Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful, and that’s okay

UnknownIt’s not a secret to anyone who knows me, or reads my work, that the last two and a half years have been the crappiest on record for me. And by crappy, I mean moldy garbage full of week-old salmon crappy. I mean two entire years of shrunken donkey balls and snake excrement. (Snakes do poop, right? I’m too tired to Google it.)

I lost my hero, my sweet and funny dad, in July 2015. I knew I’d lose him at some point, but I had no idea how difficult it would be to not be able to pick up the phone and hear his voice. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after, and it’s been a speedy descent into memory loss and confusion and sundowning and finding 24-hour caregiving and hiring and firing agencies and feeling guilty that I can’t be there in person for her more than a few times a year. My once-vibrant, beautiful, take-no-shit-from-anyone Mom is now virtually helpless. I don’t think she would recognize me if I walked up to her in the HEB grocery store tomorrow. Yet I talk to her daily, trying to help from two states away. Every day, she asks for my dad. She needs him, she says. Where is he?, she asks. Why won’t he come get me? So every day, she has to feel the hurt of either a) his death again, or b) his not being there to take care of her when she needs him. I feel her pain of abandonment physically.

On top of those losses, there have been financial challenges and job transitions and substantial fear for my son’s future in this country and huge hurt from those I thought would always be there for me and let’s not forget important volunteer demands and mass shooting nightmares and months of sleep sacrificed to worry. (I’m sure this is the case for a lot of people right now; I don’t mean to imply my life is worse than anyone else’s. It’s sooo not. Just bear with me as I write through it.)

I told a friend recently that grief is kind of like this: Things always go sideways in life. Tires go flat. Sewer systems fail. Assholes thrive everywhere from Starbucks to the office. But when you’re grieving, your brain can react to those things like, “yes, the sewer repair will cost $8,000 … AND DON’T FORGET your dad is gone forever and your mom doesn’t know you anymore.”

I know I should practice better self-care, but I’m not very good at it. In fact, my body has recently said, F*ck you, in a very loud way, and I’m struggling to recover enough to even eat a bite of turkey on Thursday.

So yeah. Thanksgiving this year? Meh. Whatevs. Nobody really likes the cranberry sauce anyway. Am I right? And pumpkin? Please. There’s no way to make it look any less like runny camel shit. (How many times can I say shit in one post?)

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Buck up, sista! Things could be much worse. Stop yer whining already. You’re thinking that I still have a lot to be thankful for. And I know that. (Of course, I do. I’m sad, not dumb.) And I say those very things to myself all the time.

I have a roof over my head. My son and husband are healthy and happy. I work with some great people. I have good friends and my generous in-laws who seem perpetually on standby to pick us up if any of us fall. I live in Colorado with a view of the foothills from every level of our new home. Nature still surprises me if I let it. Our dogs are still funny and hanging in there most days. And we now have a truly caring and kind team of caregivers helping my mom.

But I wonder.

Why do we force ourselves to pretend, especially during the holidays, that everything is just fine? That we’re living a Target + Kay Jewelers + Folgers commercial?

Doesn’t the sorrow we feel also serve some purpose, just as gratitude does?

Is it just human nature to want others to snap out of it? And if so, why? What do we fear so intensely about sadness? That it will spread like a contagious disease?

The fact is I’m not good at pretending. I don’t have a bluffing face. I’m bad at poker.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re having a tough time, too, it’s okay.

If you feel like you’ve put on a good show for the past year, but you’re tired and have run out of energy to do so now, it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel what you feel.

It’s okay to say you are a little hopeless and lost right now.

It’s okay if you don’t feel like writing a gratitude list.

It’s okay to say “pass” as folks gather around the Thanksgiving table, with everyone saying what they’re most thankful for this year.

It’s okay to binge-eat pecan pie in the garage.

Yes, I’m absolutely sure that we all have much to be thankful for this year. We don’t live in Syria, after all.

But it’s also absolutely ok to acknowledge your wounds.

And honestly, it might even help more than you think to give the Folgers coffee commercials the middle finger every now and then.

 

Why Of Course There’s a Recipe for Dr Pepper Ice Cream

A great Texas friend (thanks, Lorri) who shares my unfortunate crack-like addiction to Dr Pepper recently sent me a recipe for Dr Pepper ice cream.

Because, well, hell yes, I want some! What could be better than ice-cold Dr Pepper but ice-cold Dr Pepper surrounded by smooth, ice-cold cream?

I haven’t tried it yet, but wanted to share the recipe with others, so that the joy will be spread around the world. Or at least WordPress.

Here you go:

Dr Pepper Ice Cream
(Recipe is for a one-gallon ice cream freezer)  
   
     1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand or similar)
     1 pint half and half
     3 regular cans Dr Pepper
     1 cup sugar
      4 eggs
      2 tsp vanilla extract
      1 T. flour
 
Vintage Dr Pepper ad from the 1960s, via Vintage Ad Browser

Vintage Dr Pepper ad from the 1960s, via Vintage Ad Browser

Recycling

We’re moving again, back to our home at the top of a mountain in Colorado, after two years in the Denver foothills. It’s been a short experiment, and there have been some good things about it. But mostly, I can’t wait to get back home to my cabin.

With this move, though, I’m dedicated to a minimalistic approach to what we bring with us. I want a fresh start in my old home, and I want to leave behind things that are dragging me down, and ones that no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Jeans from 2008 that don’t fit anymore? Donated. A desk that I never actually use for writing at? Gone. Bowls that are chipped and stained and oh by the way I didn’t really like to begin with? Off to Goodwill.

I also just sold an antique hutch I bought right after a life-changing breakup. It had been a project that took me several weekends to finish back then, nearly 20 years ago. I remember working on it in the Texas summer heat, sweat dripping into my eyes. It had kept my mind off how badly I was falling apart inside, and it gave me something to put all of that hurt into. And it gave me a sense of pride that I could tackle refinishing the piece on my own, without him. I brought the hutch with me when I moved to Colorado — just me and my dogs — partly because I needed a reminder almost every day that I was strong and capable.

But I have other reminders of that now. I don’t need the hutch anymore. And it doesn’t need me.

I also took a huge step and recycled about 30 years’ worth of my feelings and thoughts (and bad poetry). I started journaling when I was in 3rd grade and stopped only during the college years. (Possibly due to not wanting any evidence to exist of what may or may not have happened at the Dixie Chicken in College Station, Texas.)

Recently, I flipped through all those journals, one by one. I could feel the pain dripping from the pages of my adolescent and teen years, when I felt so alone and so terribly ugly. And I caught my breath reading through the years of clinical depression, the years of fighting unexplained infertility, the years of losing my grandparents and saying good riddance to friends I thought would never let me down.

I suppose I’d held onto these journals, thinking they would inspire my writing at some point, thinking they might hold important insights some day. But all they are now are reminders of darkness when all I want to feel is light. So I ripped them into millions of pieces and threw them into the recycling bins.

I did choose to keep a few journals … the ones documenting my decision to move to Colorado, the ones reminding me how and why I fell in love, against my strongest judgment (I wasn’t interested in marriage!), with my husband. And the ones filled with the limitless joy and amazement when our son came into our lives.

It feels good to let go. It feels really, really good.

An Honest Discussion About Adoption Between My Son’s Birth Mother and Me

adoption tree

Beautiful adoption illustration by Jimi Bonogofsky. View her work at http://jimidoodle.blogspot.com

My husband (I’ll call him R. in this post to protect his privacy) and I adopted our son (M.) six years ago through an open domestic adoption here in Colorado. For us, it was important for our child to know his birth family, if at all possible. We felt strongly that the more people he knew as family, the more people there would be out there in the world who would love and cherish him like we do. That’s been our guiding philosophy.

Recently, I asked M.’s birth mom, Amanda, if she would mind participating in an honest conversation about the adoption process for my blog. After the years that have passed, I wondered if we could together provide some insight, whether new or old, that might help other birth parents and adoptive parents, especially those just beginning their journey.

Always gracious and giving, Amanda agreed. And what follows is the result.

Kathy: Let’s start at the beginning! You must’ve looked through a ton of family scrapbooks filled with pictures and letters from couples like us wanting so badly to be parents. How did you choose us? Were you looking for something in particular?

Amanda: There were a lot of scrapbooks to go through; it was  great with me being into scrapbooking myself. There wasn’t any one thing I was looking for. B. (B. = birth father) and I just knew. It’s like a mother’s   intuition of some sort.

Kathy: So after we got our “Match Call,” the agency set up our first meeting. I was so nervous my hands were shaking on the way over to meet you and B. for dinner. Were you nervous, too? What was going through your mind before you met us?

Amanda: I was definitely nervous … not knowing what to expect or if you guys would be as nice as you looked and seemed in the scrapbook. One of the hardest things in my position was thinking I was being judged. I know Allison, our bulldog, (LOL) made me feel much better about it.

Kathy: Allison (from Creative Adoptions) was so completely awesome. She was definitely our champion and bulldog through it all, wasn’t she? I was so glad she was there for our first meeting. That’s funny that you were worried you’d be judged when we were worrying about the same thing. R. and I were so afraid that we would do or say something wrong — something that would make you change your minds about choosing us. You really held our little world in your hands that night. How do you remember our first meeting?

Amanda: I remember our first meeting going better than expected. Even though we had completely different lives, we still had a lot in common, like our personalities. You and I were quieter than R. and B. (I’m not saying they talked too much!) I knew after the first few minutes you guys were the ones. It was like God intended on me getting pregnant to have your son.

Kathy: I remember that, too. The guys talked a lot, trying to bond over men stuff. I remember concentrating on my salad a lot. Ha.

But you stayed the course with us. And then about six weeks later … you left a message for us that you were headed to the hospital: “Are you guys ready for your son to be born?” R. teared up. I think I was already in the car with the engine running.

And then, you allowed us to be with you during delivery. That was equal parts brave and kind. Did you have second thoughts about us being there? Could we have done anything differently to make it easier for you? What would you like other adoptive parents to know if they are lucky enough to be so involved at the hospital?

Amanda: I never had second thoughts about you guys being in the room … not at all. And you guys did more to comfort me than my own husband did. All I have to say to future adoptive parents is that if they are in the room, pay attention to signals. If the birth mom seems irritated, which obviously she’s going to be a little, maybe just back off. Respect any of the birth parents’ wishes.

Kathy: I remember getting you flowers and thinking that it was just stupid. Flowers? You just handed me my life in a tiny blanket. Should I have done something more? Or different?

Amanda: I think what most adoptive parents don’t understand is that for me personally, and for a lot of birth parents, you are giving us a great gift, too. You are giving us the gift of knowing our children will be safe and have what we couldn’t give them, whether that’s material things or to have the loving parent they need. So for me the flowers were great, but you and R. taking on the little guy when B. and I couldn’t is the gift. And just the love and compassion you guys have for all of us (especially me and my children) is amazing, and we are very lucky to have you all.

Kathy: Wow. It’s hard for me to think of it that way. We have always felt like the lucky ones. But I do remember Allison saying at the hospital that she could feel the love and respect we all had for each other. And that was so true.

And then came those first few months. We saw you and B. and the girls several times. We saw how you loved this baby so completely. We worried: Would you change your mind? Were we enough? Each time we talked on the phone, I hurt for you. What was it like for you those first few months before the adoption was final? You should know I never knew what the right thing to do was. Should I call you on the day the adoption was final? Should I give you space? I think I didn’t call; I just didn’t know if I should. And I didn’t want to cause you any more pain.

Amanda: The first few months before the adoption was final were emotional. My marriage was pretty much over and things were kind of falling apart right before my eyes. It was hard, but the one thing I was sure of was that M. was going to a good home and had everything I couldn’t give my two girls. On the day we went to court to give up our rights (I’m in tears just thinking about it), I believe I sat in the back seat as Allison and B. and I took that long drive to the courthouse. While I never second-guessed any of it, even the judge got teary-eyed and said how amazing and strong we were for doing what we did. He said that even though it’s a good thing, these were the hardest court cases. But look at us! We made it.

Kathy: What a great judge to have talked to you compassionately as human beings and not paperwork. I think that, so many times, people who aren’t knee-deep in adoption don’t really understand the full range of emotions that are there for both birth and adoptive parents. I’m glad that you felt confident in us.

Now, well, it’s been almost seven years. We still talk and we still see you, but not as much. And B. doesn’t want anymore contact for now. So looking back, has this experience been what you thought it would be? Has it disappointed or surprised you in any way?

Amanda: The experience was better than I expected, and I have to give great thanks to our counselor Allison. Without her, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it; she was amazing. I think all of us did very well. We all know the one sign God gave us was, even though I wasn’t too sure about M. being his name, once Dr. M. came in and introduced herself, that was all the confirmation I needed to know that God had intended on M. being created just for you. I’m sure not all adoptions go as well as ours but I certainly know this is the one decision I made in my life that I am truly proud of and will never have one bit of regret.

Kathy: I know – totally freaky when the name we picked out for the baby turned out to be the last name of the attending doctor. Even spelled the same way. I am getting goosebumps thinking about it all. And I have tears streaming down my face from your words, too. I remember you suggested we name him, “Owen.”  I liked that name, but we wanted to honor R.’s grandfather who had recently passed away, and you were sweet about it. I’ve told M. many times that his name was almost Owen. Maybe he’ll name his own child that one day. And I think you’ve also hit on a very important point. It wasn’t just us that made this adoption go well; the agency we both chose and the staff made a huge difference in their support of all of us.

Now, is there anything you want to say to adoptive parents out there, especially those who are just beginning their journey?

Amanda: What I’d want to say to adoptive parents is that even though it may seem like you’re not enough or doing as much as you feel you should, some of us birth parents feel we’re just as lucky as you guys are. I’m not every birth mom, but I know that I’m not sure where my life would be without you and R. You are still behind me and my family 100 percent. Adoptive parents: All you can really do is listen to the counselors and respect birth parents’ wishes. Hopefully you will be as happy and lucky as everyone involved in our adoption.

Kathy: Thank you, thank you. <wiping tears> Is there anything you want to say to birth mothers like you, who are giving a gift so precious it’s almost unspeakable?

Amanda: Stay strong. You will know the right match when you meet them. Adoptive parents are probably more nervous than you are. But I believe, and I have to say I’m not a religious person, didn’t go to church, but you will know what God intended for you. Deep down you’ll know. Just follow your instinct as well as your heart. It may seem hard, but something will tell you or show you what you need to do to feel ok with whatever decision you make.

Kathy: Well said, as always. You have always been wise beyond your years. Finally, though, is there anything you would like us to know?

Amanda: To the amazing parents my boy was lucky to be blessed with: I am grateful that my son (our son) has such amazing parents and will have opportunities we couldn’t give him. I can only imagine where all of us would be had we not made the choice we did. I am most thankful that you continue to be here for me and let us all be a family like we agreed and wanted to. I would like to also give your families huge thanks for accepting M. and my family into your lives. I love all of you.

Kathy: I think you just summed up the best things about open adoption in just one short paragraph. And we love you, too!

———————————————————————————————–

NOTE to readers: There’s a lot of love in here, and I’m proud of that. But I also don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that open adoption is a breeze, and there aren’t things that both birth and adoptive parents have to work through. Everyone has to understand their boundaries and expectations; I think Amanda would agree we had to muddle through the first couple of years like most open adoption relationships. And we had hoped our son’s birth father would want to continue a relationship, and that hasn’t panned out. We’re still hopeful for the future.

Overall, I believe the main message here is that it can work if you’re willing to try, and it can be a beautiful, wonderful, loving way to raise a child.

Especially this one, who comes by his awesome fishing skills from ALL sides of his family.

fishing

6.5 year-old happy boy, in the zone.

 

 

Free Weekend Promotion! Children’s Picture Book for Kindle Fire

Higgenbloom and the Dancing GrandmasHi all! Now through Monday, my children’s picture ebook (for kids age 3 to 6 and all adults!) is FREE on Amazon – available for download to your Kindle Fire or to your iPad with the Kindle reading app.

Download the free Kindle book right now.

This is likely the only free promotion that’ll happen this year, so take advantage, and help spread the word about the book! (Reviews are always appreciated, too.)

I really hope you enjoy Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas.

Here’s the book description:

Higgenbloom the Honey Bee didn’t fit in with the other bees who lived on Grandma Rosemary’s farm. Instead of working from sunup to sundown like the others, Higgenbloom was known for doing silly somersaults, breaking out in little bee boogies, and pretending he was a jet pilot, zooming from flower to flower and making himself quite dizzy. But sadly, Higgenbloom always played alone. One morning, Higgenbloom wanders off on his own (again), only to find himself in a heap of trouble — trapped inside a moving car and traveling away from the farm and everything he knows! Find out what happens when Higgenbloom goes on an adventure … and encounters some very cool Dancing Grandmas along the way. Packed with abundant silliness, interactive questions for children, and beautiful illustrations, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas is the perfect book for fun grandmothers who know how to “rock and roll,” grandchildren who love being silly, or anyone who has ever wanted to boogie down — no matter what others might think.
Thanks for reading!


 

Readers’ Top 10 Blog Posts in 2012

I started this blog in early 2012, at the request of my publisher. I’ll admit I was worried about it. I’d written a weekly online column before, but that was different. This was a BLOG, something I’d resisted for years. Would I have time to blog and blog well? Would people (other than my mother) care enough about what’s going on in my head to read it? And what in the hell would I write about?

Well, I haven’t kept up with the blogging schedule I’d hoped for, but I have written a few fun pieces. Below, I’ve featured links to the 10 most popular posts, just in case you missed `em. Even I enjoyed rereading a few.

Oh, and just to recap this AMAZING year in publishing for me (because that’s what you do on New Year’s Eve-Eve) … after becoming an Amazon bestseller in the spring and summer, Blue Straggler (released as an ebook in August 2011 and in paperback in March of this year) remains in the top 30 in sales and customer ratings in comic fiction on Amazon. It hit #2 again right after Christmas and #5 in a different category (humor). Pretty cool. Or rather, a huge dream of mine come true. A Good Kind of Knowing was released in ebook in October and in paperback earlier this month. It made it to the #10 spot in its category (fiction/drama) on Amazon and remains in the top 30 in ratings. It also made the top 100 in customer ratings in literary fiction. Whew. That’s as good for this writer’s soul as crab legs, cheese biscuits and a Bahama Mama from Red Lobster.

I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported me this year and always. Having my work touch just a few people would’ve been satisfying. But this kind of success has been overwhelming. Thank you!

Now on to those posts, and here’s to 2013, y’all!

 #1  Our Dogs Are Going to Get Us Kicked out of the Neighborhood

#2  Saying Goodbye to My Dream, or the One-Year Experiment With Normal Living

#3  And This Is Why I Hate Dental People

#4  Friends Are Worried About My “Girls”

#5  What Happened When I Turned 30 …. and 40

#6  What Being a Texas Woman Means

#7  How Growing Up With Country Music Made Me a Better Writer

#8  21 Facebook Posts You’ll Never, Ever See From Me

#9  Open Letter to High-Fructose Corn Syrup

#10  Your Official Music-to-Read-By Playlist 

Music to Read By — Black Friday Special

Yes, I only put Black Friday in the headline to attract people to this site. (Ha!) I’m not above tactics like this.

Seriously, to continue in my quest to provide readers with music to read A Good Kind of Knowing (my latest novel) by, here is a great song to listen to while reading Chapter 16. And it’s a favorite of my son’s, too, so of course I had to feature it here.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

I Gotta Find Peace of Mind

Tonight’s installment of Music to Read By – relating to my novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, is one of my favorites — Lauryn Hill’s I Gotta Find Peace of Mind.

In Chapter 1 of the book, readers meet Ruby D., who is one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever created. She loves Lauryn Hill, and this song is perfect for her. She’s dealing with a man she needs to dump for good, but can’t seem to find the courage to. Haven’t we all been there?

Take it away, Lauryn.

 

 

New Book Trailer Offers Instant Stress Relief (and I Won’t Even Charge You For It if You Buy the Book)

Hello all! Thought I’d give my blog readers a sneak peek of the new book trailer for A Good Kind of Knowing, which releases in ebook tomorrow.

I love, love, love it, even though it goes against all book trailer marketing best practices. (I’m such a rebel, you know.) It’s basically just a lovely slideshow put to music, featuring brief excerpts from the novel along with beautiful photographs of rural Texas. My husband told me that it’s like a little break from reality and stress.

So many of my friends provided photos for the slideshow, and I thank you! Ruth Parker, Austin Moore, Tammy Arnold, Scott Smejkal, I’m talking to you. Oh, and my sister Hope, whom I did not even ASK if I could use her stuff. Kinda like she used to do with my clothes in high school, come to think of it.

Tell me what you think! It’s about 2 minutes long, so sit back with a glass of wine tonight or a cup of coffee tomorrow and enjoy. Oh, and turn up your sound because the music feels good, too.

Click to play this trailer for A Good Kind of Knowing

 

A Little Tease: Author Q/A and an Excerpt from My Next Novel

I’m cheating a little tonight. I was going to write a quick blog post before hitting the hay, but then I realized I had recently answered an Author Q/A for a blog during my two-week blog tour, but the content was never used.

So I think I’ll publish it here, just for kicks. The really cool thing? It includes a quick teaser of content from my second novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, which will be out this summer. I hope you enjoy it. But first, the Q/A.

Q: What inspired you to write this book, Blue Straggler?

I had written a short story with three of the characters that now appear in Blue Straggler (Bailey, Rudy and Idamarie), and I just loved them so much that I needed to put them into a broader story. Plus, the main character in the short story (Bailey) was going through a kind of early mid-life crisis, and I knew a lot of friends who were going through similar things, as was I. I thought the story could be universal and really explore what it means to find out who you are and where you’re meant to land in life.

Q: Do you have a favorite place you like to write?

Our deck in the summer = paradise for me.

Yes! On my deck in the spring, summer and fall. I live in a log cabin in a beautiful area in the Colorado mountains, in the middle of a national forest. It’s so peaceful; I can’t think of a better place to settle in and crank out stories. When winter rolls around, and the deck is not an option due to 20-below temperatures and snow, I write in my back bedroom or in the great room, next to a warm, crackling fire. Thank goodness for laptops (and golden retrievers to keep my feet warm)! We’re talking of moving to a lower elevation soon; it’ll be interesting to see how it affects my writing.

Q: Do you have a favorite author of your own?

So many. I love Barbara Kingsolver. She’s probably at the top of my list. Anna Quindlen would be there, too. (Her new memoir is brilliant.) Anne Lamott and Lorrie Moore. Larry McMurtry. Cormac McCarthy. Toni Morrison. I just can’t choose; it’s like asking me which of my many furry babies (dogs) I’ve had through the years I like best.

Q: A favorite character? One of yours or someone else’s that touched your heart?

A: Not to toot my own horn, but in my Blue Straggler, I love, love Idamarie. She’s just so down-to-earth and real and colorful and she always shoots from the hip. She’s the kind of Texan I miss most, living in Colorado like I do now. If I could have an Idamarie in my life, I think life would be even more fun than it is now. And I’d likely be more grounded with her sage advice around.

Q: Are you currently working on anything? If so, can you give us a tease?

I am putting the finishing touches on my next novel, A Good Kind of Knowing. It’s set in a small, rural town in Texas, and explores how all of these small-town lives are interconnected, and how even though we all come from different places in our lives, we have a lot in common — big things like humanity and small things like a love of good music.

So, I’ll leave you with a super tease! This is the most I think I’ve revealed of any part of the book. As you’ll see right away, A Good Kind of Knowing is a different kind of novel than Blue Straggler. It’s not comic fiction, though there is some humor.

This is the kind of jukebox mentioned in the excerpt below.

This is an excerpt from about halfway through the story. Sera is the main character in the novel; she owns a local music store. She’s married to Bill, but has a “special” relationship, which is growing in intimacy and closeness, to a handsome young musician (Mack). She’s been pretty sick for a while, and most people in town know it. Some of her friends have been trying to help out at her business while she deals with her illness.

_____________________________________________

Mack waited for her at Antonio’s bar. Antonio stood over by the pool tables, emptying ashtrays from the night before. The afternoon sun filtered in through the small windows up front, sending sleek slats of light into the otherwise dark room and catching the perpetual dust of the place in a kind of suspension around the room. Two men, both in their eighties, sat at a square table in the corner, smoking thick cigars and playing cards. Every now and then, one of them would chuckle and cough. Antonio had turned on the jukebox—an old Wurlitzer with just one remaining front bulb flickering—and pushed the numbers for his favorites, mostly Freddy Fender hits.

   Antonio mumbled the words to “Vaya Con Dios” as he picked up the previous night’s litter around the booths in the back. Empty beer bottles knocked together in his hand.

     Mack sat at the bar, his felt hat on the barstool beside him, his hands working to fold a square bar napkin into the shape of a flimsy paper airplane. He shifted his weight on the barstool, glanced back at Antonio, then shifted again. “Sure I can’t help you back there?” It was the third time he’d asked.

       Antonio hollered his response. Same as before.

       The front door squeaked a little, drowning out the low-playing music for a second, and Sera stepped into the bar, jeans hanging loose on her hips and one of Bill’s sweatshirts tied around her waist. A blast of fall slipped in behind her and the wind sucked the heavy door back hard as she came in.

       “Hey there. Been waiting long?” She greeted Mack with a quick kiss on the cheek. He wondered if she’d meant to let her lips linger, or if it was only in his mind.

      “Thanks for meeting me, hon. I needed to get out of the house for a while.” Sera waved to Antonio as she talked. “I don’t know how long I can stay, though. I never know when my body’s going to give up the ship for the day.”

       “I was glad you called,” Mack replied, nodding again at Antonio as he motioned for them to help themselves to the cold longnecks chilling in a long, aluminum tub next to the bar.

       Mack picked out a couple and used the corner of his brown work jacket to twist off the caps.

     “Can you even have beer?” Mack hadn’t thought to ask before he handed it to her.

       “Oh hell yes. Why not? Not like a little beer every now and then ever killed a person.” She laughed at her joke and nudged Mack’s shoulder.

       “Funny.” He didn’t mean it.

      Antonio walked over to them and put his hands on Sera’s neck.

      “How’s my favorite lady today?” Antonio asked, squeezing her thin shoulders. Mack straightened next to her.

       Sera smiled and swirled around on her barstool to face Antonio. “Tony. Join us? I’m taking a walk on the wild side, going to see how hops and barley affect pancreatic distress.”

         Antonio glanced at Mack, then back at Sera. “Maybe later, okay?”

         “Later,” Sera agreed.

         As Antonio left to check on his two customers, Sera turned back to Mack and asked how things were at the store.

       “Nobody’ll tell me a thing, Mack. Bill hardly even speaks to me these days. I’m lucky if I get a good morning from him, much less a report on how things are going. And I went by the shop on my way here, and Tommy Lee and Ruby D. were down there—on a Sunday, mind you—arguing over shelf space.

       “I think it’s all gonna be alright, Sera. Everybody’s tryin’ real hard.”

       “I know,” she said, letting out a long sigh. “You know, I’m really thinking you all are crazy and we ought to just close the shop for a while. It would ease my guilt of you all trying to make this work.”

      Mack cleared this throat and nodded toward the bar door. “Guess this weather’s gonna stay cool for a while longer,” he said, doing his best to change the subject.

       Sera didn’t answer. They sat together, listening to Freddy Fender sing about being there before the next teardrop falls. One of the men sang out to the chorus in Spanish.

      “I’ve been thinking about heaven, Mack. I mean, there’s a side of me that wants to believe there is this garden of sunshine up there waiting for me with all the people I’ve ever lost in the world sitting around sipping lemonade in the shade. The weather would never get hot, and there’d be cats everywhere and my mother and Otis Redding and Patsy Cline would all be singing every night at a little dive. But something tells me it isn’t that simple.”

        “It could be.”

      “Yeah, but what if we’re living in heaven right now? I mean, what if we’ve got it all wrong, and we’re already there.”

      “I guess there’d be some people going around missing out on the lemonade.”

     Sera smiled. “Maybe we ought to switch the lemonade to Shiner Bock.” She clicked her bottle against Mack’s.

      In the back, Antonio turned the key on the jukebox and punched in new codes to start the music up again.

      An old Johnny Rodriguez song dropped into play, a melody about being down on the Rio Grande, lovers walking hand in hand. Sera hummed, and Mack watched the beer swirl against the glass as he moved his bottle in circles with his wrist.

    “Do you realize we’ve never danced together?” Sera turned to face him.

    Mack smiled slightly, concentrating on his beer. “Guess there was never a time, what with me on stage and all.”

      Sera waited for a moment. “What about now?”

      Mack surveyed the room. “Now?”

       He looked at her—this woman with eyes that danced no matter what the music, with a face that could weaken any man, with a spirit that spread around her like a magician’s stardust.

       He blushed, then stood up and offered his hand. She grinned and he grinned and the old men in the corner grinned. Even Antonio looked up from his calculator—and slowly grinned.

       Together, Mack and Sera swayed and moved in a slow two-step around the center of the hardwood floor. Daylight streamed in around them like nature’s spotlight. Mack held her loosely at first, but Sera moved as close to him as she could, her left hand at the nape of his neck, her right in his leading hand.

       He heard her breathe in, but was not aware that she was actually trying to hold on to his scent—an earthy combinationpart leather, part cotton. Part hay, part rope. Part beer, part coffee. Part horse mane and part crushed wild weeds.

       As she rested her head on his shoulder, Mack let his own breath out slowly, for fear she’d know, finally, full well, the effect she had on him. Her hair, blown in many directions from the wind when she came in, tickled his nose. But he couldn’t brush it away, didn’t ever want to brush it away. He closed his eyes and memorized how her body moved, how somehow he was no longer leading and his body was only reacting to the sway of Sera’s hips, his boots following the sliding of Sera’s across the floor.

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