Silly Stories

The stories here are written in response to writing prompts. You'll find a bit of silliness, and I hope you might even laugh a bit when you read them. These impromptu stories are always fun to write. Enjoy!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Wishing on a Star

Tonya shivered and pulled her jacket close around her. She must be out of her mind to be at the park on a cold, January night, bundled up against the frigid air. She rubbed her hands together, thankful for her thick, red mittens. At least, she wasn’t alone like she usually was on Friday night.

Sometimes she almost wished she were one of the popular girls at school, the girls who had dates every weekend, who went to all the school dances, the ones who were always chosen for the pep squad and cheerleading teams. But being popular really didn’t matter. At least, that’s what she told herself.

“Be proud of who you are, Tonya. Think of all you’ve accomplished.” That’s what her mother always said. True enough, what she lacked in beauty, she made up for with brains. Straight A’s in all her classes. The Honor Roll every semester. Unless something drastic happened before graduation that spring, she’d be standing at the podium, accepting the title of Valedictorian.

She didn’t belong at the football games and basketball games. She wasn’t meant to be sauntering around in a cheerleading skirt, swishing pom-poms in the air. Tonya knew her place. She belonged with the geeks and nerds.

Science Club. The Astronomy Club. Mathematics Club.

Now she sat before a long table with dozens of stars cut from white posterboard scattered across the top. A large sign proclaimed "Westbrook High Astronomy Club - Come Wish Upon a Star". The club had been saving up for a new telescope but were still far short of their goal, and Tonya had suggested an idea for a New Year’s fund-rasier. Anyone who wanted to donate a dollar to the club could take one of the cardboard stars, write a wish upon it, decorate it with glitter and stickers, and hang their special wish on a nearby tree.

If only our wishes would come true, Tonya thought as she peered through the dark night toward the tall tree. Hundreds of glittering stars hung from the bare limbs, shimmering in the moonlight as they danced and swayed in the frosty night.

“About ready to wrap it up?” Mr. Lansford, the science teacher stood at the table with his wife beside him. He smiled, picked up a star, and dangled it playfully from its string. “Looks like the club did all right tonight. You did a great job in organizing this, Tonya.”

"Thanks, and yeah, I guess I should start packing things away. We probably won’t have too many more people coming by.” She got up and slowly began gathering the stars from the table. The other club members who’d helped out had left a short time before, but Tonya had stayed late, reluctant for the night to end. She had nowhere to go but home and nothing to do once she got there other than feed the cats, curl up on the couch and read a good book -- and ignore her annoying little brother. Her parents would be in the den watching television. They'd exchange a few words and a few smiles, and she’d be on her own again. Alone, again.

I wish I could go somewhere, maybe do something exciting ...

She stopped and stared down at the star she held in her hand. Maybe she should make a wish.

Glancing around, she saw Mr. and Mrs. Lansford busy putting things away. Good. She still had a little time.

Tonya reached for her purse, fumbled around searching for coins, then sighed. She didn't even have a dollar to donate to the club! But she had given of her time, hadn't she? Spending the last several hours of her life sitting on that cold, metal folding chair should be worth at least a dollar. Besides, she could bring a dollar to school on Monday to add to the club treasury.

Determined now to make a wish, she grabbed a pen, then huffed out a breath. She couldn’t write a word with her hands encased in those thick mittens. She tugged the mittens off, then tried again. The pen refused to work.

Oh, this is just great. Maybe I'm not meant to ever have a wish come true.

She tried another pen, then another. Finally she found one that worked. Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she scribbled down the words.

I wish someone cared about me.

Her parents cared, of course. Even Arnie, her little brother, actually liked her, but being ten years old, he had to pretend otherwise. Family didn’t really count toward her wish, though. They were obligated to care about one another.

What Tonya really wanted was someone special who would care.

She closed her eyes, and for a moment, she dared to dream.

I wish there were a special guy who would care about me. Somebody cute and funny who could make me laugh, somebody who wouldn't think I'm weird because I like algebra and biology. And I wish he'd like to take long walks along the riverbank, and --

Hearing laughter, Tonya opened her eyes. Standing hand-in-hand beneath the tree were Megan and Brandon. They'd been steady dating for weeks. Tonya was happy for both of them. Several other couples from school had come by throughout the evening. Ashley and Luke. Liz and Tommy. Cherise and Jeff. Everybody had somebody special who cared.

Everybody except her.

This year it's going to be different. I'm going to find someone special.

Tonya didn't have time to decorate her star. Would the fates deny her wish because it wasn't covered in gold and silver glitter? She hoped not.

With a sigh, she hurried toward the tree.

"Hey, Megan. Hi, Brandon.” She forced a cheery smile to her lips.

“This was such a great idea,” Brandon said. “Megan and I are wishing for world peace.” He pointed toward one of the stars.

“And an end to hunger and homelessness,” added Megan. The happy young couple waved, then strolled off, hand in hand.

The smile faded from Tonya’s face. She felt a little selfish about her wish, but it was too late to make another. Lifting up on tiptoes, she reached toward a low-hanging branch of the tree. She caught hold of it, then lost her grip as a cold wind rose up around her. She dropped the star, and it went floating off through the night.

"Hey, wait!" she cried out, running after it. The star sailed onward. Tonya continued her frantic chase. "Oh, dear!"

She watched as the cardboard star soared on -- directly toward a tall young man coming down the hill. At first she couldn't tell who it was, but as he drew closer, she recognized Amos Owens. Tonya cringed when the star blew right into his hands.

"That's my star," she called out, rushing to claim it. Her cheeks heated. If Amos read her wish, she'd absolutely die of embarrassment right then and there. "I need to hang it on the tree." She snatched it from his hands as quickly as she could.

"Yeah, I was thinking about making a wish, too." Amos smiled at her. "Looks like I got here a little too late, though. I didn't get off work until nine," he explained. Amos worked part-time at the bookstore in town.

"There's still a few minutes," Tonya told him. "We haven't finished packing everything up." She looked back to the table, saw the Lansfords walking toward it, then impulsively grabbed Amos by the hand. "Come on. You’ll have to hurry."

Moments later, Amos stood at the table, hastily scribbing down a wish while Tonya put things away. No sooner had he finished than Mr. Lansford folded up the table. He and his wife loaded everything into the back of their van.

"It was a great fund-raiser," Mrs. Lansford assured Tonya. "We might have to make this an annual tradition." She held up the cashbox. "The club made a lot of money."

Tonya nodded. "Yeah. I hope at least a few of those wishes come true.” She gestured toward the tree. "We'd be in sad shape if we had to offer money-back guarantees."

Mrs. Lansford gave her a quizzical look. "Why so pessimistic, Tonya? Wishes do come true. You just have to believe, you know."

"Yeah, right." Tonya smiled. She wished it were true.

"Do you need a ride, Tonya?" Mr. Lansford asked. "We'll be glad to take you home."

"Thanks, but I'll be fine," Tonya replied. "I don't live far from here."

"All right. See you on Monday." Mr. Lansford waved, helped his wife into the car, and they drove off.

Tonya picked up her purse, then realized Amos was still standing beside her.

"Did you need something else?" she asked.

"Well, I was going to hang my wish. What about you? Your wish?"

She stared down at the ragged star she still clutched in her hand. "It's a little worse for wear, but I suppose --" Tonya shrugged.

Together they walked to the tree. Amos grabbed hold of the branch and held it while Tonya hung her wish.

"World peace," she whispered. "That's what I'm wishing for." She hoped and prayed Amos couldn't read what was actually written upon her star. "What about you?"

"World peace." Amos tied his star beside Tonya's. "And a passing grade in American History."

"Mrs. Townsend's class? That's a tough one," she added when Amos nodded. "Would you want me to help you study for the exam?" She blushed. "I mean, well, I just thought --"

"I'd like that." Amos smiled at her. "Hey, do you have to get home right away? Maybe we could head over to the diner and grab a bite to eat. I'd enjoy the company." His face reddened. "I mean, well, I just thought maybe --"

"I'd love to." Tonya beamed with excitement, then her hopes fell. "I'm sorry, Amos. I can't. I just remembered I don't have any money with me."

"That's fine. This is my treat." He stared down at the ground and shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. "You know, I've always liked you, Tonya. You're so smart, and you're always so good at organizing things, like this event tonight. But you're always so busy, and I'm busy a lot, too." He actually began to stammer. "I- I've wanted to get to know you better, but -- but, I didn't know how to make you notice me."

Tonya blinked in surprise. How could any girl not notice Amos Owens? He was tall, cute, and always doing something off-the-wall. Like the time he painted his old car with polka dots, or the time he tried to build a home-made rocket. It fizzled.

"Well, how about it, Tonya?"

His voice drew her from her thoughts. "Sure, Amos! I'd really enjoy having a bite to eat with you. And getting to know you better." She smiled, and when he reached for her arm, she smiled even more.

They strolled along the riverbank on the way to the diner. The stars above reflected across the icy surface of the frozen water.

"Just look at all those stars," Amos said, stopping and pointing heavenward. "Maybe each one is somebody's wish."

"Maybe wishes can come true." Tonya held her breath. "Maybe we just have to believe." She took another step, but Amos held her back.

"I know wishes come true." He gazed at her with gentle blue eyes. "I have a confession to make. I didn't really wish for world peace. I wished I'd find someone who understood me, or at least, somebody willing to try." He shrugged. "People think I'm different, and I guess I am."

"You march to your own drummer," Tonya told him. "That's what people say about you."

"It gets lonely."

"I feel lonely sometimes, too," she admitted. "I guess people don't really understand me, either."

"Maybe we can learn to understand each other," Amos suggested, pulling her close. He bent his head close to hers and lightly kissed her lips. "Maybe we can make all our wishes come true."

"Maybe so." Tonya smiled, her lips still tingling from his sweet kiss. "Right now, I'm wishing for a cheeseburger and fries. Think we can make that happen?"

"With a chocolate malted to go along with it?" Amos grinned. "Sure thing." Holding hands, he and Tonya strolled on through the night.

~~~ The End ~~~

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Charlie's Grill was always crowded at lunchtime. Brad and I had already finished our meal and I expected a manager to come over any moment and politely suggest we leave.

"There are people waiting for a table, so let's just get this over with as quick as we can, all right?" Throughout our lunch, we'd both remained silent, avoiding what was on our minds.

"Well, I guess we'll do it this weekend. Does that work for you?"

While he'd been talking, I'd grabbed my PDA, wondering how I'd ever managed without the latest technology. I'd always had a good head for figures and a good memory, too, but having a digital device I could hold in my hand sure had made my life easier. I had everything stored. Names. Phone numbers. Appointments.

I quickly scanned my upcoming events and shook my head.

"This weekend is out. Friday night is when Marty's exhibit opens at the gallery. You know I hate those things. I was counting on you to go along with me. You're much better at making small talk than I am."

He nodded. "The exhibit. I'd forgotten about that."

Of course he'd forgotten. Brad might be a genius when it came to programming computers, but remembering the details of every-day life? Not a chance.

"I seriously don't understand you," I told him. "You work with computers and technology every day. Why don't you get yourself a smartphone or a PDA? That way you could keep track --"

"Why spend the money when I've got you to help me stay organized?"

I stuffed my digital assistant into my bag and gave Brad a disparaging look. "That's the problem! Don't you understand, Brad, this is the reason we're breaking up. I'm tired of you depending on me for everything. You're always expecting me to remember your meetings, and your mother's birthday, and what your nieces and nephews want for Christmas. You count on me to remind you when you have dental appointments." I paused, then sighed. "Your check-up with Dr. Johnson is Tuesday afternoon, by the way."

He ran a hand through his hair then gave me a wry grin. "Look, Kathy, I know you want me out of your life, and obviously we can't break up this weekend because of the exhibit, but if I've got to go to the dentist on Tuesday ..." His expression turned to pleading. "You know how much I hate getting check-ups, and I think I've got a cavity." He pointed to the back of his jaw. "I'll probably have to have a filling, and that means I'll have to get a shot, and couldn't you maybe come over after work and feed me some chicken soup?"

"Chicken soup is for colds, Brad. Not dental work." I couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt, though. When I'd twisted an ankle a few weeks before, Brad had virtually camped out at my apartment, doing everything he could to keep me comfortable. I owed him. "Oh, all right. Your appointment is at 4:30. I'll probably be at your place before you get back. I'll have your soup ready for you."

"Thanks, Kathy.

From the corner of my eye, I noticed a waiter heading toward our table. "Come on, Brad. Let's get out of here."

When I returned to the office, I wasn't surprised to find several of my colleagues gathered around my desk.

"Did you do it?" Connie asked. We'd worked together for years, and she'd become my closest friend and confidant. "Did you finally break it off with him?"

"I tried." My sigh made it clear that I had failed. "We're going out this weekend. A prior commitment," I quickly explained. "And then next week ... well, I owe Brad a favor."

"I've got an idea," offered Janeen, another friend. "Why don't you and Brad break-up for your birthday? That's coming up week after next. It could be like a present."

Everyone gathered around groaned.

"Well, it's what you want!" Janeen threw her hands up in the air and marched out.

"She's right," I said in her defense. "It is what I want." But then again, the thought of being alone on my birthday made me wince. I liked having Brad there to tease me about getting old, to reassure me that even if I did find an occasional strand of silver gray in my brown hair, he loved me all the same.

I loved him, too. But sometimes loving each other wasn't enough, I reminded myself as I shooed everyone away from my desk and got back to work. Sometimes two people just didn't belong together.

Clearly that described Brad and me. I was efficient, organized, overly-attentive to detail. Brad, on the other hand, could lose an elephant, given a chance. The desk in his study overflowed with papers and notebooks, most of the contents of his refrigerator were neither edible nor identifiable, and if I didn't call him every morning to wake him up, he'd be late for work more often than not since he never remembered to set his alarm clock.

Brad McCullough was a walking disaster. Where would he be without me?

On Friday night, I took him aside as we left the art exhibit. I'd actually had more fun than I'd expected. Brad's offbeat sense of humor had kept everyone laughing as we viewed our friend's artwork. Even Marty, the artist, chuckled more than once. Feeling as bubbly as the champagne I'd been drinking, I turned to Brad, confident we could settle matters between us, set a date for breaking up, and end our three-year relationship on a friendly note.

"We've got to just do it, Brad, and get it over with. I'll still be there on Tuesday to fix your chicken soup, but that's going to be the end of it. There's never going to be a perfect time for breaking up, so we can't keep worrying about it. We've just got to say good-bye and go our separate ways."

To my surprise, he nodded. Then, even more to my surprise, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a PDA.

"Yeah, I figured this was coming. I finally broke down. Got one of these things."

I stared at it in shock, feeling almost as though I'd been replaced. Well, good. Brad wouldn't need me to remember things for him now.

"You know how to use it?" I asked, my voice a little shaky.

He laughed. "Honey, I work with computers, remember? I do know a little about electronics."

"Right. Well, if you need any help --" I shrugged, suddenly feeling useless. Brad no longer needed me. The thought jolted me.

He pushed a few buttons and held the display up for me to view. "See, I've got everyone's birthday programmed in. You're going to be another year older in a couple of weeks." He looked at me, then shrugged. "Well, I guess that's one present I don't have to buy anymore." As I watched, he deleted my birthday.

"Hey, wait! You're not supposed to forget about me, Brad."

"Oh, I won't. I've got your number." He patted his own PDA and smiled.

"You'll call me now and then, won't you?"

He hesitated. "Not if we're breaking up, Kathy. I mean, what would be the point? You don't want me bothering you."

"Well, I wouldn't mind talking to you once in a while."

He walked me to my apartment, kissed my cheek, and smiled. "See you on Tuesday, right?"

I nodded. "Tuesday, right."


When Brad walked through the door on Tuesday afternoon, I rushed to him.

"Listen, I've been thinking ..."

"About what?" He grinned. "Oh, good news. No cavity. I hope you didn't fix soup. I'd rather have a juicy steak. Want to go down to Charlie's Grill?"

"Sure." I threw my sweater over my shoulder. "Anyway," I rushed on, "I was looking at the calendar, and you know, I really don't want to be alone on my birthday. Could we not break up until after that?"

"Well, after that comes Thanksgiving, and Christmas after that. Breaking up then would really suck."

"New Year's would be a rotten time, too," I acknowledged.

"February," Brad said with finality. "We'll do it then."

"But ... Valentine's Day?" I sighed and reached for Brad's hands. "This whole idea of breaking up is turning out to be a lot harder than I'd expected. I mean, there just isn't a convenient time for it."

He pulled me into his arms. "Why don't we both admit the truth, Kathy? I don't want to break up, and I don't think you do, either. Not really." He looked down at me with a tender gaze. "Do you? Look, I know I probably made you crazy, the way I depended on you for everything. I thought you liked it. But now, well, I've got my own PDA, and maybe if you'll help me a bit, I can be as organized as you always are."

"I'm not sure I'd like that," I admitted. "I guess I really do like keeping track of things for you -- to a point. I think maybe we can work out a few compromises."

He grew serious, reached into his pocket and pulled out his digital assistant. "Should we schedule a time for that?"

"Forget the schedules," I said with a grin. "I'm hungry. Let's go to Charlie's and get that steak you wanted. We can celebrate not breaking up."

"Actually, there's something else I'd rather celebrate."

"Oh?" I eyed him curiously. "What's that?"

Once more he pulled out his PDA. "Get yours, too," he suggested. "Now, when can we schedule a wedding date, Kathy?"

"Are you serious?"

"Yep. We had so much trouble trying to break-up, it made me realize we're meant to be together forever. We might as well make it official, don't you think?"

I smiled back. Quickly we searched through our calendars and settled on a date. I was still smiling as I closed my PDA. "I do love you, Brad. Will you forgive me for being silly enough to think I wanted to break up with you?"

"I'm glad you tried," he said with a laugh. "I'm even more glad, though, that it didn't work."

"So am I." Hand in hand, we strolled to Charlie's Grill.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Playing the Game

Playing the Game

Lily’s fingers toyed with the knight. She glanced toward the timer, and a wicked smile spread across her lips. A lot of people thought chess a dreary pastime. Not true. If you understood the strategy behind the game, a well-played match could keep you on the edge of your seat.

“Checkmate.” With a flourish, she moved the knight in for the final blow. “Sorry, Gramps. I had to do it.” She gave the old man a smile. Her grandfather had taught her to play when she’d been “no bigger than a minute,” as he used to say. She loved him dearly, but lately his game had been a bit off.

He sighed and shook his head. “Now, see there, Lily, that’s your problem.”

“What are you talking about?” Folding her arms, she stared across the table at him. “I don’t have any problems, Gramps.”

“No? It’s Friday night, and you’re here playing chess with me. I’d say that’s a mighty big problem for a pretty young woman.”

“I just haven’t found --“

“The right fellow,” he finished for her. “I know. You’ve told me that more than a few times. But you know why you can’t find him?”

Lily sighed. Her grandfather was about to tell her, whether she liked it or not.

“You can’t find the right fellow, honey,” he went on, “because you’re too intent on winning.” He rose and his weary, old bones creaked. “Back in my day, girls knew how to play the game. They knew that sometimes you win more by losing now and then.”

“Your day is long gone, Gramps.” She came around the table and pecked his cheek. “Women don’t do that sort of thing anymore. Besides, love isn’t a game. “

Lily gathered up the chess pieces and placed them into their box one by one, gave her grandfather another kiss, then headed home to her dark, lonely apartment.

Someday I’ll find the right fellow, she thought as she unlocked the door and stepped inside. It wasn’t her fault he hadn’t yet come along. Fate simply hadn’t seen fit to bring true love into her life...only a long string of losers.

She fixed a cup of hot cocoa, curled up on the couch, and threw an afghan over her lap. Another gray winter’s night lay ahead of her. Earlier, she’d planned on coming home and catching the romantic movie playing on Channel 7, but she didn’t feel quite in the mood for love. Maybe she should call a friend, have a long chat, maybe even invite Samantha or Jillian over. Yes, the three of them could have a great time, giggling, gossiping, and acting like schoolgirls again.

Except that Jillian and her fiance were busy making wedding plans.

And Samantha was still seeing that adorable man she’d met last spring.

Her friends had lives of their own and loves of their own.

And what did she have? She tugged the afghan closer and let out a slow breath. She had a problem, all right, just as Gramps had told her.


On Monday morning, she caught up to Jillian as they walked toward the bus stop.

“Listen, I have to ask you something, and I want the truth.” The words shot out in rhythm to the fast pace of her steps. “Do you think I’m too intense? With men, I mean. Am I too over-bearing? I always thought confidence was a good thing, but --“

“Whoa, slow down.” Jillian came to a halt. “What brought all this on?” She narrowed her eyes. “Are you seeing somebody I don’t know about? I know I’ve been busy with wedding plans and all, but have I missed out on something?”

Lily shook her head. “No, nothing’s going on in my life. That’s what this is all about.” She quickly filled in the details of her most recent Friday night. “I know what Gramps is saying, but I can’t see it.” They began walking again, and Lily’s frustrations tumbled out in a heap. “ I can’t imagine throwing a game, letting a man win just for the sake of pleasing his ego. Seriously.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, really, do men still expect that sort of thing?”

Again, Jillian stopped. For a moment, she remained silent, all the while giving Lily a look that mixed sympathy, amusement, and years of friendship into one heartfelt expression.

“Yes,” she finally whispered. “Men are delicate creatures, their egos have to be stroked, and your grandfather is right, Lily.” She chewed at her lower lip, obviously uncertain whether she should proceed.

“Go on. Say it.” Lily folded her arms and waited.

“You are too intent on winning all the time, always wanting to be the best at everything. It’s not just chess. It’s your whole life.”

“But --“ She blinked, trying to take it in. Wasn’t a person supposed to do their best, use their talents, try to succeed in all they did?

“Take Josh, for instance.” Jillian wagged a finger at her.

“Josh was a loser.”

“Josh was a great guy, and the two of you had a lot in common, but you kept correcting everything he said. OK, so he doesn’t know the difference between less and fewer, and maybe he said further when he should have said farther, but who cares, Lily?”

“Well, I think proper grammar --“

“Is for spinster schoolteachers like Miss Everly. Remember her?” She raked Lily with a piercing gaze. “Is that who you want to be someday?” Not waiting for an answer, she fired off another question. “And what happened between you and Scott? Care to talk about that?”

For a time, she’d truly thought Scott might be the right man, but he’d ended the relationship after only a few months.

“He was too insecure.” Lily shrugged.

“No, he got annoyed at how you kept pushing him.”

“I was only trying to help.”

“By telling him he was stuck in a dead-end job? By nagging at him about going back to school? And all the while pointing out how successful you’ve been?” Jillian planted her hands on her hips. “Yeah, Lily, you’ve done well in your life. You’ve worked hard. You’re a real winner. We all know that. Just once, maybe you should let someone else feel like a winner.”


The following Friday evening, Lily smiled at her grandfather. “I’m so glad you’re here, Gramps. I’ll make you proud, I promise. She led him to a chair near the front row. "I have to go now,” she whispered. “The first match starts in a few minutes.”

She hurried to take her place among the other competitors. Reaching the finals of the regional tournament had been a long-cherished dream. Only a few games to go and she could be the one accepting that tall, gleaming, silver-plated trophy.

Glancing toward her grandfather, she saw him mouth the words: Good luck.

No, luck had nothing to do it with. Chess was not a game of chance, but a game of skill and strategy.


One by one, she claimed each victory, moving onward and upward in the standings until, at last, the long-awaited moment arrived.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may we have quiet, please? The final match is about to begin. Lily Jensen versus Thomas Harriman. Winner will be determined by best --“

The voice droned on with the usual official statements. Lily wasn’t listening. Instead she was studying the competition. Observation was a key component of good strategy. Know your opponent. Figure out his weaknesses. Look for his imperfections.

Lily gulped in a breath of air. She couldn’t see any imperfection in Thomas Harriman.

Thick brown hair fell playfully over a well-formed brow. His strong, square jaw gave him a determined look that shone from hazel eyes flecked with grays and greens and blues. Dazzling eyes. Lily felt lost.

She quickly refocused her attention, moving her gaze from his eyes to his sensuous mouth. Instinctively, she licked her lips.

Get your mind back where it belongs, girl, or the game will be over before it begins.

Sucking in a deep breath, Lily made her first move.

But what game was she playing? As her heart pounded harder each time she peered across at Thomas Harriman, she knew beyond a doubt that something miraculous was happening. Love at first sight. She’d heard about it before. About how, when it was right, something in your heart just knew.

At long last, it had finally happened for her. She’d found the right man.

Unfortunately he was seated across the table from her in the final game of the final match of the most important chess tournament she’d ever played.

Lily’s lips went dry and she licked them again. Her hands shook each time she reached out to jump her knight across the board, to march her rook forward, or to glide her bishop on toward victory.

Thomas frowned as he studied the board. When he looked at Lily, those multi-hued eyes seemed to plead for mercy. His mouth opened slightly and an audible breath slipped out.

Men are decliate creatures. Their egos need to be stroked. Maybe, just once...

Lily sighed. Yes, she could do it. She’d won more than enough chess matches to last a lifetime, and a silver-plated trophy which would quickly tarnish was worth little when compared to the shining prospect of ever-lasting of love.

And Gramps? She flicked a gaze toward him and smiled. He’d be so pleased to know she’d finally learned how to play the game. Her smile broadened and she reached for her queen. With one wrong move, it would all be over. She would sacrifice her queen and let Thomas Harriman claim victory. Afterward, he would claim her heart. His sultry gaze affirmed it.

She touched the chess piece and took a deep breath then exhaled with a rush as she moved the queen swiftly into place.

“Sorry, Gramps,” she whispered, tearing her gaze away from Thomas Harriman. For all the love in the world, she could not throw the match. Lily looked up. “Checkmate.” Her voice rang out loud and clear.

Applause burst forth, a throng gathered around her, and although Lily tried to smile as she accepted the trophy, her heart felt heavy and sad. She looked around. Thomas Harriman was nowhere to be seen.


“Miss Jensen?”

She whirled around, caught offguard by the deep, masculine voice. “Mr. Harriman?” Her heart pounded anew. “I thought you were gone.”

“I stepped aside. Didn’t want to steal your spotlight.” He extended a hand. “Congratulations. You’re an exceptional player.”

“Yes, well --“ She looked away, suddenly unsure what to say. “I suppose I should go.”

“Wait, please.” Thomas hurried after her.


He stood before her, tall and strong, yet vulnerable, too. Maybe his ego needed stroking, Lily thought. Her fingers ached to reach out and stroke all of him. Feeling suddenly flushed, she lowered her gaze.

“I’m not usually so brash and bold,” Thomas said, his words circling around her like a warm afghan on a cool winter’s night, “but I don’t want to miss this chance. I do that a lot, you see. I let opportunities go by because I don’t speak up, but this time, at the risk of making a complete fool of myself, I’m going to do it.”

She knew she had a silly, lovestruck look on her face, but Lily couldn’t do anything more than stand, mouth agape, and stare.

“Are you seeing anyone?” he asked. “Or do I have a chance? Would you be willing to go out with me? Could we get to know each other?” He grinned. “Sorry. I know I sound like an idiot.”

Wild thoughts jumbled up inside her head. “Wait, are you serious? It doesn’t bother you that I just defeated you for the title?”

“You played well. You deserved to win.” He laughed again. “If my ego can’t handle losing a few games of chess, I wouldn’t be much of a man, would I?”

Lily didn’t know quite how to respond. One thing was certain. Thomas Harriman was all the man she could ever want.

“You know,” he went on, “I like a challenge, and I have a feeling you’re the same way. I can tell you’re not the sort of woman who thinks she has to play games with a man.”

“Unless that game happens to be chess,” she bantered back. “In which case, I’d love to play a few games with you.” She blushed, thinking of a few other games she’d enjoy playing, too.


She laughed. “How about tonight?”

“I was hoping you might say that.” Thomas smiled.

Lily felt lost in those dazzling eyes all over again. She snapped back to reality when she heard her grandfather calling her name.

The white-haired old man came toward her, waving and smiling. “I’m so proud of you, Lily,” he said when he reached her. “Now, when we get back to my place, I suppose you’re going to beat the daylights out of me, like you always do.”

“Actually, Gramps, I’m not. I’ve got something else I’m going to do tonight.” Lily handed him the trophy. “This is for you.” As always when they parted, she pecked his cheek. “Thanks for everything.” She turned back to Thomas. “He taught me all I know about the game of chess.”

But not about the game of love, Lily thought, as Thomas took her hand in his.

Maybe she was too intense at times, and maybe some men had faltering egos. No doubt, she still had a lot to learn about life and love, but maybe she and Thomas could figure the rest of it out together.

Lily smiled. Without a doubt, she’d made the right move.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Riding for a Fall

Riding for a Fall

Leaning against the door of Diablo's stall, I folded my arms and muttered as I watched Tom Braden make a fool of himself over Jan Reeder. They stood outside the stable, blissfully unaware of my presence. I heard Tom's laughter and saw the glint in his brown eyes. But Jan was all wrong for him. She didn't even like horses, did she?

It hurt to see my best friend -- and business partner -- setting himself up for heartbreak. "He's riding for a fall, Diablo," I said, patting the stallion's neck.

Tom and I had first met as kids. I'd been a scrawny, pig-tailed girl with fancy boots and a kid-sized 10-gallon hat. Riding my stick horse, I galloped across the road that morning. A new family had moved in, and I still remember the excitement I felt when I saw that cute little boy . . . riding a stick horse, dressed in western duds, with a tin star pinned to his vest, and a holster at his hip. Obviously we had much in common.

Country kids. That's what we were, even though we lived in town. We watched old Westerns on Saturday mornings, then acted out the plots, riding our stick horses as we chased outlaws, shooting cap pistols from behind trees, and rounding up imaginary mavericks as we rode the dusty trails.

During our teen years, Tom and I spent time at the stables nearby. He'd saved every cent he'd ever gotten and bought himself a bay gelding. I got my first horse -- a pinto pony -- about a year later. We rode together every afternoon, racing through the fields, playing horseback tag, and performing daredevil rodeo stunts.

Tom turned sixteen a few months ahead of me. You had to be sixteen to work at the stables. I envied Tom and could hardly wait for my own birthday to arrive. Having a horse wasn't cheap. We worked hard to pay for feed, tack, and board. Most of what we earned went for the stable fees Mr. Patterson charged, and he paid us whatever was left over. It wasn't much, but we didn't care.

"Someday I want to own a stable like this," Tom told me once. We were probably close to eighteen at the time.

"Yeah, me too," I replied, pushing my hat back and staring off toward the setting sun. It sounded like an impossible dream, but we swore to make it happen. Someday, Tom would have his stable, and I would work for him. That was our plan.

What happened was even better. A few years later Russ Patterson decided to retire. Russ knew about our dreams, and he knew we would give it our all. He let us buy the place from him. We changed the name to Sundown Stables, and even though it meant working from dawn to dusk, we never once regretted the decision to go for our dreams.

Now, about Tom and Jan . . . if I didn't speak up I'd regret that for the rest of my life. Tom and Jan didn't belong together.

"I won't stand by while you get hurt," I explained as we cleaned up that evening. "She's not your type. Can you imagine her here, mucking out a stall?"

Tom grinned. He leaned against his pitchfork, and mischief danced in his dark eyes. "If I didn't know better, Victoria Hardwick, I'd swear you were jealous."

"That's ridiculous. She's got nothing I want." I turned back to my work, struggling to keep my temper in check. Maybe Jan did have something I wanted, or someone I wanted, that is. For the first time, I realized I cared about Tom as more than a good friend and business partner.
But, after all the years Tom and I had spent together, if we were meant to fall in love it would have happened long ago, wouldn't it?

You've always been too busy to think about love.

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I brushed them away before they could fall. I was a cowgirl. Cowgirls don't cry.


Tom and I stood outside the stable, locking up for the night. "Is Jan picking you up?" I asked. I glanced around but didn't see her little sportster.

"She won't be coming around any more," Tom said. "We finished up our business earlier."

"Business? What are you talking about?" Tom wasn't making any sense.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small gift-wrapped package. "You've got a birthday coming up. I asked Jan to help me choose this for you."

I was speechless.

"I only meant to spend one afternoon with her, but things took a little longer than I expected." He tapped the present. "Then, when you started acting funny, I suspected maybe you were jealous. I guess it was wrong for me to let you think I had any interest in her --"

"You wanted to make me jealous?" I was still holding Tom's unopened gift. "Why?"

"Open it up. I think you'll see."

My fingers fumbled with the ribbons and wrapping. Inside lay a silver charm bracelet. "It's beautiful," I whispered, carefully touching each charm. A horse. A saddle. A tiny barn. A 10-gallon hat. A boot. All the things Tom and I loved, all the things we'd shared.

And a house. I looked up at Tom.

"That one's for our future. At least, that's what I'm hoping. Vic, in one way or another, we've been partners since we were six years old. I think maybe we're meant to be partners for the rest of our lives."

I let the tears come.

"Hey, cowgirls don't cry," Tom teased, lifting my chin and brushing a kiss against my lips.

"They do when they're happy," I told him, throwing my arms around his neck. From inside the stable, I heard Diablo whinny. I was the one riding for a fall now, but the best kind -- the happy, head over heels kind that comes with falling in love.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lucky Break

"Hey, look out, Kowalski! Watch what you're doing!"

"Sorry!" I grabbed the paint bucket I'd knocked over with my foot, catching it just before the yellow paint spilled out across the green grass of Mr. Jackson's front yard. He'd hired us to paint his house, not re-do his landscaping. Picking up the bucket, I turned back toward the street and smiled as the young woman strolled by. In the afternoon sunlight, her hair glistened a fiery red-gold.

"Why don't you just ask her out and get it over with?" Sam asked, climbing down from his ladder. "You're like one big accident waiting to happen every time you see her."

"She's probably already taken," I said, still staring wistfully after her.

"You'll never know unless you ask."

I nodded, and as the pretty redhead disappeared from view, I sighed and went back to work. But I couldn't stop thinking of her. I'd first seen her two days before when we started work on Mr. Jackson's old Victorian. Shortly after noon, she'd walked by, and quickly caught my eye. I fell for her at once. Literally.

With my gaze fixed on her, I wasn't watching where I was going, and I tripped. Sam laughed, I groaned, and the fiery-haired beauty giggled as she hurried past. Not an auspicious beginning.

The following day, she'd smiled and waved, and I made sure not to fall all over my feet. But when I raised my hand to wave back, I forgot about the paintbrush I was holding. Splatters of canary yellow went flying through the air. This time Sam groaned, I laughed, and fortunately the pretty miss was too far away to realize what had happened.

Things were getting better though, I told myself, thinking again how deftly I'd caught the paint bucket earlier. Maybe soon I'd work up the nerve to talk to her.


A few days later, she stopped in front of Mr. Jackson's house, waved, then headed directly toward us. I carefully climbed down from the ladder and went to greet her. Sam followed along behind me.

"Autumn's already in the air," she said, "so I thought maybe the two of you would enjoy a little hot coffee to take the chill off." She reached into the sack she carried and pulled out a cup. She handed it to Sam, then pulled out another for me. "My name's Alice, by the way. Alice Saunders. I just moved here a few weeks ago."

When she smiled at me, I could barely stammer back my thanks. I don't usually get tongue-tied around women, but Alice was different. I'd never felt such a strong attraction before.

"I'm Rob Kowalski, and that's my buddy, Sam Merrill." I jerked my head toward my partner. Actually, it was more like my whole body jerked. The lid came off the cup, and scalding hot coffee sloshed over my hand. I managed to keep smiling, never mind how bad it hurt. Alice hadn't noticed, thank goodness. I really didn't want her to think I was a complete klutz. I'm not. Not really. It only happened whenever she was around.

"Well, nice to meet you both," she said with a cheery nod. "I'd better be going now. Don't want to be late."

I nodded in return and kept smiling, then as soon as she was out of sight I grabbed a clean rag and wrapped it around my blistered hand. "Don't say a word." I glared at Sam, not wanting to listen to any of his wisecracks.

"Maybe you ought to have somebody take a look at that. Want me to drive you to the hospital? It's only a couple blocks."

I shook my head. "I'll be all right."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"At least you know her name now."

"Alice. Alice Saunders," I said, liking the name. "I think maybe she's available." I grinned broadly, thoughts of Alice already soothing my pain. "I'm going to ask her to the fall festival."

"You'd better hurry up. The dance is Friday night."

Each year in September, the town holds a big celebration at the fairgrounds. Farmers set up produce stands, and their wives sell cookies, cakes, and mouth-watering fruit pies. Carnival rides and sideshows keep the kids amused. The weekend-long celebration begins on Friday evening. When the sun goes down, one of the local bands takes the stage. If you ask me, nothing can quite compare to dancing under the stars, and this year I'd have Alice Saunders in my arms ... or so I hoped.

"I'll ask her tomorrow," I told Sam, surprised by the confident tone in my voice.


I stood at the edge of Mr. Jackson's yard, waiting for her the next day. My heart skipped a few beats when I saw her coming.

"Rob? What happened?" She looked genuinely concerned when she saw the bandage on my hand.

"It's nothing," I quickly assured her. I had more important things on my mind. "Listen, Alice, I know this is short notice, but would you go to the dance with me on Friday night?"

Her blue eyes rounded in surprise, but then she sighed and shook her head. "I'm sorry. I can't."

"Oh, OK." I tried to pretend it didn't really matter. "Well, thanks anyway." I turned to go back to work. I should have known she was out of my league.

"I'm working the evening shift on Friday. But what about Saturday?" she asked. "Maybe we could go to the carnival together."

"Really?" I stopped and looked back being extra careful not to do anything that might cause another accident or injury. As it was, I already felt like my heart might pound right out of my chest. Collapsing at her feet might make an impression on her, but one I'd rather avoid. "Sounds great."

Alice pulled a pencil from her purse and scribbled her address and phone number. "Why don't you pick me up about eleven Saturday morning? We could have lunch together first, if that's all right."

"Yeah, I'd like that." I carefully folded the paper she handed me and tucked it away in my pocket. How lucky could a guy get?


My luck ran out about four o'clock on Friday afternoon. The accident wasn't my fault, I swear. I wasn't even driving. All I was doing was walking toward my truck to put my equipment away. Sam and I were finished for the day, and I planned to head for the barber shop for a haircut and then spend a quiet night at home thinking about the great time Alice and I would have on Saturday.

That's when disaster struck. Afterward, nobody could say for sure exactly how it happened, but somehow old Mrs. Abercromby lost control of her oversized Buick roadster. She must have panicked and hit the accelerator instead of the brake, I guess, but however it happened, the car jumped the curb and came gunning for me. She not only got me, but she got my truck, too.

Sam said later I was lucky to be alive, and he's probably right. But with bruises, contusions, a concussion, and a broken leg, I sure didn't feel all that fortunate. Of course, I didn't even regain consciousness until after the paramedics arrived and carted me off in the ambulance. The last thing I remembered was thinking I'd have to call Alice and break our date. I'd probably never get another chance with her.


"Rob? Oh, my goodness! It's true."

At the sound of the familiar voice, I slowly opened my eyes. I had to be hallucinating. Or maybe I was dead, after all. I thought I could see Alice hovering over me, dressed in white. Her fiery-red hair looked like a glowing halo around her lovely face. It wasn't until she took hold of my hand and felt for a pulse that I realized she was actually there at my bedside. I struggled to sit up.

"Just take it easy," she soothed. "I couldn't believe it when I saw your name on the admissions sheet. I guess this means our date is off tomorrow." She made a petulant face and rolled her eyes. "Seriously, if you didn't want to go to the carnival, you should have told me. You didn't have to get yourself run over by a wayward Buick, you know. You didn't have to break your leg."

The teasing glint in her eyes made me feel a whole lot better.

"Talk about a lucky break." I grinned.


"I mean, you work here? At the hospital? You're a nurse?" Stupid questions, but I tend to babble when I get excited.

She nodded, then promptly stuck a thermometer in my mouth. That shut me up.

"Don't try to talk," she scolded when I mumbled a few words.

"But I never knew. You never wore --" I was babbling again as soon as she removed the thermometer.

"I keep my uniforms in my locker and change when I come to work," she explained. Alice smiled again, fluffed the pillow behind my head, and then she glanced around the room. "I'm not supposed to do this, but ..." Quickly she bent down and kissed my cheek.

That shut me up again. I closed my eyes and smiled. A lucky break, indeed.

~~~~~ The End ~~~~~

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