Chapter 14 of ? (dreams and nightmares)

I want to forget this date – it makes no sense to me. Hurry up sleep, and take me to the castle.

Ah, safe again and I can relax in my private courtyard garden. The flowers bloom constantly attended by the critters that live and breathe comfort. The big ornate gate opens as if it is expecting me. One of these days, I need to see if there’s another way in.

Right now, the huge roses are yellow like a sunny day. I’m walking along the low wide stone fences that separate several gardens. On top of them reside the old forever-cherished guardian pets, each one resting on their soft pillow beds. Their eyes follow me as they wait their turn to be petted and talked to. I love them, and they know it.

On the ground, the kittens and puppies romp in play, dashing around my feet. Everything in sight is made of natural materials. Fine woods and smooth marble slabs create seating and tables. Wooden lattice sunscreens sit high above and move to adjust for heat or rain. Lush green grasses grow everywhere there’s not a flower or tree.

I don’t know what I’d do without this place. It’s been here for me as long as I can remember. Tonight I need to be close to someone – I need rest. Walking toward the Gardenia Garden, the fragrance draws me in. Once inside I lie down on the long wide bench open above to the stars. The mahogany is soft and molds to support my body. Watching the moon rise, I know my guardian will be here soon.

I feel myself being lifted up like a child and a huge being supporting my head against his chest. Listening to the slow rhythm of his heartbeat, I feel his warm breath filtering through my hair. For a fleeting moment, I remember my determination to shed the demons that rob me of clarity of purpose – for now, I am safe and rest in peace.


Chapter 10 of ? (sisters)

Just between you and me, Heather is my balance and doesn’t even know it. She’s not only pretty and smart, she’s realistic. I face life with fear of what-if, and she appears to live it each day, sometimes by the hour. I admire that, but can’t find my comfort level with it. It’s not a judgment thing – it’s a fear of losing her in childish decisions where she gets hurt. I feel a responsibility. Saying that out loud sounds really silly, because in fact, I have no control.

She’s the fun person I can’t be – the friend that knows no limits to defend – the girl that says it like it is, whether anyone is offended or not – and one that can turn two hours of freedom into a memorable adventure.  I sincerely don’t feel jealousy – I’m in awe of her as a total independent thinking person … or so she seems to be. Right now, I think Heather is being rebellious because she hides out a lot and doesn’t talk much. I see boys are obsessed with her, and she gets a lot of attention from them.

I’m sitting at the dresser brushing my hair, and catch a glimpse of Heather’s reflection in the mirror as she quietly walks into the bedroom.

Heather sits down on the side of the bed, “I’m sorry for yelling at you, Jane, but you don’t understand – he told me I am the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. It’s not like you to be jealous.”

“I’m not jealous of you, I’m scared for you. You’re a woman now even though you’re still a kid too. You don’t need to be kissing him like that. I’m not even ready to have sex, and you’re younger. How could it be in your best interest to get talked into doing it?”

Turning around to look directly into Heather’s eyes, I asked her, “What do you want for yourself, Heather?”

With tears running down her face, “I want to have some fun. I want to be like other girls and do what they do. They must like me, I need that.” I waited to really listen to what she was saying.

“My grades are not as good as yours, it’s boring. I don’t want to be in an office all day. I want a real job, a fun job.” Heather looked around the room, “I want more than this, and get away from a father that yells so much I feel like I’m walking on eggs to stay out of trouble with him. Have you noticed Mom is more fun when he’s not in the house?”

“Yes, I’ve noticed, but that’s not the issue here. Let me put it this way, Heather. We need to come to an agreement on some basic things. Do we agree that we can live only one life at the time?”

“I’m not sure what you’re saying, my life now is not my life like when I’m older, maybe 20.”

“I thought so. I need to share something with you. Are you listening?”

With full attention, Heather said, “Yes.”

“You have just one life on this earth. It starts when you are still in your mother’s womb, you get a name when you are born, and it ends when you die. That is one lifetime. Can we agree on that?”


“It usually takes about eighteen years for most people to become a mentally mature adult that can take care of themselves without help, Right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well, Heather, tell me something … if you lost your family today, could you take care of yourself with no help from anybody?”

“I could get a job.”

I ask her, “What could you do to earn enough money to rent an apartment and buy a car you would need to get around and go to work? For Christ’s sake, Heather, you can’t even drive yet! You have one life in this one body – now is part of that life. What you decide now will matter to you later.”

I’m asking again, “What would you do?”

“I could get married, and he would take care of me.”

I speak to her slowly, hoping the words sink in one thought at the time, “Fine, think about that for a while. Also, think about the questions he might have about what you let other people do with your body. Who would you marry, a boy that’s been busy kissing any girl that will let him? A real man will not marry a child. You’re anxious to have fun, without seeing you could give up your right to be kissed and touched by someone you chose as a mature woman. Have you thought of this before?”

“No.” Heather put her hands over her face in embarrassment.

Reaching to hold her hand, “I promise you Heather, you are popular because people naturally like you. You don’t have to do anything sexual to try to win their friendship. Just be yourself – you have real friends that care about you – but I’m telling you now, you can’t count on someone else to protect you – that’s your job.”

Chapter 9 of ? (new baby)

It’s been several months since we found out a baby is joining us. Secretly, I’ve been wishing for a girl to balance out our family. Other than that, we’ve just been getting used to the idea.

It’s Monday morning before daybreak and Dad just bounced into my room to announce the birth of our – baby brother.  I pull my pillow over my head, “Trade him for a girl before you bring him home. We got enough boys.”

“Aw, come on girl, get up. We have to cook breakfast.” I know he wants me to share his joy, but I’m just not in the mood.

“You mean I have to cook breakfast. Oh man…,” with a moan realizing I have to get the kids ready for school.


With little Tad here, it is true love all over again. He’s the center of everybody’s life. With little Tad here, it is true love all over again. We were thinking when Grunt goes to school,  the church nursery wouldn’t be needed anymore. Now we’ll have two there during the school year, so we’ll need to contribute more hours to the community center kitchen to help earn the cost of their keep.

Grunt’s not too sure about this new addition, and wet his ‘big boy shorts.’ It was apparent when he demanded to wear a diaper again, he thought it would let him be the baby! It’s apparent when he demands to wear a diaper, he thinks he can be the baby again!

We are realizing fast that Grunt has to be included in the Big Boy Club. That means he will get yard privileges – but, we have to teach him Rule #1: Never go outside alone.

I’ve had a baby sleep in my bed since I was seven years old – maybe that’s why I was born – to be a babysitter!

In the kitchen, I want to talk to Mom about it. “Yes, Mom, I want kids but I want a break first. I want my own private bed in my own private room, in my own private house!”

“Well, how have you been treated so bad having a large family? Would you trade us to have more personal stuff you didn’t have to share?” Mom appears on the defensive.

“That’s not my point – my point is … do you realize you and I have been together since one year after you got married? I have shared your life and helped you raise your kids that I love too. I don’t regret that – you’ve taught me a lot. I’m just tired and frustrated. You have chosen this life for yourself, and for me.”

It feels like I said something to hurt her, “Mom, you have no idea how much I love you. I understand you – I can predict how you will respond to anything. Don’t you find that – unusual? We really need to talk about these things.

I’m looking for answers. It is not logical that you and I have never had a fight or serious disagreement. I’ve heard you yell at people before, but never at me. Yeah, you nag and complain a bit, but that’s it.”

The cleaning was done and we sat down at the table – Mom with black coffee and cheese, and me with milk and cookies. Heather walks in after tucking in the boys for the night, and grabs a cookie.

“What’s up?”

I smile at Mom, and start off real slow trying to sound serious, “The first thing I want to know is … is Heather really my sister; you know, her being so beautiful with that curly hair, big boobs, and all?”

Heather chokes on a mouthful of cookie and milk – Mom gets tickled and can’t stop laughing. “Okay … okay, if you don’t want to talk about that, how about telling us where we were born – what was it like?”

I see Heather cut her eyes over at me – a flash of a smile mouthing, “Thank you.”

Mom gets up from the table, picks up the dishes to take to the sink, “You, Jane, were born at home, and Heather was born in a hospital. It’s getting late and we have to get up early. Good night, turn off the lights.” I’m thinking, nice try, I will ask again.

“Good night, Heather.”

Chapter 8 of ? (baby?!)

[edit note: prepare photo of a shorthand note before publishing]

It’s early, but I’m awake just laying here thinking about important decisions I have to make this school year. Heather is coming in to see if I’m awake. I open my eyes as she sits on the edge of the big bed trying to not wake up the youngest boys on the other side.

“Jane, you’re not going to believe this,” whispered Heather. “Mama’s gonna have a baby!”

“Oh, come off it, where’d you hear that?” That was the last thing I wanted to hear. “I’ll never get out of here now.”

“What do you mean, where’re you going?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. No place right now – don’t worry.”

I want to make sure she understands. “I’m taking typing and shorthand this year so I can get a good job when I graduate. Next year they’re offering a class on introduction to business.”

Heather wrinkles her nose, “What’s that?”

“Don’t play dumb with me; you know what a typewriter is.”

“Well, yes I do!” Heather is cute and matter of fact about everything. “They have one at church. I still don’t know what shorthand is.”

“Well, Little One, it is a secret writing code that few people can read. It’s pretty too – you can hide the code in drawings and paintings, and use it for a lot of stuff.” She’s two years younger, but I can’t resist using terms to remind her I’m the oldest kid. Gotta earn my birthright, right? Kids need order and consistency.

Heather thought about it for a second, “Well, I’m not sure Mom would like the idea about you keeping secrets.”

“Go get a piece of paper and a pencil, I’ll show you.” When she brought back a page from her notebook, I wrote the message in Gregg Shorthand, “Boys are cute, but God loves you.”

“Now you keep that in your pocket. When you find someone that can read it, tell me who they are.”

“What does it mean – what does it say?”

“It’s a secret – can’t tell you.”

Chapter 7 of ?

The mood at home is returning to normal after we got Kevin home. Dad seems to go out of his way to do special things as if nothing bad had happened. He’s very cordial on the weekends around us, and at church services I hardly recognize him. He gives the impression of being a saintly person full of charity and kindness. Being tall and handsome, he turns on the charm and people find him easy to like.

Mom knows she has to makes changes. She’s looking for a better job to be able to save some money. Her self confidence is lower than it should be, because she didn’t lose enough weight between having so many kids so fast.

She works at many chores, but I’ve never seen her dirty. Quite an amazing feat I’ve never been able to accomplish! When I get dirty, I stink!

She’s decided to get a better job and start saving money. Of course, Dad is against it, but he finally agreed, with the stipulation that he would not have to do anything around the house, and supper will be ready when he gets home from work. I’ve got news for him – all he does is bring home a paycheck anyway. What I want is a real father, a man I can trust that loves me – a man that doesn’t think of his family as a possession to control and treat as he pleases. A man I can respect. I’m praying, Oh, God, do you make any like that? If you don’t, could you please fix the one we have?

Sally knows only the people at church, and has little time for a few friends. Lamenting to a neighbor, “Mildred, I really want to improve the way I look. I can’t afford better clothes and these are starting to hang on me from losing weight. I know Randy’s going to have a fit when I get my hair cut off. What do you think? Am I making a mistake?”

“I think you need to go ahead and get a better job. There’s a manufacturing company that’s hiring trainees right now – call them, they’ll teach you how to do the job.”

“That’s what I really want to do so I’ll have some money to buy extra things we need. Jane and Heather could take care of the boys this summer so I wouldn’t have to pay a babysitter. I don’t trust anybody else to keep them.”

Mom got the new job!  With her first paycheck she bought two new shirts and pants for work, a pair of shoes, got her hair cut and styled – and lipstick. For women, wearing pants or makeup and cutting their hair is forbidden by the church. Dad didn’t throw a fit this time, but he was not pleased that she now “looked like a harlot.” I was so proud of her as she ignored him and went to buy groceries without asking him for money!

I find it curious at church this morning, the preacher’s wife has much shorter hair. Hmm, wonder why that happened! Mom just told me the lady gave her a tiny bottle of perfume explaining that was acceptable for married ladies to use. For the first time since I can remember, I’m thinking of her as really pretty. Besides that, from what I read in the Bible, harlots are fallen women – Mom may be almost broken, but she’s not fallen.

Chapter 4 of ? (the art lesson)

We now have a new art teacher! He’s young, good looking, and not married, according to Patty. Guess I’ll see for myself. Outside the classroom door, Patty said, “Well, I wonder who he’s dating, I wish I was older – like maybe eighteen!”

“Hush Patty, somebody’s gonna hear you gushing over him.” Looking up, I took one look – wow, he is cute, but I’ll never admit it to Patty!

The assignment today is to sketch the face of someone in the room, do not name the model and don’t sign your drawing. I decided to sit near the windows with a good angle to discretely use Melanie as a reference. When I finished, I really thought my sketch was definitely Melanie, so I dropped it in the designated box when class was dismissed.

The next day when Patty and I got to class, we immediately knew things were not right. All the drawings were taped across the display boards. Mr. B was standing in front of the room with his arms folded waiting for the bell to ring. It was eerily quiet, except for Melanie sitting at a desk crying. We sat down without a word.

When the bell rang, Mr. B slowly unfolded his arms and paced slowly across the room. “How do you feel right now, Melanie?” he asked softly.

Between bouts of crying, “I am insulted … that drawing is not me … the nose is too short … the mouth is too small and the hair’s a mess. How could anybody think that’s what I look like?”

We were all nervous not knowing how to respond to her surprise reaction. Least of all, me! A little voice inside me kept repeating – but, Melanie, it looks exactly like you! How could I be so wrong?

“How do you know that drawing is of you, Melanie, there’s no name on it?” Mr. B continued to slowly pace and with deliberate calmness as though to give Melanie time to calm down. Everyone was still quiet, just waiting. Melanie stopped crying, but did not respond.

“Jim, would you please go to the display and write your name at the top of the image you think is you.”

“Oh, that’s easy – it’s the most handsome guy up there!” as he jumped up to comply. Mr. B called each student by name to do the same. I was thinking he just wanted to take roll and learn names at the same time – whatever!

“Okay, now. Everyone should come up and sign their work at the bottom. If your reference was not the person that claimed it, line through it and add the correct reference name.” While the class was signing their work, Mr. B took out a drawing pad and a black ink pen. After sketching a couple of minutes, he closed the pad and placed it back on his desk.

The results were surprising. The error rate by those that believed an image was theirs was sixty percent. Five students had chosen to draw Melanie, but I drew the image she thought was hers. The whole class laughed! “Wow, do we transfer out now!”

“Not yet!” said Mr. B. “What we have here is an art class of students – creative people who enjoy expressing their art, and want to learn more. You have seen an important lesson today. Art that portrays humanity is emotional – it matters to somebody – it can communicate with power, for good or bad.”

He picked up his drawing pad and walked to Melanie’s desk, opened it to hand her his sketch as she stood up, “I think this is the image you expected.”  She took one look at it, and fell into his arms with a hug of thankfulness and appreciation. “I love you, Mr. B!” The bell rang – the lesson was over.

Chapter 3 of ? (fiction novel)

In the long country kitchen, Dad sits at the head of the large dining table drinking coffee while Mom serves his breakfast. He’s the first one to leave every morning. Cecil is just too cheery for him, so he eats fast trying to get out of the house before Cecil arrives!

Passing by Randy on the way out, the milkman walks through the side door as usual picking up a piece of bacon off the platter and getting a quick inventory in the refrigerator of milk, buttermilk, butter, cream and eggs. He is part of the early morning routine three days a week. With his British accent he’s always cheerful and happy. He brings in the order placing everything in the refrigerator, drops the charge ticket on the counter and leaves as quickly as he came in. I love the familiar aroma of homemade biscuits that fill our house as Heather and I get dressed for school.

Back to the kitchen, Heather is stretching her independence a bit when talking to the boys. “Go give it to Sally – I mean Mom.” She really likes bossing around the youngest one. His name is Bobby, but we just call him Grunt. Clue, he doesn’t talk much yet! I told Mom he doesn’t have to, all he does is point and grunt and somebody gets what he wants.

Sally reprimands, “You know Bobby can’t be running around the kitchen when I’m cooking breakfast.” The older boys have their things ready for school and are setting the table.

Mom takes off to the bedroom shouting orders, “Jane, fix their plates, I have to get going or I’ll be late for work. Heather, put Bobby’s shoes on him.” Five minutes later, Mom comes out, scoops up Bobby and is out the door.

Whew, I’m hungry! The four of us sit down to eat a leisurely twenty minute breakfast, before we leave to walk to our schools. If we don’t get the kitchen cleaned before we leave, it will wait until we get home from school … ouch! Dried eggs on plates …