Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Read Forcing the Hand of God Online for FREE

Visit my blog to read my WWII historical novel, Forcing the Hand of God.

Fighter Pilot Major Rodger Brown of the Flying Tigers is deep in the thick of World War II. Back home, his pregnant wife, long time friend, parents, and younger sisters anxiously await his return. Torn between his obligations to his country and family, Rodger is a man tormented by the realization that he prefers battle in the air than the drudgery of everyday life on the ground.

Rather read it in book form or can't wait until I post the next chapter? Visit to buy your copy now>>

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 21 (part 1)

Rodger leaned against the wall, enchanted by Adele’s swift and graceful movements as she crammed her few things into the suitcase.

“Doc Adams may have released you, but the nurses aren’t happy about you going AWOL.” He compressed his lips to keep from smiling.

“Honest to God, Rodger, one more day in here and I’ll be ready for the loony bin.” Adele poked a hairbrush into the pile of clothes and snapped the suitcase shut. “I give Doc Adams credit for being a practical man.”

“Doc Adams, hell. I charmed the head nurse.”

“I’m ready.” She spun around in a full circle, flinging out her arms. “Bring the wheelchair! Present the child!”

He cocked an eyebrow, then bowed at the waist. “Your Majesty.”

“That’s the kind of treatment I deserve.” She sat on the bed and waved her hand grandly, indicating the floor in front of her. “Husband.”

He knelt before her, enjoying her wide-eyed surprise. She smoothed her hands down his cheeks, closed her eyes, and bent to kiss him on the lips.

When she opened her eyes again, he presented a ring box in the flat of his hand. Slowly, he opened the lid to reveal the silver band inlaid with Burmese rubies.

“Oh,” she whispered.

As he freed the ring from the groove, he caught her hand in his and kissed each knuckle.

She cradled the band in her palm, turning it over and over, puzzling over the inscriptions.

“Our wedding date,” she frowned, “but what is this other one?”

“What?” Rodger leaped to his feet, grabbing his shirt pocket over his heart. “You don’t know?”

Adele chewed her lower lip, the first finger of her right hand pressed against her nose.

“The first time I beat you at chess?”

Rodger pointed an accusing finger. “That never happened.”

“Oh.” Adele eyed him severely. “Only you would immortalize the first night we slept together!” But she laughed softly, and her eyes sparkled with tears. “Just what am I going to tell Jonelle when she asks?”

He looked at her quizzically, taking the ring and sliding onto her right hand ring finger.

“Why would she ask?”

Adele’s eyebrows puckered. “Rodger, she’ll be just like you; she’ll just have to know.” She examined her hand, her long, finely tapered fingers fanned out, hiding her face. “When it’s time to discuss the birds and bees, I’ll tell her she has to solve the riddle first.”

“Jesus, Adele, isn’t that a little ways down the line?”

“I guess so.” She beckoned him. “Come here, Sir Galahad, and I shall bestow upon you your just reward.”

He lost himself in the sweetness of her mouth when the door swung open and a nurse entered with a wheelchair. Rodger released Adele’s lips, kissed her nose with a smack, then broke away from her.

“Mrs. Brown, are you ready?” said the young nurse curtly, a reddening blush creeping across her cheeks.

Adele murmured, “Bad timing, nurse.”

The nurse glared at them. Adele scowled back at her. Rodger smiled and waggled his eyebrows then picked up the suitcase.

“Where’s the baby?” he asked innocently.

“She’s being brought by Head Nurse Williams.” The nurse gripped the wheelchair handles until her knuckles turned white. “Mrs. Brown, I have to ask you if you had a b.m. today.”

“Oh, yes, nurse, quite a nice one, thank you,” Adele purred.

Rodger frowned at Adele. She looked up sweetly, blowing him a little kiss. The door opened again, as the head nurse whisked into the room with the baby in her arms.

“Thought I’d give her a proper send off,” she said as she placed the sleeping infant in Adele’s waiting arms. “She’s a little spoiled, being the only baby in the nursery. All the nurses fought for a turn walking her up and down the hall.” She patted Adele on the forearm. “The poor child has to go home to get some rest.”

“I don’t mind if she’s been spoiled by love.” Adele stroked Jonelle’s cheek, then looked up at Rodger, her face radiant. “Home, good knight.”

“Follow me, pretty maids.” Rodger took the lead, sauntering down the hall, the women in silent procession.

He helped Adele from the wheelchair into the front seat of the car.

Rodger faced the nurse as she was backing the wheelchair away. Her guarded, green eyes, nurse’s cap and almost‑black hair pulled severely away from her face made her look as if she were playing at getting old. He had an impulse to pull off the hat and demand that she shake loose her hair. Instead he bowed slightly, addressing her formally.

“Thank you for your services, Nurse Nancy Radkins.” He shot straight up, his hand detaining the wheelchair. “You aren’t Tommy’s sister, are you?”

“Yes, I am.” She stopped abruptly, her bloodless hands still clutching the handles of the wheelchair.
Rodger pointed his finger at her. “Little Nancy.”

She blinked in surprise, then grinned. “Yes, and you’re Scrappy Rodger Brown, aren’t you? My, you’ve changed.” She studied him, her head cocked to one side. “Tommy’ll be in hog heaven when he hears you’re in town.”

“He’s home?”

Nancy nodded.

“I’ll be damned!” He inadvertently looked down the street at the back lot of the high school. “Tell him to come by and see me!”

Nancy started to leave. “I’ll give him your address.”

“Oh, yeah, and my telephone number.” Rodger reached into a shirt pocket and took out a receipt from Hewling’s Hardware store. “Just let me get a pencil.”

Adele rolled down her window and flipped her hand out with a crudely sharpened, yellow pencil.
Rodger took the pencil and winked at her.

He scrawled quickly on the paper and handed it to Nancy.

“Thanks for passing this on for me.”

She pocketed the note and jerked the wheelchair around. Rodger waved, hoping he looked a lot friendlier than he had felt towards her.

He got in the car, sliding the pencil into Adele’s outstretched hand. “She’s still got a nasty disposition. Even as a kid she acted like everything was sinful.” He backed out, watching for cars. “I’ll bet she has a system for rating the degree of sin. Probably not married.”

“That’s a leap in logic!” Adele spat peevishly.

Rodger was taken aback. “I didn’t think you liked her.”

“I don’t. But that doesn’t mean men don’t find her attractive, even worth marrying.” The baby whimpered. Adele rocked her, looking intently into the baby’s face.

Rodger grimaced. “Let’s not fight about it, for God’s sake.” He turned the corner on their block. “My mother will be over with a casserole for dinner about noon.”

Adele sighed. “I’ll be resting. I’m not up to Carrie.”

Rodger chuckled. “She’s not a bad ol’ girl, Adele. She has good intentions.”

“And a good deal of petty ones, too.” Adele stopped rocking the baby and hugged her close. “She finds fault with everybody and everything.” Adele glanced sideways at him. “Except you.”

“That’s because,” he pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine, “I’m almost perfect.”

“Almost,” Adele smirked.

Rodger offered her a hand, and she grasped it firmly, pulling herself up from the seat of the car.
“What if I get more perfect with age?”

Adele squared off in front of him, nestling Jonelle close to her. The early morning summer sun shone directly in her face, casting an aura over her. “I’ll tell you on our fiftieth wedding anniversary if you made the mark.”

He leaned close to her face. “What if I make the maid and miss the mark?”

“Then you’ll just have to keep trying, my dear,” she pecked his lips and walked heavily to the door and waited for him to open it.

Adele lumbered through the house, naming the rooms for Jonelle.

“And this is your nursery. Small room, but maybe Daddy will add on later, Sugar Lumps.”

“In a few years?” Rodger poked his head around the corner of the door. “Or must I start today, honey?”

“Depends.” Adele stared at him coldly.

“On what?” Rodger pulled himself through the doorway.

“On when you’re home, for good.” She turned to face him. “I’d like to know.”

“I’m here now,” Rodger shrugged. “And tomorrow.”

Adele’s nostrils flared, but then her face softened. “Want to try your hand at fathering?”

“Hey! I’m a natural!” He made a cradle with his arms. He looked at his daughter for a long time before he could trust his voice. “She’s so tiny. I thought, somehow, she’d be bigger.”

“She’s big enough, Rodger,” Adele squeezed his arm. “You’re picture perfect.” She hurried out the room, retrieved her camera and snapped a flash. “You should have gotten a picture of me bringing the baby into the house.”

Rodger snatched the camera away from her, shoving Jonelle back into her arms. “So go pose.”

Adele had just simulated getting out of the car when Madeline and Carrie drove up. Rodger dangled the camera by the strap, observing the women. Adele smiled weakly at Madeline and Carrie, folding the flap of the blanket so that Jonelle’s face peeked out. Carrie, surprisingly fast on her feet, dashed over to Adele and the baby, leaving Madeline to struggle with the casserole and car door. Rodger hurried to lend a hand.

“Let me help, Mother.”

“No, thank you. I can manage.” Madeline thrust her hip hard against the car door, slamming it shut.

“Oh, my!” cooed Carrie, hovering over Jonelle. “Oh, Maddie, did you ever dream of such a lovely granddaughter!”

Madeline stopped before Adele, her mittened hands holding up the Pyrex dish.

“It’s Rodger’s favorite tuna casserole. I made it one time for you, too, and I remembered you liked it.”

“Smells delicious, Mother. Come along inside before your hands burn.” Adele found Rodger’s eyes and lingered a moment before she turned and walked stiffly into the living room. Rodger trailed behind.

Adele, holding the baby, sat in her chair, Aunt Carrie settled into the couch, and Madeline took the hot dish into the kitchen. Rodger leaned against the door frame, enjoying the late morning rays through the screen door. He massaged his neck, watching as Madeline came back into the room, wondering if Adele were going to relinquish the baby.

“New babies are so precious!” Carrie sang out in a high-pitched voice, which startled the baby, her tiny face lost in the wrinkles of her frown.

Madeline gave Carrie a scathing glance. “Adele, how are you feeling?”

“Tired. But I guess that’s normal.” She leaned back into the chair, ostensibly allowing Madeline a better look at Jonelle.

Carrie stood up and walked over. “Give me the baby and go take a rest. Why, between Maddie and me, we’ve got enough experience to raise an army!” Carrie’s greedy hands demanded the baby.

Adele looked at Rodger beseechingly. He could think of no way out and shrugged.

“I’ll go get some diapers and pins. What about a bottle?”

Adele reluctantly gave up Jonelle. “You can bring her in to me when she fusses.” She followed Rodger down the hall to the bedroom.

Rodger scowled at Adele. “I thought I was going to help feed her,” he whispered savagely.

“You can.” Adele tweaked his ear, “Tonight. She’ll take a bottle, too.” She flicked her wrist. “Don’t make the ladies wait, dear.”

He backed out as she closed the door on him, then he stomped into the nursery. He crammed diapers, pins and powder into a wad and took them into the living room. As he stood beside Madeline sitting primly on the couch, he fixated on his Aunt Carrie’s arms jiggling as she bounced Jonelle up and down.

“Carrie, give the poor child a rest.” Madeline took the bundled diapers from Rodger. “Let me see if she needs changing.”

Carrie ignored her. “Sweet little dumplings,” she caroled. “Are you going to smile for Aunt Carrie?”

Madeline rolled her eyes up to meet Rodger’s. “Babies don’t smile at this age.”

Rodger moved away from his mother to Adele’s empty chair. He stifled a yawn. The baby began to whimper.

“Maybe, Aunt Carrie, Jonelle needs a change.”

When Rodger met his aunt’s fierce gaze with a smile, she sighed pointedly. “Little lambkins, go see Grandma.” Carrie laid the baby down onto the receiving blanket.

Rodger suddenly thought of an airplane landing. An acute longing for the feel of the controls and the gut‑wrench of a take‑off struck him. He chewed on his lower lip.

“Would you mind if I took off for a while?” He looked directly at his mother.

Carrie patted the air. “No, now you just go about your business. Let us women tend to the baby.”

Madeline’s jaw tightened. “Collect your laundry, and I’ll see to it.”

“Couldn’t it wait a few days, for Adele and Jonelle’s things, too?”

His mother’s face set, and she tilted her head slightly. “I’ll see to their things in a few days, Rodger.”
Madeline stabbed a pin through the layers of diaper, easing it expertly over her unscathed finger.

Rodger peered over her shoulder, scrunching up his face at Jonelle. Her thin legs kicked the air. He wanted to hold her. His mother snapped the rubber pants on, then eased the gown down, and drew the string until the material puckered shut, then wrapped the blanket tightly around the baby.

“Isn’t that going to cut off her circulation or something?” Rodger reached to loosen the blanket. Madeline raised her shoulder, blocking his hand.

“Babies like to be wrapped snugly.” Madeline tapped the baby’s back with the palm of her hand. “Honestly, you’re behaving like a Nervous Nelly.”

Anger flared within him. He raised his hands. “Give her to me.”

“A little colicky is all,” Madeline continued, rubbing her back, refusing to give up possession. “Give Adele a chance to get a minute’s peace.”

“Mother…” Rodger leaned over, prepared to yank his baby from her arms, when voices coming from the outside interrupted.

Rodger straightened and went to the door. Aunt Carrie, her nose twitching, craned her neck to see out the door onto the porch.

Arms akimbo, Rodger watched as a young man in a gray shirt, sleeves rolled up exposing white arms and reddened hands, came lumbering up the sidewalk. A petite woman skipped to keep up with his long strides.

Who was this guy? So unlike his men. There was a casualness about the man that annoyed Rodger, a familiarity not earned.

The man came up to the porch, his face looming large and ridiculous with a full‑toothed grin. Then Rodger recognized his old friend and flung open the screen door.

“Tommy! Tommy, you old son of a gun!” Rodger clasped Tommy’s hand and Tommy pumped Rodger’s hand, wrenching his shoulder.

“Long time, long time,” Tommy threw back his head and chortled. “You’ve been mighty long away from this part of the country.”

Rodger slapped Tommy on the back. “You mean I ducked out on our last season game, huh?”

Tommy scrubbed his mustached lip. “We all wondered where you’d gone, Rodg. We won the homecoming game, all right.” He smiled lopsidedly. “But it wasn’t easy without ya.”

Rodger shook his head. “You guys didn’t really need me. I was just a one‑man cheering section.”

“Yeah, Rodg,” Tommy scoffed, “that’s why ya got all them trophies. For cheering us on.”

Rodger punched Tommy on the left arm. “You got your fair share. Always got a fair share.”

Those times of sharing, the long summer days and the years of school and sports. Their first razor rash and making it with a girl. They had shared it all, the stolen days of beer, women and victory songs.

“Man, we had some good times, didn’t we?” Tommy grinned as his face flushed red.

The oddity of Tommy blushing made Rodger chuckle. “Say, did you join up?”

Tommy sobered. “Remember our game against ol’ Cleveland High? You know, the one where you scored two touch downs and I got forty yards on one pass?” Rodger nodded, only able to recall it as Tommy replayed it. “Got knocked in the kidneys a couple of times. Anyway, I got what they call ‘Bright’s disease.’ Having to do with my kidneys.”

Rodger shivered inwardly. “Serious?”

“Neah, not at all if I watch my diet. And,” Tommy reached behind him, encircled the small shoulders of the red‑haired woman with his massive forearm, drawing her up to his side; she stood just underneath his armpit. “This little woman makes sure I eat and rest like I should. Meet my wife, Cindy.” Tommy leaned close, cupping his free hand beside his mouth. “Don’t let her size fool ya. She’s a real bearcat!”

Cindy elbowed Tommy in the ribs. “Don’t pay him any mind. Nice to meet you, Rodger,” she stuck out her hand.

Rodger shook it, surprised at her firm grip. “Won’t you come in? I think Adele’s resting with the baby right now, but I’ll look in.”

Cindy arrested him with a motion of her hand. “No, let your wife and daughter be. We came by to see you, for now. I’ve heard so much about you and all that I had to see you face to face.”

It was Rodger’s turn to blush. “Take everything Tommy says and cut it in half, and you’ll have a pretty good picture.”

“No, she’ll only have the half of it.” Tommy grazed Rodger’s wound with his fist. His face clouded with concern when Rodger winced. “What’s the matter, Rodg?”

“Old war wound,” Rodger laughed, rubbing the ache. “Nothing very serious.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Talking to Your Kids About Consent, Power, & Sexuality

Want to Prevent Sexual Assault on College Campuses? Let's Start With Our Kindergarteners
by Krista Millay, Feminist, Social Justice Advocate, and Mother

There is a major problem with looking to colleges and universities to solve the problem of campus sexual assault. If there's any truth in the statistic that one in four undergraduate women are sexually assaulted during their university experience, then waiting until students arrive on campus is too late to start the prevention work. The conversation about healthy sexuality, consent, and bodies must start earlier - as early as kindergarten.

This early education could equip our children to have healthy relationships as young adults, changing the culture of college campuses across the country. But, equally important, it would also give children the language and skills to get assistance when an interaction is inappropriate right now, whether that interaction is with a friend or a perpetrator.

My university work around prevention has caused me to slow down and become aware of the unspoken assumptions we make about children's bodies, to start connecting the daily conversations I have with my children about body parts and hugs and kisses to the outcomes I wish for the college students whom I educate. As a parent, it occurs to me that there is something better we parents and educators can all do right now. We can begin to think differently about how sexuality, bodies, power, and consent are communicated, starting as early as kindergarten.

Read the entire article on>>

10 Ways To Talk To Your Kids About Sexual Abuse
by Sandra Kim

The idea of someone molesting your child is terrifying for any parent (unless the parent is the child molester, which is 37% of the time).

The pain, fear, and trauma they may experience at such a young age are frightening to consider. It’s enough to make any parent freak out and want to never ever think about it again.

And then we hope it will just never happen to our own child.

Except your daughter has a 1 in 4 chance and your son has a 1 in 6 chance of being molested before the age of 18.  Children with disabilities are 2.9 times more likely than children without disabilities to be sexually abused.

I know you don’t want to hear it or believe it. But it’s true.

And these statistics are too high for any parent to risk staying uninformed about the reality of child sexual abuse and not talking to their child about it.

On top of that, the majority of children never report sexual abuse when it’s happening. They’re often afraid of their parents’ reactions or fear getting into trouble. They don’t know how to explain what happened to them or believe what the abuser told them to keep them quiet.

Now, you can never protect your child fully from ever being molested. But you can do a lot to reduce your child’s vulnerability to sexual abuse and increase the chances they’ll tell you after something happens.

You just need to talk to them directly about it and do it many times.

Read the entire article on>>

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Penny in Time Chapter 1: Two Halves are Not a Whole

Love is a four letter word that is used too much to mean too little.  It can be a noun and a verb, conjugated, symbolized and trivialized.  It can be and not be at the same time.  It isn't a living thing, like a plant or an animal, but it can die without care.  I've been told that love and hate are kindred spirits and the absence of love is indifference. I wonder what it is called when you live with love that is dying.

"Dusty!"  Mom rapped on the bedroom door. "Telephone!"

"Got it!" I hollered as I picked up the cordless extension.

 Maybe Dad had changed his mind and would take me up to Victoria, Canada for the weekend like we had planned all last summer but never got around to doing. He moved into a condo in Des Moines after the divorce, then it was this, then that had to be done, and of course, work.  "Hello...." it wasn't my Dad, but my best friend.  "Hi, Slinky."

We both sigh.  She knows that my disappointment is nothing personal.  I dropped my sci-fi book on the floor and scrunched down on the bed.  "Did your Mom yell at you for wearing eyeliner to school?"

"Nah, just the same-o parent lecture #104.  You know, 'Don't make yourself look like a hooker, you're a young lady, blah blah blah.'"

"I told you she'd let you, and she probably thinks it's great, too.  Your sister wore make-up when she was in the seventh grade.  Next thing you'll be wearing dresses instead of jeans."  I'm the jeans and sweatshirt sort of person.  I didn't mean to dig at Slinky, she's my best friend and all, but lately she's been more interested in the way she looks, teen TV and the latest new boy singer than going to see a movie.  That's a major change.

"Well, I'm not stocking up on short skirts and crop tops," she shot back.  "Did your Dad call, yet?"
"No. It’s like he’s divorced me, too."  I gazed at the clock.  Two-thirty. Too late now, anyway. I pick up my cell and text Fran, ‘wrkin hard?’ "I guess he's got a hot date with Sylvia.  She had her Designed-for-You clothing line exhibited at the Trade Center today."

My cell chimes. It’s Fran again.

Fran texts back:  “YES! You?”

I answer ‘hardly’ while Slinky asks pointedly,

"Why didn't you go?"

"Because I didn't want to. I turned down a yard clean-up with Fran and Dean because I wanted to be ready to go with my Dad, a-lone, to Canada, like he promised."  Get real! I wanted to say.  As if I wanted to hang out with my Dad and his girlfriend.  Sometimes Slinky can be exasperating, but then I think about how we've been friends since kindergarten.  We have a lot of history, like how we got our nicknames.  I don't think of her as "Susan" Hillard because her Dad nicknamed her "Slinky" when she was four.  She collected slinkies; small, medium, large, metal ones, plastic colored ones that looked like undulating, disconnected robot arms looking for a body to hook up with.  She even named every one of them.

Me, I don't mind being named after my mother's grandmother, "Elizabeth Marie", but when I was five, I saw an awesome sunset.  The summer sky blazed with colors of fire.  My Dad told me the dust in the atmosphere colored the clouds, and a fairy streaked my curly, auburn hair with some of those red highlights.  I kept repeating a zillion times how I loved the dusty sky, making Dad laugh.  After that, I wouldn't answer to Elizabeth anymore, and Slinky always said she thought it was great how I had made everyone call me Dusty.

"So go with me tonight.  The youth group is having a hayride at Marymoor Park.  My Mom will take us and you could spend the night and we'll do Southcenter tomorrow."

"No can do.  My Mom's got a date and I already told Frank I'm staying home tonight, and he has to babysit his little bratty stepbrother, so they're coming over.  So what else is new, huh?"  I know Frank rubs her the wrong way, but I kind of understand that he sometimes says something nice in a mean sort of way.

"So tell Frank," she always spits out his name, "that you've got other plans."

"It'll probably rain, anyway. It usually does the end of October."  I shift the phone to my other ear.
"Dusty Conner, what's wrong with you?  You never want to do anything anymore."

"Nothing's wrong with me, Slinky, just because I don't want to haul my butt around in the rain with a bunch of kids I don't know!"

"It's not supposed to rain.  I checked on line Weatherbug.  And you know me, don't you?"

"Let's just go to the mall tomorrow, okay?  We can check out the bookstores.  I think there's a new sci-fi anthology out."

There was a little hostile silence, and because I really didn't want Slinky to be mad at me I hurried to add, "We'll do Nordstrom first."

"All right, Dusty.  I'll see you."

"Hey!  Have a good time and take a raincoat."

I still had a drop of hope that Dad would call.  It would be nice to do some of the things that we used to do, like one-on-one basketball, working Saturday afternoons in the garden or getting a DVD and popping popcorn while Mom worked late at her gallery.  It's a lot different now that he has his condo in Des Moines, no yard, or basketball hoop, but he still has a television.

I stared a long time at the phosphorescent stars of Ursa Major stenciled on my ceiling.  Mom, Dad and I had worked on it one whole Sunday afternoon last year, the weekend before Dad moved out.  Maybe somewhere, another place, another time, in another galaxy, there's no such thing as a divorce.  Families stay together, forever.  The way it should be.

I hear Mom coming down the hall and count eleven footsteps until she reaches my door.

"May I come in?"  It's nice the way she always asks me if she can come into my room.

"Sure."  I hope she isn't going to launch into any psychological probing, a seek and find mission to repair all damage done by The Divorce.

She stands with her hands behind her and smiles when she presents a multi-colored scarf to me.
“My new art form. Hand-dyed.”

“Beauteous!” It really is beautiful. It is has a rainbow of colors and silky fringe.  “Oh, Mom! It’s just the right length and the colors! It’s perfect!”

“Yes, I thought you liked vibrant colors. It goes well with jeans, especially.” Her eyes crinkle when she laughs.

I loop the scarf around my neck and smooth it down.

She takes a step toward me, gesturing over her shoulder. "Would you like to shoot baskets?  If you don't start practicing soon, you'll have a hard time making the team this year."

I shrug.  "I'm not trying out."

"What?" she demands, then takes a deep breath.  "But I thought you and Slinky were going out for the junior varsity."

"Slinky's trying for cheerleader."  I pick at the dirt beneath my nails with the corner of a bookmarker.

"Why does that make a difference to you?"  She waits at the foot of my bed, hands clenched and perched on her hips.

"It doesn't."  I look her straight in the eyes.  "I'm not interested anymore in sport, that’s all."

When Mom chews her lower lip, it's a sure sign the old gears are churning.  "Why don't we go for a walk to Dairy Queen.  I'll buy you a root beer float and I'll get a yogurt."

"Nah, I've got some homework to do and," she was just about to interrupt me, "fold the laundry.  I want to get a few things done before 'Frankenstein' gets here."

The phone rang.  We looked at the telephone like it had grown two heads.

"Answer it, Dusty," she waved at it with a chuckle.

My stomach flip-flopped when I heard my Dad's voice.  "Hi, honey, are you busy?"

"No, Dad, not at all."  I sat up and bounced, jiggling the books on the bed and upsetting my stuffed animals, making Mom smile.

"Would you like to go out to dinner?"

"All right!  Where?"

"Sylvia knows this great Italian restaurant where you can get pizza, I can have spaghetti and she can have fettuccine.  You could wear something nice, Elizabeth, maybe a dress?  I'll pick you up at seven."

I'm absolutely fed up having Sylvia always in my face, and I don't like this threesome.  "Oh, darn, Dad, I forgot!  I made plans with Frank."

"The same Frank that watches our TV whether or not we're there?"

"You know, Dad, it isn't your TV anymore."

"Thanks for reminding me, Elizabeth," he says in a real calm, sarcastic way.

"Dad, are we going to Victoria next weekend?  You promised after cancelling out the last three times."

"Yes, and I'm sorry, Elizabeth.  It's just..."

"Dad, my name's Dusty."

A lot can be interpreted from silence and heavy breathing.  Maybe he's just as annoyed as I am.  "I've got to go, Dusty.  Change your mind and go to dinner with us."

"Sorry, Dad, but I promised Frank, and I don't like to break my promises.  It's not really considerate, you know?"

"Yes, I know, and I get your point.  Maybe I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye."  I hung up, paying particular attention to arranging the phone and tidying up some papers.  Mom stood quietly staring at me until I looked up.

"That was pretty tacky, young lady."

"You're the one that always says a little bit of honesty goes a long way."

As she sits on the edge of the bed and reaches out to tweak my toe, I move over and cross my legs, wishing I had earplugs to block out her voice.  "Okay, let's be honest.  It's been a difficult year for all of us adjusting to the divorce.  It isn't your fault your father and I don't get along, but you can't wish it away and make us a family again.  Some things you have to accept and take the good with the bad.  Including Sylvia."

My insides quivered, but if she wants honesty, I'd give her my version.  "No one ever asked me how I felt, so I guess you guys don't care much about my opinions."

"That's not true, Dusty."  Her voice was warm, but I knew I had zinged her by the hurt look in her eyes.  "We care very much."

"You know, Mom," I turned over on my side, further away from her, "you shouldn't say 'we' anymore. 'We' aren't anymore."

I felt her eyes on the back of my neck for a long time.  "Good point.  I guess that's the way it is, isn't it?"

"Yeah, that's the way it is."  I sat up, locking my arms around my knees.  "I told Slinky I'd go to the mall with her tomorrow, if that's all right with you."

She stood up and looked out the window for a moment.  "Sure.  Just one more thing, Dusty."

It's always one more thing isn't it?

"It's normal for you to feel angry, but you can't stop caring about people, even if you're mad at them.  You're someone who cares, cares a lot for people.  Think about it, okay?"

"Yeah, okay."

She left.  Think about it!  That's all I seemed to do anymore.  Ever since Sylvia showed up, weekends with Dad alone were a memory.  I pressed my face into my cuddly stuffed bear, Sparky.  Where do these tears come from, when you don't even want to cry?

I threw the stupid stuffed bear down.  I had other things to do anyway.  I got up and washed my face, grabbed a bag of Cheetos™ and labored through Algebra.

Mom had dinner cooked for me, a small steak, baked potato and salad.  She blathered on about this and that and some new guy she was dating.  I managed to ask, "Can I eat in the den?"

"Oh, I suppose."  She handed me a napkin, which I dutifully placed on my lap as I clicked on the TV remote control.  Mom had to raise her voice over a commercial.  "Dallas is coming over to help me with a project. We will be in my studio. Here,” she tossed me a box of Junior Mints.™  “I believe you requested these.”

“Yeah, thanks.” I slip the mints beneath a pillow.

Dallas?  Sounds like a real geek.  "Okay.  Have a good time."  I glanced up.  "You look nice."

"Thanks.  What time is Frank supposed to be here?"

The doorbell chimed.  "Right now," I answered, grinning back at her.

"I'll let him in."

When Frank’s mother and stepfather go to the 5th Ave. Theatre, he gets stuck babysitting his six-year old stepbrother, Billy.  They both come into the den.  "Hey, Dusty!" screeched Billy, plopping down beside me.  "The Time Machine is on Disney Channel tonight!"

He's a nice kid, most of the time.  "Watch it downstairs then.  Here," I slip my hand under the pillow and pull out the mints to hand him, "pig-out."

Frank plops his hulk of a body down on the other side of me, stretching his long legs out and crossing his arms behind his head. At seventeen, he’s almost six feet tall, and his jeans are riding up to show his goofy striped socks.  "What's on?"

"Rerun of 'Star Trek, The Next Generation:  The Measure of A Man' about Data and whether he is or isn't a real living being, with rights."

"Oh."  He rolls his green eyes. Frank likes the channel with old movies, but it's understood that I get to watch my favorite program before his.  During the commercials, I clean up the kitchen and Frank checks on Billy downstairs.

Usually, I don't talk much to Frank, but I can ask him about anything, especially since he feels he's an expert on being a kid of divorced parents.  "Hey, Franko, did you always get along with your stepmother?"

He yawned before replying and scratched his sandy blond hair.  "Neah, she's a real nag.  You'd think her life depended on me taking out the trash at the precise moment she looks down and sees the garbage multiplying over the rim, spewing all over the floor, into the living room, taking over the entire house!  Man, woman and child eaten alive by garbage!"  He flings his arms wide and rolls his eyes, really a grotesque creature himself.  "Yes!  Mad-son Frankenstein drives stepmother to drink!  Diabolical plot to destroy innocent woman!"

I catch my breath from laughing so hard as I sit down again beside him.  "You'd drive anyone insane, Frank.  Really."

"Well, take my word," he draws out his words in a low, ominous undertone, "you best watch your p's and q's or you'll not see your father for a fortnight!"

Suddenly, Frank's not all that funny.  "Why do you say that?"  I sit up straight and look at him in the eyes.

"Because my lovely," he furrows his eyebrows, digging into his sinister role, "if it's between you and the other woman, the choice lies on her side, not yours.  Take heed, and tread carefully around the other, for she controls your fate!"

"Oh, shut up, Frank."   He can be real tiresome and I'm glad my program finally comes on.  We both settle down into our spots on the couch, like two birds nesting, and resume munching our popcorn while watching the opening credits roll by.

“So, gone to the movies with Dean lately?” Frank eyes me steadily.

“No, he’s been busy with yard work, his newspaper route and,” I pause significantly, “Fran.” I feel badly all of a sudden because I don’t want Frank to get the idea that I am jealous of Fran. Dean and I have been friends since grade school, and for the last two years, Fran and I have become close friends at school. We’re really a threesome. Well, more like a foursome counting Annie, when she’s not volunteering for a community project. Dean proved himself to be cool-headed and capable when, in seventh grade, Collin was assaulted by some cowardly thugs and Dean did CPR on him. The four of us, me, Fran, Dean and Annie, do a lot of volunteer work and do yard work for pay. We are, you might say, a dynamic team.

“Fran and Dean. Hmmm.” He waggles his eyebrows. “Beauty and the Brain.”

“Yeah, they are a lot alike. Dean thinks he’ll probably go into medicine.”

“Oh, yeah, he’d make a good nurse.”

“Oh, so you’ve been on Facebook lately, have you?” Dean has been harassed by some guys intimating he is gay. “You know that Tyler got suspended for posting those awful rumors? I told Dean that his Dad could sue Tyler’s parents for invasion of privacy. But Dean says it’s enough Tyler got suspended. I’m not sure I could be so magnanimous about something that mean. I was furious when a picture of Fran had been posted on Facebook that made it seem like she was smoking and drinking and wasn’t. I certainly was glad that the ones who did it got their just desserts and were caught and suspended. “Dean’s really a nice person.”

Frank contorts his mouth before replying, “Dean is a little different, shall we say?” Frank reaches over and tugs on my scarf. “This new?”

Irritated, I bat his hand away. I shouldn’t have to defend or define my friend to anyone. “Do you have any friends, Frankenstein?”

“Yeah, one. You.” He smiles as he unwinds onto his feet. “Gotta check on the brat.”

Billy fell asleep on the floor in front of the TV. Frank carried him upstairs and put him in my bed. My Mom and her ‘friend’ Dallas came into the kitchen chattering about a new technique for dying material. I made us all some hot chocolate while Frank set up the Scrabble board for a ruthless game that went on until Mr. Morris came at ten-thirty to take Frank and Billy home.  He stood in the hallway dripping wet, handing umbrellas to the boys.  "What a rain!  Just started about ten minutes ago," he boomed, shaking droplets from his mass of auburn hair.  No question about where Billy got genes for red hair.

Frank jabbed my shoulder as he went out the door.  "Later."

As I got ready for bed, I thought about Slinky, hoping with all my heart that she had fun tonight.  Even though I love the chatter of rain on the roof as I drift off to sleep, I wouldn't want to find out that Slinky's hayride got rained on, spoiling her plans.  I'd never hear the end of it tomorrow.