10 Ways to Know You’re a Writer

I’ve been enjoying this, so thought others might too. I’ll think of my ’10 Ways to Know You’re a Writer’ and post them tomorrow! FUN!

Stories are the Wildest Things

You’ve wondered, right?

You’ve asked yourself this question many times and you’re reading this post to find out, “Am I a writer?”

Like a hypochondriac checking out WebMD for signs and symptoms, you scour articles and blog posts for the telltale signs and symptoms that you’ve got what it takes to declare yourself a writer.

I do, too. That’s why I came up with this list of 10 Ways to Know You’re a Writer.

After reading the list, click on the links to the other great blog posts and articles that relate to each of these ideas.

Please leave me a comment about which symptoms you come down with most often, or add some new ones of your own.

You Know You’re a Writer if…

10. You take really long showers because you’re working on a writing problem or your fictional characters are having conversations in your head and…

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Chapter Four

Two weeks after her accident, the door to Ellie’s room opened. Two people and a black rug entered.

“Oh my gosh! Stella! Reid! Misty! Wow, do you need to see the groomer or what?” The puppy danced around the room, sniffing at everything.

Stella laughed and turned to Reid. “I’m pretty sure that comment was only meant for Misty, but I’m calling my stylist when we get back to the car.” She winked at Ellie, who returned the gesture.

Misty tracked Ellie’s scent to the bed, clawing the sheets and jumping as high as she could until Reid picked her up and held her out to Ellie.

As excited to see the dog as the dog was to see her, Ellie let the pup lick her face a few times and them pulled away. “Reid, Stella, thanks so much for taking care of this little troublemaker for me. I hope she hasn’t been too horrible for you guys.”

Stella rounded the bed and bent over to hug Ellie. “She hasn’t been any trouble for me, but then Reid’s the one who’s been puppy-sitting for you. It’s so good to see you, El. It’s been waaaay too long.”

“It has, hasn’t it? You look fabulous, girl!”

Stella laughed. “Wish I could say the same for you. Ouch!”

Ellie squirmed, knowing she was teasing her, but also knowing it was true. “I know. I’m a mess. What I wouldn’t give for a real bath. But how did you guys sneak her in here?”

“No sneaking, required.” Reid spoke for the first time and hearing his voice after so long gave Ellie goosebumps. “I got your little monster here a job as a therapy dog.” He smiled, tousling the black mop on Misty’s head. “I’m sure everyone will love her, if she can learn to keep her tongue to herself.”

“Good luck with that.” Stella swiped her hands down her face, then looked at her fingers as if she could see the germs on them.

“Awww, don’t let them give you a complex, Misty. You’re perfect.” Ellie planted a kiss on the puppy’s head. Deep brown eyes stared out from under a fringe of black hair. Eyes that always melted her heart. Eyes that looked so similar and yet so different from Murphy’s. How he’d stared at her that last time, lifting his paw for her to see. Had he wanted her to fix it? She couldn’t do anything but look into his liquid brown eyes and tell him she loved him and that help would be there soon. He’d laid his head on her shoulder for a few minutes so she could scratch his ears before he went back to his makeshift bed.

“Ellie? Are you in pain? Do you want me to buzz the nurse?” Stella’s eyes searched Ellie’s, distress evident on her face.

“What? Oh,” Ellie wiped the tears away. “I’m always in pain, Stella. I can’t have morphine anymore and I’m trying to wean myself off the other stuff.” Why did Murphy’s death haunt her? “But I’m okay. I’m handling it as best I can. Did I zone out?”

“Yeah, Reid asked how important those red high-heels are to you?”

Ellie glared at the puppy. “You didn’t.”

“She most definitely did.” Reid grimaced. “She figured out how to knock the dog gate down, too. It’s in pieces in the dumpster. Small, chewed-up pieces.”

“Oh no. I named you wrong. I should have called you Miss D, as in demon.”

Stella chuckled. “Cute. So her name’s really Miss T?”

Ellie nodded. “Yes, T as in Trouble. But it sounds like Misty so that’s what I call her.”

Stella’s phone buzzed in her purse. She glanced at the screen and held a finger up, an apologetic look on her face. Ellie nodded and Stella left the room.

Ellie’s nerves kicked in. Being alone with Reid, even after nine years, still frazzled her. She cleared her throat. “So . . . other than my red shoes, have there been any other casualties?”

Reid’s focus had drifted to her cast-encased leg. “Other than the gate, you mean?”

“Yes. Anything else?”

His eyes locked on hers. “If you had any secrets in the trash, they’re safe.”

Ellie groaned. “I bet that was fun to clean up. Anything else?”

Stella returned to talk with Reid. “I’m afraid I’ve got to get back to work. You ready to go?”

“Sure.”

“Okay, I’m going to run to the restroom.” She hugged Ellie. “I’ll be back soon. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

“I agree. Thanks for coming, Stella.”

“Love you sweetie. Heal fast.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Stella paused at the door, winked at Ellie, then turned to Reid. “I’ll meet you at the car?”

“Yep, I’ll pull up to the front doors.” After Stella left, Reid turned back to Ellie, holding Misty close so she could say her goodbyes.

“You be good, you little devil.” She rubbed the pup’s silky ears and got licked in the face in return. “Thanks again, Reid. It was probably quite a shock to get that call from my dad.”

He shrugged. “Maybe at first. I couldn’t figure out why you wouldn’t ask for Stella instead of me. But it’s not important. I’m glad to help you. I haven’t been much of a friend so I’m trying to make up for that by spoiling your puppy until she’s unmanageable.” His smile was evil.

“Don’t you dare! I’ll dump her on your doorstep and make you live with the consequences!”

“You know I’m teasing. Maybe I’ll teach her some tricks and surprise you.”

“Good luck. She’s stubborn like her owner.”

“She’s a sweetheart like her owner.”

Ellie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Reid had only complimented her once, sort of, about her hair. She felt uncomfortable, but laughed it off. “Nice try, mister. I’ll still dump her on you if you don’t watch it.”

Reid laughed. “I’ll be good. Take care, Ellie.” His hand squeezed her shoulder.

“Okay. Bye.”

He walked out the door and her head fell back on her pillow. She stared at the ceiling. Maybe it felt awkward because it had been so many years. Then again, Reid seemed to actually want to talk to her today. In the past, he only spoke to her if he needed something.

Stella, on the other hand, hadn’t changed. She was still beautiful, her dark red hair twisted up in a French knot. Ellie hadn’t realized how much she missed her friend until she showed up today. Maybe when she got out of the hospital, she’d plan a girls’ night out for the two of them.

Ellie buzzed the nurse and asked for a pain pill. Several minutes later she returned, spilling an oval-shaped pill Ellie had never seen before into her hand. “What’s this?”

“Your doctor prescribed a narcotic.” She held up a hand, cutting Ellie off before she could get a word out. “Ellie you just had surgery two days ago. You’ve got to be in constant pain.”

“I want to get out of here. I want to go home. I figure that will happen faster if I’m not drugged up all the time.”

“Pain stresses us out, too. You have to rest in order to heal. Take this so you can sleep well.”

Ellie sighed. “I hardly ever take over-the-counter pain killers,” she grumbled. The nurse handed her the humongous glass of water which always sat on her bed tray. Ellie took a moment to analyze the pain. She probably couldn’t sleep well until it eased up a bit. So, with one last dirty look directed at the nurse, she swallowed the pill.

The nurse smiled. “You are probably the sweetest, most-compliant patient I’ve ever had. Except when it comes to taking your meds.” She shook her head. “Try to sleep now. I’ll check in on you in an hour or so.”

Ellie drifted off, suddenly exhausted.

Reid appeared in her dreams again. He and Ellie walked hand-in-hand around the farm where she’d grown up, kissing in the barn and beside the spring-fed stream that ran through the property. They saw Murphy, hiding in the tree line, and she called to him. He raced toward them at full speed and Ellie laughed, knowing he’d come right up to them before he swerved off. He’d played this game with her all his life.

Ellie watched, spellbound, whenever he ran full-out like that. He was glorious and graceful, especially in the moments when all four paws were off the ground—two stretched out in front with one slowly falling, preparing to touch down and start the sequence again, and two stretched out in back where they’d just left the earth. His mouth was open, tongue lolling out to the side. He looked like he was smiling at her.

Tears filled her eyes. “Oh, Murphy.” She and Reid stood side-by-side. Murphy would swerve any second. Ellie watched the Border Collie alter his gait, gathering his hindquarters under him like he did whenever he jumped. Was he going to try to leap over them? Ellie ducked, trying to drag Reid down with her but he let go of her hand. Murphy, growling ferociously, lunged for Reid’s throat.

“No, Murphy!” Her eyes popped open.

Ellie looked around, trying to get her bearings again. She was still in the hospital. All of her lights were off, but she could see from the light coming in under the door. It must be the middle of the night.

She closed her eyes, trying to recover from the nightmare. Seeing Reid earlier that day had obviously brought back the dreams. Maybe she’d always have those “what if” kinds of dreams where the two of them had a life together. But the accident had changed her. She no longer wanted to pine for someone she could never have. She wanted to be happy and content.

The first thing she would do when she went home is grab those journals, take them to the farm, and burn them. After that, she would do some serious thinking about the present as well as the future. If she could do anything, what would it be? Ellie fell asleep thinking perhaps it was time to empty her guest room.

Chapter Three

A jarring sound shattered her peacefulness. No! No, no, no, no, no! Ellie tried to get back to the quiet but a bright light hurt her eyes. “Elanor Thompson? Elanor? Can you hear me? Elanor!” She tried to shield her eyes and heard him shout “She’s alive!”

She faded in and out, too exhausted to feel relief or frustration at the voices talking around her. She just didn’t care. She tried to respond when a woman asked where the dog went. They’d found Murphy’s body. Would they just discard him? She wanted to bury him out on the farm. But her mouth couldn’t form the words and she slipped away again.

The sound of a machine revving up jolted her awake. Right on top of that overwhelming noise, the loud screech of metal being sawn apart caused her to cover one ear and grit her teeth. A couple of blankets covered her, as well as something heavier that pressed her down. In spite of the noise, she couldn’t stay awake for long. Sleep was so peaceful.

Fingers probing her neck woke her up again. Her eyelids felt so heavy, but she forced them open. A man crouched beside her. She saw him clearly in the light of a new day.  

“Elanor Thompson?” A low, friendly voice asked.

“Yes,” she croaked. She tried to swallow. “Water?”

“We’ll have you out as soon as possible. We have to stabilize you before we can move you.”

She squeezed her eyes closed as her heart pounded with fear. She still felt no pain, but she remembered the agony she’d endured before. She had a feeling her reprieve was almost over.

The paramedic worked quickly, putting a brace around her neck, immobilizing her head, shoulders and torso. It hadn’t hurt at all, so she hoped maybe her pain block would continue. Maybe he’d given her a shot while she slept? She sighed.

Then he looked her in the eye. “I’m sorry, Elanor, but this next part is probably going to be tough. Just hang on and we’ll get you something for the pain.” She took a deep breath and bit down on her lower lip.

It didn’t help. As soon as he touched her arm, she screamed in agony. She’d thought the pain before was bad. That was nothing compared to what she felt now.

“Stop! Oh God, please make it stop!” she sobbed, trying to push him away.

He caught her arm and strapped it down beside her hip. A stiff board held her head motionless as well. “Elanor, fighting me will only jar your broken arm more. Calm down and let me finish so I can get you something for the pain.”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry. Oh God, it hurts so bad. Please, please hurry.”  

“I’m trying to. Hang on.”

She tried to hold still for him, all the while begging that he’d just leave her and let her die.

“I’ve stabilized as much as I can from this position. We’re going to have to lift you out now.”

“Just let me rest for a few minutes, please. I don’t know how much more I can take.”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t do that. We need to get you to the hospital, Elanor.”

“Ellie. Just call me Ellie.”

“Okay, Ellie. Just a few more minutes and we’ll have you out of here.”Someone touched her foot and she screamed again. Pain shot through her, making her teeth and every inch of her skin ache in a sudden, overwhelming crescendo of fire.

* * *

Ellie woke in the ambulance. She had an oxygen mask over her face and an IV bag hanging near her head. Her pain continued to be severe and she moaned.

A man leaned over her, into her line-of-sight. “I’m sorry, Ellie, but the doctor won’t authorize any pain meds until you’ve been evaluated. You could have internal injuries. We’re only a few minutes from the hospital. Hang in there. You’re doing great.”

She licked her lips, noticing a funny taste in her mouth. The ambulance braked quickly and hit a large bump. She felt it magnified through all of the broken places in her body and begged them for something to help with the pain.

“We’re almost there. You’re doing great, Ellie.”

Her eyes drifted closed and her body felt heavy all over. She welcomed the respite from the pain but wanted to tell him something, just in case. “If I die, please tell my parents that I love them. And tell them to take Misty to Reid. He’ll find her a good home.”

“You’re not going to die,” the paramedic said. “You can tell your parents yourself when you see them.”

Ellie fought back the heaviness for a few moments. “But it hurts so much. I’m not sure I want to live anymore.”

“Keep fighting, Ellie. The pain won’t last much longer. We’re almost to the hospital.”

“Misty, my dog. She won’t understand why I’m gone.” She sighed. “Oh Murphy.”

* * *

Ellie drifted in a fog of medication. She knew she was in a hospital and, in her few waking moments, recognized her father and mother. They’d told her she’d broken her left arm, shattered her left ankle, and cracked three ribs. The doctors said it was a miracle she hadn’t punctured a lung. She had multiple lacerations on her face, arms, and chest. Her nose was indeed broken. And she had a concussion which explained the mini seizures she’d had while she was pinned in the Mustang.

She’d already had two surgeries to place a plate and screws in her ankle and pins in her arm. She would need plastic surgery on her face after the swelling went down. It was a lot to handle with the pain and the drugs, not to mention the guilt she felt every time her father came to visit her. She knew he had to hire someone to milk the cows, but whenever she tried to bring it up, they’d shut her down with reassurances that these sorts of things were precisely why emergency funds existed.

The fourth day after she’d arrived at the hospital, she asked her mom who was taking care of her dog. Her mother smiled; her father rolled his eyes. The look they exchanged said a lot.

“I’ve asked you this before, haven’t I?”

“Yes, sweetie, several times.” Her mother winked.

“Several hundred times, you mean.” Her dad teased.

“Reid picked Misty up the same day your dad called him. I’m sure he’s taking excellent care of her.”

Ellie blinked, confused. “I told you to ask Reid to take care of Misty for me?”

“Yes, dear. Don’t you remember?”

She shook her head. 

“You told us over and over that Reid would know what to do. So your father called him and asked him to look after her. Miss Ruby has been meeting him at your apartment. He really is a very nice man, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he is. He must think I’m a nutcase, though, to ask him to take care of my dog out-of-the-blue like that. I hope she’s being good for them.”

“Of course she is. You’ve trained her so well, sweetie.”

“Mmhmmm,” she replied, distracted.

Her stomach churned. Something was wrong; something that was unsettling about the fact that Reid had been in her home. And, like a splinter buried just out of reach, she couldn’t dig up the answer.

* * *

Later that evening Miss Ruby unlocked Ellie’s apartment to let Reid in but she didn’t open the door. “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just took the dog home with you? She’s got to be lonely here alone all day long. I don’t think that’s what Ellie had in mind.”

“Ellie works during the day, too, doesn’t she?” Reid waited for her answer. Miss Ruby nodded. “So the pup’s used to it. I play with her every night before I leave.” He cleared his throat. “You know, what would make this easier would be if you loaned me Ellie’s key. Her dad has been here vouching for me, and I’ll give it back as soon as Ellie’s home.”

Miss Ruby’s eyes narrowed and she pursed her lips. Finally she shook a finger up at him. “You better take good care of that dog. If you let anything happen to her, you’ll have Ellie and me to answer to.”

“Don’t worry, Ma’am,” Reid said, holding out his hand for the key, “I’ll take great care of her until Ellie comes home. I’ll spoil her until she’s impossible to live with. He smiled down at the diminutive old woman.          

“I don’t think that dog could get any more spoiled,” she retorted. “But it sounds like you’ve got the right idea.” She paused. “Are you married?” She pointed at his empty ring finger.

“Yeah, I just can’t seem to keep track of my wedding ring. I’ve lost it three times now.”

“Fiddlesticks! I’d hoped Ellie had finally met someone when I saw you here with her father.”

He chuckled. “Ellie and I went to college together, but we were only friends. She’s always been too good at judging a person’s character to fall for someone like me. But, thanks for the key, Miss Ruby. You’ll get it back.”

He opened the door to Ellie’s apartment to find that the little fur ball had broken down the dog gate and made a huge mess. It looked like she’d found every trash can in the apartment and emptied their contents, one tissue or piece of paper at a time, on the living room carpet. Then she’d shredded all of it.

Thankfully, she’d returned to the kitchen to do her business on her puppy housetraining pads. Reid was proud of himself for that find. No more big messes spread out on the kitchen floor. He just wadded up the used pad and put a new one down every day. Ingenious invention!

He looked around as he circled the apartment picking up after the dog. For the past three days, he’d cleaned up the puppy’s mess and taken her for a walk, unable to handle to stench in the apartment, but those puppy pads must have a deodorizer built in because he couldn’t smell anything today. Either that or he was getting used to the smell.

Reid had never been in any of Ellie’s dorm rooms when they were in college or in any of her apartments afterward. He liked what he saw. Ellie had a well-decorated, very inviting home. She evidently liked antiques and had purchased some beautiful pieces that blended well with the rest of her slip-covered furniture.

Her wall art consisted mostly of nature photography—waterfalls, flowers, mountains and streams—with one exception. Reid crossed the living room to study the photos. This wall appeared to be an important one to Ellie. It had an antique desk pushed up against it, with her writing materials carefully arranged. A bulky black bag sat on the floor near his feet.

Pulling her chair out, he sat down at the desk, trying to see the wall the way she would. He vaguely remembered her saying she’d grown up on a farm but it had never crossed his mind that she might miss it. Now he sat at her desk studying each picture and appreciating the simple beauty of the subject. Each photo was a tribute to a country barn.

Some looked new, with bright, barn-red paint. Others looked older, with chipped, faded paint. And the largest one, which occupied the center spot right above her desk, looked old, but well maintained. Its doors were standing wide open and a gray-haired man, driving an old John Deere tractor, was emerging through them. The picture had been taken in the fall. The leaves were a riot of reds, yellows and oranges. Low mountains trailed off into the distance. It was an entrancing, tranquil scene.

He looked around the room again. So many photos, but all within a theme.  Something clicked in his mind and he turned back to the black bag, hoisting it up onto the desk. She hadn’t zipped it closed the last time she’d used it. Inside were two digital cameras and several different lenses. He picked up the first one, a very nice Nikon, and was tempted to turn it on to see her photos. He put it away and picked up the other one, an even more intimidating Canon. She would probably laugh at his little auto-focus Fuji. He put the second camera away, closed the bag, and set it back where she had left it. He leaned back to admire the photo over her desk—the one he felt sure must be of her parent’s farm—with awe and a little jealousy that she had a place like that to go back to.

He got up to continue his clean-up when a bright color caught his eye. A red, high-heeled shoe. A chewed up, red, high-heeled shoe to be precise, which was lying on its side in the hallway. He hoped those shoes hadn’t been favorites. He’d gotten distracted by the photos, but now he followed the trail of destruction into the bedroom and found the miscreant on top of Ellie’s bed. She was lying across a book. A book with chewed corners, no less. He grabbed a corner and whipped it out from under the dog; Misty did one complete roll and landed back on her feet, tail wagging energetically.

“If you don’t cut this out, you’re going to get us both into trouble.” Misty cocked her head to one side and Reid plopped down on the bed beside her. He stroked her long, silky ears, laughing when her back foot pawed at the air. He stopped, the pawing stopped. She waited to see if he would continue. When he didn’t, she turned around a few times and curled into a ball on top of her pillow.

Reid looked back at the book he’d probably have to replace. But it wasn’t a book, it was her journal. A lavender ribbon, frayed at the end, had fallen out of it. He flipped through the book to find her last entry, where the ribbon should go, but something caught his eye. His name.  

A small part of his brain warned him that what he was reading was personal and not meant to be read by anyone other than the author. But it fell open to the day he’d shown her Stella’s engagement ring, and reading his words—spoken without thinking—and her reactions drew him further in. He read past his wedding day, understanding for the first time why she didn’t come over anymore.

He leafed through the earlier part of the journal, finding the day they met and reading his name where she’d written it for the first time. He read through the entire journal, could see—through her words— his metamorphosis from “jerk” to friend and then to what she wished could have been so much more. All those years and she hadn’t said a single word. Never letting on, because—as she wrote— that would have betrayed Stella and she wouldn’t have been able to handle that guilt

Guilt. That was the emotion he felt most intensely now. For as he read their interactions from her perspective he saw how unknowingly callous he’d been toward her. She was just a girlfriend of Stella’s. An unwanted girlfriend, often enough. How many times had he begged Stella not to invite her to something because he saw her as a distraction or maybe even competition for Stella’s attention? Now he wished he could go back and do things differently.

His attention drifted around the room. Her bedroom was a mix of blues and whites, and more antiques. The bed frame was cast iron with thin black spindles and copper accents. It looked like it belonged in an Audrey Hepburn movie. There was a blue, yellow and white quilt folded across the foot of the bed, with a plain white one covering the blue floral sheets. The pillows—and there were a lot of them—were a jumble of solid blue, floral blue and blue ticking stripes. He couldn’t believe they all went together, but somehow they did.

The walls were painted a very pale blue. Her windows were rivers of sheer white material flowing from black iron rods into a white puddle on the wood floors below. There was a massive oak wardrobe on one wall. And instead of photos, there were vivid watercolor paintings hanging on these walls.

A black bundle of fur jumped up at him and he fell on the bed. “Misty, no!” She darted back and forth, licking his face with her small pink tongue. He rolled to his side, laughing. She got in several good swipes at his nose, chin and ears before he could restrain her. “Yuck! Enough already.”

He rolled onto his back again, holding the little dog in both hands above him. Her small head was hanging down toward him, tongue still lapping and all four legs pawing the air as she tried to reach him again.

“C’mon, girl. Let’s go for our walk.” He tucked her under one arm and left the now-rumpled room.

* * *

Later that evening, Ellie awoke from one of her many naps to find her parents sitting in chairs next to her bed. Her mom looked like she’d been crying and that made Ellie nervous. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

Her mother looked to her father, who gave her the go-ahead-and-tell-her nod. Her mother took a deep breath, set her shoulders, and blew out her breath in a huff. “We have some bad news. Your dad has been out at the scene of the accident every day calling for him, but he hasn’t showed up. We think maybe Murphy’s . . . gone.”

Ellie frowned and her father touched her cheek, drawing her attention to him. “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll keep searching for as long as you want me to.”

Ellie blinked up at him. “Murphy died before I was rescued, Dad.”

“What? Oh, no honey. He was alive. The paramedics said he led them to you.”

“Murphy did?”

“The paramedics described him perfectly. Black and white Border Collie with a blue, reflective collar.” Her dad looked down. “They said he wasn’t using one of his front paws. He had a pretty bad cut on the injured one, but when they tried to catch him, he ran away.”

“He might have left so he could . . . go . . . alone. Some dogs like to be alone at the end.” Her mom had tears in her eyes again.

Ellie nodded. “It’s okay, Dad. You don’t have to go back looking for him. I’ll go one last time when I’m able to. Thanks for trying to find him, though. I love you both. So very much.”

“I’m sorry we couldn’t find him for you. I know how much you loved him.” Her dad’s voice was gruff with emotion.

Ellie closed her eyes. “I did love him. I always will.” Tears slipped from beneath her closed eyelids and Ellie calmed her breathing so her parents would think she was asleep. She couldn’t talk anymore. Murphy had led the paramedics to her? Had she dreamed he’d died and he’d actually escaped to save her life? She vividly recalled touching his cold body and seeing him curled in that ball for hours before she was rescued the next morning. If he’d been alive, surely she’d have known it. So how did he lead the rescuers to her? She fell asleep trying to figure out what had happened.

Chapter Two

One afternoon, toward the end of Ellie’s senior year, Reid caught up to her in the hall after one of her classes. She hadn’t seen him in several weeks although she spoke to Stella often. She tried not to spend too long looking into those eyes that were such a dark brown she could barely see the pupils. Tried not to pay attention to how wonderful he smelled.

“You busy right now?” He fell into step with her.

“No, not really. I just need to grab something for lunch before my 1:30 class. Where’s Stella?”

“Studying, as usual. C’mon, I’ll buy you a burger on the way to my apartment. I want to show you something.” She was surprised. She’d never been invited to his place without Stella. He took her backpack and threw it over his shoulder. “Don’t worry; I’ll have you back in plenty of time for your class. This won’t take long.”

“Okay, then.” She tried to relax. He was offering to buy her lunch and drive her to his apartment, both of which she’d literally dreamed about. And both of which meant absolutely nothing to him.

He held doors open for her, just like he did for Stella, but kept a friendly distance between them. It didn’t help. She seemed to react to his nearness anyway, intensely aware that he walked beside her. She unzipped her coat as soon as they were in his car, trying to cool down. He turned up the heater. She heard him sigh.

“Your hair looks nice today, by the way.” He glanced at her. “What did you do to it?”

“It’s called a spiral perm.” She rolled her eyes, knowing he’d still have no idea what she was talking about.

“I like it. It makes your hair look . . . nice. Which reminds me, do you remember a guy named Scott at the last party we went to?” She shook her head. “Oh, well, he said you were cute and asked if you were seeing anyone. I told him I thought you were available, but that he should probably ask Stella to be sure. She knows that kind of stuff, right?”

“Right.” Her stomach sank. They obviously never talked about her.

When they got to his apartment he led her right to his bedroom. “Sorry about the mess. Stella makes me clean up before she’ll come over but I figured you wouldn’t care.” He picked up some clothes, wadding them into a ball and launching them across the room.

She crossed her arms in front of her stomach, trying to keep from reacting as “you wouldn’t care” repeated in her head. Maybe her irritation showed on her face because he looked confused for a second.

“You wanted to show me something, Reid?”

“Oh, yeah.” His smile returned. He pulled out a black, square box and her heart sank. He popped the lid up. “Do you think she’ll like it?” Inside, a gorgeous yellow-gold engagement ring sparkled against black velvet. At least a carat, probably more, but in a simple design that didn’t look ostentatious. It would look perfect on Stella’s manicured finger.

“Oh, Reid, it’s beautiful. I’m sure she’ll love it.” Her voice broke toward the end, and he looked at her, eyebrows raised. “I’m just so happy for you guys.” She brushed the tears from her eyes.

“I hope I got the size right.” He took the ring from the box and held it out to her. “You’ve borrowed Stella’s clothes before so you must be pretty close. Try it on.”

Ellie’s heart pounded. For three years she’d done everything she could to hide her feelings for Reid from him and Stella. Was she really such a great actress that he had no idea what he was doing to her? She swallowed. “Reid, some girls might not like it if they knew their engagement rings where tried on by someone else.”

He was shaking his head before she finished. “The ring is an heirloom.” He held it closer. “Try it on. Please?

She took it and thrust it on the fourth finger of her right hand. It was a little tight.

“You really are clueless,” he said, taking her hand and removing the ring. He grabbed her left hand. “Engagement rings are worn on the other hand, Ellie.” And, if it had only been real, if the ring had been meant for her, she would’ve been the happiest woman in the world. It fit well, and, against her brown skin, it sparkled beautifully. Her heart shattered.

He swept a hand across his forehead, wiping imaginary sweat away. “Whew!” He waited, a relieved smile lighting up his face, while she took it off and then he placed it back in the box. “Thanks, El.” He pulled her in for a hug.

A hug that was too short. And too long.

* * *

Miss Ruby Ann Benson opened her door and walked into the hall, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. A young woman was outside Ellie’s door, banging loudly.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

The woman stopped thumping the door and turned to look at her. “Ellie didn’t show up for work today or yesterday and she hasn’t answered her phone or returned our calls. That’s not like her. Have you seen her lately?”

Miss Ruby panicked. She hadn’t seen Ellie since she’d left for her weekend away. She’d tried to return her key twice, but hadn’t caught her at home. “Just a minute.” She held up one finger. “I can get in. I watch her dog when she’s away.”

She ran inside and grabbed the keychain with “I love Cocker Spaniels” engraved on it. She ran back out into the hallway. “I hope nothing’s happened to her.”

A foul odor flooded the hallway as soon as Ruby opened the door and she knew Ellie hadn’t returned. The little black puppy went nuts in the kitchen, barking and dancing around. Tracking over and over through the messes she’d made.

Holding her nose with one hand, Ruby walked over and poured some food into Misty’s dish. The little dog wolfed it down quickly. She still had plenty of water in her automatic waterer.

Ruby felt sick, and not just from the smell. Ellie would never leave Misty unattended like that. Something terrible must have happened if she couldn’t even make a phone call. She walked over to Ellie’s desk and started riffling through it, looking for an address book.

Ellie’s coworker reappeared from her bedroom. “She hasn’t been here. The bed’s made. The bathtub’s dry as a bone.”

“Ellie would never leave her dog like this. She loves that little critter like it was her baby.”

“I’ll call the police.” The woman took out her cellphone,

“Okay. I’m trying to find a number for her parents. They need to know something’s up.”

* * *

Ellie’s waking moments happened less frequently. She dreamed of water and her family. She worried about her parents and her puppy. Only once more did she get a glimpse of Murphy, when he’d held a front paw up to show her the gash across his leg. He didn’t move when she spoke to him now and she assumed he’d died. She’d cried, but that was back when she still had tears.

Sometime during a lucid moment, she decided she had to shift her weight off her left side. Worries of gangrene or amputation from lack of circulation made her grit her teeth and push off the ground, shifting and wiggling around until her butt was on the dirt and her back pressed against the seat. She stuck her legs through the space that used to be her windshield. She’d screamed in agony every time she touched her left arm or leg and was panting and shaking uncontrollably by the end but she’d managed to stay awake long enough to do it.

Murphy’s body lay curled up on what was left of the back seat. She reached as far as she could, managing to touch his back one last time. The fur was still silky, but his body was hard and cold beneath. “Thank you for being my best friend, Murph. I’ll always love you.” She closed her eyes, wishing she’d taken a different route home.

Tuesday morning she awoke, knowing she couldn’t survive much longer. She said goodbye to her parents and her puppy. She prayed that all of them would forgive her. And she mourned for everything she wished she’d had a chance to experience. Love, marriage, motherhood.

Why had she put it off? Did she really think Reid was going to divorce Stella and come running to her? How stupid. How sad. To wish for something that was never meant to be.

She started praying that she’d die sooner rather than later and every time she woke, still in the car, still in pain, she despaired. Her left ankle and hand were so swollen now that the skin looked shiny and purple. She didn’t know what that meant and it scared her. How long could it take to die of dehydration? It might have been better if she’d bled to death the first night.

Tuesday evening, as the forest darkened once more, she drifted off with the peace of knowing it was almost over. The pain was gone now and she smiled. Stupid or not she’d lived a good life. Misty would survive until someone found her. Her parents would mourn, but they’d eventually be okay. And her dad could add all of her books to his collection.

An old memory surfaced of the day Murphy came into her life. She was seven, an awkward, introverted little girl. He was a small, squirming ball of black and white fur. A stranger stood beside her dad, both of them laughing as the pup tried to reach her face, his tongue lapping at the air. “What’s his name?” her dad had asked.

“Murphy!” she’d told them without hesitation. The memory faded.

She sighed. Yes, a very . . . good . . . life . . .   . . .   . .   .

Chapter One

Chapter One

 

Rounding a curve in the road, Ellie’s headlights flashed across a doe and her fawn as they leapt out in front of her car. She slammed on her brakes and jerked the steering wheel hard to the right, trying to steer her little brown Mustang to the shoulder of the road. She missed the deer, but as they disappeared into the night she was too busy to feel relief.

In the Ozark Mountains of southwestern Missouri, many of the winding, country roads don’t have paved shoulders. The asphalt just ends in a little lip with grass, weeds, wildflowers or just plain dirt on the side. So when her tires dropped off the edge of the road there was little traction for them to find.

The car spun out, headlights strafing the trees on the other side of a ravine.

“Down, Murph!” she yelled. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him jump to the floorboard of the car.

* * *

Elanor Rose Thompson, the adopted daughter—and only child—of a dairy farmer and his wife, grew up on a farm near Nixa, Missouri. Her childhood was a busy one since she was expected to help out around the house and the farm, but she was a happy.

At home there was no such thing as discrimination.

Ellie’s adoption was a closed one. Neither Ellie nor her adoptive parents had any information about her birth mother and father. No names, no medical histories, and no ethnic backgrounds. With so little to go on, people did what they do best: they guessed.

It was easy for everyone to assume, looking at Ellie, that her parents were African-American. Until she looked back at them. Then they couldn’t help but notice she had blue eyes. No wonder her birth mother gave her up, they said.

She was in first grade when one of the girls in her class pointed at her candy bar and compared the color of Ellie’s skin to Hershey’s chocolate. That evening she stood in front of her dresser mirror and noticed other differences. Her hair wasn’t straight, shiny, blond, or brown. It was wiry, black, and unmanageable even though her mother braided it every morning. Each afternoon she would step off the bus looking like she’d been riding in the back of her uncle’s truck all day. It would be years before they learned that her hair shouldn’t be washed every day.

Ellie’s parents lived very frugally, but didn’t mind splurging on the important things: out-of-print books, her education, and a new car every two years.

“You’re only as dependable as your transportation,” her father said.

Once a month her dad hired two of the neighbor boys to take care of the cattle for an evening while he and Ellie drove to Springfield or Branson or wherever he wanted to go for a day of shopping—for old books. And no matter where they went, he always found at least one to add to his collection.

When she was in the tenth grade she’d asked him if she could buy a few to list on that new internet site called eBay and her new business “It’s All About the Past” was born. Someday she planned to open a used and rare bookstore of her own. After she saved up some money.

She graduated from high school and was offered a scholarship to the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She hadn’t decided on a major, but figured she had a couple of years to decide.

The first day of class she met him.

* * *

 Ellie slowly regained consciousness. It was dark. For the first few moments she couldn’t remember where she was until, through the weak light of a dying headlight, she saw the dense trees and patchy vegetation of a forest.

She was still strapped in her seatbelt behind the steering wheel of the little car. She tried to lift her head to find her purse with her cell phone inside, but pain ricocheted through her body when she moved, starting in her neck and radiating down both arms, through her chest and abdomen. Her left leg throbbed all the way down to her toes. She moaned and heard a whine in response.

“Murphy?”

She didn’t remember the accident, but the car now rested on the driver’s side. Evidently her window was broken because she could feel leaves and twigs under her face. She couldn’t breathe through her nose; maybe it was broken. Dirt crunched in her teeth. She tried to spit it out. Her left arm was pinned beneath her, so she reached up with her right hand to wipe her mouth. Her face felt swollen, moist, and sticky and it burned in several places.

She reached for the seatbelt release and heard the click as it unlatched. She felt the vibration of the buckle when it hit the earth near her face and instinctively closed her eyes. She hadn’t thought to close her mouth, however, and coughed on the dirt. A sharp pain stabbed through her side. Her hand flew to her ribcage. She could feel a sharp lump under her skin so she clamped her teeth together and held her breath to stifle the involuntary coughing reflex.

The pain in her ribs faded to a dull ache and she took several slow, shallow breaths. “Murphy, are you all right?” She felt around her, trying to find him. His answering whine came from a space behind her. She tried again to locate her purse, but her hand came up empty. Fear welled up inside her chest. The old farm dog must be badly injured if he couldn’t get to her. She wondered how long it would take before anyone started to look for them. They probably wouldn’t even notice she was missing until she didn’t show up for work in the morning.

Misty would be hungry by now. Her Cocker Spaniel was confined to the kitchen by a doggy gate, so the mess would be contained at least. She knew the pup had plenty of water, but Miss Ruby, the neighbor who was caring for her while Ellie was gone, wouldn’t know that she hadn’t returned home last night as planned. She probably wouldn’t come over to return the key until after six in the evening.

She had to find her purse. She took as deep a breath as her aching ribs would allow and tried to push up from the ground but she couldn’t find the strength and the intense pain caused her to sag back against the cool earth. She felt a sharp prick as a piece of glass impaled her cheek. She reached around to pull it out, cutting her fingers in the process. She needed to do something . . .

* * *

She walked into the first class of her freshman year, sociology, and sat in the front row. Other students began filing into the classroom in groups or alone. They picked out seats, laughing and talking. Soon the only empty spots were the ones on either side of her.

The first day of any new class was the most difficult for her. It brought back painful memories of being singled out. Like her first day in third grade when that little blond girl Aubrey had walked up to her.

“Why do you have blue eyes?” The girl had asked Ellie.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I didn’t know black people could have blue eyes. You look weird.”

“I’m not black.” She hid her hands behind her back because she felt like slapping the blond girl.

Aubrey put a hand on one hip. “Don’t you have mirrors in that old house of yours?”

“Yes, we have mirrors,” Ellie retorted in a mocking voice.

“Well, maybe you should look in one sometime, because you’re black all over except your eyes and that’s just weird.” She turned on one heel and stomped away.

The memory fled as an older man walked through the door. He had just started his introduction when a couple walked in, holding hands.

“Sorry,” the guy muttered as they split up to sit on either side of her.

The professor didn’t comment. Instead, he picked up a packet of papers and proceeded to pass around his syllabus, commenting on the important sections. Part of the requirements for the course, he told them, was to give a group presentation about one of the subjects listed in the hand-out. Each group had to have at least three people in it and the topics would be filled on a first-come, first-served basis so they should choose sooner rather than later if there was a topic they really wanted.

The young man on her left read quickly through the topics and then his head popped up. He leaned forward to see around Ellie and whispered to his companion that they should choose the sexual mores topic. The girl smiled and said that was fine with her. Then she reminded him that they still had to find another person for their group. He took a quick look around, but his girlfriend looked straight at Ellie.

“Would you like to be a part of our group?” she asked.

“Sure, I guess.” Ellie felt heat flood her face as she thought of their topic.

“Good. I’m Stella Spencer,” the woman said.

Ellie introduced herself.

“And this is my boyfriend, Reid Evans.” Stella gestured to the man on the other side of Ellie.

Reid was just returning to his seat after informing the professor of their topic.

“Reid, this is Ellie Thompson, and she’s going to be the third member of our group.”

His eyes flickered over her and then he looked away. “Nice to meet you,” he said, but she could tell by the smirk on his face and the distant tone in his voice that he didn’t mean it.

The next time they met Reid asked her—while looking away—if she would please exchange places with Stella or him so that they could sit together. She traded with Stella so she could sit as far away as possible from the rude jerk.

She liked Stella, though. She was kind, didn’t appear to be looking down on her, and actually listened to Ellie when they talked. She was beautiful, of course. Her hair was a deep, gorgeous shade of red. Her blue eyes were rimmed with thick, long lashes. She looked like a red-haired version of Grace Kelly, her favorite actress out of her parents’ classic movie collection.

Reid, on the other hand, only seemed to notice Stella. He ignored Ellie, for the most part, and she wished she could do the same to him. It might be easier, she admitted to herself, if she wasn’t attracted to tall men with sandy brown hair, dark brown eyes and athletic bodies. And who smelled really, really good.

The three of them worked on the group presentation together. Reid did his part, planning his section of the lecture and PowerPoint presentation and even shocking her with some helpful suggestions when she had trouble locating a source. It was the first time he’d actually looked at her when he spoke and she was so shocked she couldn’t utter a word in response.

Two days before the presentation, Reid rushed into the classroom and plopped down beside her. He looked frazzled—his hair disheveled and his clothing rumpled—as he leaned over to talk to her. She recoiled in surprise.

“Stella’s in the hospital,” he whispered, gesturing with his hand for her to move closer. “She hasn’t been able to keep food down. They’re removing her gall bladder in the morning which means she won’t be here for the presentation. Do you think we can handle her part on our own or should I ask the prof for an extension?”

She thought about it for a second. “No, we have her outline and we’ve listened to her part so we could probably cover if you want to. We might want to run through it though.”

He nodded. “That’s probably a good idea. Stella feels terrible about this, but I think she’ll also be relieved not to have to worry about it anymore.”

He smiled, looking her in the eyes. Her heart raced. She smiled back.

“I’ll call you,” he whispered as the professor walked in.

* * *

The next time Ellie opened her eyes, dappled sunlight filtered through the deep green leaves of the forest and she got her first glimpse of their situation.  She looked herself over, trying to determine the extent of her injuries. Her left arm was misshapen under her skin. Definitely broken, but it didn’t look like the bone had broken through the skin. Of course she couldn’t look at it too closely without feeling queasy. She tried to wiggle a finger but almost passed out from the pain. Her left leg still throbbed, but wasn’t as painful as her arm. She couldn’t see very well from her left eye, which was almost swollen shut.

Her car was a smashed and twisted pile of metal and vinyl and glass. The back seat and the roof of the car almost met from where something—a tree probably—had stopped her plunge. If she’d been sitting in the passenger seat, she’d have lost her legs.

“Murphy!” He’d been lying on the passenger floorboard before the wreck. “You still with me old boy?” A rustling sound from behind reassured her and then a black and white head appeared over the side of her seat. He whined as he laid his head on her arm. She scratched his ear as tears welled up. “I’m sorry, boy. I was trying to keep you safe. Hang in there, okay?” He licked her face and turned away. The way he lurched as he did, told her he was injured too.

Fear and agony took turns overwhelming her. She fought against the sobs that tried to break free, knowing her ribs would protest. Her arm and leg throbbed with each beat of her heart.

She tried to lie still—the pain was less excruciating—but every once in a while her body would stiffen, muscles cramping up in prolonged spasms, and she’d lose consciousness from the intense pain.

Ellie lost track of the hours, unable to tell by the light outside what time of day it was. Surely someone was out looking for her by now. Had they called her parents? They were probably panicking. They’re going to kill me if I die . . .

Flashes

Flashes

Flashes

In many ways it made perfect sense. Light flashed across her closed eyelids and she heard a muffled sound immediately afterward. She opened her eyes. What had she just been thinking about? She blinked, trying to remember. Her husband rolled over, facing away from her. She thanked the Good Lord above that he no longer snored. A miracle if there ever was one.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, gathering strength and momentum until the house shook, the windows rattling in their panes. The bed trembled beneath her. A transformer box out on the curb near their window exploded in a shower of sparks, drawing her attention outside. The street lights winked out. She barely heard a thing.

Frowning, she reached up, pulling on her ears to try to get them to pop. They must be stopped up for her hearing to be so poor. She stuck her fingers in her ears and wiggled. She yawned and moved her jaw from side to side. Nothing seemed to help. Maybe she’d have to go see Doc in the morning.

Lightning flickered outside like a child playing with the light switch. She wasn’t scared, particularly, but in between the flashes it was pitch black in the room and she wasn’t used to it anymore.

Of course, she’d grown up on the farm without street lights. Many a day she’d had to visit the outhouse in the black of night. But that was before she married Charlie and he whisked her away to Springfleld. She yawned again and turned to her side. On the bedside table sat a portrait of an elderly man and woman surrounded by younger men, women, and children. She didn’t recognize them.

The furniture looked familiar though. And the patchwork quilt covering her. She rolled onto her back again. Memories stirred and fled with the lightning bolts outside her window. They must be visiting Charlie’s parents, she decided. They often stopped there when they traveled, and their anniversary was coming up. An important one too.

Was it their first? No, they had their two boys already didn’t they? Yes, Chuck and Roger. And Mildred. Right. Three kids. Maybe it was their fifth anniversary. Charlie loved to surprise her. Where would he take her this time? She hoped they’d leave before the kids woke up. She hated saying goodbye to them. Tears formed in her eyes, just thinking about it.

She reached up to brush them away and froze as the strobing lights revealed withered, knobby, and trembling hands covered with age spots. Mesmerized in horror, she wiggled her fingers, wincing as pain echoed her movements. She brought one hand up to her face to feel the soft, wrinkled skin across her cheekbones.

“No,” she muttered. “I’m not old yet.” A nightmare. She must be dreaming. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee—” She tried to concentrate. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee—”

The faded quilt lifted like a wave rolling beneath lily pads. Charlie reached out and pulled her to his thin, bony chest. She relaxed against him. When had he lost so much weight?

“Be not dismayed,” Charlie’s deep voice rumbled in his chest. “For I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” He kissed her forehead. ”It’s okay, Maudie. It’s just a thunderstorm. It’ll pass soon, my love.”

“Thank you, Charlie.” She kissed his cheek. “How long are we staying at your parents’ house? And which anniversary is coming up? I’m so tired I can’t think straight.” Draping one arm across him, she snuggled closer. Charlie was getting downright scrawny. She needed to bake him some pies or something.

He didn’t answer, just stroked her hair. She let him do that for a few moments, then raised her head so she could look at him. But the storm was blowing over; the lightning came more infrequently. She couldn’t see him so she reached up and touched his face. His chest quivered and a sob broke from his lips.

“Charlie!” She crawled up higher so she could kiss him. “What’s the matter?”

He said something she couldn’t hear.

“What was that? Please stop mumbling and speak where I can hear you.”

She felt his chest shaking as he chuckled. “I’m not mumbling, babe. You’re deaf as a fence post!”

“I am not deaf. I can hear you perfectly now.” She slapped his chest lightly. He always teased her so. “Now why were you upset a minute ago?”

“A moment of weakness, my love.” He swallowed. “You asked me what anniversary is coming up?”

“Yes. I’m having trouble remembering. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Oh babe, I love you more than I did when I married you sixty-two years ago.”

She froze. “Did you say sixty-two years?”

“Yes, Maudie. Sixty-two years.”

She shook her head. She was still dreaming; still stuck in this nightmare. In many ways it made perfect sense.