Outside the Why-Not, scribblings on a poster-board yelled, â€œNo Christmas music allowed!â€™â€ But the barâ€™s owner was a selective Scrooge. Inside, a fir tree heavily ornamented and flashing multi-colored stringers occupied each corner of the room, the scent of fresh pine holding its own against cigarette smoke and perfumed-cologned-or-other human occupants
|Help Me Make It Through the Night by Kathy Golden|
looking for an encounter much more impermanent than a fleeting holiday. Placemats splashed with Santa, Rudolph or Frosty and embellished with burn-holes facelifted scarred tables. Above the liquor-pit, red and green neon numbers counted down the hours and the minutes before the sleigh and its reindeers would be running late. Neither the ambience nor the dÃ©cor attracted Mistiqueâ€™s attention or lessened her anticipation. She hadnâ€™t noticed the man on her first couple of visits. By round-three on the pick-up circuit, a crashing self-esteem forced her to linger in the shadows before showing herself to practically the last possible prospect. More than once, only the unbearableness of spending an entire night alone kept her from abandoning her reason for being there. Hiding until she was ready to be seen took some ingenuity; then she discovered as long as she was a purchasing customer, she could sit in some of the dimmest corners, with an aura of â€œkeep your distance, Iâ€™m sipping aloneâ€ fairly effective against the curious. For most men, too many willing partners were available to bother with those who werenâ€™t. From one of her temporary havens, sheâ€™d spotted him. Now she stood assessing herself in the mirror behind the counter. This was her second week with the violet eyes and black-and-blonde waves that made her feel less exposed. After adjusting her uncomfortable cleavage for at least the fourteenth time, she continued to wait. Three weekends of observation had revealed the manâ€™s modus operandi. He came in, sat down, and then, as if studying the perfect way to pick up a one night stand, he spent over an hour looking at the women and men who came in apart and left together. He shook his head at more than one approacher until his own observation session was over. Mistique suspected he paid a waitress or maybe even the owner to see to it his favorite table facing the entrance was always available when he arrived around his usual time, whether it was nine-thirty p.m.â€”or just nowâ€”a quarter till ten. She hadnâ€™t understood the purpose of his ritual at first. Guessingâ€”hopingâ€”at last she did, she tugged at the bra a final time, ordered for both of them and walked over to where he sat. She set a glass down in front of him. "Hi, Bailey. Absolut neat, right? May I join you?" The lean, dark-haired man, in the vicinity of thirty, looked first at the drink and then at her. "Right, and you are?" "Mistique." His brows arched. "Mistique?" She pointed a thumb toward her hair. "Itâ€™s the name of the wig." Bailey took in this womanâ€™s appealing face six or seven years younger than his own and the breasts straining against the close-fitted blouse. Neither skinny nor fat, she smelled good. He didnâ€™t have many criteria beyond that. He gestured toward the battered leather-cushioned chair opposite his own. "You've obviously done your homework. But if you want to leave anytime soonâ€”â€ "No, I'm not ready to leave.â€ She sat and sipped her drink, certain she hadnâ€™t practiced her lines well enough to avoid the embarrassment of being turned down. After all, who came to a place like this for a reason like hers? â€œIâ€™m not in a rush.â€ Hadnâ€™t she just said something like that? â€œThat is, we donâ€™t have to leaveâ€”not yet. I . . .â€ She blew out a breath. He sat there, not helping in the least. But how could he help her utter a sensible response? She rushed on. â€œI donâ€™t want to leave now. I just wanted to talk. You seem like the kind of man who wouldn't mind talking . . . first." Bailey leaned back in his chair. "Iâ€™ve been called a decent listener. Talk about what?â€ Her taut nerves started to loosen; then her thoughts shifted to traffic lights, to the way a yellow one lets you know the red one stopping you dead in your tracks is only a few seconds away, and you need to keep driving or hit the brakes. What she wanted to talk about was laughable; the ramblings of a recent sleep-around trying to add depth and meaning to bedding a stranger. And darn, if he wasnâ€™t a patient man. Too patient. Why didnâ€™t he suggest something, provide some opening into further conversation? He had to see her floundering. Instead he just looked at her, an expression somewhere between mildly interested and whenever-youâ€™re-ready-go-ahead. To heck with it. She needed to keep driving. "It bothers you, doesn't it? It bothers you to come in here and go out every weekend with a new . . . a different person." The alertness in his gaze told her sheâ€™d at least come close to a bullâ€™s-eye. Bailey drank some of the vodka. "I gather it bothers you too." A definite yes and a green light. She wouldnâ€™t hesitate again. "My problem is that absence of communication, not connecting somehow before the sex.â€ "So you want us to pretend to beâ€”" With mild annoyance, Mistique flipped back some of the long hair that had fallen forward. "No, not lovers or anything like that. Justâ€”before the â€˜my place or yours,â€™ I want to talk about the pain, about what landed us here to begin with." He picked up a pack of gum from the table, removed two sticks and offered her one. "Why do you want to do that? "Thanks. A kind of masochistic, verbal foreplay, I guess. It seems to me we all suffer silently when maybe we could talk more and help each other out." He tossed his empty wrapper in the elfâ€™s face imprinted on an ashtray. "Don't you have friends for that? It's been a while for me, and I don't have much to say about it anymore." She met his gaze straight on. "Why do you take so much time before you pick someone?" His body shifted forward, and without hardening his eyes pierced her. "Have I been on hidden camera every week or what?" She shook her head. "No, only my camera. I could be totally wrong, but I think it takes you a while to get mentally ready for it.â€ Her fingers toyed with the gum. â€œYou go through some kind of prelude so what comes after is not so . . . so empty." Baileyâ€™s shoulders lowered and he leaned back against his chair. "Yeah, that's pretty close to why I do it.â€ He noticed for the first time the way her purple eyes clashed with the streaked hair. Heâ€™d slept with masqueraders like her before. Though not quite like her. Her fragility leaked through her disguise in a way he had to give in to. â€œSo, Mistique, here's my pain. We had been together for almost three years. Got engaged and she wanted me to live with her. I wasn't readyâ€”maybe not even for marriage. Anyway, she ended it. Itâ€™s been eight months. I've tried moving on.â€ He shook his head. â€œCan't do it." Relieved, Mistique put the spearminted stick in her mouth. He could have been like the others: all intercourse and no discourse, yet her instincts had been correct. "Do you still care about her?" "For whatever reason, and there shouldnâ€™t be any, yes. However, I resented being forced to do something I didnâ€™t want to do." Mistique nodded her head. "My guyâ€™s married. Actually, he's not mine anymore. After two years of us, he packed up his family and moved away.â€ She rubbed her upper arms, a little cold. â€œI'd give anything for a chance to have him back." "Would you?" Her hands lowered, one migrating to the table; the other, her lap. "I would. And that's the thing my friends and family don't want to hear anymore. Itâ€™s what I can't make them understand." "That you love him no matter what." "That I love himâ€”no matter what. For obvious reasons, we never spent this holiday together. Still, heâ€™d call around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. Last Christmas, even with him gone, I waited. Nothing.â€ â€œAnd tonight?â€ â€œI didnâ€™t want to stay at home, alone, waiting.â€ Bailey resisted an impulse to reach out and touch her hand and to tell herâ€”what? That she stirred something in him? She didnâ€™t come here to hear that. â€œMy ex-fiancÃ©e and I were supposed to attend a party tonight. She probably went, and rumor has it, Iâ€™ve already been replaced. I wonâ€™t be celebrating with my family either. My sisterâ€™s invited some friend of hers I canâ€™t fake any interest in.â€ He swept a frustrated hand through the air. â€œSo this joint, the sex? Why do you bother with it?" Mistiqueâ€™s finger tracked the moisture on her glass. "Itâ€™s the only contact with him I have left. I can close my eyes and see his face." Bailey nodded. "I see her face too.â€ He drained his glass with a finality triggering fear in Mistique that he was about to leave, and if irritation were an indication, it would be without her, his need for someone to help him make it through the night no longer an issue. She understood the abrupt shift all too well. Bailey stood. â€œListen, lady, itâ€™s been â€¦ original.â€ She had to stop him. The sound of music from the jukebox penetrated her panic. â€œBailey, would you like to dance?" He scowled, then his shoulders drop. "Sure. Only I have a request too. Do you mind very much if I don't dance with Mistique?" A small laugh escaped her. She pulled off the wig and ruffled her short auburn hair. She popped out one and then the other of the contact lens, heedless of where they fell. Holding her right hand over the right breast, she reached in with the left hand, snatched out the push-up and threw it on the table. Bailey stepped back. "Whoa. I wasn't expecting that." She stared at the discarded insert. "I can put it back in if you like, but they're so uncomfortable." "I can't imagine.â€ He shrugged. â€œThey would have eventually come out anyway, right?â€ â€œRight.â€ She chucked the left one onto the table. â€œRelief at last.â€ Bailey smiled. â€œGlad to hear it. So, what's your name?" His first of the night. Maybe I should have taken those things out earlier. "My nameâ€™s April." He extended his hand. â€œAll right then, April.â€ As they approached the dance floor, Johnny Riversâ€™s "Swayin To the Musicâ€ began to play. Wrapped in Baileyâ€™s embrace, April leaned into the somewhat smoky, clean-clothes scent of him. Theyâ€™d crossed a small barrier, perhaps an insignificant one to most people. But sheâ€™d needed his story, needed to tell hers, needed to know she would strip down with someone willing to say out loud how much love can hurt. She felt less humiliated now, and they were back on course. Sheâ€™d have sex with him, knowing they wouldnâ€™t be thinking about each other. And maybe afterwards, theyâ€™d discuss that too. "April?" Moving with the rhythm of the song, her arms encircling his neck, she looked up at him. "Yes." "We donâ€™t have to do the â€˜my place or yoursâ€™ unless you want to.â€ She stilled, her body tense. "Then what happens after this dance?" His hands rubbed soothing warmth into her back. "Don't worry. The Why-Not doesnâ€™t close tonight or tomorrow. I think we can find enough to say until then." She smiled. "I think so too.â€ She stood on tiptoes to reach his mouth. He bent his head, and the lingering exchange comforted them. When their lips parted, Baileyâ€™s brushed the top of Aprilâ€™s hair, and once again their bodies swayed to the music. If youâ€™ve enjoyed this book, please take a few minutes and write a review. I need and appreciate your reviews. Thanks for reading this story. I wrote it to focus on two people finding the Christmas present they needed most in one anotherâ€™s company. Though it wasnâ€™t my intention at the time I wrote it, I plan to expand Bailey and Aprilâ€™s story. If you havenâ€™t already, join my mailing list: Updates from Kathy. As one of my subscribers, youâ€™ll get updates on my writing and any new releases and promotions. In addition, I look forward to your feedback and suggestions on my WIPs. Iâ€™d love to have your support and thank you in advance. About the Author I write in multiple genres: Romance and Christian fiction and family dramas. I also enjoy audiobooks immensely and plan to have most of my published works available as audiobooks. A collection of short stories and several novels and novellas eagerly await the time when I will finish writing them and hit the â€œpublishedâ€ button. Seldom if ever affected by writerâ€™s block, my greatest challenge is managing to get the immense wealth of fiction that the Muses have brought me into formats where others can read and enjoy it. I have written stories, poems, and music for most of my life. I am thrilled that the internet and current technology make it possible for authors and musicians to so easily share their talents. Feel free to visit my websites and/or contact me. I will get back to you. Twitter: @KathyGoldenKG My website: http://www.booksbykathy.weebly.com Just Audiobook Reviews: http://www.justaudiobookreviews.com Kathyâ€™s Book Reviews: http://www.bookreviewsbykathy.com. For authors looking for writing tips: http://www.kathysnotes.com Visit Kathyâ€™s Manuscript Evaluation service to get an excellent evaluation of your manuscript: http://www.kathysnotes.com/blog/manuscript-evaluation-service Need an outstanding book trailer? Visit: http://www.booktrailerservices.com and contact me to help you create an outstanding trailer for your book. My other books: Excerpt: Children Who Never Grow Old This book is a collection of two flash fiction stories and a narrative poem. Please be advised that all of these works have something in them about children who die young; hence the title: Children Who Never Grow Old. Read the first paragraph of each story in the descriptions below. Little Mirrors is the first story. Itâ€™s about 450 words long and is the unusual account of twin sisters. Sixteen-year-old Lia stared in the bathroom mirror and thought of her twin sister, Lupia. They were six years old when first they played their game. They stood in front of each other, then both made the same movements at the same time. Sometimes, Lupia tried to trick Lia. She moved abruptly in a different direction; raised her right hand instead of her left, turn her head sideways instead of up and down. But always Lia sensed what Lupia was going to do, and the two sisters burst into laughter when Lupia failed to trick Lia. Their mother called them: her little mirrors. Protected is the second short story. Itâ€™s just over 800 words long. Protected centers on a little girl who wanders away from her family, straight into the path of danger. The man and the little girl stood deep in an undeveloped area of the park heavily forested with trees. Heâ€™d spotted her going into the woods. She wasnâ€™t his child, but it would be easy to make her so. For him, it was always easy. He simply watched and waited for his wandering gifts. He had adopted three girls and two boys in four states. He preferred them young, no more than five or six, though he really didnâ€™t care for the boys. One of them had cried and peed his pants, a sight too reminiscent ofâ€”he didnâ€™t like the boys, and he didnâ€™t have to, because with the girls, it was all so different. Tiffanyâ€™s Escapes is a narrative poem that is 488 words in length. It is the story of a young motherâ€™s struggle to cope with the loss of her young daughter. A four-year-old with light brown eyes Peaks around the kitchen corner, And maternal brows arch in mock surprise. â€œIs that my good little Tiffany, sneaking up on me?â€ â€œNo Momma, not sneaking, just checking to see if I can go outside.â€ A tremor rolls through Jenniferâ€™s voice striving to cajole. â€œBut why not stay inside? Weâ€™ve got hot gingerbread men cooling on a tin.â€ Tiffanyâ€™s head swivels from side to side. â€œNo, gingers today, Momma or games with candy canes.â€ And she spies the unlocked screen door. Each of the short stories, though not the poem, has an element of the supernatural in it. Excerpt: An Invisible Hand Book Two is in the making, and I invite your feedback. Please share what you would like to see in the second book. Thanks for your support and enjoy this book. This is a Christian novella. It is about 27,492 words long. Thirty-two-year-old Belinda Johnson goes shopping one day, and miraculous healings start taking place in her presence. Belinda awakens later, awed by the possibility that she participated in a real-live-like-in-the-Bible miracle. Yet, as time passes, she soon finds herself at odds with some of the circumstances regarding the phenomenon, and she struggles to understand God. By her own admission, she prefers an uncomplicated life, but her life is further complicated by a new relationship that brings its own surprising problem. An Invisible Hand is a Christian novella with unique demonstrations of healings, and praise and gratitude to God. It is rich with the wonderful interactions and camaraderie of family and friends, with just the right touch of romance, and with a cast of characters so real, youâ€™ll feel certain you know people just like them. Moreover, Belindaâ€™s personal journey compels you to follow along and to put yourself in her place. How would you feel? How would you react? How would it affect you to suddenly become Godâ€™s servant of healing? Excerpt: â€œnot by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the lord . . . lest any man should boastâ€ (Zechariah 4.6 and Ephesians 2.9, King James Version Bible). Chapter One Belinda Jean always overspent when she went to Big Lotsâ€”no matter what she told herself beforehand. This Saturday morning, annoyed with the unopened purchases behind her sofa and the idea of shopping with a list, she lingered in her brick red Beretta. â€œI can do it, Mother! I donâ€™t need that stupid piece of plastic.â€ Turning in the direction of an angry voice, Belinda saw a light blue station wagon in a parking place several spaces over from her car. The opened back door on the passengerâ€™s side faced her. A teenager, palms pressed down on each side of her, struggled to move her lower body toward a wheel chair. Mother, a woman in her early forties, stood anxiously by, guilt aging her features. Despite the young girlâ€™s efforts, her hips didnâ€™t budge. She released a torrent of profanity about useless physical therapy and then glared at her mother. â€œIâ€™ll do it, Renee. Please let me.â€ The petite woman placed the slide-board beside her daughterâ€™s body. With practiced ease, she slid the child across the support and into the wheel chair. Belinda saw the girlâ€™s thin legs hanging like a puppetâ€™s. An unfamiliar compassion welled up within her. Her mind became dreamy and out of focus as if she were between asleep and awake, and her head fell forward. She inhaled a long, slow breath, exhaled it; then energy, the only word she registered to describe it, flowed out of her like wind toward Renee. Belindaâ€™s head jerked up as she re-awoke to an awareness of her surroundings. She observed the pairâ€”the woman now pushing the wheel chair toward the close-out store. â€œMother, stop!â€ Renee yelled. â€œBaby, what is it?â€ â€œI think I can walk.â€ The woman halted. â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ Renee shoved the brakes into position, and her head snapped in the direction of her waist. â€œGet this off me.â€ The woman leaned over the chair, her hands struggling to restrain her daughterâ€™s. â€œBaby, pleaseâ€”â€ â€œForget it, Mother. Iâ€™ll do it myself!â€ Renee yanked at the lap belt and unfastened it. She leaned down and backhanded the foot-rests to the sides. Her fingers gripped the arm pads, sweat pouring as she raised her trembling body. The next instant, a wellspring of new life burst through her waist, hips, legs and down into her feet. Open-mouthed, she stared at her toes as they actually wiggled. She leaped from the chair and ran around her mother. â€œSee, I told you. I can walk. I can walk!â€ Reneeâ€™s mother gaped at her daughterâ€™s running and skipping. The womanâ€™s body slumped at the knees, and she bent over and let out a peal of laughter. Renee grasped her motherâ€™s hands. Her mother instantly straightened, as if an infusion of strength had poured into her enfeebled knees. Crying and rejoicing, the two of them danced in a circle. People in the parking lot stared at them; customers in Big Lots and the nearby Bealls peered through glass windows and came out for a closer look. A raised voice shouted, â€œYaâ€™ll need to get out here! That witch on wheels just got up and walked. I swear it â€˜fore the wicked devil.â€ Belindaâ€™s mind receded farther and farther away from the noise and the gathering crowd. She no longer wanted to shop. She needed the peace of her apartment and an uncharacteristic mid-morning nap. Enveloped in a cocoon of detachment, she drove to the quadraplex where she lived. The front door of her apartment opened into the living room with its burgundy carpet and fresh coat of off-white paint. Scented candles fragranced the room. The entire place sounded unusually quiet. Or maybe, Belinda thought, this silence is in me. In her bedroom, she pushed off one sneaker and then the other. She undressed down to her underwear, laid her frame, stocky like her fatherâ€™s, atop a peach-flowered comforter and slept. When Belinda awakened hours later, her mind drifted back to the shopping center and to a teenager using more profanity than Belinda had spoken in her entire thirty-two years. She remembered legs dangling, some kind of force flowing out of her body toâ€”Renee, that was itâ€”and how minutes later, the girl had jumped up and run around her mother. Shock, mingling with genuine amazement, surged through Belinda. She had witnessed a miracle, a real-live-like-in-the-Bible miracle. And she thought, though just daring to do so, sheâ€™d had something to do with it. She got out of bed, picked up her wrinkle-free blouse and elastic-waisted jeans from the carpet and put them back on. In the bathroom, she washed her face, brushed her teeth, and combed through medium-length, dark brown hair, identical to her motherâ€™s. Shelia was supposed to come down at five, so the two of them could ride together to the home of Belindaâ€™s parents. Belinda figured Shelia wouldnâ€™t arrive until closer to five-thirty. Though her best friend and co-worker lived right above her in one of the two upstairs apartments, she didnâ€™t bother to be on time unless she needed to be. That was okay. Belinda wanted to watch the evening news. When the five oâ€™clock report began, the anchorwoman asked viewers if they believed in miracles and told them after today they would have little choice but to do so. She stated that tragically, three months ago, fifteen-year-old Renee Brown had fallen from the roof of her parentsâ€™ two-story home. Several hours before the accident, her mother, Sandra Brown, grounded Renee. The child rebelled and tried sneaking out her bedroom window to meet friends. The fall had crippled her from the waist down. Sad music played to family photos and clips from a video showing the teenager in a wheelchair. â€œBut today,â€ the anchor continued, her voice the perfect pitch of excitement to match the now dramatic musical accompaniment, â€œthrough nothing short of an act of . . . uh . . . mercy, Renee Brown was healed. Our on-the-scene reporter is with the family now.â€ The scene changed to the Brownsâ€™ home. In their den, Renee sat between her parents. The father hadnâ€™t been present at the shopping plaza, so it was the first time Belinda had seen him. But she couldnâ€™t get over the changes in the mother and daughter. Mrs. Brownâ€™s pain-filled eyes and beaten-down disposition were gone. Reneeâ€™s demeanor of disrespect that had caused her to yell and swear at her mother had disappeared also. Both mother and daughter were filled with a brightness, as if not only Reneeâ€™s body, but their two spirits overflowed with light. When asked about it, each stated she had not seen a healer or minister or anyone like that, at the time of the miracle. As the report continued, Renee described her experience in a voice resonant of a naturally gifted public speaker. â€œA few minutes after my mother placed me in the wheelchair, I felt a strange heat all over my body. It was over eighty degrees outside, but it wasnâ€™t heat from the sun. Then, when Mother started pushing me toward the storeâ€”â€ Renee paused, brushed away tears. â€œI knew,â€ she forced out, â€œI could walk again.â€ Mr. Brown reached over and hugged his daughter to him. â€œâ€˜Thank Godâ€™ is all we can say. We thought sheâ€™d neverâ€”thank God.â€ The scene shifted to the front of the Big Lots on Florida Avenue. A male reporter stood beside a tomboy wearing a baseball cap with bunches of hair sticking out on each side. She sported baggy denims and a paint-splattered muscle shirt over a cotton tee with frayed sleeves. The reporter asked her to tell viewers what sheâ€™d seen. She pointed to a wrought-iron bench in front of the store. â€œI was sitting there taking my legal ten-minute break when I saw that girl and her mother headed my way. I thought, Oh, boy, here she comes.â€ The young adult flung her head toward Big Lots. â€œWe all know her hereâ€”even before she was in that chair. And that girl was yelling at her mother like always and pulling at that seat belt like a wild animal. I thought, what the heck is she doing? Then she flipped those foot things asideâ€â€”the tomboy back-flapped the air â€”â€œand jumped up and started running around. I dropped my cold sodaâ€â€”with emphasis, she tossed down a phantom drinkâ€”â€œand I jumped up, too. My momma donâ€™t allow no taking the Lordâ€™s name in vain and none of them strong cuss words, but I swear â€˜fore the wicked devil, that wiâ€”I mean, that girlâ€”just got up and ran.â€ The doorbell rang, and Belinda pressed the mute button. She opened the door to a thin young woman in her late twenties, with long, sandy-colored hair. â€œHey,â€ Belinda said. Shelia pulled up the fallen strap of a yellow sundress. â€œSorry, if Iâ€™m late.â€ â€œYouâ€™re okay.â€ Belinda smiled at her and then glanced at the television. The news segment was over. â€œDid you hear about that healing at Big Lots?â€ Shelia asked excitedly. â€œI just saw it on TV.â€ Shelia sat on a dark-pink-and-beige-flowered couch. â€œWow! To think something like that happened right here in Tampa.â€ Alarm animated her face. â€œYou donâ€™t think itâ€™s a fake, do you?â€ â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ Belinda said. Sheâ€™d tell her about the whole incident later once sheâ€™d thought it through and made sure she hadnâ€™t imagined her own part in it. â€œIf youâ€™re ready to go, we can take my car. Mother said to come as early as possible.â€ Belinda Jean Johnson had ended both of her engagements. She worked full-time at the Florida Avenue Home Depot where she and Patrick, a friend of her boss, flirted with each other whenever he came into the store. Lately, at least once a week, now, he called there and specifically asked for her to check the availability of the parts he needed. Belinda was certain heâ€™d eventually ask her out, and she hoped he enjoyed playing thirty-something-year-old games. Belinda and Shelia met when Shelia started working at the do-it-yourself retail store. Five months earlier, theyâ€™d been the first two to move into a house renovated into four apartments and a little more than ten minutes away from their jobs. The landlord hated turnovers and offered them a special deal if they wanted to pay their rent, several months in advance. Shelia Bryson had pounced on the offer. She worked a lot of overtime and saved her money in constant anticipation of quitting and becoming a mother and housewife. Her fiancÃ© Ryan attended college in Gainesville. Belinda knew thereâ€™d be no calling off of that union. Shelia and Ryan had that â€œalready-marriedâ€ air, and the ceremony would be a formality. Shelia had relocated to Florida from Michigan. Her mother seldom phoned or wanted to talk when Shelia called her, and she had no contact with her father. But Belindaâ€™s parents didnâ€™t mind being shared and treated their daughterâ€™s twenty-eight-year-old friend like one of their own. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson lived in an inviting four bedroom, three-bath, single-storied Ranch-styled house in the Wellswood Community. Mrs. Johnsonâ€™s home reflected her desire for people never to be self-conscious about spilling food or drinks or staining carpets. Easy-to-clean laminated flooring rivered through the living room, the dining room, into the kitchen and straight back to the den. Beyond the den, a huge family game-room beckoned like an invitation to an arena. The fully screened-in area had a blend of green and black outdoor carpeting and insulated overhead windows to reveal the sky. Belindaâ€™s father had designed the room to take advantage of the feel of playing games outside, minus the bugs and various furry animals that her mother wouldnâ€™t abide. During inclement weather, heavy shutters, locking out wind, rain, or cold, were pulled down over the porch screens. But the skylight view always invited the outdoors, inside. Ever lovers of board games, Belindaâ€™s parents had collected certain ones through the years and never let them go. To this day, her fatherâ€™s favorite was Milton Bradleyâ€™s original Operation. Corrine, her mother, had bought a game she wanted added to the collection and had begged for Belindaâ€™s and Sheliaâ€™s support in trying to get her husband to play it. Corrine had turned fifty-six, two years previous and had accepted an early retirement option from her data-entry position. Belindaâ€™s father, Richard, worked full-time for the transit authority, and in an effort to be close to debt-free when he retired in six years at sixty-five, he did some part-time security work. But whenever possible, Saturday night was game night at the Johnsonsâ€™ house. Sometimes other neighbors and friends joined them, resulting in games going on at several tables. Tonight, thereâ€™d only be Shelia, Belinda, and her parents. The introduction of a new game to her father was not an event for outside guests. During dinner, Richard Johnson complained that the corn on the cob didnâ€™t have enough salt on it and the instant lemonade was too watered-down. Later, the three women exchanged glances as they watched him enter the family room and walk over to the shelves, with every intention of removing one of his regulars. Corrine motioned to Belinda and Shelia to have a seat at the table where she had set up Clue. Earlier in the week, the three of them had familiarized themselves with the game. â€œRichard,â€ Corrine said, â€œthe one weâ€™re playing tonight is over here on the table.â€ He continued facing his treasured stash. â€œI donâ€™t see whatâ€™s wrong with playing Easy Money. I let you win, donâ€™t I? Or Battleship. We havenâ€™tâ€“â€ â€œJohnson,â€ she interrupted, â€œBattleship is for two people, and we are four.â€ He turned on the three of them. Belindaâ€™s and Sheliaâ€™s eyes wandered, but Corrine pointed toward his chair. Belinda risked a glance and saw him wave a disgruntled hand in her motherâ€™s direction before he came over and sat down. They played for several tense hours and five, slow rounds. Corrine chided both Shelia and Belinda for trying to let Richard win. She ignored his repeated complaints about â€œthereâ€™s too much secrecy involved in this thing.â€ When Richard finally mastered the gameâ€™s strategy and won two rounds, he rubbed his hands together. â€œAll right, then. It can have a place with the others.â€ â€œThank goodness,â€ Corrine said, finally able to relax. She stretched her arms and legs and then yawned. â€œBelinda, will you and Shelia put everything away? Iâ€™m going to bed.â€ After Belinda returned home and showered, she sat on the couch in powder-blue satin pajamas and tried to make sense of a Saturday morning that now seemed unbelievable. Except, so far, that young girl had been healed. Shelia and Corrine had discussed it, both of them overjoyed and curious as to how it came about. During their conversation, Belinda had remained quiet. She could have told her parents and Shelia about what she thought was her part in what had happened. But sheâ€™d felt certain, though they might have humored her, they wouldnâ€™t have really believed her. The next morning, the idea she was responsible for the healing didnâ€™t feel so concrete anymore. In her mind, she saw the whole incident clearly, but sheâ€™d forgotten everything that sheâ€™d experienced except that odd sensation of separation from the crowd and the need to take a nap. So maybe yesterday sheâ€™d been no more than an unusually exhausted spectator. She wasnâ€™t going to let it worry her. She had no interest in being any kind of a holy person, and in all probability, she wasnâ€™t.