Second Chances

Happy New Year, friends!

I’m sitting here in my jammies, recovering from the first full week of the new year. Back to a normal work week, back to school drop-offs and pick-ups, back to swim lessons and playdates, back to running, back to not eating cookies for three meals a day, back to writing….

I’m not the only one back to writing this January, by the way. Mandy Dawson’s recently launched author site features her first Christmas serial short story, The Rarest Dish, and Angela Amman returns for her third year with Upon A Midnight Clear. Conclusions abound this month! Look for all three of our stories in ebook form come next Christmas, and feel smug that you read them first.

New years, whenever you mark them, bring on new goals, fresh choices, and that sense of possibility, and this one is no different. Except that it is.

WCP_LogoR.B. Wood, the host and creator of The Word Count Podcast, is living his own second chance — recovering from a near-death medical crisis — but, even so, he’s back in the saddle again with Episode 52. I am exceptionally glad to be able to share this episode with all of you, because it might not have happened.

Come give us a listen!

Direct: http://thewordcount.libsyn.com/webpage

iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-word-count/id392550989

If you’ve enjoyed any of R.B.’s podcasts, please consider a small donation to his GoFundMe campaign. Medical expenses are no joke, and every contribution counts.

Star of Wonder, Star of Night: Finale

cameron-garriepy-star-of-wonderContinued from Part Twelve, or you can start from the beginning.

Ivy stopped with one foot firmly in the clearing. He was laughing.

Sterling was kneeling on a camp pad, his telescope forgotten, laughing at her as she emerged from the woods.

“What are you doing here?” She knew she was whining, but the moment for maturity had passed.

“We’ve been had, Ivy.” Mirth was still splashed across Sterling’s face in the moonlight.

Ivy watched the Geminids streak behind him; their burning trajectory. “You’re not married, then?”

Sterling was still laughing, a gentle laughter. “No. Divorced. Lost my apartment because my ex wanted to sell the place. Ended up sleeping in Tony’s attic because home is where they have to take you in.”

Ivy didn’t understand how he could be so amused. “Why are you laughing?”

Sterling stood and took a step in her direction, then paused, as if waiting to see her reaction, “Ivy, what did you hear?”

“My mother, she knows your wife — your ex-wife’s– father. He was her agent. She heard something from Phlox about you being here, and then she wanted to make sure I wasn’t… making a mistake I’ve made before.” Ivy pushed her mittened hands into the pockets of her parka. “Tony told me about how you had a client, and wouldn’t be up here. I didn’t want to see you if…”

“If I was lying to you by omission? I get that.” He tilted his head back as four meteorites streaked overhead. “It’s a good one.”

Ivy felt a smile tease her cheek muscles. “I didn’t want to miss them. They’re Jack’s favorites.”

“Yeah. Me neither.” Sterling rolled up on the balls of his feet. “Tony told me you and Phlox were doing some sister overnight trip because you were pissed at me — that Phlox was going to convince you to go back to D.C., and it took me until I was out here on Jack’s hill, under his shower to see that Tony was doing his best to get us both up here tonight in spite of what you heard.” He looked down at his toes, then back up at the sky. “I was stupid enough to believe him, that you would actually be talked away from here because I didn’t live up to my name.”

He was still being funny. And his smile was better in the starlight. “Sterling…”

“Come look,” he said, gesturing to the telescope. “Take some pictures if you like.”

She passed him, fighting the urge to touch his arm as she did, and knelt by the telescope to adjust the focus. She felt him crouch down beside her while her body curved over the telescope. The falling Geminids filled her field of vision, and she remembered being up here as a child with her uncle.

A burning trajectory, fleeting and brilliant.

She leaned back from the telescope, her arm brushing Sterling’s; he’d dropped to his knees on the camp pad. Though he watched the sky, she felt his attention on her when he spoke.

“I’m glad I found your goats by the creek.”

Ivy laughed. “I think they found you.”

They watched in the sky in silence for a few moments before Sterling replied. “Ivy?”

She turned to him with her heart in her throat, waiting to hear what he would say.

“The Ursids are peaking next week, and I’m tied up with family stuff, but they’ll still be visible on Christmas Day. Would you like to join me if the weather’s good?

Ivy let go a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding, and reached for his hand. Her sister was leaving on Christmas morning to visit their mother. Ivy was looking forward to her quiet again. “That sounds wonderful.”

The End.

***

Thanks for reading a thirteenth installment. I hope you’ve enjoyed Ivy and Sterling; it’s been fun to meet new inhabitants of a somewhat familiar space. If you celebrate, I wish you a bright and merry Christmas. If your celebrations fall on other days, I wish you all the light and love in the world on those days and this one as well.

Star of Wonder, Star of Night: Part Twelve

cameron-garriepy-star-of-wonderContinued from Part Eleven, or you can start at the beginning.

Ivy trudged up the cart road that led from her property up the back of the rise to the Stone Garden. She was glad of her mittens and hat, the Arctic air that settled into the valley on the tail of the rainstorm had left a diamond sheen on everything, but it left a bone-aching kind of cold in its wake.

She’d spent the morning going over every conversation she’d had with Sterling, looking for any kind of evidence that he was a married man, for some sign that she had misinterpreted, but she kept coming up empty. By the time Tony showed up with his plumbing tools, she had worked herself into a frenzy over her mother’s phone call.

The first time it had happened, it had been an innocent mistake. She and a colleague had drinks at a hotel bar at a conference. She’d had no way of knowing he was cheating on his wife, no way of knowing he was being followed. Being mistaken for the other woman and having her Gibson tossed her face by an angry wife had been embarrassing, but ultimately harmless.

Jim she had loved. Hopelessly, devotedly. Jim had concealed his true life from her so thoroughly that she’d given him six years of her life. Six years, dreaming of marriage, while he kept a wife and three kids tucked away out in western Maryland.

When her last boyfriend had, after half a year, told her he regretted divorcing his wife and that they were going to make a go of it again, her mother had handed down a hard truth. Ivy, you are thirty-five years old, and you’ve yet to have a relationship with a man who was free to love you back. Maybe you’re just not meant to get married. And by getting married, her mother meant having love.

It was a chilling thing, when the reigning queen of historical happily-ever-after told you to quit looking for love.

She paused to look up at the cascading meteors. She knew what they were, Jack had been clear about the science, but no less reverent for it. Not shooting stars, Ivy, falling rocks, leaving a burning trajectory as they streak through our atmosphere. He’d loved them for their fleeting brilliance, for their gorgeous impermanence. They were beautiful, fascinating, humbling, and she would have missed them if she’d been in the city.

She’d left the noise, the hustle, the failed relationships, and set herself up on her own terms. The little farm, Jack’s legacy, her cheese-making, Tony and the other friends she’d found, they meant something to her.

She didn’t need to get to know Sterling, but damned if she hadn’t wanted to.

Tony had fixed the leaky sink, telling her stories while he worked. She’d gritted her teeth through the endless tale of Sterling’s current client, and how disappointed Sterling was to miss the shooting stars because of work.

Had she been on the fence about it, Ceres and Io had led a charge out of the barn when she’d gone to make sure they were safely settled for the night. Sterling would not be abroad in the forest tonight to rescue stray goats; wrangling them on her own firmed her resolve.

He might have to miss them, but she didn’t intend to.

She pushed past a fallen tree branch, shoving it aside with her foot, and stepped out into the Stone Garden to find that she was not alone.

To be continued

Star of Wonder, Star of Night: Part Eleven

cameron-garriepy-star-of-wonderContinued from Part Ten, or you can start from the beginning.

The weather cleared by late afternoon, and a cold front poured in over Lake Champlain, frosting the damp ground. Sterling packed for the Geminids with a heavy heart.

Telescope, warm layers, bedroll pad to sit on, the adaptor for his phone; he had a mind to take photos of the meteor showers if the sky cooperated.

A woman he barely knew wouldn’t be joining him for a solo hike he’d been planning for months. That was no reason not to go. Tony’s reminder was fresh in his mind. He could use the quiet time with Regulus,  Pleiades, the moon, and the falling bits of asteroid to craft the perfect explanation, and he would knock on Ivy’s door once she and Phlox got back from wherever they’d gone off to.

The drive wound along Fuller Creek headed south towards Thornton. The pullover was hard to spot until you got to know the road. The deer track surprised him every time. It was always there, but somehow it toyed with him, its entrance hiding in shadow or behind a low branch, as though it didn’t want to be found.

He peered up through the trees as he walked, waiting to catch the first of the shooting stars. There was almost no light pollution up here anyway, never mind out in the middle of the woods. His excitement was dimmed, though, by Ivy’s pain. He didn’t know how the bad information had found its way to her, but he wanted to make it right before he lost his chance to get to know her better.

He clambered up a stone step and stepped over the spring that fed Fuller Creek, then followed the footpath to its end, where the Stone Garden spread out on the hilltop. The clearing was frosted under the waning moon, the sky a deep, starry indigo and silver expanse above. He was just setting up the telescope when the showers began in earnest, streaking across the night.

He adjusted the scope, and wished again that Ivy was with him. She would have spent time up here, too, with Jack, charting the stars, watching the motions of the solar system and the infinite potential beyond it. He felt that potential between them, and it stole his breath to think he might not get the chance to explain himself.

She wasn’t a fly-off-the-handle type, of that he was certain. If he could only get to her before Phlox worked her magic, he could convince her to… to what? Stay in Vermont to see if the inexplicable draw he felt was something more? Because she might actually just leave because some guy she’d just met had possibly behaved like a jackass?

Something didn’t add up; he’d just been to upset to notice.

He laughed aloud at his own foolishness, but his mirth was cut short by the rustling of feet in the brush.

To be continued…