Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The following is the first chapter of my novella in Church in the Wildwood, a 4-in-1 novella collection published by Barbour in 2003. Coauthors are Paige Winship Dooly, Kristy Dykes, Pamela Griffin, and Debby Mayne. The book is generational with each novella set in a different era and ending in present day. It centers around a...little church in the wildwood. The idea came to me as an old song my mother used to sing floated through my brain.

Oh, come to the church in the wildwood,
Oh, come to the church in the vale.
No church is so dear to my childhood,
As the little brown church in the vale.

My novella in Church in the Wildwood is entitled "Shirley, Goodness, & Mercy," and my heroine's name is Shirley. It's an old-fashioned name, and it's my grandmother's name. I enjoyed writing it and received many wonderful letters from readers.

Here's an especially glowing letter from an editor:

  • "This story ("Shirley, Goodness, & Mercy" in Church in the Wildwood) is just a delight. I loved the characters, the sense of place, and the believable conflicts being worked through, and the sense of humor. I think the growth of Shirley as she comes to see her mother as a complete person rather than as only a mother will be a facet of the story that readers of all ages will relate to in different ways."
"Shirley, Goodness, & Mercy" in
Church in the Wildwood
"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened;
that ye may know what is the hope of his calling." Ephesians 1:18


Hickory Hollow, Missouri, 1894

(I apologize if the paragraph indentions aren't correct. Thanks for your forbearance.)

Sitting on a grassy knoll overlooking her grandfather’s church in the verdant valley below, Shirley Campbell smoothed her serviceable brown skirts and replaced a hairpin in the chignon high atop her head.
This was something she never did—sit and while away time. But her beloved grandmother’s burial this morning prompted her mother to give her some time away from the never-ending farm work.
“Oh, Grandmother,” she whispered as her eyes misted over, “I loved you so. You were the only one who truly understood me. We were like knitted souls, you and I.” A tear trickled down her cheek followed by a deluge, and she wiped her face with her hanky and kept it at the ready instead of tucking it back in her waistband. “Such good times we had together. How will I make it without you?”
Holding her well-worn copy of Little Women, she stroked its cover as reverently as if it were the family Bible that held a prominent place in the Campbells’ farmhouse.
“How you used to enjoy it when I would read to you from these pages.” When her grandmother came down with the heart ailment, she asked for Shirley—of all the grandchildren--to come and help her one afternoon a week. Shirley soon found out that her grandmother didn’t want help with dishes and sweeping. As the preacher’s wife, her grandmother was besieged with offers of help from the saintly ranks. No, what Grandmother really wanted was for Shirley to read to her--from the pages of Little Women, of all things. Where Grandmother got the book, Shirley never knew, or why she wanted Shirley to read to her at all, she never could fathom. But from the very first, Shirley devoured the heartwarming tale of the four charming young ladies and their doting mother in prim and proper New England—a world away from Hickory Hollow, Missouri, both in distance and in deportment. She had read Little Women so often in the past year, she knew certain passages by heart.
Shirley envisioned the plucky heroine, Jo March, and quickly found the description of her in the opening pages of the book.

"Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt…she had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp gray eyes which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty…"

"Sounds like me." Shirley smiled as she thought of Jo, the fledgling writer, who, every few weeks, would don her scribbling suit and 'fall into a vortex.' Does genius burn? Jo's sisters would ask when they popped their heads in the door of her attic writing room.
Shirley flipped to the passage about Jo's literary endeavours and read aloud.

"…when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon…while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh."

Shirley found the entry she loved about the girls' devoted mother. Marmee, they called her.

"She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman, and the girls thought the gray cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid mother in the world…the first sound in the morning was her voice as she went about the house singing like a lark, and the last song at night was the same cheery sound…"

Shirley could see Marmee in her big armchair surrounded by her adoring daughters, encouraging them in their pursuits, Meg in her role as little mother to the younger girls, Jo in her writing ambitions, Beth in her piano playing, and Amy in her artistic leanings. Marmee was their comrade, but more than that, she was their encourager, their champion in the relentless quest of their goals and aspirations.
"Oh, to have a mother like Marmee March." Immediately, Shirley felt ashamed for voicing such an errant thought. Her mother was a good mother, a wonderful mother, but she was…she was…what was Mama? How best to describe her?
"Ah, Mama." Pictures of her mother appeared before her eyes as if they’d popped out of the picture book she treasured as a tyke, the only book she ever owned as a child, the book that was torn up long ago by her sister Gladly, though Shirley now had a few books she could call her own such as Webster's Dictionary and Shakespeare's Plays.
Thinking of Mama…Mama at the washtub on Mondays, scrubbing clothes and bed linens and white curtains, getting the dirt out with a vengeance, then starching and ironing each item, then folding and putting them away, week in and week out with never a let up in her strict regimen.
Mama at the woodstove morning, noon, and night, turning out mouth-watering meals, and cakes and pies and other delectable dishes.
Be sure and get Amanda Campbell to bring her strawberry pie, folks were known to say. Or her pecan pie or her cinnamon peach cobbler or a host of other sweets she could whip up in the blink of an eye.
Back to the mental pictures. Mama beating the rugs. Mama tending the garden. Mama sewing the family’s clothing. Mama getting her brood to Grandfather Hodges’s little stone church in the wildwood and, before Shirley took over the children's Sunday school class, Mama herself teaching it, making sure the Campbell children as well as the other youngsters hid the Holy Scriptures in their hearts. Mama visiting the poor of the community and the infirm in the congregation, sometimes bringing them good things from her kitchen.
Mama, Mama, Mama…always working, always going, always doing, a constant buzz of activity, like a honeybee on a hyacinth, never just being…or feeling…or dreaming…like Shirley often did.
Oh, it wasn’t that Shirley shirked her work. She could turn out a meal almost as fast as her mother, and her fancy stitchwork was praised all over Hickory Hollow by friends and family alike. And after all the chores were done that a farm demanded, she helped Grandfather Hodges nearly as much as Mama did with what he called Divine Service. Besides comforting the sick and bruised of heart, Shirley corralled all the children under the hickory trees every Sunday afternoon in the warm months and taught them Sunday school lessons, and they couldn’t wait to get there every week to hear her.
Shirley makes them Bible stories come alive right before our eyes, the tykes told their parents.
Most certainly, she always did her part wherever and whatever the workload required, but as she toiled every day, she thought and she dreamed and she saw and she felt…

You’ve got your head in the clouds, Shirley, Mama was prone to say. That won’t stand you well in life.
Shirley tried to talk to her mother once, a few months back. She confided in her about how she saw and felt things so deeply, how she dreamed and aspired and longed for--what, she knew not. But she was hoping her mother would know and could help her.
Mama, at times it seems my musings and longings are other-worldly, she told her, so far away, something distant and unattainable, yet so yearned for. Oh, what does it all mean?
She even gathered the courage to tell her mother about the stories that bubbled up inside her and ached to be shared with the world.
Mama only said, Fiddle-faddle, Shirley Campbell. Such as that won’t find you a good man. You’d best forget about that froth and frippery, and put your head to getting yourself a husband. After all, you’re eighteen now, soon to be nineteen.
Shirley rolled her sleeves a mite higher and unfastened the top button of her high collar to let in some air. Oh, if only she had the time to get those stories down on paper. Paper? Well, not fancy, store-bought kind. They could never afford that. But she’d be willing to write them on plain brown wrappers and old envelopes, if only she had the time.
Maybe she could get up earlier and write before breakfast. But she was already getting up at dawn, like Mama and Papa did. And if she got up before break of day, there would be no light. And her mother would never allow her to waste lamp oil for…for froth and frippery. She winced, thinking of those hateful words Mama used to describe her…her dreams.
No, getting up before dawn wasn’t the answer. And neither was writing on Sunday, the day of rest. She let out a little snort. By the time she got back from morning service, ate dinner, then headed back to teach her Sunday school class, the day was over. The last moments on Sunday evenings were consumed with helping Mama tend the children. Always the children were clamoring for Shirley's attention in the everyday busyness of life—her little brothers and sister washed, dressed, and fed, over and over again, and sewed for and cooked for and readied for school.
Perhaps she could find a few minutes every now and then and get her musings recorded. She knew with a surety that she would never find large blocks of time to devote to her writing endeavours. It would have to be in bits and snippets. Yes, that was the answer. And when a sufficient number of days passed, she would have whole stories fleshed out.
So happy did she feel, so grateful she was for a resolve to her dilemma, she laughed as she hugged her knees to her, almost like it was Grandmother she was embracing, and her heart beat hard in its perch in her chest. For, if she could get her stories written down, it was a long shot, yes, but perhaps she could become an authoress.
Like Jo March!
The thought was so strong and so weighty with all its implications, for a moment she almost couldn’t breathe. Somehow, some way, certainly so, she could become an authoress.
Like Louisa Mae Alcott!
With childlike abandonment, she leapt to her feet. Hugging the book to her, she dashed through the wild spring daisies. So hard and so fast did she run, she panted like Papa’s hunting dog on a chase, hurting from the stitch in her side.
But she kept on running with not a care in the world, and she called out to Jo March and to Louisa Mae Alcott and told them that one day, she, too, would be joining their elite ranks, and it seemed they answered her back.
Determination and diligence are the pathway, my dear, and if you possess those, you will succeed in your quest.
Their advice thrilled her, for indeed, she had a goodly portion of both.
When she came to a tall stand of hickories and pines and beeches and a magnolia or two between them, she halted to catch her breath. With wonderment she noted that the singing of the birds was almost as loud as the singing in her soul.
For a long eon she stood there, drinking in the serenity of the sight, robins and jays zipping between the towering hickory trees and lush chortleberry bushes, the hummingbirds buzzing in profusion about the honeysuckle vines, and she reveled in all that was being birthed in her heart and soul, thanking the Heavenly Father for this dip into divine afflatus.
Presently, still clutching Little Women, she came to the meandering brook that bordered Grandfather’s church far downstream. She stopped for a moment and read Miss Alcott's short biography in the front of the book.

"Louisa Alcott's first story was published when she was twenty. When she was twenty-three, things began to improve. A book of hers sold well. She went to Europe a few years later, and then came her great success: the publication of Little Women in 1868. Good Wives, Little Men, and Jo's Boys followed. These four books made her name and her fortune."

In awe, Shirley took up her trek beside the gently flowing crystal-clear gurgles, visions of grandeur appearing before her eyes…
Miss Shirley Campbell, authoress, being feted at a tea among society’s cream of the crop.
Miss Shirley Campbell, authoress, autographing her books at a book signing in a large city.
“Shirley,” someone called from a far place.
Miss Shirley Campbell, authoress, speaking before a distinguished crowd at a university.
“Mama’s needing you, Shirley,” came the voice again, this time with a whine. “Why'd you stay gone so long?”
Miss Shirley Campbell, authoress, hobnobbing in the North and the South and the East and the West with the literary greats of the United States—no, the world.
“Mama said to come right now. There’s a horde of people eating at Grandmother’s house, and we’ve used every plate in her cupboard, as well as our plates from home--not to mention all of Aunt Charmaine’s. Mama said you and I are to do the dishes, and to be quick about it.”
Shirley looked over and was startled to see her sixteen-year-old sister Gladly on the other side of the brook. It was if she had dropped down from the sky. Only Gladly was no angel.
“Gladly?” Shirley said blankly, taking a deep breath, trying desperately to climb down from the dais at the university where she was standing, trying to disengage herself from the places she had soared.
“If you don’t come right now, Shirley Campbell," Gladly yelled, "I’ll tell Mama your wits have gone a-woolgathering again."
Suddenly, Shirley was disengaged…
…from the high society tea…
…from the big-city book signing…
…from the university…
…and from hobnobbing with the literary greats.
She was also disengaged…
…from her dreams of becoming an authoress.
They were dashed to the ground. For after all, she was only Shirley Campbell, a plain-looking, little-educated farmgirl from Hickory Hollow, Missouri, with nothing but a life of drudgery ahead of her.
“Just like Mama’s,” she said under her breath. With an audible groan, she turned and crossed the brook pell-mell over the large, flat stones Grandfather positioned decades ago when he was building his church, making her way to…to…the work that awaited her.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


The following is the first chapter of my novel, The Tender Heart, published by Heartsong Presents of Barbour Publishing in 2003. It won Third Place in the 2004 Barclay Gold Contest and was a finalist in the 2004 Golden Quill Awards. The Tender Heart was inspired by my visit to Manatee Park Historical Village in Bradenton, Florida. As I looked at the old settler's house-- a "cracker gothic cottage"--I saw a young woman standing on the porch wearing a tattered dress. And I felt a fit of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings as well as Janette Oke and Catherine Marshall coming on me. The girl I saw became Sebbie in The Tender Heart!

I've had lots of reader comments about The Tender Heart. Here are a few:

"I just finished reading the first 100 pages of The Tender Heart and find it very gripping, filled with interesting plots, with surprises that held my attention. I stopped reading it only to write you. Kristy, or should I say, Grace? Your work is tops and my mind goes back to the days of Grace Livingston Hill days. Grace had talent, and so do you! This book is on par with any of her books."

"I never thought I would compare anyone else's writing to Janette Oke but you are just as good and I mean it sincerely."

"When I started reading
The Tender Heart, I could hardly put it down, as it captivated my interest from the first line!"

"The tension in
The Tender Heart builds gently and believably, lessons are truly learned, and the 'black moment' comes a mere five pages from the end. Well done, Kristy! I look forward to learning what happens to Kit, Bertie, and 'the girlies.'"

"Just finished reading
The Tender Heart. I was unable, or unwilling, to put it down before finishing reading it. This book would make a great Christian movie!"

Here's my first chapter. (Note: the paragraphing format isn't working properly. Thanks for your forbearance.)

The Tender Heart
Kristy Dykes
A wishful mother…an obedient daughter…a doubting suitor…a love that prevailed.


“Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Central Florida, 1888

For the first time, Sebbie Hanford left herself out of the count as she prepared breakfast for her mother and four sisters. The level of oatmeal in the tin canister was simply too low.
“One for Mama,” she said, carefully measuring the scoop and dropping the oatmeal into the pot on the range. “One for Kit. One for Bertie. And one-and-a-half for Ophelia and Cecilia between them.”
Stirring the watery porridge, she stared out the window at the vast stretch of Florida pastureland with its understory of wiregrass and palmettos, dawn’s pink and coral aura holding her spellbound.
She looked down at the pot, fretting about their hard times. “Thank the Lord all six of us are females,” she whispered, remembering her father’s voracious appetite, then feeling a lump form in her throat even though it had been five years since his passing.
As she calculated how thin she would have to cut the small loaf of bread to get six slices, her glance flitted to the shelves on the wall, and she knew without checking that the canisters were empty of flour and sugar and coffee.
She dumped the last of the tea leaves into the boiling water on the back of the range and stirred the oatmeal again. Last year, they had sold the final portion of their ranch, Happy Acres, except for the parcel the house sat on. But the money from the land sale was long gone. If her sister Kit could get them a turkey or a deer every now and then, and they could keep raising a few vegetables, maybe, just maybe, they could make it a few more months. Then what?
“I can get all the squirrels you could want,” Kit had told them over and over. “They make a good stew. Calvin Williams said so. Or you can fry them. His family eats squirrels all the time--when they’re not eating frog legs.”
“No-o-o-o,” her other sister Bertie had wailed. “You can’t shoot a squirrel.” Once, Bertie had caught and tamed a squirrel and carried it in her skirt pocket until it got loose and the black and white barn cat devoured it.
“We are not eating squirrels,” Mama said every time Kit offered. “Just because we live in the wilds of Florida doesn’t mean we’re going to act wild. There are some things I simply won’t allow.”
Standing by the stove, Sebbie smiled at her five-year-old sister Cecilia as she skipped into the kitchen. She was thankful for the thought-brightening sight of the precocious little tyke.
“We wish you a merry Cwis-mas,” Cecilia sang, her words a lisp through her snaggletooth grin.
“We wish you a merry Christmas,” Sebbie sang along.
Sebbie's mother rushed into the room, fastening the top button at her collar as she sang too. “We wish you a merry Christmas--and a happy new year.” She looked into the pot on the range. “Is it almost done, Sebbie? I need to leave before long. Mrs. Adams said I could display our quilts in her boarding house only if I arrive before the space fills up.”
"I'm hoping you do a brisk business with the Northerners today, Mama.”
“I'm hoping so, too, dear. I’m praying I’ll sell so many quilts, I’ll be able to replenish our staples and buy feed for Princess and Brownie, enough to last us at least a month.”
“We wish you a merry Cwis-mas,” Cecilia sang again.
Mrs. Hanford bent and stroked Cecilia’s cheek. “Why are we singing about Christmas, girlie? It’s three months away.”
"If I start early enough,” Cecilia said, “maybe my Cwis-mas wish will come true. What’s your Cwis-mas wish, Thebbie?” she lisped.
Sebbie looked down into Cecilia’s cornflower blue eyes. If only my eyes harbored the same hope that I see in yours, Cecilia. “What’s my Christmas wish?” she repeated. “Plenty of food and clothes for you, and Ophelia, and Kit, and Bertie.” She ran her finger into one of Cecilia’s flax-colored curls that bobbed with every turn of her head. “And a sense of well-being and security.” What they sorely lacked.
“I want a doll for Cwis-mas,” Cecilia said.
A shadow crossed Mrs. Hanford’s face. Then she seemed to rally, her fingers zigzagging across Cecilia’s back. “Go wash up, girlie. Breakfast is almost ready. And be sure to awaken Ophelia. I’m surprised she’s not in here too. You twins always do everything in pairs.”
“I woked up first this time.” Cecilia dawdled through the door, her blanket trailing behind her.
“You woke, not woked,” Mrs. Hanford called after her as she joined Sebbie in setting the table. “And tell Bertie breakfast is ready." The steady clink of spoons and knives were the only sound in the quiet kitchen. "My Christmas wish puts legs and feet on your Christmas wish, Sebbie, and walks it right into fruition.”
“What’s your Christmas wish, Mama?”
Her mother didn’t answer, just kept on with her work at the table.
“Mama, I asked you. What’s your Christmas wish?”
“I wish you would marry a well-to-do man and take us out of our penury.” Mrs. Hanford blurted out the wish, as if it was hard for her to say and she wanted to be done with it.
“Goodness me, what a preposterous thing to wish.”
"It’s...it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor one,” Mrs. Hanford said, hurriedly again.
“Even if I agreed, where would I meet such a man?”
“But my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” Mrs. Hanford quoted from the Bible, her hand raised in the air like a parson, her finger pointed heavenward. “We have a need, and the Holy Book promised that God would provide.” She wiggled her eyebrows up and down, like Papa had always done.
Sebbie was certain her mother was funning with her. Well, she would give her the satisfaction of joshing a little longer, and she continued pouring milk into the glasses, not saying a word. She thought about what her mother had said. I wish you would marry a well-to-do man and take us out of our penury. It didn't matter to Sebbie if the man she married had wealth or not. To her way of thinking, there were only three things that counted. One, he must love God. Two, he must love her. Three, he must love her family as his own.
“With the winter visitors streaming in from the North--” Mrs. Hanford leaned over the table and placed a spoon beside a bowl “--there are many ways you can meet a rich man, Sebbie.”
“You aren’t funning, are you?”
“If you married a well-to-doer, think what you could give the girlies. A proper raising like I had, with social invitations...and an excellent education. Maybe you could even provide them with travels abroad if you married well enough.”
Sebbie was aghast, could feel her eyes widening. Her mother was indeed serious.
“Your papa and I had such high hopes and dreams. He and I came to Florida to prosper, and we decided that our children, when God sent them, were going to have all the advantages. But it didn’t work out that way...”
Mrs. Hanford gripped the back of the chair and looked across the table, her gaze fixed on the far wall. “My father must’ve known how difficult it would be to start up a ranch in Florida. I’ll never forget the day your papa announced he was bringing me here. My father called Jed ‘Wanderlust Jedediah.’ He pleaded with us not to come. But Jed had it in his heart.”
Mrs. Hanford was gripping the chair so hard, her knuckles were white. “We didn’t listen to my father about coming here. I don’t mean to put pressure on you, Sebbie, but I implore you to heed what I’m saying. I have the advantage of looking back after years and years of adversities--one after another. Years of hard living...and...hard dying. You don’t have that...you’re young...and…and I want the best for you. Do as I say, not as I do, as the old saying goes. My life...transeat in exemplum.”
“Let it become an example,” Sebbie whispered soberly, the milk pitcher tilted in mid air, her thoughts far away from her task.
“Yes. An example.” In two strides, Mrs. Hanford was beside Sebbie, holding her by the shoulders, looking intently into her eyes, slowly shaking her head back and forth. “You are our only hope. Kit’s too rough and wild, and Bertie’s not much better." She paused and drew in a breath. "They remind me so of your papa. The twins are going to be as beautiful as you when they grow up, and I hope as genteel. But by then, it’ll be too late. They need their chance now.”
Tears misted Mrs. Hanford’s eyes, and her bottom lip trembled. “Please, dear, heed what I’m saying,” she choked out. “Marry well, so you can help us.”
"Isn't there anybody in your family who could come to our aid, Mama?"
Mrs. Hanford shook her head, slow-like. "I received the same amount of inheritance as my six sisters. You know that. That's all I was due, and that's all there was--"
"Yes, and Papa invested the money in the ranch…" Sebbie's words trailed off as the familiar ache grew inside her.
"On a whole herd of cattle—"
"--that was killed by the cattle blight…"
Mrs. Hanford nodded gravely. "I'm sure you'll make a wise decision, Sebbie, when the time comes." She turned and dashed across the room, mumbling over her shoulder something about making sure Kit and Bertie were loading the wagon, that it was nearly time to go.
“Oh Mama, what are you asking of me?” Sebbie’s words seemed to echo in the empty kitchen as she walked back to the stove, her footsteps leaden. She stood there, leaning against the wall to steady herself, trying to take in the magnitude of her mother’s words.
Transeat in exemplum, her mother had said. Latin for ‘Let my life be an example.’
She felt a knot in the pit of her stomach.
Marry well, her mother had said.
Like a dam bursting, a scripture flooded Sebbie's mind. Honour thy father and thy mother. The words struck her with such force, her hands shook as she dished up the hot oatmeal.
Could she honour her mother in this situation? She had always been an obedient daughter, one who didn’t hesitate to do her mother’s bidding. But could she do what her mother was asking now? Marry a well-to-do man in order to help her family?
Sebbie smiled and playfully whopped the wooden spoon on the wall in a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm. “Only if God sends a man…riding up out of the blue."
Late in the afternoon, Griffin Parks followed along behind the wagon of a certain widow lady, Mrs. Hanford. He was looking forward to a hot meal and a restful night’s sleep, what she had promised him when the proprietor of the boarding house told him her rooms were full.
For a year he had been living on a cattle ranch, sleeping on a narrow bed in a bunkhouse--or a bedroll under the stars. The prospect of a comfortable mattress tonight was appealing.
In a few weeks, he would be living in these parts permanently. With the inheritance he would soon collect on his trip up North, he intended to purchase a cattle ranch twenty miles due south of this part of the state.
As his horse Marco Polo trotted down the dusty road, his mind drifted. He wasn’t sitting in the saddle, swaying with the clip-clopping movement of a horse, bound for a widow woman’s house and a tasty dinner.
No, it was a year ago, and he was at a debutantes’ ball in Philadelphia, at the urging of his socialite mother, looking over a sea of satin, his heart almost stopping when he saw a particular young lady with captivating gold-brown eyes.
Miss Drucinda Hearst, belle tournure from New York City, stood out from the crowd with her plaisanterie and esprit. On previous occasions when he had chatted with her, she had been snide to him, rude even, displaying behavior far beneath her polished cultivation.
At those previous social events, he had felt like retorting, My parents are thoroughbreds like yours are, Miss Hearst. Haven’t you heard what the famous stage humorist said? In Boston they ask, How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who are his parents?
Instead of making the retort, however, he had summoned his inner reserves, made his perfunctory bow, and backed away from her.
As he looked over the young beauties at the debutante ball, he had decided he would make no more overtures to Miss Drucinda Hearst. He wasn’t a lunkhead. He knew when a lady had drawn the curtain between them.
When he felt a tugging on his elbow, he looked down and was surprised to see a familiar captivating gold-brown pair of eyes coquettishly staring up at him.
“What a delight,” she purred, “to see you here, Mr. Parks.”
“A pleasure to see you, Miss Hearst.” Acting like the gentleman that he was, he put aside his qualms and decided to converse with her. For close to an hour, the beautiful Miss Hearst clung to him, promenading around the ballroom on his arm, apparently proud to be with him, and him, her.
“I’m going to the ladies’ refreshment chamber, Mr. Parks,” she cooed after a long while, her dark lashes fluttering. “You’ll await me, won’t you?”
“Your wish is my command.” He said the gentlemanly words with a slight bow. After she flounced away, her skirts swishing, he found a seat on a silk sofa in the conversation area.
Three fresh-faced young ladies approached him and curtsied, chatted for long moments with him, then swept away. Two more did the same. Each time he stood out of courtesy, then sat back down.
Fiddling with his sapphire cuff jewelry, he hummed the song the orchestra was playing.
“That’s Mr. Parks,” an elderly woman’s voice said from behind him, where chairs were plenteous. “Next year, when he reaches his twenty-fifth birthday, he’ll inherit his grandfather’s vast holdings--”
“I already know about it, Gladene. And so does everybody else who’s here tonight. The word's leaked out. When his ship comes in, he’ll be as rich as Croesus. He’ll make some young debutante a mighty fine catch.”
Griffin jumped to his feet and made long strides across the ballroom. So that’s why you’re pursuing me like a hound after a fox, Miss Hearst. And that’s why the other hounds came sniffing.
He collected his overcoat and gloves and dashed down the steps of the massive mansion. You want me for what I can give you, Miss Hearst, not for who I am.
At the street corner, he hailed a chaise, sickened by the conniving, by her, by them all.
He would get away from this den of deceivers.
He would follow his dream and go to Florida.
He would learn the cattle business like he had been contemplating, and then he would purchase a ranch…
Now, as he followed behind Mrs. Hanford’s wagon in sunny central Florida, he carefully guided Marco Polo around a cavernous rut, confident that he would soon be an independently wealthy rancher. He would have the wherewithall to survive droughts and disease, and he would restock his cattle, over and over if necessary. One day, in the not too distant future, he would be shipping boatloads of longhorns out of Punta Gorda and down to the lucrative markets in Cuba.
“Easy boy,” he whispered, leaning down and patting Marco Polo on the neck. He remembered the other momentous decision he had made the night of the debutantes’ ball.
I will tell no one about my station in life. For a whole year, not one of the cowboys he had bunked with or ridden beside had found out about his prestigious family background or his forthcoming wealth.
And he intended to keep it that way.
Last week, his twenty-fifth birthday had come and gone unnoticed. Soon, he would be moving permanently to the land of sunshine, ah, sweet sunshine...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


The following is the first chapter of my novella in Room At the Inn. This is a Christmas-themed 2-in-1 from Barbour, and my coauthor is Pamela Griffin. It's available in Christian bookstores and on christianbook.com and amazon.com. I came up with the idea for the book after staying at a defunct B&B. I'll post that story on my blog under the title of B&B Caper 1 & 2. Look for it under November Archives or Previous Posts. It's a hoot. Think Edgar Allen Poe meets Lucille Ball.

Another inspiration for this story was when we visited Manatee Park Historical Village in Bradenton, Florida, and toured the "cracker gothic cottage," what many Florida pioneers would build and live in as they were taming what was then a vast wildnerness. The "cracker gothic cottage" was a dog-trot house (as opposed to a shotgun house, another form of early architecture), and was built with the rooms opening off of a wide central hall. I'm a native Floridian, and my great-grandparents built and lived in a home like this in Nassau County.

My novella in Room At the Inn is set in a "cracker gothic cottage." I loved writing it (as I do all my stories). And I've received lots of reader mail about it. Here's one letter from New York State:

Dear Kristy,
If I were an author, I would want to know if something I did touched someone's life. So, I wanted to tell you that your novella in Room At the Inn touched my life.

I just broke off a relationship with a man I liked a great deal. I have had a rough week and felt like your lead character, Lois. I'm 27 and single, but living in a small town, well, that makes me a minority. Coupling that with the fact that I am a teacher and go to a small church, the prospects of meeting someone who is a Christian and shares my values and is fun and interesting seems pretty bleak at times. I read your story, and it spoke straight to my heart. Lois's constant faith and yet frank acknowledgement of her fears and frustrations echoed my own heart. I immediately copied Psalm 37:4-6 and posted it on my computer. I don't generally identify so strongly with stories, nor do they usually cause me to change the way I do things or think. Yours did. Your writing, and in turn, you, are a blessing to me, and I wanted you to know that your work did some good.

Thank you for making a difficult time easier for me. May God bless you, your family, and your work. Thanks for brightening up a single, saved, and searching woman's day!

"Orange Blossom Christmas" in Room At the Inn
Kristy Dykes

"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." Psalm 37: 4-6:


The phone rang just as Landon Michael popped a cold capsule in his mouth and washed it down with a glass of orange juice squeezed from oranges picked from his own grove. He decided to let the answering service catch the phone call. He felt too wretched to talk to anybody. All he felt like doing was getting back to his recliner and spraying down with Chloraseptic Throat Spray.


"Achoo!" He reached for a tissue. What if it was someone from the high school? Principals couldn't get sick. At least that's what his staff told him yesterday when he left, coughing up a storm. They said they couldn't do without him, especially with Christmas vacation coming up next week. There was simply too much work to be done, they told him. Was this his secretary calling? Did she need something important?


He smiled. Was it somebody offering to bring him some homemade chicken soup? But if it was Miss Available-With-A-Capital-A-Home-Ec-Teacher Pamela Perkins, well, he'd pass, thank you very much...

Ring-g-g-g-g, ring-g-g-g-g...

His sense of duty got the best of him, and he grabbed the phone, determined to squeak out a greeting, raspy though it would be. "Hello?"

"Howdy, there. My name's Pas - tor Rodney Ellerson callin' from north Georgey. Is this the Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn?"
Landon coughed.
"I must've dialed the wrong number—"
More coughing.
"Could you tell me if I reached Lake Wallace, Floridy?"
"Yes. Sorry. I've...got a...terrible head cold."
"What a bad time of year—winter—to get yerself a cold. A cold in cold weather. Why, that's the pits."
Landon looked out the kitchen window and saw the bright-as-summer sun shining down on the clear-as-day lake. He knew the thermometer read 88 and smiled. "Anytime of year is bad to get a cold. Achoo."
"Yer right about that, pardner. So, this is the Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn?"
"Yes." What did this caller with the Georgia twang want? Landon glanced out the bank of windows in the great room. Nestled among gigantic orange trees, he saw the little brown wooden house across the road, the Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn. Nobody had stayed in it since his wife died a year ago. The B&B had been her brainchild. As far as he was concerned, it wasn't a B&B any longer. It was back to its original status--a cracker gothic cottage from Old Florida—what some historians called the early days of Florida. Eons ago, his forbears had built it and lived in it. These days, it was as vacant as a classroom in summer.
"Well," drawled the preacher from north Georgia, "the reason I'm calling is my wife saw an article about the Orange Blossom B&B in Southern Comfort magazine, and she got this idear to book a room for our church secretary as a gift from us and the church. I think it's a right good idear myself...I'd even venture to say it's inspired by God, you know, providential, because, you see, our church secretary is the most deservin' person in the whole wide world of a little R&R..."
Wonder if he's long-winded in the pulpit too?
"...why, our church secretary—Lois is her name—just like Lois in the Bible—why, she directs our children's church program, and last Sunday night, she put on the kids' Christmas play with 23 wriggly, writhing kids. Ever since she's been our secretary—six months now—our church has grown by leaps and bounds...why, she's got as many idears as Carter's got liver pills...and besides that, she's the mostest dedicated secretary in church history, I do believe..."
Bingo. A long-winded talker is a long-winded preacher. Landon smiled, remembering what his minister-father liked to jokingly say about long-winded visiting preachers. If they don't strike oil after 20 minutes, they ought to quit boring.
"And so, we're a-wantin' to book a room. Please say there's room at the inn." He let out a belly laugh. "Get it? Room at the inn? Like in Bethlehem two thousand years ago when Joseph and Mary came a-knockin' on the door of an inn. Please say ya got an empty room at yer B&B. My wife's got her heart set on yer place for Lois...it's a little piece of heaven smack dab in the middle of a Florida orange grove, is what she said. Please don't say you're full."
No, we're not full, that's for certain. Landon smiled again.
"My wife saw them pictures of the Orange Blossom B&B in Southern Comfort magazine—that funny-lookin' house a-settin' near a little lake in central Florida, and that was that. There's no other B&B to be had for Lois's R&R, as far as my wife's concerned."
Landon was surprised. The preacher's wife had just seen that article? Why, the Orange Blossom B&B had been featured in Southern Comfort over two years ago.
"My wife buys all her magazines at the library for a quarter. Course they're a little out of date when she gets them, and sometimes the coupons are ripped out, but that don't bother her none a-tall. We'd like to book a full ten days for Lois—" he paused, and a fumbling noise could be heard heard across the phone lines "—no, make that eleven days—I just checked my calendar. She'll get there December 15, and she'll leave December 26, the day after Christmas. She'll be arriving next Friday. You take Visa?"
Landon had a coughing fit.
"I knew I hadn't lost ya. I heard ya breathin' the whole time I been a-rattlin' on. Try using Neosynephrine nasal spray. Then you won't have to breathe through yer mouth. When ya have to breathe through yer mouth, yer throat gets dried out, ya know? And besides, it sounds turrible. Yep. I knew I hadn't lost ya."
"It...hurts...to talk."
"I can empy-thize. I had a cold last month. Like I said, I'm real sorry yer sick."
"My grandpappy always said, 'Take cold medicine, and in seven days you'll be well. Don't take cold medicine, and in seven days you'll be well.' In other words, you'll be as good as new in a week, medicine or not."
"I hope so."
"My Visa number is..." The preacher rattled off some numbers.
Landon jotted them down hurriedly.
"Can you send me a brochure?" The preacher rattled off an address. "My name's Pas - tor Rodney Ellerson. Did I say that already? E – L – L – I – S – O – N," he spelled. "Ellerson."
A few minutes later, as Landon plopped in his leather recliner in the great room, he realized with a full-blown case of worry that he now had a guest coming to the long-closed Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn.
In one week's time!
He glanced out the windows. The cottage across the road needed a thorough cleaning. It was probably covered in dust bunnies and cobwebs. And he was as sick as a dog.
"Achoo." Why had he taken this booking? Maybe it had something to do with the reverend. He liked his down-home flavor. This preacher reminded him of his own father—a minister, too. This preach had the same quaint Southern drawl and the same penny-pinching-by-necessity ways. His father would be amused when Landon told him about this preacher from north Georgia wanting a room for his secretary.
Maybe it had something to do with what the preacher said. My wife's got her heart set on yer place...she saw them pictures of your funny-lookin' house a-settin' near a little lake in central Florida.
Landon sprayed his throat with the vile-tasting green stuff, reflecting on the way the preacher's wife described the Orange Blossom Inn.
A little piece of heaven in a Florida orange grove?
Dear me, I may just donate the church secretary's stay. I may not charge the preacher a penny.
The booking, though, and why he'd done it...maybe it had something to do with that poor church secretary. Into his mind popped a picture of his father's church secretary at the church he presently served in North Carolina...
...spinsterish...or was it widowish?...
...overworked for sure...
...and definitely underpaid.
This Lois lady with the children's program on her shoulders, as well as a host of other things at her church, will probably enjoy the solitude of the Orange Blossom, he decided. She's sure to be refreshed during her stay. It's quiet around here, that's for certain.
He unwrapped a Hall's honey-and-lemon throat lozenge, popped it in his mouth, leaned back, and closed his eyes.
Somehow, I'll manage to get the place cleaned up before she arrives.
Through a deluge of rain, Lois Delaney drove down the dark, lonely road in the middle of Florida orange groves, hunting the sign the proprietor said to look for.
For long minutes now, she had slowed at every sign, then accelerated past them. Where was that sign? He said to go six miles past the main highway. Hadn't she gone six miles by now? Rats. She should've noted the mileage when she turned off the highway.
Now, she looked carefully at the mileage marker on the odometer and decided to go exactly two more miles, then turn back and begin hunting again.
What a time to be arriving at a B&B--and one set in such a remote place. She checked her watch by the light of the dashboard. Eleven o'five p.m. But she couldn't help the lateness of the hour. First, she'd gotten a late start. Too many duties in the church office before Christmas. Then, of all things her windshield wiper motor had broken in south Georgia, and she spent hours in the Toyota dealership while they fixed it. Whoever heard of a windshield wiper motor breaking? And on a new car, at that? If it'd been her old car, she could've understood. She'd driven that thing for nearly seven years, and its windshield wiper motor had never given her a problem.
What more could go wrong? Nothing, she assured herself. All would be well shortly. She would soon arrive at the Orange Blossom B&B, fall into a freshly-made bed, perhaps a canopied four-poster. And then she would sleep late the next morning, at least past her usual 6:30 a.m. And then she would head for the wide front porch for a leisurely and delicious breakfast that included, according to the brochure, freshly-squeezed orange juice and orange blossom honey.
At the Orange Blossom B&B, she would meet interesting people from all walks of life. The magazine article in Southern Comfort showed several guests eating breakfast together on the plankboard porch. Perhaps she would form lasting friendships with some of the guests. Outgoing and gregarious, she was always making new friends.
During the week, she planned to take walks in the orange grove and around the lake for quiet reflection, something she rarely had time for.
"Lord knows," she said aloud as she continued driving at a snail's pace so she could look for the sign through the rain, "I need some quiet reflection. And rejuvenation too."
She thought about her recent break-up with Phil. My, how that had hurt. She was ecstatic when they started a relationship four months ago. After all, the playing field was narrow for a 32-year-old single Christian woman.
Evangelist Phil A. Pullman had held a revival at their church, and from the first, she'd been impressed with—and attracted to--this dashing, debonair minister, charisma dripping off him like the rain now falling from the sky.
But that wasn't why she came to care for him during their four months of emails, phone calls, and occasional visits. It was because he truly seemed to care for her. And he was so dedicated to the ministry. And he made her laugh--he was as zany as she was. She recalled the times they belted out hymns together, him singing in his beautiful baritone, her as off-key as the day was long, both of them ending the songs laughing like hyenas.
She remembered the funny name he called himself, a play on words, his eyebrows going up and down every time he said it, her laughing in her usual way, loud and boisterous.
I'm Evangelist Phil A. Pulpit. Get it? Fill a pulpit. That's what I do.
Two weeks ago, he wrote her a succinct email that hadn't made her laugh. In fact, it made her cry.
Lois blinked back a tear, recalling the hurtful email. Just what did her future hold in the man department? "God, are You ever going to send me a man, the right man? If so, when?" Her voice was whiny, but she couldn't help it.
From the time she was a little girl, she wanted to be a wife and mother, the best in the world, just like her own mother had been and still was. But so far, life hadn't led her that way. Instead, she became a publicist who was now working as a church secretary for a temporary time.
"Lord, are You listening?" She wasn't embarrassed about talking to the Lord like this. She and the Lord were on a first-name basis. She had loved the Lord with all her heart, as the Scriptures instructed, for her entire life. She and the Lord'd had many conversations.
Now, though, she was doing all the talking. The Lord was mute.
She smiled, remembering a poem she'd recently come across, and she said it now.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
Lord, give me a man for keeps!
If there's a man beneath my bed,
I hope he heard each word I said!
She laughed uproariously. "Lord, please give me a man, a good Christian man. Think how much we can accomplish for Your Kingdom as a team." She paused, contrite. "Okay, Lord. I admit it. That's just a side benefit. The real reason I want a man is because I want someone to care for me, someone I can share my life with, and vice versa."
She slowed for yet another road sign, then proceeded on. "Okay, Lord, I'll be quiet so You can speak."
For a couple of minutes, nothing.
"All right, Lord, I've been in this journey of faith long enough to know that when You don't speak, I'm supposed to rely on the last word You gave me. And that's this. I'm to continue to draw close to You and believe that You are working things out for my good."
She drove on, the odometer clocking off yet another mile. "There it is," she exclaimed as she made a sharp left turn off the paved road and onto a dirt one. "Orange Blossom B&B, here I come. R&R at the rescue for this heart-weary woman."
She made her way slowly down the dirt road—a quagmire in the rain—as she searched for the B&B.
Look for a stone-and-stucco home on the left—that's where I live, the proprietor had said. Then pull into the driveway directly across from it. That's the B&B.
She spotted the stone-and-stucco home—just barely--in the darkness. Her enthusiasm dampened. No lights on the road? The porch? From inside the proprietor's house? The B&B?
She wheeled into the driveway of the B&B, just as the proprietor had instructed.
Her headlights flashed on a small wooden structure, the charming wooden cottage pictured in the brochure, and she felt heartened somewhat.
"Orange Blossom B&B," she called out in her cheery way. "I'm here at last."
She turned off the ignition. Momentarily her automatic headlights went off. What now? It was still drizzling, and besides, no one was about. No people. No cars. No proprietor.
Should she get out and knock on the door? She knew it was 11:30 at night, but she also knew that the proprietor was expecting her. The last time they talked on her cell phone—three hours ago—she told him about her windshield wiper motor mishap. She also told him she would be late. So where was he?
She tooted her horn.
A dog barked at her car window, and she nearly had a heart attack. She looked sideways and saw the biggest dog she'd ever laid eyes on—or so it seemed given the circumstances. He was standing—standing?—at her window, his paws on her car door.
"Down, Marmaduke," came a man's gruff voice in the darkness. Then a flashlight came on.
She cranked up, threw the car in reverse.
"Miss Delaney?" The man thumped on her window.
Through the tinted glass, she made out a man standing there holding an umbrella although she couldn't make out his features.
"I thought you weren't coming." He thrust his hand backward, toward the cottage. "This is the Orange Blossom B&B. If you'll get out, I'll show you to your room. And I promise to corral Marmaduke. Don't be afraid of him. He's a great big baby."
Marmaduke let out a howl.
"Hush, Marmaduke." The man petted the dog. "I promise you, his bark is bigger than his bite."
She didn't care to test the man's last statement as the dog let out another ferocious bark. What should she do now? She felt like driving away.
"Miss Delaney?"
She looked straight ahead where her headlights shone, to the little cracker gothic cottage in front of her, saw the wide front porch, noted its charm, thought about its unique history.
"Your pastor, Reverend Rodney Ellison, booked this room for you. I talked with him last week."
Ever the frugal one, she remembered her pastor's hard-earned money that he'd invested in her Christmas vacation.
"It's not the Sheraton by any means, but I think you'll find it pleasant."
She turned off the ignition. She would at least look things over. "We'll see," she said under her breath.

Monday, November 21, 2005


The following are the prologue and first chapter of my novella in Sweet Liberty, a 4-in-1 collection published by Barbour in 2002. Coauthors are: Paige Winship Dooly, Kristy Dykes, Pamela Griffin, and Debby Mayne. Blurb: Freedom and love reign at four historical Fourth of July celebrations.

I love this story. My heroine is a former-slave-now-freewoman in the 1850s in South Carolina. As I wrote Winkie's story, I asked the Lord to help me crawl into her skin and feel the hurt and bitterness she felt at the plight of her people. I'd like to think I achieved that. Many readers wrote me with wonderful comments.

"Are you black or do you have a special gift of empathy?" one reader wrote.

"I am sharing your books with some women in my neighborhood," wrote another reader. "One friend has just renewed her faith
in the Lord Jesus after reading your novella in Sweet Liberty."

Thank the Lord!

I hope you enjoy reading some of Sweet Liberty. (It's no longer available for sale.)

"Free Indeed"
Sweet Liberty
Kristy Dykes
Author’s Note: In the 1800s, there were many black dialects in the South, including Geechee, Gullah, combinations of various kinds, even Elizabethan-sounding ones. I could’ve used Gullah which is the authentic black dialect in Charleston, South Carolina, but the dialogue would
be hard to read. To benefit my readers, I’ve sprinkled in off-grammar jargon,
the most easily-read form of dialect.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free,
ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

1856, Laurel Ridge Plantation,
The outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina

Two important days have shaped my future, and they both had to do with freedom. I’ll never forget the first day as long as I live...

That afternoon, I was helping Mrs. Williams, my master’s wife, get dressed. She was to entertain her friends, and I took particular pains with her light brown hair, coiling the back into the new figure-eight style chignon, fluffing the front and sides into frothy curls. I wanted her to look her very best and had even suggested she wear her rose-colored silk, which she did. Then I refashioned her maroon velvet hat, adding ribbons and peacock feathers, something I’d seen in her ladies’ magazine.

When she dismissed me, I came down the staircase of Laurel Ridge, intent on going to my quarters and checking on my little daughter Cassie. She was asleep when I left her, and I wanted to be there when she woke up. After that, I planned to bring her to the kitchen house so I could watch her while I ironed Mrs. Williams’s fine lawn underpinnings.

As I reached the last step, I lingered for a moment, thoughts of my Sweet Love Roscoe making my head swim and my heart race. My Sweet Love Roscoe lived on a neighboring plantation, and we had been allowed to jump the broom--that’s slave talk for getting married--the summer of my seventeenth year, though I was still required to keep my master’s surname.

Our blooming union--as Sweet Love Roscoe joshingly called it--had a bright spot. It had given us little Cassie. But dark clouds of despair overshadowed us when his bedeviled master issued a cruel edict after Cassie was born. He refused to let Sweet Love Roscoe see me, something that caused both of us great grief. The rare moments we spent in each other’s arms were brief and on the sly.

I wept many a night over this. Other times, I got downright angry. The only things my people would ever know were ownership by other human beings and long dreary lives of servitude--if they were lucky enough not to be lashed into early graves, a real possibility for my Sweet Love Roscoe.

The thought turned my stomach, as if I’d swallowed rancid meat, and I gripped the banister more tightly to steady my footing.

Oh, Roscoe, I cried out in my heart, oh, my Sweet Love Roscoe--

I felt so woebegone I couldn’t even hang words on my thoughts. Then I shook myself. Work waited, always waited. As I proceeded across the wide hall of Laurel Ridge, I heard a door open behind me.

“Winkie?” called my master, Mr. Williams.

I turned around, my long skirts swishing in my quick movement. “Sir?”

“I’ve something to discuss with you. Will you come into my study?”

“Yes, sir.” In moments, I was seated in front of Mr. Williams’s large mahogany desk, wondering what he had to say. Though he was far different from Sweet Love Roscoe’s stony-hearted master, still he was...my master, and inside, I chafed at this thought.

Mr. Williams sat down in his high-backed leather chair, reached into a drawer, and pulled out some papers.

Again, I wondered why he called me in here.

“You are a free woman,” he said, eagerness in his voice, kindness in his eyes. “Here are your official papers. Winkie Williams, I’m proclaiming you free as of right now.”

I looked at him as if thunderstruck. “Free?” I finally said, trying to fathom the word that held no meaning for the likes of me.

“I’m selling the plantation, and Mrs. Williams and I are moving back to the North. I’m freeing my slaves. You’re the first one I’ve told because you’ve always been special to our family.” He pushed a paper across the desk. “Here. Take it.”

I reached for the document, dazed. Where would I go? What would I do? How would I support myself? And most importantly, what would this mean for my Sweet Love Roscoe and me? Living at Laurel Ridge, we enjoyed a few stolen moments here or there. When I left, I would never see him again.

Not ever.

Anger boiled in me. Of course I wanted my freedom. All of my people wanted their freedom. Now I had it--in my hands. I squeezed the document, and it rustled in my grip. But freedom for me meant parting with my Sweet Love Roscoe.

A venomous chuckle roared up my throat as the irony of the whole thing struck me. Slavery had been forced on me, and now freedom was too.

“Winkie?” Mr. Williams said, concern in his tone.

My presence of mind returned, along with my manners. “I-I don’t know wh-what to say, Mr. Williams,” I stammered as I stood up. “Except th-thank you, kind sir.”

“Godspeed to you, Winkie.”

With a nod and a smile and a confident step, I made my way across the room, but inside, I was reeling from this news.

I closed the door behind me, leaned against the wall knocking a brass sconce askew. I righted it and moved a few paces down the hall, sank into a chair, my legs too wobbly to hold me.

Tears welled in my eyes as I bunched and unbunched the fabric of my skirt, fretting over my future, a lifetime without my man. Then a thought came to me that sent thrill chills speeding down my spine.

Strike for freedom, I would urge Sweet Love Roscoe. Go to Canada. We’ll start a new life together, one founded in the sweet light of liberty.

Now was our chance. We could live in Canada where blacksmiths easily obtained work, we’d been told. I knew Roscoe would do as I bid. He’d been thinking about it for months, years even.

I’ll escape to Canada on the Underground Railroad, he would say, and you and Cassie can follow me when I get settled.

Every time he mentioned it, I would put my fingers across his lips. No, I always said, fear gripping me with an iron-clad hand. If the slave hunters were to catch Cassie and me... I would shiver, and then I would say, You know what they do if you’re caught. I can’t risk it--for little Cassie’s sake.

Now, though, with my freedom granted, Cassie and I could follow him to Canada legally and unafraid, and the thought comforted me like a coat in the cold.

But how would I keep body and soul together during the time Cassie and I waited on Sweet Love Roscoe to reach Canada?

My mind ran a hundred different ways. I could dress a lady. I could sew. I could take care of children. Would any of these skills help me find work once I left Laurel Ridge? I could cook. I could clean. Why, I would even scoop dung from the streets if that’s what it took.

But would I be able to find work? Jobs were scarce for free people, I knew. And where would Cassie and I live? And what would she do while I worked? Who would look out for her?

The ponderations pounded in my brain until my head ached with a ferocity I had never known. If I were a white lady, I would take to my bed with a vinegar compress on my brow. But I was not a white lady.

I was a former slave, now a free woman, alone in the world except for little Cassie, with no prospects of a job under my belt or a roof over my head...


1859, Charleston, South Carolina

Winkie Williams stood in front of her millinery shop, sweeping vigorously. Only two hours past cockcrow, the July sun was already high in the sky, and she stopped her work and swiped at her brow with a handkerchief.

Grasping the broom handle, she stood there staring at her strong brown hands, hands that had picked cotton as a child, dressed the master’s wife as a girl, and were now making hats for Charleston society ladies.

She looked across the pastel-colored buildings, drew in a breath of sharp briny air drifting in from the harbor. In the distance, she could hear horns blowing, flutes trilling, drums beating, and she knew that somewhere in downtown Charleston, band members were practicing for the Independence Day parade that would soon commence.

She could picture the parade scene as if it was before her now. She had watched the parade in the past, but not last year, and not today either. Today marked two years since she had gotten the awful news, and she doubted she would ever go to another Independence Day parade again. How could she celebrate when her Sweet Love Roscoe lay in a cold, dark grave?

She willed herself not to succumb to the grief that often overwhelmed her. “Think about the parade,” she mumbled as a drummer banged out a fast beat.

“At the parade,” she said to herself, “the streets will be lined with ladies and gents and boys and girls. Most will be dressed in red, white, and blue. Some of the ladies will be wearing hats I made with my own hands. They’re going to shake their noisemakers and toot their tin horns and sing their patriotic songs and wave their flags high in the air. They’re going to shout, ‘Let freedom ring.’They’re going to holler, ‘Liberty, sweet liberty.’ They’re going to say, ‘God bless America.’”

She continued sweeping, intent on getting every speck of dirt off her front stoop, something she did at least twice a day. “Yes, God has blessed you, America. You are free from the bondage of your mother country. And I am free from the bondage of slavery.”

She leaned down and picked dead petals off the flowers that were clumped in pots by the door. “But what good does that do?” she almost spat out. “My people will never be free men and free women, like me. They never know what it mean to have a kind master release them.”

From her pocket she withdrew a cleaning rag and rubbed at a streak on the window pane. Her musings brought to mind her dear departed mother, a slave brought over from Africa before the turn of the century, a woman whose existence had been one of unspeakable inhumanity, sorrow, and despair.

Burdens--that’s all there be to life, Mama said many a time. We be tasked hard.

“Mama, look--”

“Goodness, child,” Winkie shrieked, dropping the rag, “I be so deep in the land of emptiness, you plumb scared the pudding out of me.” She reached over and patted her six-year-old daughter where she stood in the open door, then lifted Cassie’s chin and smiled down at her. “I got a surprise waiting for you, Sugarbun.”

“We going to the parade?” Cassie's eyes lit up like the sidewalk firecrackers the white children set off every Independence Day. “Oh, Mama, thank you, thank you. Just what I wanted--”

“Now what you go bringing that up for?” Winkie snapped. “I done told you my answer about the parade. It’s no. N - O,” she spelled. “Madam is expecting three more bonnets from me in the morning. I got work waiting.”

She turned back to the window and rubbed the pane furiously. “Always, the work is there. There’s never no let up. I be tasked hard.”

Cassie grew as still as a statue, her eyes downcast.

Immediately, Winkie was ashamed of her outburst. She squatted and drew Cassie to her, squeezing her in a tight embrace, head to head, heart to heart. “Mama’s sorry, Cassie, my mama-look baby. My surprise is a sweet potato pie. I made it this morning. Your favorite. Mama don’t mean to be such a sore head all the livelong day. It’s just that I...well, I got troubles pressing on my mind--”

“Winkie,” a high-pitched female voice called from down the street. “I’m sorely in need of your services.”

Winkie stood up, her fingers locked with Cassie’s as she looked toward the lady, her girlhood friend, the master’s daughter who had taught her how to read. Miss Willie was coming pell mell down the street, her blond ringlets bouncing with every step, her bell-shaped skirts swishing and swaying with every movement.

“Why, do tell,” Winkie said, when Miss Willie drew near, forcing cheerfulness into her voice. “What brings you here on Independence Day? Shouldn’t you be heading to town for the festivities?”

“I’m on way,” Miss Willie huffed out. “But I had an item of utmost importance to attend to.” She swooped down and tickled Cassie on the side of the neck, and Cassie giggled in delight. “Look what I’ve brought you, Cassie dear.” From her large reticule she pulled out a charming doll dressed in an exquisite red, white, and blue silk gown.

Cassie hugged the doll to her. “Thank you, Miss Willie. Oh, thank you. This be better than any old parade,” she said softly as she turned and headed inside.

“She’s a quiet child,” Miss Willie said.

“Yes, ma’am. Now, what can I do for you today?” Winkie looked to her left, then to her right. It wouldn’t be fitten for a fine lady like Miss Willie to be seen standing in the alleyway conversing with the likes of her. “Come on in. Whatever it is you need, we be seeing to it right away.”

Inside the little shop that wasn’t really a shop only a work room with a curtained-off sleeping area, Winkie offered Miss Willie a chair, then put the broom away.

“Willie and Winkie.” Miss Willie settled back in the chair and smoothed her ruffle-flounced, white brocade gown. “We were a lively duo growing up, weren’t we?”

“That we was.”

“Had ourselves some escapades, didn’t we?”

“That we did.” Winkie sat down in the other chair, leaned her elbow on the table, lightly drummed her fingers. Miss Willie’s family, the Williamses, had come from the North and purchased Laurel Ridge when both girls were about thirteen.

From the moment they’d met, they’d become fast friends. Miss Willie--Wilhemina was her given name but everyone called her Miss Willie--had married at seventeen. That same day, while the white folks’ wedding festivities were going on up at the big house, Winkie and her Sweet Love Roscoe were getting married, too, down at the quarters. Jumping the broom, was what the people called it.

Winkie fiddled with the folds of fabric stacked neatly on the table. Growing up, she and Miss Willie had shared many commonalties. Their flair for fashion. Their interest in reading--after Miss Willie taught her how. Even the similarity of their names. Willie and Winkie. Perhaps those were the things that had bonded them together so strongly.

But now, there was one profound difference between them. Miss Willie had a husband and no child. Winkie had a child and no husband. She had no husband because her Sweet Love Roscoe had died fleeing the tyranny of a cruel master. Halfway to Canada, the slave hunters had captured him, dragged him back, and in the process, he had lost his life.

And it was all because of her. She had urged him to escape.

Oh, Roscoe. She rubbed her temple where it throbbed.

“I came by this morning to see if you’d make a few of these rosettes you made for my bonnet--” Miss Willie touched the red, white, and blue fabric flowers on each side of her hat “--and sew them onto my sash.” She fingered the red silk sash at her waist. “I thought a touch of red, white, and blue somewhere on my gown would look even more patriotic.”

“Sure thing, Miss Willie.” Winkie stood and in one quick movement gathered her sewing basket and some swatches of red, white, and blue silk fabric from a shelf overhead. Then she sat back down. “Won’t take me no time.”

“I knew that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have troubled you.”

“No trouble at all.” She could spend a lifetime helping Miss Willie, yet it would never repay her for her kindness. A few years after Miss Willie had married and moved to a plantation in Georgia, her father decided to sell Laurel Ridge and move back to the North. It was then that Miss Willie convinced him to free his slaves.

It was then that Winkie had become a free woman.

Winkie threaded her needle, stuck it in a pin cushion, cut narrow strips of red, white, and blue silk skillfully, just as her milliner patron had taught her. She would be indebted to Miss Willie for life.

It was Miss Willie who had traveled to Charleston and secured Winkie's apprenticeship with the grand milliner, Madam Henderson.

It was Miss Willie who had given Winkie the guidance to set up her own shop.

It was Miss Willie who was responsible for Winkie’s present life--living as a free woman and productive citizen on a busy street in Charleston, even if it was a back alley. Though the ladies of Charleston had turned up their snooty noses at her back-alley shop--causing Madam Henderson to agree to front for Winkie for a fee and no credit for Winkie's hatmaking--still, the small profits kept body and soul together for her and Cassie, and she would be eternally grateful to Miss Willie.

As long as Winkie lived, she could never do enough for the kind and gracious Miss Willie. Never. Why, there was no guile to be found in the blue-eyed, blond-haired belle, only sweetness down to the bone.

“I’ve come to ask a second favor of you, Winkie.” Miss Willie’s sparkling blue eyes were sober now.


“Come to the parade.”

“I couldn’t do that.” Winkie silently reprimanded herself. Hadn’t she just been thinking she’d do anything for Miss Willie? Here she was, refusing her request. But she couldn’t help it.

“It’s time.”

“That’s something I need more of.” Winkie tried to hide the anger in her voice, thinking she’d had far too much time to brood this morning. “I have three bonnets yet to trim.”

“It’s time, I repeat. I think you know what I mean.”

Winkie pushed the needle into a bunching of fabric, then deftly pulled it out. In the fabric, out the fabric, in the fabric, out the fabric.

“It’s been two years since...” Miss Willie’s voice trailed off. “There’s someone I’d like to introduce you to after the parade.”

The first rosette completed, Winkie bit off the thread, grinding her teeth more than necessary, and rethreaded the needle. A moment ago, she’d been thinking Miss Willie had no guile in her? Now, she saw a hint of pretense. Why, Miss Willie didn’t come to the shop to have rosettes made. She came to make a match—

Winkie couldn’t even finish the thought. She pushed the needle into the fabric so hard, it punctured her finger and drew blood. She hadn’t done that since her apprenticeship. She wrapped her finger with a piece of cloth, stuck a thimble on it, kept sewing.

“We’re going to the parade with our friends, the Fletchers,” Miss Willie said. “It’s their carpenter I want you to meet. Mr. Fletcher says there’s no finer man of all his people. This man I’m talking about--his name is Joseph Moore--is diligent and hard working, just like you, Winkie.”

Winkie never said a word while she completed the second rosette. She just sat there, pulling the needle in and out, biting off the thread, rethreading the needle as Miss Willie prattled on about the man she wanted her to meet, the carpenter owned by the Fletchers.

“Dolly Fletcher says the talk is,” Miss Willie continued, “that Joseph hasn’t found the right girl to jump the broom with. You’d be the perfect girl.”

“Jump the broom?” Memories seared her mind, and she felt as though she’d been burned by an ember from the cooking fire.

“I know it’s hard for you--”

“You don’t know no such of a thing.” For the third time this morning, Winkie felt remorseful for her snappiness. Silently she reprimanded herself. First, Cassie had gotten the brunt of her malcontent. Then, Miss Willie. Now, Miss Willie again. Still, she couldn’t help humming—loudly. Nobody knows the trouble I seen.

“Mama, look,” Cassie exclaimed as she skipped from behind the curtain. “Sheena--” she held out her doll as she ran to Winkie “--her eyes opens and closes. I never held no doll that’s eyes opens and closes. Oh, Mama, look.”

“Come here, my mama-look baby.” Winkie set aside her sewing, swooped Cassie onto her lap, planted a kiss on each eyelid as Cassie convulsed in giggles.

All the things Winkie had thought about this morning, all the fanciful things Miss Willie was saying now--none of them mattered. Only Cassie mattered. Cassie was her reason for being. And living.

“Show Mama them eyes that opens and closes.” Winkie kissed Cassie’s eyelids again.

“For her.” Miss Willie tipped her head in Cassie’s direction, looking intently at Winkie. “If for no other reason, go to the parade for her. She’s a child. She needs diversion every now and then. I always said Independence Day is more fun than Christmas.”

Winkie fiddled with the doll’s eyelids. Perhaps Miss Willie was right. Cassie rarely had the opportunity for pleasure.

“After the parade,” Miss Willie said, “the Fletchers are giving a pig roast in our honor--for moving back to South Carolina.” She tapped on her hat brim. “I’m so happy you’ll be making all my bonnets from now on.”

Winkie sat there, contemplating what Miss Willie was saying, glad Miss Willie would be living nearby. That gave her a comfort.

“That’s where I wish to introduce you to Joseph Moore--at the Fletchers’ pig roast. Dolly Fletcher knows of my desire, and out of courtesy to me, she’s extended an invitation to you, to eat with their people. There’ll be children Cassie’s age, and she’ll enjoy their games and child play. And the food is going to be simply scrumptious. The Fletcher people have been roasting the pigs all night long. Dolly says their people make the best roast pork in all of South Carolina. She vows and declares it’s the wood they cook them over. I believe she said it’s--”

“Oak wood.” Winkie absently straightened the doll’s hair that didn’t need straightening. “Oak wood bring out the flavor of pork like no other.”

“And they make a special sauce--”

“Carolina gold, I’d hanker.” She untied the ribbon on the doll’s bonnet, then retied it, laboriously making the loops as small as possible so they’d be in correct proportion to the doll’s chin. “Carolina gold be better than Carolina red by a mile.”

“Won’t you please come to the parade? If you won’t do it for yourself, and you won’t do it for Cassie, do it for me. Please? Help celebrate mine and Mr. Richard’s move back to Charleston.”


A half hour later, Winkie and Cassie were headed to the parade, dressed in their best gowns with matching feather-trimmed bonnets on their heads, a sweet potato pie in a basket on Winkie’s arm. As they walked along, they trailed Miss Willie by a good half a block, as was proper.

“I wonder about...Mr. Joseph Moore...isn’t that what Miss Willie called him?” Winkie said under her breath, knowing Cassie was paying her no mind.

“There won’t be no mama-looks from Cassie right now,” Winkie whispered. Cassie was holding Sheena--her first store-bought doll--and as the tyke walked along, she was opening and closing the open-and-close eyes. “I wonder what Mr. Joseph Moore’s countenance be like,” Winkie said softly.

She shifted the basket to her other arm and caught a whiff of the sweet potato pie. “Miss Willie is sweetness down to the bone. That, she is.” She breathed in deeply of the pleasant-smelling scent. “I be going to the Independence Day parade and the picnic afterwards for Cassie’s sake,” she whispered. “And for Miss Willie’s sake.”

Deep down though, she was loathe to admit that she was really going to the parade to meet Mr. Joseph Moore. “I wonder if Mr. Joseph Moore be dark?” she mused aloud. “Or light? I wonder if he have big eyes or small? I wonder if he be tall, like me? Or short? He be smart, for sure. Double-dose smart. Miss Willie say he be so skilled at carpentering, the carpentry shop in town use his services.”

Into her mind came a vision of a tall, handsome man bent over a work bench, his muscles glistening in the sunlight. Would he have understanding eyes and a compassionate soul? Perhaps this Mr. Joseph Moore would take a shine to little Cassie. That would most assuredly cause her to do a joy jig.

Then a second vision appeared, gut-wrenchingly so, of another tall, handsome man, this time bent over a blacksmith’s fire, his muscles glistening in the sunlight. This man had understanding eyes and a compassionate soul, and he had loved Cassie with every sinew of his soul.

She drew in a sharp breath at the thought of Sweet Love Roscoe, her husband who died fleeing slavery--a word so abhorrent, she had a hard time letting it float through her mind.

With brooding ponderations gnawing at her insides, she hurried on down the street.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


On some Saturdays, I'll be writing Saturday Specials...My Own Love Stories. These will be stories out of my life.

Yesterday (Friday), Milton said he'd like to go to the outdoor concert that night in San Marco. Would I like to go? Sure, I said. We love music and outdoor concerts. Many times, we attend beach concerts just 20 minutes from our house. We sit in front of the beautiful lighted bandshell, eating fruit and sandwiches, the dunes to the side of us and the gently lapping waves a stone's throw beyond as we listen to the symphony orchestra playing everything from Beethoven to the Beatles. We've been to the Florida Folk Festival, sitting in the natural grassy ampitheatre amidst tie dye and tattoes, listening to folk ballads like What If Your Butt Was Gone? and other savory offerings that nearly make us fall off our lawn chairs laughing with friends Don and Sandra.

Music? We love it. We've been all over listening to good music. Southern gospel. Bluegrass. High-fallutin,' high-brow symphony. Hillsong Christian. Old hymns of the faith. Even a little Elvis thrown in here and there. And every blue moon, a country ballad. Did I say ballad? Can you call this country song a ballad? Before We Said I Do We Did, But Now We Don't. What a hoot. Speaking of country, Milton and I sat right beside Naomi Judd for nearly an hour several weeks ago when we had a layover in the Nashville airport. We were at a tiny table in a crowded coffee shop killing time, and Naomi Judd, her husband, her doggie, and another couple came in and sat at the next little table just 18 inches away. If I'd had my camera with me, I'd have asked for a picture. We overheard her say she'd just televised a show and was on her way somewhere to do something else in stardom.

So when Milton said let's go to an outdoor concert in San Marco, I said sure, thinking it would be in the square with its three stone lions and fountain and white gazeo. Well, it was in front of the 1888 Episcopal church on a beautiful oak-tree dotted spanse of ground. The tiny--I'm talking miniscule--white clapboard A-frame church was lit up with spotlights against the darkened night sky--a spectacular picture, and the tuxedo-clad River City Brass Band sat on the front portico, entertaining and delighting us with their talent.

It was freezing, and I had on lined velvet gloves and three layers of clothing. Okay, it was only 60 degrees, but for this blood-as-thin-as-water-Florida-native, it was cold! And, to my defense, the wind kept whipping up, causing the wind chill factor to be much lower than 60, maybe in the high 40s or low 50s. Anyway, we pulled our lawn chairs close to get body warmth as we sipped hot coffee and hummed along to I'm Proud to Be an American, Amazing Grace (yep, the symphony), and other songs.

As we sat shoulder to shoulder under massive sprawling oak trees, surrounded by young and old alike, some on lawn chairs like us, others on blankets on the ground, I thought, how romantic, sitting here in the dark by my man, his arm rubbing up against mine, my left leg entwined around his right one, his masculinity oozing out of him and over to me, litte doodads crawling up my spine. And we've been married for years and years!

It's all in how you view things. I made a vow before God and man to stay true to my husband. So if I'm going to stay true to him--if he's going to be the only man in my life--it might as well be a romantic experience, to my way of thinking. That beats drudge any day, you know? I love to teach women the concept of revisiting the sizzle, i.e., remembering what drew you to your spouse in the first place, and then finding times in your marriage to really appreciate those things and let them bring you romantic feelings as you fall in love all over again. Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, said, "Rejoice with the wife of thy youth." That means husbands too.

Solomon also said, "When I found the one I love, I held him and would not let him go."

I'm holding onto my man. Faults and all. (And I'm sure he could say I have my faults too). I'm never letting him go. With the Lord's help.


I did a sneaky thing today. I was in Sam's and noticed some Christian novels in a pile on a low shelf. The two shelves above it were empty, and the shelf above that held red leatherette book and Bible covers. Should I or shouldn't I?

I looked, shifty-eyed, to my right then left. The aisle was clear. Whew. Breathed in deeply. Arranged the novels, face out, on the two empty shelves. Bunn. Whitlow. Coble. Billerbeck. Walker (Laura Jensen). Dekker. Mackel. Etc. A lady comes by holding a clipboard AND NO PURSE. She stops right behind me. I stoop, like I'm looking for a book. I look and look and look, and she looks and looks and looks. At me. I see her moving away. I hold my breath. She's gone. I breathe. I keep arranging. I get real brave. I move the red leatherette book and Bible covers and stock the Christian novels ON THE TOP SHELF!

Thank ee, Jesus. I did it all for You. GRIN

Friday, November 18, 2005


The following is the first chapter in my novella in Wedded Bliss? (question mark intended). It's on shelves now in Christian bookstores and Walmart (or can be ordered) and is also available at christianbook.com and amazon.com. Wedded Bliss? is a 4-in-1 novella collection published by Barbour. Blurb: Four couples about to hit their 25th anniversaries hit snags instead. Coauthors are: Susan K. Downs, Kristy Dykes, Sally Laity, and Carrie Turansky.

Here's a footnote: Rev. Billy and Ruth Bell Graham have been a great influence in my life in many ways (I'll share some later). I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ruth Graham, one of their daughters, and wrote about her which was the cover story in Woman's Touch magazine's July/August 2005 issue. www.womanstouch.ag.org By the way, Ruth, the daughter, has a great new book entitled In Every Pew Sits A Broken Heart.

Rev. Billy and Ruth Bell Graham have had what I deem to be a successful marriage--they've been together over 60 years. Has it been happy? Blissful? In a recent interview, when asked about his wife, Rev. Billy Graham said, "We're happily incompatible." But they love each other, adore each other, in fact! They''re committed to each other! They're faithful to each other! They've stuck it out! That's success! That's the proof of the pudding!

Ruth Bell (Mrs. Billy) Graham figures prominently in my book Wedded Bliss? How? When my main character experiences trouble in her marriage, someone gives her a copy of Never Let It End...Poems of A Lifelong Love by Ruth Bell Graham. In this little collection of her beautiful poems, Mrs. Graham packs a powerful punch when she says, "It is a foolish woman who expects her husband to be to her that which only Jesus Christ Himself can be: always ready to forgive, totally understanding, unendingly patient, invariably tender and loving, unfailing in every area, anticipating every need, and making more than adequate provision. Such expectations put a man under an impossible strain. The same goes for the man who expects too much from his wife." When my main character reads this, God speaks to her heart.

If you're having difficulty in your marriage, look to Jesus Christ to fulfill your longings and satisfy your soul. No person, place, or thing--and certainly no man--can do this. Only Jesus can!
Renew your commitment to your spouse, and to God, like my main character does in Wedded Bliss?. P.S. The ending is soooo romantic!!

I made Wedded Bliss? RED, because it reminds me of a statement I believe in for Christian marriages: Red Hot Monogamy. I love to teach women to revisit the sizzle (which is what Solomon said: "Rejoice with the wife of your youth"). My friend Pam Farrell will have a new nonfiction book out from Harvest House in January entitled either Red Hot Monogamy or Hot Monogamy. I have an excerpt in it, so look for it in stores.
"Reunited" in
Wedded Bliss?
Kristy Dykes


To my hero husband Milton, who is my collaborator in the deepest sense of the
word—he's believed in me, supported me,
and cheered me on in my calling to inspirational writing.
(This is the dedication in all my books!)

"...let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.
Don't become weary and give up."
Hebrews 12:1,3 New Living Translation


Tonight, I’m asking Jake to move out.

Felicia Higgins wheeled her SUV into the garage, thinking about what she intended to do this evening. She put the gear shift in park, pressed the garage door remote, and reached for two book bags full of term papers that needed grading.

"Jake, I'd like you to move out temporarily to give me time to think," she said, preparing her speech just like she prepared lesson plans for her English classes at Palmdale Middle School.
A pang hit her in the heart. Hurt? Despair? Guilt?

No matter.

She was stuck in a...a routine, unfulfilling marriage, and she had to do something about it.


That's what her teacher friend Stacy often told her. Before she met Stacy, she thought this was her lot in life—staying married to Jake Higgins--something she had to endure. But not anymore.

"You deserve better than you're getting, Felicia," Stacy had said repeatedly. "You’re too good for Jake. Why, I wouldn’t let a man treat me the way he treats you. It's ridiculous. Aloof and indifferent, to put names on his behavior. He's a moron. He’s got a good thing going—you--and he doesn’t even know it."

Stacy always ended her diatribe the same way. "My first husband was just like Jake, Felicia. But Darren--my second husband--he's so different. He's attentive, and he's interested in me, and…and he likes to do all the things I do, and well, he's everything I could ever want in a man. I'm so happy, and you deserve to be happy too."

Felicia took a deep breath. "Yes, I...I want to be happy--that's all I've ever wanted in my marriage." Forcing herself to put her somber thoughts behind her, she got out of her vehicle and made her way toward the door.

Inside the house, she put her heavy book bags down, then breezed out the front door and got the mail. In minutes, she had the mail sorted and boneless chicken breasts browning, seasoned just right. Tonight for supper, it would be chicken Parmesan and fettuccini with her special homemade sauce. Accompanying the chicken dish would be island salad with Romaine lettuce and Plant City strawberries, plus Italian bread slices buttered and broiled and dotted with parsley. For dessert, it would be Jake's favorite, later in the evening when he was watching sportswhatever, her homemade chocolate chip cookies, which she kept on hand at all times.

She glanced at the clock. If she hurried, she could spend an hour in her backyard garden before supper. Her impatiens were long and leggy, and they needed pruning so spring growth could make them full and pretty again, and profuse with colorful blossoms.

Chicken breasts browned, she pulled the pan off the burner and covered it. She would make her sauce and boil the fettuccine right before serving time.

She started to set the kitchen table but then decided not to. Jake would insist on eating on trays in front of the TV when he found out their son Curtis wouldn't be home for supper.

She let out an angry sigh. "I guess that's what we'll do. Jake always gets his way." Suppertime was the only opportunity for conversation in their house it seemed, and with Curtis away so much, it had pretty much denigrated to a few grunts from Jake during the evening news.

She hurried out the French doors then stood on the flagstone patio in the pleasant Florida sun, scanning her garden, admiring it, feeling proud. Nature had given her a massive laurel oak tree.
She had provided the rest through blood, sweat, toil, and tears, as Sir Winston Churchill had put it.

“Ahhh.” Beauty abounded in her beloved backyard. Impatiens in delicious hues circling the oak. A thick carpet of St. Augustine grass. Stepping stones leading to an exquisite English garden. A white gazebo. An orange tree dotted with oranges and thick with white blossoms that smelled like heavenly sachet.

"Pure eye candy, my garden. And soul candy too." She breathed in deeply of the heady scent, smiling. With Central Florida's year-round growing season, she experienced soul candy every day of the year--a refreshing tonic to her aching heart.

"Too bad my marriage can't provide the same thing." Woodenly, she made her way to the cottage-style potting shed.

Tonight she would talk to Jake about...about the weighty matters facing them. She simply needed a break from unconcerned, indifferent, and unromantic Jake Higgins. She thought he was her Prince Charming when they married over 24 years ago. She thought he was Mr. Perfect when they dated. She thought he was the answer to the prayer she'd prayed in her teenage years. Lord, send me a Christian mate.

Though he was a Christian, she really didn't know Jake back then. But she had loved him. It would be unreasonable to think any other way. From the get-go, there had been an attraction between them—a strong one—and then love. The trouble was, their love was now dead. Was their marriage dead too? She thought so.

She pulled on garden gloves, attached her kneepads, and knelt near the impatiens bed.

Hold stalk. Clip. Toss in pail.

Hold stalk. Clip. Toss in pail.

On she worked, but her mind was a million miles away...

She remembered Jake on their wedding day, both of them starry-eyed and in love, as the proverbial saying went. They were salt and pepper, her blond, him raven-haired, a striking couple, people said. Of course she didn't realize how badly a sports nut he was and how he would glue himself to the TV every evening of their lives.

For 24 long years.

She didn't know they would turn out to be salt and pepper in life—complete opposites with nothing in common. When she married him, she didn’t know he would quit going to the things that were important to her, like the symphony, or a flower show, or even a simple walk through the mall or along the seashore—all the things they did while dating.

She didn’t know there would be arguments—discussions, Jake called them--that usually turned into pouting sessions, her being the pouter, he liked to remind her. No, she didn't know back then that their marriage for the most part would be characterized by lots of time spent apart.
They were simply two unconnected people.

As a teenager looking for the perfect mate, she thought marriage to a Christian man, your soulmate, meant pleasant togetherness in all things, a skip through daisy-dotted fields with your very best friend, hands entwined, hearts melded together in sweet wedded bliss.

"Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Ouch!” She yanked off her left glove and squeezed her finger where the pruning clippers had grabbed it.

"Oww," she said in her characteristic quiet way. She released her hold on her finger and examined it.

"At least I didn't cut it." But an angry red mark was there, below her fingernail."What's the matter with me?" She hadn't done something like this in years. She was always careful when handling garden tools, always mindful. She paid attention and took proper care. She had studied gardening manuals by the armloads, knew just what to do for every chore, from pruning, to hoeing, to clipping branches, to properly lifting heavy bags of mulch, to achieving different colors with hydrangeas, to you-name-it.

Still rubbing her sore finger, she glanced at her watch then gathered her things and stood up. "Guess I'll go finish supper. Jake arrived home from the office 26 minutes ago, and he's been in his recliner exactly 22 minutes. He'll be starving to death by now, as usual. And bellowing about it too."


Jake Higgins pulled his car into the garage beside his wife's SUV. He smiled. Felicia would be in her backyard garden, working with her flowers. He could see her in his mind's eye, bent over the bed that circled the giant oak tree, clipping her...pansies?...geraniums?...whatever.
He was glad gardening was her hobby. Some women were gadabouts, going all over town running up huge charge bills. Not Felicia. For the most part, except for that one trip she'd made to England a few years ago with the church women, she was a homebody. She worked in the yard, cooked sumptuous meals, made scrapbooks full of family photos, graded English papers, and prepared for her Sunday school lesson.

"You lucky man, you." With a touch of a button on the garage remote, he let the garage door down, reached for his briefcase, and headed for the kitchen.

"Ummm." He breathed in the delicious scent as he stepped inside. He glanced at the stovetop, saw the saucepan, lifted the lid. Chicken. What recipe was Felicia cooking tonight? Whatever it was, he knew it would be good. Everything she cooked was fabulous.

He set his briefcase down and thumbed through the mail on the counter, appreciative that Felicia had already gone through it and culled the junk. In her organized way, she always sorted the mail for him, bills in one stack, letters in another, magazines in a third stack, catalogs in a fourth. He picked up the bills, headed down the hall, and put them in the study with the rest of the bills that he planned to tackle tonight.

He knew Felicia would take care of the remainder of the mail pronto in her usual, efficient way. She was neat and tidy, and he loved that about her. She kept the house as clean as a whistle, everything in its place. Course he was that way too. But when they first got married, he was a slob stemming from college dorm living. Gradually, he'd come to be more like her, and now he wanted things organized and in order just like she did. Her good points had rubbed off on him--in more ways than one--and he was thankful for her.

He thought of their many years together. Didn't she say the other day that their next anniversary was their 25th? Yes, that was right. In a few months. How would they celebrate the milestone event? Some couples had formal receptions. Some took trips. His secretary and her husband had celebrated their 25th last year by going on a cruise. She'd already taken her two-week vacation to be with her baby granddaughter during surgery, and when Jake found out about her looming anniversary, he'd insisted she take an extra week of vacation for the cruise.

A 25th anniversary only comes once in a lifetime, he'd told his secretary. Just consider it a reward--you keep me organized here at the office, and I appreciate that.

Would Felicia enjoy going on a cruise? The kids wouldn't have the time or expertise to put on a formal reception--Cara, a brand new schoolteacher living two hours away, and Curtis, a senior in college living at home but mostly gone, what with his classes and work schedule.

Jake made his way up the hall. He and Felicia would probably take a special trip to celebrate. Paris, perhaps? That sounded nice.

In the family room, he plopped in his leather recliner and clicked on his big screen TV.
The newscaster reminded him of Felicia. Blond. Blue eyes. Elegant clothing. Slim figure. He was proud of Felicia. She worked hard to stay in shape. He did, too, though it was a challenge, what with her cooking. He worked out regularly—either at the gym at lunchtime or on his treadmill in the evenings. Treadmills and TV went together like he and Felicia did—you couldn't have one without the other.

A commercial came on showing a family at dinnertime, a chicken dish in the center of the table.

He smiled. It wouldn't be long, and his family would be gathered at the table, devouring Felicia's fabulous food.
He sighed, relishing the thought, then slipped into his regular before-dinner nap.