Natural Disaster – Donna’s Story

As soon as she walked in, she felt the tension. Donna dropped her bag on a kitchen chair, then reached for a glass. 

“Do you want to explain your grade?” Her mother’s voice came from the living room. 

Donna held the glass under the sink’s spigot and let the cold water overflow. After a moment, she turned the faucet off and poured some water out. She took a drink before turning to face her mother. 

“I missed two questions on the math quiz,” she said. 

“Apparently. Why is that?” Donna’s mother gracefully stood and glided towards her. 

“I made an error when I was calculating. I still have a ninety-five percent in that class.” 

“Ninety-five is not one hundred, is it?” Now her mother was standing close, back ramrod straight. 

“No,” Donna whispered. 

“No, what?” 

“No, ninety-five is not one hundred, mother.” 

“Humph. At least you know that much about math. Go to your room until dinner. Your father and I will discuss your consequences.”

Donna felt the heat of her mother’s gaze as she picked up her bag and walked up the stairs. Once in her room with the door safely shut, she plopped onto her bed, put a pillow over her face, and screamed. She refused to cry this time, and she stared at the bright white of her ceiling while taking deep breaths. 

Her thoughts refused to calm, and she kept thinking of how beautiful and poised her mother acted, yet how overcritical and vicious she was inside. Willowbrook adored Donna’s mother and all the work she did for the historical society. Judy was a solid presence at every fundraiser and school event. 

If only they really knew her, Donna thought. 

Donna realized her mother wanted her to be the best she could be, hopeful that Donna will one day take over as chairperson for the historical society. But that didn’t relieve the pressure Donna felt every waking moment. I just want to be a normal sixteen-year-old. 

Eventually, Donna sat up with a groan and went to her desk to work on her history project while she waited for the inevitable. Her friends teased about being told to “wait until father gets home,” but none of them had parents like she did. In Donna’s house, it was a definite warning. Jessica, one of her best friends, had parents that supported and loved her, no matter what her grades were like. 

She’ll probably grow up to work in the bank or something else just as boring. At least I have a wonderful future ahead of me. 

Donna sighed and reached over to turn on the radio. She usually concentrated better with music and she wanted to ace the history project. While writing several journal entries as if she was Abraham Lincoln seemed easy on the surface, Donna knew it would take something special to impress Mr. Adams. Deep in her work, she almost didn’t hear the car door slam. 

Donna turned the music’s volume down and strained to hear her parents’ conversation. She caught a few words and tried to piece together what her punishment might be. 

“… two questions… study enough.” 

“Maybe we should… next time.” 

“I think… Saturday’s game.”

“I don’t know… the squad needs her… extra credit…”

“That won’t do any good.” 

“I just got home… after dinner.” 

Then Donna heard her father’s footsteps on the stairs, and she bent over her desk again so he wouldn’t guess she tried to eavesdrop. When the knock came on her bedroom door, followed by the faint creak as it opened, she looked up with a smile. 

“Hi, daddy.” 

“Hi, pumpkin. Your mother told me her concerns about your math grade.” Mike was always one to get straight to the point. 

Donna’s smile faded. “Yeah, I’m sorry. Really, I am. I made two minor mistakes on the quiz.” 

“Well, you’re allowed some mistakes.” Her dad crossed the room and sat on the edge of her bed. 

“Am I? She seems really mad this time.” Donna twisted in her chair to look at her father. 

“I’ve postponed your sentencing until after dinner. Maybe she will feel more charitable after lasagna.” Mike tilted his head back and looked at the crown molding on the wall. His lips made a slight puffing sound that meant he was thinking. Finally, he looked back at her. “I know this isn’t easy for you, but we really want you to do everything with your future in mind. And working hard to be top of your class is one way to guarantee acceptance into Harvard.” 

“I know,” Donna whispered. “But what if I don’t want to go to Harvard?” 

“Do you not want to?” 

“I don’t know. But I would like the option to find out.” 

“You can have the option. When you’re eighteen and after you graduate. Until then, you need to do everything possible to get to Harvard. It’s your mother’s dream to see you there. Now, come on, let’s go have dinner.” 

“It’s not my dream,” Donna barely whispered. If her dad heard her, he didn’t give any sign. 

Dinner was silent, except for the clinking of forks on plates. Donna kept her eyes on her food, but she was aware of every motion her parents made. As soon as her dad put his napkin on the table and leaned back in his chair, she got up and began clearing the table. Without speaking, she loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, and swept the floor. There wasn’t much else to do in the immaculate kitchen, so she squared her shoulders and went to the family room. 

Donna’s father sat in his recliner, his feet up and the television remote on one leg. Her mother was sitting on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other, her posture perfect. A magazine was in her lap and a glass of bourbon in her hand. She gestured for Donna to sit next to her. Donna sat, doing her best to emulate her mother’s straight back and long neck. 

“Your father and I have decided what your consequence for your poor grade is,” Judy began. “While we dislike allowing you freedoms when you are in error, we agree it would hurt the cheer squad for you to miss the game this Saturday. So, you will go to the game as planned, but on Sunday you will not go to the city with your friends. Instead, you will be here studying. And you will ask Mrs. Rodin for extra credit work to get your grade up to one-hundred percent. Any questions?” 

“No, mother. Thank you.” Donna tried not to let her relief show. Her father must have convinced her mother that missing the game would be detrimental to their family’s public image. Otherwise, she was sure they would ground her to her room for the weekend.

“I expect to hear what Mrs. Rodin says tomorrow. Or I will call her myself.” 

“Yes, I will talk to her first thing in the morning.” 

Judy nodded and picked up her magazine. Donna looked at her father, and he winked at her before turning on the television. Donna watched the first few minutes of the news before fleeing to the relative safety of her room. 


Author’s note: Donna is a supporting character in my upcoming novel, and I wanted to flesh out some of her backstory. She plays an important part as a catalyst for change for the main character, Jessica. Donna also grows and learns throughout the plotline. I needed to reach a little deeper for Donna’s motives. And this short story — while incomplete — accomplished that.

Long-Term Passion

Recently, I was on a hike with some friends, and one of them asked me if there is still passion after being with the same person for almost twenty years. “You know, like it was at the beginning when you can’t keep your hands off each other,” she said. The answer is a resounding yes. But it takes work. 

Over the years, my husband and I have definitely had difficulties in our relationship. However, we both agree that we have an excellent marriage. We also agree we lack nothing in the bedroom because of our efforts outside of lovemaking. As a long-time couple, we have some tips for you. 

Communicate 

This may seem obvious, and there are a million articles on improving communication in marriage. Still, miscommunication is the number one reason we end up in arguments. My husband will be the first to admit that he’s not the best at conversation and relaying his thoughts while I speak my mind. We discovered that the best way for us to communicate is to ask questions and say, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” to get clarification.

We ask each other every day if there’s anything we can do to make the day easier. Most of the time, we’re going about our daily lives, and there isn’t anything, but every once in a while, he needs me to run an errand, or I need him to move furniture. Both of us are independent people and need the reminder that we have a partner who will help. 

When we first started dating, my husband would call me when he got off work (this was before cellphones were standard) just to say hi. Then later in the evening, we talked about our day. That habit continues, and I am incredibly grateful for it. Now, though, he sends me a text letting me know he’s off work and headed home and asks if I need him to stop anywhere on the way. He also tells me goodbye before he leaves for work at 5 a.m., and we both always tell each other, “I love you,” even if we’re arguing. Life holds too much risk for those words to get passed over when someone walks out the door. 

Key takeaway: Learn your partner’s communication style and start and end the day with love.

Service

I mentioned above that we ask what we can do for each other, but there are also hundreds of small ways we can serve each other without asking or being told. I cook the meal, and he clears the table after dinner. I leave the bathroom light on when he’s coming to bed after me, so he doesn’t trip over our black dog in the dark. He lets me have the bathroom to get ready for bed first, even though it usually takes me longer than him. 

We also work as partners when caring for our family and home. He works long hours in the summer, so most of the housekeeping falls to me during those months. But in the winter, when he’s off for the season, he takes on more, so I have a little breathing room as my responsibilities don’t change with the seasons. 

Random gifts also appear in our relationship. For example, he’ll bring me a bottle of wine or some flowers, and I’ll slip some snacks into his lunch box. Usually, our gifts are unrelated to a holiday or occasion and are simply because we were thinking of the other person when we were out. 

Key takeaway: Even if your “love language” isn’t service, you can still show love by helping your partner. 

Make Time For Each Other 

Today’s lifestyle is all about being busy and chasing dreams, and that’s okay. Still, it’s vital to spend quality time with your partner. Date each other, whether you’ve been together for a month or thirty years. Find intimacy in quiet moments together. My husband and I choose a television series on a streaming service to watch each evening during the winter months. We sit together and watch it and frequently have conversations about the topics the show touches on, such as politics, relationships, family, and even our individual pasts. 

We also find new things to do together. Once when life was getting in the way, we came up with a system of a biweekly date night, and we had to take turns choosing what we did. The agreement was that the other person would try it, no matter what. So we went to a comedy club (him), an art museum (me), the golf driving range (him), and hiking (me). It was fun to see what the other person would come up with, and we discovered some shared interests we didn’t know we had.

You do not have to spend a lot of money on a date, though! Years ago, when Pokemon Go first came out, we spent a summer evening walking around downtown, catching Pokemon before having a drink at a local brewery. It was the cheapest yet one of the most fun dates we’ve ever been on! We also go on a lot of drives, usually out of town and up a mountain. Lately, we’ve taken to riding the motorcycle together in the afternoon on the weekend. 

We also try to make running errands special. If you see us on those busy Saturdays spent going to Home Depot, Napa, and the grocery store, you will also see us holding hands and stopping for lunch. We pretend we’re on a date, even when our to-do list is a mile long. 

Key takeaway: Spend as much time together as a couple as you can. 

Laugh, Flirt, And Flatter

My husband has a quick wit, and he makes me laugh. Of course, I catch him laughing at me, too, but I’m not always sure why. I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as it’s in a good way. We laugh together, too, about all kinds of things: our kids, animals, home remodel blunders, the dinner I burned… pretty much anything. We decided a while ago that life’s too short to not laugh, and laughing is better than crying.

Not only do we make running errands look like a good time, but we also flirt with each other. We like to poke fun at our relationship and life, but we also know where to draw the line. Sometimes our teasing can sound mean to someone else. In fact, for a while, my mom would pull me aside and ask me if we were fighting. I finally had to explain to her it’s a type of foreplay! We say things that have double meanings, and frequently he has me blushing in the plumbing aisle. 

We also complement each other for looks, personality, and deeds. I’ll say I love hugging him; he’ll say he loves my hair. I’ll express my awe at his visual measurement skills (if he says something is about twelve feet, it will most likely be twelve feet), and he’ll remind me that my organization skills are why our family survives our teens’ soccer season. We tell each other that we’re grateful for the work done for our family. This might not happen every day, but I estimate we are praising the other person at least once a week. 

Key takeaway: Act like a love-sick teenager.

Physical Intimacy 

Honestly, physical intimacy is not always easy for us. We have very engaging lives with work, kids and their activities, hobbies, volunteer work, upkeep on our property… the list is endless. I’m sure you have a similar list. At the end of some days, we fall into bed completely exhausted, and sex is the last thing on our minds. But we try to have physical touches in other ways during the day: holding hands, hugging, kissing. Occasionally, that’s enough for us when things are busy. Other times, cuddling results in a nice romp.

We also recognize the importance of physical intimacy as part of our marriage. Sometimes one of us will decide that three days is too long, and we’ll text the other person in the middle of the day something like, “We’re going to bed early tonight.” Other times, we take time on the weekend or even while the casserole is in the oven to have sex. As an “older couple,” we have found that when we increase the frequency of sex, we want it more. Naturally, this leads to more intimacy. This is where the passion piece of my friend’s question comes in. 

We have passion because we create and nurture it. We do not allow things to get stale in the bedroom. How you want to accomplish spicing things up might differ from what we’ve done, but I will hint that it goes back to communication. Ask what your partner wants to do or what they like and don’t like. Explore in ways that feel comfortable. Even a minor change can be exciting.

Key takeaway: Do not underestimate the power of cuddling and make time for lovemaking. 

If you’ve been paying attention, you see that all five of the love languages are present in our relationship. Some are more prominent than others, and that’s because those are the ones we both “speak.” I think learning each other’s love languages and actively engaging in them will keep the passion in your long-term relationship.

The Train

I look out the window and stare at the dark, with city lights twinkling in the distance. I’m exhausted after a week of the general chaos of being a mother to four children and frantic last-minute packing. The train begins moving, the rocking motion and clickity-clack of the wheels on the tracks inviting me to close my eyes. This is my first time traveling by train, and I want to see everything. As tired as I am, I am also excited – excited for the journey, the adventure, and for the end of the trip as my husband of ten years is waiting for me. 

The towns I know float by outside. I pass the small city where my parents live, my children sleeping in their spare room. I pass the town where my boys go to school, almost without realizing it because things look different from the train. Slowly, I sink lower in the seat and eventually doze.

My sleep is fitful, and I stir at the odd sounds around me – the very sick woman in front of me coughing, the man behind me shifting in his seat. I am cold and slightly uncomfortable, and more than a few times, I wish I had taken my mom up on her offer to snag a small blanket from their linen closet before my dad drove me to the station. Eventually, light teases my senses, a subtle glowing that pulls me to full wakefulness.

Stretching a little, I gaze out the window at the snow-covered mountains, trees stark against the white. This must be Glacier National Park that my dad was telling me about. It almost looks like home; if my home had shorter mountains and taller trees. The trees look wrong to me, and for a few minutes, I ponder the reason as they appear healthy and proud. Then I realize that there are not any birch trees, or at least very few. All I see is the deep green of Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and other evergreen trees; no bare white branches glinting with frost and patiently waiting for spring.

A small herd of elk, only eight or so, rest on the rocky hillside next to the tracks and watch the train pass by. Obviously, it is a familiar sight to them as the racket does not disturb them. They remind me of the mountain goats lining the highway in Alaska, leaping from rocky outcropping to ledge with agility and grace. The similarity in the two species comes from their bored looks as humans travel beneath their domains.

There is a break in the trees by the track, and a swiftly moving river comes into view. Staring at the gray-green water flowing and tumbling over rocks between pebble-strewn banks lined with stunted willows, I notice that the color of the water is the exact color of my beloved glacier-fed streams and rivers in early spring. How can it be spring here in this wilderness with snow still blanketing the ground, several feet deep in some places? 

As the train slows into a small depot to obtain more passengers, I think back to my childhood home in Alaska. It has only been six years since I left it behind to find a new start for my family. How could I have already forgotten the idiosyncrasies of the seasons there? Summers are short but memorable, with almost constant daylight and very little night. Autumns are rainy days and frosty nights interspersed with days of warm sunlight and glorious colors on the trees. The winter comes barreling in with snow and wind, taking everyone by surprise with their ferocity every year. While springs arrive slowly, snow still melting even as the trees are budding and tulips are bravely pushing through the snow.

It could be spring here, already mid-April, and yet still snow-covered. This place could be my home if I overlook the taller trees and shorter mountains. It is wild, untamed, beautiful, and breathtaking. So I sit on the train and breathe in a piece of Alaska given to me as a wondrous gift from Glacier National Park, Montana. The view brings a calming peace to my soul that I haven’t felt since leaving home. 

Dragon Vet

Indigo

I yelped and ducked just as a burst of flame shot across the field. There was a loud snort, then quiet. I took a deep breath and peaked over the boulder. Blue scales glimmered in the morning sun while yellow eyes glared balefully at me. 

“Now, Indigo. I am only here to help. Gus said you have something stuck under one of your spines. Please be a darling and allow me to remove it.” 

My voice was calm, but I was ready to run at the first sign of the dragon readying her fire. There weren’t many signs before flames would shoot out of her mouth. Usually the first sign was a deep inhalation, followed by a long pause. I stood and waited behind the meager shelter of my boulder.

Indigo flicked her tail and watched me. The yellow eyes looked more curious now instead of irritated; the pupils had dilated just a little. I decided to risk it. I stepped away from the boulder, then inched forward. Indigo huffed and turned around, presenting her back to me. 

“Good girl. I see something under your third spine. Can you lower yourself so I can reach it? You are such a gorgeous gem, sparkling in the sun, and I am insignificant compared to you.”

Dragons loved flattery. They thought themselves the most amazing creatures in the universe and, while that was true, it made them extremely arrogant. The more I told her she was beautiful, the more she would cooperate. 

Indigo gave a small, throaty purr of pleasure and stretched her neck out on the ground. Her great yellow eyes rolled back to watch me. 

“Oh, intriguing Indigo, I am going to use these tweezers to pull out the splinter. It looks like a tree branch has lodged itself under your spike, that nasty thing.”

I held up the gleaming metal tweezers so she could see them. They were almost as long as my forearm with sharp, slanted tips. She nodded slightly, and I leaned in closer. The heat from her scales warmed my body, and the pungent animal smell was a cross of charred meat and something almost like fresh wheat. Spring was late coming to Antasia and, in case I needed to move quickly should my patient become irate, I only had on a light sweater over my tunic and leggings. Her body heat was welcome for the few moments it took me to pull the tree branch free.

“There, great one. I have a salve to use, to speed the healing process of your sensitive yet sensual skin. If I may?” 

I dropped the tree branch, placing the tweezers in my bag and drawing out a large jar.

Indigo twisted around and sniffed at the jar, so I removed the lid for her. She inhaled deeply, and I tensed, ready to run. But then she snuffed at my hair and turned away. Taking that as permission, I stood on tiptoes and dipped three fingers in the jar. Scooping out a large glob of calendula, lavender, and buckthorn mixed in shea butter, I smeared it over her scales and under the spine, ensuring the balm coated the area where the stick had rubbed raw. 

I felt Indigo sigh and patted her on neck, well away from the wound. 

“There you go, my beautiful blue star. That should heal well for you. If it doesn’t, just tell Gus and I’ll come back.” 

Slowly, I stepped back from her and waited until her enormous head turned towards me, then bowed. 

“Thank you for allowing me to serve you.” 

I swear at that moment Indigo rolled her eyes before suddenly stretching her wings and launching herself into the sky using her powerful hind legs. Clouds of dust rose from the sandy ground and covered me, making me cough. 

“Oh, sure. ‘Be a veterinarian for dragons’ they said. ‘It will be fun,’ they said. Dealing with overgrown lizards with overgrown egos who can spit flame at me is not fun.”

“Are you sure?” 

I spun around to see Gus standing a little way off, smiling at me. 

“Being coated in dust while I make my the rest of my rounds is decidedly not fun.”

I started walking towards the road, and Gus fell in step beside me. 

“Well, the dragons sure like you. Better than the last veterinarian we had. They flamed him the second day.”

I cringed at the thought of being roasted alive. It made me queasy, and I swallowed hard.

“Why didn’t you just take that tree branch out of Indigo’s spine? It was easy enough, and she likes you or she wouldn’t mind-talk to you.”

“Because she asked for you,” he shrugged.

I stopped walking and stared at him. “Why would she do that?”

“I told you, the dragons like you. You know how to talk to them. And you tell them what you’re going to do before you do it. That means they aren’t surprised or startled. Which means you don’t get fried.”

“Well, yes, but you are more than capable of taking care of minor injuries.”

“I know. Yet when one of those ‘overgrown lizards’ asks for a specific human, I obey. I prefer to stay raw, if you know what I mean.” He winked at me and then moved to the next clearing. 

“Now, Carmine here has a strange gunk running from his nose,” Gus said as the huge red dragon came into view.

“You mean he has a cold?” 

“Well, not exactly. Dragons shouldn’t get colds. At least from what they tell me.”

“Alright, I’ll see what I can do.” 

I rubbed some grit from my left eye and pushed my hair back before stepping into the clearing. 

“Hello, shining Carmine. I am Doctor Alisha. Gus tells me you have something bothering you. May I look at your nose?” 


Featured image by Kellepics on Pixabay.

The Secret Of The Lilies – The End

Read Part 8 here, or start from the beginning.

Beth, Lori, and I watched the flames consume the lilies. I heard Beth say something under her breath that sounded like, “Finally.” But before I could ask her to repeat it, a shout of alarm came from across the lawn. 

“No! What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?” Madam Cromwell was running towards us, waving her arms. “Jacob! They’ve ruined everything!”

The guests stopped their activities and were staring at us standing next to the bonfire. Sir Cromwell, hearing his wife’s cries of alarm, pushed through the crowd to stand next to her. 

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

“Oh, Jacob. That…That girl has destroyed our lilies!” Madam Cromwell clung to her husband’s arm as she wept. 

Sir Cromwell looked at the fire, then at the Beth and I. “Joe! Get over here.” 

Joe approached, still carrying the slingshot, and stood defiantly next to his sister. 

“You all have some explaining to do. Guards! Clear the grounds.” As the guards began ushering people down the driveway, Sir Cromwell glared at his children. “Explain yourselves.” 

I stepped forward. “Sir, it was me. I figured out about the lilies, and it was my plan to get rid of them.”

“You’re fired, you know that, right?” Madam Cromwell hissed. 

Esther arrived, her daughter trailing behind her. “What’s going on? Why did you send everyone home?” 

“Oh, Esther! These wretched children destroyed the lilies!” Madam Cromwell flung herself into Esther’s arms. 

“They did what?” It was Esther’s turn to glare at my friends and me.

“Everyone, be quiet! I want to hear from my children.”

Beth moved closer to Joe, who put his arm around her shoulders. “Father, we’re tired of being immortal. Do you realize we can never get married or have children unless our family will also take the pollen?” 

“You can slip it to them. They don’t have to know.” Sir Cromwell waved his hand dismissively. 

“And how would that play out when my wife discovers it? Do you really think someone would stay with us after that? We’re miserable, father. We’re bored of being locked up on our property. Beth wants to travel, and I don’t know what I want to do, but I know I don’t want to be your gardener for the rest of eternity. We want freedom. And Emma helped us get it.” 

Sir Cromwell advanced on his son, fists clenched. “Do you realize you not only gained your freedom, but you also wrecked what your mother and I built here? And Esther and her family have served us for generations. What will they do when we pass away? Did you think about anyone else besides yourselves?” 

“What you were doing to the temporary laborers was not right! You were murdering innocent people for your own gain. What makes you think you’re better than the rest of us? Better than them? They deserved to live, too.” I stepped between the older Cromwells and their children. Lori tried to pull me back, but I shook her off. “You are deceitful and despicable. I suggest you leave town and find a new place to live. No one will want you here after this. It might not be safe for you.” 

Madam Cromwell whimpered, but Jacob looked furious. He raised a hand as if to strike me, and I flinched, closing my eyes. The blow never came, though. I opened my eyes to see Joe holding his father’s fist while Beth held a kitchen fillet knife to his throat. 

“You’re done, old man,” Joe said. “You won’t ever hurt anyone again. If I were you, I would start packing tonight.” Joe shoved Jacob towards his mother and Esther. “All of you, get out. And if you hurt Emma, if you even try to hire someone to hurt her, it will be the last thing you do.” 

Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell turned and fled to the house, Esther and her daughter trailing behind. 

“Thank you, Emma! Thank you, both.” Beth pulled me into a hug, then hugged Lori as well. 

“What will you do now?” I asked. 

The Cromwell children exchanged glances before Beth said, “Neither of us wants to be here anymore. We’ll probably sell this place. I’ve always wanted to see India.” 

Joe smiled at me before saying, “We’ll travel for a while and then see where we want to settle down. I think teaching botany would be fun.” 

“I wish both of you the very best. I am happy I helped you.”

Beth hugged me again, and Joe shook my hand before they headed to the house. Lori kicked some half-burnt stems back into the flames. “Ready to go home?” she asked. 

“Yes. More than ready.” I retrieved my duffle bag from behind the azalea bushes, where I stashed it when I walked the garden before the party, and Lori and I walked down the long driveway to her car. 

My parents were thrilled to have me home, especially after Lori and I recounted our adventure. I was content to let my mother fuss over me and endure lectures from my dad about being careful who I spent time with. It was nice to have people concerned for my well-being. 

The next day, a large envelope arrived by courier for me. A note in a smaller envelope taped to the outside read: 

Dear Emma, 

We wanted to thank you again for setting us free. We know what you did for us was risky and that the lilies could have taken your soul. Since our family has lived for so long, we have more than we need. Please accept this gift as a token of our appreciation. 

Sincerely, 

Beth and Joe Cromwell 

P.S. I’ll write to you from India! ~Beth

I opened the large envelope and was astonished to see several bundles of one-hundred-dollar bills and a check for three million dollars. 


A week had passed, and Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell were leaving in the afternoon. They needed the time to transfer the deed of the manor to their children and purchase a home in southern Italy. Jacob Cromwell insisted that they be allowed to live in with similar comforts, and Beth persuaded her brother to give their parents time to make proper arrangements. Joe reluctantly agreed. 

That morning, Madam Cromwell wandered the rooms of her home, checking to ensure her favorite plants were carefully wrapped for shipping. She couldn’t bear to leave them behind. As she passed by the foyer, she paused, staring at the empty urns. A tear slipped down her cheek, and she went to her knees beside one of the planters. She stroked her hands over the disturbed soil, smoothing it out.

“Oh, my darlings. My precious lilies. I am so, so sorry for what that horrible girl did to you.” 

Suddenly, her hands stilled, then she gently dug into the dirt, brushing it away. There, barely beginning to poke up into the light, was a single green sprout. 


Featured Image by Nowaja on Pixabay

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 8

Read Part 7 here, or start from the beginning.

Blood and bone. Blood and bone.

The lilies’ commingled voices echoed in my head as I stood there, immobile. Several moments passed before I shook free from my daze. “Well, you will be disappointed at this harvest party. My friend and I ensured the workers have family or friends who will miss them. There are no ‘unwanted souls’ here tonight.”

“What? What have you done? We will make you pay!”

I ran through the house and out the kitchen door. I frantically scanned the crowd for Lori and finally saw her walking near a table, admiring the finished jack-o’-lanterns. I tried to slow my breathing and appear calm as I made my way to Lori.

“Lori, you will never believe what the lilies told me,” I murmured.

“What? Let’s go over here, where there aren’t so many people.” Lori pulled me towards the tables where discarded coloring pages and crayons remained from the children who were now eager to light their jack-o’-lanterns.

Once there, I quickly told her what the flowers said.

“What should we do?” Lori asked with a worried frown.

“It’s obvious. We have to destroy them. I will find Beth and ask if she will help us. Get some gloves from the gardening shed. I don’t think we want to touch those plants.” I gestured to the small building before slipping back among the partiers.

Beth stood near the bonfire, talking quietly with Joe. As I approached, they broke off their conversation and looked at me expectantly. Remembering Joe’s reaction when I approached him about the lilies before, I asked to speak to Beth privately. Beth nodded, and we moved a few yards away from Joe.

Once again, I relayed what I discovered, then asked, “Will you help me destroy them?”

I saw Beth hesitate as she looked at Joe. After a moment, she said, “Yes. We need a distraction. I will meet you in the foyer in ten minutes.”

“Perfect,” I replied. “Lori is getting gloves from the shed. We want to protect our hands.”

“You don’t have to worry about your hands,” Joe said from behind me.

I whirled to face him. “What do you mean?”

“The lilies don’t need you to touch them to absorb your energy. Frankly, I’m surprised they told you what they do and let you leave.”

“They said they absorb people’s life-force. And then somehow, their bodies are used to feed the lilies.” My voice rose slightly in panic as my brain echoed the words again. Blood and bone. Blood and bone.

“We take the bodies to the basement and drain the blood. Then we put the bodies in the lower compost pile to decompose. We retrieve the bones and grind them into a fine powder. I combine the blood and bones, and that is the food you give to the lilies.” Joe’s blunt tone gave me chills.

“What about the stuff Cook uses in place of meat? What is that?” I didn’t want to know but also felt compelled to ask.

Beth laughed. “That’s just tofu. Seriously!”

I glared at her. “But you said…”

“No, I allowed you to think what you wanted. How else was I going to win the bet and get you to investigate?”

“What?”

“Emma, we make a bet every time we get a new housekeeper. This time, Beth thought you would help, and I figured you were too young and scared. Apparently, I was wrong,” Joe said ruefully.

“You’re sick. Both of you.” I turned to go, but Beth caught my arm.

“Wait, please. You don’t understand.”

“Then tell me the truth. All of it.”

Beth took a deep breath. “We’re the Cromwell children. Our parents allowed us to age into adulthood, and then our parents forced us to take the pollen. Joe avoids his dose sometimes since he is outside the house so much. But they watch me take mine. We take it every full moon. It prolongs life and slows aging. I look like I’m only twenty, but I’m really one hundred and fifty years old. Joe is one hundred and fifty-seven. Every time a new housekeeper comes, we hope she’s will discover how to end this curse. We don’t want to live forever, like our parents. But we also do not have the courage to stand up to our parents.”

“Does Cook know what you are?”

“No,” Beth answered. “She thinks we’re just eccentric rich people. But she’s trustworthy. Cook keeps us a secret and tells new staff there are small children hidden away somewhere.”

“Why do you work? I mean, you’re the Cromwell’s children. They’re the richest, most prominent family in the entire valley.”

“Because we’re bored. We want to explore the world, but of course, they won’t let us. Joe tried to escape once. The guards caught him, and he spent a month locked in the basement. I can’t imagine not seeing the sun for a month!” Beth shivered. “At least working in the house gives us something to do. And Joe is fantastic with plants.”

“Now you know the truth. What are you planning to do?” Joe asked.

“Destroy the lilies. Will you help me? Tell me what I need to do to avoid being soul-sucked.”

Joe pulled a small box from his coat pocket. “Spray this on the petals. Be quick and get them all. It will numb them, in a way, and prevent them from using their powers for a short time.”

I took the box, and this time, the Cromwell children didn’t stop me when I walked away.

I went to the gardening shed, and Lori stepped out. I noticed the gloves in Lori’s hands. “Put those back. They won’t work. Joe and Beth told me more. Let’s go.”

As Lori and I made our way across the lawn and into the house, I relayed my conversation with the Cromwell children.

“That’s disgusting!” Lori said when I finished.

“I know. We are going to end it.”

I led Lori through the kitchen and into the servants’ hall. Just outside the foyer door, I stopped and opened the box, removing the small spray bottle. “I’ll go first and spray them. As soon as I do, pull them up from their roots. We’re going to add these creepy flowers to the bonfire.”

“Won’t the Cromwells try to stop us?”

“Beth said she would distract them. I don’t know what she has planned, but let’s get this done. Ready?”

Lori nodded, and I opened the door. I flicked on the light and began spritzing the liquid on the flower petals.

“What are you doing? We were friends!” came the lilies’ strange unified voice.

“We were friends. Until I discovered that you and the Cromwells are murderers,” I said, continuing to spray the lilies. “Now, Lori.”

Lori stepped out of the hallway and began grabbing handfuls of stems, yanking and throwing them into a pile on the floor. “Be sure to get them all.”

“I am,” Lori said grimly.

I finished spraying all the flower petals, then helped Lori pull up the stems. Once the large urns were empty, we gathered up the flower remains. Beth was waiting for us in the kitchen, and she opened the garden door.

“Hurry, Joe is using the slingshot to hurl fireworks over the garden, so everyone is watching him, but he will run out soon.”

We ran across the lawn towards the bonfire. Beth scooped up any blooms that fell from Lori’s or my grasps. Red, blue, and green light burst at the corners of my eyes as Joe continued his fireworks display. The fire was still immense, and the heat roared at their faces. Without hesitating, they threw the lilies into the blaze. I winced as I heard the lilies’ agonized cries as they burned. 


Featured Image by Nowaja on Pixabay.

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 7

Read Part 6 here, or start from the beginning.

The time for the harvest party was quickly approaching, and it kept the Cromwell House staff busy with the preparations. Downstairs rooms were cleaned and aired out, wood stacked for the bonfire, and cakes created. Every evening, I fell exhausted into my bed. 

During the cleaning, I conveyed most of the plan to Beth. I was careful to do it away from the lilies. It took several hours as we didn’t have any chances to have a long conversation. 

“Lori’s going to get a list from her friend,” I whispered as I passed Beth in the hall outside the kitchen. “And her friend is going to tell all the applicants to put names of family members on their emergency contact list. If they don’t have one, he’s going to encourage them to make one up.” 

“Is that legal?” Beth whispered back. 

“Probably not, but at least this way no one will look as if they are orphans.” 

The preparation days sped by, and all too soon it was the morning of the harvest party. Garlands in fall colors of orange, brown, deep red, and yellow adorned the front porch. Vases were filled with autumn flowers such as chrysanthemums, asters, and celosias. The dining room table sported a golden runner and white and gold china dishes, ready for the Cromwell’s guests of honor. On the back lawn, portable tables and chairs were placed, along with long tables for the buffet. At the edge of the garden, the groundskeepers had prepared a place for a bonfire, and wood was stacked neatly to the side. 

Everywhere I looked, there was beauty and an air of excitement. I found it hard to believe that I had an hand in decorating the manor. My usual party decorations consisted of streamers and balloons, not this elegant arrangement of harmonious colors. The staff was industrious until lunchtime, putting the finishing touches on table settings and gathering supplies for the various games and activities. 

This time, lunch was held in the kitchen for all of the staff on a rotating schedule. Cook prepared platters of sandwiches, sliced fruit, and cut vegetables. The house staff ate first, followed by the gardeners, and then the guards. Beth took trays upstairs for the family. It took a few minutes for me to figure out who was missing. 

“Cook, where’s Esther?” 

“Eh? Oh, old Esther goes to her daughter’s the morning of the harvest party. Then the girl comes back with her for the celebration in the afternoon. I think it’s truly her only day off.” Cook began putting the leftover food away. “Let’s get this cleaned up so we can enjoy the rest of the day.” 

I helped with the dishes and once Cook was satisfied, I went to her room to change. Beth told me the employees all wore their city clothes to the party. “You know, the ones you wear to town on your days off,” she clarified when I looked at her in confusion. 

I pulled on a soft cashmere sweater in a dark blue, and black jeans. I brushed my hair out, letting it be free of the confines of a braid or bun. Then I called Lori. 

“Are you ready?” I asked as soon as Lori picked up.

“Everything’s set. I’ll see you at four.” 

I decided to wander around the garden while I reviewed our plan. I put on a dark wool jacket and headed outside. The garden beds were mostly empty this late in the season. A few pumpkins still clung to their vines — the ones that weren’t chosen for pies or carving. Corn stalks scratched against each other in the light breeze, and here and there a squished vegetable laid discarded. She could smell the sweet note of apples that were still on the trees, although most were already picked and in storage. 

“What are you doing out here, Emma?” Joe’s gruff voice interrupted my thoughts. 

I looked up to see him standing a few rows over. “Oh, hi. I’m just walking. Is that okay?”

“The party will be starting soon. You should get back.” 

His abruptness didn’t surprise me after the way their last conversation ended. “Yes, okay. See you at the party.” I turned and made my way back to the house. 

The Cromwell’s harvest party was the biggest one in town, as most of the town came. They had jack o’lantern carving contests, apple bobbing, corn hole, and more. There was enough food for everyone. I wondered where they got it all, since the house garden provided for the family and staff, but soon she realized the caterer brought most of it up. Only Cook’s treats were made at the house. 

Lori arrived promptly at four o’clock, an hour after the party started, and I was waiting for her at the top of the driveway. We hugged, and I felt Lori slip something into the pocket of her jacket. 

“Is that it?” I asked quietly. 

“Yep, and everyone has someone to miss them.” 

“Perfect. Once the bonfire starts, I’ll go see if those lilies will finally tell me the truth.”

“Have you seen the children yet?” Lori asked. 

My mouth dropped open. I had forgotten all about wanting to see the Cromwell children in my desire to save the temporary workers. “No, but they should be out here tonight, don’t you think?” 

Lori nodded, and together we headed to the buffet tables. 

As the party wore on, I kept looking at all the children present, trying to see which ones looked like Mr. or Mrs. Cromwell. They were all moving so fast, though, darting between tables and dashing from one activity to another, that I finally gave up and figured they would be introduced when the bonfire was lit. 

Finally, the sun’s last rays were beginning to disappear from the horizon, and Joe stood next to the teepee of kindling and sticks. A loud gong was heard from the house, and everyone turned towards it. Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell stood on the patio that led into the dining room, holding hands and smiling. Once the murmurs quieted, Mr. Cromwell raised his other hand and spoke in a loud voice that carried across the lawn. 

“Welcome, friends, to our annual harvest party! I won’t tell you how many years our family has been hosting as you wouldn’t believe me anyway.” Polite chuckles scattered around the crowd. “Tonight is a special night, as our dear head housekeeper, Esther, is bringing her daughter to the house for training as her successor. Please help me welcome young Abigail to our staff!” 

He released his wife’s hand and began clapping, while a young girl stepped out from the crowd to stand on the lowest stone step of the patio. The guests followed his action, and soon Abigail was blushing from the applause.  

Mr. Cromwell waived his hand and silence descended. “Thank you. I’m sure she will make a wonderful head housekeeper when she’s old enough. Now, to the part you all have been waiting for. It’s not a harvest party without a bonfire, and as part of our ritual here at Cromwell house, we invite you to write down a wish for this coming season and burn it in the fire. Joe, if you please.” 

Everyone turned back to the fire pit and watched as Joe took a punk from a bucket and lit the fuel-soaked kindling. With a rush, the fire caught and raced to the top of the teepee. Joe stepped back, and several other men came forward to add more logs to the inferno. I kept the Cromwells in my peripheral vision, and was startled to see them step down onto the grass and begin to mingle with the townsfolk. Beth told me they usually went back inside the house to their private drawing room. 

“Now’s my chance,” I told Lori. 

Before my friend could respond, I dashed to the kitchen door and raced to the entryway. The foyer was dim, lit only by the porch lights shining in the glass doors from outside. I could see well enough, however, and she stood between the two giant pots of lilies. 

“Hello, beauties,” I said as calmly as I could. 

“Hi, Emma. Enjoying the party?” Their collective voice still made chills go down my spine. 

“Yes, thank you. But I was wondering if you could tell me something.” 

“What? You probably hear more gossip than we do, since we cannot walk around.” 

“True, but this is about you, so I’m sure you know the answer.” 

“What?” They asked again. 

“What really happens at the harvest parties?” 

There was no answer. I figured the lilies wouldn’t tell her the truth. Truth…maybe I can trick them, I thought. 

“Oh, well, I guess you don’t really know. Beth said you didn’t.” I began to walk away. 

“Beth is a liar. We know!” 

“Really? Can you tell me? I promise to keep your secret.” 

There was a small gasp, almost as if the lilies all drew in a breath at the same time, and then they began speaking. “We are magic, you realize. Do you know magic?” 

“I know you’re magic,” I responded. “Regular flowers don’t talk.”

“Yes,” the lilies giggled. “We are rare. We use our magic to help the Cromwells but it needs replenished or we lose it.” 

“How do you help the Cromwells?” 

“We keep them alive. Mrs. Cromwell is three-hundred and sixty years old next month.” 

I drew in a breath. I wanted to ask if they were sure, if they were telling the truth, but I knew we could be interrupted at any moment. “And how do you need your magic replenished?” 

“The lost ones’ souls.” 

“Lost ones…do you mean the temporary workers?” 

“Yes. At the end of the harvest party, Beth and Joe bring them to us, one by one. They can’t resist smelling us. We are beautiful and alluring. When they come near, we absorb their souls.” 

“You kill them,” I stated flatly. 

“Yes, but they do not go to waste. They feed us for a long time.”

“How? What do you mean?” I felt my stomach roll and fought to keep the nausea from overwhelming me. 

“Blood and bone,” they replied. 


Featured Image by Nowaja on Pixabay.

The Welkin: Chosen

This piece is by Heather, one of the writers on my Coffee House Writers team. I’m really excited to see where she takes this story!

Photo by Bhumil Chheda on Unsplash This is the first part of a new serial fantasy fiction series I’m writing. Here is a random snippet for you and …

The Welkin: Chosen

Post 5-Day Cleanse

In light of learning about some food intolerances I have, I decided to do a 5-Day Cleanse to sort of jump start my system into accepting the new way of eating. It worked, sort of. I followed Young Living’s nutritional cleanse and posted all the directions in a Facebook group for other YL members to join in.

I began the cleanse on a Friday, and was excited to start. The day before, I went grocery shopping and prepped the allowed foods so everything was ready. I told my family I was doing this, and my husband was in full support.

Day 1: I felt pretty good. I was a little hungry mid-day, but drank a lot of water and it passed.

Day 2: I woke up with a headache. Usually for me, this means I will end the day with a migraine. I read that headaches can be a part of the detox process, though, so I used M-Grain essential oil on my temples and drank water. It eased up a little, but I was pretty miserable by evening. I decided to forgo the protein shake for dinner and had a salad with tuna, no dressing. I went to bed feeling as if I was getting sick.

Day 3: I started shaking. Thinking back, it may have been withdrawal symptoms as my body was being deprived of its morning tea. However, I was also dizzy, and as I have a slight heart defect that can cause dizziness and issues with blood pressure, I decided to end the cleanse.

Since then, I have not had any gluten, diary, or eggs. I am feeling fantastic overall, and have noticed some of my gut issues have subsided a bit. I will remain gluten-free for the rest of my life, as I know it is an ongoing issue. However, I want to attempt to add back in eggs and dairy after thirty days. Especially the eggs! I can handle no dairy, even though I love cheese. There are a lot of cheese alternative products that my friends say are pretty tasty. We got chickens because I love eggs for a protein source, and I think my heart will break a little if I discover I really can’t have them.

Have you done a cleanse before? What was your experience? I would love to hear from you!

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 6

Discover the beginning! Read Part 1 here.


I kept my promise to Lori and called home as soon as I got to my room. 

“Emma? Oh, Emma! George, come to the phone. Emma’s called!” The joy and relief in my mother’s voice increased my guilt. 

I heard the extension click and then my father’s gruff hello. I pictured him in his recliner in front of the television. It was time for the 5 o’clock news, and he never missed it. My mother would naturally be at the phone in the kitchen. She was probably putting the finishing touches on dinner. 

“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. I’m sorry it’s been so long.” 

“Emma, we are so glad you called. Aren’t we, George? Lori said you’re working at the Cromwell House. Do you like it? What about school?” 

“Let her answer one question at a time, woman.” I could always count on my dad to balance my mom’s eager inquiries. 

“Yes, I started working for the Cromwells as a housekeeper several weeks ago. I like it. The family is a little odd, but they treat all the staff well. I’ll finish school, mom. I talked to my advisor, and he’s going to set me up with online classes so I can do them in the evenings after work. I will still graduate on time.” 

“What happened with Adam?” My dad got the question out before my mom. 

“He bailed on me.” I laughed bitterly. “Just like you said he would.” 

“Honey, why didn’t you come home when that happened?” 

A lump formed in my throat and I gulped it down before responding. “I thought you would be mad at me and not want me anymore.” Tears welled in my eyes, and I irritably brushed them away. 

“We will always want you,” came my dad’s quiet response. 

I couldn’t hold back anymore, and I began sobbing. My parents were quiet while I let it out. After a few minutes, I took a deep breath. “I love you. I’m sorry I made you worry.” 

“All is forgiven. Now, tell us what else has been happening. Are you helping with the harvest party? We were thinking of skipping it this year. We aren’t in the mood for celebrations.” The tears I heard in my mother’s voice renewed my guilt.

“Yes, the head housekeeper, Esther, said we would begin getting ready this weekend. It sounds like it takes an entire week to make the magic happen.” 

“And what sort of work do you do?” My dad directed the conversation further away from the emotions. 

“I clean the downstairs, which isn’t hard right now since no one really uses the rooms. I also help Cook in the kitchen, take care of the houseplants, and sometimes help in the garden.” 

“Good, you are learning the value of hard work.” 

“George, she already learned that from you.” I could almost hear my mother’s eyes roll. 

“Yes, well, she learned how to care for plants from you, Michelle.” A note of pride crept into my father’s voice. He wasn’t usually demonstrative, but I knew he was proud of my mom’s greenhouse. Almost everyone in town got their plants from her. 

A sudden thought struck me. “Mom, have you ever sold African Queen trumpet lilies to the Cromwells?” 

“African Queen… I don’t think so. Sometimes I get orders for bouquets. Last time they ordered several vining plants and bulbs for the outside flowerbeds. Why?” 

“Oh, I am wondering where they got the flowers that are in the entryway. They are lovely specimens.” 

“Not from me, dear. But if you find out, I’d love to know who my competition is.” 

I chatted with my parents for a few more minutes and hung up, but not before my mom extracted a promise that I would visit them on my next day off. 

“It will probably be after the harvest party,” I warned. 

“That’s okay. We’ll see you soon.” 

I headed to the kitchen for my dinner and met Esther in the hallway. 

“Oh, good. There you are. Tomorrow morning, please report to my office as soon as you are finished helping Cook. Mr. Cromwell wants to meet you.” She swept away without waiting for my reply. 

Great. I wonder if he’s as spooky as his wife, I thought as I entered the warm kitchen. 

The next morning, I helped Cook prepare the breakfast trays for upstairs, ate a quick meal of oatmeal and toast, and then presented myself in Esther’s office. 

“Let’s go.” Esther barely looked at me, which gave me the impression that appearances were not as crucial to Mr. Cromwell as they were to the lady of the house. 

Once again, Esther led the way upstairs using the servants’ stair, and this time she knocked sharply on a door on the right of the corridor. A loud “Come in!” sounded, and Esther pushed open the door. 

This room was as bright as Mrs. Cromwell’s, but the air was arid, and cacti and succulents seemed to be Mr. Cromwell’s preferred companions. I could see small, shallow pots of Echeverias and Silver Stars, Jade Plant and Aloe Vera filled larger planters. There was even what looked like Golden Barrel Cactus.

Esther didn’t need to grab my arm this time as I automatically sank into a deep curtsy. 

“Oh, no, my dear. We don’t have the ceremony here. That is my wife’s rule. Stand up straight, let me look at you.” Mr. Cromwell’s voice was a deep, smooth baritone. It reminded me of an actor in some of the old movies my mom liked to watch. 

I stood and met the steady gaze of the lord of the house. Mr. Cromwell’s eyes were similar to Joe’s deep golden brown ones. They seemed to have a bit of a green glint in them, though. He smiled, and I couldn’t help but smile back. 

“You don’t have to tell me, I know. My wife is the scary one. Don’t worry, I won’t tell her.” 

I gave a small giggle but stopped when I heard Esther clear her throat. “Thank you, sir.” 

“She does all the important things around here.” He gestured vaguely towards the windows. “I, however, am the life of the party. And, since the harvest party is next week, I wanted to be sure to meet you beforehand. We can’t afford any mistakes at such an important event. You seem observant, though, and I heard you fulfill your duties without complaint. Do you like pumpkins?” 

“I… uh…” His sudden question startled me. “I suppose so. I like pumpkin pie and carving jack o’lanterns.” 

“Good. That’s part of the festival. Did Esther tell you the rules?” 

“Not yet, sir,” Esther quickly interjected. 

“Ah, I see. Well, Emma, the rules are simple. The staff is required to help prepare for the party. Cleaning, cooking, decorations, that sort of thing. But at the party, the temporary staff fills the roles of serving and cleaning up, and you all are expected to enjoy yourselves as our guests.” 

I felt my mouth open in surprise but quickly shut it. “Thank you, sir.” 

“Oh, stop with that ‘sir’ nonsense. I haven’t been able to break Esther of the habit, but I won’t have you start. You can call me Jacob. Or Mr. Cromwell, if that’s too informal for you. Now, go on. I’m sure you have your chores to do still.”

“Yes, s… Mr. Cromwell. It was nice to meet you.” I smiled. I actually liked Mr. Cromwell and found it hard to believe he was involved in some nefarious plot involving the disappearance of temporary workers. 

“It was good to meet you, too, Emma. I’m sure you’ll be with us for a very long time.” 

I followed Esther out into the hallway and back downstairs. 

“Well, you have now met both the mistress and master of Cromwell House. It’s safe to say you have a permanent position here now. Congratulations.” Ether used the same voice to congratulate me as she did when issuing orders. I wondered if she even had a heart. 

I pictured her wearing a tin hat and carrying an oil can and couldn’t contain my giggle. Esther gave me a stern look. “Go about your business now.” She turned and went back into her office, shutting the door firmly behind her. 

I consulted the schedule on my phone even though I already knew the routine by now. The Cromwell’s Household Management was an app created specifically for the Cromwells. Esther changed our duties if she noticed something that needed to be done. Sure enough, “Houseplants” was in bold lettering on my list for today. It was time those lilies gave me a straight answer. 

I avoided looking at the jars of plant food as I took the watering can from the kitchen shelf. I filled it with water from the side sink and headed to the entryway. Before pushing open the door leading from the servants’ hall to the foyer, I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts. 

“Hello, lovelies,” I greeted the lilies. I knew by now that they would be more chatty if I praised them. They were vain creatures, but I suppose gorgeous flowers had a right to be. “Here is a nice cool drink of water for you. Your leaves still look shiny from the dusting last week.” 

“Thank you, Emma,” their strange combined voices chorused. “Have you talked to Joe?” 

“Why, yes, you fabulous things, I have. And do you know what he told me?” 

“What?” The lilies sounded eager. 

“Nothing. Joe seemed angry that I was asking questions, and he left. Why did you tell me he would help me?” 

“Because he is nice and he likes us.” 

A suspicious thought formed, and I hoped I was wrong. “Do you mean he will help me or help you?”

“Both of us. You are our friend, too.” 

“Yes, we’re friends,” I muttered. 

I moved through the other rooms, watering and pruning the rest of the plants, but my thoughts wandered. What if the lilies didn’t tell me the truth from the beginning? Joe genuinely cared for the lilies, but he also didn’t like that I was asking questions. I realized I wasn’t any closer to finding answers. At least if Lori came through, there wouldn’t be any mysterious disappearances at this harvest party.