Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Page Straight From Ginger Simpson #APageStraightFrom

Yellow Moon
Ginger Simpson
Coming Soon

After many nights spent pondering a way to escape while bound in her blankets and now yet another day of trying to find a comfortable rhythm tied to a plodding horse, Yellow Moon closed her eyes and pretended the motion was the gentle rocking of a canoe as Ate fished for their dinner.  She pictured the sky blue water, the sweet smell of the wildflowers wafting on the breeze, and her beloved ate, determination showing on his face as he searched for the biggest catch.  Keeping the peaceful picture in her head proved difficult.  Her entire body ached, her hands were numb, and her head hurt.  Why was this happening to her?  No answer came, but a dark void called to her and an exhaustive sleep claimed her.

Cheers and ululations woke her.  The shrill noise the women made reminded her of welcomes she’d lent voice to, and tears blurred her eyes.  She raised her face to see tepees and a crowd swarming the horses.  Would the women stone her as she had heard happened to others?  In all her moons, she’d never seen a captive mistreated by her tribe, but she wasn’t blind to the fact that torture happened, often out of sight of children.  She chanted a prayer to Wankan Tanka to spare her life.
Conversations among the people were in a Siouan dialect, and most words were discernable.  Her captors were Crow, known to be bitter enemies of the Sioux and Cheyenne over territorial disputes.  In the light of day, the symbols painted on their horses were visible, and she learned the name of the man who abducted her...Plenty Coup. 

He untied her and pulled her from the she recognized as belonging to Thunder Eyes.  The Crow had not only stolen women, they’d taken the animals as well.  Would her husband-to-be come after her?  How could he without his stallion to carry him?  Did he even know who took her and the others?  She stared bravely into the face of Plenty Coup.  “Why did you bring us here?”

“They...” he pointed to the other women, will become slaves and serve my people, but you...” He stood back and ran his gaze up and down her body.  “You, I think I will take as my wife.”

She gasped.  “You cannot.  I am promised to Thunder Eyes of the Santee.

“That makes my plan even better.  I cannot think of anything more vengeful than taking his woman...unless of course I....” Plenty Coup slashed his forefinger across his throat to emphasize his meaning.

Yellow Eyes lifted her chin skyward and let the sun wash over her face.  Pretending she was back at the Sun Dance and dealing with the fear of becoming wife to another Sioux didn’t change a thing.  She turned pleading eyes to her captor. “Please do not hurt Thunder Eyes.  I will not resist you as long as you promise to let him live.”

“Then tomorrow, I will have my wife, Pretty Shield, ready you for the ceremony.”

“Your wife?”  Yellow Moon’s jaw dropped open.

Yellow Moon is my current WIP and almost finished.  Books We Love will be open to submissions again in January, and this will be one of the first emails they receive.  It's been a long time in the works because I'm a pantser and Yellow Moon has been a spoiled brat to work with.  She rarely talked to me...until recently.  I hope you enjoy this teaser from somewhere in the story.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year and Forget Detoxing...really! #gingersimpson

I happened to be doing a little researc on toxins and came across the most logical argument against all the scams that tell us we need to detox our bodies.  I suggest you read it before you invest money in something that isn't necessary.  If you watch what you eat and cut out the unnecessary salt, pastas, breads, and fast foods, you're bound to lose weight.  Don't think that flushing out your system is the only way to get those unwanted pounds off.  I suggest you read:
Here's a little snippet that might make you follow the link.

The reality is that our bodies are constantly being exposed to a huge variety of natural and synthetic chemicals. The presence of any chemical in the body, (natural or synthetic) does not mean that it is doing harm. Many naturally-derived substances can be exceptionally toxic, and consequently the human body has evolved a remarkable system of defenses and mechanisms to defend against, and remove unwanted substances. The skin, kidneys, lymphatic system, our gastrointestinal system, and most importantly, the liver make up our astoundingly complex and sophisticated intrinsic detoxification system. Importantly, the dose makes the poison – even water can be toxic (dilutional hyponatremia) when consumed in excessive amounts.  In case you're too stubborn to click on the link, I'll share the conclusion, although the entire article is meaningful and makes sense.

Any product or service with the words “detox” or “cleanse” in the name is only truly effective at cleansing your wallet of cash. Alternative medicine’s ideas of detoxification and cleansing have no basis in reality. There’s no published evidence to suggest that detox treatments, kits or rituals have any effect on our body’s ability to eliminate waste products effectively. They do have the ability to harm however – not only direct effects, like coffee enemas and purgatives, but the broader distraction away from the reality of how the body actually works and what we need to do to keep it healthy. “Detox” focuses attention on irrelevant issues, and gives consumers the impression that they can undo lifestyle decisions with quick fixes. Improved health isn’t found in a box of herbs, a bottle of homeopathy, or a bag of coffee pushed into your rectum. The lifestyle implications of a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, lack of sleep, and alcohol or drug use cannot simply be flushed or purged away. Our kidneys and liver don’t need a detox treatment. If anyone suggests a detox or cleanse to you, you’d do well to ignore the suggestion, and question any other health advice they may offer.

Note from Ginger:  If you don't believe people are in this myth for the money, just go to and search under "detox."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday Freebits with Ginger Simpson #Frifreebits

Let's see...Cassie is bored with her life and has made a connection on a dating site.  She's already given her phone number and had a conversation with Evan who lives in Texas.  Now she's back at work in her real life...not just a dreamworld.

Cassie sat at her office desk and stifled a yawn. She wasn’t used to being up as late as she had been last night. Her thoughts turned to Evan, and she checked her watch wishing time would pass quickly so she could go home and spend time on the phone with him again. Just remembering his deep, southern-drawl caused her heart to skip a beat.

The memory of his descriptive language warmed her. She nipped at her bottom lip.  She didn’t even know the man, yet he sounded genuine and sincere. What kind of man would put his own life aside to take care of someone? He must be a rare bird. Gregory had barely wanted to see his mother, let alone live with her, and Cassie’s brother, Frank, rarely came to visit their Mom. Cass pulled a mental picture of Evan into her mind and wondered what it would be like to meet in person.
The buzz of the intercom on her desk interrupted her thoughts.

“Yes?” She clenched her teeth at the disturbance.

“Mr. Takeda would like to see you in his office,” the voice on the other end responded.

“Thank you.” Cassie’s hands shook as she pushed back from her desk and prepared to face her boss. What could he possibly want from her? Or worse, what had she done to piss him off now?

She squared her shoulders, bravely left her office, and walked down the long, carpeted hallway. 

Outside his intimidating mahogany door, Cassie stopped, took a deep breath, and rapped her knuckles against the shiny wood.

“Come in,” Takeda’s authoritative voice boomed.

Cassie’s insides trembled like a mass of Jell-O, but she put on her most professional and fearless face. “You wanted to see me?”

Checkout Betrayed and my other books on my Amazon page.

Don't forget to come back next week for more Friday Freebits.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Free Christmas Story Straight From Ginger Simpson #freestory #Christmas

Make a Joyful Noise by Ginger Simpson 

Anne Collins curled up in her over-stuffed easy chair and glanced at the daily newspaper. The glass of wine on the end table reflected the crackling fire beyond the hearth. Her workday had prompted her to fill a much larger goblet than normal. If one more person mentioned having a ‘Merry Christmas’, she thought for certain she’d lose control. This year, the yuletide held no reason to celebrate. Her husband, Daniel, lay in the hospital, hanging by a thread. Being festive rated last on her ‘to do’ list. Warmth spread throughout the room as the logs on the grate crackled and popped, chasing away the chill brought on by frigid temperatures and two feet of snow outside.

 Anne grew comfortable and tossed the paper aside. She picked up her white zinfandel and sipped it while reflecting on past holidays. She always considered her life was full and blessed…until the diagnosis. Daniel never smoked a day in his life. How did he end up with throat cancer? Surely there were plenty of murderers or child molesters God could punish. Why her husband? He was the epitome of everything good. Tears trickled down her cheeks, and she took a tissue from a nearby box and blotted her face. Hell couldn’t be any worse than watching Daniel waste away, suffering with every breath. The radiation and chemotherapy burned his throat and made it impossible for him to speak. Seemed an eternity had passed since he flashed that smile she loved so much. 

This was the first time in their married life she’d picked out and put up a Christmas tree without him. The anger festering inside made her want to rip it down, burn the gifts, and rant at the Lord for the unfairness, but….

 A blast of cold air blew into the room as the door opened. “Hey, Mom, sorry, I’m late, but I stayed after school to finish up a science project.” A smaller version of her mother, fourteen-year-old Casey slugged inside, stamping her feet on the rug in the foyer to clear the flakes from her boots. Peeling off her coat, she tackled the layer of sweaters beneath. “Boy, it is freezing out there.” 

She opened the hall closet and hung everything inside, then turned to her mother with an arched brow. “Do you realize it’s the second week of December and we’re the only house on the block without outside decorations?”

 Anne took a sip of wine to hide a grimace. “I know, dear. I just haven’t been in the mood this year.” She looked at her daughter and sighed. Casey was the only reason Anne hadn’t cracked under the stress. 

Casey crossed the room and perched on the chair’s arm. “I can help put up the lights, Mom. All we need is a ladder. Dad left the little hooks up from last year.”

 Anne shook her head. “We’ll do just fine without lights, Casey. Besides…” She stared into her 
lap, her eyes blurred with unbidden tears. 

“Dad’s going to get better and come home, so why are you acting like he’s gone?” Casey stood and pulled her lips into pout. “You know how much he enjoys the holidays.” Her chocolate eyes glistened in the firelight, her tone demanded an answer.

 Anne rose, walked to the mantle and picked up a filigreed picture frame. Looking upon Daniel’s smiling face sent pain stabbing at her heart. The photograph had been taken the year they went to Maui. Now thin and gaunt, he barely resembled the man she saw. It’d been weeks since he’d even acknowledged her presence in the hospital room. She put the photo back and turned to her daughter. “Casey, I just can’t muster up any Christmas spirit. Your dad isn’t doing very well and I don’t feel very festive.” She returned to her chair and downed the rest of her wine, hoping it would numb her worried mind.

 Casey peered down at her. “I know if Dad was standing here, he’d be disappointed that you’ve lost faith. Why have we gone to church all these years if you can’t trust God to take care of things?” She spun and stomped out of the room. 

Anne pondered the question. Why couldn’t she trust God? The answer was easy. He’d allowed Dan to get sick in the first place. She stood and wandered into the kitchen, her wine glass in hand. After pouring a re-fill, she gazed out the window over the sink at the drifts of snow in the backyard. The old tire swing Casey used to love still hung from a giant branch now devoid of leaves. The setting sun was lost behind a gray wintry haze, and everything looked frozen. While her mind questioned God’s motives, Anne watched until the last trace of daylight disappeared and darkness fell. She picked up her goblet and started to turn from the window, but a flash of light caught her eye. Too bright at first, it soon softened, and Anne blinked in disbelief. The shimmering outline of an angel, dressed all in white, appeared just outside the glass. A glowing halo shone brightly above her head, and the assuring smile on her face sent a peaceful feeling coursing through Anne’s body. The entity raised her arms, and as if by magic, an orb of light floated from her hands and rose into the heavens. Anne’s gaze followed the star’s trail as it climbed higher, illuminating the yard, the trees, the swing, and the old storage shed in the corner where Dan kept the gardening tools. Anne thought to call her daughter to witness the scene, but couldn’t find the voice to do it. She stood rooted to the spot, her eyes fixed on the wonder outside. The heavenly creature floated a few feet above the ground and gestured toward the sky.

 The gray haze was gone and a canopy of stars twinkled above. One stood out above the rest, sending a blaze of light flashing to the ground. In the snowdrift just beyond the trees, Anne beheld another wonder. Unveiled one letter at a time, an invisible hand seemed to etch the glowing word ‘believe’ into the blanket of white. Anne gasped, trying to call out for Casey, but the image, along with the angel, vanished as quickly as they’d appeared. The stars still twinkled brightly 
overhead, but the yard turned dark again. Her mouth agape, Anne marveled at lightness in her heart. 

Casey sat at the desk in her room. Christmas music played softly on her radio, and she struggled to concentrate on her homework. How could she possibly focus on school when things at home were so depressing? She couldn’t bear to think of life without her dad, and it hurt that her mother had all but given up on his getting better. 

Heaving a sigh, Casey stood and walked to the bookshelf across the room. She searched the shelves until she found her Bible. She thumbed through the index, looking for verses pertaining to hope and found Proverbs 3:3-4. Turning to the passage, she read: Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

She’d barely finished when she heard a strange noise coming from downstairs—a heavy thumping sound. Her put her Bible back in its place and tilted her ear to listen. She heard it again. Casey opened her door and the sound became louder. “Mom, what is that,” she called out.

 When she received no answer, Casey went to investigate. The noise had stopped but she couldn’t find her mom. She walked through the entire house only to find it empty. A half-filled wine glass sat near the easy chair, but no sight of her mother. The thumping began again—close and right outside. 

The porch light cast a strange-looking shadow on the front window. Casey grasped the knob and opened the door just a crack. She saw a ladder and a pair of legs from the knees down. She recognized the fur-lined boots. “Mom, what are you doing up there?” Casey walked to the edge of the porch and peered up.

 Bundled against the weather, her mother hammered at the wooden eave. “I’m putting up Christmas lights. Some of the hooks are loose and I’m tightening them. How about if you get a coat on and check the bulbs in the next strand while I finish hanging these.”

 “But… I thought…” Forgetting the cold, Casey picked up a coiled cord and began unraveling it.

 “I know, I know. I lost faith for a while,” her mother glanced down and nodded,” but for some strange reason, I’ve found it again. I have a strong feeling that Dad is coming home and we need to be ready.” 

Casey smiled up at her mother. “Let me get my coat and I’ll be right back. Tomorrow we can put up the manger scene in the yard.”

 “Good idea.” Anne went back to pounding. 

Casey paused for a moment and looked to heaven. Her mind wandered to her last week's Sunday School lesson. Make A Joyful Noise Unto the Lord - Psalm 100. "Who would've thought hammering could qualify?" she muttered, then smiled. Humming “Silent Night,” she headed for the coat closet. For the first time in weeks, she enjoyed feeling a sense of peace that magnified the joy of the holiday. Faith would bind their family together; love would sustain them.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

In the Spirit - Rhobin's Round Robin - #rndrbn1214

Rhobin asked us to use "In the Spirit" as our topic this month as"A gift for your readers. Write a short poem, flash fiction, vignette, or other short piece about hope, love, forgiveness, Christmas, or special gift.  The following is a short story I wrote that appeared in a magazine a few December's ago.  I hope you enjoy it.  All folks leaving a comment will be added to a drawing to receive a PDF copy of my Special Edition from Books We Love.  Don't forget to say something.  :)

IMPOUNDED LOVE by Ginger Simpson

Gwen Spencer scanned her cheery living room and sighed.  It had lost its appeal.  All the time she’d spent decorating in her favorite southwestern motif now seemed a waste.  Snuggled in her sandstone-colored easy chair, with knees bent and feet tucked beneath her, she stared at the telephone.  If wishes came true, it would ring at any second and she’d hear Brad’s voice. 

She raised her gaze and peered through the window. An overcast sky hid the sun, and gray shrouded the fall-colored trees in the front yard. A few leaves drifted to the ground, carried by a light breeze. Within weeks, the branches would be bare—as empty as her heart felt at the moment.  The visual hint of the late October chill made her shiver.  Where was Brad?  Was he warm and safe?  The fire she’d started earlier flickered bright beyond the hearth and kept the room toasty.  She hoped her husband had a coat.  Tennessee nights were cold this time of the year.

The silence overwhelmed her and, with a sigh, she stretched out her legs, stood, slipped her feet into her fuzzy slippers, and shuffled to the stereo.  She flipped through the plastic CD covers housing her music collection, the ones she and Brad had selected together.  She paused and let them fall back into a neat row.  The songs held recollections of happier times.  Today marked ten years since she and Brad had married, and she never expected to spend such a special occasion alone. Favorite tunes would only enhance her pain.  She forced a smile, remembering what someone once told her.  “If you play country music backwards, you get your dog back, your house back, your man back, your life back.”  

If only it was that simple.  Her heart clenched with fear and the momentary glee faded.  This time Brad wasn’t coming home.  He’d been gone for over a month.  The personal time she’d requested from work had almost expired, and it was time to get on with life.  Time to get back to the job that would sustain her financially.

 With a shrug, she wandered into the kitchen and opened the bottle of wine she’d purchased a few months ago for their special day.  She filled a glass and went back to her favorite spot in the living room.  She plopped down and took a long, slow draw from her goblet.  She favored a light, fruity taste over the more bitter offerings.

“Happy friggin’ anniversary,” she muttered and raised her glass into the air.  Her gaze drifted back to the phone.  Did he even know what day it was?

She decided to watch television and reached for the remote.  The TV screen flashed to life with the evening report and more bad news:  Floods, murders, rapes.  Was there no end to life’s disappointments?  Her mind wandered, and the anchor’s voice became only a murmur in the background.

Visions of her wedding flashed before her. She’d been the happiest bride in the world.  Brad stepped into her life to fill a void left by another man.  She never dreamed of finding love a second time, let alone discovering someone who treated her like a queen. Although divorced for two years between weddings, saying vows to Brad felt like the first time. 

What had gone wrong?  Somehow during the years, drugs became the other woman and held more appeal than Gwen did.  When had he started taking them?  And why didn’t she see it?  The first five years were blissful, but afterwards, telltale signs were there. She guessed she chose to ignore them.  Because he always came home, she accepted his pitiful excuses for his short disappearances.  Relieved to see him, she never doubted his sincerity. Until the truth became crystal clear when a packet of pills fell from his pants pocket on laundry day.

When questioned, Brad at first denied they were his, but then relented.  He promised he only used methamphetamines to get through a stressful time at work and swore his problem had nothing to do with her. Funny. Then why did it his drug addiction spill over and make her life miserable?   He eventually couldn’t hold a job, or didn’t want to.  His excuses always made him the victim.
Gwen lowered her head and grasped the back of her neck to ease the growing tension.  All this time and no word, when would she get a clue and move on?  His dependency had a bigger hold on him than she ever could.  If he gave a damn about her, he would have at least called before today to say he was okay.

She reached for her wine glass and took another gulp.  The smooth sweetness passed through her lips with ease, but struck a sour cord.  She clenched the slender stem and gazed into what remained of the rosy liquid.  A grimace tightened her mouth.  Was drinking pink Chablis to ease her pain that much different than Brad taking pills?  She stood, marched back into the kitchen in bare feet, and emptied the wineglass and bottle contents down the drain. Faith in God would be her strength, not alcohol or drugs.

She started upstairs for a hot shower. The phone rang.  Her heart seized, but she patted her chest and took a deep breath.  If she answered, she’d probably find it was her mom.  She called every day, but not usually this early.  Still, she knew Gwen wasn’t working right now.

“Mrs. Spencer?” The man’s voice on the other end wasn’t familiar.

“Yes.”  She held her breath.

“This is Officer Gilliam from the Dickson police department.  I believe we have a vehicle in our impound lot that is registered to you.”

Gwen exhaled.  “Is…is it a white pickup?”  The words stuck in her throat, but she pushed them out.  Brad drove the Toyota she’d purchased before they married.  She’d never bothered to re-register it in both their names.

“Yes.  A 1999 Toyota long bed.  You should make arrangements to pick it up as soon as possible as fees are assessed everyday it’s here.”

It was her truck, and fees were the least of her worries.  “Why do you have it?  Did you arrest…”   Her knees wobbled and she sank into her chair.

“I don’t know the particulars, ma’am.  I’m just the person in charge of notifying the owners.  When you come to claim it, be prepared to pay whatever fines are owed.  We don’t accept checks, but will take money orders and credit cards.”

“How could I possibly bring a money order if I don’t know the amount?”  She vented her frustration on the wrong person and immediately bit her lip.  “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

“No problem.  I should have told you each day your truck remains impounded, we charge one hundred dollars.   Since it’s taken me some time to track you down, we’ve already had your vehicle for ten days.  Are you aware you haven’t changed your address information with DMV and that your registration has expired?”

“Yes, and I’m sorry about that.  I guess it slipped my mind.” Her thoughts raced with what might have happened to Brad.

“Well, before we can release your property, you’ll have to pay the renewal and accumulated fees when you come in.”

“How do I find out what happened to the person who drove the vehicle?”   She balanced the phone on her shoulder and wrung her hands.

“You can either call back tomorrow and ask to speak with Sergeant Calhoun, or come in and see him personally.”

Gwen thanked the man and hung up. Her mind was a whirlwind of worries.  If Brad didn’t have a vehicle, how was he getting around?  Was he in jail?  The hospital?  Dead?  A cold chill peppered her with goose bumps.  Brad couldn’t be dead, but she wouldn’t know until tomorrow.

Gwen felt as though she’d barely gone to sleep when her alarm sounded.  She slapped at the button atop the clock and struggled to open her eyes.  She hadn’t mentioned anything about Brad to her mother when she called.  Everyone in the family assumed they were doing well in their new home state, and Gwen didn’t want anyone to know that her second attempt at marriage was another train wreck.  She glanced at the empty pillow next to her, wishing it was all a bad dream.

Most of her night had been spent tossing and turning, trying to find answers to all her questions.  She didn’t remember what time she’d finally fallen asleep, but recalled seeing strands of light creeping through the blinds.

She stood, stretched her hands high over her head and rocked from side to side.  Her spine crackled and released some of the pent-up stress.  A visit to the police department didn’t count high on her list of favorite things to do.  They might confirm her worst fears, and although she vowed to get on with her life, she wasn’t ready for bad news about a man she still loved.   Gwen dropped her arms to her side, and with shoulders slumped, headed for the hot shower that’d gotten lost in last night’s melee.
Afterwards, she dressed and stood in front of the mirror and pulled a hairbrush through her tangled locks.  She was barely forty and already strands of gray frosted her brown hair.  God, she didn’t want to grow old alone.  Her eyes misted with tears, and she decided to forgo makeup for sunglasses.  Her room brightened.  Evidently yesterday’s clouds had moved on… at least those in the sky.

Gwen’s hands felt clammy on the steering wheel.  Traffic was light on the back country road to Dickson.  Now that everything had sunk in, she wondered how her truck ended up in such a rural community.  Her stomach clenched and rumbled.  Nerves and breakfast weren’t a good mix so she’d passed on her morning meal. 

When a city limits sign proclaimed she’d arrived in Dickson, she scanned both sides of the street, looking for the police department.  She parked in front of an old brick building that looked more like a library.  Her brief conversation with Sergeant Calhoun didn’t provide any new leads.  The pickup had been found on the side of the road with a flat tire and towed to the impound lot.  She was given directions to where the Toyota was kept and allowed to view it before paying her fines.  Pain stabbed at her disappointed heart as she drove the two blocks to an old gas station where more than a dozen vehicles were parked.  She used the code the sergeant had given her to open the lock on the gate. In the far corner, she spied her truck.  She walked to it on leaden legs.

Tears filled blurred her eyes as she opened the driver’s door and gazed inside.  The seats and floor were dirty—littered with trash and remnants of how he’d lived for the past month.  His scent lingered in the air.  The fence surrounding the impound lot gave her an eerie feeling.  She shivered and summoned memories of happier times to fill her mind.  This wasn't how things were supposed to end.  For years he’d been her caretaker when she was ill, her partner, her lover, her best friend.  Why couldn’t she save him?  Why couldn’t her love be his salvation?

Gwen reflected on all she had left of their relationship—the collection of teddy bears he’d bought her over the years: one holding a Valentine Heart, one wearing a St. Patrick’s Day vest, and the big white panda he'd brought back after he’d disappeared for three days the last time.  That one had been the harbinger of what was yet to come, with its furry paw raised in a farewell wave. But the clue went unnoticed in her joy to have Brad home.

 Shaking the negative image from her mind, she returned to picking through the rubbish on the floorboard. She fingered a tiny ring, cheap and discolored, but engraved with the letter “G”—her initial.  Her throat burned with restrained sobs as she tossed it back, wondering where it came from and why he’d had it.  She didn't need one more thing to remind her of him. What she needed was to forget.

Stoically, she forced herself to continue the inspection, hoping for, yet knowing there would be no clues to answer her many questions. She heaved a deep sigh and pulled the seat forward.  Beneath more refuse, she saw a small bear.  Its fur was dirty, its tiny face contorted from being smashed beneath weight heavier than its own.  She picked it up and cuddled it, hoping that in some way her embrace would transcend the atmosphere and let her husband know she still cared about what happened to him. A tear trickled down her cheek.

Should she throw the bear away?   What use was it?  Each time she looked at it, she would only remember no matter how close you hold someone and love them, there is always something stronger that can pull them away. This tiny stuffed creature was like Brad in many ways.  Once it was clean and bright and brought a smile to a face. But burdened by a weight heavier than it could manage, it became dirty, unrecognizable and not quite so loveable.  She could launder it, but that would only take care of the surface. She had washed his clothes and kept his home clean, yet his problems were so deeply imbedded she couldn’t fix them.

There was nothing in the truck she wanted.  Gwen put the bear back where she found it and gently closed the door. She didn’t need one more piece of memorabilia, one more link to heartache and bad memories.  Instead, she resolved to hold onto images of a healthier and happier man and know she had truly tried to make things work.

 A momentary feeling of defeat washed over her, and then a realization dawned.  She hadn’t lost. He had loved her as much as a troubled man could love, and she’d cherished him in return.  The agony was in knowing the drugs had won the battle, but strength came in realizing she won the war.  She could finally let him go, praying he found himself and happiness again…somewhere, someday.   Surely the pain would linger for a time, but a weight lifted from her burdened shoulders as she walked through the gate, leaving behind the truck and all it represented.  The City of Dickson could donate the vehicle to charity for all she cared.  She wiped away the last tear she planned to shed over Brad and, squaring her shoulders, walked back to her car.

Gwen hung the last piece of tinsel on the Christmas tree.  Although not much in the mood, she forced herself to drag out the decorations and focus on the spirit of the holiday.  In an attempt to move ahead, she’d invited co-workers and neighbors over for a party.  Maybe she couldn’t face her family with the truth, but she’d confided to a few friends that she and Brad were finished.  The reasons why weren’t important… and actually, she didn’t know herself what drove Brad to drugs.  She still struggled to close the chapter in that book.

The log in the fireplace crackled and popped as fiery fingers stretched up the chimney.  Gwen lit the pine-scented candles on the mantle to provide the smell missing from her fake tree.  She’d spent all of Saturday preparing food and getting things ready for tonight.  She stood back and surveyed the room.  The tree shone in radiant beauty and the garland around the doors and windows added the perfect festive touch. 

She glanced at her wristwatch and realized the guests would be arriving in less than an hour.  She’d already showered, so all she needed was to change clothes and fix her hair and makeup.  As she turned to go upstairs, someone knocked at the door. 

“Oh, brother.  Who could that be?”  She crossed the room and opened the door.

 Her heart seized.

“Hi, Gwen.”   Brad flashed a sheepish grin.

She stood rooted to the spot, her breath failing her.  She moved her mouth but no words materialized.
“I’m sure you weren’t expecting me.”  He stepped forward and pulled her into his arms.  “Darling, I have so much to tell you… so much to explain.  Please give me one last chance, and I promise you won’t regret it.”  His clothes were clean and he smelled of fresh laundry soap. 

Her pain from the past months bubbled to the surface and steeled her resolve.  She pushed him away.  “I’m happy to see you’re alive, but I don’t think you have anything I want to hear.”

He took hold of her hand.  “I totally understand how you feel, and I’d act the same way in your shoes.  But…”

“No buts.”  She jerked free.  “You’ve put me through hell.  All this time, I’ve had no idea if you were dead or alive.  You couldn’t bother to pick up a phone and call me? Now you have the nerve to show up on my doorstep and expect me to act like nothing ever happened?”

He lowered his head and stared at the ground.  “I couldn’t call.  At least not after I hit rock bottom and accepted help. Before that, everything is a drug-hazed blur.”

The cold air pouring through the open door sent a shiver through her.  His statement piqued her curiosity, and she couldn’t turn him away without hearing his explanation.  “Come in.  It’s freezing out there.”

She perched on the edge of her chair and gazed up at him.  “What do you mean bottomed out?”

“May I?”  He motioned to the sofa.  When she nodded, he removed his jacket, draped it over the couch back, and sat.  He took a long breath.  “Where should I start?  Let’s see….”

Gwen listened in earnest as Brad revealed the whole story.  How he’d given in to the drug high until he ran out of money, begged on street corners for a fix, and finally landed in jail.  During his incarceration, he suffered a minor stroke and found himself hospitalized.  A visiting pastor invited him to accept the Lord and an offer of help through a local drug treatment center.  Brad had agreed and spent all this time getting clean and sober.  One of the caveats of the program had been the stipulation that there would be no contact with the outside world.  He’d passed on the opportunity to phone her beforehand because he didn’t want to get her hopes up until he knew he had defeated his demons.  Here he sat, claiming he had.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me.”  He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I’ve put you through the wringer.  It makes me feel better to know that I’ve apologized.  It’s part of my program…to make amends with those I’ve wronged.” 

Tears burned the back of Gwen’s eyes.  She’d never stopped loving him, just trusting him.  How could she get her faith back based on one story and an apology, no matter how convincing?  “Like I said, Brad, I’m relieved to see you alive and well. I cried myself to sleep too many nights wondering where you were and how you fared.  I appreciate your apology…

“I understand.  I’m not asking for another chance. I’m only requesting that you let me prove to you that I’ve changed.  Something different happened this time.  I realized how much I had to lose: my life, you…”  He paused for a moment, his gaze locking with hers. “It dawned on me that without you, life wasn’t worth living.”

Brad’s face looked drawn, and he was much thinner, but he still had that tall, dark and handsome appeal that drew Gwen to him.  

His words warmed her heart, but didn’t heal the wound.  She wanted to believe him but needed time.  She nibbled at her bottom lip and flashed back to all the broken promises, the times she forgave only to be hurt and disappointed again.

He glanced around the room.  “Everything looks so nice.”  His gaze rested on the dining room table and the festive plates, glasses and bowls of snacks.  “Are you expecting someone?”

“Yes, I’ve invited a few people over for a holiday celebration.”  Gwen wondered how she’d explain his presence, and hoped maybe she wouldn’t have to.  “Would you like to stay?”  She held her breath for his response.

“No, thank you.  I don’t believe I’m quite ready to face the world yet, but I would like to come by on Christmas Day and bring you a gift.”

A silent whoosh of air fluttered past her lips.  “That would be nice.”

Brad stood.  “Is one o’clock okay?”

As he slid his muscular arms through his jacket sleeves, Gwen recalled the times he’d held her and how wonderful it felt.  Although she wanted to fall into his embrace and forget everything that had happened, she resolved to take baby steps.  “One is fine. Would you like to have Christmas dinner with me?”

“I’d love it.  I always look forward to your honey-baked ham with mashed potatoes and gravy.” He trailed his hand down her arm and smiled.  “Goodnight, Gwen.”

He opened the door and stepped outside, but turned.  “I do love you.”

She covered her heart to quell the pounding in her chest.

 His eyes shone with unshed tears making her want to soothe him until his hurt went away.  She stepped forward yet hesitated. 

Brad’s gaze lifted to the mistletoe hanging over her head.  He leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her lips, then stepped back, snuggled into his jacket and zipped it to his chin.  “You’ll see. I’m a changed man.  From now on, the only drug in my life is going to be the love I feel for you. If I need a fix, I’ll steal a kiss.”  He turned and walked toward the street.

Gwen closed the door and slumped against it.  She touched her fingertips to her lips and smiled.  She hadn’t asked for a gift for Christmas, but it seemed Santa had come early.  She had a party to dress for, and now, a real reason to celebrate.

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