Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Valentine Short by Kevin Thornton

Vern suspected that all was not well about two weeks and three days after his marriage. It was also the day after he had changed his will to leave all he had in the world, should he predecease her, to his brand new wife. And now he thought she might be trying something.

He wasn’t paranoid at all, nuh-uh.

“Nonsense,” said his Mother. “She loves you dearly. You were lucky to find her at your stage of life.”

“But she bought me Superman underwear,” said Vern, “and I’m not really that super, especially not in bed. I’m a bit out of practice.”

But his Mother didn’t want to know.

“You were never in practice mate, were you?’ said Will. “How old are you? Forty-four? And your wife’s twenty-three? If she’s buying you Superman boxers, take the compliment and keep on leaping at tall objects. What else has she bought you?”

Vern pondered whether to tell Will about the replica Batman utility belt that she had given him on their honeymoon, filled with condoms, all extra-large. He decided not to. Will was all right as a friend. Nice to have a drink or two with but not someone he felt he could trust. There were the occasional rounds he missed buying because he was a bit short, or the way he sometimes spoke about women in a disrespectful manner. Once Vern thought he’d caught Will giving his young bride the once over with a glance that seemed much too lusty for a friend.

Will had also started pandering a bit to Vern. It was something he was used to, even though he disliked it a lot. It had taken a while for the village to settle down to having Vern back home. Vern the swot, Vern the genius, Vern the scholarship to Oxford brat at thirteen, Vern, who’s IQ was off the charts, Vern who was always a little bit strange.

That wasn’t so bad, but it was the other epithets he knew he carried that made pandering a common event. Vern the computer nerd, Vern the retired millionaire at twenty-seven. Vern the recluse who had lived at the manor house for seventeen years; lucky with money, unlucky in love. Very lucky with money. His two partners bought him out, citing his eccentric ways, two months before the bubble burst. He ended up with all the money in a bank. As far as he knew one of them was now in banking and the other a car salesman. He’d been right to be untrusting then, just as he was now. They nearly got him that time.

Plus, the real reason that Vern never mentioned the belt was that the XLs were too big for him and kept slipping off. Vern was at most a medium, so if she hadn’t bought them for him, then who?

As usual, when troubled with questions like this Vern turned to Alvin, his best mate in the whole world.

“She bought them for Will, you big silly,” said Alvin. “She’s trying to off you and then she and the big Willy boy will live happily ever after in your mansion with your half a billion quid.”

“We don’t really say quid anymore Alvin,” said Vern. He sat next to the gravestone, idly tracing the chiselled marks. Alvin Lancelot Martin. Born 14th February 1971, Died 14th February 1993. Alvin had been love with an out of town girl and she had played him, tore his heart out and then rebuffed him. On the Valentine’s Day that was his 22nd birthday, back in the days when guns were still easy to get hold of, he had put his Dad’s grouser in his mouth and toed the trigger.

Vern hadn’t taken it well. He had sealed himself off in his programming room for six months and had come out with a finished product and a new set of tics and aberrations. His two partners were delighted with the one even as they started to distance themselves from his more unusual behaviour.

Despite that, or maybe because of that, Vern felt that his conversations at the graveside were the only honest ones he had. And Alvin was sure that his new wife was trying to kill him.

The matter of the scarf sealed it for Vern. He came down one morning to find a parcel on the table for him with an X and a lipstick kiss on it and a card that said “Happy Valentine’s day, more to come”.

His wife had gone to Manchester to do some shopping and had taken his car. Her own, a silly little Italian convertible, wasn’t big enough for all she would buy. Vern was faced with the gloomy prospect of having to bend his lanky frame in and out of her car all day, and the thought blackened his mood. But then he saw the parcel, and he looked out onto a bright sunny day that was as rare in the middle of February as to be obscene, and suddenly an extended drive in a top down vehicle didn’t seem so bad. He poured himself coffee and eagerly opened his gift which was absolutely delightful. It was a Doctor Who scarf and it looked to be at least ten feet in length. Vern slung it jauntily round his neck; it still nearly reached the floor when he stood straight. He bent down to grab her keys and turned for the door. That was all he remembered.

Some hours later he stirred, groaning. There was blood on the back of his head where he had hit the ground when he tripped, and as he moved he nearly choked himself as the scarf tightened round his neck. Vern, panicky now, saw only what he wanted to see. Convinced that she had engineered the whole escapade, he said to himself, ‘And she bloody well nearly succeeded’.

Through the agonizing mists of his concussion he heard the Garage door open and the sound of his SUV driving in.

“Dear God, she’s back,” he said. He scrambled to his feet and headed in the opposite direction, straight out the front door. If he could make it to the copse he could sidle round to the main road and find a car to take him to the Police.

“Vern? Where are you Dear? I have a surprise for you.” She glanced through the window and saw him in the garden, walking towards the trees. He was teetering slightly squiff, as if drunk. ‘Well,’ she thought, not quite knowing what he was up to, ‘This is as good a time as any’. She pulled the gun out of the bag and walked after him.

Vern heard her come out the door, carrying what looked like a Walther PPK. He turned and tried to run as fast as he could. Unfortunately his headache was blinding him and he didn’t see the protruding root. He did however briefly see the way the land dipped into a hollow some five feet in height. It was the last thing he ever saw.

It wasn’t that much of a hollow, but it was enough for him to land very awkwardly.

* * *

“No I don’t know why he was heading towards the copse. I don’t know if he’s been behaving strangely. Everything is new and strange. We’ve only known each other three months and only been married less than three weeks.”

“And that?” said the sergeant taking her statement, as he pointed towards the gun.

“It’s a James Bond vodka flask,” she said. “He was a bit geeky and I loved him for it. I was always on the lookout for things like this for him. Last week I bought him Superman underwear. And then there’s this” She started to open a small parcel.

* * *

The two friends stood next to each other gloomily.

“So she wasn’t trying to kill me,” said Vern.

“Nope.” said Alvin.

“Then why did you tell me she was?”

“I didn’t. I’m dead. I couldn’t talk to you when you were alive. That was your imagination on overdrive. You really were paranoid when you were alive. If you’d had the help you needed you’d still be down there bonking a woman half your age.”

“And now?”

“Now you’re dead too. Now we can talk.”


“She really did love you, you know,” said Alvin.


“Because you’re a nice guy? I don’t know.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Dunno. Just wander around I suppose.”

“Is that it?”

“It’s all I have so far. There’s a bit of good news though?

“What?” said Vern.

“You don’t feel like everybody’s out to get you anymore, do you?”

“No,” said Vern. “No I don’t.”

“Aye,” said Alvin. “Death’ll take care of all your worldly ailments.”

They were silent for a moment. Then Vern said, “How do you know she loved me.”

“That last parcel she was showing the police. I sneaked a look. It was for you. Another present. The sentiment was in the name.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“It was a Mister Incredible coffee mug.”

A four time Arthur Ellis (Unhanged) Award Nominee, Kevin Thornton is a writer for the local Municipality, a columnist for the Fort McMurray Today and Your McMurray Magazine, a Director of the Crime Writers of Canada and a board Member of both the Northern Canada Collective Society for Writers and the Fort McMurray Public Library. He has never been known, willingly, to split an infinitve.

Further thoughts may be found at Theoldfortamusingfromtheoilsands.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Valentine Short from Annamaria Bazzi

Valentine's Day Gift

Beautiful huge snowflakes winnowed from side to side, gliding to the ground to join their sisters already piled on the grass. The gray sky looked almost white as the snowflakes grew denser. The evergreens at the horizon cloaked in purity stood tall, touching the clouds. Winter was so beautiful, yet I couldn’t rejoice.

My mind drifted.

The bright colors of autumn splashed the landscape with orange, yellow, red, even brown looked pretty sprinkled here and there. David and I had been together for three years when he took me into the woods where we loved to walk with nature. We strolled hand in hand when he stopped and, facing me, dropped to one knee.

“Alessa, you’re my sunshine, my good luck, my inner peace, will you be my wife?”
My heart burst with joy. Tears flowed freely. I smiled down at him unable to speak—a huge frog stuck in my throat.

I grabbed the pillow on the sofa and hugged it tight, feeling the tears running down my face.

David ran to shore, testing the water with his foot. “Alessa, come on the water is so warm.” He waved his arms in the air. “Yes, warm.”

After making sure all was settled in our little camp on the hot sand, umbrella up, chairs open, towels laid out, I ran to meet him with a pout.

“What’s the matter with you? Let’s go in the water.”

I jutted my lower lip further out. “The water is so calm, it’s not going to be fun.”

“Today is all about what you make of it.” With the biggest grin on his face he lifted me in his arms and ran in the ocean. He dropped me.

Although I wanted to laugh, I couldn’t let him get away with it. I stood huffing and puffing and splashed water all over him in a frenzy of pretend anger.

His big brown eyes stared at me in shock. I loved to be unpredictable. After enjoying his expression, I jumped around his neck and planted a wet one on his salty lips.

A tear dripped off my jaw and landed on my forearm. The snowflakes outside still fell thick.

“Dear God, let the chemo destroy the cancer. Please don’t take him away from me and our little Kevin.” As gross as it sounds, I wiped my nose with the edge of my t-shift and went back to my prayer.

Time always crawled when life played with people’s emotions. I was a basket case as Valentine’s Day neared, knowing my days with my precious David were going by too fast.

The phone rang dragging me out of my painful thoughts.


“This is Dr. Stevenson, may I please speak with David or Alessa?”

“This is she. How are you Doc?”

“Doing real well and hope to bring a smile to your life. I know this is Saturday but I had to call. David’s tests have come in and it looks like he is in remission. If he can stay clear for the next five years, he might outlive you.”

I couldn’t contain myself. After hanging up the phone the tears of joy flowed and I had to go into the bedroom to stared at David who was still sleeping, tangled with the bed sheets.

I went back downstairs and called his favorite restaurant and made reservations for Valentine’s Day. This was going to be the grandest of celebrations. I called my Mom and after giving her the great news, I asked if she would watch Kevin the evening of Valentine’s. I made so many calls to let family and friends know that for the time being David was out of danger.

I went to work in the kitchen, making his favorite waffle recipe.

“Good morning.” I heard surprise in his voice.

I turned and greeted him with a smile. “Sit down, baby.”

“What are you doing?” He came over and wrapped his arms around my waist.

I turned and pecked his lips. “Please sit down. Breakfast will be served in just a few more seconds.”

He sat down.

I joined him with two waffles, placing one on his dish. Looking into his eyes, mine filled with tear.

He jumped to his feet and took me into his embrace. “What’s the matter?”

I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him down close to me. “You’re in remission.” I managed to choke out.

He squeezed me to his heart. “Didn’t I say you couldn’t get rid of me so easily?”

“Look outside, it’s snowing.”

David loved snow and all things wintery.

“When Kevin wakes up we can go sledding.” His eyes sparkled with life, something I hadn’t seen in months.
I glanced outside and smiled. As the snowflakes drifted to the earth the sun bathed them with gold.

Annamaria Bazzi spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.
 Blog: www.annamariabazzi.com

Cancer Awareness - re: why the lavender ribbon.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine Short from Alison Bruce

Love Song

“Love walked right in and drove the shadows away...” Until doubt followed. Then I was back to singing the blues. Oh, I could “blame it on my youth” but it was really because I was “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Sorry. It’s an occupational hazard. I think in songs.

“Honey, can you play Feelings?”

I hate Feelings. “Of course, Mrs. Whitaker.”

At least I didn’t have to sing it. Mrs. Whitaker could bellow along to the music without my help.

I used to play clubs and lounges. Yes, I’m a lounge singer. Or was. Men can do the circuit until they drop dead of cirrhosis of the liver. Women have a limited shelf life. Unless you’re a virtuoso, which I’m not, you’re out as soon as the figure starts to go. Now I do parties and teach voice at a music shop to make ends meet. And I volunteer monthly at The Willows Senior Residence.

“Do you know how hot you are?”

“No, Mr. Bobrick, but if you hum a few bars I’ll work it out.”

Mr. Bobrick winced. “That line is older than me, girlie.”

“That should make it prehistoric, Uncle Hal.”

I knew that voice. Deep, slightly husky and attached to a man who was so good looking, he could break a heart at thirty paces. What the hell was he doing here?

“Come, give an old man a hug,” said Mr. Bobrick. “This is my sister’s boy, Meg, God rest her soul. Ryan, this is Meg. She comes to lighten our spirits every month. A real sweetheart.”

“We’ve met,” said Ryan.

“No, really? Then buy her a drink before they close the bar. Once a month we get a pub night and they close down so early. It’s shameful.”

“I have to finish my set, Mr. Bobrick. I think Mrs. Whitaker has another request.”

“So do I. Don’t listen to her. You know she’s going to want Feelings again.”
I grimaced. “Okay, then you make a request, Mr. Bobrick.”

He winked theatrically. “I make a request every month and you never take me up on it.”

“A song.”

Ryan answered. “At Last.”

Our song.

Three years on the road, working and living together. Ryan on piano and me singing. Like Dickens once said, it was the best and worst of times.

I had a Marilyn Munroe figure back then. That made me several pounds heavier than the ideal for fashion at the time. If I hadn’t been a jazz singer, that would have been a problem.

Ryan could have fit in anywhere, from the concert hall to café scene. He wowed women from adolescence to dotage. It was hard to compete with that. Eventually I stopped trying.

“No,” I said. “I think the crowd is ready for something more lively. What do you say, Mrs. Garvey?”

Crocodile Rock!”

Ryan shrugged. “Can’t argue with Sir Elton.”

At first I felt that old heart clenching fear that I wasn’t good enough. That was the trouble with working with a guy who was prettier and more talented than you. It wasn’t so bad when we were performing, but between sets he’d get rushed by women who wanted to buy him drinks and I’d get the odd drunk who wanted to see if my boobs were real.

I fought the feeling down. I had been working solo for years now. My voice was just as good as ever and my playing was better for practice, practice, practice. Besides, I wasn’t here to impress Ryan Carver. I was here to entertain the residents, many of whom I counted as friends now.

Crocodile Rock segued into Rock Around the Clock and Jukebox Saturday Night. Soon after, the program director thanked me for coming out and announced last call at the bar. Mr. Bobrick signalled me over. He had a beer waiting for me.

“I think you’ve improved with age,” said Ryan. “You were always good. Now you’re confident too.”

“My nephew should know too. He teaches now.”

“Not doing the club scene?”

He held up his hands. They used to be so long and elegant. Now they look gnarled.


He nodded.

“I’m so sorry.”

He shrugged. “It seemed like the end of the world when I was diagnosed. It wasn’t. I teach and I compose now. I don’t have your improvisational skill, but I’ve scored a few documentaries and dozens of commercials.”

I had to ask. “Married?”

“Divorced.” He grinned. “You’re not the only woman who had trouble living with my ego.”

“It wasn’t your ego that bothered me. It was mine.”

Mr. Bobrick clicked his tongue. “You want my advice? Let go the ego.” He pushed himself out of his chair and grabbed his walker. “Take her out, Ryan. Drink coffee. Talk. You can visit me tomorrow.”

“You’re the one who asked me to visit today.” Then it dawned on him. “You wanted me to see Meg.”

I’d worked that out already. I didn’t know how Mr. Bobrick knew about Ryan and I, but I knew that he was up to something. He was too pleased with himself.

“How?” I asked.

“I knew I’d seen you someplace before,” he said. “I never forget a face. It took a while, then it came to me in the middle of the night. You were the young hot chick in the photo Ryan gave me years ago. I think he gave that first promo shot of the two of you to all his friends and relations. Proof he finally made it in show biz.” He leaned over his walker and wagged a finger at me. “You were the one that got away. So I thought I’d help him finally reel you in.”

I smiled and said good night. As soon as he was out of earshot, I turned to Ryan. “He makes me sound like a fish.”

“He makes me feel like an idiot.” He reached out for my hand. “I’ve missed you. I don’t think I appreciated you properly until you were gone. I had more pride than sense back then.”

“And I didn’t have enough pride, so maybe it was best for us to part.”

He gave my hand a weak squeeze then let go. “I never asked. Did you marry?”

I shook my head. “I was engaged for a year, but it didn’t work out. Now I’m “fancy free and free for anything fancy”.”

“Fancy a coffee?”

* * *

The following month, I addressed my audience. “Before I take new requests, I have a leftover from last pub night.”

“At last...My love has come along. My lonely days are over. And life is like a song”

Etta James
Glenn Miller Orchestra

Alison Bruce has had many careers and writing has always been one of them. Copywriter, editor and graphic designer since 1992, Alison has also been a comic book store manager, small press publisher, webmaster and arithmetically challenged bookkeeper. She is the author of mystery, suspense and historical romance novels.

She also tends to set her life to music.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine Short from Danita Cahill

Hearts over Bellham
By Danita Cahill

Hillary Johnson clung to the ladder hoisted thirty feet over Main Street as another gust of January wind shrieked through the rungs.

What was I thinking? 

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and glanced down at the handsome, concerned face gazing up at her. The reason she’d agreed to string lighted hearts over the town of Bellham, Oregon came whirling back to her. Tim Jacobs. 

She wanted a chance to work with Tim, to impress him. 

“You okay?” Tim hollered. “Wind’s getting pretty fierce. You better come down now.”
Hillary gripped the fire truck ladder tighter. “Yes, I’m okay.” No, I’m not. “I’m almost done.” If I can make myself release the ladder with one hand, so I can finish hanging this last string...

It wasn’t right for a Bellham Fire District firefighter to fear heights, and Hillary was determined to beat her fear.   

When the town acquired the Valentine’s decorations, fire chief Darren Holt asked for volunteers to hang them. Tim’s hand shot up with Hillary’s hand only a split second behind. Stupid hand. 

And now here she was, clinging to a ladder for dear life, high above the hard, unforgiving blacktop, all because she’d let her heart, instead of her head, control her hand. Stupid heart. 

When Tim moved to Bellham three years ago he immediately stole Hillary’s heart. It wasn’t his tall, good looks – although those didn’t hurt any. It was Tim’s calm, quiet confidence that hit her like an arrow from Cupid’s bow.   

A month later, Tim joined the fire department. Hillary’s heart – the stupid, blood-pumping muscle responsible for getting her into this terrifying predicament – had flipped cartwheels of joy. 

But things hadn’t progressed the way Hillary envisioned. Tim was friendly to her, as he was to everyone, but he didn’t seem to notice her the way she noticed him – with her entire heart and soul. 

Now the tables had turned in her favor. Here he was, staring up at her, concerned and worried. 

“Only two more hooks to go!” Hillary yelled without looking down. Looking down – with the combination of height, and Tim’s handsome face – made her heart beat dangerously fast.  

I have to do this. Prove to Tim I can, and more importantly, prove it to myself. She eased one hand off the ladder and quickly suspended the string of hearts from the second-to-the-last hook. 

Another burst of wind howled past, and Hillary grabbed the shuddering ladder with both hands. Panic leaped from her chest into her throat. Mentally she lashed at it, fighting it down. 

I can do it. I’m almost done. Stretching trembling fingers overhead, she attempted to attach the hearts to the last hook. But she couldn’t quite reach. I hate being short. She readjusted her grip on the ladder, stood on her toes, and stretched her arm, hand, and fingers as high as possible. A wind gust shook the string of hearts in her hand, rattling her nerves. She gripped the ladder with both hands again, whitening her knuckles. 

“I can get that last one if you can’t reach it,” Tim said.

Can’t? That word didn’t belong in Hillary’s vocabulary.  

She released the ladder with one hand, stretching and straining to reach the last hook. Half an inch more and she’d have it…a quarter of an inch… She sucked in a breath, expanding her lungs and ribcage for that extra fraction of extension… She slipped the light string over the last hook and wrapped it on tight. 

“You did it!” Tim said. “Need help getting down?”

Yes. ”No.”

Cautiously, Hillary made her way down the ladder and off the truck until she was standing in the street next to Tim. She looked up at the hearts strung high over Main Street. Her pulse jack hammered with fear and pride. 

“Awesome job,” Tim said, cuffing her on the back of her fire turn outs as if she were one of the guys. 

I’m not one of the guys. I’m a woman in love. Ask me out.

“What are you doing later, around three-thirty?”

He asked me out! Don’t blow it. Be smooth.  “No big plans.”

“We could grab a coffee. Hang around until dusk when the hearts should automatically come on. Check them out in the dark.”

Hillary’s heart fell. It wasn’t a date, it was fire department business.  “Yeah, sure. Okay.”

Tim was early. He waited for Hillary on the Main Street sidewalk holding two coffees.
Hillary pulled up. “Hey,” she said. 

“Hey, yourself,” Tim said handing her a cup. He looked up. Red, pink, and white hearts swayed and danced in the wind. “They look good, huh?”

Hillary tipped her head back. “They do. I hope they don’t blow away.”

“I think we wrapped the ends tight enough.” 

“I hope so.”

Tim scanned Hillary’s features. She was cute, with a round face, and a small, upturned nose. Her brown hair hung halfway down her back. She wasn’t his usual type. He generally found himself drawn to tall blondes. But there was something about Hillary that kept pulling him in. Today he’d really noticed her. Not just as a fellow firefighter, but as a woman. It was her bravery up there on the ladder with the wind howling all around that did it – really proved what she was made of. 

He knew she’d felt afraid. But that’s what courage was all about – doing it despite being scared. Today Hillary had earned his respect. 

“It’s been getting dark around four,” Tim said. 

“Sounds about right,” Hillary said taking a sip of coffee.

Dusk settled. Hillary and Tim waited. Buzzing sounded overhead. They looked up, watching as the over-sized plastic hearts glowed. Dim at first, then brighter.   

“They’re beautiful,” Hillary said.

Bellham was famous for its strings of chiming bells over Main Street during the holiday season, making Christmas an extra magical time of year. The lighted hearts affected Tim in a similar way. 

 “You’re beautiful,” Tim said. “Brave and beautiful.” He bent, touching Hillary’s nose with his. His lips brushed hers. Once. Twice. 

Hillary smiled, dimpling one cheek. Her deep blue irises reeled Tim in, drew him closer.
He could see the reflection of the overhead hearts shining back at him in her eyes.  

Award-winning writer Danita Cahill lives on a small Oregon farm with her husband, their two sons, a herd of alpacas, and an assortment of other animals. She is writing away on several more projects, including more stories in the Bellham Romance Series.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Valentine Short from Lorrie Farrelly

To My Julia
by Lorrie Farrelly

Early February 1863, near Murfreesboro, Tennessee

'Mid bugle's blast and cannon's roar,
And 'mid the battles angry flame;
'Mid clashing sabres red with gore,
I fondly breathe thy much-loved name.
I feel thee near at dead of night,
When I my vigil lone am keeping--
Thy image guards me, angel bright,
In dreams when wearied I am sleeping,
Each northward wind wafts on its breath,
To thee a yearning kiss of mine--
On glory's field or bed of death,
I’ll forever be thy Valentine.

Julia Bissonnette had no need to look at the creased billet-doux clutched in her hand; she knew the words by heart. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to tuck the scrap of paper away in her reticule. She cherished it as much as the small velvet case, shiny from much devoted handling, that contained Charles’ portrait and a lock of his russet hair.

She had spent nearly a week traveling from New York to the Union Army hospital on the Hord farm near the Nashville Pike. Now she stood like a small, stubborn rock in the foyer of Elmwood, the main house, a steady flow of blue-clad soldiers, orderlies, physicians, and nurses – the latter carrying bandages and basins, their stained aprons covering somber day dresses – streaming around her.

“I can do this.” Julia steadied herself. “I must do this!” Although she was barely seventeen, she knew boys younger than herself were fighting and dying to preserve the Union. So, squaring her shoulders, she stepped in front of a young officer before he could hurry past her.

“If you please, Lieutenant,” she said, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt. “Would you be kind enough to tell me where I may find Captain Charles Lumandier? I’ve received word he was brought here.”

The harried soldier came to a startled halt, nearly colliding with the slight girl who’d planted herself directly in his path. Although her round, pretty face was pale with fatigue and her navy blue travelling costume was rumpled, she met his eyes with steady resolution. He stammered a bit, trying to recover his wits.

“Uh, Captain Lu…?”

Julia nodded. “Yes. Captain Lumandier. He was wounded at Stones River.”

“Well, Miss, there are more’n three hundred wounded billeted here. But if your Captain’s among them, he’ll likely be up on the second floor in the officers’ ward.”

Thanking him, Julia turned and hurried toward the broad staircase.

It took her more than an hour to make her way through the warren of upstairs rooms and hallways crowded with cots, chairs, and trays. Fighting tears, she stopped often to offer a gentle word to the maimed and bandaged men – some of them scarcely more than boys – who called out to her in their pain and loneliness. Some pleaded, “Begging your pardon, Miss, could I trouble you for a minute…?” Others, their frail tethers to life fraying, called her “Sissy,” or “Dearest,” or even “Mama.” Over and over, Julia felt her heart squeeze with pain.

As at last she made her way into a bedroom at the end of the hall, a pair of orderlies quickly approached. They bore a moaning youth on a litter, his discolored arm wrapped in seeping, reeking bandages. As Julia shrank back against the wall to make room for them to pass, she heard a medical officer wearily calling after them.

“Boys,” he said, “tell Major Dawson I said to get that arm off quick as he can; I’m sending the next patient down in ten minutes.”

The doctor stepped away from a cot where a young man lay on a bloodstained sheet. As he opened his eyes, Julia gasped, her hand flying to her mouth to mute her cry.


“Julie?” Charlie whispered raggedly. “Is it … really you? Or am I … dreaming?”

Julia took his trembling hand, bent to kiss him. His skin was hot and dry, his gray-green eyes cloudy and glazed.  She knelt beside his cot, gently stroked his tangled hair from his forehead.

“I’m here, my darling. You didn’t think I’d spend Valentine’s Day without you, did you?”

Charlie stared at her. Then, incredibly, his eyes cleared a bit and he managed a rusty sound that might have been a chuckle. Then, against his will, his eyes burned with unshed tears.

“Thank God, Julie. Thank God you came. I was afraid … I’d never....” He saw the distress in her eyes, clutched her hand, struggled to change tack. “I … I mean, I’m afraid … my … my dancing … days are done.”

Julia glanced at the sodden bandages wrapped around his leg. She lifted his hand, pressed it to her lips.

“Oh, pooh, Charlie.” Startled at her tone, he stared wide-eyed at her. “You know you always tread on my toes, anyway.” She smiled despite the tears burning her eyes. “Now, I’m going to see that you get well, and then I’m sure we’ll be able to think of plenty to do besides dancing.”

This time, Charles’ surprised chuckle was unmistakable.

“Ahem.” The doctor returned to the bedside, his face solemn as he nodded to Julia in greeting. “Miss.” He looked at Charlie. “Captain, it’s time to get you downstairs. I’m sorry, son, but that leg has to come off.”

Charles froze, shot a desperate glance to Julia. She squeezed his hand, took a deep breath, got to her feet, faced the doctor. She barely came to his shoulder.

“Doctor, Captain Lumandier is keeping his leg.” She folded her arms stubbornly. “Now, please be so kind as to provide me with soap and fresh water, carbolic acid, and clean bandages soaked in iodine. Oh, and morphine to keep him comfortable.”

The doctor was instantly indignant. Who was this mere slip of a girl to tell him what to do? “Now see here, Miss,” he sputtered, “you cannot just storm in here and…”

“Indeed I can, Doctor, and I have. Now, if you’ll excuse us, the Captain and I have Valentine’s Day plans to make.”

The doctor took another breath as though to argue, then his manner dissolved into grudging respect, even amusement. He signaled to an orderly, indicated Julia. “Corporal, get this young lady whatever supplies she requires.”

“Yes, sir.”

The doctor turned away. As Julia again took Charlie’s hand, a burst of hope bloomed in his heart. He clung to his darling girl, and grinned. *

*copyright 2014 by Lorrie Farrelly


The poem at the beginning of this story is from a Civil War-era Valentine, sent by Joseph Forrest of the 8th Volunteer Illinois Infantry. It’s in the collection of the Kansas Museum of History and the Kansas Historical Society.

Elmwood, the Hord family Greek Revival home near Murfreesboro, still exists. It is privately owned.

If you enjoyed this story, read more about Charlie and Julia in TERMS OF SURRENDER, a Western Historical Romance by Lorrie Farrelly. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iTunes, and Audible.com.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Snow What?

"A snowflake is either a single ice crystal or an aggregation of ice crystals which falls through the Earth's atmosphere." 
- Wikipedia

I won't lie. I'm ready for spring. At the very least, I'll be happy if we don't have any more dumps of snow to slog through. If the mountain of snow in our parking lot gets any bigger, it will qualify for its own postal code. As for the mounds bracketing the drive into our complex...

I am reminded of something that happened to my cousin when he was a teenager. His best friend's brother was driving them to a hockey practice or some such thing. The walls of snow made it very difficult to see whether it was safe to turn. The boys were asked to check to the right while big brother checked to the left.

"Can you see any cars?"

"No," says my cousin. The car starts moving. "But there's a bus coming."

At the corner where I work as a crossing guard, I exchange greetings and comments on the weather with the parents and some of the kids. Ethnic diversity is a feature of our neighbourhood. Complaining about the weather is something we have in common, even if, in some cases, we have to add gestures to get the message across the language barrier.

A couple of days ago I got into a brief conversation with a lovely woman I see every weekday morning and afternoon. Her English is excellent but accented. To make things more challenging, she is soft-spoken and I am partially deaf. As a result, it took me a moment or so to understand that she wasn't complaining about the snow but pointing out two perfectly formed and unique snowflakes on her coat sleeve.

"I cut out paper snowflakes with my children, but I never believed that real snowflakes were as beautiful."

Her sense of wonder was catching. I could even look at the mountains of snow with appreciation. But I still don't want another dump.

Want to cut a virtual paper snowflake? Go to Make a Flake!

Coming soon... (very soon)