Working With a Writer’s Group

I won’t be writing today, per se, but I will tidy up the ten pages I’ll be reading tonight at my writers’ group. Here’s what I’ll read.

Zoe grabbed her purse off the shelf and slid her feet into her ugly but comfortable Sketchers. “Let’s go, Lori!”

Laurel snatched up her backpack, checked her reflection in the hall mirror and tidied up her pristine ponytail. Her posing reminded Zoe so much of her mother—Laurel’s grandmother—that her heart twisted just a little.

But since she didn’t have time for sentimentality, Zoe bustled her niece down the stairs. Together, they propelled out of the house, passing the door that led to Ethan and Hannah’s apartment.

Zoe wrinkled her nose at the bacony odor and the sound of the Beatles floating through the window.

“Meat-eaters,” Laurel said in the same tone she’d use to say dog poop.

Zoe didn’t comment, but placed her hand on Laurel’s small bony shoulder and guided her to the Bonny Baker Van standing in the driveway beside Ethan’s old Thunderbird convertible.

The van still carried the scents of yesterday’s deliveries—yeasty loaves of breads, cinnamony cookies, tart pies. Zoe placed her purse in the center console where she always kept it, slid on her sunglasses, and snapped into her seat belt. Once she was sure Hannah’s seatbelt was also secure, Zoe checked the rearview mirror and spotted Ethan and Hannah climbing into the T-bird.

Their open car doors blocked the driveway. Zoe blew a breath out her nose and tightened her grip on the wheel.

Laurel rolled down the window and waved to Hannah. “Hi Hannah! Hi Ethan!”

Secretly, Zoe hated that Laurel called Ethan by his first name. She didn’t think adults and children should be on first-name basis, but since Ethan insisted, there was little she could do. She tried not to flinch every time Laurel addressed her as Zoe.

Hannah returned Laurel’s wave and smile.

Zoe tamped down her impatience and rolled down her own window. “Good morning! Would Hannah like to ride to school with us today?”

“You’re going to school?” A wrinkle appeared between Ethan’s brows.

“Ancestor day,” Zoe told him.

Ethan barked out a laugh and climbed into his car. “You don’t look old enough to be a grandparent,” he said through the open window.

Zoe bristled. “I’m not, but I can talk about our ancestors.”

“Well, I guess I’ll see you there.”

She was trying to be nice—and punctual. “There’s no need for us both to go.”

Ethan’s back straightened. “I work there, you know.”

“Oh! I didn’t know. When did that happen?” Not that she had time for this conversation. If he worked there, neither of them did.

“At the beginning of the school year.” With his thick dark hair and large brown eyes, he was dangerously handsome. He was probably driving all of the Canterbury girls—and a few of the teachers—mad and man-hungry. That could happen at an all-girls’ school.

“What are you teaching?”

“Art.”

“Oh, of course.”

Ethan’s convertible roared to life and he gave her a dismissive smile. “I’ll see you there,” he repeated.

Zoe mentally ticked off her daily agenda as she followed Ethan down the drive. She’d been up since four a.m. making bread, cookies, and pies. Her assistant, Claire, was now manning the bakery, but Zoe needed to be back in time for the lunch rush.

At the stop sign leading to Main Street, Ethan surprised her by turning right while she and Laurel took a left.

This seemed symbolic of their relationship.

*

Ethan took note of his daughter’s mismatched socks. One was a crisp white and matched the school’s navy and red tartan uniform. The other had a pink tinge to it—like it gone through the wash with a red sweater. Which it probably had. Ethan thought about saying something, knowing the stringent adherence some of the girls liked to pay to the school’s uniform policy. When it came to the rules, the students were often bigger sticklers than the faculty.

He glanced at his daughter with her sweet rosebud lips, pinky-cheeks, and clear blue eyes—a surprise gift from his wife. She clutched the family Bible in her hands and stared straight ahead.

“Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry Gram or Gramps couldn’t be here today.”

“It’s okay,” she said in a tight voice without looking at him, letting him know that it was definitely not okay. “I understand.”

Ethan blew out a breath. “It’s so far for them to come.”

Hannah nodded. “I know. And they have so many grandkids that live in Rose Arbor, they probably have to go to ancestor day once a week.”

A ripple of guilt traveled down Ethan’s spine. If he lived closer to his family, Hannah would be surrounded by cousins, aunts, and uncles, and not to mention his parents. He could have just as easily gotten a teaching job in Washington.

His phone buzzed and he clicked the button.

“Ethan!” Desmond’s voice floated into the car.

The fussy gallery owner always sounded on the verge of a breakdown, but today the panic sounded real.

“Good morning, Desmond what can I do for you?”

“Hi, Dezi!” Hannah called out.

“Ah. Pumpkin. What are you doing in the car with your father?”

“We’re going to school, Dezi,” Laurel told him.

“Oh! Are you still doing that?” His voice carried an equal helping of scorn and surprise.

Laurel giggled. “Of course.”

“I think he was talking to me, Button.” Ethan cleared his throat. “I like teaching.” And he needed the money if he was ever going to get his own gallery, but he couldn’t tell that to Desmond.

“We had a break-in,” Desmond told him.

Ethan braked too hard at the stop-light, sending Laurel forward in a lurch. Instinctively, he shot out his hand to protect his daughter. “Was anything taken?”

“Small stuff, cash from the till.”

Ethan glanced at Laurel, bit back a curse, and pulled into the intersection. “Do you need me to come by?”

“Your paintings are all insured, of course,” Desmond said, trying to sound calm.

“I thought you said small stuff…” No one would consider his paintings small. It took at least two buff and burly men to carry most of his paintings. But then his heart sank. “Harold?”

“I’m sorry,” Desmond said in a strangled voice.

“Daddy?” Laurel asked.

“I’ll be there in a second,” Ethan said, thinking up the next place to make a U-turn.

 “But Daddy…” Hannah whined.

“I’m sorry, Button. This should only take a minute,” he lied.

Hannah tightened her lips and glanced out the window at the town flashing past. A thick marine layer had settled during the night and had yet to burn away under the southern California sun, leaving the town in a shadowy gray mist. Ethan pulled the car along the curb beside the Oak Hollow Gallery.

Desmond, one of his first fans, had started showcasing Ethan’s work even before his graduation from Pasadena’s Art Institute. Ethan’s early career began at Warner Brother Studios where he worked in set design. That’s where he’d met Allison. At first, their friendship was about sharing paints and brushes—Ethan had a tendency to lose pencils and Allie had always carried extra. He’d soon learned to depend on her for not only his drawing instruments, but for everything. She’d been his world.

He shut down the painful memories and slammed out of the car. Hannah trotted after him.

Inside the gallery, Desmond fluttered like a small trapped bird not knowing where to land. A tiny man, he spoke with a slight French accent, despite the fact he was originally from Oxnard. He wore a meticulously trimmed goatee and a matching set of plucked, highly arched eyebrows.

A buff and burly police man stood between a bust of a gleaming bald head and a glass sculpture. He looked as out of place as a Michael Angelo painting in the Musee d’Orsay.

While Desmond talked with the officer, Ethan patrolled the gallery, looking for missing objects. Hannah stared up at the policeman, entranced and awed by the man’s size. She clearly found him more interesting than the Darling the Detective shows she liked to watch.

“Who are you?” The policeman pointed his pencil in Ethan’s direction.

Ethan stepped forward. “Ethan Lawrence.”

“He’s my dad,” Hannah piped in. “He’s an artist. A very famous one.”

Ethan rubbed the back of his neck.

“I’m Officer Mack.” The policeman took note of Hannah’s uniform and Ethan’s matching tie and shook Ethan’s hand.

Ethan wondered if Mack was the officer’s first or last name, but didn’t have time to question it. Mack, though, had questions enough for both of them.

“Looks like you two belong at that fancy school up the hill,” Officer Mack said.

“I go to school at Canterbury Academy,” Hannah said. “My mom used to teach domestic arts there and now my dad teaches just plain old art.” She froze and her hand flew to her mouth as if she could capture her words. “Sorry, Daddy! Your art isn’t plain or old…although, you haven’t made anything new in a really long time.”

Ethan stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He loved his daughter, but sometimes he found her eleven-year-old honesty brutal.

Officer Mack glanced at his watch. “You’re not supposed to be at school now?”

“Are you a truant officer?” Desmond asked with a sneer.

Ethan shot the gallery owner a quick glance, hoping to convince him to play nice with the police. They would need their help if they wanted to recover Harold as well as the other missing work.

“One of my statues was stolen. It’s—” His voice cracked.

“Priceless!” Desmond interjected.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ethan said, “but it was an original.”

Officer Mack scribbled something on his notepad. “We’ll need to get an appraiser out here as well as an insurance adjuster. Any idea how the perps might have gotten in?”

While Desmond led Officer Mack to the back office, Ethan motioned for Hannah to follow him to the car. Rage and frustration thrummed through him. If he owned the gallery, something he desperately wanted to do, beefing up the security system would be high on his to-do list. This never would have happened if Desmond had taken the needed precautions.

Outside, the marine layer hung in the air and the cold and damp air nothing to lighten his mood.

“So, when is Desmond going to sell you the gallery?” Hannah asked him, echoing his thoughts.

“I don’t know, sweetie.” Ethan hoped Desmond hadn’t heard her and pulled open the convertible’s door so she could climb in.

After slamming inside, he ruminated over her question.

“He should let you buy it, since everything he sells in there is yours,” Hannah said after he’d settled behind the wheel.

A sad smile lifted his lips. “Not everything, sweetie.” He turned the key and the convertible roared to life.

Hannah huffed and folded her arms across her chest. “Most everything. I mean, who else is going to buy it? That Misty lady?”

“Maybe. She’s a good artist.” Ethan steered the car onto Oak Hollow’s main drag.

“Her name sounds like fog.”

Ethan shot his daughter a quick glance.

“How much is Harold worth?” Hannah asked.

“A lot.”

Hannah considered this and Ethan could practically see the thoughts churning in her head. Had she guessed the real reason Ethan had taken the teaching position at the school? He could, of course, go back to Warner Brothers, but the thought made him ill. They’d have to leave Oak Hollow. He’d have to hire a new nanny—one who could cover the long hours the studio would demand.

Or he could go back to Rose Arbor. Live in his parents’ basement. Find a job teaching at a public school. Churn out hotel room art in the evenings and on the weekends. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the wheel.

But he didn’t want to leave Hannah with a babysitter for sixty hours a week, nor did he relish the thought of living in his parents’ basement in dreary Washington. “You want to stay here, right?” Ethan asked. “With Mrs. Hancock and all your friends?”

“Hmmhmm,” Hannah murmured. “That’s why I’m going to say a prayer that you’ll get enough money to the gallery!” Last week, she’d heard a sermon about answered prayers and since then she’d started praying over nearly everything.

“That’s sweet, Button, and noble, but not very useful.”

“What do you mean? Pastor Lynn said we should pray over everything, including our flocks and pastures. Your paintings are like flocks, but they smell better, and a gallery is like a pasture without ticks.”

Despite his worry and concern, a small chuckled escaped.

“It’s not funny. It’s true. Pastor Lynn would want you to pray.” She jutted out her chin. “I bet God wants to find the bad guys who stole Harold. And if He wants to punish them, we should let Him.”

“Sweetie, let’s not bug God. I bet he has a lot of really important things to do.”

“What could be more important than bringing Harold home.” She gasped and her eyes went wide. “I bet he’s scared!”

Ethan thought about pointing out that Harold was a one-foot-high sculpture incapable of having feelings.

Hannah folded her hands in her lap and refused to look at him. After closing her eyes, she began a simple and yet sincere prayer that Desmond would sell the gallery to Ethan and that the police would find Harold and bring him safely home.

CHAPTER 2

Zoe stood in front of the classroom. Dozens of little girls dressed in their tartan uniforms stared back at her, expectantly. They looked sweet, but Zoe knew better. At this age, she had attended Canterbury herself, so she knew sweetness might only on be the surface like ganache on an eclair. Something ugly could lurk behind the pig-tails and shiny lip-gloss. But still, because she loved Laurel, she held out one of her prize possessions for the girls to see.

“This small wooden box holds something very precious to me,” Zoe told the girls. She unlatched the leather strap to open the lid and extract the small gold coins. “These were collected by my ancestors. When John Lewis first came to this country from Wales in 1849, he was a poor man. He’d been a miner in Great Britain, but somehow, he’d managed to put together enough funds to travel to the United States and take the train as far west as it would take him, and in those days, that was to Iowa City. From there, he hitched up with a wagon train that would take him to California where he hoped to strike it rich in the Gold Rush.”

“Are those coins from the Gold Rush?” a little girl in the front row asked.

“Sadly, no.” Zoe closed her hands around the coins for just a second. “He didn’t find gold, but I think he found something better.”

Another girl wrinkled her nose. “What was that?”

“He found my great-great grandmother! And together they started a farm in Twain.”

“Where they found gold?” a red-head quipped.

“No. They never found gold,” Zoe told them.

“Then where did the coins come from?” another girl asked.

“When John was still a young man, he placed a gold coin in this box and he wrote a note.” She pulled out a piece of paper. Of course, the ink on John’s original note had long ago faded and the paper crumbled, but one of John’s descendants had transcribed the note. She didn’t think she needed to tell the girls this. “John wrote, to my children and my children’s children, I leave you this coin as a remembrance of me. May it bless your lives.” Zoe picked out the oldest coin and handed it to Laurel who held it in the palm of her hand and paraded it past all the girls seated at their desks.

“The real cool thing is,” Zoe continued, “Ever since John, all of my ancestors have purchased a gold coin and left it in this box for their children and their children’s children.” She poured the other gold coins into her hand for the girls to see. She wrinkled her nose. “These probably aren’t worth a whole lot of money, but it’s definitely worth something, and when I think of my ancestors—many of them poor and facing economic hardships, especially during the great depression and the world wars—they didn’t spend the coins. Instead, they followed John’s example and kept them safe. They held them sacred.”

Maybe sacred was too strong of a word, but it came to her lips and she went with it.

“Who will you give the coins to?” a girl asked.

Zoe opened her mouth, but a for a moment, no words came. Finally, “My child, of course.”

“Does that mean you’ll have to have a boy?”

“No,” Zoe said. But it did mean she’d have to have a child, and that was looking as unlikely as John himself personally handing her a coin from the grave. “I’m not a boy and the coins came to me.”

“Maybe they’ll be mine someday,” Laurel said.

“Probably,” Zoe said. “Here, do you want to show the girls the rest of the coins?”

Laurel skipped to the front to gather the other nine coins.

Mrs. Lacombe, a retired history professor, bought her clothes from a local consignment shop. Today, she wore a sailor suit–minus the hat–and she strode around the classroom like she had a deck to swab. “Let’s all give Ms. Hart a big Canterbury thank you.” She clapped her hands and all the girls joined in.

Zoe dipped her head and took her place at the back of the classroom with the other visiting ancestors while Doctor Edwards, an elderly man wearing physicians’ scrubs and carrying a stethoscope took center stage beside Mrs. Lacombe.

During Dr. Edward’s talk on his family’s role in medical research, Zoe collected the coins and placed them back into the box. Someday, they’d need a bigger box. Who would make that decision and what would the world be like then?

She only lived a few hundreds of miles away from where John and Emily had settled in Twain all those years ago, but her life was radically different from John and Emily’s. She didn’t depend on a garden or livestock for food. But the one thing she’d be sure to do, like John and the others, she planned on purchasing a gold coin and adding it to this collection.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the feed back I got from the group. You might also enjoy these posts.

https://kristystories.blogspot.com/2014/09/finding-right-writers-group.html

https://kristystories.blogspot.com/2013/10/fail-proof-your-plans.html