Challenge Old Beliefs – Feeding the Drive to Self-Actualize

The pandemic we find ourselves in has done more to upend our lives beyond health and economics. Staying occupied with thoughts of these two survival necessities has held us all captive to the internal strife within. Much like clinging to a 2-inch railing so we don’t plunge off a 60-story building. The obsession allows for little more. The result is a stalling of our true purpose – the drive to self-actualize.

It is important that we continue our progress despite our current state. I am not saying that you should disregard either your health or your money needs. These must be taken care of to maintain and support life. But when this is all we accomplish during the day, life grows stale. Without realizing it, we soon find ourselves fighting the inevitable listlessness that such striving produces.

The Road to your future starts now. You’ll find beauty around the corner. (“Newfound Gap Road – Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN” by pvarney3 is marked under CC PDM 1.0.

Breaking free from the drone of lack, slack and indifference is no easy task. It takes courage, fortitude, and determination. It takes a strong-willed effort to move freely through the concrete bonds of apathy to return to full purpose and discovery. Sometimes we need a little push, a little emotional jumpstart.

It is my hope that this blog will give you that jumpstart. That here you will find help on your way back to the path you were born to take. To the goals you were meant to accomplish. To the life you were meant to live.

We will explore new ways of thinking, inspiration, encouragement, and guidance to life’s mysteries. Our topics will include self-discovery, mind-body connection, perception, critical thinking, emotional healing, and much more. Motivating insight and knowledge to personalize. Open-minded differences of opinion are welcome.

If you are ready to:

  • Take back your life from the clutches of disheartenment;
  • Start or restart your personal growth journey;
  • Boost your day with a shot of optimism;
  • Find solace in a community of like-minded folks;
  • Expand your insight and intelligence; or
  • Open your mind to a deeper understanding of the world in which we live . . .

. . . make yourself a promise to tune into this online journal for five minutes a week.

I hope to see you jump on board. I’m looking forward to our journey together.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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Four Reasons Why We Must Restore Love to Its Pre-Pandemic Importance in Our Lives

We have experienced more change in the last four years than most of us have gone through our entire lives. While some of these changes are positive, most are negative. You may not even be aware of some of those negative effects. One such consequence is how we look at love.

Loneliness and Isolation

Stay home. Isolate yourself from the possibility of coming in contact with the virus. These were the words we heard daily. Government and business reinforced this mandate by advocating working from home. As we isolated ourselves from social contact, we began to develop feelings of loneliness and alienation. Such feelings can cause heartache and despair. We are social creatures. We need social interaction, companionship between friends, and the feel-good chemicals of physical touch.

Strengthening Our Relationships

Love is at the core of our relationships, whether they be romantic, friendly, or just plain daily connection. When we practice love for others, we build stronger and healthier bonds. Hearty relationships help us weather the storms of challenge and adversity better. Restoring healthy love supports family stability and a nurturing environment.

Fostering Mental and Physical Health

Through love, we experience less stress, have better cardiovascular health, and increase happiness. When we actively work to restore love, we build resilience that helps us face the problems of modern life.

Image courtesy of OpenClickart on Pixabay.

Self-Actualization

Love gives us purpose. We are motivated to work toward fulfillment in all areas of our lives. We live life with passion and a sense of direction. This upward emphasis helps us grow. Two important components of a higher EQ are empathy and compassion. We need love to build these important traits within ourselves. Thus, our ability to guide our emotions grows, and we become better human beings.

The pandemic put a wedge between us and our ability to flourish in love. If we want to blossom and live our best lives, we must make love a priority once again.

Get a quick infusion of love (via story) for under a dollar: My e-book romance novel, Rhythm That Surrounds Us, is at the promo price of $0.99 until May 31, 2024. Get it at Amazon.

If you prefer quick infusions of romantic love, check out these posts:

Love is a Disguise Away

In the Springtime of Love

Flying High for Love

One Plus One Equals Love

Li’l Shop of Hope . . . and Love

30 Candles and Love

Breaking the Language Barrier for Love

Opening the Door to Love

Love to the Rescue

Schooled in Love

Synchronistic Signs of Romantic Love

The Strength of Puppy Love

The Legend of True Love

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The Legend of True Love (Mini Romance)

“Seriously,” Ruby said to her BFF Krystal, “What are we doing out here?”

“Having fun,” Krystal said as she pulled Ruby by the arm toward the large crowd of gathered young people.

Ruby pulled her friend close and whispered, “It doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. It sounds boring.”

“You, Ruby, darlin’, never had enough fun as a child. So, we’re going to do something different and fun. I think you’ll like it. Besides, you need to get out more. When was the last time you had a date?”

“Six months,” Ruby sighed, “When you-know-who dumped me.”

“This is exactly why you need to get out and do something different, meet different people, get your mind off that no-good-for-nothing ex of yours.”

“Let’s go back. I’m just not into this,” Ruby complained.

“Shhh, shhh, she’s starting. I’ve heard this storyteller before. She’s good.”

They sat down cross-legged on the meadowy ground. The sky was a bright blue against a backdrop of a massive forest.

Image courtesy of Berlinski on Pixabay.

An older woman in Bohemian-style garb stood and lifted her arms to the sky. She dropped her arms and pulled her full skirt outward before twirling around in a circle. She placed an index finger to her mouth and began to talk in exaggerated tones:

There is a legend of which I speak that few know of. The forest right behind us is full of magical happenings. I am about to tell the tale of an enchanted tree inhabited by small ones. Pixie-like people . . .  

Ruby placed the back of her hand to her forehead and feigned a collapse. “Oh, the drama.”

Krystal glared at her, “Be quiet. It’s a story. Shhh . . . just listen,” she scolded.

Ruby scanned the crowd. Her gaze stopped at a handsome dark-haired man to their left. He seemed as bored as she did. Just at that moment he turned to look at her. Wow she thought. She smiled a shy smile at him. He held his closed fist above his ear, tilted his head and stuck out his tongue. He mouthed the words “Kill me now.” Ruby chuckled.

Ruby returned her attention to the speaker.

 . . . this sprite of love is said to inhabit the enchanted tree of true love. For the lucky few who search for and find favor with the sprite of love, it will cause the tree to reveal its power for bringing together true lovers. Only a fortunate few are bestowed the gift of the tree of true love.

The speaker closed her eyes, brought her hands artfully up to just below her chin, and bowed her head to the crowd before walking off.

“I think I missed part of the story,” Ruby said, “Tell me about the tree of true love.”

“See, I told you that you’d like this,” Krystal said, “No one knows where the tree is but it is large and the base of it opens up into a heart shape when your true love appears. Then, it closes up again so only those called to it will find it.”

A strange sensation of warmth moved throughout Ruby’s body, and she felt a strong compulsion.

She turned to Krystal, “I have to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.”

She quickly got up. “It’s more like an outhouse, over there,” Krystal called after her.

Ruby found a row of latrines and stood studying them for a moment. Why did she say that? She didn’t need the facilities. She walked around behind them and found a dirt path, leading into the woods. Before she could stop herself, she was on the path walking toward the trees.

She had been walking in the woods for about 30 minutes when she saw an enormous tree with an opening in its base. The opening was shaped like a heart. With lush green flora in its interior.

“Whoa,” came a voice behind her. A male voice.

Image courtesy of Alanajordan on Pixabay.

She turned to see the same man she had seen earlier who she had locked eyes with. He smiled broadly, “Never seen anything like that before.”

“I don’t know why the storyteller said it was hard to find. This path brought me right here.”

“Me too. Hi,” the man said, holding out his hand in handshake gesture, “I’m Rory.”

“Ruby,” she said shaking his hand. “So, you decided to come look for it too, huh?”

“Yes,” Rory said, “I got this really weird feeling like I needed to find it. Can’t say why, but I’m glad I did.” He smiled broadly at Ruby.

Ruby could’ve stayed forever in the company of that smile, but she remembered how long she had been away. “I need to get back to my friend. She will be wondering what happened to me.”

“May I join you on your walk back?” Rory responded quickly to her.

“I’d love the company. Please join me.”

They started down the path. They hadn’t gotten 10 feet when they heard a whooshing sound. Like wind, but more distinct. They both turned back toward the sound.

In the place where the opening had been was a solid tree trunk. No hint of scar or blemish. They turned back toward one another, eyes wide, mouths open.

“Did you see that?” Rory said.

“Am I seeing things?” Ruby responded to his question with her own.

They both looked back at the large tree. It stood, tall and magnificent, no sign of the heart-shaped opening.

“I think I want to get away from here,” Ruby said, grabbing for Rory’s hands, “That is just too weird.”

“I’m sure there is a plausible explanation,” Rory said, taking her hand with both of his.

“Yes . . . a plausible . . . explanation. I’m sure.”

“Maybe we should just keep this to ourselves,” he said.

“Yes, definitely,” she said as they hurried down the path and out of the forest. The forest with a surreal tree in its midst. Maybe, if the legend was really true, she thought, they might tell their grandchildren one day.

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

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The Strength of Puppy Love (Mini Romance)

Lindsay picked up her spoon and swung it violently seesaw fashion between her fingers. She pursed her lips, then dove the spoon headlong into her tea. What was she doing here? Sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of the morning. Waiting on a man she knew little about? In a town where she knew no one?

She looked toward the door when someone walked in. A young couple, laughing, touching one another. Well, that certainly wasn’t Robin.

Her mind trailed back to a long-lost memory. Decades before this moment. Two children, not much older than five years of age. A girl and a boy, hand-in-hand, running along a hillside. The bright, clean air of the meadow still faint in her nostrils.

A different memory. That same boy and girl under a tree, a makeshift swing attached to a strong branch. The boy was pushing her in the swing. Sailing through the air, the girl stretched an eager arm toward the sky.

Image courtesy of Bessi (Bess Hamiti) on Pixabay.

She, of course, was the girl. Robin the boy. Two clueless playmates, lost in the rapture that was childhood. Bonded to one another through the innocence and exploration of life’s first few years.

Her final memory. Robin had handed her a card. On it, a simple hand-drawn pink heart. “I think we should get married,” he had said to her.

“Yuck,” she said in response, “I never want to get married.” The card lost to the wind as they ran off toward the sun. Completely forgotten by herself until this very moment.

It floored her when he had called her out of the blue. Twenty years, almost to the day, of their final moments together. Sure, she had thought about him in passing. Why? She wasn’t sure. The strength of their short friendship laying a foundation for so many more in her life. But now, so many years later, she could barely recall his face. The smudged image became harder and harder to bring with any clarity into her mind.

This man could be a serial killer, for all she knew. The past is meant to stay in the past. She pushed the cup of tea toward the center of the table, determined to slip out the door, and back to the reality that was the present.

Just as she was about to rise and make her exit, the door opened. A handsome man of similar age, distinguished and dapper entered and eagerly looked around. His beautiful brown eyes forming a bridge in time before her own. Robin.

Her gaze caught his eye and a slow smile broadened his lips. “Lindsey,” he said as he rushed toward her, “I thought I might have missed you.”

“I was about to leave,” Lindsey said. Her mind’s thoughts rushed around in her head as she contemplated what to do next.

“I’m so glad you stayed,” he said, “May I?” He gestured toward a chair opposite her.

“Yes,” she said before she could stop herself. Within her swelled a feeling of comfort and security she had not known since childhood. Was it nostalgia? Or, something else?

“Thank you,” he said as he sat down.

“I’m curious,” she said hesitantly, “How did you happen to call on my mother?”ow Ho

He smiled. “I actually ran into her by accident. In the lobby of a hotel in New York. She was attending a conference and I was there on business. We got to talking and she told me you had just moved to Atlanta. She said that you didn’t know too many people, so . . . “

Lindsay chuckled. “So, she twisted your arm and got you to volunteer to show me around?”

Warmth surged through her body. A tingling feeling followed the warmth wherever it went. No, this thing she was experiencing was definitely not just nostalgia. The joy of their friendship as children found its way once again into her heart. Missing for so long, she welcomed its return.

“She didn’t have to twist too hard. I enjoy showing people around my city,” he said.

“Careful,” she said, “I might take you up on that offer.”

Lindsay sat on the blanket Robin had laid out in the meadow for their picnic. She watched him unload a cooler of food from the car. He had insisted on doing everything himself. It was, after all, the second anniversary of that day in the coffee shop. He had planned something special for their get-together.

In the intervening time, their friendship had not only returned, but blossomed and more. She could only dare hope what his intention for this day might be.

He made his way to the blanket and placed the cooler on the edge. Dropping to his knees, he reached forward and took her hands in his. “I have something I want to ask you,” he said.

Prickles scampered up her back. “Okay.”

“But first, I want to show you something.” He pulled out a rumpled piece of stiff paper and handed it to her.

Image courtesy of Kaboompics on Pixabay.

She looked down at the creased and worn card. On it was a faded pink, hand-drawn heart. “Do you remember when I gave this to you?”

“Yes, I do,” she pulled the 20-year-old child’s drawing to her heart and held it there with both hands.

“Do you remember what I said to you?”

“Yes,” she said, grimacing.

He smiled at her. “Please tell me you’ve changed your mind.”

Her heart began to pound loudly in her ears. “I was a child then. What did I know?”

“So, you’ve changed your mind about marriage?”

She swallowed hard. “Yes, for the right man.”

He shifted his position so he was on one knee and gently took her hand in his. “Let me be that man. Will you marry me?”

She flung her arms around him as the card flew out of her hands, “Yes, yes, I will.”

The hug moved eagerly into a passionate kiss, as the card floated gently in the breeze.

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

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Synchronistic Signs of Romantic Love (Mini Romance)

Molly grabbed her bag and suit jacket in a flurry as she headed out the door. She was late, and she hated being late. As a budding matchmaker, her business had grown in leaps and bounds. She had already acquired a lawyer to help her in that end of the business, Now, she was off to see an accountant who had been referred to her so she could get the needed help in that area.

As she rushed out the door, she pulled on her jacket while her bag swung wildly around her. Okay, she stopped long enough to take a breath and calm herself. You’re a professional, act like one. She took a deep breath and placed her key in the deadbolt. She lifted her hands, palms outward and set in place, in front of her hoping the gesture might help her maintain the temporary calm she’d just gathered.

Image courtesy of Peggy_Marco on Pixabay.

She smiled to herself and steadied her gait before moving toward the stairs. Since the pandemic happened, she’d realized how short life was. And that if she was ever to make her dream of becoming a matchmaker a reality, it had to be now. Being single herself, she had a lot of single friends of both genders. Social media filled in the gaps. And her business had taken off.

She stepped out into the sunlight and took in the fresh air into her lungs like a soothing balm. She would walk. By the time she caught the bus, she could get there faster walking. And the morning’s temperature was perfect. The sky, the birds singing, the crisp fall air. Everything was perfect.

Hopefully, that was a good sign. The meaning being that this guy was going to understand her business and help her manage the financial side so she could continue doing this thing she loved. Molly felt a rush of joy. This was a good sign. It could be nothing but. Signs were all around – all you had to do was look for them.

Image courtesy of oo110 on Pixabay.

She moved at a brisk and confident pace down the sidewalk. Before she could acknowledge the sudden urge to glimpse the sky, she looked up. There above her was a balloon, red and heart-shaped, floating upward toward the heavens. She watched it as it floated gently along, its tail rippling in the breeze. It seemed to stop its upward flight long enough to move eastward toward a bank of cotton-white clouds against the brilliant blue sky. The clouds split apart as the balloon made its way once again upward. The rift slowly shifted into its own heart shape, allowing the balloon smooth passage through its middle.

Awe filled her senses. Was this another sign? It seemed too coincidental to be anything else.

Molly reached for the door at the same time as a handsome young man dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase. He seemed surprised by her presence and quickly apologized. He had a vibrancy and allure to him that immediately captivated Molly.

“No worries,” she said, “Are you Callen Tapping?”

“Why yes,” he beamed back at her, “Molly Lovingham?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Come into my office. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. I’ve never met an honest-to-goodness matchmaker before.”

She moved through the door he opened for her. “And I’m hoping your skills will be a good match for my business.”

“Oh, before I forget it,” he said placing his brief case on his desk, and reaching into the pocket of his jacket. “This leaf fell right in front of me as I left home this morning. I think it’s a sign we will be a good match. Don’t you?”

Image courtesy of Castelguard (Rebekka D) on Pixabay.

She grasped the leaf with her thumb and forefinger. Taking it into her line of sight, she could see its vivid orange and yellow colors, and the leaf’s lifeblood, its veins starting at the stem and moving outward toward the edges. Directly in the center was a split, a hole, a rift that sent a chill down her back. The opening was a distinct heart shape.

Molly beamed. “It’s definitely a good sign. I get the feeling we are going to be the perfect match.”

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

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Schooled in Love

Mary rushed into the large classroom, trying hard not to cause too much attention. The 400-level statistics class was not one she could afford to miss. It was a good thing Katie, her 16-year-old daughter, was so reliable, because 10-year-old Ryan caused more than his share of trouble. Whatever gave her the idea that she could return to school at her age and circumstances? 

She slid into one of the back row seats in the spacious lecture hall and tried to catch her breath. Three rows ahead of her, a young man turned his head and smiled directly at her. Yes, I’m late, she mouthed under her breath. These youngsters she was going to school with had their heads in Greek obsession, football games, and where the next party was being held. They knew so little of real life. 

Image courtesy of AdinaVoicu on Pixabay.

Just then, she heard the distinctive sound of jingling in her bag. She fumbled for her phone, but it was inside her bag and not easy to get at quickly. The entire assembly of her fellow classmates turned to stare at her. The professor’s face grew so red she could feel its heat all the way back to the back row.

“Did I not make clear the no phone rule in this classroom?” he said staring directly at her.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she had reached her phone and silenced it. “It won’t happen again.”

“It won’t,” he grumbled, “because you will remove yourself and your interruptions from my classroom today. And if I ever hear it again, you will be removed from this class permanently. Do I make myself clear?”

She blinked away the morning’s frustration. “Yes, sir, you do.” She picked up her bag, with its accompanying computer, books, and now silenced phone. She slipped out of the room as quickly as she had come in.

Outside, she pulled the boisterous phone out of the bag. She looked to see who it was that called her. Ryan’s teacher. Of course. What now?

Mary made her way to an open table near a vending machine in the common area just outside the classroom. She listened to a somewhat garbled message about Ryan bullying a little girl, and sighed heavily. It had been hard on him. His father leaving and she going back to school. Katie seemed to take it all in stride and was a real support to her younger brother, but maybe it was not enough. Maybe, she should give up her dream and be there for him also.

She had just finished her awkward phone call with Ryan’s teacher, promising to make an appointment with the school psychologist, when she saw a young man earnestly approaching her table. She recognized him as the very student who had smiled at her as she entered the classroom. His progress was intentionally toward her table. Now what?

“Hi,” he said as he sat down across the table from her, “I’m Connor.”

“Mary,” she said hesitantly, “What can I do for you, Connor?”

He smiled warmly at her, “I was hoping you’d let me do something for you. I took very good notes in class. Do you remember seeing me there?”

“Yes,” she said, still somewhat cloudy on what he might want.

He was a very studious looking young man, with ash brown hair and twinkling green eyes. Unlike other t-shirt wearing students, he wore a torso-flattering button-down shirt tucked into well-constructed Levi’s, his sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows. But what was his most striking feature was his hands; soft and well-formed while maintaining a rugged, masculine look. Just the kind of man she hoped to see Katie with in a few years from now.

“I was wondering if I could interest you in coffee. I have a couple hours before my next class, and I thought we could go over these notes so you are ready for the test on Thursday.”

“Oh, crap,” she said without reservation, “There’s a test on Thursday?”

“Announced just before the end of class,” he said seriously.

“Well . . . Connor,” she said, “Thank you. I can give you my e-mail and you can just send me your notes. I’m sure you have better things to do then sit in a coffee shop with an old lady like me for a couple hours.”

“On the contrary,” he said, “I’ve been looking for an excuse to meet you. I’d really like it if you would agree to let me buy you coffee.”

Mary sat back in her chair, “Me?”

Her honest response seemed to baffle him. “Yes, you.”

She sat back, “What a compliment. But, I’m old enough to be your mother. In fact, I have children, the oldest no more than a few years younger than you. What are you . . . 22?”

“Twenty-one,” he said, taking on a more defiant tone, “An adult just like yourself.”

“But the age difference . . . ?”

Image courtesy of StockSnap on Pixabay.

He chuckled. “If there’s anything I’ve learned since going to college, it’s that you’re far happier when you don’t limit yourself to predetermined beliefs. So what if I’m younger than you?”

“Twenty-one,” she said. Her ex had run off with a 23-year-old woman from his office. But that scenario – a man in midlife crisis, chasing a much younger woman, was practically a cliché. She certainly never would have imagined herself getting involved with a younger man. Still, he was very nice, seemed mature for his age, and was interested enough in her to spend a couple hours talking about statistics in order to help her pass a crucial test. On top of that, he had a humble, but smoldering, sex appeal, that seemed to grow on her minute-by-minute the more he reached out to her.

“Take a chance,” he said, “Coffee and notes is all I ask. If nothing more comes of it, then neither of us has lost much, have we?”

A glow grew up within her. The kind of glow that happens when unexpected doors open. She had a feeling it would be more than “coffee and notes.” She’d been so unhappy for so long. Maybe this was her opportunity for new love.

She smiled broadly, a from-the-heart smile. Picking up her books, she said, “Let’s go.”

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

Posted in Fiction, Mini-Romance | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Love to the Rescue (Mini Romance), Part 2

Read Part 1

Lorinda sneaked a peek at Tom every few moments. She felt comfortable sitting in the passenger seat of his car. As if she had been there, in this very place, many times before. For years. It was so odd to feel that way. She hardly knew him.

“Do you have cats?” she spoke into the silence. The box of kittens was nestled on her lap, her sweater covering the top.

He smiled broadly. “Yes, I guess you could say that. And other animals too. I head up an organization that rescues abandoned and abused animals. We’re really small right now but we have a mission. These animals are our companions. We must keep them safe.”

“Ahh, so that’s how you know this vet we are taking these little guys and gals to?”

“Yes, he and I are old friends.” He paused and a seriousness took over his eyes. “He has donated his services to my organization. We couldn’t do what we do without him.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting him,” she said, pulling her sweater toward her so she could check in on their tiny charges.

Lorinda cautiously followed Tom into the small veterinarian facility. The outside of the building was old and worn. The building needed a paint job and a new door. But as she entered the office, she found nice furnishings, brightly decorated displays of animal food and supplies, and a cheery feel. It was in strict contrast to its austere outer shell. The waiting room was full.

“Hello, Becky,” Tom said to the woman at the front desk, “Is Ross around?”

Becky chuckled. “Wow, I don’t think we’ve seen you since yesterday.” She gave him a playful grin, “Of course, go on back.”

Lorinda smiled shyly at Becky as she followed Tom, gripping the box of now noisy kittens. They had been quiet in the car, but had awakened and apparently noticed that they were still hungry.

Ross was just handing a small chihuahua back to a woman with a worried look on her face, “Fifi will be okay,” he said assuredly, “Make sure you give her all the medicine, and call me if you have any concerns.”

The woman hugged her dog close to her, tears of relief welling in her eyes as she walked down the hall back to the waiting room.

“Tom, you old freeloader,” Ross said as he gave Tom’s shoulder a push, “What have you got for me?”

“Abandoned kittens,” Tom said, “Mom ventured out into a busy street, and now we have little waifs in need of care.”

Ross smiled at Lorinda. “Hi,” he said, “People call me Dr. Ross. Excuse my friend’s rudeness.”

Tom wrinkled his brow, “I’m sorry. Lorinda, this is Ross, one of my oldest and dearest friends. Ross, this is Lorinda, the angel who saved these babies’ lives.”

Image courtesy of 99mimimi on Pixabay.

Lorinda blushed, then caught herself. She reached out to shake Dr. Ross’ outstretched hand while juggling the box of kittens with the other hand.

“Whoa,” Dr. Ross said, “Let me have that, Lorinda. It’s nice to meet you.”

Dr. Ross took the box from Lorinda’s arms and placed it on the table. He removed her sweater and handed it back to her. “What have we got here?” He picked up two of the smallest kittens and peered into their little faces. They both stopped mewing and attempted to crawl onto his shoulder. “Whoa, little ones. Let’s check you out first.”

After he had examined all five of the kittens, he said to both Tom and Lorinda, “They’re a bit dehydrated and undernourished, but otherwise in surprisingly good health. It’s good you found them when you did.”

Tom let out a deep sigh, “That’s wonderful.”

“You’ll need to clean them up and give them round-the-clock feedings. Becky will give you what you need.”

After they returned to Tom’s car and settled the now sleeping kittens into the back seat, Tom said, “I guess I better get you home.”

“You’re not getting rid of me that fast,” Lorinda said, “You heard Dr. Ross. Those kittens need round-the-clock care.”

“It’s not my first all-nighter,” he said smiling at her, “but I’d love some company if you insist on being part of their recovery.”

“I do insist,” she said, “They are part of me now.”

Shortly before six o’clock the next morning, she woke from a fitful sleep. She had been laying on Tom’s shoulder against the wall, with the outline of his shoulder seam on her cheek and the sheltered animals of his organization stirring in their enclosures. She jerked herself awake. “You let me sleep past my last turn at feeding them.”

He was leaning back against the wall, arms in front of him, all five kittens embraced within his loving grasp. Two of the kittens were kneading his chest while the other three slept peacefully. “You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty. I thought I’d give you a chance to rest.”

“What about you? You must be exhausted,” she said.

“How can I be tired,” he said, “The world is a cruel place. But when you hold a tiny creature in your arms, magic happens. They only exhilarate me. And bring a calm that is rare to find anywhere in life.”

Lorinda beamed. “I didn’t know people like you existed. You’re right. It is a cruel world. But I see the joy and the good you bring to it with your organization here. Your animals. Taking care of them. Connecting them with people who need the special kind of love they give.”

She stopped momentarily, wondering if she had said far too much. During their evening of tireless nursing, she had become closer to him. During the night, they worked steadily and without distraction on fostering the little ones back to health. She felt closer to him than to anyone else, and they hadn’t known each other but less than 24 hours.

“Lorinda,” he said, “Come work for me.”

“What?” she said surprised.

“I can’t pay very much salary now. But we’re growing, and we need caring people like you. People who have a kind and nurturing nature. What do you say?”

The phone rang. She looked at his full arms, “I’ll get it,” she said jumping up. “I have an excellent phone manner.”

“Dr. Ross here. Lorinda, is that you?”

Image courtesy of Kadres on Pixabay.

“Yes,” she said, “We’ve taken good care of the kittens and they are thriving.”

“Good,” he said, “I’d still like to see them again sometime today. See if we need to change anything that we are doing.”

She looked over at Tom so she could relay to him what Dr. Ross was saying. He had fallen asleep against the wall, kittens still in place.

“I’m afraid Tom is asleep, but I will let him know later when he wakes up. In the meantime, I will take good care of the babies.”

“I know you will. You have a way with animals. I can tell. You’d be a great asset in the veterinarian field.”

“Tom just offered me a job,” she said, “I’m seriously considering it.”

“I’m not surprised. He’s a good judge of character,” he said, “And . . . I’ve never heard him call anyone ‘angel’ before. That’s saying something. I’ve known him a long time.”

“I think he can tell I love animals,” she said coyly.

“It’s not just that,” Dr. Ross said, “He never allows anyone to help him watch vulnerable animals. And never allows himself rest unless he is sure he can trust the person he’s leaving the watch with. I think you’ve just had your first date.”

“Dr. Ross . . .”

“Don’t tell him I said that.”

“Okay,” she said quietly. “We’ll see you later.”

She hung up the phone. Maybe her life was taking a positive turn in two ways. A new dream job and a possible love interest. How quickly things can change in just a short period of time.

She walked over to Tom and laid a hand on his shoulder. He was definitely out. She gently removed the kittens from his chest, “Come on little ones. It’s time for your next feeding.”

# # #

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

Posted in Fiction, Mini-Romance | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love to the Rescue (Mini Romance), Part 1

Lorinda sunk down in the bus stop bench. It had been a long day at work and all she wanted to do was go home. She was looking forward to a hot soup dinner and a good book, followed by a bath and bed. The late October day was cool and breezy.

The incident at the end of her call center shift made her cringe, even now. The caller was angry, swearing at and verbally abusing her. She had very much wanted to help the gentleman. She thought he had a valid point, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not get him to settle down long enough to have an intelligent conversation. She had had to call in a supervisor, who in turn called in another supervisor. She was expected to “listen in” to “learn how to handle” these types of customers.

The situation only got worse ending in threats of retaliation from the customer and litigation from her company. She learned little, and was so rattled from the hours-long fiasco that she seriously considered quitting on the spot.

The answer was so simple. Stop and listen. If people had, it could’ve easily been avoided. Was there no patience and kindness left in the world?

Now, she sat absorbing the din of white noise around her, comprised of rushing traffic, street sounds, and muffled crowd noise of a distant football game. Out of the barely perceptible conglomerate she sensed a tiny sound. An innocent sound. She couldn’t hear it well, but she could distinguish it from the noisy hum. It happened again. She leaned back, straining her ears with all the effort she could muster. There it was again. Small mew sounds.

She turned around and stepped up on the bench placing her hands on the top of the tall fence lining the sidewalk. Between that fence and the stone structure on either side of the park’s entrance was a thick growth of bushes. That shrubbery, with the beginning of fall, now lay nearly bare. Through the tangled brush she glimpsed a tiny ball of gold and white fur knotted together. The ball moved like a kaleidoscope presenting different image patterns. Every so often a tiny head would pop out displaying a kitten mouth wide open in begging despair. This is where the sound came from.

Image courtesy of INKIE on Pixabay.

She quickly ran around the entrance gate and peered over the bricks at the end of the structure. The kittens were dirty, huddled together against the chill. She reached down into the tangled branches in an attempt to grasp the kittens. Her arms were not long enough. She ran around the end and lay on the ground reaching as far into the small space between the bush trunks and the brick wall. No use. They remained out of reach. She sat up in frustration.

They were cold and probably hungry. Where was their mama?

She looked about her. Tiny lives were at risk. To help them, she would have to find a way to reach them. Think, Lorinda, think. Nothing. She sighed heavily.

“Are you on a rescue mission?” she heard a male voice say.

She turned toward the voice, and he came into view around the corner of the structure. He had a sympathetic but authoritative demeanor. Authentic concern seemed to saturate every part of him.

“Yes,” she said, “how did you know?”

“I saw you reaching over the fence when I drove by. Then, I saw what appeared to be a deceased mother cat in the road. I put two and two together, and figured you were attempting to rescue the orphans.” He dropped the box he was carrying to the ground. “I’d like to help.”

“I know where they are but I can’t reach them,” she said, trying to keep the panic from her voice. Her heart broke anew when she heard him refer to them as orphans.

“Let’s have a look.” He knelt beside her and peered through the opening behind the bushes.

“They’re a little too far for me to reach,” she said.

He sat back on his heels. “I have an idea, but I need your help. Okay?”

“Yes,” she said quickly, “Whatever you need from me.”

“Good,” he said, pulling out a snipping tool from his belt, “I’m going to make my way through these bushes to the kittens. Then, I will pass them up to you one-by-one. The box should keep them safe. Got it?”

She picked up the box from the ground. “Yes,” she said. She made her way to the middle of the stone structure and hoisted herself up to where she was slightly leaning over the edge, her feet dangling a few inches from the ground.

She watched as he snipped away at the branches that hindered his movement, all the while inching his way further and further into the line of bushes toward the screaming kittens. When he got close enough to reach over his head, he picked up the first kitten and slowly moved it through the tangle of prickly bushes, into her outstretched arms.

Image courtesy of Kadres on Pixabay.

She grasped the kitten firmly but gently and pulled it up to her. After all the kittens had been rescued, she counted them in the box. Five. Still making hungry noises. She took the box around the corner of the stone structure just as the man was pulling himself out from behind the bushes. He stood up and tried to brush the twigs, dirt and debris from all over himself.

“Hello,” he pushed an arm in handshake mode out for her, “I’m Tom.”

She shook his hand, “Lorinda,” she said. “Look at these precious little babies.”

He looked down at them with the tender gaze of a new father, “That they are.” He looked back at her, “But we need to get them to a vet and have them checked out. I know a good one. Do you mind helping me with them to my car?”

“No problem,” she said, “I’ve already missed my bus.”

“In that case,” he beamed, “You can come with me to the vet’s office, and I will get you home.”

Normally, she would not accept a ride from someone she barely knew, but this man was different. In the short time she knew him, she determined that he was a good man. Kind, compassionate, caring. And handsome, now that she thought about it. Also, she couldn’t abandon the kittens now.

“Sounds like a plan,” she said, stroking the kittens with tender motherly comfort.

Continue story

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

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Opening the Door to Love (Mini Romance)

“How’s your love life these days, dear?”

Katie stared over the top of her tea mug at her mother.  She was sipping her coffee, eyes cast down, her other hand playing with her spoon, spinning it gently on the table. Katie’s mother had asked her to meet her for coffee this morning which was the first indication to her that something was up. Her mother’s evasive behavior was not unexpected. Now, she’s asking about my love life?

“Okay,” Katie leaned back in her chair. Her mug hit the table with a little more force than she had intended. “What’s up?”

“Can’t a mother take an innocent interest in her daughter’s happiness? Her mother’s steely eyes appeared on the surface to be concerned.

Katie paused a moment. Her mother definitely had a scheme in mind. But what could it hurt? Whoever her mother had in mind had to be better than what she had gone through recently.

“Well,” Katie said, bracing against her better judgement, “The last guy I had a date with couldn’t stop talking about himself. I don’t think he even asked one thing about me. And, the one before that spent more time on his phone than he did anything else. How’s that for a happy love life?”

“Oh, Katie,” her mother purred, “I think it’s time for a change, don’t you? To some nice guy rather than those losers.”

“I thought those guys were nice guys, Mom,” Katie sighed. She couldn’t help notice her mother holding back a smile. “I suppose you have the perfect ‘nice’ guy in mind for me.”

“As it happens . . . “

Image courtesy of geralt (Gerald Altmann) on Pixabay.

“Noooo,” Katie tried to sound confident without pleading, “Please don’t set me up with some random guy you met at the doctor’s office, the market, or some other place like that.”

“Would I do that?” her mother shot back at her, “I talked to Margaret Clarkson last week. Do you remember her?

Katie froze in her chair. “Yeeeesss,” she said hesitantly.

“Then you remember her son, Zachary . . . “

“Her obnoxious son? Yes, of course, I do,” Katie said as she set her jaw to stubborn. “You can’t be serious.”

“Zach has moved back here, and he’s single. Margaret and I thought that maybe you . . . ”

“No, absolutely not,” Katie said. “He used to tease me mercilessly, pull my hair, and call me names. Is that really who you want me to go out with?”

Her mother gave her a pleading look, “You were kids. All kids do things like that.”

“Once a cad, always a cad,” Katie rebounded angrily, caught herself, and softened her voice, “I’m not interested.”

“Margaret says he could do with a friendly face to help him adjust to the new environment. He hasn’t lived here for twenty years. It’s like it’s all new to him,” Katie’s mother said, “You wouldn’t have to think of it as a date. And, you know, he could’ve changed a lot.”

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” Katie sighed. Her memories stirred childhood pain.  Probably because she liked him. She was a kid, but she was drawn to him, tried to be nice to him, and all he did was chide her to no end.er

Her mother smiled, “If you could open yourself to the possibility that he’s changed, you might open the door to opportunity.”

Katie opened the door to her apartment to find Amber, her roommate, still dressed in her running clothes, sitting at their kitchen counter. Gleaming from exertion, she picked up her water bottle and took a swig. Then, peering at Katie, she said “You look like you’ve had bad news. I take it the meeting with your mom didn’t go well.”

Amber always looked good, even now. She had nice guys falling at her feet. She never lacked for male companionship. Some women have all the luck.

“She and an old friend of hers are plotting to get me hooked up with the friend’s son,” Katie sighed.

“And this is bad news because . . . ?” Amber ran the bottle across her forehead, condensation from the bottle mixing with the sweat on her brow.

“Because,” Katie said as she shut the door, “Because he’s a jerk. I knew him when I was 8 or 9 years old. Our families spent a lot of time together, and he was always awful to me.”

“Like how?” Amber said.

“He used to like to scare me. Come up behind me when I wasn’t expecting it and grab my hair. I wore braids a lot. It would always scare me so bad that I would run away. Sometimes so bad, it would make me cry. Then, he would tease me for that.”

“Wow, really,” Amber said lifting an eyebrow, “You used to wear braids? Ms. Fashionista?”

Katie laughed. “Really? That’s what you got from that whole thing?”

“All I’m saying is that you’ve changed, right? At least your choice of hair style has. Maybe he has too. How old was he?”

“I think he was 11,” Katie’s tone turned solemn.

“Yes, a guy’s personality is pretty much set by that age,” Amber said with a hint of sarcasm. Pausing, she continued, “People change. Don’t throw away an opportunity to maybe meet the man of your dreams because he once was a jerky kid.”

“You’ve been talking to my mother, haven’t you?” Katie said.

“I’ve never met your mother,” Amber smiled, “but if she says ‘open the door to change, then you open the door to love’, I would have to side with her. I’m going to go take a shower now.”

Katie reached for a kitchen stool and sat down. Maybe Amber, who had her pick of any man she wanted, and her mom were right. Maybe she was being too hard on him. If she did change her attitude toward him, she might find he had changed his attitude toward her.

“Amber,” Katie caught her just before she entered the bathroom, “If it were you, would you do it?”

Amber grinned back at her, “In a heartbeat.”

Katie pulled out her phone and dialed her mother. “Okay,” she said when her mother answered, “I’m ready to open that door to opportunity.”

Time had come. She sat outside the restaurant feeling both anxiety and a sense of excitement. From the moment she spoke to him on the phone, she had sensed a feeling growing inside her. It was a flicker from the childhood attraction she’d felt long ago. It fluttered about her body, bubbling underneath the surface. And when it would flair beyond her inner nerves, it caused her mind to wander back to those days in her past. She would then have to quash it with all her mental power to keep it from expanding into real hope.

Better to get it over with. If she had this one evening with him, and he proved himself to be who she knew him to be, then it would be easier to push the attraction back where it belonged – into lost childhood memories. With new resolve, she opened the car door and headed for the restaurant entrance.

As she approached, a handsome, nicely dressed man opened the door from the inside allowing her entrance. “Katie,” he said, “I wasn’t sure you would show up. It’s me, Zach.”

Before her was an older version of her memory, exuding a quiet confidence and courteous demeanor. “Why wouldn’t I?” she said with a tentative smile.

He laughed nervously. “I was so awful to you when we were kids,” he said, “I used to make you cry.”

“That you did,” she said, “I remember.”

“Boys tend to be cruel to the girls they like,” he said shyly, “Thank God I’ve grown up. I hope you will give me an opportunity to show you just how nice I can be.”

Katie’s tentative smile grew more relaxed and genuine, releasing some of the repressed feeling she had banished not five minutes earlier. This just might be a good night after all. “I look forward to seeing you prove yourself a changed man.”

“I’m up for the challenge,” he said, closing the door behind them.

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

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Breaking the Language Barrier for Love (Mini Romance)

“I know it sounds crazy,” Marie said, enthusiasm spilling from her every pore. “You don’t understand how sure I am of this.”

Callie picked up Marie’s suitcase and tossed it into the open trunk of her car. “I know you. You’re just excited. You’ve just come back from France, having had a wonderful time, and now you’re filled with the romance of Paris, Fracais.” Marie winched as Callie spoke the final two words in a clearly atrocious faked French accent.

“You’re my best friend. I would think you would be supportive of this. It’s like the most important thing to ever happen in my life.”

Callie laughed, “I am supportive of you. Who else would come out to the airport at this time of night to pick you up? Strap in your seatbelt.”

Marie pulled the seatbelt over her and clicked it safely into place as Callie stepped on the gas.

“I am grateful to you for that. Truly, I am,” Marie said sincerely.

They sat in silence as Callie exited the arrivals area. “I just don’t see why you want to pick up and leave your home where all your friends and family are, to go live in a foreign country,” she finally said.

Marie plopped down on the couch next to Callie. “Whew,” she said, blowing out the air in her lungs at the end of the word.

They both watched the dust from her landing fly into the air and swirl in little curlicues around them.

Marie spoke first into the dust-filled silence. “Are you sure you don’t want this old couch,” she said, “It would look great in your apartment. Hint. Hint.”

Image courtesy of Rdlaw (RD Law) on Pixabay.

“You couldn’t pay me to take it,” answered Callie. “So, you’re almost ready to go, huh?”

It had been two weeks since she returned from her vacation. The remaining belongings she had were boxed up and ready to ship. All she had to do was finalize her destination details, firm up her travel and shipping plans, and find a new home for the couch. “Pretty close, I’d say,” said Marie, “I’m so excited.”

“I still can’t believe that you are leaving your home, family, friends, career, and entire life behind on some whim you got while on vacation. Why do you have to move so far away?”

Marie sighed. “You don’t understand,” she said as she clutched a fist to her heart, “I feel it in here.”

“What? Heartburn.”

Marie rolled her eyes at Callie’s attempt at a joke. “No, I’m serious. Haven’t you ever felt something so strongly that you knew it was your destiny?”

“Ah, no.”

“Well,” Marie continued, “It wasn’t just a feeling. I mean it was a strong feeling, but I also saw it in my mind’s eye. My future. A special man who would become my husband, whom I would love forever. We would go to wine tastings together, have cheese and bread picnics while discussing philosophy, and ultimately raise a French-speaking family.”

“Yeah, about that . . .” Callie said, “You don’t even know that much French. Do you? How are you going to be able to communicate well enough to live there?”

“Yes,” Marie said thoughtfully, “I spent three weeks there and I picked up a lot. I think once I immerse myself in a new life there, I will pick it up just fine.”

“What if there is an emergency? And you can’t tell someone because you don’t know the words, and they don’t speak English? You’ll be there all alone.”

Marie pursed her lips. “Okay, maybe I should learn a little more French before going?”

“Here,” Callie said, holding out a business card. “This place has a good reputation for teaching you enough of a foreign language to make you fluent enough to get started.”

“You really do have my back, don’t you?” Marie said, taking the card. Below the name were the words “Small Classes” and “Individual Instruction.” “Okay, I’ll look into it.”

“Destiny – humph. Maybe you get into one of those classes and you’ll see that your destiny is really here, not in France.”

Marie smiled and tapped the card against the thumb of her other hand, “Yeah, maybe,” she said sarcastically.

An overly zealous receptionist greeted Marie at the door when she arrived at the business address listed on the card. “Good morning, how may I be of assistance to you today?” she said in a distinctly southern American dialect.

Marie briefly wondered If she learned her accent here, or if it was real. She banished the thought, and its surrounding comical musings, as she reminded herself why she was here. “Yes, I have an appointment for a series of individual French lessons.”

“Why, yes,” the receptionist said. “Your instructor will be Mathéo, who just became free. I’ll show you to his room.”

Marie followed the woman down the corridor to one of the smaller rooms that lined the hall. She stood in the doorway. A handsome man with a sculpted five o’clock shadow and tightly-groomed mustache stood to greet her. Marie stood still, her mouth slightly open, trying not to stare at the man. A déjà vu type feeling swept over her keeping her entranced to his every move. It was him. The man in her mind’s eye vision. Right down to the very clothes he wore.

“C’est un plaisir de rencontrer une si belle femme,” Mathéo said as he motioned to her to come into the room.

She recognized enough of his greeting to know that he had paid her a compliment. She said, a bit slower than he spoke, “Vous êtes trop gentille” in her best French pronunciation, hoping she had gotten every word right.

“Ah, the beautiful lady knows some French,” he said smiling directly into her eyes. “We shall get along just fine.”

The receptionist said, “Then I’ll let you get to it,” and closed the door behind her.

“Oui,” Marie said, “I do.”  Maybe Callie was right. Maybe it was a good thing she didn’t get rid of her old couch after all. “How do we start?”

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

Posted in Fiction, Mini-Romance | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

30 Candles and Love (Mini Romance)

“I hate birthdays,” Ciara muttered to herself as she ripped down one more copy of Annette’s invitation on the wall. The sign said, “Ciara is 30 years old today. Come celebrate with us at The Pub in the Basement tonight at 6:00.”

“Hey, hey,” She could see from the corner of her eye her best friend, Annette, running up to her. “What are you doing? Leave those alone.” Ending her request just as she reached Ciara, she placed a hand over the top edge of the sign.

Ciara dropped her hands in frustration. “You promised me you wouldn’t make a big deal of this. Remember?”

“It’s your birthday,” Annette said, “An event to celebrate.”

Ciara sighed heavily. “I don’t want to celebrate.”

“C’mon, girl,” Annette moved her hand from the sign to Ciara’s upper arm. “How many times in your life do you turn 30?”

“That’s just it,” Ciara turned and started to walk away. “Thirty is no longer 20.”

Annette jumped in front of her, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m going to my cubby now.” She tried to walk around Annette. She was in no mood to discuss it now. Get to work, face down the day, and get it over with.

“No, not yet,” Annette swayed to her side to block Ciara’s path. “I have to warn you first.”

“What now?” Ciara growled.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” Annette said, concern building on her eyebrows. “You can tear down every sign you see around the office, but you are not touching the cubby until tomorrow. Got it?”

“What have you done to my cubby?” Ciara pushed her friend aside and rushed to her work area.

Ciara stood in front of her cubby, feet glued to the floor, mouth open, red rushing to her cheeks. A large streamer was draped over her area reading “Ciara is 30 TODAY.” Underneath it a sign that read “Come celebrate with her tonight at The Pub in the Basement: See Annette for directions.” Crinkled streamers of all colors fell like rain from the top, curling their way to a large bow on the bottom. Glitter lined a path around her desk.

Inside, a brightly colored Happy Birthday sign was taped to her computer monitor. Her inbox had been emptied and a mound of greeting card envelopes with her name on them overflowed within its walls.

Annette caught up to her as she stood staring at the decorated space. “I think I outdid myself. What do you think?”

“Lovely,” Ciara sighed, “You really shouldn’t have.”

Image courtesy of Jill Wellington on Pixabay.

“Okay,” Annette said, grabbing her by the arm. “What’s the matter? It can’t be the birthday thing because you’ve never had a problem with birthdays before.” Pushing Ciara gently down into her chair, she continued, “What’s really going on?”

Ciara paused to gather her thoughts, “The last three men I’ve been involved with have dumped me for 21- and 22-year-olds. Maybe, it’s not so much I hate birthdays, as I hate that as I age, I lose more and more ground in romance. I can’t turn the clock back, and all I ever run into are men who want younger women.”

“Those guys are not worthy of you. You need to stop trying to please them, and find Mr. Right for you.”

“Easier said than done,” Ciara said resigned.

“Look, you need to go to our celebration tonight. My friend, Jordan, owns this place and I’ve told him to go all out for you. It’s going to be great. And, you never know, you could find your Mr. Right tonight. They’ll be lots of eligible men there.” Annette was off in a hurry, yelling back at her, “I’ll bring Jordan around to meet you. He’s coming in to square up the details.”

“I’m not in the mood to meet anyone today,” Ciara said, mostly to the air around her.

As the afternoon wore on, Ciara buried herself in her work, ignoring as best she could the festive nature of her desk. She, on more than one occasion, got up to rip the decorations down. But Annette had gone to so much trouble, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

“Ciara, I’d like you to meet Jordan.”

Ciara whirled around in her chair. Annette and a striking gentleman were standing just behind her. She stood up, “Oh, hello, Jordan,” she said extending her hand in a professional greeting.

“This is the birthday girl.” Then, looking at her, Annette said, “This is the owner of The Pub in the Basement, where we will be having the party tonight.”

Jordan smiled warmly at her. “Ahh, you’re having a special birthday today. I’m honored that you will be celebrating in my establishment.”

“Yeah, well, time marches on,” she said with as much of a smile as she could gather.

“Come, Jordan.” Annette, who always seemed to be in a hurry, was off again. “We still have some things to discuss.”

“It was nice to meet you, Ciara,” Jordan said, “I’m looking forward to your party tonight.” He started to follow Annette who was out of sight by now, but turned back toward Ciara, “For what it’s worth, I think that women gain a certain elegance and sophistication when they turn 30 that they are incapable of in their younger years.”

Ciara watched Jordan walk away, her mouth falling open, unable to respond to his compliment. Maybe she would go to the party after all.

Annette led Ciara into the doorway to The Pub in the Basement. “We’re in a private room in the back,” she said.

There was a line of tealight candles running along the wall leading to their private room. Inside, along the back wall were a row of 30 candles. Starting on the left was a small tealight, followed by a single votive. As the line progressed, each candle grew increasingly more detailed and ornate. The final and 30th candle was exquisite, delicately detailed with tiny flowers and fine silver netting. Three wicks flared with a brilliance that illuminated the room. Standing beside it was Jordan, smiling intently into her eyes.

“What the . . .“ Annette said. “Poor decorating choice there Jordan.”

“No,” Ciara said gazing back at him warmly, “It’s perfect.”

Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson

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