, and through a set of automatic doors. The doors opened on a small park of groomed grass and flower beds. Brightly painted wooden benches filled the in-between spaces and a swing set stood at the opposite edge with three rubber seats suspended on sturdy chains.

My guide sat down on the first bench we reached, which faced a fountain. In the center of the fountain was a bird that I recognized as a phoenix. The creature was painted blood red, a startling hue against the gray stone structure. Water flowed and fell from the carved pile of ashes from which the bird rose. Its wings were half-spread and its chest and head stretched toward the sky. Ready for flight.

Just us and the stone bird, still and silent we sat. I don’t know for how long. The young man’s breaths had an almost inaudible rasp. When a girl emerged through the doors, running to the swings with a woman calling caution after her, I spoke.

“Thank you for bringing me out here.” I glanced sideways and added, “I’m June.”

“Perry.”

“I’m here with my brother.”

His eyes remained fixed on the fountain. Their shade of brown was likely quite ordinary but set above those gray shadows they were bright and bold.

“Are you cold?” I asked.

“Not yet.”

The sun warmed me through my jeans and black t-shirt, but I’d witnessed how the disease robbed a person of his internal heat. My brother was invariably cold.

Perry and I returned to silence. The hushed rasp of his breaths, the squeak of a swing set chain, and the water moving beneath the phoenix accompanied my thoughts. None of those thoughts connected. They collided and stacked on top of each other. In between grocery lists, dentist appointments, and messages I’d been meaning to answer came the repeated question: Will my brother survive? Each time that one rose to the top, I scrambled for my next thought, for one that I could answer.

God could answer the other one. Only Him. This fact was both a source of pain and a balm to the pain. Was that truth really any different for the rest of us though? Cancer or no cancer, I knew as little about my own chances of survival as my brother’s.

True enough, I conceded, but our experience of that truth is anything but the same.

Perry cleared his throat. “I’m going to get a tattoo of that bird when I’m done here. When I’m in remission, I mean. I look at the thing every day. I don’t know, but I think I’ll need to take it with me.”

He turned my way and this time I had a real smile for him, lips curved up and everything.

“It will make an excellent tattoo,” I said.

A cloud obscured the sun and my smile fell away. Perry shivered. I looked at the phoenix once more.

“I should go back to my brother. Do you know the time?”

Perry shrugged. “I don’t pay attention to time anymore, not more than if it’s day or if it’s night. When I did pay attention, I was only counting down. I got tired of counting down.”

He leaned heavily on the arm of the bench and stood. His movements and his tone that followed were suited to a man of a more advanced age.

“Come on. You’ll never find your way back on your own.”

Perry left me at my brother’s door. I walked inside and asked, “Have you seen the garden yet? It has the most beautiful fountain.”

*”A Phoenix in the Garden” was originally published in Ever Eden Literary Journal, Spring 2020 issue.

 

Fiction, Personal Reflection, Writing

Story Surprises

This morning, in amongst my notifications of friends’ reactions and comments, I had a pesky little reminder from Facebook that it’d “been a while” since I posted anything on my author page. Now, I’m not too keen on paying any attention to those things, but this one bothered me a bit.

What it really did was remind me that I haven’t written any new stories for you all in a while. A long while. Here’s the thing though: I tried! I really tried.

A week ago, I had what felt like a splendid idea for a story. Maybe a quick flash fiction story that would only take a day or two to write and polish and share with you. Maybe a multi-part short story. Either way, I was sure I’d have a new story to post for my readers. So, I got started.

Then something happened. Two paragraphs into this little tale, it hit me. I was not writing a new short story. I was writing a game-changing missing piece in the plot and character development of my novel. I was stunned. I stared at the screen, my fingers resting on the keyboard, and questioned if it was only wishful thinking.

It wasn’t. It was perfect. It answered questions and propelled the story forward in ways I’d been struggling to identify.

Sometimes a story, and especially a character, has to reveal itself to its writer. That seems strange, I know. I’m the one who created the character. I’m the one who thought of the story. How can I be completely surprised by it? That’s the nature of writing fiction though. In fact, it’s become something I look for now (and look forward to). Having a piece of the plot or character development take me by surprise is a sign that the story is working, that it’s worth writing. It’s a sign of life. When there are no surprises, no a-ha moments that I didn’t see coming, there is a flatness to the characters and a mediocrity to the plot.

So, you have my sincerest apologies for the lack of new fiction posted here on this site. I do hope to write something new for you soon. However, I also offer the bit of brightness that the first draft of my second novel is progressing much better than it was before a week ago.

Until I hit on a new idea, if you need a little short fiction in your life, maybe you will find something you haven’t read yet (or forgot that you already read (or enjoyed enough to reread)) amongst the flash fiction and short stories already gathered here.

382510-Alice-Hoffman-Quote-When-you-start-writing-the-magic-comes-when

Books, Fiction, The Hidden Legacy

Coming Up Next

Greetings, friends!

Next up on the calendar is a Meet the Author evening at the Plymouth Public Library. Come join me at 6 p.m. on Monday, September 23rd for a candid discussion of my experience of writing and publishing my first novel The Hidden Legacy, and the pursuit of new projects. The journey of it is a shared experience with many individuals who chase their passion while still dedicating themselves to their relationships, families, and other work. I’d love to discuss your questions and curiosities, and learn from your experiences, as well. If you’ve read The Hidden Legacy, or simply want to know more about it, the floor will be open for conversaton on the book too.

Carrie Sue Barnes 2019 FBEvent

If you’re in the area (or anywhere near it!) on Monday, September 23rd, make your way to the Plymouth Public Library at 6 p.m. I’ll be ready to welcome you!

Family, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

What Zoe Said

received_2344742762436511.jpeg

Shannon counted the broken steps on the abandoned lighthouse’s staircase.

Nine.

When she reached the lantern room, a pair of mourning doves departed in a hurry through a hole in the cupola. The space held only cobwebs, discarded birds’ nests, and a smattering of broken wood. Years ago, the massive lantern was removed. The glass window panes were gone too, with some spaces boarded up and the rest open to the outside.

Footfalls sounded on the stairs below.

“Shannon?” Oliver’s voice echoed up the lighthouse. “Are you up there?”

She nodded, all words hitched on her vocal chords until she moved to an open window frame and sucked the lakeside air into her lungs.

“I’m here,” she managed.

By the time she heard her brother reach the lantern room, then felt his shoulder press against hers, she’d squashed the mutiny of her emotions. Oliver’s head turned from one direction to the other, taking in the state of their old haunt.

“Time hasn’t been too good to this place,” he said. “When was the last time we were here?”

Shannon watched his forehead wrinkle as he tried to remember. There was a sprinkling of gray in his brown hair, and fine lines beside his eyes.

“Fourteen years,” she answered. “You were twenty-four, I was twenty and Zoe was seventeen. It was after her high school graduation party.”

His expression cleared and brightened. “Yes, we sat out on the gallery and talked until a thunderstorm rolled in.”

“Then we sat in here until it passed.” Shannon nodded. “I remember my shoes were ruined in the mud as soon as we started walking home. Zoe took them and threw them in the woods.”

Oliver laughed. “Of course she did.”

“She said I’d be stronger without them, whatever that meant.”

A rope of silence coiled around them. For a minute, they both yielded to it, then Shannon snapped its hold.

“Sometimes I wish I believed in reincarnation.”

Oliver raised his brows at her. “Why?”

“Another chance,” she whispered. The threat of mutiny swelled again within her chest. “For her. For me. So I could hope. Maybe we could do better the next time around.”

He slipped his arm around her shoulders and she settled into his side, resting her head. His steadying heartbeat drummed in her ear. When the wind off Lake Huron brought a shiver, Oliver hugged her a bit tighter.

“She was so sick, Ollie. How did we not know?” Shannon asked, her voice laden with desperation.

“I don’t know,” Oliver admitted. “When Mom called and told me what happened, it knocked the air out of my lungs. I still feel like I’m trying to catch my breath.”

“Did she really hide it that well? Or did I not pay attention?”

He didn’t offer the automatic consolations she’d received from friends in the past week. Together, they stared in the direction of the turquoise water, barely visible through the tangle of overgrown pines and birches surrounding the lighthouse. Waves, heard but not seen, slapped the rocky shore.

“I’m glad we don’t believe in reincarnation, Shannon.”

“Why?”

“That night of Zoe’s graduation party, when she was talking about college, and art, and traveling, and everything she was determined to do, she said something that stuck with me for a long time. I’d forgotten about it, honestly, but it came back to me this week.”

A fire-red cardinal landed in the limbs of the nearest pine. It flew to the next tree when Oliver continued.

“She said, ‘He knows how many days I have, but I don’t.’”

“I remember,” Shannon said.

“Do you remember how badly she wanted to make us understand?”

The memory washed over her. She heard the rise and fall of her younger sister’s voice, and saw Zoe’s dark, unflinching eyes and her hands lifted and gesturing.

“She had on purple nail polish that day.” Shannon raised her fingertips to her lips. “I can’t believe I remember that.”

Sliding her calf-length black dress to her thighs, Shannon climbed through the open window frame to the gallery encircling the lantern room. The decaying boards groaned beneath her feet.

“Be careful,” her brother called before sighing and climbing out after her.

Shannon stepped cautiously over one of several gaps in the walkway. Finding the lengthiest series of sturdy boards, she gripped the cold steel rail and sat down with her legs dangling over the edge in the wind. Oliver joined her, wariness pinching his features.

“Zoe said, “I don’t know if I have any more days, but I know I have today. I’m going to live like today is all I have.’”

“Yes,” Oliver murmured.

Shannon’s voice rose in agitation, “But don’t you think that’s a terribly dangerous way to live?”

“I do,” Oliver said, his expression guarded. “Don’t you think pretending it’s not true is also a terribly dangerous way to live?”

The cardinal landed on the gallery railing, two yards from where they sat. A song, sweet and brief, came from its lifted chest and yellow beak.

“Oh!” Shannon yelped, for her left shoe had slipped from her foot and dropped.

They watched its plummet from the gallery to the ground, and in that fall—with its tree branch collisions and flips—Shannon saw more than her black leather, two-inch pump hit the ground. She saw her choices. Her refusals to choose. Her fears dressed up as wisdom. She saw her sister and all the signs of what came.

Oliver leaned over the rail, shattering her momentary trance.

“I think I see the old path over there. I might be able to get the shoe if I….”

She kicked off her other shoe and stood, not waiting for it to land.

“Leave them.”

Her brother looked up at her. “It rained last night. Plenty of mud on the way home.”

She smiled back at him. “Maybe I’ll be stronger without them.”

*This story was published in “Ever Eden” literary journal, Fall 2019 issue, August 2019.

Books, Catholicism, Fiction, The Hidden Legacy, Writing

Sealed With Approval

logo color CWG SOAI’m proud to share that The Hidden Legacy has been awarded the Seal of Approval (SoA) by the Catholic Writers Guild. Simply put, this signifies that the novel has been assessed for qualities that support and faithfully represent the Catholic faith. Sometimes this means a book was written specifically for a Catholic audience. Other times, like with The Hidden Legacy, it is written for a broader audience and its themes and plot make it highly recommendable to Catholic readers.

The SoA is a respected measure for Catholic bookstore owners and reviewers of Catholic works to be reassured that a book is worth their consideration.

With themes of authentic love, self-sacrifice, truth, and hope, The Hidden Legacy offers a story that can inspire and encourage you in your walk of faith. I hope you will consider it for your reading enjoyment!

A Stranger's Hands, Fiction, Love, Short Story

A Stranger’s Hands – Part Four

Read Parts 1, 2, & 3 here.

A Stranger’s Hands – The Beginning in the Ending

people-2557423_1280

Gil handed Cora one of the beverages he held. Her fingers curled around the cardboard cup, absorbing the warmth of the coffee inside.

“Thank you,” Cora’s voice came out in an unnatural pitch and she felt a blush creep over her cheeks. “I walked,” she added quite unnecessarily.

“I see that. Hope it’s okay if we keep walking.”

She nodded and willed her pulse to quiet. Taking a sip of coffee followed by a deep, slow breath, she stole a long glance at Gil.

His chocolate-hued hair looked freshly combed and his face freshly shaved. He wore a thin, black fleece jacket over a red and gray flannel shirt, which was untucked over his dark jeans. How comfortable he looked. How at ease with her. It softened her own anxiousness a little more with each passing second.

Gil led them further into the modest downtown stretch of shops, cafes, and bars side by side along Second Street. Cora took in the details of the picture windows of the various boutiques. It’d been too long since she’d strolled this way.

“Nervous?” Gil asked.

They were waiting at a crosswalk. Cora met his eyes.

“No,” she said, “not anymore.”

In between a hair salon and a music shop that sold used vinyl records and various instruments, Gil turned down a narrow alley Cora hadn’t noticed before. She followed with full curiosity. They arrived in a courtyard of sorts behind the shops. It was all grass, no sidewalks or paths, and bordered by a solid wall of waist-high shrubs. Gil and Cora entered through the single opening in the shrubs. A crowd of about twenty men and women, with a few kids in the mix, were already assembled there on folding chairs that filled the lawn. At the front of the gathering was a large area rug on which stood a six-piece band: five men, one woman, two guitars, one banjo, a fiddle, an upright bass, and a bongo drum. The band members all looked to be in their 50s and 60s. A single microphone stood front and center, connected to an amplifier, which in turn was connected to an extension cord running through the back door of the music shop.

When Cora’s jaw dropped, Gil laughed aloud.

“I take it you didn’t know about this?”

“What is it?” she asked.

“They call themselves The Alley Cats. They play back here once or twice a month, as well as in the neighboring towns. Mostly old bluegrass and folk tunes. I have a gut feeling you’re going to love it.”

“I think you have a smart gut.”

Gil led them to two empty chairs in the middle of the crowd. Nearly everyone they passed greeted Gil.

“You’re a regular here then?”

He nodded. “Yeah, and a lot of them are customers at the coffeeshop too.”

Cora’s mind tiptoed through the notion of sitting beside Gil every time The Alley Cats were playing here. The man seated next to her reached around her back to slap Gil on the shoulder.

“Gil! You gonna sit in on a song or two tonight?”

“No, no,” Gil shook his head, glancing at Cora. “I’m here to listen tonight, that’s all.”

Cora turned in her seat. “Sit in?”

He ran a hand over his face, a smile playing on his lips. “I’ve been known to, um, bang on a bongo drum now and then.”

“Oh, do tell me more.”

“Shhh,” Gil held a finger to lips. “I think they’re starting.”

Cora giggled, a sound unfamiliar to her own ears. She pointed her knees forward again and watched the band pick up their instruments. They kicked things off with a boisterous bluegrass tune. Throughout the hour-long set, Cora caught Gil watching her. Eventually, she leaned over, her shoulder against his.

“This is perfect, Gil. Thank you.”

On their return walk, they chatted about music and concerts and memories.

“You really enjoyed it, Cora?”

“So much. It was great.”

Gil slid his hands in his pockets, a satisfied expression on his face.

“Of course, there is one thing that could have made it better,” she said.

He frowned. “What’s that?”

“Next time I want to see you play the bongo drums.”

She watched him toss his head back and laugh. It warmed her even as the chill of the evening made her shiver.

“Next time. I promise,” Gil said as he removed his fleece jacket and handed it to her.

 

Gil unlocked the front door of Second Street Coffee.

“Are you hungry?”

“Very,” Cora admitted.

She stepped into the café, absorbing its stillness. Without the lights on or the sound of staff and customers surrounding them, it almost felt like a place she’d never been – someplace intimate and unexplored. She squashed the resurgence of her former nervousness.

“Should we find somewhere to eat dinner?”

Gil didn’t answer but moved toward the kitchen, gesturing for her to follow.

A motion sensor turned on the lights as they entered. Two high-top chairs from the dining room were pulled up to a countertop. Two sets of plates, utensils, and glasses were already laid out. On the stove was an empty wok pan and in a matter of minutes, Gil had chicken cooking in an aromatic peanut sauce. Bowls of vegetables he’d chopped in the afternoon waited beside the stovetop to be added at the right time, and rice steamed in a rice cooker. Gil kept watch beside the stove, occasionally stirring the chicken and sauce. Cora perched on one of the tall chairs, her legs crossed at the knees and her hands toying with her glass of lime seltzer water.

“Is Gil short for Gilbert?”

“You’d think so wouldn’t you?”

Gil gave no further answer but instead held her gaze in a coy stare. Cora crossed her arms over her chest. She matched his smirk and stare until he broke into a laugh.

“Fine.” He raised his hands in surrender. “My parents loved jazz and blues. My dad was an especially big fan of Dizzy Gillespie.”

“Dizzy Gillespie?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Your name is Gillespie?”

“Time to add the vegetables!” Gil tended to the food with exaggerated urgency.

“Gillespie,” she repeated.

“It’s not like I hate it,” he said with his back to her. “I used to as a kid, of course, but now it’s… special, I guess. Bit of my dad to always be a part of me.”

He turned to face her again, leaning against the countertop.

“Still, most people don’t know it.”

“I won’t tell.”

“How about you tell me something most people don’t know about you? Even things out.”

He said it casually enough, but Cora saw the way he shifted his weight and looked down at the floor as he made the request.

Let him in.

The voice in her head was so clearly Theo’s that it shook her from the inside out. Her mouth went dry as sandpaper and her hands trembled. She had to set down her glass.

“I’m sorry. Forget I said that.” Gil waved a hand in dismissal.

He finished the food and prepared their plates in silence.

Cora savored her first bites of the meal, then set her fork down.

“I tried to be a magician for kids’ parties as a side job for a year in college. I failed miserably.”

Gil’s fork full of chicken and peppers hung in midair.

“Miserably,” she said, drawing out each syllable.

She watched his smile widen and his brown eyes alight with humor.

“Every time I think about it, I thank God that kids didn’t have smartphones and viral videos weren’t a thing back then.”

He didn’t say a word. His smile every time he looked her way said enough and Cora didn’t think she could ever tire of seeing it. Her heart clutched with hope and worry together, but hope held a slight edge.

 

“Can I walk you home?”

They’d finished their dinner and shared a generous portion of the coffeehouse’s decadent caramel cheesecake. They stood now, facing each other in the doorway between the bright kitchen and the shadowy dining area. All their contented conversation ebbed into hesitant words.

“I think I’d like to go alone, if that’s alright.”

“I hope you had a good evening, Cora. That’s all I hoped for tonight.”

Ten steps from the front door, Cora brushed the edge of her hand against his and their fingers slipped together. Gil lifted her hand and kissed the back of it. Warmth radiated from the spot like the concentric circles around a stone tossed in a body of water.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Gil, I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in….”

“I know how long.”

She ran her other hand over their intertwined fingers.

“This day started with a stranger’s hands and all I could see was something ending. Tonight, with you, allowed me to see the beginning in that ending.”

Gil’s expression was a testament of confusion.

“I’ll explain some other time.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“An excuse to do this again soon.”

She spoke jokingly but Gil responded in earnest.

“You are the only excuse I need.”

A Stranger's Hands, Fiction, Short Story

A Stranger’s Hands – Part Three

Read Parts One & Two here.

Part Three – On Her Way

At 6 o’clock, Cora stepped out her front door in an emerald green, scoop neck sweater, people-2557423_1280with gray, skinny-fit pants and black ankle boots. She’d pinned back the front sections of her dark blonde hair and let the rest cover her shoulders. The evening was comfortable, no need for a coat yet despite October being days away.

Cora typically worked until three or four p.m. at Second Street Coffee, but today she’d wrapped up her most pressing tasks by one o’clock. Gil left at noon, to her relief. She’d felt indecisive over how to act or what to say whenever he passed her booth or she noticed him looking in her direction from the front counter. Cora had to shoo away the apprehension that their rapport (one of the only truly comfortable pieces of her daily life) might be altered by this evening. Now she pointed her feet back in the direction of Second Street Coffee, still telling herself not to worry.

She glanced at the time on her phone. She would be at least fifteen minutes early if she walked straight there. That was too many minutes to spend quieting her nerves while she waited to discover Gil’s plans for the evening. Keen for a delay, her eyes landed on a white chapel halfway between her house and the coffeeshop. It had a painted sign beside the sidewalk.

Prayer Chapel – Open to the Public Daily

No denomination or association was listed. The sign, as well as a new door and the bright white paint on the chapel’s exterior, had appeared several months ago. Cora stood outside the quaint structure now, contemplating how long it’d been since she and God had a frank conversation. Two years and nineteen days, she calculated quickly. The day after Theo’s funeral.

Oh, there were prayers since then. Many of them, in fact. She’d found herself unearthing the memorized traditional prayers of childhood catechism class. Most days those rote prayers were the only things preventing radio silence between her and God. Cora poured her soul into the ancient words and offered them to God as all she had to offer.

Maybe that could change today. Maybe she could find her own words again, the way she used to do at any given moment of the day, when her heart had anything to discuss with God.

With quivering fingers, Cora gripped the bronze door handle. The weighty door creaked as it opened upon a small, softly lit vestibule. Next, she pushed open an interior door and stepped into the chapel itself. It was modestly pretty and intensely peaceful. A main aisle divided the two sets of six rows of high-back, wooden pews. Each pew had space for only two people. Cora was a little surprised to find anyone else inside the chapel. An elderly woman with a crown of white curls sat in the last row, an open Bible resting on her knees.

Cora walked with gentle steps to the front row, trying not to disturb the perfect quiet of the intimate space. She sat down on the hard seat and absorbed the details of the sanctuary in front of her.

A cross made of thick beams hung on the front wall. Under it stood an altar of white marble. A white runner cloth covered the top of the altar and hung over each end. On the front face of the stone table was carved a verse from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Cora read the verse in a whisper, closed her eyes and waited for words to come, for thoughts to form. It took most of a minute before her mind was anything but blank.

“I’m not angry with you.” Cora whispered. “I don’t blame you and I don’t think I ever did. So, I don’t know why it’s been so difficult to speak with you. I miss speaking with you.”

Squeezing her already closed eyes tighter against the threat of tears, she added, “I miss speaking to him, too.”

Theo’s face flashed through Cora’s mind, with the small smile he had for her each time he came upon her mid-conversation with God.

“I think it’s time to get back to talking with you. I’m going to need to talk things through if…”

If what? She didn’t know how to name what had changed today so she settled back into silence, opening her eyes to stare at the marble inscription. Be still. Be still and know. An easy peace filled her chest and spread like a warm blush on her skin. Cora savored it, thanked God for it, and took it with her when she rose from the pew.

And then her phone rang. Its jaunty tune bounced off every surface, shattering the silence and causing the lady in the back row to jump in her seat.

“Oh my goodness, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Cora continued to apologize even as she reached the vestibule. She already knew from her phone’s display that it was her sister Tessa but she waited to answer until she was outside.

“Hello.”

“Hey, Cora. Thought I’d check in. Are you all settled on the couch with your dinner and a movie?”

Her sister knew Cora’s routines better than anyone. Cora was tempted to lie and answer in the affirmative. She could wait to tell Tessa about this evening until she knew what this evening turned out to be.

“Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here. Sorry, Tessa. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m well enough. About to meet a few friends at the movie theater.”

“I’m not on my couch.”

“What?”

“I’m not at home.” Cora waited for a response. When none came, she took a breath and pushed the words out. “I think I’m going on a date.”

Silence.

“Tessa?”

“Cora.”

“Tessa.”

“I might be crying a little.”

Cora laughed. “I don’t know if it’s a date. It might not be, and I’m not sure if I want it to be.”

“I don’t care if it is, or it isn’t,” her sister responded. “You’re choosing to let yourself enjoy time with someone. That’s all I ever wanted, Cora, all the times I forced you to spend the evening out with me. I wanted you to permit yourself to enjoy things again. Enjoy people again.”

“Now I’m crying a little,” Cora said.

“Well, don’t,” Tessa ordered. “Smile. Go have a wonderful evening doing whatever you will be doing with whomever is waiting for you, and then call me because I will want to know every detail.”

“I love you, Tessa.”

“Love you, too. Now, go, and call me later.”

They said goodbye and Cora hastened on her way, smiling. She was still smiling when she stopped on the sidewalk across the street from Second Street Coffee. Gil waited outside, two coffees in his hands and a smile on his face.