BOOK ONE: DECEPTIONS
Chapters One to Twenty Six
Vignettes 1 - 140

BOOK TWO: YESTERDAY ECHOES
Chapters 27 to
Vignettes 141 -

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chapter 40: Proper Sequences

Wella was always all smiles on Monday mornings, most of the staff only found it mildly annoying. “Good morning everyone.”

She ignored the groans and the half-hearted replies and barreled ahead with energy. “Right off the bat, I’d like you to meet our two new interns. This is Sparky Jarvis, she comes to us with a background in journalism.”

Sparky grinned from ear to ear and waved, matching Wella’s energy and enthusiasm ounce by nauseating ounce. “Hi, ya’ll. I’m so excited to be here.”

Daryn leaned over and whispered in Sean’s ear. “One more ya’ll and the cheerleader dies.”

“And this is Clark Yancy.” Wella pointed to the ‘incognito’ Yancy Barrow, who slurped his coffee and tried to hold his eyes open. “Clark is starting over with us…”

“Where did he end?” Someone asked.

“Downsizing…” Yancy mumbled. “Have a degree in broadcasting I thought I’d never use. It’s finally coming in handy.”

“I have a degree in animal husbandry.” Sean snarked. “You’ll fit right in.”

Wella picked up a donut and leaned against a desk. “They’ll be shifting around to a few departments until we find the right place for them. For today, they’re a member of our team. First on the agenda, Ian is concerned about “The Best of Everything”. The ratings are up, but he wants us to take a good look and see if there may be some suggestions we can come up with to sustain the ratings.”

“The ratings are up, but the quality just isn’t what it used to be.” Sean popped up.

“Exactly. Now, how to we improve that quality?”

“Isn’t the show runner retiring? Won’t that help?” Daryn asked.

“That’s on our to do list, find a new show runner, so we need to have in our heads exactly where we think improvements can be made and find the person who can best implement them.”

“May I say something?” Sparky asked.

“Of course, everybody has equal input here.” Wella assured her.

“The main problem in the writing. Believe me, I have watched that show since I was little, and everyday, like it or not, for the last three years. There’s a huge difference.”

“And that would be?” Wella smiled as Sean encouraged her.

“Well, daytime has come full circle.” She smiled. “It started out about emotion and relationships, then in the seventies went to big plot driven expensive stories and now has come back to smaller, intimate tales driven by heart.”

“It’s the only way for them to survive.” Daryn concluded.

“Absolutely.” Wella agreed.

Yancy looked up from his coffee. “So your saying the writer’s now aren’t good at telling smaller stories.”

Sparky scrunched up her face. “Not exactly. They’re very good writers, I mean character is there, great dialogue and plot but I don’t think the writer’s like what they’re writing. It’s almost as if they hate the characters and the sweet little town.”

The team all looked at each other and began to talk among themselves. “Did I say something wrong?” Sparky got nervous.

“Oh no, honey.” Wella patted her on the shoulder. “You said something right. We’ve been knocking our heads together trying to figure out exactly why the show just wasn’t quite gelling together and you walked right in and put your finger on it.”

Sean turned to Yancy. “Have you seen the show?”

Yancy shrugged. “Couple of times, have to admit soap opera really isn’t my cup of tea, but that one I don’t hate.”

“Why?” Daryn encouraged.

The question at first threw Yancy, but he took a sip of coffee and thought about it. “Well, I think I don’t hate it because its the story my mother watched when I was a kid. We had to be quiet for the half hour it was on, so I guess it stirs memories of my mother and simpler times.”

“Have you watched it lately?” Wella asked.

He nodded, sipped his coffee again and pointed a finger at Sparky. “She’s right. The characters have been written into a corner and it’s as if the writers don’t really care to find a way out. Take a good look at the staff, starting at the top and work your way down. Somewhere there’s a person or two that are either very unhappy or bored out of their skulls. Change that, change the quality.”

Wella nodded. “Okay, Sean you take a look at the tenure of the production staff from execs to dialogue writers. Let’s see what that information yields.”

“There may be one or two from Baxter Reilly days, he was actually the godfather to the out of left field plotlines that changed things in the seventies. There may either some bad blood or lack of quite understanding how the genre has evolved.” Daryn told Sean and he began making notes.

“Daryn you start looking at possibilities when it comes to replacements we might need, show runners being a definite.”

“Are we looking for someone from daytime or new blood?” She asked.

“Either.” Wella nodded. “For show runner, we definitely need the experience, but we also need someone who understands our vision, a traditional soap with modern heart that moves at today’s pace.”

“They still do those things in thirteen week cycles?” Yancy asked.

“Contracts yes.” Wella smiled. “Story wise we are still playing with that. Trying to cut back on flashbacks that make it easy to skip a few days or weeks and still know what’s going on.”

“It still should be important that you can join in at anytime and not be lost though.” Sparky jumped back in. “That’s the problem with some of the cult prime time stuff. They’re good, but unless you’ve watched from moment on, you are either completely lost or miss all the rich texture.”

“Exactly.” Daryn smiled. “Can she work with me today?”

Wella nodded. “Yep and Yancy you’re with Sean.”

Sparky took an effervescent hop to a seat next to Daryn. Yancy wadded up his cup and grunted as he neared Sean, who looked up and asked. “Aren’t you a little old to be an intern?”

Yancy looked at him. “Aren’t you a little short to be getting on my bad side?”

“Now on to the next item on our agenda…” Wella moved things right along.



“Young Justyn?” David Turner poked his head in the office door. “May I come in?”

Ian whirled the chair around to face him, instead of the window view he’d been staring out of for hours. “Of course, you never have to ask.”

The old man entered and shut the door behind him before quietly taking a seat.

“Uh oh.” Ian sighed. “Am I going to like this?”

“I like the tie.” Turner pointed.

“Father’s Day gift.” Ian tried to put on a bright smile and pointed at Turner’s. “Yours is nice, but not as nice as mine.”

David Turner opened his jacket and held it up, proudly announcing ‘Pappy Turner’. “The first Father’s Day gift I ever received. Your boy is a piece of heaven, Ian.”

“You don’t have to tell me.” Ian said. “So to what pleasure do I owe this visit?” He blinked a little. “Did that even come out right?”

“I just thought I’d come down and show off m’tie.” Turner smiled and sat back in the chair. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“About what?” Ian feigned. “I’m not in the papers again, am I?”

“Always.” Turner smiled. “Our soaps are three and four, up from last and nowhere two weeks ago. Amanda Jackson just gave her first interview on Anderson Cooper and spoke about nothing but you and apparently two Twitter accounts have been closed down because they were falsely pretending to be you.”

“Oh, well…that’s good. I think.”

Turner pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Let’s get comfortable.”

Ian hobbled to the French doors of the balcony and opened them, as Turner lit two Marlboros and placed an ashtray on the Redwood and crystal coffee table. “May we have some tea?”

Silence filled the room as Ian poured two mugs full of bottled water and placed them in the microwave. Pushing the buttons killed the silence. Turner handed Ian a smoke, which he immediately took a deep drag of.

“That is so good.” Ian sighed as he let out a stream of smoke toward the open doors.

“I’m sorry I missed yesterday.” Turner flicked an ash.

Ian swallowed a chuckle and watched the time change on the microwave. There was another 90 seconds of silence before the timer dinged. Two steaming mugs were supplied with Earl Grey. Turner added cream to his; Ian, sugar, lots and lots of sugar.

“Mr. Turner…Dave, I have a problem.”

“I know.” David Turner sipped his tea.

“Are there rumors already?”

“No, I haven’t heard a thing, other than the unusual pall hovering inside this office.” He placed his mug on the table and reached for his cigarette. “Ian, I’ve seen you three times already this morning and you’ve barely even registered the walls. That’s unlike you.”

Ian nodded as Turner continued. “I’ve seen you when there were things going on in your personal life that would have made me curl up in a ball in the corner and suck my thumb, but you’ve always been full speed ahead in the office, no matter what. Let’s talk about it.”

“Where do I begin?”

“The beginning?”

“Jeez…” Ian huffed. “I was born in October of 19…”

“Not your beginning…” Turner chuckled.

“Sometimes I think that’s where it starts.” Ian slurped his tea and then took another much needed drag off his smoke. “Yesterday. My first real Father’s Day and I will never forget it.”

“As it should be.”

Ian gave Turner a look. “Then why do I never want to celebrate another one? Don’t get me wrong. Ronnie made me the best tie in the world, and painted this wonderful canvas I’m going to have framed and hang here in the office. We had a big meal with all the family and suddenly just when I was reveling in pure joy…”

“The bottom fell out…”

“Hell, Dave, the bottom not only fell out, God scooped it up put it in a blender added what was left of my psyche, hit the puree button and left the lid off.”

“What happened?”

Ian put his hands to his mouth and blew air out his nose. “How do I put this? I received two unexpected gifts, one right after another. One hit me in the head and before the little birdies stopped tweeting and the stars spinning, another drop kick got me between the eyes.” He looked at his mentor. “I’m just not sure what to do.”

“Just relax, my boy. You’ve got family all around you…”

“That’s just it, David; gift number one I really do have family all around me. We kind of discovered by accident at dinner yesterday that Colton Shores is my father.”

“What?” Turner couldn’t hide the surprise.

“I’m not really sure of everything…like that’s unusual, but to make a long very complicated story a sound bite, my mother was Colton’s first wife.”

David Turner put up his hand. “Let me just make sure I have my own facts straight. You are talking about the little girl who broke his heart before he left Texas?”

“That would be the one.” Ian grabbed for his tea. “I knew he’d been married before. I knew it had been annulled. He knew the basics of my story and a picture is worth a thousand words.”

“You’re positive?”

“We’re having a DNA test run this week just to be sure, but his name is filled in where the father’s name is on my birth certificate.”

“I thought you didn’t know where your real birth certificate was.”

“That’s kind of Part B to gift one.” Ian sighed. “After that cat came screaming out of the bag, we barely had time to clear the air of fur when the valkyrie marched in from the marsh and split the wine glasses with ‘Fie’!”

“You do have a way with words.”

Ian looked at David Turner. “Clare showed up, seven months pregnant. The baby’s mine.”

Turner was caught in mid exhale. “Are you positive?”

“Clare is a lot of things, but I don’t believe she ever cheated, and the timing is right.” Ian looked at the floor and back to Turner. “But as soon as I get the number, I’m keeping the DNA people on speed dial.”

They were quiet for a moment. The old man crushed out his smoke and asked quietly, “Plans?”

“I thought I’d just sit here for ten or twelve years until some solution hits me or I have to use the bathroom.”

“Suggestions from an old man?”

“Right now, Dave, I’d take suggestions from the Muppets.”

“First, get Ronnie to show you how to program the speed dial, it may come in handy.” Turner was pleased he got a small smile out of him. “Do you love her?”

“No.” Ian looked deep inside for a moment. “I keep trying to think. I’m sure at one time I thought I did, but no. Do I care about her? Yes, but in love with her? I’m sorry. I truly wish I could say yes, but I can’t.”

“Why were you with her for so long? Eight years was it?”

Ian nodded his head, to indicate affirmative and partly just to see if his brain was still in there. “Give or take the months we’d break up not see each other once or twice annually and end right back where we started just to break up not see each other and end up right back where we started.”

“Why, then?” David Turner looked at him. “I’m playing the Devil’s Advocate here.”

The man understood, but he struggled to answer the question. “It was nice.”

“Nice?” Turner sat back on the couch. “That’s a reason to stay with a woman for eight years, because it was nice?”

“Compared to what I’d known before…” Ian made sure he was being honest. “Yes, yes it was a reason.”

“Young Justyn…Ian…” Turner lit another cigarette, offering one to Ian. “I’ve not asked much about your past. We’ve had an unwritten agreement on that, I know much of it…hurts.”

Ian turned to Turner. “Absolutely, but I have been determined that the future not be. It seems my entire life I’ve been either somebody’s victim or somebody’s whipping boy. I don’t know why, and I’m not even sure I care. Maybe I should, but I just want it to stop. I will make it stop, that legacy of pain will not haunt my son.” He corrected himself. “My children.”

“You’re going to have to make things just a little clearer, Ian.” Turner leaned on his cane to face him. “You say you were with Clare because it was nice. The constant breaking up and getting back together doesn’t sound nice to me.”

“It wasn’t.” He admitted. “But Clare was the first person that ever fought tooth and nail to keep me around.”

“Why, Ian? Why did she do that?”

The question had never occurred to him. “I don’t know.”

“Ian, I know what it’s like to be involved in a volatile relationship. I know what it’s like to be involved with a volatile woman.” Turner said, surprised he said it out loud. “Oh, I hated her guts but I did love her, even the things made us both raving lunatics. Although as time went on it was clear my adoration wasn’t enough.”

“That’s why you never looked for her?” Ian asked.

“Who says I didn’t look for her?” Turner said. “And who says I ever stopped? Ian, every time the phone rings, every time someone walks through the door unexpectedly there is still an extra beat in my chest convinced it could be her.”

David Turner reached over and put his hand on the troubled man’s shoulder. “Let me ask you a few more questions and then I’m going to leave you to ponder how you answered them.”

Ian nodded his head and looked at his own hands folded in his lap. “What about Saxon Allen?”

“She’s not involved in this.” Ian said.

“Really?” David Turner said quietly, but directly. “Now what about Colton, his family how do you feel? Happy? Angry? Hurt? Confused?”

“All but the third one, especially the last.” Ian blinked and sighed. “Whenever I get an answer to a long prayed for question, I get little resolution and lots more riddles, questions and tears.”

“The answer there seems pretty clear.”

“It is. Colton Shores is my father. For some reason I’m not doubting that either, but it’s all like one of those bizarre party games. Let’s see how many questions we can answer Ian Justyn with in more questions.”

“What questions?”

He turned to his mentor. “Doesn’t the series of circumstance all seem a little odd to you?”

“Odd?”

“I break up with my longtime girlfriend, and in trying to avoid having contact with a four year old so I wouldn’t be reminded of the son I gave away I have a conversation on the phone I wouldn’t have answered otherwise. That phone call leads me to a new job and a new life, where I just happen to buy a house next door to a man who turns out to be my biological father?”

“Well, when you put it that way.”

“It’s a series of accidents, but why did every little accident just happen to fall in the correct sequence to make me choose door number three?”

David Turner nodded his head. “I understand. The timing is so right it has to be wrong. That leads to my next question. What are you going to do about Clare and the baby?”

Ian took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m not sure.”

“Maybe I should have asked what does she want?”

“Ahhh!” Ian nodded his head. “Either I marry her or she goes public and then makes sure I never see my child.”

“Has she asked for money?” David clarified. “I mean is it possible that enough cash would make the problem go away?”

“I think she’s under the impression that being Mrs. Ian Justyn, wife and mother will not only pay, but keep the paychecks rolling in.”

“Ian, I want you to take a little time to think about that situation in particular. Personally, I think that’s the more obvious case of the timing being so right it’s wrong. If you come to the same conclusion, I think you’ll see how easy that solution is.”

“How can that be easy, David?”

“Oh, Young Justyn.” David pushed himself off the couch, stopping long enough to drop the Marlboro Light pack on the expensive coffee table. “If that is the case, you are the one in total control. Don’t let her make you think anything different.”



There was a timid knock at the door. Tippy Shores put her book down and made her way to the back of the house. She was surprised at the visitor.

“Jude? Why are you knocking? Just throw the door open and come in.”

“I wasn’t sure if I was welcome er not.” He said quietly.

“Of course, honey, you shouldn’t ever doubt that.” She smiled genuinely and the man’s tired face seemed to be relieved. “I’m about to have a piece of cheesecake and some tea. You wanna join me?”

“I’d love it.” He smiled and followed her to the little table in the corner. “How’s ever body doin’ over here?”

Tippy pulled the cups down from the cabinet and began to fill two tea balls. “I’m not sure if we’re still in shock or just bracing for the next impact. How about next door?”

Jude sighed. “We thank the Lord fer Valium.” Smiling as he looked at the generous sliced confection Tippy placed in front of him. “An’ I have ta be honest, Ripley and I doubled Ian’s tranquilizers last night. He didn’t even put up a fight. If I could have, I’d a figured outta way to shovel some down that woman’s throat, too.”

Pouring steamy water from the kettle into the mugs Tippy smiled gently and reminded him. “Good thought Jude but we need to be respectful…of the baby.”

He nodded as she placed one mug in front of him and took the seat across from him. “I ain’t had a chance to talk with Jesse. Is he doin’ okay?”

“I think so. I knew something was on his mind, but I never dreamed…I think he’s relieved.”

“And Colton?”

Tippy smiled and stirred her tea. “Jude, obviously there were a lot of conversations, a lot of questions and a lot of tears interrupted by the attack of the Pregnant Monster, but I don’t think anything has really changed for us. The incident just made everything legal for lack of a better term.”

“I didn’t know.” Jude blurted out. “I swear I had no earthly idea. If I did I’d a pulled someone off to the side and said, hell I don’t know…”

“What can you say Jude?” Tippy looked at him. “There is absolutely no one to blame here. How about Ian? Has he had a chance to talk with you or anyone about that bit of the news?”

“Tippy, that Clare woman basically hasn’t given the man a chance to wipe his behind. We thought it would quiet’en down a little when Ian ran screamin’ off to work this mornin’, but she’s still there squallin’, makin’ demands and threatenin’ everything from Ripley to the wall paper.”

“This is not what Ian needs right now. He’s still recovering.”

Jude nodded his head. “What kin we do? We’re all tryin’ to ignore her, but that just seems to make it worse.”

A little bling sound went off. “Hold that thought, Jude.” Tippy smiled when she looked at her phone. She winked at him as she pushed the button. “Hey, Baby Doll…uh huh…you’re gonna what…uh uh…sure honey…oooh that’s a good idea…are you sure…okay…love ya, Baby Doll.”

Tippy hit the end button and lay the phone down on the table. “Okay, here’s the plan…”



Vonnie put her hands on her hips and waltzed right up. “Hey, you! You got a baby in there?” She pointed to Clare’s belly.

“What are you doing in my house?” She looked at the little girl.

“Not your house.” Vonnie said.

“Yes it is.”

The little girl whipped her long blonde hair off her shoulders. “I don’t argue with people who don’t know what they talkin’ about.” She headed past her.

“Excuse me, where are you going?” Clare demanded.

“Potty.”

“Go back wherever you came from and use your own.”

“Nope.” Vonnie continued her course. “Usin’ this one.”

“You!” Clare pushed herself off the couch. “Come back here.”

“There you are.” Tippy appeared.

Clare whipped her head around to face her. “Doesn’t anyone have any respect for privacy around here?”

“Clare, I’ve been looking for you.” Tippy ignored the insult.

“Key, please.” Clare held out her hand. When Tippy didn’t respond, she demanded. “Now!”

“What key?”

“Your key to this house.”

“Honey, I don’t have a key.”

“I know I left no doors unlocked.” She crossed her arms and tapped her foot.

“I have a code. I just punch it in and voila.” Tippy crossed her arms and smiled. “Do you have a code?”

Clare’s face fell. “That will change. I’ll be making a lot of changes around here.”

“No you won’t.” Tippy smiled. “Have a seat Clare, before we start dinner you and I are gonna have a chat.”

“I don’t think so, and I’m sure the staff will take care of dinner.”

“What staff?”

Clare waved her hand in the air. “I’m going to be doing interviews later today. I’m waiting on the decorators to show up. They’re late. I’ve half a mind to fire them, but they’re the best…rude, but the best.”

“Clare, have a seat so we can talk.”

“Go home.” Clare turned to leave the room.

Tippy smiled as she barked. “Move a muscle and I’ll break your skinny little legs.”

“How dare you!” Clare whirled around and spit pretty good for a woman in her third trimester.

“I just talked with Ian. He wanted to know if I knew anything about decorators, and clothing stores and temp agencies that were calling him verifying the orders being placed in his name.” Tippy batted her eyes. “Try calling anyone in town, Clare. You’ve been blackballed as a crank.”

“Ian wouldn’t dare…”

“Sit down and shut up.” Tippy pointed to the couch. Tippy sat on the couch and patted the spot next to her.

Clare shot her a dirty look and took a seat as far to the end as she could, just as Ronnie entered the living room.

“Excuse me for interrupting. Hi, Granny!” Ronnie kissed Tippy.

“That woman is not your grandmother.” Clare sniped.

Ronnie smiled. “Yes she is.” Before she could say another word. “Papa just called, he wants me to ask if you need anything specific from the grocery store. It’s Monday, he has therapy so you’ve got a little time to make a list of what you might need.”

“I’ll be doing the shopping from now on.” Clare smiled and held out her hand. “Just give me your credit card.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Ronnie said sweetly but firmly. “This is one of the chores I get allowance for. The charges to my card are gone over with a fine tooth comb by Papa and Ripley. Unless Papa tells me personally otherwise, nothing has changed.” He handed her a small notebook and a pen. “You have fifteen minutes or do without.”

“Now see here, young man…” Clare’s nostrils flared.

“Fifteen minutes.” He walked off, paying no attention to her.

“I will not be…”

“Clare…” Tippy smiled. “Shut up.”

“Look, Tippy, Ian may have let you people run him over, but I’m in charge now and I will not…”

“Let’s get something straight. You are not in charge here, as Ronnie pointed out very sweetly, nothing has changed and until we all hear otherwise personally from Ian every thing, and I mean every thing stays as it was.”

“We’ll just see about that.”

“Clare, honey you don’t seem to realize that the world you’re in doesn’t revolve around you. You’ve stepped into a family. Now you’ve made some demands, and granted you’ve got some…well let’s just say there are a lot of things to be considered, but bottom line, you got no pull around here. Either you stop fighting and start trying to find your place in the family or you’re gonna find your butt, pregnant or not, right back out the door.”

“I am pregnant with Ian’s baby.”

“Yes, so it seems.” Tippy smiled. “And we are all trying very hard to be happy about that. Now let’s all just calm down, relax and try to get along. Let’s just start from scratch shall we?”

“I have no intention of…”

“Let’s just start from scratch or I punch your lights out? How ‘bout that?”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

Tippy batted her eyes and leaned closer. “Try me.”

Clare looked at Tippy. “You would wouldn’t you?”

“In a heartbeat.” Tippy picked up the notebook. “I’d start makin’ m’grocery list. Since we’re starting from scratch I’ll warn you now, you don’t want to mess with Ronnie. He doesn’t warn you in advance.”

As Clare began to write a few things in the notebook, Tippy leaned back. “Now I talked with Ian, too. Tomorrow the girls and I are going to take you shopping. It’s a regular Tuesday thing with us, and Ian, as a favor, has asked that we invite you. I thought we might look for things for the baby. That’ll be a first for us.”

“For the baby?” Clare looked up and smiled.

“Yes. We’re going to need a nursery aren’t we? Of course, we spend a lot of the day pampering ourselves. We’re the women of the family. We deserve to pamper ourselves at least once a week. Oooh! I’ll have to call Ormond. He gives the best pedicures. I just loved pedicures when I was pregnant.”

“I’ve never had one.”

“Darlin’ are you in for a treat.” Tippy grinned. “Let me call right now and get him to work one more into the schedule.”

As Tippy hit the speed dial, Vonnie came stomping back into the living room. She scampered to Tippy and gave her a kiss, then scooted around the couch giving a wide birth and deadly stare to Clare, who ignored her, happily making her grocery list.

Just before she scampered out, Vonnie leaned over and whispered into Clare’s ear. “I don’t like you.”



Mike looked up at the stunning blonde standing there watching. She smiled, waiting patiently.

“Okay, I think we’re done here today.” He said.

“Thank God!” Ian said sprawled out on the table. “I understand there’s a reason behind all this, but personally I don’t think my body parts are supposed to bend in most of those directions.”

Mike chuckled a little bit as he made some notes. “Just relax there for a few minutes, and I’ll see you again on Wednesday.”

“No offense, but I am so not looking forward to it.” Ian just lay on the table looking up at the ceiling.

“You the ride?” Mike asked her.

She shook her head. “I’m just waiting for a private moment of his time.”

The physical therapist nodded. “I’ll shut the door and give you some.”

Ian didn’t realize she was in the room. She stood there just looking a moment, heart and mind racing in so many directions. Finally she said softly, “Hey, there.”

Although he didn’t move, the blissful smile was immediate. “Saxon…are you my driver?”

“No.” She took a step toward him and put her hand on his chest. “Don’t sit up…unless you feel you have to.”

“Good. I don’t think I can move.”

Saxon pulled up the little stool Mike had been sitting on. “How you feeling?”

“Every corpuscle is screaming ouch, but other than that…”

She smiled. He loved it when she smiled. “I’m sorry for just coming here. I know this isn’t a time you would normally entertain, but I needed to see you.”

Ian reached for her hand and held it. “You know you are always welcome.”

“Ian, I won’t be coming around for a while.”

“Saxon…”

She put her fingers on his lips. “I know, but there are so many things you need to work out. I just think it would be easier if I weren’t anywhere nearby.” She took her fingers away and looked into his eyes. “I know you understand.”

“That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Ian pushed himself up with a groan, swinging his legs to the floor. “You aren’t still afraid of Clare, are you?”

“Not anymore.” She noticed he never released her hand. “But we all need to be respectful of the situation, and the best thing I can do is maintain a little distance.”

“That will be difficult.” Ian felt the need to break eye contact, closing his eyes and memorizing the warmth of her hand. “Especially when we’ll be working on our little project together.”

“It will be easier for you to focus on other little projects, if my being doesn’t consistently send Clare into orbit.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For the frustration, for the situation, but most of all for the distance.”

“It’s not your fault. I understand.” She said, reaching for his face and gently turning it toward hers. “Ian, you have absolutely no need to apologize.”

“Maybe I was apologizing via surrogate for Clare.”

“She has no need to apologize either.” Saxon read the look on Ian’s face. “I understand her Ian. She made a mistake. She’s scared, angry and frustrated. I would be too, if I were in her shoes.”

“I wish I understood, especially her attitude toward you.”

Saxon smiled. “Ian, Clare knows that what you and I have will always be more solid, more beautiful and more powerful than anything she could ever have with you. We all three know that.”

“But, Saxon…”

“Do something for me?”

“Anything.”

“Love this baby.” She looked deeply into his heart. “No matter what, love this baby and always know that whatever decisions you may make I stand beside you and support you both.” She looked at their clasped hands and then back into Ian’s eyes. “All three of you.”

All Ian could do was nod his head. He swore he could hear her swallow her breath when they let go.

“Saxon?” He stopped her as she turned to go. “No matter what happens…” He hung his head in frustration. “Saxon, I can’t think of anything but clich├ęs. I hate that, but I’ll never forgive myself…”

“Forgive yourself?” She turned to him. “For what?”

“That I never stirred up the courage to at least do this.” Ian took her face with his hands, and brushed a stray bit of blonde from her forehead. She smiled and leaned her cheek into the palm of his hand.

It was brief. It was tender. It was just a moment in time when their lips touched. It was just a moment in the revolution of the world. It was the only moment two people had to be in love until it was time for both to go back to the reality that would always keep them apart.

Vignette #194: Changing Family

Ripley appeared close to the table and handed Ronnie another package. In an instant Ronnie was at Jude's side.“And this one’s for you.”

“Aw, Ronnie, honey. The tie was enough.” He pulled on the hand painted tie he sported around his neck.

“Just open it Grampaw.” Ronnie butted him a little with his hip. Jude nodded his head, ripping away the paper and revealing another framed photograph. This one was of he and Ronnie holding up a huge fish they’d caught on their last fishing trip together. “You remember when Uncle Jeremy took that?”

“I sure do. That the was the most fun we ever had together, Ronnie.”

“It took the two of us to haul that monster in, but we did it, together.” Ronnie kissed his grandfather.

“Thank you, sonny.” Jude was genuinely touched.

Ronnie looked at Vonnie and she giggled. She jumped off Reese’s lap and dashed over to a plant by the table, pulling out a package. She handed it to Ronnie.

This time Ronnie walked over to Ripley. “Okay, I’ll take that one, but you take this one.”

Ripley was a little confused but he handed the last package he held to Ronnie, and Ronnie presented him with a gift. “This is from Vonnie and me. Happy Father’s Day Ripley.”

The big man didn’t bother to hide his emotions. His bottom lip trembled and he wiped a tear from his cheek as he barely nodded his head. He had to pull his chair out and sit down before he could open the gift.

Vonnie crawled right in his lap as he revealed a picture of Ronnie, Vonnie, Rodie, Ralphie and Vonnie’s cat, Percy. Once again, Ronnie had used his computer to emboss the matting. It said, “Love is only this far away. Happy Father’s Day Uncle Ripley.” He could not speak, only hug the two children so tight they almost broke.

When Ronnie finally broke free, and the table seemed to have stopped sniffling and trying to wipe away happy tears before anyone else could see, the boy finally approached his father. “Happy Father’s Day, Papa.”

Ian smiled, took the package and slowly unwrapped it. Ian’s gift wasn’t a photograph, but a canvas. The man gasped in surprise and pleasure as he looked at a watercolor painting of himself sleeping on the couch, Rodie curled in his lap. “Ronnie this is beautiful.”

“I know you missed all the drawings for the refrigerator and stuff, but that’s okay. Saxon bought me the canvas and told me I should try actually painting. So the first thing that came to mind was well, the two things that make me the happiest in the world, my Papa and my cat, both peaceful and happy.” Ronnie said.

He had to swallow hard but he finally managed to thank his son. “I’ll have it framed. May I hang it in my new office?”

“Any where you want, Papa.”

Ian cleared his throat. “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “My turn.” He turned to Jude. “I never had a father.”

“I know son.” Jude nodded his head in sorrow.

“But I’ve learned something in the past six months and it’s that I was wrong, Jude. I had you. It seemed like whenever things got tough, you always seemed to spring up and give me hope.”

“I done the best I could.”

“I remember very vividly, sitting on the creek bank, black and blue and sniffling trying to catch a fish so Uncle Nate and I could have something for supper that night. I was sitting there, as usual struggling to get out of the blackness that just seemed to envelop me everyday.”

“Baby Doll…” Tippy said quietly.

“Then suddenly you appeared behind me. You’d left the farm and had your own family by then.”

“Janie and Taylor.”

Ian smiled. “Yes, and I though you’d abandoned me.” Jude started to speak. “I know, but when you’re ten that’s how you feel, but there you were. You never mentioned the bruises or the tears. You just sat beside me on the creek bank and fished in silence. Neither one of us caught anything until the sun started to set, and we both caught rock fish.”

Jude grinned. “Actually, I remember that day. Your face was so swelled I barely recognized ya. My heart just ached. I couldn’t think of what to say.”

Ian leaned on the table. “But what you finally said, has gotten me through some of the toughest days of my life. As we hauled in our night’s meal, you put your arm around me and said “Son, I don’t know how, but someday I’m gonna have a boat and me and you are gonna sail towards the sun. You hang in there and remember no matter how dark it may get, there’s a light behind all that and it’s my love trying to find you.”

He reached in his pocket and handed Jude a key chain. Jude looked at it and up at Ian. “Well, thank you Ian, but…uh…I kina already gots a key to the house.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Ian pulled out a snapshot from his pocket. “That key goes to this.”

Jude looked at the picture. His eyes got wide. “A boat?”

Ian smiled. “Now, you can take me fishing.”

“Me, too?” Ronnie’s eyes got wide.

“It’s your Granpaw’s boat. It’s up to him, but I’ve signed the three of us up for classes.”

“You shouldn’t a done this, Ian.” Jude tried to chastise him.

He held up his hand. “Jude, it’s not a yacht, just a small fishing boat Jeremy helped me find. I just want you to enjoy it. I know it’s something you’ve always wanted and I want you to have it.”

“This makes my little gift seem sa small.” Jude said.

“Jude, you did not have to get me a gift.” Ian insisted.

“Now hesh up.” Jude reached under the table and handed Ian a simple box. “It ain’t much, but I made a promise to ya, and right now this is the best that I can do.”

“A promise?” Ian said. “You’ve never made me a promise you didn’t keep.”

“Just open it.”

Ian moved his empty dessert dish to the side and lay the white box in front of him. Jude got out of his chair and stood behind him and put his hand on Ian’s shoulder. As Ian took the lid off everyone leaned in closely to see what it was.

As the top plopped on the table, Ian unfolded the paper around it and picked up another framed photograph. It was of a close up of a beautiful young woman smiling, nose to nose with a laughing baby. Ian turned to look at Jude.

“When we was closin’ up Miz Hilary’s I found this picture.” Jude pointed at the woman. “That’s you’re Mama.”

Ian’s lips trembled. “My Mama?”

Jude squeezed Ian’s shoulders and leaned down to say quietly in his ear, “And that laughin’ little ball a black hair? That’s you.”

Ian gently touched his mother’s face through the spotless glass. “She’s beautiful.” It was all the Ian could say through his tears.

Saxon put her hand on his. “You’ve never even seen a picture of her?”

He shook his head, tenderly wiping away the tear that splashed on the glass.

Tippy reached out her hand. “Baby Doll, may I see her?”

Ian smiled and handed her the frame. Jesse’s eyes instantly fixed on her face. Tippy looked at it and back to Ian. “You were such a perfect little baby, and your mother is…”

She stopped and took in a deep breath. Colton put his hand quickly to her back. “Tippy? Are you okay honey?”

Tippy waved her hands in the air and took in a deep breath. “Fine. Fine.” She said. “Ian your mother is beautiful.” She handed the picture to Colton and grabbed his hand.

Colton smiled and then turned white.

“Colton?” Ian said in concern.

“It’s Bethy.” His managed to say. “It’s my Beth Ann.”

Jude’s neck snapped his head back. “Bethy? Who’s Bethy?”

Colton looked at Jude and then slowly to Ian, reading the confused look on his face. “My first wife.”

“No, no.” Jude said. “That’s Lylah Justyn. Ian’s mama.”

“I understand that.” Colton said. “What I don’t understand is this woman was also my first wife.”

Jesse stood at the table, his chair screeching beneath him. Everyone’s head turned to him. He trembled and used both hands to wipe the tears streaming down his face. “Dad…Ian…I…uh…” He sighed. “Oh God.”

“Jesse, did you know about this?” Tippy asked him.

“Sort of…Jude showed me the picture. It was just a tiny faded photo and I used a program on our computer to blow it up.” He said reaching into his own pocket. He held a yellowing envelope in his hands. “Ian, remember when we looked through your Aunt’s jewelry box to get that little penny for Saxon?”

“It’s one of the few things I remember clearly.” Ian said quietly.

“And we found those envelopes just as she arrived.”

“Yes, but they’re all missing. The only thing we know for sure that…”

Jesse waved his hand. “Well, after I put the box back in the closet, I reached down to pick up Rodie, she was hiding under the bed.”

“Damned cat.” Ian mumbled.

The doorbell rang, and Ripley quietly got up and retreated.

“I guess we dropped this. Reese called me downstairs and as I picked up the cat, I shoved it in my pocket, intending to come right up to the bedroom and put it with the others. Then, I got distracted and everything happened.”

“What is it, Jesse?” Tippy said. “And what does it have to do with all this?”

“I’m getting there.” He turned the envelope over. “When we realized all the others had been taken, I remembered this in my pocket and I opened it. I haven’t said anything, because I wasn’t sure if it was real or not.”

“What’s real, son?” Colton asked.

“Here.” Jesse handed the envelope to Ian, which he opened and began to read.

“When Jude brought the picture to me, I thought it was her, but I couldn’t be sure. I figured if nobody recognized her, this was all…well…now we know the truth.”

Ian looked up at Jesse and then back at Colton. He was ashen, unable to speak.

“What is it, Baby Doll?”

Saxon looked from the paper to Tippy. “It’s his birth certificate.”

“The real one? See I knowed Miss Hilary had to have it somewhere.” Jude asked and quickly looked down to read it. He stood back up straight.

Ian handed it to Colton. “Happy Father’s Day.”

Colton and Tippy both read the paper, Baby name, birthdate, Mother’s name: Lylah Jane Justyn. Father’s name: Earl Wayne Grayson.”

Ripley appeared back on the patio clearing his throat. “Uhm…Ian…”

Ian turned as the whole table did. “I’m sorry, Ripley, but this really isn’t a good time.

“Oh just get out of my way.” A woman’s voice said and pushed her way past Ripley.

“Clair!” Ian said as she came into everyone’s full view.

“Happy Father’s Day.” She said.

Ian bolted up, knocking his chair backwards to the staccato.

Clair put her hands on her swollen belly. “I’m seven months pregnant. You do the math!”

Vignette #193: Family Changes

Her face was covered in chocolate ice cream, but Vonnie was grinning from ear to ear. “Mmmm.” She fussed a little as Billy tried to wipe some of it off with a napkin. “Don’t Daddy. I wanna save some of it for later.”

“Angel, you look like a sticky calico cat.” Tippy said looking at her from her side of the table.

“Come here, Sweetheart.” Reese beckoned her with a finger. Her green eyes glittered as she slipped right into his lap, letting him dip a cloth napkin in a glass of water and wipe the sticky mess away. “Now, there’s that pretty face I was missing.”

“You missed it?” She said. “Where was it?”

“Hidden under all that chocolate.”

“Don’t you like chocolate? It’s my favorite.”

“Chocolate’s my favorite ice cream, but yours is my favorite face.” Reese squeezed her tight and kissed the top of her head.

“Daddy, may I be excused?” She asked politely.

“Honey, would you mind sitting with us just a teensy while longer? It’s so nice to have everyone around the table.” Billy looked around and all the friends and family.

“But I gotta go potty.”

“Oh…okay.”

“I’ll come right back.” She promised.

“Do you need some help?” Tippy asked.

“Na uh.” She said as she dashed off.

“Don’t forget to wash your hands!” Billy yelled to her, but shook his head knowing she was focused on something else.

It was a large group of family and friends, most had forgotten which was which and it no longer mattered. What mattered was that everyone around the joyous table we there to celebrate fatherhood, family, good food and chocolate ice cream.

“I wish Miss Inez and Rose could have stayed awhile longer.” Saxon licked the last drop of ice cream off her spoon.

“I think they would have but Miss Glo was getting restless.” Tippy smiled.

“Actually, I think Miss Glo was just an excuse.” Ian said stirring a little more sugar into his hot tea. “Miss Inez isn’t as strong as she likes to let on she is, but I think Miss Glo truly had all the excitement she could handle for one day.”

“She had a good time though.” Ronnie perked up. “I think. It’s hard to tell with her sometimes.”

“Yes, but I think I saw a smile behind that smirk a couple of times.” Colton said. “It was pretty obvious how touched she was when Ian showed her the room that Billy was going to remodel for her.”

“I’m hoping that getting her interested in decorating will encourage her to work just a little harder.” Ian sighed.

“Didn’t she used to be an interior designer?” Saxon said swiping a bit of ice cream from Ian’s glass.

“I’m sure that was she said she did, but she never had a license or anything.” Ian winked and slid the bowl closer to Saxon so no one would notice her eating the rest of his ice cream. “Basically she helped Southern ladies pick out wallpaper and arrange furniture, but it kept her busy after her husband died and she seemed to enjoy it.”

“Oh yes.” Tippy nodded her head. “One of those. I know of them well.”

“One of those?” Jesse said.

“Honey, in the Appalachians where we come from, not many have money, even those who have it don’t have nearly as much as they let on, so sometimes the faux do well would call upon other ladies of their class and pay them to decorate, so to speak.” She said.

“On other words, they’d say Miss Glo I want to spend this much money and make it look like this much money. Then they’d sit down, look through a couple of out dated magazines from the library, and anything under budget was Miss Glo’s to keep.” Ian nodded.

“Precisely.” Tippy giggled.

Vonnie came storming back out to the deck. “Did you wash your hands?” Her father inquired.

“Ya huh.” She wormed over to Ronnie.

“Before or after?”

She looked at her father. “Is that a trick question?” She looked a little guilty, holding up her hand and whispering something into Ronnie’s ear.

“What?” Ronnie seemed a little annoyed until she huffed and repeated the procedure.

“Oh yeah.” Ronnie looked up. “Excuse me, I’m going to go help Vonnie re-wash her hands.” The table all watched in silence and Ronnie took the little girl’s hand and led her back into the house.

“Should I be worried?” Billy asked.

“Aw, son, just let the kids ‘lone.” Jude smiled. “They prob’ly gots something planned.”

“That’s what I’m wondering if I should worried about.”

Reese patted Billy on the back. “It’s after dinner on Father’s Day. I know Vonnie actually asked Ronnie to help her with something.”

“She actually asked and didn’t grab him by the ankles, slam him to the ground and sit on him until he cried Uncle?” Billy said.

“She actually asked him.” Reese smiled.

Tippy beamed. “My Granbaby is growing up.”

“I knew there was a little girl in that monster somewhere.” Jesse said into his drink, making Saxon and Ian do spit takes.

“By the way, what happened to Ripley?” Colton looked around the table.

“He was sitting right there a minute ago.” Saxon pointed to his empty chair.

“He gathered a few dishes.” Ian said sipping his tea. “He’ll be right back.”

Actually it was almost instantaneously. He appeared at the door carrying several wrapped packages, followed closely behind by Ronnie and Vonnie each with grins on their faces.

“Me first!” Vonnie squeaked, dashing to her father and handing him a gift. “Happy Happy Daddy’s day!” She squirmed in his lap, barely giving room for Billy to hold the package.

“Is this for me?” He asked.

“Ya huh! Open it.” She could barely contain herself as her father ripped off the wrapping. “Do ya like it? Huh?”

“It’s beautiful, Vonnie.” Billy turned the frame around so the family could see.

“It’s me and Percy! Ronnie tuck it with his camera and I helped him print it out.” She beamed. “Granny put it in that thingy for me.”

“It’s a frame, Angel.” Tippy reminded her. “It’s called a frame.”

“Whatever.” Vonnie smiled. “Do ya like it?”

“I love it, sweetheart. I’ll put it right next to my bed.” Billy smiled.

“Okay, me second, too!” Vonnie seemed to beam over to Ripley, grabbed another package but this time went to Reese. “This is for you!” She giggled.

Reese didn’t know what to say. “For me? You got me a Father’s Day present?”

“Ya huh. You’re my other Daddy aren’t you?” She grinned. “Open it.”

Reese wasn’t sure if he should open the present or just bust out bawling. He opted for opening the gift. He pulled the frame from the wrapping and smiled, lips trembling. “I love it Vonnie. Thank you.”

“It’s my favorite picher.” Vonnie pointed to the corner. “See I aut-y-graphed it.”

“Yes, you did.” Reese said quietly. He handed the picture to his parents. Tippy almost cried when she saw in very childish handwriting very clearly saying “I love you Daddy Reese.”

“Did you know anything about this?” Reese asked Billy who shook his head.

“Okay.” Vonnie squirmed into Reese’s lap. “I’m done.”

Ripley looked at Ronnie. “Which one?”

“That one.” He said and Ripley handed him the package, which of course would be on the bottom. Ronnie walked over to Colton. “This one’s for you Poppy, and Granny, too.”

Colton’s eyes glittered. “Well, thank you Ronnie.”

“I know you’re just my Poppy by love, but that’s the most important thing.” He said as he handed Colton the large package, leaning into his arms as Colton tenderly ripped away the paper.

Everyone was leaning to see what was hidden. In a large frame, Ronnie had taken several pictures of Colton and Tippy, Jesse and Reese, as well everyone at the table, all smiling and laughing faces and made a collage. Using the computer program Jude had bought him he had expertly woven them all together. The matting was titled, “My Family”.

“That’s perfect.” Colton squeezed the boy close.

“I love you, Poppy.” Ronnie said as both Colton and Tippy, uncharacteristically speechless, hugged and kissed him

Vignette #192: Old Changes

Saxon reached for the doorbell.

“What you doin’ that for, honey?” Miss Inez asked. “Why don’t you just throw the door open and walk right in?”

“Miss Inez, I don’t live here.” Saxon blushed.

“Why not?”

“Because, I’m not…”

Miss Inez huffed. “Child, we all know what you think you’re not. Don’tcha go trying to pull some nonsense on ol’ Inez. When are you two gonna realize you’re not children and start havin’ some adult fun?”

“Miss Inez!” Saxon was rather flabbergasted.

“Oh get your mind out of the gutter.” Miss Inez shifted her weight on her walker and reached for the doorbell. “I meant adult fun, like fallin in love an’ walkin’ around holdin’ hands an’ lookin’ stupid at each other. That’s what I meant by adult fun.”

Saxon tried to think of what to say as the doorbell rang.

Inez shifted her weight again, and looked at the blushing blond from the corner of her eye. “Everyone knows but the two of you. If you don’t figure it out soon, I’m gonna have to knock your heads together.”

Fortunately, the door opened. Ian had on a huge grin and a hand painted tie that said ‘Papa’. “Good morning, why didn’t you just come on in?” He held the door open.

Miss Inez gave Saxon a look as she walkered her way in, stopping long enough to give Ian a kiss on the cheek. “Ian, you just get better lookin’ each time I see you. If I knowed you wasn’t taken I’d bat my eyes and treat you to some fine aged All American chocolate.”

Ian laughed. “Miss Inez, you are a big flirt, and I’m not taken so bring it on Sweet Mama, bring it on.”

“Says you.” She ushered her way in. “Now where’s my boy?”

“Miss Inez!” Her boy, in the form of Ronnie, doused her with the love of a ten year old.

“Like the tie.” Saxon smiled as she leaned against the freshly shut front door.

Ian grinned and held it out for her to see. “My first atrocious tie. I’m a father. I really, really am.”

“Actually,” she smoothed it back in place with his sporty black jacket. “It’s really quite beautiful. Ronnie’s going to be a fine artist.”

He looked back down at it. “Yeah, I think he really is and I’m glad you like it. You’re going to see a lot of them today. He made one for all of us; Jude, Billy, Colton…”

Saxon giggled. “I know. Wella bought him the fabric paint, and I helped him hand pick all the ties, but yours is special.”

“That’s cause I’m a Papa.”

She pulled a tiny wrapped box from her handbag. “Happy Father’s Day, Ian.”

“Saxon.” Ian blushed. “This isn’t necessary.”

“Oh shut up and open it.”

Ian nodded. He limped over to the couch and sat down, Saxon having a seat on the ottoman beside him.

“What’cha got, Papa?” Ronnie looked.

“Saxon brought me a little Father’s Day gift.” Ian said as he unwrapped a little blue velvet box.

“I hope that’s an engagement ring.” Miss Inez said under her breath.

“What?” Ian refrained from opening the box when he looked up at her.

“Nothin’, child.” She said. “Just open the box.”

The little box creaked when he opened it. I looked up at Saxon. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“It’s a little tie tack. I thought you could use one.” She said, looking at Ronnie.

“Now how did she know I’d need a new tie pin?” Ian looked at his son as well.

“Oh, she’s just really good at knowing what’s best for you.” Ronnie grinned. “It’s pretty. What’s the stones?”

“It’s a blue sapphire.” Saxon said.

Ian turned to Ronnie. “Your birthstone, Puppy.”

“It’s a Father’s pin.” She told them.

“The white ones you have replaced with the birthstones of your other children when they’re born.” Miss Inez smiled.

“Holy crap!” Ian snorted, realizing the number of zircons. “How many kid’s do you think I’m gonna have?”

“I didn’t really think about that.” Saxon blushed. “I just liked the design he brought me and commissioned it.”

“You had this designed?” Ian was impressed.

“Of course.” She made light of it. “I don’t know the difference between a hotty uppy thingy and a cold thingy, but I’m Saxon Allen; great designer jewelry I know.”

“Well, Papa will do the cookin’, you can pick out the accessories.” Ronnie said.

Ian lifted the pin from the box and carefully placed it on his tie. “How does it look?”

“Perfect.” Saxon said, ignoring the fact that the pin and the hand paint were rather garish together.

Ripley came into the living room wearing an equally loud hand painted tie proudly flashing ‘Uncle Ripley’. “Billy just called, they’ll have Vonnie tamed and secured in the van in about five minutes. Are we ready to go?”

Ian looked at Miss Inez. “Are you sure, your church is ready for my family?”

She laughed. “Ian, honey, they survived mine, they won’t bat an eye at yours.”

He slapped his thighs. “Alright then. Let’s herd ‘em up and head ‘em out.”

“Now hold on a minute, young man.” She motioned him to sit tight and pulled her purse up into her lap and started rummaging through it. “Miz Saxon there ain’t the only sexy babe who brought you a gift this morning.” She pulled out a wrapped package complete with hand tied bow and presented it to Ian. “Happy Father’s Day.”

“Miss Inez…really…” Ian started to refuse.

“A little something from me and Rose.” She hefted it towards him the second time. “After all you done for us, you think we wouldn’t remember you on such a special day?”

Genuinely touched Ian nodded and quietly murmured “Thank you” and opened the box. Lifting the lid, Saxon left out a delighted gush.

“What is it, Papa?” Ronnie looked excitedly into the box.

Ian pulled it out and held up am antique onyx box. “Miss Inez, this must have cost you…”

She waved her hands. “Ian, this didn’t cost me a cent. I’ve had it for years, sittin’ in the closet. I took it down once and a while to shine it up and put it back. Last time I pulled it down me and Rose decided that you should have it. It has a special meaning to us, and we want you to have it.”

“I am touched, Miss Inez.” Ian bent over, kissing her and give her a deep hug.

“What is it?” Ronnie’s curiosity got the best of him.

“Let me show you, honey.” Miss Inez took the box. “It’s a old what they call Chinese puzzle box. You’re supposed to figure out how to open it, and inside there’s supposed to be a prize.”

“Like a Rubik’s cube?” He said.

“That’s right. Now this is so old, I’m sure the prize inside is long gone, but people used to put precious things in there after they got the prize. Things they only wanted people who knew their secrets to find.”

“Cool!” Ronnie looked at the box.

“You said it had special meaning, Miss Inez?” Saxon gently prodded.

Miss Inez nodded. “Now, I’m not sure if you know this, but my Daddy used to work right here in this house.”

“No.” Ian said. “No, I didn’t know that.”

“’Course at one time or another, most of us black folks worked in one of these three houses.”

“Did you work here, Miss Inez?” Ronnie asked.

“No honey, but my Daddy did and when they closed down the house, Mr. Turner let everybody take a momento or two. This box was one of the things my Daddy was given. When he died there was one little gift from the house for each of us children.”

“Oh, Miss Inez. I can’t accept something your father gave to you.” Ian said placing the gift back in the box.”

“Oh yes you can.” She said. “Now let me tell you why.”

Ian nodded and let her continue. “Now, no one talked much among themselves about what all went on in these houses, but my Daddy said this wasn’t always a happy home. He said Miss Darla and Mr. Turner worked so hard to be happy, but it all ended much too soon. When everything happened, he asked specifically for this puzzle box.”

“Why this box?” Saxon was intrigued.

“Well, he said that it was like all the happiness and love was locked away in this place and it would take the right person to unlock it. He said Miss Darla would sit for hours and try to get that box open but never could quite manage it. So now, this box has come home to the hand of the right person to unlock all the love and happiness that’s the prize inside.”

Ian hoped he was holding in the tears aching to get out. Miss Inez took his hand, picking up the puzzle and placing it there. “Now all you have to do is let it all free.”

“We’ll do our best.” He managed to say.

Miss Inez smiled. “Aw honey, you got a good start, now just let it go and feel it wash all over you.”

He nodded squeezing her close one more time, then placing the box in the center of the coffee table. “Now, where is Rose?”

“She’s at the church already. She sings in the choir, so she gets there early.”

“Well, let’s get in the car and go hear that angel sing.” Ian accepted the cane from his son, took Miss Inez’ hand and together they hobbled out to the car.

Vignette #191: Forgotten Changes

There was so much going on, but he refused to let it spoil the day. It was his first real Father’s Day. He didn’t expect much, but for the first time the day didn’t throw him head first into a fan. Ian looked at Billy. “Where did you put Aunt Hil’s pitcher?”

Billy turned a few shades in the crayon box. “The water pitcher?”

“Yes.” Ian almost laughed. “You said you found it and brought it back, didn’t you?”

“Umm…about that.” Billy gulped. “There’s something I forgot to tell you.”

Ian stopped rummaging around and leaned against the counter in the kitchen. “It’s okay, Billy. It’s ruined isn’t it?”

“No. It’s perfectly fine.”

“Then go get it for me. I want to use it for dinner today.” Ian smiled.

“Look…” Billy tried to explain.

“Bubba, just go get it for me. Please?” Ian turned back to the cabinets. “Nothing will spoil this day for any of us. I just want my Aunt Hil’s pitcher on the table, even if we have to stuff flowers in it and use it as a centerpiece.”

Billy nodded and headed to the garage. Ripley watched him go. “What was that all about?”

“Not sure, Ripley.” Ian said. “How are you doing?”

“Fine.” The man said as he poured a bag of chocolate chips into the batter. “Why do you ask?”

“You’ve been very quiet, not that you’re a powder keg of verbal energy, but you’ve been very silent since Kellen and I told you what was happening with Peyton Balouche and all.”

Ripley sighed. “I’m just watching every speck of dust hit the shelf, Ian. It’s my job to protect you and Ronnie. I promised you nothing else would happen on my watch, and I meant it.”

“I know.” Ian smiled and dripped a drop of water on the griddle. “Okay, I’m ready if you are.” He reached for the bowl.

“No.” Ripley pulled the bowl of batter out of Ian’s reach. “You go sit somewhere. It’s Father’s Day. Ronnie and I are making breakfast. Go play with the cat or something.”

“If you really wanted to make this a great Father’s Day, we’d be having the cat for breakfast.” Ian said. “So how can I ethically play with the cat knowing she’s going to end up wedged somewhere between my pancakes and bacon with syrup all over her?”

Ripley scowled. Ian smiled. “Fine. I’ll tinker around with some things for lunch. Just to be close if you guys need help.”

Billy emerged from the garage, pitcher in hand. “Here.”

“Thanks, Bill.” Ian inspected the pitcher. “This looks fine. I’ll pop it into the dishwasher with the breakfast dishes and it’ll be all ready for the family meal.” As Ian opened the dishwasher he added. “I don’t understand the big deal.”

“Look at the bottom, Ian.” Was all Billy said.

“Is there a hole?”

“Just look at it.” Billy said.

Ian pulled out the bottom panel of the dishwasher and flipped the silver pitcher to place it the rack. When he looked at the bottom, he gasped and dropped it.

The pitcher bounced off the plastic shelf and landed at Ronnie’s feet as he entered the kitchen. “Morning, Butter Fingers.” He giggled and picked up the pitcher. “Is this Aunt Hil’s special pitcher?”

Billy and Ian were silent. Ronnie shrugged and flipped it over to tuck it into the open rack of the dishwasher. He looked at the bottom. Immediately his head snapped up and locked eyes with his father. “Papa?”

“What’s going on, guys?” Ripley asked. Ronnie turned the bottom of the antique to Ripley so he could read it. “Ian…I thought you said that was…” Things registered in Ripley’s head. “Oh…”

“I’m sorry.” Billy turned to Ian. “I meant to tell you, but everything happened and frankly it slipped my mind until you asked where it was.”

“It’s fine, Billy, just a shock.” Ian took the pitcher, placed it on the rack and slid it in, closing the door with a click. “Aunt Hil, must have had that done. That’s all.”

“Of course.” Billy said. “It’s an awful expensive thing to do though. Sparky and I just wondered why she would do it after all these years.”

Ripley pulled a stepping stool over to the griddle and made sure Ronnie was secure before he let him start pouring pancake batter. “It’s not that expensive. Just three letters, probably cost her twenty dollars or so.”

“Not in Southwest, Virginia.” Billy told him to the sizzle. “She’d have to drive all the way to Johnson City or Kingsport to have that done. She rarely drove herself to the grocery store at the bottom of the mountain.”

“Sorry for reacting that way.” Ian distracted himself with puttering, any kind of puttering. “It was just a shock. Aunt Hil probably had it done.”

“Ian, I hate to say this but it really doesn’t look like it was done recently.” Billy finally said. “It’s too worn and uneven. It’s been there for years.”

Ian looked at Billy. “Then we just never noticed it before. I’m sure she had it done to make sure that whenever she passed it got to me. There is no other explanation.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re right. Just all the questions and mysteries.”

“We’re all seeing riddles where there are just nursery rhymes.” Ripley mentioned standing steadfastly behind Ronnie helping him with the pancakes.

Ian reached up into the cabinet to get settings for the table. One of the glasses tipped and crashed to the floor. “Butter fingers again.” Ian reached for his cane, Billy put his hand and his arm.

“I’ll get it. You go have a seat somewhere, let the morning meds kick in.” He smiled.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have just one morning when I didn’t look forward to the fog?”

“Soon, Papa.” Ronnie flipped the first pancake on the plate. “Soon you’ll be all better and won’t need none of them pills at all.”

“You’re right.” Ian smiled. “I think I’ll go tinker at the piano a little while. That always relaxes me.”

The trio in the kitchen watched the man toddle out of the kitchen. He was getting stronger and better every day, but that knee still bothered him; more on wet days.

As soon as Ian was confidently out of sight, Ronnie handed Ripley the spatula. “Take over a minute.” Before anyone could blink an eye, Ronnie was off the stool, at the dishwasher and had the pitcher bottom up in his hand.

He looked up. “Uncle Billy, this is the same letters as on the locket.”

“I know, Ronnie. I know.”

Vignette #190: Game Change

“How could you let this happen?” Lucille was all but shrieking.

“How could I let this happen?” Turner shot back. “Who the hell put me in control?”

“You’ve always been able to control her before.” Lucille slapped the year old Time magazine back on the table.

“Look, everyone just calm down.” James Redfield finally spoke after hours of total silence. “This is a mess, but we’ll figure this out. Hopefully, she’s fine and we can go ahead and get the picture finished. Then all of this angst will be for naught.”

“Finish the picture?” Lucille almost threw one of the magazines at him. “That’s the mess I’m talking about. You’ve seen the dailies!”

“It’s not that bad.” Turner bit his lip. “Okay, it’s not great, but it’s fixable.”

“The music’s good.” Redfield tried to look on the bright side.

“Of course the music’s good.” Lucille sniped. “The lunatic can sing like a canary.”

“Maybe this little episode will bring things into perspective for her.” James made another attempt at being positive.

“Or send her completely over the edge.” Lucille mumbled.

“Okay, let’s tinker with the plan a little.” David finally stepped back in. “We’ll get her scenes completed for the film, then send her off on a vacation while we shoot things our way.”

Lucille and James smiled. “Bring her back for the premiere. She’ll never know.”

“Fine smart guy.” Lucille looked at Turner. “What if she starts making demands again?”

David hated to admit it, but she was right. “Maybe now is the time to just end it. Once we get this picture opened, I think we need to discuss long term options.”

“Long term options?” James looked up.

“We have to face things, Jamey. She’s out of control.” Turner couldn’t believe how much that hurt.

“We certainly have enough to get her taken care of.” Lucille nodded.

“Taken care of?” Redfield started to boil. “She’s not a dog to have put down. For God’s sake, she’s a human being.”

David scowled at his friend. “We’re not going to have her put to sleep, Jamey. She needs help…and I just can’t do this anymore.”

“Let’s talk to Herman. He’s always been able to get to her before.” Redfield almost begged.

“I’ve already called him.” Lucille told him. “He’s on his way.”

“I know that most of it is the diabetes. It’s medical, not mental.” Turner said to convince himself. “Granted, she always been a bit unstable, but she was never like this before.”

“I hate to admit it, but I certainly prefer the timid little mouse who cried every time you pointed a camera at her.” Lucille shook her head. “Now it’s like trying to control one of those Super Ball things, bouncing out of control.”

“One minute crashing on the ceiling, braying like a banshee,” Turner looked out the window from his chair. “The next smashing on the floor glazed over and trembling.”

“She’s such a sweet frail thing.” Jamey said to no one in particular.

“Sweet, frail thing?” Lucille turned to him in exasperation. “She’s got us by the balls, she knows it and she’s squeezing with all her might.”

Her husband started to respond, but attention was grabbed by the man in the white coat who suddenly entered the room.

“How is she?” David Turner, despite his desperation, was still deeply concerned.

“She’s fine, getting dressed.” He smiled. “You can take her home.”

“You don’t need to keep her?” Even to Lucille, she sounded disappointed.

The doctor laughed. “No. No, she’s fine.”

“But she passed out.” David stepped forward. “We’ve tried so hard to keep her sugar under control.”

The doctor held up his hand. “Actually, you’ve been doing a good job. That’s not to say that the next few months aren’t going to be difficult.”

“Doctor, forgive us, but what’s the problem then?” Redfield asked. “What brought on this episode?”

The doctor turned when the waiting room door opened. He smiled. “I think I’ll let her tell you that.”

“Thank you doctor.” She smiled timidly and nodded her head as he passed her by.

The three stood there looking at each other and back at each other. “How are you feeling, honey?” Lucille smiled.

She nodded her head. “You’re not feeling sick any more?” Redfield asked her timidly.

“No.” She said quietly, reminiscent of the sweet little thing she used to be.

“I’m so glad.” David smiled and stepped toward her. “The doctor said we could take you home. Are you ready?”

She cocked her head, smiled and then decked him with a surprise right hook. Lucille and James Redfield looked stunned as the woman strutted over and looked down at David Turner still reeling from the surprise punch.

“I’m pregnant, you son of a bitch!” She wailed.

“Good Lord.” Lucille rolled her eyes

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chapter 39: Father's Day

“How could you let this happen?” Lucille was all but shrieking.

“How could I let this happen?” Turner shot back. “Who the hell put me in control?”

“You’ve always been able to control her before.” Lucille slapped the year old Time magazine back on the table.

“Look, everyone just calm down.” James Redfield finally spoke after hours of total silence. “This is a mess, but we’ll figure this out. Hopefully, she’s fine and we can go ahead and get the picture finished. Then all of this angst will be for naught.”

“Finish the picture?” Lucille almost threw one of the magazines at him. “That’s the mess I’m talking about. You’ve seen the dailies!”

“It’s not that bad.” Turner bit his lip. “Okay, it’s not great, but it’s fixable.”

“The music’s good.” Redfield tried to look on the bright side.

“Of course the music’s good.” Lucille sniped. “The lunatic can sing like a canary.”

“Maybe this little episode will bring things into perspective for her.” James made another attempt at being positive.

“Or send her completely over the edge.” Lucille mumbled.

“Okay, let’s tinker with the plan a little.” David finally stepped back in. “We’ll get her scenes completed for the film, then send her off on a vacation while we shoot things our way.”

Lucille and James smiled. “Bring her back for the premiere. She’ll never know.”

“Fine smart guy.” Lucille looked at Turner. “What if she starts making demands again?”

David hated to admit it, but she was right. “Maybe now is the time to just end it. Once we get this picture opened, I think we need to discuss long term options.”

“Long term options?” James looked up.

“We have to face things, Jamey. She’s out of control.” Turner couldn’t believe how much that hurt.

“We certainly have enough to get her taken care of.” Lucille nodded.

“Taken care of?” Redfield started to boil. “She’s not a dog to have put down. For God’s sake, she’s a human being.”

David scowled at his friend. “We’re not going to have her put to sleep, Jamey. She needs help…and I just can’t do this anymore.”

“Let’s talk to Herman. He’s always been able to get to her before.” Redfield almost begged.

“I’ve already called him.” Lucille told him. “He’s on his way.”

“I know that most of it is the diabetes. It’s medical, not mental.” Turner said to convince himself. “Granted, she always been a bit unstable, but she was never like this before.”

“I hate to admit it, but I certainly prefer the timid little mouse who cried every time you pointed a camera at her.” Lucille shook her head. “Now it’s like trying to control one of those Super Ball things, bouncing out of control.”

“One minute crashing on the ceiling, braying like a banshee,” Turner looked out the window from his chair. “The next smashing on the floor glazed over and trembling.”

“She’s such a sweet frail thing.” Jamey said to no one in particular.

“Sweet, frail thing?” Lucille turned to him in exasperation. “She’s got us by the balls, she knows it and she’s squeezing with all her might.”

Her husband started to respond, but attention was grabbed by the man in the white coat who suddenly entered the room.

“How is she?” David Turner, despite his desperation, was still deeply concerned.

“She’s fine, getting dressed.” He smiled. “You can take her home.”

“You don’t need to keep her?” Even to Lucille, she sounded disappointed.

The doctor laughed. “No. No, she’s fine.”

“But she passed out.” David stepped forward. “We’ve tried so hard to keep her sugar under control.”

The doctor held up his hand. “Actually, you’ve been doing a good job. That’s not to say that the next few months aren’t going to be difficult.”

“Doctor, forgive us, but what’s the problem then?” Redfield asked. “What brought on this episode?”

The doctor turned when the waiting room door opened. He smiled. “I think I’ll let her tell you that.”

“Thank you doctor.” She smiled timidly and nodded her head as he passed her by.

The three stood there looking at each other and back at each other. “How are you feeling, honey?” Lucille smiled.

She nodded her head. “You’re not feeling sick any more?” Redfield asked her timidly.

“No.” She said quietly, reminiscent of the sweet little thing she used to be.

“I’m so glad.” David smiled and stepped toward her. “The doctor said we could take you home. Are you ready?”

She cocked her head, smiled and then decked him with a surprise right hook. Lucille and James Redfield looked stunned as the woman strutted over and looked down at David Turner still reeling from the surprise punch.

“I’m pregnant, you son of a bitch!” She wailed.

“Good Lord.” Lucille rolled her eyes.




There was so much going on, but he refused to let it spoil the day. It was his first real Father’s Day. He didn’t expect much, but for the first time the day didn’t throw him head first into a fan. Ian looked at Billy. “Where did you put Aunt Hil’s pitcher?”

Billy turned a few shades in the crayon box. “The water pitcher?”

“Yes.” Ian almost laughed. “You said you found it and brought it back, didn’t you?”

“Umm…about that.” Billy gulped. “There’s something I forgot to tell you.”

Ian stopped rummaging around and leaned against the counter in the kitchen. “It’s okay, Billy. It’s ruined isn’t it?”

“No. It’s perfectly fine.”

“Then go get it for me. I want to use it for dinner today.” Ian smiled.

“Look…” Billy tried to explain.

“Bubba, just go get it for me. Please?” Ian turned back to the cabinets. “Nothing will spoil this day for any of us. I just want my Aunt Hil’s pitcher on the table, even if we have to stuff flowers in it and use it as a centerpiece.”

Billy nodded and headed to the garage. Ripley watched him go. “What was that all about?”

“Not sure, Ripley.” Ian said. “How are you doing?”

“Fine.” The man said as he poured a bag of chocolate chips into the batter. “Why do you ask?”

“You’ve been very quiet, not that you’re a powder keg of verbal energy, but you’ve been very silent since Kellen and I told you what was happening with Peyton Balouche and all.”

Ripley sighed. “I’m just watching every speck of dust hit the shelf, Ian. It’s my job to protect you and Ronnie. I promised you nothing else would happen on my watch, and I meant it.”

“I know.” Ian smiled and dripped a drop of water on the griddle. “Okay, I’m ready if you are.” He reached for the bowl.

“No.” Ripley pulled the bowl of batter out of Ian’s reach. “You go sit somewhere. It’s Father’s Day. Ronnie and I are making breakfast. Go play with the cat or something.”

“If you really wanted to make this a great Father’s Day, we’d be having the cat for breakfast.” Ian said. “So how can I ethically play with the cat knowing she’s going to end up wedged somewhere between my pancakes and bacon with syrup all over her?”

Ripley scowled. Ian smiled. “Fine. I’ll tinker around with some things for lunch. Just to be close if you guys need help.”

Billy emerged from the garage, pitcher in hand. “Here.”

“Thanks, Bill.” Ian inspected the pitcher. “This looks fine. I’ll pop it into the dishwasher with the breakfast dishes and it’ll be all ready for the family meal.” As Ian opened the dishwasher he added. “I don’t understand the big deal.”

“Look at the bottom, Ian.” Was all Billy said.

“Is there a hole?”

“Just look at it.” Billy said.

Ian pulled out the bottom panel of the dishwasher and flipped the silver pitcher to place it the rack. When he looked at the bottom, he gasped and dropped it.

The pitcher bounced off the plastic shelf and landed at Ronnie’s feet as he entered the kitchen. “Morning, Butter Fingers.” He giggled and picked up the pitcher. “Is this Aunt Hil’s special pitcher?”

Billy and Ian were silent. Ronnie shrugged and flipped it over to tuck it into the open rack of the dishwasher. He looked at the bottom. Immediately his head snapped up and locked eyes with his father. “Papa?”

“What’s going on, guys?” Ripley asked. Ronnie turned the bottom of the antique to Ripley so he could read it. “Ian…I thought you said that was…” Things registered in Ripley’s head. “Oh…”

“I’m sorry.” Billy turned to Ian. “I meant to tell you, but everything happened and frankly it slipped my mind until you asked where it was.”

“It’s fine, Billy, just a shock.” Ian took the pitcher, placed it on the rack and slid it in, closing the door with a click. “Aunt Hil, must have had that done. That’s all.”

“Of course.” Billy said. “It’s an awful expensive thing to do though. Sparky and I just wondered why she would do it after all these years.”

Ripley pulled a stepping stool over to the griddle and made sure Ronnie was secure before he let him start pouring pancake batter. “It’s not that expensive. Just three letters, probably cost her twenty dollars or so.”

“Not in Southwest, Virginia.” Billy told him to the sizzle. “She’d have to drive all the way to Johnson City or Kingsport to have that done. She rarely drove herself to the grocery store at the bottom of the mountain.”

“Sorry for reacting that way.” Ian distracted himself with puttering, any kind of puttering. “It was just a shock. Aunt Hil probably had it done.”

“Ian, I hate to say this but it really doesn’t look like it was done recently.” Billy finally said. “It’s too worn and uneven. It’s been there for years.”

Ian looked at Billy. “Then we just never noticed it before. I’m sure she had it done to make sure that whenever she passed it got to me. There is no other explanation.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re right. Just all the questions and mysteries.”

“We’re all seeing riddles where there are just nursery rhymes.” Ripley mentioned standing steadfastly behind Ronnie helping him with the pancakes.

Ian reached up into the cabinet to get settings for the table. One of the glasses tipped and crashed to the floor. “Butter fingers again.” Ian reached for his cane, Billy put his hand and his arm.

“I’ll get it. You go have a seat somewhere, let the morning meds kick in.” He smiled.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have just one morning when I didn’t look forward to the fog?”

“Soon, Papa.” Ronnie flipped the first pancake on the plate. “Soon you’ll be all better and won’t need none of them pills at all.”

“You’re right.” Ian smiled. “I think I’ll go tinker at the piano a little while. That always relaxes me.”

The trio in the kitchen watched the man toddle out of the kitchen. He was getting stronger and better every day, but that knee still bothered him; more on wet days.

As soon as Ian was confidently out of sight, Ronnie handed Ripley the spatula. “Take over a minute.” Before anyone could blink an eye, Ronnie was off the stool, at the dishwasher and had the pitcher bottom up in his hand.

He looked up. “Uncle Billy, this is the same letters as on the locket.”

“I know, Ronnie. I know.”



Saxon reached for the doorbell.

“What you doin’ that for, honey?” Miss Inez asked. “Why don’t you just throw the door open and walk right in?”

“Miss Inez, I don’t live here.” Saxon blushed.

“Why not?”

“Because, I’m not…”

Miss Inez huffed. “Child, we all know what you think you’re not. Don’tcha go trying to pull some nonsense on ol’ Inez. When are you two gonna realize you’re not children and start havin’ some adult fun?”

“Miss Inez!” Saxon was rather flabbergasted.

“Oh get your mind out of the gutter.” Miss Inez shifted her weight on her walker and reached for the doorbell. “I meant adult fun, like fallin in love an’ walkin’ around holdin’ hands an’ lookin’ stupid at each other. That’s what I meant by adult fun.”

Saxon tried to think of what to say as the doorbell rang.

Inez shifted her weight again, and looked at the blushing blond from the corner of her eye. “Everyone knows but the two of you. If you don’t figure it out soon, I’m gonna have to knock your heads together.”

Fortunately, the door opened. Ian had on a huge grin and a hand painted tie that said ‘Papa’. “Good morning, why didn’t you just come on in?” He held the door open.

Miss Inez gave Saxon a look as she walkered her way in, stopping long enough to give Ian a kiss on the cheek. “Ian, you just get better lookin’ each time I see you. If I knowed you wasn’t taken I’d bat my eyes and treat you to some fine aged All American chocolate.”

Ian laughed. “Miss Inez, you are a big flirt, and I’m not taken so bring it on Sweet Mama, bring it on.”

“Says you.” She ushered her way in. “Now where’s my boy?”

“Miss Inez!” Her boy, in the form of Ronnie, doused her with the love of a ten year old.

“Like the tie.” Saxon smiled as she leaned against the freshly shut front door.

Ian grinned and held it out for her to see. “My first atrocious tie. I’m a father. I really, really am.”

“Actually,” she smoothed it back in place with his sporty black jacket. “It’s really quite beautiful. Ronnie’s going to be a fine artist.”

He looked back down at it. “Yeah, I think he really is and I’m glad you like it. You’re going to see a lot of them today. He made one for all of us; Jude, Billy, Colton…”

Saxon giggled. “I know. Wella bought him the fabric paint, and I helped him hand pick all the ties, but yours is special.”

“That’s cause I’m a Papa.”

She pulled a tiny wrapped box from her handbag. “Happy Father’s Day, Ian.”

“Saxon.” Ian blushed. “This isn’t necessary.”

“Oh shut up and open it.”

Ian nodded. He limped over to the couch and sat down, Saxon having a seat on the ottoman beside him.

“What’cha got, Papa?” Ronnie looked.

“Saxon brought me a little Father’s Day gift.” Ian said as he unwrapped a little blue velvet box.

“I hope that’s an engagement ring.” Miss Inez said under her breath.

“What?” Ian refrained from opening the box when he looked up at her.

“Nothin’, child.” She said. “Just open the box.”

The little box creaked when he opened it. I looked up at Saxon. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“It’s a little tie tack. I thought you could use one.” She said, looking at Ronnie.

“Now how did she know I’d need a new tie pin?” Ian looked at his son as well.

“Oh, she’s just really good at knowing what’s best for you.” Ronnie grinned. “It’s pretty. What’s the stones?”

“It’s a blue sapphire.” Saxon said.

Ian turned to Ronnie. “Your birthstone, Puppy.”

“It’s a Father’s pin.” She told them.

“The white ones you have replaced with the birthstones of your other children when they’re born.” Miss Inez smiled.

“Holy crap!” Ian snorted, realizing the number of zircons. “How many kid’s do you think I’m gonna have?”

“I didn’t really think about that.” Saxon blushed. “I just liked the design he brought me and commissioned it.”

“You had this designed?” Ian was impressed.

“Of course.” She made light of it. “I don’t know the difference between a hotty uppy thingy and a cold thingy, but I’m Saxon Allen; great designer jewelry I know.”

“Well, Papa will do the cookin’, you can pick out the accessories.” Ronnie said.

Ian lifted the pin from the box and carefully placed it on his tie. “How does it look?”

“Perfect.” Saxon said, ignoring the fact that the pin and the hand paint were rather garish together.

Ripley came into the living room wearing an equally loud hand painted tie proudly flashing ‘Uncle Ripley’. “Billy just called, they’ll have Vonnie tamed and secured in the van in about five minutes. Are we ready to go?”

Ian looked at Miss Inez. “Are you sure, your church is ready for my family?”

She laughed. “Ian, honey, they survived mine, they won’t bat an eye at yours.”

He slapped his thighs. “Alright then. Let’s herd ‘em up and head ‘em out.”

“Now hold on a minute, young man.” She motioned him to sit tight and pulled her purse up into her lap and started rummaging through it. “Miz Saxon there ain’t the only sexy babe who brought you a gift this morning.” She pulled out a wrapped package complete with hand tied bow and presented it to Ian. “Happy Father’s Day.”

“Miss Inez…really…” Ian started to refuse.

“A little something from me and Rose.” She hefted it towards him the second time. “After all you done for us, you think we wouldn’t remember you on such a special day?”

Genuinely touched Ian nodded and quietly murmured “Thank you” and opened the box. Lifting the lid, Saxon left out a delighted gush.

“What is it, Papa?” Ronnie looked excitedly into the box.

Ian pulled it out and held up am antique onyx box. “Miss Inez, this must have cost you…”

She waved her hands. “Ian, this didn’t cost me a cent. I’ve had it for years, sittin’ in the closet. I took it down once and a while to shine it up and put it back. Last time I pulled it down me and Rose decided that you should have it. It has a special meaning to us, and we want you to have it.”

“I am touched, Miss Inez.” Ian bent over, kissing her and give her a deep hug.

“What is it?” Ronnie’s curiosity got the best of him.

“Let me show you, honey.” Miss Inez took the box. “It’s a old what they call Chinese puzzle box. You’re supposed to figure out how to open it, and inside there’s supposed to be a prize.”

“Like a Rubik’s cube?” He said.

“That’s right. Now this is so old, I’m sure the prize inside is long gone, but people used to put precious things in there after they got the prize. Things they only wanted people who knew their secrets to find.”

“Cool!” Ronnie looked at the box.

“You said it had special meaning, Miss Inez?” Saxon gently prodded.

Miss Inez nodded. “Now, I’m not sure if you know this, but my Daddy used to work right here in this house.”

“No.” Ian said. “No, I didn’t know that.”

“’Course at one time or another, most of us black folks worked in one of these three houses.”

“Did you work here, Miss Inez?” Ronnie asked.

“No honey, but my Daddy did and when they closed down the house, Mr. Turner let everybody take a momento or two. This box was one of the things my Daddy was given. When he died there was one little gift from the house for each of us children.”

“Oh, Miss Inez. I can’t accept something your father gave to you.” Ian said placing the gift back in the box.”

“Oh yes you can.” She said. “Now let me tell you why.”

Ian nodded and let her continue. “Now, no one talked much among themselves about what all went on in these houses, but my Daddy said this wasn’t always a happy home. He said Miss Darla and Mr. Turner worked so hard to be happy, but it all ended much too soon. When everything happened, he asked specifically for this puzzle box.”

“Why this box?” Saxon was intrigued.

“Well, he said that it was like all the happiness and love was locked away in this place and it would take the right person to unlock it. He said Miss Darla would sit for hours and try to get that box open but never could quite manage it. So now, this box has come home to the hand of the right person to unlock all the love and happiness that’s the prize inside.”

Ian hoped he was holding in the tears aching to get out. Miss Inez took his hand, picking up the puzzle and placing it there. “Now all you have to do is let it all free.”

“We’ll do our best.” He managed to say.

Miss Inez smiled. “Aw honey, you got a good start, now just let it go and feel it wash all over you.”

He nodded squeezing her close one more time, then placing the box in the center of the coffee table. “Now, where is Rose?”

“She’s at the church already. She sings in the choir, so she gets there early.”

“Well, let’s get in the car and go hear that angel sing.” Ian accepted the cane from his son, took Miss Inez’ hand and together they hobbled out to the car.



Her face was covered in chocolate ice cream, but Vonnie was grinning from ear to ear. “Mmmm.” She fussed a little as Billy tried to wipe some of it off with a napkin. “Don’t Daddy. I wanna save some of it for later.”

“Angel, you look like a sticky calico cat.” Tippy said looking at her from her side of the table.

“Come here, Sweetheart.” Reese beckoned her with a finger. Her green eyes glittered as she slipped right into his lap, letting him dip a cloth napkin in a glass of water and wipe the sticky mess away. “Now, there’s that pretty face I was missing.”

“You missed it?” She said. “Where was it?”

“Hidden under all that chocolate.”

“Don’t you like chocolate? It’s my favorite.”

“Chocolate’s my favorite ice cream, but yours is my favorite face.” Reese squeezed her tight and kissed the top of her head.

“Daddy, may I be excused?” She asked politely.

“Honey, would you mind sitting with us just a teensy while longer? It’s so nice to have everyone around the table.” Billy looked around and all the friends and family.

“But I gotta go potty.”

“Oh…okay.”

“I’ll come right back.” She promised.

“Do you need some help?” Tippy asked.

“Na uh.” She said as she dashed off.

“Don’t forget to wash your hands!” Billy yelled to her, but shook his head knowing she was focused on something else.

It was a large group of family and friends, most had forgotten which was which and it no longer mattered. What mattered was that everyone around the joyous table we there to celebrate fatherhood, family, good food and chocolate ice cream.

“I wish Miss Inez and Rose could have stayed awhile longer.” Saxon licked the last drop of ice cream off her spoon.

“I think they would have but Miss Glo was getting restless.” Tippy smiled.

“Actually, I think Miss Glo was just an excuse.” Ian said stirring a little more sugar into his hot tea. “Miss Inez isn’t as strong as she likes to let on she is, but I think Miss Glo truly had all the excitement she could handle for one day.”

“She had a good time though.” Ronnie perked up. “I think. It’s hard to tell with her sometimes.”

“Yes, but I think I saw a smile behind that smirk a couple of times.” Colton said. “It was pretty obvious how touched she was when Ian showed her the room that Billy was going to remodel for her.”

“I’m hoping that getting her interested in decorating will encourage her to work just a little harder.” Ian sighed.

“Didn’t she used to be an interior designer?” Saxon said swiping a bit of ice cream from Ian’s glass.

“I’m sure that was she said she did, but she never had a license or anything.” Ian winked and slid the bowl closer to Saxon so no one would notice her eating the rest of his ice cream. “Basically she helped Southern ladies pick out wallpaper and arrange furniture, but it kept her busy after her husband died and she seemed to enjoy it.”

“Oh yes.” Tippy nodded her head. “One of those. I know of them well.”

“One of those?” Jesse said.

“Honey, in the Appalachians where we come from, not many have money, even those who have it don’t have nearly as much as they let on, so sometimes the faux do well would call upon other ladies of their class and pay them to decorate, so to speak.” She said.

“On other words, they’d say Miss Glo I want to spend this much money and make it look like this much money. Then they’d sit down, look through a couple of out dated magazines from the library, and anything under budget was Miss Glo’s to keep.” Ian nodded.

“Precisely.” Tippy giggled.

Vonnie came storming back out to the deck. “Did you wash your hands?” Her father inquired.

“Ya huh.” She wormed over to Ronnie.

“Before or after?”

She looked at her father. “Is that a trick question?” She looked a little guilty, holding up her hand and whispering something into Ronnie’s ear.

“What?” Ronnie seemed a little annoyed until she huffed and repeated the procedure.

“Oh yeah.” Ronnie looked up. “Excuse me, I’m going to go help Vonnie re-wash her hands.” The table all watched in silence and Ronnie took the little girl’s hand and led her back into the house.

“Should I be worried?” Billy asked.

“Aw, son, just let the kids ‘lone.” Jude smiled. “They prob’ly gots something planned.”

“That’s what I’m wondering if I should worried about.”

Reese patted Billy on the back. “It’s after dinner on Father’s Day. I know Vonnie actually asked Ronnie to help her with something.”

“She actually asked and didn’t grab him by the ankles, slam him to the ground and sit on him until he cried Uncle?” Billy said.

“She actually asked him.” Reese smiled.

Tippy beamed. “My Granbaby is growing up.”

“I knew there was a little girl in that monster somewhere.” Jesse said into his drink, making Saxon and Ian do spit takes.

“By the way, what happened to Ripley?” Colton looked around the table.

“He was sitting right there a minute ago.” Saxon pointed to his empty chair.

“He gathered a few dishes.” Ian said sipping his tea. “He’ll be right back.”

Actually it was almost instantaneously. He appeared at the door carrying several wrapped packages, followed closely behind by Ronnie and Vonnie each with grins on their faces.

“Me first!” Vonnie squeaked, dashing to her father and handing him a gift. “Happy Happy Daddy’s day!” She squirmed in his lap, barely giving room for Billy to hold the package.

“Is this for me?” He asked.

“Ya huh! Open it.” She could barely contain herself as her father ripped off the wrapping. “Do ya like it? Huh?”

“It’s beautiful, Vonnie.” Billy turned the frame around so the family could see.

“It’s me and Percy! Ronnie tuck it with his camera and I helped him print it out.” She beamed. “Granny put it in that thingy for me.”

“It’s a frame, Angel.” Tippy reminded her. “It’s called a frame.”

“Whatever.” Vonnie smiled. “Do ya like it?”

“I love it, sweetheart. I’ll put it right next to my bed.” Billy smiled.

“Okay, me second, too!” Vonnie seemed to beam over to Ripley, grabbed another package but this time went to Reese. “This is for you!” She giggled.

Reese didn’t know what to say. “For me? You got me a Father’s Day present?”

“Ya huh. You’re my other Daddy aren’t you?” She grinned. “Open it.”

Reese wasn’t sure if he should open the present or just bust out bawling. He opted for opening the gift. He pulled the frame from the wrapping and smiled, lips trembling. “I love it Vonnie. Thank you.”

“It’s my favorite picher.” Vonnie pointed to the corner. “See I aut-y-graphed it.”

“Yes, you did.” Reese said quietly. He handed the picture to his parents. Tippy almost cried when she saw in very childish handwriting very clearly saying “I love you Daddy Reese.”

“Did you know anything about this?” Reese asked Billy who shook his head.

“Okay.” Vonnie squirmed into Reese’s lap. “I’m done.”

Ripley looked at Ronnie. “Which one?”

“That one.” He said and Ripley handed him the package, which of course would be on the bottom. Ronnie walked over to Colton. “This one’s for you Poppy, and Granny, too.”

Colton’s eyes glittered. “Well, thank you Ronnie.”

“I know you’re just my Poppy by love, but that’s the most important thing.” He said as he handed Colton the large package, leaning into his arms as Colton tenderly ripped away the paper.

Everyone was leaning to see what was hidden. In a large frame, Ronnie had taken several pictures of Colton and Tippy, Jesse and Reese, as well everyone at the table, all smiling and laughing faces and made a collage. Using the computer program Jude had bought him he had expertly woven them all together. The matting was titled, “My Family”.

“That’s perfect.” Colton squeezed the boy close.

“I love you, Poppy.” Ronnie said as both Colton and Tippy, uncharacteristically speechless, hugged and kissed him.

Ripley appeared close to the table and handed Ronnie another package. “And this one’s for you.” In an instant Ronnie was at Jude’s side.

“Aw, Ronnie, honey. The tie was enough.” He pulled on the hand painted tie he sported around his neck.

“Just open it Grampaw.” Ronnie butted him a little with his hip. Jude nodded his head, ripping away the paper and revealing another framed photograph. This one was of he and Ronnie holding up a huge fish they’d caught on their last fishing trip together. “You remember when Uncle Jeremy took that?”

“I sure do. That the was the most fun we ever had together, Ronnie.”

“It took the two of us to haul that monster in, but we did it, together.” Ronnie kissed his grandfather.

“Thank you, sonny.” Jude was genuinely touched.

Ronnie looked at Vonnie and she giggled. She jumped off Reese’s lap and dashed over to a plant by the table, pulling out a package. She handed it to Ronnie.

This time Ronnie walked over to Ripley. “Okay, I’ll take that one, but you take this one.”

Ripley was a little confused but he handed the last package he held to Ronnie, and Ronnie presented him with a gift. “This is from Vonnie and me. Happy Father’s Day Ripley.”

The big man didn’t bother to hide his emotions. His bottom lip trembled and he wiped a tear from his cheek as he barely nodded his head. He had to pull his chair out and sit down before he could open the gift.

Vonnie crawled right in his lap as he revealed a picture of Ronnie, Vonnie, Rodie, Ralphie and Vonnie’s cat, Percy. Once again, Ronnie had used his computer to emboss the matting. It said, “Love is only this far away. Happy Father’s Day Uncle Ripley.” He could not speak, only hug the two children so tight they almost broke.

When Ronnie finally broke free, and the table seemed to have stopped sniffling and trying to wipe away happy tears before anyone else could see, the boy finally approached his father. “Happy Father’s Day, Papa.”

Ian smiled, took the package and slowly unwrapped it. Ian’s gift wasn’t a photograph, but a canvas. The man gasped in surprise and pleasure as he looked at a watercolor painting of himself sleeping on the couch, Rodie curled in his lap. “Ronnie this is beautiful.”

“I know you missed all the drawings for the refrigerator and stuff, but that’s okay. Saxon bought me the canvas and told me I should try actually painting. So the first thing that came to mind was well, the two things that make me the happiest in the world, my Papa and my cat, both peaceful and happy.” Ronnie said.

He had to swallow hard but he finally managed to thank his son. “I’ll have it framed. May I hang it in my new office?”

“Any where you want, Papa.”

Ian cleared his throat. “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “My turn.” He turned to Jude. “I never had a father.”

“I know son.” Jude nodded his head in sorrow.

“But I’ve learned something in the past six months and it’s that I was wrong, Jude. I had you. It seemed like whenever things got tough, you always seemed to spring up and give me hope.”

“I done the best I could.”

“I remember very vividly, sitting on the creek bank, black and blue and sniffling trying to catch a fish so Uncle Nate and I could have something for supper that night. I was sitting there, as usual struggling to get out of the blackness that just seemed to envelop me everyday.”

“Baby Doll…” Tippy said quietly.

“Then suddenly you appeared behind me. You’d left the farm and had your own family by then.”

“Janie and Taylor.”

Ian smiled. “Yes, and I though you’d abandoned me.” Jude started to speak. “I know, but when you’re ten that’s how you feel, but there you were. You never mentioned the bruises or the tears. You just sat beside me on the creek bank and fished in silence. Neither one of us caught anything until the sun started to set, and we both caught rock fish.”

Jude grinned. “Actually, I remember that day. Your face was so swelled I barely recognized ya. My heart just ached. I couldn’t think of what to say.”

Ian leaned on the table. “But what you finally said, has gotten me through some of the toughest days of my life. As we hauled in our night’s meal, you put your arm around me and said “Son, I don’t know how, but someday I’m gonna have a boat and me and you are gonna sail towards the sun. You hang in there and remember no matter how dark it may get, there’s a light behind all that and it’s my love trying to find you.”

He reached in his pocket and handed Jude a key chain. Jude looked at it and up at Ian. “Well, thank you Ian, but…uh…I kina already gots a key to the house.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Ian pulled out a snapshot from his pocket. “That key goes to this.”

Jude looked at the picture. His eyes got wide. “A boat?”

Ian smiled. “Now, you can take me fishing.”

“Me, too?” Ronnie’s eyes got wide.

“It’s your Granpaw’s boat. It’s up to him, but I’ve signed the three of us up for classes.”

“You shouldn’t a done this, Ian.” Jude tried to chastise him.

He held up his hand. “Jude, it’s not a yacht, just a small fishing boat Jeremy helped me find. I just want you to enjoy it. I know it’s something you’ve always wanted and I want you to have it.”

“This makes my little gift seem sa small.” Jude said.

“Jude, you did not have to get me a gift.” Ian insisted.

“Now hesh up.” Jude reached under the table and handed Ian a simple box. “It ain’t much, but I made a promise to ya, and right now this is the best that I can do.”

“A promise?” Ian said. “You’ve never made me a promise you didn’t keep.”

“Just open it.”

Ian moved his empty dessert dish to the side and lay the white box in front of him. Jude got out of his chair and stood behind him and put his hand on Ian’s shoulder. As Ian took the lid off everyone leaned in closely to see what it was.

As the top plopped on the table, Ian unfolded the paper around it and picked up another framed photograph. It was of a close up of a beautiful young woman smiling, nose to nose with a laughing baby. Ian turned to look at Jude.

“When we was closin’ up Miz Hilary’s I found this picture.” Jude pointed at the woman. “That’s you’re Mama.”

Ian’s lips trembled. “My Mama?”

Jude squeezed Ian’s shoulders and leaned down to say quietly in his ear, “And that laughin’ little ball a black hair? That’s you.”

Ian gently touched his mother’s face through the spotless glass. “She’s beautiful.” It was all the Ian could say through his tears.

Saxon put her hand on his. “You’ve never even seen a picture of her?”

He shook his head, tenderly wiping away the tear that splashed on the glass.

Tippy reached out her hand. “Baby Doll, may I see her?”

Ian smiled and handed her the frame. Jesse’s eyes instantly fixed on her face. Tippy looked at it and back to Ian. “You were such a perfect little baby, and your mother is…”

She stopped and took in a deep breath. Colton put his hand quickly to her back. “Tippy? Are you okay honey?”

Tippy waved her hands in the air and took in a deep breath. “Fine. Fine.” She said. “Ian your mother is beautiful.” She handed the picture to Colton and grabbed his hand.

Colton smiled and then turned white.

“Colton?” Ian said in concern.

“It’s Bethy.” His managed to say. “It’s my Beth Ann.”

Jude’s neck snapped his head back. “Bethy? Who’s Bethy?”

Colton looked at Jude and then slowly to Ian, reading the confused look on his face. “My first wife.”

“No, no.” Jude said. “That’s Lylah Justyn. Ian’s mama.”

“I understand that.” Colton said. “What I don’t understand is this woman was also my first wife.”

Jesse stood at the table, his chair screeching beneath him. Everyone’s head turned to him. He trembled and used both hands to wipe the tears streaming down his face. “Dad…Ian…I…uh…” He sighed. “Oh God.”

“Jesse, did you know about this?” Tippy asked him.

“Sort of…Jude showed me the picture. It was just a tiny faded photo and I used a program on our computer to blow it up.” He said reaching into his own pocket. He held a yellowing envelope in his hands. “Ian, remember when we looked through your Aunt’s jewelry box to get that little penny for Saxon?”

“It’s one of the few things I remember clearly.” Ian said quietly.

“And we found those envelopes just as she arrived.”

“Yes, but they’re all missing. The only thing we know for sure that…”

Jesse waved his hand. “Well, after I put the box back in the closet, I reached down to pick up Rodie, she was hiding under the bed.”

“Damned cat.” Ian mumbled.

The doorbell rang, and Ripley quietly got up and retreated.

“I guess we dropped this. Reese called me downstairs and as I picked up the cat, I shoved it in my pocket, intending to come right up to the bedroom and put it with the others. Then, I got distracted and everything happened.”

“What is it, Jesse?” Tippy said. “And what does it have to do with all this?”

“I’m getting there.” He turned the envelope over. “When we realized all the others had been taken, I remembered this in my pocket and I opened it. I haven’t said anything, because I wasn’t sure if it was real or not.”

“What’s real, son?” Colton asked.

“Here.” Jesse handed the envelope to Ian, which he opened and began to read.

“When Jude brought the picture to me, I thought it was her, but I couldn’t be sure. I figured if nobody recognized her, this was all…well…now we know the truth.”

Ian looked up at Jesse and then back at Colton. He was ashen, unable to speak.

“What is it, Baby Doll?”

Saxon looked from the paper to Tippy. “It’s his birth certificate.”

“The real one? See I knowed Miss Hilary had to have it somewhere.” Jude asked and quickly looked down to read it. He stood back up straight.

Ian handed it to Colton. “Happy Father’s Day.”

Colton and Tippy both read the paper, Baby name, birthdate, Mother’s name: Lylah Jane Justyn. Father’s name: Earl Wayne Grayson.”

Ripley appeared back on the patio clearing his throat. “Uhm…Ian…”

Ian turned as the whole table did. “I’m sorry, Ripley, but this really isn’t a good time.

“Oh just get out of my way.” A woman’s voice said and pushed her way past Ripley.

“Clair!” Ian said as she came into everyone’s full view.

“Happy Father’s Day.” She said.

Ian bolted up, knocking his chair backwards to the staccato.

Clair put her hands on her swollen belly. “I’m seven months pregnant. You do the math!”