Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Caretaker: Chapter Three

Keep in mind, this is a work in progress. Editing issues will be addressed later.
Chapter Three

Hagan licked her lips as she slowly awakened. A heavy metallic taste coated her mouth and the smell of sulfur mingled in the air. She struggled to force her eyelids open. Each time they gave a little, their weight eventually sent them crashing down again. Only intermittent flashes of light broke through before the darkness inevitably took control.
“Why is it always the last damn match that lights?”
Leonard. Her chest tightened at the sound of his voice. She held still and allowed her eyes to relax. No sense in fighting her body when the real threat loomed so close. As she lay silent, listening to her surroundings, her reality began to settle in. She’d been kidnapped.
“What else did you give her? She’s been out for hours.”Not Leonard. This new voice was low, controlled. The man in black, maybe?
“Ah, come on, Slick, it ain’t gonna hurt her.” Heavy footsteps clomped forward.
“There are rules.” The other man’s voice grew louder, more insistent. “If you can’t—”
“Shut the hell up. That’s my rule numero uno. And numero two, you don’t get to tell me a goddamned thing. How ’bout that?”
“I’m warning you.”
“Warning me?”Leonard laughed. “I’m the one with the most risk in this chicken shit outfit. She’s seen me. Shoot, they’ve all seen me and my car. I liked that old car.“
            She tensed her fists beneath the scratchy blanket draped over her body.
“You knew what you were getting into when we hired you. If I have to—”
“Why don’t you do us both a favor and take your scrawny ass outside for a smoke. I’ll stay with our girl.”
Our girl? She waited for the man’s refusal, but after a moment of pause, she heard a door open and close. Her body tensed. As strange as it was to wish for her other captor to stay, she didn’t want to be alone with Leonard. He was right. He had the most to lose: no disguise; the bookstore employees could identify him in a line up; and Hagan had taken down his plates in the logbook the first night she’d met him—a standard procedure for all suspicious lurkers of the bookstore.
“Hey,” Leonard yelled, “make me a turkey sandwich.” He muttered something about respect then shuffled closer to where she lay. “Don’t let the kid scare ya. I just gave ya a little somethin’-somethin’ to keep you relaxed. It’s good shit too.” He snorted what sounded like a thick glob of snot. “A girl like you knows her way around pharmaceutical. Am I right or am I right?”
Such a pig. She didn’t move. Maybe if he grew bored, he’d leave her alone. Why couldn’t it be as simple as that? He’d eventually leave and she’d find her way out of wherever she was. She’d be okay. She’d be—
“Ha-gan. Why don’t you wakey wakey so we can have ourselves a little chat?” Thump. “Hagan Hagan Bo Bagan . . . Remember that one?” Thump. “Chuck Chuck Bo Buck . . .” He yawned, exaggerating the sound.
Thump. Thump.
What was he doing?
 “I bet if I came over there and”—thump—“touched those titties of yours”—thump—“you’d wake up.”
She swallowed. Go away. Please.
“I’m a leg man myself, but your rack could change a fella’s mind.” Thump. “I still have dreams about that little black tank top of yours. The one with the sparkly skull on it.” Thump. “Tight enough to show just how round and firm those babies are. Loose enough that the straps fall off your shoulders . . . damn, girl.” He whistled. Thump. “Didn’t you’re daddy ever warn you what happens when you dress like a tramp?”
His footsteps grew louder, almost as if he was pacing right in front of her. The intermittent thumping sounds sent her mind racing with wonder.
“Old slick probably won’t be back for a while . . .”
What did he mean by that? Should I open my eyes?
A thick, calloused hand cinched around her ankle and sent her skin afire with a million goosebumps. He applied steady pressure as he pulled off one shoe, then the other.
She held her breath and listened for the sound. A ball? The sound came from a ball! For a fleeting moment, she felt something other than defeated—her senses had won. But the image of her captor tossing a ball around the room quickly washed away any trace of her meager triumph. Her nostrils flared as the musky smell of sweat and yeast grew potent. His breathing became louder, more labored—he was near. She could sense his leering eyes all over her body. Silence toyed with her mind. His breathing. His smell. What was he doing? Just go. Please just go. Go.
The blanket slowly drifted off her body almost as if he was trying not to wake her. His hand brushed against her skin at her navel. Oh, my god. He fumbled with the waistband on her jeans and as the clasp popped, she opened her eyes, drew back her legs, and kicked as hard as she could at the shadowy haze at her feet.
“No,” she screamed. Her eyes fluttered through the fog, while her hand instantly went to her head in attempts to mask the sudden throbbing.  
Leonard groaned. Stomped his foot. “Stupid bitch!”
She scooted against the wall and sat upright. Her head thundered from the quick change to a sitting position. She could barely make out his shape before he lunged and clutched her throat in his large hand.
“Don’t make this easy,” he seethed, his rank breath hot on her skin.
She clawed at his hand, gasping, flailing. She tried to scream, to plead for her life, but only her garbled pleas answered back. I can’t breathe. Help me.
“Consider this a freebie. Next time, I will slit your throat. Capish?”
His spittle peppered her face. She couldn’t nod. Couldn’t speak. Yes. Yes. Please. I don’t want to die.
A far off look darkened his eyes, and as she stared into them, a rush of warmth filled her pants.
He lessened the pressure he had on her throat, pulled his hand from her neck, and stared at the growing wet spot on her jeans. “Looks like we understand each other.”
She collapsed onto the mattress and began coughing, deep and painful coughs. Her face and throat burned from the strain. “Please.” She took several breaths. Her eyes locked on Leonard.
He bent over at the waist, hands on his knees. He took several breaths of his own. “I should’ve known you . . .” He stood taller and grabbed his crotch. “Stupid bitch.”
She hugged her knees to her chest. Waves of nausea rolled in and out. She would’ve thrown up if she had a moment to process what had happened.
He turned toward her suddenly as if he’d charge again and pointed a finger. “You’re lucky.”
“I’m sorry.” She wasn’t sorry. Would never be sorry. She hugged herself tighter, the smell of her own urine reminding her just how bad her situation was.
He glowered at her for a moment then cocked his arm back and chucked the ball hard against the wall behind her. She jumped at the loud thud, then watched the ball bounce and roll backwards on the dirty wooden floor. He scooped up his ball and silently walked out of the room. The only sounds remaining were her whimpers and the door locking behind him.
She sobbed into her knees. Thoughts of her family snuck through her fear and panic. Fight. You have to fight. She sniffed and wiped at her tears as she sat upright. She looked around her shabby surroundings. Weathered, wooden walls and floorboards mirrored how she felt inside, worn and broken. The room was the size of a small bedroom with only the dingy mattress she was sitting on and a lopsided metal folding chair as furnishings. Add a workbench and some tools and it could’ve passed as her father’s carpentry workshop.
She pressed a hand to the wall for stability and slowly stood on wobbly legs. She took a breath and began wandering the room.  From a support beam in the center of the room, a lantern hung on a rusted and upturned nail. She stared into the modest flame of her only source of light. Her mind focused on the steady flicker while her thoughts drifted to survival. How far would she have to go to stay alive? What would she have to do?
“Hel . . . hello?”
Hagan gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. She turned toward the voice—waiting, listening. This was a trick. A reaction from the drugs.
“Is someone there? Anyone,” the voice called out again.
She held her breath as the words melted over her. A female voice?
Hagan walked toward the wall from where the voice carried. She stared at the barricade for a moment, then gently laid a hand against the splintered wood.
She was not alone.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chapter 2 (Caretaker)

Chapter Two

James propped his phone to his ear, while his other hand twisted against the steering wheel of his rusted 1975 Ford F250—old blue.
“Hey, it’s Hagan. I’m probably avoiding you, so do whatcha gotta do and leave me a message.”
            He took the phone from his ear and clenched it in his fist. The urge to throw it out the window tore through him, but he paused and closed his eyes while he controlled his breathing. “Damn it, Hagan.” 
In most respects, he was a simple man. He ate Spaghetti O’s straight from the can and couldn’t wait to do the Sunday crossword, even if he’d never finished one. He liked old Jimmy Cagney movies and loved to build things. He may have liked the simple things, but he was not without complexity. For those who knew him best, he was a kind and loyal friend. For others, he was a worthless criminal—a murderer.
            He glanced at his watch, then looked back to the empty parking lot of the Cotton Grove Cemetery. Waiting for his daughter, being angry with her, was easier than ruminating in scattered memories and poor decisions. He also didn’t want to face it alone. In one last desperate attempt to gain his daughter’s favor, he called home.
James shifted in his seat at the brusque tone of his father’s voice. “Hey, Pop. You’re back early.”
“Mags had a conniption, so I left her scraggy ol’ butt at the hotel and came home.”
“You should bite your tongue. She’s a good woman.”
“Maybe on Sunday, but the rest of the week she’s a pit bull disguised as a nice old gal who knows how to make a mean apple tart. That tart’s a ruse, I tell ya, and once she gets you in her clutches its goodbye tart, hello nag.”
James pinched at the bridge of his nose. “And you’re just a ball of sunshine, aren’t you?”
“Whaddya want, anyway?”
“Is Hagan home? We’re supposed to meet at the cemetery, but I haven’t heard from her.”
“Nobody’s here but me. Doesn’t look like her bed’s been slept in. You live here too. Didn’t you see her?”
“Not since yesterday. I assumed she woke up before I did and made her bed.”
Pop let out his James-is-a-dumbass laugh. “You don’t know your kid well enough. She only makes her bed on Sunday, and since it’s Monday . . . there ya go.”
“So what? Does that mean she didn’t come home last night?”
“She’s twenty-two. Maybe she found a fella to shack up with for the night. You know, test the thread count . . . sample the percale . . . do the horizontal mambo. . . ”
“Pop!” James pounded a fist on the steering wheel. “I get it. Do you know her schedule?”
“Yeah, I actually pay attention to her.”
He swallowed the aftertaste of the truth. “I’m trying. I am.” He took off his hat and ran his calloused hand over his shaved scalp. “She’s stubborn.”
“Just like her dad.” Pop softened his tone.
“Look, Son, Hagan’s been stuck with me for the last decade. I taught her to be suspicious. Maybe that ain’t right, but in my experience, it’s good to be cautious. There are a whole lotta snakes out there.”
            “Yeah.” James looked over the patchwork of headstones in the distance.
            “Her boss’s name is Peter over at the bookstore. He’s somewhat of a fruit, but Hagan likes him. Give him a call, maybe he knows where our girl is.”
            “I will.”
            “And son, give Ingrid my best.”  
            James closed his eyes, the stir of emotion stealing his words. He sniffed, sat taller, and slipped his phone into his pocket. His wife, Ingrid, had purchased a cemetery plot long before she knew she was going to die—even longer before she knew James. It was the one thing she’d owned free and clear, and the only thing his crime hadn’t taken away.
            He eased out of the truck and unfolded the map his daughter had made of the cemetery the night before. Ingrid’s final resting place was in the far corner, near a crooked pine tree Hagan had called Mr. Whispy. He took one-step after the next, pangs of regret stirring his insides. A beam of summer sun broke through the trees. Her gravestone shined like a beacon amongst the thick shade. Even in death, she knew how to stand out. He took a deep breath as her name became visible: INGRID MARIE PERRY.
He stared for several minutes, his eyes locked to those letters and her date of death. It was real. He knelt and brushed away the pieces of fallen cotton; he sensed her restless energy all around him, could nearly smell the clean citrus scent of her favorite shampoo. Eleven years without his wife; eleven years riddled with guilt; eleven years taken with no one to blame but himself.
From his prison walls, he used to silently speak to her, offering his apologies and regrets. He couldn’t wait for the chance to speak those words aloud, words he thought would come easy, but he should’ve known better—words never came easy for him. He slipped off his short brimmed fedora and stood with his head bowed.
With each intake of the fragrant air, he fought the urge to break down. His love for his wife was as intense as it had been in life. She was the one person that accepted his faults and encouraged him to be better. When she’d become sick, he would’ve torn down The Great Wall if it meant she’d get well. And after months of tests and more tests, the money ran out. What else was he supposed to do?
            He sighed, the sound of her voice filling his mind. No excuses, James. A man takes his lumps without complaint.
            So many things he wanted to say, things he had practiced in his mind. But in the end, they meant nothing. He placed his hand on the cool surface of the stone. “Je t’aime, Pigeon.”
            He sniffed back his anguish, slipped on his hat, and rose to his feet. He stopped halfway to the parking lot and fought the urge to turn around. Instead, he glanced up the vast trees and the billowing cotton, then with a forced expression of strength, he wandered back to his truck. He was James Perry. Ex con. Murderer. He needed to be tough, but when he opened the truck’s door, a swell of emotion rushed through the hardened man, bringing him to his knees. Years of suppression caught up with him and he wasn’t sure he could take Hagan’s condemnation too. He knew he should’ve headed over to The Purple Penguin Bookstore, but he couldn’t. Instead, he drove straight to trouble—straight for The Tavern Saloon.
            James’s childhood friend, Frank, owned the bar. It was clean and one of the only places where he wasn’t just a lowly ex-con. He was accepted and left alone to stew in silence. He squeezed through a crowd of college kids playing darts near the front door. One of them called after him with some reference to Die Hard and Bruce Willis as he made his way to the bar.  
Frank flipped a white towel over his shoulder and placed a cocktail napkin on the mahogany bar while James settled onto a stool. “Jim. Good to see ya, pal. How about an O’Doul’s?”
            James hesitated. Rows of liquor taunted him from behind the bar. “Bourbon. Neat.” He knew he shouldn’t, but the words just came out, nearly as delicious as the product itself.
            Frank shook off a look he knew far too well and placed a glass dead center on the white cocktail napkin. “You know . . .” He twisted the cap off a bottle of Jim Beam. “Sometimes—”
            “Just pour. I’m not lookin’ for advice right now.”
            Frank shook his head as he poured. “Me and my advice will be over there if you need anything.”
            James picked up his drink and held it to the light before bringing it to his nose. The familiar amber glow and woody corn-like aroma sent heat through his body without having to take one sip. It’d been a long time since he’d drank liquor. He’d stopped by The Tavern every now and then for a beer, mostly “Near Beers” and the like, but never touched the hard stuff. His proclivity for alcohol, whisky in particular, was the root of his former troubles and something he’d sworn to avoid.
            “I can’t believe it,” a woman’s voice called out. “Is that Jimmy Perry?”
            He placed his drink down and turned to see a busty brunette dressed in skintight clothing. He recognized her immediately. “Tristie Johnson.” He forced a smile, a barely there type of smile.
            Her own smile trembled but never faltered. “Thompson,” she corrected.
            He knew her name. She’d chased after him since he was three-years old, in one way or another. He’d even received dozens of letters from her while incarcerated, none of which he’d read. His cellmate, Vic, had enjoyed them, so they weren’t entirely in vain. Tristie wasn’t an unattractive woman. If she softened her make-up and teased her hair a bit less, she’d be a pretty gal. Her desperation was what repelled him. Her look, her appearance, all screamed of insecurity. And from what he remembered, she’d always been like that. In high school, the boys had called her Trusty. Apparently, she knew her way around a back seat, and since then she’d been in one bad relationship after another.
            She shimmied next to him, her nipples taut against her purple tank top. His body tensed. The smell of her spicy vanilla-like perfume lit his senses and stirred feelings he hadn’t experienced in some time. “Looking good, Jim. I heard you got out.”
            “Yeah.” He stared straight ahead, turning his glass of whisky with his thumb and middle finger in slow, even circles. He didn’t want to be rude but subtle hints had usually evaded Tristie.
            “How’ve you been?” She arched her back against the bar, accentuating her already accentuated bosom and making James wonder just how she looked without that tank top.
            “Not bad. You?” He took a breath, reminding himself it was Trusty Thompson’s boobs he was thinking about.
            “I can’t complain.” Her voice was sweet. “How’s that daughter of yours? Hagan, right?”
            “She’s good.” He glanced at the TV, feigning interest in the latest Diet Coke commercial.
            “We really should get together.” Her smile faded in and out as she looked from James to the TV and back again. “I could make dinner for you sometime. We could talk about old times and celebrate your homecoming. It might be fun.”
            He eyed her square in the face. “That’s nice of ya, Tristie, but I’m—”
            “Don’t say no . . . not yet, anyway.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a pen with a hot pink poof attached to the end. She smiled as she wrote her number on a cocktail napkin and tucked it in his shirt pocket. “There, right by your heart.” She patted his pocket and smiled. Then she did something he didn’t expect. She lifted her hand to his face and traced the outline of his jaw with her index finger.
            “You need a shave, Jimmy.” Her smiled twisted sideways. “But, I always liked a bit of stubble. Call me?”
            He hoped his expression would dispel any false hope, but as his eyes found hers, he softened. “Take care of yourself, Tristie.”
She nodded and started for the door, the sound of catcalling college boys grew louder as she elbowed past them. 
            Frank strolled over and leaned into the bar. “I remember when she chased you around Johnny Butler’s sandbox. Things ain’t changed much . . . except maybe your hair, or should I say lack thereof.”
            “And your gut,” James said, finally breaking a smile. “But I wouldn’t use the word lack.”
            Frank laughed. “Ready for that O’Doul’s now? I know you don’t want that shit.” He nodded toward the glass of whiskey. “You might think you do, but—”
            “Hold on.” James held up his hand and nodded towards the television. “Can you turn it up?”
            Frank grabbed the remote and turned up the volume for the local news broadcast.
Authorities are seeking information on a 2009 black Volkswagen Jetta pulled from the Portneuf Resevoir this afternoon. There has been no word yet from officials if this incident is connected to the rash of stolen vehicles dumped throughout the city. If anyone has any information you are asked to please contact your local police department.”
The camera panned in on the black Jetta, and James held his breath. No license plates. Maybe it wasn’t her car. It was a common model. Then he noticed the decal on the right passenger window—a purple penguin.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chapter One: Caretaker's Kiss (Working Title)

Chapter One

Hagan stared through the murky window of The Purple Penguin Bookstore, waiting for her shift to fade like so many other useless minutes of her life. It had been especially slow for a Monday, which meant she had to lock up on her own. The trouble was, one or two straggling “pervies” always seemed to pop in right before closing to either get their jollies for free or buy something for the road.
At one time, The Purple Penguin had been an actual bookstore. Unfortunately, customers hadn’t rushed through the doors for the New Age books the shop promoted. The owner, a product of the sixties free-love era, changed tactics and replaced many of the books, Buddha statues, and incense with something a little more risqué for the predominately Mormon community. Tucked behind a beaded curtain in a former storage room, sex toys, x-rated videos, and a line of erotic products soon filled the shelves and kept the shop in the green.
            Just as she’d anticipated, a black 70s style Oldsmobile Cutlass rumbled up to the curb. One missing right hubcap, rusted fender, and bent antennae. Damn it. Leonard Small. She grabbed her co-worker’s discarded copy of “Inked” and began thumbing through it, not really seeing the tattooed images before her but needing something to settle her rambling thoughts. As harmless as most of the customers were, she voluntarily worked in a sex shop with a steady supply of whips and chains and all things to entice the freaks to come out and play. And Leonard Small could’ve been the captain of them all.
The metal bell fixed to the heavy front door rang as he shuffled inside, the smell of salami and sweat wafting above his fat head. He pulled a toothpick out of his mouth and smiled. “How’s it hangin’?” The sight of his tangled and discolored teeth set the hairs on her arms on end.
She stood taller as he approached and pointed at the clock. He sneered at her gesture, not bothering to look at the time. Son of a bitch couldn’t care less. He nodded, but didn’t speak, which was unusual for Leonard. He’d liked to chatter to whoever was working, pressing his large gut into the counter as he boasted about one of his exploits. Hagan hadn’t been shy about her distaste for him, so maybe he’d gotten the hint and would leave her alone.
            The tinkling sounds of the long multi-colored beads soon signaled his decent into “perveville.” She pulled out the logbook, and next to the daily sales, she wrote: 8:48 p.m. Oxymoron here—again! She tossed both the magazine and logbook aside and began drumming her fingers against the top of the glass case that displayed the most expensive treasures of The Penguin: a collection of anatomically correct Smurf figurines, hand blown glass dildos, gold plated handcuffs, and first edition copy of Alice Does Wonderland.
            8:50.  She pulled out her cell phone and scrolled through her recent text messages, all from her father and all purposely ignored. If she hadn’t needed something to do, she probably would’ve gone on ignoring him. “Nothing’s changed, jailbird,” she muttered as she typed: C U 2moro. Her father hated where she worked, hated that she’d dropped out of her junior year of college to “piss her life away.” Not that she cared what he thought, however true it might’ve been.
She slipped her phone back into her jean’s pocket. 8:52. She leaned over the counter and looked toward the back corner of the store and into the large convex mirror hung to prevent shoplifting. “Hey, we need to close up,” she yelled. “If you’re going to buy anything, move it or lose it.”
No movement. No sound.
“Leonard! Did you hear me?” She paused as she waited for a response. When he didn’t answer, she locked the cash register and slipped the coiled bracelet key chain around her wrist and up to her elbow before making her way toward the back. “I need to close up.” She stared into the room, not wanting to venture any farther. “Did you hear me?” With a nervous hand, she parted the curtain and pulled the beads to one side. Her chest grew tight—something was off. Damn Peter for calling in sick.
            In front of the rows of x-rated DVDs, Leonard stood with his back to her.
            “Closing time. Didn’t you hear me?” Just turn around and leave, freak. Turn around and leave.
            He didn’t move. The bell on the front door rang.
             “We’re closed,” she yelled.  She held her breath waiting for the bell to sound again, or a conceding remark from the new late comer, but nothing. What the hell? Her hand fell away from the beads, causing them to sway and crash into each other. “What part of—” She whipped around and slammed into a thick wall of stale cigarette smoke. She took a step backwards, realizing she’d just run into a man’s chest. “Sorry, but . . .” Her gaze widened.
            A man, dressed in black clothing and a full ski mask, towered over her. Oh my God. She turned again toward Leonard, the least likely person to help, only he was now facing her, his pervert smile on high, a loose white cloth in his hand. “I think I’m gonna like this.”
            Hagan looked from Leonard to the masked intruder. “This isn’t funny, Leonard.”
He laughed. “This ain’t meant to be funny, sunshine.”
“If you want the money. Take it.” She slid the register key from her arm and held it out for him. “Please, just take it.” Her hand trembled as she pushed the key towards the man’s chest. Take it.
He didn’t acknowledge the gesture, his eyes looking past her, not seeing her at all.
Leonard began whistling as he ambled forward.
“Please.” Her voice cracked. She held the key toward him again. Take it and go. Please. Take it and go.
Leonard stopped less than a foot from where she stood, tilted his head, and scratched at the patchy stubble on his chin. “We ain’t here for the money.” He batted the key from her hand.
Her eyes followed its flight into a far corner of the room. What was she supposed to do? She returned to face him. “I won’t say anything. Take anything you want.”
Leonard crouched and bore into her gaze. “I intend to get what I want.” He pinched her lips into a pucker and drew her face closer to his. “If you play nice, maybe you won’t get hurt.”
She tried to nod despite the strong hold he had on her.
“Very good.” He dropped his hand from her face and turned to the man in black. “Tie her up.”
“No!” She leapt toward the only space between the man and freedom, not that she had a chance. The men quickly pinned her in the doorway. Strands of beads tangled themselves over her arms and legs as she fought to escape their grasp. Leonard laughed as he taunted her with his ping-ponging shoves back and forth with the darkened stranger. She was an object, nothing more. Through all of her kicking and screaming and Leonard’s deep belly laughs, she heard the bell ring again. For a fleeting moment, she wanted to smile, but as the men continued without any regard to whomever ventured inside, she realized they weren’t worried—they’d expected it.
“Help! Help me!” She screamed so hard, so loud, her ears popped, then something soft covered her nose and mouth. Her pleas silenced. Her nostrils burned. And by the time she realized what that sweet smell was she’d just inhaled, it was too late. Everything faded to black. A chirp of her cell phone signaled the last sound she’d heard. Dad.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Stan and My Easter Lesson

This Easter, my husband and I took our two children to our town’s egg hunt. We live in a city with a population of about 2000, where it isn’t unusual to see folks driving their lawnmowers to the corner store. In fact, when I was younger, we’d often ride horses to the same store and tie them up on the hitching post while we went inside to buy fifty cents worth of penny candy.

Every year, the locals donate their gently used stuffed animals for the kids to collect along with plastic eggs filled with prizes. It isn’t a grand event, but my kids love it regardless of the size of the hunt or range of potential loot.
My daughter scanned the field of colored eggs, planning her strategy. “I’m going to do it. I’m going to get an animal. I can feel it.” She beamed and readied herself as they began the countdown. At the go, she ran past all the animals and eggs in the front and sprinted for last one on the far end of the field. The animal had been placed in a plastic bag and it wasn’t until we came home that she discovered what she’d scored.

Her smile faded as she opened the bag and caught a whiff of her more-than-gently-used new friend. She pinched his fur with two fingers and lifted him out of the bag. Her lip curled as she struggled to find her smile. “He smells a little.” She leaned over him and inhaled. “He smells like smoke and . . . old stuff.” She backed away and I could see that she was disappointed, not in the prize itself but more in the way she felt toward this large stuffed dog.

My nine-year-old daughter has always been tender hearted and kind. She is the first to comfort a friend in need and often finds ways to look on the sunny side of disappointments. She asks for little when others take a lot. So I knew that my sensitive child felt horrible for her judgment of this ragamuffin old dog.

She grew quiet as she stared at him. I told her we could put him back in the bag and donate him for next year’s hunt. She gazed at his sad and dirty face. “Someone loved him once.”

I tried not to smile because I’ve often teased her about her “Toy Story” approach to her things. She is maturing physically, changing every day, but inside, she still believes that although inanimate, these toys have souls.  “Do you want me to try and wash him?” I asked.

She nodded. “He needs a chance.”

So I popped the scraggly dog into the washer with a little detergent and some lemon oil and hoped for the best. After his tumble dry, he didn’t turn out so bad. Actually, he looked pretty good. He’s still a little roughed up, but his white fur shines and his smile seems just as bright. My daughter gave him to her brother who can’t seem to get enough of him. His name is now Stan, which suits him perfectly.

Often as a writer, I study people and situations—how they act and what they say.  These observations trickle into my writing and help me transform the rambling voices in my head into characters. If I’m lucky, I’m able to make them believable enough that whoever reads my work sees and feels as the character does.

I’m thankful and so very blessed that my children and Stan have shown me what it takes to be of good character. They looked past something that made them uncomfortable to see possibilities. They fought for Stan and believed that everyone deserves a second chance.

Happy Easter and may you all have a day filled with more than sunshine and chocolate bunnies. And that you always remember someone else who fought for you so long ago.