As promised here are my words for today. Be forewarned. It's a hot mess. I never made it to 2k words in an hour, but I know it can be done because I've done it before. I wrote close to 5k, which was my goal. Maybe tonight I can stay up late and make it happen. But that is seriously against my nature. I'm much more likely to get up early and get it done. Some thoughts on my characters. A writing friend complained that all of my main characters are too nice and she challenged me to write a sympathetic but ornery character...I'm not sure I can pull it off. Who wants to hang with a cranky character? But as I got into Maggie's head, I started to enjoy it. But I'm curious what others will think.
Robbie pulled at his bowtie. “I hate these things.”
“The tie or the gala?” Maggie asked. She straightened her brother’s tie and had a vivid flashback to the senior prom where she’d tired to smooth down Robbie’s cowlick. Balding had long since cured that problem.
“Both,” he growled. “All these pompous @.” He shuddered.
She thought about pointing out that with his generous salary, he was probably richer than most of the people in the room—not to mention in the world—but since she knew he hadn’t gone into medicine for the money, she pressed her lips together.
“I like your costume,” he said, his gaze flicking over her.
Maggie fluttered her wings. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Lisa made it.”
Robbie’s lips tightened and a closed expression like a hood passed over his face.
“Why don’t you like her?”
“I never said I don’t like her.”
“You clam up whenever she’s around.”
He shrugged. “It’s weird you’re friends, that’s all.”
“You’re nothing like each other. You’re you and she’s…she drives a Mercedes.”
He shrugged again.
“A Mercedes isn’t a sin-mobile.”
He elbowed her. “Come on, I have to show my face.” As head of the @ department, he was right. He looped his arm through hers and led her through the parking lot. “Thanks for being my date tonight.”
They passed the valets milling around the Teslas and Land Cruises. Because Robbie didn’t believe in valets, they had marked in the neighborhood adjacent to the Rancho Allegro Country Club. The lights from the party flickered in the distance and a honky-tonk jazz band began to play.
“No problem. I love free food.”
He smirked and shook his head. “I don’t get you.”
“Yes, you do.” She slid him a glance. “If not you, then who?”
“You’re right. I do get you, but I just don’t understand how you can spend all day around food and never get tired of it.”
“Do you get tired of saving people?”
“No, but it’s different.”
“No, it’s not. You save people, I feed them. We’re in the same line of work.”
They passed the valets—young, lean men in button down white shirts and tight black pants—without looking at them. Their parents had taught them that trick—never make eye contact with someone who might expect a tip. Of course, since they hadn’t actually parked in the lot, they didn’t tip the handsome young men, but Maggie felt their questioning glances on her back as she followed Robbie up the stairs leading to the Country Club.
Originally, The Lodge, as locals called it, had been constructed as a hunting lodge back when Rancho Allegro had really been a ranch and coyotes and mountain lions were nearly as plentiful as the bunnies that currently terrorized gardeners. Strange how the gentlest of the creatures were the ones who actually survived urbanization, Maggie thought.
In the lobby, several people vied for Robbie’s all at once. Maggie, a baker without food, and therefore a nobody, wandered off to peruse the refreshment table, not necessarily because she was hungry, but because she liked looking a beautiful food displays.
She had to stop herself from whistling in admiration. The caterers, men and women dressed in black, moved like perfectly choreographed dancers around the room bearing trays that looked more like portable art than appetizers. Edible art, the phrase came to Maggie’s mind and rested there. Could she try and copy any of this in her bakery?
Her nose wrinkled at asparagus wrapped in a flakey crust and a piece of bacon. She would never understand the compulsion to ruin perfectly good baked goods by making them play nice with vegetables.
“What, no donuts?” Lisa, dressed as Florence Nightengale, appeared at her side. “They should have hired Maggie’s muffins.”
Maggie turned and gave her friend a hug. “Maybe next time.” Robbie was right, they were an unlikely pair. Tall and curvy Maggie dominated over pixie-like Lisa. Maggie was blonde like a German milking wench while Lisa was gyspy-dark.
“Really?” Lisa asked.
She nodded. “Robbie said he’d recommend me.”
Lisa smiled and said, “that’s great,” but her gaze darted around the room. Was she looking for Robbie? Or someone else? “The costume looks really good on you.”
“Thanks to you.”
Lisa flushed and straightened Maggie’s wings. “I love making beautiful things even more beautiful.”
The band, playing on a soundstage across the patio, began a @.
Lisa took Maggie’s hand. “Want to dance?”
“Sure, but first let me check my purse.”
Lisa winced when she saw Maggie’s old beat-up leather satchel. It matched the costume like @, but Maggie refused to be embarrassed. She loved her purse—she’d had it for nearly a decade. And yes, it looked like the poor country cousin among all the Dooney and Burkes and Kate Spades on the shelf, but she didn’t care.
Steven strolled into the country club and sought out his cousin. Because of her diminutive size, she was often easy to miss. Most of the guests were wearing masks, but Lisa had told him she’d be wearing a Florence Nightengale costume. He spotted her dancing with a tall, beautiful butterfly.
Because he was new to Rancho Allegro, he only knew a handful of the guests. His uncle, Lisa fathers, was the president of the St. @ASK JACKIE hospital chain and had insisted he attend. Even though Steven was probably now worth more than his Uncle Jack, it was still hard to deny Jack anything. The family still kowtowed to the rich uncle…even when there were, now, richer cousins.
As he crossed the patio, something crinkled beneath his shoe. Given the noise—the music, the chatter, the clattering cutlery—he almost missed it. What was it that people said about the sound of falling coins—everybody heard it because people heard what they wanted to hear?
A hundred-dollar bill. Steven stooped and picked it up. Someone must have dropped it.
He glanced around at all the bejeweled people in their fancy costumes. Only one man wasn’t in a costume—although he was wearing a bowtie. Did he think that was costume enough?
In most crowds, someone would be frantically searching for the lost bill, but here, no one seemed to notice. Still, it had to have been an accident. He held it and slowly turned, hoping someone would notice. Someone did. His cousin Mitch.
“I’ll take that.” Mitch moved to swipe it from his hand.
Steven tightened his grip on the bill and shoved it into his pocket, away from his cousin’s greedy hand.
“Hey,” Mitch complained. “This is a fund raiser. I’m just trying to raise funds.”
Steven tried not to roll his eyes. “If I can’t find the owner, I’ll give this to someone who needs it.”
“The hospital needs it, you @.” He waved his wine goblet at the party. “That’s why we’re here.”
“This is a hundred dollar bill. It cost, what? Three-hundred dollars to get in?”
“I’m going to give it to…” Glancing around the room, he couldn’t debated: a valet? One of the waiters? He could wait and donate it to one of the regular charities on his list @LIST THEM
But then it would weigh on him and Mitch would bug him. His gaze landed on the coat check. One scruffy leather satchel stood out from the rest. He strode over to the bored-looking girl behind the counter.
“See that purse,” he pointed at the satchel.
“This one?” Surprise for a moment over rode the girl’s bored expression. She obviously didn’t think a man in a Zorro cape would be interested in a scuffed leather satchel. “It belongs to my girlfriend.”
“And now you’re a liar,” Mitch said.
The girl narrowed her lids and tightened her lips. “I can’t give out any of the purses unless you have a ticket.”
Steven hurried to placate her. “I just want you tuck this into it.” He pulled out the bill and showed it to the girl. “Can you do that?”
“You’re a crazy person,” Mitch said.
“Crazy like a fox,” Aunt Miriam said from behind him. She snaked her arm around his waist and looped the other through Mitch’s arm. “A silver fox! How did two of my favorite boys ever grow to be so old and handsome?”
Mitch flushed. “The same could be said of you, Mom.”
“Hush!” Aunt Miriam bumped Mitch with her hip. “I don’t want anyone to know I’m old enough to belong to you.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “You could pretend I’m your date.”
“I could,” Mitch said, pulling away. “But I won’t.” He gave Steven the stink eye. “Let’s ignore her.”
“You can ignore me, but you better not ignore your wife,” Aunt Miriam said, nodding at the approaching Lydia.
Mitch audibly groaned, but also grinned.
There were lots of things Steven didn’t admire about his cousin, but he did envy him his long and happy marriage.
The butterfly he’d noticed earlier approached the coat check and handed the girl her ticket. He watched as the girl handed the butterfly the beat up purse.
His gaze met the girl’s.
“Your girlfriend, huh?” the girl asked.
Surely, this was a breach of some sort of hired-help ettiqute.
Aunt Miriam perked up. “Your girlfriend?”
Mitch grinned. “Yeah, about that, Steven?”
Steven rubbed his chin and decided to go along with it. “There you are,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“For me?” the butterfly put her hand on her chest. Most of her face was covered by a jewel-studded mask, but her lips were full, red, her skin creamy and white. Definitely girlfriend material.
“I want to introduce you to my Aunt Miriam and cousin Mitch.”
The butterfly blinked and took Mitch’s extended hand. “I’m Grace,” she said.
“Come on, Grace,” Steven said, taking her hand and pulling her toward the dance floor and away from his aunt and laughing cousin.
Grace stumbled after him until they reached the dancing couples. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re thinking,” she began.
He silenced her by putting his finger on her lips. “Just go along with me, please. There’s a hundred-dollar bill in your purse for your trouble.”
Then he kissed her.
His warm lips spread a flurry of emotions through Maggie. Should she slap him? Push him away? Scream at him…but…oh…was this what kissing was all about? How long had it been since she’d been kissed like this? Maybe never.
She’d loved Peter. She had loved kissing Peter. But near the end, the kisses had been so mixed up in grief and pain, they’d just as soon make her cry as curl her toes in pleasure…like this one did.
What must this person think of her? What made him think he could just kiss her like this? Maybe he kissed everyone like this. She couldn’t be someone special in his life since he had only just met her…but he hadn’t really met her, had he? It wasn’t as if they’d been properly introduced.
But this kiss, though…
She really should end it. This was exactly the sort of privileged behavior her brother and parents were always spouting off about. Rich people who thought they could whatever they wanted with little or no regard for who they stepped on…or kissed.
Oh, this kiss. It was like kissing Clark Gable, or Gary Grant, or…Zorro.
He pulled away. She was grateful to see he wore a dazed expression.
Maggie touched her lips. “What was that?”
“That,” he said, “was worthy of an encore.” And he kissed her again.
This time, Maggie, forgetting all about social injustice, leaned in and gave herself into pleasure. It rocked her world. Shook her to the core. Made her legs shake.
It took her a moment to realize that not only was her world rocking, but the lights stringing above her were wildly swinging. The band had stopped playing. People were screaming. Pillars bearing lanterns fell with a crash and glass shattered. The hospitality tent collapsed and one of the curtains fell into an open fire pit.
And still Zorro held her in his arms.
The lights went out. Women screamed and men shouted. All around her, panicked people pushed and pulled. Zorro grabbed her hand and pulled through the chaos. She staggered after him, barely seeing through the smoke and din.
The damp and cold seeped through Maggie’s flimsy shoes as she crossed the lawn. Zorro took her elbow and steered her through the parking lot, passed the valets who had gathered into a tight bunch beneath the awning. Here, away from the party, the moonlight shone clearer.
Maggie blinked when she realized it wasn’t Zorro who had led her through the chaos, but her brother.
“Rob! What the hell?”
He stopped and stared at her. “What’s your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem,” she said.
“You sound like you do.” He stepped closer. “Who was that guy you were kissing?”
She floundered for an acceptable answer and finally came up with, “I don’t know.”
“And I have a problem with that,” Rob said.
A @ earthquake. The night had done more than rattle Uncle Jack’s fundraiser, it had shaken Steven’s resolve. After his marriage to Tabitha had ended, he’d sworn off women.
But that kiss, though…
Thirty minutes later, the lights flickered on, but it was too late, the guests had long since disappeared.
“Can we salvage anything?” Mitch asked.
Uncle Jack swore as he looked around the debris. “Let’s get all this food wrapped up,” he said to the caterer standing at his side. “See if we can deliver it to the local shelter.”
In view of all the wreckage, a woman should be the last of concerns, but Steven couldn’t stop thinking about the mysterious woman in the butterfly costume.
1160 which is weird, because I thought I was slower than last time.
Steven stripped off his Zorro cape and placed it along with his mask on one of the few upright tables. The tables couldn’t have been toppled by the earthquake, they must have been overturned by the panicked guests. Wasn’t that the way it went? A disaster was always compounded by human stupidity.
Steven rolled up his sleeves and went to work beside Mitch, Uncle Jack, Aunt Maureen, and the caterers. He tried to make his voice sound casual as he approached his cousin.
“So, that woman in the butterfly costume,” he began. “Do you know her name?”
“You mean the one my mom thinks you’re dating?” Mitch asked without even lowering his voice.
Steven wanted to punch him. Instead, he filled his trash bag with debris.
“Why are you lying to my mom?” Mitch straightened and looked him in the eye.
He shrugged. “I just went with it.” But there was more to it than that, and he knew it and even worse, Mitch knew it.
Mitch grinned. “You don’t want my mom to tell your mom who could possibly tell Monica that you’re moping around Rancho Allegro like a man who lost his puppy.”
Steven reapplied him to trash pick up. “Do you know her or not?”
“Not,” Mitch replied with a joyful negative.
“Could I get a hold of the guest list somehow?”
“Probably, but what reason could you give? And what will you tell your auntie when she wants to invite your pretty little butterfly to brunch?”
“I’ll tell her we split up.” That, at least, would be the truth.
The kitchen windows of Maggie’s Muffin shop overlooked the back alley. For years, the back alley had been a quiet place of backdoors, trash bins, and the occasional stray cat. In the early hours Maggie devoted to baking, her bakery was a peaceful place—almost reverent. She loved being awake before the rest of the world, kneading bread, cutting donuts, baking cookies. It was her form of meditation. Surrounding herself in heavenly scents reminded her of all the happy hours she’d shared with her parents before they’d left to serve as missionaries in @AFRICAN NATION\
But all that had ended when The Fox Den had opened its doors. She’d fought the city council on the part sporting goods shop and part café opening so close to the bakery. But the chamber of commerce had ruled against her, claiming that a shop that sold health food wasn’t so very different from a shop that sold packaged goods.
But it was very different. And the Fox Den was nothing like Joe’s Camping Gear—the shop the den had replaced. Mostly because the den was stealing her morning costumers. Some of the friends that had stopping at the bakery for coffee and a donut for decades, were now ducking into the den for kefir and Postum. Did they think she didn’t know? Did they think she couldn’t see them?
And, to make it all worse, Steven Fox had started a jogging crew. That’s what he called them—the jogging crew, like they were an official team. Maggie called them ridiculous. Grown women sprouting gray hair and wearing spandex trotting through the town in mass@, looking like a great preposterous flock of geriatric geese.
True, most of the women (because they were mostly women—following Steven around like he was God and they were his devoted disciples) were her own age…maybe some were younger…but still old enough to be grandmothers. And there they were, clustering in her back alley at six in the morning.
“It’s pathetic,” Maggie muttered.
“What’s that, Mrs. Wares?”
Maggie started. She didn’t know Camille had arrived. She glanced over her shoulder at her assistant. “This jogging crew. I know for a fact Ruth Cameron goes for a morning run with Steven Fox and then promptly returns to her home and bed and doesn’t stir again her two o’clock tee-time.”
Camille tied on her apron and went to the industrial sized sink to wash her hands. “But you have to hand it to her. Not many fifty-year-olds are running three miles every morning and playing a round of golf.”
“For one thing,” Maggie plunged her hands into her mound of dough, “Ruth is still in her forties.” Forty probably sounded ancient to Camille. Most young people couldn’t distinguish ages beyond thirty. “And another, Ruth plays at @ course which is only nine holes and she rides around in a cart!”
Camille just shrugged. “Maybe you’re jealous.”
“Jealous?” Maggie hooted louder than she should have and some of the jogging crew cast a puzzled look toward her shop. Fortunately, the morning light made it impossible to see inside her window.
“If you’d like to join them, I can take over here for a while.”
Maggie snorted. “As if.” Never before in her life had she ever used the phrase as if. She’d overheard some of the high school crowd using it and she trotted it out. It felt awkward on her tongue. Maybe not as awkward as those clinging pants and ridiculous tank tops would feel against her skin, but still…she couldn’t even imagine being seen in public in those clothes—And they weren’t really clothes, were they? They were more like ballet tutus or s@
“I’m serious, Mrs. W,” Camille said. “Tomorrow, if you want to join them, you should. If you knead me to cover for you.” She emphasized her pun.
“I don’t even own sneakers.”
“You can solve that problem.”
Maggie snorted. Until this moment, she’d liked Camille. The girl was working her way through law school. Maggie had considered her bright—until now.
Later that day as Maggie was driving her muffin van, she pulled up to a streetlight and spotted Steven Fox in the lane beside her. Of course he drove a Porsche. If Robbie were here, he’d rolled his eyes. Consumerism can’t buy happiness, she reminded herself. Still when he glanced her way, she smiled and waved. No point in not being neighborly.
He looked right through her as if she wasn’t there.
Maggie’s simmering anger began to boil into rage.
Twenty minutes earlier.
Steven dripping with sweat, righted himself as a goat kicked a bunch of hay into his eyes. He wanted to laugh. Having fun was the whole point of goat yoga, but now he couldn’t see. He also couldn’t breathe—well, he could, but he wasn’t enjoying the farm fresh air as much as he thought he should. Wading through goats and people balancing in their down-dog poses, he headed for the exit. Rubbing his eyes, he stepped over the gate that kept the goats corralled. He blinked and one of his contacts fell out.
Discouraged he plopped onto a bail of hay. Ffion, the aging hippie who owned the farm, sat beside him.
“Hard day?” she asked. She had a tangy scent—body odor mixed with some sort of essential oils. This wasn’t surprising since she sold natural herbs and oils that she claimed could do everything from curing arthritis to cleaning out his energy lines.
“I think I lost my contact in your hay.”
“It’s your hay, too,” she said gently. “What’s mine is yours.”
“Right.” He rubbed his eye again.
“Do you want me to help you look for it.”
He shook his head. “They’re disposable. I have more at home.”
“This is your home.”
“Right,” he repeated. He wasn’t quite the socialist Ffion was.
She chuckled. “We can slow a lot of the aging process, but when it comes to our eyes, we’re dependent on our lenses.”
This he could agree with.
“You’re a different man than when you first arrived here,” Ffion said.
He squinted, wishing he could see her face clearly to better read her expression. Was she poking fun of him? “True,” he said.
“You’ve released some of the weight and baggage you were carrying.”
She nodded sagely. “You’re recapturing your youth.”
Youth wasn’t a word he would use to describe himself. At fifty, he was past middle-age. Both his father and his brother had died of heart disease in their forties. He probably would have, as well, if he hadn’t quit his job and changed his lifestyle.
“Do you miss your old life?” Ffion asked.
“No. Not even a little.” This was true, even though he occasionally had long and lonely nights.
Ffion slid him a glance and stood. “Come with me.” Her long skirts swished around her as she swayed, waiting for him to climb to his feet. “I have something that will help.”
Had he said he needed help? He didn’t think so. Still, he followed her past the barn. When the bleating goats and New Age music were barely audible, Ffion stopped at an outbuilding. Apprehension tickled the back of Steven’s neck and he wondered what Ffion had in mind. She was, he thought, happily married to Hans, a big, beefy man who wore overalls and not much else—not even shoes.
Ffion opened the door to the outbuilding and there in a slant of daylight lay a Golden Retriever surrounded by puppies. The bitch raised her head and thumped her tail.
“Would you like one?” Ffion whispered.
Puppy farms were illegal in California and breeders were strictly regulated, but it didn’t surprise him that Ffion didn’t play by the rules. He wasn’t sure, but he guessed Ffion and Hans made most of their money by growing and selling marijuana as well as poppyseeds.
He thought, but he wasn’t sure because he couldn’t see, that Ffion was studying him as if he was a puzzle she needed to complete.
Ffion stooped down, picked up the closest and turned her over to inspect her. “Most are spoken for. This here is a girl.”
Steven took the puppy and let it nestle against him. “How did you know this is exactly the sort of woman I need?”
“Her name is Aileni,” Ffion told him. “It’s Welsh for reborn.”
And now he has a puppy. Maggie twisted her lips and watched the women of the jogging crew fawn and twitter over the bundle of fur. Their voices floated in through the open window. Now that summer was approaching, she no longer had the luxury of hiding in her bakery, keeping her door and windows closed. She turned on some music—Cobly Caliet—to keep her company.
Steven must have noticed because he jerked his head in her direction. Quickly, she averted her gaze and focused on her brioche. Apple strudel. Lots of sugar and butter. Two ingredients no one would find in the Fox Den Nature Store.
Her liberal use of cinnamon made her feel better. She imagined a family in need of comfort food settling down in front of her brioche. No one sought comfort in Kefir. What even was that? And why did all these new-fangled foods have such weird names? Kefir, Kamboochi, @
People had been baking and eating brioche and strudels for generations? Kefir was as fleeting as protein bars. No one really wanted to eat those things. They just did it out of some misguided guilt. Greedy health food gurus were always trying to separate fools from their money. She felt sorry for those who bought into the hype.
What had happened to Gwen’s legs? Even in high school, Gwen had been thunder-thighed. Lisa had blamed Gwen’s tree-trunk legs on all the Irish clogging competitions Gwen mother had forced her to participate in. One of the women caught Maggie starring and gave her a friendly nod.
Maggie returned the smile before turning her back, but still wondered if Gwen had gone in for liposuction. Maggie would have heard, right? You can’t really hide something like that, what with the bandages and bruising. But hadn’t Gwen gone on the Greek Island cruise with her children?
Or so she’d said…
Would she lie? Because cruises were notorious for making thighs grow bigger, not smaller.
Oh dear. The puppy squatted and piddled on Janet Gray’s sneaker. Maggie tried not to laugh and went back to braiding her brioche. @MORE ON BRIOCHE