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Busy Night Meals

It’s autumn, and besides cooler days and crisp nights, it means school is back in session. A lot of families are busy with extracurricular activities. My children have always been active in sports, band, and various clubs, so I’ve become a pro at sticking to our grocery budget while providing healthy meals. Fast food is a treat for our family, especially as feeding hungry athletes gets expensive. 

Another mom commented on how organized and prepared I am for dinner at one of our soccer games. She teased, saying I have a little kitchen going on the bleachers. I responded with, “I have to be since I’m feeding eight people tonight!” Naturally, the conversation devolved into tailgate parties and grilling. Still, it made me think about other parents who might need some solid ideas on keeping the family fed without breaking the bank. 

Whether you’re eating at the game or need something quick for the short time at home before the concert, you’ll find inspiration here. 

Slow Cooker 

Do an internet search for “busy family meals” or similar phrasing, and I guarantee there will be slow cooker recipes on the first page. I typically avoid any slow cooker meals that require browning the meat before adding to the pot, but usually, that’s because I tend to run out of time in the morning, and I failed to prepare ahead. My go-to slow cooker meals are all “dump and go.” 

You can take any of these slow cooker meals on the go (see my tip below).

White Chicken Chili — I use thawed chicken breasts and shred them right before serving. Any leftovers taste delicious when transformed into enchiladas. Roll the chicken chili in tortillas, smother them in green enchilada sauce and cheese, then baked at 350 degrees until warm.

Hawaiian Chicken — I sometimes like to add green and red bell peppers. Serve over rice. If you have one, use a rice cooker with a delay-start option to save time.

Hamburger Lentil Soup — This is great after a chilly evening spent at the field! You can make this vegetarian by omitting the hamburger and using 2 cups of vegetable broth instead of the bullion. 

Instant Pot

For busy nights, don’t forget that the instant pot needs time to come up to pressure before cooking. However, being able to dump everything in a gadget and have it do the work means you’re free to help with homework or decompressing after a tough day. You can transform the slow cooker recipes into instant pot meals if you know how to do that sort of thing. For the rest of us, here are a few easy recipes. 

Spaghetti — Add a side salad, and dinner is done.

Pork Pot Roast — Roast is on our comfort food list, and this one is easy and flavorful. 

Mac & Cheese — This is another crowd favorite! Add pre-cooked bacon bits just before serving for extra flair. Serve with steamed vegetables or a salad to round out your meal.

Pre-Made or Assemble on Site

Sandwiches — This is an oldie, but goodie. My family never seems to tire of a well-built sandwich. Be sure to include small containers or individual packets of condiments, and don’t forget the pickles! Add sliced fruit and veggie sticks, and you have a satisfying meal. 

Wraps — A variation on the sandwich, but my daughter insists it’s totally different. 

Burritos — Simply spread refried beans on tortillas, top with cheese and taco sauce, roll, and heat in the oven for 15-20 minutes until warm. Then wrap the burritos in tin foil for traveling. 

Walking Tacos — Requiring a bit more time to prepare ahead, Walking Tacos are a favorite in my family. I make the meat mixture ahead of time and keep it warm. Then at half-time, I assemble everyone’s meal. 

Tips and Tricks

Everyone knows how to keep food cold until you’re ready to eat: bust out that trusty cooler. But how do you keep food hot while on the go? Bust out that trusty cooler! We have two small coolers we use for game nights: one for cold food, one for hot food. You can wrap hot food in tin foil or place it in containers. I line the bottom of the cooler with a dishtowel, put the food in, then place another dishtowel on top. It usually stays warm for at least two hours this way. 

Want to take the entire slow cooker or instant pot insert to the game? Simply wrap it in a towel and place it in a cardboard box. The extra insulation of the towel will keep the food hot.

Meal planning is key. Always look ahead to the next week, or even the next month, and make a note of which evenings are going to be hectic. Make a list of meals, add ingredients to your shopping list, and you’re ready!

Prepare ahead as much as possible, so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute while little Timmy needs help finding his cleats. Depending on the space and time you have available, prepping ahead might mean you chop vegetables and cook the meat. Or it might mean you grocery shop and organize the ingredients by meal. The point is to do whatever you can in advance to avoid adding more chaos.

Make a portable kitchen. Use a tote or a large bag, and fill it with disposable plates, bowls, cups, silverware, and napkins. Add in a couple of serving spoons and baby wipes, and you’re all set!

Almost anything that can be prepared ahead and easily assembled will work for these busy evenings. Think of the meals you take camping or on road trips. Make a list of recipes that your family loves so you can easily reference it when the season starts. 

Busy-night dinners do not have to be hard. Neither do they always need to be fast food or from the concession stands. Your family will appreciate the care you’re taking of them, and the teachers/coaches will appreciate that your kids are getting healthy nutrition so they can be at their best.

Solara

Solara pulled into a parking spot and glanced at the clock on the dash. She grumbled as she walked towards the market entrance. “If only I could transport on a sunbeam, but no. I have to arrive in a clunky mechanical thing so the humans don’t get scared.”

She saw her mostly-human friend, Gemma, waiting for her by the gate. “Coffee?” Solara handed her one of the paper cups she carried. 

“Thanks! I am so excited about this. I’m sure there are a lot of treasures here. What are you hoping to find?” Gemma’s enthusiasm bubbled in her voice. 

“I want a unique container to use for one of my plants that needs repotting. Oh, and maybe a narrow basket to put on the windowsill for some seashells.” Solara kept her pace languid, which forced Gemma to slow. Gemma always moved at a quick speed, which Solara found exhausting after a while. 

The market they were currently visiting was a pop-up style full of vintage wares and hand-crafted goods. It was a showcase of various vendors scattered throughout eight barns surrounding a central courtyard on the fairgrounds. Any organization could rent the space as long as it wasn’t during the fair.

“What time is Keyara getting here?” Gemma asked, looking at some jars.

“She said maybe in an hour.” Solara touched a slightly wilted plant on a shelf of the next vendor over and infused it with some gentle sunlight. The plant immediately looked healthier. “I told her the shopping was all indoors, which is the only reason she agreed to come.” 

“Being a vampire must be hard when the sun goddess needs her power boost,” Gemma teased. 

“Well, I gave up most of October, and all of November through March, so I am going to make the most of July.” 

“I don’t blame you,” Gemma said. “How are things going with Brad? Last time we talked, you were mad at him.” 

“We’re good. It was a misunderstanding. His communication isn’t that great, and since he’s human, well.” She shrugged. “He apologized.” 

While they looked at some vibrant clothing on a rack, the booth owner told them there was a small changing area in the back. Solara picked out a fuchsia-colored dress to try on.

“That looks fabulous on you!” Gemma gushed when Solara stepped out of the changing area. 

“Does it? It’s a little tight across the shoulders, but not bad. I don’t know if I really like it.” 

“Well, put it back and think about it. This is only the first building. Maybe you’ll find something better.” 

“True.” Solara stepped back into the changing area. 

“I’ve been trying to reduce my belongings,” Gemma said from the other side of the curtain. 

“Oh, yeah? How’s that going?” 

“It’s hard. But I just have so much stuff. And a lot of it I don’t even use anymore. Why do I need to keep an old food processor when I’ve lost the lid?” 

“Uh, dragon,” Solara said, pointing at Gemma as she returned the dress to the rack. They drifted out of the back door of the barn and headed across the courtyard to another building.

“Part dragon,” Gemma corrected. “An extremely tiny part.” 

“Well, apparently, you got the hoarding gene.” 

“Oh, earrings!” Gemma rushed over to a large jewelry display. Solara laughed and followed her.

Solara’s phone chimed, and she pulled it out of her pocket. “Keyara’s here! I’ll go meet her.” She gave Gemma a stern look. “You are not to leave this building until we get back. I don’t want to spend half an hour searching for you because you’re hunting for more treasure.” 

“There are lots of jewelry booths in this building. I’ll be here a while. Besides, I bet Keyara could sniff me out if you lose me.” Gemma waved her away. 

“That’s disgusting.” Solara wrinkled her nose. 

“But true. Go, I’ll be fine.” 

Solara made her way out of the open-ended pole building and headed to the front gate. She began scanning the crowd for a short woman in a hat. She didn’t know what hat Keyara would wear, only that she would have one. There weren’t that many people near the gate since it was an hour after the market’s opening, and Solara didn’t see Keyara anywhere. She began to text Keyara as she walked back towards the center courtyard, but then she spied her friend. A black floppy hat obscured Keyara’s dark, shoulder-length hair and violet eyes.

“There you are! I’m so glad you made it.” Solara gave Keyara a quick hug, then flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Gemma’s at a jewelry booth and made her promise not to leave until we came back. I love your hat! I knew you would wear one, so when you texted you were here, I just looked for a stylish hat.” 

“It was your idea, remember?” 

Solara began leading Keyara to the other side of the courtyard. “Oh, that’s right! Well, I still like it. And it will help to keep the sun off you. Do you have your cream on?” 

Keyara nodded. “Of course. I can already feel my arms tingling, though. Any chance you can tone the sun down just a tad?” 

“Not at the moment. I set it up to be hot and sunny all day, and it will take a while to pull it back. But all the vendors are in the various buildings except for the food. We can probably find some shade somewhere or go to a restaurant instead of staying here for lunch.” Solara led the way across the courtyard. 

“Well, I can handle walking in the sunlight if it’s just between the buildings and back to my car.” 

“I knew being mostly inside would convince you. There’s Gemma!” Solara pointed to a corner where their friend was purchasing a pair of earrings. 

Solara rushed over to Gemma. “Which ones did you buy?” 

“The turquoise ones I was looking at when you left, and I found these cute red dangles. Hi, Keyara!” Gemma hugged Keyara. 

Solara laughed. “Poor Keyara! Two hugs in less than five minutes.” 

“I don’t mind it when you two hug me. It’s when humans do it that things become…difficult.” 

“Do you need to eat?” Solara asked. She tried to keep the note of worry out of her voice. 

“No, I ate last night. I didn’t want to risk any, shall we say, accidents today.” 

“Good. I figured you had it handled.” 

Gemma drifted towards a clothing rack while Keyara and Solara sniffed candles and selected a few for purchase. Gemma was the one who brought Keyara and Solara together. Despite their various races, all three women adored books, enjoyed camping, and thought vintage and fun clothes were wonderful. They tried to get together at least once every couple of weeks. 

About an hour later, Gemma was leading them towards the food carts in the courtyard center. Keyara opted for only a beer, while Gemma and Solara ordered loaded baked potatoes.

“There’s a table over there, under that tree. Will that work?” Solara pointed. 

“Sure,” Keyara replied. 

As they got nearer to the table, they noticed a pair of women with an infant sitting on one side. Keyara and Solara both hung back a little, but Gemma marched right up to the table and asked, “Can we sit on the other side? The sun is brutal today.” 

The women agreed, and the friends sat. Solara and Gemma both moved to the edge of the table with the least amount of shade. Solara noticed Keyara discreetly checking the skin on her bare arms for burn marks. Keyara always tried to dress to fit in with the humans, but still kept to blacks and dark reds despite gauzy blouses and pencil skirts. After a few minutes, the other women put the baby in a stroller and wandered away.

“Are you doing okay?” Gemma asked. 

“Yes, so far. I can’t be out in the sun much longer, though.” 

Solara tilted her head back and closed her eyes, obviously enjoying the rays filtering through the leaves on her face. 

Gemma laughed. “A vampire and a sun goddess. Who would have ever thought you two could be friends?” 

“Hey, we make it work,” Solara said. 

“Yes, we do,” Keyara agreed.

“Just don’t expect me to hang out with you in a dark alley while you feed,” Solara added with a slight shudder. 

“Still squeamish about that?” Gemma asked. 

“You weren’t there! It was terrifying. I’m not usually afraid of the dark, but Keyara makes the monster under the bed look tame.” 

“You want the world bathed in brightness, and I can’t live in the light. I manage to visit you in the sun, so it’s only fair.” 

“True. I refuse to compromise sunshine in the middle of July, but I’m more than happy to allow cloudy days and rain at some point. Sadly, you’re not the one I have to negotiate with.” 

“Is the god of thunder still bothering you?” Gemma teased. 

“He knows I’m married! I don’t know why he can’t just accept that and move on. He says he won’t stop with the afternoon thunderstorms until I agree to at least have dinner with him.” 

“Brad will never allow that,” Keyara commented. 

“But Brad is only human, and Taran thinks he has priority.”

“I know! So instead, I’m basically in a weather fight. It’s ridiculous.” 

“Well, you’re winning today. It’s so hot out!” Keyara complained. 

“I’m sorry, are you still okay?” 

“Yes, but I’d like to find some deeper shade now.” 

“Come on, girls. We still have three buildings to explore.” Gemma stood, gathering her bags. 

Solara slowly stood, stretching her arms up for a moment in the sunlight to gather more power, before following her friends. 

A clap of thunder sounded, and the sun goddess scowled at the sky.

Editing Applications For Writers (and Editors)

My last article, Even Editors Need Editors, mentioned that I recommend some programs to my writers so they can self-edit. I received questions regarding these applications and wanted to share my thoughts on them. For details on each type of software, please click through to their website. Obviously, your word processor has a built-in spelling and grammar checker. That is helpful, but you will discover you need additional tools as you develop your writing skills.

Grammarly

If you’re a new writer, this is a good app to use. It’s free, but the paid version offers extra components which may be helpful. The free version offers spelling, punctuation, and grammar checks. The premium subscription gives you access to a plagiarism check (helpful if you’re writing a school paper), tone of voice, word choice, fluency, and more. Grammarly has add-ins for Google Docs and Microsoft Word, which means you don’t have to go to your browser to use it.

Pro: It’s easy to use and the premium subscription is fairly affordable.

Con: Sometimes it suggests things that make little sense or are incorrect.

WordCounter.net

This is strictly an online application. The main reason I recommend WordCounter.net to writers is for its Keyword Density feature. This handy box on the sidebar will show you the words used the most in a document. You can get rid of filler words or vary your word choice by utilizing the Keyword Density list. This will help keep your readers’ interest until the end.

Pro: It’s free and the Keyword Density report is useful.

Con: If you click the Grammar & Spell Check button, it will take you to Grammarly. So really, the Keyword Density report is the key characteristic of this site.

Hemingway

The Hemingway Editor is better for readability and sentence structure than grammar and spelling. It checks for readability, adverb use, passive voice, and hard-to-read sentences. It is available online for free, or you can pay a one-time fee of $20.00 and get a desktop app. What sets this app apart from the rest is that it checks HTML formatting for building web pages. You can use the “write” screen to have a blank space without editing highlights to get your words down. When you’re ready to edit, switch to the editing screen, and Hemingway will highlight the areas which need work.

Pro: It’s inexpensive and is extremely useful to craft concise prose.

Con: It doesn’t have any editing traits that most new writers prefer, such as grammar and spelling.

Slick Write

For a free program, Slick Write packs a punch! Like most writing software, it checks grammar, spelling, and punctuation. However, it also looks for vocabulary variety, flow, sentence structure, readability report, and style. This application is my top pick for those who can’t (or don’t want to) pay for a service but still need a detailed review. You can choose what you want Slick Write to check, and it will adjust the reports accordingly.

Pro: It’s a free software with comprehensive editing.

Con: It’s browser based, so if you prefer to work offline or do not have internet access, you won’t be able to use it.

ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid is a powerhouse editor, and I do not advise inexperienced writers to use it. PWA has so many features and reports that you may find yourself confused and frustrated. Spelling and grammar? Check. Readability report? Yep. But it also has overused words, cliche check, alliteration, pronoun usage, sticky sentences, transition review, consistency and pacing checks, dialogue tag review, and much, much more. PWA will almost take the place of a human editor if you know how to use it. It has a free version, but, like most programs, the paid option gives you access to additional properties. It has several integrations, so you can use it on the web, with Scrivener or your favorite word processor.

Pro: It is incredibly thorough.

Con: It can be confusing to use.

Remember, none of these applications will take the place of a human editor. A computer follows its programming, which limits it. While technology is amazing, only a human can fully adapt to individual compositions’ voice, style, and content. So why use a program at all? Because it will save you money if you hire a professional editor. And, if you choose not to, using at least one of these programs will ensure that your work is (mostly) error-free.

And, yes, before I submitted this article to my editor, I used Hemingway, WordCounter.net, Grammarly, and ProWritingAid. I guarantee she found other errors or edits that I missed.

Even Editors Need Editors

I have been an editor of small newsletters’ content since 2009, and in 2015, I expanded my knowledge and skill set. I have edited articles of all types, short stories, novel manuscripts, and poetry. My goal for obtaining a college degree in English was to become a professional editor. 

But even I need an editor. 

Because of my background and experience, my writing is clean and free from major errors. But that doesn’t mean I can publish it without having someone else review it first. All that means is my editor doesn’t have to work as hard. 

I frequently go back to previously published blog posts and find minor errors I missed. Why? Because I’m human. Because I stare at a piece for hours before publishing, and my brain fills in words, or my eyes skip missing punctuation. Even the fancy computer programs miss things. They don’t have a human’s perception of dialogue or nuances. 

Often, I recommend various programs to my writers as a way for them to self-edit. But I always remind them that the applications are not perfect, and they need to use their best judgment. Last week, one of my writers said she used Hemingway, and it marked several sentences as “hard to read” due to length. So she broke those sentences up in the middle with a period which created sentence fragments. The program was happy. Was it correct? Nope.

When I am editing my own articles, I use several programs. Sometimes, two of those programs will give conflicting recommendations. “Put a comma here.” So I do. Then I take to the next piece of software. “Remove this comma.” But that was the one I just added. This is where an editor comes in. 

Editors don’t just look at spelling and commas. They examine flow, sentence structure, clarity, word choice, and more. Editors should know the rules about writing numbers, time, and money. They can spot the misuse of dialogue tags at first glance. Editors also ensure consistency throughout the piece. 

Writing and reading are in my blood. I am passionate about both, and becoming an editor seemed a natural course of action. When I read for pleasure, I try to turn my “editor brain” off to enjoy the book, but sometimes that is extremely difficult if there are a lot of mistakes.

I can tell within a few pages if the book was professionally edited or not. Usually, I can ignore most of the errors. However, sometimes I get so irritated that a writer would send sub-par work out into the world, I stop reading and write my review. Those reviews always include some version of “needs editing.” I wish I could also send them a link to my website offering my services. Sadly, I’ve caught typos in newspaper articles from The New York Times. Obviously, it was a rush job, but an editor should have reviewed it before publishing.

Some of my friends think I want to edit these strangers’ books because I want the money or enjoy picking apart the writing. The truth is I want to help writers become better writers. I have many friends in the industry, and we always push each other to learn and do more. Why? Because seeing another author succeed is exciting. We all know how it feels to strive for creativity, ingenuity, and publication. When one of us wins, we all celebrate. 

Being a writer and an editor, I know my articles and stories will improve after my editor gets her eyes on them. She will always find something I missed or see a way to polish a phrase. There are times I have an area I am struggling with, and she will have a brilliant idea to fix it. Despite popular belief, writing for publication is not a solitary activity. Authors need editors; therefore, editors who are also authors need editors. 

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.