So We Ran

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I found her lying on the cracked linoleum floor, soaked in a pool of her own blood. The door thrashed on its hinges as the wind whipped through the tiny kitchen to blow the papers she had stacked with painstaking precision around the room. A blizzard of fluttering white swarmed my mother, the rarest of winter roses, who blossomed beneath the papers’ hurried flight, her body blooming in vibrant, rich pools encircling the fragile remains of her broken shell. 

Her eyes were still open, and her pupils dilated until the irises were nothing more than brown rims around fathomless black pools. Fear hung heavy on the air, its metallic tang fueling my own anxiety until an erratic thrum pounded through my veins, urging me to flee.

I knelt beside her and took her hand. Her eyes rolled in her head, but my whispered “Mama?” focused her gaze on me. She squeezed me hand and whispered, “Run,” then took a shuddering breath, a wispy fragment of remembered humanity, and died. 

I took the stairs two at a time, woke my younger sister, grabbed our emergency packs we stored underneath our beds and fled into the enveloping darkness. 

We ran. We ran through the night, past towering pines and over beds of fragrant sweet grass. No one who followed would notice the path of our hurried flight. We were surefooted and silent as does. Even the animals  avoided us, perhaps because we still smelled of fear and grief, so we ran unhindered farther and farther into the forest. The dense foliage hid us from circling helicopters, their angry buzz becoming less incessant the deeper we ran. Even the search dogs’ barking grew fainter, their scenting abilities confused by our masked scent. Day after day, we ran.

At least with our feet in motion flying across the fragrant forest floor, we could pretend for just a little bit longer she hadn’t died. We could imagine a childhood free from paranoia, locked doors, furtive whispers and from hiding in plain sight. We could convince ourselves she had been a normal mother who taught us to bake instead of how to load and shoot a weapon in less than a minute, or that family trips had been to the mall and not survival training deep in the wilderness. That photos on the wall were of family members and loved ones, not a complicated web of key government officials and their biographies she had forced us to remember.  While running, we could pretend her mania had been the over protective instincts of a single mom and not symptoms of a deeper disturbance.

Because to stop running was to give up hope. It was admitting the monsters she had warned us about weren’t real, a truth more frightening than the evil who trailed us even now.

Running held back fear. Running kept us alive. It was the only thing we knew how to do.

So we ran. 

(C) Sara Ackerman, 2017

The Gypsy Curse Part 3

One week later, Amelia and her sisters were in the fields near the forest playing hide and seek, and she had been it for the last quarter of an hour. She hated being it because she could never find anyone. Five minutes of half-hearted searching later, she gave up, too bored to continue.  With an unladylike plop, she slumped to the ground and leaned  on a fallen log, grateful the sun was shining. The gentle rays helped chase away the nagging fear  plaguing her all week. Flinging an arm over her eyes, she slipped into drowsy relaxation.

The warmth disappeared, and the field darkened. A shiver stole up her spine, and she rolled over, curling  on her side to continue her rest. “Oh, bother. Go away clouds. I am trying to sleep,” she muttered. The clouds, alas, were immovable.  She cracked open an eye to investigate but a looming shadow obscured her vision. It blocked the sun and inspired a grim sort of dread which beat a steady rhythm in her head. The shadow advanced, and two gnarled, weathered talons outstretched to grab her.  She opened her mouth and screamed.

The figure moved and her eyes, now accustomed to the unnatural twilight, discerned an old woman dressed in a faded blue dress with a wide purple velvet sash tied in the middle. A colorful shawl draped over her stooped shoulders and a scarf wrapped round her head, neatly framing her wild mane of silvering hair.

“Are you one of my little liars?” she asked, her thick accent clipping each syllable until the words were nothing more than a litany of jagged consonants firing in her mind.

“You’re supposed to be gone! My papa told you to leave a week ago.”

The old woman cackled and rubbed her hands together. “You know who I am. Good.”

She shrank against the log and wrapped her arms about her knees.

“I see you are afraid. That is also good.”

“What do you want with me?” she whispered.

“Not just you, little girl. I also want your sisters, too.” A delighted smile cracked her tanned, wizened  visage, but her gap-toothed smile did nothing to ease her fear.

“They’re not here.”

“They’ll come. I saw them hiding not too far away from here.”

From the forest  came a loud cracking of branches alerting her to the truth of the old woman’s statement. Her two sisters emerged from the forest and ran to her, Beatrice yelling at the top of her lungs, “Amelia! We’re coming!”

Spying the old woman, they skidded to a halt and in wary apprehension, looked at her and the old woman. Evie whimpered and ran to huddle beside Amelia while Beatrice, ever the eldest, stood  in front of her sisters. Drawing herself up to her full height, she demanded,“Who are you and what do you want with my sister?”

Amelia admired her sister’s bravado, for she saw what it cost her. Small hands clutched her skirts in a white-knuckled death grip and the usual rosy sheen which graced her young face  had been leeched of color.

“I am just an old woman passing through the forest.”

Beatrice assessed the old woman, taking in her faded garments and weathered face. “You’re a gypsy!” With her chin held high, she waved her hand in the air in a blatant act of dismissal. “Be gone!  My father has evicted  your kind for your treachery against his hospitality!”

“Our treachery, Lady Beatrice?” The old woman whispered, venom lacing each word. She advanced on the girls, pinning them against the fallen log. Soon, her wrinkled face was looming over Beatrice’s, her eyes dark and angry. “Don’t you mean yours?”

“How do you know my name?” Beatrice stammered, her eyes darting  from the old woman to her sisters behind her. Having reached the end of her courage, she held out her hand to Amelia and grasped it in her own. She pulled Beatrice down with a plunk to sit beside her.

“I knew we wouldn’t get away with it, Bea.”

The old woman had heard, and she nodded.”I know all about you three and what you did last week.”

Amelia’s lower lip trembled and she asked, “What are you going to do to us?” Because there had to be a consequence. There was always a consequence.

“I intend to make it right.” The old woman raised her arms and the clearing stilled. The bird song quieted and the gentle wind which had been rustling the leaves and feathering the grass ceased.  A terrible light gleamed from the gypsy woman’s aged eyes.

“For your lie, an innocent man was tried and found guilty of a crime he did not commit.” The once dormant wind rose and whipped through the clearing, slashing her silvered hair against her face and howling its outrage as it tore across the grass and through the tree grove. Clouds rolled up and over each other, ripping apart the sky with its upheaval.

“It was you who were too weak to tell the truth, and have forever condemned an innocent to life far from his family!” She pointed a gnarled finger at the three sisters. “And so, I curse you.”

When the last of the three had been cursed, the old woman’s arms dropped. Revenge faded from her eyes only to be replaced with sad resignation. The winds died and the clouds sped across the sky. Light flooded the clearing, but the girls could not see. Fear clouded their vision and possessed their minds.

The old woman raised her right hand and made the sign of the cross, a sad smile on her face. “Te aves yertime mander tai te yertil tut o Del.”* With a final look at the three sisters, the old gypsy woman walked to  the woods and vanished.


*I forgive you and may God forgive you as I do.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

The Gypsy Curse Part 2

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A half hour later,  the girls ran  back to the house and found their father working in his study. “Papa,  Thunder got out!”

Their father set aside the papers he’d been studying. “Slow down girls. What happened?” He moved out from behind his desk to stand in front of them, his hands clasped behind his back.

“We were playing out by the barn and we say a gypsy by the doors of the barn. And then Thunder neighed really loud. And then we saw him running across the field. And we thought we saw someone riding him. Probably the gypsy we saw.”

Her father arched an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “These are very serious allegations, Beatrice.”  He placed his hands on his hips and paced. “You say that all three of you saw this?” He bent down and studied his girls.

Amelia gulped, for her father’s assessing eyes saw inside to the truth of what she and her sisters had done, but she pushed down the rising panic, swallowed and forced her gaze to her father’s. “Yes, father,” she whispered before cowardice forced her to look away.

Evie stuffed her thumb into her mouth and nodded.

“If what you say is the truth, then this is a very serious problem indeed.” Walking back to his desk, he  sat down. “Thank you, ladies, for telling the truth. I will see that this is taken care of.” He waved his hands and shooed them from his study.

The girls hurried upstairs to the nursery, grateful to have escaped unscathed.  Once inside, nurse took Evie to her cot for a nap. Amelia was tired, too, from the day’s events and crawled into her bed, pulled her covers up to her chin, and  curled up onto her side. Beatrice  plopped down on the bed next to Amelia.

“I told you papa would believe us.” Amelia, sick with guilt  scrunched her eyes shut and pretended to sleep. Beatrice yawned  and snuggled  behind her sister. She threw her arm around her  body and hugged her close. “There’s nothing to worry about, Mimi. Everything is going to be fine. You’ll see.”

Nestled against her sister safe in her bed, Amelia shuddered when icy cold fingers licked up her spine. She pulled her covers higher around her ears. Despite Beatrice’s reassuring words, somehow she knew everything wasn’t going to be fine.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

The Queen

The Queen


Round 1
Genre:Historical Fiction
Subject: Narcissism
Character: protestor

Last night’s events are a blur for Lord Peter Stone, who awakens and discovers he has alienated half of London and his wife with his elitist ideals. With an angry crowd on his doorstep, Peter uses his powers of persuasion to win back the admiration and love of his supporters, yet he learns their support has less to do with him and everything to do with his wife.

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“What happened last night?” Lord Peter Stone, the Marquis of Burlingham, cracked open heavy eyelids and groaned. London’s feeble October sunlight streamed through the windows causing the blinding pain in his head to worsen.

“James,” he croaked. “Bring me a tonic.” He waited. The deafening crescendo in his head increased to a roar, but no tonic miraculously appeared in his hand.  For minutes, he lay there debating whether to fall back to sleep or rise to find his inattentive valet. The pressing need of his bladder convinced him to arise, lest he soil himself where he lay.

Rolling over, he winced as every muscle in his body screamed in protest, but he pulled himself up and staggered, sightless, to the door.  Clutching the frame for support, he opened his eyes, only then realizing he was not in his room. The familiar wood lined walls and lingering aroma of cigar smoke did not belong in his bedroom, but his study, and his bed had been the floor. No wonder his body ached. A quick assessment of his person revealed even more astonishing news. He remained dressed in his evening clothes, which were at this point badly wrinkled and stained.

He lurched down the front hall to the water closet and relieved himself. Then staggering out of the small room, he called, “James! Where are you, man?” There was no response.

“Gerard!” he yelled, hoping the butler was nearby. “Find James and tell him to attend me at once!”

His cry echoed throughout the marble hall, a lonely, desperate reverberation swallowed by the vastness of emptied rooms. Alone and miserable, he sunk into the nearest chair and cradled his head in his hands, praying someone, anyone, would find him and bring him a tonic.

“They’ve all gone, Peter. They left sometime last night.”

His servants, gone? “Hudson, thank god, it’s you.” If anyone knew what had happened last night, it was Timothy Hudson. His oldest friend, they had met at Harrow, and before his marriage to Lady Sybil, was an eager participant in his plans for evenings spent on debauchery and drunkenness.

“Drink this.” His friend thrust a small tumbler of foul-smelling liquid under his nose, but he did as ordered and swallowed it in one gulp.

“What happened to me, Hudson? I awoke on my study floor, a pounding headache hammering away in my skull and no memory of last night’s events.”

“Do you recall the dinner party you hosted?”

Hazy remembrances of loud laughter, rich food and a tense debate resurfaced.

“Vaguely, but refresh my memory. I’m lucky to have located the water closet this morning, let alone remember the events of yesterday eve.”

“Does the National Society bill ring any bells?”

Either the hair of the dog he had downed was working, or Hudson’s question had jarred his memory, because this bit of information he knew.

“That’s my wife’s cause, the bill to educate the poor. She wanted me to support it despite my objections, and asked me to invite those key members who remained undecided to dinner.”

“They were all there, too. Braddock, Radcliffe, Abel. Even Clarke showed. If you recall, your plan was to wine and dine them and then persuade the gentlemen to support the bill.”

“Did it work?” Given his physical condition, the fact all of his servants were missing, and Hudson’s grim expression, he already knew this bit of information, too.

“It was going brilliantly. Lady Sybil outdid herself in preparation. The food was delicious, the conversation was stimulating. You’re a lucky bastard, Stone. She’s beautiful, talented and a wonderful hostess. How a conceited ass like you managed to snare such a sweet women-”

“She’s a treasure, I know, but tell me what happened?” He waved his hands, urging Hudson to continue.

”By the time the ladies had gone through, you were on your fifth glass of port.”

“Good god, no,” he said, afraid to hear what came next. Port was not his usual drink of choice, knowing the adverse effect it had on his ability to think, but as a good host, he had served it for the other gentlemen.

“It all would have been fine, too, but then you opened your mouth, and instead of persuasive diplomat you came off as elitist lord.”

“What did I say?”

“I believe the exact phrase you used was, ‘Those who are titled rule by divine right, and those of inferior birth would do well to recognize us as their betters.’”

He groaned, burying his head in his hands.

“Wait. It gets better. When I presented the argument of the French uprising, citizens whose birth deemed them inferior, and asked how well suppressing the masses worked for the French aristocracy instilled with ‘divine right,’ you told the assembled gentlemen, ‘England will not fail because we Englishmen are more civilized than the French, and would never behead a monarch when banishment accomplishes the same purpose.’”

Hope fluttered in his chest. Maybe he hadn’t ruined the evening after all. “That should have appeased Clarke and Abel, at least. They are two of the oldest families in England, and have probably hated the French since the Norman invasion.”

“You would think so, but no.”

“Let me guess. There’s more.”

Hudson nodded. “I countered by saying it was impossible to ignore the parallels between our society’s decaying social structure and France’s, and that’s when things really started to deteriorate.”

“How bad was it?”

“Here, read it for yourself.” Hudson handed him a newspaper. “You’ve insulted quite a few people last night, Peter.” He pointed to the pertinent article.

“The Lady of Light?” he asked his friend. Then he looked closer at the newspaper. “Why is there a rendering of my wife on the front page with a halo over her head?”

“Read,” Hudson ordered.

9 October 1811

The Lady of Light

Though the Glorious Revolution and the subsequent Bill of Rights of 1689 saw an end to ‘divine right of kings,’ certain members of the aristocracy retain the archaic, entitled ideals of King James’ rule from almost a century and a quarter ago. At a recent Mayfair dinner party, several guests were shocked to hear their host, the Marquis of Burlingham, declare to the assembled party that those of noble birth have been charged to maintain order among the populous by keeping them in their rightful place. As a member of Parliament and a supporter of the upcoming National Society for Education Act, one has to wonder how Lord Stone can simultaneously support a bill that would educate thousands of poor children across England and Wales while condemning them to their rightful, subservient place.

“This was taken completely out of context,” he huffed. “I’d never have said those things aloud if I hadn’t been foxed!”

“No, you would’ve only thought them.” To his angry glare, Hudson merely said, “Keep reading.”

Many guests, including Lords Abel, Braddock, Clarke and Radcliffe, said that Sir Timothy Hudson, a longtime friend to Lord Stone and a guest at last night’s party, attempted to diffuse the tense situation and help his friend avoid embarrassment by urging him to reconsider, saying he was but a man as any other. However, by this point, Lord Stone was well into his cups and too agitated to be cautious. It is said he told Sir Hudson and the gathered members of Parliament, he was born to be a god among men!  To say the guests were shocked is an understatement. Lord Braddock rose and immediately left the party saying, “The Church of England only sanctions the worship of one God, and Lord Stone is not He.” Others soon took their leave, including the lord’s esteemed wife, Lady Sybil Stone.

“I’ll be lucky if I’m not excommunicated for a remark like that. No wonder they all left.”

Hudson was right; he was in trouble. To be sure, some would hail him a hero, secretly, of course. It was perfectly acceptable to think the things he said, but it was very outré to say them. This paper painted him as a ridiculous joke, and he’d be lucky if anyone would take him seriously now. All his hopes for distinguished service vanished. He had been the shining star of Parliament, too. With his golden tongue and rousing speeches, there wasn’t a man he couldn’t persuade.

After this, his career would be over, and he and Sybil would need to retire to his country estate. That’s when he saw his wife’s name in the paper and all thoughts of failed careers, ostracization, and the humiliation his faux pas had caused fled his mind.

Across the street from her opulent, Mayfair mansion, Lady Stone stands alone, the lamplight’s glow illuminating her blonde curls and pale, angelic face. Blue eyes shimmer with unshed tears as she huddles for warmth against the chilly October morning. A lone protestor against her husband’s arrogance, Lady Stone waits. But for what? An apology or an admission of guilt? Or maybe she waits for absolution from the poor, those uneducated masses who have been ignored far too long. Though she says not a word, her brave actions are testament to her pure heart and noble ideals. No matter how long she waits, she will not be alone. Dozens of London’s citizens have joined her vigil, rallying around “The Lady of Light.”

 “My wife is outside?” he asked. “Has she been there all night?”

“Yes, but she wasn’t alone the entire time. About an hour after she left, the servants followed. They were understandably offended at some of your remarks.”

He raced to the front sitting room and pulled back the curtain where a teeming crowd swarmed the street in front of his house. “And the others? When did they come?”

“They’ve been trickling in all morning, but most arrived after the morning newspaper circulated. She has quite a following.”

“Whatever is she doing out there? I didn’t insult her, too, did I?”

Hudson shrugged. “You’d have to ask her. I stayed with you until you passed out, and only now returned after I read the paper.”

Flinging open the window’s sash, he found his wife standing underneath the lamppost as the news report had described. “Sybil! Come inside.”

The crowd booed and hissed, but he ignored them, and stared at his wife, hoping she understood and would obey. Instead, the contrary female tilted her nose in the air and ignored him!

“Her ladyship is not going anywhere. Not until you apologize.”

“Maggie? Is that you?”  He peered amongst the unfamiliar faces until he found his wife’s rotund lady’s maid, Maggie O’Brian. On a good day, Maggie disliked him, but today, fire burned from her beady eyes searing his soul with their intensity. An unsettling feeling of guilt clawed in his chest, and he wracked his brain trying to remember what he might have done, aside from ruin her dinner party.

It must have been horrible. But what could it be? He couldn’t admit he had no memory of last night, so instead he acted the fool, praying Maggie would fill in some of the missing events.  “Apologize for what?”

“Her ladyship has instructed me to say you know what you did.”

He tried another tactic to bring Sybil in, pandering to her more delicate nature. “It’s cold outside, my dear.  Come in and warm yourself. I’ll have Cook brew you a hot chocolate.”

Maggie’s arm shot around Sybil’s waist in a trice. “She ‘as ‘er fur, yer lordship. Besides, Cook’s out ‘ere by us.”

“Go back inside, you rotter!” someone in the crowd yelled. A rotten tomato struck the window, and he slammed the sash with a bang.

“They are hurling rotten fruit at me.”

Hudson shrugged. “I told you. You made a mess of things.”

“What am I going to do? These people need to leave.”

“I suggest you do what you know best. Give them something new to talk about.”

Hudson was right. If his words had put him in disgrace, then his words would help him rise above this humiliation. Reopening the sash he commanded the attention of the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention, please.” In beautiful, flowing rhetoric, he delivered the speech he had prepared for the debates on the National Society bill. Extolling the virtues of an educated citizen, he quoted Rousseau, telling the teeming masses England needed her people to be literate and trained so they would be prepared to serve the State. He engaged their patriotism and urged them to consider the plight of France, cautioning them an ignorant population is a discontent one. He even went so far as to shed a lone tear, congratulating himself when he saw several others in the crowd do the same. At the conclusion he bowed his head and said, “I apologize for my foolish words, but know I will do whatever it takes to ensure our children receive a basic education.”

Loud applause erupted, and he beamed. A low murmur arose from the press of humanity, and soon he heard his name, chanted over and over again. His people were calling for him! Shutting the sash, he raced past Hudson, through the front door and outside to the waiting crowd.  They embraced him and hailed him a hero, forgiving his poor judgment and loose tongue. His confidence soared; the Golden Boy was once again on top of the world.

He spied his wife underneath the lamppost, her position firm, never wavering. Jostling past the dispersing crowd, he approached her.

“My lady wife, can you forgive me?” He took her hand and grazed her knuckles with a kiss.

She hesitated, but smiled, and Lord Peter, a man accustomed to being beloved by all, took her smile as the absolution he sought.

“Wasn’t I superb, my dear?” he whispered into his wife’s ear, all the while waving and smiling to the crowd. “Think of it. I could be Prime Minister. After all, only I could take a disaster like this and turn it into a cause half of London is rallying behind.”

Ignoring his proffered arm, she stooped down to pick up a discarded newspaper and slapped it against his chest.  Her haloed visage stood apart from the thick jungle of words, a shining light amidst the printer’s black ink. He stared at the paper, awareness crashing down upon him with a force that buckled his knees. “It was you,” he whispered.

She did not speak, only surveyed him coolly with her blue eyes. Then she stepped outside the lamppost’s golden light, and the remaining congregation hushed and parted. He stood to bow as his wife, his queen, sashayed home.



The Peanuts Rag

I am giving my four year old a bath when she reaches for a rag on the side of the tub that my husband uses to wash his man parts. Once again, he forgot to put it in the laundry, giving our little girl a germ infested play toy for her bath time fun.

From the corner of my eye, I see her tiny hand reach for that blue rag, and immediately I lunge, hands extended to stop her while screaming “Nooo!” in what feels like super slow motion. Several scenarios involving that rag and my child’s face flash before my eyes before I manage to grab her hands in mine. She looks at me with wide startled eyes, and I realize I might have overreacted just a bit.

Calm down, mama. It’s not like a plague ridden rat used it for a bedroll. Be reasonable. You know exactly where that cloth has been.

“Just don’t use that rag, honey,” I finally manage. “It’s icky.” I wrinkle my nose so she knows just how icky it really is, hoping that will be enough to stop her without having to answer any uncomfortable questions. But of course it’s not because she’s freaking four.

“Why?” she demands with all the authority of ‘one who knows how to get her way.’

So I tell her, and I use the big words, too. Not those wimpy potty words that most parents use when teaching their children about parts of the body. No, I use the textbook words that make prepubescent middle school students squirm when they have to read about them in 8th grade health class. I want to impress on this child early on that this family uses the correct terms for the parts of the body, and that she should never be afraid to use them with us (Plus, I am hoping she won’t understand half of what I am saying and will just give me the darn washcloth without further argument).

When I finish with the four-year old equivalent of ‘Basic Anatomy 101,’ I ask, “Do you have any questions?”

She wrinkles her little forehead and then looks at me with confused brown eyes. “But why does daddy need to wash his peanuts in the shower?”

“So they are nice and clean when he wants a snack,” I sigh, not knowing whether to be relieved or worried that she missed the point of my little lesson.

“Now give me that rag.”

This story was featured on HaHas for HooHas on April 27th.

Mother Knows Best

March 1st has come and gone and since no one has been knocking down my door with a fat check in their hand, I can assume that the non-fiction memoir I wrote for the “All About Love” writing contest sponsored by Good Housekeeping did not win. (Cue the saddest song in the world played on the tiniest violin…) Regardless of the unfortunate status now applied to my story (that of, um, loser) it was a fun contest, and it’s a pretty good story if I do say so myself. Without further ado (drum roll, please) here it is in its entirety for you to enjoy!

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Mother Knows Best

“What are you doing?” my husband asks me, leaning over my shoulder to get a better look at the computer screen.

“Hmmm? Oh, just writing down how we met.” I drum my fingers absently on the desk. “The girls were asking about it the other day so I thought I’d write it down.”

“Let me read it,” he offered. “I can see if you’re missing anything important, like a description of how good looking you thought I was when we were dating.” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down suggestively.

I roll my eyes at that, but move away from the computer so he can read.  He’s silent for several minutes as he reads about how my mother set us up on a blind date.

Having decided I was ready to start dating again, I asked my mom, your grandma, if she knew of any available young men that would be interested in meeting me. While she didn’t think there were many single, young men where she worked, she promised to keep her eyes open. Several weeks later she mentioned a man who was ‘nice enough to hold open doors for an old lady like me,’ so she introduced the two of us over email. After communicating via email, we agreed to meet. I hadn’t dated since my divorce, and I was nervous about going on a blind date. In fact, I was so nervous that I kept a fork in my hand the entire time we were eating lunch so I could defend myself if needed.

His head whips around and he stares at me with his mouth open.  Spluttering unintelligibly, he manages to get out, “What do you mean you kept a fork in your hand the entire time we were eating lunch,” here he turns back to the computer and reads from the screen verbatim, “so I could defend myself if needed?” He crosses his arms in front of his chest and glares at me in astonishment, waiting for an explanation.

Oops! I forgot about that part. “I told you about that after we were engaged.”

“You most certainly did not!” He grumbles under his breath then begins typing.

“Hey, what do you think you are doing?” I try to swat his hands away from the keyboard.

“Adding a footnote,” he grits out.

**Girls, I should have known then that your father would NEVER have done anything that would have required me to defend myself. I was just being silly and I overreacted because I hadn’t date a gentleman before. He is as gentle as a lamb.  A sexy, masculine lamb, but a lamb nonetheless.

“A sexy, masculine lamb?” I snort. “Really? How about a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”

“What. Are. You. Talking. About?” He says each word deliberately as he turns around in the chair to look at me.

“I saw the way you looked at me throughout that meal.” Now it’s my turn to cross my arms over my chest and glare at him. “You spoke to my chest more often than not.” Then, I pretend to examine my nails. “I was just preparing myself in case I needed to stop any amorous overtures.”

Now he grins at me wickedly and stares at that part of my anatomy that almost got him forked in the hand all those years ago. “Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised when we met in person.”

I give him a quizzical look. “I sent you my picture. You knew what I looked like beforehand.”

He coughs and turns a lovely shade of red. And, he refuses to meet my eyes.

“What? What was wrong with my picture?”

He’s silent for too long, so I jump on his lap and begin attacking his ticklish zones. “Tell me,” I demand as he is gasping for breath, “What was wrong with my picture?”

My wrists are suddenly imprisoned in his hands.  He gasps out, “Alright woman! I’ll tell you.” His forehead comes to rest on top of mine and he is grinning sheepishly. “Just don’t kill me when I do.” He takes a deep breath and blurts out, ‘You looked like a shapeless middle aged woman. The kind that keeps lots of cats.”

I pull back, startled by his confession, and quickly remove myself from his lap.  “But I picked out the picture that I sent to you. I thought I looked nice.”

He shakes his head and finally meets my eyes. “You looked much better in person.”

As I am processing what he is saying, I desperately try to recall what picture I even sent to him.

Eyeing him through narrowed slits, I ask, “Was I in a red jacket?”

“Er, yes, I think so.”

I am somewhat mollified. “I had that picture taken on Christmas Eve right before I went to church.” I lightly slap at his arm. “Of course I didn’t look super sexy.”

He grabs my hand and pulls me back into his lap. “All I know is that when I saw you, I almost fell to my knees in thanks at how utterly gorgeous you were.” One of his hands has found its way into the hair at the back of my neck and he gently pulls my head to the side where he begins to place soft kisses on the column of my neck.

“You are so bad!” I giggle. Then I swat him on the arm for good measure. “And apparently shallow!”

I can feel him shrug, as though in apology. His voice is muffled as he replies, “I was a young man.” As if that were all the excuse he needed. He ceases kissing my neck and grins at me like a naughty boy. “Besides, even if it was your considerable assets that first attracted me,” here he lavishes a lecherous gaze at my bosom before he wrenches his eyes back to mine, “it was your intellect and your sweet nature that made me fall in love with you.” His brown eyes look lovingly into mine.

“Yes, it was my brains that were the biggest attraction,” I mutter under my breath while he continues plying my neck with soft kisses. Deciding that two could play his game, I casually mention, “I didn’t really like your picture, either.”

He stops mid kiss and eyes me suspiciously. “Wait, what? Why?” His lips are pouty now and I can’t resist. I give him a quick kiss on the lips and hop off his lap. Then, giving him a saucy smile, I toss out matter-of-factly, “Your eyes looked squinty.”

Before he can splutter out anything else, I turn his chair around to face the computer and order, “Read some more.”

He shakes his head, and I swear I hear him grumble something about ‘crazy women,’ but I ignore him and he continues at his task.

After our first date, your father and I continued to email daily. He was very good about calling, whereas I was not. I often said I would call and then I didn’t.  Sometimes I would go for days without calling him. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him; I was just scared about things progressing too rapidly for my comfort. I didn’t want to make another mistake.

He turns around and looks at me questioningly. “Is that why you never called? I always assumed it was because you didn’t feel for me what I felt for you.”

My smile is sheepish as I nod. “It was scary for me, how intensely I liked you after such a short time.” I clear my throat and continue. “It wasn’t just me I had to worry about either.  I had my daughter, as well, and I knew I couldn’t move too fast.”

I suddenly find my hand engulfed in his. He gives me a fond look. “You could have told me. I would never have asked for more than what you were ready to give.” He squeezes my hand and returns to reading.

One night after a date, we were sitting on my couch together talking. During that time, your father had scooted very close to me and had his arm around the back of the couch near my shoulders. His face was very close and he said to me ‘I’d really like to kiss you now.’  I panicked. Even though I knew I liked your father, I wasn’t ready for anything more intimate yet. So I told him no and he backed off immediately. That’s when I knew that your father was someone I could trust because his actions showed that he respected me.

“Hardest thing I ever had to do, too,” he mumbles. He huffs out a sigh and then gestures to the screen, “You think the girls aren’t going to get grossed out reading about the more intimate details of our relationship?”

“I didn’t put anything like that in there,” I counter. “I just wanted them to see that any man who forces them into doing something they are not ready for is not worthy of their time or love.”

Putting my hands on his shoulders, I lean over and whisper in his ear, “As much as you grumble about having to wait, though, those ‘intimate details of our relationship’ were worth it, hmmm?”

All I hear in return is a growl deep from his chest. Shaking his head, he shrugs my hands from his shoulders and starts typing again.

“Another footnote?” I guess.

The typing continues for several more minutes before he grunts out, “Read for yourself.” He swivels aside so I can see the screen.

 **Girls, although your father was the perfect gentleman, not all men are. If you ever find yourself in a position where you have said no and the man in question does not respect your wishes, you can do any one of these things or a combination of all of them. Your choice.

  1. Take the palm of your hand and shove it hard against his nose.
  2. Punch him in the throat.
  3. Hit him in the crotch.  Repeatedly.
  4. If you have a gun, shoot him somewhere not vital like the foot or maybe, I don’t know, his brain because he obviously wasn’t using it when he tried to assault you!!

When I finish reading, my jaw has dropped.  He’s just sitting there with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

I clear my throat. Then again. Finally, I manage to get out, “Do you really think you should be encouraging our daughters to shoot people?”

He frowns. “I want them to be safe. This is just good advice.”

I have to tread lightly here. I don’t want to upset his fatherly sensibilities. Tactfully, I point out, “While I think your advice is very important, this, our love story, might not be the best venue in which to include such fatherly gems as,” I glance at the screen and continue, “And I quote, ‘Hit him in the crotch. Repeatedly.’ End quote.”

He is still frowning. Then he begins to stare at me. So I stare back. Neither one of us is willing to give an inch. I feel my eyes burning. The urge to blink is unbearable. Then, just when I am ready to concede defeat, he rolls his eyes, throws up his hands and yells, “Fine! I’ll erase it!”

My shoulders sag and I rub my hands over my eyes. Victory has literally never felt so good. I look over his shoulder and see him erase his footnote. Then just as quickly, I see him type:

**Girls, see your father’s “Guide to Being a Teenage Girl and How to Deal with Scumbags, Dirtbags and other %$&#bags that might want to date you.

I sigh but leave him his small victory.

Having satisfactorily executed his fatherly duty, he is content and ready to continue reading our story. “Where is the part where you talk about falling in love with me?” he asks with an impudent eyebrow wiggle.

“That’s easy,” I reply as I shoo him out of the chair to sit down and scroll down to the part describing how he wooed and won me. “It all started when you and I went up to our favorite Thai restaurant with our eldest daughter.” I turn around to look at him.

“We were leaving the restaurant and she, being two years old at the time, was making quite a scene.” I smile up at him.

“She still didn’t like me very much at that time,” he muses. He grabs my hand and squeezes. “And I remember being frustrated because I wanted to help but she wouldn’t let me.”

I nod. “That’s right. So, you grabbed her princess backpack and said, ‘I’ll deal with the princess backpack and you deal with the princess.’ I knew then that you cared for her, and that you would, if asked, be willing to help care for her.”

Standing up, I walk to him and circle my arms around his waist. I lay my head on his chest and take comfort from the steady rhythm of his heart. “And you have cared for her ever since.” I raise my head and look up into his eyes. “The greatest gift you gave to me and her was when you adopted her and made her your own.” My eyes mist over, so I lay my head on his chest. “You have been such a good father to her. To both of our girls.”

We stand together quietly, content just to hold one another as we take comfort in our love.

Soon, though, I hear a gravelly voice in my ear. “But that’s not when you told me you loved me. And you were first, I might add.”

I look into his eyes once more. “I believe it was you who told me that you loved me first,” I respond haughtily.

“No, cupcake.” He’s grinning ear to ear now. “It was you who said it first.”

I swat at his hands and I pull away to once again sit at the computer. I scroll down the screen until I find the part that will prove me right. “No, you said it first. Read here.”

Toward the end of our fifth month together, your father asked me to go see a Star Wars movie with him. Not being a huge fan, I agreed reluctantly. When I found out he wanted to go TWO HOURS early to wait in line so we could get good seats, I knew that it had to be love because I agreed willingly. The afternoon of the movie, he came to my apartment with some flowers and a card. On the inside, he told me he loved me. That’s when I told him I loved him.

“Aha!” he shouts too closely to my ear for comfort. “There!” He shoves his pointed finger at the screen and taps it several times on the important part. “You said it first.”

I look where he is pointing. “No, you said it first. In your card.”

“I didn’t say it first. I wrote it first. You said it after I wrote it!” He is positively triumphant in his victory. “Then I said it to you.”

I concede. Ungraciously. “Fine. But it wasn’t like you didn’t know. I mean, what woman in her right mind agrees to see a movie she doesn’t like and then wait in the line for TWO HOURS to go and see said detested movie?”

I snort. And continue. “If I had a neon sign flashing over my head that said ‘She loves you, you lucky idiot’ I don’t know how much clearer I could have been.”

I’m on a roll now. Giggling, I start again. “You were so lucky…”

“Yes, yes.” He interrupts. “We’re all in agreement in how lucky I was to find such a great woman like you.” I can hear the exasperation in his voice. He spins the chair around, scoops me into his arms where he carries me into our bedroom and plops me unceremoniously on the bed. Then he walks back to the bedroom door and locks it.

“And you?” he asks. “Were you lucky?” Even though he asks it casually, I can see a spark of vulnerability in his eyes. Quickly quieting my giggles, I kneel on the bed and open my arms to him. “Yes, I am the luckiest of all because I found my best friend from a blind date.”

Much later….

“You know, my mom was pretty sneaky,” I mention casually.

Rolling over on the bed to face me, he asks, “What do you mean?”

“I mean how she set us up.” I see his quizzical expression, so I continue.

“Well, you know how I told her I was ready to start dating again and that she told me she didn’t know of anyone, right?” He nods. “And then she came back and said she knew this guy that seemed ok?”

“Right. But I don’t see how that was sneaky.”

“After we were engaged, mom told me that she had noticed you when you started working there. A full year and a half before we actually met.” I prop up on my elbow so I can see him better.

“Yeah, so? I met a lot of people when I first started working there. I imagine your mom was one of them.”

I give him a pinch on his arm. “No, not like that. She said she noticed you and kept you in the back of her mind as a possibility for me to date in the future.”

Now I have his attention. “Really?” His question seems just a tad smug.

I give him another pinch for good measure. “Yes. She thought we would hit it off and she was just waiting until I was ready to date again to introduce us.”

He leans in for a kiss. In between kisses, I swear I hear him say, “Well, it turns out mother knows best.”