UPDATE: Winners!! Congrats to Monica Perry on winning the signed proof paperback copy of THE ROAD AND BEYOND, and I added 2 ebook winners of the novel as well — Constance and TLeighF!! Please see the comments for contact details! 😀
This Thursday, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in the States and, for a number of reasons, the spirit of this holiday has long made it one of my favorites. The focus is on gratitude, and I know I have a lot of gifts to be thankful for this year. Some of those are known only to me or to my family, but there are others that have been announced publicly, but I haven’t had a chance to share them with you here.
One of them is that the wonderful Canadian audiobook publisher, Post Hypnotic Press (they’ve released L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series on audio, among other titles) has acquired the rights to record and release *eight* of my novels, worldwide in English, over the next year and a half. I’m so thrilled to be working with them! They’re currently finishing the narrations for The Road to You and The Road and Beyond, but I know Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match and Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, as well as my other short romantic comedies, are slated for production next year. Can’t wait to get to hear the recordings!
GIVEAWAY: Also, The Road and Beyond is finally making its way to print!! It’s over 500 pages long and the proof copies are on their way to me… In celebration, I’m giving away one signed paperback proof to one commenter on this post — open internationally! Just leave a comment here between now and noon Central Time on Monday, December 1st about something you’re thankful for…or what your plans are for the week…or your thoughts on the Gifts by the Shore scene below. You’ll be automatically entered to win, and I’ll post the name of the winner and my contact info in the comments below by next Monday night. Good luck!!
In Gifts by the Shore (parts 1 through 4), I introduced you to my main character, Marianna Greggor, a 39-year-old divorced mom of a college-aged daughter. Her older sister Ellen owns a bungalow in Sarasota, Florida, where Marianna is staying for the summer and where she soon meets Gil Canton, a local businessman and artist. Meanwhile, Ellen and her husband Jared live in Connecticut and, lately, Ellen has been experiencing some physical symptoms that she can’t explain…but her typical reaction to anything frightening is to just push through it.
One of my inspirations for this story came from the very different sisters (Elinor & Marianne) in Sense and Sensibility. This is not an S&S retelling, but it is a tale about siblings, mothers and daughters, good friends, and getting a second chance at love.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments — about the story and/or your own related experiences! — so please don’t hesitate to share. Hope you’ll enjoy this next segment of Gifts by the Shore. 😀
GIFTS BY THE SHORE
Gil sautéed half a pound of fresh shrimp and, as always, enjoyed watched the color shift in the skillet from uncooked grayish blobs to invitingly plump pink crescents.
He smacked his lips and turned to Nancy. “I know how much you love having shrimp for dinner, my sweet,” he told her. “Yours is already waiting. We’ll eat together after I finish fixing mine, okay?” He tossed in a few handfuls of sliced red and green pepper, diced onion and fresh Portobello mushroom. “Too bad veggies aren’t your thing. They’re so gorgeous. So colorful.”
Nancy opened her mouth but didn’t utter a sound. A second later, she glanced away.
“Oh, don’t worry,” he reassured her. “I’m not being judgmental.” He squirted some teriyaki sauce into the skillet and checked on the wild rice, bubbling on the back burner.
Nancy returned her attention to him and blinked, a slight air of accusation in her gaze.
“I’m not,” Gil insisted. “Geez, what is it with you females? Always jumping to conclusions. Seriously. Just look at the range of hues right in front of us. This pan is like a painting. It only needs a hint of…” He stirred his shrimp and veggies a few times before adding the last ingredient on his memorized recipe—drained pineapple tidbits. “Yellow,” he murmured, pointing out the cheerful addition to Nancy who was, at last, studying the skillet with interest. She took a few steps toward it.
“Ah, no you don’t, darlin’.” He scooped her up in his palm, stroked her back from the tip of her sleek amphibious head all the way down to her long black tail, then he blew her a kiss, which she didn’t return. “I love ya, Nancy. You are the most beautiful fire-bellied newt to walk the earth…or at least my kitchen counter.” He stroked her back again. “And one of these days you’ll tell me you love me, too, right?”
Nancy looked dubious.
He laughed. He loved the feel of this petite living thing strolling across his palm. The slow, graceful padding of her tiny feet stepping cautiously toward his forearm. The licorice swizzle of her textured tail swishing behind her. To Gil, proof of God lived in the existence of the world’s smallest creatures. There might not be a lot of things he believed in—lasting marriages, for one…supportive parents, for another—but he had faith in newts. And in salamanders, seahorses and starfish.
If there was any good in the universe, it would be found in them first.
He lifted Nancy carefully—her red-speckled underside visible only when he gave her belly a quick look—and he gently set her back into her tank, letting her loose on a sturdy flat rock. She’d been out of the water for only ten minutes but, clearly, she reveled in being wet again. She splashed herself greedily as he reached for her specially formulated newt food. He fed Nancy her everyday pellets most of the time but, on the occasions when Gil made shrimp for himself, he gave her some of the “newt treat” shrimp flakes. It was kind of like sharing a meal with a friend.
Then he washed his hands and fixed his own shrimp plate.
He’d only managed a couple of bites when the phone rang. His mother.
“Hiya, Ma.” He stifled a sigh. Calling at dinnertime was rarely a good sign. “Everything okay?”
“What? I can only call my son when there’s a problem?” she said, her voice that distinctive brand of indignant he knew so well.
He grimaced. Now he knew for sure there was a problem. Only question was how long she’d chitchat before she’d reveal it. “Of course not,” he said. “What are you doing tonight?”
“Watching golf on ESPN. There’s a tournament.”
It was Florida. There was always a tournament. “Sounds great,” he managed, striving for a sliver of enthusiasm. “And you’re feeling fine? Is there anything you need me to pick up for you? Your blood-pressure medication? Some groceries? A few new books from the library?”
She huffed. “I’m sixty-eight, not ninety. I can get my own damn books.” She paused, mumbling something about the joys of owning an eBook reader. “But, um, there is an event coming up that you could drive me to tomorrow afternoon. If…you’re not too busy.”
He rolled his eyes, grateful only Nancy could see him. He loved his mother but some days… “I’ll make time, Ma. Where do you need to go?”
“Just to Tampa for a few hours. You know I don’t like driving long distances.”
He knew. Even though Tampa/St. Pete was just an hour away from Sarasota, driving much further than the local Publix always flustered his mother. She was very forthcoming with the location of the event (a bridal shower at Minerva’s Tea Room for her friend JoAnne, age seventy-eight, who was getting married for the third time) and the time of the event (one p.m. sharp) and tomorrow’s weather forecast (hot and sunny). Too forthcoming. Which meant there was something else she wasn’t telling him.
“So, I’ll plan to pick you up a few minutes before noon, Ma. I’ll make sure to get you to the Tea Room on time. And then, when it’s over, you can just give me a call on my cell and I’ll—”
His mother cleared her throat. “Well, actually, Gil…”
Here it comes.
“…it’s one of those couples showers. You know, both the bride and groom will be there. So, you don’t have to leave. There are going to be lots of people. Guys and younger women. Even some your age. Why, JoAnne’s niece is going to be driving down from Tallahassee, and you know, JoAnne and I were talking about how you two both like artsy things, so you might want to meet—”
This time Gil didn’t try to stifle his sigh. “Ma,” he interrupted. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m more than happy to drive you up to Tampa, but I don’t want to be set up with anyone. Not JoAnne’s niece. Not your hairdresser’s sister. Not the daughter of the clever man who did your taxes last year.” God, she’d tried them all on him and more. “I’m sure she’s very nice—”
“Veronica,” his mother interjected.
“I’m sure Veronica is very nice,” he said, “but I am not going to a couples shower.”
“We could all get together for some coffee after the shower?” she suggested. “Then you wouldn’t have to actually go to the—”
“Ma, no. But thank you for thinking of me. I’ll be in your driveway at eleven fifty tomorrow.”
“You’re a commitment phobe,” she said, and not for the first time. “You’re forty-two years old, Gil. Who are you savin’ yourself for? Stop spending your life just observing everyone. You need to get out there and date! You need—”
“I need to finish my dinner and get some work done tonight, Ma, so I can take off tomorrow afternoon.”
She exhaled heavily on the line.
“Love you,” he added before she could take another breath and continue expounding upon his, apparently, never-ending list of needs. “See you tomorrow!”
His mother begrudgingly rang off. Not that she wouldn’t return to this particular tirade at the earliest opportunity, especially since they’d have two full hours alone together in the car the next day. He steeled himself for the fun he knew was coming.
He poked at his now-cold shrimp as Nancy ignored him—either out of indifference or pity, he wasn’t sure. Her tail was a fascinating thing. He let its movements hypnotize him for a few moments as Nancy used it to propel herself around the tank. Her skin, too, was a kind of miracle, just porous enough to require moisture but, also, water-resistant enough to allow for a semi-aquatic life.
On more than one occasion he thought of how similar this was to being an artist. That a special type of membrane was necessary to deal with rejections of one’s work and the slings and arrows of public opinion. And yet…yet…an artist’s skin still had to be thin enough to let in new experiences, new people. To let life affect a change , when it might be beneficial, significant, constructive and possibly even inspiring.
Maybe—though he’d never admit this to her—his mother was right. Maybe he was too detached. He did look at life like an observer, after all. He dated, but he did resist commitment. As a bachelor for over four decadesA, though, and given his “observations” of family life, it would take an extraordinary woman to get him to feel a real relationship was worth the risk.
“And present company aside,” he said aloud to Nancy, who swam blithely in ignorant bliss, “I don’t have a non-related female in my life who fits the bill.”
FYI: Because of the holidays and the busyness that goes with them, I won’t be posting additional chapters of this story on Austen Variations in December, but I now have a page on my website set up just for Gifts by the Shore! I’ve included all of the posted segments up through this scene AND an additional one — just for those of you who would like to read further or for anyone you know who hasn’t read the story yet and might enjoy finding it all in one spot. You can check it out HERE 😀 .
Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered to win a signed paperback proof copy of The Road and Beyond, and THANK YOU ALL for being such wonderful readers & friends!!