Welcome to Chapter 3 of “The Sweetest Of Woods”, the first book in a series I’m working on.
Each Tuesday at 9:30 am PST I’m posting up a new chapter so mark that date and be sure to spend Tuesday With Meg.
Chapter 3- Feeling Moldy
Bridget felt the sorry looks everywhere she went in their little town. No one really knew what to say to the grief stricken mother of two except a ”bless her heart” behind her back.
She needed to get a job and she felt that she needed to be there for her children when they were home. Instead of using her master’s degree in history, she found herself working at the local gas station during the day and going to the beauty school at night. Her mother mentioned the owner of the local salon would hire her during the hours that the kids were in school plus one Saturday each month. Grandma and her best friend Rose were happy to spend time with the kids while she worked.
She found herself cutting hair, giving perms, color and dishing recipes with her clients.
Every day while she swept the shop before leaving, that little sliver of hope inside would tug and remind her that this is only for now.
It’s not that she didn’t like her job and she certainly enjoyed visiting with many of her clients but she was just a shell of Bridget. Like the body snatchers stole all the insides and the outside is just continuing on set to auto pilot… for the last five years.
She chuckled bitterly at herself walking out the door of the shop, to take the short walk up the street to meet up with Kendra at school. She had a visual picture in her mind of herself just lying on the floor trying to find her own feet for the past several years while everyone walked around her like she wasn’t wallowing around on the ground inquiring about stolen appendages. Business as usual, Bridge will be fine.
She had rented an apartment and was planning to move her family into their new place two years ago. Then her mother had gotten terribly ill and required too much help than a full time working mother could provide living outside the home. She resigned herself that her life was to care for others and make them great while the last bit of those big dreams of hers had almost completely faded away. Her only true satisfaction was in her children. Her passionate love for her children was the only thing that kept her heart beating away even in the moments it felt to broken to continue to function under such duress.
She shuttered to think of the state of her actual heart. Since Fallon died it felt like the organ had been fed into a shredder, then someone used a little crazy glue to slap it back together and that was what happened to be sustaining her life- tattered shreds and crazy glue.
She rounded the corner and could see Asher on the track with his team mates getting set up to do practice sprints. He had just hit a growth spurt and was becoming a tall, thin, olive skinned mirror image of his father. Thick slightly wavy chocolate brown hair styled to look as though he didn’t give it more than a second’s glance, she was told that was just the way it was done now. With his nose in a book or focused on whatever he was applying himself too, he failed to notice that he had caught the eye of most of the girls in his eighth grade class. Bridget wasn’t sad that he was too busy doing his own thing to pay much attention to girls yet. He was handsome, kind and would be a wonderful catch just like his father someday. She missed Fallon so much it physically hurt.
She sat on the front steps of the school to wait for Kendra to meet her. The sounds of the strings portion of band practice caught her attention and she drifted off into the slightly off key tunes.
So lost in thought she hardly realized that she’d been sitting there for almost 15 minutes when a voice behind her startled her.
“Hey Mrs. C! Ken left already… It’s Tuesday.” A little girl from Kendra’s class said as she ran by to hop in her car.
“Thanks sweetie!” she called to her.
Tuesdays Rose walks little Princess Emily down to the school to meet Kendra and they spend the afternoon in Rose’s garden. Emily would be starting Kindergarten in the fall. She loved to walk up to the big school that she would attend with her favorite person in the entire world, her cousin Kendra. They were as close as sisters even though Ken was almost six years older than her.
Bridget and Rose had dreamed as little girls that they would each have housefuls of kids and all their children would all be best friends just like they were. Funny how things work out but each of the women were so grateful that their daughters shared the same bond that they had created over twenty five years ago when they were about Emily’s age.
It had been a while since she visited with her dear friend and before long she found herself turning onto Briar Berry Lane with a smile on her face.
Ash looked up from the track and caught his mother watching from the street above.
Sprints were going to start and there were three girls from his homeroom that were supposed to be there to watch him. That’s what Rick said, that Billy’s twin sister Sarah overheard during lunch. It was the word on the street.
Ash tried to shake the picture of Rebecca smiling and waving to him out of his mind. Why were girls so difficult to understand? Why did they pass messages through a game of human telephone and travel in giggling packs?
When he looked up his mom had gone.
He finished out practice and quickly grabbed his backpack. If he could make it to Auntie Ro’s before dinner then she would insist that they pull up a chair.
Ash felt bad that he preferred being over there than at home in Moldy Acres- the retirement village that makes everyone unduly old. Everyone there felt the need to parent all three members of the community that were under fifty. Gran was sick and had a nurse during the day. It was like someone pressed the pause button on their lives. They were getting older but nothing really changed; life lived in limbo.
Somewhere there must be lives lived just like in the books he loved to read.
As he turned onto the street he could hear the loud infectious laughter of his mother. Asher’s stride quickened until he reached the gate and was greeted by Uncle Derek’s massive Newfoundland, Rowdy.
Rowdy was almost the size of a full grown person when he stood on his hind legs, with enough long white fur to sufficiently coat any three dogs and a tongue that loved to give kisses. He was the equivalent of owning a horse that fetches the newspaper and protects the house.
The dog barking his hello alerted everyone else standing by the biggest trampoline Asher had ever seen. His mom was jumping on it with the little girls and they all appeared to be having the time of their life. Uncle Derek put an arm around his shoulders and challenged him to a flip contest after he helped him get the steaks out of the fridge.
Asher loved Uncle D’s cook out nights and there was nothing better than rib eyes hitting the grill in his opinion. He readily agreed, running by to high five his mom hello, he ran into the house with Rowdy to fetch the steaks.
The kitchen smelled of baked beans from the Crock Pot he couldn’t help but look into. Massive slices of watermelon were piled high on a serving platter while Auntie Ro was pulling the steamed corn out of the pot.
“Hey babe! You guys staying for dinner! You’re Uncle has been dying to get on that trampoline with you. How was school sweetie?” Auntie Rose said without skipping a beat from what she was doing.
“Good. I aced my history test and track is good,” he answered opening the fridge to get the steaks. “Mmm. You made pudding cake for dessert! That sounds really good right now.”
It occurred to him that everyone else might look forward to the nights they spend together just as much as he did.
He located the pile of rib eyes and brought it out. As he watched his Uncle fire up the grill and chit chat while he looked out across the yard, he thought to himself that used to be exactly his Dad’s plan too.
They had poured a little slab of cement together where they installed their new grill the summer before Dad died. He wanted it just right so he was close to what he needed but also so that he could enjoy the view of his domain like a king in his royal castle while he cooked for his people.
Asher thought it was silly then but now he understood.
Watching Uncle D smile at Kendra squirting Rowdy with the hose and Emily doing flips in the air would be right where his dad would have wanted to be.
“Bud? You who! Ash? You Okay?” His Uncle’s question sent him crashing back to reality.
“Fine…Fine, maybe a little tired. I was just zoning out.” He admitted.
Kendra was ever so carefully tending to portions of the garden while Bridget and Rose set the picnic table for dinner.
Rose always had giant pitchers of cucumber water chilled just right. Even if you weren’t thirsty you’d find yourself drinking two or three glasses of the heavenly refreshment.
Never hurts to hydrate, could very well have been Rose’s slogan. Bridget always teased her friend about her “snooty” water but in the family fridge at home stood two pitchers of it. Rose always said that it was the little things that make you feel like a million bucks, special water was one of them.
Asher felt tense suddenly as if he needed to be on guard to protect his family.
As dusk was just beginning, everything in the large immaculately gardened yard was as it should be on the surface. He looked towards Rowdy remembering that animals often pick up on disturbances before humans do.
Rowdy was busy licking the air behind the barbeque and dripping everywhere. He was expecting to see the massive animal ready to attack, not drooling like a dufus while the steaks finished cooking.
Something wasn’t right but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was.
Scanning the yard, his eyes caught his sisters and they reflected the fear that he was experiencing.
“Excuse me, Kendra wants to show me something…” Asher excused himself and quickly crossed the yard.
His younger sister’s face was drained of color.
“You feel it too, don’t you.” She said.
“I feel like something is watching us.” He said locating his mother playing ring around the rosie with Emily.
Usually Kendra would launch into the barbaric meaning behind such children’s rhymes but at the moment tales from the plague were not the most troubling.
“Of course were being watched, we always have been…” her reverent voice trailed off as if she were thinking.
Asher was familiar with the stories that she used to make up with their father. He’s been the star of them in many of her theatrical living room productions throughout the years. She still sings some of her spells in the garden while she lovingly cares for Aunt Ro’s abundant yard. He was far too old to believe in small magical fairies, spells and a great many other tales of Kendra. About the only thing he agreed with her tales about was the fact that everything in nature is alive. On a cellular level it is, but he had a sneaking suspicion that was not the way she had meant it.
“Remember that big furry white dragon from that movie with the boy that gets shoved in the trash can and steals the book?” she asked.
“Falcor from The Neverending Story?” he replied.
“I feel like something like that is going to sweep us up but it’s not good like the dragon.”
Both sets of their eyes immediately went to the sky and searched along the tree tops for some mythical creature to swoop down and devour them.
“Hey Bridge… Are the kids getting into astronomy?” Derek questions his friend and points to the kids with their eyes fixed on the night sky. “I’ve got a telescope we should pull out. They’ll love it!”
Asher remembered watching a movie he wasn’t supposed to about The Jersey Devil. He couldn’t sleep one night so he thought he’d sneak downstairs to watch a little television. Massachusetts isn’t far from New Jersey he thought as he pictured the portrayal of this devil.
With the head of a goat, horn, a big set of bat wings, stubby little arms with razor claws and a forked tail like the one that come standard issue with the purchase of a devil costume, Ash was thinking he might be fairly ill equipped to keep his sister safe from such a monster. He crossed his fingers that the Devil wasn’t feeling up to travel this evening and had decided to have a few friends over to the Pine Barrens to torture instead.
Kendra’s ear piercing screech startled him and he looked over in time to see her collapse to the ground.
“You guys are so jumpy. Ken, I just tapped your shoulder and you freaked out. What gives?” Bridget says looking at her daughter near tears on the ground.
“Aliens. I was just thinking about aliens from another planet so when you tapped me I was just startled.” Kendra offered a weak explanation.
“Well, land your space ship. It’s time for dinner.”
After the last slice of cake had been eaten Bridget announced that they had to get back home because their grandmother’s nurse had to leave.
“Uncle D set up the telescope already. Could I walk Ken home when we’re done?” Asher asked his mother, desperate for a few extra moments away from the confines of ‘Moldy Acres’.
The moon was large and full, giving the night a rather bright night light to guide them the four blocks along their way home so she felt good letting them enjoy a little independence.
Emily sat on the bench between her cousins with all her fingers crossed and then her arms crossed too, for luck.
“Oh please, please, please Auntie can’t they stay?” Emily begged.
“I suppose if you’re going to get all twisted up about it,” Bridget tickled the little girls exposed arm pits. “They can stay.”
Emily squealed with delight and launched off the wooden bench to plant an Emily Sized bear hug around her whole Auntie.
“If it gets too late ask for a ride home, okay?” Bridget told her son before saying goodbye to her friends to walk home.
Spring had sprung but the nights were still comfortably cool, just the right temperature to pull on a sweatshirt and enjoy a wonderful evening with old friends that are family. Her walk was almost too short for a beautiful evening like this she thought.
The sound of an ambulance siren wailed in the distance.
Bridget mentally kicked herself for feeling stuck in a rut this afternoon. Sure she had certain responsibilities to honor but she had a great life.
Okay so maybe she didn’t have her own home, or the career she wanted. She didn’t take any of trips she’d planned or even purchased the new bras she’s needed for well over a year now. She’d even put off purchasing a new car sighting the fact that she’d rather spend a small car payment each month on books for her children who were avid readers. Her mother had a car that had been sitting in the garage since the previous summer anyway. She had the love of two wonderful children, a best friend that was more like a sister and needed for nothing.
Want was another story. She wanted her life to begin again.
She wanted to dance, twirl carefree and be happy.
She’d been molding for so long she could scarcely remember fleeting moments of that elusive happy state anymore. She used to feel selfish for wanting Fallon and their life together back. It was absolute perfection. It wasn’t right to wish for something that most people are not lucky enough to experience once in their lifetime. Her feet hardly touched the ground while she hovered on cloud nine most of their relationship.
“Want is such a powerful force but need is what I need to keep my eye on the prize. I need to keep truckin, one foot and then the other. This too shall pass.” She said out loud into the night as if vocalizing it would give her the necessary courage to keep going.
So lost in her own thoughts she didn’t hear the ambulance turn onto the street until it was almost upon her.
Bridget stopped and watched the white van with red and blue writing make the turn into the retirement community. Last week alone there had been two devastating falls by residence there. The tight community rallied around each other and any hardship sent a ripple through their little nook of townhomes.
The van made a right and she ran to the entrance just in time to see it make another left down their street.
She no longer felt the concrete under her feet as she tore down the street towards her mother’s home. As she made the left following the medical professionals, she could see the kindly young nurse that cared for her mother during the day letting holding the door open for the stretcher to get through the door.
“Mom!” Bridget wailed but she was so out of breath it sounded closer to the pathetic call of a lost newborn kitten.
Want and need took on a whole new meaning.
Chapter 4… Tune in next Tuesday!
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