Sunday, June 30, 2019

Beginnings: Stealing Haven

It’s summer time and the living is easy!  

At least, it’s supposed to be. 

The timing is perfect to share the beginning of the short story, Stealing Haven, which is part of Inkspell Publishing’s collection of vacation adventures “Once Upon a Summer”.

But first, a little background on how this came to be.  At an author’s event a few years ago, I was having a conversation with Melissa Keir, an award winning author who is also the heart and soul of the Inkspell operations. She gave me a nudge and asked “when will I see something new with Jamie?”

“I’ve been kicking around the idea of a short story. Jamie and Linda go on vacation and get into a little mischief and mystery. It would be set before Jamie meets Malone. Sort of a prequel.”

Melissa had a twinkle in her eyes. “How many words?”

I shrugged. “Maybe 10,000.”

“Make it twenty.”

I hesitated. “I’m not sure it will go that far.”

Melissa put her hands on her hips and gave me a look that she probably reserves for small children and wayward authors. “I want twenty.”

A few weeks later, Melissa sent an email to all the writers at Inkspell, advising them of the short story collection centered around vacations.  The idea quickly took root as others committed to the project.

So this week’s entry is the beginning of that adventure. And yes, I did reach 20,000 words and met the deadline.  The story has Jamie and her best friend, Linda, on a vacation in beautiful South Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Just plenty of fresh air and sunshine and no schedules to keep for these two beauties. What could possibly go wrong for my curious redhead?

I didn’t want to move. 

Moving would convince me I wasn’t asleep. The cool breeze caressing my bare skin was not the touch of some mysterious lover who appeared when the lights went out. He treated me like a princess, understanding how the slight nuzzle behind my knee had a very unladylike effect on me, how with just tiny encouragement, the little bits I wore would disappear in a heartbeat. How…

“Jamie! We have to get moving,” a sultry voice said. “You’re going to sleep away the day. We could have stayed home and done that.”

I waved a hand to push her away. Maybe the guy who’d been caressing my knee was still there. He was. I could tell by the wet tongue stroking my leg. I jerked awake and rolled over. Instantly, I was greeted by a mass of fur and several sloppy kisses. 

Satisfied, the dog moved away in pursuit of someone else to bother and I threw my arm up over my face.

“Linda, can’t you control Logan?” My voice came out muffled.

She flopped down beside me and tugged my arm down. “Of course, I can. He was simply following orders. We have miles of soft sandy beach out there, just waiting for us. Blue skies and enough wind to fill a sail. And who knows how many handsome men may be pining for us at this very moment?”

I pried open both eyes to see if she was serious. She was. Then I took a good look at her. Part of me wanted to smack her, just because. She’d gotten the same four hours of sleep I had, yet, Linda could have stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Her luxurious dark curly hair was pulled back with a headband. The waves swept across her shoulders like gentle wings. Two weeks into June and she sported a bronzed tan I could never achieve. Her curvaceous body and shapely legs could make a gay man stand up and take notice. But it was her angelic face that always closed the deal. She rarely wore makeup. She didn’t need it. 

Giving my head a shake to chase away the remnants of my dream, I realized she was already dressed for the beach in a modest red bikini with a white lacy blouse as a cover-up. Like that’d reduce the attention she’d draw.

“Come on. We’re wasting sunshine.”

“How long have you been awake?” I mumbled.

“Fifteen minutes. The coffee should be ready.” There was no disguising the enthusiasm in her voice. “Get ready, or I’m tempted to leave you behind.”

“I need more than coffee.”

“There’s an adorable little bakery between here and the beach. I’ll buy you a muffin.”

“What the hell.” I slid off the bed and trudged to the bathroom. 

God, she’s so annoying, at times. As gorgeous as a Hollywood icon and able to bounce out of bed ready to face the world with minimal effort, some days, I hated her. She gave the dog his daily praise, as I splashed cold water on my face and raked a comb through my red locks. In the background, I heard the screen door slam as the dog slipped outside. Shedding the camisole and panties I’d worn to bed, I stepped into a bright green bikini. From my bag in the room, I dug out a threadbare man’s dress shirt and slipped it on as a cover. Exiting the bedroom, Linda handed me a cardboard cup of coffee. Over one shoulder was a large straw bag filled with a beach towel, sunscreen, an extra pair of shorts, a floppy hat and a book. I had one just like it sitting beside the door. I grabbed mine as we walked outside. 

Logan sprawled in the shade. Sitting on a camp stool was a short, stocky man with a weathered face. Thin wisps of grey hair danced in the breeze off the lake. In front of him was an easel with a tattered canvas. He turned slightly as we approached.

“Do you mind watching the dog while we’re at the beach, Uncle Jake?” Linda asked.

He pointed the end of the paintbrush at her. “Nah, the dog’s better company than you two. I’ve trained him to fetch me a beer.”

“You can’t be serious,” I said.

Jake winked a pale-brown eye at me. “About which part?”

“The beer. You love our company.”

“Shows what you know.” He twisted toward Logan and made a clicking noise with his false teeth. The dog jumped up and trotted to the corner of the house. He stuck his nose into an old galvanized tub then pulled back with a can of beer clutched in his mouth. Logan returned and stood beside Jake. Chuckling with delight, Jake eased it from the dog’s mouth. From a pocket of his paint-splattered shirt, he withdrew a dog biscuit. Logan took the treat and returned to his spot beneath the tree. With a grin, Jake opened the beer and took a healthy slug.

“It’s eight-thirty in the morning and you’re drinking beer. You’re corrupting my baby,” Linda said. She struggled to keep her tone serious.

“The dog’s a Golden Retriever. It’s in his blood to fetch.”

“Don’t give him any beer,” Linda admonished.

Jake fluttered a hand at her. “Go on. Have fun. And don’t be bringing any lecherous boys back here with you. Dinner’s at six.”

Linda winked at me. She leaned in on Jake’s right side. I leaned in on the left. Simultaneously we kissed him on the respective cheek. I noticed the sparkle in his eye as we headed out.

“Is he really your uncle?”

“No. Jake’s more like an old family friend. He and his wife were very close with my parents. We visited them every year but it’s been years since I’ve been back. He retired about the same time my dad did. Within a year, his wife passed away. He grumbles once in a while about moving south, but I doubt it will ever happen. He loves the lake.”

By the time we found the bakery, my coffee was gone. After devouring a cranberry orange muffin, I felt a little more human. South Haven is a popular vacation spot with people from Chicago as well as the Detroit area. We wandered through the town and strolled down the long path, following the channel that led from the marina. Boats of all different shapes, sizes and colors dotted the docks. Many of them were buttoned up. The owners were probably counting the hours until they could return during the evening or on the weekend. As we neared the end of the channel, Linda veered off to the left and the great expanse of sandy beach. I stopped in my tracks as though hypnotized.

“What’s wrong?”

As far as my eyes could see, Lake Michigan sprawled before us. I’d been here a few times before, but the majesty of the Great Lake never failed to overwhelm me. It seemed like it should be a whole lot farther than a four-hour drive from my home near Motown. The green flags gently rippled from the pier and caught my attention, indicating it was safe to go into the water without fear of a rip current carrying you away.

“C’mon, let’s go find a cozy spot on the beach. I want to dip my toes in the water.”

I gave myself a shake and followed her. “What’s the matter, afraid your bikini will melt if you get it wet?”

She waved her fingers over her shoulder. Linda continued walking farther away from the pier which jutted out alongside the marina’s canal. From where I stood, I saw a steady flow of tourists trudging out to take pictures in front of the lighthouse. Fortunately, the beach wasn’t as jammed as it’d be on a weekend. Linda paused long enough to kick off her sandals, scoop them up with one hand and wiggle her toes in the sand. She did it gracefully. When I tried to mimic her moves, I nearly fell on my ass. Hopping on one foot, I managed to pull off my footwear. As I jammed them into my bag, I watched her move along. Even trudging through the shifting sands, her hips swayed as if she were dancing. I wondered if there was anything she did where she looked clumsy.

Linda found the perfect spot at least twenty feet away from anyone else. Kneeling on the sand, she spread out her towel and anchored it down at the corners with her sandals and her straw bag. Shedding the cover up, she rubbed sunscreen along her shoulders, arms and legs. 

“I thought you were going to swim.”

“It’s the waterproof kind. Better safe than sunburnt. Lord knows, your skin will burn.” She tossed the bottle toward me. Quickly, I applied it.

With our spot secured and sunscreen on, we didn’t wait a moment longer. The sun beat down on us with nary a cloud in sight. My toes hit the water and a chill raced through me.

“It’s ice water!”

“It’s Lake Michigan, Jamie.” Smart ass. I knew exactly where we were.

“Feels more like Lake Superior.” The northernmost lake rarely warmed above freezing.

Linda gave me a disgusted look and stepped further into the water. Together we walked out until it was waist deep. In the distance, a number of people rushed across the water on kiteboards, letting the wind fill their odd shaped sails. I watched one execute several flips and turns, expertly working the breeze. Linda scraped a fingernail on my shoulder.

“Race you to that buoy.”

“What boy?” I smiled.

She pushed me. As I fell, I saw her dive and swim toward a marker that bobbed about thirty feet ahead. Laughing, I took off after her. There was a gradual drop off from the beach so I could have waded out to it, but it was more fun to swim. She stood there, hands on her hips like Wonder Woman. 

“I’ve been waiting.”

“For me?”

She shook her head, water spraying from her curls. “For this vacation. We’re two beautiful women, unencumbered by the demands of the world. Nobody is looking for us. There are no papers to grade, no deadlines to meet, no expectations.”

“At least, for this week.”

She hugged me. “What more could we ask for?”

“Well, a couple of gorgeous guys would be a nice change up. Preferably those with jobs and some money to spend on us.”

“I suppose you want them to be single as well. Never married. No ex-wives or children to clutter the picture.” She flashed me a wicked smile. “Perhaps a virile young monk in training going over the wall.”

“A girl can dream, can’t she?”

Here's a shot of what Jamie might look like on the beach. 

The perfect song for this week comes from the incredible Ella Fitzgerald.

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