Humble Beginnings

By Beth Richardson   © 2016, 2017

   Monday morning Jayne was bustling around her office looking for elusive pieces of paper with very important notices that had to go in the newspaper and answering the incessantly ringing phone. She had given Steph the morning off as it was the last day of school, and Jayne figured it would be a quiet morning.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, you did remember that the quilting bee gals have changed their quilting day and that must be in the paper as they are getting so many new bodies that it would be impossible to phone everyone without missing someone.”
   Jayne hurried over to her laptop and checked the listing. “Yes, I have made the change already. Thanks for calling.”
   “Thanks Jayne.”
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “I’m just calling to let you know that I am behaving.”
   Jayne plunked down into her chair, leaning back to craned her neck to see out the front window.
Behaving according to my definition of the word or yours?” she asked.
   Monique replied with a deep sigh that reverberated down the phone lines, “Yours. And let me tell you it is certainly not fun!”
   “Hey! I’m the not the one who overdid it on the weekend and then couldn’t even move, let alone life her head off the pillow, on Sunday. But, far be it from me to point out another person’s follies.”
   “Yeah right. You just rub it in and rub it in.”
   Jayne thought she saw Monique in the window above the library so got up to look out the door. She waved across the street. “Look on the bright side, you get a full day to do nothing more than read. I hear most library managers consider that to be heaven.”
   “It is…”
   “Well, don’t knock it. You have a day off so enjoy it and rest up. I can always send Steph over to work your shift tomorrow if you don’t behave.”  She laughed at the faces Monique was making at her through the apartment window.
   “I’ll behave! I promise I’ll behave.”
   “Good. I’ll have Mrs. Schultz make up a couple of meals and I’ll pop over and we’ll have a quick picnic at lunchtime.”
   “Deal.  Oh!  Alert! Alert! Gertie’s heading down the street. I’m not sure if she’s headed for your office, but she’s sure looks like she’s steaming.”
   “Thanks for the heads up! Bye!”
   Jayne hung up the phone and bravely, or foolishly, poked her head out the door just as Gertie marched past her without acknowledgement. Jayne looked up to see if Monique was still in the window and when she saw her, Jayne shrugged and waved before re-entering the office.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, I am so glad I caught you. Remember how we changing our quilting day, well we are going to have to go back to the regular schedule as Hannah and Gertie can’t come any other time. It’s not too late to change the notice is it?”
   “Not at all. I’ll do it right now.” Jayne hung up and sat back down at her desk and made the change before she forgot. She reached over to Steph’s desk to grab a couple files hoping that the missing notices would be in them.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, I really must get an announcement in the paper. We’ve decided to return our quilting days to the regular time and day, however we are having to change the location from Joyce’s home to Rachelle’s. You can include that in the next issue can’t you?”
   “Of course, I’ll do that right now.” Jayne rolled her eyes as she hung up the phone. She made the correction and opened the first file folder.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, Rachelle here. I don’t know if you’ve heard but we were planning on changing the location for the quilting bee from Joyce’s to my place but my babysitting days have changed with Heidi so that won’t work now. Could you put a notice in the paper that we’ll hold it at Hannah’s place?”
   “Not a problem, Rachelle. I’ll get right on that. Thanks for calling.”
   “Thanks, you’re a gem.”
   As Jayne made the new correction she wondered why the quilting gals made such a production about the time and location of their quilting bees as they changed by the minute regularly.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, I’m so glad I caught you. Joyce can’t hold the quilting bee in her home for whatever reason so asked if I could and I said yes but then realized that it wouldn’t work as Joey broke out in bright red spots this morning and I’m sure all the kids will break out soon and you can’t quilt worth a darn with a houseful of sick kids underfoot and really the whole point of the quilting bee is to have some time away from the kids if you know what I mean and anyway mom has said she’ll host it and that settles that.”
   Jayne tried not to laugh. Listening to Hannah talk was always entertaining as she could rattle off the longest sentences without ever taking a breath. Though, Jayne supposed that anyone who grew up in Gertie’s house probably had to learn how to talk fast and without breath if they wanted to get a word in edgewise.
   “Thanks for calling Hannah, I’ll change the announcement so the location is Gertie’s. Bye.”
   Jayne rolled her eyes again as she hung up the phone. If she had one more phone call about the quilting bee she’d scream and she didn’t care who heard her.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Hey Jayne, have you heard if Symthers have gas yet or not.”
   “Chuck, I’m sorry I haven’t a clue. I was going to pop over there earlier and the phone has been ringing off the hook. I think their sign is still up, but give them a call and I’m sure they’d be glad to let you know.” Jayne walked over to the door but discovered the sign was just a bit further around the store than she’d thought so she was unable to see it without going around the corner.
   “Thanks, Jayne, you’re the best.”
   “Thanks, Chuck. Say hi to Olivia for me.”
   “Will do. Bye.”
   Jayne returned to her desk but didn’t find the notices she was looking for in the two files so put them back on Steph’s desk. She shuffled through some papers by Steph’s laptop but didn’t see anything. Where could they have gone to? As she was standing in the middle of the room she noticed the new gal that Monique had been talking about walking down the street and pause in front of the library. Jayne started for the door to intercept her, thinking this would be a good time to find out who she was, when…
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG                    (November 21, 2014)

   Crunch!  Clatter!  Rattle!  Claaaannnggg!
   Jayne cringed.  The sound of crunching metal drifted in through the office door she had left open to the early morning breezes.  The sound of Dan’s ridiculous tendency to run into Mrs. Shultz’s old metal garbage can grated on her nerves.  The poor garbage can was so battered and banged up after its many battles with Dan’s pickup.  Not that the widow seemed to mind.   In fact, it almost seemed as if she purposely put it out in the middle of the street. Jayne could never figure out why.  If Mrs. Shultz wanted a new garbage can she could just go buy one, she didn’t need to have the locals batter her old one to a state beyond death. 
   For that matter, Jayne could never figure out how Dan, who taught her to drive when they were younger, could be such a klutz. He hit the garbage can every single time he parked on Main Street.  She spared a fleeting thought to realize that he hadn’t always done that, only recently.  Jayne shrugged it off as she always did. It must be a guy thing.
   She got up from her desk and walked to the open door.  Inhaling the fresh air, she glanced up and down the Main Street of Humble, Alberta.  A mere dot on the map, with a population of 305, and loads of idiosyncrasies, it was her home.  As was the case in the early railroad years, the town sprang up out of nowhere.  Humble boasted a compact main street with the old boomtown architecture that was so popular across the prairies.  The false-fronted buildings may be almost a century old, but they were well maintained.  One could almost imagine exactly how the street looked in its heyday as bedding plants bloomed brightly in the flowerbeds up and down the street.
   Nothing ever really changed in Humble.  That was part of its enduring charm.  Granted, the old railway station and grain elevators no longer existed, but many of the original buildings still did.  On the south side of Main Street, east of the railroad tracks was the Imperial Hotel.  The early settlers definitely had their illusions of grandeur when they came to this land.  Nowadays, the hotel provided affordable living suites for the local widower population, though its restaurant did boast the finest food in the area.
  There used to be a bar in the hotel, but when Mrs. Shultz took over managing the hotel as a young bride she was disgusted to discover that her new husband drank most of their profits away each night.  To thwart him, she had the whole ground floor converted to a restaurant where one could dine on steak and lobster, or chow down on a thick juicy hamburger.  Liquor was served in the restaurant, however Mrs. Shultz ran a tight ship and if anyone dared order more than one drink they were promptly kicked out.  It certainly was a different way to run a business, yet somehow it worked for Mrs. Shultz.
   Two of the community’s most notorious widowers living in the hotel were nicknamed Siegfried and Roy, and could be seen, rain or shine, sitting out at the patio table in front of the hotel, with the town’s entire cat population twining around their feet, as they kept a sharp eye on the events in town.  Jayne had been in Humble for 16 years and to this day still didn’t know their real names.  The two men had been school chums, however they had a falling out when they were in their 20s. Fifty years later they were just as inseparable as when they were teens, they just didn’t talk directly to each other.  Thankfully they didn't make others transmit messages.  Jayne had tried, unsuccessfully, to get the details of the falling out to no avail.  The two men refused to discuss it, and they felt she was still too new to the community to be trusted with such a secret.  Jayne leaned further out the door and waved to the two men.
   The restaurant in the hotel was also considered the local “coffee shop” with the farmers and village residents sitting down with a cup of brew and either shooting the breeze or solving the world’s problems.  Many a political and economic crisis was solved, or a strong opinion firmly expressed, during those coffee discussions.
   Next to the hotel was the newspaper office where Jayne worked, and lived in a small apartment in the back.  The false front gave the building the look of a two-story, but it was really a modernized one-story shack.  The original antique press was in the museum now, but the large front windows still boasted the original paint from when the Humble Beginnings first opened its doors in the community back in 1910.  Amazingly enough, there had been an issue of the Humble Beginnings published every single week since the release of that inaugural issue, which was also stored in the museum, even during the war years.  A feat few Alberta communities could lay claim to.
   The Humble Museum was located next door to the newspaper office in the old hardware store.   The Museum was a fairly new addition to the community, being merely five years young.  For some reason, the residents of Humble stored anything and everything they wanted to get rid of, but not completely part with, in the old hardware store, which was never locked, claiming they didn’t want to get rid of it as it might be useful again some day.  After more than seventy years of accumulation, some community members decided that maybe it was time to clean out some of the junk.  This was partly because Helena Olsen lost her then two-year-old son Mitch for 8 hours in the building when she went in to drop off his old crib.  The RCMP was called to help the community with the search.  Once Mitch was safely returned to his mother, it was suggested that maybe the contents should be torched, but some enterprising elders approached the village council and asked for permission to start a museum, stating that most of the onerous work of collecting artefacts had already been done, so they just needed to hire someone to sort and catalogue everything.  It was slowly gaining popularity and becoming quite the attraction in their area.
   The Post Office was on the other side of the Museum, with the bank beside it.  Actually the bank, insurance office, and Municipal Office were in the same building.  The old two-story building also had office space which was rented out to a lawyer who came from the city once a week, a chiropractor, a doctor from a neighbouring community’s hospital who came out twice a week, a vet who appeared once a week, and some of the community organizations.  There was currently some contention in the community as to what to do with the upstairs suite.  At the last public meeting the count came in at 33% in favour of a daycare, 33% for a teen centre, and 34% for an art gallery.  The Municipal Council had decreed that that whatever it was used for had to have at least 55% of the population’s support so the three contingents were out and about campaigning for their cause night and day hoping to drum up some more support before the next public meeting on the issue.  Unbeknownst to them all, Peter, the bank manager had put in a request to Council to rent the suite for his living quarters.
   Opposite the hotel was the grocery store cum bakery cum gas station cum garage cum farm supply store cum drug store cum hardware store cum video rental store cum clothing store cum flower and giftware shop.  Some days it truly was your ‘one-stop-shop’ as the locals affectionately referred to it, though it was really called the Humble Store.  It was run by the most unlikely couple.  Mr. and Mrs. Smythers were polar opposites.  He was short and round, she was tall and thin as Olive Ole.  He was the grumpiest, moodiest man alive, she was the bubbliest, most happy-go-lucky gal you ever met.  To see the two of them together was like watching a comedy act.  If someone was having a bad day, they’d just go into the store to buy something and after watching the Smythers for ten minutes their worries would all be gone.
   Next to the store was the library which was in the former blacksmith shop.  Jayne’s friend Monique  was employed at the library.                              (December 5, 2014)

   When she whirled into town last year no one thought Monique would ever manage to turn the dark, dingy library into one of the social spots in town, but miracle of miracles that is exactly what she managed to do.  Classes on a whole host of topics were offered weekly as well as programming for all ages.  It was now the hangout for the seniors and teens alike as they played cribbage and whist in the back corner.  The seniors were busy raising money for a shuffleboard or pool table, though the library lacked the space for either.  Jayne was sure that it was Monique’s flamboyant personality more than anything that created the change.  Like a fresh breeze she came in and cleared away much more than the cobwebs and clouds.  Like Jayne, Monique lived in a tiny apartment attached to the library, but that’s where the similarities ended.  While Jayne’s decorating style was rather simple, Monique’s was as eclectic as her personality.
   The community hall was between the library and the church.  Someone with great foresight designed the church such that all the various congregations in town could all worship in one building.  Anywhere else the concept would be considered wild and unbelievable, but in Humble it worked and no one thought to question it.  Rev. Brown, Father Phillipe, and Pastor Glynn all got along fabulously, as did their congregations.  The congregations worshiped at 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., leaving the evening open for any special services the congregations may host.  The congregations all shared fundraising efforts, maintenance duties, Bible studies and more, as well as partial maintenance of the community hall.
   Rounding out the heart of Main Street was the school.  Situated so that it was parallel to the train tracks, with its façade facing Main Street, the school educated children from kindergarten to grade 12.  The school grounds also boasted the community’s Legacy Park which had been created following the Second World War.  Each of the grieving families in the community planted a tree in memory of their lost loved ones.  Decades later, the park was an oasis of tranquility from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Not that there was ever an overabundance of hustle and bustle in Humble.
   In some respects, it was a small main street and business district, but in other respects it was just right.  The Firehall was located behind the Humble Store.  The majority of the community’s residential area fanned out from the tracks, behind Main Street, in a half circle.  When viewed from the air, Humble resembled a sun rising, or setting, on the horizon. It was another trait that made Humble special to the folks who lived there.
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   The momentary silence of the morning was shattered as the phone again began ringing.
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Good morning, Jayne. Did you get the notice about the fun soccer game the last day of June? I can’t remember if I gave the information to Stephanie last week or not.”
   Jayne hooked the phone between her shoulder and ear as she knelt to shift through the contents of the recycling blue box under the table.
   “Yes, Steph let me know last Friday and I have the information here and am just about to deal with it. Thanks for following up.”
   Jayne dug to the bottom of the bin without success. Getting up she shuffled some more papers on her cluttered desk and adjoining table. Where did all the notices from Friday disappear too? Steph had handed them to her and then she had done what with them? Jayne started pacing as she tried to remember.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Hi Jayne, Frank here. Remember how we had tentatively booked a full page ad for this issue to feature the chairs that Smythers were carrying for me. Well, with their gas crisis John won’t be about to get the floor area cleared in time so can we postpone the ad till next week?”
   “Sure. No problem, Frank. Give me a call later in the week and we’ll finalize the details.”
   “Thanks Jayne.”
   Where on earth am I going to get another full page ad before the end of the day? Jayne frantically ran through the meagre possibilities in her head and reached for her phone list by her computer.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.” Jayne dropped the phone list on her chair as she reached out to stop a stack of papers from sliding off the table that she’d knocked over as she answered the phone.
   “Jayne, I’m so glad I caught you. Father Phillipe and I decided it would be a good idea to list the upcoming hymns in our church’s section of the paper. That way no one will be surprised at Mass on Sunday. It is very important that no one be surprised on Sunday. It is bad for their spiritual health. Can we do that?”
   No surprises were good for spiritual health? That was the first time Jayne had heard that. Did that mean she was spiritually unhealthy as the day had been one surprise after another?
   “Sure thing, Gladys. Are you planning on dropping off the list separately from the bulletin? Actually it probably would be better if you did as I don’t always get the bulletins till Thursday and don’t type them till Friday.”
   “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. How early in the week would you need them? To put in the paper I mean?”
   Jayne pictured Gladys in her mind. Gladys looked like the stereotypical sweet grandmotherly lady who baked cookies and knitted. The reality was that Gladys was a real scatterbrain who couldn’t keep track of two things at once. She was head of her congregation’s ladies group and invariably she either forgot to attend their meetings or she mixed up the dates of when it was their turn to host the monthly suppers or she forgot to make sure the church was ready for Mass or she forgot that she was the organist and what hymns she was playing or…well, her eccentricities were far to numerous to list in one sitting.
   “Tuesday morning at the latest,” Jayne told her, bracing herself for the inevitable response. She was not disappointed.
   “Oh dear. Oh dear. I hadn’t realized. Oh dear. Oh dear. I always meet with Father Phillipe for lunch on Wednesday and we plan the service and hymns together. Oh dear. Oh dear. I guess we’ll forget about this issue and I’ll discuss it with Father Phillipe on Wednesday. Oh dear. I am sorry to have bothered you.”
   “No bother, Gladys. Let me know, or I’ll wait and ask Father Philip when he drops off the bulletin.” Jayne knew that Father Philip wasn’t near as formal and stuffy as Gladys tried to let on to everyone.
   “It’s Father PHILLIPE. And yes, we’ll do that. Oh dear. Oh dear. What is Father Phillipe going to say when I tell him? Oh dear. Oh dear.”
   Jayne hung up the phone knowing full well that by Wednesday Gladys would not remember talking to her at all and would be in a flap about something else entirely. On the other hand, Jayne knew she’d be in one heck of a flap herself if she didn’t find those notices soon. She renewed her search.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Gotta sec?”
   “Not really, Vera, but what’s up?”
   “Pastor Glynn asked Rev. Brown if he wanted to join him in hosting the Children’s Bible Camp this summer and they decided to have a joint board meeting to discuss it next Monday at 7:00. Could you please put that in the paper?”
   “Monday at 7 pm…joint church board meeting for Glynn and Brown congregations.” Jayne knocked over the stack of papers again scrounging for a pen and something blank to write on. She watched helplessly as they all slid to the floor and then wrote down the information. “Got it. Thanks for the call, Vera.”
   “Thanks, Jayne. Don’t work too hard.”
   “Ha! In this town?  I’ll talk to you later.”
    Jayne tossed the phone list on top of another stack of paperwork and sat down to add the new meeting to the calendar before she forgot. It did not surprise her in the slightest that the phone rang before she’d typed the first word.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG                            (December 19, 2014)

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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Can you please tell me who to contact about the proposed youth centre above the bank?”
   “Give the village office a shout and they should put you in touch with the right person. If you are interested, there will be a public meeting held in a couple of weeks to bring everyone up to speed and allow everyone to voice their thoughts.”
   “Thanks. Have a nice day.”
   “Thank you, you too.”
   Jayne turned back to her computer when she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Looking up she noticed a new gal walking down the street. Jayne wished she knew the gal’s name. A more dejected person she’d never seen since leaving Calgary. There was an indescribable something about the girl that reminded her of herself before she went to live with the MacDonalds. Jayne quickly got up so she could go say hi but…
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Have you heard?”
   “Heard what?”
   “Are you saying you really haven’t heard?”
   “Heard what?”
   “Gosh, I can’t believe you haven’t heard. I thought the newspaper editor always heard all the news first.”
   Jayne scraped up all of her remaining patience, which was depleting fast, and repeated, “Heard what?”
   “Mrs. Schultz is claiming someone stole all her fancy tablecloths from the restaurant last night.”
   “Tablecloths?”
   “Yes, didn’t you hear the commotion last night? You live right next door.”
   Jayne mentally ran through the day. She’d woken up Sunday morning to discover that she’d not only slept in, unusual for her, but had slept in her clothing, also unusual for her since moving to Humble. She barely had enough time to gobble down a bite for breakfast and make herself presentable before heading to church. Thankfully she didn’t have far to go. However, once she arrived at the service, with mere seconds to spare, she discovered that her usual spot was already occupied, which too was unusual. The only empty spot she could see was beside Dan and she had to sit down quickly as Rev. Brown was anxious to begin the service and her late arrival was holding things up. After reluctantly sliding into the pew beside Dan, Jayne could not believe the people gawking at them throughout the service. The combination of the number of knowing looks tossed her way, and the rushed start, if she was honest with herself, Jayne would have to admit that she truly did not hear a single word of the whole service as she sat in mortification. She was so glad that she could rush out as soon as the final benediction was spoken with the excuse that she had to check on Monique.
   Jayne ended up spending the day basically hiding at Monique’s. After making sure her friend was resting comfortably, Jayne spilled out the whole story only to find Monique was not as sympathetic to her plight as she’d hoped. In fact, Monique figured this misunderstanding, besides being absolutely hilarious, was a dream come true and the perfect opportunity for Jayne to take matters into her own hands and put a little pressure on dear old Dan in order to speed things along in the romance department. Jayne left Monique resting in her bedroom and Jayne curled up on Monique’s couch with a book. Nary a page turned all afternoon as she mentally fumed and fretted about the turn her life had taken. Monique was no more sympathetic during supper, so after making sure she wanted for nothing, Jayne headed back to her own place where she took the phone off the hook and again fretted and fumed for hours before finally crawling into bed.
   “Nope, I must have slept through the excitement. When exactly was it alleged to have happened?”
   “4:00 this morning. The police will be arriving soon. You’ll probably want to take pictures of the crime scene. I heard the restaurant is in shambles. It was so bad that Mrs. Schultz wasn’t able to serve the coffee crowd this morning.”
   “Thanks for letting me know.” Jayne shook her head as she hung up the phone. Stolen tablecloths…crime scene. She was sure if the theft and damage did happen Monique would have called after ordering lunch. Did people in this community have nothing better to do? Jayne decided not to worry and wait till Constable Mark stopped in to give her the lowdown.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Are the grades going to be posted in the paper?”
   “I’m sorry. What grades?”
   “The high school diploma grades.”
   “No, they won’t be.”
   “Thank goodness. We had heard that they would be and our son is currently failing and we thought it would be very humiliating for him to have his failures broadcast for all to see.”
   “Uh...I agree. Rest assured no grades will be published.”
    “Thank you so much.”
   Jayne hung up the phone with a rueful shake of her head. She did sometimes wonder about people. As the sound of voices drifted in her open door, Jayne looked up and noticed that the new gal was outside the library again and it seemed she was chatting with Jim Jr. Hmmmmm, I wonder what that’s about? I didn’t think Jim Jr. was going to be in town today, Jayne thought, but before she could even move, the phone rang yet again.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, I hate to ask but did you take any pictures of the display of the founding families at the Museum Tea? I know we agreed to only pictures of the guests, but the board wants a page of pictures of the new displays that we are going to feature during the summer.”
   “No worries. I got pictures of the displays. You could remind the board that we agreed to do a weekly feature of each of the new displays throughout the summer so that they were given more prominence. And that this issue will strictly feature the tea.”
   “Right. I’d forgotten. Thanks.”
   “Have a great day.”
   Jayne pulled her laptop closer and began double-checking the museum article that Steph had put together before heading home Saturday. She started to correct a couple of spelling errors when she realized that one of the pictures of the displays had been used instead of an overview shot of the crowd. As she searched for the file to change the picture she remembered that the Museum had just approved a new logo which they would also want included with the article.
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   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “My best casserole dish is missing and I’m sure someone walked off with it at the supper the other night. I want to put a notice in the paper.”
   “Did you contact the caretaker and have him look to see if your dish is still in the hall?”
   “No need. I know it was taken and taken it was. Can I or can’t I put something in the paper?”
(January 2, 2015)

   “Sure. But just let me have a look to see what items were added to the lost and found after Saturday.” Jayne stretched out her arm as far as she could to grasp a piece of paper that had been left in the door slot over the weekend and had mysteriously ended up on Steph’s keyboard.
   “No need. I’ll drop it by later.”
   Jayne looked at the phone. “She hung up on me! Gertie had the nerve to hang up on me!” Though the caller had deliberately not identified herself, Jayne knew it was Gertie calling. She did find it hard to believe that Gertie wouldn’t call the hall caretaker who was none other than Mr. Hickson who’d taken on the job after retiring from teaching. He was the latest prospect, or rather victim, in Gertie’s husband hunting search.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne. How’s it going? I’m really sorry but we’ve been experiencing some computer glitches here at the office, so I won’t be able to get the council minutes to you in time to go in the paper. Will that be a big problem?”
   Jayne stifled an exasperated sigh, “No, I’ll just add some filler and we’ll publish them when you guys get back up and running. It’s not serious is it?”
   “No, the new software we got to do the taxes and utility notices has a few more bugs than the previous version and we’ve had to call an IT guy in to look at things. The only trouble is that it is affecting the whole network and we haven’t been able to do any clerical work for a couple of days.”
   “Ouch! Hopefully they get everything working very soon.”
   “I hope so. Before I forget, can you run the public meeting notice again?”
   “Sure thing. I was planning on it anyway.” Jayne switched to another file on her laptop just to confirm she did still have the notice.
   “It’s a good thing you read our minds or else we’d really be in trouble!”
   “Hey, it’s not that bad yet. Chin up. By the way, is the IT guy cute and single?”
   “You didn’t hear this from me…but yes!!”
   “So…do you really have computer bugs or are you gals just looking for an excuse to ogle some prime Alberta male?” Jayne and the village staff joked often about the lack of visual appeal in their offices.
   “I knew you read minds! No, we really do have computer troubles, but we can’t pass up a chance to view the scenery, can we? Now that Peter is taken we have to look for gorgeous scenery any chance we can.”
   “Yep, I believe you. Really I do.”
   “You’re just jealous because you are in your office and not here.”
   “I admit nothing. Good luck with the computer repairs and I’ll catch up with you later in the week.”
   “Sounds good. I’ll get you a picture of the IT guy if I can bribe one of the other gals to take it.”
   “Promises, promises.” Jayne laughed as she hung up the phone.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Hiya Jayne. Could you please send me an invoice for the advertising I did last month?”
   “Mike, I already sent you…five invoices.” Jayne glanced through her folder of unpaid invoices.
   “I must have misplaced them. Could you send me another?”
   “I have a better idea. How about you come here, with your chequebook today and I’ll give you the invoice when you walk in the door. That way you can fill out the cheque before you leave.”
   “Ah, Jayne. I’m so busy.”
   Jayne took a deep breath and tried to roll the growing tension out of her shoulders. “Mike…you give me this same song and dance every month. Now either I see you today or I’m discontinuing your ads for this month.”
   “Okay, okay. I’ll be there by 2.”
   “I’ll be here waiting.”
   Jayne pulled a copy of Mike’s invoice from the folder and then pondered where to put it. As she feared she’d lose it before he arrived, she put it back in the folder. She also wondered, yet again, what possessed her to give Steph the morning off. She still hadn’t found the notices she needed. Glancing outside at the sunny day she suddenly remembered that she hadn’t done anything with the list of short story winners that Monique had given her. Now where on earth was that sheet of paper?? Jayne didn’t even know where to start looking. Then she noticed the papers still on the floor from when they had fallen earlier. She knelt down…
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Hello Jayne, I trust you are having a wonderful day?”
   “Hi Mrs. T. Well, wonderful is one word for it.”
   “I just called to say hello and tell you how much I appreciate what you do for our community paper.”
   “Thanks, Mrs. T.” Jayne gave up on clearing the floor and sat down. She lounged back in her chair, relaxing for the first time all morning.
   “I also hope you are still writing daily in the Gratitude journal I gave you.”
   “As often as I can.”
   “I’ll let you get back to your work and know that I appreciate all you do.”
   “Thanks again, Mrs. T.”
   Jayne hung up the phone. She looked around. Where did her Gratitude journal disappear to? Though she couldn’t think of much to be grateful for this morning, she knew she’d be heartily grateful when it ended!
  “Knock, knock. Hello Jayne! I’m so glad I caught you in a free moment.”
   “Hilda…actually I…”
   “No need to thank me. I know how busy you are with the newspaper and all so it was no trouble at all to take over some of the wedding preparations. Seeing as how you don’t really have a mother to help you at a time like this.”
   “What are you...”
   “No, it really was no trouble at all and I so enjoy a good wedding. You know, I think the last really good wedding we had was Rob and Rita’s. I’m sure you won’t do a hide-in-the-wall affair like Peter and Sue. Poor Vera probably died of embarrassment over that.”
   “Hilda…” Though she had no idea what Hilda was babbling on about, the thought a very small wedding, should she ever get married, was looking more and more appealing to Jayne.
   “Not to worry, you have me on your side. Now, I went through all the bridal magazines and found three dress styles for you to choose from. Here have a look.”
   Jayne honestly hadn’t thought her day could get any worse, but apparently she was wrong. She tried not to turn green as she looked at the hideous pictures Hilda was proudly spreading out on the table. 
   “Now, remembering that your colouring is more ‘exotic’ than we’re used to here in Humble, I figured this dress would be a better choice for you. You’ll look so adorable with all this beading and bows. We could then continue the iridescent theme with your veil and clutch. You’ll be carrying blood-red roses of course.”
   Jayne prayed that someone, anyone, would come in and rescue her. Where was Dan, whom everyone was convinced spent all his time in her office, when she really, really needed him?
   “And you don’t need to worry about the invitations. I already called a printer in the city and ordered 300…”
   “You WHAT!!!!!!!!” Jayne interrupted.
(January 16, 2015)

   Hilda continued speaking as if she hadn’t heard Jayne’s outburst. “They’ll be ready to pick up by next week. Hannah and Gertie agreed to help me address them and mail them off so that will be one less worry for you.”
   “Now Hilda, really you…”
   “I mean it, Jayne, it is no trouble for me at all. And I spoke to Gertie and she has agreed to be your soloist. She will have a couple of songs picked out by tonight and the two of you can discuss her selections tomorrow.”
   Jayne didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The whole thing was so bizarre and snowballing completely out of her control. She desperately needed to find some way to nip this in the bud. Though how she’d do that with both Hilda and Gertie convinced she needed help with wedding preparations.
   “I’ve arranged for the rest of the church ladies to put together your table centrepieces and table favours. Remember, it’s the table favours that make or break your wedding. The bridesmaids’ dresses will be arriving in a couple of weeks and we can get the MacDonald girls together for a fitting shortly thereafter.”
   Jayne gave up trying to understand how this all came about, “Hilda, do you by any chance have a date set for the wedding?”
   “Oh my! I forgot to talk to Rev. Brown and find out whether the church and hall were free the first Saturday in August or the first Saturday in September. I must go do that right away.” With those words, Hilda tore out of the office and down the street.
   Jayne collapsed in her chair and put her head down on the desk. Would this morning ever end? Why me? why me?
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “I desire to put three letters to the editor in the next issue.”
   “Three? I’m sorry but our policy only allows us to print one letter per person per issue. You may drop them off, but I can’t put them all in at the same time.”
   “In that case, I’ll be by to drop off four letters to the editor for this upcoming issue.”
   “Four?”
   “Yes, I have just enough time before lunch to compose a letter protesting your discriminatory policy regarding the printing of concerned citizens’ letters to the editor. Your policy is deplorable, and do not think for a moment that I will not be saying so. I always speak and write the absolute truth. In fact, if I was in your shoes, I would start worrying about how much longer your doors will be open for business once the citizens of this good community read about your appalling practices and treatment of those who live and work in this community. Then we will see how smug you are, Miss High and Mighty. Yes indeed. Do not for one moment think that I will not suggest that you be run out of town to protect us all from the spread of your filth and venom. In fact I believe that I have the letter almost ready and will see you very, very shortly.”
   “Uh…Okay…See you later.”
   Jayne cast a perplexed look at the phone before disconnecting the call. What could have set that person off?
   She looked at the phone. “Please don’t ring!”
   Grabbing her mug, she checked to see if the water in the kettle was still warm enough for another cup of desperately needed tea. Naturally, it wasn’t but she managed to boil the water without any interruptions. Feeling like she’d struck gold she quickly made her tea and returned to her desk.
   At the sound of footsteps at the door, Jayne looked up from the mug she cradled in her hands. Though she did not know the man approaching her desk, she vaguely recalled seeing him enter the Shultz Restaurant about the time she left the Museum Tea last Saturday. Smiling, she greeted the stranger, “Good morning. How may I help you?”
   The stranger paused, looked around the office and focused his attention on the papers haphazardly piled beside her laptop. Clearing his throat, he introduced himself.
   “Good morning. My name is Jasper Percival Winterbloom. I picked up a copy of your local glad rag the other night at the restaurant and I believe that you and I can come to a satisfactory arrangement.”
   Satisfactory arrangement? Glad rag? Who was this guy, Jayne wondered. As of yet he still had not looked her straight in the eyes. If there was one peeve that Jayne had, it was people who didn’t look her in the eye when they talked to her.
   Stifling her irritation, and maintaining a polite tone, she asked, “What arrangement did you have in mind, sir?”
   Still keeping his focus on her desk, Mr. Pentergast pulled a handful of papers from a new-looking leather portfolio he was carrying. “I phoned you earlier about the letters to the editor I would like to submit for publication in your paper.”
   “Ah, Mr. Winterbloom, as I explained on the phone, our policy here at Humble Beginnings is to only print one letter per person in each issue. If you wish, I can hang onto the other letters and print them in subsequent issues.”
   “The situation we have here is quite simple really,” Mr. Winterbloom spoke very slowly, and in a tone that Jayne found slightly patronizing. “I desire to have all four letters printed in the upcoming issue and I am sure that you can see your way to make sure that my desires are met in a most satisfactory manner.”
   Jayne couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Was this guy for real? “Mr. Winterbloom, I have already stated quite clearly our policy on the publication of letters to the editor,” Jayne reached into a file beside her desk, “Here is a copy of our submission policy which should answer any questions you may have.”
   Mr. Winterbloom ignored the paper Jayne was offering him and looked around the office one more time before leaning over the desk. “I will pay for a full page insertion. Cash.”
   Was this guy deaf? Jayne stood up, “I’m sorry, sir,” she repeated, “but I will only be able to print one of your letters at a time as per our policy. I am sorry if that is not satisfactory for you.”
   “I will pay triple what a full page costs. Cash. Today.”
   While Jayne could always use more money coming in to cover expenses, this was getting beyond ridiculous.
   “I am very sorry, but I have stated my position and the newspaper’s policy. As such, we cannot come to an agreement. I will not accept any payment from you, nor will I print more than one letter in this issue. If that is not to your satisfaction, I ask that you please leave.”
   Mr. Winterbloom didn’t even blink. Nor did he budge. “I will pay you a thousand dollars an issue for the next three months. Cash. Today.”
   Jayne didn’t know what to do. How was she going to get rid of this nut? Was there anyone outside who’d hear if she screamed? Taking a deep breath, she reached out to grasp the phone, “Please leave before I call the police and have you removed.”
   “Two thousand dollars an issue for the next six months. Cash. Today. That is my final offer.”
   “I’m sorry, Mr. Winterbloom, I am not interested in your offer. Please leave.”
   “I was RIGHT! We need to be vigilant and protect the good citizens of this community from your evilness and censorship. We need to rid the world of Jezebels like you. Witches casting a spell over the populace. Well, you are not going to get away with it this time. I’m onto you and I will be informing the poor unsuspecting citizens of this good community of the demonic presence they have let control them. I will leave now, but rest assured you have not seen the last of Jasper Percival Winterbloom. No, I vow I will not rest, nor back down, until I have completely purged your devil presence from this place of purity and innocence.”
   Before turning away, Mr. Winterbloom looked into Jayne’s eyes. Jayne felt the chill race down her back. If the eyes were the windows of the soul, then Mr. Winterbloom’s eyes were empty, soulless windows. Carefully sitting back down, she watched the strange man walk out the door and down the street. Jayne knew the world was made up of all kinds of people - she had seen her share of mentally ill and addicted folks on the streets, but the episode with Jasper Percival Winterbloom was different and made her very uncomfortable. She sincerely hoped he was just passing through and would be gone quickly.  Jayne decided to call Constable Mac just as a precaution but before she could dial the number...
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, you are not going to believe this, but we have to change the time and location of the quilting bee…...Jayne?... Are you still there?...Jayne?
(February 6, 2015)

   “Come on, Jayne! Hurry up! Are you sleeping in there! Jayne! Hello!! We’re going to be late!  Don’t stand me up again!  JAYNE!”
   Jayne laughed at Monique’s comments which she could faintly hear through her back door in between the loud banging. She checked the lock on the front office door once again before walking through the kitchenette to her apartment. She paused to put the kettle away and wipe out the sink. Then Jayne looked around but decided the haphazard pile of books by the daybed that doubled as her bed at night and loveseat by day wasn’t going anywhere. The laundry wasn’t all put away but as it was folded neatly on a chair it could wait till the morning. The mail on her table could also wait till morning. She gathered up a light jacket and a jade plant off the table before heading over to the door.
   Every Monday night Monique and Jayne went out to the MacDonald farm for supper. The Monday night suppers were a longstanding tradition in the MacDonald household. Besides immediate family members, it could be counted on that there would always a body or two extra so it ended up being a large lively gathering with lots of stories told and food consumed before anyone thought of calling it a night. One reason these suppers were held on Monday, rather than later in the week, was so it wouldn’t interfere with any community suppers or events.  While there had been weeks that there was much grumbling about getting up to go to work Tuesday morning after an almost all-nighter, no one ever dared to call in sick to work.
   As it was a gorgeous June evening, Monique and Jayne had decided to walk the 10 minutes out to the farm. The MacDonald place was the first farm on the east side of the tracks directly south of Humble. It was a pleasant walk as there were lots of trees along the road. Unfortunately, as it was the main road through Humble, there could be quite a bit of traffic. The girls could walk on sidewalks till the village’s outskirts but then they had to have their wits about them so as not to lose sight of the oncoming traffic. While most drivers were considerate, it was a highway so one couldn’t guarantee that everyone drove responsibly. Luckily there were wide shoulders to walk on.
   “Is there someone at my door?” Jayne asked as she slipped on her shoes and juggled her belongings.
   “Smarty Pants! Aren’t you hungry? Come ON!”
   Jayne opened the screen door and stepped outside before she noticed what Monique was wearing. Collapsing with laughter against the door frame, Jayne put everything down on the step and wrapped her arms around herself as tears rolled down her face before she too slid down to the step.
   “Okay, Hyena, what’s so funny? Bad day at work? The weird and wacky people of this community finally caused you to crack? Speak woman!”
   With each sentence that Monique spoke, Jayne just laughed harder as she weakly fluttered her hand in her friend’s direction.
   “Huh? Never seen a gypsy before? Huh, huh? Never seen such embodiment of the feminine ideal before?”
   Jayne was almost rolling on the ground by this time, quite unable to contain her mirth.
   Monique released a long-suffering sigh before picking up Jayne’s jacket and the plant. “I don’t know what on earth possessed me to be your friend. You know, there are people in this world who treat me like the Queen of Sheba and cater to my every whim. There are people in this world who hang on my every word and quote me at fancy balls. There are even people all over this world who imitate my fashion style. And you…All you do is mock me and make me late for dinner...you even had the nerve to stand me up at lunch.  Had Mrs. Shultz not given our lunch to Jim Jr., I’d have perished of starvation.”
   As Monique headed off in a mock huff Jayne pushed herself off the doorframe, closed the door and hurried after her friend. She tried to contain her laughter but it was a challenge as she followed Monique’s multi-hued, multi-jewelled figure down the street.
   Gasping as she caught up to Monique, Jayne replied, “And what possessed you to put on every item of clothing and jewellery you own to attend a casual family supper?”
   With a sniff worthy of outraged monarchy, Monique replied, “I’ll have you know that I am only wearing my finest apparel and sporting only my most valuable costume jewellery. Unlike you peasantry who wear your meagre rags as if they were Persian silks.”
   Jayne glanced down at her faded jeans and old T-shirt. “They’re clean.”
   “Clean! Is that all you can say in your defence, Peasant? Clean! Heaven help those who are too witless to realize the poor image they are projecting to the masses of the world.”
   Jayne stopped walking as she laughed some more. “Oh, and what image pray tell, fair Maiden, are you projecting to the masses of the world?”
   With a flourish that sent her colourful skirt swirling, her blouse billowing and all her jewellery jingling, Monique replied, “Why, I am bringing light and colour to the dull countryside.”
   “Certainly can’t argue with you on that.”
   With that both girls burst into giggles and had to hold each other up. They weakly waved to Mr. Simpson as he drove by them on the outskirts of town, his perpetual frown firmly in place.
   No one in Humble seemed to know the cause of Mr. Simpson’s permanent frown. According to local lore he had been the most jovial lad, a regular class clown. In fact, he was more often than not sharing a practical joke with some poor unsuspecting soul. Mr. Simpson was the type who could be counted on to bring some levity to the most sombre occasion.
   However, one morning he appeared at the Post Office without his customary smile. He refused to talk about whatever it was that wiped the smile from his face and for the past forty years he was only ever seen with a fierce frown. Mr. Simpson taught at the Humble School for many years, but had few friends as everyone was terrified of him – staff, students and parents. Though in all fairness, Jayne did have to admit that he was a decent teacher who knew his subject matter. What would be so terrible that it would completely change a man so dramatically that even his closest friends no longer recognized him?  And, more to the point, how was it that not one other person in Humble knew what it was? 
   “Now there is a man who desperately needs more colour in his life. I always feel like I’m going to get sent to the corner for misbehaving when I see him. I can’t imagine having him for a teacher.”
   “He wasn’t that bad. In fact, he was the most creative of all our teachers. He was the one who had us enact a lot of the history we were learning which really made it come alive for us in a way that it didn’t just reading about it. You know, Dan told me he managed to get Mr. Simpson to laugh once. I don’t which I found harder to believe… that Mr. Simpson laughed, or that it was Dan who accomplished the remarkable feat,” said Jayne, “Truly, have you ever seen him with even a hint of a smile?”
   “It is sad when you think of it. I wonder what his story is.”
   Jayne turned to watch Mr. Simpson as he drove down the street. She too wondered what had changed the man so dramatically.
   “Speaking of Dan…”
   Jayne turned back to Monique, “Were we?”
   “Yes, we were. Now don’t interrupt. It’s the height of bad manners. You peasants certainly do try a gentlewoman’s patience. As I was saying, and don’t giggle when someone of higher rank is addressing you. Gracious, were you raised in a barn?”
   “Some days a barn would have looked good.”
   “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot.” Monique paused to awkwardly hug Jayne, juggling the plant. “Now, as I was saying…speaking of Dan…how’s it going on that front?”
   “Front? What front? The guy doesn’t know I exist.”
   “Jaynelle Michelle Bellevielle! How can you say that?”
   “Well he doesn’t, Miss Monique Victoria Isabelle Whitfred.”
   “Come on…he is the only one who calls you by your full name…”
   Jayne quirked an eyebrow at Monique, “You just did.”
   “That doesn’t count and you’re interrupting again.”
   “Sorry, Your Highness.” Jayne tried really hard to look sorry and repentant but only succeeded in bursting into giggles again.
   “Yah right. Back to the list. 1. He calls you by your full name. 2. He often brings doughnuts for the gang that hangs out at your office, I know he’s not bringing them for Mrs. T or me. I’m sure he probably brings you treats other times? The number of times I see him walking into your office with something in his hand, he must. Where was I? Oh, and 3. From what I heard he was very protective of you after you moved in with his family.”
   “Rumour, strictly rumour.  And lots of people bring me food”
   “Hush! This brings me to point number 4…you lived literally side by side with him for 3 years, sharing a bathroom even. I’m pretty sure he knows you exist.”
(February 20, 2015)

   “Very funny. Okay. He can find me in a crowd. But, the real question is does he want to find me a crowd? Or would it matter to him if I was lost in a crowd.”
   “Again, the number of times he pops in your office in a day, I’d say he does. He shows up practically every day of the week. That guy bends over backwards to help you out and you say he doesn’t know you exist. I don’t understand you.”
   “If you think he’s so wonderful why don’t you go after him?” Jayne felt like cutting her tongue out. Why did she say such a thing? It was bad enough Dan didn’t think of her as anyone special, but to throw her best friend at him was not something she wanted to live with. She couldn’t image what it would be like to see Dan day after day with someone else.
   Monique stopped walking so she could look into Jayne’s eyes, “I would in a heartbeat if I thought for one measly little second that he’d ever look at me the way he looks at you. Yes, he definitely wants to find you in the crowd. Me, he couldn’t care less if I was in the same room as you.”
   “If only. If only.” Jayne wondered what Monique meant. How did Dan look at her?
   Monique continued, “Number 5. He has never, and I repeat never, forgotten your birthday. A guy won’t store that all important piece of information in his head unless it matters to him.”
   “He will if his mother drilled it in deep.”
   “Jayne, he wouldn’t care if he didn’t care. So what are you going to do next?”
   “Nothing.”
    “Nothing! We’re off to have dinner with him and his folks, who love you to pieces so the hurdle of trying to impress the future in-laws is so far behind you, and you’re going to do nothing. If I wasn’t so hungry I’d march you right back to your place and doll you up.”
   “Doll me up?” Jayne rolled her eyes. Monique was always threatening to dress her up. While flamboyant worked for Monique, it certainly wasn’t Jayne’s style. She occasionally had nightmares of Monique putting her in some outlandish ruffled, pleated, sequined monstrosity of an outfit and then parading her out in public.
   “Okay, at least get you into something other than jeans…maybe even a dress.”
   “You wouldn’t!” Jayne gasped, clutching her chest as if hit with a sharp blow.
   “Hold on a minute,” Jayne realized what Monique had said, “Are you only friends with me so that you can eat free food?”
   “Why of course!” With a giggle Monique took off down the last stretch of MacDonald’s lane at a fast clip with Jayne in hot pursuit. The farm dogs noticed them and joined in the chase with lots of loud barking. The girls bounded up the porch steps and reached for the door at the same time.
   “Hello girls. Competing in the 15 yard dash?”
   “Hi Jim. Just so you know, Monique started it.” Jayne tried to catch her breath and slow her heart rate. At the same time she was keeping a close watch on Monique who also was trying to catch her breath.
   Jim, or rather James Murphy MacDonald, was Jayne’s favourite person in the whole world, with the exception of Dan of course. A solid, dependable man standing over six foot tall, Jayne knew that Jim would walk through fire for each member of his family. A farmer and a handyman, Jim could create life out of a barren field, or a masterpiece out of an old discarded piece of wood. As big as Jim was, Vera was petite. Where Jim was starting to show a little gray around the edges, Vera was still quite youthful looking. A feisty woman who brooked no nonsense from any of her children, Vera barely came up to Jim’s shoulder. Jayne knew a number of people in the past had dismissed Vera because of her size not realizing her inner strength gave her a stature that could not be measured in inches.
   “I started it?...I started it?...I like that! I’m helping a friend out…and she blames…me.” Monique propped her fists on her hips. She didn’t quite achieve the effect she wanted as she was still quite breathless from their sprint.
   “How about both of you come in. Vera’s in the kitchen doing her thing and the rest of us are hiding out on the back porch. I suggest you both come with me?” Jim gave each of them a quick one-armed hug as they walked in the door.
   “You go ahead, Monique. I’ll go say hi to Vera first and give her the plant.”
   “No, we can both say hi and see if she needs help.”
   As Monique headed towards the large homey kitchen, Jayne looked back at Jim who mouthed the words “I tried.” She gave him a sheepish grin as she shrugged her shoulders and followed Monique.
   It was a long standing joke in the MacDonald family that Vera was very particular about her kitchen and as such rarely allowed anyone in to help. In fact, she had been known to get downright cranky and throw food at any poor unsuspecting soul who dared to walk in and offer to give her a break by completing meal preparations or clean up. Not that she ever did any damage, or even meant to decorate anyone with food, it was just that her normally sound judgement was slightly impaired, especially if she was tired, and her fuse rather short.
   Jayne still distinctly remembered the time Vera was dead on her feet after helping at a funeral lunch all day in town, only to come home and insist on taking over the supper preparations for ten hungry people. By the time the meal was over it was obvious that Vera should be sleeping so the family each drew straws to see who would brave the lion’s den and offer to clean up. Dan and Jayne both drew the short straws and with trepidation, and the others’ encouragement, entered the kitchen. Dan had been the spokesman and just when Jayne thought they might actually set a precedent for future clean up efforts, and was convinced that everyone had been pulling her leg about Vera’s tantrums, the leftover spaghetti and sauce flew across the room at them both. Dan managed to duck out of the way in time, leaving Jayne to receive the brunt of the mess. Needless to say, Jayne made sure she never was in that position again. But desperate times call for desperate measures and Monique didn’t know that she was about to enter perilous territory.
   “Hello dear. Was that you two thundering up my porch?”
   “Hi Vera, alas I must confess, ‘twas us, ‘twas us.”
   “Sure, now you take the credit. Hi Vera.” Jayne set the plant on the wide kitchen window ledge. She took a moment to inspect the condition of the other plants. Another family joke was Vera’s black thumb. No matter how hard she tried, she was completely unable to keep a plant alive for longer than exactly two and a half weeks, despite all the loving attention she showered on each and every one of the plants. Everyone was stunned to discover that Jayne, on the other hand, couldn’t kill a plant even by neglecting it for months on end. The foolish thing just kept thriving and thriving. Thus, not long after Jayne moved into town she and Vera worked out a schedule whereby Jayne would bring a new plant out each week and after two weeks take the plant home to revive it. That way Vera was able to enjoy having plants in the house and Jayne didn’t have to worry about Vera killing off her precious floral pets.
   “Credit is vastly different from blame, me lass, vastly different.” Monique snitched a carrot stick from the plate at Vera’s elbow.
   “Oh you two! Go on. I have everything organized here. You go out back and join the others.”
“You’re sure?” Jayne knew it wasn’t necessary, but there were rare occasions when she still felt she had to DO something for Vera to earn her place at the table, or justify her being in the house.
(March 6, 2015)

   While totally ridiculous as the MacDonalds had wholeheartedly welcomed her into their home and hearts, she had moments when she was sure it was all a dream. She basically had overcome the tendency, but old habits die hard and sometimes resurfaced when least expected.
   It wasn’t that people hadn’t been nice to Jayne in her life, but usually the niceness was accompanied with a price. Though that wasn’t the case with Mabel and Birdie, two homeless women who took the childhood Jayne under their wings and taught her how to scrounge for food and on really cold days would put her between them so they could share their body heat with her and keep her from freezing as they all huddled together in some doorway. Prior to the MacDonalds, those two ladies had been Jayne’s only experience with kindness.
   Vera shooed them out, “Yes. Go. You two can keep everyone out there in line.”
   “Okay, holler if you need anything.”
   Jayne followed Monique out of the kitchen and onto the screened back porch. The others were all clustered around something at the far end.
   “Hello all! What have we here?” Monique hurried forward as Jayne followed more slowly.
   A chorus of “Hi Monique. Hi Jayne.” sounded. Jim motioned them closer as everyone shifted and space was made in the circle for them.
   As Jayne and Monique got closer they could see that everyone was admiring a finely-carved antique baby cradle.
   “Isn’t this the most beautiful work of art you have ever seen?” asked Sue as she lightly ran her fingers over the intricate carving. Her husband Peter sat with his arm around her. Sue was the most private of the MacDonald siblings so Jayne did not know all the details, but she knew that something had created problems between Peter and Sue when Peter was first transferred to Humble to manage the bank. Somehow they really had got off on the wrong foot, and no one could seem to get them to even be civil to each other. The whole situation was made worse by the fact that Sue was employed as a part-time teller at the bank. Many times she came home from work crying her eyes out, vowing to quit, but she never actually took that final step.
   Thus the whole MacDonald family was shocked speechless one Monday when Sue arrived at the family supper with a very reluctant Peter in tow. Despite the almost cool reception he received that first evening, Peter never missed a Monday family supper after that, and a few short months later asked Jim for permission to marry Sue. Whatever their original quarrel had been, Jayne could see it had been successfully patched up as she looked at the expectant couple.
   “It looks like it’s been well used,” said Monique also admiring the detailed embellishments around the cradle.
   “This is the pride o’ the MacDonalds,” replied Jim. “Every MacDonald for five generations has slept in that cradle which came over the ocean when our ancestors ventured to this new land.”
   “Oh no! Here we go! Everyone run for cover before he pulls out the bagpipes.” Tommy and Jim Jr. pretended to hide behind their chairs, hands over their ears for protection. Tommy, or Tomas Alvin MacDonald as his mother called him, was the brother who was most like Dan. The two of them were so close in looks and temperament that they could be mistaken for twins. Favouring Jim, they also had that solid, dependable farmer persona.
   Jim Jr. was the real prankster of the family. Slender and lanky, he had tried his hand at a number of jobs and tasks from rodeo bull riding to plumbing to road maintenance to construction. He said that life was too short to be stuck at one job for very long and it was his mission in life to help as many different employers as he could. Some might call Jim Jr. lazy or restless, but Jayne discovered once that Jim Jr. only took jobs where someone desperately needed help getting out of a stuck situation, the kind of jobs that most others turned down as there was too much ‘work’ involved.
   As the laughter rang out Jayne watched Sue lean back into Peter’s shoulder as she gently rocked the cradle back and forth. Jayne was very happy for both Sue and Peter.  She turned away from the others to wipe a tear from her eye, hoping no one noticed, and looked right into Dan’s eyes as he moved across the porch to let Jayne and Monique sit down on the bench. The sounds of the joking and teasing faded into the background as Dan reached out and gently touched Jayne’s cheek, wiping away a another tear.
   “What’s the matter?”
   “Nothing. Dust in the eye. You wouldn’t believe the traffic that went by us as we walked out here. You’d think it was a holiday weekend the number of RVs heading down the highway.” Jayne tried to brush off his concern.
   “Are you sure?” Dan started to steer her to the other end of the porch away from everyone.
   “Yes, I’m sure.” Jayne knew he’d keep after her unless she convinced him that she was fine. As she gazed up at him, all Jayne could see was brotherly concern, nothing more, and oh how she wished there was more.
   “Hey Dan! Come over here and rescue us. You can gaze into Jayne’s lovely eyes another time.” Jim Jr. grabbed Dan and pulled him back into the fray breaking the fragile contact between Jayne and Dan.
   Jayne sighed before turning back to the group and sitting down to watch them. Despite living with them for three years, and coming over every Monday night and often during the week, she wanted a different type of relationship with Dan than just another sister.
   The conversation flowed to a number of different topics as they waited for supper. Jayne knew how each of the MacDonalds would act in a given situation. She knew that as soon as Dan said something about Jim Jr.’s 4H calf that ended up breaking out of the corral and heading to the neighbour’s right before the beef show one year, Jim Jr. would reach over and lightly cuff his shoulder before rhapsodizing on the finer qualities of the calf. She knew that Tommy would be the one who would try and bait Jim all evening to see if he could get Jim to mess up one of his many stories about the MacDonald ancestors. If Lizzy was there, she and Sue would side with each other against Dan and Steph as to who could tell the silliest jokes – with Dan and Steph always winning. Vera would bustle around and make sure everyone was well fed and didn’t lack for anything, while Jim would make sure Vera sat down and didn’t lack for anything. Peter, in his new role of expectant father, would hover over Sue as Sue tried to ignore his hovering and make her own contributions to the evening’s entertainment.
   There was a comfort and familiarity about the whole family and its foibles that Jayne craved and soaked up like a sponge, even as she sometimes held herself a little apart from it all.  She honestly didn’t know what she’d do if Dan ever brought a girlfriend to these suppers, which made her realize that in all the years since she’d first arrived to live with the MacDonalds she had never once seen Dan with a girlfriend, nor had he brought any female friends to the house.
   Tommy had an on again, off again relationship with one of his former classmates. When they were seeing each other, he always brought Anna to the Monday suppers. They currently were going their separate ways, as they had been ever since they had an argument the day after Peter and Sue’s wedding. Anna had left town to visit relatives in Saskatchewan and ended up staying to work in the family’s store. No one had heard anything from her lately, though her parents said she was happy. Jim Jr. had brought some interesting girls home from time to time, but no one serious. Yet, Dan never had invited anyone to these suppers.
(March 20, 2015)

   Jayne’s thoughts were interrupted by Vera’s arrival out on the porch.
   “Supper’s ready. If everyone will kindly help bring the food from the kitchen we can get started.” Vera put a large bowl of potato salad on the table that was placed near the kitchen door. In the winter and on cooler days the suppers were held inside around the massive kitchen table, but on hot summer days, the meal was served buffet style on the porch.
   “All right. Race ya Jimmy J.”
   “Race a slow poke like you…no contest.”
   Everyone laughed as Tommy and Jim Jr. tried to outdo the other by going as slow as they possibly could towards the kitchen. Their exaggerated movements sent the others into gales of laughter.
   “If you clowns think that you can get out of helping you got another thing coming,” said Dan as he caught each in a headlock and marched them towards the kitchen door. Not to be left out, Steph snuck up behind them and started tickling Dan.
   “Hey, Short Stuff. Quit it. No fair. Lay off.”
   “Children!” One word from Vera was enough to bring a small semblance of order to the chaos as the MacDonald siblings immediately straightened up and started marching towards the door like soldiers on parade. Vera just shook her head at them all. The boys towered over her but she managed to snap a towel at them as they went past.
   Jayne lightly pushed Monique back into her seat as Peter tried unsuccessfully to do the same to Sue before they followed the others.
   Monique reluctantly settled back before asking, “Isn’t the rule in this family that whoever horses around and doesn’t help doesn’t get to eat.”
   “Neigh!”
   “Tomas Alvin MacDonald! People will think I raised you in a barn!”
   “Uh, mom…you did raise us in a barn.” Dan made his comment then quickly ducked into the safety of the kitchen.
   “Was that an inside joke that I’ve never heard before?”  Jayne caught Monique’s perplexed look before she too entered the kitchen.
   Jayne walked into the kitchen just as Dan was slipping a heaping spoonful of Brussels sprouts into a dog’s dish. All the MacDonald children passionately disliked Brussels sprouts and made it their lifelong goal to ensure that there wasn’t enough for everyone at the Monday suppers, or any special occasion. Anyone still living in the main house was required to eat them regularly, but for those who had moved out, ingenuity was required to skip eating the so-called delicacy. As the oldest, it was Dan’s role to deflect the blame from the others. Advice rapidly flew around the room as Steph, being the youngest and the designated look-out, took her post by the door, standing with her back flat against the wall so she could keep an eye on Jim and Vera. Jayne wondered what would happen once Steph moved out, would Vera keep serving them or not?
   “Take the dish out the front door and leave it by the old tire swing.”
   “Tommy, you know that is the first place she’ll look. Put it under the edge of the back porch.”
   “Are you going to put it there, Jim Jr.? I didn’t think so. I’ll take it to the dog house.”
   “But Dan they’ll see you if you cut across the lawn. Let Peter put them in one of the vehicles.”
   Jayne couldn’t resist adding her two cents worth, “I’d be more concerned about how you’re going to disguise the missing sprouts in that dish. Vera counts them you know. She’ll notice right away some are missing.”    The looks of horror were worth every word she spoke.
   “What!”
   “You’re kidding, right? Please, please, please tell me you’re kidding.”
   “She counts them? Really?”
   “Oh no! What are we going to do?”
   “Put them back, Dan. Quick, before she comes back. Wait…send Peter and Sue out with some food so she doesn’t get suspicious. Hurry up you two. No...wait till Steph signals you then you head out. We may be able to avoid disaster yet.”
   “You want us to miss all the fun? I don’t think so.” Sue plunked herself in a chair and refused to budge.
   “Hold on!” Dan’s tone got everyone’s attention. “Since when has she been counting? You know darn well, Jaynelle that we’ve been doing this for years and she’s never noticed.”
   Jayne handed the platters with hamburger patties and buns to Peter, the bowls of potato chips to Sue, and the taco salad to Jim Jr. before addressing Dan. “Of course she noticed…until I came along.”
   “What do you mean until you came along?”
   “While you guys were so busy hiding the sprouts, I was doctoring the serving dish. I also made sure that it sat right beside me so I was the first to dish up. You guys have never noticed, but I love Brussels sprouts. Vera was so pleased that someone didn’t make a face as they gagged down every mouthful that she didn’t notice how many were missing by the time it got to her.”
   “You sneaky little…”
   “Who cares…Dan, pass Jayne the bowl and let her work her magic and let’s get the food out there before Mom and Dad really think we’re up to something.” Tommy grabbed the punch bowl and headed towards the door.
   “Get real, Tommy, do you honestly think they believe we’re in here being perfect angels?” Steph rolled her eyes at her brother before opening the door for him.
   “Why of course we’re being angels. We don’t know how to be anything else!”
   Dan headed towards the front door, “Steph, make sure everyone gets out so they don’t notice I’m not there.”
   “Danny Boy, no worries. I’ll just make sure Jayne stays in the kitchen longer and they won’t care at all that you’re both a little later than the others.”
   “Thanks, Short Stuff.”
   Jayne was busy rearranging the remaining Brussels sprouts in the serving bowl so missed the significance of the exchange between Dan and Steph even though she heard the words. She headed to the refrigerator, grabbed some shredded cheese and dumped it on the sprouts. Then she popped the bowl in the microwave just long enough to melt the cheese a little. The sprouts were hot enough, but drastic measures were called for if she was going to pull this off.
   “Psst. Jayne, it’s clear.” Steph filled her arms with cheese, relish, sauerkraut and pickles before heading outside.
   “Okay, Steph. I’m on my way.” Jayne picked up the bowl and a bottle of ketchup just as Dan rushed through the kitchen snagging the vegetable platter and dip on his way through, he went out first, holding the door for Jayne.
   “Everyone find a seat. Is all the food out here? Jayne, is that everything?”
   “Yes. I got the last of it, Vera.”
   “Everyone settle down. We’ll say grace and then you can turn into a bunch of monkeys again.”
   There was a little manoeuvring as well as some good-natured pushing and shoving as everyone found a spot on the wrap-around bench. Once everyone was settled Jim stood up to say grace.
“Dear God. You know our going outs and our coming ins. You know our thoughts and you know the depths of our hearts. We thank you today for the guidance you bestowed on us…For each person here, and for those who couldn’t be here. We thank you for your bountiful blessings and your presence with us each and every day. Amen.”
(April 3, 2015)

   “Amen.”
   The quiet lasted for a scant second before there was a burst of movement as everyone jumped up to get to the food. Joking comments were exchanged and food fights were threatened. Brothers elbowed brothers out of the way as sisters dished up for each other. Jayne and Monique were in the thick of it all as Jim and Vera held their own against the frenzied activity. Jayne made a point of making sure that Monique was sitting down more than she was standing up. It was noticeable, at least to Jayne, that Monique was still slightly gasping and not breathing steady. She really hoped that little sprint wasn’t too much for Monique.
   Jim got up and served the punch for everyone as Vera made sure that no one was missed. Jayne thought both Jim and Vera were very special people to open their home to a complete stranger without asking any questions. She couldn’t imagine how they managed to put up with everyone’s antics so patiently week after week after week. Their home was not only a home filled with life, but a home filled with much love. She was sure that the couple had their ups and downs, and fights and arguments, but through it all they became a stronger unit and an inspiration to others, especially Jayne, whose past role models certainly weren’t the greatest. She knew she would not be the person she was today without the MacDonald’s guidance and love and willingness to tackle more than they’d ever tackled before. Jayne owed them more than she knew she’d ever be able to repay in this lifetime.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
  “Okay, I’m dying to know. What did you mean that you were raised in a barn?” Monique asked.
   Jayne was amazed that Monique’s curiosity hadn’t gotten the best of her before the worst of the hunger pains were assuaged and the serving dishes were empty, even the Brussel sprout dish, and before the homemade deep-dish apple pie was served. No one complained that they were too full to have a piece. No one ever refused a piece of Vera’s apple pie. However, once the pie was devoured and bodies were relaxed on the wrap around porch bench, it seemed Monique had waited long enough.
   Jim Jr., ever the comedian and clown, started off the explanation, “Well, it all started back in the days when people were smaller and the world was bigger…”
   “Stop!” Steph threw her napkin at Jim Jr. who moved at the last moment causing the missile to hit Tommy in the chest. Not one to let a challenge go unanswered he volleyed his wadded up napkin back at her. Before anyone could blink napkins were flying all over the porch, and some even hit their intended targets.
   To put a stop to the free-for-all, Vera collected the napkins as they sailed by her until the various opponents had no more ammunition for their battle. “Really. Some days I wonder who raised you heathens.”
   “You did!” Steph replied before getting up to hug Vera. “Sorry about that Monique.”
   “So, is anyone going to answer my question?” Monique asked.
   As everyone straightened up to give a reply, Steph jumped in just a little ahead of the rest.
   “Let me tell.”
   Jim Jr. bowed with a sweeping gesture, “The floor is all yours.”
   Steph turned to Monique. “Back when Mom and Dad first talked of married they didn’t have much money. Dad was working for the Wilson’s then and he made arrangements to buy this piece of land from Mr. Wilson Sr. in exchange for working another 5 years for him as a hired hand. That gave them land, but no where to live. So when Dad was given the job of tearing down one of Mr. Wilson Sr.’s old, old barns and disposing of the lumber, he took it down and hauled the wood over here. When he got off work, he’d work more hours putting the barn back together. By the wedding day, they had a barn that they could move into. It has seen a lot of changes, but this house is still the old barn that they moved into when they got married.”
   “That is so cool. So, Jim, did you originally build it in the barn shape or did you just use the lumber to make a regular house?”
   “A little of both, Monique, a little of both. The basic shape was that of a barn but I didn’t just rebuild the barn as it had been. I did try to make it look more like a house. It has had its share of additions and renovations through the years, so unless you know, it is hard to tell where the original floor plan is.”
   “Amazing. That means that you were raised in a barn too, Jayne.”
   “Nope! I only received my polish in a barn; I was raised in the dump.”
   “What do you mean, Jayne?”
   Jayne turned to Peter and then looked at Sue. “Didn’t you ever tell him?”
Sue replied, “I didn’t think it was my story to tell. I figured if it was meant to be shared it would.”
   Peter looked around at everyone, “Am I missing something?”
   Jayne replied, “Peter, I wasn’t raised by the MacDonalds. I came to live here when I was 16.”
   “Really? I guess I thought you were a foster kid they’d taken in when you were much younger.”
   “Nope. In a way I wish that was true, but on the other hand, happening when it did, when I was older, made it easier to deal with. I can talk about it now, even joke about it, but the wounds cut deep and took a long time to heal.”
   “What happened?”
   “I’m originally from Calgary. My parents were druggies and street people. In some respects, I was extremely fortunate because I was never physically abused. There are so many horror stories that I could tell about other children who lived in our part of the city. They had it much, much worse than I did. I was basically just neglected. My parents never played with me. They never read to me. They rarely fed me and they certainly didn’t worry about clothing me. They never hugged me. In truth that was the hardest part of joining this family, they hugged everyone and each other incessantly!” Jayne joked.
   “How awful. How did you survive?”
   “You survive because you have to. There is no other option. You don’t know any other way. It’s not easy, it’s not pretty, and it’s not what most people have ever seen in their lives. We were living in apartments that were so bad the stray animals stayed away. The buildings were slated to be torn down as they weren’t safe with electrical wiring exposed, leaks and mould growth everywhere, there was no heat in the winter and too much heat in the summer. Disease was rampant because there was little hygiene or cleanliness. We literally were living in conditions that were dump-like. There were times I was sure the homeless were living in more luxurious digs than we were, until we ended up on the streets ourselves. Then we had nothing, no roof, no shelter except a wall at our backs. You may have seen pictures of people wrapped in newspaper to keep warm. That is what you do.”
   “Every once in a while my father sobered up enough to get a job. Mainly to get more drug money, I’m sure.” Jayne smiled at Dan and Steph who each moved so they were sitting on either side of her. She couldn’t count the number of times through the years that one or both of them were by her side when things got tough. As Dan’s arm came around her shoulders, Jayne rested her head on his shoulder for a moment before straightening up.
   “Everyone seems to have these preconceived notions that street people are all lazy, good-for-nothings. Truly, there are a lot like that. Drugs, alcoholism, knife fights, murders, prostitution, abandoned babies and more abound, and I’ve seen it all.
(April 17, 2015)

   But, there are good folks on the streets too. Ones who have fallen on hard times and fallen through the cracks. Two special gals, Mabel and Birdie, took care of me and hid me from Social Services. They taught me how to survive in that urban jungle where only the smartest and the fastest survive. They taught me how to conduct myself in social settings so that I got special treatment. For us, social settings consisted of the homeless shelter or the soup kitchen. They were friends with one of the cooks at a real dive of a restaurant who would let me come in to warm up and feed me in exchange for washing some dishes or sweeping the floor. It was a hard, hard life, but there were good times and good people there too.”
   “In the early 80s my dad decided we’d all move north. We had no money, no vehicle, and no real belongings. Everything I ever owned I could carry in a paper lunch bag…not a grocery bag, a lunch bag. We’d hitchhike and my dad would work odd jobs at each of the communities we ended up in. I could tell that my parents didn’t want to be bothered with me, but for some reason they dragged me along. We’d all scrounge for food scraps in the garbage bins behind the various restaurants and grocery stores. We would always go to the local dump to see if there was anything that could be salvaged and sold for a few bucks to keep some sort of roof over our heads, or for cigarettes and booze.”
   “What about school? Attendance is mandatory isn’t it?”
   “Like I said, I was pretty much hidden from Social Services and any other government types. Mabel and Birdie found a book once in a dumpster and taught me how to read using it. They also taught me how to write and do simple math. Occasionally I’d find a book as we were scrounging through a dump and I’d read it. As we were never anywhere long enough, I just never went to school.”
   “Unbelievable. People actually live that way?” Peter slumped back in his seat.
   “It is heartbreaking,” Vera added, “and in our own province.”
   Peter asked, “So how did you end up in Humble?”
   “We traipsed around the province for years. One morning my dad announced that he and my mom were going clean up and settle down for good. We’d had fights as I got older and entered the teenage years because they wanted me to do drugs too. I’m not sure why, as I knew no other life, but I never had any desire to. Maybe it was because of the worlds I was learning about in the books I was reading, or maybe it was catching glimpses of how other people lived. In Calgary when you’re on the streets, everyone around you is on the streets. Rarely do you associate with someone who is living a normal life. The “normal” people are the enemy…the cops, Social Services and other government people that try to help. In the smaller communities you can’t help but see how the “other side” lives. In a way, because I was clean, I ended up being my parents’ parent. I was constantly trying to get them to get off the drugs and live a different life. I never considered leaving them, I wanted better for them. Anyway, we managed to find some decent salvage, traded it for some ‘good’ second-hand clothing, and found a car that my dad was able to fix up enough to get us almost to Humble. When we broke down, someone came along and gave us a ride into town, found us a place to stay and arranged for my dad to start work with the Smythers pumping gas. This community was paradise. To complete our efforts at respectability my father insisted I enrol in school and I stepped foot into a school for the very first time ever the day after we arrived in town.”
   “That must have been a shock?”
   “Complete and total culture shock. I’d never even been near a school before, or even around other children. I had no idea what the protocol was or anything. In a way I was left to flounder as everyone assumed that a 16 year old should know what a school was.”
   “Believe me, it was obvious you didn’t. We just couldn’t understand why.” Dan added, “Jaynelle was in my grade.”
   “But you ended up here at the MacDonald’s. What happened?” Peter leaned forward, as engrossed in the story as Monique seemed to be even though she had heard most of the details before.
   “Two nights after we all arrived in Humble I woke up to discover that my parents were totally and completely gone. They took everything, not that we had much, except for the clothes that I wore to bed. I tried to hide it from the landlord but he figured out right away. I was sure I was going to jail but he assured me that the family he was taking me to would look after me until the situation was resolved. As I was 16, and legally able to be on my own, he decided that getting Social Services involved wasn’t necessary. He brought me out here and I was sure it was a cruel joke. This place was like a palace in my eyes. I never dreamt I’d be able to stay here, but Jim and Vera dragged me in the door, gave me my own bedroom, dressed me, fed me, tutored me, and loved me.”
   Vera laughed, “You make it sound so easy. Now tell him the whole story.”
   “Never mind,” Jim Jr. interrupted, “I can tell you…she was WILD! She never washed or brushed her hair, or washed the rest of her for that matter. Jayne really didn’t know how to eat at a table, nor did she have any real manners. She was like an injured wild beast that you take in to help heal and yet you can’t get too close. She rarely ate in front of us, but horded most of her food and created quite the stockpile in her room.”
   Sue added, “As the oldest girl, I was elected to be Jayne’s buddy and I can’t tell you the number of times that I literally risked bruises and scrapes as we had to practically manhandle her some days to get her to do things.”
   “What?” Peter’s eyes popped.
   “In truth,” Jim said, “Jayne was lost. We may not think much of her upbringing but that was the only way of life she’d ever known and then she was plunked down in a completely foreign world with a houseful of people who had no ties to her or her former lifestyle. You have no idea how Vera and I prayed that we weren’t doing more damage to her fragile soul as we tried to find some way to get through to her. Jayne certainly wasn’t dumb by any stretch of the imagination…it’s as Junior said, she was wild, and scared.”
   “I was completely out of my depth, in more ways than one. I had street smarts galore, but no idea how to really live in a house with decent folk. It was decided fairly quickly that I would be kept home from school until it could be determine what I knew and didn’t know. There was much more of the latter than the former I’m afraid.”
   “I wasn’t stupid, I just wasn’t school educated, and I had no idea how to live in a world that we would have called respectable. So to enter the formal education system at 16 and be expected to keep up, and fit in, was a little overwhelming, and at this point no one really knew my background or what I was facing.”
   “So what happened?”
   Jayne laughed, “First off Vera took me shopping. Then she scrubbed me from top to toe. My hair was cut. Vera sat me down at the table and showed me how to eat properly and to clean up after myself. It was an extreme makeover. I thought I had radically changed but no one else agreed.”
   “Well there was the first Sunday we took you to church.” Jim said.
   “Oh, please let me tell that story.” Tommy eagerly leaned forward. “Jayne had been with us for about a month and had cleaned up quite a bit. Mom and Dad decided it was time to take her out in public. She still hadn’t been going to school as it was obvious she wasn’t ready. So Sunday morning we’re all spiffed up. Jayne’s got a new dress on and her hair washed and combed. We head off to church, deciding to walk to give Jayne a chance to adjust to the idea of entering town.
(May 1, 2015)

   You should have seen Jayne’s eyes when we walked up to the church. She asked if it was a hospital.”
   “Who was the minister we had then?” Vera asked Jim.
   “Well now, wasn’t it Rev. Johns?”
   “No he was here when Lizzy was born.”
   “Right…uh, Rev. McDaniels?”
   Tommy continued his story, “Right, Rev. McDaniels was at the door greeting everyone and kept his curiosity in check when we arrive with Jayne in tow. We got settled in our places and the service was going along quite smoothly till the offering plate was passed. Jayne must not have been paying attention…”
   “Or else paying too close attention,” Dan interjected only to grunt when Jayne elbowed him.
   “…when the offering plate came along each of us kids put our money in but when it got to Jayne she grabbed it and hightailed it out the church doors as fast as she could!”
   “You’re kidding,” Peter looked at Jayne in disbelief.
   ‘No, it’s true I did. I never had my own money before and to me it appeared that they were handing it right to me.”
   Tommy picked up the story again, “You should have seen the pandemonium in that church when the congregation realized what had happened. Dan and I jumped up to take off after her right way, but mom caught me as I went by and hauled me back. Cries of ‘stop, thief’ resounded. It was the best service most of us kids have ever had to sit through. What kid hasn’t longed to be able to take some of the money from the plate? We were in awe of Jayne for doing it and getting away.”
   “Now, Tommy, you know she didn’t get away.” Vera chided.
   “Pretty darn close! It took till almost supper time before anyone found her. The church service ended with her departure as everyone, and the police, tried to find out where she’d gone.”
   “Where did you go?” Peter’s eyes were almost popping out of his head as the story was revealed.
   “I hid in the park under a picnic table. No one saw me.”
   “Under a picnic table? And no one saw you?”
   Jayne laughed at the incredulous look on Peter’s face. “I guess no one thought to look for me there.”
   “Partly because she’d tossed the collection plate at the back of the church grounds in the opposite direction of the park,” Jim said. “Though we were looking all over, we did concentrate in that direction.”
   “This is an incredible story. I can’t believe I didn’t hear it before. Famous newspaper editor absconds with church funds first month in town. It would have made smashing headlines.”
   “It would have if we hadn’t managed to calm down the minister. I had to promise to bake him a pie every week just to keep him from pressing charges.”
   “Now Mom you know he didn’t mean it, he just wanted to ensure that he had a ready supply of apple pies.” Dan reached over and hugged Vera.
   “Who found you?” Peter returned to the story.
   “Timber.”
   “The MacDonald’s dog?”
   “Yep. I guess she got loose, she was just a puppy then, and came into town to find everyone. Instead she found me. She wouldn’t leave me alone. She kept wanting to play or something and started barking up a storm when I wouldn’t cooperate.”
   “Timber led us right to Jayne. We thought we had it made, but she fought like a wild cat when we tried to get her out. I still have the scars from her finger nails.”
   “Dan! That’s not true! I didn’t scar you.” Jayne could feel her face heating up.
   “Sure you did. See this mark on the back of my hand…that was you.” Dan held out his hands for the others to inspect.
   The others started laughing. “Now Dan, quit bugging the girl. No, Peter, that scar is from when he got a little too close to an ornery milk cow one morning with too cold hands.” Vera smacked Dan with the dish towel that she had beside her.
   “Ouch! That’s not fair.” Dan pretended to cower against the bench.
   Peter persisted, “What turned it around? You’ve obviously come a long way from what you’ve said your life was like.”
   Jayne reached over and hugged Steph, “Steph was born.”
   “What?”
   Jim continued the story, “Once we got Jayne out, we got home in time to discover that Vera was in labour with Stephanie. There was no end to excitement that day, let me tell you. I loaded Vera in the car, left the other kids in Dan’s care and, God forgive me, told them to sit on Jayne to keep her in one place, before we headed for the hospital.”
   “They really did sit on me…all of them.”
   Monique exclaimed, “You’re kidding! You never told me that.”
   “Yep, Tommy tripped me as I walked by him in an attempt to leave the house and all the kids, Sue included, sat on me until Jim returned…which seemed like an eternity.”
   “Rest assured, Jayne, it felt like that for us too,” Jim Jr. remarked. “No food, no bathroom breaks, no sleep. The thrill lost its appeal very quickly. I think it was sometime the next morning before Dad returned. We’d stayed up the whole night and I’m sure Jayne wasn’t still for one moment as she tried to dislodge us all.”
   “I still remember the day when I brought Stephanie home. I can’t remember why we decided the children wouldn’t come visit me in the hospital…”
   “They were hooligans”
   “…but not none of them saw the baby till we came home. Everyone was bouncing off the walls in excitement except Jayne. She was paler than a ghost and trembling so hard I was surprised she didn’t topple over. It broke my heart when she crept up to see baby Steph and then with tears in her eyes begged, and I mean begged, us not to throw the baby away.”
   “What?! Why did you think they’d throw Steph away?”
   “Cause that is what I was used to seeing. Prostitutes who got pregnant tossed babies in dumpsters. Druggies so high they didn’t know what they were doing tossed babies into dumpsters. It was normal. The lucky ones were found by someone and taken to Social Services, but not all of them were lucky. Steph was the first baby I’d ever seen up close and she was so perfect and beautiful...”
   “I still am,” Steph interjected with some eyelash fluttering.
   After the laughter died down Jayne continued, “I didn’t want to see her end up in the garbage like so many of the other babies I’d seen.”
   “Wow! I can’t believe how much I never knew about you. Still waters do run deep, don’t they?” Monique said.
   “My past has made me who I am, but it’s not who I am.”
   “What happened then? After Jayne asked you not to throw Steph out.”
   Vera continued, “We tried to assure her that we loved Stephanie very much and were not going to throw her out, but by then Jayne was inconsolable. She was begging over and over again that we not toss Steph out, though she could barely be understood she was crying so harshly. I honestly think that all the emotional issues of her upbringing were coming to a head that night. Prior to that, we really hadn’t seem much emotion or reaction from Jayne other than frustration and anger when we tried to get her to do something. But that night she promised to do whatever we wanted, act however we wanted her to act, and be whatever we wanted her to be if we would just keep the baby. It took us two full days to calm her down.”
(May 15, 2015)

   “She apologized to each of us,” Tommy said, “and talked me into taking her to the church so she could return the collection money – which by then most of us had forgotten she still had with all the excitement – and so she could apologize to the minister. I ended up taking her around to everyone who had been at church as she wanted to apologize to everyone. I never in my life saw anyone so determined to turn over a new leaf.”
   “She talked me into taking her to school one day. Mom and Dad had decided with all that was going on it probably would be a good idea to tutor Jayne at home for the rest of the year and over the summer, so she could start grade 12 with our class. Jaynelle had me introduce her to all the teachers and all our classmates. She apologized to each one individually.” Dan shook his head, “I couldn’t believe the change in her.”
   “But the real change didn’t come until the next Sunday when I accompanied the family to church. I was more prepared this time as I asked them what to expect and what was expected of me. Also, when I apologized to the minister I told him a bit of my background. Not to excuse what I’d done, but so he’d know that I hadn’t done it with the intention of committing a crime. The minister was very nice and explained to the congregation just enough of what I’d told him that most didn’t blame me too much.”
   “Except Mrs. Williamson, but that’s only because she made such a production of always putting a ‘crisp’ $100 bill in the collection and Jayne had taken off with one of hers.”
   “James Jr.!”
   “Ah, come on Mom, you know it’s true.”
   “Nonetheless, you don’t need to say anything about it.” Vera levelled a stern look at Jim Jr.
   “Hello?” Jayne waved her hand, “I’m telling a story here. May I continue? Fine. The minister smoothed things over but I was so self-conscious and trying so hard not to make another mistake that I missed most of the service. It wasn’t until Rev. McDaniels mentioned something about Jesus saying to a woman ‘neither do I condemn you.’ that I started paying attention. I didn’t understand most of what was said or what the woman had done, but I know it seemed like the words were meant for me.”
   “Wow! That is awesome.”
   Jayne chuckled, “No, it was scary! While Mabel and Birdie talked about guardian angels looking out for us all, I had never experienced truly being accepted like that in my life…Or at least I don’t remember if it did happen. So this was beyond what I’d ever experienced before. I didn’t know what to do. I thought if I told the MacDonalds they’d toss me out and, despite how miserable I acted, I was grateful to them for all they’d done. It was mind-boggling to me to know I could go to sleep in a real bed all my own and wake up in the morning well rested and safe. Being safe was the greatest thing about coming to live here.”
   Jayne looked around at everyone. Humble and the MacDonald farm were like another planet compared to her previous life in Calgary. The warm June sunshine and the soft hum of the insects on the other side of the porch screens bore little resemblance to the chaos and harsh neon lights of her younger years. The scent of blooming flowers and the lingering smells of supper drifted on the breeze. They certainly weren’t the smells that Jayne remembered when she was homeless on the dirty city streets. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that everyone sitting on the porch listening to her tale cared deeply for her. It was evident in the love on their faces and in the manner in which they all gathered closer and closer to her when she started sharing the more private aspects of her life. Even during the initial adjustment period when Jayne entered the Macdonald’s lives, not once did anyone make her feel that she was not worthy or undeserving of their complete love and acceptance. She no longer was alone or cast adrift in a sea of anonymous humanity forced to fend for herself, relying only on herself, in order to survive another minute, another day, another year.
   “It is almost impossible to explain to someone who takes feeling safe for granted what it is like when someone truly feels safe for the first time. I never knew it was possible to feel safe for more than a fleeting second or two. Actually, in hindsight what I felt in those moments was intense relief that I’d survived whatever was after me, which is not the same as feeling safe. On the streets everything is dangerous or threatening so feeling safe just isn’t part of your life. Safe isn’t even a word that you know or use. I came to live here and all that changed.”
   It was Monique who asked, “How?”
   “Well, it is much, much quieter for one thing!”
   Everyone laughed and then started listing all the noisy things around them.
   “Yes, the dogs are constantly quiet, especially when they are chasing something...”
   “Don’t forget the melodious wakeup call we get every morning from the crows and magpies...”
   “Then there are all the semis driving up and down the highway…”
   “Come on…you all know that more noise is generated by the mosquitoes than any thing else.”
   “Okay, I concede. It is a different kind of noise than I was used to,” Jayne raised her hands in a gesture of surrender before continuing.
   “When I moved here I found that there were great stretches of time where I didn’t have to constantly have my guard up because there was absolutely nothing that I had previously encountered threatening me here. Except for Vera and her insistence that I bath constantly! It took quite a while before I understood that what I was feeling and experiencing was being safe. I literally had to learn how to function when my life wasn’t in constant danger of being snuffed out in a heartbeat.”
   “We come from totally different worlds, don’t we?” Peter asked.
   “Yet, deep down, we are all the same.” Jayne replied.
   “Just when I thought I might be getting the hang of living in this new world, Vera took me to see Mrs. T. I was expecting some old crone without teeth, not the vivacious gal who greeted us at the door. Vera told Mrs. T I had questions and then left me!”
   “Mrs. T. must have been in her glory.”
   “She marched me into the house, sat me down with some ice tea and with a little prodding, I soon was pouring out my whole story. So besides family, Monique, Mrs. T, you’re the only other one who knows this whole story.”
   “Mrs. T. listened and wiped my tears. Then she said, ‘Thank you to the Creator that you were given to the MacDonalds.’ I told her it was our landlord who had given me to the MacDonalds and Mrs. T proceeded to set me straight, informing me that the Creator had been working in my life all along to bring me to this point. She proceeded to ask me to itemize everything in my life that I was thankful for and to concentrate on those things, especially living with the MacDonalds. I told her she was crazy.”
   Sue gasped, “Jayne, you didn’t? I don’t remember you mentioning anything about your conversation with Mrs. T. before.”
   “Mrs. T. told me point blank she was crazy but she was going to help me anyway, and if I thought this was the last time we’d be chatting I had another thing coming.”
   “There is a good reason why Mrs. T. is the best loved teacher Humble has ever had.” Dan said.
   The rest chorused, “Amen!”
   “I was tutored at home as each of the kids, from the youngest on up, each let me ‘help’ them with their homework as they taught me the basics. I also spent a couple afternoons a week at Mrs. T.’s get more tutoring and her special Gratitude talk.
(June 5, 2015)

   “I asked Rev. McDaniels all sorts of questions. It was an intense time. Sue and I were getting closer and she was helping me pick out clothes and taking me to the library to get books. I was able to challenge the high school exams and entered grade 12 with much trepidation, but loads of determination. It was a full turbulent year to say the least. At the same time, Jim arranged for me to help out Bob at the newspaper office one day a week to help me with my verbal and writing skills. No gutter talk was allowed in this house!”
   “So that’s how you got involved. I’d wondered why you’d chosen the newspaper as a career.”
   Jayne smiled, “I didn’t choose. The newspaper chose me.”
   “What do you mean?” Monique looked perplexed.
   “No one knew it, but Bob was really sick about the time I started working for him. He knew that he was dying and wouldn’t be around much longer; however he had no family to pass the paper onto.”
   “You may not be aware, but Humble Beginnings had been owned and operated by Bob’s family since the beginning.” Jim said.
   “He was so worried about what would happen when he was gone,” Jayne added. “Fortunately, I blossomed in the newspaper office and he decided I was heaven sent…he had no family and I had no blood family around so we sort of adopted each other.”
   “For someone who was neglected as a child, you sure have picked up a whole raft of relatives,” Peter looked around at everyone.
   “Yes, the night before my grade 12 graduation I asked Vera and Jim if they would formally adopt me which they were delighted to do, on the condition that I kept my name and didn’t change it to MacDonald as they didn’t want to completely cut me off from my heritage.”
   Vera wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, as did a few other family members.
   “So how did you end up running the paper?” Peter asked.
   “I worked every day for Bob the year after I graduated, learning everything I could. He taught me how to use the old printing equipment as well as the computers, how to layout a paper, and more. He took me on his delivery runs and introduced me to the different business owners in the other communities. He also introduced me to each and everyone one of the advertisers and showed me how to design their ads. I’m amazed my brain didn’t shut down from overload during those years. Bob’s health continued to get much worse, so before too long I was taking on more and more of the day to day responsibilities and he ended up basically supervising me and writing his editorials. Then, just before my 19th birthday, he passed away. While I knew it was coming, it was still a shock when it happened. Also it was the first time I’d experienced the death of a close friend. I’d lived side by side with death every day growing up, but this was different as I really knew Bob…he wasn’t just another sad stat reported on the news. It was hard, but I managed to put out an edition that week because I knew Bob would have wanted me to. My first “solo” editorial was a tribute to Bob and how much he’d helped me.” Jayne wiped her eyes but more tears welled up. Dan went into the house and returned with a box of Kleenex. Jayne noticed hers weren’t the only moist eyes around her. It took a while to get her composure back as she remembered the crusty old newspaper man who had given her a job and a future. The whole time she felt the reassurance of Dan’s arm heavy on her shoulders.
   When she was ready, Jayne said, “We met with the lawyer later that week to find out what would happen to the newspaper, and he told me that Bob had left the newspaper, the building with his apartment, and most of his money to me. I couldn’t believe it as I had never encountered such a situation before.”
   “Wow!”
   “I talked the whole situation over with Jim and Vera before I accepted. Partly because I had been through so many changes and I wasn’t sure if I was up to the responsibility. I moved in a month after everything was settled and the paperwork duly filed. And, as they say, the rest is history.”
   Peter leaned back, “That is absolutely amazing. Funny how you can know someone and yet not know them at all.”
*****
   “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, ya missed me.” Jayne nimbly danced out of the way of a snapping dishtowel welded by Tommy as she headed over to the refrigerator with a handful of condiments. “Nice try, Tomato Man, but you can’t get me.”
   “Next time, next time.” Tommy laughed before picking up a plate and vigorously drying it as the rest bustled around the kitchen helping with the clean up. Sue flicked some sudsy water at him which he easily deflected with the plate.
   Jayne turned from the refrigerator and saw Monique swaying slightly on her feet. She guided her friend to a chair at the table.
   “Sit! You can deal with the leftovers just as easy here as you can over there.”
   “Bossy, aren’t you?”
   “Yes, and you’ll thank me for it later.”
   Jayne veered around Jim Jr. who was standing in the middle of the kitchen floor holding serving bowls for Steph and Monique. She started to head over to the counter to put some clean dishes away when she was suddenly grabbed by her waist, tossed over a strong shoulder, and quickly carried out of the kitchen. The last thing she saw before the door closed was a knowing smirk on Monique’s face.
   “What do you think you’re doing?” Jayne found it difficult to talk as she was bounced on the hard shoulder with every step.
   “Kidnapping you!”
    “Kidnapping me? When there is so much clean up to do…which by the way you should be helping with. Oh, put me down. A hard shoulder in the gut is not comfortable, especially after all that wonderful food.”
   Dan swung Jayne around, letting her feet touch the ground. His dimples winked at her as did the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
   “What is going on, Dan?”
   “Come with me, I want to show you something.”
   “Yah right. I’m supposed to believe that?” Jayne smiled as she remembered other ‘somethings’ through the years that Dan just had to show her. Some were precious like the nest of baby robins and the flock of Canada geese that stopped to rest in the field, but more often then not, the somethings were slimy, crawly, creepy or just plain gross. Why were guys fascinated by the most disgusting things?
   “Come on, Jaynelle, trust me.”
   “Said the spider to the fly…” Jayne let Dan pull her along behind him as they headed off across the back yard and behind the barn. “You realized that I hold you fully responsible when Vera bawls us out for playing hooky, especially since Jim convinced her to let us clean up. We are missing history in the making here.”
   “I’ll just say that the sight of your sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks overcame me and I had to kidnap you so we could have some time alone.”
   Jayne snorted. Secretly in her heart of hearts she wished it was true, that Dan did want to be alone with her. The warmth of his hand surrounding hers as he led her along the path behind the barn that ultimately led up to his house tingled all the way up her arm and to her heart.  
   “Here we are.”
   Jayne blinked as they stopped abruptly. “Oh! Dan, you remembered.”   
   Jayne crouched down to sniff a wild strawberry blossom blooming along the pathway. One day, during her first months at the MacDonald’s, Dan had taken her for a walk around the property to get her away from everything.
(June 19, 2015)

   They had found some wild strawberries blooming, and Jayne thought they were the most beautiful flower with their white purity contrasting sharply against the greenery around them. Later that year, Dan had taken her back so she could pick and taste her first wild strawberry. Somehow, she was not sure how, that first walk evolved into an annual ritual between the two of them as they headed out to look for the strawberry blossoms, and then returned to pick the first fruits. They had never missed a year and Jayne prayed that the tradition would always continue.
   “Of course I remembered. I was going to come get you on Wednesday when I saw the first blossoms, but remembered you had that year-end function at the school.”
   “Thank you for bringing me out here.” Jayne stood up and hugged Dan. She was surprised when he didn’t immediately let go of her but held her in a loose embrace. The soft evening light from the setting sun filtering through the trees around them lent a magical glow to the moment.
   “What are you doing tomorrow?”
   Jayne frowned as she tried to remember her schedule. Not that she’d ever admit that being held in Dan’s arms scrambled her brain cells, but she did seem to have a hard time focussing. “Tomorrow…Tuesday…oh, Steph and I will be putting the paper together and then I’m helping judge the short story entries at the library.”
   “What time do you think you’ll be done at the library?”
   “You should know, aren’t you one of the judges this year.”
   “Right,” Dan lightly smacked his head, “I am.”
   “Which also means that it is probably time I got Monique home.” Jayne was reluctant to leave this special place and Dan’s embrace.
   “How is she doing? Really? I noticed she seemed a little droopy just before I carted you away.”
   “She is doing too much. I know she gets so excited when she discovers that she is getting a little better, but then she overdoes it and ends up down again. I really think that walking out here was too much, but she insisted. Then she decided to race me down the lane. I guess I’ll have to see if I can bum a ride from Jim Jr.”
   “No need, I’ll take you.”
   “Thanks.” Jayne tilted her head to the side as she studied Dan’s face. If only he offered so he could spend more time with her, and not because Vera had drilled good manners into him. “Thanks again for bringing me out here to see the strawberry blossoms.”
   “You’re welcome.” Dan hugged her tight and then led her back towards the house. “We’d better get a move on if we want to tear Monique away from her captive audience.”
********************
   “So what happened?”
   Jayne was concentrating on a letter she was editing and didn’t hear anything until Monique’s voice which startled her so badly she almost jabbed the pen in her eye as it sailed past her head. With her other hand she sent a bunch of papers flying and almost tipped her chair all the way back to the floor.
   “Monique! Can’t you knock?”
   “And miss your Oscar-worthy performance? Not on your life. You’re the only person I know who can block the outside world out so thoroughly, which makes it so much fun to scare you. You react every time.”
   “Wipe that smug look off your face. It is very unbecoming.”
   “You’re fine. You’ll live another day…”
   “Doubtful when you just knocked 10 years off my life. I don’t think my heart will ever go back to normal.”
   “Normal, smormal. Jayne, focus! What happened?”
    “What happened what? At the garage? They ran out of gas. Nothing overly thrilling. Someone forgot to reorder and they are each blaming the other, and everyone’s complaining that they have to drive 10 minutes just to fill up.”
   “J-a-y-n-e.” Monique plopped into a chair. “You’re stalling. After Dan dropped me off last night, you goose.”
   “Oh…nothing.” Jayne turned around to start looking for her pen.
   “Nothing? Nothing? You two were alone, away from the prying eyes on the street, and nothing happened?”
   “That’s right. Nothing.”
   Jayne quickly glanced at Monique, noticed her eyes narrowing, and returned to her search for the elusive flying pen.
   “I don’t believe you.”
   “Some friend you are. Have I ever lied to you?”
   “Oh I wouldn’t say you’re lying exactly, but you’re definitely not telling me the whole truth. Spill.” Monique leaned forward eagerly.
   “Nothing happened. We walked you to your door and then he walked me to my door and left. Nothing.”
   “No words were exchanged? No hug? No kiss?”
   Jayne tried really had not to blush when she remembered the hug at the farm. “No. He just said he’d see me today at the library. Monique, he doesn’t see me!”
   “Jayne, a guy who doesn’t see a girl does not sneak her away from everyone the first chance he gets for some time alone.”
   “He just took me to see the wild strawberry blossoms. Like I’m one of his sisters.”
   “No, Jayne, listen to me and pay attention. You are not like one of his sisters. Did you get that? He’d tell his sisters to go look for the flowers themselves. You, on the other hand, he takes every year like it is a sacred ritual. Plus, he definitely wasn’t looking at you like a sister when we were squished in his truck. In fact he seemed quite happy to have you plastered up against his side.”
   “You’re imagining things.”
   “Am I? Then why is it that this incredibly hot-looking, very competent, man turns into a driving klutz whenever he comes into town?” Monique and Jayne cringed at the sound of the metal garbage can getting hit. Jayne tried to ignore Monique’s knowing look as they waited for Dan to come in the door.
   “Hi gals. Jaynelle, don’t forget you promised to sit with me at lunch today so save me a seat, thanks.” Dan poked his head in the door, made his announcement and then headed down the street.
   “Just you wait a minute Daniel MacDonald!” Jayne started for the door but stopped short when Monique started clicking her tongue.
   “Yep, he just sees you as a sister. I think you have a date for lunch, Darling. Make sure you at least comb your hair before going to the restaurant.” Monique patted Jayne’s shoulder before heading out the door.
   “Comb my hair?!  I always comb my hair!!” Jayne sank down in one of the chairs. “What on earth is happening here?”
   “Talking to yourself again? You must get out more, Jayne, and I know just the place.” Steph bounced into the office, grabbed Jayne’s hand and pulled her to the door. “Come on, I saw Gertie at the store and you know we have to get to Mrs. Brown before Gertie shows up or there will be fireworks for sure.”
   Jayne rushed out the door behind Steph as they ran down the street to the community hall. Gertie was a descendent of one of the founding pioneers of Humble and made no bones about throwing her weight (which was quite considerable) around. She had no use for anyone who wasn’t born in Humble and as such could be quite nasty to any poor unsuspecting soul who had the misfortune to cross her path. While Gertie was one of the community’s most dedicated volunteers, she was not a team player and tended to take over and bulldoze everyone around her.
(July 3, 2015)

   It was Rev. Brown’s congregation’s turn to host the monthly Wednesday church supper and Mrs. Brown had been on the receiving end of quite a few zingers from Gertie all week as the church women were organizing the event.  The latest was Gertie’s insistence that the hall HAD to be set up Tuesday morning, and not Wednesday as was the usual practice.  Even a minister’s wife could only take so much before reaching a boiling point and Jayne and Steph had agreed amongst themselves that they would do their best to keep the two women separated as much as possible.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Don’t answer it, Jayne, you know you’ll wish you didn’t.”
   Jayne waved Steph out the door, “You go ahead and I’ll be right there.  If you can keep Gertie occupied we should be able to keep the peace and wrap this week’s issue by 3:00 so I can head over the library.  Go!”
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, you are not going to believe this, but we have to change the time and location of the quilting bee back to our regular place and time.  Are we too late?”
   Jayne dropped into her chair.  It looked like it was going to be another one of those days. 
*******
   “Jayne, I finished typing the school year-end news and just sent it over to your computer,” Steph said as she jumped up and went to look in’s fridge.
   “Are the photos included?” Jayne asked, easily switching between files on her computer.
   “Yes. Now I just have a couple more announcements to type up and that will be it for this week’s issue. We should get it done with time to spare. Hey, Jayne, don’t you keep any food in your fridge?” Steph walked back to her computer empty handed and started typing again.
   “I’ll head over to Smythers’ after the paper is safely on its way to the printer.” Jayne responded in a distracted manner as she pulled up the information she needed to add to the paper layout.
   It was Tuesday afternoon and Jayne was completely immersed in the process of finalizing the layout of the newspaper. With the deadline looming on her horizon, she had little spare time to think of anything else. The working relationship Jayne and Steph had was the best Jayne had had with any of her work experience students. Rather than duplicate roles, Steph did all the typing, while Jayne was completely responsible for the layout and proofing Steph’s work. Even though they had definite roles, Jayne had a rule that they needed to be aware of what the other was doing in case one of them ended up sick or unable to be at the office. Thus,  if Jayne wasn’t in the office, or using her computer, then Steph would sometimes work on layout too, but it was rare.
   Steph handed a file folder over to Jayne. “Okay, that’s the last of it. Here are the originals.”
   Jayne let out a mock groan when she opened the folder and saw the top sheet of paper. “Another wedding notice? Am I the only single person left in town?” Jayne quickly scanned the notice to see who the happy couple was. The bride, Rachel, was the last of the girls from Jayne’s graduating class to be married, except for Jayne of course.
   “Nope. There are quite a few. Monique, myself, Tommy, Jim Jr...You know…” Steph paused dramatically, “Dan’s still single too. In fact, I’m really surprised that you didn’t ask me to type up your wedding notice too.” Steph had an innocent look on her face, but Jayne wasn’t fooled.
   “If I had something to toss at you right now...” she threatened.
   “Come on, Jayne. Your engagement is the talk of the school. The teachers even have a contest going to see who guesses your wedding date correctly.”
   “Please, please, please, tell me you are joking,” Jayne said.
   “Nope, I saw the chart in the staff room before I left yesterday. The most popular date is around the August long weekend. Gertie’s son thinks he has an advantage over the other teachers because his mother has been asked to sing at your wedding ceremony.”
   “You know darn well that Gertie is not singing at my wedding, whenever it may bed. How on earth do you stop Hilda and Gertie once they’re steamrolling along?” Jayne shook her head in disbelief.
   “Oh, you don’t. You should know that by now.”
   “Well, Rachel’s wedding should be the one everyone talks about.” Jayne turned back to her computer and continued working. She barely noticed Steph gathering up loose pieces of paper and organizing the desk surfaces before watering the profusion of plants.
   “Oh! No! Don’t! Not now! Help!” Jayne dropped her head to the desk as Steph turned around, splashing water all around her.
   “What happened? Are you hurt? What is it?” the words poured out of Steph in a rush.
   “The file died.”
   Steph collapsed into the nearest chair with a sigh of relief before jumping up again. “Wait a minute. The file died? What file? How?”
   “It’s gone. All gone,” Jayne’s head was still down. “All the work I did on this issue…Gone!” Jayne was ready to go hide somewhere, or throw the computer, or both. This really wasn’t looking like it was a good week at all. Plus, she still hadn’t found her Gratitude Journal, though she was continually discovering that she couldn’t think of a thing to be grateful for this week. Well, she did have one thing. Steph had found the elusive notices once she arrived at work, otherwise, nope, Jayne couldn’t think of a thing. She knew she needed to come up with something, because if she didn’t, Friday morning Mrs. T would be checking in to see if Jayne really was keeping it up.
   “Gone? How can it be gone? This issue has to be sent to the printer in less than an hour. We were almost done. What are you going to do?”
   Jayne peered up with one eye, “Jump in a lake! Or, move to Timbuktu. Or, drown my sorrows in chocolate, lots and lots of rich dark chocolate. Yes, I think I’ll go get some chocolate. Or, I could take a large hammer to this…this…” She gestured to the laptop which displayed an error message and appeared to be frozen. The computer file she had been working on was no where in sight.
   “Can you fix it?” Steph leaned in for a better look. “Can you salvage anything?”
   “Nope. Look, even the back up file doesn’t want to work. It looks like I’ll have to start from scratch.”
   “But, Jayne, you were almost done. What about the mayor’s column? Wasn’t that the only copy you had? Didn’t he dictate it to you over the phone? How are you going to explain this to him?”
   Jayne sat up and leaned back in her chair. With a rueful laugh, she said, “You, dear, are so encouraging. What would I ever do without you?”
   With a girlish bounce and a big grin, Steph remarked, “I know. You’d be utterly miserable and unable to function. Come on, Jayne, admit it.”
   “I would be utterly miserable and unable to function without you. I wouldn’t be able to get any work done at all,” Jayne dutifully repeated. She was feeling a little better. At least she wasn’t facing this crisis totally on her own. Between the two of them, she was sure they could get a new version of the newspaper laid out before the end of day. Of course, they’d need a miracle or two, but Jayne was sure everything would work out. It had to. She’d call the printer and explain the delay and hope for the best.
   “Okay troops…it’s time to march into battle.”
   “Aye, aye, Captain,” Steph snapped off a sharp salute and headed back to her computer to see what she could send Jayne’s way from all the work she’d done and still had saved on her computer.
(July 17, 2015)

   Jayne rebooted the laptop, pulled up the newspaper template and prepared to reconstruct all her work from the past week.
  She mouthed a quick prayer, “Please, God. We could use a lot of assistance and encouragement here.”
   Just then, the door opened. Jayne looked up from the computer to meet Dan’s smiling eyes. She groaned and put her head back down. “God, I think you misunderstood me. I asked for assistance and encouragement. Not Dan!”
   Jayne peeked up, but Dan was still standing in front of her with a, rather cute, perplexed look on his face.
  “Am I missing the joke here?” Dan asked.
   Steph bounced up to Dan. “The computer file with this week’s issue of the newspaper died, and Jayne has to redo the whole thing from scratch and it was almost done and it has to go in to the printer soon and…”
   “Steph!” Jayne interrupted her mid-breath, “Dan doesn’t need to know all about our problems. What can I do for you, Dan?”
   “You can start by telling me what’s up with the computer,” Dan replied, hooking a chair with his foot and sitting down in front of Jayne’s desk.
   “Nothing to concern yourself with. Is there anything I can do for you?”
   “Jaynelle Michelle, what is wrong with your computer?” Dan may have asked politely, but by using her full name, Jayne knew he was not going to be put off at all. He was so stubborn when he want to be and the last thing they needed right now, when time was really tight, was for her to have a battle of wills with him. She grudgingly told him the sad tale of their circumstances.
   “The newspaper file refuses to open for some reason. It is the only file that seems to be affected and it was working fine up until a few short minutes ago. I did a virus scan on it and all comes up as a-okay, and I rebooted the computer.”
   “Move over and let me have a look,” Dan started around her desk.
   “No!” Jayne tried again, quieter, “No, thank you. That won’t be necessary. We have it under control. Everything is fine.”
   “Fine? You have a newspaper that must be completed as soon as possible and you have to start from scratch.” Dan turned to Steph, “Is everything fine?” Steph was still shaking her head from side to side as he turned back to Jayne, “Come on, let me help. Please.”
   Mentally kicking herself for giving in, especially when time was of the essence, Jayne scooted her chair back and let Dan have a closer look at the computer. She also made a face at Steph and mouthed the word “Traitor.”    Steph just grinned back at her.
   “Do you really think you could fix it, Dan? Please say yes, cause I don’t want to have to retype everything. It was hard enough the first time and you know that Jayne will make me retype everything.” Steph, too leaned in for a closer look.
   “That is not true, Steph, and you know it,” Jayne protested as she tried to keep her tone of voice on an even keel. She didn’t want to let on that Dan’s proximity was having any type of affect on her. “You have everything saved on your computer. It is just a matter of reslotting it into the template.”
   “Template, smemplate...please say you can fix it, Dan.” Steph pleaded.
   “Well…first I need a USB stick and I’ll just copy this file into it and we’ll see how it goes from there,” Dan was soon sitting down intently pressing buttons. Jayne felt strange. No one, other than Steph, had ever touched her computer. She felt off-centre and out of touch, like it was happening to another person. But then again, that could be the heady feelings she was experiencing by being so close to Dan. It was a struggle not to reach out and touch him, run her fingers through his hair or lean against his strong shoulder. Steph helpfully handed over a USB stick and came around the desk so she could lean over Dan’s shoulder. Jayne backed up some more, getting out of their way, and removing herself a little further from temptation.
   “Since when did you get so knowledgeable about computers?” she asked Dan. “I seem to recall bailing a certain student out when he almost failed computer class in grade 12. As I remember he was very anti-computers at the time.”
   “Wow! You almost failed computer class? You never told me? Do Mom and Dad know? What did they do to you?” Steph looked at Dan with awe.
   “Jaynelle’s exaggerating. I wasn’t even close to failing and,” Dan paused while Jayne snorted, “I just had more important things to worry about back then, until exam time.
   “Such as?” Steph was almost bursting with curiously.
   Dan winked over his shoulder, “Chasing the girls, what else?”
   “Jaynelle, I got a computer of my own five years ago, and I’ve been practicing on it like crazy just in case a day came along when you needed my help and I’d have an opportunity to impress you by coming to your rescue.”
   “Yeah right.” Jayne couldn’t believe that she didn’t know that Dan had computer expertise. She saw him almost daily so why was it never mentioned?  What else didn’t she know about him?
   “Cross your fingers, Short Stuff. I hope this works.” With a double-click the file reappeared as it had been before it had mysteriously crashed.
   “Yes!” with a high-five to Dan, Steph turned to Jayne. “Now you don’t have to redo everything. Cool. And I don’t have to forfeit my evening in order to help recreate the whole thing. Danny Boy, you are the best of the best.” Steph hugged Dan before hugging Jayne.
   Dan saved the file under a new name and double checked to make sure the new file would work before straightening up to his full height.
   “Piece of cake.”
   “Okay, Smartie, why did the computer do that?” Jayne asked.
   “I don’t know.” Dan shrugged.
   “What was wrong with it?”
   With a perplexed look across his face, Dan replied, “I don’t know.”
   “Well, how did you know what to do to fix it,” she persisted.
   “I don’t know,” Dan replied, then burst out laughing, “Ah, Jaynelle, if you could see the expression on your face right now.”
   “You think you’re so smart, Daniel,” Jayne replied.
   “No, I don’t. That is why all I’m demanding as payment for my expertise is a piece of cake.”
   “Oh, really.” While Jayne was very appreciative of Dan’s assistance, the thought of giving him a piece of cake was a bit much in her mind, but before she could make another comment, Steph jumped into the conversation.
   “Stop in at the house on your way home, Dan. I’m sure Mom will give you a large piece of her double-chocolate cake.”
   “I just might do that, Short Stuff.” Turning back to Jayne Dan asked, “Why don’t you ever bake me a chocolate cake?”
   Jayne wondered why Dan would be asking such a question. “Because I’d probably end up smashing it in your face and that would be a huge waste of chocolate cake,” she replied, “but thank you for fixing my problem. I do appreciate it.”
   “Anytime. I mean that, Jaynelle. If you ever need anything give me a call.” Jayne could tell Dan was serious.
   Feeling very uncomfortable accepting anyone’s help, Jayne quietly repeated, “Thank you again.”
   “I’m on my way to the library and actually stopped to see if you were ready to go over and judge the stories for Monique.”
   Jayne looked at the clock, “Not until this paper is finalized and sent in.”
   “I can wait,” Dan settled into a chair like he didn’t have a care in the world.
(August 7, 2015)

   Jayne stretched as she pushed her chair back from her desk.  “It’s done and it’s gone at last.”
   Steph gave a little cheer from her desk and Dan looked up from the magazine he was reading.
   “What time is it?”  Jayne asked as she continued to stretch the kinks out of her neck and back.
   Steph looked at her watch, “2:45.”
   “Oh my! I’m supposed to be taking pictures at the dedication of the new Memory Garden. I’d better hurry.”
   Jayne quickly grabbed her camera, a pen and pad of paper while looking around to see if there was anything else she needed as she headed toward the door.
   “What about the contest stories?” Steph tried to head Jayne off.
   Jayne turned to Dan.  “Could you please let Monique know I’ll be there as soon as I can.  I just need to take some pictures and I’ll be right back.”
   “I can take them,” Steph reached to take the camera from Jayne.
   “No, you hold down the fort.  I’ll be quick.”
   Just before her hand touched the door knob the phone rang.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “I got it. Go! Hello…yes, she remembered…yes, she’s on her way…no, we had some technical difficulty earlier.  Sorry, Gertie.” Steph waved her hand at Jayne, shooing her out the door.
   With a wave Jayne took off down the street towards the park. As a service project the churches and non-profit organizations in town worked together to raise money and donated labour to create a little Memory Garden in the space behind the church, a space where folks could sit on warm days and enjoy the flowers. It was a bit more intimate and private than the Legacy Park by the school so it was hoped would be used a bit more by those wanting sanctuary. The various groups had planted trees and shrubs, and created a path through an old-fashioned mini English garden with some benches and a fish pond with a fountain to complete the effect. Jayne had been taking pictures throughout the project and was planning on doing a feature showing the before and after views. The crowning touch was this dedication ceremony with the Mayor and the various groups who participated in the project.
   Jayne slipped quietly through the crowd. With a quick glance around she noted who was there, and who wasn’t, as she got her camera ready. As the Mayor extolled on and on about the volunteer efforts, Jayne knew she wasn’t that late. She smiled hello to a number of community members, shook hands with the Member of Parliament as she passed by him and situated herself out of the way, but not too out of the way, and started taking pictures of the proceedings. As he wrapped up his, as usual long-winded, speech the Mayor invited everyone to enjoy the garden area. Some of the ladies had set up a table by the church door with punch and some goodies.
   “They did such a lovely job didn’t they?”
   Jayne turned to see who had walked up beside her.
   “Yes, they certainly did, Mrs. T. I see all the notables are here except Mr. Thompson. Is he still sick?”
   “Lucile didn’t think he could handle the excitement so left him at home. Imagine! When did a little fresh air become too much excitement for a body?”
   “In the cities it would be for some people. I’ll have to remember to give my best to Mrs. Thompson before I leave.”
   “Well, dear, I suppose we should go join everyone else before the lemon squares are all gone. Or do you need to take some more pictures?”
   “To tell you the truth, I snuck over here yesterday morning and got most of the pictures of the garden I needed, but it would be nice to get a few with the people moving around and enjoying the area. I can do that from the refreshment line as anywhere. Shall we? After you.” Jayne let Mrs. T precede her towards the refreshment line.
   “Thank you, dear. If I’m fortunate Patricia may have saved a spot on one of the benches for me.”
   As they waited in the line, Jayne continued to take pictures of the garden and the people. She had to smile at Lucile Thompson identifying all the flowers for the Member of Parliament. As well, Jayne mentally took note of the positive comments she overheard regarding the garden.
   All the volunteers had done a wonderful job on the garden space. Jayne inhaled deeply, enjoying the scent of roses and various wildflowers. The sound of birds trilling lingered on the gentle spring breeze. The odd buzz of the insects could be heard above the hum of human conversation and the splash of the water fountain. Jayne breathed a sigh of deep contentment. The garden was just the place she would like to visit when life got too hectic and overwhelming.
   “Jayne! Look out!”
   Jayne looked up but was not fast enough to react to anything before she was roughly pushed to the ground. She landed heavily on her side as she tried to twist at the last second to protect her camera. Lying on the ground stunned, Jayne gradually became aware of everyone rushing over to her.  Just then a tall thin man pointed his long arm at Jayne.
   “Filth! Garbage! You are lower than the lowest of the serpents!”
   “Now wait just a minute, young man,” Mrs. T tried to push her way closer to Jayne to no avail.
   The man just got louder, “This creature hides the truth from you poor unsuspecting souls. This creature is manipulating your minds until you can’t think for yourselves. You must save yourself from the tyranny and oppression that she has bonded you into. You must break free and think for yourselves again. You must destroy the one who is trying to destroy you…”
   With the help of the Mayor and a couple of others, Jayne got up and gingerly brushed herself off. Looking over at the man speaking she figured he had to be who pushed her. She was not surprised to discover that Jasper Percival Winterbloom was still around, but she was startled by the lies pouring forth from him. For some unknown reason he had targeted her and turned this situation into some sort of vendetta. Glancing at the crowd gathered around, Jayne was shocked to see some of the people she went to church with and lived with in this community actually nodding their heads in agreement! As the verbal filth continued to flow from Mr. Winterbloom’s mouth, some people got more and more agitated and a couple of the seniors actually picked up clumps of dirt and threw them at Jayne. She quickly backed away out of range.  Why was no one calling the police?
   “Folks, look at this harlot who has been destroying your lives. Look at this she-devil who has blinded you to the truth and is destroying your community. Look at how she cannot speak or deny my words as she knows what I say is truth. The real truth. The truth that will set you all free from your chains of slavery to the mind-destroying propaganda that this creature has been using to control your every action and whim!”
   Harlot?  Really?  Jayne could not figure out how anyone could take Mr. Winterbloom’s ranting seriously, however some of the people at the opening seemed to be, and at his urging were getting ready to restrain her. Jayne had faced worse in her years on the street, but her early training reminded her that survival was the number one priority and sometimes beating a hasty retreat was the only way to survive another day. She took one last look around before turning to head back to her office. The sooner she got back the better, and the sooner she could call Constable Mark to diffuse the mob-like situation that was developing.
   “See...she admits her guilt by running away. Don’t buy into her lies and propaganda. She must be stopped now if you are to have peace in this community and in our world.  Don’t let her go.”
(August 21, 2015)

   Jayne could hear Mr. Winterbloom’s voice inciting the people as she quickly moved down the street. She could not believe that one person, a complete stranger to the community, could turn people she’d lived with for 16 years against her so quickly. He obviously was a very dangerous man.
   “Hey Jayne! What’s up?”
   Jayne paused outside the library door where Monique had been chatting with a library patron.
   “A stranger in town has turned the Garden Dedication into a lynching.”
   “Who could they possibly want to lynch in this town? Wait, I can think of a couple of names, but none of them would have been anywhere near the dedication.”
   Just at that moment, Mr. Winterbloom came striding down the sidewalk with an angry crowd following along behind him.
   “There she is! She continues to spread her evilness and lies to unsuspecting souls. She must be stopped!”
   Monique’s eyes rounded as she turned to Jayne. “They are after YOU? What on earth happened?”
   Jayne gauged the distance across the street to her office door and the rate in which the crowd was advancing. “I’ll tell you later, Monique, if I’m still around. Call the police…NOW!”
   Jayne took off across the street at a dead run, bursting through her office door and spinning around to lock it behind her. She looked around for Steph but didn’t see her. Breathing a quick prayer of thanks and hoping that Steph was back in her apartment and away from all this mess, she quickly pushed a desk against the door as it started shuddering from the impact of someone’s shoulder. Jayne could not believe that this was happening in Humble, and that it was happening to her. She ran through the kitchenette into her apartment. How long would it take the police to arrive on the scene? How much damage would Mr. Winterbloom and his motley crew create before then? Would anyone else on the street stop them and diffuse the angry scene?
   “Steph? Are you still here?”
   “Sorry Jayne. I decided to open a window back here to get a cross breeze blowing. What’s going on? What’s that noise in the other room?”
   Jayne stood in the middle of the room debating whether to leave or to lock her door. As determined as Mr. Winterbloom seemed, she knew that they were in danger either way.
   The sound of breaking glass in the office area was joined by a by a knock at her back door. Motioning Steph to stay close, Jayne crept quietly to the door. Looking out she saw Dan standing on her step. She threw open the door.
   “Come on, I’m getting you both out of here. Hurry!”
   “What? How?” Jayne asked as Dan hustled both her and Steph to his truck waiting in the back alley.
   Dan urged them into the truck and they were heading out of town before he answered, “Mark, Tommy, and I were outside the restaurant when we saw you run down the street and Monique ran over saying they were going to kill you. Mark is out front doing his crowd control routine as he waits for back up to deal with the wacko leading them. Do you know what started this whole scene?”
   “I’m not sure what happened. It was so bizarre and surreal. Is there a lot of damage to the office?”
   “You’re door looks like it will be a write off. We arrived as they were throwing the rocks in their hands through the door window. The main windows are fine. If Mark has them stopped, you should just need a new door.”
   “I still don’t understand what happened. Why were they after you, Jayne?” Steph shivered despite the afternoon heat. “Who is trying to break into the office? And why?”
   “Let’s wait till we get to Mom and Dad’s and then she can tell her story once.”
   Jayne and Steph hugged each other and tried to stop shaking. The reality of how close they were to real harm was just starting to sink in. In no time at all Dan was hustling them up the porch steps and into the house. No one seemed to be in the house, so Steph volunteered to see if she could find anyone outside in the barn or corrals.
   Dan led Jayne to the kitchen and plugged the kettle in to make her some tea.
   “Who was that man? The one who was leading the mob and seemed to start it all?”
   “He said his name was Jasper Percival Winterbloom. He came into the office to submit some letters to the editor on Monday. Unfortunately, he wanted to submit more than I allow for one issue, so when I refused to print them all at once, he tried to buy me off, and when I didn’t go for that, he left.” Jayne sat down on a kitchen chair.
   “And that’s it?” Dan leaned back against the cupboard and quirked an eyebrow at Jayne.
   “Uh, no. As he walked out the door he said something like ‘this isn’t over’ or ‘finished.’ I can’t remember exactly. I figured he was just passing through town as I hadn’t seen him before this week and he left no contact information. I never dreamt he’d do something like this.”
   “I wonder what he’s trying to pull? Why he’s in Humble and what his purpose is.”
   Dan got up and started pacing around the kitchen. With his long stride he didn’t take many steps before he had to turn around, even though the room was large. As Jayne watched, she counted and then started giggling.
   “Jaynelle, this really is not a laughing matter.”
   “I’m sorry. But you look so funny. Don’t glare at me Daniel MacDonald. You do.”
   “Funny how?”
   Jayne knew it probably wasn’t the wisest course of action, but she couldn’t resist, “Did you know you take exactly 5 and a half steps to get from one end of the room to the other?” She hoped she could maintain her innocently inquiring look without totally bursting into laughter.
   “Five and a half steps? Pray tell, how does one take a half step, oh Wise One…?”
   That did it. Jayne had to wrap her arms around herself she was laughing so hard. Daring to peak up at Dan’s annoyed facial expression sent her of on renewed peals. It didn’t help that in his apparent agitation Dan started pacing back and forth again.
   “S-s-s-s-top! P-p-p-p-please s-s-top.” Jayne could barely get the words out.
   “Me? Stop? You’re the one braying like a hyena.”
   “Oh, oh, oh.” Taking a deep breath, Jayne tried again, “I don’t…think…hyena’s…bray.”
   If looks could kill Jayne was sure she’d be cinders but she could not quit laughing. All the pent up stress and anxiety of the past few minutes emerged as a rolling belly laugh. She knew it wasn’t fair, but she had to make one last dig at Dan.
   “D-d-d-id you know, you’re c-c-c-cute when you’re m-m-m-mad?”
   “CUTE!? Did you say cute?!?! That’s it woman, them’s fightin’ words.”
   Jayne struggled to stand up so she could dash out of the room but didn’t make it before Dan started tickling her.
   “Dan…”
   “Now you’ll pay. Laughing at me were you.”
   “I d-d-d-didn’t m-m-m-mean it.”
   “Sure you did. .Sure you did.”
(September 4, 2015)

   Jayne made one last ditch effort to get up out of the chair and evade Dan but she only got as far as the fridge before he caught her again. All too quickly her laughter turned to great heaving sobs as her legs gave out. Dan caught her, sliding down to sit on the floor and propping himself against the fridge as he held her close.
   “I’m-m-m-m-m…sor-r-r-r-r-ry.”
   “Shhhh…it’s okay. I got you. It’ll be fine. I won’t let anyone hurt you. You’re safe. Shhhhh.”
   Jayne let Dan’s soothing words wash over her as she cried. She was still crying hard when Peter and Sue burst in the door.
   “Is she okay? Is she hurt? Jayne?” Sue rushed over and curled up beside Dan putting an arm around Jayne’s shoulders.
   “She’s okay. It’s just reaction.”
   Peter pulled a chair up beside them. “Did you see what happened? Do we know anything yet?”
   “I…I…I…” Jayne tried to reply but she was still crying too hard. She gratefully accepted a handful of Kleenex from Sue who reached up and grabbed the box off the counter.
   “I don’t know much, but I think we should wait for Constable Mark and the others before going over it,” Dan replied.
   Just then the kettle started boiling so Sue jumped up to make tea for everyone. By this time Jayne had managed to control her sobs to the occasional sniffle.
   “Oh, I got your shirt wet.” She couldn’t believe that she’d sobbed all over Dan. The poor guy looked like he’d been caught in a rainstorm.
   “It won’t hurt it.” Dan’s arms tightened momentarily around Jayne before he removed one arm to take the mug of tea from Sue, placing it on the floor beside him. Jayne was shaking too much to hold her mug so he took it from her and placed it beside his before holding her tighter and slowly rocking a little from side to side.
   “I can’t believe that something like this happened in Humble.” Sue sank back down onto the floor so she could hold one of Jayne’s hands.
   The harsh sobbing had left Jayne feeling very weak. She knew she should get up before the others arrived, but she just didn’t have the strength. Jayne leaned back into Dan’s strong arms and let her eyelids slowly drift close. The voices of the others swirled around her as she drifted off into a doze.
   The slamming of the kitchen door jolted Jayne awake and she stiffened as she wondered for a second where she was. “It’s okay. I’ve got you,” sounded in her ear as the events of the day rushed back into her awareness. She had no idea how long she had dozed off. Was it seconds, minutes or longer?
   “Oh Jayne! Are you okay? I couldn’t believe it when Stephanie told us.” Vera knelt down on Dan’s other side, reaching for Jayne’s hand. “In Humble of all places.”
   Jayne noticed that Jim and Steph were amongst those gathered in the kitchen. Sometime while she had dozed off, Sue had moved back over to Peter who had an arm around Steph too. Jim was standing close by Vera.
   “Hey, where is everyone?” the shout came from the front door.
   “In the kitchen!”
   In no time at all Jim Jr. arrived with Constable Mark right behind him. “I was over at Smythers’ when all the commotion happened. That was too weird for words if you ask me. Don’t worry about the office door...I boarded it up with some plywood which should hold it for the night. I forced Monique to lock the library and escorted her to Mrs. T’s. I told her to stay there till one of us got her.”
   Jim laughed, “I’m sure that went over well.”
   “She’s madder than a wet hen right now, that’s for sure. Mark took her statement already and I told her I’d have Jayne phone her later to let her know what happened. I’m sure she’s driving Mrs. T crazy as we speak. Mark had the rest of the businesses close for the day and everyone go home just in case.”
   “Is it that serious?” Jim asked.
   “We did it just as a safety precaution. Better safe than sorry,” Mark replied.
   There was some shuffling going on as Mark was given a chair and everyone settled down to hear the story. Jayne snuggled deeper into Dan’s arms and wished it was all a nightmare and she’d wake up with it all behind her.
   “Okay folks, quiet. I need to talk to Jayne,” Mark pulled out his notepad and pen from his shirt pocket. “If you really don’t feel up to this, we can do it another day.”
   Jayne shook her head, “No, now is fine.”
   “Tell me what you can about the gentleman in question and about the events that transpired today.”
   “He showed up yesterday and wanted to submit some letters for publication.  He tried to buy me off when I told him that the newspaper’s policy is only one letter to the editor per issue. He had three or four.”
   “Buy you off? How exactly?”
   “He kept offering more and more money if I’d print all the letters at once. I refused and he stormed out. I can’t remember exactly what he said but it was something about not seeing the last of Jasper Winterbloom.”
   “Is that all?”
   “That’s it till today’s dedication ceremony. Truthfully, I had forgotten about him as it has been rather hectic getting this issue wrapped up. I was at the ceremony, in line for refreshments with Mrs. T, and chatting with different people when someone hollered at me and the next thing I knew I was on the ground.”
   “He tripped you?”
   “No, it was more like a full out body check. Practically everyone there saw it.”
   “Go on...”
   “Then he started saying that I was printing filth and corrupting everyone’s minds and that I needed to be stopped. He just went on and on. Next thing I knew there were seniors pulling up the flowers to throw at me. It was so unexpected. I’ve had experience with gangs before, but they are so predictable in their unpredictably. They’ll either beat you or shoot you. This wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before. I thought if I removed myself they’d calm down, but I guessed wrong. They followed me down the street and tried to break into the office.”
   “What would make kind decent people act like that?” Vera questioned.
   “It is the same behaviour that leads to riots and violence at sporting events,” Mark explained, “Hype the people into an emotional frenzy and they’ll do almost anything – even ones who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Jayne, I’ll leave you to recover with your family and you can write you official statement for me tomorrow, if you feel up to it. I also think it is a good idea if you stay out here tonight...no arguments. Tommy headed off after the fellow so I need to go back into town to see what he found and see if the other officers arrived. We have a lot of people to question about today’s events.” Mark got up and put his belongings back in his pocket. He leaned down to shake Dan’s hand. “Take good care of our Jayne, Danny Boy.”
   “I will. Catch the guy.”
   “I will. If you folks need anything, call.”
   Mark left the kitchen and everyone just sat looking at each other for a moment. No one seemed to know what to do or say.
   Then Vera got up. “Enough.  We’re all here and we’re all safe. Time to get supper on the table. Dan and Jayne if you’d kindly park your behinds somewhere else to cuddle so I can get in the fridge we’ll be ready to eat in a jiffy.”
(September 18, 2015)

   With that, everyone sprang into action. Dan and Jayne got up too and Dan guided Jayne to a chair. The others bustled around setting the table and helping Vera get the ingredients for omelettes. Jayne sank down into the chair at the table with a weary sigh.
   “Are you going to be okay?”
    She looked into Dan’s concerned eyes, “Yeah. I’m just so tired.”
   “You could skip supper.”
   “No, I need to be around people...nice people...even if I don’t feel like doing anything.”
   Jayne was thankful that the others didn’t press her to do or say anything. Each time someone walked by her chair they’d either pat her shoulder, squeeze her hand, or give her a quick hug and kiss on the head. The loving gestures helped to bring her perspective back on track.
   Supper was quickly dished up and after grace everyone dug in. Dan had pulled his chair up close to Jayne’s and without really forcing her, was definitely strongly encouraging her to eat a few bites. Jayne ate a few mouthfuls but it was like lead. Everyone tried to keep the conversation light-hearted and flowing as they discussed what they had done that day before all the excitement. It was hard not to mention the incident with Mr. Winterbloom, but everyone did their best.
   Jayne didn’t join in the conversation and she tried not to let her growing discomfort show but finally she had enough.
   “Sorry, everyone but I need some time to myself.”
   As Jayne stood up she noticed Vera giving everyone else the “look” as they all settled back in their chairs.
   “If you need anything just holler,” Vera said.
   “I will. Thanks.”
   Jayne didn’t get very far out of the kitchen before she noticed Dan walking just behind her. “Going somewhere, Mr. MacDonald?”
   “Yes.”
   “Care to share?”
   “Nope.”
   “Are you planning on eavesdropping on my conversation with Monique?”
   “Nope,” Dan handed her the cordless phone and got her settled on the living room couch and wrapped a fleece blanket around her. “But I won’t be far away.”
   Jayne snuggled down into the warmth of the blanket. It may be a nice June day, but she still felt chilled to the bone. Emotional rollercoaster days like this used to be the norm for her, but it had been awhile since she’d lived with constant threats to herself. She wasn’t used to the upheaval to her system anymore. She dialled Mrs. T’s phone number and the phone was answered on the first ring.
   “Please tell me you are okay, Jayne,” Monique started in.
   “What if it had been someone else calling from here?”
   “They wouldn’t dare. Are you okay? What happened? I couldn’t believe it when I saw them wreak your office door.”
   “I’m still not sure what happened.” Jayne noticed that Dan had parked himself in a nearby easy chair and was hiding behind the newspaper. She wasn’t fooled though. She was sure he was listening to every word she said. “It certainly wasn’t a typical day.  One minute I was taking pictures at the dedication ceremony, and the next thing I know that weird guy had knocked me to the ground and incited the people to attack me.”
   “You should be here listening to Mrs. T. Oh my, she gave Constable Mark an earful about that ‘nasty young man.’”
   Jayne gave a little giggle. “I can imagine. I’m surprised that some grandmotherly type didn’t take her purse to his head.” Jayne noticed the newspaper twitched a little.
   “Mrs. T said she would have if she hadn’t left her purse in the church!”
   “Seriously, are you okay? Did you get hurt?”
   “I’m a little dirty and have a few grass stains, but I’m fine. Steph and I were in my apartment when they broke the door so we didn’t get hurt at all.”
   “I’m so glad. Jim Jr. and Constable Mark told me to spend the night here just in case. Are you staying on the farm?”
   “Yes. I’m worried about the office, but Mark and Tommy are going to keep an eye on things and Jim Jr. said he put plywood over the door. It’s going to take some time to clean up the broken glass and mess. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.” Jayne was sure that the agitated rustling of the newspaper was for her benefit but she ignored its message. “Today has had more than enough excitement.”
   “I agree. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
   “Bye.” Jayne had barely disconnected the call when Dan tossed aside the newspaper, took the phone from her hands and sat down on the couch. He bundled Jayne up in his arms.
   “Scared?”
   “Not really. More like angry. There was no need for what happened today and the people should have been supporting me, not attacking me.” Jayne knew it wasn’t a good idea, but she relished the opportunity to be held in Dan’s arms again.
   “True. But I’m sure some of them were a little scared and angry too. They just didn’t show it in the right way. From the sounds of things, it all escalated quite quickly so many were probably swept along before they realized what was happening. It isn’t that they didn’t support you, they just got into a situation beyond their control.”
   “They still had the choice to listen or not. To follow his example or stand up to him.”
   “That they did. But we don’t have many raving lunatics here in Humble. Besides not everyone was attacking you.”
   “True, you should have seen the mayor blustering around trying to get everyone’s attention.” Jayne sighed.
   “See you did have some support and you weren’t alone.”
   “Why weren’t you there?”
   “I stopped to talk to Mark before heading to the library when Monique arrived.”
   Jayne asked, “What would you have done if you’d been there?”
   Dan’s arms tightened briefly, “Are you asking if I’d have lobbed a daisy at you?”
   “Daisy, rose bush, planter, water fountain, whatever…”
   “You know I wouldn’t have. I probably would have placed myself between you and the mob...or I’d have tackled the lunatic...or I’d have kidnapped you and taken you away from it all.”
   Jayne tipped her head back so she could see Dan’s face better. “Have you ever been wrong about anything in your life?” she asked.
   “Nope. Never.”
   “Come on, tell me the truth. Haven’t you ever misjudged someone or made a mistake?”
   “I thought maybe once I had misjudged someone, but it turned out that they were acting out of fear and thus my initial assessment was still correct.”
   “Say what? You lost me.”
   “No…I…have…not…misjudged…anyone.”
   Jayne yawned. She was beat. So much had happened in such a short period of time.
   Dan picked Jayne up and headed for the stairs. “Time to get you settled into bed. I’ll just tuck you in and sit by the bed in case you need rescuing from any nightmares.”
   “Whoa there...you are NOT tucking me in, Daniel MacDonald.”
(October 2, 2015)

   “Ah, come on, Jaynelle. Have pity on me.”
   Jayne tried not to laugh at the hangdog expression on Dan’s face. “Pity on   you? I was the one attacked.”
   “But I was the gallant hero who rode up in my trusty automobile and rescued you.”
   “Hmmmm...that is true.” Jayne leaned over and kissed Dan’s cheek.    “Thank you very much my most gallant hero.”
   “Glad to be of assistance. Now if you will just open the bedroom door I can tuck you into bed.”
   “I repeat…you are not tucking me in. Please put me down.” Jayne kicked her legs a little until Dan finally let her down. Before he could react she slipped through the bedroom door and closed it in his face. “Goodnight.”
  “Jaynelle, that’s not fair. The Association of Gallant Rescuers will strip me of my membership if they discover I didn’t fulfill my complete role as a gallant rescuer of a damsel in distress.”
   Jayne muffled a giggle. “I guess we’ll just have to take that chance and hope they don’t discover what happened.”
   “Cruel woman. Wait for me tomorrow morning. I don’t want you going into town without me.” Dan’s muffled voice drifted through the door.
   “Okay, I will.”
   “What? No argument? I can’t believe it.”
   “No argument. Not tonight.”
   “So…you’ll open the door and let me tuck you in.”
   “Goodnight!”
   Jayne smiled at Dan’s foolishness as she prepared for bed. She had questioned Vera at the time, but she was really glad that she hadn’t moved all of her clothing and memorabilia with her when she took over the newspaper. The familiar items in her old bedroom gave her a sense of security and normalcy that she desperately needed right now. Going over to the dresser she pulled open a drawer to get a T-shirt to sleep in. Right on top of the stack was the old T-shirt of her dad’s that she was wearing the first time she saw Dan and the first time she came out to the MacDonalds. Jayne was surprised it was still around as she was sure she’d tossed it in Vera’s rag bag long ago. She sat down on the bed and lightly ran her fingers over the faded blue fabric. There were a lot of memories and a lot of feelings represented by that oversized garment. It represented so much of who she had been, and yet did not have any connection to who she was now.
   After cleaning herself up, Jayne crawled under the covers and turned out the light. Lying in the darkened room she realized that she had been away from the streets too long. She’d lost her edge. The day’s events had taken more of a toll on her than she’d first realized. Small aches and pains were beginning to make themselves felt from when she had fallen. She knew she’d be stiff in the morning even though she’d soaked her weary muscles in a hot bath.
   As she ran the events of the day through her mind over and over again she could not believe how she’d blubbered all over Dan. But she had to admit deep in her heart that she was very thankful that he had been there to support and hold her. Turning on the light back on, Jayne scrounged around the bedside stand for paper and pencil. When she found what she was looking for she started writing a list of everything she was grateful for that day. She listed all the different tasks she was able to accomplish before heading over to the dedication ceremony. She listed the various people she talked to at the dedication ceremony and everyone who helped her when Mr. Winterbloom started his rant. She then listed every single one of the MacDonalds, Monique, Mrs. T, and Mark. Jayne added to her list Jim Jr. putting the plywood on her office to protect it, Tommy helping Mark find Mr. Winterbloom and stop him, Monique being safe at Mrs. T’s, staying at the MacDonalds’, her old T-shirt, and anything else she could think of.
   Then she started a list of just the things she was grateful for about Dan. She included his offer to deliver the newspapers for her and his rescue of both Steph and her. She added his allowing her to cry all over him and his healing embrace. As the list grew she wrote down his joking and his caring. She didn’t forget him saying that if he’d been at the dedication ceremony he’d have protected her. Jayne wasn’t sure if she should add that he carried her upstairs but since it was a rather romantic gesture, she added it too.
   Jayne sat looking at the items on her list for a long time. She had come a long way in the past few years. Maybe it was time to put the past behind her and stop identifying herself solely by it. As she looked at the list she’d written of all the things she was grateful for that included Dan, she added a few items from the previous day, including the date. She had to admit that she really couldn’t imagine a life without Dan being a vital part of it. Now if only she could believe that he had done it all because he cared for her romantically and not because they were practically siblings. Jayne’s mind churned over and over until she sternly told herself to sleep and deal with it in the morning.
~~~~~
   “I’m on my way to the city today.  Do you need me to pick up anything?”
   As Dan stopped his truck in the alley behind the newspaper office, Jayne opened her mouth to reply but before she could say anything Steph answered, “Why don’t you take Jayne with you? I can clean up in here and it will give her a break.”
   Jayne looked over at Steph and wondered what had possessed her to make such an outlandish suggestion. It was bad enough that there was this ridiculous rumour about their engagement, what would people say if they actually saw them leaving town together. “Oh I couldn’t leave. There is still too much to do.”
   “Nothing I can’t handle. Take her away, Danny Boy. We peons need a break from the boss every once in a while. Be gone and let me work my magic.” Steph waved her hands in a shooing motion.
   “It looks like Short Stuff has everything under control so what do you say?”
   “I feel like you’re both ganging up on me. I can’t leave while there is still so much to do.”
   Jayne awkwardly climbed over Steph and out of the truck.  Before the others could stop her, she had her door unlocked and was inside.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Hello, hello?…Henry? What’s the matter?
   “I’m so sorry to let you down, Jayne. I guess it can’t be helped can it? No it can’t. What will you do?”
   Jayne interrupted, “Slow down, Henry. What is the matter?”
   “I was working with the pigs and one got the best of me. Doc says I’ll be out of commission for six weeks on account of my broken ankle. What are you going to do, Jayne?”
   “Don’t worry, Henry. I’ll manage. Take care of yourself. Bye.”
   Jayne hung up and told the others, who were standing behind her, “Seems Henry broke his ankle trying to dodge a rogue pig so won’t be able to drive for me for at least six weeks.”
   Steph asked, “Who’s going to deliver the papers today?” While most of the newspapers were available at the newspaper office and Humble Store, Jayne made sure copies were also made available in the three closest neighbouring communities as well. She hired Henry, a retired widower to pick up the papers from the city once they were printed and deliver to the communities for her as it gave him something to do other than mope around with his pigs.
(October 16, 2015)

   “We’ll figure something out,” Jayne headed toward her office.
   “Wait, since you’re both going to the city anyway, you can pick up the papers and then deliver them.”
   “Great idea, Steph.  Are you ready, Jayne?”
   Before Jayne could answer, they heard Jim Jr. calling their names.
   “Anyone home?  I have a surprise for you.”
   Jayne followed the others to the door to find out what Jim Jr. was up to.
   “There’s been a change of plans, Danny Boy.  In all the excitement yesterday, I forgot to tell you I had to swing in to the city last night so I stayed over and picked up the tractor part early this morning.  Saved you a trip.  And I just happened to hear that there were some papers stranded so picked them up too.  The out-of-town deliveries are done, Jayne.  Where do you want the rest of the papers?”
   “How did you…”
   “No need to get all mushy on me, Jayne.”
   Steph hugged Jim Jr. and turned to Jayne.  “It’s all working out.”
   “I guess.  Jim Jr. just take the papers over to Smythers’ store.  And thanks, I do appreciate this.”  Jayne gave Jim Jr. a big hug of her own.
   “I’ll help you, Jr. and then we can have a coffee at the hotel as we figure out what to do about the front door.”  Dan followed Jim Jr. out the door.  Before he closed it, Dan turned to Jayne “I’ll be by later with lunch.”
   “Come on, Jayne,” Steph grabbed her arm and a broom, “Let’s get the clean up started.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   Since the day was so calm and sunny, Steph and Jayne propped the broken door open to let in the light and fresh air as they cleaned up broken glass and other debris.  Progress was slow, not because it was hard work or because there was a lot of mess, but because many residents stopped to see how they were doing. 
   “Wow, I’m impressed so many are apologizing,”  Steph put the last pile of glass in the garbage.
   “That’s because Mark gave a number of them stern lectures when he was getting their statements.”
   “Hey, Danny Boy.  Is it lunch time already?”  Steph reached out to take the food containers from Dan and clear a space on the desk for them to have a picnic.
   “It’s a good thing you brought lunch because Jayne’s cupboards are completely bare.”
   “Jayne?”
   “Back off, Dan.  I just didn't get a chance to buy groceries yesterday with all the excitement.”
  “Hey, everyone...is there enough for me?” 
   “Pull up a chair, Monique, there’s plenty.”  Everyone shifted around to make room for another chair and in the process, Jayne ended up sitting beside Dan.
   “Jayne, make sure you talk to Mrs. T at the supper tonight so she can see that you are still all in one piece.  She is such a card.”
   “Oh,”  Steph jumped up to help Jim Jr. as he carefully manoeuvred a new door through the broken one and leaned it against the wall.
   “Thanks, Short Stuff.  I’ll just go get my tools from the truck and be right back.  Don’t eat all the food.”
   Jayne reached out and grabbed another chair, and as she did so, Monique jumped up.
   “Sorry guys...just remembered that I have to be somewhere...have to dash...talk to you later...excuse me.”
   And with that, Monique pushed past Jim Jr. and raced across the street to the library.
   “Was it something I said?” Jim Jr. asked with a twinkle in his eye.
   “She’s been acting weird around you for quite a while now.” Steph commented.
   “That’s right,” Jayne looked him square in the eye, “What have you done to her?”
   “Nothing I swear!” Jim Jr. held his hands up, “I say hi and ask about her health and she runs away.”
   “Hmmmm...I wonder if she knows you were camped out at her bedside?” Dan pondered aloud.
   Jim Jr. shook his head, “Nah, she was pretty delirious at the time.”
   Jayne and Steph looked at each other.  “You really think that might be it?”
   “Could be.  It’s not like she has much contact with us other than when you bring her to the family suppers.”
   “She was fine Monday night,”  Steph pointed out.
   “Yah, and made sure she was on the opposite side of the porch from me the entire time.  Pass the fries, please.”  Jim Jr. loaded up a plate and started eating. 
   Jayne looked over at the library as the others started eating.  “I wonder…”
   “No, no, no!”  Jim Jr. shook his head.  “Whatever you are cooking up in that head of yours, you can just forget.”
   “Me?  Cooking?  Perish the thought.  I’m just composing a grocery list for later.” Jayne tried to look as innocent as she could.
  In no time, the meal was consumed and the mess cleaned up.  Dan and Jim Jr. took the old door off the hinges and prepared to hang the new one.
   “Jayne and Stephanie...stop lollygagging and come at once”  None of them had heard Gertie show up at the door.
   “What can I do for you, Gertie?”
   “The hall needs set up for tonight’s supper and time’s a-wasting.  Hurry, hurry!”
   “Uh, didn’t you set up yesterday?” Jayne looked over at Steph with puzzlement.
   “None of the ladies showed up on time and we weren't able to start.  Now MARCH!”
   Jayne and Steph headed out the door, purposely bumping into Dan and Jim Jr. who were trying hard not to laugh out loud.
   “You could come too” Jayne quietly pleaded with the guys.
   “Not on your life.  Have fun.”
   Jayne stuck her tongue out at Dan before hurrying behind Steph as Gertie charged down the street to recruit more help.  As they entered the building, they exchanged greetings with the others and automatically started in on their usual tasks. As there was only three congregations it didn’t take long for each to go through their rotation, unless they let one of the other community organizations host a supper as a fundraiser. Thus, everyone knew exactly what their task would be when their turn came around again.
   “I’ll help Mrs. Brown in the kitchen. See if you can head Gertie off at the pass when she returns,” Steph hurried off.
   “Hi Jayne. How are you?  That was so weird yesterday.  Are you suing?”
   “I’m fine, Hannah, and no, I’m not suing.. How many tables are we setting up this week?”
   “Oh, as many as we can fit, I guess. What’s the deal with the gas station?”
   “Nothing more than a miscommunication regarding the gas shipments. It should be straightened out soon.”
   Jayne helped two other women from the congregation set up the tables, while keeping one eye on the door. As soon as Gertie stepped over the threshold, Jayne rushed over to her.
   “Gertie, I’m so glad you’re here. Do you know where all the stacking chairs ended up after last month’s supper? We seem to be short about 35, and I can’t find them anywhere.”
(November 6, 2015)

    “With the nicer weather we’re expecting a larger crowd tonight and we really need those chairs.”
   “You’re all hopeless. I knew I should have been here earlier. You just can’t trust others to do a job for you. If you want a job done properly you have to do it yourself…” As Gertie steamrolled herself to the storage room, Jayne gave Steph a thumbs-up before following a discrete distance behind.
   In no time at all, the tables were set, the kitchen ready and the decorations up. The stage was ready as some residents were putting on a talent show for everyone. Jayne and Steph said their goodbyes and headed back down the street.
   “I thought you set up the hall yesterday before we finished putting the paper together?”
   “We did!  I swear we did, Jayne.  Gertie was wrong...everyone was there and it was all set up when I came back to the office.  She must have gone back in and took it all down.”
   “That’s a lot of work to make a point...if that is what she was doing.”
   “You know Gertie...has to control everything.”
    “Too true.  I’ll go check on Monique.  Can you handle the rest of the clean up?”
   “Sure thing.  Do you think Monique knows about Jim Jr.?”
   “I don’t know...maybe I’ll find out.”  Jayne gave Steph a quick hug before ducking behind the library and dashing up the back steps to knock on Monique’s door.
   A muffled “Who is it?” could be heard through the door.
   “Me!”
   “Are you alone?”
   “No, I have the Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch with me. Of course, I’m alone.”
   The door opened and Jayne walked in.  The cozy apartment didn’t look any different than before Monique moved in less than a year ago.  In fact, it didn’t look like anyone lived there it was so bare and clean.  Jayne sat down beside Monique on the couch and picked up a pink note, one of many that covered the coffee table.
   “What’s going on here, Monique?  Are you okay?”
   “I’m fine...I’m fine!”
   “Really?”
   Monique sighed and leaned back, hugging herself tightly.  “There was another note in the door when I got back here this morning.”
   “Cool!  What did it say,” Jayne checked the date on the note in her hand but it was from January.
   “This isn’t cool...it’s freaky!”
   “Trust me, Monique, I know the difference between scary and freaky and cool...this is definitely cool.  Now what did it say?”
   “That he was glad I was safe and hoped I wasn’t scared yesterday...that he’s watching out for me...that he hoped I wasn’t overdoing it….who is he!?”
   Jayne hugged Monique.  “Someone pretty special, I’d say.”
   “So why won’t he tell me who he is?”
   “Maybe he’s scared you won’t like him?  Or, maybe he’s from your previous life?”
   “If that was the case, he’d stick out like a sore thumb around here.  And none of the guys I knew before are smart enough to write notes like these.”
   “Ah, so you think he’s smart??”  Jayne couldn’t keep her grin from growing bigger.
   “I didn’t say that!” Monique bopped Jayne with a pillow.
   “Speaking of smart guys...why’d you run away when Jim Jr. walked up?”
   “I didn’t run away.”
   “Oh, yeah?  He’s still wearing your tire marks from when you ran over him to get away.”
   Monique sighed, “I don’t know...he...he...he just...there’s...there’s something about him...when he...when he looks at me it’s like he knows something about me that he shouldn’t.”
   “Oh, Monique…”
   Monique jumped up.  “Look at the time.  The supper will be starting soon and neither of us are ready yet.”
   “We have lots of time.  Are you going to sit with us tonight or hide across the room?  The truth?”
   “I don’t know.  I guess it depends on if he’s there.”
   Jayne hugged Monique.  “He doesn’t smell bad or bite.”
   “I know...I can’t help it.  And these notes make me nervous too.”
   “Rest...I’ll stop back later and we can walk together.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   “Hmmmm…I don’t see Dan’s truck here yet.”
    “With the number of vehicles on the street I’d be amazed if you could see it at all. Maybe the family walked into town.”
   Monique paused and with exaggerated movements looked up and down the street. “Interestingly enough, you and I seem to be the only ones walking right now.”
    “Does that surprise you? Everyone is going to be blinded as it is with your colourful image. I honestly didn’t think you could possibly outdo Monday’s ensemble, but obviously I was mistaken. If anyone was walking they’d be struck blind by your rainbow hues, get lost and miss out on a great meal. No, they are smart to play it safe.”
   “Funny, funny. I notice you didn’t do much to enhance your appearance.”
   “I brushed my hair!”
   “Be still my beating heart!” Monique’s hand rested against her forehead as she pretended to swoon. With a giggle they both entered the hall.
   “Welcome, ladies. Monique, Mrs. Brown has asked that I invite you to sit with us. If you’d follow me.” Rev. Brown led Monique off towards the far side of the hall.
   Jayne took a second to glance around and see who was already there and where everyone was sitting. There were no assigned seats, but everyone seemed to have a preferred spot, just like their preferred pew on Sunday. Spotting Mrs. T near the middle, Jayne headed over to her, exchanging pleasantries with everyone she passed along the way.
   “Hi Mrs. T. Glad you could make it out.”
   “Hello Jayne. I wouldn’t miss seeing the children perform. Of course, it isn’t like it was when I first started teaching. We did so much memory work and long recitations. Children are not using their minds enough these days.”
   “I certainly would have to agree with you there, Mrs. T. No argument at all. None of us seem to be using our brains, or else we’re using them to try and do too much unnecessary work.”
   “Jayne, you always had a way with words. Where’s your young man?” Mrs. T looked around her.
   “Actually…”
   “Actually I’m right here, just running a little late as we had a calf get out before I got back from installing the new office door. Took us a while to catch the little bugger. Sorry I didn’t make it in time to pick you up, Jaynelle. How are you tonight Mrs. T?” Dan gave Jayne a one-armed hug before leaning around to kiss Mrs. T’s cheek.
   “Quite well thank you.”
   Jayne wondered what the heck Dan was up to. He made it sound like they had planned to come together. The knowing looks from some of the folks seated around them were making her uncomfortable. This was certainly not a date!
(November 20, 2015)

   She sat there letting the conversation ebb and flow around her, only occasionally making a comment.
   Rev. Brown stood up to say the blessing. “Gracious God, we thank you for the fellowship and joy that we experience when we are gathered to honour your presence. Thank you for the many hands who have helped prepare this splendid feast and remind us to reach out to those who are not as fortunate as we are. In all we do, may we remember you. Amen.”
   “Amen.”
   It was a complete mystery to Jayne as to the origins of the process, but there was never a problem determining your turn to join the food line at these suppers. Everyone went up based on where they lived, not where they were sitting in the hall! Beginning with those living north of town and moving southward, everyone got up when it was their turn with no line jumping, grumbling or complaints. Of course, that meant that your seatmate may not get his or her meal till well after you, but no one seemed to mind or care as that was the way it was and no one wanted to change the status quo. It was just one more idiosyncrasy that made Humble unique.   As Jayne lived on Main Street, she would be able to join the line up before either Mrs. T or Dan.
    When it was her turn, Dan stood up and helped her out of her chair. Jayne chatted with various people as she walked to the food line. As usual it appeared as if most of the community and district were in attendance.
   Jayne stepped into the line behind Frank, a retired banker who lived behind the school.
   “Jayne, pleasure to see you. How’s the newspaper business?”
   “No complaints, Frank. How’s the woodworking business?”
   “New orders everyday. Smythers has given me even more display space in the store and I even have a dozen of orders from the city.”
   “That’s marvellous! Hello, Hilda.” Jayne smiled, with some caution, at the woman who joined the line behind her. Hilda’s husband was with her.
   “Jayne, I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am to see you here with Dan.”
   “Actually we’re…”
   “I’m sure we’d all agree that you make such a wonderful looking couple, wouldn’t we?” Jayne cringed as Hilda’s loud voice attracted the attention of more people who were joining them in the line up, as well as those ahead of them. Jayne had a hard time determining if Monique was sending her a look of sympathy across the room or not.
   “Really, we’re not…”
   “Of course, we’re surprised that you held out as long as you did. There really was no need to be shy and coy. It’s not like you two sweethearts didn’t know each other. And I don’t need to mention that no one in town would have felt you two required a long engagement.”
   “We…”
   “I was worried, actually worried, that you were just stringing the poor fellow along, but I’m so pleased to see I was wrong. Didn’t I tell you, Jonas, how worried I was?”
   “Yes, dear you did.” No matter what Hilda said, Jonas always replied, “yes dear.”
   “Dan isn’t...”
   “We all know you’re not getting any younger and if you two are planning to have as many children as dear old Jim and Vera you’d better start soon, isn’t that right folks?” Hilda’s voice raised another decibel attracting even more attention.
   “Hilda, really…”
   “I still can’t get over how long you made him wait. What was your reason for holding out?”
   “Uh….” Jayne was sure the line had completely stopped moving as everyone waited for the next comment to trip off of Hilda’s tongue, since no one seemed to want to hear her responses.
   “Never mind, water under the bridge I say. You’re together now and that’s the main thing. About time really. Have you two settled on August for your wedding date yet?”
   “NO! We…”
   “I’m sure you are waiting for Lizzy to get back home. Smart move. It wouldn’t do to have all the girls as bridesmaids without her. You don’t want to create tension with the future in-laws.”
   “Now…”
   “You are so right. They aren’t really going to be in-laws in a sense with you being practically a member of the family and all. Which makes it harder to understand why you and Dan didn’t get hitched years ago, it’s not like you were off wasting your time at some university or dating other folks.”
   “We’re not…”
   “I just can’t understand young girls today. Why in my day if we didn’t have that engagement ring on our finger by our senior year of high school, and the wedding ring the week after graduation, we were doomed to spinsterhood and everyone in town knew it.”
   Jayne couldn’t understand why the food line wasn’t moving at all. And why no one was coming to rescue her. Especially Monique, who she could now see was most definitely smirking at every comment Hilda uttered.
   “Young girls nowadays seem to think they have all the time in the world. Why my mother would have rolled over in her grave if she ever thought I was still single at 30.”
   “Hilda, darling, your mother is still very much alive.”
   “Oh, Jonas, you’re too much.” Jayne winced in sympathy as Hilda smacked her husband across his chest. “But we’re not talking about me…we’re talking about Jayne’s wedding plans. I spoke to Rev. Brown and he’s thrilled to perform the ceremony for you two”
   “I’m…”
   “Will Mrs. Brown being singing a solo?” Mercifully Hilda lowered her voice to a loud whisper. “No offence to the woman, but we all know she really can’t carry a tune at all. Why I shudder, simply shudder, every time she sings a high note in church. Now, Gertie would be an excellent choice for soloist. Have you asked her yet?”
   “You don’t…”
   “You’re right. Gertie would be an overpowering choice. Her daughter Hannah would probably set the right tone. I’m sitting with them this evening so we can discuss the appropriate choice of songs.  One less detail for you to worry about, Jayne.”
   “Oh, please…” Jayne really wanted the floor to just open up and swallow her up. She could not believe how embarrassing the whole conversation was. Unfortunately, if Jonas wasn’t going to put a stop to Hilda’s prattle, nothing on earth would stop her till she was good and ready, which didn’t appear to be any time soon, and the food line was moving slower than a snail’s pace as no one seemed to want to miss the best entertainment the community had seen in ages.
   “Oh, silly me. Of course, both you and Dan should discuss it with her. I’m sure Dan has some preferences too. Though in my day the bride and her mother planned the whole event without the groom’s input at all and there were never any hurt feelings. Were there, Jonas? Of course not. Naturally, not having a mother does make your situation a little different, I suppose.”
   “I really…”
   “I completely agree. With your colouring pale flowers would disappear. A bouquet of bright red roses would be just the ticket with your ‘exotic’ colouring. I see you do have some sense after all.”
(December 4, 2015)

   Jayne was beginning to think that no one, least of all her had any sense left at all, or they’d quickly pay Jonas to take Hilda far away. And far too many people had seen her so Jayne knew there was no way she could plead a headache and skip outside. Thankfully they finally got up to the food and were able to begin dishing up.
   “Now if you are definitely going with the red roses, and it sounds as if you are, I’d decorate with gold colours. That provides a marvellous contrast.”
   Jayne dished up some lettuce salad and then some taco salad.
   “Gold just wouldn’t be right without another colour. Trust me; I made that mistake at my own wedding. Didn’t believe my mother when she told me otherwise. Well, let me tell you I certainly have lived to regret it, just as she said I would.”
   Jayne looked at the rest of the food and wondered if she’d be able to even swallow a bite. She dished up some lasagne and some turnips while Hilda babbled on.
   “Table favours are very important. I don’t need to remind you that the table favour will make or break your wedding in the guests’ eyes. Make a few samples before you commit yourself to a particular style. Saves time in the long run. You’ll thank me for that advice. You certainly will.”
   Jayne gratefully left the buffet, and Hilda, and walked over to the beverage table.
   “Good evening, Jayne.”
   “Good evening, Mrs. Brown. Wonderful turnout, isn’t it?”
   “Yes it is. Here, let me help you with that.” Jayne allowed Mrs. Brown to put two glasses of juice in her hand and then she made her way back to her seat.
   “Oh Jayne, I loved your editorial in the last issue.”
   “Thank you Sally.”
   “I can’t for the life of me remember what in tarnation it was about, but I know it greatly impacted my life, and I’m a totally changed woman because of it.”
   “Oh…I’m glad you enjoyed. I’ll leave you to your meal now. Good evening folks.” Jayne nodded at Sally’s seatmates before moving on.
   “Oh, and Jayne,” Sally called out, “I must say it is about time you and young MacDonald got together. Yep, about time.”
   Jayne finally made it back to her seat after fielding a few more comments about her and “young MacDonald” getting together. Good grief this certainly wasn’t the first potluck supper where they’d sat together so what was going on with everyone.
   Dan stood up and took the two glasses from her, placing one at each of their spots, before helping her into her seat. Jayne leaned over to whisper to Mrs. T, “Remind me, should I ever forget, to pick a wedding date when Hilda, Jonas, Gertie and most of the residents are all out of town!”
   Mrs. T. patted her hand sympathetically.
   In due time, the rest of the crowd got their food. Dan brought back two desserts, a piece of Saskatoon pie for himself and chocolate cream for Jayne. The meal, as usual, was delicious as most church suppers are. Conversation was lively, covering the whole gamut from farm market prices to politics (local to international), the latest Hollywood scandal to housing prices in Calgary vs Edmonton and their impact (direct and indirect) on Humble’s housing market, the state of affairs in Europe to oil prices in the Middle East and their impact on the local pumps (which prompted a discussion about Smythers running out of gas last weekend), who stole the sign from Legacy Park, to the latest decree from the Vatican. More than once someone would comment that Dan should move to town and run for village council with his knowledge and common sense.
   Dan had been asked to be Master of Ceremonies so as soon as he’d finished his second piece of Saskatoon pie  proceeded to “get the show on the road.” For literally decades Gertie’s father Ron was the local Master of Ceremonies for any and all events in the community. A couple years previous he and Gertie’s husband were heading back to town from an auction sale and Ron, who was driving, had a massive heart attack. Their truck ran into another vehicle and both men died instantly. The other vehicle’s occupants escaped with only minor bruising. Gertie, the poor grieving widow, immediately set her sights on the local bachelor population (all ages) in search of another husband, though her efforts to date had been unsuccessful. The community was at a loss though at the joint funeral as Ron was the designated eulogizer and he wasn’t around to speak any more. Dan stepped into the breech and was more than capably filling the role ever since.
   Jayne started clearing the tables, but soon gave up after the tenth person congratulated her on her recent engagement to Dan. She really wondered why the heck they weren’t harassing Dan too. She was more than ready to go home, but went back to her spot by Mrs. T.
   “I am pleased to see that you and Dan are getting along better.”
   Jayne looked over at Mrs. T in disbelief. “When haven’t Dan and I gotten along?”
   “Oh, I didn’t mean that you ever fought, though a good relationship always should have some good air-clearing now and then. Why I remember when my husband and I would raise the roof with some of our discussions. But it cleared the air and we had so much fun making up.” There was no mistaking the twinkle in Mrs. T’s eyes. “What I meant was that I was pleased you are here together.”
   “But we’re not really here together. Good heavens, half the MacDonald clan are sitting with us.”
   Jayne tried to ignore Mrs. T’s knowing look. There was no changing Mrs. T’s mind once she had a thought about something and quite frankly, Jayne had had enough talking about Dan and engagements tonight to last a lifetime.
   “Look, the little ones are ready to begin.” Jayne attempted to change the subject.
   “Doesn’t Dan look so tall and handsome? You two will certainly have lovely children.”
   “Mrs. T!” Jayne lowered her voice, “the program is starting and we don’t want to miss a moment of that.”
   Jayne and Mrs. T settled into their seats, as Steph slid into Dan’s chair. She leaned over to whisper, “All’s quiet on the western front. Gertie had to go home early as Joey is running a fever and Hannah didn’t want to leave and miss seeing her other kids perform.”
   “Thank heavens,” Jayne whispered back.
   There is something about a talent show that is unique. No matter how many children play “Mary had a Little Lamb” on the piano, or how many times you hear the same poem over and over again, each one is special, not only to the children’s parents, but to everyone present. As the school band also played, the program lasted till 10 pm. Jayne tracked down Monique, apologized for both of them leaving before the clean up was done, and dragged Monique out the door.
   “What’s this I hear about you and Dan?”
   “Nothing other than Hilda’s overactive imagination. Come on.”
   “You don’t need to be so bossy.”
   “You should have stayed home. Look at you…you can barely walk.”
   “I’m…”
   “No you are NOT FINE! You are beat, dead tired, exhausted and not healthy.”
   “Gee, and I thought you were my friend.” Monique quirked an eyebrow at Jayne as they arrived at her apartment.
(December 18, 2015)

   “I am your friend which is why you are going right to bed, and if you are not feeling rested, you are going to stay in bed tomorrow and I will come check on you in the morning. Understood?”
   “Yes, mom! Okay…I’m going!” Monique hugged Jayne and closed the door behind her.
   Jayne returned to the street and debated heading back to the hall but decided she could not face any more knowing looks. If she was really engaged to Dan that would be one thing, but since she wasn’t, there was no use torturing herself by listening to the local gossips. Jayne sincerely hoped and prayed that this latest gossip would die a quick death and life would get back to normal, because she truly didn’t know what she’d do, or say, if anyone else congratulated her on this non-engagement. She continued across the street and into her apartment where she collapsed on the daybed. What a long full day it had been. She barely had time to think another thought before she fell asleep.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   “Morning, Jayne!  Dan dropped me off and he’ll be right here with the doughnuts as Mrs. T phoned around and said we’re meeting this morning since we missed yesterday with all the hullabaloo and we should never miss a chance to be grateful and may I borrow the camera after to get shots of the construction work on the north end? Do we know yet what is even being built there yet?  And then I could go interview the mayor about the last council meeting, and what’s happening with the apartment over the bank as it won’t hurt to see if I can find out if Peter’s still in the running or not, especially since the baby will be here, oh, any day now!  Uh, earth to Jayne, come in, Jayne!”
   Jayne started out of her contemplation of her completely empty fridge, and then laughed at the breathless spiel that issued from Stephanie.
   "Morning, Steph," Jayne reached over in her minuscule kitchenette that separated the office from her apartment, and filled an old electric kettle before plugging it in.  She crossed her fingers that it would keep working and not decide this was its last day to function.  Jayne put a small tray of mismatched mugs out by the front window.  While the office was not overly large, Jayne had tried to make it more spacious and inviting.  Plants thrived in the large southern window and broke the starkness of the room.  Jayne’s desk was situated by the west wall with Steph’s desk, which really was nothing more than a large table with a laptop at one end and a precarious pile of paperwork at the other, was situated perpendicular to Jayne’s on the north side of the room.  The kitchenette was in the northeast corner, directly opposite the door, and the east wall was left open with lots of chairs for anyone to come in and visit.  The walls had been a beige colour forever, but a few years ago Jayne had dared Dan paint the whole room a cheery yellow.  Now it was a more pleasant place to work.
   “You’re sure you’re okay with me not being here all day?  I could stop back later...maybe.”  Steph bounced over to the kitchenette to reach for a basket of herbal teas, which she then put by the mugs.
   “Don’t sweat it, Steph.  I’m sure I’ll manage without you today.  Though…you are responsible for the complete write-up of whatever you can pry out of the mayor regarding the council meeting, and if you can catch him before the end of day, I need you to interview the principal about the rumour regarding the proposed slash in funding for school trips next school year.”
   “Thanks Jayne!  You’re the best boss.”  Steph gave Jayne an exuberant bear hug as she walked back.
   “And you’re biased.”  Jayne hugged Steph back before surveying the office.  “Do we have everything ready for the day?”
   “Not yet, Jaynelle, but you will soon.”
   Jayne briefly closed her eyes and took a deep breath before turning toward the doorway.  Dan walked in with some fresh baked apple fritters which he placed on the nearest clear surface with a flourish.  The doughy aroma drifted up and teased Jayne’s nose.  One of her weaknesses was fresh apple fritters.  A fact that Dan knew all too well.
   “What are these for?”  Jayne looked at the fritters with mild suspicion, inwardly cringing as Dan was the only one who called her by her full name.  It is not that she didn’t like her name, but there was just something about the way Dan said it that ruffled her feathers.
   “When Short Stuff here begged me to drive her into town for your gathering this morning, I decided that you gals needed a special treat.”  Dan looped an arm around Steph and gave her a hug, “Besides, I’m doing some work for Mrs. T today and I want her in a really good mood.”
   Steph laughed, “Oh Danny Boy, when is Mrs. T never in a good mood?”
   Mrs. Temple, or Mrs. T as she was affectionately called by everyone, came to Humble as a green-as-grass 17-year-old to teach in the one-room school house back in the 1930s.  A city girl through and through, she quickly caught the eye of local farmer, Jonathan Temple.  They married and Mrs. T never left the community.  Through the years, she taught virtually everyone, their children, and even most of the grandchildren.  At 95 years old, Mrs. T was as feisty as can be, ran circles around most people.  She reluctantly retired from teaching when she turned 70, but still managed to have a full house of students to tutor throughout the year. Though Jayne never had her for a teacher, like other members of the community she regarded Mrs. T as a mentor.
   “Well, thank you very much.  It was thoughtful of you."  Jayne ushered Dan toward the door.  She wanted to act mature and responsible, but it was hard when she got tongue-tied around Dan.
  “Hail, hail the gang’s all here.”  Jayne grinned when she saw Monique escort Mrs. T inside the newspaper office.  She was pleased that Monique didn’t look the worse for wear after last night’s supper.  In fact, Monique looked like an exotic bird next to the more sedate Mrs. T who dressed more like the Queen in her prim and proper suits.  Following behind them was Sue.  It always amazed Jayne that Sue ended up working as a teller in the bank and dealing with people all day long as she really was quite quiet and shy.  For the longest time Jayne would force Sue to attend functions in the community with her as Sue was just too shy to venture out in public on her own if she had to actually speak to anyone.  Marriage had certainly helped considerably to raise her overall confidence level.
   “Good morning, girls…Dan.  I hope you are ready to get my house in tip top shape, young man?”  Mrs. T had this habit of looking over her glasses at you, but the mischievous twinkle in her eye belied the stern tone in which she spoke.  While she surely had been a most formidable presence in the classroom if a child misbehaved, Mrs. T had a soft spot in her heart for any child or person.
   “Yes, Ma’am.  I’m on my way.  Make sure these gals behave.”  With a quick peck on Mrs. T’s cheek, and a snitched fritter in hand, Dan went whistling out the door.
   “I can’t believe that some nice young girl hasn’t snatched that fellow away from you, Jayne,” Mrs. T said with a pointed look at Jayne, “He’s certainly a gem that you don’t want to lose..” 
   Jayne ignored the look, as she did every time Mrs. T levelled it her way, which was at least twice a week, if not more.  Jayne poured the kettle of now boiling water into a couple carafes and placed them by the mugs and tea bags.
   “Girls, today we have strawberry or apple/cinnamon herbal tea, and apple fritters, courtesy of Dan.”
   There was a bit of shuffling and shifting as the women got their tea, fritters and settled in their chairs to visit before the work day began.
(January 1, 2016)

   Mrs. T was in a very jovial and thankful mood.  “I’m thankful this morning for this glorious June day and for the robin who sang outside my window as I was waking up...I'm also thankful for the opportunity for us to gather in the mornings and encourage each other before we proceed along our life paths.  I'm also thankful for that rascal Dan who will be helping me out around my house.  And I'm thankful for each of you young women who are such a blessing to our community.”
   Looking back, Jayne couldn’t remember how it all came about, but shortly after she took over the newspaper, these morning tea gatherings seemed to blossom into existence.  They managed to gather together around 8:00 a.m. before most of the offices opened, and before the students had to be at school during the school year.  Mrs. T would often appear, as did whichever work experience student Jayne had at the time.  Sue, Monique and Jayne rounded out the regulars now, and others joined in as their schedules permitted so the group was very eclectic and fluid in size. It was really formal.  Much like a female counter point to the farmer coffee gatherings next door.
   The gathering was usually held on Wednesday mornings as a way to celebrate the publication of a new edition of the newspaper, and Jayne was glad that they didn’t miss this week, even after all the excitement of the previous two days.  It wasn’t just a chance to hang out with the gals.  It was more than that as Mrs. T was a firm believer in gratitude.  She always said if you could find something to be thankful for and concentrated on that, rest of your life would work out.  Mrs. T was by no means a wishful, positive-thinking Pollyanna type, she just knew that if you spent your life thinking doom and gloom thoughts then all you’d get in life was doom and gloom.  She encouraged all her students through the years, and everyone she met, to be thankful, truly thankful for the good in their lives.  She found that these morning gatherings were an excellent way to practice what she taught, and provided an excellent opportunity to mentor the younger generation.  Without being to preachy, Mrs. T felt that if they started off the day by sharing their gratitude items, the rest of the visit and day would go smoothly.
   Monique went next, “Before I share my gratitude items, I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but there is a new gal in town.  I’ve seen her around a couple of times.  Very quiet and very shy.  I said hi to her at the post office one morning and she didn’t even look at me.”
   “What’s her name?” Sue asked around a mouthful of fritter.
   “I don’t know.  She doesn’t seem to talk to anyone and is such a drab mouse of a thing.  It was her eyes which got me.  Haunted and sad.  Hasn’t she been in the bank?”
   “I haven’t seen her.  Perhaps Judy has, or Lynn at the post office.”
   “I think I saw her in the park one day,” Steph piped in.  “She was huddled up on one of the picnic tables.  I wasn’t sure if she was cold, sick or crying.  As soon as she noticed the students leaving the school she got up and hurried away.”
   “Does anyone know where she lives?” Jayne asked.
   “I’ve tried to find out, but haven’t been successful yet.  I invited her into the library one morning when I saw her walking by, but she just kept going mumbling something about needing to buy medicine and get right home,” Monique said.
   “Poor dear.”  Jayne knew that when Mrs. T said “Poor dear” that way it meant that it wouldn’t be long before they knew everything there was to know about the mysterious woman.
   Monique continued, “I’d like to express my gratitude that the lights in the library are fixed and we can see again.” Everyone laughed at Monique’s exaggerated look of relief.  The library lights were never an issue with the previous staff members even though half the time the lights were totally useless, making it impossible for anyone to even find the books, let alone want to take any out.  Summer time wasn’t too bad as there was lots of daylight hours, but in the winter time, when folks usually had more time for reading, it was disappointing to walk into the dark cavern and emerge with nothing, unless they borrowed the books displayed by the front windows or that had been just returned by their neighbour.
   “I am also thankful for this beautiful day and your friendship.  It means a whole lot to me to have you all on my side.”
   Without being very obvious Jayne picked up a box of Kleenex and passed it around the group.  Over the past few months Monique had become more and more precious to the group.  Though they almost experienced it, none of them could imagine Monique not being with them, and all were grateful that she was still around.
   “I’m struggling with the gratitude thing today as I have a make-up final exam tomorrow morning…math.”  The others grinned.  Jayne knew they were aware, as she was, that math was Steph’s least favourite subject of all.  It wasn’t that she found it hard, she just didn’t like it.
   “Be thankful that it is your last exam, dear.”  Mrs. T said.
   Steph looked doubtful.  “Well, I can say I’m thankful that Jayne is going to let me work here all summer so I will have something to keep me occupied so mom doesn’t leave all the gardening to me!”
   Sue replied, “Now Short Stuff, you know you have to put in hours in the garden if you want to eat.”
   “Shifts, yes…the whole summer, no!”
   Despite her words to the contrary, Jayne knew that Steph would be out in the garden any chance she got.  Steph had a knack for making the garden produce more than should be possible.
   Sue took her turn next, “I’d like to say thank you that there are no problems with this pregnancy.  Though I think Peter’s going to drive me nuts if he keeps treating me like fine crystal.  He wouldn’t let me even clear the dishes off the table last night.”
   Everyone laughed when Monique said, “And you are complaining about this because…?”
    Jayne jumped up to refill the kettle.  When she came back to her seat Mrs. T asked her what she would like to share.  “Ummm…I am thankful for this beautiful day.  I am thankful we have such a great school in our community with fabulous staff members who are doing the best they can with the resources available to them.  I’m thankful that I have Steph’s help here each week.  I am thankful that we made it through the wildness of this week.  I, too, am thankful you are all my friends, and that Humble is the kind of community where we know and care for each other.”
   Mrs. T added, “I am thankful for Jayne and her future spouse and the great contribution they will make to this community.”
   Jayne choked on a mouthful of tea.  “What?  Where did that come from?”
   “One should always be prepared,” Mrs. T said in her somewhat cryptic fashion.  Before Jayne could say anything more, Mrs. T continued, “I am also thankful for such a wonderful community to live in.”
   “Sorry to rush, but I do have to get going if I’m going to make it back to help Jayne later.  Thanks for the encouragement everyone.  Love ya, Mrs. T.  See you later, Jayne.”  Steph hugged everyone and then bounced out of the office and headed down the street.
   “Oh to have her energy,” Sue sighed before finishing off her fritter and wiping her hands.  “I should be off too.  Peter is planning a mini staff refresher training session this morning before the bank opens.  With Judy coming on board now we hope the transition will be smooth when I go on maternity leave.  Thanks gals.  Bye Mrs. T.”  Sue also gave everyone a hug before gathering up her purse and lunch bag before heading out the door and down the street.
(January 15, 2016)

   Jayne reached for the last gooey fritter.  Sinking her teeth into the doughy treat, she moaned in pleasure.  Monique refilled the mugs before settling back with her own treat
   “I assume you have an escort for Saturday’s 4H fundraiser, Jayne?”
   Trust Mrs. T to keep on a topic like a dog on a bone.  The local 4H group was hosting a Summer Fling supper and dance, and of course, everyone would be there.
   “No, Mrs. T.  Monique and I planned to attend together, unless you need a date, in which case I’d be honoured if you’d go with me.”
    “Oh pooh.  Two lovely girls as yourselves should be turning men’s heads, and out having fun, not babysitting an old woman like myself.”
   Monique flipped her long wavy hair over her shoulder with a laugh.  “Mrs. T, you find a guy for me and I’ll have all the fun you want.”
   “By the time I was your age not only had I been married, but I was widowed and teaching my own children in school.”  Mrs. T. looked over her glasses at Monique.
   Monique sighed, “Mrs. T., it seems like you had it so much simpler than we do.”
   “Simpler?  I had to chop my own wood for fuel, haul all my water in the house, wash clothes, including my babies’ nappies, on a scrub board, bake, garden…”
   “Whoa, Mrs. T.  I didn’t mean life was simpler, I meant relationships were simpler.”
   “My dear, relationships haven’t been simple since Adam and Eve.”
   Jayne gradually tuned out Monique and Mrs. T as she thought back to the very first time she saw Dan.  She was standing in the school office her first day in Humble.  Jayne had never actually attended a school before so she was scared stiff, but trying not to show it.  No one looking at her would know that she wasn’t the cocky teen she portrayed to the world.  Her street smarts had gotten her this far, they’d get her further.  She was a survivor after all.  Jayne had managed quite fine for sixteen years without ever setting foot in a school, thank you very much, so why did that all have to change now.  Though, truthfully, deep in her heart, Jayne was excited to have an opportunity to learn, she just wasn’t thrilled that she had to go to school to do it.  Dressed in a ragged pair of jeans that were too large, a T-shirt of her dad’s that was also too large, but the cleanest thing she could find, sneakers with more holes than shoe and a beat up baseball cap on her head to hide her rats’ nest hair, Jayne definitely wasn’t a fashion model by any stretch of the imagination.  She had been trying to register but all the forms and questions were overwhelming her and she had to fight the strong urge to run out the door.
   Just when she thought she couldn’t take any more, into the office walked this guy who seemed to ooze confidence.  His short brown hair had a bit of an unruly cowlick in the front, his brown eyes were warm like melting chocolate.  Of course, he was dressed nicer than anyone Jayne had seen in a long time and she felt like the homeless trash she was next to him.  She tried to make herself invisible which was next to impossible as they were the only ones on that side of the counter.
   Dan had asked the secretary why she’d called him and was told that she wanted him to take the new girl to class as they would be in the same grade.  Jayne was mortified and desperately wanted to run and hide.  Anything would be preferable to walking anywhere with such a perfect person.  But the floor didn’t open up and shallow her whole, a bus didn’t come crashing through the wall and run over her, a giant bird didn’t swoop in and carry her off, and no cosmic catastrophe occurred that would have buried her alive.  Thus, even though her paperwork wasn’t complete, Jayne soon found herself walking down the hallway beside the best thing to ever grace her path.
   “I’m Dan.  And you are?”
   “Uh…Jayne. Um… Jaynelle, really.  Uh…Call me Jayne.”  She stammered, again wishing that the floor would open up and take her away from this whole situation.
   “Jaynelle.  That’s a pretty name.  Here we are.  Don’t worry.  Mr. Hickson’s bark is worse than his bite.”
   With a wink and a quick reassuring squeeze of her arm, Dan opened the classroom door and Jayne felt like she was thrown into a pit with a bunch of rabid dogs.  He would never know, but Jayne cherished the memory of that first touch even to this day.
   “Jayne?  Jayne!”
   Jayne blinked back to awareness.  “Sorry.  What did you say?”
   “It’s time we left so you could get some work done, dear.  I’ll see you tomorrow.  I wonder what I should serve for lunch?  Dan is such a large man and I’m sure he has a big appetite.”  Mrs. T. hugged Jayne before heading for the door.
   “Are you okay?”
   Jayne smiled at concerned look on Monique’s face.  “Yes.  I was just daydreaming, I guess.  Must be summer.  Now don’t overdo it today.  If you need anything, call.”
   “Yes, Mom!”
   Both girls laughed as Monique hugged Jayne and then helped Mrs. T out the door and down a small ramp, bypassing the steps.  Jayne watched as Monique gently guided Mrs. T into her car.
   Before the door closed, Mrs. T called out, “Jayne, dear, don’t forget to find an escort for the dance.”
   “Honestly, Mrs. T., where am I going to find a date in Humble on such short notice?”
   “Open your eyes, dear, open your eyes.”
   Jayne waved as they drove off and then sank down on the step.  Looking up and down the street she muttered to herself, “Open your eyes…open your eyes…Well there’s always Siegfried and Roy.  Or, perhaps Mr. Hickson.  He thought I was a great student.  Oh, I forgot, Gertie is after him.  Not that she’d admit it in public.  Regardless, there is no way can I compete with her.  The teens are too young.  Maybe I can twist Jim Jr.’s arm!  No wait, didn’t he say he had his eye on some gal in town here and was going to ask her…wonder who it is?”
   With that Jayne laughed and walked back to her desk.  The warm sunshine was so lovely that she didn’t want to close the door or pull down the blind just yet, though by noon she’d have to or else she’d cook in the office.  As it looked to be a slower work day with just some typing to do, Jayne didn’t feel that she was wasting time by daydreaming.
   In a perfect world, Jayne would have an escort to the dance and that escort would be none other than Dan himself.  She imagined Dan arriving at her door and the two of them walking arm in arm to the Hall, greeting the villagers as they entered the building.  His warm eyes would look at her with love as he gently guided her along with a firm hand.   They would have eyes only for each other.
   Jayne sighed.  Now she was getting pathetically sappy. In a perfect world anything was possible.  Though, as Mrs. T said, the more grateful you are the more perfect your world becomes…so maybe anything is possible.
   Shaking her head at her foolishness, Jayne turned to her computer and started working.  If she finished by noon she could take the rest of the day off.  That would give her time to pick up some desperately needed groceries, since her fridge was still totally bare, at Smythers’ and go over to the library to stock up on some reading material for the weekend.  She might even join the Dessert Club's Tasting Evening.  One of Monique's newest ideas was a Dessert Club which actually met in the Community Hall Thursday evenings and made the most decedent desserts. 
(February 5, 2016)

   The group picked one cookbook out of the library and made all the dessert recipes before picking another book.  They usually made 2 or 3 desserts which were then served around 8:00 p.m.  If one wasn’t there before 8:00, they didn’t have a chance as most of the desserts were dished up and eaten by 8:10.  The group really did a great job of presenting and serving the desserts on real bone china.  Of course, there was usually a chocolate dessert of some nature, which was Jayne's main reason for attending.  Well, and the fact that the desserts were free and it was a great way to spend a Thursday night.  Lots of local couples would attend and if by some miracle there were leftovers, then the desserts were sold for a modest price to help offset the cost of ingredients.  Besides the temptation of desserts later, Monique had found some history books on printing processes in early China that Jayne was eager to read.  Now there was something to dream about!
********************
   “Uh huh, I see you forgot to knock off early today.”
   “Eeeeeeek!”  Jayne was so startled she jumped and almost fell off her chair.  Before she could settle her heart and breathing, Dan had walked across the floor to her.
   “What are you doing?” Jayne shrieked as Dan picked her up, and Steph seemed to appear from nowhere to drop her purse on her lap.
   “Thanks, Short Stuff. Hush up Jayne.”
   “Hush up! You want me to hush up!? You’re kidnapping me.” Jayne craned her neck as far as she could to see if there was anyone on the street who might be watching the little spectacle that Dan and she were providing. Her luck seemed to be holding as miracle of miracles, the street appeared to be deserted. She couldn’t see in the library window, but she dearly hoped that Monique and the patrons were in the back of the library. Otherwise, she’d never hear the end of it from Monique. Getting bodily hauled off like a sack of potatoes was not going to convince Monique that Dan didn’t have designs on her.
   Dan let Jayne stand on her feet as he opened the door to Smythers’ store.
   “Tell me Jaynelle, when was the last time you had an honest to goodness break from the newspaper?”
   “Earlier this year when I was helping nurse Monique back to health.”
   “That doesn’t count. That wasn’t a holiday. In fact, you almost ended up  sick yourself from overdoing things.”
   “I did not”
   “Did too.”
   “Did not.” Jayne could not image how the two of them looked, nose to nose, blocking the doorway as they argued. She prayed no one else was in the store to see them.
   “You’re a pain.”
   “And you’re stubborn!”
   “You’re mean.”
   “You are too.”
   With that Dan and Jayne burst into laughter. It was a running joke as to which one of them was the most stubborn.
   “You need a change of pace. So just relax and enjoy.”
   “Enjoy what exactly?”  Jayne watched Dan grab a shopping cart and head off to the grocery corner.
   “Hmmmmm…it is a gorgeous day, isn’t it.” She might as well enjoy herself since it seemed she had no choice in this kidnapping venture. 
   As Dan headed one direction, Jayne proceeded to the stationery aisle where she picked up some paper and odds and ends before heading towards the groceries. Jayne figured she might as well get everything since her cupboards were emptier than Ol’ Mother Hubbard’s.
  Meeting up with Dan, she was about to put her armload in the cart when she noticed how full it was.
   “What is all this?”
   “Steph said you are starving yourself.”
   “I’m not starving myself...I just don’t have any food in my fridge.”
   “Well, in a while, you will.”
   “I don’t need all this!  Dan, really.”
   “Hush up and go look at the new books Mrs. Smythers got in today.”
   “That’s playing dirty, Mr. MacDonald!” Jayne half-heartedly protested as Dan turned her around and gave her a slight push forward.
   “Go, I’ve got this under control.”
   If she didn’t actually need groceries so badly, Jayne would have just walked out of the store, but she figured she might as well humour Dan.
    Considering all she had been deprived of materially growing up, her one real weakness was books, so Jayne restricted herself to only buying only two books a week. Thankfully for her wallet that wasn’t too often, and she had missed last week, so she felt she could splurge without guilt this time. Otherwise she borrowed books from the library which gave Monique’s weekly statistics a very healthy boost.
   With an eclectic reading style, Jayne was able to find more than enough new releases to pique her interest. She chose a new cookbook because someday she was sure she’d have time to cook, an adventure novel because it was more fun reading about someone else’s misadventures than living her own, a book of western art because she thought she should learn more about art as so much out there didn’t make sense to her, a book on the history of the Canadian fur trade because she thought it fascinating when she studied it in school, and a chick-lit book just for fun. There were so many more titles she could have purchased. When Jayne discovered that she could learn about whatever she wanted just by reading a book, she became a dedicated lifelong learner. Jayne was looking at a self-help book on positive affirmations and a book on Islam when Dan found her.
   “Why not take them both?”
   “Can’t. That would put me over my weekly spending limit.”
   “Why don’t I buy them for you and then you could also get that romance novel you are trying to hide behind the others.”
   “Dan! You’re not supposed to notice,” Jayne felt a blush spread across her face. “Besides, I can’t let you buy them.”
   “Why not? Consider them an early birthday present.”
   “Like three months early.”
   “So it will be a pre-birthday gift.”
   After more humming and hawing, and the flashing of Dan’s dimples, Jayne finally gave in and let Dan talk her into allowing him to buy the books for her and she’d buy the others. Laden down with her many purchases, and a full grocery cart, they headed to till.
   “Since we’re celebrating your pre-birthday, we should go out for supper?”
   There was something in Dan’s tone that made Jayne wonder what he was thinking, but she couldn’t really identify it. “We should what?”
   “Go out for supper.  The hotel has a great special tonight.”
   “Really???”  Jayne knew something was up as Dan wouldn’t look at her as he put the groceries up on the conveyor belt.
   “Dan?”
   “We’ll just pay for these and put the perishables away and then head next door.”
   Jayne tried to put her foot down when Dan insisted on paying for everything, but as he was bigger, and faster, he won.
   “You two are the cutest couple in town,” Mrs. Smythers reached up and patted Dan’s cheek.  “Hilda told me all about the wedding preparations.”
   “Mrs. Smythers….” Jayne started to speak, but then Dan bumped into her.
(February 19, 2016)

   “Sorry, Jayne,” Dan mumbled as he continued to unload the cart and Jayne stepped back, further out of his way.
   Mrs. Smythers continued, “Now, you don’t need to worry about the wedding cake as I already told Hilda that we’d order one in special and that will be our present to you two.”
   “Mrs. Smythers…” Jayne started again only to have Dan almost drop a jar of pickles on her foot.  Thanks to his quick reflexes the jar was caught before making contact.
   “Nothing to worry about, Mrs. Smythers, I caught it so no mess to clean up.”
   Jayne knew something was definitely up.  Between Mrs. Smythers blathering about a wedding that wasn’t happening, and Dan suddenly turning into a klutz, there was no doubt that something was going on and Jayne was being left in the dark.  And she didn’t like that feeling at all.
   But before she could open her mouth again, the sound of a horrendous crash combined with a shrill train whistle that threatened to shake the building off its foundations.
   “What?”
   All three of them rushed to the nearest door and joined a rapidly growing crowd on the street.  From where they stood the train seemed to be fine, except for some crumpled metal protruding from under one rail car.  Metal the same colour as…
   “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
   At Monique’s scream, Jayne turned and rushed to her friend’s side, catching as she started to collapse.  Half dragging and half carrying her, Jayne managed to get Monique to her apartment stairs as chaos erupted on the street with more and more people arriving and realizing what had happened.
   “Okay, Monique, you’re going to have to help me here...one foot on the step at a time and we’ll work our way up.”  Jayne tried not to let Monique see how worried she was, though, truthfully she didn't think Monique was registering anything as she seemed in shock.  At least she was still somewhat on her feet.
   “Come on, just 5 more steps to go...you can do it...we’re almost there...good, now another step...and another…”
   Jayne was glad when they reached the top and stumbled through the door.  She debated letting Monique down on the couch but decided that she’d be more comfortable on her bed.
   Monique had not made a single sound since the scream.  Jayne was starting to really worry as Monique was too fragile to be dealing with any crises. She walked towards the kitchen, with the intent to get some water, when the door crashed open and Jim Jr. came rushing in.
  “Where is she?”
   Jayne pointed behind her and Jim Jr. barrelled past. 
   “Do you think we should call her family?”  Jayne turned around and noticed Vera and Steph walking in the door, followed by Dan.
   “Remember what happened last time we did that?”  Jayne said.  “Better to wait, considering it looked like her Corvette under the train.” 
    Jayne leaned against Dan as he wrapped his arms around her. 
   “It was her car.”
   Jayne shuddered and Dan’s arms tightened.
   “I should be out there.  What kind of newspaper am I running when the biggest news story is happening right outside my door and I’m not there?”
   Vera patted her arm, “Jim is keeping an eye on things for you, dear, and Mark said he’d let you know what they find out.”  She headed to the kitchen to make some tea.
   Jayne looked over at Monique’s bedroom.  Jim Jr. was sitting beside the bed holding Monique’s hand and she didn't seem to realize he was there.  Steph had moved into the bedroom too and put a blanket over Monique.
   “It’s only been six months, and here we all are again.”  Jayne sighed.
   “She’ll be fine.” Dan rubbed her back..  “We found out that she’s a fighter and a lot tougher than she looks.”
   “But….”
   “Shhhhh...besides, Jr. won’t let anything happen to her.”
   “Do they know who was driving?”
   “It isn’t official yet, but it looks like it might be Todd.”
   “Todd?”  Jayne couldn’t believe it.  He had been class valedictorian and was a total goody-two-shoes, never getting into trouble of any kind.  How could it be that he was in a car that had been locked up tight in the back of Smythers’ garage and was now a crumpled heap under a train?
   “Is he….?”  She couldn’t finish her sentence.
   “They don’t know.  I have to get back out there as Mark said he needed all firefighters and first responders on scene to help.”  With another tight squeeze, Dan then said a quiet goodbye to the others before he headed out the door.
   Jayne walked over to the kitchen window which overlooked the street.  She couldn’t quite see the train or wreak from that angle, but she could see the volunteers trying to keep the crowd back.
   Vera handed Jayne a cup of hot tea.  “Jim Jr. will need this.  And we better see about getting some food together for the volunteers and ourselves as it looks like it’s going to be a long night.”
   Jayne briefly leaned her head onto Vera’s shoulder before she took the cup.  She couldn’t help feeling that they had already been here before, doing exactly this, but that they might not be as lucky this time.  While the family talked about how much time Jayne had spent by Monique’s bedside, it was Jim Jr. who had spent the most time with her, willing her to come back to them and to get better.  When she handed him the cup, she gave him a hug.
   “Mom, Mrs. Smythers’ said we can have all the bread and buns we need to feed everyone and Mrs. Shultz said she’ll look after the coffee if we want to do the sandwiches, and she is sending over the sliced roast she was going to serve tonight and a ham.”  Jayne started as she hadn’t heard Steph leave or return.
   “Well, girls, we better go load up and then start making sandwiches.”  Vera bustled to the doorway.
   “Mrs. Smythers said to go in the back door and then we can avoid the crowd,” Steph led the way down the stairs.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   Jayne collapsed back onto the couch with a groan.  She felt like her entire body ached right down to her bones.  It seems like they had been going non-stop since the accident and now it was almost midnight.  Mark and the volunteers were still down at the accident site, though they had all put an appearance, or two, to load up trays of sandwiches and take them to the others.  The last time she’d looked out the window the crowd on the street was still quite a good size.  Vera, Steph and her had made sandwich after sandwich in the apartment’s tiny kitchen.  At one point, Jayne did suggest going to the hall as they’d have more room, and could fed the volunteers easier, but Steph had told her the Dessert gals had gone ahead and were making batch after batch of cookies to add to the evening’s efforts.  Besides, none of them really wanted to leave Monique.
   “That’s the last of our supplies.  If this lasts much longer, we’ll have to get some food from the farm.”  Vera placed a full tray on the coffee table before sitting down beside Jayne.
   “She hasn’t moved yet.” Jayne hugged a pillow tight.
   “Don’t borrow trouble, lass.  She needs her sleep, she does, so she can handle what happens in the morning.”  Vera put her arm around Jayne.  “I wish I could get Jim Jr. to rest too.”
   “He said he’s not leaving her side this time.”
(March 4, 2016)


   Jayne looked over at Steph who was curled up asleep at the other end of the couch.  “At least one of us will be rested in the morning.”
   They heard heavy footsteps just before the door opened.  The men looked tired and old as they came in the door.
   “This is the last tray of sandwiches.  Will it be enough,” Vera asked her husband.
   “We don’t need it.  Everyone is leaving, and we’ll meet again in the morning to see if there is more to do.”
   Vera pushed up from the couch and took the tray to the kitchen.  Hugs were exchanged as the older couple headed for the door.
   “We’ll see you later.  There’s lots of food in the fridge.  Make sure Jim Jr. eats something and rests.”
   Dan dropped wearily onto the couch beside Jayne, careful to not wake Steph.  He grabbed an extra blanket from the back and draped it over himself and Jayne as he pulled her into his arms with a deep sigh.
   “What a night.  I’m sorry we didn’t get our supper.”
   “Worse, we didn’t get my groceries.” Jayne yawned and snuggled closer.
   “During a lull, Mrs. Symthers took them over before I locked up shop for you.”
   “Oh, bless her...I’ll have to thank her.  And thanks for looking after the office.”
   From where they sat, they could both watch Jim Jr. sitting beside Monique’s bed, clinging tightly to her hand and whispering to her.
   Jayne thought back to when Monique first came to town.  She seemed so out of place - a big city gal trying to fit into small-town life.  Jayne understood the hurdles Monique faced trying to fit in Humble, but it wasn’t till later that she found out what demons haunted her new friend. 
   One evening Monique shared that she had been running away, in a manner of speaking. Running from any hint that she was the failure her high-society, appearance-conscious mother always told her she was. Right out of school she got a job in a women’s elite fashion boutique.  Working hard to earn bonuses and promotions proved that she was wanted and important somewhere. So, she put in more and more time and began to look at her job as her real home and her coworkers as her real family.
   Unfortunately, her doctor didn’t agree with her choices. She started seeing him because of a nagging cough. Well, the cough progressed to a high fever that would not break. She was lucky because it wasn’t dangerously high, but it was high enough to concern her doctor who finally issued an ultimatum – go on an extended vacation or quit her job - but she had to get out or she’d be dead in less than a month. At the time Monique felt betrayed and tried to get out of making any changes. She bargained and pleaded, she even offered to take weekends off, but her doctor didn’t back down.
   In desperation, and not knowing how to solve her dilemma, she grabbed a newspaper off the corner of his desk and turned to the classifieds. She picked up his phone and called the first number she saw in the want ads. Turned out it was for the library job in Humble – she’d never ever heard of Humble – and was for two 5-hour shifts per week. Her doctor vouched for her and she was invited for an interview that day. She was the only applicant – something that everyone on the hiring committee still remarked on as that was so unusual for Humble.  Usually everyone who wasn’t already employed, and even some who were, applied. 
   Monique was pleasantly surprised that the job also came with living quarters – a small apartment over the library. She was hired on the spot, and she went back to Calgary to immediately list her condo and start packing.  She left the majority of her belongings to be sold with the condo. Monique waited till she was back in Humble before phoning her mother to let her know she wasn’t in Calgary anymore. Needless to say, the conversation was not pretty, nor pleasant, as her mother heaped on the comments about how Monique was throwing her life away and destroying the family’s (meaning her mother’s) reputation. Her mother threatened to come get Monique and institutionalize her for insanity. Monique was thankful she never actually told her mother where she was living and employed. While that gave her a few months reprieve, she wasn’t out of the woods by any means.
   To her shock one morning just before Christmas, a private investigator escorted her mother into the library. Her mother had a court order to have Monique hospitalized as mentally unfit. Monique had a hard time believing how the patrons in the library rallied around her and had called the RCMP to have her mother and the investigator removed.
   However, the incident left its toll. Monique suffered a total collapse that afternoon as her fever spiked and her cough went off the charts. Jayne and the others stepped in to care for Monique when she refused to go out to the MacDonald farm to heal.
   Jayne remembered how Monique’s mother - she had a hard time calling her that because even Jayne’s own mother hadn’t been that heartless - came back with legal guns blazing and threats to sue everyone in Humble.  That’s when Jim Jr. had stood up for Monique and put a stop to the nonsense.  He never told them exactly what he told Mrs. Whitfred, but it was enough that she roared out of town with her entourage, and they hadn’t heard a thing since.  Monique was unresponsive at the time, and none of them had ever mentioned Mrs. Whitfred’s visit when she revived. 
   Ever since, all of them, particularly Jim Jr., were fiercely protective of Monique.  While they didn’t coddle her, they tried their best to keep her from overdoing it and yet let her maintain her dignity.  Until this accident, Monique was getting stronger, both physically and mentally.  What would happen now?
   Jayne yawned again.  “We should get Jr. to lie down or something.”
   “Nah, leave him.”
   “How’s Todd?  I forgot to ask.”
   Dan squeezed her tight before answering. “He didn’t make it.”
   “Oh, no! His poor family!”
   “Yeah, his dad was the one who pulled his body out once they got the Jaws of Life.”
  Jayne couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like for the emergency personnel, and to find your own child...it hurt her to think about it, so how it must have hurt the family.    
   “Go to sleep.  Tomorrow will be a big day.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   The next morning, after trying to get Jim Jr. to eat some breakfast and being ignored, Jayne headed to her place to get her laptop and some fruit for them to snack on during the day. 
   She had all calls forwarded to her cell phone as she parked herself on the couch where she could see Monique.  Steph had offered to go to the office but Jayne sent her home to rest some more.
   Dan had also taken off after they ate.  The clean up crew continued to work.  While the tracks were clear and trains could travel through, the crumpled remains of Monique’s car was still sitting at the end of the street.  Mark was back in town to question teens and others, hoping to find out how Todd was able to access the car and what possessed him to drive it.  So far, no one had any answers.  It didn’t seem to be a dare among the guys as none of them had any idea he planned to do it.  Though, planned didn’t seem right either as there was nothing in his room or on his electronic gadgets to indicate his intent.  Mark said they did find the keys in the car which seemed to suggest that he broke into Monique’s apartment to steal them too.  They all had more questions than any solid answers.
   RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
   Jayne was glad she put the phone on vibrate.  “Humble Beginnings...”
(March 18, 2016)


   “Oh, Jayne...I didn’t expect you to answer when I saw the office was closed.”
   “I am at Monique’s.”
   “Oh, well, I’m sorry to bother you.”
   “What can I do for you?”
   “Oh, it’s nothing. Like I said, sorry I bothered you.”
   Jayne shook her head as she disconnected the call.  It looked like it was going to be one of those mornings.
    RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Jayne, have you heard when the funeral is yet?”
   “Sorry, nothing has been decided yet.  The family is meeting with Father Phillipe later this morning.  I’m sure we’ll find out what’s going on after that.”
   “So, you don’t know?”
   Jayne rolled her eyes, “No, I don’t at this point.”
   “Okay...well I’ll see if Gertie or someone else knows what’s going on.”
    RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Sorry to bother you, Jayne...just wondered if there was anything being done for the family yet?”
   “At this point, monetary donations can be made at the bank...there’s a box at Smythers’ for Silent Auction items, and I think they have a food hamper started...the 4H have graciously said that all funds raised tomorrow night will be donated to the family.  Mrs. Shultz is gathering food donations which will be given to the family as well.”
   “Thanks, Jayne.  I’ll start spreading the word.”
   RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Hey, Jayne, is the accident going to be on the front page of the paper?”
   “I haven’t decided yet, but I’m sure it will be.”
   “Thanks, I couldn't decide if I wanted to save the city paper or wait till yours came out.  I’ll let you get back to it.  Kinda exciting, isn’t it?  Imagine something like this happening in tiny Humble.”
   “It can happen anywhere.”
   “I suppose you’re right.  Take care.”
   RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Good, you are working.  I have no use for these people that think they can just close shop whenever they feel like it.  Now, I must INSIST that you change the location for our quilting bee to Rachelle’s and she can just host it and stop using Heidi as an excuse.”
   Jayne couldn’t help herself as she blurted out, “Honestly, Gertie!  Are you really that insensitive?”
   “Well, I never.  Young lady, don’t expect me to support your paper any more.  And once I tell everyone how rude you’ve been, no one else will support it either.  Good riddance.”
   Jayne held the phone away from her ear.  She shrugged, it wasn’t the first time Gertie had ticked her off, nor the first time she’d ticked Gertie, and if that call was any indication, it certainly wouldn’t be the last.  She knew it bothered Gertie that she couldn’t steamroll over Jayne like she could everyone else in town.  Gertie positively hated it when Jayne stood up to her.
   Flopping back onto the couch, Jayne noticed a pink note under the couch.  She picked it up, and saw it was dated for the previous day.  Glancing at the bedroom, she could see Jim Jr. had finally dozed off and Monique still hadn’t woken up.  She looked at the note, wondering when and how it had gotten into the apartment without any of them noticing.
   Dearest Monique, Your smile lights up my heart and life.  I would be honoured if you would accompany myself to the 4H supper this Saturday.  Please say Yes to this smitten swain.
   Jayne’s eyebrows shot up.  Okay, that was a switch.  From totally anonymous suitor to actually asking Monique on a date.  Maybe there was hope after all.  Jayne wondered if Monique saw the note before the accident, or if it had appeared after?
   RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings, Jayne speaking.”
   “Thank goodness you’re there, Jayne.  I really need someone to talk to!  Can you believe what happened yesterday?  Did you see it happen?  I was in the shower and completely missed all the action.  Is it true that Todd committed suicide?  Or was he just racing the train?  You know how boys that age are...though, Todd wasn't really like that was he?  Do you think we’ll ever know what happened?  Have you talked to the police yet?  Have they told you anything?  Did you see all the TV crews in town?  Do you think I’ll be on the news?  I didn't see myself yet and I even watched the late news and got up early this morning.  Do you think the family will sue Monique?  I hope not, but do you think they will?  Will Monique get arrested because it was her car? I mean, they can’t arrest Todd, can they?  Did you know Todd had a girlfriend?  I didn't, but it seems he did.  Stephanie MacDonald.  Can you believe it?  Oh, wait, you are part of the family so you already knew that.  So when are you and Dan tying the knot?  Or, have you already?  No, wait, it was Sue and Peter who eloped, wasn’t it? Hard to believe it of Sue, she’s so quiet.  And now a baby on the way!  You must all be so excited.  Oh, isn’t it a shame about Monique’s car?  Such a waste to have it all crumpled like that.  Even if it could have been fixed, it certainly can’t be now that they destroyed it with the Jaws of Life.  Do you know, I don’t think we’ve ever had to have the Jaws of Life brought into town before.  I certainly don’t remember them being used before and I would certainly remember something like that.  I heard you really ruffled Gertie’s feathers this morning.  Good for you!  She needs to be put in her place once in a while.  I think that’s why Mr. Hickson keeps refusing her advances.  Though, can you really imagine them together?  I certainly can’t.  Mr. Hickson is just too mild a personality for Gertie, though, they do say opposites attract.  Why just look at you and Dan.  Oh, have they finalized the funeral arrangements yet?  I’m sure it will be a Catholic mass with the family being such strong Catholics.  They’ve always seemed so nice, even though they are so religious.  Do you think that’s why Todd did it?  Did he hear a voice from God?  Such a tragedy, and when he was just starting to live his life.  What a waste, why now we’ll never know if he really did amount to anything.  Wasn’t it his dream to become a doctor and set up a practice here?  What if that was our only chance to get a doctor?  Now we’ll never get a doctor here.  Did you hear that…”
   Jayne half-listened to the rambling call.  She could understand that sometimes people don’t know how to handle tragedy, but had people in Humble never had to deal with a fatal vehicle accident before?  And how had the news about Gertie’s call travelled so fast?  She also decided not to challenge the statements about her and Dan, or Steph who most definitely wasn’t Todd’s girlfriend, as no one seemed to listen to her protests anyway.
   “Thanks for listening, Jayne.  You’re the best.”
   “You’re welcome.  Take it easy today.”
   Jayne turned off her phone and tossed it on the coffee table.  A glance showed her that Jim Jr. was still sleeping so she very quietly got up to get something to snack on.  Hearing someone on the stairs, she veered towards the door, opening it before a knock could wake the others.
   “Mark!  Come in.  How are you holding up?  Can I get you something to eat or drink?”
(April 1, 2016)


   Constable Mark entered the apartment and sat down on the couch after Jayne waved him in.  “Nothing thanks.”
   Jayne sat down beside Mark.  “Find out anything?”
   “No, which makes this so frustrating.  No motive, no known health or mental issues, no apparent plan, no previous record, no idea how he got in to the garage as there is no sign of B&E and Smythers said none of the keys are missing.  As he didn’t have a work experience student this semester, none of the kids had access to the back.”
   “Sorry, I can’t help. I haven't heard anything either.”
   “But that’s not why I’m here.”
   “Oh?”
   Mark looked at the bedroom, “Has J.J. told her he loves her yet?”
   “Not that I know of, but he could have some time last night.” Jayne glanced at the pink note beside her laptop.
   “I phoned her mother.”
   “You what!??!!?” Jayne tried to keep her voice low, but it was a challenge.  “Do you remember what happened last time?”    
   “Calm down, Jayne.  I had to.  Even if Monique’s vanity plate wasn’t front and centre on every news station, Mrs. Whitford would be able to put two and two together as soon as she heard that a red Corvette was smashed by a train in Humble.  This way she knows it isn’t Monique.”
   “But, Mark…”
   “And…” Mark continued, “I made it quite plain that I was only phoning her as a courtesy, as she is NOT welcome here.”
   Jayne deflated.  “Sorry, I should have known you wouldn’t let her come here.”
   “Hey, I understand.  We’re all under stress, and seeing Monique in that condition again is heart-breaking for us all.”
   Jayne knew that Mark wasn’t romantically interested in Monique, and wouldn’t do anything to come between her and Jim Jr.  That said, Monique and Mark had formed a very unique friendship in the few short months since Monique arrived in Humble.  Jayne knew he was as worried as all the rest of them.
   “Want me to arrest J.J. and get him out of here?”
   “Thanks, Mark, but I think I’ll let him sleep a bit longer.  It was a long night for us all.”
   Jayne tried not to think about how safe and warm she felt when she woke that morning and discovered that she’d slept wrapped in Dan’s arms.
   “I better get going and wrap up my paperwork so I can clock out.  If you hear anything, or if there’s anything I can do, please call.  And keep me updated on Monique too.”
   “Don’t worry I will.  Wait, I just realized something...other than family, you’re the only person who has actually asked how Monique is doing.  Everyone I’ve talked to today hasn’t said a word - well, one did but not to inquire.  Strange.”
   “Hopefully she can get up and about soon.  You know how small towns can be, some people will be blaming her even though she hasn't touched that car since she settled into town.  The sooner life can get back to normal, the better all around.”
   “I hope so……..” Jayne gave Mark a brief hug and showed him to the door. 
   A glance through the bedroom door showed both occupants still sleeping, so Jayne returned to the couch and her laptop.  She debated turning her phone back on and decided not to.  It would serve Gertie right if she phoned and went to voice mail.
   She settled down and looked at the editorial she had started. 
   Our community has recently experienced a heavy load of tragedy, sorrow and tears. It is at times like these - when the pain is so deep and the questions so unrelenting - that it seems all we can offer the family, and each other, is time-worn clichés.
   One such cliché that is oft repeated is “time heals all wounds.”Despite its overuse, it contains truth. This does not mean that we will forget what has happened, or even understand why it happened, but rather, that the unrelenting grip of the intense raw emotion connected to the event will be released with time.  The focus will be less on the event and more on the pleasant memories prior to it, and the memories of the support after it.
   We freely, and probably blithely, offer comforting phrases during a time of sorrow, yet we don’t seem to realize that they are equally applicable when times are good. Just as time eases an unrelenting sorrow, time also eases the intensity of a joyful event.  We can no more cling tightly to a good memory and preserve the exact feelings through the passage of time than we can preserve a sorrowful memory.
   We don’t know why these things happen - which we label good or bad depending on our experiences - in our lives, we only know that they do, and we are left to work through the feelings as best we can with the help of those around us.
   There is a time for everything,
   a season for every activity under heaven.
   A time to be born and a time to die.
   A time to plant and a time to harvest.
   A time to kill and a time to heal.
   A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.
   A time to cry and a time to laugh.
   A time to grieve and a time to dance.
   (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

  Jayne bit her lip...too blasé?  Would Todd’s family find comfort in those words, or would it just add insult to injury?  And should she even write about it, or wait till the dust has settled, so to speak?  Then again, the accident would basically be filling the paper so if she didn’t say anything, that would look even worse.
   Jayne got up and paced to the kitchen.  Looking out the window, the street no long bore any sign that life in the community had been violently shaken up.
   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   “Hey, everyone, the Calvary is here!”   Tommy entered the apartment and deposited some bags on the coffee table with a flourish.  Sue and Peter walked in behind him.
   “The relief effort is here.  Jayne, go home and doll yourself up.  Jimbo, you are to go to the farm as Mommy Dear wants to fatten you up.”
   “What’s going on?”  Jayne could see Jim Jr. shake his head as Tommy started to pull him from Monique’s side.
   Sue eased onto the couch beside Jayne.  “There is a very handsome man - not as handsome as Peter here - waiting for you at the restaurant, and he’s not the patient sort.  We’re taking over for tonight.”
   Tommy was forcefully pushing Jim Jr. towards the door.  “Everything will be fine...if there is any change, ANY change at all, we will let you know.”
   “I’m not….”
   Tommy cut Jim Jr. off, “Yes, you are.  Besides, she’d rather see my stunning visage when she opens her eyes than your ugly mug.”
   Somehow, between the two of them, Peter and Tommy got Jim Jr. out of the apartment and down the stairs.
   Jayne looked at Sue, “Doll myself up???”
   Sue shrugged, and said with a smile, “I don’t think he’ll be too worried about what you’re wearing or what you look like, but you might want to at least comb your hair.”
(April 15, 2016)
 

   “Comb my hair!?  Are you serious???  Comb my hair!?!!?”
   “Shhhhhh...not so loud,”  Sue stifled her laughter, “You’re right, it’s probably a lost cause.”
   “And people think you are so meek and mild...if they only knew the REAL Sue.”
   “Tell her Dan is waiting” Tommy’s voice drifted to them from the bedroom, “And you know how he gets when he’s hungry…”
   Jayne suddenly felt unsure of herself as she glanced down at her rumpled t-shirt and jeans.  “Should I get changed?”
   Sue pulled her down onto the couch before giving her a hug.  “You know Dan won’t care, but if you want to change, go ahead.”
   “Thanks…”
   “Time’s a-wasting and the bear is getting hungrier.  Please, put him out of his misery and go eat with the man.  I may be the most awesome brother, but even I can’t manage to keep both Jr. and Danny Boy in line at the same time.”  Tommy added his two-cents to the conversation.   
   “Okay, okay, I’m going.”  With a last look at Monique’s still sleeping form, Jayne headed out of the apartment.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   “Wow, Jayne, you look...you look...you look…”
   Jayne rolled her eyes.  Somehow she’d forgotten that on Friday evenings the restaurant was staffed by the boys from Grade 12.  Right now she debated whether to help Robby out, or let him keep stammering.  It was hard enough on the guys having lost their friend and classmate a mere 24 hours previous, but should she joke with them or commiserate?  Before she could say anything Mrs. Shultz walked up.
   “Robby, I’m sure Jayne is looking forward to eating and not waiting in the doorway”
   “Thanks Mrs. Shultz…”
   “And may I say that you look quite lovely tonight in that dress, Jayne, and I’m sure Dan will think so too.  Enjoy your evening.”
   “Thanks…” Jayne wondered if there was something else going on that she didn’t know about.  It wasn’t the first time folks had seen her in a dress - even though it wasn’t her standard attire - and the weird behaviour couldn’t all be attributed to the stress and strain of the accident.
   “Uh, r-r-r-right this w-w-w-way, Jayne.”  Robbie stumbled into a chair as he turned to lead Jayne to the table.
   At that moment, Jayne really wished that Humble wasn’t so small and that she didn’t know practically everyone in the restaurant.  The community supper had been bad enough, but this was much worse as people tipped their glasses to her as she walked by the tables and gave her knowing looks.  Maybe the dress was not a good plan as it seemed to give people the wrong impression.
   “H-h-h-here you g-g-g-go, Jayne.”
   Before Robby could trip or knock anything over, Dan had gotten up and had pulled out the chair for her.  Though lots of people took Jayne for a tough gal, she wasn’t really.  In fact, despite her less than stellar upbringing, she was just delicate and feminine enough to appreciate a man opening doors for her, helping carry packages, holding the chair when she sat down, and all those little touches that seem to have gone by the wayside.  If Jayne described a “perfect date” this looked like it would be it.
   Not that she’d ever technically been on date.  Though she certainly had attended many group activities with the gang.  The only guy she ever wanted to date was Dan and he never asked her out.  In fact, he hadn’t even asked her to be his graduation escort which had really surprised her.  She had been really hoping he would ask her so she wouldn’t have to go to graduation without an escort because there was no way she could bring herself to ask anyone.  In the end, Dan went with one of the other gals in the class whom he’d known since grade one, and Dan’s best friend Mark asked her to be his escort, the same Mark who was now one of their local RCMP constables.
   While Jayne thought Mrs. Shultz had overdone it in trying to create a private dining area for them with the use of large plants, she secretly did appreciate not seeing everyone gawking at the two of them.
   They joked throughout the meal, shared stories about different family and community members, and talked briefly about some of their goals and dreams.  Jayne shared her plans to improve the newspaper and possibly hire a part-time assistant, and about how she would miss having Steph around helping.  Dan shared plans to improve the farm which they both knew would be his some day when Jim “retired.”  Jayne talked of her dreams of helping street kids like she was once, and Dan offered his assistance and resources to the project.  Dan shared his dream of travelling overseas to learn new farming techniques, while Jayne offered her encouragement and suggested some places he could contact for more information and to do some research.  They didn’t discuss all their dreams because Jayne didn’t mention at all her dream to marry Dan.  Nor did he mention any plans to marry and have a family.  Jayne thought that a little strange when he was discussing his future plans for the farm, but she wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up.  She also didn’t mention, and thankfully neither did Dan, the rumour about their supposed engagement.  All in all, the supper and evening with Dan was heavenly, even though there was no way it could be labelled a date.
   “I’d still like to learn to ride a horse some day.”
   “Jaynelle, you mean to tell me that you can’t ride a horse! Some farm girl you are.”
   “Well, someone promised me long ago that he’d teach me…and he hasn’t yet.”
   “Ouch! You wound me. It hasn’t been that long ago.”
   “At least fifteen years...if not more.”
   “Fifteen? You’re kidding? It was just last week, I’m sure.”
   “Nope, it was not long after I first moved in with your family. Remember? You started taking me for walks around the farm when I got frustrated with everything Vera and Sue were trying to make me do.”
   “Oh, yeah. I’d take one look at all your faces and I’d see that an explosion was imminent. It was easier for all concerned to take you out and calm you down.”
   “Calm me down! It was Vera who was the problem.” Jayne tried to maintain an air of wounded pride but dissolved into giggles.
   Once she got her composure back, she continued, “You did keep me sane. There was so much to take in.”
   “You handled it like a trooper.”
   “Did I?”
   Jayne thought back to those days. It seemed like nothing she did was right, and Vera was constantly on her case. Oh, she did it in a nice manner, but it was so…constant. Everything that Jayne knew seemed to be useless in terms of her new life.
   When it got too much for everyone, Dan would come along and take Jayne outside. Before she knew what happened she found herself tossing a stick for a rambunctious puppy, or brushing down a horse, or learning how to milk a cow by hand, or gathering eggs from the chicken coup, or mucking out the barn. She was definitely introduced, up close and personal, with a lifestyle radically different from what she was used to.
   Other times, they would just go for a walk down the country road or through a field. During their walks Dan would identify the different birds and wild flowers for Jayne. While introducing her to her new environment in a non-threatening manner, it amazed her how Dan knew exactly what she needed almost before she even did.
(May 6, 2016)

   Before long, Jayne had started to open up and share her worries and fears with Dan during those times together. Gradually, with his encouragement and patience, Jayne was able to make sense of the world she was now living in.
  “Sure, you did…I was, I mean, I am quite proud of you.”
   “Thank you.” Jayne looked into Dan’s eyes and saw that he spoke the truth.
   “Dan, we’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we?”
   Dan reached across the table and took Jayne’s hands. “And we did a bang up job of it all to!”
   Jayne laughed, “I’m sure there are some people who wouldn’t agree.”
   As Robby cleared the dishes off the table, Jayne thought back to a few months ago, when the family had gone to the city for a Chinese dinner.  After the waiter arrived with the bill and fortune cookies. Dan quickly broke his open and read aloud, “The benefits of our efforts are not always obvious.”
   Jayne had been next, “Oh, that’s a good one. Mine reads: That special someone may simply be waiting for you.”
   “Wonder who your special someone is?”
   Jayne tried to inject a joking, nonchalant tone into her voice before she replied, “As soon as I know I’ll let you know.” Jayne wished it was as easy as the fortune cookie indicated. If only it was Dan who was just waiting for her.
   She came back to the present when Robby tripped over her chair and almost dropped everything on her lap.
   “S-s-s-s-sorry, Jayne.”
   “No harm done, Robby.”
   She didn’t want to tread into dangerous territory and risk bringing up the engagement rumour so she tried to steer the conversation back to a previous topic. “So, are you going to teach me how to ride a horse?”
   “Sure, come out to the farm anytime. Are you ready to go?”
   Jayne was surprised, okay she wasn’t really, how many of Humble’s residents were still squeezed into the rest of the restaurant.  There were more know smiles and smirks as they walked out.
   Without asking, Dan lightly steered her across the street to Monique’s.
   “Thanks for a fun evening and supper.”
   “Even though I had to practically trick you into it?”
   “Yes…even though you had to trick me.” Jayne grudgingly admitted, without any seriousness, “Are you coming in?”
   Jayne moved out of the way so Dan could follow her through the door.
   “Nah, just send Tommy out and I’ll give him a ride to the farm.” Dan quickly kissed her forehead before heading down the stairs. “Good night. Thanks for tonight.. I had fun.”
   Jayne felt really awkward and tongue-tied. She stammered out a good night and waved, as Tommy brushed past her and got into Dans truck and drove away. Why did he kiss her? Granted in all the time they’d known each other she’d actually been kissed, as a sister, by all the Macdonald guys. But, for some reason, tonight’s kiss seemed different. It was almost like they really had come home after a date. But they hadn’t, had they?  No, she was just being silly. But wouldn’t be wonderful if it was?
   Jayne shook her head and headed into Monique’s room.  She sat down in the chair. 
   “Okay, spill everything!”
   Jayne practically fell off the chair.  “Oh, you startled me.  Wait, how long have you been awake?”
   “Long enough for Tommy to tell me that Dashing Dan had spirited you off for a hot date at the hotel. I have been waiting, quite impatiently mind you, for you to get back home.”
   “Oh, really?”
   “Dish! Now! I’m not getting any younger.”
   “You should be resting.”
   “Jayne, I have been resting!  Now I need to know what I missed!  Come on, have pity on me…share the juicy details.”
   “We had the roast beef special with veggies and stuffed potatoes, and apple pie a la mode for dessert.  We ate and I came here. End of story.”
   “Jaaaaaaayyyyyynnnnnnnneeeeee,” Monique wailed, “What am I going to do with you?”
   “What?”
   “Don’t what me. You had supper with a hunky young man who thinks the world of you…”
   Jayne snorted in disbelief.
   “…don’t interrupt. Who incidentally had to trick you to spend time with him, or so I hear, and you are so blind you don’t even see it. Do you want Dan or not?”
   “Dan doesn’t…”
   Monique cut her off sharply, “The question is…and I repeat…do you want Dan or not.”
   Jayne bit her lip before replying softly, “Yes.”
   “Well then! You were on a date with him tonight and what did you do to move this relationship along?”
   “Oh, it wasn’t a date.”
   “He asked, you went along, you ate together, and you returned together. Yep, I hate to break it to you, but that was most definitely a date, sweetie.”
   Jayne repeated, “It wasn’t a date.”
   Monique shifted on the bed, “Jayne, what are you really afraid of?”
   It seemed like a long time before Jayne could get the words out, “That he doesn’t love me.”
   “Good grief, that man loves you so much it gives the rest of us single gals an inferiority complex.”
   “No he doesn’t.” Jayne hugged a pillow to her. She felt like crying about how unfair life was in general, and her life was in particular, and she felt even worse thinking that after what Monique had just been through.
   “Jayne…are you listening to me?”
   “Yes.”
   “Jayne, Dan doesn’t care where you grew up. It doesn’t matter to him that you didn’t go to school with him from grade one onwards. He loves you.”
   Jayne interrupted, “He…”
   “Listen to me…He loves the strong confident woman you are now. He loves you, the woman who isn’t afraid to stand toe to toe with him and tell him the truth. He loves the woman who didn’t let her background keep her from reaching out and earning a new successful life. He loves the woman who cares about others, sometimes to the detriment of herself. He loves you. Just as you are. Your background doesn’t make him think less of you. If anything it makes him love you more.”
   “I don’t see how.” Jayne mumbled, clutching the pillow tighter.
   “You don’t need to see how, you silly goose. You just need to accept his love and love him back.”
   “It’s not that easy.”
   “Yes, Jayne, it is that easy. I want you to think about what you really want. Are you willing to give up Dan if another woman decides to go after him? Because if you don’t act soon, that may happen.”
   Jayne froze. What would she do if Dan married someone else?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   Jayne woke up feeling very groggy the next morning. She had stayed awake a long time thinking about Dan and their relationship.
(May 20, 2016)



   However, despite the mental gymnastics she was no closer to an answer, but she resolved that she would be more open to a relationship with Dan. Jayne didn’t know if she was ready to take a definitive step to change the status quo but she was getting closer.   Then she realized there were others in Monique’s apartment.
   “Do I smell pancakes?” Jayne gave an exaggerated sniff as she walked into the kitchen and gave Vera a hug.
   “How are you this morning, dear?” Vera asked her.
   “Good, thanks,” Jayne snitched a piece of bacon before getting the orange juice from the fridge and filling the glasses already on the table. “A good night’s sleep and everything is coming up roses.”
   “Really?”
   Jayne knew that Vera asked because she cared, and could see right through any attempt to hoodwink her.  Since she hadn’t looked in the mirror yet, Jayne imagined she looked a bit like death warmed over. “Not really, but I’ll be fine.  Just need to catch up on some sleep.  It’s been quite the week.”
   “It sure has been.  God willing, July will be quiet.”
   “Let’s hope so.  I think I’ve hit my excitement quota for the year now.  Though, the Gerties of this world will always be here, unfortunately.  Maybe I should turn my phone off for a week?  Do you think I’d get some peace?  Probably not...that would just lead to stand-off with Gertie.”
   “Good for you. Show them how strong you really are.” Jim walked right in.  He hugged Jayne before walking over to hug and kiss Vera. “Something sure smells good in here. Oh, it’s you.”
   “James MacDonald...shoo!” Vera turned back to the pancakes on the stove but Jayne saw her blush.
   By the time the pancakes were ready, all the family seemed to have appeared. Breakfast was a jovial occasion with everyone lounging around sharing their plans for the day and trying to figure out how everyone was going to get back  to town for the 4H supper with their different schedules.  While Monique was still in bed, she was included in the meal and conversation.  No one mentioned it directly, but Jayne knew they all, like herself, were very relived that that Monique woke up. 
   “Oh, I almost forgot.  This was stuck in the office door,”  Jim Jr. pulled an envelope out of he pocket and handed it to Jayne.  She noticed that he hadn’t spoken to Monique though he had placed a chair in her bedroom doorway so no one could get in or out of the room without practically crawling over him.  It was also plain that Monique was trying to ignore that he was there.  Jayne guessed that Jim Jr. hadn’t bared his heart to Monique yet after all.
   Jayne opened the envelope and then practically tossed the paper across the room with a muffled scream.
   “What?...Are you okay?...Jayne?”
   Everyone seemed to speak at once as they tried to make sense of what was going on.
   “It’s from him!”  Jayne shuddered.
   “Him?”
   “Mr. Winterbloom.”
   Dan picked up the letter and quickly scanned it.  “We better call Mark right away.”
   “I noticed his car was parked at the café when we arrived.  I’ll go get him.  Are you planning on opening the office today? Or will you keep it closed in light of everything that’s happened?” Peter asked Jayne as he headed for the door.
   Sometimes, if it was an unusually busy week in community, Jayne would open on Saturday morning to give folks a chance to get everything submitted if they needed to talk to her first.
   “No one is opening any office until Mark gives the official okay to resume business,” Dan replied.
   “I don’t need Mark’s say so to tell me what to do with my business,” Jayne said.
   “Your life was in danger from this guy a few days ago, or have you forgotten?”
   “Someone seems to have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. I was never in any real danger.”
   “YES…YOU…WERE.” Dan emphasized each word as the scowl on his face deepened.
   “NO…I…WASN’T,” Jayne responded in kind. “Having lived in real danger for much of my life, I can assure you THAT was not serious.”
   “I don’t think you realize how serious this really is , and that letter puts a different spin on things now. You are not going to open up today and you are not going near the office without an escort.”
   Jayne couldn’t believe her ears. “I am going to resume business as usual and you are not going to stop me.” Jayne got out of her chair and marched up to Dan until they were nose to nose, or rather her nose to his chest.
   “Oh...oh...lover’s quarrel...Lover’s quarrel. Tickets are available for the bargain price of $20 each. Get them quick before they’re all gone.” Tommy snagged some bacon as he did his carnival barker routine.
   “Be quiet, Tommy!” Dan and Jayne spoke in unison before turning back towards each other.
   “Enough everyone. Don’t forget we are guests here.  Now, it’s time for some of you to get going.” Vera stood up and started clearing the food as Jim held the door open.
   Dan impatiently signed “You should stay here today.”
   “I’m going home, and then I’m going to work. You don’t have to come along, you know. I am perfectly capable of getting there myself.”
   “Try and stop me.”
   Monique piped up, “Time out. Enough you two. No bloodshed please. It’s too early in the morning.”
   To the obvious amusement of Jim and Vera, and with more grumbling and growling from Dan, Jayne quickly gathered up her belongings - she didn’t bother to change out of her nightgown as folks had seen her in less before and she was just going across the street.
   “I’ll be back with lunch, Monique...behave!”
   “I always behave, Jayne...it’s you I’m worried about.”
   Jayne stuck her tongue out at her friend, and said goodbye to Jim and Vera.  Dan followed her so closely down the stairs and across the street that she was amazed he didn’t trip over her, or trip her!
   Jayne entered the front door, dropped her laptop and phone on her desk as she headed towards the back.
   “If you insist on being here, you might as well make yourself useful and make some tea.”
   “JAYNELLE!” she could hear Dan growl her name through the closed bathroom door.  The last thing she needed was a grouchy bear hanging around.  The letter was enough to spoil her day. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   “Okay, Jayne, I’ll take the letter with me, and if ANYTHING else happens, call me right away.  I mean it.  Hopefully we’ll catch this guy quick.  There aren’t too many places he can hide around here.  ”
   “Any chance you could arrest Grumpy over there?  He’s really bringing the morale in the office down.”
   “Grumpy? I’m afraid you’re stuck with him.  Maybe he needs some TLC?”
   “Thanks, Mark, you’re so helpful...not!”
   Jayne ignored the growl from Dan as she gave Mark a quick hug. 
(June 3, 2016)



   Jayne went back to her desk and pointedly ignored the growling bear in the chair across from her desk.  It was hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago they had been having supper together.  If today was any indication, it proved beyond any doubt that last night was definitely NOT a date!
   While she felt very justified ignoring Dan - she didn’t ask him to sit there, nor was he a customer - a teeny-tiny part of her was glad that she wasn’t alone.  Just in case Mr. Winterbloom came out of hiding to harass her again. 
   Jayne wondered why he had picked Humble to create his tempest and what it was about her exactly that set her off.  She had enough experience with the mentally ill and substance abusers to know that while this attack really had nothing to do with her, there was something in this situation that was acting as a trigger for Mr. Winterbloom.
   Before she could explore the situation further, Tommy showed up with Mrs. T.  After escorting her to a chair beside Dan, he headed back out as unexpectedly as he had arrived.
   Jayne hugged Mrs. T, who said, “I’m so thankfully you are safe. I was so worried when I heard you had received a threatening note.  What is this world coming too? I can’t believe what possessed everyone Tuesday, and now this. I’m also thankful that Dan is here and you aren’t dealing with this alone.”
   Steph bounded in the door next, “I can’t believe I missed the excitement.  Have you heard any more?”
   “Not yet.”  Jayne plugged the kettle in for tea as Steph grabbed another chair, which she placed on the other side of Dan.
   Before they got settled, Mrs. Brown eased her way into the office. “I brought you some brownies. Jayne, how are you?” Mrs. Brown put the plate on the desk before hugging Jayne. “We were shocked to hear what happened.”
   “I’m fine. Thank you. This was very thoughtful of you.  How did you hear?  It just happened?”  Jayne knew the community grapevine was alive and active, but even this seemed to be a new record.
   “Oh, Rachelle told Joyce, who told Hilda, who told Hannah, who told Gertie, who told…”
   Jayne interrupted Mrs. Brown, “I see…”
   They all chatted for a bit before Mrs. Brown offered to take Mrs. T home as they agreed that with Dan so close, Jayne should be safe.  Steph decided to take off too.
   “Jayne, I might as well make myself useful,” Steph said, “I’ll head over to the municipal office and see if the Mayor has anything to say about the week’s events. I won’t be long, and remember, I’m only a phone call or a loud shout away.  There probably isn’t anything to worry about, but be careful.”
   “I will.” With a hug, Steph  was out the door.
   Dan hadn’t moved the whole time the ladies had been there.  He hadn’t even acknowledged Mrs. T which was definitely out of character.  Come to think of it, Mrs. T had sort of ignored him too.
   “If you are going to be grumpy, kindly park your butt outside on the street. I don’t need to look at your ugly mug all day as I’m trying to concentrate.” Jayne sat down behind her desk.
   “Har, har, har.”
   Jayne decided that she’d just ignore Dan as she turned on her laptop and started typing.
   “Uh…hi Dan. Hi Jayne. I just came in to...well...I just wanted to say how sorry I am for what happened to you, and here’s a little something to help with the costs of replacing your door.”
   “Thank you for coming in, Bill. I appreciate you taking the time.”
   “Yeah, well...that’s all. Have a good day. Dan.”
   Jayne looked down at the money in her hand. “That reminds me, how much was the door, Dan?”
   “No cost.”
   “Come on, tell me.”
   “No cost. Smythers donated it when he heard we were using it to replace your broken door.”
   “Really? I’ll have to go over later and thank him. What should I do with this money then?”
   Before Dan could reply Gertie steamrolled inside.
   “I heard about your dreadful, dreadful ordeal. What is this world coming to when you can’t even be safe on your own streets, I ask you. I told that young cop exactly what I thought.  Not that I expect him to be much help  - he was shiftless as a child and that uniform doesn’t make him any less shiftless now.  He may have some people fooled around here, but I still remember what he did to my flowerbeds, AND the raffle quilt in 1988.  I have grandchildren here in this community and they should be able to walk around town without fearing for their life.”
   “I agree…”
   “Well, I am just shocked that you were the brunt of such outlandish behaviour, and I baked you a tuna casserole.”
   “Thank you so much. That was very nice of you.”  Jayne couldn’t resist adding, “I see you found your casserole dish.” 
   “What? Oh, yes, I didn’t use for the supper on Saturday after all. Well, I should be going. Bye.”
   “Bye.” Jayne waited till she was sure Gertie was out of earshot before speaking, “Would you believe she had the never to accuse someone of stealing this dish the night of the supper. She called earlier this week and tried to disguise her voice, but I knew it was her. Well, I better put this in the fridge.”
   Jayne got back to her desk just as five more women arrived, each bearing a casserole or square.
“Thank you that is so kind of you. No, I’m not hurt...no, I wasn’t attacked again...he left a note in the door...nothing serious, but Constable Mark is looking into it as a precaution. Thanks for stopping by. Take care.”
   Jayne wondered what they thought of Dan growling at everyone like a guard dog.  Also, she wondered why everyone was bringing her food when they should be taking to the 4H supper that night.  Oh well, she couldn’t eat it all so she might as well take it herself as she probably wouldn’t have time to make anything.
   “Hi Dan. How’s it goin’? Oh, I didn’t see you there, Jayne.” Mike hesitantly walked up to Jayne’s desk. “I just want to pay my advertising bill and give you a little bit extra...uh...well...uh...just because you really are so nice to me even when I’m a pest.”
   “You’re not a pest, Mike. A mild headache some days...I’m kidding. Here’s the total you owe.” Jayne handed Mitch a pen and pulled the copy of his last invoice out of the file so he could write out a cheque. Mike kept glancing over at Dan as he quickly signed the cheque and handed it to Jayne.
   “Thank you, Mike.”
   “Well, keep up the good work, Jayne.” Mike eased around Dan’s chair, giving him a wide berth. “See you around, Dan.” Jayne was amazed as she had never seen Mike move so fast.
   “Dan, I mean it, if you are just going to sit there and scare the natives please go somewhere else.” Jayne sat down and did some more typing. “Don’t you have some fences to repair or horses to train?” Jayne noticed Dan seemed to be ignoring her attempts to get him to leave.
   “Hey there Jayne! We heard about your wild day. Did you really punch the dude out? Did you really get shot?”
(June 17, 2016)
 

   Jayne laughed as some of the teen club members piled into her office. They were a great bunch of kids who entertained Monique and the seniors for hours on end at the library with their unique outlook on life. Though not the best behaved kids in town, they were still really good kids.
   “No shots, no bloodshed, no broken bones. Sorry. I print the news I don’t make it.”
   “Aw, Jayne. No matter, we took up a collection and here’s some money to buy yourself a safety outfit. Make sure you get a bullet-proof vest too.”
   “Thanks guys. You didn’t need to do this, but I do appreciate it. Now aren’t you supposed to be helping clean the park up today?”
   “On our way, on our way.” As they passed Dan’s chair on the way out, each teen fist-bumped him, and one of the teens said, “Take care of her Bro.”
   “I will.”
   More and more of the local residents arrived to see how Jayne was and bring a little something or give her some money for the door repairs. Jayne was touched that so many took the time to come and offer a word of encouragement. As the money piled up she decided that she’d donate it to Todd’s family that night, as well as most of the food. 
   The only thorn in an otherwise lovely day was Dan’s scowling presence which was definitely putting a damper on some people’s friendly gestures. Finally Jayne had had more than enough.
   “Okay, that’s it! Good bye Dan.”
   “I’m not leaving till you are ready to go back to the farm with me.” Dan had his arms folded across his chest and his feet firmly planted on the ground.
   “No! You are leaving RIGHT NOW! I’ve had enough of your growling and glowering. You have terrified everyone who has walked in the door. No one is going to hurt me. I am staying here and I am not going back to the farm tonight.”
   “Jaynelle…”
   “No! Dan, leave NOW!” It wasn’t easy, but Jayne pushed Dan out of the chair and toward the door. She planted herself firmly in the doorway and watched until Dan got into his truck and drove away. “Peace at last.”
   The morning passed quickly as she finished typing up her latest statement for Mark, and then proceeded to do some work on the newspaper, interrupted every once in a while by someone else coming in to see how she was. Steph returned with the mayor who also expressed his concerns and apologized. He promised to write up an official statement for the paper regarding the village’s position on the violent outbreak and their plans to prevent further incidents. After he left, it didn’t take Jayne or Steph long to get back into the usual routine of Steph handing Jayne files and papers she couldn’t find or seem to see even though they were on the desk right in front of her.
   “Oh Jayne, I am so surprised to see you here after your horrendous ordeal.”
   “Hello Hilda…”
   “It must have been so unnerving. I can’t imagine how you can be so calm about it. I know if I was in your shoes I’d be a complete basket case by now and would need hospitalized.”
   “Actually…”
   “Well, maybe not hospitalized, but most assuredly I would need to be tranquilized.”
   “Uh…”
   “Imagine, a complete stranger coming into town and attacking you in front of all those people, and then sending you poisonous letters.”
   “It was…”
   “Humiliating for you. I’m sure it was. Can’t keep something like that a secret in Humble. Nor would the town busybodies ever let you forget it.”
   Jayne was momentary stunned as she wondered who Hilda, the biggest busybody in Humble and district, would consider a town busybody.
   “He obviously was a few bricks short of a full load if you ask me. Imagine. I wonder if he was an escapee from a mental hospital.”
   “I…”
   “You’re right. I don’t recall them saying on the news that there had been anyone missing. I wonder where he’s from.”
   “He…”
   “No, I suppose we can’t expect to get his life story. Too bad. Would have been nice to know why he did it.”
   “It…”
   “And then to have the others turning on you. I’ve always said that the Shuffle Board crew can’t be trusted. Breaking down your door and then they expect to have the community’s support for a new shuffle board.”
   “Well…”
   “I think I’ll write a letter to the editor about that. Those men should be controlled. Just because they are elderly does not mean they can ride roughshod over the rest of us law-abiding citizens. That is exactly what I will do. I’ll write a letter.”
   Jayne hoped that the letter wouldn’t be as longwinded as Hilda when she was speaking.
   “Hilda…”
   “Oh, I’m sorry, Jayne. I didn’t mean to ignore or trivialize your suffering. Heaven knows you have been through so much. Imagine, having your home violated.” Hilda reached across the desk and started patting Jayne’s arm.
   “It wasn’t…”
   “No need to put on a brave face with me, Jayne. I won’t think any less of you. It must be so traumatic to be back here where the crime occurred. Truthfully, I’m amazed you are back here. I know I wouldn’t be able to face the location of my shame if I was in your shoes.”
   Jayne wondered how she could gracefully extract herself from behind the desk and Hilda’s sympathy pats.
   “Though I suppose you didn’t have as hard a time as some of us have imagined.”
   “Why…”
   “I heard that Dan played the role of the dashing hero and rescued you from that madman.”
   Jayne sternly told herself to bite her tongue. There was no need to encourage Hilda if she was on the engagement train of thought again. On the other hand…
   “He…”
   “No need for modesty, Jayne, if my man did something so heroic I’d certainly be telling the world.”
   Jayne had a hard time picturing Jonas doing anything at all, let alone anything heroic.
   “Hilda,…”
   “I know, it sent shivers up and down my spine too when I heard the story. To think we have a true hero here in little old Humble. It boggles the mind.”
   Jayne caught a glimpse of Steph rolling her eyes behind Hilda’s back. It boggled Jayne’s mind how anyone could carry on a real conversation with Hilda.
   “It certainly…”
   “Now I know I told you we had the invitations ordered and the flowers. Oh, and we were going to get you a sample of the centrepieces. Well, we have changed our minds.”
(July 1, 2016)


   “Really?” Jayne tried not to sound too hopeful.
   “We have decided to change the whole wedding to a medieval theme.”
   “What?” Jayne shot a look at Steph who was trying, quite unsuccessfully, to muffle her giggles.
   “We were able to find a great costume place in the city which had a knight-in-shining-armour costume that should fit Dan and a number of medieval gowns for you and your bridesmaids.”
   “But…”
   “Oh, don’t worry at all. We can still use the same colour scheme and invitations you chose as they will fit the theme perfectly.”
   “Are you…”
   “Yes, I’m sure. And Gertie has promised to sing Greensleeves at the wedding. Oh I’m so excited.”
   “Hilda…”
   “No need to worry. Everything is under control. Why this whole situation with the weirdo was heaven sent.” With that Hilda bustled out of the door and down the street.
   “Heaven sent?? Only Hilda would find a way to capitalize on a tragedy.” 
   Steph burst into a rolling belly laugh. “Can you imagine Dan creaking and clanging around in armour? Oh it is too funny.”
   Jayne sighed, “Well, at least a medieval gown is better than the other choices she had picked out.” Then she too started laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing. “I wonder if we could dress Hilda up as a scullery maid?”
   “No, the court jester,” Steph suggested.
   “Or we could have her wear…”
   The two of them had a hard time containing their laughter.  Holding their sides, they laughter till the tears ran down their cheeks.
   “Okay, let’s accomplish something today,” Jayne turned back to her computer and started working again.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
   Grrrrrrr! Hearing the badly muffled giggle beside her, Jayne knew she couldn’t ignore her growling stomach any longer as it was interfering with her concentration. Glancing at the clock she noticed it was only 11:00 a.m. With everyone’s visits it seemed like it was much later. Jayne stood up to go get a snack.
   “It’s about time.”
   “What…?” Jayne started to respond when Steph knelt on the on the floor in front of her.
   “Please, Jayne. Eat something. Don’t question. Don’t hesitate. Just EAT! I beg of you. I won’t be able to get any work done till you do. Please, please!”
   Jayne laughed, “Was I making that much noise?”
   “YES!”
   Steph sat down and Jayne went to raid her fridge.
   Later, Jayne pushed back from her desk in defeat. The warm temperature was wreaking havoc with her concentration. It was easier to imagine lounging outside under a shady tree with a good book than it was to work. Jayne sighed as she got up. Glancing at the clock she saw it read only 12:45 p.m. Jayne groaned and got up from her desk. Grabbing her purse she headed for the door, tossing over her shoulder, “Off to get us a treat, Steph. Back in a sec.”
   Heading across the street with a bounce in her step, Jayne pushed open the door of the Humble Store and headed straight for the bakery section, calling out as she walked by the till, “Hello, Mrs. Smythers, any doughnuts left?”
   Mrs. Smythers greeted Jayne with a large smile. “I set aside a dozen chocolate ones just for you. I’ve got them right here just waiting for you.”
   “Now how did you know I’d be craving doughnuts today?” Jayne teased.
   “Because you always crave chocolate-covered doughnuts after trying to decipher Rev. Brown’s sermons. Since I knew he already dropped off his sermon for this week with you,  I just knew you’d need some sustenance.”
   Jayne laughed. “You know me too well, Mrs. Smythers. I imagine that your nephew Davey is glad he graduated?”
   “He is, now that all his exams are behind him and school’s out. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time out of your busy schedule to tutor him.”
   “I can’t wait to see a passing grade on his transcript and his high school diploma in his hand. He’s a smart kid. Just remind him to breath and he’ll do just fine. Oh, and thanks for the new door. I really should pay you for it.”
   “No, you do so much for us. It’s nice we have a chance to do something for you, even if it is due to adverse circumstances.”
   “Thanks again.” Jayne paid for her doughnuts and waved goodbye.
   Stepping outside into the bright sunshine, she took a deep breath, refrained from inhaling one of the doughnuts right then, and headed back to the office.
   As a means of making a little extra cash, Jayne typed Rev. Brown’s sermons, partly so that she could correct the syntax and partly so that Rev. Brown could read what he wrote. While his sermons were always thought-provoking, Jayne teased the man that he should have been a doctor his handwriting was so indecipherable.
   “Here you are! Our reward for working so hard today.” Jayne set the doughnuts down on the table and helped herself to one of the yeasty treats as Steph grabbed one for herself. The two contentedly munched on their snack while watching the lazy activity out on Main Street. Finishing her first doughnut, and grabbing a second, Jayne sat down in her chair and swung back to Rev. Brown’s notes.
   Between bites she remarked, “I don’t understand how one person’s writing can be so terrible. The guy took penmanship in school, for heaven’s sake.”
   “At least he doesn’t talk as bad as he writes.”
   “True...Oh, there’s that new mystery gal.”
   Jayne walked to the door to see where the young woman went. 
   “LOOK OUT!”
   The next thing Jayne knew, she was lying on the floor of her office with Dan on top of her.
   “What???”
   “Are you okay, Short Stuff?”  Dan asked.
   “Yes, I wasn’t in the line of fire.  Thank goodness it missed the laptop or we’d have quite the mess to clean up.”
   Jayne tried to put Dan off so she could get up.
   “Did you get hit?”
   “No, what happened?  And where did you come from? I sent you home hours ago.”
   “I didn’t leave.  I’ve been outside the door.”
   “I was just out and didn’t see you.”  Even though the floor was hard and hurting her back, she decided she really didn’t want to move too fast, and it seemed Dan didn’t either as he gently brushed the hair off her face.
   “You were too focussed on food.  You walked right by me.  I was tempted to trip you.”
   “So, why did you tackle me?”
   Dan got up before pulling Jayne upright.  He pointed to a baseball-sized rock sitting on her desk.  Steph was right.  Had it been a few inches over, it would have demolished her laptop.
   “I saw that flying across the street.”
   “RIGHT!?  You saw that AND had time to tackle me?”
(July 15, 2016)

   “Truthfully, I was coming in to beg a doughnut off you.”
   Jayne brushed herself off and checked for fresh bruises.  She had hit the floor rather hard, even if it had been nice to be held in Dan’s arms.
   “I still don’t see how you had time to see that rock flying and tackle me.”
   “I didn’t see it being thrown...I sorta caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye and then just moved.”
   “Are you okay, Jayne.”  Steph was carefully looking out on the street, “I don’t see anyone right now, not even Siegfried and Roy.”
   “What about the mystery gal?”  Jayne took a step towards the still-open door only to be thoroughly blocked by Dan.
   “You are not going anywhere!”
   “EXCUSE ME!!!?!?!?”
   “I mean it, Jaynelle.  First we have to call Mark.  Steph, get back...we don’t know if the person is still out there or not.”
   “Listen you Lug-nut, you may be bigger than I am, but I’ve survived worse situations than this...ones that would have made YOU weep!  Now LET.  ME.  PASS!”
   “Oh, sure Miss Tough-As-Nails.  If I hadn’t knocked you over you’d have been lying there anyway with a rock-size hole in the middle of your head, felled like the Mighty Goliath.”
   “I have HAD IT with your attitude and bullying”
   “Bullying???  BULLYING????  I just saved your LIFE you ungrateful twit!”
   “Oooohhhhhhh…” 
   “Children,”  Steph laughed as she reached for the phone, “Save the fights for your marriage.”
   Before Jayne could make another comment, and before Steph could dial Mark’s number, the phone rang.
  RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Humble Beginnings, Stephanie speaking…We’re all fine.  Well, physically, at least.  The lovebirds are fighting again, and there may be blood shed before the day is over…”
  Jayne looked around as she half-listened to Steph’s end of the call.  Maybe she could go through the back and get out.  Even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew she couldn’t outrun Dan, and unless he followed her, she still had no way to get onto the street.  The guy was just so, so, SO maddening!
   “What?  Oh, she must have forgotten...what about Jim Jr.?...he is?  Well, we’ll pop over later.  He didn’t happen to see where it came from?...Dan?!!?”  Steph suddenly found herself empty handed as Dan pulled the phone out of her hand.
   “Be a dear and put Jimmy Boy on, Monique.”
   Jayne figured that this was her chance as Dan was distracted with the call.  She carefully took a couple of steps before turning make her escape out the door. 
   “OOOOPPPPHHHHH!”
   “You are not going anywhere!  No, not you, Jimmy, I’m talking to Miss Hard-Headed here.”
   Jayne didn’t know how he managed it, but Dan had not only caught her, but completely immobilized her with only one arm!  If she wasn’t so angry, and among family as it were, she’d be bawling in humiliation and frustration, tough girl or not.
   “Yes, that’s what I thought too.  You did?  Great, we’ll just sit tight and wait for him.  Keep Monique calm for us, we don’t need her to have a relapse.”
   Dan handed the phone back to Steph and plopped back into the chair he’d been in before.  Somehow he managed to rearrange Jayne so she was firmly seated on his lap and still incapable of getting loose.
   “Jimmy called Mark and he should be here soon.”
   “Jayne, Jim Jr. took Monique some lunch so we don’t need to take her anything - except maybe the rest of the doughnuts.”  Steph pulled a chair close to Dan’s.  They were able to look outside, but weren’t directly lined up with the door.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    “You know, Jayne, if you wanted to spend more time with me, you just needed to say so, you don’t have to keep getting into scrapes and fights.”  Mark walked in and straddled a chair.
   “Haha!  Very funny, not!”  Dan was back to growling at everyone and everything.  It had been a very uncomfortable wait for Mark.  So much so, that Jayne couldn’t even appreciate and enjoy being held tight by Dan.
   “Oh, oh?  Someone’s in a bad mood.  Why don’t you kiss the guy,  and see if that improves his mood.”
   “Why? He’d probably bite my head off!”
   Mark raised an eyebrow before turning to Steph, “Lover’s tiff?”
   Steph laughed, “You should have seen them going at each other earlier.  If nothing else, they are entertaining.”  Steph handed Mark the signed statements they had each put together, and Steph typed up, as they had waited.
   “Hmmmm, so no witnesses that you know of?”
   “I saw someone, and that’s why I walked to the door. There is no way she could have thrown the rock as the angle was wrong.” 
   “Jim and I only saw Patty too.  Jimmy and I think the thrower had to be in the library doorway to make such a direct throw yet neither of us saw anyone and it’s a pretty open spot.”
   “Patty????”  Jayne had been trying for days to find out the identity of the mystery woman and now it seems she was only a mystery to Jayne!
   “Jim was outside?”
   “Not then...he headed over to Monique’s and was looking out the window when I came over here.  Saw the rock wing across the street and there was no one around when he got to the street.  He didn’t look around as he didn’t want to leave Monique alone.”
   “I’ll talk to him when I finish up here.”
   “Did you catch Mr. Winterbloom yet?”  Jayne was sure it he wasn't the one to throw the rock, but for the life of her she couldn’t think who would have.  Especially if it was true that Dan and Jim Jr. had been just outside before the rock flew.
   “Not yet, unfortunately. Is that the rock?”  Mark pulled on a pair of latex lt gloves and picked it up.  “This is interesting...” 
   On the bottom of the rock was painted the words: “God punishes children for the sins of their fathers Num 14:18.”
   “When is the last time you had any dealings with your biological father?”
   “The night before my parents left me in Humble.  You know that..”
   “Well, this rock, combined with the letter, seems to point to someone with a beef against your father.  As I doubt the person happened to pick up a random rock with these words.”
   “This is ridiculous.  I haven’t seen or heard from my father in decades!  I don’t even know if he’s still in Alberta, or even alive!”  Jayne couldn’t believe that she was being targeted because of something her father did.
   “He’s alive.”  Dan spoke so softly the others almost missed his comment.
   Jayne twisted around as much as she could to see Dan’s face.  “How do you know that?”
   “Dad and I have made a point of knowing where he is at all times.  Unfortunately we lost track of him about 4 months ago, but your mom said he’s still definitely alive, though she won’t tell us where he is or what he’s doing.”
(August 5, 2016)



   Jayne was glad that she was sitting down, and that Dan was holding her tight, otherwise she would have landed on the floor she was so shocked.
   “You...WHAT?!?!?!?”
   She could barely get the words out as thoughts were swirling around in her brain fast enough to make her feel dizzy.  That bombshell was the last thing she expected.  And had Dan said that he talked to her mother??
   “We’ve been keeping track of your father for years.” 
   Jayne couldn’t believe how calm and matter-of-fact Dan was.  Her life was spinning completely out of control and Dan was like a rock.  Granted that particular rock felt like it had just crushed her so she couldn’t draw a breath.
   “Did you know that?” she turned back to Mark and Steph who shook their heads before she got the whole sentence out.
   “This certainly puts a different spin on things.  I’ll have to contact your mother and see what I can find out.  Do you have the contact on you, Dan, or should I call Jim Sr?”  Mark was writing furiously in his notebook.
   “You’ll have to call Dad.  Oh, and mom doesn’t know either.”
   Jayne struggled to get loose.
   “Where do you think you’re going?”
   “Let me go!  I have to get out of here!”  Jayne could feel the walls closing in on her, and the urge to scream was getting stronger.  Why was this happening now?  It had been decades since her family left her in Humble.  Why was someone after her now?  And why attack her if they really wanted her father?
   “Let her go, Dan.”
   Jayne bolted for the door, only to be hauled up short by Mark’s arms encircling her.
   “Whoa, Jayne, you can’t go outside yet.  We don’t know if the person is still out there.  And what lengths he or she will go to.  A rock may seem harmless, but it can be lethal, as can other weapons.”
   Jayne heard Mark, but she was so desperate to get outside for some fresh air that she didn’t really register what he said.
   “Let. Me. Go. Now!”
   “Can’t, unless you promise to go sit in that chair and not move till I say it’s safe to.”
   “LET. ME. GO. NOW!”  Jayne was past caring what she should and shouldn’t do.  All she could think of was to escape.  She felt Mark’s arms loosen and was about to struggle out when Dan’s encircled her again.
   “NOOOOOOOOOOO….”  Jayne tried to bite and fight, but no matter what she did, Dan’s hold didn’t slacken.
   “Don’t let go till she calms down.  I’ll head across the street and look around before I talk to J.J. and call Jim.  I don’t want to cause Monique any distress, but I think her apartment might be the safest place right now for everyone as the farm’s too big and there are too many places for someone to hide.  Come with me, Short Stuff, and I’ll get you safely over there.  We’re going to have to discuss how we’re going to handle this once everyone is together.”
   “But what about the 4H supper?  Will we have to miss it?”
   “I don’t know yet, Short Stuff, let’s just take this one step at a time.”
   Jayne watched Mark and Steph leave the office.  She stopped struggling so suddenly that Dan almost dropped her.
   “I won’t run...I promise.” 
   After Dan let her go, Jayne moved to her computer.  She felt like every part of her was encased in cement, and she couldn't move or breathe properly. 
   Jayne turned off the computers and the lights. “Okay, let’s go to Monique’s.” 
   Through the open door they could see Mark poking around the library door.  It was almost eerie how quiet the street was.  There wasn’t another soul except the two of them and Mark.  Dan used his body as a shield, and carefully locked the door behind them.
   Jayne was thankful they were only crossing the street, though she didn’t know how she was even going to make it that far.  The fresh air helped, but the urge to scream was still strong.  Before she knew it, she was sitting on Monique’s couch.  Had it really only been earlier that morning, mere hours ago, that they found the note.  It seemed like eons had passed.
            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   It didn’t take long for the rest of the family to arrive and fill Monique’s little one-bedroom apartment.  Peter and Sue had decided that they’d probably be safer if they stayed in the apartment over the bank and Mark agreed.  Steph was trying to keep Monique distracted so she wouldn't realize what was going on and stress herself. Jayne could see Monique sitting up on the bed, and she was sure Monique wasn’t fooled as her apartment was full of MacDonalds and Mark was back again.  Jim Jr. was pacing between the bedroom door so he could keep an eye on Monique and the couch so he could answer Mark’s questions.  Tommy and Dan had gone back to the newspaper office to take the food that was dropped off to the hall, and make sure there wasn’t anything they’d overlooked, before returning with some food for the gang. Jayne hoped they brought the gooiest chocolate dessert, though she knew food wouldn’t solve this latest problem.  Jim and Vera were sitting on either side of Jayne.  She wasn’t sure if their job was to provide support, or keep her in place.  The tension was thick as Vera was letting Jim know exactly what she thought of him keeping Jayne’s father’s whereabouts a secret from her.
   “How many years have we been married? How many??  And how many other secrets have you been hiding from me?  I thought I knew you!  I thought I could trust you.”
   “Now, Honey, that’s the only one and I did it to keep you safe.  So we wouldn't get into this type of situation.”
   “Don’t you ‘now, Honey,’ me, James Charles MacDonald.  HA!  Fine job you did of that!  We couldn't be any more IN this situation.  Our CHILDREN’S lives were threatened!”  Jayne didn’t think Vera realized how firmly she was patting Jayne’s hand.
   “Now, Honey, no one got hurt and Mark will help us find the bad guys.”
   Jayne slouched back deeper into the couch and turned her focus to Mark and Jim Jr.’s conversation.
   “From what I can tell, it seems the rock was put in some sort of slingshot that was hooked to the library door.  What I can’t figure out is what tripped it so it released.  J.J., you said you saw Patty outside the library?”
   “She wasn’t close to the library when I saw her.  Back by the hall.”
   Jayne still couldn’t believe that she seemed to be the only person in the room who didn’t know who Patty was.  She had tried asking Jim Jr. earlier but he was too consumed with everything.  Even though she was the “star” of this little drama, as it were, everyone seemed to be ignoring anything she said.
   “Any way she could have tripped it?”
   “Not from where I was standing.  I was practically in front of the door when I saw her and I didn't notice the rock or slingshot.  And if it was on some sort of motion sensor than I should have tripped it.”
   Vera reached over to pat Jim Jr.’s arm as he paced by.  “It’s not your fault.  Thank goodness no one was hurt.”
   “Jim, what did Mrs. Bellevielle say about her husband’s whereabouts when you last spoke to her?”
   “All she told us was that he hadn’t come home from the bar the night before and she hadn’t gone to get him as she was tired of hauling his worthless ass home.”
(August 19, 2016)


   Jayne let the voices swirl around her.  She still had trouble processing the fact that Jim had always known where her parents were, and never told her, yet he had not only welcomed her into his home, he’d also encouraged her to think of herself as a member of the MacDonald family.  Never once had any mention been made of her going back to her parents, or finding them.
   “When I called her the next week, she said she still hadn’t heard from him and didn’t expect to, but she didn’t say why or where she thought he might be.”
   “Hmmmm, any idea who might be after Jayne and how that might be connected to her father?”
   “That Winterbloom fella is the only one who has been a physical threat, and as far as I know he’s a complete stranger to us all.”
   Everything finally caught up with Jayne and she jumped up so fast she literally knocked Jim and Vera over, but Jayne was beyond caring at that point.  All she realized was that her life wasn’t what she thought it was. 
   “What do you mean, ‘you called her?’” Jayne turned on Jim, “My parents always made a point of not being on the radar so didn’t use phones, not even payphones, and they didn’t do anything that they couldn’t pay for in cash.  They didn’t even have a rental agreement when we moved here, they just paid cash each day.  And how did you ‘find’ them?  Why didn’t you tell me you did?  Where were they?  Why did they leave me?  Where are they now?  WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!!?!?!”
   “Now, Lassie…”
   “Don’t, I repeat, DON’T ‘Now, Lassie,’ me, Jim.  This is MY life you’ve been toying with, and if this situation with Jasper Winterbloom, and the attacks this week, are because of my parents, you better start talking NOW.”
   Jayne was so angry she could hardly speak.  The stress of the week had pushed her almost to the breaking point. 
   “Jayne, dear…”
   Jayne brushed Vera’s hand off her arm and paced away from the couch.  When she turned back, her face was set and she leaned into Jim’s face, “Talk...NOW!”
   “Well now, once we realized that your parents had really left town and left you behind, the police tried to track them down.  They didn’t find anything as your dad was certainly the wily fox and when he wanted to disappear he could disappear.  But we had an ace up our sleeve.  When your father skipped town he left behind a gold nugget keychain that he tried to use to pay for some groceries.  Smythers refused to take it for payment but said he’d hold it till your father worked off the cost of the groceries.  He even had it appraised and it was the real deal.  We knew your father would probably be back for it so a group of us kept watch, and sure enough he was back, breaking into Smythers store, in about a week.  Smythers and I were the ones who caught him red-handed, and we made a deal with him.  We’d give him back the keychain, but he had to check in with one of us every week or we’d report him to the police.  He didn’t realize at the time but the keychain we gave him was a replica that I had made.  Smythers still has the original in his till - we kept it to have a copy of your father’s fingerprints if the need arose.  In the beginning, he did check in by payphone and then later, I bought them a cell phone which I gave them when they passed through…”
   “Wait a minute!  They’ve been here????”  Jayne didn’t know what was more shocking, that Jim bought her parents a cell phone or finding out that they had been back to Humble.  “Why didn’t I see them?”
   “Your parents regularly travel between Calgary and Edmonton - heading north one year and then working their way south a couple years later.  Your father has burnt his bridges in so many communities, and while he still can’t seem to hold a job for more than a week, he is fairly adept at starting fights in the bars and destroying property, so they have had to travel to lesser known communities off the QEII corridor.  And, yes, they still regularly pull that leaving-in-the-middle-of-the-night routine.  That’s why I gave the phone to your mother and most of my calls have been to and from her.”
   “Where are they now?”
   “Last week your mother said they were staying with someone they knew in Sherwood Park.”
   “Sherwood Park?  How do you know they were telling me the truth?”
   “If they were close enough, I used to go and check it out myself.  When I had that little mishap a few years ago…”
   “Little mishap, my foot!” Vera interrupted Jim, “You knocked yourself out falling out of the tractor.”
   “...as I said, a ‘little mishap’...I confided in Dan, and the two of us have taken turns checking up on them.  There’s only been a couple of times they weren’t where they said they were, but I’m sure that’s because they left town in a hurry.”
   Jayne hated herself for the show of weakness, but she had to ask, “Did they ever ask about me or talk about me?”
   “Sorry, Lass, no.”
   Jayne couldn’t stop the wail building in her throat, nor could she keep her legs from collapsing under her.  Before she hit the ground, Dan caught her, she hadn’t even heard or noticed that he and Tommy had returned, and she found herself wrapped in a warm, comforting embrace. 
  “It’s okay.  I got you.” Dan’s voice rumbled in her ear as well as the steady beat of his heart.
   “I used to tell them how you were and what you were doing, but after being told that they didn’t care what ‘that useless brat’ was doing, I stopped sharing.  When they passed through on occasion, I know they avoided the downtown, and I usually saw them at the farm in the early morning or late evening.”
   The words “that useless brat” reverberated through Jayne’s head.  Granted her upbringing was unorthodox in the extreme, but having been around normal people, families, and kids, she could safely say that she was anything but a brat growing up.  Amazingly, she had been a model child so why would they have referred to her as a useless brat?  She’s even learned how to pick pockets and shoplift so she hadn’t been entirely useless.  Something nagged at the back of her mind, but Jayne was so stunned by what Jim revealed that the nagging went unnoticed for now.
   “Well, this is certainly unexpected.”  Jayne had been so focussed on Jim and his story that she had forgotten Mark was there.  “Would it be possible for you to give me the cell number, Jim, or would you rather make the call?  I understand your agreement with Jayne’s father, but in light of what’s happening, and him disappearing, if that’s true, things are different now.  We have a criminal investigation here and somehow he’s mixed in it.  Also, I think I should get the keychain from Mr. Smythers and get the finger prints off it. ”
   “What about us?”  Everyone turned to Steph, “Do we have to stay here or what?  Do we keep this hush-hush or not?”
   “I think you can go to the supper tonight, Short Stuff, but I think you all need to be very careful.  If this is Winterbloom’s handiwork then not only is he still hanging around somewhere, but he’s increasing his level of violence.  I don’t like the fact that the rock could have hit anyone, even though it was aimed for the newspaper office.  If it isn’t Winterbloom, then we have even more to worry about, especially with Jayne’s father’s whereabouts unknown at this time.  That said, I think Jayne should stay here with Monique as she is the one at most danger.
   “I’ll stay with them,”
(September 2, 2016)


  “I will too,” Jim Jr. added.
   “Thanks, guys.  Now then, if the rest of you want to get ready, I’ll escort you down the street,”  Mark gathered his papers and such together as the others stood up and headed for the door.
   “NO!”
   Everyone froze, even Monique who was shifting herself to sit up.
   “NO!” Jayne repeated, her legs firming and her back straightening up as she pulled herself out of Dan’s embrace.  “I’m NOT staying here.  I’m not going to let this bully win.”
   “Now, Joyne…”
   “But, Jayne…”
   “Jayne, it’s too dangerous…”
   “Are you sure you want to risk it, Jayne?...”
   “Don’t be foolish, Jayne…”
   “Are you out of your EVER-LOVIN’ MIND, Jaynelle?”
   Everyone was talking at once as Jayne held up her hands, and amazingly, everyone, including Dan stopped talking.  For a second, she savoured the brief moment of power. Feeling stronger and bolder with each breath, she continued. 
   “This guy is a bully, right?”  She didn’t wait for anyone to answer her question, “and the best way to defeat a bully is to confront him, or her, and look him right in the eye.  I’m NOT going to meekly hide out here and let this creep win.  He wants me scared and cowering, and I’m NOT going to give him the satisfaction.”
   “Meekly??” Dan’s snort of laughter was cut short when Jayne elbowed him in the ribs.
   “Besides, we don’t know who is doing this.  It could be Jasper Winterbloom, or it could be someone else.  We already know that whoever rigged that slingshot with the rock isn’t here.  Really?  What are the chances that something else will happen tonight in a large crowd of people?”
   “Pretty good, if he knows that you didn’t get hit by the rock, and he’s serious about getting to you.”
   “Well, I think he’s pretty dumb to try again, especially since you haven't really even left town in almost the last 48 hours, Mark.  Besides the accident, there’s been too much police and media presence in town for anyone to try something.”
   “He could be using the distraction of the accident…”
   “And risk getting caught?  I doubt it.”
   “Let me say, while I agree with what you are saying, Jayne, as an officer of the law who is trying to protect you, I don’t think you should leave this building.”
   “Nor do I…”
   Jayne elbowed Dan again, “You don’t get a vote in this.  Also, I think we should help Monique to the hall too.  If this person is keeping an eye on what we’re doing, then he knows that we’ve been taking turns staying here. If Monique is out in public, that will force him to change his game plan.”
   “I agree,” Monique interjected before anyone could express their views, “I may be weak, but I’m not an invalid and want to help too.”
   Jayne could almost see the smoke starting to come out of Jim Jr.’s ears, though she wasn’t completely sure who his anger was directed at.
   “Besides, we are, for all intents and purposes, blind up here,” Jayne pointed out, “Sure, we can see across the street, but we can’t see if anyone is coming here.  There isn’t even a window in, or by, the door.  We’re sitting ducks if we stay here!  And how long would it take someone to break into the library downstairs and find the hidden staircase?  Heck, he could be down there right now for all any of us know.”
   Jayne could tell she was winning over Mark, even if the others weren’t totally on her side yet.
   “What hidden staircase?”
   Jayne walked over to the couch and pushed it away from the wall, revealing a trapdoor.
   “Here...it comes out into the dinky supply closet by the back door.”
   “Has anyone been in there recently?  Monique?”
  “I haven’t, not since Jayne showed it to me when I first started working here.”
   “That’s the last time I was in there too.”
   “What about the rest of you?”  Mark looked around as the rest all shook their heads.  “Okay, I want everyone, and I mean everyone, to go into Monique’s room.  Are there lights at all in this staircase?”
   “No, I’ll get a flashlight.”  Jim was the closest to the kitchen, “I don’t feel right letting you go alone.  There may be nothing, but we don’t know so sure.”
   “I appreciate your concern, sir, but I feel better if you stay out of it.  I’ll radio the sergeant and see if he’s still around town and have him watch from the ground.  When I looked around earlier, I didn’t see any sign of anyone entering the building either from the front door, or the back door, so unless this guy has a key, there’s no way he could get in.  And someone’s been up here every moment since the accident so he couldn’t have gained access that way.”
   Jayne had a hard time believing that it was barely two days since the accident had happened, and just shy of 24 hours since her outing, she wasn’t really ready to call it a “date,” with Dan.  No wonder she was feeling worn out as it had been not only a physically staining two days, with bruises forming on top of bruises, it was a mental and emotional rollercoaster as well, and at this point at lease, there seemed to be no resolution to the whole situation in sight, including what she should do about Dan.  If last night had been a “real” date, their first, did that mean that their relationship was changing, or was it just an evening of hanging out together as Jayne did on occasion with the other siblings and her friends?  She wished that she could just walk away from everything and have some peace and quiet to try and sort it all out in her mind. 
   Once, the RCMP Sergeant was in place, Mark sent them all into Monique’s bedroom.  Jayne tried to stay close to the door, which they had convinced Mark to let them keep open in, case they had to get out quickly.
   As she watched Mark radio the Sergeant to let him know that he was about to open the trapdoor to the staircase, something nagged at her.
   “Wait!”
   “Now what?”
   “I think the strain is getting to her.”
   “Be quiet and leave her alone, guys, she’s been through a lot.”
   Jayne ignored the voices behind her.  “Mark, has anyone checked to see if the Municipal Office, or other buildings in town, were broken into.”
   “No, why?”
   “Didn’t you say that Monique’s keys were in her car, and that Smythers’ garage hadn’t been broken into, but unlocked?”
   “Yeah, so?”
   “So, if the locks weren’t picked, they were unlocked, right?”
   “Yeah, that would seem to be the case.”
   “And where are all the master keys for every building on Main Street?”
   “On the rack behind the counter in the Municipal Office…”
   “Right!  Anyone could have easily gone into the Office and taken the keys, as they are all in plain sight and can be reached from across the counter.  The gals might not have even noticed if one or two were gone.”
   “It’s possible, but I can’t see anyone doing that.”
   “but, maybe…”
   Just then, the kitchen window, which overlooked the street, shattered, sending umpteen pieces of glass into the apartment.
(September 16, 2016) 


   The musical tinkle of the glass shards falling into the sink and onto the linoleum floor was almost completely drowned out by the squawk of Mark’s radio as the sergeant tried to find out what happened, and by the shouts and screams of people both outside and inside the apartment.  Fortunately, everyone was safe and unharmed, Mark, because he was by the door and partially protected by the couch, and the others because they were still crowded into Monique’s bedroom.  Mark carefully made his way to the kitchen, explaining the situation to his sergeant with each step.
   “Everyone is fine, Sir.  I don’t think we’re going to find him anywhere nearby as there is no sign of a missile in here, and no evidence that it was caused by a gunshot.”
   “A pipe bomb!  That JERK used a PIPE BOMB?”  That was the first thing that popped into Jayne’s mind.  The others may have still been dazed and stunned, but by this time she had had more than enough.  “That means he planned this DAYS AGO!”
   She rushed over to the coffee table where Mark had placed his notebook when they started talking about the trapdoor.  Rifling through the back pages, she quickly looked for her mother’s phone number.
   “Hey, Jayne!  You can’t do that.  That’s confidential!”
    Jayne stopped Mark with her most ferocious glare.  She wasn’t surprised the others all stayed back too.  Her temper was the stuff of family legend, which was saying a lot as the MacDonald family had a lot of legendary tempers in its family tree.
   “You can arrest me if you want...AFTER I talk to my mother and find out what is going on here.”
   Jayne was so angry she was amazed her phone wasn’t melting or shattering, or the buttons jamming as she stabbed each one.  Not even waiting for her mother to say “hello,” she started in as soon as the line was picked up.
   “Okay, Mother Dearest, what is going on here?”
   “Who is this?”
   “Cut the CRAP, you know EXACTLY who this is.  Start talking NOW or I’ll go to the police and tell them everything I know about the illegal activities you and father were involved in.”
   Jayne could hear her mother’s gloating smirk.  “Oh, no, Jaynelle Michelle, you won’t.  Because then you’d have to admit your part in those “illegal activities.”  I’m sure you’re so used to pretending you’re some hoity-toity perfect princess that you don’t want your little friends to know the truth.  That you’re nothing but a snivelling gutter rat.”
   “They know, and so do the police...I did my time...NOW START TALKING!”  Jayne couldn’t resist her own gloating smirk as the sound of her mother gulping loudly echoed on the line.  Let her make of that what she will.
   “I have nothing to say to you.”
   “Oh, but Mother Dearest, I think you do.  How much did you pay him to off me?
   “I have no idea what you are talking about, and I don’t have to listen to any more of this.”
   “Ah, but you do.  You see, I can have you arrested as an accessory to my attempted murder…”
   “I ain’t saying nuthin’.”
   “It’s been years since we’ve seen each other so why off me now?  You already left me, so why the sudden urgency to make it permanent?”
   “I don’t gotta tell you nuthin’.”
   Jayne knew she had hit a nerve of some nature.  Even though it had been years since she’d seen her mother in person, she could easily picture her standing there holding the phone, her two-thin frame swaying from side to side, twirling her thinning shoulder-length dyed jet-black hair with her left fingers, her eyes darting from one side of the room to the other, her left foot bouncing like she wanted to run away, it was a sight Jayne had witnessed over and over, except for the phone as her parents stayed away from phones like the plague, but the rest of the bodily habits always showed up when her mother was faced with something she wanted to avoid, which was most things in this world.  Another telling sign was that her mother was losing her educated sounding veneer.
   “You don’t really want to go to jail, do you?  Not for murder?  Not when you can get off lightly by fingering the others.”
   “I got nuthin’ more to say.”
   Jayne knew she was pushing buttons, and had to keep pushing them, but not too much, or her mother would hang up.
   “What are you getting out of this? Money? Drugs?....”
   “You can’t threaten me!”
   Jayne knew she was getting closer.  How much further could she press?  By this time, the others were standing around her, almost holding their breaths, as they blatantly listened to her end of the conversation.
   “Whose idea was this?  Yours or father’s?”
   “That loser couldn't think his way outta anythin’!”
   Jayne knew she’d hit pay dirt.  Now all she had to do was keep her mother talking, since she was sure that the police had done something fancy by now so they could listen in, and if not, Mark was practically hanging over her shoulder taking notes as fast as he could.
   “If it wasn’t his idea, why is he hiding?”
   “That bum isn’t hidin;!  He’s tryin’ to get the reward money.  It’s all ours anyway.  The trust fund too.”
   Reward?  Trust fund?  Jayne know what to think, or where to go with her questions.  Luckily, she didn’t need to say anything as her mother was still talking.
   “Thinkin’ they could cheat us.  It’s our money, all of it.  We got the brat so the dough’s all ours.”
   Brat?  Jayne wondered if she was the brat in question, or if there was someone else.
   “Who is he going to get the money from?”  Jayne knew that she had to be delicate as she asked her questions.  Too much was at stake now.
   “We should’ve had the money right then.  No, HE was too squeamish to off the guy.  Now it’s too late.  They know the brat’s not dead.”
   Jayne’s mother had ignored her question and kept talking.
   “She hasta die and we get all the dough.”
   Jayne shuddered.  She had a terrible feeling that she was the brat, and that there was something she should remember, but couldn’t.
   “Where did he go to get the money?” Jayne repeated her question.
   “From Ol’ Man Winterbloom.”  Jayne’s eyes popped.  Had she opened a Pandora’s box that she’d live to regret?  On the other hand, if someone really was trying to kill her, how long did she have to live?
   “Winterbloom?  Jasper?”
   “No, the rich daddy.  Rollin’ in dough, he is.  Reward’s a cool million.  Trust fund is even more.”
   Jayne wasn’t surprised to see a few smart phones come out of pockets as the MacDonalds started searching online for whomever this elder Winterbloom was, and about the reward in question.  A million dollars was pretty substantial so surely there was some record of it.
   “Jasper wanted to marry me.”  Jayne thought she couldn’t be surprised any more this week, and her mother just proved her wrong again.  That comment had come way out of left field.
   “He did?  What happened?”  Jayne felt like she was stepping into a minefield.  Suddenly, nothing made sense.  Okay, truthfully most of the events this past week hadn’t made sense, but this REALLY didn’t make any sense. 
(October 7, 2016) 


   “We killed the fat cow and took the brat.”
   Jayne’s legs gave out and she landed on the coffee table with a loud thump.  She was very thankful for everyone who crowded closer offering their silent support and strength, especially Dan, whose hand she was tightly clinging to even though she didn’t remember reaching for it.  Jayne wondered if she really wanted to know what was going on, even though it had already turned her life completely upside down.  She always claimed to be so tough from her upbringing on the streets, and while death was just a part of everyday life there, she personally hadn’t ever met, or talked to, anyone who had actually killed someone, and yet, here she was listening to her own mother tell her that they’d killed someone. 
   “Uh?  The cow?”
   “Jasper’s fat sister.  She thought she was such a hoity-toity, but she was just trash.”
   Jayne noticed her mother’s gloating tone was back.  “So why is Jasper trying to kill me?”
   “The brat has to die.”
   “But why?”
   Jayne took the phone from her ear, “She hung up on me!”
   Mark closed his notebook, “Well, this gives me a lot to follow up on.  When I know more, including the whereabouts of your parents, I’ll let you know.  J.J., do you have your blacksmithing tools handy?”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   After that, everyone was scrambling.  It was decided that for everyone’s safety the 4H supper would be moved to the school, while someone else made sure everyone, including Peter and Sue, were evacuated out of the Main Street buildings to the school as well.  Jim Jr., along with the Mayor and an RCMP officer started inspecting each bulding before changing the locks.  While there was concern, and an overabundance of speculation, the transfer was made smoothly and the food, as well as Silent Action, tables were relocated and people were preparing to enjoy a hot meal and support members of their community.
   Monique, still looking rather pale, but otherwise no worse for wear after the previous couple of days, Jayne and the MacDonalds were seated together at one side of the school gym.
   In an effort to lighten the mood, and distract everyone from the day’s events, Monique told a story from her Thursday shift at the library.
   “...besides everyone and anyone coming in, after they saw Jayne, to get my side of the story – they are sure she wasn’t telling them the whole truth and was either so traumatized she had amnesia  or she was seriously downplaying the whole incident to protect their tender sensibilities...”
   Jayne snorted. “Who in this town has tender sensibilities, really?”
   “I’m beginning to think I do. I had the Williams twins in the library for most of the day.”
   “Ouch. Have another piece of pie,” Steph passed a plate over to Monique, “you’ve earned it.
   Jayne could entirely sympathize. Five minutes was more than enough with the Williams twins on any day.
   “I can’t for the life of me figure out how they survive. They have no jobs or obvious source of income.”
   Steph answered, “Trust funds.”
   “Even so, they must do something. Trust funds won’t last forever. What do they do with their time?”
   “Bother all the rest of us.” Jayne was fortunate. She didn’t have to put up with the twins as much as some people did. The Smythers, Mrs. Shultz and Monique were their prime targets.
   “Well, they outdid themselves Thursday. First, they messed up every deck of cards so when the morning crib group came in they could not find a deck with any card higher than an eight in it. We still haven’t found where they stashed the other cards from the decks. Then they took all the large print books off the shelves and turned them upside down before reshelving them.”
   “And you let them?” Steph was astonished.
   “I didn't LET them, I was busy dealing with Gertie at the time who was telling me over and over and over again how unappreciative Jayne is when Gertie is telling what to do and how to do it properly.”
   “Gee, I wonder why?” Jayne kept her voice low as Gertie was looking over at their table, with a sour look.  Fortunately, she was far enough away that she couldn’t hear what they were saying.
   “What? I missed a Gertie moment.” Steph did a mock pout.
   “Don’t sweat it, Hilda more than made up for it.” Jayne reminded her.
   Monique continued, “Well, before we get to the Hilda stories I have more Williams twins escapades to share.”
   Steph reached back and grabbed a whole pie from the dessert table behind her.  “This definitely calls for more pie.”
   “After they rearranged the large print, one of them found a bird that they let loose inside the library.”
   “A real live bird?” Jayne wondered how she managed to miss all the excitement from across the street, especially since her office door was wide open.
   “Yes, a real bird. The poor thing was so scared it flew in circles and wouldn’t go out the door. I was worried it would get stuck somehow or expire midair.”
   “Is it still there?” Steph wondered.
   “No, thank goodness!  Mr. Simpson very nicely managed to guide it back outside. The twins sure weren’t worried, I tell you.”
   “No, they wouldn’t be,” Jayne agreed. “Dare I ask if they did anything else?”
   “Then they put a toy mouse in with the baby board books. I’m amazed you didn’t hear Hannah’s shriek all over town.”
   “Darn, Steph we seem to have missed all the fun.”
   “Fun! Those twins are hooligans. They just run wild. Why has no one done something about them years ago?”
   “Apparently they have been like this since they were three years old. Why do you think someone will do something now?”
   “Three!” Monique was incredulous, “Three! That was FORTY YEARS ago!”
   “Shhhhhhh,” Vera tried to quiet Monique as the others laughed.
   Jayne shook her head sympathetically and helped herself to another piece of pie. “Sad, isn’t it?”
   “I finally had to kick them out the door. The little blue hairs were refusing to sign out any books, or climb down off the reading tables, while they were there.”
   Steph snagged the last whole pie off the dessert table and started passing it around the group. “You’re a survivor. So what was your encounter with Hilda like? Ours was quite entertaining.”
   Jayne tossed a napkin at Steph. “Only from your perspective.”
   “In between screams and flying mouse toys, Hilda arrived to fill me in on the latest wedding plans.”
   “I can imagine.” Steph leaded forward eager for details.  Jayne glared at Monique, daring her to continue.
   Monique just smiled, “So has Dan actually asked you to marry him yet?”
   “Monique!! No, he hasn’t.”
  “Well, have you asked him?”
   “The way they were snarling at each other this morning, I’d be surprised if the wedding was still on,” Steph said around a mouthful of pie. “Or else they were stressing out about the details that Hilda has all under control.”
(October 21, 2016) 


   “Stephanie MacDonald! You know full well there is no wedding!”
   “Well there should be,” Monique said firmly. “However I refuse to wear the dress Hilda has planned. She told me I will be wearing a beige medieval bridesmaid’s dress to your wedding. BEIGE! Did you hear that?  BEIGE!  Can you imagine? On ME?!”
   As the others laughed at Monique’s scandalized expression, Jayne looked over to make sure Dan was still chatting at the Silent Auction tables and couldn’t hear the conversation.  That was the last thing she needed.
   Her eyes sweep around the hall.  In a way the whole evening was surreal. People enjoying themselves and having fun, eating the great meal and joking with neighbours, good-naturedly competing for Silent Auction items, yet at the same time there was the underlying current of shock and grief as they tried to process Todd’s sudden death, and the recent criminal activity, in a sleepy community that probably could count on one hand their history of crime, discounting the annual Halloween shenanigans.
   Though the school gym was full, one couple’s absence was obvious.  Jayne hoped that Todd’s parents weren’t sitting at home alone.  She made a mental note to phone them and offer her condolences.  Maybe she’d...
   CRRRRRRASSSSSSSSSSH!!
   It was an indication of how frayed people’s nerves were that everyone froze at the sound of breaking chinaware.
   “That is IT!  OUT!  OUT!  OUT!!!”
   Jayne turned her head to see Gertie steamroll her way from the makeshift kitchen area by the stage towards the Wilson twins who were giggling like little kids as they stood amidst a pile of dirty shards of what used to be a plastic tub full of dirty dishes they had been clearing off the tables.
   “I got the jar, Mommy,”  Hannah rushed up and put a gallon-sized pickle jar on the end of a table.  The jar was a quarter-full of an assortment of coins.  While the jar tended to make a regular appearance at suppers, Jayne had never seen it any fuller than half-full no matter how much money was donated.
   “OUT!  RIGHT NOW!”
   Gertie was still screaming at the Twins, who showed no sign of controlling their laughter as they wrestled over the plastic tub, nor any sign of planning to leave as Gertie demanded.  People merely started digging out their change and adding it to the jar.
   Jayne wasn’t able to find out when the “Jar” as it was affectionately known, came to be part of community life, but it was a fixture whenever the Wilson twins were around.  It was the quickest and easiest way to fundraise whatever amount was needed to replace whatever the Twins had broken.  Since it was change anyone could contribute, and no one felt unduly burdened by the request.  Tonight’s funds would purchase replacement plates.  In the past, the jar fund had paid for new lights when the then 10-year-old twins had broken all the lights in the hall with their slingshots at a supper - Jayne still couldn’t believe someone didn’t confiscate said slingshots before ALL the lights were destroyed, another time the fund paid for new bowls after the then twenty-year-old twins tried to see if they could fly them like Frisbees from the tables to the kitchen, needless to say, they couldn’t, and another time the fund enabled the residents to purchase a dozen new tables after the then 30-year-old twins decided to jump and race over some tables that just weren’t designed for that type of abuse.  All in all, it seemed they got off lucky this time with just a few broken plates.
   One time Jayne had dared to mention that maybe the Twins should have to pay to replace whatever they broke.  While everyone agreed with her, no one had the nerve to demand it of the Twins, nor stop their behaviour, so it was easier to just replace whatever needed replaced.  Mark and Jayne were brainstorming a way of controlling the Twins, but not having much luck either as nothing they did was explicitly illegal, and even though there was usually excessive damage, no one was ever injured.
   Suddenly Jayne slumped back in her chair.  The events of the week were finally catching up to her, the emotional rollercoaster, the tenderness of bruises she was trying to ignore, the lack of sleep, the conversation with her mother, and her concern for Monique.
   A strong hand cupped her elbow, “Come on, let’s get out of here for a while.”
   Jayne felt disconnected and numb as she let Dan lead her out of the noise of the gym to the quiet of a hallway.  They sat, shoulder to shoulder, leaning against the wall.
   “You okay?”
   Jayne gave a half-hearted shrug.  She knew there was no point hiding or trying to fool Dan.  It just wouldn’t work, and she really didn’t have the energy for it anyway.  It wasn’t first time they’d escaped to the hallway when life seemed to take a punch at Jayne.
   “We’ll find the guy and stop him...don’t worry.” Dan gave her a one-arm hug.
   “I know.  That’s not really it.  I’m…”  She broke off.
   “You’re?”
   “I’m……” again Jayne couldn’t manage to finish her sentence.
   “You’re?  Strong.  Capable. Intelligent.  Did I mention that I thought your comment about the keys was brilliant.  And so obvious that I can’t believe we didn’t think of it sooner.”
   “I’m….” Jayne tried again but her throat closed up, keeping the words inside.
   “Short?  Poor loser”  Jayne knew Dan was joking and trying to get her to smile but she couldn't do it.  Too much had happened in too short a period of time.
   “Scared,” she mumbled.
   “What’s that?  I must be getting hard of hearing...I didn’t catch what you said.”
   Jayne elbowed Dan before practically shouting, “I’m scared.  Are you happy now.”
   “No, but I bet you feel better now that you said it.”
   “I don’t need a shrink.”
   “No, you need to let it out...stop stuffing, Jaynelle.”
   She didn’t want to admit that Dan was right, but he was.  A product of her unpredictable upbringing, she found it easier to just ignore what she was feeling and stuff it deep till something happened that made it impossible to ignore.  She teased the MacDonalds of secretly being hot-blooded Mediterraneans once as they made a big deal about “feeling emotions,” “letting them out,” and “dealing with things.”
   “I must be getting soft.”  Jayne was disgusted that she was letting this all get to her, she grew up with much worse.
   “Jaynelle…you’re not ‘soft,’ you’re human.”
   “Yuck!”
   “Live with it, Bellevielle.  You’re as human as the rest of us.”
   After another jab with her elbow, Jayne hugged herself, trying to melt in to the wall behind her.
   “What if I’m not who I think I am?”
   “Guess it depends on who you think you are.”
   “Very funny, Smartie.”
   “It’s true.  Yes, you grew up on the streets, but, Jaynelle, that was a small part of your life and you haven’t lived on the streets for a long time now.  You are not that kid any more.”
   “I am…”
   “No, you’re not...you grew up...you’ve made a different life for yourself, and have made different decisions.”
(November 4, 2016) 


   Jayne rolled her eyes.  You can take the girl off the street, but you can’t take the street out of the girl, and all that, was the motto she’d lived for too long to change now.  Plus, if she had any doubts that the street had a strong grip on her, the phone call with her mother put them to rest.  During the call, she was instantly transported back to her childhood - the uncertainty, the hunger, the cold, the arguing, the drinking, the lies, the traveling, and the hiding.  Jayne may look, and act, in public like she had come a long way from her past, but right now, she felt like she was that lost little girl shivering on the street in Calgary.  And now she had the added uncertainty that she might be the “brat” that her mom referred to.  Though, that wasn’t said for sure, in her gut Jayne knew she had to be.  What would happen if it turned out she was???  Would she have to leave Humble?  Would she have to leave her family and friends?  Would she have to quit her job?  Would she….
   “Are you listening to me, Jaynelle?”
   Jayne shook her head and realized she missed Dan’s comments.  As someone walked out of the gym to join the other smokers, and the noise of the crowd flowed out into the hallway, Jayne was glad that she and Dan were slightly hidden in an alcove by the gym door.
   “Did I tell you how much I enjoyed our supper?”
   “Even though everyone in the restaurant was trying to eavesdrop on our conversation?” It was only 24 hours since their meal, yet it seemed longer as so much had happened since then.  No wonder she felt like a rag doll that completely lost its stuffing.
   “Why do you think I was making those comments and jokes?”
   “Daniel Wallace McDonald!” Jayne tried to act shocked, but started giggling, “I must say we’ve never had such attentive service before.”
   “You realize that come Monday, I’ll probably have to pour my own coffee again.”
   “You poor baby.  Did you see Mrs. Shultz trying to spy on us from the kitchen?”
   “I’m amazed that she didn’t drop the mayor’s meal.”
   “Now that would have been quality entertainment...I’d love to see his meal hit the floor, or even better, his lap.  I know I shouldn’t be so mean, but there are days that man gets on my nerves.”
   “He gets on everyone’s nerves.  I’m still not sure how he managed to get elected?”
   “The other choice was the Twins...though how they managed to get both their names together on the ballot still boggles my mind.  They weren’t legit, so he got in by default, and wasn’t elected...as I remind him when he starts his I’m-an-important-politician-and-you-are-nobody routine with me.  Since it was a by-election to replace Chuck, who was mayor at the time he keeled over, I guess the council figured he should be mayor when he got in.”
   “How often does he do that?”  Jayne thought she detected a protective tone in Dan’s voice, but she probably imagined it.
   “Oh, maybe once a week,” Jayne brushed it off, “I just remind him that I’m the press and know enough dirt that I can destroy his future chances to run for federal politics.  I wonder how Jim Jr. is getting on?”
   “I’m glad the police are with him, otherwise I’m sure he’d punch the mayor’s ever-loving lights out...though, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets tested to his limit.”
   “I hope we don’t have to spend the night here.  Gertie’s a powder keg just waiting to blow after this last hoopla with the Twins.”
   “Might be the best fundraiser we’ve had if we are stuck here all night.  I’m sure the betting will start around midnight to see who cracks first.”
   “We don’t need any more crazies in this town.  What did you bid on?”
   “Nothing, I’ve been bidding in your name.”
   “DANIEL!!”
   Jayne elbowed Dan as he started laughing.
   “I put your name on the tool kit, the tire rotation and oil change, the six-pack of beer, and…”
   “Just for that, I’ll go in and put your name on the mani/pedi and the hair colouring...I think you’d look good with pink sparkly fingernails and frosted highlights.”
   “So would you!”
   Jayne rolled her eyes.  As much as she enjoyed dressing up, for some reason she drew the line at make-up.  She enjoyed a monthly massage, but not a manicure or pedicure.
   Before Jayne could continue her teasing, she heard Steph say, through the opening gym door, “I’m sure they just wanted a little time alone...you know how young lovers are like.”
   Jayne did not need Steph to fuel the ridiculous rumours.  She hadn’t even though that she’d give folks the wrong idea by leaving the gym with Dan.  While it would not surprise anyone to see the two of them together, as they were in each other’s company at some point every day, the meal together did put a different spin on things.  Jayne was positive Dan didn’t intend it to be a date, but she wasn’t going to ask him and find out for sure that he didn’t think about her “that way.”
   “Guess someone is looking for us…we should go back in.”
   Dan stood up and then reached down to help Jayne up.
   “Are you okay now?”
   Jayne nodded, a bit disappointed that their escape was over, she was startled when Dan gave her a quick hug before leading her to the gym doors.
   ~~~~~~~~~~~~
   Two hours later, Jayne, and probably everyone else in the gym, with the except of the Wilson Twins who were in a corner giggling about something, was trying to stifle consecutive yawns.  She didn’t care how much work she had to do, or what she had to promise, she was going to twist Peter’s arm, even if she broke it, to get him to run for council.  Once he was on council, she was sure the others would vote him into the mayor’s chair as none of them wanted the extra commitments the position required.  As the Mayor droned on and on, and on and on, about the recent events, most of which he either missed as he was out of town shopping in the city, or not personally involved, Jayne rolled her eyes and slouched deeper into her chair, which was a feat in itself as the hall chairs were not made for slouching.
   “He’s going to get the glory and you get the hassle and headaches.” Monique leaned over to whisper.
   “Well, unless he finds the guy himself, there won’t be much ‘glory’ for him.” 
   “Bet you wish you were still in bed?”
   “If we didn’t have the RCMP guarding the doors, I’d be out of here like a shot.”
   “Shhhhhh…”
   Jayne leaned over towards Vera, “If you tell me that you are riveted by this drivel, I will personally pour that water jug all over you.”
   “You don’t scare me, young lady.  Show some respect.”
   “I will when I see something on that stage worth respecting.”
   Jayne thought the Mayor was going way over the top this time.  Usually his pontificating was just comical, but this time, since she was the actual injured, or rather targeted, party, not the Mayor, she couldn’t drum up any sympathy for his feelings.  Besides, he was getting far too much air time, in her opinion, on TV between Todd’s accident, and the subsequent investigations.  Not that she wanted to be in the spotlight, but it was her life that was being impacted directly, not his.
(November 18, 2016) 


    As the Mayor continued to drone on and on, and on and on, and on, Jayne started to lean forward in her chair, and just as she was poised on the edge of her seat, she felt a hand gently, but extremely firmly, grasp the back of her neck.
   “Don’t even THINK of doing it.”
   “Ah, Dan, let her go.  After the torture I just went through for this community, I, for one, could use some fun, and heaven knows, Jayne is the only one who can deflate that windbag.”
   Jayne looked over at Jim Jr. who was shovelling food into his mouth so fast, he was barely chewing it.  In fact, those were his first words since he had joined them in the gym after re-keying all the locks on Main St.  He seemed so traumatized by his time with the Mayor that he wasn’t even paying any attention to Monique, who seemed to be holding up pretty good considering she had been unresponsive a mere two days ago..
   “If he dares to say we are all spending the night here, Dan, I vote that you let Jayne go after him.”
   “I second Monique’s vote.” Steph replied as she almost magically seemed to pull a full Saskatoon pie from thin air and place it in front of Jim. Jr.
   “Short stuff, you are the BEST!”
   “Hush, children!”
   “Now, Vera…”
   “Don’t you ‘Now Vera’ me, James MacDonald!  Their attitude is disrespectful and you know it.”
   “Now, Vera, you can pray for the man all you like, but I’m with the kids.  I shudder at the thought of listening to him all night long, and you know darn well that’s what’ll happen unless someone stops him...let Jayne go Dan.”
   Jayne narrowed her eyes and leaned forward a little more.  She could tell that the Mayor was close to revealing what the next step was going to be and she didn’t want to miss her chance.  Unfortunately, Dan still had a pretty good grip on her.
   “And, so fellow citizens, it is with the utmost and sincerest of regret that I must inform you, for the utmost wellbeing of the community, and all of its charming inhabitants, upon the recommendation of the RCMP, I was left with no other option but to make the incredibly difficult decision that no one is to depart from this location for the next 48 hours as the officers conduct their criminal investigation…”
   The Mayor’s words were drowned out by the chorus of groans and yells from the public. Before things got any more heated and out of hand, Jayne quickly shrugged off Dan’s restraining hand and jumped up.
   “Mr. Mayor!  Mr. Mayor!  ABNER!!”
   At her use of the Mayor’s first name, the others quieted down. It had been quite a coup on Jayne’s part the day she discovered the Mayor’s name as it was considered top secret, and even his mother had forgotten it, as it had been so long since it had been used.  Everyone wanted to know how she found it, but Jayne refused to tell, as it would lessen the effect on the Mayor if she divulged her source.  Jayne remained standing by her chair, which she knew would irk the Mayor just as much as her using his name, if not more.  He liked to pull little power plays, and in public settings or meetings, in order to address him, he made sure that folks couldn’t rudely interrupt him by insisting that in order to address his personage - yep, he had used the word personage - they had to be sitting, and remain seated, in the chair directly in front of him, and they could only sit in that chair if a written request had been submitted, and approved by him personally, five business days before the event or meeting.  Needless to say, that meant that only one person could sit there at any event.
   “So Abner…”
   “That is Mr. Mayor to you, young lady, and you are out of order.  Officers, please deal with this disruptive person.”
   Jayne winked at Mark before she continued, “As I was saying, Abner, please tell us how many threats you have personally received this past week.”
   “I am under no obligation to answer when proper procedure has not been followed.”
   “Don’t be a jerk…”
   “Screw procedure and answer the question…”
   “What are you afraid of…”
   “Who made him mayor anyway…”
   “I’m not voting for him next election…”
   As the crowd let their views be known, Jayne made her way to the front of the gym where the Mayor was standing.  While Jayne wasn’t overly tall, she did stand taller than the Mayor’s mere even five foot stature.  Another fact that irked him to no end when she dated to stand in front of him.
   “Abner, I repeat...how many threats have YOU personally received this past week?”
   “Well, I…”
   “And how many threats has your office received this past week?”
   “Young lady…”
   “How many, Abner?”
   “Well, I…”
   “How many times have YOU had to contact the RCMP this past week because of the various criminal activities in town?”
   “You’re not being fair, Jayne, you know he can’t count - even if what he’s counting is zero!”
   The Mayor’s face turned red at the heckler’s comment, and the crowd’s rolling laughter.  Jayne stepped closer so he was forced to look up at her.  She remembered something she’d been told on the streets once, don’t back down, and don’t ever break eye contact first.
   “How many, Abner?”
   “I…”
   “HOW MANY?”
   “NONE!!!!!”
   Jayne smiled as she slightly leaned over the Mayor, “And how many of these ‘charming inhabitants’ have received threats?”  She was so close she could see him starting to sweat. 
   “How many, Abner?”
   “Just you.”
   “I can’t hear you,” Jayne leaned in even closer.  When she got home she was going to have the hottest bath she could stand, and scrub her skin till it was raw if she had to, after being so close to this much slim.
   “JUST YOU!”
   “So, why would you force all of these fine people to remain here when they aren’t at risk, AND the RCMP have now deemed it safe for them to return home?”
   “I….”
   “Well, Abner?”
   “I guess I was a bit of an alarmist.  After the Silent Auction is wrapped up, you are free to return home.  I wish you all a good evening.”
   As cheers erupted around the gym, Mark walked up to escort the defeated Mayor from the room, and Jayne returned to her seat.  She always felt bad after a round with the Mayor because she didn’t like to be mean or cruel, and the guy had to have a real inferiority complex to act the way he did, which meant that he needed all the caring and support he could get, but on the other hand, the guy totally had it coming to him.
   “Okay, folks the first auction item, the tire rotation, goes to…”
(December 2, 2016) 


   “AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” Jayne fell backwards onto Monique’s couch, the second wind she’d experience while she was baiting the Mayor had long disappeared, and she felt tired right down to her bones.  She landed and covered her eyes with one arm. “I’m going to have to apologize.”
   “Why?  He’s a pompous jerk and he had it coming.”
   “Sigh...I know...but even pompous jerks have feelings and I stomped all over Abner’s tonight...in PUBLIC!”
  “I repeat...he deserved it, and more!  Bad enough that he thought he could keep us all hostage in the gym, but to claim he’s the victim in all this...Frankly, I think you let him off way too easy.”
   Jayne raised her arm just far enough so she could see Monique reclining in her bed.  After the excitement of the past few days, and the past few hours in particular, Jayne worried that Monique was at risk for another setback.  She may have rebounded rather quickly this time, but Jayne knew her health was more fragile than Monique let on.  Thank goodness Mark had kept Mrs. Whitfred away.  That was the last thing any of them - especially Monique - needed right now. 
   Despite Jayne’s best intentions they hadn’t left the school very quickly.  First, she had had to pay for her Silent Auction purchases, which had led to a mild confrontation with Dan as he insisted on paying for all of them since he’d bid on most, even if not in his own name, and since they were in her name, and she’d planned on making a donation anyway, Jayne insisted she could pay.  In the end the young 4H member had taken both their cheques, but not before commenting that he couldn’t wait to see if they continued to argue as much once they were legally hitched.  Jayne’s nerves were just frazzled enough that it was a struggle to not reach out and smack the smirk off his acne-covered face.
  Then, just when she thought they could make their escape, the 4H leader insisted on the two of them sitting down right then and there to write up the thank yous and results of the evening for the newspaper. When Jayne pointed out that the money hadn’t even been counted yet, she was handed a cash box and told she could start on it.
   It was well after midnight when everything was itemized to everyone’s satisfaction, and Jayne figured they could escape via the change rooms, but Hilda cornered her to update her on the wedding arrangements and no amount of protesting from Jayne would convince her that there was no wedding in the offing, and that a medieval joust on Main Street was out of the question! Just as she managed to get away from Hilda, Gertie appeared with a list of complaints about the evening, the change in venue, the lack of help, the Wilson Twins, the no-show of Todd’s parents, all the errors in the week’s edition of “Humble Beginnings” including, but not limited to, the location of the weekly quilting bee, and on and on.  Jayne’s head was still spinning and pounding.  Her arm dropped.
   “Too easy?”
   “Yes!  And there are a few others that should be put in their place too.”
   Jayne lifted her arm again. “Who?”
   “The Wilson Twins for one, or rather two.”
   “Right, like I’d get anywhere with them,” Jayne’s arm dropped again.
   “No one else is trying, and they are getting worse.  You’re probably the only one who can get through to them.  You seem to have dirt on everyone else in town, I’m sure you have something you could threaten them with.”
   “Nope, and believe me, I've looked.”
   “I wish you’d share how you found out the Mayor’s name.  Too cruel keeping it to yourself.”
  “And lose the only leverage I have with him? No way.  Sigh, it’s going to be PAINFUL apologizing.”
   “Then don’t.  Or, if you insist, then give him the tire rotation or oil change gift certificate you bought tonight.”
   “And have him accuse me of trying to bribe him?  No way!”
   Monique yawned, “Have it your way, but I’m sure once you sleep on it, you’ll see I’m right.”
   Jayne lowered her arm after Monique turned off her bedside lamp and rolled over.  It was almost late enough that it was now early enough and there was no point trying to sleep as she’d just be getting up in a couple hours anyway.
   As she contemplated what she could do, she remembered that she hadn’t judged the short story entries for the week yet.  The contest was an ongoing one, and writers were encouraged to submit one story per week.  Monique would separate the entries into adult, teen and children’s categories, and then randomly choose five from each file each week which were “judged” by various community members.  After the stories were ranked by the others, Jayne had the final say and chose one story from each category to be published in the newspaper the following week.  The other stories went back into the file for another chnce.  Though Jayne was sure that in the end all the stories would be published, it kept people guessing and writing.
   The light from the kitchen stove wasn’t very bright, but she didn’t want to turn on the lamp and risk waking Monique.  Normally there was enough light from the streetlights shining in the kitchen window for her to navigate around the small apartment, but the gaping hole had been covered in plywood since it would take a few days before Mr. Smythers could get the right sized piece of glass in to repair it.  Also, someone, Jayne wasn’t sure who, had cleaned up all the broken glass while they were at the school.  Monique didn’t move, so Jayne carefully stood up and moved the couch as quietly as she could to reveal the trapdoor.  Though Mark hadn’t opened the trapdoor before the window had exploded earlier, Jim Jr. had mentioned that they had checked it when they were inspecting the buildings and changing the locks, and there had been no sign of anyone having been in it, which meant that the bomb had either been planted from the roof - the most likely option as the glass had come inside - or Mr. Winterbloom had just walked into the apartment when Monique was in the library one day.
   Jayne eased the trapdoor open.  The hinges stuck so she yanked a little harder and the resulting scraping sound seemed to echo in the small room.  There was still no movement from the bedroom so Jayne continued with her mission.  She wasn’t worried about moving around the library as there would be enough light from the street and she knew the correct file would be the only one in the centre drawer of Monique’s desk.  On the other hand, she was worried that Dan and Jim Jr. had insisted on spending the night in the library, so they could take turns keeping watch, since there was no visibility from the apartment till the kitchen window was fixed.  Jayne figured they’d be sitting or sleeping in the chairs by the front windows, which means they probably wouldn’t even hear her or notice anything as the library counter separated the seating area from Monique’s petite office space.
   Jayne debated getting a flashlight, but figured she’d be okay.  There was nowhere to go except down on the stairs, and once she was at the bottom and opened the closet door, she’d be fine.
   She glanced once more at Monique’s room before taking the first step. As she descended she tried to remember how many steps there were before she reached the bottom.  Trailing her fingers on the walls on each side of her, she silently counted...one, two, three...six, seven…
   “Ooph!” With her foot suspended in the air, not quite ready to touch the next step, Jayne suddenly, and shockingly, ran into something large and very solid. 
(December 16, 2016) 



   As the stairwell was so old and narrow there was nowhere for Jayne to go except backwards.  To her, it felt like she was falling in slow motion.  Various thoughts raced through her mind as she descanted to the steps:

            What was Todd’s last thought as he crashed into the train?

            Did his life flash before his eyes as some people claim happens?

            Why isn’t MY life flashing before my eyes?

            Jim Jr. ASSURED me they checked and there was nothing here.

            Where is a hero when you need rescued?

            How long will it take for someone to find me?

            Is my underwear clean enough?

            What am I wearing right now, and why can’t I remember?

            What did I run into?

            It felt like a...body!?
            I wish Dan was here!
            Do I scream and wake Monique, or not?
            Am I going to die?
   “OUCH!”  Jayne’s whole body was jarred when her butt and elbows collided with the hard cement stairs.  Before she could stop herself, she slid down a couple of steps.  Her only consolation, if it was a consolation, was that she was so close to the bottom of the staircase, and whatever (whomever?) she ran into didn’t seem to be around any more as she could feel a slight draft so the closet door must be open.
   “I should have grabbed a flashlight,” Jayne mumbled as she gingerly eased to her feet, one hand extended in front of her just in case there was still something in the stairwell with her, but she didn’t feel anything except empty air.  No doubt her bruises would sport new bruises on top of them.  She’d have to wait till she could turn on a light to see if her elbows were bleeding from her brief slide.  They sure stung, but didn’t seem to be wet.  Hard to believe that even being a bit of a tomboy, and her unconventional upbringing, she had never broken a bone or gotten beat up, or seriously hurt.  In fact, she had more bruises this past week than in her entire life!
   “If this was J.J.’s idea of a joke, I’ll wring his neck,” Jayne continued muttering to herself as she assessed her condition.  She was tender, but seemed no worse for wear, and she was definitely alive.  She debated her next course of action.  Should she head back upstairs or continue forward?
   “I don’t care if the guys are sleeping, I’m turning a light on,”  Jayne muttered to herself to distract herself from the pain, which seemed more intense than any she’d ever felt before.  Did she break something after all?  Or was it just because of she had been through so much and hadn’t healed from the first set of bruises?
   “I need to soak in a hot tub...for at LEAST an hour...and a week long holiday!”  Jayne reached the bottom step and slowly inched her way forward.  Nothing was on the floor so that meant that whatever she had bumped into was probably a living person, and not a dead body, or an inanimate item.
   Her outstretched hand determined the closet door was indeed open.  While that meant someone? had been in the stairwell with her, it made things easier for her as the only way to open the door from the stairwell was to find a tiny hook on the back of the door and twist it while simultaneously pushing with one’s shoulder.  The way she felt, Jayne doubted she would have been able to push the door hard enough. 
   The thought suddenly crossed her mind that if someone had been in the stairwell, with the doors open, Jayne should have seen even the faintest glimmer of light from the street lights, just as whomever coming up would have seen a hint of the light from the kitchen stove behind her descending figure. 
  Jayne froze. 
   She hadn’t seen any light, and still couldn’t see any, so that meant the main door to the closet was closed.  She may have been bouncing on the stairs, and talking to herself, but she should have heard the door closing because its hinges squealed louder than the trapdoor's, and since the trapdoor had stuck she knew Jim Jr. and the others hadn’t been oiling any hinges during their earlier adventures.
   She held her breath?  Was there someone else in the closet.  It wasn’t that big, yet standing just in the stairwell doorway she couldn’t stretch out her hand and touch the main closet door.  Jayne struggled to remember what could be in her path. 
   The narrow closet was designed with shelves on both sidewalls.  Nothing was stored right in front of the back wall/door in case of the need for an emergency exit from the apartment.  The hose for the built-in vacuum system - considered a frivolous expense by the Mayor even though he had never vacuumed the library (or anywhere else for that matter) in his life and the unit was installed for free - hung on the back of the closet door, another sound she should have heard when the door closed as it rattled a bit when the door moved.  Jayne struggled to remember if there were any boxes on the floor.  Would they still be there, or had the guys moved them?
   She took a breath as quietly as she could.  She couldn’t hear anyone else  breathing, but that didn't mean anything.  If Jasper Winterbloom was in the closet with her it wouldn’t surprise her in the slightest if he was wearing some sort of oxygen mask, though, you’d think she’d hear that too.
   If someone was in the closet with her, where were Jim Jr. and Dan?  Were they okay, or knocked out?  Would screaming bring them running, or would it just hasten whatever was going to happen to her?
   Jayne felt like a sitting duck.  Whomever was waiting knew she was there - first bumping into her, then hearing her talking to herself, but mostly because they could probably see her as their eyes would be adjusted to the darkness better than Jayne’s. 
   She didn’t know what to do.  She couldn’t stand there forever, but there was no way she could get back upstairs fast enough without getting caught, if the person wanted to stop her.
   Yet, there was no way she could get past someone, if there was someone there, and out the door without running right into them. 
   She eased another breath into her lungs.  What was the person waiting for?  If they were going to do something to her why hadn’t they already?  And if they weren’t going to do anything, why were they still there.?
   Dare she grab something off the shelves for a weapon?  Was there anything that would work?  A roll of toilet paper wouldn't do any damage, or stop someone, nor would a Kleenex box.  She might be able to stop someone with a squirt of window cleaner, but since she’d only have one chance, she needed to know exactly where the person was standing., and hope their eyes weren’t covered.  Jayne knew the broom was by the door, and too far away to be any good to her.
   She also imagined the razzing she was going to get from the guys, Tommy and Jim too, if they found out she scared herself spitless in the closet when there was nothing there.  She would welcome the razzing if it meant that she wasn’t in any danger.
   But Jayne knew there was something there.  Her survival instincts may be rusty from disuse, and failed to warn her before the collision, but they were sure screaming red–alert now.  No, there was definitely someone there.  
   Jayne wondered how much time had passed.  It felt like she had been standing in one spot for hours.  She slowly drew another breath into her lungs, as she crept forward one small step.
   “Getting soft, Jaynelle Michelle?  You were never that easy to scare…”
   Jayne found herself in a headlock with a knife pricking the tender skin of her throat.
(January 6, 2017)

   “Well, well, well...it’s little Jaynelle Michelle...Who’d have thought I’d have you in my arms again...did you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Did you?...Did you miss me, Jaynelle Michelle?...Did you?  Do you ever think of me?...Do you ever miss me?...Do you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Do you?”
    “Jaynelle Michelle, you always thought you were so tough...but you’re not tough at all, are you?  Not at all. ..Are you?...I can feel your heart racing...Did you think I couldn’t?...It sure is racing...are you scared, Jaynelle Michelle?...Are you?...are you scared?” 
   “Remember how I used to hold you like this, Jaynelle Michelle?...Remember how we played our little game together…just the two of us...do you remember, Jaynelle Michelle?...Do you?...We played together when no one else was around...you tried to convince me you weren’t scared and I showed you how scared you really were...Remember, Jaynelle Michelle?”
   “You always acted like you were so high and mighty...like you were better than us...but you weren’t, were you, Jaynelle Michelle?...You’re just as dirty and trashy as us...and you think you can still look down your nose at us...you think you have these people thinking you’re normal, but you’re not...are you, Jaynelle Michelle?...You ain’t normal at all, are you?...Not normal at all...maybe this time I’ll teach you a lesson I should have long time ago...maybe this time I’ll show you what you really are...What do you think of that, Jaynelle Michelle?...Huh?...Is that what I should do?...Is it?”
   “What’s the matter, Jaynelle Michelle?...Are you too scared to talk?  Come on, I dare you?...Talk!...See if you can without me slicing your pretty little neck...I should have slit it long ago...maybe then I wouldn’t have to live like a criminal...it’s all your fault, Jaynelle Michelle...what do you say to that?...It’s all your fault...everything, it's all you fault.”
   “But if I slit your lying throat then I wouldn’t be able to touch your curves...man, girl you grew up good...you sure did, Jaynelle Michelle...you thought you were too good for me to touch...but you’re not, are you, Jaynelle Michelle?...You’re not too good at all...in fact, you’re all bad, aren’t you?...Not so high and mighty now, are you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Have you missed me as much as I’ve missed you?...Have you missed me at all?...Missed our special play time?...Have you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Remember how much fun we used to have together?...No one else knew about our play time...it was just the two of us...just the two of us...you liked it, didn’t you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Yes, you really liked what I did to you, didn’t you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Bet you’ve missed it, haven’t you?...You have, haven't you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Missed having fun with me...just the two of us having fun together...you’ve missed it, haven’t you, Jaynelle Michelle?...You don’t fool me...you’ve missed me...I can feel you trembling...you want this, Jaynelle Michelle...yes, you want this...just like you used to want our special play time...you don’t fool me...I know you, Jaynelle Michelle...I know the truth about you...all your dirty secrets...Yes, I know you been giving that stupid idiot out there what’s mine...Mine!...You’ve been cheating on me...having play time with that idiot...I should just slit your throat now...What would he think about that?...Huh, Jaynelle Michelle, what would your precious idiot think?...Seeing you lying all pretty and dead on the floor?”
  “I should just slit your throat right now...what do you think, Jaynelle Michelle?...Should I?...Should I just slit it right now?...Leave the mess for the idiot to clean up?...Bet the cops would blame him...yes, no one would think of me, they’d blame that stupid idiot...that would be even better...they’d so stupid...think they can outsmart me...ME!...Ha!...Did you think you could outsmart me, Jaynelle Michelle?...Did you?...Did you forget how smart I am?...Much smarter than you, Jaynelle Michelle...much smarter...who has the knife?...You are dumb, aren’t you, Jaynelle Michelle?...you’re not smart at all...just a dumb broad...you thought you could sic the cops on me, didn’t you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Didn’t you...not very smart, dear, not very smart at all...I’m going to have to punish you for that...you know that, don’t you, Jaynelle Michelle?...Yes, I’m going to have to punish you...you bad, bad girl...such a bad, bad girl.”
   Jayne let the never-ending litany of words roll over her as she tried not to move as the edge of the knife was still touching her skin.  She could feel the warmth of a drop or two of blood rolling down her neck.  It wasn’t the first time, nor the first small scar she had on her neck, though she’d have sworn that it would never have happened again.  Breathing as shallowly as she could, she willed her pulse to slow down, and tried not to gag on the now-overwhelming stench of unwashed body and liquor.  How she missed the telltale odours before as they permeated every inch of the small space.
   Jayne had no idea how long she’d been in the closet, nor how much longer she was going to be here.  At least there certainly was truth in the old saying: better the devil you know, than the one you don’t.  This was one devil she was more than closely acquainted with.  All she had to do was to let him keep talking, and as long as she stayed still, and didn't make any sounds, she knew he’d keep talking till he tired of baiting her.  It was her only defence against his madness. 
   As he’d said, it wasn’t the first time they’d played out this little scene.  Thankfully, he never took it further, or at least he never had before.  He’d talk and talk, nick her neck with the knife, but otherwise he never touched her, or hurt her, but that was when she was younger.  As much as she knew him and his quirks, she had no idea what he’d do now that she was an adult, and what he’d been drinking or snorting before he broke in.  A knife was his usual weapon of choice, but he could have another one, or even a gun by now.  In the past, he’d play this out in front of a mirror in daylight, so she was able to see the wildness in his eyes and gauge how long the torture would last, but the darkness gave her no clues, and she couldn’t see if he was armed with any more weapons. 
   There was no escape from this nightmare, which really made all the previous events of the week pale in comparison.  The only means of possible escape, the closet door, was blocked by his body.  He was right, though, she had gotten soft and scared.  She’d lost her edge, and her risk anything to survive instincts.  Jayne had honestly thought that this horror was out of her life forever, but obviously she had been fooling herself.  As long as he was alive, she wasn't safe, would never be safe.
   Jayne was also worried about Dan and Jim Jr.  She hoped and prayed that they were alive and safe.  She didn’t really expect that there was any way they could save her, but her safety wasn’t as important as theirs.
   Jayne blinked.  Did she see what she thought she just saw? Granted it was pitch dark in the closet, but she thought that she saw a shift of light on the floor at the back of the closet.  Was someone outside the door?  Without thinking she took a deep breath, and the knife bit into her neck.
   “What we had was so special, Jaynelle Michelle?...Do you remember how special it was?...Do you?...Do you, Jaynelle Michelle?...And you threw it away...you threw me away, Jaynelle Michelle...why did you do that?...Why did you throw me away?...Why, Jaynelle Michelle?...I love you...why did you do it?...Why did you betray me?...Why did you, Jaynelle Michelle?...You hurt me...did you know that?...You really hurt me...you broke my heart, Jaynelle Michelle?...Broke it right in two…AAAAHHHH!”
   At that moment Jayne felt them falling backwards.  She quickly rolled to the side and felt the knife cut into her flesh as she did so.
   “He has a knife!”
   “Not any more he doesn’t.  Okay, Jr. turn on the light.”
   Jayne blinked at the sudden brightness and scrunched herself against the wall as Dan and Jim Jr. walked towards the closet.  When her eyes adjusted she noticed the sergeant put handcuffs on her tormentor.  
   “Jayne, do you know who this clown is?”
(January 20, 2017)



   Jayne took a deep breath, “Yes.”
   Jim Jr. brushed past Jayne and quickly entered the closet. She heard the thud of his boots on the cement steps as he bounded up the stairs.  She hoped Monique had slept through all this, and that Jim Jr. didn’t wake her up.
   “We need to come up with an alternate exit.” Dan crouched down beside her, “You’re bleeding.”
   “I’m fine.  Really, I am.  It’s nothing.” Jayne touched her neck and then noticed that her sleeve had a cut in it.  “I’m fine.”
   “You don’t look fine.  In fact, you look…”
   Jayne gave Dan a push, but it didn’t knock him over or even move him in the slightest.  She sighed, a long night looked like it was about to get even longer.  A glance at her watch showed her that while it may have seemed like hours in the closet, the whole ordeal had lasted barely 10 minutes.
   “How did you know we were in the closet,” Jayne figured she might as well find out what she could before everyone started questioning her.
   “Jr. was getting antsy being downstairs and was about to go up when he heard someone talking.  The Sergeant had been keeping us company so took over.  I ought to wring your neck!”
   “Now Dan, take it easy.  Why don’t you go open the door for me so I can load this clown into the cruiser.”
   Jayne moved her legs as the Sergeant picked up his struggling prisoner and started for the front of the building.
   “Jayne, you might as well start on your statement so we can get this situation wrapped up tonight.”
  “Sure thing, Sergeant.” Jayne started to stand, but discovered her legs were a little weak.  She tried to hide her reaction by shifting her weight and hoped that everyone would leave her alone soon.
   “Jaynelle….”
   “Dan...the door.”
   Jayne watched Dan reluctantly walk away.  As soon as they were at the door, and couldn’t really see her any more because she was partially blocked by the circulation desk, she got onto all fours and pulled herself upright.  She steadied herself against the wall before slowly walking to Monique’s desk.
  Sitting down she grabbed a blank piece of paper from the nearby photocopier and started writing.  She didn’t think her legs were strong enough yet for her to walk upstairs to get her laptop, and she knew she couldn’t use the library computers without Monique’s master password.
   “Jaynelle…”
   “Let me finish writing this out, Dan, and then we can discuss things.”  She knew he wasn’t going to leave her alone, or drop the subject so she wrote as fast as she could, though reaction was starting to set in and she could barely write as she was shaking too much.
   In no time at all, the Sergeant returned and started investigating the closet and checking for fingerprints and other evidence.  When he finished, Jayne signed the paper and handed it over to him.
   “Your father!?”
   Jayne could tell Dan wanted to speak, but he bit his tongue.  “Yeah, guess it was the night for a big family reunion.”  She couldn’t keep the sarcastic tone from escaping.
   “Pressing charges?”
   “Yes.”
   “Going to call your mom.”
   “No.”
   “Think this is connected to the Winterbloom business?”
   “Yes, but I’m not sure how.  It’s too coincidental that my father showed up not long after I spoke to my mother.  She must have lied to us and contacted him right away.  Though, he couldn’t have been far to get here and hide so soon after you guys searched the place.”
   “I had that thought too.  The building was definitely empty after Jim Jr. changed the locks and we locked up to leave.  I checked the doors and couldn’t see any sign of forced entry”
   “He apprenticed as a locksmith at one time, and is a master at picking locks.”
   “Good to know...I better get out to the car before he picks the lock on the handcuffs.  Thanks for the statement.  Keep an eye on her, Dan.  We’ll be in touch.”
   Jayne stayed seated, but did shake the Sergeant's hand before he left.
   As she leaned back she was surprised when Dan handed her a steaming mug.  “I was boiling water when Jr. decided to go check on Monique.  It’s Earl Grey. I couldn’t find her secret stash of herbal teas.”
   Jayne wrapped both hands around the mug and let the heat seep into her as she inhaled the aroma.  With a slight smile she pointed towards the old free-standing globe sitting on the end of the circulation counter.  “It’s under the base of the globe.”
   Dan leaned a hip against the desk before he jokingly smacked his forehead.  “Now why didn’t I think to look there?  The most exotic location in the room.  Guess I forgot to think like Monique.”
   “Can anyone except Monique think like Monique?” Jayne let each warm sip of tea sooth her from the inside out.
   “Probably not...she is an original.”
   Jayne smiled, “That she is...Thanks for being here tonight.”
   “I’m sorry I…”
   “DON’T!”  Jayne interrupted, “You couldn’t have done anything to prevent this.  For heaven’s sake, the locks had been changed and the place thoroughly searched and that didn’t prevent it.”
   “If I’d….”
   “No, even if you’d been upstairs, I probably still would have come down, and if we both had, it would have turned out worse.  Let’s just forget it.”
   “Can you?  Forget it?”
   “I have to...or I’ll go crazy.” Jayne hugged the hot mug to her chest.  “You do what you have to survive.”
   “You’re not on the streets any more, Jaynelle.”
   “No, I’m not, but this week has brought it all back, and it’s not over as we still don’t know where Jasper Winterbloom is, or why all this is happening.  But right now, I just want to forget it all.”
   “So, why were you coming down the stairwell?  Did you miss me?”
   “In your dreams, MacDonald!  I was going to get the folder of short stories as I haven’t judged this past week’s yet.”
   “At three o’clock in the morning?”
   Jayne shrugged, “I couldn’t sleep.”  She took another fortifying sip of tea.  Maybe the Brits were onto something after all.  A strong cup of tea did seem to cure anything.  She’d stop shivering and shaking, though she still felt weak.
   “Because you missed me?”
  Jayne giggled.  She knew Dan was just teasing to get her mind off the night’s events, but he was right.  Not that she’d admit to him that she had been missing him, and even though she planned to sneak the folder out, she also knew she’d have been able to sneak a peek at Dan while she did so. 
   “You risked your neck for the short stories?”
   “I didn’t think there was any risk, except maybe a stubbed toe if I stepped wrong.  I wasn’t sure if Jim Jr. put the storage boxes back in the right spot and didn’t want to trip over them.”
(February 3, 2017)



   Jayne leaned forward, placed her empty mug on the desk, and then opened the centre drawer.  As she had known it would be, the folder containing the short stories was right on top.  She pulled the folder out and was surprised to see a pink note underneath it.  As far she knew, Monique kept all the notes together upstairs in her apartment, partly to conceal their existence from the residents of the community thereby heading off potential speculation and teasing, and partly to keep them from getting lost, and it couldn’t be a new note as Jayne had found that one upstairs after Monique’s collapse following Todd’s accident. While she had a momentary thought that what she was doing was technically snooping, she flicked the thought away as Monique had shown her every single one of the pink notes she’d received thus far so the chances that she’d already seen this particular one were very high.  She opened the note, and barely noticed as Dan refilled her mug.
   “Dan...has Jim Jr. told Monique yet that he’s been writing these...OH MY!...”
   “What?”
   Jayne felt her eyes almost pop out of her head.  She hadn’t seen this note before and she almost couldn’t believe that Monique had kept it from her, and kept it where she could see it every time she opened her desk drawer.
   “Earth to Jaynelle...come in Jaynelle.”
   Jayne blinked, “Sorry...have you read the notes that Jim Jr. has been sending Monique?”
   “Nah, but he’s told me the gist of what he’s been writing in a few of them, if I razzed him long enough.  Why?”
   Jayne checked the date on the note, “This is one of the first ones he sent and let me tell you it is STEAMY!  I didn’t know Jr. had it in him.”
   “Steamy?  J.J.?  Let me see…”
   Rather than pass the note over, Jayne started to read it aloud,
“Monique...My dearest heart, I ache to bask in the eternal sunshine of your radiant smile, I pine with longing for the soothing stroke of your delicate hand, and yearn to lose myself in the bottomless depths  of the sparkling jewels of your eyes...please, say you will be mine…your most ardent and loving admirer.”
   “Yearn? He actually used the word ‘yearn?’  Was he quoting someone?”
   “Yep, he did...I don’t think even Shakespeare or Robbie Burns, no maybe it was Lord Byron?  Oh, I can never remember which one was supposed to be the greatest poet of the age.”
   “Hmmmm, and that is one of the first?  Which means he sent it while she was still convalescing?”
   “Yep, it could even be the first, because I don’t think he sent any until after she woke up, and he was only with her while she was unconscious, as it were.  He hasn’t told her it’s him yet, has he?”
  “Not that I know of, and she was still prickly with him tonight...or rather last night.  She’s been pointedly ignoring him since she recovered.”
   Jayne propped the note on the desk and cradled the fresh mug of tea.  After taking a sip, she decided to tell Dan what she knew.
   “The last note he sent was the day of Todd’s accident.  I found it on the coffee table and in it he asked her out to the 4H supper.”
   “Really?  Did he sign his name?”
   “No, so I don’t know if he planned a follow-up note so she’d know who to expect.  Life kinda happened since then, and I’m not even sure if she saw the note, or if he dropped it by accident.”
   “Hmmm...I know he has at least one in his pocket right now.”
   “Really?  Did he tell you what it said?”
   “No.”
   Jayne collapsed back into the chair.  She took another sip of tea as she considered the situation.
   “There must be some way we could get those two together?”
   “Don’t see how as she can’t stand to be in J.J.’s company?”
   “She’s scared...I’m just not sure if she’s scared because of a previous bad relationship, or if she’s scared because Jim Jr. is not like any guy she’s ever dated.”
   “Well, proximity isn’t the problem...especially the past couple of days.”
   “True...though, maybe if they were locked up together they might start talking and get whatever stumbling block out of the way.”
   “I don’t think talking is what they need to be doing, Jaynelle.”
   Jayne noticed Dan’s voice had a low husky note in it.  She knew that if she was locked in a room with Dan, she wouldn’t be worrying about talking.  She quickly buried her nose into the mug so that Dan wouldn’t notice that she was blushing from her wayward thoughts.  Better to let him think the colour on her face was from the steam.
   “Well, I better get going on these stories. I still have a lot to do before I can wrap up this issue on Tuesday,” Jayne hoped Dan would take the hint and leave her alone.  With Jim Jr. upstairs with Monique there was no way she could go back up there to read the stories, and with all the week’s events, she didn’t really want to go to her place while it was still dark, just in case there was another surprise waiting for, which left the library itself, and while it was a large room, just didn’t seem that large with Dan so close.
   “We can go through them together…”
   “I thought you already did your judging?”
   “Doesn’t hurt to look at them again with fresh eyes.”
   Jayne leaned back as far as she could as Dan seemed to loom closer.  The next thing she knew, she was covered in hot tea and Dan was gripping the arms of the chair as he tried not to laugh.
   “Oh!?”
   “Careful, Jaynelle.  Monique might object to you breaking her chair.”
   “Oh!?”  Jayne pulled the wet fabric of her shirt away from her skin.  Thankfully the tea hadn’t been hot enough to burn her, but she sure felt wet, and embarrassed.  Why was Dan always around when she was at her worst.  Scratch that, maybe Dan was the reason why she was so klutzy?
   “We need to get you out of the top.”
   “No, no, no...I’m fine...I’ll just go wipe up in the bathroom.” Jayne jumped up, but Dan didn’t move out of the way, and they ended up bumping heads, so she found herself once more in the chair.
   “Ouch, you pack quite the punch there, Jaynelle,” Dan rubbed his chin. 
   Jayne couldn’t be sure, but it looked like he might have a bruise forming.  She was sure she had one, or at least a huge goose egg, on her forehead.  Sigh, what was one more bump or bruise after everything she’d been through?
   “I….”
   “No, don’t move…” Dan leaned back against the desk as he pulled his t-shirt off over his head.
   Jayne was sure her heart stopped beating.  She knew her lungs had stopped working because she was gasping for air.
   Dan handed her the t-shirt and gently lifted her up from the chair.  “Go put this on and I’ll clean up around here,” he said as he gave her a nudge towards the bathroom.
   Jayne’s legs felt like rubber.  She wasn’t sure she could walk, not after seeing all that glorious skin.  The last time she’d seen Dan’s naked chest, they’d been in their early twenties, and she’d been sent to get the guys from the lake where they’d been cooling off after a long day moving bales.  She walked out of the trees and was about to call to the guys when Dan had risen out of the water like a Greek god.   She was so tongue-tied she couldn’t even call out so she turned around to leave, grabbing his favourite blue t-shirt off the tree beside her as she hurried away.
(February 17, 2017)



   “Whoa...watch out!”
   Jayne was startled our of her trip down memory lane when she abruptly found herself wrapped in Dan’s embrace, her back pressed against his warm naked chest, and her nose mere inches from hitting a bookshelf.  She hadn’t even realized she was so close to crashing.
   “Do you need help getting to the bathroom?  Can you walk?  You must still be in shock.”
   Dan’s words flowed over and around her as she struggled to stay on her feet and not snuggle deeper into Dan’s embrace.
   “Jaynelle…”
   “I’m fine...just tripped over my feet...thanks for catching me,” she very reluctantly pushed Dan’s arms away and moved over a couple of steps.  Still clutching his t-shirt, she willed her legs to support her as she made her way to the bathroom at the back of the library.  The walk seemed endless, even though she knew it wasn’t.
   “Right...holler if you need any help.”
   “Thanks,” Jayne glanced back briefly before quickly walking into the bathroom and closing the door.  She leaned against the vanity and took a few deep breaths.  It wasn't fair that she had to deal with Dan after such a stressful evening. 
   “AAAAAHHHHH!”
   “Jaynelle!  What?  Are you okay?  Open the door NOW!!”
   “I’m fine!  Nothing to worry about,” Glad she’d locked the door, Jayne closed her eyes and opened them, but her reflection didn’t change.  Between the bruises on top of bruises, the dried blood on her neck, dark  circles under her eyes from lack of sleep, the wet top clinging to her, and her hair looking like Albert Einstein’s, she couldn’t believe that Dan would want to help her, let alone spend time with her.  She looked horrible, no that was too tame a word, she looked worse than she ever had as a street urchin.  She’d even looked better after rummaging around in a dumpster or two scrounging for food, or items that her family could barter or resell.  Though, truthfully she rarely looked in a mirror after dumpster diving, unless she found a mirror in the dumpster so she had little idea of what she looked like back then, except for the odd glimpse of her reflection in a store window. 
   “Jaynelle…”
   “Be out in a moment…”
   Jayne pulled her wet top off and washed the tea, and blood, off as best she could with a damp paper towel.  She put on Dan’s t-shirt, which was so large it was practically a dress on her.  She tried to tame her hair, but it was a lost cause so she gave up.  She left her top to soak in the sink and opened the door.
   “Wow!  My shirt never looked that good on me.”
   Jayne wasn’t surprised to see Dan leaning against the wall.  She debated going back up to Monique’s apartment, and then decided that she would still be better off going through the short stories, so headed back to Monique’s desk.
   “You’re just saying that,” she joked as she sat down, “I know I’m a mess.”
   Dan opened his mouth, but before he could comment Jayne opened the file.  “I should really get to these stories as it’s going to be a long day and I am behind on my work.  Feel free to leave, I’ll be fine.”
   “Jaynelle…”
   “Really, I’ll be fine, Dan...and you need to find some clean clothes.”
   “Okay, but I’ll be right back.  Then we shouldn’t have to wait long for Mrs. Shultz to start breakfast.”
   Jayne didn’t realize she had been holding her breath till she inhaled as soon as the front door closed behind Dan.  She hugged herself and inhaled Dan’s scent which clung to the t-shirt.
   “Okay...enough, get back to work,” she told herself as she pulled out the first story.
   ~~~~~~~~~~
   It was a dark and stormy night. The darkness hid everything from the jaded detective's view. The storm made the ground muddy and the rain drowned out all other sounds. Clifford was soaked to the bone and his car was stuck deep in the mud. No way was he following any leads or catching any bad guys till the weather cleared. Just his luck he was stuck on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It was too wet to smoke and Clifford had no food with him not even a toothpick. Heaven only knew how long he'd be in this miserable hellhole before some farmer came along. Trailing and catching the dregs of society to bring them to justice was a thankless job but one Clifford usually enjoyed. Not tonight. Tonight he would rather have been warm and dry in his favourite tavern in his favourite booth sipping his favourite drink. But tonight he was stuck in the mud. And why? Because he was following a hot tip from the cute waitress at the Crossroads Pub. A tip so juicy he broke his longstanding rule about leaving tips for serving staff. Now he wished he hadn't left the tip as this tip wasn't panning out to be anything more than a dead end. For all he knew he was stuck in a literal dead end. Who could tell in this storm. Clifford didn't want to admit he might be getting too old for this line of work...
   Jayne chuckled as she read through the first story.  While the stories were anonymous when handed to the various “judges,” with no names revealed till they were given to the paper for publication, Jayne knew the people of Humble well enough that she could usually pick out who wrote what.  For instance, this first story was written by Mr. Hickson, a former teacher, under a pseudonym, and with very little grammar or punctuation, and while the hero, Clifford, was certainly no Detective Columbo, or Dick Tracy for that matter, the stories, which were loosely patterned after a British who-done-it, were often entertaining, for the content as much for how Mr. Hickson tried so hard to not write correctly.  Jayne reached for the next story.

   Once upon a time...no I mean, in the beginning...no, I mean, Once upon a time...kids, stop that and be quiet, Mommy's writing her story for the library. Oops, didn't mean to write that. Now where was I? Oh, yes, Once upon a time...Honey, can you please take the kids outside...I can't write when they are playing so loudly...Honey? Please? Okay...Once upon a time...oh dear, I forgot to phone Mommy back and tell her I couldn't host the quilting bee. I better do that before I forget again but the kids are quiet so I should write my story. Once upon a time...oh drat, I better phone Mommy. Hi Mommy...yes, Mommy...yes, Mommy...I wouldn't dream of disappointing you, Mommy...yes, Mommy...yes, Mommy...just playing with the kids...Now, Mommy, he's a doting father and loves his children...Mommy!...yes, Mommy...yes, Mommy...I gotta go, Mommy, it's my turn for the game...yes, I love you Mommy. Now, where was I? Once upon a time...I did turn the oven on before I put the cake in? I honestly can't remember. Better go check...no this is my writing time so I'll write my story...Once upon a time...goodness, I can't concentrate not knowing if the oven is on or not...be right back...whew, I'm not losing my mind, I did turn the oven on, but I did forget to put the cake in the oven. It would be finished baking right about now if I had. No use crying over spilt milk...oh my goodness, I forgot to clean up the baby's milk...

   No doubt that this one belonged to Gertie’s daughter, Hannah.   Jayne wondered if Hannah looked at what she was typing, or printing off.
(March 3, 2017)



   At least this time, Hannah hadn’t been talking to her husband about their recent marital troubles, as she had the previous two submissions, marital troubles that her husband blamed on Gertie’s interference in their lives, marriage and bedroom!  Jayne often wondered what the other judges thought as they read Hannah’s writings. Just once - only once - Jayne wanted to print one of Hannah’s stream-of-conscious journal-like ramblings and give the residents of Humble a unique look into the intimate lives of their residents, though if she did, once would probably be the only chance she’d get as Gertie’s influence was just a smidgen stronger than Jayne’s in the community, since she was born and raised in Humble, unlike Jayne, and would probably result in Jayne getting run out of town for good.  So far, Gertie was held in check as Jayne hadn’t done anything directly to antagonize her in print so Gertie couldn’t legitimately sway the town’s residents against Jayne, yet, and Jayne didn’t want to risk rocking the boat now.  Besides, while it would serve Gertie right, in a way, Jayne didn’t want to hurt Hannah, after all, it wasn’t her fault or choice that she was Gertie’s daughter.  Jayne reached for the next story in the folder.

   The young girl looked out over the one-room classroom. Her first day of teaching would commence in a matter of minutes, and she felt quite ill-quipped to handle the responsibility. Through the open schoolhouse door, she could see some of her pupils rough-housing out in scrubbed-grass-dotted dirt school yard. Most of the boys were twice as big as she was! They could probably break her in two if they wanted! How would she be able to discipline them? What if one of them sassed her? Merciful heavens, what if they all did? She knew it would not take much for a teacher to completely lose control of a classroom, and once lost, control would be almost impossible to regain. She also knew that the school board did not really want to hire her. The vote was so close, she was only chosen on the basis of a single vote, she knew that they really wanted a man. Actually, they had hired a man, but he had run out of town with the butcher's daughter two days before the term started, and she was the last-minute replacement. She did not even apply for the job. She was only to be in town overnight to visit her aunt and uncle on her way back home after her graduation from the eastern Normal School. Pain in her fingers brought her awareness to her hands, clenched tight together. She loosened her grip, rubbed them to restore the circulation, and took a final deep breath...

  Jayne loved to read Mrs. T’s entries.  They were glimpses into another era, another slice of life. She wasn’t sure if Mrs. T was writing a memoir, but Jayne figured each of these little vignettes should be compiled into a book for others to read and enjoy.  There was a wealth of history, knowledge, and plain old common sense that would be lost once Mrs. T passed on, lost and irreplaceable.  Jayne grabbed a scrap piece of paper and jotted a note to remind herself to discuss with Monique the possibility of recording the seniors’ stories and reminiscences, and the various formats the results could take.  Doubtlessly, there was a fundraising idea, or two, in there as well, besides potential partnerships with the Museum and school.
   Jayne stretched.  Her muscles were stiffening up, and her bruises were causing her to wince occasionally.  She considered having some more tea, yet the thought of getting up out of the chair to boil more water seemed to require too much effort as her legs still felt a bit shaky.  She reached under the desk’s centre drawer.  There were advantages to being the best friend of the local librarian and knowing where all the treats and comfort foods were stashed away.  Jayne pulled out a box of chocolate and opened it, finding two chocolates left.  She popped one into her mouth as she reached for the next story.

   Finally, after years of waiting and waiting and waiting, my ultimate dream was coming true. The same dream that boys the world over have dreamed for years. Okay, maybe only boys like me who grew up listening to their daddy tell them stories about two brothers, Bo and Luke Duke, and their magical car called the “General Lee.” Okay, maybe the car wasn't magical, but it was a 1969 Dodge Charger, and they did manage to make it fly. I guess I was too young to really get why my daddy liked the show “The Dukes of Hazzard” so much, but I had no trouble at all wishing and wishing and wishing that I could have my very own “General Lee.” And I don't mean a toy dinky car version or a model car, and I certainly don't mean a picture or a poster of the car. I mean the real full-sized deal. My very own car to drive around in and fly over ditches and impress all the girls with. My very own car to tinker on and shine up. Finally, today was the day. Today my daddy was taking me to the junk yard to find my very own car. Now, I know we wouldn't find some long forgotten and unappreciated old '69 Dodge Charger hiding under some rust or waiting under a tarp, but in my heart I couldn't help sending out a plea to whomever was out there listening for us to discover the perfect car...

   Jayne froze before she burst into tears.  There was only one possible author of this tale - Todd - a young man who loved cars so much he would have slept in one if he thought he could have gotten away with it, a young man who would never get his own “General Lee” or any other car ever.  What had happened?  Todd was a good kid who just dreamed about cars all day.  What went so wrong?  Why was he in Monique’s car when he’d never shown any interest in it before?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   When Jayne was finally able to lift her head again and control the tears, she was surprised to see the sun was rising.  Wiping her eyes, she was glad that Dan wasn’t back yet.  She kept Mr. Hickson’s and Todd’s stories out to publish them, and put the rest back in the folder.  As Jayne picked up the folder to put it back in the desk, a piece of paper fell off the back, a piece of paper she hadn’t noticed stuck to the folder when she took it out of the desk, and a piece of paper that hadn’t been on the desk before she put the folder on it.  Jayne picked up the paper and noticed it was a story.  As she began to read it, she wondered why it wasn’t in the folder with the others.

   He held his breath and slowly reached for her hand. She was so skittish, and he didn't want to scare her away. She seemed so delicate and fragile, but, at the same time, he could sense a deep inner strength that he was sure even she wasn't aware she possessed. Her dark blue eyes, the wariness deepening the colour to almost black, briefly glanced into his before flitting to gaze a point just beyond his right shoulder. Thankfully she didn't remove her hand from his light grasp, but nor did she grasp his hand back. He careful guided her over to a chair before he reluctantly released her hand. It seemed very important to him that they maintain contact, but he couldn't explain to himself why it was so vital. He wished with all his heart that he could touch the pale skin of her cheek in reassurance. He'd never met anyone like her before. She was like a wild beautiful graceful deer that had been captured against her will and caged, far from her home and not knowing what would become of her, and where to find safety. He admired her as he could tell she was trying hard not to show her fear, but he had no way to tell her without scaring her more. He didn't know her story, her background, or even how she ended up here, and it didn't matter. All that mattered to him, in this moment, was easing her fears, whatever they were...
  Jayne, her emotions totally raw from reading Todd’s story, was stunned.  She had no idea who wrote this story.
(March 17, 2017)
 
   This story was so different from what was usually submitted.  Jayne mentally flipped through a list of everyone she knew who submitted stories to the library contest, or other submissions to the newspaper, and drew a complete blank.  She couldn’t remember ever reading anything in this particular writing style.  Jayne thought maybe Jim Jr. wrote the story to impress Monique, as he was beginning to show his more sensitive side, but this story was beyond anything Jim Jr. had ever written, and it didn’t really fit with the pink note campaign he’d started in the new year.  She had a fleeting thought that Monique could have written it, but the imagery didn’t really come across as that of a female writing from the male perspective, and besides, Monique was still too much of a city gal to use nature imagery.
   Jayne searched on the surface of the desk, in the desk drawer, and the various surfaces around the desk, to see if she could find anything that would indicate who wrote it, but came up empty.  Which probably meant that it was emailed in to the competition and not dropped off, though even those had to have a separate page with the author’s name and address.  Where would Monique keep the original copies?  Jayne let out a frustrated sigh.  What good was it to know where all the important items were hidden in the library - herbal teabags under the globe, boxes of chocolate behind the middle desk drawer, gummy bears behind the packages of paper under the printer, Twizzlers behind the 1901 Encyclopedia Britannica set that was displayed above the non-fiction until it could be donated to the museum, mints in an old trophy from a 1950’s reading competition, leftover Halloween and Christmas candy in the hidden pouch in the tummy of a stuffed bear in the children’s section, extra bottles of pop strategically placed behind potted plants, pastries in the mini freezer of the bar fridge to the right of Monique’s desk - if she couldn’t find what she REALLY needed, namely Monique’s computer and email passwords, as well as the confidential files.
   Jayne picked up the story and gingerly walked to one of the large armchairs sitting in front of the windows.  Sinking down into the inviting softness, she leaned back, tucking her legs under her, and read through the story again.


...his goal was not to tame her like a wild West cowboy of old would “tame” a wild horse, in a sense breaking its courageous spirit, boundless heart, and will to be gloriously free, but rather, he wanted to earn her complete trust. A wild animal's trust is a very fragile and precious gift, and once given can be counted on as forever, unless a man is a fool and betrays that trust. He could tell that someone, or many someones, had been fools, yet, despite knowing that, and the daunting, almost impossible, task ahead of him, he knew, without any doubt, that though she was wary and didn't trust easy, like the wild deer he had likened her to, only in his mind, he knew that she had a resilience and strength that would protect her as her spirit and heart were still intact and hadn't been damaged or broken, no matter what she'd had to endure before she entered his world. The first hurdle had been cleared. She had allowed him to hold her hand, even for such a brief moment, and while she refused to look directly into his eyes, she wasn't ignoring him. Without being too obvious, he made a point of placing himself between her and anyone who ventured too near, not to shut her off from the others, but to show her that he was able, and more than willing, to protect her if need be, to show her that she could trust him...

   Jayne’s head dropped back onto the chair as the story settled onto her lap.  Something about this story really touched her, but she had a hard time saying exactly what it was, or why it did.  Though she’d never in a million years describe herself as graceful or anything resembling a “wild deer,” something about the descriptions of the female character seemed deeply familiar, and if she was going to go out on a limb and be really fanciful and crazy, she’d say that it had been written by Dan about her following the recent early-morning events.  Jayne shook her head, it couldn’t be about her, and it certainly wasn’t written minutes ago, and yet...and yet…

   Maybe it was just the stress and strain of the past week making her imagine things that weren’t true.  Her life - while not dull by any stretch - had been very topsy-turvy of late.  Just like the view from the library window.  Jayne had looked out these windows before, and from Monique’s kitchen window, but this morning, looking over at the newspaper office from this vantage point, everything seemed radically different.  Usually she looked out her office door at the library, not from the library at her office door.  As the sun rose higher, her eyes traced the lettering on the window and the flowers in the planters on each side of the steps leading to the doorway.  She moved her gaze to the surrounding buildings, and even saw a crow walking, yes walking, leisurely down the middle of the street. 

   What was she missing here?  And she knew she was missing a very important detail.  If she hadn’t missed it, she’d have known that her father was in town picking locks and stealing keys, and what the real threat to her was.  Heck, she had a hard time believing that there even was a threat aimed a her!  Questions swirled and looped through her mind.  Why her?  What was the point?  Who was the Winterbloom baby that her mother mentioned.  Why did her father show up and pull that stupid stunt in the closet?  Why no contact with her parents for decades and then suddenly they were in her life again?  Why did they leave her in the first place?  Why did Jim and Dan not mention that they were in contact with her parents?  What other secrets were out there?  Was it all over now that her father was currently behind bars, or was it - whatever “it” was - just starting?  Was Todd’s accident coincidence, or was it part of this too?  How did he get in Monique’s car, and why did he crash it into the train instead of just racing down the highway?  How many buildings had been entered when the master keys were stolen?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

   Yawning, Jayne settled deeper into the chair’s embrace.  It was still too early for anyone to be out and about on the street this Sunday morning. She watched the strutting crow until it disappeared beyond her view.  The story slid from her lap, but Jayne was too tired and comfortable to pick it up.  Yawning again, she closed her eyes just for a moment.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   Jayne opened her eyes and then quickly shut them again when bright sunshine reflecting off the windows on the other side of the street hit her eyeballs.  She stretched and then settled back into the chair.
   “Are you awake, Sleepyhead?”
   Jayne’s eyes popped open at Dan’s question.  It took a moment for her to figure out where she was, and for her memory to wake up too.  She stretched again and asked, “What time is it?”
   “You missed church...all three services...and breakfast and lunch...hungry?”
   Normally, when Jayne woke up she was instantly awake and alert, but this time she felt slow and sluggish, not to mention her body was telling her that she had some new bruises to add to her various aches and pains.  She noticed a paper bag on the table between the chairs.
  Dan reached down and picked up the story, “What’s this?”
   Jayne tried to grab the paper before Dan pulled it out of her reach, and missed, “Nothing...may I have it back, please?”
   “Looks like something to me.  A story? I think I’ll read it first….”
(April 7, 2017)



   Jayne knew she was probably in enough trouble with Monique for snooping and reading the story in the first place, she didn’t need Dan’s interference to compound the situation.  She made another lunge for the piece of paper, and again she missed.  Dan held her back with one arm while he held the paper aloft.
   “What’s the big secret?  It just looks like one of the short stories.”
   “Yes, it is.  Now give it back to me, Dan!”
   “That wasn’t very polite.  How about a please?”
   “Dan…….”
   “Jaynelle...come on, you can do it...one little word…”
   “I’ll one-little-word you, if you don’t give that back to me.” 
   “Tsk, tsk...temper, temper…”
   “Dan...”
   Jayne jumped as high as she could, but still was unable to reach the paper.  She debated climbing on the low table, but it didn’t look too sturdy, and the last thing she needed was more bruises, or a broken bone. 
   By this time Dan was holding the paper high above his head with both hands so he could see the words.
   “He held his breath and slowly reached for her hand. She was so skittish, and he didn't want to scare her away…”
   “Daniel!” As she had numerous times in the past when the MacDonald boys used their height to, in her mind, a completely unfair advantage, Jayne planted her hands firmly on Dan’s shoulders for leverage and jumped.  She wrapped her legs around his narrow hips and crossed her ankles to anchor herself before stretching up as high as she could. 
   “Ha!” She pulled the paper out of Dan’s hands, careful to make sure she didn't rip it, and quickly dropped it onto the chair behind her, before turning her head around to look at Dan, whose face was level with hers, and whose arms were wrapping around her waist.
   It seemed almost before she could blink, Jayne was falling back into the chair, crumpling the story underneath her, and Dan was rushing out the door.  As she settled, and the world around her steadied, she touched a trembling finger to her tingling lips.  Had it really happened, or was she going crazy, or was she still asleep and dreaming?  Had Dan actually KISSED HER????  It had all happened so fast that maybe it hadn’t even happened at all?  And if it had happened, why did he drop her like a hot potato and take off so fast?
   Jayne didn’t know how long she sat there, somewhat dazed and confused, before she got up.  She grabbed the story and the paper bag off the table and headed to the back stairway.  Fortunately, the couch hadn’t been moved so she was able to enter the apartment without any difficulty. 
  Jim Jr. was stretched out on the couch, arms and legs hanging awkwardly over the edges, and Monique was sitting up in her bed reading.  Jayne tiptoed around Jim Jr. and flopped backwards onto the foot of Monique’s bed, sending the story and paper bag flying into Monique’s lap.
   “What’s this?” Monique opened the bag.
   “Don’t know...it’s my breakfast or lunch or whatever.” Jayne covered her eyes with one arm.
   “Hmmm, apple fritters...wonder who these are from??”  Monique pulled one out and moaned after biting into it, “They are fresh...yummmmm.”
   Jayne sat up and helped herself to one of the fritters.  Just as she filled her mouth with a bite of the doughy deliciousness, Monique asked, “So, what were you doing last night that you’re now wearing Dan’s t-shirt? And what happened to your shirt?”
   Jayne choked.  Monique leaned forward and thumped her a couple of times between her shoulder blades.
   “That good, huh?”
   “Monique, nothing happened...Okay, that’s not entirely true...a lot happened last night, or rather this morning...I mean really, really early morning, but not THAT kind of something...or maybe it did...I don’t know.”
   “Wow!  Jayne reduced to babbling incoherently.  Will wonders never cease?”
   Jayne gently pushed Monique backwards into the pillows.  “Be serious...my life is falling apart here.”
   “So start at the beginning…”
   “What beginning?!”  Jayne flopped backwards across the bed again.
   “Well, I know you were accosted in the closet downstairs after we got back here...my gosh, that must have been a nightmare!”
   “Yeah, well, it wasn’t a picnic, but it wasn’t that bad…” Jayne tried to brush off Monique’s concern.
   “Wasn’t that bad?  Jayne, have you looked in a mirror lately?  You have cuts and dried blood and bruises all over you!”
   “Argh, don’t remind me, and they aren’t all over…”
   Monique interrupted her, “Okay, what happened after that snoring cowboy in the next room left you alone with Dan?”
   “I wrote up my statement and the Sarg hauled my father off to jail.”
   “And you ended up wearing Dan’s shirt, how exactly?  Did he finally propose??”
   “No, he didn’t propose, nor do I expect a proposal.  I accidentally spilt some tea all over my shirt, and Dan gave me his to change into.”
   “How chivalrous of him.  Are you going to add this shirt to your collection?”
   “I don’t have a ‘collection,’ and no, I’ll return it to him...someday… maybe...or, maybe not…”
   “So, no proposal and just a little spilt tea...that’s it?”
   “I found this in your desk...and I read it...sorry.”
   Jayne picked up the story and handed it to Monique.
   “Quite the story, isn’t it?”
   “Who wrote it?”
   “I can’t tell you.”
   “Oh, come on, Monique…”
   “No, really, I can’t tell you.  This is how I found it in the book return...well, not so wrinkled.  What on earth did you do to it?”
   “Sat on it.  It wasn’t emailed?  There was no name?”
   “You sat on it?  No...and no.”
   “Long story...do you have any idea who wrote it?”
   “None.  I thought it might be the same person who sends the pink notes, but the writing style is totally different.  Long story, huh?  I knew something happened.  Spill!”
   Jayne sighed.  “I was reading the story again and I guess I fell asleep.  When I woke up Dan was back with the bag of fritters and he took the story from me...I jumped up on him and got it back and Ithinkhekissedme!”
   “Whoa!  Slow down...what did you just say?”
   “I...was...reading…”
   “Not that part, you silly goose!  DAN KISSED YOU?”
   “Shhhhhh!” Jayne leaned over to see if Jim Jr. was still asleep before continuing, “I think he did.”
   “Excuse me, but either he did or he didn’t, and if he did, I should think it would be very obvious, especially since you’ve been dreaming about kissing him for how long now?”
   “It happened rather fast, and it wasn’t obvious. Maybe I just dreamt it?”
   “You really don’t know if he kissed you or not?  I can’t believe this.  What did he say after this possible kiss?”
   “Nothing.  He practically threw me into the chair and left the building like it was on fire.”
(April 21, 2017)



   “That doesn’t sound like Sir Daniel...defender of helpless widows and orphans, rescuer of damsels in distress, jack-of-all trades, all-around paragon and poster boy of the community...you know, I really think you should go with the medieval theme Hilda suggested so we can see what he looks like in a suit of armour.”
   Jayne tossed a pillow at Monique’s head.  “Those suits are not near as romantic as people think.  They are extremely noisy for one thing, and heavy, and hard to move around in...think of the Tin Man in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”
   “Hey, the Tin Man was the most romantic of all with his big heart.  Though, you’re right.  Dan wouldn’t be able to hug or kiss you while wearing it, which would be a total bummer at your wedding.  Are you sure he tossed you in the chair?”
   “Yes, I am sure...he dropped me into the chair and hightailed it out of the library as fast as he could.”
   “Maybe he saw something outside that he needed to deal with?”
   “And how would he have seen it since his back was slightly facing the window?”
   “Maybe he forgot something?”
   “Yeah, forgot he doesn’t like me that way!”
   “Hmmmmm, it is strange…” Monique helped herself to another fritter,  “Well, if his kiss isn’t memorable, maybe you are better off not getting married after all...bummer to that too as I found the perfect bridesmaid dress online the other day.”
   “Monique!  I never said the kiss wasn’t memorable.”
   “Girl, you don’t know if it even happened!  That equals non-memorable in my book.”
   “It happened!  OK!  It happened!  I’m completely positive it happened!”
   “I don’t know...you seem to be protesting a lot now...Wait a minute!  Have you EVER been kissed?”
   “Monique!  Not that it’s any of your business, but yes, I have.”
   “Of course, it is my business...you’re on my bed lamenting that you don’t know if the Hunkster of Humble kissed you...now spill.”
   Jayne leaned over to check on Jim Jr.  The last thing she needed was for him to be eavesdropping and then blab all to the family, or worse, the community.  Assured by his soft snores, she turned back to Monique.
  “Mark kissed me the night of grad...the Wilson twins - both of them -  kissed me...as a joke, mind you - when they hijacked the school’s Halloween Haunted House one year...I’m almost positive they meant to accost someone else as they were so disappointed to discover it was me when the lights came on.”
   “Or scared that Dan would have their hides for a seat cover in his truck?”
   “Nothing, and I mean nothing, scares those two...they wouldn't be out-of-control hoodlums if we could scare them.”
   “Was Mark as good-looking back then as he is now?” Monique licked her fingers.
   “Not really,” Jayne laughed, “he was a foot shorter and a beanpole...definitely a late bloomer. He’s grown up and filled out substantially since then.”
  “Is he a good kisser?”
  “Monique Victoria Isabelle Whitfred! I’m...I’m...I’m...shocked.” Jayne pretended to faint.
   “Jaynelle Michelle Bellevielle!  And, no you aren’t...nothing I do shocks you, and you know it…so, is he?”
   “Trust me, I AM shocked...I can’t believe you haven’t locked lips with the fine constable yet.  How did he manage to escape you?”
   “It hasn’t been from lack of trying, and believe me, I’ve NEVER in my life tried so hard to snag one little kiss from a guy!  I just can’t get the guy alone, and you’d think he had no idea how easy it is to make out in the stacks at the library, even with the place crowded.”
   “Oh you poor, poor girl...he used to lock lips with Hannah in the school library fairly frequently so I know he’s quite intimately familiar with making out in the stacks...our whole class is for that matter.”
   “Really?  And just who did you kiss in the stacks?  Who did Dan kiss?”
   “I caught Dan and Hannah together my first day at the school...never saw him with anyone after that...and it was after that, that Mark hooked up with her.”
   “Didn’t you and Mark go to grad together?”
   “She dumped him a week before grad...I was his consolation partner.”
   “Don’t put yourself down.  You were probably the best looking gal there - if a bit rough around the edges - I really wish you’d let me give you a makeover so you could really shine and knock Dan’s socks off...who did Dan take?”
   “Sue.”
   “Sue?  As in his sister, Sue?”
   “Yep...and it was Mark I kissed in the stacks...the night of grad, as we waited to line up for the Grand Procession.”
   “So, what’s the deal with him then...is it me?”
   “I’ll just let you find out for yourself...eventually.”
   “Cruel, heartless woman...I thought maybe he was the one sending the pink notes, but I’ve seen his handwriting...it definitely isn’t him.”
   “Unless he has someone else write the notes for him?”
   “Maybe...but I can’t see him doing that, he’s such a private person...I think the only one he’d trust would be you, and certainly isn’t your handwriting.”
   “Nope, I’m definitely not writing the notes,” Jayne leaned over and picked up a pink note from the bedside table, “Would you have agreed to meet the guy, if all this other hadn’t happened?”
   Monique shrugged, “I don’t know.  I want to know who it is, but at the same time, I don’t...what if he’s a creep?  Or the Wilson twins?  Or worse?  And why the anonymity?  Why not just tell me who he is?
   “He’s not a creep.  I can tell you that for sure.  And, maybe he’s scared you refuse him without getting to know who he really is.”
   “You are SUCH a romantic.  So, you know who it is?  Please, please, please, tell me!”
   “I have a very strong hunch, but no definite proof...and I can’t spill someone else’s secret without knowing for sure.”
   “Heartless, heartless woman!  And you changed the subject...unless Mark and the Wilson twins ARE the only guys to kiss you.?
   “Well, most of the guys in town under the age of 10 and over the age of 50 have kissed me as I was the volunteer in the Valentine Kissing Booth one year.  I think we were raising money for the school playground upgrade that year.  The little guys were so cute as they begged their moms for another quarter so they could stand in line again.”
   “And what about the men between the ages of 10 and 50?”
   “They got to kiss Mrs. T during her shift.”
   Monique tossed the pillow back at Jayne.  “Oh, you!”
   “You asked.  We alternated shifts and only certain ages could participate depending on whose shift it was.” Jayne tossed the pillow back.
   “Any kisses from the MacDonald clan?”
   “Of course, lots of brotherly kisses.”
   “Hmmm, has there been anyone else?”
   “Good grief, what’s with the interrogation?”
   “Just want to know if you’d recognize an honest-to-goodness kiss if you felt one on your lips.”
   “Very funny!  Only other one was...Abner.”
(May 5, 2017)
 
   “THE MAYOR????? WHEN???? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN????”
   “SSHHHHH! Will you keep it down!” Jayne checked on Jim Jr. again, but couldn't be sure this time that Monique’s shout went unnoticed as he had stopped snoring, though he hadn’t changed position at all, which in and of itself, sent off a warning in her brain.
   “Yes, the Mayor, and no, it wasn’t a pleasant experience or memory.”
   “How did it happen? Why him?”
   “It wasn’t MY choice. I was in the totally wrong place at the totally wrong time. I still have nightmares about it some nights.” Jayne shuddered.
   “But HOW did it happen??? Wow, you got kissed by the slimiest of the slimiest in Humble.”
   “Gee, thanks for the reminder...now I REALY need a hot bath. It was bad enough dealing with him last night.” Jayne shuddered again, “Maybe I should just forget about the apology...after all he never apologized for the  trauma that kiss caused me.”
   “Wonder if kissing a frog is as slimy?”
   “Abner was slimier...much, much slimier than a frog.”
   “Really?  Are you sure?”
   “I’ve kissed my share of real frogs as a child...trust me on this.”
   “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, though where did you find frogs in downtown Calgary...wait forget I asked, and I want you to know I can’t eat frog legs any more without thinking about your stories about playing with the frogs in China Town...now quit stalling...WHAT HAPPENED?”
   “Keep it down, will you!” Jayne glanced a Jim Jr. Was that a smirk on his face? She glanced away, then back quickly, yet another trick she'd learnt when dealing with the MacDonald boys, and before he could hide his reaction she caught Jim Jr. with his eyes wide open and a definite smirk on his lips.  Jayne was sure he'd heard more than she wanted him to, and that he wouldn’t hesitate to use the information against her at some point, so she figured it was time to take the focus off of herself as she turned back to Monique.
   “Why don't you like Jr?  You try to avoid him like he’s a bad plague.”
   Monique hesitated, “I don't dislike him...I...I...he...he makes me feel uncomfortable.”
   “Uncomfortable? JR? The guy's a teddy bear...an overgrown kid...a big mushy marshmallow heart inside that gorgeous bod...he's as harmless as can be.”
   “It's like he knows something I don't, and is rubbing my face in it.”
   “JR?  I think maybe you are making a mountain out of…”
   “Time to go, Jayne, say goodbye and we’ll see you tomorrow.” Jim Jr. pulled Jayne off the bed, gave her a quick hug, and pushed her towards the door.
   “Bye-bye...see you two later,” Jayne waved and grabbed her laptop and phone off the coffee table, glad for the reprieve, and leaving before they remembered she hadn’t shared how she ended up kissed by the Mayor.  Though, she would love to be a fly on the wall to see how Jim Jr. melted Monique’s icy attitude towards him, as she had no doubt at all that he’d succeed.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
   Early Monday morning, after putting the kettle on, opening the front door to the sunshine and fresh air, Jayne was shuffling the various pieces of paper in the numerous piles on her desk, and by Steph’s computer, avoiding the recycle bin as a last resort.
   “Oh, come on already!  Where is that notice?  Why is it the only one to disappear every week?”
   Jayne reached over to prevent a precarious pile from falling, but wasn’t fast enough as the pieces of paper covered the office floor like leaves drifting off a tree.
   “DRAT!”  Jayne crawled under the table, muttering under her breath, about deadlines, in general, and missing notices, in particular.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
Jayne bumped her head on the desk, “OUCH!  Come on, give me a break here, will you.” 
   She rubbed the growing bump on her head, another bruise to add to her collection, and looked at her watch as she reached for the phone. Thank goodness it was too early for the quilting gals to start their usual Monday routine.  Which reminded Jayne that she needed to find her gratitude journal before Wednesday, as she didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. T, and she didn’t want to explain why it had been days since she wrote in it.  Just then she saw the mysterious Patty walk by the open door.  Jayne really needed to find out who this woman was, as it seemed she was the only person in Humble who hadn’t met her yet.  She stepped outside and looked down the street, but didn’t see anyone.  How could Patty have disappeared so fast?  Was she even flesh and blood, or a figment of everyone’s imagination?
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   “Good morning, Humble Beginnings.”
   “Are you alone?”
   Jayne looked around her, and through the open door, “At this moment I am. Why are you whispering?”
   “They are in...”
   “Who are in?”
   “THEY...ARE...IN!”
   “They?...Oh, they're in???...Truly?...Hallelujah, we're saved!”
   “I don't know that I'd go that far, Jayne.”
   “Trust me, Mr. Smythe, this is a momentous day for the community of Humble. Be at your back door at 1:00 sharp...code word: thimble...and remember...this is our little secret.  No one else can know about this.”
   “You can count on me...mum's the word.”
   Jayne danced a little jig before dialling the phone.
   “Village of Humble, how may we be of assistance?”
   “They're in!”
   “They? Who?...OH!”
   “Yes!...any chance you can smuggle one of the new hall keys to me ASAP?”
   “For you, Jayne, I'd move a mountain...I'm right on it.”
   “Thanks! You're the best, and remember, this is our little secret.  NO ONE else can know.”
   “No one will hear about it from me.  Good luck.”
   Jayne made her next call. “OH...hi, Vera...no, nothing's wrong...just wanted to verify that we're all meeting a Monique's for supper tonight, instead of the farm?...Thanks, you too.”
   Drat, drat, drat, drat, drat!  Vera was supposed to be on her way to the city, not in the house.  Now Jayne had to come up with a Plan B, or was she on Plan C now?  The timing was critical, and there was too much at stake here.
   “Mornin' Jayne. The gals at the office said you needed the minutes ASAP for this issue, so I offered to bring it down for you.”
   Jayne tried not to appear too eager, and she tried not to grab the bulging envelope, “Thanks, Peter, you're the best. How's Sue? You going to join us tonight? Oh, gee, you're probably busy, I shouldn't keep you...” She tried not to be too obvious as she gently steered him out the door.  She had a fleeting thought that she could recruit Peter, but dismissed it just as quickly as he couldn’t keep a secret to save his soul, and this secret was far too important to trust to just anyone.
(May 19, 2017)



   “I have few minutes for tea, since the water’s hot.” Peter gestured to the whistling kettle that Jayne had managed to forget about.  Fortunately, hers had an automatic shut-off so she didn’t need to worry about it boiling dry and frying the appliance.
   Jayne’s mind blanked.  How was she going to get rid of Peter so she could arrange everything in such a short time frame?
   “Ah…”
   CRUNCH! CLATTER! RATTLE! CLAAAANNNNGGGGG!
   Why was Mrs. Shultz’s garbage can out front, it wasn’t even garbage pick up day, nor did the garbage get picked up out front, and by the reverberations, it sounded like the can was empty anyway.  Was it some sort of diabolical alarm clock?
   “Never mind, I’ll catch you later.  I need to go talk to Dan.  Oh, and there’s Patty...I have a few questions for her too.”
   “Peter, wait…”  Jayne shrugged.  She knew she should probably follow Peter down the street and then she might be able to finally talk to this elusive Patty, who seemed to be hanging around Dan more than Jayne had realized, but even with Peter stalling him, she knew Dan would be popping in the office soon, and she had no idea if Steph was with him.  She didn’t want to involve Steph unless absolutely necessary.  The less the family knew the better. 
   Jayne picked up the phone and dialled another number from memory.  She kept an eye on the doorway and held the envelope behind her back just in case.
   “Mornin’...you’ve reached the handiest handyman in Humble.”
   “Hey, Mike, how handy can you be in the next 24 hours?”
   “Depends on what you need, and I can’t see you needing a handyman with young MacDonald at your beck and call.”
  “Very funny...they are in, and you PROMISED me you’d help with them.”
   “They?  Promised?  You sure you’re talkin’ to the right guy?”
   “Mike!  FOCUS!” Jayne looked at the door, hoping there wasn’t anyone close enough to listen, she lowered her voice, “They...are...in...are you going to help or not?”
   “Gee, could you be a bit plainer there?”
   “Mike, I’m going to pull your advertising...is that plain enough for you?”
   “Okay, keep your shirt on...not that I could probably ever convince you to take your shirt off for me...could I?”
   Jayne started counting under her breath, even though she knew she was wasting her time, and breath, “Michael Douglas David Niven Gregory Peck Steve McQueen…”
   “Okay, enough already...I really wish I knew how you are able to find out folks private names...I’ll help...where and when?”
   Jayne was glad she hadn’t had to rattle off Mike’s full name.  Not for the first time since learning it, she wondered what possessed his parents to name him after their ten all-time favourite actors, and what possessed the staff to let them legally register that name.
   “1:30 pm today at the community hall...knock on the back door and someone will let you in...code word is ‘thimble.’”
   “Right, I’ll be there...oh, and Jayne, I’m not going to apologize as I do really want to see you without your shirt.”
   “Didn’t expect you to apologize...and, Mike...NOT happening...EVER!”
   “Awwww…”
   Jayne hung up.  Tossing the envelope down on her desk, she determined, with a touch, the kettle was still hot enough so she poured some water and plunked a teabag in the cup before she dialled the next number
   “Good morning…”
   Jayne thought of humming the theme song from the movie “Mission Impossible” but instead started humming the old World War 1 tune “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”
   “Right ho, Jayne...where and when?”
   “Your back door at 14:00 hours, code word ‘thimble’...remember to disguise the packages in case there are any spies around...we can’t be too careful and I don’t want to involve the authorities.”
   “You can count on me, dearie.  Oh, this is so exciting.  We haven’t had this much intrigue in Humble since Gertie’s first attempt at a garden as a new bride was being raided one potato and carrot at a time.”
   “Did they ever find the culprit?” Jayne remembered reading about the investigation when she was reading through past issues, but not the result.
   “Oh, yes, and the RCMP refused to kill the poor defenceless deer.”
   Jayne laughed, “Now, remember, Mrs. T...not a word to anyone, and DON’T pass over anything unless they have the right code word.”
   “You can count on me, dear.  I can’t wait to see their faces when this all comes to pass.”
   “Me too, me too.”
   Jayne hung up the phone.  The coast was still clear so she made another call.
    “Good morning, Humble Hotel, our coffee is hot and our cinnamon buns are fresh…”
   “Good morning, Mrs Shultz...it’s time!”
   “Jayne?  Hang on a second...Boys, you’re supposed to SERVE the coffee not spill it all over the kitchen...where is the work experience gal?...don’t just stand there, get a mop and clean it up!...I’m not paying you to just stand around, there are customers that need served...where is that girl??...Find a seat, Peter and I’ll be right with you, just need to take this call, and can you tell Dan his order is almost ready, thanks...the way the help is acting this morning I don’t trust them to package up a thing...just help yourself to the coffee and I’ll be right back...okay, are you still there, Jayne?”
   “Sounds busy, I can call back later…”
   “Now’s good...I’m out back and they can’t hear me...you said it’s time?”
   “Yes, they’re in, so everything is in place,” Jayne winced at that white lie, “I need the order delivered for 1:00 sharp - not a minute before - on Wednesday afternoon at the hall...and just charge it to Classified.”
   “The regular?  Full order or half?”
   “Definitely full...is that okay?  Do you have enough time?”
   “I’ll get started right away.”
   “Thanks...you’re a life-saver...remember, this is top secret.”
   “I’ll do up the order and deliver it myself...I can’t wait to see ol’ Gertie’s face...it will be worth it just for that...of course, you do realize this could all backfire?”
   “Everything is under control and there’s no way it could backfire.  Thanks again for helping me out.”
   “Glad to...you’re a good kid.”
   Another call made and another detail confirmed, but she still had to get the key delivered somehow, and without Dan or Steph or half the community finding out what she was planning.  She picked up the teacup and looked around for the envelope with the hall key.  Who could she trust it to?  This was not going to backfire, this was not going to backfire, this was not going to backfire, this was not going to…
   “Jayne…”
   “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
  Jayne’s hands flew into the air before she dove under the nearest desk.  She curled into a tight ball and covered her head.
   “Whoa there…”
   Jayne heard something being placed on the surface above her head, and someone wiped up something from the floor and desk. 
(June 2, 2017)

   She groaned and immediately wished the ground would open up and swallow her whole when she realized exactly who was now crouched down in front of her.
   “You ready to talk, or are you going to keep on pretending you’re fine and all is well?”
  She lifted her head up just far enough to level a glare at Dan, “I’m NOT pretending…I AM fine and all IS well, thank YOU very much!”
   “Uh huh...that’s why you just acted like an air raid siren went off,” At that moment, Jayne hated, deeply and intensely hated, how Dan’s eyebrows could convey such scepticism when they twitched as they were now doing.  If she had something in her hand, she’d be hard pressed not to wing it at his head.
   “I DID NOT act like an air raid siren went off,” Jayne tried to sound more offended than she was as she stalled, and tried to figure a graceful, and, more importantly, highly distracting, way out of this mess.  On the one hand, it was better that it was Dan who saw her mini freak-out as he was used to seeing her at her worst, unfortunately, and wouldn’t immediately call for her removal from the paper, but on the other hand, since it was Dan who saw it, there was very little chance she could effectively bluff her way out of this as he had an annoying ability to see right through, or was it into, her. 
   “Uh huh...I believe you, really I do...NOT!”
    Just then Jayne spied a piece of paper on the floor to her left, and grabbed it, “I was merely getting this notice...I dropped it earlier, and need to make sure I get it into this week’s edition.  So, no more problems or worries...I’m FINE!”
   “Uh huh...and that’s why your tea was in your stressful standby, the old Queen Anne bone china cup, and not your everyday choice of the Little Mermaid mug that Steph gave you...by the way, I was able to save the teacup, but not the tea...and the phone is a little worse for wear after its flight across the room.”
   Jayne felt like cursing: at herself, for being so distracted she didn’t notice what she was doing when she made her tea, and for letting Dan get to her; at Vera, for teaching her kids to appreciate, and for that matter, recognize the finer things in life, such as fine bone china, because, really, who in this day and age could recognize fine bone china if they saw it, okay, Monique would, as she was raised to use it regularly, but she was an exception not the rule, and Jayne wouldn’t even have the teacup except it was a gift; at Dan, for knowing her much too well, and for being too dratted astute and noticing EVERY little detail, no matter how hard she tried to hide her fears, doubts, and worries from him, you’d think he was able to read her mind, and good heavens, he better NOT be able to really read her mind as that’s the LAST thing she needed to deal with right now; at Jim, for not answering the phone when she called the farm earlier as everything hinged on him getting that hall key ASAP; at Mike, for being an obnoxious jerk this morning, well, truth be told, most mornings, and afternoons, and evenings; at Mrs. Shultz for making her so nervous and adding to her doubts because the plan was foolproof, PROVIDED she could keep it a secret from Dan and a few others, and connect with Jim and keep everything on track; at the desk for battering her sore head twice in one day, because, of course it’s the desk’s fault, not hers that she banged her head; and...well, she could probably create quite a lengthy list if she really put her mind to it.  With another groan, Jayne dropped her head back down.  Oh, who was she kidding, this whole thing WAS going to backfire on her, royally, and then she’d be run out of town and she’d end up a homeless waif again.  Okay, maybe being homeless wasn't the worst thing that could happen to her, she at least knew how to survive, as demonstrated by the Girl Guides repeated invitations to meetings to teach the girls outdoor survival skills, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time she’d ever caught a crow or magpie and skinned and roasted it, or muskrat, but getting kicked out of town, and leaving Dan would be devastating, even if she dearly wanted to knock his all-knowing head off his broad sexy shoulders right now.
   RRRRRIIIINNNNGGGG
   Before Jayne could stop him, Dan answered her phone with a crisp British butler-like accent, and a definite twinkle in his eyes.
   “Good morning, you have reached the offices of In My Humble Opinion.  Thank you for calling.  To agree with my humble opinion, please press 1, to tell me how wonderful you think my humble opinion is, please press 2…”
   Jayne tried to get up and reach for the phone at the same time, temporarily forgetting that she was completely under the desk.  She hit her head  with a solid THUNK, and fell back onto the floor with a loud “OUCH!”
   Dan shook his head at her, and extended a helping hand, all while keeping the phone well out of her reach as he continued, “...to make a donation so that my humble opinion can be shared more widely with others, please press 4, to disagree with my humble opinion, just hang up as you have no taste whatsoever…Uh, no ma’am, no disrespect intended at all.  Just a little Monday morning humour to start your day off on the right foot,” Dan switched to his normal voice, and placing a gentle hand on Jayne’s shoulder, he kept her in place, “I’m sorry, Jaynelle is unavailable at the moment, but if you leave a message, she will get back to you at her earliest convenience…”
   “Will you give me the phone, NOW!” Jayne whispered, sure that Dan’s antics were going to cost her an ad or two, if not her job.  She may own the paper, but it was a tenuous ownership at the best of times. 
   “...I’ll make sure she calls you as soon as she’s available, and you have a wonderful day.”
   Dan disconnected, placed the phone on the desk behind Jayne, and pulled her into his embrace, “Call Gertie about the quilting bee location before you finalize the notices,” Jayne groaned again as Dan tilted her head to get a better look, “...how’s the head?...that was quite the crack...I don’t see any blood...maybe we should check if you broke the desk...and we should probably run you to Emergency in case you have a concussion...”  
  “I don’t have a concussion and I don’t have time to go to Emergency...I have a paper to get together.”  
   Jayne felt very confused, and it wasn’t from the knock on the head, or the possibility of a concussion.  It hadn’t been that long ago that Dan had kissed her and ran out of the room, now here he was holding her as he inspected the bumps on her head!  Did the kiss change anything, or were they to continue as they had?  Should she mention the kiss, or wait for Dan to make the first move? Or, should she…
   “So this is what we are squandering our local taxpayers’ hard-earned money on...vulgar public displays of affection...just wait till the Council hears about this latest atrocity to come out of this den of iniquity.”
   Jayne thought the Mayor was going a little too far with his comments.  She felt Dan stiffen, so quickly placed a finger over his lips before she slowly leaned around his bicep to glare at the Mayor, who stood just inside the office doorway, with a disgusted expression on his face, while at the same time he seemed to be gleefully rubbing his hands together.  He seemed much too jovial, especially after she’d knocked him down a peg or two on Saturday, plus, it was highly unusual for him to even venture near her office, let alone walk in the door!  Jayne was sorely tempted to remind him of some of his past wildly inappropriate ‘public displays of affection,’ even after he took office, if only to keep him in line, but decided getting rid of him fast was far more important, and she suddenly knew just how to do that, and solve her other problems too. She leaned back, looked up into Dan’s face, fluttered her eyelashes, and mouthed the words, “Save me!”

(June 16, 2017)